Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 775
Psychology department: High School student needed for participation in controlled experiment under supervision of professor. After school and weekend sessions. . .
When Robbie Cavanaugh, just fired from his part-time job and financially broke, reads this notice, he believes that this is the answer to all his problems. With this job, he can pay back his friend Carlos Montano, who recently moved to Beverly Hills from South America, and take his friend, Samantha Matthews, out for a date. Robbie decides to go for it. Thus, the author begins to set up the pattern that would pit evil against good through manipulation, mind control, terror, and murder.
Accepted for the position by Dr. Edward Salazar, a well-known psychologist, Robbie is introduced to the control room of Bungalow #66. It is on the screen in this darkened room that he is shown film of a young man about his own age who was in a dirty, cramped cell. It is obvious that he is terrified. In subsequent sessions, Robbie views the torture of the young man by a faceless officer called the Captain. Through his earphones, he can hear the boy's screams. No one is there to help him. Robbie is frustrated by his helplessness. After each session, Salazar questions him concerning his feelings about the experiences, his life, and his friend Carlos. As the sessions become longer and more painful for Robbie, he can remember less and less of what took place in the control room. Disoriented and exhausted, he thinks of quitting, but he does not because he does not want to disappoint the man whom he has come to like and respect.
Sam, however, is concerned over the change in her friend and the influence Salazar has over Robbie. She sneaks into Salazar's office and discovers that Robbie is being brainwashed. Robbie, when told of this, is unconvinced of Salazar's treachery and continues the sessions. With the electrical current going through the electrodes placed on Robbie's head by Salazar, the sessions become more intense. The control room becomes the airless prison cell. The pressure of the ropes attached to the captive boy is felt on Robbie's body. Robbie has become the victim. He is undergoing the victim's terror and is consumed with hatred against his torturer, the Captain. Salazar's methods successfully brainwash Robbie, for through a post-session suggestion he comes to believe Carlos is the hated Captain, and he shoots and wounds Carlos with a gun made available by Salazar.
Robbie is horrified and guilty over this and realizes that Sam had been right. Confronting his antagonist, Robbie learns that Salazar had been fired from his job in a South American country for failing to work on a government project that would lead to mind control abuses. Angered at this, his son David joined a secret radical group to protect the military regime. One day, he disappeared. Salazar's wife joined a prayer vigil group, and she, too, vanished. They have become the "disappearing ones, desaparecidos." Salazar was unable to find any trace of them until the military was overthrown and General Couz and his family escaped to California under the assumed name of Montano. Both Salazar's son and wife are dead. David had been betrayed by his school friend Carlos. Overcome with grief, and enmity, Salazar set about his plan for vengeance, with Robbie as the tool to bring about the death of Carlos Montano.
Puzzled and angered over Carlos's role, Robbie believes he must hear Carlos's side of the story. The repenting Carlos relates that, despite his efforts not to break under the torture, ordered by his father, he betrayed David Salazar. Robbie is faced with a dilemma. What would he have done in Carlos's place? Would he have had the strength to defy his torturers? Since Carlos had not been found guilty by any court, what gives Salazar the right to be the executioner? Robbie forgives his friend. He comes to believe that true friendship will often mean forgiving.
In the final suspenseful climax, Salazar, who murders Carlos's mother and father, demands that Robbie stand aside so he can shoot Carlos. Robbie meets the challenge, refuses, and he and Carlos escape to safety.
The circle of revenge is not broken, however, for Carlos decides to seek out his vengeance by killing Salazar. Robbie begs him not to because two wrongs do not make a right. Carlos ignores his plea and disappears.
Robbie picks up his old life but with a more mature perspective. He is more appreciative of his home, parents, and country. He recognizes the importance of democracy and freedom, yet, mindful of the fact that to keep them calls for responsibility and commitment.
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