HEART OF THE HEALER pt II: THE TRUTH ABOUT LYING
By MJ Politis, Ph,D., D.V.M
Revised, April, 2019
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, ‘commoners’ there for more legitimate purposes.
Jack caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection on the freshly-polished stone. “John, are you still in there?” he said to himself. “I know the ER surgeon did a good job on my face, or more accurately my nose, but I’m still not comfortable with it. By accident or ‘coincidence’ I may look like this guy on my new driver’s license, but even I can see that it’s still…me”
The procession approached, closer and closer, black suits to honor death. White shirts and blouses to show off the black.. Far more than ‘Jack’ expected to came to mourn the death of honorable, likable and even respected medico John Baldino, M.D., Ph.D., his now buried identity. 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,” John 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…”
John felt the wind interrupting him through the bottom of his kilt, the traditional pattern and length dating back to the times before the Industrial Revolution invaded the Highlands, complimented by a walruss Mustache on his upper lip.. “I better keep my mouth shut if I’m going to pull this Scotsman thing off,” he thought to himself. “Facejob or no facejob, someone in that crowd is going to see John Baldino’s eyes in Jack McFarland’s face. Maybe McFarland, the trauma patient that DIDN’T make it, can look into the world of Doctor 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.”
The instructions from John’s underground contact were explicit. Erica Fisher-Burger, MD, arranged for John’s reconstructive facial surgery, found the accident site and even ghost-wrote the obituary. John’s former fellow resident, friend and one-time lover knew how organized international terrorism worked, and how organized anti-terrorism had to fight it. Only she knew where John’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 had never lied to Baldino, in the past or in the present…or so it seemed. Her actions were innovative and heroic. She re-contacted him after she had dropped out twenty years ago in her ‘accident’. She identified herselt to John when he was underdoing his ‘trial by hallucination’ through a radio broadcast in code only he 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 and almost got the formula for Baldino’s recently discovered ‘brain rebuilding’ agents with the most elegant mind-altering drugs available. Mind-wrapping and brain-killing toxins that even the ultra-accomplished bench-to-bedside Research Doc didn’t know about. She knew more about John’s 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,” John muttered to himself with a Scottish roll to the tonuge. “Or worse, ” he said in his own Westchester County-altered Bronx diction as one of the G-men, and/or hit-men gave him ten second stare.
“He likes my legs, I hope,” John thought. “At least I hope he’s not gay….Hell, I hope I’m not. I haven’t been anyone but John Baldino, M.D., Ph.D., for…at least 25 years.”
Jack caught another glance at himself in the reflection of another tombstone, a black laminated affair that served more as a mirror to the mourner than a marker for the deceased. Through the blonde mustache on the upper lip, rouge on the sunken cheeks and rather handsome and shapely bare legs under the wind-blown kilt, 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 no matter how hard the mind willed or wished it to.
All of that, of course, changed with ‘disease 137A’, delivered by terrorist organization BITE, through the loving hands of Kathleen Brady, the landlord at the beach house who really did learn to love the ‘mark’ she was supposed to interrogate, then kill.. 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 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 mysticism, while others rebuking it as psychotic nonsense. But 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 Italian funeral had to be done as a Scot.
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, even though no one seemed to notice his presence. “Kilts are 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 pontificated as the ashes of the a corpse that would die with no name was sprinkled into the ground below. “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, wirelessly-transmitted electical frequencies and, according to Erica’s latest theory, top forty musical melodies and lyrics. 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, me lad Jack,” Erica said out of the side of her mouth to John with more of a Irish Brogh than Highland roll to the tongue.
“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 was struck by something he never had seen in the faces of the people he knew so well— From the identity of for-real-departed Jack McFarlan, a common Scottish Janitor who did so many uncommon things in his time away from work. “Small, I think,” John noted about his now officially-ended life. “John Baldino may have been the biggest status symbol for Westchester General Hospital and Columbia Institute of Neurological Research, but his life was small. A few research papers that got over-rated, a lot of patients who were cured as much by Mother Nature as by ‘Doctor John’. Curing people in a small part of the world where nothing really changes. But…” trying to find a cure within the disease, he speculated again. “Doing what you can within your safety zone is a start, right?”
“As long as you keep on moving,” Erica countered, with a strangely assertive, yet clandestine, subtext.
“What do you mean by that?” John dared to look into her, despite the risks of being looked at himself.
“And what do you mean by that?” the woman of Fire and Warmth slurred out from the side of her mouth, looking just below John’s crotch.. “Black on gray is such bad color coordination, and that Scottish plad is so…Irish,” she noted. “Though, I have to admit, from the waist down, you do look like a very hot lad….or lass.” A hidden agenda grew behind her eyes.
“I’m impressed,” John sighed, with a Scottish accent that felt convincing, to him at least.
“A man’s legs always look more sexy than a woman’s after we reach the big 35,” Erica noted, enviously.
“I thought our relationship was going to be…professional, Erica.”
“First, I have to know if that surgeon took off some flesh between the legs after he finished rebuilding your schmucked up your nose and cheeks.”.
“How does it feel, not being the one wearing the pants?” 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 reconstructed nostrils. In his hand, she left a note that said ‘Absolutely!’. On the envelope, “Place of Change Number One” scribbled in Latin, handwriting only understandable to a Pre-Microsoft physician-trained eye. A glance of its contents was even more cryptic, beginning with “Beaver goes to college with Tonto and share a Tombstone pizza”.
“The SouthWest.” Baldino surmised.
“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!”
“Apaches Dying of Newly Discovered Peyote”, the National Inquirer headline read. “Southwest Epidemic: Contagous Killer Carcinogen on the White Mountain Indian Reservation”, The Star reported. “Arab Terrorist Agents Behind Resurgence of Ancient Apache Suicide Cult”, the Post boasted on it’s headlines.
The readers in New York, Chicago and even the Flagstaff Shopping Mall believed the stories about what was decimating the most isolated and belligerent band of ‘Injuns’ North of the Rio Grande, mis-spellings and all. But the eagle overlooking the desert high country knew better. So did the Apaches in the 16,000 acre track of arid hills known now as “Rez Zero”. The dead knew even more, but could say nothing, except to the eagle.
The loses in the last three months were staggering. One in ten Apache dead, another two dying, the rest asking the most painful question of all—“Why?”
The symbol of American freedom and Apache defiance watched from his perch in the knarled pines of the high country, passing up his chance to get easy prey in the early morning. He would eat a different kind of meal today—grief.
Today’s burial was a boy, barely nine years old. His muscles had been reduced to empty sacs that lay over brittle bones. His face looked ancient, wrinkled and burned. His hair gone, save a few strands of three-feet mane spared from the chemotherapy. Jay’s grandfather, Kurtis Thundercloud, was determined to not let the boy die at the hands of the doctors in Flagstaff, even if the healers with the bottled medicines and white coats were well meaning. The octogenarian never trusted the White men, particularly when they had good intentions. The price would always be paid by the Indian.
Kurtis was only a boy when the Apache Nation was allowed to return West after their thirty-year imprisonment in Florida and Alabama. Geronimo knew that fighting the White man was futile. Eleven Apache against a quarter of the entire US Army were not good odds, but the battles of the 1880s were waged for the generations to come. “Someone will remember,” the aging warrior assured the then-young Kurtis. “And someone will do something to make it better than it ever was. The Eagle Cult is watching over our Mountains for us” the old Chief would relate, in secret, hoping that those the Apache’s thought dead were still holding up in the Arizona hills, keeping the traditions alive and their identity hidden. So many lost their lives when they came out in the open. And as for Geronimo, he died drunk, as a lower-rank Reservation Policeman under White jurisdiction in Oklahoma.
Now old well beyond his years, Kurtis didn’t look into mirrors much these days, no matter how much Native buckskin and moccasins were made available by the resurgence of the American Indian Movement. But, he saw too much Geronimo in his aging eyes. He knew all too well that if the First Nations’ movement for Basic survival wasn’t going forward fast enough, it is going backward.
The eagle was honored that one of his feathers was tied into the remaining strands of hair still left on young Jay’s head, Kurt’s last grandson. The bird hoped that the deer who provided the buckskin shirt and leggings for the too old man and the tragically-dead young boy felt the same way. The Thundercloud clan had been in these hills for as long as the eagles ancestors had. Lineage was lineage, and family was family.
Jay’s family was the entire tribe, something expected for a people who had the same word for relative and friend. Chopping off a finger or a lock of hair was custom after losing a loved one. Not one of the mourners had a full compliment of digits nor an intact topknot. Still, they paid their respects with an offering of flesh, hair or something precious that was more practically spared— turquoise rocks, beaded necklaces and autographed Babe Ruth baseballs.
Jay was barely nine, but he was the kind of kid who wouldn’t turn to booze, cocaine or cruelty when he reached teenhood. Suicide came as a thought three times a day, but never an option, somehow. So many of his brethren at other reservations did succum to the dope, firewater, and cruelty, as did most the Indians who tried to make a go of it in town.
Of course there were ‘successful experiments’, Apache who entered White society as lawyers, bankers, graphic artists and businessmen. But few of Geronimo’s ancestors became doctors, and fewer still, writers. Kurtis Thundercloud wanted someone to be a doctor and a writer. Jay looked like he would be the one. Or maybe there would be someone else. A physician-poet who may not have an Indian skin, but had an Indian heart.
The eagle watched again, and listened. The drumbeat and prayer-chants echoed against the canyon walls on this ancient burial ground, a place where no white man had ever stepped. Not even legend Indian Scout Tom Horn knew about this place where the rocks had faces easily seen by those with open eyes. The Shaman knew that this was where the birthplace of their people was, where their identity had been forced with the help of the ancients. The stories about the Ten Messengers and the long line of descendants were known, sung, but never spoken. It was here, in Canyon Rock, where Sitting Bull’s Ghost Dancers flourished after the buffalo were gone, and where they sought refuge after their brethren were wiped out in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. Finally, here, the Apache could bury their dead in peace, and privacy.
The eagle knew this, as did the other animals of the desert. No bird of prey or passion ate of the flesh consecrated here. But one kind of bird ignored this rule.
A crop-duster swooped overhead. Kurtis ceased his chanting and yelled up to the yellow-green vulture up in the sky. “Get away, demon!!! Get away!!!” he screamed from the top of his lungs, now parched and fragile sacs due to what was happening at stage one of what was becoming to be known as MID, Mad Indian Disease. Stage two caused hallucinations. Planes looking like prehistoric vultures with four eyes and eight pairs of wings was typical, in keeping with the stories passed around the campfires and the reported visions seen by every Apache in the psyche or chemo ward. On the ground, approaching objects looked like horned yellow-green tanklike-bufallos that gored you in the chest, head and eyes, another collectively very-conscious throwback to something common to the stories or the genes of a people who never intermarried, even into neighboring tribes. Stage three was the shakes, grand mal seizures of a special nature, the kind that left you shaking AND conscious. Stage four was death, and an autopsy report that typically read “association cortex tumor of astroglial nature, with octagonal inclusions connecting microfilaments.”
Kurtis’ hand shook as he lifted up his rifle and aimed it at the plane. “The vulture will not get me like the buffaloes got my grandson!” he vowed. “They will not get anyone else!!!”
Then, a hand swiped across Kurtis’ shrivelled and shaking arm, the shot missing its mark by miles instead of meters. “They’ll find us here if you shoot at them now,” Jake Cuthand related to ‘Old Man’ Thundercloud.
“If you fight a war half way, you will always lose it!” Thundercloud admonished as the shots rickosheed against the rocks, making an even louder sound than the original bullet. He felt weak, cold, out of breath and very fearful behind his fiery eyes.
Cuthand knew that Thundercloud was right. He put a blanket over the old man and gave him one of the ancient herbal agents that, sometimes, made stage 3 of the disease easier to deal with. A tour in Vietnam should have taught Cuthand the price of fighting the enemy from a defensive-only position. But he had been forced into a defensive war against the Whites as an American Indian Movement activist, a movement he was still trying to fight as the most armed and weapon-smart member of the ancient Eagle Clan.
“We have to take care of ourselves, and preserve our culture,” Cuthand reminded Thundercloud. “If even one of us survives, and remembers, we all survive. Didn’t Geronimo say that?”
Kurtis knew that the harder you fought the disease, the faster and harder it hit, most probably because of a release of norepinephrine from the locus cirillious and the adrenals. Still, he had to try, as the crop-duster approached again for another look, or deposit from its canister. The old man grabbed a bow, inserted an arrow guided by eagle feathers, pulled it back with all of his strength and let loose. He said a prayer as it penetrated into the unsee-able aspect of the sky as a cloud came between earth and airplane.
“It is a good day to die!” Thundercloud proclaimed to his people. “I will be joining you soon, my brother,” he related to Jay’s two-day-dead corpse and the soul still a few hours away from leaving it.
The arrow hit its mark., sending the humming propeller into a loud buzz, then became crackle. But the plane emerged from the other side of the cloud. The pilot seemed to have gained control of the propellers, then headed North, the direction from which the cropdusters were coming that week. This time, the canisters that dropped yellow smoke on the ground below were ablaze, jettisoned as blue and red fire.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” Jake Cuthand smiled proudly. “I look forward to our punishment–no, next challenge.” That challenge lay ahead of Jake, literally. In his care lay saving not only the remaining White Mountain Apache, but their way of life. As a member of the Eagle cult, he had no choice. Getting to the bottom of what was causing the deaths on anyone who stayed, or left, was hard enough. The ‘why’ would be an even more agonizing answer, probably involving a ‘who’.
That ‘who’ materialized within what seemed like minutes, a military convoy armed with machine guns, decontamination suits and orders from the Communicable Disease Agency. Every Indian with a non-shaking, or intact, hand grabbed a gun, knife or shovel for what would be a last stand. Thundercloud, having emerged victoriously from this bout of stage 3, cracked a warm smile. “They want to honor the dead?” he said whimsically to Cuthand.
“They ARE the dead,” Cuthand related to Thundercloud as he saw the Masked Men emerge from the trucks, bearing masks that hid faces, eyes and identity, particularly those with body bags and medical supplies.
“We are here to collect the bodies of the following individuals,” Major Wentworth delivered in a very English accent from behind freshly-prepared American Army I.D. He gave Jake the names.
“I don’t recognize any of the names on this list,” Cuthand related.
“The English OR Apache names, Mister Cuthand?”
“That’s Captain Cuthand to you, Major.”
“Dishonorably discharged for cowardess and inefficiency in the line of fire!” Wentworth blasted out loud enough for all to hear.
“Compassion, turned into political convenience. I saved Asian kids from a White massacre!” Jake countered to whoever would believe him. “Or at least I tried to…”
“Your commanding officer was Black. And the Asian kids you saved are working for us now.”
Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t. Vietnam for Cuthand was more of a defeat than for any other American soldier, or general. But, though that battle was lost, the War he was born to continue….continued. “How did you find us this time?”
Wentworth took in a deep, leisurely breath, taking his time to effortlessly shoot back the reply to where it would hurt most.”Indians are the hardest people to help, but we are obliged to do whatever we can, medically, to keep your people alive.”
“’Alive’ is about the spirit, not body!”
“Tell that to the people here, who you buried, ‘Captain Cuthand’. Who YOU took away from OUR facilities.”
“The vultures carry too much death,” Thundercloud interjected, in Apache, his voice raspy, his meaning very clear.. “The eagles should rule the sky.”
“What is he jabbering about?” Wentworth inquired.
“He says you are a lier.”
“What can I do to convince him, and you, that I’m not?” Wentworth asked with a sincerity he seldom showed even his own men.
“Take off that mask for a start,” the very naked-faced Cuthand demanded. “And make your cropdusters go around our mountains, and over the valleys, hills and pastures that you THINK are legally yours. ”
“The planes are the only way we can control this epidemic!” Wentworth blasted through gritted teeth.
“By keeping our people here, keeping your people out, desecrating our sacred places with your hateful and dead eyes, and—” Jake’s eye caught something even more frightening.
Thundercloud went into grand mal shakes and a terrifying scream. It was the scream of death, with a rattle loud enough to hear in Albuquerque.
“What the—” Jake muttered, indecisively.
“He’s dying,” Wentworth said as his emergency team ran to the old man, the remainder of his detachment spraying machine gun fire to insure that there would be no resistance this time.
“This is sacred ground!” Cuthand was never more resolute, and terrified.
“This is a cemetery, Jake! And everyone here is going to be dead, very soon, just like—”
“Get that injection needle away from that old man, NOW!!!” Cuthand pulled a knife out of his leather casing and holding it to Wentworth’s throat.
“Do what the man asks,” Wentworth calmly related to his troops, armed and ready to follow whatever order given.
The troops held their ground, not an unsteady, or undiseased, hand amongst them. Still, for the moment, ‘Captain Cuthand’ outranked Major Wentworth. “I want your people off my land. Or I swear to your God and ours that I’ll cut those protective suits off you and scalp every one of you!”
“Even the ones with the crew cuts, Captain Cuthand?” Wentworth smirked.
“I can give you a trim two inches below the scalp you’ll NEVER forget. Now, get those trucks off my land!!!”
“Perhaps you should ask his judgment first,” Wentworth said calmly, his firm hand pointed at Thundercloud.
The old man took a last breath then collapsed. His eyes said dead, his face saying one last battlecry in silent desperation— ‘why’?
Jake felt the power go from his hand, and his heart. Wentworth’s men restrained him, and every other Apache who posed a potential threat.
“Now then, our investigation requires that we take back with us, the bodies of the following individuals for medical examination.” He gave Jake the list.
“Some of these people are still alive.”
“No matter. You see, if you don’t surrender these individuals, we’ll take everybody, living AND dead.”
Jake pondered the odds, chances and scenarios.
“If one of your people survive and remember, everyone does. I can and WILL make sure that the only thing left of the Apache nation is a page in a history book.”
“In the interest of survival, I can help you, I think,” Jake conceded.
“And there is something else. We need the members of this Eagle Cult, living and dead.” The Major took out his special book, that black book which he kept private from his men, and his un-authorized superiors.
“It is the Eagle CLAN, which is part of our religion.”
“A ‘clan’ which was outlawed in 1885, and still is, legally, Jake.”
Jake had pondered the matter for so many years, the benefits of sharing his People’s secrets vs those of keeping them secret. The ‘go with the flow’ method worked for everyone, even the Mormans. When they became assimilated into American culture, they gave up polygamy but still kept their special relationship with Prophet Joseph Smith, but at what INNER price. “Some things have to stay with us,” Cuthand stated in carefully chosen words, prerehearsed and re-evaluated.
“Please,” Wentworth said with a voice that seemed sincere, even human. “Your religion is killing your people. So is your stubbornness.”
“Tenacity and faith keep our people alive. What’s keeping you alive, Major?”
“Very well, then. Tell ya what. You locate the people on that list, and I’ll leave the rest of you to die in the sweat lodge.” He signaled his men to spray another round of machine gun fire.
Jake held his ground, as did most of the men. But children huddled in their mother’s arms.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.” Wentworth said. “We’ll start with Thundercloud. We’ll take his brain, you can have the rest of the body. A fair White-Indian exchange.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Neither of us have any choice in this matter.” The ending was firm as it was clandestine.
Against the pleading and curses from surviving relatives, Jake Cuthand identified the remains of those on Wentworth’s list. When it came to the living afflicted MID, identification was easy enough. Four out of every five Apache exhibiting stage 2 or worse were evacuated into the trucks. Why some were left behind was a mystery to Jake, and the eagle, but it was something to hold on to. Cuthand, and even the most White Apache, knew that without something to hold on to, you become nothing, very, very painfully.
The eagle watched as the trucks carried off the dead and soon-to-be-dead. A bird amongst avians, he knew what the next step was. Indians were the hardest people to help, but some White men were better at it than others. A poet-physician from the land beyond where the sun rises would probably be that man. It was as good a plan as any other as the sun set over a dark, gloomy desert horizon.
The West Side peer at 79th street wasn’t as scenic as the jetties at Montauk, where John first saw visions of beyond worlds during his two week ‘vacation’ where he was monitored by the very powerful, clandestine and international cartel BITE, and watched by his landlord, almost lover and nearly executioner, Kathleen during the two week hospice ‘vacation’ where he was visited by the ghosts and real personas of so many people from his past. Indeed, Montauk Point was a special place, for many reasons. But there were enough elements of ‘The Point’ on the West Side of Manhattan. Between and betwixt the garbage atop and bodies below the Hudson river, there was still, sky, water and winged creatures. Seagulls always fascinated John, ever since he could say nor remember their Latin name. They looked so clean, so pristine, so regal, yet they ate any garbage the ocean, ‘trash disposal’ boats or junk-food bearing people gave them.
“How could so much garbage turn into so much beauty?” John asked himself as he watched the sun setting over the Western sky, making the New Jersey skyline seem like mountains. Apartment roofs turned from steel gray to brilliant silver. Factory chimneys became pillars of tall pine. And then, at a magical moment, one of the gulls became an eagle.
“Here we go again,” John mumbled loud enough to hear himself, in the manner of the homeless bum he was supposed to be for this leg of the assignment, a role which fit all too well. “The hallucinations BITE made me see in Montauk are back. I saw people who died come back to life. Some were really alive, and I only thought them dead. But which one are you, my fine feathered friend?”
The eagle swooped down on the railing. A Japanese tourist snapped a shot of the bird, but John took its real picture inside his mind.
“You are real,” John said to the bird. He offered it a piece of his hot-dog. “Mustard and relish. Is that Kosher with you?”
Despite his love for birds, John was always afraid of them. They flew in a third dimension in which he could not navigate. Or maybe it was about the time at the lake when he was trapped in a porch with a raven who fancied a piece of his hair, while brother Vincent and his buds enjoyed a laugh at young John’s terror, and unanticipated haircut. Or maybe it was a bat that flew into 10 year old John’s room when was alone during that otherwise enjoyable summer vacation in the Catskills. Or maybe it was a bad dream after seeing Hitchkock’s “The Birds” once too often. But now, it was a time of overcoming fear, embracing it, and letting it feed you something….beyond what you had.
The eagle remained still, flapping its wings just enough to warn John that it could fly if it wanted to, showing its beak with enough tenacity to reveal to anyone with even half an eye open that he could rip open any throat that he had to. Clearly, this ghostly bird, or bird-ghost, was a visitor from the past, or perhaps a future. The mind-altering effects of A135 during the initiation week in Montauk made John able to recognize ‘ghosts’ with messages, but he was not yet versed in how to decipher if said ghosts were from the land of the living or the dead, or both.
There was one way to find out. “A bite out of my hot-dog? You want it? You can take a nip off my finger, if you want, but not the third digit. I think I’m going to be needing it for the kind of people I have to deal with. Or maybe you have a third finger claw of your own that you—”
The eagle interrupted John in mid-ramble, cleanly taking the dog from his hand, leaving something very significant behind.
“A cross, that looks like…something Indian, I think,” John intuited, and saw as a scratch then a collection of twigs from a plant he didn’t recognise by sight or smell. “How did you do that, and how did I know what this is supposed to mean?” He regained his composure, falling back into the part of his brain that was more New York than Wild West or Ozian. “I suppose it’s an eagle cult, or clan, thing, right?”
The eagle screached, flapped its wings and disappeared into the sky, leaving behind a trail of crumbs and manure that fell near John’s head, and a feather that fell into his right hand.
“Thank you, I think,” he said, remembering that the eagle feather was a sign of courage in traditional Aboriginal cultures. But his left hand found something else—an envelope under the railing at what had become his favorite observation spot on the world that week. In it, a key, an address and a single word of instruction from Vincent in inverted Baldino-ese script. “Go West, young ‘man’”
The original plan, according to Vincent, and the other messengers in Montauk, was for John to visit the places of change in the world in search of his brother, himself, and more effective ways to do good for the world. John never expected the journey to start from the Plaza Hotel. He never expected to enter, according to orders, as a homeless bum, offending the doormen, guests and other guests with his odor and multi-themed wardrobe. He was shocked when he emerged from the shower, relieved of his clothes and wallet, all of his ID and wardrobe burnt to a crisp in the fire place. He read the resume of his new identity, and destination.
“Selena Horowitz, a reporter assigned to do a story on the mind of the scientist, in Flagstaff, Arizona?” John read on the note awaiting him as he emerged from the shower, naked. He asked the man with the Roman-style hair cut and ultrasheek leisure suit waiting for him for verification of the so-far picture-less ID and accompanying documents.
“My name is Leonard,” the effeminate man with the assertive voice answered. “I was assigned me to assist you, Selena. For your trip out West, Sir.”
John didn’t know what to think when he saw Leonard take the clothes out of the suitcases, items that would hardly be appropriate for any Cattle Drover, unless said cow boss was a well dressed bitch and/or babe.
“Erica said you had great legs,” Leonard commented as he pulled out a shagged blonde wig. He put it on John’s head.
Confused, wrapped only in a towel, John looked in the mirror.
“It fits your facial lines, eyes and aura,” Leonard commented, with a masculine tone.. .
“And you think I have a great ass?” John answered, smart-assed and determined, noticing Selena’s new ‘wardrobe’ in the closet, lady-like and sexy, hung up with orderly precision.
“Let’s hope the scientists at the Klasen Institute think you have a hot ass, and you know how to show it off with the right clothes,” Leonard said, adjusting the hair on the wig, noting that the color and style did fit the jaw lines. “They know your face, which was not changed that much by the plastic surgeon, at your request. And your name, and your work, Doctor Baldino. You were a science star. Now you have to be a groupie. And a Matahari spy who’s the only one who can find out what’s REALLY going on in that institute.”
“Who’s going to be discovered the moment I open my mouth!” John protested.
“Not after I get through with you,” Leonard said. He threw a pack of razors at John. “Clean, and smooth, toe to neck, sideburns to chin, Sir.”
“Was this Erica’s idea? Vincent’s?” John asked as he went into the shower, following orders given by people who must know more than he did. The tone of Leonard’s “Sirs” indicated that he clearly didn’t know John’s real identity. For whatever reason, A137 enabled the once-naïve do-gooder scientist-clinician to see behind an act, no matter how well rehearsed. Or so he thought as Leonard seemed to be reading HIS thoughts.
“Someone more central than Erica and Vincent is orchestrating this operation, Sir..” Leonard held back the rest, instructing John to even closer, then apply hair remover just in case.
“God?” John asked as he scrapped the chest-hair that had sprouted out when he was not even a lad of 12, watching it fall into the bathtub. “Is God behind this?”
“Someone more powerful, and more human, Sir.”
“Living or dead, Leonard?”
“Living…Of course. You’re asking very strange questions.”
“And you’re asking me to do very weird things.” John didn’t like what he saw in the mirror, bringing up fears and predudices he thought above his education, station and intellectual development. “What if I say ‘no’, or change the name on this passport and press pass to something more in keeping with my real gender, which is very male, and very heterosexual!” John insisted.
“Then you won’t connect up with Vincent.” Leonard affirmed, calmly.
“I’ll risk it,” John put out in Machoesche with quivering lips.
“And an entire tribe of Apaches will die.” Leonard was serious, and informed. He presented John with documentation to support his claim, the kind that was priviledged information to even Vincent and Erica.
