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I’ve barely slept for three days and nights practicing on Hank’s polygraph machine.  Finally, I pass out on the kitchen floor. My eyes flutter open as his big hands lift me to sit up.
            “You’re okay partner,” he says. “I thought you’d pop yesterday, but you held out longer than I thought. You were thinking about that girl—Rachel. Wishing there was some other way. There’s not.”
            “I know,” I say. “I’m ready.”
            As soon as I say it, I know I’m doing more to remove Rachel from my heart than any threat of prison, public shame, or fugitive flight. The world we had constructed, inhabited, and hidden is now falling away as surely as water slipping through even the most grasping of hands.
            “You’ve got your counter-measures hardwired, partner. I’m going to schedule your official polygraph for 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.”
            A glimmer of hope flickers through me, the first since I received Rachel’s final email, as much a love note as an oblique warning to get out of town: I’ll always love you, no matter what. That email was followed an hour later by a call from Officer Gardener, his voice, calm, but serious: “Mr. Cassaway, I'm calling about an investigation of you in regard to a sexual assault on a minor: Rachel Coen. Please telephone me immediately at 303-441-1852. In the meantime you’re not to contact her family under any circumstances — or talk to her,” he added, almost as an afterthought. 
            I had met Rachel at a cooking class, The Alchemy of Nourishment, which she taught with her mother—Esther. Rachel had wavy brown hair pushed behind prominent ears, full lips, and a slight overbite. Her deeply set eyes were brown as root beer. She exuded gentle charm. When she smiled I felt a sense of welcome and ease I rarely felt until I’d known someone for years.
            She had just turned fifteen. I had just turned thirty-seven.
            We became friends over the ten-week class. She made excuses for me when I was late and scolded me when I half-assed my way through a recipe. Sometimes we would look at each other and break out laughing until Esther interrupted, saying we were being rude.
            The next year it all changed. I signed on as Esther’s apprentice and Rachel and I became lovers. I know how crazy that sounds, but we were all steeped in craziness—Esther a refuge from a long-running sex cult, myself a B minus Buddhist returning to the States after years in Asia, and Rachel, well, Rachel was sixteen, a state of transitory psychosis.
            Regardless, being with Rachel was beautiful. What everyone wants and so few find, an amalgam of friendship, love and lust with its own language, culture and rites, created on the spot and beholden to no one, its only purpose our happiness.
            She said things that made me wild: that she loved the feeling of my hands on her, the weight of my body, that it made her feel like she was being held by the earth. I was hungry for her—the sex, of course, but also the ease, joy and quiet stillness afterwards. I couldn’t get enough, even as I tried to fight off the oppressive paranoia of getting caught and the even heavier burden of guilt.
            After six months, things started to fall apart. I caught Rachel’s stepfather watching us have sex. Then Esther asked me to be her lover too. When I turned her down she called the police. That’s when my nightmare began. They did everything they could to deny their involvement and nail my coffin. Sixteen is the age of consent in Colorado, but there’s a provision that makes it a crime if there’s a ten-year age difference. On top of that, Esther claimed I was Rachel’s babysitter, and that meant I was in a Position of Trust and facing life in prison —unless I passed my polygraph.
             The next day, I wake up feeling super-humanly numb. Hank is on the phone with Patterson, the state of Colorado’s number one polygrapher, to find out exactly what equipment he uses. They’re both members of the American Polygraph Association—Dedicated to the Truth is their motto—and Hank winks at me as he chats Patterson up. Patterson’s gear is state of the art: a Lafayette LX – 4000 computer polygraph system and John Hopkins software. So Hank adjusts the witches’ brew of meds I take accordingly. After a high-protein, but low-fat breakfast of turkey sausage, steel-cut oatmeal with almonds, and a half glass of GNC’s Be Buff Chocolate Shake, I take:
            Vasotec — an ACE inhibitor and vasodilator causing the blood vessels to expand and consequently lower blood pressure. 40 mg.
            Betapace — a beta-blocker and anti-arrhythmic that negates the effects of adrenaline on the body’s beta-receptors and in particular its effect on the smooth muscles beyond conscious control, including the heart. 240 mg.
            Valium — for anxiety, but also a world-class muscle relaxant in its own right, especially at the dose I take. 10 mg.
            Ambien — which is tricky because if I take too much on top of the Valium I could fall asleep during the test, which would be a sure fire tip-off I was employing counter-measures, not to mention poor form. So only 2.5 mg.
