Authors: B. David Warner
Tags: #mystery, #action thriller, #advertising, #political intrigue
As the result of rumors that American POWs
were brainwashed by Chinese communists during the Korean War, CIA
Director Allen Dulles authorized a top-secret program known as
MKULTRA in April of 1953. The program financed ultra-sensitive
medical and psychological experiments in mind control; the scope of
which included areas such as truth drugs, hypnosis, sleep
deprivation and subliminal persuasion. The more troubling aspects
of MKULTRA became the subject of executive and congressional
investigations during the 1970s.
While the government reported that MKULTRA
was discontinued in 1966, much of the program’s research remains
No time to think, just react.
Mashing the accelerator to the floor, the
power of the engine thrust me back into the seat as the Avatar AVX
sprang forward, reeling in taillights from the darkness of the road
straight ahead. In seconds a vehicle a hundred yards away was
suddenly just a car length in front, its red taillights slipping to
the right and disappearing as I whipped the Avatar around and
"Darcy!" In the passenger seat beside me,
Sean Higgins stomped the floor in a vain attempt to slam on an
imaginary brake. I wondered whether his anxiety sprang from the
blinding speed of the seven hundred horsepower sports car or the
fact that a female controlled the wheel.
A bright yellow Ford had pulled onto the road
just ahead, oblivious to my Avatar eating up the street behind it.
I slammed the brake pedal, pushed the clutch to the floor,
downshifted and swerved left, flying past a shell-shocked
Numbers on the digital speedometer blurred:
My heart beat wildly; my mouth felt dry as
In the mirror I saw the Dodge Viper in
pursuit reflecting my moves; a pair of headlights dodging left to
right, right to left across all three lanes.
From the moment I sat at the wheel of the
Avatar AVX, this car felt special -- the way the interior wrapped
around me in the driver’s seat and its acceleration pressed my body
back into leather. I wished I could enjoy the experience now, but
this ride threatened to turn deadly any second.
In spite of the Avatar’s overwhelming power,
the Viper gained rapidly. In heavy traffic I couldn’t maintain a
speed above sixty miles per hour for long. Slashing through slower
vehicles, I alarmed drivers as I screamed past, causing them to
pull aside, making it easy for the two men in the Viper to
A giant semi dead ahead. I spun the wheel,
nearly side-swiping a Jeep on the left, then pulled a hard right
avoiding a pickup truck. I raced past and braked hard,
downshifting, and barely missed becoming part of the backseat of a
red Camaro. Swerving left, I found myself behind a Dodge Durango. I
felt sure I had put pavement between the Viper and me, but no such
luck. With the advantage of following in my tracks it now loomed
just a car length behind.
Suddenly the Durango ahead turned right and I
saw clear road.
Downshifting, I pounded the accelerator, our
bodies slamming leather as the V-12 roared and speedometer digits
blurred. Nothing could match this acceleration. Looking back, I saw
the Viper now trapped behind a gaggle of cars. The yellow eyes in
the rearview mirror grew small.
An exhilarating three minutes passed before
Metropolitan Parkway appeared dead ahead, the intersection empty
but traffic signals burning bright red. With the Viper now gone
from the rear view mirror, I killed the Avatar’s lights and put it
into a four-wheel drift, screaming into an illegal left turn. Tires
shrieking against pavement, the car suddenly headed west, leaving
Gratiot Avenue behind.
Thirty seconds passed before I switched the
lights on and slowed to avoid attracting attention.
As the Avatar resumed normal speed, I glanced
sideways at Higgins. The agency vice president who had pissed me
off a few hours earlier by referring to the Avatar AVX as “a real
man’s car,” now appeared shell shocked. His eyes were
deer-in-the-headlights wide and as we passed under a streetlight I
could see that all color had drained from his face. His lips were
moving, trying to form words, but without sound. I spoke first.
“You’re right. This is a real man’s car.”
How many were there? And how long before they
came after us again, now that we held the DVD they’d proved so
willing to kill for?
My body was coming down from a serious
adrenalin high. I hadn’t driven that fast in months, never on city
streets. My heart still pounded, albeit slower, and I became aware
of my palms -- wet and slippery against the leather steering
A digital gauge on the instrument panel began
blinking the news -- the Avatar's fuel tank needed nourishment.
Higgins slowly regained his composure as we turned into a Shell
station off Metropolitan Parkway. He used a credit card at the pump
farthest from the cashier's booth, filling the Avatar with high
I thanked God I had kept up the training the
Adams & Benson advertising agency provided its creative people
five years ago. Back then it was common practice to send writers
and art directors assigned to its American Vehicle Corporation
account to the famous Skip Barber Racing School. They wanted us to
have an intimate feel for the subjects of the ads we were assigned
I took the training more seriously than my
contemporaries. When I left Detroit after my divorce five years
ago, I became a regular at the two-mile, fourteen-turn Grattan
Track near Grand Rapids. There I practiced skills like heel-and-toe
downshifting, trail breaking and finding the fastest racing
When AVC made plans to introduce this
souped-up AVX version of their hot Avatar sports car last summer,
company officials asked me, Darcy James, to drive one of the first
prototypes. They wanted, get this, "a woman's opinion."
My opinion? The same as a man’s -- with a top
speed well over two hundred miles an hour and a zero-to-sixty time
under three seconds, this car was one fast mother.
I stayed in the driver’s seat as we pulled
back onto the road, checking the rearview mirror for signs of the
Viper or the police. We drove aimlessly, both of us near shock from
the events that had just taken place: the shooting of a policeman
and the high-speed escape from two armed men. The image of the
officer crumbling to the pavement kept tumbling through my mind.
