HEART OF THE HEALER: II
The inscription on the gravestone featured one line, bolder than the name or the faith behind the departed life. “The only Real rest is in motion Itself.”
“Fly in peace, John Baldino,” the mourner said in a soft voice, muffled by the winter wind that echoed more silence than gust, more future than past. “See you later, Doc,” he continued, keeping a watchful eye out for the procession behind him there for more legitimate purposes.
Jack caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. “John, are you still in there?” he said to himself. “I know the plastic surgeon did a good job on my face, but I’m still not comfortable with it. Exchanging faces and identities with a corpse is medically easy enough, but….”
The procession approached, closer and closer. More came to mourn the death of honorable, likable and even respected medico John Baldino, M.D., Ph.D. than expected. Patients, students, nurses, and even fellow docs. Then there were the strangers, who didn’t look like lawyers, but something more insidiously powerful.
“Movie producers,” Jack told himself whimsically. “Or literary agents. My death was the story of the year. I entered a burning building after that terrorist attack, and saved ten trapped people, twenty-five according to the News magazines. Who would have thought that a suburban doc with twenty-five years of experience in a Lower Westchester kvetch clinic would spend his last hour on earth stitching up wounds, arteries and bones with nothing more than an emergency medical bag and a head full of smarts? It would be nice if all of it were true. The intended plan was to find an accident and be its victim, not its hero. A man who knows too much about life on this side of the rainbow, and Oz, is too dangerous to be allowed to live. John Baldino has to die, but…”
Jack looked down at the tear in his coat, and under it, the rip in his pantyhose and a clump of unshaven skin underneath. “I better keep my mouth shut if I’m going to pull this drag thing off,” he thought to himself. “Facejob or no facejob, someone in that crowd is going to see John Baldino’s eyes in Jack Blanchard’s face. Maybe Jackie Blanchard can look into the world of John Baldino’s legacy and not be stared back at. But sometimes it DOESN’T pay to be to careful. And it was my choice to come here, I think.”
Yet, the instructions from Jack’s underground contact were explicit. Erica arranged for the plastic surgeon, found the accident site and even ghost-wrote the obituary. The former fellow resident, friend and one-time lover knew how organized international terrorism worked, and how organized anti-terrorism had to fight it. Only knew where Jack’s brother Vincent really was. Only she knew that Vincent was between wars, not the deceased victim of the last one, and on the way to foiling another plot to destroy the world by forces neither Jack, Ian Flemming nor even Oliver Stone on a paranoic brand of Ganja would imagine. The orders ultimately came from Vincent, as would the ultimate connection, or so Erica said.
Erica never had lied to Jack when he was Doctor John, in the past or in the present…or so it seemed. Her actions were innovative and heroic. She relocated him after she had dropped out twenty years ago in her ‘accident’ through a radio broadcast in code only John knew. She intervened just in time to save him from certain death or brain damage after BITE, the Brotherhood of International Terrorists Elite, unzipped his past memories with the most elegant mind-altering drugs available. She knew more about his super-spy parents and superman brother than he ever did. And she knew John’s most important secret—that he was ready to move on from being a healer of individual bodies to being a healer of the collective human soul, starting with his own, in the places of change—those places where new forces–some good, some evil–manifest in a location where there may be a war, a revolution or a more quiet, yet still pivotal change, that will spread to the entire world.
Cars approached the gravesite from all sides, solid-colored clean sedans. “Feds,” Jack said to himself. “Or worse, ” he said as one of the G-men, and/or hit-men gave him ten second stare.
“He likes my legs, I hope,” Jack thought. “At least I hope he’s not gay….Hell, I hope I’m not. I haven’t been anyone but John Baldino, MD, for…a lifetime.”
Jack caught another glance at himself in the reflection of an other tombstone, a black laminated affair that served more as a mirror to the mourner than a marker for the deceased. Through the foundation and rouge, there were still wrinkles around the eyes and chin lines that said ‘face over forty’. Yet the eyes were still that of a child, pure in spirit, not hardened by pain or hardship. Until the two week ‘vacation’ John had taken after experiencing those bizarre neurological symptoms which he thought were the prelude to certain death to a brain tumor, he had been on the watching end of pain, and the helping side. He fixed thousands of bones, and never had one broken. He patched up neurological wiring with the most intricate of tools, but had never experienced what is was like to look at a hand, leg or finger of his own that refused to move not matter how hard the mind willed or wished it to.
All of that, of course, changed with ‘disease 137A’. The 137A combo was a potent peyote-like pellet that gave one tremors, hallucinations, headaches and just enough transient paralysis to make you know what helplessness if all about. But without being slipped 137A somewhere between the Doctor’s Lounge and the Doctor of the Year Award toast, John would have never written his memoirs about people, places and patients who changed his life as a resident. He would not have seen, in the flesh seen by the third eye, dead people from his past come back and teach him about life, each visitation occurring on the night after he wrote about those people in the world of Reality. He would not have also been contacted by those gone, but far from dead, who would now be his closest friends. He would not have been cured by the patients and people he treated in the past—a very fair, but bizarre, exchange of medical fees, favors and fantasies.
