Ingrams & Assoc 5: Personality Flaws Ch. 03


"Social engineering girl. We get one of the girls here to call with a hard luck story, pretending to be his wife. She gives them a sob story, and eventually they reset the password for her. Boom. Instant access."

"It's really that easy?"

"No entirely. You have to know what's within their ability to do, and you have to have the right story, so there's knowledge required to do this, but yeah, at the end of the string, it's easy, just not that easy."

"Wow. OK, well, can you get in? We need to look for something in his Amex history."

"Surely. Hold on."

April chuckled and couldn't resist a quick jab.

"I can hold on. And don't call me Shirley."


April sighed. What do they teach the youth of today? He'd never seen Airplane? She made a mental note to make sure that was rectified before she returned home.

"Never mind."

"Ok, I'm in. What are we looking for?"

"Oh, we are looking for... um..." she looked at Rachael, with a 'help me?' expression.

"Auctoritas Group," said Rachael. "Spelled A U C T O R I T A S"

April repeated that to Dan over the phone. While she was doing it, some memory, deep in the back of her mind tugged at her. She thought about it for a second, but nothing was clicking. Then Dan diverted her attention when he said, "Yeah, got it. We have, let's see, five different payments. Over... five months. All prior to him leaving."

April sat back, silent, while she considered this news. Then she sat up and looked at Rachael.

"You said he had four or five sessions, and that was it finished, yes?"

"Yes. I was surprised. He didn't need any nicotine patches or anything else. He just quit, cold turkey. I was impressed. I guessed the therapy was very good. I mean, I knew he had discipline, but still..."

"Well then. I wonder what all the other sessions were for?"

"What?" asked Rachael, sharply.

"Hey Dan, thanks for the info. I'll be back in touch when Mark and George get here," said April, turning her attention back to the phone.

"No problem, April. And remember, I just want to wish you luck, and we are all depending on you."

So he had seen Airplane. April was glad. She chuckled and ended the call.

As she did so, the door opened and George and Mark walked through it.

"Well, lookee here," said April. "Look what the cat dragged in."

George gave her a four-letter stare, and then went to the bar to order some drinks.

Mark came over to the paper-strewn table and sat down, heavily.

He nodded at Rachael and said, "Good morning, Mrs. Hicks. April."

Rachael nodded to him and April got up and stretched. "To what do we owe the honor, Mark?"

"We have some news on Lee. I figured you'd want to hear."

"What is it?"

"He's been put in a medical coma."

Rachael gasped. April leaned on the table and said, simply, "Why?"

"He had another fit this morning, early. He broke his arm with the muscle contractions. They just feel that until we have a better handle on what's been done to him, it's safer to him in terms of the strain it puts on his system every time he has a fit."

He looked apologetically at Rachael, who just sat, staring at him, a single tear running down her cheek.

"Well, speaking of that, I think we may have made some progress there," said April, moving on quickly from Mark's pronouncement. "I don't know if it's the smoking gun we are looking for, but it's definitely a smoking weapon of some sort. Although I'm unsure what it was shooting or, or where the bullet went."

George came over and handed Mark a pint of bitter, having a pint of something golden for himself. He sat down in the one remaining free chair and said, "Smoking gun?"

"Yes," said April. "So we discovered that Lee quit smoking. He did so though hypnotherapy."

Lee and George suddenly sat up straighter, interest evident in their faces.

"What's more, he paid for four or five sessions on Rachael's credit card, was apparently 'cured' but then paid for a bunch more sessions. On a card she knew nothing about. And had these sessions without her knowing anything about it. Now, that doesn't mean anything definitive - he could have been taking these sessions to deal with, oh, I don't know, self-confidence issues. Who knows. But, it's the first lead we've had here, and I want to see where it goes."

She turned her attention to the papers in front of her, shifting through them.

"You think he could have been hypnotized into...well, what he is now?"

