It is July 2006.
As they climbed away from Calgary, a gong sounded
to unfasten seat belts. Tom reclined in first class. He had a mental technique
for enjoying travel in planes: he imagined he was a pupating insect, like a
silkworm in its cocoon, in suspended animation. He had all he needed to be
comfortable: adjustable seats, footrests, air vents, lights, video, audio and a
button to summon a flight attendant. He could metamorphose and emerge ready for
different conditions at his destination.
Cocooned, he could reflect and update his
understanding of past events that had caused him to make this journey. If he had
known earlier what he knew now, he would have sought closure many years ago.
Here is the story of the relationships and events
causing him to make this journey, including feelings he should have anticipated,
but had ignored until they were problems.
They had started at Boston, USA, many years
ASK NO QUESTIONS
Tom and Steve were waiting for the girls at reception
in the Department of Applied Psychology, Boston University. It was the summer of
’66 and the boys had come to visit the girls at their vacation jobs, after
completing their own vacation employment in Montreal. They were all students at
Liverpool University of Technology, UK.
Tom, in T-shirt and blue jeans, sat with his long
legs crossed, looking at a brochure. His face had the open, dark looks of the
actor Alan Bates. Steve was holding up a battery record player with a Bob Marley
song, as his body reggaed jerkily around the reception area. His face was
Nordic, with white skin, high cheekbones and a blond forelock spilling down his
forehead. He wore a colourful tropical beach shirt with a cravat at his throat,
his short legs in turned-up jeans. When the song finished, he sat down and
looked archly down his aquiline hooked nose at Tom.
‘Where is your woman, man?’ His accent was singsong
Tom looked at his watch. Maybe the girls’ jobs had
‘They are six minutes late. Vicki wrote that they
would be here.’
Tom was not used to girls keeping him waiting. By
now even his idol, Dr Spock, would be growing impatient.
After five minutes, two girls breezed in, wearing
white lab coats.
‘Tom!’ Vicki said, smiling broadly. ‘It’s great to
‘Hello, Vicki. It’s terrific to see you too. Are you
selling ice creams?’
They laughed and hugged. Her clean smell and the
firmness of her body were reassuring. Steve hugged petite Angela. The two had
started going together only recently.
‘I hear you did well in your exams, Tom,’ said Vicki.
‘Congratulations. You must be pleased with how you went in second year.’
‘I didn’t get everything I wanted,’ he said with a
‘Could you have wanted too much?’ she replied,
Chastised, he looked away without answering. They
chatted about jobs and travelling.
‘Come and see our lab,’ Vicki said. ‘We’ll show you
around the campus later. Bring your stuff.’
They hoisted their packs and followed along corridors
to a laboratory, where she introduced them to the supervisor, Brad, in a white
coat, with a shock of unruly hair.
‘Pleased to meet you — I’m Brad McCarthy.’
‘Welcome to the Lie Detection Laboratory. Vicki and
Angela have asked me to demonstrate what we do here. Can we show you by testing
‘Did you say ‘lie detection’?’ asked Tom, puzzled.
‘What kind of lies?’
Brad shrugged. ‘Deception. We investigate methods of
interrogating suspects for the FBI and CIA.’
‘Crikey. I don’t do lies.’ Tom turned to Vicki. ‘Am I
a suspect or something?’
She shook her head. ‘No, Tom. It’s just a bit of
They went into a room with chart recorders and
headphones, with a window overlooking a room with a chair like a dentist’s.
He regarded lying as low behaviour. As a student
engineer, he valued true knowledge acquired by honest methods. A lie detector
was not a threat and even an asset.
The psychologist continued: ‘We will measure your
word association responses. When a suspect hears a certain word, for example,
the word ‘gun’, it could connect him with a crime and he may become anxious. His
anxiety triggers adrenalin and his heart will beat faster, causing him to sweat
more, allowing current to conduct between two electrodes touching his skin. A
pen jiggles and draws a squiggle on a rotating chart, called a polygraph. The
bigger the lie, the bigger the squiggle. If he has denied having a gun, a
squiggle could be evidence of a lie. Other records of heart rate, blood
pressure, respiration rate and muscular reflexes can also indicate lying.
‘Today we will only have a brief informal test to
show how a lie detector works.’
‘Is it to interrogate Soviet spies?’ Steve asked.
‘No comment,’ said Brad with a smile.
‘How accurate is it?’ asked Tom.
‘Detection of lies is not completely reliable. For
example, a psychopath may be so inured to the facts of a murder that when he is
asked about them he does not break out into a tell-tale sweat. On the other
hand, a person can be fearful and sweat when he or she is innocent. Lie detector
evidence does not have much weight in courts of law these days. It is seldom
used to convict anyone but it can be used to extract a confession.’
Tom turned to Vicki. ‘I confess: I never lie to you!’
She laughed. ‘I know that, Tom.’
‘Then why do you want to test me?’
‘Our project is to compare a person’s true feelings
with what they actually say.’
‘What if I say I want one thing but prefer something
else? Am I lying?’
Vicki looked at him and smiled, as if she knew
something he didn’t.
‘Each situation is different,’ she said. ‘We want to
test your feelings in familiar situations. Will you give it a go, Steve?’
‘Go on the lie detector? Sorry but no thank you. Tom
will do it — he doesn’t mind telling lies.’
‘Get fucked, Steve.’
‘Steve doesn’t want Angela to find out about
Margot, his bit on the side,’ Tom thought.
‘What about you, Tom?’
Tom was infatuated with Vicki but they were not yet a
couple. He thought she might be more amenable when she was sure he was besotted
with her. He had always dealt with Vicki openly and if he refused she would
construe that he was hiding something.
‘Okay, I’ll do it,’ he said. ‘My life is an open
‘A mystery book,’ said Steve.
‘We’ll soon see,’ said Vicki with a smile.
‘You already know all about me, Vicki.’
Vicki and Tom had lived in adjoining halls of
residence for six months and had talked almost every day.
‘The test is to find out your true feelings,’ she
said. ‘It will be fun.’
Tom was reassured and hoped that Vicki would realise
that his affection for her was genuine and she would bond with him.
‘I’m ready,’ he said.