“I’ll improvise my own way to save them.” John grabbed the wig, throwing it back on the bed, shaking the ‘female’ out of his pounding and worry-laden head head.
“And Maria will not reach her sixtieth birthday.” A tear came to Leonard’s eyes, real ones, for any gender.
“Who’s Maria?” John asked.
Leonard showed John the picture—a young Apache woman who escaped Flagstaff and arrived in New York to embark on a career in acting. Maria got invited into an ensemble company on her first audition. Her first performance was on a playground in the West Village, where she battled a hallucinated buffalo in full few of a crowd of tourists, the cops and a specially-chosen team of paramedics who took her straight from the ER to a very underground room at Saint Vincent’s.
John was moved by the eyes, and the pain in them. “She looks like she’s suffering.”
“That was stage 1, when she arrived. By the time we got to her, the only photo was this.”
John saw the picture of the body after the autopsy. The eyes said something, again.
“She was alive when they cut her brain out,” John noted.
“We got some medical records out, too. The blood work is very bizarre. So is the histology of the tumor.”
“Astroglioma with octagonal inclusions. I’ve never seen this.”
“Maybe you have.”
John looked at another photograph, an MRI. It all came together, now. “This looks like my X-ray, when I was diagnosed with a temporal lobe tumor.”
“Which you had, until Erica cured it.”
“Why can’t she cure these kids?”
“We find a cure, they find a new kind of poison. That’s how it works now.”
“And that poison?”
“Is coming out of the Klasen Institute, somewhere. If we can find out the ‘whos’, we can figure out the ‘whats’.”
“And Selena Horowitz will figure out the ‘whys’?” John surmized.
Leonard held back. He chose his words carefully this time, answering in a very affirmative, masculine tone. “We need a scientist, poet and writer for this one.”
“A poetESS?” John said, looking at his new ultra-female ‘battlegear’ in the closet.
“Two spies in one. You heard the story about a French Duke who posed as a woman to spy on England?”
“Yes…Racheloue? Or maybe it was Journead. I forgot the name, but remember that the story was true,” John related, trying to connect his past memory with his present life, and increasingly difficult task every since that all-too revealing two week vacation in Montauk that was anything but restful.
“He—she–got closer to the Queen than any man could, then went back to France and waged war against her at the head of his army,” Leonard related
“No offense, or cowardess intended, but I’m not a fag, or a general.”
“We know, Sir”. With firm strokes and a gentle touch, Leonard swipped a healthy wad of hair remover on John’s face. While it settled in, he pulled out a pair of tweezers, turning John’s thick Italian man’s eyebrows into something less masculine and more culturally generic. “You’ll have to be much more than a fag, general, or a rat, Sir,” Leonard continued.. “Maria’s sisters, brothers and people are depending on it.”
After a quick application of lipstick and mascara, Leonard handed John the blonde wig, a chain of pearls, snap on earings, and a white blouse that said ‘ladylike’ to the fingers, eyes and nose. Like it or not, he had to ‘man’ up, and be as much woman as he could be to fill it. Men, women and children who he never knew, and many who he did, would live or die according to how well Selena Horowitz accomplished her/his assigned task as an undercover scientist-turned-Visionary. John tried ‘Selena’ on, avoiding the mirror, allowing Leonard to make the final adjustments.
John closed his eyes. “YES,” he surmised in a flash of brilliance. “It’s A137 working again, and I’m part of this ‘dream’,” he speculated. “And I DO recognize Leonard from someplace. And it’s very interesting that ALL of my senses are active in this criss-cross trip to someplace that seems very important.” Feeling dangerously lighter than his real Self, he went on, inside his head, “It will pass as soon as he lights come on, and I come back to reality, such as it is.”
True to John’s speculations, and well-founded assurances, a flash of light opened his eyes.
“Smile” Leanard said, a camera in hand.
John found himself waking up within the same nightmare, or daydream. Leonard was still there, in the flesh, taking several ID photos, while John found himself obediently smiling for the camera. Whatever this ‘thing’ was, it was very, very real.
“The only real rest is in motion itself,” John tried to recall to himself as he entered the airplane and was guided to his seat by a hot-looking female flight attendant, ‘Lorena’. A head-turning babe in any culture. But John’s attention was somewhere else. He noted that his leather mini-skirt, satin blouse and 4 inch steletto heels made him appear more sexually appealing to the men around him than the attendant did.
“Seat 1A, Ms. Horowitz,” Lorena said with a warm smile.
“Thank you,” John replied with the hushed voice in which Leonard coached him, severely under- tested since the eighteen-hour hour training and make-over session at the Plaza.
“If there’s anything we can get for you, let us know,” Lorena asked..
“Thank you, I will,” John replied, thinking that the last thing he needed now was a flight crew that actually paid attention to its passengers. He gazed at the briefcase that described Selena Horowitz’s background and the data on Mad Indian Disease, verified, assumed or projected, catching yet another glance of the body and life he had apparently dropped into. “I look like I would date myself, and not get pregnant afterwards,” he thought as his fingers felt the smooth nylons over his now hairless legs. “I do look ten years younger and feel a lifetime lighter, I think”, the mental ramble continued as he caught a glimpse of the face in the mirror that said “Barbie or bitch, your choice.” From his lucious ruby-red, and nearly quivering, lips, he boldly ventured a full voiced, high octave reply. “I have a lot of reading to do” to Lorena.
The Attendant seemed convinced. Indeed, Leonard was a good coach. John was passing as female. More deeply confirmed by the fact and feeling that Lorena related to John as an ‘insider’ to a world in which he was very new.
‘Selena’ smiled back in the mirror to John, apparently impressed, perhaps even enticed. So, apparently, were the businessmen in the first class compartment, particularly the ones with wedding rings on their fingers who gazed twice at John’s legs, elegantly displayed by sheer hose and stiletto heels, and three times at the breasts that boasted a firm C-cup beneath the twirls of blonde hair flowing over them.
“It’s in the softness in the voice, not the octave range,” John Baldino recalled from Leonard as he adjusted the leather miniskirt in a ladylike manner and crossed his legs in the prescribed manner that was becoming instinctual all too quickly due, John hoped, to his ability to empathise with the female condition rather than embrace it.
John Baldino began the dive into yet another read of the research data and profiles of the scientists at “The Klasen” with the ferocity of a lion—AND lioness. “Lying is lying. If the way to find the truth is to lie, so be it—I think,” he muttered to himself within a closed mouth, careful not to smudge Leonard’s handiwork. “A real man doesn’t lie, cheat or apologize, but this is about real work and real life now. Under all the macho, most men are geeks or nerds, and with enough power, become Dorks. Witness Uncle Bill Gates, who could turn the whole thing around for us if he uttered seven magic words—‘Do you want fries with that, Sir,’ or ‘Ma’am’ or even ‘Miss’. Women are bitches, whores or sluts. A slut cheats, a whore steals and a bitch lies, I think.”
“Or lies with whatever nerd she can steal the most alimony from,” a baritone voice said into John’s left ear, and echoed throughout his body, frigid in terror. “May I?” the man in the English accent continued.
Having assumed that his mouth had indeed said what had been thinking, John smiled, Selena style. Expressiveness of feeling rather than voice was the agenda now. A US Army insignia on the gentleman’s civilian coat tightened things up even more severely.
“I’m Major Wentworth,” he said with a chivalry that was very uppercrust, cultured and White. “And you?”
“Selena,” John found coming out of his mouth as he extended his hand, hoping that the fake ultralong nails would make his fingers look thin enough to pass as a member of the more gentle and perhaps more manipulative gender.
“Harry,” Wentworth replied. He sat down in seat 1B, adjusted his tie, cleared his throat and took out a fresh copy of the Wall Street Journal. Before reading it, he smiled at Selena. No soap opera hunk could have been hotter and more accessible.
Listening to the body was the best way to keep the mind working in a safe and effective direction, and John felt very strong signals from his gut, belly AND tummy. Something was very wrong about Wentworth. He was too sure of himself, and too contented with the world around him. Yet, he seemed to be a man who knew the global score, all too well. Topping panic with terror—the leisure reading in Wentworth’s briefcase–The International Journal of Communicative Diseases. And…
“I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but you look familiar,” Wentworth inquired, a no-nonsense question.
John dived deep into himself, and Selena. “We all look familiar,” the reply, punctuated with a tastefully flurtatious smile.
“Quite,” Wentworth’s reply with a whimsical smile. “I thought I recognized you. In my line of work you meet a lot of people.”
John cued into something. Ever since his ‘gone fishing’ vacation in Montauk, nothing was co-incidence. Why was this British Major attached to the American Army sitting next to him? Why were his eye movements so….sinister, defined by shifts downward, upward, to the right or the left, but seldom on center? Why was he so interested in him, as a women, maybe a man, or perhaps as a soon-to-be corpse? Was school called into session this early? Wentworth’s handshake was cold, but it was real. This was no visitor from the dead, but he was connected to all the dying, perhaps.
“What kind of work are you in?” John asked in a Selena voice that said flattery and admiration. “It looks very important.”
“Quite,” Wentworth continued. His eyes turned upward and to the right. Visualizing plans with the occipital cortex, John surmised.
“You look like a doctor,” Selena offered, turning body Wentworth’s way, showing a bit more leg in the process a body communication accident that seemed appropriate AND effective.
The English gentleman’s eyes shifted down and to the left, a sign of reflection, according to the books.
“Or a professor?” Selena asked again. “Keeping medical truth alive is a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it, right?”
Wentworth’s eyes turned downward. Shame this time, then straight ahead—frustration, anger and the closing of the gates. The male animal had gone into its cave, ready to come out when he was ready to. God knows John had done that so many times to women.
“I’m sorry,” the apology offered by Selena, accompanied by a body turn away from the cave door.
“Medicine and politics used to be so much easier. Now it’s…painful,” was delivered to dead air in front of Wentworth’s sorrowful eyes.
“How so, Harry?” Selena’s reply. John saw a crumb of cracker on Harry’s shoulder. Selena moved John’s hand gently to it, whisking it off with the lightest of touches, returning the reason for the incursion over the Angst line with a smile which was simple, civil and Platanic.
From then on, Wentworth talked, John listened, and Selena gave the occassional ‘ahhuhh’ or, when required, ‘that’s fascinating’ or ‘really?’ The tale of Wentworth’s medical career and life achievements had no shortage of jokes, or ironies which required the listener to chuckle or laugh at. John remembered it all too well. There are three things that a man really wants from a woman—loving respect, passionate sex and someone to laugh at his jokes, though laughing at his sex is not one of the jokes.
Harry Wentworth’s jokes about his days in the British Medical Corp, the UN Communicable Disease Agency and the off time between gigs in every continent of the globe not only felt irrelevant, but…crude, at least to Selena. The Paula Poundstone Three Stooges theory was correct. Men laugh at pain. Women pity those who have it, or perpetuate it.
But under all the trans-body and trans-dimensional transformations was one person—Maria, and the people who had died, and who would die on “Rez Zero”. Harry related little more than what John already knew about MID, the euphamism for ‘Mad Injun Disease’ which terrified whites more than it did redskins. The official story that the Press got, and stuck in the back pages of the newspapers. It was due to ingestion of a new kind of peyote as part of resurgence of an ancient, and still outlawed, Eagle Cult. It caused bizarre brain tumors which were of the astrocyctic variety, stereotypic green and yellow hallucinations and, ultimately, death with the primary emotion of helplessness as the final chord for the life opera. The causative drug had not been identified, but a latent and most probably contagious virus living in a Sacred herb known only to the Eagle Cult was suspected as the culprit. And the new Arizona had no shortage of white kids bored with shopping malls, street drugs and their parental culture who would try anything to experience the kind of lives their burnt-out Yuppoid parents WEREN’T living.
There was something new to the tale, however. A top secret revealed to an outsider was always the cheapest way to impress a man or pick up a woman, and under the pressed collar and 150 dollar a drop cologne, Wentworth was still a working class stiff from Liverpool, no matter how many semesters he spent at Oxford. He couldn’t resist Selena’s charms or, perhaps, John’s humanity.
Senator Jacobs had lost a son to MID when said prodigal son was doing his summer “Indian” trek out West before starting law school in the East. Mike Jacobs Jr spent a painful, and embarrassing, two months in the psyche ward till he committed suicide. His mind was too bright to not figure out a way to do the deed, and the hallucinations became too real to endure. Federal funding was supposed to be released to start a special investigation, but instead of funds getting allocated to specialized researchers across the country, it all went to the Klasen Institute, or to whoever would relocate there. Mike Jacobs Sr. died of a heart attack two days after his bill for more funding was turned down. “Heartache is sometimes confused with heart attack, but the result is always the same,” Harry related in closing. “You look too pretty to be a journalist, and your eyes are too kind,” he continued. “Still, I’d rather this stay between us.”
Now, time for John to hide his eyes and Selena to do the talking. There were a number of options. Turning the head, shifting the pupil line, rotating around in a clockwise circle, batting the long eyelashes in Southern ‘little ole me tell anyone?’ mode were some of the choices. But a direct attack might work best here—the blank stare, eyes fixed, nothing moving in the optic portholes except the thoughts behind them. “It must be hard losing a son like that,” Selena said and John felt. “All children are precious,” came next.
The plane jolted. “We’re hitting a bit of turbulence,” flight attendant Lorena said over the loudspeaker. “Please fasten your safety belts.”
John tightened the belt around his waist, noting a sagging in one of his breasts. He adjusted the cleavage as discretely as he could, silently reflecting on, maybe, an improvement.
The attendant looked at John’s hands, then into his eyes. “She knows,” John said to himself, and Selena. “She has to. I’ve always been a terrible liar.”
John contemplated the entire situation, once again. He took at glance at the mirrored reflection in the window and said good-bye to Selena. Then, a quick read of a Pheonix newspaper, featuring two stories. One was about a murderer-rapist on the run from the law, with an all too familiar picture—himself, in every ‘look’ since highschool. The second story related another two deaths at the hand of MID, Maria’s mother and sister this time. Plastic surgery was expensive, time consuming, and who knows? “Maybe Selena could show her balls when she had to? I damn well better let her use mine, if I’ve got any left,” John thought.
“Guess it’s just you and me kid,” John said to Selena in the mirror, feeling himself talking and listening from both sides of the brain. He would need both hemispheres, and more if the intracranial tumor epidemic could ever be stopped, or identified for what it REALLY was. “This is a lot more global than a bunch of Indians who would die of booze or gambling debts if not for MID,” he reasoned with association area 18. “This is about more than a contagious carcinogenic communion wafer, ” John intuited with association area 25, as he perhaps remembered correctly, or imagined. The clandestine agenda in Wentworth’s eyes told him that he was right, with every neuron North of the thalamus and brain stem.
Willy the Weatherboy on the hotel room lobby TV boastfully predicted a day of snow for the skiers on the mountain and sun for the citizens below. His anchor recapped the top stories of the day, a new war in Africa, an impending shift in the Pentagon Research and Development staff in DC—and another bank robbery perpetuated by an escaped mental patient claiming to be deceased miracle Doctor John Baldino.
“That’s a twist,” John said to himself while the staff checked the reservation. “In ‘The Fugitive’, the Doctor gets a chance to escape from a train, and at least gets to keep his underwear. But I have at least some cash. At last count, whoever my friends are left me a whole five dollars and.–”
“Did you say something, Ma’am?” Tom Robinson, head clerk and night-manager offered.
“Were there any messages for me? Maybe from a tall gentleman named Vincent, or a more friendly guy who called himself Vinny?” John asked in business-like Selena voice and subtext.
“There was a Vince here.”
“When?” John asked eagerly, motioning for the all-too-eager bellhop to not take Selena’s bags to the room..
“Your husband, Ms Horowitz?” Tom inquired. “Or fiancee? Boyfriend? Manfriend?” he advanced, colorfully, politely, gazing at Selena’s interestingly-framed cleavage.
“We were…are…a lot closer than that,” John/Selena smiled.
Tom looked down at John’s hands, which he instantly withdrew. But he did catch a white ring of white skin under the finger on the Ms Horowitz’ finger.
“Some marriages you don’t forget, or put aside,” John related, silently remembering his first and only wife, who died when he was twenty-five. “Sometimes wearing a ring can help you remember someone, or even bring her back if you call out hard enough.” John stopped himself. “I mean bring HIM back….In any case, you have to know when to let go of who you used to be, and used to be with.”
“Of course, Ms Horowitz.” Tom kept his distance, and his interest. Taking hold of the bags himself, in gentlemanly manner, he led John to Selena’s room. An offer she could not refuse, particularly as the next guests entered the hotel lobby, uniformed Army Officers from the US and two other countries he/she didn’t recognize. “Your room is ready, according to specs. And at this hotel we are very discreet,” Tom continued as he opened he door to the royal red-carpetted corridor lined by half-busted vending machines containing soda, chips and candy.
“No one is going to peek into my keyhole to watch a lesbian two-for-dumb sale”, John thought snidely. “Where’s Vince?” he asked with the best cooperative tone Selena could get out.
“Vince Gill?” Tom answered. “He came through here last week, Ma’am”.
The whipersnapper ‘Ma’am’ sounded just as insulting as Tom’s voyeresche smirk. And John could feel the beginning of a five o’clock shadow coming under the foundation. The hair remover was top A quality, but sweat and worry always made his facial hair grow faster.
John took the keys, smiled a polite ‘thank you’ and bent down to pick up the two small suitcases that, at this moment, were all that John–or Selena–owned.
“Do you want me to carry those in for you, Miss?”
It wasn’t a ‘babe’, ‘hon’ or ‘chicky’, but it still reeked of machoid abuse, something that neither John nor Vincent Baldino ever indulged in. “I’m fine, thanks” came through Selena’s lips in a helpless Southern Belle tone. Tom bowed slightly, satisfied with the gratuity of a smile rather than two Washingtons, a Lincoln as was customary for male customers who wanted the kind of service and privacy not included in the officially-charged room rates. “Interesting,” John and Selena shared wth each other. “Ouch”, the next sensation from John’s wide, hot and aching feet.
It had been a challenge for John to walk in heels after an entire day of thinking on his feet. It was frightening to know that his only possessions were now in the bags marked ‘Selena’, every piece of wardrobe in it being a skirt, dress or something to accompany such.
Upon arrival in the room, John closed the curtains. He put on the lamps and looked as carefully as he could in every corner. The beachhouse in Montauk had been bugged with three video cameras, seven mics, and motion detectors that could pick up a cockroach having an erection. BITE got him on tape, mumbling his memoirs, memories and talking to the hallucinations, or real people, that revealed so much about his deceased super-spy parents and his super-guy brother Vincent, still thought to be dead by most of the world. But BITE didn’t seem to be on the tail of Selena Horowitz, even though Major Wentworth leaked state secrets in an attempt to get a piece of her ass.
The room had mirrors, lots of them. Wherever John looked, he saw Selena winking, wincing or wiggling back at him. “Who is this person I am supposed to be?” John asked himself. “Why am I so…enamored by her?” he asked himself silently. Giving life to Selena with the will of his mind would undoubtedly make her come out of the mirror and touch him, but the relationship was deeper than that. He WAS Selena, and perhaps she was him, too. “I’m the brains, and you’re the body,” he proposed to her by way of offer. A firm ‘I don’t think so’ came from her eyes.
“Okay, then. You do the heart stuff, I do the head stuff,” John proposed.
“Unless things change,” Selena replied.
“And things always do change, don’t they,” John’s counter.
“You only find rest in motion itself, John,” she offered. “And you do look very tired.”
“We have work to do,” John said back.
“Quite,” Selena answered with a smile.
Maybe the residuals of A137 were still with John. Or maybe he was just doing a trial run on getting into people’s heads. Who else knew the anatomical source personality, emotion and sense within the cranial vault? And who else could crawl into it, with the sheer force of will and compassion? John’s gift didn’t enable him to read minds, but Selena would help him read feelings. Mix a little data and out the conversation into the right direction, and you’d have the most honest set of liars on BOTH sides of the Rainbow.
“You know,” John said as final word to Selena. “I know people who are so used to lying that they don’t know when they are telling the truth.”
“Am I looking at one now?” her reply.
“Not yet,” his silent comment, and conclusion. “But we have to find out men–or women-of science is lying at the Klasen Institute, and why!”
Dinner was delivered, on the house, or perhaps out of Day Manager Tom’ Robinson’s meager paycheck. It was free of hemlock, cyanide, and taste. But there was little choice in the matter. Even five bucks could only go so far in a busted Western town going broker by the minute. And the credit cards, all in Selena’s name, with picture ID, had technical problems that Tom promised to clear up by morning.
It didn’t matter much, anyway. Selena had 1-800 and FAX number to send all important information to and all of her needs seemed to be taken care of so omenously well..She also had a tight agenda for the next four days at the Klasen, allowing precious time for her, or John, to do off-time snooping. Listening and watching would have to be done fast, and in style.
Leonard, or whoever Leonard talked to, sewed microtages into the clothes and accessories indicating what was to be worn on what day, and where. At first, Baldino thought that Leonard didn’t trust his ‘fashion sense’, giving his real gender away with a mismatching of colors, shapes or textures. But there was a deeper madness to Leonard’s tastefully-fashionable agenda. John could feel the beads inside the sleeves, bracelets, chokers, and even the bras. They were all state of the art non-metalic metals. High tech somethings that undoubtedly were connected o highly-placed someones, someplace that related to ‘the places of change’—and influence.
“Do whatever Leonard tells, or told, you,” the note under the char-burned steak said in Baldino-ese from Vincent, a language of inverted and contorted letters/phrases John and Vinny invented as kids when trying to keep messages between them unreadable to their Catholic School Nuns teachers, girlfriends and, they hoped, parents… “I’ll contact you when I can. But this ain’t no casual day bank robbery day.”
“Indeed it isn’t, brother Vincent,” John said as he went through the assigned garb. No trousers, no shorts, not even a tie or a sportsjacket adopted for power-bitch fashionwear. Everything was elegantly and unmistakably female.
With no other options left for his field of vision in the mirror filled room, he gave in to most understated past-time of American egotists. “Guess you win this first round, Selena,” he said to the woman in the mirror, addressing the brain behind her big baby blue eyes this time. “You get my body, and everything that goes on it.”
“You need a shave, John,” she said back.
“Do I get to keep my balls?” he asked.
“We’ll BOTH need them. We have a busy day tomorrow. Time to get some sleep.”
“Which side of the brain do you want?” John inquired.
“The one you’re not going to use.”
John smiled. “Goodnight, Selena,”
“Goodnight, Johnboy,” Selena’s heartfelt reply.
“Life isn’t a battle, it’s a dance,” was John’s first conscious thought of the day after a night of very strange, and vivid dreaming. He couldn’t remember the details, but only the texture. The dreams were in color this time, not just black and white, but they were about something very, very important. Fighting demon death was at the center of it, as was always the case with physician-Baldino as he sought the advise of the wizards on the Ozian side of the Rainbow, but the issue at hand now seemed to be how to trick demon death out of more victims. Maybe it was a Western thing, maybe an Apache thing, or maybe something Selena was trying to suggest. Her eyes were sad, seductive and could use with another touch of mascara and liner for John to see what solutions were incubating inside them.
Or maybe it was something even more basic. John recalled the arguments his father would have with his mother when dealing with the newsworthy and non-news-worthy civil injustices that afflicted the residents of Yonkers, New York, every day. Iron Mike Baldino, a decorated veteran of WWII and silently-valued soldier of at least five undeclared wars thereafter, would ask his sons upon return home with a comraderic, ‘How goes the battle?’ Five-foot two, 98 pound Helena, an ex-Nun who still maintained her missionary status privately, would greet John and Vincent by name, a wide smile and some kind of hug, touch of the hand or peck on the cheek. In matters of husband-wife disputes, Mike would win every battle, but it seemed that Helena won every war. It was that way in mother-son arguments, too. She never had to raise her voice. If Helena wanted her boys to do the lawn, paint the gutters or get a haircut by the weekend, Vinny and John would use every stall, trick and manly boast of defiance, but by Friday, 6pm, the manicured front yard, bright red roofs and tastefully-trimmed topknots were the pride of the neighborhood, and the Baldino bros.
Born to the “just the facts, Ma’am” sign of Aires, John Baldino was never comfortable with getting what you wanted by manipulation. Yet he knew that the nurse who suggested therapeutic approaches and treatments to upcoming residents usually was far more effective as a doc than an attending physician who TOLD said residents what to do. “Do you think that we’re dealing with a bladder infection instead of a brain tumor, Doctor?” was far more effective in getting scalpels out of the skull bone and eyes onto the organs that presented the real problems.
John recalled that the teaching and ruling from below was more gentle, and effective, than the “Herr Professor” dictator approach which was, interestingly, being distorted by so many senior male physicians and, tragically, being adopted by so many women doctors, particularly the ones who had been nurses. Health care problems in the US of A were going to pot for more reasons than bad communications between hospital administrators and HMOs, and more people than ever were suffering, and dying. Even Iron Mike Baldino knew that veteran Sergeants suggested orders to wet-behind-the-ears Captains in the field before the chain of command was officially passed on, and even in war, politics is politics.
The situation in, and apparently around, Rez Zero was even worse, getting more Apocalyptic by the day, reported so indifferently by the White newscaster. “Two Apache youths were shot today as they broke into a pharmacy. The youths were armed and reported dangerous. They are reported in serious condition. Further report at eleven.”
“‘Reported'”, John said to himself and Selena in the mirror next to the T.V. “Whenever you want to tell the world that something is said to be true but really isn’t, you say ‘it is reported that’…That’s the way it works in the scientific literature.”
“And, apparently, the real world,” Selena said back with a face that looked more Barbie than bitch, more purr than pariah. “Stop staring at me and look out that window, you pervert!” she shot back at John straight to cortex area 10, 2 and several others that had laid, by necissity, dormant for most of his adult life.
Outside, in a public place in full view of the University Hospital, a very private affair was going on. An Apache elder in torn jeans, mismatched cowboy boots and a tattered Army surplus jacket did the death dance, his jerky hand motions and eye movements looking very much like he was in Stage One of ‘MID’ himself. His beads and buckskin offerings were placed at each corner of the circle, honoring the four directions, East, West, North and South. The chants were in a very ancient dialect, the carved tattoo on his chest bearing a striking resemblance to the mark left on John’s arm by the Eagle. It was the only part of John’s body not taken by Selena, but which Leonard insisted on covering up with foundation that would even out skin and body tone.
“The Eagle Cult,” John said as he wiped the facial foundation off his arm and noted the circle with four corners highlighted, the North with a Star, the South with a cross, the East with a triangle and the West with what looked like an infinity sign, a single eye in the middle.
“Don’t you think we’d better cover that up?” Selena said to John in the soft voice from inside cortical area 14.
“I told you that area 14 was off-limits, Selena,” John said back. “We have to ask that old man some questions. And we have to do it NOW! I”LL go if you won’t.” John reached to pull off the blonde wig from his head, but it was stuck to his own.
“Leonard does great hair,” Selena said. “It looks so…natural.”
“There is NOTHING natural about this!” John protested, trying to untangle the knots and pins Leonard had installed so well. “I’m going to demand that the Indian out there talk to me.”
“Fine. We’ll ask him.”