"What? Oh no. Hypnotism can't do that. I did an intro to hypnotism class at university, and we have to do a simple relaxation class which incorporates some hypnotic techniques when I joined Ingrams. It's part of the training you get on becoming a field agent. Some of the techniques are really good for relaxing people post coitus, because they are relaxed anyway, and more likely to divulge information we need to get to..."

She trailed off and looked up, suddenly aware that the other three were staring at her, open mouthed.

"Bloody hell," muttered George. "I'm in the wrong game."

"What?" asked April, genuinely puzzled.

Rachael leaned forward and patted her hand, for once a calm, more maternal expression on her face, and said, "I think, dear, your life is considerably different from the one most of us lead. You have a skill set that is quite...extraordinary."

April felt the color creeping up her face. "Oh," she said.

Mark chuckled. "Oh look. She's embarrassed. Look! She's blushing!"

"Shut up Mark," she hissed at him, looking back down at the papers frantically.

The moment passed and George said, "So, he can't have been hypnotized into being a subbie then? I mean, I've seen some weird old stuff with people on stage. Them being persuaded they are chickens, and the like?"

"Well no. Hypnotism isn't like that. It's not what you see in theater or film or TV. Look, I'm not exactly an expert, but the classes I've taken have given me some understanding of what it is and is not.

April sat back, and went into professorial mode, playing with a pencil unconsciously, not recognizing the severe irony of her doing so.

"Hypnotism is a way of talking directly to the subconscious, the back brain, so to speak. It bypasses higher level thinking centers. But it can't change who you are. You can't hypnotize someone to kill someone else, for example, because your subconscious knows this is wrong. If you try, that person will come out of the trance immediately. Although, if they were predisposed to want to kill that person anyway and have some psychopathic tendencies, well, then it would be possible you might succeed, but still unlikely. So, the Manchurian Candidate was a fine movie, but total fiction. You can persuade people they are chickens because their subconscious knows this isn't something that will hurt someone else. You can't persuade people to take their clothes off, at least not easily, because again, it's contrary to the well-being of the individual. But something like quitting smoking? That is definitely possible. The person wants to quit, so the hypnosis is just getting the subconscious in sync with the conscious."

"Making someone like Lee a submissive that needs domination to the extent he does, to make him throw away a rock-solid marriage to Rachael? Well, hypnotism isn't going to be able to do that. I mean, while hypnotism can do a lot of things, it can't overcome a strong and opposed conscious will. When you see that stuff in stage shows, often the people being asked to come up on stage are carefully screened by talking with members of the audience on the way in, looking for suggestible personalities. Lee, from all reports, was a strong and dynamic personality. You don't get to be a Major in the Grenadier Guards without one. Hypnosis can help you overcome barriers to doing what you want to do; it can't change what you want to do"

"Well, maybe he wanted to be submissive?" asked Mark.

"Possibly, but it's hard to know. It's a bit doubtful though. Rachael would have seen some indication of that over the years. But even if he did, you don't get put in a trance, get told to leave your wife of many years, hide all trace of wanting to do it, then get given to a master and mistress and live your life trying to pleasure them, at your expense, - taking the beatings he did -, and then just do it. The mind doesn't work like that."

"So...what then?"

"Well, something went on here. We need to look into this more. The first thing we need is an expert in this area. My few classes taken years ago don't give us enough deep current knowledge. Mark, George, can you find us an expert? Someone discrete?"

"Probably," said Mark, sipping his beer, thoughtfully.

"Um," inserted George, hesitantly. "Can I ask a stupid question?"

"There are no stupid questions George, you know that," said Mark, in a teasing tone. "Only stupid people."

George gave Mark a nasty stare, then carried on. "Why are we doing this? Why are we carrying on this investigation? Given what we know already, why aren't we just taking this to the cops? Or the Feds? Or someone else official?"

"Take them what exactly, George? That there's a bunch of hypnotherapists that we think are hypnotizing people into being sexual deviants? And handing over shares of companies? Right yeah. That sounds like the plot to a crappy nineteen seventies cop procedural TV show. It's something straight out of Starsky and Hutch. They aren't going to run with that. They are just going to raise their eyebrows and then show us the door. It's not convincing and it's not going to get them to do anything. They aren't going to buy it."