            An hour later, the combination cuts through the adrenaline, fear, and rage of the previous seven months like those obsidian knives the Aztecs used to cut bone. I feel invincible as I walk into Patterson’s office. The receptionist greets me and I sit down in a beige polyester chair. Patterson is on the short side, dressed in khakis, maroon shoes and a blue collared shirt that sports a mustard stain on the sleeve.
             “I’m Joel Cassaway,” I say, and shake his hand. It’s hard to complete the sentence without adding something at the end, like I’m addicted, but only to…love.
            I’m getting glib. I have to watch that. He ushers me into a tiny room. There’s just enough space for a desk with the polygraph machine. It hums like an evil insect. Next to his desk is a plastic chair. I sit down feeling like I’m sinking into a mineshaft. I blink twice, my eyelids like wiper blades.
            He sits behind his desk and crosses his legs. “Tell me, in your own words, what happened.”
            Just like Hank said it would go. The pre-test interview: first isolate, then build rapport, establish enough trust to pump me for everything he needs to destroy me.
             “The family had a cultic background. The mother wanted to have sex with me and when I turned her down she accused me of engaging in sexual contact with her underage daughter. Never happened. Only kissing and petting over the clothes. I never achieved an erection. I was never sexually aroused.”
            He looks at me, uncrosses his legs, sits back in his chair and makes a note. I wonder if it writes Liar! His face conveys neither trust nor antagonism, perfectly poker. Even his breathing is slow and steady.
            Hank and I had gone over the American Polygraph Association’s training manual in detail. Polygraphs are totally unscientific, which is why they’re not admissible in court, but the Justice System uses them, mostly to elicit confessions. So they at least have to pretend to take them at face value.
            “Thirty-seven-year-old men without records don’t just start molesting girls,” he says.
            It happens all the time. He knows that. He’s trying to build rapport.
            “I really want to clear my name.”
            “Of course you do. The sooner we get started, the sooner we can clear this up so you can get on with your life.”
            He comes around his desk and stands within inches of me. Another trick—dominating my personal space. I act stupid, stare at the machine and lean too far forward as he puts the chest straps on. He places the skin receptivity monitor on my finger. I squirm when the air pressure cuff tightens. He tells me to take my hand out of my pocket and to stop scratching at the skin beneath the cuff.
            “Sorry,” I say. “I’ve never had one of these things on before.”
            “No need to worry,” he says. He checks to make sure the whoopee cushion under my ass is plugged in. “It’s all scientific. Designed to help us to get to the truth.”
            I look around the bare room. Another trick: space devoid of visual references, leaving me map-less. He punches something into the machine. It makes no sound, but I know what he’s seeing: a grid of horizontal and vertical lines tracking the changes in my breath, blood pressure, and skin receptivity rolling left to right across the screen like sine waves.
            The reality is that if I can control my breath then I control everything else.
            “First question: Are the lights on in the room?”
            Not doing anything at all. It’s an irrelevant question. Not even scored. Still, he watches my reactions for a full thirty seconds to see if they spike or drop too quickly. If that happens, he’ll know I’m incorrectly using counter-measures. I’m not worried. My vitals are pitch perfect.
            “Do you consider yourself an honest person?”
            Control question. The vast majority of people would say yes, but feel on some level that they are lying, hence a heightened physical response. The funny thing—or scary thing—is you have to lie to pass a polygraph test. If you tell the truth—that you don’t consider yourself an honest person—you fail. The trick is you need to lie on the right questions, in the right order, and at the right time. 
            To pass, I have to show more anxiety, which indicates a lie, on the control questions. Those are the questions about everyday lies, like Do you consider yourself an honest person? Then I have to show less anxiety on the issue-specific or relevant questions, whether-you-committed-a-crime lies, any questions that begins with: Did you ever?
            My plan is to use memories as counter-measures, rather than physical techniques—like tensing my muscles because memories are impossible for the test-giver to detect. I’ll use heart-quickening memories for the control questions and heart-calming ones for the issue specific questions.
            I’m crossing the Indian border without a visa. The Nepali police pick me up at a checkpoint. Not the regular cops either, the ones you bribe with a hundred rupees and then share a cup of tea. No, these are hardcore black beret-wearing paramilitaries. I tell them I work at the embassy, hoping that will save me. They don’t care. They pull me from the bus and frog-march me to the side of the road and have me stand in a ditch — trembling.