John put a bathrobe over the hairless body below the neck, noting that it was getting a bit more tanned than the previous day, perhaps more Mexican, or perhaps more—
“He’s out here!”, Selena screamed from frontal area 6.
John carried Selena on to the balcony and walked the fire-escape down to a balcony one story over the Elder. It provided a full view of the morning rush hour in downtown Flagstaff and the desert beyond, saying to any frustrated driver stuck in a traffic jam and gridlock life—“just leave it, if you dare”. Selena saw trouble from her observation post in occipital lobe 19, a convergence of at least eight cars, all the same drab green, in a town where nine out of ten other vehicles were blinding white.
“We better be careful out there,” Selena warned as John stepped in as close as he could.
“I’ll show him my hand, we’ll talk,” John assured her.
“And you’ll blow it!” Selena blasted out, noting the guns and hospital masks in a larger green vehicle that stopped in an alley behind the Elder. By his arrogant stride, one of them looked like Major Wentworth. “I know that guy. He looks familiar,” Selena said, with her lips this time.
“We all do,” John countered. “I’ll show him this ID mark on my hand, and…”
“We’ll blow it, John.”
“I don’t know. But…”
A stream of Japanese tourists came by, snapping pictures of the Apache doing what they thought was a rain dance, a death dance, then a defensive battle against a mythological dragon seen in his own head. The vehicles kept their distance.
“What’s the Apache word for ‘friend’, again?” John asked himself as he searched the cubbyhole of his cranial vault for the crash course in Apache he read, or thought he read, on the plane..
“No, John,” Selena replied, reading John’s mind, heart and emerging agenda.
“I didn’t ask what you say to your friends, or prospects, Selena,”
“And I didn’t ask to be assigned to help you, John!”
A momentary glimpse of ‘total picture’ hit John like clenched fist at an Irish drinking match. “‘Assigned to help me?'”
“We’re both assigned to help each other, John.”
“I assign myself to what I do,” John balked.
“Friend”, he said in English, hand extended out to the Elder. He repeated in some language that sounded Apache, emerging from an area of cerebral cortex with no name, or number.
The Elder stopped his dance, looked up and opened his eyes, very wide.
“You and me, talk?” John asked in a voice partially Selena, and partially his. “Man to man?”
The Japanese tourists laughed at the joke from the blonde babe to the distzed out Old Indian after their translator conveyed John’s word flub. The old man disappeared as fast as he emerged.
“I needed to talk to him,” John said.
“We will,” Selena affirmed. “Man to man,” the follow up, said prophetically.
“But as what man?” John asked.
“The one who better get my ass upstairs and out of range of those cops before we BOTH get arrested.”
Selena was right, or at least accurate. There was something about the Eagle Cult that was not part of her world, or perhaps her gender. Then, there was the all-present practical side of things she never lost sight of. “We have to be ready to interview the scientists at the Klasen Institute at nine, John. Everything’s arranged. Vincent’s orders.”
“Maybe…But, fuck, it’s only seven, Selena.”
“That gives us both two hours to get ready,” she informed “And there’s no need to curse at me, John,” Selena continued, conveying a world of hurt under her subliminal hush.
“I forgot, the damn girl make-up and wardrobe thing.”
“Yes, John,” Selena affirmed from behind prefrontal area 3.
“I get to do the thinking, and you get to do the wiggling.” John shot back.
“Yes, John,” her meek reply from behind every motor neuron in John’s brain.
John knew that women were better at listening than men, or at least they pretended to be. “I’m going to need some of you ‘sensing’ apparatus, okay? But only when I ask for it.”
“Yes, John,” the submissive reply that ruled from below.
John took long strides on the way up the stairs to the penthouse, but remembered to keep then narrow.. He remembered that women were about feeling, not thinking, at least according to the books written by most men, and some women. At least that was the way it was with traditional women, and bitchy as she could be, Selena was traditional. She held on to the estrogen receptors in John’s brain with the desperation of a protective mother, and the love of a young girl enamored by her first real boy friend.
“Who is she?” John asked himself, remembering that his crossing over the life-death line during that fateful fortnight at Montauk was about more than just visualizing other souls, but bringing them to life, and perhaps, becoming them. Listening to the visions kept him alive that week. Trusting the wrong ones nearly cost him his sanity and identity.
“This is bullshit!” he said as he reached the last staircase to the Penthouse the Hotel called “Heaven”. “This is shit, crap…I’m going to swallow a big bottle of beer, glass and all, and wake up from this dream and—” He stopped, stumbled and looked down at his hand. “Darn it, I…I…shoot…I chipped a nail,” came out of the lips.
“And we both have a lot of learning to do,” Selena said hauntingly from the window reflection. “Tempus fugit.”
“Time flies,” John replied, silently. His affirmation came from the Eagle, or his New York cousin, who perched up on top of the gutter. The bird flapped its wings, showing off a six foot wing span. This time, the bird was bigger, its claws sharper and its eyes more desperate. It knew that John still harbored his fear of birds, as the Indians feared the iron horse or, in the case of MID, the steel buffalo. “I’m okay with this,” John said with every brain cell in his head, heart and gut. “I’m really okay with this!” the repetitive montra.
“Coming, John?” Selena’s voice said from inside the hotel room.
“Yeah,” John said. The eagle displayed a final show of its wing span and the black-hole between his beaks, gave what seemed like one of those ‘There ya go, guy’ nods Iron Mike would give Vincent after a well-earned touch down or John after he pulled another trapped patient out of the woods, and flew away.
“We’re running late,” Selena said.
“We may run a little later,” John said, Eagle feather in hand, a recently-wetted crotch under his lace panties.
Selena knew more about the Apaches than she was telling. At least that’s what John intuited from his right association cortex in the private time behind closed doors in the hotel room which he hoped was not bugged.. Every time John Baldino thought about getting the Apache perspective on MID, ‘MS’ Selena Horowitz would divert his thoughts to the left parietal lobe, to matters of scientific data written up in the Journals or snuck out of the morgue, research records of investigators who had published far more than their officially-declared grants could support, and the happy faces of the researchers on the pages of the Klasen Quarterly, an in-house newsletter that read like a black and white Geek’s Gazette, but that had an odor between the lines that was worse than the Secaucus exit on the New Jersey turnpike.
John and Selena agreed on one thing so strongly, and painfully, that they never had to talk about it. The real killer at Klasen wasn’t cancer, MID or anything biological. It was deadness of spirit, leading to insensitivity of mind, and inevitably to a machine operating on indifference, myopic logic and no real agendas except short-term self interest.
Some of the faces in the Klasen Quarterly John knew, some he didn’t. It had been years since Doctor Baldino had attended conferences with these guys by day, sipped brandy and martinis with them by night and, on rare occasions, peeked at nude dancers with them in the wee hours of the night. But despite off-handed baiting questions by inquisitive Graduate Students, John always found himself being discressionaray with regard to his fellow Senior research colleagues..
“I know that nerds and geeks can become dorks with enough power, but we still need nerds, geeks, and even dorks. Without science, spirituality is blind, ” he asserted in carefully spoken words to himself now, and his new ‘colleague’ and on-skin companion, Ms. Horowitz.
“And without spirituality, science is lame,” Selena’s echoed comeback between John’s ears, still hurting after having been pierced for the first time. “You know better than to use half an Einstein quote against ME.”
“And Einstein was a woman?”
“The part of him that was interesting,” her reply. “And, eventually, right. Some men and women say that the real scientific brains and inspiration behind Albert was his first wife, Mileva, and when the always-alone Albert became a politician for peace, it was his second wife who did all the—”
“—We don’t have time for this,” John pressed. “I…as you…have to find out what my colleagues have been doing with their time, money and reputations. I can’t believe that a scientist is behind all of this dying.”
“Yes, you can,” Selena’s reply. “You left research because serving humanity as a scientist wasn’t human enough.”
“And I…I mean, Selena Horowitz…is supposed to do a story on the, ‘The Soul of the Scientist’.” He read from the assignment sheet and accompanying forgeries of her glossy-printed resume. “The Klasen Institute has more Nobel Prize caliber scientists per square inch than anywhere else in North America. Science is the new religion. What is this New Clergy in White really all about?” John stopped, in mid thought.
Selena smiled, while John looked inside his brain for a bigger question underneath all the fragmented ones.
“I can write this any way I want?”
“As long as I, Selena, gets the byline, John,” she smiled back at him through the mirror.
John pondered the issue, and the strategy. “With the way I write, ‘my dear’. Sentence fragments. Hard, mostly visual descriptors. Terse and confrontational dialogue. They’ll call you a lesbian”
“I’ve been called worse,” Selena answered, from the mirror in the room, and those within John’s ever-growing-multi-dimentional mind.
“When, and by who? It sound like you have a history, Selena, a very fascinating one I’d love to hear.”
“No, John,” she said, withdrawing into an even more silent whisper.
“What did I say?”
“The ‘L’ word, ‘love’, and you didn’t mean it. Then, I’ll tell you about—” she stopped.
“Tell me about what, Selena?! You can trust me, I’m a doctor. Or at least I used to be a—”
Selena disappeared again.
“Women have caves, too, I suppose,” John thought to himself as he looked into the mirror to try to find the mystery woman and/or spirit. But all he saw was gender-neutral flesh, a human face looking like what most humans called ‘female’, but not being anything at all. His attention was diverted, to a wrinkle of crow’s feet under the eyes and a side view of the upper thigh that made want to sprout a third leg. “What the hell do I do now? Fuck myself?” he asked Selena as he searched for her in the mirror and inside his head. He asked the question, but really didn’t want to know the answer. His experience with the first generation batch of A137 taught him that some questions you don’t want answers to.
Drug A137 had been designed to break prisoners by making them insane first, then reveal truths, or memories hidden in the recesses of the mind. It displayed moderate binding to five seratonin and sigma opiod receptors, was a competitive agonist to dopamine type 2B sites and had some residual alpha one activity, elevating arousal levels in a brain that let everything in. Only the most highly disciplined minds could handle it. Or, as BITE found out, only the most empathetic spirits, empathy being a discipline BITE severely underestimated. The dose of A137 given to John by BITE just before his ‘gone fishing’ trip barely a month earlier was supposed to make him spill the family super-spy beans on day one, reveal past childhood memories about places and facilities he had been by day two, recall conversations between Iron Mike and Helena that took place across bedroom walls by day three, then the truth about Vincent’s whereabouts and activities by day four, followed by suicide that night.
But John’s compliment of ‘ETs’ was higher than anticipated. Baldino sensed that ‘Empathy Neurotransmitters’ did exist in the brain, and were more powerful than the thalamus as modality mixers, more potent than the reticular activating system as arouses, and more effective enhancers of the senses than even the top of the line sensory deprivation tanks. What’s more, the half-second delay between the operation of the conscious and unconscious mind could be seen, and manipulated, somehow enabling the user of said brain to redefine time itself. Add some active visualization to prime up motor-sensory coordination, add a few cc’s of iron will and crossing the life-death line would be child’s play. No one understood John’s new abilities to hear SOS messages from animals, people at a distance, or recently-killed corpses, even himself. But Erica trusted them, as apparently did John’s brotherVincent, wherever he was.
Somehow, exposure to the seratonin dis-inhibitor A137 allowed John to jump into different areas of his brain, consciously, and see, feel and project different things about the world. No one born or man, woman or anyone inbetween had survived its use. He owed ex-colleague Erica a suicide undercover mission into the most heavily guarded, and most probably suerveiled, institute West of Nutley, New Jersey. He owed Vincent, wherever he was, and a lot more. Most importantly, he owed Maria, the ‘case study’ Apache victim who died of MID in the ugliest and painful of deaths, mutilation of her beautiful body AND possibly more beautiful mind well noted in the REAL medical reports John had received from Leonard when Selena came into his life.
Though working with Selena was a dangerous and bizzarre alliance, John knew he had to stay to course. A debt he owed to a thousand other Apache and Valley girls like her who would die painful and premature deaths at the hands of MID, or whatever was causing it. Whether initiated by BITE, the CIA, KKK, the Eagle Clan, PBS or PMS, it had to be stopped. Retroviruses were the deadliest of microbes, and this one, apparently, MID virus ate up the human brain AND spirit, on its own time, very quietly.
The findings couldn’t be put in any medical journal. Maybe not even in any poem or short story recognizable to someone used to Cricton, Grisham or even Stephen King. The feelings and concepts emerging had too much humanity for the popular press, but if MID got out of hand, there would be no humanity left to read ANYthing. So was the feeling, and the projected facts.
The uniform of day-one in Selena Horowitz’s “Soul of the Scientist” article on the “Einsteins of the Klassen” was appropriately picked out by Vincent, or whoever was working with him, was simple. Black pumps with sheer hose, a tight blue suede skirt with a hemline four inches above the knees, wide turquoise belt, off-white blouse with a pronounced V-line with color-co-ordinated vest, and a silk scarf to around a Rhinstone-studded choker. Earings were large but elegant, somewhere between party-girl and three-hundred dollar a night hooker. Hair was to be worn with big bangs and even bigger body.
“I can’t do this,” John said to himself. “Someone is going to find out.” He looked in the mirror again. Time for Halloween rehearsals was over. It was November first, and winter was about to arrive in a minute and a half. John’s legs shaked, with fear as welll as cold. “Selena!” John called out to the only agent who could help him maintain his cover, and, he hoped, compusure. “I’ve got all the facts down, what do I do about the feelings when the head guy from the Klason Institute gets here?”
“You’ll let these science-sleezoids pick you up,” her voice rang back.
From John, a grumble.
“That was supposed to be joke, Johnboy,” she gentle said.
“I’m not a boy! I’m not a fag, either!”
“I didn’t say you were, Doctor John.”
“And I’m not retreating from my responsibility as a man.”
“Of course not. It takes a real man to do a woman’s job.”
“I’m serious, ‘Ms. Horowitz!” Dr J screamed back at the woman he had become, or had to pass himself off as.
“And arrogant, Doctor Baldino,” she countered.
“This may be a good day to die, ‘Selena’, but if I’m caught dead like this…”
“You’ll go the pink circle of hell?” Selena mused.
John ran his fingers through Selena’s blonde lockes, adjusting the ‘doo’ so it would have the desired effect. He stroked the skin of his forehead, eyebrows and arms, noting, even more intensely, the softness of the hairless skin, and the presence of something else—
“Pacinian corpuscles, John. A theory is that we feel more than you do because we have more vibration, pressure and maybe even electrical field receptors on our hairless, thinner skin than you do.”
“I never thought a mission to save the world would feel so…disgraceful.”
“And fun?” Selena interjected, as she noted John’s lips moving up in BOTH corners. “You like being me. It’s easier to get inside a woman’s eyes, heart or cocktail dress than into her reproductive box, with an ugly-looking penile organ you only use for—”
“—Okay…Okay, Selena,” John conceded.
“And, in a gentlemanly manner, you may need to adjust those boobs, so I look like a tease, not a cunt, ” Coach Selena replied. “And your lipstick is smearing.”
“I’ll give you a fat lip, if you don’t” came out of John’s mind, but not his mouth. Then—“What’s happening!?” he screamed from a head that looked in the mirror and turned a solid chick’s face into that of the most fabulous doll in town.
Selena now had control of John’s mouth. “Shut up, and listen!” she said as the knock from the Klassen driver knocked on the hotel door, for REAL. “I’ll get us in,” she assured John.
“Coming” Selena said in an alluring manner, true to her promise, letting John see very clearly where she was driving both of them. As her feet did the model-walk towards the door, in a manner that would make even Leonard proud, and perhaps even horny, John felt that he was in good hands walking in Selena’s heels. But there was something else in the arrangement he didn’t trust, or couldn’t link to any A137 ‘ghost connecting’ effect imaginable with his still-scientific brain.
“What do you want?” John’s mind screamed out to Selena from Broca’s area 4, the only region of speech from which he could still hear his own voice. “What’s YOUR agenda in all of this?”
From Selena, a chuckle, knowing far more than telling.
In the hallway stood a pleasant-looking gentleman sporting a “Chemistry Club” tie, blue blazer and a firmly-fixed Western smile. “Miss Horowitz? I’m Doctor Tompson. Administrative Director of Public Relations at the Klasen,” he said in a tone so simplistic and uncomplicated that it was scary.
“A nerd,” John noted from a part of his brain somewhere below the temporal lobe, very close to the amygdaloid rage center.
“Please call me Selena,” came from Ms. Horowitz’s ‘mind’, out of John’s mouth. With a perky smile that said ‘available’. Selena extended Dr J’s hand out for the pleasant businesswoman’s handshake/palmtouch, a gesture taken to be far more than that by its recipient. “I’m so glad to meet you, Doctor Tompson,” she continued with a subtle Southern lilt to the voice never shared with her cerebral roommate John.
“Aren’t we acting a little too cordial here, ‘Miss Selena’?” John steamed up from his brain stem.
“I can help you,” Selena silently spoke back at John. “I really want to help you,” she repeated, sincerity behind her silent voice.
“I don’t want your help. I can do this myself, thank you,” John rebuked.
From Selena, John felt something very human—pain, and hurt. Who or whatever she was, Selena Horowitz had as much to risk in this as he did, whoever she was, and whatever she had to do. Perhaps Selena was a real person once, her body buried in the ground someplace, her ‘ghost’ seeking to make a final statement in the world. It was a very real A137 possibility, as was possible something else…Perhaps ‘Selena’, when or IF she was once alive, didn’t have the same agendas as Leonard, Erica or Vincent. But ‘she’, or ‘it’ seemed to have John’s best interest at heart. Such seemed to be the case as Selena carried on ‘pleasantry’ conversations with the Liasson from the Klassen about the gorgeous Western weather and terrain that meant so much to the Geek with the nameless name of Tompson, hired by still-to-be-identified Dorks who had the real scoop on MID disease, and more.
“I’m sorry,” Dr J said silently to Selena from the association cortex and the empathetic cortex, using every Empathy Transmittor that could be activated from the reticular activating system and the thalamus.
“No, you’re not,” Selena’s unspoken rebuke.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Selena.”
“You’re sorry for what?” Tompson asked.
John felt the bioelectric fields and auras. Selena had gone, leaving him alone, but with the script and stage directions he needed to pull of her part in this investigative drama. He breathed a sigh of relief. Acting like Selena was easier than being her, or having her inside him. In his second solo run as a woman, he did pull out some state secrets from Wentworth in the airplane out West, Leonard had coached him well in manners of voice, walk and mannerisms of speech, and as a clinician, Dr John made himself well-versed in the “Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus’ books. All was under control, as he found himself walking quite naturally in the stiletto heels toward Tompson’s car, sauntering from point A to B as a graceful dance rather than a machissmo march, with, yes, he had to admit it, an element of ‘fun’. The biggest problem ahead for John playing Selena would be longer lines to get into the toilet at the airport, opera or stadium. Or so he thought, until he saw the two men behind Tompson.
“This is my brother Daryl, and my cousin Daryl,” he said by way of introduction of the six-foot ten redneck cop and the three-hundred pound National Guardsman packing enough rounds to wipe out the White Mountain Apache, John Baldino and even Selena Horowitz, ten times over. “They do some security work for us, and I offered them a ride in to work.”
“No problem,” John said in a strained Selena voice which he hoped would be in keeping with his newly acquired gender.
The car seemed like a standard vehicle from the outside, but was a limo on the inside. The most comfortable seat and the seat of honor being in the middle of the passenger seat, between the closed and locked doors, and the doormen.
To “Selena’s” left sat Daryl number one, apparently a doubt-first and trust-later kind of cop. His Daryl number two, home after a long Army tour in the Middle East, glanced at the Baldino’s boobs. Thomson looked straight into John’s baby-blue eyes from the rear-view mirror. “Have we met before, Selena?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” John’s reply with blinking eyes, finally cueing in on Thomson’s ‘MO’. By the way Thomson held his chin, carried his clothes and lived ‘behind the line’ of an otherwise erect spine, he was an underachiever resident he went to school with who seemed not important enough to listen to, or remember. One of those scientists who was a technician, any notarity he had being the result of the genius or marketing prowess of the more Senior Investigator in the many labs in which he was hired for being an expert in the ‘technology of the year’ in question.
“The Neuroscience Meeting in New Orleans! That’s where I’ve seen you, Selena.” Tompson flashed on. “New Orleans, somewhere, back in 1989, maybe ninety—.”
“—Maybe New Orleans, but not at the Neuroscience meeting,” John countered, cortical fear center 5, begging Selena for help, but the bulk of his motor cortex determined to be a better woman than she could. A real man would not try anything less.
“Where, then, Selena?” Thomson pressed, determined to figure out why the middle-aged woman in his back seat really did look so…familiar from his youth.
“We all looked familiar to each other then,” John said in his best maternal-all-grow’d up ‘Selena-ese’.”
Thompson chuckled. The Daryls scratched their heads. The car moved down the sun-baked road through patches of desert being converted into shopping malls and identical ‘individualistic’ housing for the newest invasion of California softwear designers, New Jersey construction workers and retired Canadian Snowbirds. But there was still something in Thompson’s mind that seemed to bother him about Selena. The puzzle-solver that he seemed to be, the comforably-aging ‘Tonto’ Technocrat would not let go of a memory he had a long time ago, connected to the eyes of the ‘guest’ in the back seat of the car.
The reality hit. John Baldino was more of a superstar than he realized in his youth, complimented by his Elders, secretly admired by his peirs. And maybe Thompson was one of those ‘noboby’s in progress’ who Baldino dismissed as a brash, arogant young scientist. Then again, there was another gamble to be advanced here. Technocrats remained so because they almost always had their passions below the neck, in some way. Reading into Thomspon’s possible history, the one that would have never made it into his resume, ‘Selena’ became someone in his past.
“New Orleans was a long time ago for all of us,” John sighed in Blanche Dubois mode. “We were all young, adventurous, and…foolish.”
As predicted, Thomspon’s eyes turned downward, and inward. He cringed into his seat like a boy caught with his hands and genitals caught in the cookie jar.
John sat back, crossed his legs, and gazed out the window, warmly letting the not-so-baby-blue-anymore eyes linger on a young couple displaying their romantic affections for each other on a bus stop bench. “We both have families and professional lives now,” John breathed out with firmly, being sure to restrain its fire with a soft, distancing, dignified ‘whisper’ around the consanents and hard vowels. That ‘female lead’ voice so many actresses used to enure they would keep the part in those B-level Cop, Lawyer and Medical shows that remained on the air longer than the A-level quality dramas that got one season before getting axed off the tube. “Some things are left to be discreet, don’t you think, Doctor Thomson?” the Selena/John duet continued to the guilt-ridden and apparently very-married Dr T.
“Yes, indeed,” Thomson concurred. Clearly, courteously and concisely.
Upon arrival at the Klassen parking lot, all was back to ‘normal’ schedule, on the inside and outside. Thompson offered to carry Miss Selena’s bags, catching a glimpse of the reflection in John’s patten-leather pumps, unaware of what kind of balls Journalist Horowitz really had.
As John sauntered down the hall, he felt proud. Lesson one about lying learned and implemented. Assume that the other party is guilty, call them on it, see them fall, stick your bootheel, or in this case, high-heel, into their groind and declare victory.
“You’re supposed to say ‘great job'” John muttered to Selena within their private room between Dr J’s ears.
John didn’t answer. Too much going on outside the ears to deal with inner business on the home front with his…wife, lover, girlfriend, mistress, or whoever Selena really was, or was becoming.
“Fine, then!” Selena nagged. “You didn’t want a road map, so when we get lost, it will be all YOUR fault.”
Selena was right. And the map was not as expected on the inside either. The entrance to the Klassen was filled with art, very expensive art, commissioned by sculptors who put the healer-sceintist-patient dynamic into stone and metal in wonderous and sensitive ways Baldino had never seen before. The kind of entrance plaza that only well-stocked Institutions could afford, or less-than-ethical ones needed. Or maybe both. But whatever compassion and commitment the sculptors put into the statues, those expressions were lacking in the white-coated Priests, and Priestesses, of the Scientific Research Station in the middle of no-where that was, according to Insider Reports in Science, on its way to becoming the hottest hodown homestead for Medical Minds West of Nutley, New Jersey.
John still felt in control, and brave enough to ask the question he was not supposed to ask, but which had to be answered, for better or worse. “I was supposed to meet a guy here, six-feet-eight,” he said to his Host, Thompson, brushing him lightely on the shoulder to ensure his attention, and delay the entry into the metallic complex that said ‘Technology’ louder than ‘Science’ . “An ex-boyfriend. Body of a fullback, mind of a tank commander, courage of a lion, mind like a computer, smell of a sausage grinder…”
Thompson clamped his lips closed, pupils looking upward to the right, then downward to the left. He pulled his hand to his chin, saying nothing. Feeling…threatened, or so it seemed by the tapping of his feet.
Leaning back, John let ‘Selena’ handle the rest of the description. “He’s sort of a pig, but he’s more ham than hog. He goes by the name of Vi—-”
John caught glimpse of a newspaper laying on one of the foul-smelling ‘trash disposal units’. It’s headline read “Man found Dead After Drunken Brawl outside Rez Zero—MID suspected.” The picture was very white, and familiar. A face John had never seen, but felt he knew very intimately. Then, a face which was even more familiar—his own, as John Baldino—Wanted, under the alias’ of Jack MacFarland, John Baldino AND Dr. J! For murder and multiple rape in Brooklyn and everywhere else that valued the lives of helpless 7 year old girls. How and why was John being framed for murder? What made his past persona’s Top Ten enemies on the FBI shoot-first-ask questions later hit list? Or more accurately, WHO could have been behind this ‘event’ that burnt all of John’s bridges to his comfortable and contented past?
“Vinn—-” came out through John’s chattering teeth, Selena’s magenta red lips.
“Did you say something, Selena?” Thompson interjected.
John shook his head no, holding on to anything that would anchor reason to reality, and optimistic possibilities. Maybe it was a hoax. The pictures of John Baldino as a killer-rapist looked no less gory, and trick photography often looked more authentic than the real thing. But what if it were really true? What if the feeling in the guy, belly and tummy John felt was real? He had felt this affirmation of intuitive probability too often to ignore it. And was brother Vincent really behind it all? If so, there was a good reason for John to be ‘on the run’ from having done such bad deeds. Or maybe it was someone else behind this wrinkle, or more accurately, abyss in the plan at hand. But one thing was certain, as he addressed Selena’s face in the mirror.
“It’s just you and me from now on, kid,” he commented with a Bogart slur, and a Hepburn pitch.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or a very hetero-man forced to be one. “Okay, I’m stuck here alone,” John said to himself as he waited in the security office for his pass to enter the inner sanctum of the Klassen, with a ‘suggested agenda’ of people to see from Tompson’s office that was timed to the minute. Very different from the names Leonard had scribbled down for him in New York, in Erica’s handwriting. Dr J contemplated the omens, options and opportunities as he did a complete body and mind check to ensure that the world would see Selena, not John Baldino.
