Las Vegas; 1983.
Tadashi bowed his head and waited, unsure if he was going to be denied the story.
Van Peterson made a point of shifting in his seat to reset the conversation. “I used to séance with Andrija Puharich,” he said.
The assistant tried to hold back his excitement but could feel himself fidgeting.
“The men at The Office were particularly intrigued by our achievements in extrasensory perception. I had the privilege of being in the search party that found the Amanita Muscaria. You are familiar, I presume?”
“The fly agaric. A powerful psychoactive hallucinogen.”
“Andrija called it . . . the sacred mushroom.
Now that, Tadashi, was a thing of pure fantasy.
Such a beautiful object to observe. It had a bright red bulbous dome and tiny white spots. Right out of Alice In Wonderland, I tell you.
If it wasn’t right there in front of me, I would never have believed it to have existed.
The mushroom was growing in the woods so close to Andrija’s laboratory, as though it had been planted there just for us to discover.”
Van Peterson set his tumbler on the silver doily. “Occasionally, Mr Huxley would join us. We would perform meditation, both under the influence of psychotropics and of sober mind.”
Tadashi bowed, in thanks, but the professor wasn’t done.
A flicker of mischief flashed across his face.
He was about to reveal more than he knew he should.
“Once, Aldous Huxley wanted to borrow my bicycle for an LSD trip, but I had ingested a rather significant dose of the Peyote cactus that day, so I refused.”
“Still talking about drugs, Malcolm?” asked a low, southern American drawl.
They looked up to see a man in a grey suit; squat figure, hair combed abruptly to one side, and a smile that wouldn’t go amiss on a great white shark.
Special Agent Carlton stood, waiting to embrace, with arms outstretched.
“Hello, Jimmy,” smiled the professor.
Tadashi watched them wrestle a hug and pat each other on the back.
They seemed relaxed, like they had parted only weeks before.
“Now then, will you join us in a whisky?”
“I’m still not drinking.”
“Tell me, what else are you still not doing?”
“I’m still not funding you,” laughed the agent.
“Indeed. Indeed. How is Mrs Carlton?”
“And I’m still not going to tell you anything about my personal life,” he joked, but was in fact perfectly serious.
Jimmy Carlton sat on the leather armchair and casually unbuttoned his jacket. He pulled out a pack of Old Gold cigarettes.
No one spoke as he lit up.
Soon, he too appeared to be waiting for someone like himself to arrive.
Tadashi anticipated the conversation.
“Oh,” spluttered Van Peterson. “This is the new assistant. We can talk in front of him.”
Tadashi wasn’t sure if he should be honoured or insulted.
Carlton took his time. “I don’t believe that I have had the pleasure, young sir?”
He allowed smoke to rise between them.
“Where are my manners? Mr Tadashi Finjoto, from the Tokyo University of Science, may I introduce Special Agent Carlton,” he hesitated, “an old friend.”
Carlton tapped his cigarette in the ashtray.
They both leaned forward in their chairs and shook hands, neither of them actually standing.
“Mr Finjoto will be documenting my work at the Spiritual Science conference tomorrow,” explained Van Peterson.
The agent appeared to relax, as much as a stiff could. “So, Malcolm,” he said, “what exactly should Mr Finjoto, here, expect to document?”
There was a pregnant pause.
The room buzzed with chic dinner jazz and wealthy conversation.
“What would you say, Jimmy, if I were to tell you that I have made a discovery that will profoundly contradict the very nature of humanity?”
The agent stubbed out his cigarette.
“I would say that you had my full attention, Malcolm.”