            In real time my blood pressure and pulse rise. They elevate despite the drugs’ effects covering me like a thick Amish quilt.
            “Did you ever have any mouth-to-genital contact with Rachel Coen?”
            “No,” I say. Not shaking my head, flinching, shifting in the chair, stuttering, or thinking about pleasuring her.
            Instead I’m at the beach in Cape Cod, the Atlantic rolling in, kites in an endless blue sky.
            He watches the screen. The John Hopkins software uses arcane algorithms to determine whether the response to the issue-specific question is greater than the response to the control question. In reality, he can see that in the lines in front of him. If I’m greater, then I’m Deceptive. If less, then I’m Non-Deceptive.
             “Have you ever lied to someone in authority to avoid getting in trouble?”
            Another control question. It’s turning out to be easier than I thought. I decide to test him a little, too.
            “You mean like, in school? I was taught by nuns and sometimes I might, you know, fib a little to avoid getting into trouble. Those nuns were tough.”
            He doesn’t react, but I can hear the exasperation in his voice.
            “Well, Joel, everybody fibs a little, especially when you’re a kid, but not when you’re an adult accused of a serious crime. Can you see how in the situation you’re in this type of question would be important?”
           “Yes. I can. That was just schoolboy antics, whether I prayed to Jesus and stuff. This is serious. Can you ask again?”
            I need to cut it out. The drugs are coursing through my blood stream. His face looks blurry, like he’s moving at high speed.
            “Okay then, besides lying at school to the nuns about praying to Jesus, have you ever lied to a person in authority to avoid getting in trouble?”
            Those Nepalese men form a semi-circle around me. I feel more than hear the
gravel crunch under my feet.
            My heartbeat and pulse quicken in real time.
            “Did you ever touch Rachel Coen’s bare vagina?”
            Not looking down for evasion or toward him for validation, not tapping my feet, squeezing my buttocks, or thinking about lying on my couch watching the snow fall outside with the only sound our comingled breath.
            I’m back at boarding school, walking to the cafeteria at dusk. I come upon a snow-dappled doe. It looks up with brown eyes and slowly trots away, turning to track me as she goes.
            “Do you consider yourself a good person?”
            The Nepalese captain nods almost imperceptibly. Two of his men circle behind me cutting off my only path to escape.
            My heartbeat and pulse rise in real time.
            ”Did you ever place your penis inside Rachel Coen’s vagina?”
            Not shaking my head, raising or lowering my voice, taking a breath before or after, or shutting my eyes.
            I’m in the Karakoram Mountains sitting in an ancient seer’s meditation cave listening to the wind blow outside.
            “Have you ever done something you knew was wrong and never told anyone?”
            The men tense, about to pounce. I lift my hands with open palms. I take a step toward them. They pause for the briefest moment before their captain shakes his head ever so slightly. They turn sideways and crouch. I make fists. My flip-flops skid on the scree.
            Everything rises in real time.
            “Did Rachel Coen ever touch your bare penis or your penis over your clothes for sexual purposes?”
            I’m lying with Rachel in Esther’s study with our bodies entwined. She has one hand wrapped around my neck. The other drops to my belt.
            Wait—that isn’t right. My heart beats in my chest like that guy from The Tell-Tale Heart. Patterson doesn’t like what he sees on the screen. He frowns and taps his foot on the thin carpet. All that Jedi training and a single memory ruined it?
            “Let’s try something else. The machine is off now.”
            He’s lying. There’s still pressure in the cuff. He pulls out a pack of cards and walks around his desk to stand in front of me, shuffling the little deck.
            Hank never said anything about cards.
            I look around the room for help, but of course no one is there. The cards sit in his hand like a kid’s toy. I mentally scramble through all the scenarios Hank prepared me for. Nothing comes up. I think of all the card tricks I know, the Ear Pull, Four Aces, the Spin Off and try to remember more, but there are thousands.
            Wait. There is the directed lie. How does the order go? Control, issue-specific, irrelevant? He steals a glance at the computer screen. I have to calm down. Think it through.
            “I’m going to ask you to pick a card and remember the number.”
            I need to buy enough time to figure out exactly how the trick works. 
            “And tell you the number?”
            “No, simply remember the number. Don’t tell me.”