Had he died? Did he have a wife? Children? A feeling of sadness
stuck to the mental picture.
To my right Higgins fumbled with the stereo;
"I could use some 'Music to Relieve Stress By.'"
He found a newscast instead. We listened in
horror as the breaking story unfolded; a police officer killed near
Roseville, a community north of Detroit. Two males were being held
for questioning; two other persons, a man and woman, had fled in a
black Avatar. It would be a matter of hours, at most, before those
“two other persons” were identified as Darcy James and Sean
Higgins, executives employed by the Adams & Benson advertising
Higgins hit the "off" switch. "They’re saying
we killed that cop."
"Maybe we should get to the police and tell
them what really happened.”
"No. You can bet the two guys chasing us have
already spilled their version. What chance do we have when the
cops, including your former husband, already have me in their
sights for another murder?”
I hated to admit Higgins was right. “It’s our
word against Bacalla and Roland’s,” I said. I glanced over at the
small metallic disc in his hands. “We’ve got to find out why
they’re so desperate to get their hands on that DVD.”
Higgins thought for a moment. “It keeps
coming back to this disc and Vince Caponi.”
I felt the impact of the situation wash over
me. There seemed to be no one to turn to, and my fate was partially
dependent on a man I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with
just days before.
With the police looking for us, driving the
black Avatar was like riding around under a spotlight. I left the
main road and meandered through side streets.
We rode in silence. At one point, as Higgins
pulled out his cell phone and started punching a number, I stopped
"I've got to tell Cunningham we won’t be at
the presentation tomorrow morning," he said.
"Not on your cell. I read that police can
pinpoint their location, like tracing any call. You can bet
Bacalla’s told them who we are. Let's find a pay phone."
Higgins agreed, but for the next few hours we
simply drove, as if moving made us less vulnerable. Staying clear
of major highways we wandered from side street to side street, from
suburb to suburb, from late night to early morning.
Somehow we had to uncover what Vince Caponi
found on that disc, but without suffering the same fate.
Ten Days Earlier
Friday, Oct 08 -- 6:13 p.m.
A devout Roman Catholic, Vince Caponi would
spend the last few moments of his life viewing a pornographic
He would have had a logical explanation if
Father Brezinski of St. Germaine’s Parish had walked through the
door instead of the killer.
The evening had begun with the prospect of
another late session at United Color Studios. For the tenth day in
a row Caponi found himself alone at the studio, camped in a dark,
windowless editing suite surrounded by three naked white walls and
a fourth covered by a dozen TV monitors. A control panel housing
rows of dials and switches that operated those monitors ran the
length of the wall.
To relieve the boredom, Caponi decided to
rent a movie from the Video Giant that recently opened down the
street. The plan called for running the movie on one monitor, while
editing the commercial for American Vehicle Corporation on two of
the other screens. The agency needed the finished spot the next
morning, but after eight years in the business Caponi could turn
out a thirty-second spot in his sleep.
Unfortunately, Video Giant’s selection fell
far short of its name. He had already seen the few current titles,
and found nothing of interest in the older, classic video section.
About to leave, he noticed a room marked “Adults Only.” Entering,
he discovered racks filled with DVD covers featuring pictures of
the actors and actresses who cavorted on the provocative digital
discs inside. One in particular caught his eye: Titillating Ta-tas.
The attractive blonde on the cover looked oddly familiar. In fact,
she could have been the identical twin of an actress in a certain
AVC commercial he had edited a few months back. It couldn’t
possibly be the same woman...could it? He decided to check it
Back at United Color, he put Titillating
Ta-tas up on Monitor A, fast-forwarding through the credits and
freezing the frame as the blonde in question appeared wearing a
seductive smile and little else. Next, he retrieved the single copy
of the AVC commercial in question from the storage room. He
inserted the disc labeled Avion on the Beach and hit the switch for
The commercial began with the Avion, AVC's
top selling vehicle, parked on a beach and surrounded by a host of
bikini-clad women. As the camera zoomed in for a close up, Caponi
leaned forward in his chair. The blonde next to the car appeared to
be a dead ringer for the woman smiling down at him from Monitor A.
But whether she was more than just a look-alike he couldn’t be
certain. Turning a dial in front of him, he slowed the action on
Monitor B until the commercial ran virtually frame-by-frame.
That's when he noticed something funny.
He felt unsure of what he saw, but it
concerned him enough to call Darren Cato, the TV producer at Adams
& Benson, the advertising agency that filmed the spot. Finding
Cato long gone on a Friday evening, he left a voicemail message.
Then he burned two copies of the commercial, put the discs into
clear plastic protective covers and inserted each in a cardboard
envelope. He enclosed a short note in Cato’s package, called to
arrange a special pickup, and carried both outside to the FedEx box
at the front door.
A ringing nightline greeted him back in the
editing suite. The caller turned out to be someone at the agency
who had heard his message for Cato; a name he didn’t recognize. The
man told him not to worry about his discovery; the disc must have
been sent to United Color by mistake. Said he’d send someone to
pick it up. Caponi hung up and unlocked the studio’s back door.
Returning to the editing suite, he began
thinking about what he had seen. He hit the button on the Sony
machine and replayed the commercial. When he got to the blonde, he
slowed the action once again. That’s when the significance of the
aberration dawned on him. He sat stunned; realizing the brief note
he had enclosed in the package to Cato wasn’t enough.
god, not nearly enough.