Passing by the morgue didn’t help allay John’s fears. A137 made him highly sensitive to bioelectric fields which, according to those less scientifically inclined, could be called ghosts. The spirits of those in the morgue were recently detached from their body, and they died agonizing deaths. John could feel, even from a distance, their agony at the time of dying, a collective scream which was mostly Indian, and, perhaps, a little White. The images were all yellow-green, the beasts all very real to the deceased. Some were taken by brain tumors that most probably compressed the respiratory centers around the tentorial notch at the base of the skull. The unfortunate had fallen victim, apparently, to ketamine overdose, famous for its ability to dissociate mind and body as part of a ‘businessman’s lunch’ cocktail in Soho, and as a substitute for opiod anesthetics given to Black soldiers in South Africa deemed suitable to go back on the battlefield to get killed by bullets they couldn’t feel. It looked like heroism to the Blacks in the trenches, and felt like death after the bullets did the damage.
But one thing about MID was that it worked fast, like the world around it. This was real world medicine, and very bad medici ne at that. Cures had to be delivered BEFORE the disease, with an area of the brain John had to use but could never identify.
“I got some shrugs of indifference from the techs on the way in here,” John AND Selena, and perhaps a third visitor intruding into their midst thought as he looked through the bullet-proof glass between the security office and the common hallway outside. “Maybe they don’t care what they saw or who I really am. They probably don’t know very much, anyway. Any smart scientist keeps his techs underpaid, hungry and in the dark, particularly when the experiments are secret, and the data forged.” John flashed on something, the rightness of “you only right real reason in mental motion itself, fueled with a little anger to break out of orbit.”
“Falsification of data! THAT’S the look I saw in the eyes of the head techs, the ones really ran the labs, and the ones who gave me that ‘I know who you really are, Sir’ look, I think..” John screamed to himself, in Silence. He finally put the face to the name of one of the White Coated victims of dull-out-disease, standing next to him with a chart in her hand, a pager in her belt, that mentally-anesethatized look in her face which was deader than any on the corpses inside the morgue. A woman who was very much in the world of the living, from his past. Another ‘nobody’ back in NY were was apprarently a powerful ‘somebody’ here.
Janet Olston, mother to all and friend to only a few, had been a whiz with machinery and even better with people ever since she apprenticed as a test-tube washer at the Rockefeller in New York. She owned cats, preferring their company to most men and, despite the rumors, any women. She knew when to keep her mouth shut, and how to keep her job. No hyphenated name would be appended to hers except ‘Chromatography’, ‘Crystallography’ or ‘Columnseparatorextradinarie’. The authoritative look in her eye, and the fact that she moved in and out of so many labs with such ease and familiarity revealed that she was the main dealer of technical favors in this place. If she couldn’t fix it, she’d trade it or replace it with something else that would work. Somehow, Janet always knew how to rule over molecules and tissues without letting them rule her. Maybe it was because she let booze become her beloved master, on so many Friday and Saturday nights spent watching network television and movies far below her level of intelligence, and class.
“I’ll ask her about what’s going on here next time I see her, out of range of the cameras, the cop-soldiers and the surveillance mics,” John pondered. “We’ll have a girl to girl talk, or, if she’s drunk or trustworthy enough, something more honest. Janet always respected honesty. Although, in this place, it’s a luxury I can’t afford to—”
“Miss Horowitz” the guard interrupted abruptly. “Your boss is on the line.”
“My boss”, John let slip out.
“The guy you’re working for,” the reply, official ‘I don’t not trust you, I just don’t know you’ suspicion under the courtesy.
“Hello,” John said into the receiver anticipating that he’d hear a voice to connect him to something he could trust, and use. Maybe it was Leonard, with make up and fashion tips. Maybe Erica’s contact, with a coded message about the biological work, or workers, at the Klasen. Maybe it was Selena. Or maybe Vincent, the real owner and operator of the Freedom Post, the most respected alternative newspaper West of Philadelphia, alive and well, talking from a phone atop a mountain overlooking the Klasen with a free lift ticket out of the valley and Selena Horowitz’s life—but—
“Selena Horowitz, is that you?” the voice at the other end said, a male voice, very non-recognizable.
“That’s what my new ID card says,” John’s flippantly, whispery, whimpsical reply as he contemplated yet another enemy in his midst, or dangerous friend. Maybe Selena was a real person, with a real family and a real boss, who were all determined to find out where she was and who she’s been cheating with.
John swallowed his breath, feeling his Adam’s apple bolting away from the scarf on his neck like a lemon, ready to bleed yellow blood.
Selena continued, referring John’s attention to ‘her’ ID materials, magazine-quality photos what were otherwise documents impersonal photographers and light-startled subjects. “That smile in the photos says that we have special arrangements with the Klasen, and would like to–”
“—I think this conversation is over,” John interjected, hearing and feeling the pager in his purse ringing. The call display on the phone didn’t match the 1-800 number given to him as a contact by Leonard et al, nor even the published number of the Freedom Post which was part of Selena’s cover. “I don’t know who you are, but if you’re one of my paper’s competitors trying to find me—”
The person at the other end hung up.
“Lesson two,” John contemplated about the lying game. “Assume incompetence and punish them for it.” “My journalistic competitors,” Baldino whispered with batting eyes to the Confused Guard, A Daryl 3 who followed orders in the REAL world. “They make life interesting, don’t’ you think?”
“Beats boring, Ma’am.” the guard volleyed back with a genuine smile, and a ‘Ma’am’ which was culturally genuine. A Western Ma’am rather than an Army one.
The route down the hallways clearly outlined by ‘darlling’ Daryl #3, John let Selena’s heels sashey him down the presecribed routes to the first destination, colorfully getting lost at the first turn, forcing an unscheduled detour to a quieter corridor, with less of those colorfully tasteful, probably camera-containing, portraits and scultptures on the walls. He looked at the list of places and people assigned to him by, he hoped, the REAL people at the Freedom Post, a real-life paper that, presumably, was Selena’s employer. Rightly or wrongly, John Baldino spent little time reading newspapers back in New York. The excuse he gave was that he was too buzy reading medical journals, or writing his own. In reality, he was, even then, too sensitive to handle what the people outside the labs and operating rooms were reading. News about pathology of the world, rather than the body. News that continued to be news about, famine, poverty, misery, creulty and its predicesor, War. A phenomenon, and perhaps inevitable passtime for humanity which had one common denominator no matter who were wearing the white hats, black hats, or who had their hat-bearing hats beheaded. Made very real by a set of sepia-toned old photos of locals who had served in ‘Great Wars’ from 1917 onward.
“War—long periods of terror punctuated by brief periods of terror,” John recalled, but this time with a female voice and inner ear that made him pity its victims more painfully than he ever remembered.
“I heard it’s that way in science, too,” Selena offered, with the kind of understanding and respect she never had shown John.
“Or so we’ll both find out?” John asked, not caring how it came out. Or who was listening. Selena certainly was. Finally, she understood that John’s inner-most agony was survivor’s guilt. Living so comfortably in Westchester County and ‘safe’ neighborhoods in the City, doing his sweating of blood, sweat and tears over a research lab bench to discover wonder drugs for diseases, the ‘details’ for distribution left to ‘lesser minds’ in more dangerous places. Those ‘Places of Change’ that Dr J avoided, or was not assigned to because he was too valuable a genius to become a dead hero, like his parents, his brother Vincent, or his almost-everything-else Erica.
John offered a warm Selena smile in the reflection of the glass in the display case containing fine-print documents that seemed very important, coded in scientific-ese only an insider would be able to decifer, or appreciate. The ‘moment’ was courteously and coincidentally acknowledged by a Daryl 4, a beer-belly Bubby with a wide Buddha smile. “Miss Horowitz?” he asked. “Ya look lost.”
“Not any more than any of us are,” John and Selena said to each other, and Daryl 4. “But I’m sure you can tell me where I’m supposed to be next. Sir?” ‘Doctor Selena’ inquired.
“My pleasure, Ma’am,” Daryl 4 offered, pointing the way away from where Dr J and Selena knew they needed to go.
“That would be nice,” Doctor J said to Daryl 4. “Thank you, Edward,” Selena added, bringing up the rear.
“Well,” John related to Selena. “It’s back to the old methology.”
“Mouth open, ears shot, ‘John’?” she challenged.
“No…it’s not where your eyes are open, but how open your eyes are when you are there,” John related in the silent-speak with his new ever-changing ‘hostess’ which was becoming progressively louder, and more complicated inside his head.
The inner sanctum of the Klassen had no shortage of “Warning, Radioactivity”, “Infectious Agents In Use” and “Chemical Hazard” signs around, but they were all on very official looking doors, not irreverent foreheads or hot-looking asses, as was the fashion in every graduate school worth its salt and/or sodium chloride. A metal detector and hand-print check was prominently featured, and on the other side, security guards with guns, many of them posing as scientists in white lab coats.
‘Tourguide’ Tompson was re-assigned to assist Ms. Horowitz, though by his stiff body language use of passive tense grammer, and non-expressive words indicated that he feared opening up a can of worms with that old New Orleans science flame who seemed to know more about him than he knew himself. Or so John and Selena let him believe.
On the way to the first prescribed visit in ‘Soul of the Scientist’ article intended to bring Bucks into the Institute, Tompson explained the reasons for the extra security, after seeing her reaction to the guns, uniforms and security clearance checkpoints.
“Animal rights activists,” Tompson explained. “Mis-informed, naïve and dangerous activists stealing animals and destroying labs that are our only hope to find new cures for numerous deadly diseases. Including those that affect their own sacred dogs, cats, horses and llammas.”
John agreed with the mathematics in Thompson’s head, and proposition. The dog, cat and even cockroach-loving Dr J, even at an early age, saw no problem in sacrificing a hundred rats to save a thousand dogs, or a million people.
To the John that Selena never tried to change, healing on a one to one level was about feeling. Healing on a global level was mathematics. And even on a one-to-one, every new patient was a new experiment. A medical hypothesis was one that didn’t kill more than 5% of patients when applied, and actually helped 45% of them, or at least some figure about the 30% mark that represented the placebo effect for anything. Medical theory had a higher benefit-cost ratio, and by the time you got to medical fact, it was written in stone. Still, it was a fact that the Earth was flat until Columbus proved otherwise. The Italian-led Spanish expedition of 1492 had cost the New World its purity and the Old World its graciousness. Who knew what kind of experiments were going on here?
Thompson’s pager rang. He picked it up, answered a few ‘yes’s’,
‘no’s’ and ‘I don’t know’s’ hiding his eyes, then face from his lovely, and apparantly bright, guest. Then, a final question, to which the basically-honest nerd-turned-geek hummed, hawed and answered in very businesslike tone. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
With a customary, and curt, “Ms. Horowitz” bow, he went on his way, leaving his guest in a well guarded hallway with one way out—a desolate ‘smoking area’ balcony 6 stories above very hard, pavement. Vacant, and windblown, collecting the worst of the wind from the outside.. Undoubetly another one of the ‘punishment’ pens for those who still indulged in the ‘dirty’ habit of tobacco use, at an insitutute that John knew was well funded by a major Cigarette Company.
John looked at Selena’a watch, digging into his recently-shaved and moisterized wrist. He still had ten minutes left until the first appointment. A bird cawed at the ledge, a crow to the biologically-oriented. An eagle if you looked beyond the black silhouette. Before going into the inner sanctum of the Klasen, another secret had to be figured out, in a room John never imagined he would ever visit. And Nature was calling John from a more basic, and biological level. Looking for the room with the ‘kilts’on the signs rather than the pants, John resigned himself to what had to be taken care of first before ANY other business.
“It looks the same as the men’s room,” John commented to himself as he looked around the ladies washroom, designated on the door by the medical symbol for woman. “Except for the lack of urinals, presence of a couch, and a more subtle brand of graffiti scratched into the walls, not much difference.” But maybe there was a difference that couldn’t be ignored.
Ignoring the mirrors, appreciating that they were, in essence, unnatural devices that repelled the viewer with low self-esteem or hypnotized said viewer with high superior self-regard into narcissism, John took the metal detector from his Jamie Bond pocketbook and scanned the room. Nothing there. No one listening. Finally, he felt safe.
He went into the stall, took out a transistor radio, put the Country Station on loudly, and dialed the number on the cell. “1-800-FUCKUPS,” he muttered to himself as he prepared to file his first report. Whoever it was at the other end had to answer one critical question.
“Yeah, talk to me,” the voice said abruptly after letting John hang on for at least nine rings.
“I have one question, Erica,” John affirmed to the woman, and friend, who had started him on this Westward Pulgrimage and Crusade.
“What’s the capital of New Jersey? The town with the smelliest exit on the turnpike,” Erica replied whimisically, in her 24/7 philosopher-on-call modality..
“I’m serious,” John countered.
“I wouldn’t want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member, so why am I talking to you?” she came back in Grouchoesche.
“Because I am the Walrus, Revolution Number Nine has been one-upped, and the answer to the universe IS forty-two–really. ”
John cued into the ‘code’ of the day, taking note of the numbers that might make sense. Following the lead, he continued his inquiry, hoping that if anyone was listening, they had to look up the references in an Oldies dictionary that was out of print. “Whereas Barbarino? My Cousin…the Starry Night Artist.”
From Erica, a delay, then, “Don’t Sweat it, Hog. Your Welcome Back party is going better than you expect. Just keep your balls well strapped in, and your ears intact.”
“And is this season going to be an on-the-nose sitcom or not? Is ‘V’ for victory or something—”
“I don’t know where your VanGough is, Johnboy?” Erica commented, sincerity. “But the painting is not where he’s reported to be.”
Erica never broke code unless she was really shaken up, even as a resident in the distant past. When she boasted to hospital interviewers that she was best cardiac surgery resident, it was a matter of fact, not ego. But when arteries were cut instead of veins, and the blood started to fly, inevitable when you try to play God with human hands, she always got her words mixed up. It felt like she was in control, sort of, but also in need.
“You sound so….close,” John said.
“And you sound so…different,” the reply.
John cleared his throat, then asked the question that had to be answered. “Where’s Selena?”
“Who is she, really?”
“It’s public record. Everyone knows her work. Lots of men, ones you know very well, read her work but don’t remember her name.”
John gazed at the articles from five years ago in his Selena kit. It all made sense. “Men remember the energy a woman infused into him, not her name. Sounds like Selena is known by lots of people who don’t know us.”
“But no one knows the REAL Selena. Not by face, anyway. She went on a trip to the Tibetan-Chinese border a few years ago and—”
“—Is she a Big Mountain High drop-out, too?” John interjected, demanding a real answer.
Erica got the reference right away. “She’s moved on. That’s all I can tell you.”
“And what is Selena Horowitz now?”
“A clean slate, and an opportunity we can’t pass up.”
“I see,” John said.
“The colors up there in Canada must be marvelous this time of year!” Erica said.
“Red and white Maple Leaf flag. Red if the Canuks get miffed, White in case they get tired and want to surrender. It’s hard to take a country that calls its coined dollar a Lunie that seriously.”
“I’m part Canadian. I miss White, and snow.”
“And I miss ‘green’.”
“Selena doesn’t carry money, she lives day to day. It’s her trademark. Life always provides for her needs.”
“An interesting woman,” John said.
“A very powerful person,” Erica’s compliment, dare and assignment.
“Can I ask a ‘when’ question?” John advanced.
“Only after we get some more ‘whats’ and ‘hows’.”
“How about a ‘who’?”
“Genious is about persistence, not talent.”
“So is lying,” John said as the phone clicked on him and he looked at the next scientist on the most important of lists given to him by Leonard, committed to memory but kept in Selena’s purse within a sanitary napkin, just in case.. Erica, Vincent or whoever was the ‘who’ behind the ‘when’, apparently. Green meant boring. Blue was asshole. Black was idiot. Red was dangerous. “I didn’t know I person could be boring, an asshole, an idiot and a threat at the same time,” John pondered as he saw most every color next to most every name, each inserted in stages by a hand that seemed to be trembling with fear upon executing the mark.
As John walked down corridor Blue 2A, he felt assured in his quest to find out what and who was behind MID. After all, behind every great male fugitive-crusader-physician-psychic was a persistent woman looking to take over his body. It had been that way for centuries.
John was relieved to be rid of the woman who called herself Selena, as he redefined his own man and womanhood. His manner of lying was truthfully getting better by the minute. The little things all of a sudden described the bigger things. Like eyelines, again. When a man sizes up a man, he starts with the eyes, then pans downward at the shirt, belly, then shoes, the final affirmation of what the mark is really all about. When said man scans a woman, he starts with the feet, goes up to the hips, then the waist, the bust, the neck, the mouth, then the eyes, not forgetting to linger on the hair along the way. A woman astute to know this can see what’s in a man’s eyes before the male opponent has even moved up above the waist.
No wonder Erica took special note of his legs at the cemetery, and Leonard insisted that nothing in John’s wardrobe cover anything below the knees. Given the proven fact from the classic experiments that the conscious part of the brain acts on something at least half a second after the unconscious brain sees it, and that the body conveys what the mind means before the cerebral cortex completes the thought, and is the basis of the infamous ‘woman’s’ intuition. Was. Or, maybe not. Under the hairless, artifically-softened skin on his face and body, the big-banged blonde hair and the elogant $400 lingerie, John was still Dr. Baldino—or maybe not.
Dr. John had always been a loner. Even as a young man, isolation sustained him and his love of humanity. To be a loner was to be segregated in neutral times, ignored in bad times and admired in good ones. But alone still felt lonely, and that was the feeling in John’s aching heart after ‘Selena’ left. Maybe he loved her, maybe he admired her, or maybe it was just another after-effect of A137. A three-week delay period wasn’t unusual for drugs that ate up the nervous system. Even simple chemical agents like organophosphates caused neuropathies delayed by a few weeks, and even Housain’s boot camp recruits had graduated past the OPs.
It had been a while since John paid homage to the whaling walls in places where scientists spent more time sharing information with each other than the world, or the patients across the street. Each lab displayed the latest papers presented at meetings, with multicolored, glossy graphics as impressive as the data. No room for Rembrants, Picassos of even imitation VanGough at the Klasen in these hallways. It all looked academically interesting, biologically intricate and financially expensive.
John had known about five interleukins at the peak of his career, and had used only three in clinical practice. Now the list of immunomodulator molecules topped twenty. Even in his home organ, the brain, ex-neurologist Baldino could only guess at what the eight new seratonin receptors were about, or the new classification of opiod and adrenergic sites beginning to emerge. But, unlike times of old, they all had numbers, not names of the discoverers. Perhaps it was because scientists were less egotistical about their work now, or perhaps they were more secretive.
John remembered the credos, the ones that never made it to print, but remained in the heads of those who could continuously stay published. “(A) A mind that lets data find its natural slots perceives the real relationship of things to each other and the whole. (B) Everything is suspect to question, and change. (C) A mind moved by urgency and passion will always lead you to the center of the problem. (D) Nature never gives you a problem without a solution.”
Again and again, John let the data on the walls percolate through his mind. Which of it was relevant? Which of it mattered? And how did techno-play with molecules relate to the real-life human condition? Then, something flashed, Klasen dealt not with drugs, but drug delivery systems. Liposomal technology allowed you to put a molecular pill into a microscopic ball of lipids upon which were inserted proteins that would direct said liposome to not only the cell, but the organelle in that cell.
The carried material were tracers, antibiotics and a few hormones too large to pass through biological membranes. But what about genetic material? Could the gene missing in a child destined to be diabetic be inserted by injecting a liposome into the mother’s vein? Probably. Could the ability of an adult neuron in the spinal cord of a 40 year old with spinal cord trauma be instructed to become a whipersnapper stem cell again, growing neurites up and down the spinal cord, linking together what a break, crash or stab had separated? Hopefully. Could a bacteria or virus be inserted into a liposome, dropped by an airplane over a population of unsuspecting people who would become patients, then find its way to the brain and—
“—Now we’re thinking,” the unidenfied, ever-elusive female guest in Johns brain whispered.
“Who are you?” John asked as he turned the corridor toward the first appointed call, eyes fixed on the agenda.
“Look at me when I talk to you, John,” she said.
“I’m tired of looking into mirrors. I need to do some work in the world outside of me, you and whatever partnership we had.”
“Yes, it’s over between us, Selena, or whatever your name is.”
“Not until I say so!” she screamed into every part of sensory and motor cortex.
John stopped dead in his tracks, frozen, unable to move.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“The same thing you do, John.”
“I want to go home to a comfortable practice of giving people pills that do nothing, but which they think work. I want to talk to the world through a phone, dictating machine or even a lectern instead of the silent screams in my head. I want to just be a normal citizen. Even a MALE normal citizen again, even if I can’t get a woman.”
“No you don’t, John.”
“Vincent. That’s why I’m doing this,” John asserted.
“And the common people? Or maybe, I pray, a common person,” the nameless female ‘entity’ spoke back in a language only a 137A-exposed brain could understand, and a subtext only John Baldino could feel.
John pondered. “Probably. Maybe. No, yes. A patient accepted is an obligation, for life.”
“So is a people accepted.”
John considered in silence.
“I’ll take that as a reconciliation, John?”
“Only if you tell me your name!” Dr J insisted, no backing down this time.
“At the time of dying,” she said sorrowfully.
“Yours of mine?” he asked.
An answer formed behind John’s empathy center 3, in the caudal temporal lobe. It moved slowly through visual, auditory, somatosenory and vibration cortex towards Broca’s speech center 8, when—
“Ehhhh”, the clearing of the throat from the poster. “Are you looking for me?”
John’s body unfroze, then tightened again as he looked at the name tag on the pressed white coat, then gazed up at a mouthful of ‘sterile’, bracketed by Aryian blue eyes and a full head of perfectly-combed blond hair. “This work of yours, Dr. Renkin is…is…”
“Humbly submitted for the approval of your readers, Miss Horowitz. Please, do come in.”
Why William Renkin, Ph.D., M.D., LLD was given the name ‘Wild Bill’ was as much of a mystery as why ‘dynamo’ Chuck Norris remained on the top ten watched TV shows for five years running with ball-blasting-bonanza “Texas Walker, Ranger”. His office was well lit by natural sunlight, the kind that made any visitor squint for the first ten minutes of his casual fireside talks by the bunson-burner talks. The walls were lined with ultra-G-rated family photos that would make Norman Rockwell seek refuge in the arms of an S and M hooker. Jesus was his publically over-stated Savior, and by-the-numbers-science his Salvation. His ticket for entry into the Klassen elite seemed to lay not so much in his work. It was standard enzymatic analysis on the glucose and lipid metabolism, as adaptable to the human brain was to the cockroach reproductive system. Sheer volume, and the ability to withstand long periods of boredom were Renkin’s major scientific achievements. Put that together with the Western shirt with the “Be Compulsive” button over the heart, the imitation cowboy boots worn under the pressed dockers, and the crucifix around his neck made by Apache missionaries, and you had ‘geek’, a victim of academia-induced dull-out-virus who didn’t really know how dead he was inside—or did you?
“Would you like something to drink, Miss Horowitz?” he asked.
“Selena,” came through John’s mouth from the mystery woman who seemed to be battling for his attention with all the physiological and metaphysic tools at her disposal. John watched his body move and mind think, as he let Selena do the talking. “Coffee if you have it, with creme and sugar?”
“Your body is a temple, Miss Horowitz,” Renkin gently admonished in a monotone that killed with contentment and complacency. “I have apple juice, grape juice or spring water.”
“From what Spring?” John thought in New Yorkese. “All this happy can’t be good for his health, or mine. Maybe I should go straight into the questions and ask him about—”
—“Apple, would be great, thanks,” Selena interjected.
“I also have some pastry. I don’t know what kind of nuts are in them, but what’s life without going a little nutty?” He smiled at the joke.
Selena smiled back, accepting the gift. “This isn’t a food fest, Selena. WE have a schedule to meet,” John countered. “I want to get out of this body and find my brother.”
“You have a nice looking family,” she said. “Lovely children,”
“They are good boys, solid citizens, and dedicated Christians,” Renkin said proudly, and very slowly.
“Make him tell us something I don’t know, Selena”, John screamed out from septal rage centers of both sides of the corpus coliseum. She looked at the list of questions on John’s cheat sheet. The fifth one down seemed to be the one worth asking first.
“If you were to list three things that you valued most, what would they be?”
“As what, Miss Horowitz?”
“As a scientist, a Christian and a man, Bill?” Selena smiled, discretely showed off a few more inches of John’s legs, and waited.
“You’re fishing with dangerous bait, Selena,” John warned. “Scientists like him have no sense of humor, and even less respect for emotional directness. It’s something in the air ducts, or maybe from wearing all that white. This guy definitely looks like he stopped being a virgin only after having his third kid. And as for dull out fever…Selena, Selena…are you listening to me?”
:”I read in your background that you’re from Salt Lake City,” Selena said as she tastefully wiped the crumbs off John’s lips with her lilting fingers.
“Yes, Miss Horowitz.”
“It’s a lovely city. The kind of place that’s pure and clean. No grafitti. No smog.”
“Ah, yes, Miss Horowitz,” Renkin remembered fondly.
“Forward, Selena!” John silently screamed from the very base of his fornix, just below the frontal lobe. “Move the travel log forward!”
“No riff-raff,” Selena, or perhaps the ‘other woman’ said through John’s lips with a wide country smile. “No gangs. No drunks. No Indians who disguise dangerous cults or Pagan customs as New Religions.”
“Yes, Selena. But I’m surprised to hear you talking about Salt Lake like that?”
“Your attire aside, my dear Selena, you talk like a Follower of Church of Latter Day Saints.”
“The Mormons,” John noted silently from the sidelines.
“But your name…Miss Horowitz,” Renkin noted.
“Is from my husband.” Selena said, sipping her juice, rubbing her ringless, slightly-discolored, left fourth digit. “A good and honest man who is….deceased.”
“Yes, you do look like you have lost a loved one. I see the pain in your eyes,” Renkin noted.
“I guess this guy IS more than a Geek for Jesus,” John conceded. “He sees that I’ve lost…hopefully temporarily…a brother. And as for Selena, he sees that she’s lost…” John turned his head toward a mirror and let himself look into Selena’s eyes. “My God, you’ve lost…so many brothers, and sisters, and…Selena, are you there, Selena…Selena!!!”
John electrified the reticular activating system, sending as much epi and nor epi to cerebral points North as possible. Selena couldn’t go to sleep on him now. Both of them had too much to lose, and so much left to do.
John directed the hands, the paper and the first words out of the mouth. “Your work in psychoactive drugs uses the model of learned helplessness.”
“Yes. It is an intriguing biological tool.”
“How exactly does it work? Your funders and our reader, who pay taxes to your funders, would like to know.”
“It’s actually quite simple. The biological will to survive is instinctual.” Renkin felt compelled, by flattery, social duty or financial greed. It was hard to read his mind, or heart, once the white lab coat went back on. He demonstrated the point with an animal from a cage in the room behind him, a large room full of people with contented faced doing what looked like state of the art work, the newest TLC, crystallographic and column separators everywhere, many of them from companies that John’s mental rolodex didn’t even recognize.. The Never-Get-Dirty Dozen under Renkin’s command knew their orders before Renkin gave them, and perhaps before he even thought them. “Maybe the instructions of the day come from demonic Orwellian programmers who write the Christian Rock tunes they bop their heads to,” John mused. “Shut up, Groucho, and get with the program!” she screamed back at him.
