Martie and Susan leave the doctor's office and head home. Martie almost forgets her book, and hesitates in picking it up when Susan reminds her. Martie stops for Chinese takeout and Tsingtao beer. When they get back home, Martie insists on eating with chopsticks because the fork makes her nervous. She has uncomfortable thoughts about a fork gouging someone's eye or tearing out someone's arteries. The bottle opener has a sharp point and makes her so uneasy she lets Susan open the beer. Mirrors continue to make her nervous. Again she wonders about that grapefruit juice that never gets explained.
And then we get a significant, real clue. When Martie watches Susan eating with a fork, she is not alarmed. The fork seems harmless when Susan holds it. It is only the fork in her hand that Martie fears. Which suggests that what she fears is not the fork, but what she might do with it.
And then comes the hanging clue. Up till now Susan has defended her estranged husband, Eric, even though he could not cope with her agoraphobia and left her. Now she changes her mind and calls him a "selfish pig." (That actually turns out to be significant in another way as well). She says she has changed her mind because her agoraphobia may like in problems with her marriage. In fact, she suspects now that Eric is having an affair, something she had never so much as hinted at before.
Susan says, "Sometimes a discovery like that, all of a sudden, it makes you feel so vulnerable. . . . And that's what agoraphobia is -- an overwhelming, crippling feeling of vulnerability." But she says the words without emotion, as if quoting a psychology textbook. Martie asks why she never hinted at this before. Susan says maybe she was too ashamed. Martie asks her why she should be ashamed when her husband is the one who has wronged her. Susan is puzzled, doesn't know, doesn't appear to have even thought about it before.
We can see what is going on here. Susan is not expressing her own beliefs or feelings, but simply reciting canned phrases Dr. Ahriman fed her, sort of like Martie's repeated phrases about the book, "The writing was good. The plot was entertaining. The characters were colorful. She enjoyed it." As long as she is simply reciting canned phrases, Susan never questions what she is told. But when she is challenged, she has neither experience nor reasoning to back it up. This by itself would work, but then Dean Koontz goes further.
Susan searches for ways to blame herself, but Martie challenges her. She asks what Eric has to say for himself. Susan gives a vague answer, saying they haven't discussed it in detail. Martie demands to know who the other woman is. Susan doesn't know. Martie is shocked, "Didn't Eric tell you?" Susan goes blank and says, "Eric?" Susan whispers, her face "as inanimate as the face of a doll" that she didn't learn this from Eric. Martie demands to know where she did learn it and Susan goes nearly catatonic:
Susan's flawless skin was no longer the color of peaches and cream, but pale and translucent as skimmed milk. A single drop of perspiration appeared at her hairline.Martie then snaps her fingers, and Susan completely snaps out of it. In fact, she doesn't seem to remember the whole conversation and certainly doesn't want to talk about it anymore. She suddenly smiles and seems cheerful and energetic, but determined to stick to innocent topics.
Reaching across the table, Martie held one hand in front of her friend's face.
Susan apparently didn't see it. She stared through the hand.
"Who?" Martie gently insisted.
Suddenly, numerous beads of sweat were strung across Susan's brow. Her hands had been folded on the table, but now they were fiercely clenched, the skin stretched tight and white across the knuckles, the fingernails of her right hand digging hard into the flesh of her left.
Ghost spiders crawled along the back of Martie's neck and crept down the staircase of her spine.
"Who told you Eric was screwing around?"
Still staring at some spectre, Susan tried to speak but could not get a word out. Her mouth turned soft, trembled, as though she were about to break into tears.
Susan seemed to be silenced by a phantom hand. The sense of another presence in the room was so powerful that Martie wanted to turn again and look behind her; but no one would be there.
Clearly this is a classic scene from a mind control novel, a sign that the questioner is Getting Too Close, so the brainwasher has implanted this a a sort of a fuse to short circuit this line of questioning. The trouble is that it doesn't work so well in this mind control novel, because it never happens again, even there are some excellent opportunities for it to happen. Nor is any explanation ever given for Ahriman implanting this short circuit mechanism, as opposed to something less suspicious. I can think of at least three golden opportunities in the novel where this technique could have made another appearance. To use all three would undoubtedly be overkill. But Koontz does not even reuse it once. To work properly, this strange reaction would have to occur at least one other time and be explained.
As evening approaches and Martie prepares to leave, Susan hints that something more terrible and sinister than she has admitted may be happening. She won't say what, other than that she suspects Eric is coming into the apartment while she is asleep. This, one suspects, as much as his purported affair, my account for why Susan called him a "selfish pig" and has become so hostile to him. But she refuses to say what is causing her suspicions. Martie playfully threatens to read her segments from boring academic tomes by Dusty's father and step-fathers if Susan doesn't tell. She also drops what proves to be a clue, saying that Dusty's current step-father, Derek Lampton, wrote a psychological book entitled, Dare to Be Your Own Best Friend. Susan promises to call, and Martie leaves.
I am actually breaking off about a page before the end of Chapter 17, because the last page of the chapter moves us into a whole different tone than we have been experiencing before. But before that, we have to learn what Dusty has been up to after leaving New Life Clinic.