"Well, you've got a point there, April. Put like that, I'm not sure I do either," remarked Mark, thoughtfully.

"Well, that may be, Mark. There may be nothing here. But I promised Rachael," she nodded at Rachael, who put on a hesitantly hopeful smile, "and we are going to investigate this, even if it does end up going nowhere. We copasetic on that?"

The last phrase was said a touch more forcefully than it really needed to be, just to put the point across. Mark raised his hands in supplication and acceptance.

"You are definitely calling the shots here April. I have no problem at all chasing this down. I just wanted to keep it real that it may be nothing, that's all."

April nodded, relaxing as she did so.

"OK the, let's find ourselves an expert. When we do, we'll talk to them, see what they can tell us about what we are seeing and what we might be able to do about it. And then, I think I may need to take a hypnotherapy course. For self-confidence, or something."

There was silence at the last statement, before everyone burst out saying things like "Absolutely not", all at once.

Two days later, April was sitting in the office at Ingrams UK, drinking the only decent coffee she'd had since she had arrived - from a Keurig, unfortunately - waiting for the arrival of the 'expert'.

A lot had happened in two days. April had tasked Dan and George with finding the hypno therapy group. Their initial inquiries had returned that the group had dissolved - the corporation that rented the facilities and owned the bank account Lee's monies had been paid into no longer existed. The signatures on the incorporation documents were faked, and there was very few tracks to follow. However, just finding this out meant that they knew they were on the right track - such pains taken to remove all traces definitely meant this group were up to no good.

Dan and George had, instead of trying to track the specifics of the group, looked around at every hypnotherapy group they could find, trying to match them to a profile. The group couldn't have been in existence too long, had to be local, needed to offer services that were about handling small problems, and might have the spouse of a high ranking member of a large publicly held corporation among its customers.

Since they didn't have access to tools like Echelon, they had to make do. The crew back in the US office had come up with some interesting search systems, that could scan twitter, Instagram and some degree of Facebook, looking for mentions of specific search terms, and then filtering on further terms. It was like Google, but targeted at social media, with a much higher degree of penetration to those platforms than any commercial search engine, such penetration coming from occasionally dubious means.

Using these tools, they'd managed to identify three hypnotherapy groups that fit the profile. While doing so, unexpectedly, they also found three past groups that no longer existed, but that also fit the same profile. In each case, a spouse of a high ranking officer of a large corporation left their partner in dramatic circumstances, and sold their shares to a third party facilitating either a hostile takeover or, at the very least a regime change at the board level, as was the case for Rachael's company.

The first thing they did was look at who acquired the shares. Each was a holding company with a byzantine series of parent companies, other subsidiaries and complicated structures designed to prevent identification of the real owners. They debated carrying on, but in the end decided on abandoning the endless task of tracing random trails of companies in order to concentrate on the actual perpetrators of the hypnotherapy scam, theorizing that getting a bead on them would lead them higher eventually.

They then looked deeper into the therapy groups specifically, finding that in each case the group folded up and vanished, closing down the company leaving no traces. The only thing that tied them together was the results, and the description of the main man who dispensed the therapy. Tall, thin hair, shaved close to the scalp, wiry, wearing glasses, intense blue eyes, almost no lips, with a pronounced Adam's apple. Scrawny, is how one person had described him. Another commented on the fact that he was always freshly shaved, even at the end of the day. Several made comment of the slight speech impediment he had, a tendency to elongate his sibilant sounds.

The only other thing they found that was abnormal was an almost one hundred percent success rate. It appeared that everyone that reviewed these services mentioned how good it was. And that, itself, was unusual. That obviously didn't take into account all the people who didn't comment but still, they didn't find that result on other services when they went back and looked. It was evident he was very good at what he did, which would make sense, given their suspicions.

The individual who ran it had been many names. Doctor Temple, Doctor Arkin, Doctor Sewell. When Lee Hicks had been seeing him, he was Doctor Pols, and most recently he was Doctor Marcus Baker.