“Every creature is born with the instinct to survive,” Renkin related with a cordial smile. “But if you take this rat, with, of course, the permission of the animal care Committee, and the Blessing of the Lord, and place it in a tank of water where there is a submerged platform, it will swim to safety, shake the water off his bum, and—”
“He praises Jesus for sticking it back to the cage master?” came out of Selena’s lips from John’s prefrontal cortex.
Renkin retreated into himself, disappointed and offended. Selena saved the thread of communication with an apologetic smile, blaming the rest of the transgression on too much exposure to MTV at the airport.
The very Christian scientist continued in a non-offensively clinical manner which smelled offensive because of that quality. “But if you take a rat and put him in a maze and teach him that everytime he finds the way to the cheese he gets it taken away…” Renkin put a fresh rodent into the maze. “This poor creature has experienced this situation many times.”
Selena and John both saw frustration and an even more painful emotion in the rat, a creature that, to most scientists, is an expressionless animal.
“You take this animal and put it into the water tank…” Renkin dropped the rat into the tank. It sank to the bottom like a dead stone. Selena gasped. John reached into the water and grabbed the rat, pulling it to safety, but not before water had filled its lungs.
“We can induce learned helplessness with a variety of drugs, now. We’re working on a model that mimics human depression,” Renkin related with pride.
“What about the cures!!!” Selena protested in a silent scream as she revived the rat back to something resembling health. “I’d be very interested in seeing your papers, and the data, if you have it,” John said through her lips, and voice.
John looked around. He remembered Erica’s messages: I am the walrus. Revolution number nine has been topped by one. The answer to the universe IS 42. Erica always was good with numbers. But was she good with visions, and reality? Nothing seemed obvious from the labels on the files, beakers or the rat cages. Then, a beep from his arm. “Time for the next appointment”, he noted. “Take a mental picture of this place, for now,” Selena suggested. “In the event that this super electronic suit underneath this stunning outfit has bad mics and a defective film,” she continued.
Selena was incensed at Renkin’s insensitivity to the rat, but for different reasons than the men around and outside of her. “That animal was defenseless. How dare scientists like him drive animals into committing suicide like that!” Selena and the mystery woman asserted to John. “It’s not fair.”
“Life isn’t fair, or kind, once you become dead inside like Renkin is,” John related with intense sadness to the woman, or women sharing his brain box. “Besides, being passionless is part of science. It’s part of the discipline. The last person you hire to work in a cancer lab is someone who’s been diagnosed with the disease. It sounds cruel, but too much passion can make you lose objectivity. A solid investigator has to be, above all things, objective.”
“And that’s why you’ve been pushing us so hard, Doctor John, Hmmmm?”
“I know you can move those feet of mine like a fox,” John conceded as he looked at his watch, then down at the heels and skirt made for fashion rather than speed. “But can we motor like a..a….”
“Tigress? No problem,” her reply.
“You only find real rest in motion itself—as well as the solution nature gives you to the problem at hand,” John noted as he became a verb, moving to the next challenge at an extended power-march, faster than any run AND twice as stylish. The brain in the belly felt connected, the center of John and Selena’s energy both square on the chi point, directing a body that was becoming miraculously transformed from heavy to light, passive to active, mass to energy. “Where will these feet take us next?” he inquired.
“You have the list, John,” Selena snarled, revealing her pain at his rejection.
“And you have an unwritten agenda,” John shot back. “One or maybe more than one that you’re not sharing with us, my lilly-white—”
“I’m not Lilly OR white!” she protested.
“Then what?” John turned his head to the mirror. Perhaps he could see in his inner eye Selena’s real body. “I’ll cross the line again if you show me what your body really looks like,” John offered.
“Fuck you, John,” her reply as she clouded Johns vision with a cloud smelling like desert sagebrush.
“So then what DID you body look like?”
From Selena, silence and withdrawal.
“How long have you been…in transit,” he pressed on. “When did you die and when will you….ya know…”
“I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s on the other side of, ya know…”
“Death?” John offered, gently with the understanding of a healer and the compassion of a close friend.
“You have a gift, John. I do, too. And we don’t have much time left.”
“Neither do they,” John noted glancing at another room with a door securely locked and noticeably unlabelled. The spirits lay uneasily over them, the astral fields, electrical to the scientist in Baldino, seemed scattered and still possessed by spirit. “Green and yellow buffaloes,” John noted, feeling the presence of people recently dead or dying behind steel walls somewhere very, very close. “These beasts haunting our friends aren’t normal representations of phobias. The nearest I can think, intuit and feel it, the tumors find a place in the caudal temporal lobe and supratenotial parietal cortex, thalamic intermodality mixing occurring between the lateral and medial geniculates, so the people, now patients, hear colors and see sounds in a very stereotypical way..” John scratched his chin, his elogantly-long-nailed fingertips still thinking his scholarly beard was attached.
“You think they’re visions, John?” Selena asked.
“Maybe the Eagle Clan does promote powerful medicine too potent for the normal human. Maybe if I can get a little closer, I can…”
“No way, John.”
“I can handle it, Selena!”
“No you can’t.”
“The visions of the Eagle Clan might merely be—”
“—the only thing the Apache has left that is theirs!” she ranted, possessed by fear, driven by the highest sense of urgency. “I think I love you John, but you’ll never understand what the Eagle Clan is all about until—”
“—You share everything you know!” he bolted back. “Of maybe I’ll invade your head and find out for myself.”
“I don’t know, John. I really don’t—”
“—Know how childish you are acting, young lady,”
“I am not!” the awakened woman inside the man screeched. “I am not a child. You can’t make me let you into my head, you can’t make me,” she protested, with a diction not quite Selena, Ms. or Doctor Horowtiz.” .
“I heard that pout,” John said as he invaded the right frontal hemisphere, crossing over the genderless no-mind zone.
John looked in the mirror, no shortage of such reflectors around him, as was part of whatever this neo-A137 experiment seemed to dictate. This time it was a window over another nothing-notice that no one else seemed to notice in the Klassen “Environmental” lounge, an air-conditioned vending machine ‘eatery’ with an interesting backdrop of the desert hills behind the Mega-Metallic complex. The cloud over his eyes started to clear, and a face emerged—starting with the eyes. Those porthole belonged to a young child of a most ancient people—or maybe the ancient eyes of a childlike people.
It all became academic when John’s two REAL oculars and single third eye between them was blinded by a flash, then the appearance of the Apache Ghost Dance out the only window in the endless series of hallways. Then, Baldino heard the deafening sound of silence in John’s mind’s ear, that universal sound which enabled Beethoven to hear the music of the Heavens, Einstein to hear the rumblings of Nature and, rumor had is, Steinbeck to hear the real voices of the American people even in the noisiest migrant worker camp.
Superimposed on the silence, and the openness of mind some would call “zen”, the vision behind the reality happened. The Elder’s dance seemed effortless, but painful. His chants seemed encouraging, his prayers elegantly spoken. But his mouth didn’t seem to move, and his tongue seemed frustratingly familiar to John. The Elder turned to John and looked at him.
“I know what he’s feeling, but not what he’s saying,” John confided to Selena. “What the hell is he saying?!!!”
“Loosely translated—help,” she related. “Help.”
“Help” echoed in John’s brain from every corner, until the silence left him and–
“Help, Miss? Can I help you?” came into Johns ears from another kind of quiet—the soul-killing sterility of academic white noise. Interupting an evolving thought and insight that—
“Yes, please,” John said, but this time with a woman’s voice guided, not controlled by, Selena. “I’m looking for corridor 4F,” he continued. “It has to be either the underacheiver wing or the draft dodger zone.”
“Excuse me?” the white-coated Priest of the New Age said in a deep voice that sounded like God, or someone even more frightening. “I’m Dr. Harvey Smith, and you must be—”
“Late, by five minutes,” John apologetically said, remembering the Ivy League colleague he posed for pictures with for so many fund-raisers, and the competitor who challenged every one of his contentions at Neurology conferences, professional to professional. He threw Smith a ‘girls are obliged to be late’ smile.
“I have a busy schedule today, Ms. Horowitz,” he noted, looking at his watch. “But science is about serving people, and their wages from slinging hash or pumping gas do pay for our test tubes, chemical and visions of an expansive biological future.”
“Smooth delivery, and a hot-looking ass, with a thick wallet in the back pocket…Hmmm”, Selena noted.
“The dance before the sting, Selena.” John warned.
“You have interesting eyes, ” Selena said, waving her index finger in alluring power-babe mode.
“And I see right through both of them!” John admonished from a silent place inside Selena’s head noted but not listened to. “I bet you think he’s going to give you a compliment now, MS know-it-all.”
“I’ve been boning up on your stories and articles. It’s an amazing thing when beauty and brains come in the same package, Ms Horowitz.”
“At least you got the beauty part,” Smith shot back with a friendly grin. “The rest will come in time, I suppose. And we do only have an hour for me to show you some fascinating data.”
Harvey led Selena down the hall, past more white-coated scientists. Their attire seemed more formal, and more military. Never had John seen so many black Oxfords, white shirts and cropped heads in one place. “Ask about things related to MID, Selena,” he warned his cerebral roommate. “Smith has his eye on the Nobel Prize for the prestige, not the cash. He’s in it for the glory, not the gold. I think it’s a blue blood family thing. He’s the best liposome neurochemist I know—or knew. He’s published more in ten years than anyone else has in a hundred. Either he’s very lucky, or very expansive about his—Selena..Selena…Selena!!!:
“He just insulted me!” Selena whined to John. “With so much…class.”
“No one can tell you that you’re a loser with as much flattery as Doctor Harvey,” John noted. “He invites you into his club, but at the station HE wants.”
“What’s his club?” Selena asked.
“Selena, did you say something?” Smith asked.
“That I want to know everything about your work,” she said with reverence. “And you, Doctor L. Harvey Smith” the appendum, lightly stroking Smith’s name tag. “The L must stand for Lion, by the stream of research papers you’ve published.”
“The ‘L’ is a family secret.”
“And the work done in your lab? It’s earth shattering stuff. State of the art gold. Forefront of the frontier.”
“Bottom of the flattery manure pile?” John warned.
Smith looked away, to the right, left, down and up. “We have competitors. Being first is everything in science.”
“It’s that way in journalism, too,” Selena asserted.
Smith smiled, checking over every part of John’s body from the shapely gams, up to the tight thighs, the ample bust, the elegantly-hip choker, and the lips that would say ‘yes’ to anything. “I think I like you, Selena,” he said.
“Does that mean you’ll tell me about what the L stands for?”
“If you find out, I’ll have to kill you, Selena,” he mused. “But it would be nothing personal.” With that, he opened the door to his lab, a high-tech training facility that had written invisibly over the top “Abandon all dignity, those who enter here—“. Smith got called into his office for a call. John used the opportunity to get a snag a picture of the room with the minicamera’s in his earrings, snapping each photo with a wide smile Leonard taught him. It also afforded Selena a chance to see John’s world through her eyes.
“At least he has Indians working here,” she noted. “We invented the medicine wheel long before you invented the wagon wheel.”
“We?” John inquired.
“That it’s good to see Indians working in a State of the Art research lab.”
“They look just as broken as the Palefaces, John.”
Both crusaders saw the same things in the eyes under the regulation nerd, freak or techno hairdos, but felt a different side of the elephant. “Research is an endurance test, Selena,” John related. “Nature doesn’t and shouldn’t release Its secrets to people who haven’t paid their dues. It’s a matter of necessity.”
“A child knows more about Nature than any doctor does. That’s a matter of fact.”
John took another look, particularly at the darker skinned workers, and what they were doing.
“Descendants of Geronimo,” Selena noted sorrowfully. “Sweeping the floor for…for…”
“—Scientists who might be trying to help them?” John offered to Selena as she smelled something coming out of one of the test tubes, hiding deep inside John’s olfactory cortex. “Are you okay? Selena…Selena…Selena!!!”
“Ehhh”, the echo from the clouds of steam that became smoke.
“Selena?” the echo from inside Smith’s office.
John dragged, then sauntered Selena’s body into the Smith’s office with as much elegance and grace as he could remember from Leonard’s crash course. He perked up the lips in a ‘gee, science is fun’ tone, hoping to bring Selena back. “Come on back and I’ll let you blow up these nipples of mine for real,” he said to her silently. “I’ll rent you testicles too, as long as you promise to give them back.” Then, he remembered—this search for the truth was about what kind of lie was most effective and honest.
Harvey Smith’s office was as ornate as anything in Yale or Harvard. Oak desks, wood floors, and only the best smoking tobacco you could buy West of Chicago coming out of a pipe inserted into his mouth for show, not smoke. The lab coat came off, but the tweed jacket was on, with the patches that were intended to make the eight hundred fifty dollar coat look like it was a ‘Struggling Scholar’ special. Behind Smith, a poster of Einstein, no quote underneath, the eyes hidden by lush green plants. Apparently, Harvey still hadn’t looked into the eyes of Uncle Albert, the conscience of all scientists and humanitarians.
“Sit, please,” Harvey said as he showed Selena a chair, twirling his mustache, a facial ornament that suited his face, affirmed his social rank and shielded the real meaning behind any of his words.
John adjusted his skirt, tried to remember how to cross his legs, then sank down hard as his derriere fell toward the floor until it was stopped by hard wood on tender ass.
“A lower chair than yours, Harvey.” John noted, between his ears. “This superior eyeline problem is a bush league trick, and it is very crass, despite the fact that what you have on those stereo speakers is very—”
“Bach,” John said. “The Brandenburg Concerto. A lovely rendition. The flute it such a lovely instrument when it’s played with so much—love.”
“Enough ‘l’ words, John,” Selena silently said to John through labored breaths. “We feel the ‘l’ thing, but we don’t always say it.”
“Bach is so civilized,” Harvey related. “I can, and have, bought the best electron microscopes, column separators, MRI recording units, and the top post-doctoral fellows in the world. But the New York Philharmonic always plays at Carnigie Hall or Lincoln Center.” He took a sip of brandy and a puff on the pipe. “Out here, Fritz Krysler is a new kind of car.”
“And Mozart is pronounced with an ‘s’?” John offered through Selena’s charming lips. “Wagner’s Ring Cycle is passing around the wedding bands at the swap meet? And Beethoven’s Ninth is a new brand of homebrewed imitation Bavarian beer?”
Smith smiled at home reference. But underneath it—fear. His own quips could never top this witch of wordsmith, this languisher of language, this woman who could out-cool him in his own culture. So, changing the game to something more in his court.
“I have a theory. Pop music has a formula to it–we know this. The proportion of home chords and keys to minor and diminished ones is directly related to the stupidity of the people who are hooked by it, as is the constancy of beat. The easiest job in the world is to be a drummer for a country band or a base player for a rock group. Country, disco, techno-beat–”
“Disco for people too cool to sweat?” John interjected.
“Old rock and new rock,” Smith asserted with as much authority as he could. “And especially music from people with color. It dulls the brain, and noting what my graduate students play in their off time, this dull out virus is contagious. The next time you see a happy listener bobbing his head to the top tune of the minute, think about all those brain cells dropping out of his ass.”
John faked a convincing Selena laugh.
Smith leaned back in his chair and mused on, “We tried it on the rats, and it worked. Let rodents listen to rockabilly and they become an even lower life form—administrators.”
John laughed again, with Selena’s most girlish giggle, as Smith showed off his comedic follies. John used his third eye to look around the room for anything suspicious. The data on the walls looked prestigious enough, and last night’s reading revealed that Smith’s work was solid. The most respected asshole in experimental neurochemistry had also made himself a brilliant pathologist. The electron micrographs posted on the wall showed the bizarre inclusions in the astrocytomas present in MID–with something even more omenous—clusters of nine filaments revolving around one on top of them, the dissociated molecular weight of said filaments 42 thousand. Erica’s references about revolution number nine plus one, the answer to the universe is forty two and the ever presence “it is the Walrus, kookoochachuu” were right. Smith, the walrus-mustached wielder of woes was at the bottom of MID, which when subjected to double-check of logic led to—
“That’s not an omen,” John flashed on. “That’s actin!”
“Selena?” Smith inquired.
“I was looking at your photographs…They look very…artistic. I guess you’re shooting to win the Nobel Prize for art as well as medicine.”
“Yes,” Smith replied, stone-faced, and deadly-serious.
John took a tape recorder out of his pocketbook. “I have no brain for science and I want to get the details right. Do you mind if I record this?”
“Yes,” the answer delivered with a smile and penetrating eyes.
John picked up a pencil and a pad, asking for permission to use them.
“Yes,” Smith’s reply, warmly and condescendingly delivered.
“You cure cancer here, is that correct, Doctor Smith?”
“We develop models of neoplastic diseases, Selena.”
“Drugs at high doses kill us. Drugs at lower doses make us sick.”
“And drugs that fight those drugs make us better?”
“First comes understanding the disease, then the cure. That’s how science works. It’s a slow and tedious process.”
“Not with that army of hot shots you have out there, is seems.”
“We have made significant progress in many areas.”
“Your readers would understand the details, and with respect, I don’t think even you could, either.”
“You’ve been misquoted by reporters before.”
“It’s a disease that’s more widespread than the common cold, Selena.”
“Or MID?” the bold insertion.
“Now you did it!” John bolted out at Selena. “When you want an honest answer from a lier, you never ask him for the truth! You’re a woman, you should know that!”
“Shut up and listen!” Selena growled back at John. “If you men would shut up and listen, everyone would get what they want.”
Smith stewed, contemplated, then put on a very official smile. “I’m sure you have some other questions that are more relevant. And answerable.”
“Of course,” John said. He shifted his left hip, showing a more revealing angle of thigh. Harvey raised his eye with renewed interest. Selena felt flattered. John fired off the next round. “Funding, Doctor Smith. Where does yours come from?”
“Huh?” from Smith’s mouth, words hardly uttered in public.
John pretended to look at the notes, the figures all too well known in his head. “Ten years ago, the NIH spent barely 2 billion dollars and funded over 4% of new applications. Today, the money spent on research in the biomedical sciences is barely 2% of the defense budget, everyone who wants to be anyone dependent on the mob or the private corporate sector. Yet, your lab looks like a film set from Intergalacia General Hospital. And officially–”
“We get only a portion of what we need.” The ‘no’ gates were closing fast, Smith folding his arms and turning slightly to the left.
“So the ETs are behind high-tech science,” lightly delivered.
“We have a few silent partners,”
Smith pondered for a second, puffed on his pipe, and agonized for the right way to relate it. “The US defense department—in THIS country, has trillions to spend. The National Institutes of Health has less than 4 billion in its annual budget. The cost of treating the average cancer patient is two-hundred thousand a year. Every year, two million people contract cancer of one sort of another. Less tanks for the Generals means more test tubes for us, and, if we’re lucky and good, more cures for the patients.”
The words sounded logical, and even compassionate. But the subtext was suspicious. The sentences started out strong, and ended weak, eyes turning away at each period. Smith had committed what, to him, was a mortal sin, and seemed to be spending all his waking time, and money, justifying that act. But what was that act? What could have been the turning point where a career headed for the Nobel Prize was headed to something more…dangerous.
“Fraud,” blurted out of Selena’s lips from the frontal lobe of John’s brain, without consultation of prefrontal gatekeepers.
“I beg your pardon,” Smith asserted.
“In the generic sense,” John continued with Selena charm. “How bad is scientific fraud these days.”
“You’re accusing me?”
“No…But I’ve heard that your competators are, less than honest. Being first in science is everything, and being second makes you broke.”
“The issue of fraud is extremely serious,” Smith asserted. “And has been trivialized. Let me tell you the story about David Baltimore. ”
“Wasn’t he the cell biologist who made up data about a cancer cure back before Microsoft?”
“Yes,” the shocked reply.
“He was nominated for a Nobel Prize for the work. His graduate student blew the whistle on him. Her reward was getting kicked out of science for life. His was a suspension from submitting research grants for five years, while he worked off of other people’s money and taught—for a yearly salary that’s more than most senior researchers here get.”
“Yes, and his Cell Biology book is still read by medical AND graduate students.”
“What’s he doing now?”
“Getting funded again. I was asked to review his proposal. The background work is solid, the proposal sound and the clinical application very doable.”
“And your action will be–”
“To sink it!” Selena read jealous rage in Smith’s blank stare. “I’ll have one of my graduate students tear it apart. It’s good training for them,” he continued, calmly.
John looked up at the bar graphs and charts on the wall, recalling the statistical adage that you can drowned in a lake with an average depth of two feet. He also recalled how politicians lied to the public all the time with statitics. Elogance and symmetry of form could turn fabricated fiction into fact to the gullible, weak or poorly-informed. Uncle Ross Perot wasn’t the first one to pull off that trick, and wouldn’t be the last.
“It seems that scientists here, and everywhere, are spending more and more money putting their work into convincing presentation.”
“Yes,” Smith conceded. “You spend one day doing the research and the rest of the week writing up the paper.”
“And a month to get the right color graphics,” Selena related. “I saw the most lovely combinations of colors on the posters along the walls. They were mathematically chosen, 120 degrees from each other on the color wheel. Very lovely to the eye.”
“We’ll have to learn some more tricks,” Smith related. “Just like your profession, that lies so much with words.”
“Give the impression that you’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but never put down anything they can pin you down on.”
“You went to law school, too, Councilor Horowitz?”
John smiled through Selena’s eyes, “Lawyers are only one brand of liars. They have to tell their fibs within the context of the law.”
“Which can be bought, and which changes, Selena.”
“But science doesn’t—or does it, Doctor Smith?”
From Smith, the deepest contemplation.
“A kiss is just a kiss, a smile is still a smile…” John continued. “The fundamental things apply, as time goes by,” he sang in Selena’s voice, his first experience in music as an active participant in three decades. His courage was rewarded.
“For the record, Selena, there are different kinds of scientific lies,” Smith related.
“Bias. Scientists looks at six pieces of data. Five are clumped together, the other twice as high or low as the bunch. Scientist does an outlier test to see if data point six is off the normal distribution, and it’s borderline. Scientist looks at dwindling resources, abstract deadline for meeting and remembers patient who could benefit from cure. Scientist omits data point six from analysis.”
“Scientist’s intuition says that drug A causes an increase in liver enzyme activity. Only three data points are available for the experimental and control groups. You need statitics to prove difference between groups, with n values of four. So, said scientist puts in an extra data point, or a bar graph, and point gets proven. Or you throw out the numbers that look messy. Mendel, or his well-meaning assistant did this with his pea experiments, but no one picked up on it for another thirty years. Meanwhile, the discipline of genetics was born, and saved many lives, and many crops.”
“Felony level 3?”
“The head works faster than the hands. You know the experiment will say that drug A will kill cancer cells, and you saw it once, so you throw in two more pieces of data, maybe four. It makes logical sense, but you can’t wait. One day you’ll get around to proving what you already know it true. The gut is seldom wrong and the data, usually, tells you that you were right. Or sometimes—not.”
“Why do scientists lie?”
“What if a scientific lie, a felony lie, is passed on?” Selena asked Smith. “Is possible that to save the lives of their family? Cannibalism was the only way most of the people outside the System survived. Could scientists in Stalinist Russia or Maoist China have lied to Comrade Administrator about having the cure for a disease in hand? A non-productive scientists is a dead one. What if a small lie, an inflated fib, led to promotion, then a bigger lie, then a whole body of scientific information based on lies. What do we have then? Could this have happened? Did it? Could it happen here?”
“Of course not,” Smith related. “Science cures itself.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Selena said.
“And cannibalism never existed either. Correct, Ms. Horowitz?”
“Yes,” Selena replied with a fixed smile, shock in her blank eyes.
Twenty minutes had passed by it felt like the hour of allotted time was up. Smith had been penetrated deep to the place where few people ever reached—his conscience. His stare was blank, his color pale and arms frozen. For the first time, John saw the Asshole of Academia as a victim of evil that was larger than himself. But what was he hiding? And how did it relate to MID?
John knew that thinking something too hard made too many things happen, way too quickly. Still, he had to keep going.. He gazed into the micrographs, let his mind remain open to everything, focused on the silence between, over and within the Bach Brandenburgs, when—
“Doctor Smith,” a half-breed tech related, carrying a stack of data files high enough to cover his eyes. They were tired eyes, dedicated to the service of a man thought to be a god. “We have fresh data, all the micrographs you asked for, carefully collated and—”
John stuck his foot out just at the right time, and—
“You fucking idiot!” Smith blasted. “Give you people a simple job to do and you screw it up. Stumbling into this office, drunk! With valuable data that…”
Smith stopped himself, gave an apologetic smile to Selena and picked up the photos. Seeing Smith on his knees, desperate, was a picture John and every other scientists in North America would hang on their most precious wall. But it was about other matters now.
Selena got up, bended down, and scrambled on the floor. Smiling picture were taken of the scattered photos, and she moved John’s hands across the floor to help herself to some of the pickings when—
“We’ll take over from here,” a gruff voice echoed from above. It was Smith, talking from a different place, a desperate one, and an angry one.
“I was trying to help,” Selena said to Smith.
“When can I see the article, to check for accuracy?” Smith asserted.
“As soon as I write it,” Selena said.
“Over dinner tonight?” Smith continued, calm, cool and very dignified.
“Or maybe breakfast afterward,” Selena added, seductively using every part of John’s body for her very secret agenda.
Smith’s techs had to release the “whooos”, in congratulation. Selena Horowitz was the hottest babe who every walked into the lab, or for that matter, the Klasen Institute, and she seemed to have a brain to match the bod.
“What the hell are you doing?!!” John protested from a mute portion of Broca’s area 4. “I know I’m getting a strange sensation between my legs–”
“–Which is only part of the data I’ve stolen, stuck into YOUR crotch,” Selena silently related to John.
“You can get more with honey than vinegar, John,” she related as Smith undressed her in his eye. “We can make it a three-some if you want, Dr. Baldino. I love you, John, and I’m doing this as much for you as for me.”
“This is very dangerous, Selena. And we have other people to see.”
“They can come along, or we can interrogate them tomorrow night?”
“Lies of the heart are always the most interesting, John.”
“And dangerous, ‘Selena’.”
As Selena did an exit out of the lab that no one in the Klasen would ever forget, John felt the third person between them with even more intensity than before. He would never again be John Baldino, but she would never be Selena, either. Such was the price of getting the truth behind the lie that was MID.
Another call to 1-800-FUCKUPS led to more Golden Oldies, CNL, ELP and ABBA. What ‘Wooden Ships’, ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ and ‘Take a Chance’ had to do with MID baffled both John and Selena.
“She’s hiding,” John told Selena on the way to the next interview down a corridor with a sunroof, the Eagle touching down whenever it could to gaze inside. “The Eagle is watching, and Erica’s hiding.”
“Who is she?” Selena asked.
“What kind of friend?”
“An-almost lover, Selena.”
“It beats an ex-lover, I suppose, John.”
“It sounds like you loved her,”
“She had other people, other commitments, other things to do with her life. I ‘bonded’ with Erica. I ‘met’ her on the inside. I don’t know about love, but I know about trust, and I can trust her.”
“Better not start loving her, John.”
“You’ll stop trusting her. And you value trust more than love.”
“It’s a man thing, I think, I remember, I…eh.” John looked up to the roof, the surveillance camera and imagined cold indifference of the people behind them. “Selena, I’m lost.”
“So do the womanly thing and ask directions.”
John looked up at the Eagle. It seemed to be waiting for a question, and the trust for the answer given. Both were given in one swoop of his magnificent wings.
