The Memory That Wasn’t There
People think we see everything you know when we do a MemScan. Yes, it’s all there, but so are dreams, and so is misinformation.
“We have a strange one in Room 202.”
That got my attention. Most of our work in Thought Crime is boring. It’s worse than boring; it’s mind-numbing. Rarely do we get anything interesting. I’m jaded by the work; my partner Charlie is even more so. If she thought our guest in R-202 was strange, I wanted a peek. I said so.
“Peek, hell, you can have him,” answered Charlie. “I can’t find a thing. I’ll assign him to you right now.”
I closed the case I had been working through. It was effectively done anyway; there was enough memory evidence to convict. I was just piling some gravy on the meat and potatoes. The prosecutor would be more than happy with what I gave her.
I opened the case for Room 202. I read Charlie’s notes first.
R-202 writes fiction about torture and murder and has gained some fame. A Murder Squad automated document scan noticed a substantial similarity between his published stories and several unsolved cases. R-202 was brought in for an initial MemScan performed by an intern.
The intern found no evidence of intent or action. However, he flagged the case as suspicious because he, quote: “felt something wasn’t quite right”. The case landed in my inbox, and I performed another MemScan.
I agree that there is something hidden here. I suspect a Hypnol class drug, but a blood scan shows no evidence. We can only hold R-202 another few hours. I’m referring the case to my partner, Jack Barson.
“Something hidden”, but Charlie couldn’t find it? Charlie is good, and she’s quick. We joke that she has ferret DNA. If Charlie couldn’t find it…
Well, no harm in trying. I put on my headset and clicked the button for a MemScan of R-202. We never refer to people by names, just the case number. Technically, he was 2042–05-R-202, but we’d shorten that because our cases don’t drag on for months. Thanks to technology, we find guilt or innocence in a few hours — sometimes in minutes.
I also looked up reviews of his stories. Even the reviews were gruesome and hard to stomach. It bothered me that he had become famous because of them. Who’d want to read that? Who’d want to write it? Well, I was about to find some answers to one of those questions, at least.
People think we see everything you know when we do a MemScan. Yes, it’s all there, but so are dreams, and so is misinformation. When you store a memory in your brain, it’s not always accurate. Yes, we can find guilt easily, and we can see what that’s attached to, but the attachment can be wrong. Your brain is a confusing mess of spaghetti, and it takes a trained investigator to find out what’s real and what is not.
The headset was connected through our network to R-202. He had been put into a mildly sedated hypnotic state, alert, but receptive to my thoughts. Whenever I pressed Input, whatever I typed would flow to him as a thought, an urging. All of us get the training, and we know what that feels like. It’s as though you just randomly thought of something. But you didn’t: the thought came from the investigator doing the MemScan.
The first thing I threw at him was Z-Hypnol. It’s not illegal; it’s over the counter because we all want to forget things sometimes. His reaction was soft: he knew what Z-Hypnol is, but there was no memory or guilt attached. Not a trace and there is always a trace when people try to forget a crime.
And who would want to forget a crime they enjoyed? That was the thing about R-202’s stories: the killer character took great delight in his horrible murders.
So let’s say R-202 murders someone, quickly writes down every detail, every disgusting thought he has about the killing, and then pops some Z-Hypnol. Why would he do that? Why wipe away the thrill?
Or did the thrill come from reading his own stories later? But no, because he knows these are his stories. If he popped Z-Hypnol, he wouldn’t remember writing them. He wouldn’t know to search them out to read them. And when I input a thought about reading one of his stories, I got back zilch. He doesn’t read his stories. Not now, not ever. Or if he does, he takes Z-Hypnol and forgets about it. Why bother?
Had he heard about the real killings? I called up the results from the automated document scan that brought him to our attention. I then gave R-202 the name of a recent victim. All I got back was a very vague memory of him half-listening to a news report. There were no emotions attached to it; basically, he recognized the name. It felt like he heard that a stranger had died. There should be emotions if he murdered the victim. There were not.
Charlie was right. This case was a strange one. What were we missing?
I input happiness and satisfaction. What made R-202 happy, what floated his boat?
That triggered a flood. So many images came to my brain through the headset. It wasn’t sticking knives into people’s eyes and genitals. R-202 owned a real boat, a nice one. He remembered summer days with his family at secluded beaches. Vacation trips to exotic places. Fancy parties, awards for his stories. R-202 was a happy dude, that was certain, and that didn’t fit with a brutal murderer who enjoyed torturing his victims for days on end. R-202 had a great life, far better than my own, and honestly, we get paid pretty darn well for this work.