BITE had 137A, as did everyone else who really know what biological warfare was about. Knowing too much about 137A, with its fine-tuned effect on fifteen established known and seven lesser-known neurotransmitter receptors could get you killed, but it enabled John Baldino to cross the life-death line. With strength of will, and an actively-opened mind, he could get answers from the living AND the dead. Some would call it highly advanced intuition, some would call it mysticism, while others would call it psychotic nonsense. Either way, once bitten by 137A, and after having mastered it with Erica’s even more highly-patented antidote, Baldino was a superman in Kansas, Oz or anywhere in between. For that reason, visiting his own funeral had to be done as a woman.
The primary emotion that hit John as the procession approached, then surrounded, the grave was vulnerability. “Maybe it’s the clothes,” he thought as he felt the emotions, accusation and threats from everywhere, and everyone. “Women’s garb is so…open”, he noted with the writer’s pen in his head, speaking with a loud voice, jotting it all down as fast as his eye scanned the group of friends, colleagues and strangers that seemed like a crowd now.
“We are gathered her to pay tribute to John Baldino, M.D.”, the priest said as the ashes of the a corpse that would die with no name was sprinkled into the ground. “A friend, physician, healer and salt of the Earth who will be missed by many communities. The community of medicine, the community science and the community he lived in…”
“Where the hell do I live now?” John thought as the eulogy went on in words sincerely written but mechanically delivered. “I’m supposed to be dead now, but I’m supposed to find Erica and then Vincent, then, somehow, save the world getting destroyed by a Terrorist Organization that knows more about biological weapons than scientists do…And what’s worse, they know how to dull the human spirit with drugs. It’s bad enough that AM radio programmers are killing the collective human soul with sound waves, in the form of top-forty hit melodies. Maybe they don’t know how devastating, ultimately, ‘happy’ tunes are, or maybe they are the victims of the poison they inflict on the public. And as for the Net, who really can say what subliminal messages are getting spread out there? It’s bad enough that kids these days are flattlined into geekdom by computer games, or fascinated with inflicting cruelty on their fellow humans with guns, knifes or chains, with NOTHING inbetween. And then there’s the ultimate conspiracy…mischief. Keep people thinking that they’re making big, major holes in the System’s Wall by kicking their heels up at the country bar dance floor, or getting drunk on illegal booze or zonked on ‘smuggled’ drugs, and you have them dead tired and submissive by Monday Morning after a hot weekend of partying…And then there’s the–”
“Ego!” a voice spoke softly and assertively from behind.
Erica never looked more determined, and interesting. Of all the mourners, she alone wore orange, the color of courage. Underneath the tight jeans and spandexed top lay a figure a 22 year old model would die for. But between the bangs of the platinum blonde wig, eyes that would kill anyone who dared look at them with the wrong reason, or motive.
“It’s only an egotist that comes to his…or her..own funeral,” Erica noted.
“Or someone who wants to see what I really did leave behind,” John countered. “I had to see what my old life was all about.”
John saw one thing in the faces of the people he knew so well from the identity of the mystery woman in the stunning black dress and ruby-red lips. “Small, I think. My life was small. But one to one starts out small, then grows…doesn’t it?”
“As long as you keep on moving,” Erica countered, with a strange subtext.
“What do you mean by that?”
“And what do you mean by that?”
“Black on gray is such bad color coordination. Though, I have to admit, you do look like a very hot chic,”
“Chic? Not an old bag? I’m impressed.”
“A man’s legs always look more sexy than a woman’s after we reach the big 35.”
“I thought our relationship was going to be…professional, Erica.”
“First, I have to know if that plastic surgeon took off some flesh between the legs there while he was working on your nose and cheeks, there, ‘Jackie'”.
“How does it feel, being a member of the ‘gentler’ sex?” Erica asked.
“It’s a bitch. Not pun intended…But it does feel, different.”
“There’s gonna be a lot from here on in that feels different, John.”
“In what way do you mean….”
John turned around. As quickly as Erica had appeared, she vanished. In her wake, she left a whiff of perfume that said ‘yes’ in John’s nostrils. In his hand, she left a note that said ‘absolutely!’. One the envelope, “Place of Change Number One” written in Latin in handwriting only understandable to a physician trained before computer-assisted diagnostic programs with big, bold computer read-outs. A glance of its contents was even more cryptic, beginning with “Beaver goes to college with Tonto and share a Tombstone pizza”.
“Flagstaff”, echoed from behind him. Was it Erica? Was it the wind? Or was it yet another case of crossing the life-death line, a warning from a ghost beckoning “All that enter here, lose all fear, or pay the consequences!”