“Fly away up to the sky?” John silently said to the Eagle as he soared up through the smoke, smog and clouds, into infinity. “Dropping UP sounds like a good idea now.”
“Vincent would want you to take a left turn first,” Selena interjected. “HIS map says to go to the left, right?”
John’s life had been filled with left turns that led off the straight and narrow, then to the road upward. This one ended in a dead end, and an empty lab. The handwriting on the door seemed familiar, but not the name. “I.B. Morte, Ph.D. Rough Ebonic-Hispanic translation, ‘I am death.’,” he related to Selena.
“It’s a gag. It has to be, John,” Selena offered.
“The first rule about comedy is that comedy is structure. The first rule about science is that science is not about comedy.”
“Einstein laughed,” Selena pointed out.
“Einstein lived then, we live now. Different world, different problems,” Baldino’s rebuttal.
The door to ‘Prof. Dr. IM. Morte’s’ lab was open, stacks of books inside, data-filled cabinets with locks on them, all open. A slightly-bowed skeleton was set in place, ‘motioning’ with its hands for the person entering to help him, or herself, to the pickings. John knocked, once as Selena, once as the third person between them, then once as himself. The name had to be a misnomer, or a private joke shared by someone inside who didn’t want his, or her, identity known to outsiders. But in small print, the letters faded, “Erica Linquist”.
“We should wait,” Selena warned.
“We’ve been waiting too long already,” John countered. He pushed the door in, only to be greeted by a further outreaching of the hand of death from the skeletal ‘doc’ on duty.
“Ahhh” Selena screamed out as a hand of dead bones fell on her hair, and breasts.
“Heeelloo, Fred,” John said to the gatekeeper’s skull, a perfectly-preserved skeleton with a pair of Groucho glasses on his nose, a Cuban Revolutionary beret and a cigar between his teeth. “Where’s Erica, Fred?” he said to the skeleton. It was as clear as day and night that Erica was closer than he thought, and consisent. “Fred” had been the third wheel on every one of John and Erica’s dates when they were in medical school, the designated driver when Erica got caught speeding, and when appropriately dressed up, their escort into Physicans for Social Responsibility Meetings and Pathology Rounds
“You know Dr. Erica Linquist, Ms. Horowitz?” Tom Renkin commented, appearing out of nowhere, but very much there. His boyish face revealing a man’s firmness behind its cold and emotionless expressions.
“I knew her when she was just Erica,” John said, still through Selena’s voice. He snuck half-glances into the lab and saw everything Erica ‘Nordenstrom’ ever valued from her old life. Her first stethoscope, her violin, her marriage photo with lawyer-hubby Jack Tilson, and her friendship snap shot with co-worker and confidant, Resident John Baldino. Erica Fisher-Burger always changed names like that, even before she dropped out of traditional science and John’s then-mainstream life so many decades ago. The only name that John knew about her that was authentic was her ‘Pagan’ name ‘Erica’, Nordic roots with a Christian zealot’s commitment to its Fire.
“You look lost, Ms. Horowitz,” Renkin noted, sternly. He took another look at the eyes on the photos and the orbital portholes in the journalist guest who was getting a little too interesting, even for an innovative place like the Klasen. “You do look familiar,” he added.
John saw in the lab all the germ-warfare busting tools an anti-terrorist could ask for. Erica’s medical arsenal had more bailing wire than electrical circuits, but it could outdo anything Smith did. Or so said the stacks of data in the solitary facility. And so documented the short communications bearing E.B. Linquist’s name that smelled so simple, direct and innovative. In those categories, Dr. Linquist’s apparently one-madwoman lab beat Smith’s army of science slaves hands down. There was always passion and effort in her work. No wonder they were so seldom published. “She was one ‘n’ value, one case, one data point from finding the cure to MID,” John pondered in the most paranoiac section of his brain. “That’s why they killed her!!!”
“Now I know where I know you from, Ms. Horowitz,” Renkin exclaimed.
“What do we do now, Selena?” John silently asked his inter-cerebral female co-pilot.
“Believe it and you will become it,” Selena’s silent reply to John. “The most effective liar is the one who believes her own bullshit.”
“HER bullshit…” the dialogue continued.
“Oh, ye of little faith. I’m the Pagan Indian and you’re the Gospel-raised Catholic,” came from a Selena which John never met, or anticipated possible.
“I’m an Ex-Catholic,” Baldino shot back, answering the acqusations he could identify.
“There’s no such thing, John,” the ever-evolving female muse, and…whatever else she was…concluded.
“New Orleans…:” PR Administrator Thomson interjected, disrupting the dialogue in John’s head with that annoying detail of ‘the world’, appearing out of nowhere as abruptly as ‘Fred’. He seemed to be ‘Boss Thomson’ now, from his newly-shined shoes to the freshly manicured nails on hands so clean that they had to be very, very dirty on the inside.
John quivered, gazing into Fred’s eyes and envisioning what his skull would look like on Thomson’s mantelpiece, or slat in the morgue that was never open to the Press, or the Pathology Students.
Selena held her ground. “Pick a lie you can believe in. A lie that’s fun…Until you get caught, lying’s the most fun you’ll ever—”
“The Star Hotel!” Thompson exclaimed, the memories from his foggy black and white youth re-activating his aging libido in living color. “And that room we….” .
“Number 54, I think.” John interjected, to throw off Thomson’s memory. “Or was it Suite 666?” he continued, perking up Selena’s lips for the ‘fun’ of messing with Thomson’s mind, and biblical guilt. “It was great fun while it lasted.”
“But that hair…” Thomspon pointed out, remembering…something.
“I wasn’t so blonde then,” John replied, twirling the very blonde wig knotted into his sweaty scalp.
Thompson looked, pondered and reflected. “No, you’re not her,” he concluded.
“We all look alive to you under the sheets, but we know each one of you, even in the dark.” John let Selena take his hand in hand, stoking Thompson’s face with a gesture that said mother, lover, and even friend.
John watched Thomson sink back into ‘respectable’ mediocraty, the almost-was-alive Administator’s fate, and secret passion. From the other eye, and side of the brain to which it was very attached, he watched Renkin, who was just watching. Nothing behind Renkin’s agenda, so it seemed. A clean-cut Morman boy-turned-man who seemed to have no gargage in his closet, or dosier. Then, as recalled from the Neuropathology Conference held in Salt Lake City so many decades ago, a familiar echo in Erica’s voice, screaming through John’s head—“I don’t trust any city where I can’t see the garbage.”
There was another flaw that John had to contend with. Though he had attended Buckminister Fuller’s improv-of-the-intellect lectures at Town Hall whenever possible, he was late on the uptake on the Einsteins’ Einstein’s most important maxim. “Become a Verb!”
Putting things into motion, taking his lead from Fred, his inspiration from Erica, John turned to Renkin. “Where is this Dr. Erica Linquist?” he asked with a whispery, businesslike Selena tone, fumbling with her papers, pretending to be horrified at the skeletal ‘guest’ in the lab that was definitely NOT on the Klasen-approved agenda..
“Out,” Thomson’s abruptly and very smuggly interjected, closing the door that had, somehow, been opened without approval, or so it seemed. “She’s always out. She checks in, gets her mail, signs over her rent for the lab space. The janitor sees her working the night shift sometimes, and working some young Indian buck hot and heavy in the faculty lounge. Private scientific tutoring. She called him, Hand-Cut, Cuthand, Tonto, Otnot, Pancho, Kurt, and, in their ‘private time’…Tom-Tom.–”
“—He always hated that name!” Selena blasted out through gritted teeth from a place John couldn’t see, but could certainly feel. “There’s a difference between loving Indians and hating your own people, goddamn it! ‘Herr-less Professor E’ should have fucking known that!!!”
“What was that, Ms. Horowitz?” Thompson inquired, started by the words and seemingly uncharacteristic local accent, and ‘low brow’ subtext from the presumably Uptown Lady from New York..
“Yeah, ” John silently and swiftly asked his intra-cerebral companion, or companions. “What WAS that, Selena?”
“Ms. Horowitz?” Thompson inquired, again, as John noticed his, or Selena’s body, in rigid extension in every muscle possible. From the helm, Baldino noticed Renkin pull a cup out of the cooler, filling it with water, back turned, bringing it to her with the steadiness of a surgeon, the gestures of a waiter and the heart of a mortition.
“The heat,” Thompson said. “It can get to you out here if you aren’t used to it.”
Selena smiled, John watched, and both prayed that the pretend ‘sip’ of water could be faked enough to fool those gallant enough to offer it. To the nose, the water DID smell odd. Maybe it was because there were added chemicals in it, a variation of A137, perhaps. Or maybe it was just because it was Rocky Mountain ‘clean’. John hadn’t tasted ‘clean’ in so long a time, and when he did, he knew it couldn’t be trusted. But maybe that was HIS pathology, not the world’s reality.
“Anyway, back to ‘Tom’,” John channelled through Selena’s lips, in respectable journalistic ‘Horowitzese’. “When I write about First Nations people, I always can find some other term than buck, savage, Pagan, or Injun, or Indian.”
“I always thought that if you’re over thirty, you’re allowed to call them Indians,”. Thomspon mused. “Your writing is quite expressive in their use of language,” he continued, taking a look at a copy of some xeroxed notes. Notes he shouldn’t have. Notes that Baldino wrote in the privacy of Selena’s hotel room about the Soul of the Scientist. Notes about the Inner Condition of their proceedural lives, and unfullfilled obligations. Notes that confused Thomson, but didn’t concern him in the slightest. Except for one reference. Written in notes that Baldino never remembered writing, but by the handwriting, certainly did.
“Interesting name, ‘Tom’,” Thompson noted.
“Because it was your father’s name, Doctor Thomspon?” Selena ‘smiled’ back.
“Yes, and no,” the Adminstrator’s reply. Looking to the thus-far-virgin desert hills outside the window, he continued, escolating into a more definitive tone. “Every Tom I know, and knew, is a troublemaker. An agitator! A son of a—!”
“—female canine?” Selena offered softly, bringing a cup of water to her host.
Thompson smiled, sipped the water down. “That dry desert heat. It gets to all of us out here,” he confessed. “Particularly those of us born in Canada.”
“Two seasoned town. Winter and July. The fifty-first state, celebrated on the first AND fourth of July .” Selena offered with Baldino wit, leaving one inuendo un-detectable or available for the ‘in the know’. Thomspon didn’t seem to have a clue about the Canadian joke, maybe because he had been a Yankee too long. But Renkin. The fifty-first state reference evoked a one-lip uprise, on the RIGHT wing of his very tightly-sealed mouth.
“When it comes to bucks named ‘Tom’, I’m as radical as they come. But now, I have to go…to the next appointment, according to your itinerary, I’m running late.”
Beepers summored Thomspson and Renkin away. John explained how men, unlike women, have an innate sense of direction, North, South, East and West, asking very clearly how to get to Selena’s next prescribed destination. They ‘gentlemen’ drew out maps that seemed clear enough, and each time the woman/women at the Good Ship Baldino would say ‘but I think I saw a left turn going down this hallway’, or an ‘are you sure that the North Corridor doesn’t run into the South Corridor at the West Wing’ or ‘one more time, please. Even in New York, the only geography I understand is North of 23rd all those Village streets below it going in circles and getting me confused to this day.”
A few more ‘hmmm’s’ and ‘I see now’ and alluring-flexing of the stockinging-steletto-heeled feet, and John knew the layout of the Klassen from the inside and, he hoped outside. The Eagle touched down above him on the sunroof, seeming to enjoy the joke he was pulling off inside. But both knew it was no joking matter.
Lots of birds hung out around the Klasen, particularly Crows, an observation that was not photographed or spoken about. Baldino remembered how those black-feathered corn-eating ‘varments’ would tell you more about a town in Upstate New York than any newspaper or even local short-story novelist. He remembered a clinical rotation in Auburn, New York, and the ‘park’ outside his hotel room, the Prison where the first man was electricuted to death a stone’s throw from the low-budget special. Winter and summer, birds would congregate in that three-treed ‘park’ sharing something other than meager rations of berries and nuts on their trees. It was like that in every prison town Upstate, particularly near the High Security lock up facilities where prisoners went in, but never came out.
“Maybe a Teslian electromagnetic homing devise phenonomon,” Baldino hoped from the ‘safe’ portion of his still-man, still-not-found-out mind. “This is a high tech research institution with high tech equipment and the crows are just interested in weird electrical patterns.”
“Yes, and no,” the eagle seemed to say to Baldino.
“Correct,” Dr J. silently telepathied back to the eagle while his mouth bid ‘good day’ to Renkin and Thompson. Waiting till they began talking amongst themselves, and out of ‘aura’ range where, perhaps, thoughts could be read due to their own electrical fields, he continued the speculation, inviting avian, imaginary and metaphysical guests into the ‘discussion’ inside his head. “Ghosts give out electrical signals, or something we label as such. Particularly when someone dies, or…is killed. The first three days being the most intense, according to scientific observations and some religiously-overvalidated-sort-of-scientific theories. The method of death, dying of killing, determing the stregnth and duration of the electrical field. And by tracing where those disemboddied electrical fields are are, and where they come from…”
Baldino looked out the window, allowing his guests, and the eagle to take stock of where the crows were congregating. The North Wing seemed to be the densest in population of sitting crows, the East Complex displaying a lot of traffic of the black-feathered birds, particularly the young ones. But one direction seemed, yet again, to have the most Crows ‘hanging out’ in the sky. The Western horizon. The same Horizon that Baldino’s eyes were fixed upon just before coming here to investigate Mad Indian Disease that was in reality decimating more than the Press or Medical Journals were reporting. The Horizon with nothing behind it except desert hills, and people of the Desert—“Apaches”.
The eagle confirmed it in a language John could feel, but not quite hear. In a words that felt…familiar. The kind of telepathy that allowed you to understand the meaning of the words, but not the words themselves. The kind that enabled Dr John Baldino to understand everything a Chinese, Russian, Albanian or even Greek patient was saying without knowing a single word. A very private conversation this time with the Eagle, and nobody else, or so John thought to the best of his intutitions
As a researcher, young Baldino had aspired to save populations. As an aging clinician, he was obliged to save people, or a single person, one slow and agonizing step at a time. But there was one more ‘patient’ who seemed to be speaking to him. Very clearly in a language very closely connected to the distant mountains beyond the blue-tinted window. It seemed like Selena again, showing another one of her many faces. The glass in front of him showed no reflection, but he spoke to it anyway.
“What’s your Sign, Selena?’ he asked. “Astrologically, that is?”
“That is like a real stupid question, Dr J,” Selena scolded in Valley-something-ese . “Why are you, like a, asking me that at time like this?”
“I don’t know,” Baldino pressed on, remembering how group-oriented Selena was, how she was so concerned with appearances, and how her personality changed with the wind, and the wishes of the group. How much she feared being…alone. “Ya know,” he ‘said’ slowly. “Being alone scares a young person, or Soul, and—“
“—Yes?” she interjected, with youthful impatience.
“For a young soul, you seem more girl than woman,” John advanced in ‘Einstein’ese. “Your eyes are still wide open to the world. It’s a dance to you, not a war, and not even a timeline. You have to be a Cancer, Virgo, or a…Ach yes, a Scorpio.”
“Okay. I’m a Scorprio, John. How did you know?”
“You just told me.” John declared victory with the final sting, but not conquest. Connecting to his own voice, the one he still remembered before all the MID and even A137 ‘situations’, he continued. “And before your seventeen birthday, you experienced more fantasies in men than realities.”
“I was only sixteen when…when…” She faded again. Vanishing from ‘feel’ and inner sight. The eagle cawed, looking for her with desperate futility.
“Selena! Hold on!” John screamed out inside hie head. “There’s still work to do! We’ll make it fun! Come on Selena..or whoever you are, or want or need to be! Don’t leave me!”
It was just John and the Eagle now. “Man” business that had to be completed by a solitary man with a hot ass; red lips and bombshell legs whose Mission was somehow connected to the woman, or Women, inside him.
The rest of the day went according to the Klassen Agenda. According to numbers. According to the facts about the scientists, and the science, which the upper-ups at this isolated State of Any Art Institute wanted to be found out by Selena Horowitz, and reported to the funders back home in the Big Apple. Selena took down the details with charming journalistic professionalism, Baldino wrote the real facts between the lines. Her account and his would find their way into print in the appropriate newspapers, magazines and, for those who still knew how to read, novels. Maybe Selena was a ghost of departed real person, a real person who was in hiding somewhere else in the world, or a person who never existed at all. In any case, she and John made a great team, each somehow fullfilling the other’s agenda in ways neither of them really could define.
Each lab was another set of lies, another scientific ego, and another set of data that could have come from a scientist perpetuating MID or preventing it. But it was about taking photos, taping interviews, and getting raw data. The stats, and the gut intuition, would determine who was wearing a white hat, black hat or no hat. Selena took a backseat, then backstage, barely making her presence and passion felt.
For John, something ‘snapped’ into place or out of its slot between the ears, and between th legs. This hyper-intense experience of lightness was the chance to step into someone else’s life. Selena Horowitz, whoever she was, seemed to be a very interesting woman. She was energetic, bright, committed, AND she knew how to have fun, too, a trick Baldino never learned playing any other role in his nearly half-century on planet earth.
“Vinny will be proud of us, Selena,” John told himself. “I can feel that he’s alive, too. We’ll foil the bad guys here, have a beer together, then in the next ‘place of change’ we do good deeds in, HE’LL be the one who has to wear the dress, and I’ll be in the Commando Gear.”
On the way to the next destination, John wasn’t looking at the floor, to avoid being seen, or at the walls, to find out what dangers lurked ahead. His eyes were fixed on one sight–victory! The clicking of the pumps on the floor turned into clanking of cavalry boots. Then, from his lips, no more ABBA ‘Dancing Queen’, nor apocalyptic CSN ‘Wooden Ships. Something fresher— the rousing “Gary Owen”, victory and glory song of the Seventh Cavalry!
When John and Vinny played cowboys and Indians, John always wanted to be the Injun. Vinny would put on the cavalry hat and shoot at John while he rode his bicycle around in a circle, shooting rubber bands and throwing dirt balls at General Vinny Armstrong Custard. Once John became old enough to touch the stirrups of a horse, he and Vinny went on a two week camping expedition in the Adorondacks. It was over 1,500 miles from The Little Big Horn, and most of the mounted time spent at a controlled walk, but the ‘Gary Owen’ was always his favorite tune, most particularly when he was playing an Indian.
“Stop that!!!” Selena screamed out in her new ‘young voice’ as John turned the corner turned the silent hum into an audible whistle. “Stop that!!!!”
She was terrified. But why?
“It’s just a song, Selena,” John said. “It’s an Irish song, written by someone who never even knew Custer, or Sitting Bull.”
“With a beat you danced to, and we died by!!!” she protested.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Ah, but it’s time that you do, John,” she shot back. “Whistle us a few bars, boy,” she said in a lilting Irish Brough.
“Ya growin cowardly on us, lad?” the dare.
John stepped ahead, towards the sun, then a door marked ‘Eco-Area’, which advertised a splendid view of two mountain ranges and a valley between them below that redefined the word “open” to anyone East of West of the Continental Divide.
John let his mind open, feeling all the senses around him, the whistle proud, the imaginary horse beneath his feet coming to life.
“You’re listening with your ears,” Selena informed John in Celtic tones. “Hear it with your gut, and the souls of the feet. Use those Pacinian Corpuscles there or lose them.”
The image acquired texture. John had ceased to be feel pantyhose and heels on his legs. Cavalry boots and a firm steed’s lope were his modes of transportation now.
“Now, listen to the silence of the desert and see its Spirits,” the next invitation.
“I see the enemy ahead,” John said from a persona, part Cavalry, part scout, part Indian. “It’s a good day to fight!!! Warrior to warrior.” Imagination was in full-glory. “It’s a good day to fight!!!” his inner voice raged as armies of mounted warriors from both sides converged on the middle of the field at full gallop. “The Little Big Horn.”
“Wounded Knee,” Selena countered as the movie in John’s mind obeyed the guidelines of a completely different script. Indian warriors in General John’s gunsights seemed more like skeletons, starved to skin and bones, their rifles now spears and single shot mussle-loaders. Behind them, the village, defended by women and children, armed with nothing but tenacity against the Gatling guns, repeaters and steel swords that could cut through tree-trunks.
“Now, from our perspective,” Selena said.
John saw the horsemen approach, and the tanks, and the railroad. Green and yellow, they were, eating the blood of vanquished men, women and children. In the demon beast’s horns were entrails of the conquered, stuck to the tips were the heads of those slain, eyes blinded but minds feeling every part of the pain, humiliation and living death. But there was one place where the demon beast was still vulnerable. One way in to find the way out. One deep black hole in its penetrating spotlight eye that could be seen, penetrated and destroyed if—
“Enough!!!” John said, closing his ears. “Enough!!!” he cried, tears now streaming down his face.
“That’s been our ancestral hell,” Selena shot back with a collective raspy voice which was both old and young, but at its base—terrified. “This is MID. Mad ‘Injun’ Disease. These are not the visions of the Eagle Clan.”
“And what are the visions of the Eagle Clan?” John asked.
“You have to look into the eye of the demons first,” she said with a wisdom far beyond her years.
“And…?” Dr J asked.
From the Messenger inside him, nothing.
“I am listening,” Baldino went on. “Really. Or at least I’m trying to.”
Again, silence. That ‘nothing’ which patients in the kind of pain doctors can’t fix always say as the last thing to their physicians before the time of dying.
“I REALLY want to…no, NEED to know,” John pressed, feeling the pain of the patient within, or patients, perhaps. “Please…” He looked in the mirror. No one there. No Baldino. Not Dr. J. Just ‘John’, sort of.
She finally answered. “You’ll find that out when the time comes. It will be the measure of your manhood.”
Baldino felt the corners of both lips move up. Color coming back to the cheeks. Blood back to the brain. “We okay?” he asked the reflection.
“Only if we fix that face of ours,” the mystery woman replied. “Our mascara is running.”
John made the necessary cosmetic adjustments in the make-up mirror. He could feel Selena’s real face, but still not see it. “You feel young, ‘Aboriginal’ and…lonely,” he said. “You were torn between worlds. And though you could give love, you received so little of it.”
“Until now, John,” she said.
“I’m a healer,” John relayed back. “It’s my job to be care about people. Something I have to do, not what I want to do.”
“Whatever you say, Dr. John.”
“Letting the man win the argument, Selena, or letting him think he did?”
“In the end, is there any difference?”
John smiled into the mirror. Selena, face as doll-like as ever, gave him a kiss back.
“We’re dressed to kill, so where do go?” John asked.
“To the person who gave you your life.” The asnwer felt Ancient. Confirmed by Silence. The kind that defeaned the ears.
A very multfaceted Selena ‘carried’ an exhausted Dr John into corridor Two Red, the ‘w’ replaced with an ‘o’ in subtle penciled-in graffiti with a brisk strike in her step. Another super-white, extra-quiet, ultra-geeked closed-door corridor, with one exception. A door with the top ‘ventillation’ port open, a radio inside
playing ‘Yellow Submarine’. “I used to really like that song,.” Dr J confided to his mystery woman.
“Why, John?” Selena asked.
“Because it was so simple….Now, I hate it.”
“Why, Doctor J?” she continued.
“Because it’s so simple. ‘Mamma mama many worlds I’ve come since I first left home.’”
“That sounds like another song, John.”
“’The Greatful Dead’, I know.”
“And so many of them…” she noted, and concluded. Even Selena could feel the deadness inside the ‘healers’ who were entrusted to enhance life, technocrat who really DID care about the process of science more than what it could do for people. The ‘get a life’ club that didn’t know they were part of that ‘organization’. She finally ‘got’ what John meant by Dull Out Virus. It terrified her even more about Mad Injun Disease.
A Janitor’s radio announcing the escalation of another war in Central Africa, made worse by an anthrax epidemic, with neurological complications in its victims. One in ten babies under the age of three had died in the span of a week.
“That’s so tragic, ya know?” Selena expressed.
“And stupid,” John noted. “Anthrax kills sheep.”
“And people who don’t have doctoral degrees are sheep?!!”
“Exactly the contrary, Selena. Bacillus anthracus is such a pedestrian germ warfare agent.”
“Simple words, John. If you’re not communicating with your listener, you’re not communicating anything, and understand even less.”
“Anthrax was the first bacteria to be developed as a germ warfare agent, wrapped up in a liposome. Amazingly, it was hardly used. There were so many other more interesting microbes around.”
“Why save anthrax for Africa?”
“If God hadn’t intended the Black races to be clipped, He wouldn’t have made them sheep. The White perspective on science. Reason, order, logic. What is the Indian perspective?”
“If you have to ask that question so logically, you don’t know, and never will…”
“Look! John Baldino and Selena Horowitz are both investigators, and investigation requires SOME reason, order and logic. Ya know!!!”
“So why haven’t either of you been able to find out my real name?” John sneared. Finally, the ‘other personality’ revealed her hand. And that she wasn’t Selena Horowitz.
“The urgency to know it hasn’t maximized yet,” John said to his newly-discovered mystery co-pilot. “But it will.”
Selena withdrew behind the wall again, but watched John, very closely. “Evil isn’t the presence of viciousness, it’s the absence of life,” she said as her eye caught a full picture of the next ‘mark’, making room for the ‘other woman’, or ‘other girl’, or other ‘whatever’ who was completing for John’s attention, focus and heart.
The next item on the Klasen Agenda, and Leonard’s, was ‘M’, Doctor M to be exact. A ‘careful and precise’ investigator was his MO, with numerous articles in all the top journals to validate his persistence and/or luck. One of those 40-papers-on-the-resume kind of junior investigators who became a 100-plus-paper-man, not one of those biochemical investigations bearing his name alone as author. Manhiem was one of those people who never said or did anything, but always seemed to know what you were doing.
Baldino caught a glimpse of ‘Dr M’ from his open lab door. The generic face, the set-in eyes, the hairline that receded just enough to say ‘aging’ but not enough to say ‘Elder’, the ultratrimmed mustache that seemed British Oxford from the left and Hitlerian when you looked straight into at him straight on.
Manheim’s lab was spotless, his paperwork organized in perfectly-arranged right angles. The kind of perfectionist whose anal droppings had to be as geometrical symmetrical and his life-perspectives and moral book-keeping. Featured over the intercom, dead air, in full surround stereo. Not the sound of silence, but the sound of ‘dead’, given voice by Dr K himself . “Ms. Horowitz, I’m Doctor Manheim. Dr. Thompson said you wanted to write an article about my work.”
“An article about YOU,” John said, using Selena charm and a potent dose of seductress to break through the supernerd wall. “I’m after the soul of the scientist, the man behind the work, the human ‘whys’ behind all those mind-bongling ‘whats’.”
“Very nice subtext, Selena,” John said inside his own head to his female co-pilot. “You used the tools of a bitch, whore and slut, all at the same time, and made my bullshit schtick smell like a rose.”
“Your schtick is no bullshit, John. You’ve been lying so long, that you don’t know when you’re telling the truth,” she related. “But your logic and my passion aren’t going to break this guy. He’s not an idiot or an asshole.”
