I sighed, shifted my eyes to my reluctant assistant. "I suppose we should start by you telling me your name."
"All right, Veda," I began, "I'd like you to take a few deep breaths to relax.... Go ahead ... yes, that's right.... And when you feel you are ready, begin to focus your attention on this watch...." And I set the watch swinging like a pendulum, back and forth, back and forth, before Veda's highly skeptical expression.
She resisted at first, then began to follow its motion with her blue eyes. I worried she was too intoxicated to muster the requisite concentrationfor it takes significant mental discipline to narrow the aperture of awareness, to still the incessant babbling of mindbut her animosity toward me seemed to have had a sobering effect, and after a moment her eyelids became heavy. Her descent into a trance state required little of me beyond the occasional encouraging word, though for our audience's sake, I made a great show of glowering menacingly and looking Mephistophelianat least insofar as this is possible when one is twenty-three and shaves only every other day. At last Halliday's girl arrived at that place of equipoise between alertness and relaxation, and I knew that her inhibitions had reached their point of lowest ebb.
Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one who knew it.
"Witness, ladies and gentlemen," Halliday said, "the power men wield over the impressionable female mind!"
There were jeers from the crowd. Someone let out a piercing wolf whistle. I shot the whistler a sharp look and motioned for silence. Halliday's girl stood swaying like tapering smoke from an extinguished candle. She smiled, as if she were having a pleasant dream. Time to test her openness to suggestion.
"Can you still hear me, Veda?"
She drew out the syllable as if I'd fed her something sweet. The hairs along my arms stood up. I was frightened; also, I confess, not a little aroused. I fought the impulse to bring her out of it immediately, forced my brain to become a motion-picture camera recording the details of her own arousal: how her lips had swollen imperceptibly beyond their lipsticked borders, the gooseflesh giving pattern to her slender arms, the way her nostrils flared with each delicious breath. A shiver ran through her as if she'd felt a draft, and from my privileged vantage it became obvious she wasn't wearing a bust flattener beneath her silk dress.
Halliday appeared at my elbow. "Remarkable," he whispered, eyes traveling up and down the length of her. "You know, it strikes me that our Veda here would make an absolutely smashing Salomé"
"You're right, we can do better," he said ruminatively. "Something truly memorable ... something she wouldn't dream of doing awake"
"It doesn't work that way."
"Hypnotic suggestion," I said. "I can't force her to do anything she doesn't want to."
"Because it's forbidden by the mesmerists' Code of Honor?"
"More like the mechanics of the human unconscious."
I watched Halliday stew on this with a sour expression. Like so many in those days, he had fallen in thrall to the behaviorists, pigeon trainers like J. B. Watson who dismissed human consciousness as a side effect of over stimulated nerves, and therefore unworthy of study. Halliday knew that when it came to the subject of the unconscious, he was woefully ill informed. I could see him weighing whether or not I was telling the truth. In fact I was. Contrary to popular belief, it's all but impossible to force a hypnotized subject to do something against her willthough I hadn't arrived at this understanding via any deep reading of Freud. Rather, I'd come by it as did most self-taught Svengalis: through trial and error, and a mail-order pamphlet titled Hypnosis Explained!
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