He was currently running a small practice in Ipswich, in Suffolk. They hadn't identified who he was targeting this time - but they had posited that perhaps he'd started this practice up many times in the past and simply never actually managed to snare the intended target. The whole thing stunk of premeditation, organization and malicious intent.

Having identified where the good Doctor was now practicing, the intent was to drop April in as a patient, and then record what the occurred in the hypnotherapy sessions, to see if they could get some idea of what had happened with Lee. Without a clearer understanding of what had been done to him, it would be difficult to know the best form of therapy to help get him over it.

But before they attempted this, April had continued to insist on finding an actual expert. Her learning on the subject was desultory and just enough to really push home to her how much she really didn't know. They needed detailed and current experience and knowledge to really understand what they were looking at.

So she'd tasked Mark with finding an expert. Someone they could trust to hold his tongue on what he may or may not see.

Mark had called that morning, to say he'd found someone and he'd be at the Ingrams office later that day, so she needed to high tail it down to Camden.

And here she was, watching a slim short Indian man, in his early thirties, being guided into the small conference room. He was in conversation with Mark as the door opened, so she got a couple of seconds to size him up before he turned his attention to her. He was short, only five foot five or so. Clean shaven. That wonderful chocolate skin that marked him out as having ancestry from India or Pakistan, although from his accent, he was second generation British - it was loaded with "Bloody, blimey, havin' a laugh" and other Britishisms. But it was his eyes that were interesting - bright white and green, which was an oddity in any genus, let alone Indian.

His gaze was intimidating; it made your own eyes start to water a little, involuntarily, and it took April a while to work out that it was because he just didn't blink at the same rate as the average person.

For some reason, he felt familiar to April. Not obviously, just as someone she might have seen before.

"Ah, April. May I introduce Chandra Patel. Better known by his stage name as Chon The Eyes. Chandra, this is April Carlisle, the agent in charge of what we are trying to do here."

Now she had him. Chon the Eyes was a British TV celebrity, known for his magic and hypnotism act.

"Charmed," said Chandra, coming right up to April, as she stood, extending her hand for a handshake.

"Likewise," she replied, turning her attention to Mark. "Mark, can we have a quick word outside? New developments..." she carried on, all business.

"Sure. Chandra, help yourself to coffee," Mark said, as he guided April outside the conference room, shutting the door.

"Mark," hissed April in low tones when they exited the room, "What the fuck? A TV celebrity? For an undercover operation? What the hell where you thinking??"

She made no bones about her displeasure.

Mark smiled and spread his hands. "April, you asked for an expert. I went to the magic circle and spoke to several people and all of them said this is the guy we want. I went to see him, and he's amenable. He can be discrete, after all, he's kept the secrets of how his tricks are performed for years. Also, he's gay, and no one knows that, but we do. He won't cause us grief. I've given him the basics - he thinks we are an outpost of some American agency with three letters and I let him believe that - and he's very interested in how this guy is pulling off what he is doing, for obvious reasons. We could do a lot worse. Let's get on with it, ok?"

April's eyes narrowed at Mark, and then after a second she nodded, saying, "OK, but if I get the idea this guy is showboating, I'll kick his ass so hard he won't sit for a month. And then I'll kick yours and you won't sit for a week. At least."

"Promises, promises April," mocked Mark, good-naturedly. "Normally I have to pay extra for that."

He grinned and said, "Come on, he'll be wondering where we are."

They re-entered the room to find Chandra sitting at the head of the table, feet up, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand.

"You guys get that sorted out then? Am I on the case, or is Mr. Celebrity here going to be sent packing, or what?"

April sat back down in the chair she'd been sitting in and declared, "We are going with you for now, Mr. Chandra. Don't make me regret it."

She used her All Business voice, setting the tone for their interaction.

Chandra carefully pulled his feet off the desk, put down the coffee carefully and stood up.

"Well, I can tell when I'm here on sufferance. I've had as much of that in my life as I'm ever going to need thanks, so nice to meet you Mark. I'll show myself out."

"Wait!" said April, standing again.

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