“Then what is he?”
“‘He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans, for nobody,'” Selena sang to John from the “Yellow Submarine” sound track.
John took a millisecond sigh and let it dwell on for a full minute of brain perception time. Selena continued the serenade and the lesson.
“‘Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me.”
“Nowhere man, won’t you listen,” John sung into Manheim’s brain, and the part of his own psyche that was still, or could easily become, Manheimian. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Nowhere man, the world is at your command!” Selena and John sung in perfect harmony and enough real-world volume to be heard by a deaf man.
Dr. Manheim’s reaction to the contorted face of his interviewer and pain-wrecked face was passionless, emotionless, defined best as—
“Nothing!” Selena noted to Dr J. “We jump into this guy’s brain and we find nothing!”
“The glasses are academic, the cranial capacity wide, but the forehead is still sloping, Selena.”
“I don’t see the lobotomy scar, John.”
“More is the pity,” he said. “And the opportunity!”
Manheim had his name on most papers that came out of the Klasen, but always somewhere in the middle. “He probably did the proofreading, or checked the statistics,” John said to Selena. “There’s nothing political or social in this office. Even if those three kids on the desk photo are his own, he’s still probably a virgin. Okay with you?”
“Go ahead, it’s our funeral.”
Getting back to the ‘real’ world, John took the helm, addressing ‘M’ in the kind of language he could understand best. “Doctor Manheim, you look familiar,” John said in pleasant Selena-ese.
“My facial structure is very common,” Manheim smiled back, sort of. “Most reporters think recognize me from somewhere else, particularly most female journalists.”
“Monotone,” Selena noted to John. “Not even Vulcanian. No beat, rhythm or meter to the verbiage, stiff and stilted extensor-flexor tone, eye movements which are hardly noteworthy, which when taken together clearly indicate and display the unmistakable aspect of—Oh My God!!!”
“Yes, Selena. You do sound more flatlined than usual. Slow, too. He’s paced even you down to his sublight speed and earthbound perspective. And yes, the boredom and mental deadness IS contagious. Weren’t you trying to tell ME that?”
“Okay, okay, go on…Manheim’s too boring to lie.”
“But smart enough to know the what’s, and maybe a few of the why’s,” John said as the final word to Selena. “MID, what exactly is it, today, biologically speaking?” John asked Manheim in a genderless tone, the one that seemed most inviting to the most published yet least notable faculty member at the Klasen.
“It’s an interesting disease, verified to date in approximately 670 patients of Aboriginal extraction, in the advanced stages,” Manheim replied in a tempo and tone more worthy of a printed research report than spoken words to an actual person, or patient.. “The number of afflicted individuals harboring the disorder is probably 4.7 times that. Current research says that it’s caused by a viron in an unidentified plant, yet to be identified, most probably a retrovirus, which moves from the oral cavity through the trigeminal nerve into the cerebral cortex, inducing a wide range of neurological defecits, including cerebral tumors releasing abnormal quantities of seratonin, impaired motor dysfunction, memory deficits and a strangely-stereotypical distorted sensory perception.”
“Based on the fear of the people afflicted,” John delivered, logic from the mouth, compassion from his baby blues, greens, browns or whatever other color his eyes were becoming. “Genetic memories are unraveled, awakening the most painful memory of death, so scary even the most iron-willed people give up the will to live.”
“That is one theory, seen in approximately 84.5% of our patients, Ms Horowitz,” the accurate and dispassionate reply.
John never used the word ‘patient’, even as a Doctor. It implied a loss of control and surrender of dignity. But right now, it was all he could do to hold on to his patience and not strangle Manheim’s lilly-white neck until his face turned beet red and the sunken eyes would see the face of pain, death and, eventually, life on the other side.
“Go for the jugular, John!” Selena encouraged.
“That’s exactly what I plan on doing, Selena!” John felt the sharpness of the elongated vampiress nails Leonard had so skillfully cemented onto his hand.
“I mean the jugular veins INSIDE his head!” Selena screamed at Doctor-turned-Ball Buster Baldino. “Everybody cares about something. Selective compassion isn’t universal compassion, but sometimes it’s a useful place to start.”
“Yes,” John pondered, feeling that Selena’s cerebrally-expressed heart-felt insight would answer another question down the road not yet posed. “Selective compassion…”
“Are you married?” John asked Manheim, snapping back to ‘reality’ before his ‘mark’ could detect his absence from it..
“Yes, Ms. Horowitz.” the businesslike reply.
“Three,” informationally related.
“Five, seven and eight,” in mathematic rhythm.
Manheim gazed over at the photos. His lips turned up, slightly. “Tom, Dick and Harry,” he said.
John and Selena turned their ‘inner’ lips upward, letting out a polite, and respectful giggle at the steriotypic names too real to be true. But then another thought….maybe Manheim did have a sense of humor after all. Then—
“Thomas Alva, Richard James, and Harrold William, to be accurate,” Manheim related without a trace of irreverence or even levity.
“You seem to care about them a lot,” John/Selena said, noting Manheim’s face in the wilderness photo with the boys, his fatherly arms protecting and feeding off of the lads.
“They’re good boys,” Manheim related.
“Happy ones?” J and S asked, noting the communicable deadness in the boys, the youngest least afflicted—so far.
“Yes,” Manheim’s reply. “They’re all contented in their chosen careers. Tom developed a physics for chemistry, Dick is in anatomy and Harry a research dermatologist with a rather thick skin now.” Manheim’s voice reeked of pride.
The smart-assed quips raced through John’s mind. Was Tom’s biochemistry going to be drugs bought on the streets instead of from a Fischer Catalogue? Would Dick ignore or overuse the anatomical part bearing his nickname? And was young Harry goofing on his father when he said he wanted to go into dermatology to develop a cure for baldness? To be fair, Manheim enjoyed order and passionless harmony, and wanted to pass that on to his sons. That was human. That was family. But what of issues larger than family, and far more human?
“With the way MID is going, do you think it will affect any non-Aboriginal populations?” Selena asked Manheim. “My children, your technician’s children…your chidren?”
“No,” Manheim said, giving himself a second to look down and consider the possibility, and another to gaze at the picture of the three humans in whom all his humanity was invested. “MID is a genetic, and an environmental, disease. Tom, Dick and Harry have no Apache genes in them, and even less interest in Aboriginal cults and herbs.” Then, a small smile—sort of. “Unless they become anthropologists or environmental botanists.”
John smiled politely at the witicism. Selena protested the action. “Don’t move those lips into a smile and think I’m going to be happy in here, Professor Baldino! Making lips smile so the brain is directed to happy thoughts works on normal people, but neither of us are normal–not any more!”
“Tell me something I don’t know, Selena,” John said, doing his utmost to maintain the front of pleasant to Professor Nowhere Man who now seemed so repugnant. “What do you want me to ask him? Give me YOU lists of questions”
“Details again, John, details.”
“A good place to start,”:
“That’s not what I meant! You’re dwelling on the details! Listen to what I mean, not what I say!…John…John John!!!!”
John took over the helm. Lady provided the visuals. Lord bolted out the fire. The combination was—detailed, and deadly, delivered with a rapid pace that would demand that THIS Manheim keep up with him, or surrender the goods entirely. Part was speculation, part fact, and the rest improvised along the way—John always said that any lecturer who didn’t discover three new insights every half hour, and relate them to his students, should be sued for failure to deliver goods for payment rendered. Several times in John Baldino’s career he did have one-new-idea-a-lecture days, afterwhich he’d pay every student in the room ten dollars as partial compensation. But this lecture had to be stellar, the student giving back nothing. John knew fully well that intelligence was contagious, as was the lack of it. And this blitzkerig interrogation had no room for dullness of spirit, nor narrowness of mind. He opened all the cerebral portholes and let the waters come in from wherever they might, letting everything find it’s natural slot, nature always giving you a problem to any solution—as long as you were bold enough to redefine EVERYthing you thought you knew and look at the answer straight in the eye.
“There is a theory, Doctor Manheim, that MID is a virus originating from the walls of this institution. Could it be that the retrovirus is carried by liposomes? Could it be that the carrier is astrocytic specific, causing swelling, breakdown of the blood brain barrier and filaments arranged in bundles of nine connected to one tubule, with altered potassium levels in the milieu of the synapse but…also, maybe as a separate action—disrupting the normal degeneration-regeneration equilibrium, the one where RNA is released from cells degenerating in just the right amounts to stimulate growth of cell processes in neighboring neurites. And…as the fundamental action—affecting the communication between the front line stimulus secretion coupling at the cell membrane and the nucleus, where genetic expression is most tightly–and racially–determined. By the types of tumors seen, the distribution of the lesions, and the prediction of Native PEOPLE to be either spiritually centuries ahead of the White man or the first ones to start a fight after a beer, I’d say it would have to involve limbic structures that we know are defective in alcoholics, and as for the transmitters…it’s the ratio of seratonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, not the absolute amounts. And as for stress making it worse–adrenaline from the adrenals getting through the blood brain barrier, or even the intracranial space, activating beta two vasodilatatory receptors in the brain, and most specifically in the defect areas afflicted with said virus, that spread the cachexic factor, first to the visual occipital lobes, then to…association cortex, where the whole picture is so….” John stopped himself. Five new insights into MID and three into basic neurobiology. A new record, but the wrong stage. Still, a self-dealt hand always had to be played. “Where the whole picture is so—”
“Interesting,” Manheim said. He looked aroused, maybe even enlightened.
“Nice work, John,” Selena said.
“Old trick, my dear. The most effective way to break through a brick wall is to run through it. It has something to do with mass becoming energy. Which, according to the lightness of this body we’re sharing, seems to be happening right now…Or is it right ‘later’. Time passes strangely when you’re communicating with—-”
“–Outside exploration first,” Selena reminded John. “He’s about to follow up.”
“You pose some interesting questions,” Manheim said.
“About the ‘whats’, or the ‘whos’?” John and Selena pressed on.
“The ‘who’ question, behind the MID problem, and the propositions you are implying?”
“Yes.” John took out a notepad. He wouldn’t trust any camera inside an earring or microphone inside a padded bra for this one. “The ‘whos'”
“The theory about co-regulation of degeneration and regeneration was proposed as early as 1975, but polyamines were suspected, not nucleic acids. It was Klien et al, Brain Research volume 23, page 134, I believe. As for the neurotransmitter ratio you spoke about, Nakamura and Schwartz worked out something like that in Heidelberg, 1986 in The New England Journal, October, as I remember, but I don’t think anyone considered incorporating vasoactive dilators into the story, with the possible exception of Wilson and colleagues at the Rockefeller, but they never talked about beta receptors as the mechanism of action…”
John slumped back in his chair as Manheim spouted out names and references like those musicologists who knew every Beethoven Opus number and Mozart Kirshal listing, but who never played a note, nor even felt the music. One of his breasts sagged down as well, but Manaheim didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, would probably not care.
“This is getting us nowhere, John,” Selena lamented.
“We still have one more person to see today, Selena.”
“And my people will have to bury another three by tomorrow morning, John,” the woman inside Dr J said.
John was clear about everything except one word. ‘My’. Could it be that Selena was a Universal Compassionate activist? Or maybe something more…
“Is there any chance you can grab a knife and give this Paleface a haircut, two inches below the scalp, Dr J?” the mystery woman/women pressed on.
“I’d love to,” John replied, listening to the words with his ears, its real meaning with his mind.. “But Dr M probably would never notice anything. How can you kill the dead?”
“Dead is dead,” Selena said, hauntingly..
“Yes,” John conceded.
“And dead is also contagious,” she continued, fading away again.
“Yes,” John noted, opening up as many circuits as possible so that the REAL answer could be found by the part of the brain that thinks, intuits and feels. Somehow, identifying the elusive ’empathy’ center of the brain was more vital than ever, even if such a task was deemed undoable by modern technology, human will or Divine plan.
Something went through John’s head, again. It had something to do with Erica. If she was undercover as Doctor Linquest here, why didn’t she have the down-and-dirty scoop about Mad Indian Disease? ‘Strange’, ‘weird’ and ‘a very solitary investigator’ was all John, or Selena, could get out of Klasen researchers, graduate students or even janitors about Erica. ‘Doctor who?’ was the most common response to any question regarding Linquest, or Erica.
Taking another opportunity to get ‘lost’ in the appointed rounds from point A to B, Selena’s feet took John back to Erica’s lab. It was still vacant, but Skeleton Fred was still there, a special message in his mouth.
“Great job, Selena. Signed, ‘V’,” John read..
“It feels like your brother is still alive,” Selena commented to Dr J.
“Yeah. And so is Erica. She has to be,” John said, and hoped.
John walked around the lab. Erica had been doing her homework. To every model of cancer devised at the Klasen, she seemed to have found a cure, or was on the way to one. Under the name of Erica Linquist. But her notes were—
“Unreadable”, Selena commented. “I can’t make sense out of this.”
“But I think I can,” John said. “But I can’t make sense out of these.”
John gazed at the wall. Something he hadn’t noticed on the last visit to to the lab occupied by the phantom faculty member who never ‘did lunch’ with her co-workers. He admired the Apache mandella that was supposed to bring good luck, the turquoise stones that were fables to fend off evil spirits, the photos of the kids who looked so Alive. But it was the drum, spear and with the Eagle Cult insignia on it that struck up John’s curiosity as he compared it with the mark his Avian Mentor left on his arm, and now, apparently, his heart. “This is interesting…”
“Yes, it is…” Thompson said from the doorway.
“Huh?” John said with an open mouth. “The door was open,” Selena followed up with, pulling the blouse sleeve down, pretending to adjust the watch. “The schedule called for…eh.”
“Me to pick you up and take you to the hotel, at five thirty.” Thompson interjected.
His voice said business, not pleasure, and the business of the Klasen was about security and PR.
The walk to the parking lot offered a magnificent view of the sun setting over the Western horizon. John allowed himself to be treated to a view of the desert few White men ever had—the perspective of an Indian woman who, apparently, had a racial memory of what this place was like before the first Conquistador, Miner or Land Developer tried to fashion it in their Boss’s image. John saw colors in the rocks and mesas he never imagined, so magnificent they had no names in English. Selena whispered what they were in Apache.
It was a magnificent ride home, until John saw the Eagle Clan dancer doing his dance outside the University Hospital entrance. This time, a documentary was being shot for PBS, by a crew who seemed to know as much about Eagle Clan dance as the Apache Elder knew about the Country Line dance. Both were solidly entrenched in their own world, as was Thompson.
“I’m glad you’ve met some of our researchers, Ms. Horowitz,” the nameless and unidentified driver related in a cordially-friendly tone, a revolver concealed under his coat, a semi-military cut between his ears, a watchful eye on the road. “They’re the cream of the crop, East and West of the Mississippi, aye?”
“And maybe back home, North of the Canadian line as well?” John commented, noting the Canadian under his American English.
“I miss Canada, ” he confided. “Particularly in winter. The Snowbirds come down south to avoid the snow and get a little cultural spice to fill in their golden years. But, like the bumper stickers say, Thirty Below keeps the Riff Raff Out.”
John smiled, felt his face, noting that there wasn’t ANY five oclock shadow coming through the rouge. “Good thing,” he thought. “And strange thing,” he pondered. It had been a day of hard sweating, and John’s beard always grew thickest when the going got toughest. Was something happening biologically? Mentally? Or, spiritually?
In mid thought, John was interrupted by something more feared than the driver’s gun, or the ER staff’s lethal doses of ketamine and rompan awaiting. In his inner mind, he saw an Apache Elder, a very ancient face. “Thilkoki hy linko,” it said, and spoke.
“Selena? What’s he saying?”
“Thiloki hyo linko, John”, Selena ‘Horowitz’ repeated, in perfect Apache.
“What does that mean?”
“Loosely translated…later, Dr J.”
“Later, for you. Some things that Old Apache even hides from me.” She turned bitter, hurt and angered…. “….Especially from me.”
Tom the hotel clerk made all the calls he could to the appropriate head offices after ‘account closed’ came up on her escalating hotel tab. Selena Horowitz’s credit cards were all mysteriously expired, the only money to her name being in her purse. However, she was the woman of the hour in the realm of local credit. Every researcher she interviewed at the Klasen sent the seductively-spunky journalist something. Everything from flowers, to fruit baskets, to vintage leather books of old West folklore.
“But not one dollar I can spend the way I want to,” John noted in the privacy of the hotel room. “I guess this means I’m a kept WOMAN for the next few days.”
“Or maybe longer,” Selena said from the back of John’s mind. She pointed him to a plain wrapped bag amongst the gifts dropped off from her white-coated admirers. Inside lay more news clippings of rapist Baldino, on the run from the law, having ravaged children now. Also inside, more assignments for Selena Horowitz in places of change ever further away from home, signed with a “V” in Erica’s handwriting.
“Afghanistan, Angola and….no, say it’s not so…Newfoundland AND Labrador,” John said. Then he looked at the dates and bawked. “In six months!”
“I’ll stay with you as long as you need me, John,” Selena said. “This is a golden opportunity.”
“To do what? To lose ALL contact with my past? To give up football, hockey, hunting and…” he felt his crotch. “They feel smaller than they were this morning.”
“You have harder balls instead of bigger ones. It’s a matter of believe and perception.”
“And maybe reality!”
John looked into the mirror, touched his face, his chest and confirmed it. His skin was getting darker, smoother, and the face stopped growing hair today, and the enlarging nipples were… He flashed on something. “Someone is giving me pills I don’t know about.”
“Which are probably temporary…” Selena assured Dr J. “AND necessary. For six months. That’s not a long time. Healers in Native cultures spend three YEARS living as the opposite gender to know what their patients think, feel and need.”
“So how did it feel when you grew a mustache in maybe YOUR last lifetime?” John asked in mocking speculation.
“We’re talking about you, John. And a world that needs saving. But ultimately, it’s you who has to decide how to save it.”
“This won’t work.” John looked out the window. More crows on the horizon, no eagles, or even seagulls in sight of the eyes, or inner mind.
“It’s logical, reasonable, and makes perfect sense.”
“Yes, except to one man.”
“You, Dr J?”
“Him”. John looked out the window. An Eagle Dancer was making his rounds, around the dumpster. His face seemed familiar, both old and young. His feet were stumbled more than danced. Tremors. Shakes. Rotation of the eyes in a pattern that wasn’t any pattern at all, but clearly indicating that he was living in another world, one whose primary emotion was terror. The skin-over-bones walking skeleton was more than half-way to the Other Side. “I can hear his death rattle from up here,” John noted. “I also KNOW that I’m a doctor. And…” the flash of an idea seemed very real. “If I save HIM and I save the world.”
The mystery woman inside answered, in the langauage of the Eagle. “He’s seen you, and me, at that research think tank, I think.”
“He’s seen Selena Horowitz with the white devils who are killing his people,” Dr J speculated as he saw the disease get worse The Old Man picked up a stick, wielding it against an invisible foe that John’s inner eye couldn’t see, but certainly feel.. “And I have to help HIM. NOW!”.
“With what?” Selena challenged as John looked around for his medical kit and bag of medicinal tricks.
“I don’t know!” John protested. “Maybe I, we, you can get us into the hospital and steal a lab coat, some diazapem, one of those portable CAT scan units that—“
“—will get us arrested and him thrown in the psych ward, or worse,” Selena pointed out. Indeed, she was right. The Old Man’s ‘battle dance’ against the Demon was about to be witnessed by a Police Car. First one, then two, then a green sedan with men in bioprotection suits that sat there and waited for him to faint. To, apparently, become ‘harmless’.
“I’m going out there!” John screamed out to Selena. “With or without you.” He grabbed the first aid kit from the hotel bathroom and ran to the door, stumbling onto the floor, tripping on—something he couldn’t see.
“John, think of the big picture,” Selena said. “Selena Horowitz can save millions of lives with her writing. John Baldino can only get himself killed. And if you go out there as you, John Baldino, MD, now Most Wanted for—”
“—it will be quick, fast and to the point. If I can be alone with that man, as me, man to man, as a Man who hears the Eagle. A member of its Clan…”
“So, you know the first secret, John,” the mystery woman said. “Or you guessed it. Which is it?”
The Old Man outside screamed a battlecry. The Police Cars blocked off the streets. The men in the bioprotection suits surrounded the alley, blocking every exit. The Old Man vanished in a puff of smoke. Or so it seemed to John and the ‘observers’ sharing his mind, body and Soul.
John had to do something. He tried to open the door but it was locked. Or maybe jammed by one of those ‘ghosts’ from the outside. In any case, it was like the old days with the cancer patients. The kind of patients who taught you about diseases. The kind of people who taught you about yourself if you were bold, or stupid, enough to REALLY open up.
“So, what do we do now?” Baldino asked a shadow of a bird in the window that could be an eagle or a crow, or perhaps both. He had collected most of the research reports available through official channels on MID at the Klasen. Photographed the others, so he thought, or hoped. And there were the notes left in skeleton Fred’s hand in Erica’s office. And ‘Doctor Linquist’s’ notes. Only a matter of time for the Baldino medical mind to figure out what Mad Indian Disease really was, and to figure out a cure. Man vs, molecules—no contest, assuming that Selena could work her way into that permenant PR position for the Klasen she was offered several times by her hosts. But there was one hitch.”
“If you live outside the law, you have to be honest?” Selena asked Dr J.
“My patients deserve nothing less, Selena. And you ripped that line off, didn’t you?”
“Stealing from Bob Dylan is an obligation, not a right. Right, John?”
“We need some money, and some supplies. What will it be, Selena, whore, bitch or slut?”
“You aren’t going to give me any choice, you asshole.”
“I sure ain’t no idiot. Not anymore,” John’s lament as he looked out the window, planning how to steal the ailing Elder still hiding in the shadows from the jaws of death just in time to steal back into Selena Horowitz’ life.
By altering a few accessories, talking from a specific shakra sub-center in John’s body and changing the geography of the character, Selena could be anyone in the world. Within an hour and a half, she turned five G-rated ‘tricks’, coming up with everything John needed for the housecall to the ailing Apache Elder, her honor, and John’s, still intact.
“Great work, Selena,” John said as he opened the PBS totebag containing pair of boots bartered from a cowboy passing on his way to a rodeo, a shirt from an insurance salesmen on the way home to his wife and other mistress, a medical bag from a Klasen Hospital doc who was still sleeping it off in a cushioned coffin at Krazy Klasen Koffins, and a make-up kit from the German PBS producer hired by undisclosed party to do a fluff piece about Apache art, music and gaming casinos.
“Herr Producer wouldn’t tell me who he was working for, but the way I left him, he’ll have no problem doing a special on cross-dressing,” Selena informed John. “I tried to find an asshole your size. Do his clothes fit?”
“Perfectly,” John said, experiencing trousers on his legs for the first time in what felt like decades. They felt appropriate, but, in ways more than just anatomical, heavy. “The male animal is really bred to hunt moose and kill no-goodnicks trying to invade the village, Selena. After we’re through being sperm banks and straight material for female humor, if that’s what you call it, we’re sacrificial lambs. Or more accurately, sacrificial pigs.”
“Let’s take a shower, Dr J.”
“I did a lot of dirty work in the last hour and a half. You have to get ready for your housecall with the Shamen, and I have to prepare for the late night supper with the doctor. The most honest confessions from a man’s lips come after he’s showed off his fertility and I’ll have stolen his power. I’ll ask the questions, he’ll grog them out.”
“You’re still keeping that date with Professor Doctor Harvey Smith…”
“You saw what I could do tonight, John.”
“I FELT it. You wouldn’t let me watch, hovering over my occipital cortex like an armed guard.”
“Or a mother hen, John. I’ll let you watch tonight.”
“I hope the hell WE aren’t pregnant, Selena,” John said checking his belly.
“No,” she said adamantly. “I’ve been there, done that and paid the price.”
John felt something from Selena very fundamentally human. “Why did you give up the baby?”
“A three-month old fetus isn’t a kid, Doctor Baldino. It’s a thing!” Selena said, her tone echoing trailer park slut instead of Park Avenue Pro.
“Which you held on to like it was you whole family, ‘Selena’?”
“Enough about me, John.” Her voice came from an even lower and younger place in the gutter. “I had problems, man…Things to deal with.., ya know…Dey would be bigger problems fer fucks like you, you fucking asshole!”
John contemplated the issue. “An honor student is murdered in Central Park, and every Cop in the Police Force is on the perp’s trail. But if her grade point average is a C plus, or a drop out, the case gets put on the back burner.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” the slurred reply from the ‘slut’ inside, sounding and smelling like cheap beer and booze.
“It means that you tried, Selena. Which makes you an A student in this cop’s assignment sheet any day of the week.”
The silence of gratitude came back from Selena.
“And you died as a girl, not a woman?” John offered.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean!!!?”
“You used every manipulative trick in the Feminist Manual since ‘we’ got out her. Flattery, greed, helplessness, intimidation, admiration, and even guilt.”
“Guilt is a Catholic thing, not an Indian thing, John.”
“But nurturing is a woman thing. And any woman who hasn’t had a child is still a girl. Nurturing is something a child teaches the mother.”
“And is that what you’re teaching me now, John?” The tone sounded comforting, perhaps even maternal, and a lot less Indian.
“Who you are is at the bottom of what all of this is about, ‘Selena’. Why won’t you tell, I don’t know, but there is one thing I do know.”
“White guys prefer blondes, but Native Shamen…”
“–It’s all taken care of, John.” She ended the conversation, as had become the habit, custom and necessity.
John took a full ten minutes in the shower, alone. He washed Selena off his face, but not out of his mind. Staring at his arm, he saw what seemed like an Eagle Clan emblem come to life. It had colors to it, and visions. The hues of those visions weren’t the pale yellow and dark green which were reported hallucination in MID, and they weren’t about architypical memories embedded in DNA. No, this was NOT the kind of hallucination that ANYone experiences when on ANY kind of peyote. It wasn’t a scientific fact, but as firm a finding as Baldino ever stumbled upon or discovered in his life.
They were about something else, something that the world had to know SOMETHING about. As the Eagle on the wrist looked back at John, his counterpart landed on the window next to the shower. John retreated back. True, he was still afraid of birds. But even truer—there were no windows in the bathroom. “The parallel universe has it’s own windows,” John intuited as the hot water turned cold, then stopped all together. Then another realization. “Living a double life isn’t so bad, as long as you remember who truly you are under the two lies you present to the world.”
He remembered how the optic system lies to the brain all the time, giving it only information it can handle, making differences of light and dark gray into black and white images so concrete decisions can be made about the world that moves slower than metaphysical reality, but far harder.
When John opened the bag of gifts from Selena’s shopping spree, everything was there for the medical housecall. “My last hour and a half as a man in six months, and wow…” She thought of everything. Brutus Cologne, extra hair for the tapered eyebrows, a Latino stash for the lips, and a something very different for the hair.
“Brown works for me, how about you?” Selena asked.
When John looked into the mirror he saw a creature hairless from the neck down, but far more dangerous.
“Pancho Villa as a hippie, or….” Something different popped into John’s head.
“Take off the hair on that upper lip. I want to see something, John,” the female visitor, and friend said.
Baldino obeyed. “Marty Scorcese as a hippie? He was at Woodstock, you know. First Director of the Award Winning Documentary that won—”
“John, take off that shirt. The color doesn’t suit you. Try this one instead. I hung it up on the door above the closet.”