            “What about the suit? Clubs, diamonds?”
            “No. Just the number.”
            I pick the card in the middle. A four. Four of Hearts.
            “Remember the card?” he says as if to a five-year-old.
            “Yes.” I struggle to hold my head up as the drugs reach their peak.
            “Okay then. I’m going to ask you if you picked different numbers. You answer truthfully to every question except when I say your card. Then I want you to lie: no.
            I see it. It’s a directed lie question, measuring my responses to the lie on my chosen card as the marker for deception. I simply need to lie on the question about the card I picked and show a physical response. Only natural.
            “Okay.” It had better be quick. I’m fighting to keep my eyes open.
            “That means yes? You understand?”
            “Yes. I understand.”
            “Did you pick the number SIX?”
             “No.” I take an easy breath.
            “Did you pick the number FIVE?”
            “No.” I take another easy breath.
            “Did you pick the number FOUR?”
            A squat man clutches my Pixies shirt as his the others grin like sharks. His neck, forearms and the back of his hands are covered in black tattoos of geometric patterns. A car crashes through the checkpoint and the night is filled with sirens, lights and screaming. The men run, chasing after the car, their captain turning around and yelling for me to stay. I do stay. I’m rooted to the ground, unable to move. 
            Sitting in the chair, my breath is shallow, pulse jagged, then spiking.
            Patterson smiles.
            “Did you pick the number THREE?”
            A gentle hand takes mine, walks me back to the bus and guides me to a seat. I close my eyes, as the bus starts and drives off. I’m filled with gratitude for the stranger who saved me.
            “Excellent response,” he says. “You’re not capable of lying convincingly.”
            I look over at him and try to be doe-eyed. Judging by the look on his face I may look cross-eyed. I have to remember that I’m too stoned to walk, let alone tango.
            “You could tell which one?”
            “Wow. It was four. That’s amazing.”
            “Great. We have a good deception baseline now,” he says, using his wrapping-things-up voice. “One more round. You do your job and I’ll do mine.”
            Wow. That’s not in any script. He’s giving me the benefit of the doubt. We go through all the questions again. The cuff on my arm deflates.
            “All right,” he says. “It looks good. We’ll be in touch.”
            My father picks me up. We stop and get coffee, him almost pouring it into my mouth as the people around us study, work, and flirt. If I passed my poly, this could be my world again instead of the nightmare I’ve been living in.
            “A guy named Hank called,” my dad says. “He told me to tell you: They play their games. We play ours.”
            I nod, close my eyes and fall asleep.

I wake up the next day in bed. My dad must have dragged me out of the car and tucked me in. Patterson did me a favor: dropped the question that registered as deceptive. According to the official results I’m officially Non-Deceptive. I may be able to get the Position of Trust charge dropped or at least lowered to a simple felony. Maybe even have the rest of the charges dropped to misdemeanors or better yet—non-sex offenses. I can do a little time and then get on with my life. I wait by the phone while my lawyer presents the results to the district attorney.
            When I ask Hank about the cards he tells me that the polygraphers don’t trust their own test enough to tell them when you’re lying about the card you picked so they stack the deck with all fours.
            But it doesn’t help—any of it.  A week later, Rachel also takes a polygraph. She passes with flying colors. In twenty years they have never had a victim take a polygraph, but when they saw my results they felt it was warranted. Her polygraph makes sure I’m facing life in prison. There’s no way out, except to flee.
            As I buy a one-way ticket to Bangkok, empty bank accounts and create an alias, I wonder which control questions Rachel lied on. I wonder if she knew those cards were all fours. I also wonder what she was feeling when asked about us.  Most of all, I wonder why she took the test, why she didn’t just let it go, why she was so adamant about telling the truth—that I’d loved her and that she loved me and always would.  No matter what.

© 2014 Joseph Chinnock

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Author Bio

Joseph ChinnockJoseph Chinnock is the director of WordSmiths, a consortium of Iowa Writers' Workshop graduates. “All Fours” is an excerpt from his most recent book, The Alchemy of Nourishment, the story of a post-Catholic, B minus Buddhist who joins a cooking class in the New Age mecca of Boulder.  His next project is about a Hindu Sherlock Holmes, a Brahmin postal worker in the British Raj who uses Hindu logic to solve crimes. In his free time Joseph writes, reads, broods, drinks way too much coffee and listens to New Order. You can contact him at