Strange, indeed. None of this made sense. R-202 didn’t know about the real murders. He was not using Z-Hypnol, or if he did, it was rarely and probably just to forget a stupid argument or pain from an injury. R-202 was a puzzle, but I couldn’t imagine what the completed picture would be.
I probed again for guilt, regret, sadness. I got back something, something about money. It was so vague…
Could our R-202 feel guilty about how much money he made from his stories? Did he feel undeserving, was it Impostor Syndrome? I pushed in that direction and got a stronger guilt reaction.
Not very helpful, though. Plenty of successful people feel undeserving. And you don’t run out and torture someone else because you feel that way!
An hour had slipped away. I did not want to turn R-202 loose. Something was there; something was off. I had to find it.
I probed again for happy thoughts. This was just vicarious enjoyment. I needed to be distracted for a few minutes; why not do it with R-202’s happy memories? This time it was images of him playing with his dog, a beautiful Collie. R-202 would throw a stick; the dog would bound away to get it. R-202 would clap and praise the animal over and over again. The dog would wag its tail and pant, obviously loving the game and loving R-202. The dog never barked.
The dog never barked. That Sherlock Holmes story about a dog that didn’t bark. That was it! R-202’s memories didn’t bark. I pushed through one final thought and then another. I laughed out loud and closed the case, marking it “No crime.”
“I’m cutting him loose,” I informed Charlie.
Charlie looked worried and sad. “Are you sure? We still have a few hours. There’s something wrong there, Jack, I know it.” She didn’t pout, but the way she said that would make you think she did.
“Oh, there is, Charlie, there is. But he’s never hurt anyone. He’s dumb as a post, but he’s not guilty.” I paused for a moment, then continued. “Sherlock Holmes, the dog that didn’t bark.”
Charlie squinted her eyes. “What?”
I smiled. “There was always something missing, Charlie, something that wasn’t there. I asked the right questions, and we have to cut him free. But we’ll be opening another case soon. I’ve already asked a detail to go pick up the real murderer.”
Charlie shook her head in frustration. “If he had a partner,” she began, but I cut her off.
“Oh, he did have a partner — of sorts. But our boy wasn’t involved in the murders. Nope, he was just very stupid, and he has the curiosity of a rock.”
Which was how this all happened. How he became a famous writer and why he wasn’t guilty of anything.
“What are you effing talking about, Jack? Spill, now!” Her eyes were flashing daggers, and she was moving toward me with obvious mayhem on her mind.
I held out my palms, fingers up. “Hold up, Charlie. I’ll tell you.” I paused but quickly continued when she started moving toward me again.
I rattled out the words. “R-202 makes really good money from those stories, but he feels guilty.”
“Yeah, so what?” snapped Charlie. “Impostor Syndrome, big deal.”
“Yeah. But something was missing, we all felt it. And I found it.” I stopped again. I wanted to tell her, yes, but I wanted to have some suspense. As I explained earlier, this isn’t an exciting job. I had something different here and I wanted to savor that.
“Spill, dammit!” Charlie yelled that, but she was laughing a little bit too.
“Okay, okay. What was missing was any memory of R-202 planning stories, laying out the plots.” Feed it out, a little bit at a time.
Charlie sighed. “Yeah, because he did it. Somehow.”
I corrected her. “No, someone else did the murders. And that someone calls R-202 every time he does one and dictates the whole story to our famous writer!”
“Why are you letting him go! That’s collusion, he’s an accessory!”. Charlie was very excited now.
“Nope. Accessory, yes, but a clueless accessory. He thinks the other guy is just too shy. He does not realize this guy is a killer. He thinks he’s a fellow writer who is afraid to publish. R-202 keeps offering to share the money, but the murderer doesn’t want it. It’s all there when you ask for the right memories. Our boy is dumb but innocent.” I let that sink in.
“He won’t be happy about this,” I continued. “Once we nail the real guy, all those stories will become recoverable assets for the victims’ families. R-202 is going to lose his income stream. He’s also going to look like a damn fool, which he is.”
“I guess he’ll be taking some Z-Hypnol for that,” Charlie offered.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Hey, Ferret, how about some lunch? Case closed, and you can have the real killer when they bring him in.”
Charlie sighed. “Yeah, look who’s calling who a ferret.”