“I’m a big boy, I can dress myself. You, Learnard, Vinny, Erica, all want to dress me up and show me off, but NOW, for THIS housecall, I call the—-”
John’s mouth hung down, his breath held in his throat.
“Put it on, John, if you dare.”
“It’s an Eagle Clan shirt. I can feel the emblem…And I can smell the blood.”
“It was Tom Cloud’s. I was his girlfriend on the Rez, Erica was his…something…in town.”
“What happened to him….?” John inquired. “And what is your real name? Or what was it?” he advanced.
“The headlines read ‘Drunk Indian killed in Car Crash After Eagle Cult Orgy’,'” the woman inside asnwered.
“‘He didn’t drink and never drove a car’, the reality. He wasn’t on any kind of peyote. And even it he was, he died of something else. That bastard died from something else.”
“It sounds like Tom loved you,” John offered.
“But he didn’t trust me, not with Eagle Cult secrets. He didn’t trust Erica either.”
“Does that mean he loved you and Erica, ‘Selena’? A man can do that. We’re bred for polygamy, and you—”
“Try the fucking shirt on already!” the mystery woman screamed out, referring Dr J’s attention to the bag of Salvation Army special items one owner away from the dumpster and the rats
John put the shirt against his body. It felt warm to the skin. Hot to the gut. Tight around the waist. He looked at the mirror. Something warm and frightening happened inside the optic portholes, a set of emotions too intense to define.
“It fits, Doctor Baldino. Especially around the eyes,” she said.
“Am I reading all of this in a newspaper?” John protested from the left side of his cortex that could still put one and one together and get two. “This is too much technical information in a very non-technical universe.”
“Some things you accept before you understand them. It’s easier that way.”
“But not as honest.”
“This search for the truth is about who can tell the most honest lie, John.”
“And if I put on this shirt….”
“…I’ll have to leave you, John.”
John hesitated, contemplated the issues, the ancient beliefs of two parallel universes connecting each other, the hard data suggesting the existence of matter and anti-matter, and the Einstein equation that connects mass and energy through key equations and, perhaps, people. “I’ll be back. We have a date with Harvey Smith.”
“I’ll be waiting, John.”
“Fear is your friend,” John Baldino, Ph.D., M.D., would tell his patients when the time was right to take them off anti-depressents. Or when treatment of other neurological diseases required shedding of drug-induced “shields” to external pain.. It was something different to take that advise on his own, as he faced the world very alone, without Selena, and against the advise of his past ‘real life’ female guide, Erica. The investigation was inspired from the gut, spurred on by word on the streets near the hotel, and around the water coolers at the Klassen, that there was a “crazy Old Injun” wandering around ‘Old Town’, unable to be caught, or helped. Some say he talked like a Dead Spirit. Those Cops who imbibbed too many spirits said he appeared and disappeared like a ghost.
“My kind of…people,” John said to himself as he walked down the buckboard of ‘Old Town’, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror of one of the many Tourist Shops that were going belly up. He liked the feel of his new mustache, even though it was fake. Combined with what was becoming an olive skin, thanks to something in Leonard’s anti-hair-growing lotion, and perhaps the SouthWestern sun. Indeed, the offspring of Southern Italian Northern Greek heritage did look like Pancho Villa. A younger version, perhaps. Perhaps a mythical version that could not only read, but write, and write things that people would read. The real Villa was at his prime popularity and power when he was illiterate, John remembered. Hiis decline in power occuring, interestingly, after he learned his “R and Rs” after the Revolution was over, .
“Then, he was shot,” John recalled. Facts in the present showed up in the form of police cars behind him, moving slowly as he walked along the buckboards, pretending to be ‘normal’. Just another wetback ‘Pancho’ on a short-cut to home through “Old Town” after drinking too much, or seeing his friends, or girlfriend, drink too much.
By the third car, John wondered… “What would Selena do? Or maybe that woman who is working with her, or against her, inside of me who wants something from me? Something that maybe I can give her if I can find the ‘Crazy Old Injun’”.
Another car approached, from behind, decelearating to a quite ‘cruising’ speed. John bowed his head, enough to look humble but not enough to look guilty, to fit in with the other ‘Panchos’ milling about.. The car slowed down even further, then stopped. John stopped dead in his tracks. He looked around. He was alone. No streetwalkers. No drunks. No ghosts either. Then, a blip from the police car, then, a siren going off, silently, then…the car whisked itself off into the dead of night.
John breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that he wasn’t arrested and tossed into the kind of dungeon that no one ever left. He was ‘guilty’ in the eyes of the law as John Baldino, Jack MacFarland and, for all he knew, maybe even Selena Horowitz. Or maybe that ‘other spirit woman’ who wanted a piece of his heart and soul had just robbed the 7/11 and had stashed a bag of cheetos and a fistfull of greenbacks in his back pocket! More bizzare things had happened to him, particularly on that 2 week ‘vacation’ in Montauk where he was visited nightly by those from the land of the living and the dead, not knowing which was which, even to the present day. It didn’t matter, anyway. More urgent matters were at hand, and in plain sight.
The ‘Old Injun’ had backed himself into dead street, facing down something at the other end. The moonlight shone over his face, revealing every crater and crevace in his ancient face, and the fire in his still-defiant eyes. He said something in Apache to his invisible foe, took off his cowboy hat, then his jean jacket, revealing brands and marks on his chest that seemed….familiar to John.
For whatever reasons, perhaps known to the Old Man, or to the eagle perched above John’s head, Baldino remained a spectator to it all. Yet his heart could not help but feel every beat of the battle. His eyes saw the Old Man pick up a stick from the street, sharpening it into a spear with a few brisk strokes on the hard pavement. Baldino’s third eye could feel the beast roaring, taking the first steps towards its very human challenger. John then saw the Ancient Warrior swing the stick with the grace of his youth. He could feel the beast wounded, the ‘Steel Bufallo’ belting an unexpected groan of pain. The Old Man smiled, backing up, his legs shaky, his hands shaking. John made his way towards the Ancient Warrior but from the side of his ever-watchful eyes he saw the Gringo with the musache that was slipping off the left side of his lip approach, fending him off with a flick of his hand.
The beast seemed to be preparing for an assault, bringing with it two others, then three, all approaching and jabbing the Ancient Warrior on all sides, stabbing and jabbing him, then making his eyes go blank and his body…catonic. Then, falling to the ground, shaking with fear, and something John recognized all too well.
“Fuck, grand mal seizure!” Remembering that obscure lecture from a Chinese Neurologist that only he seemed to be hearing, John pulled a thorn out of a cactus and inserted it under the Old Man’s nose, manuevuering it in a rapid pecking-like manner. “Come on, Gv 26!” he grunted, hoping that the acupuncture point that worked so well on experimental rats in his old lab would work on real people here in the real world. Infiltirating his brain were all the ‘I should haves’. “I should have brought my medical kit with me, with the valium and phenobarb, and blood collection tubes!” “I should have insisted that Erica let me have more access to super-power anti-epileptic drugs!” “I should have gone to faith healing school during my vacations in medical school, but something deep inside me says that I should listen with divine ears and cure with human ones, one of God’s rules, I think.”. “I should have not left Westester Memorial Hospital, Montauk or the womb!”
The harder John pecked at GV 26, the worse the sieszures got. But by the eight ‘should have’ and the twentieth ‘Anybody, Please!’, seizures stopped. It seemed miraculous. John offered a prayer of thanks to the Divine Energy, but before he could find a name suited for It, a bright light shone in his face, blinding his vision, and judgement.
“Come out with your hands up!” came from the cars that had pulled up on all sides but the ‘Dead End Saloon’ to John’s back. They were identified only by their featureless uniforms, very militar Their guns, very drawn, and very high tech, silencers on the barrel. Their bosses in White hoods and biological contamination suits.
They walked forward, shooting rounds at John’s feet. Though the shots were ‘subtley silent’, they kicked up an appreciable amount of concrete and dirt just underneath it.
Here it was. A moment of truth. The Physican and Healer who was always avoided or contained confrontation had never been in a fight in his life. Even as a kid, John Baldino knew the power of diplomacy. Brother Vincent did the fighting because he was good at it and because it was his natural calling. Now, as the bullets hit John and the Old Indian the Moment dicated that he protect, it was John’s turn to become Vincent, or become dead.
The rest happened below the neck, and too quickly to catelog between the ears. John found himself becoming the hero, by a reflex he thought he never had. He never knew that he was capable of picking up a hundred pound human body. He never knew that his legs were fast enough to carry it into the alleyways between the Old Western buildings. He never knew that he could ‘Out Bond’ his attackers, who had now doubled in number. He never knew how accurate he could be with a spear, until he tossed the Old Man’s stick towards a rapidly advancing vehicle, missing its driver’s neck by inches, but causing it to crash into four other vehicles, starting a fire that put the intruders onto the ground.
The Old Man smiled, muttering something in Apache. “No problem,” John replied in ‘Bronx’, then he looked up. “They’re back. And ‘they’ is a lot more than us, my friend,” he related, noting more vehicles pulling in, green ones, men in suits and ties that were very tight, eyes hidden by sun glasses, even to the moonlight.
John assessed the situation, looking for getaway options in the REAL world. One seemed feasible. A cubby hole under the old Whore House, undoubtely used by more than one outlaw in the past. But when he looked down at his new partner in Crime, the Old Indian who made him feel young again…— The Ancient Injun was gone, a shadow of dirt remaining in his place. “Where did you go!?” John gasped. “Where?”
Bullets whizzed by John’s head. He ducked, tasting dirt in his mouth, salt on his tongue. The ‘taste of fear’, as he read, and was now experiencing. Daring to look up, he saw feet approaching him, slowly, confidently, and with drawn weapons, ready to fire at the count of what his head said was five, but his terrified mind said was two, or one…Then, before the arithmentic could be set in motion, Dr J heard a roaring behind him. A wheeled steel horse, by its sound and the shaking of the earth under his gut.
“The ‘steel bufallo’ John found himself saying, noting some blood from the Old Indian’s mouth on his cut finger. “MID IS contagious, and I got it”, he quickly concluded. “It is…over,” he told himself, noting a small dart in his leg, fired apparently from one of the ‘special’ guns of his assailants. Fighting the slumber of the drug-infused dart, he looked behind, spotting a mass of metal moving a high speed and even higher intensity, the rider of the beast hiding its eyes before he got a chance to look it. It felt like…finality.
John woke up in the strangest accommodation recallable by even an A137 or MID-infected mind. The multi-themed hold-up cabin looked like a cross between “Gunsmoke”, “Dances with Wolves” and “The Andromadus Strain”, with just a touch of “Dog Day Afternoon” and “The Long Riders”. Vintage 1885 Winchesters and matching saddles with Apache Mandellas and warlances. 1960s lab equipment made to operate a hundred years ahead of its time by State of the Art Klasen Institute components kept together by leather ropes, bailing twine and Silly Puddy. All explainable by only one work- “Erica”. A gaze at the red, probably blood-derived, lettering over the fireplace read “If you live outside the law, you have to be honest.”
“Bob Dylan said that,” John muttered from a dizzy head and a sore body to his host. “You ripped that off.”
“We burrow from allies, and steal from enemies,” Erica said from the corner of her mouth as she checked a 12 inch TV screen modified to be a radar surveillance system. Even in renegade jeans, plaid shirt and hair that resembled a ball of windblown sagebrush, she never looked more determined, and Erica was most beautiful when she was angry. She was, to the extent that she could be, never happier, either. Even as a workaholic resident, Erica was happiest when she was on a Mission, and as the sole scientist working to stop MID, rather than study it, she had her hands full.
After finding the floor with his feet, and checking to see if body and head were still connected, John looked at and felt his surroundings. Much work had been done here, and there was a lot of emotional intensity. Despite the ‘work is all we do here’ smell to the place, the spirit of more vulnerable emotions seemed to linger. Maybe it had something to do with the photo of Apache something-friend Tom Cloud in full Eagle Clan Regalia on a pony in the Wild West. Or maybe the snapshot of Residents John and Erica by the East River. Or the rest of the walls that had not a single mirror on them so Erica would never have to look at herself.
John remembered a dream he once had about Erica. His deceased and only wife, Karen, came back from the dead to talk about old times, current times and future times beyond the grave. John remembered the feeling, not the words. But there was something Karen said about Erica while the two Residents were devising a new cancer treatment in a power-conference on the beach. Karen made John promise to move on with his life, kill as few patients as he can, seek professional help if he ever considered country-line dancing is an unbridled expression of carnal lust, make sure he change his underwear at least once a week and to tell Erica one thing if he ever saw her again.
“Intensity is your life, Erica. And it will kill you,” John said with determination in his voice, a blank stare in the eye.
“Huh?” Erica uttered, adjusting the column isolation apparatus on a sample too hot to work on, even under a different label at the Klasen.
“A message from a mutual friend.”
“So does that mean I SHOULD ease back off fifth gear, or that I’m destined to live a short and glorious life?”
“I don’t know what it means. Karen told me to tell you that.”
Erica saw the look in John’s eye. It was a look she waited for, hoped for, and even prayed for. But with the timing…”John, I’m not Karen.” Her eyes went downward, and her vioce distant. “I don’t think I can be, even if I wanted to be,” she said, hoping that plugging up the leak in the isolation apparatus tubing would patch the hole in her heart, and her story.
Erica’s lie of the heart was most false on the last ‘if’. “IF Erica wanted to be Karen?” John thought. “Erica wants me more than ever, and I don’t think it’s the testosterone in me talking. Or maybe she wants the old life we almost had. Maybe I do, too. I wish Selena was here to be a consultant, or maybe a referee. Me and Erica had the hottest arguments, with out argueing. We challenged each other with more intensity that the most passionate lovers I ever knew. So why did wanting never become having, for either of us?”
Another view of the room from John’s wide open third eye, and still dizzy head, provided some of the answer. Amidst the clutter and the picture of Einstein sticking his tongue out–the only indication of levity–“If you’re not part of the problem, you’re part of the solution.” Beside it, an Einstein quote, “Great Spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
“You still divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’, Erica.” John advanced, uneasy with laying on the couch, still unable to stand on his feet.
“Lay back down, ‘Selena’,” she scolded back. “Get some rest. And rest easy, knowing that you blew it.”
“Blew what?” John blasted out.
“I don’t know.” Erica replied, pursed lips, closed heart, racing mind.
“Okay, so you let me burrow some of your dresses, if you have any, and ‘Selena’ gets back to work at the Klasen,” Baldino pulled himself upright, rubbing the curculation back into his thighs. “But if our ‘cover’ is going to be a lesbo relationship between Selena and yourself…”
“Not an option,” the abrupt reply, delivered with out eye contact, explanation or understanding. “You violated protocol, procedure….and good sense!”
Hobbling to his feetl John continued. “Look, I did my best.”
“I know you did,” Erica related, and lamented. “You are so…new to all of this being…”
“….On the run?”
“–Dead,” she asserted, somberly. “Dead to anyone you used to be. It’s not so bad. It’s quiet. You don’t have to pay taxes. And you don’t ever have to go home for those lovingly hostile family Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners.”
“Not all of us are trying to run away from our families. Some of us actually like, even love, our families.”
“Vincent, again,” the condescending comeback.
“Yes,” the firm reply, with a very clear question inferred.
“But he was here.”
“What tipped you off? Besides the smell of pepperoni shrimp pizza on the carpet.”
“And the mattress?”
Erica looked into herself. “We do whatever we have to do to stay Alive, big A.”
“And Tom Cloud?”
“Are you asking for you, or for someone else?”
“Is that the intuition talking?” John asked. “How the hell did you know that Tom’s Indian girlfriend warned me about you?” he thought.
“Women know women, Dr. John,” Erica related. “It’s radar. Selena Horowitz was on her way to becoming an Ace at guerrilla warfare, and playfare…”
“Thank you,” John related…from himself.
“So YOU decided to be a MAN about things, to save ONE old man, when Selena Horowitz could have saved millions!” Erica fumed fire from her raving mouth “Do you realize how much work you flushed down the tube to save that Old Coot! One Old Coot who kidnapped his grandson back from the treatment center.”
“Which I didn’t know about,” John replied, quietly. “I had a feeling he had a…”
“—You had SPECULATIONS!” Erica blasted out, exhausting herself of breath and perspective. She collected herself in the corner of the room, below an Apache shirt that seemed very authentic. And which had been on John prior to his waking up in the hideout cabin connected to no roads, paths or other visible means of reference to the world.
“How many lies do we have left, Erica?” John asked. “Lies that we have to twist into the truth, or lies we have to twist around ourselves?”
Erica smiled. “You have learned well Grasshopperess.”
John was not amused.
“About three days worth,” Erica replied. “Something very ‘final’ is about to happen with MID within 96 hours.”
“What kind of ‘final’?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Why?” John felt like asking. “Where?” came out of his mouth, filtered through a part of his brain by Selena, or perhaps some other Guide who was ever-on-watch. “Where is this kind of ‘final’?”
“As far as the eye can see. Even your eyes, my dear friend.”
John allowed shock to open up his brain instead of closing it. “Nature never gives you a problem without a solution,” he thought. “Maybe we can stop loving each other long enough to trust each other,” he offered.
“Sure, no problem, Doctor John,” Erica said, punctuated by a handshake that became a hug, then something far more intimate.
John woke up with Beethoven between his ears and fire his belly. Sunrise over the mountains looked so fresh from Erica’s bed. Erica seemed so…restfull under the blankets and bloodstained bedsheets. The kind of rest that didn’t require constant motion. The kind that ‘normal’ people experienced, or perhaps those paranormal people who came full circle. “The early bird gets the worm,” Dr J remembered as he looked out the window and saw the Eagle, this time looking at him straight in the eye.
“Shhh, don’t think so loud,” John said. “Erica’s still sleeping.”
The bird cawed out the sound of urgency then flew back up into the sky, and back into the mountains. Its destination was Rez Zero, West by SouthWest. “What’s out there?” John silently asked Selena. “The Eagle Clan shirt is off, so we can talk.”
“Large valleys hide sacred mountains,” the mystery woman inside John’s head, and perhaps heart, replied. “The cure for your disease and mine is there.”
“MY disease, and HERS?” John pondered. “Residual effects of what I was fed at Montauk? Something snuck into my veins when we were at the Klasen? Or maybe the air ducts at the hotel?”
“Dead is the absence of life, John,” the Woman of irratically-delivered Wisdom replied. Lifelessness and helplessness are contagious. So is intelligence, intensity and vitality…”
“I know,” John said, fondly glancing on the sheets at the fire that became beauty.
“…And those who are loved are the last to be trusted.”
Another look under the blankets revealed 100% pillow, 0% person. The room turned cold again. Erica was gone.
“Put on that shirt. It’s cold, and you have work to do,” Selena whispered to Baldino.
Erica’s diet was always colorful, improvised and cheap. Her stew always tasted good, but she never revealed what kind of spices, or meat, was in it. And red-meat-loaded stew for breakfast made as much sense as anything else. Besides, the breakfast table was about work, not eating.
John looked out the window at the bones outside, some cows, some coyote, some deer and some very close to humanoid shape. The Eagle decided to come back, sitting on a branch, mentoring, but never controlling, John’s thoughts. Erica analyzed data, sharing the relevant points with rapid fire delivery and an intensity that would have scared Beethoven himself into teaching piano lessons for the bougoisee.
“It’s all a conspiracy, and a lot bigger than disco, technobeat or mass-media-mediocrity through the Internet,” she ranted. “Every Indian in or around Rez Zero, at least the ones who let themselves be found, have some signs of MID, but they’re at least five distinct groups, with five different types of symptoms and degrees of illness. They’re equally distributed between old and young, obese and thin, male and female.”
“Yet…the Eagle Clan is a man’s only club,” John intervened. “Or is it?”
“Yeah. Even Tom wouldn’t tell me what it was about.”
“Tom..eh Tom?” John inquired, remembering another woman inside of him having named Erica’s favorite lover.
“Yeah, Tom.” Erica replied in a matter of fact manner.
“Is that why you had a relationship with him?” John pressed.
“What makes you think…?”
John showed Erica a photo of herself with the mystery man in question. The kind that no one throws away, no matter how incriminating, or dangerous.
“He wanted in on the White world,” she related…tenderly. “He also wanted ‘in’on the technical world. Allah, Jesus and Buddha et al forgive me, but I got him a job with Harvey Smith. I would have given him a stall and staff in my lab, but I had no money. And less political power in the Klasen’s power structure. Even as Dr Linquist.”
Erica looked away. She was hiding something about mind and heart. John’s inner eye saw that it was for a good reason, or at least a reason based in some plan that she would die for. Erica chose her Causes carefully, and usually not without considering every important parameter of nobility. For now, that was enough.
“Okay,” John offered, getting down to decifering the data he, Selena and whoever else was in his head were given or photographed at the Klasen. A table piled two feet in raw data that was written in logicese but which smelled of detritus. One tenth of the Apache Nation was afflicted with it, according to estimated reports. Nearly as many were dead, each of the names given numbers and ‘n’ values. The local press had its own take on it, supported by half-quotes from the scientists in charge.
“The print says we have epidemic that is supposed to be about a new kind of ‘infectious’ peyote,” John said, thumbing through the newspaper clippings. He moved on to the official ‘in house’ reports that never made it to the public, “A plant-born virus that moves into the DNA of a human host, spread by mouth, bloodborne carriers, misquitoes…”
“Misquitos in the desert?” Erica blurred out, checking the claims, and speculations.
“..Or so other insect carrier.”
“Rats?” John speculated. “Or field mice that transmute the virus into a genome that causes lung, liver and ultimately brain tumors with bizzare cytology that’s not in ANYone’s text books.”
“While SOMEone at Klasen Institute is writing their own textbook…” Erica’s eyes went into her head, and deeper, to the conclusion she was suspecting for months. “And their backers are on the verge of finding the miracle cure.”
She shouffled the data in question to John. Data she has been collecting from garbage cans, paper-shredders and incompletely deleted computer files for months. According to the nameless data from the lab ID’d only by number, it seemed that there were ‘n’ values that were responding positively to treatment regimes. What those regimes were, of course, were more numbers, and codes. Maybe it was real, maybe not. In any case, a change of perspective was called for.
“You know,” John commented in whimsical Professorial manner, calling on his old friend, gallows humor. “We DO have to consider all options. What if God really IS White, Male and very pissed off at Indians for reverting back to Pagan rituals and mind altering peyote? Give them MID instead of the flood? Too much desert out here for a flood. Maybe Fred the skeleton can tell us…”
Erica was not amused, or impressed.
A crop duster flew overhead. The Eagle squawked.
“Liposomes are very powerful carriers of viruses,” John noted at the bird chasing the cloud of yellow dust.
“And maybe cures…IF and WHEN they’re politically convenient…” Erica turned silent.
John opened his mind and his mouth. “Dispelling a lie is the first step to revealing a truth,” he offered. “There are enough people who would look at MID in a new light if the old version was found to be defective.”
“The secrets of the Eagle Clan. We—I—find out who’s in it, what the magic mushroom is, and what their visions are. Those visions aren’t about yellow and green hallucinations, or beasts of terror awakened from genetic or ontogenetic memory. The visions are a lot more…basic.” The rest came into place faster than the mouth could speak it. “I get intoxicated with a drug that encourages hallucinations, I master the ability to visualize, combine that with maximized sensitivity to sensing modalities in the real world and, for the moment, the ‘beyond’ world. I can feel it, define it, and relate it…and convey the one solution to so many problems.”
“IF you survive,” Erica said.
“That was the plan, wasn’t it?”
“It was an alternative plan. Vinny suggested it.”
“Vincent knows Indians on TV. I know them in reality. Visions you can’t handle kill you, or drive you insane.”
“And the Eagle Cult Indians, in reality?”
“Jake Cuthand hates Palefaces even more than I do.”
“Who’s Jake Cuthand?”
“If I tell you, there’s no turning back.” Her threat was real, and heartfelt.
“You can only find rest in motion itself,” John said with a bravado smile. “It says so on my gravesite back in Queens.”
“There are many ways of dying at Rez Zero, and at the hands of Jake Cuthand if he takes you where you think you want to go.”
John allowed himself a moment of reconsideration.
“I saw that,” Erica said. “Let Jake or the Ghosts up in those hills see that slip and they’ll give you a scalping you’ll never forget.”
“Rez Zero” felt different to John’s feet when he walked across the ‘line’ after Erica dropped him off. The signs to the appointed location led to a mountain pass known only to the coyotes, deer and a few selected renegades hand-picked by Jake Cuthand. The kind of pass negotiable by truck, but usually taken by horse, or by those hearty enough to do it by foot. John fully understood the meaning of ‘tenderfoot’ as his feet, new to REAL cowboy boots experienced blisters in places where he never thought possible. But the pleasures of sight offered compensation. From the vistas along the way, Baldino noticed that this still-Indian-owned stretch of desert not desecrated by the plow or made into something Nature didn’t intend by irrigation. Not a single straight line or right angle within sight of the outer or inner eye. As for the internal sensors, John never felt more ‘open’ to life spirits around him, through animals, plants, rocks and others heard but not seen.
The fortnight at Montauk had helped John develop superhuman abilities to feel the world around him. All he had to change things were his mortal powers, no more or less developed than any ‘ordinary’ man, in the end.. Bronx-born 20th century White rugged individualsm was no match for 21st century servailance and viral distribution systems which seemed to be based out of the Klasen, and no doubt other locations. Apache 19th century tenacity seemed to have even less chance to detect or eliminate the numerous ways Rez Zero was being watched and altered by the world outside. So it seemed as John passed graveyard after graveyard, the varied markings on the spots of burial indicating so many children who would never be adults. The ground next to the markers dug up, the bodies no doubt taken somewhere else, or confiscated.
John looked at Erica’s map, thinking to Selena, “Directions! I can’t see where I’m going here. Erica is a woman after all. Women have not sense of direction–no offense. But maybe if I take this shirt off, and ask you nice…”
John’s mid thought consideration was interrupted by a plane flying overhead. “Hey! Wanna give me a ride? Directions? A glass of water?” he screamed out to the mechanical bird, hoping it would revert to an eagle, a crow or maybe even Erica, making the sojourn into the mountains a tour rather than a trek.
Around the corner sat a single shack, its faded sign reading ‘Last Chance Café’. It matched he location where Erica said it would be, sort of. Upon closer examination, it seemed to have been a grander structure in its time. Upon walking closer, John felt something coming up through his feet. Those Pacinian corpuscles that sensed underground vibration, he reasoned.
Thunder from sacred ground, he intuited. Then—fire in the sky!
“Gotcha!” Jake Cuthand boasted loudly as the plane crashed down into the hills, a rifle in his hand as he stood proudly atop the Café’s creaky roof. The ‘Ghost Dancer’ from town alley behind John’s hotel, and ‘Old Town’ later, appeared from behind the outhouse, celebrating the ‘accidental plane crash’ with a dance. The old man seemed to be in a world of his own. A happier place than MID afforded. A trustable bliss that could never be reached with any kind of LSD, peyote or any other chemical ‘aid’ from any culture. The kind of Divine Madness that was enjoyed ‘straight’. . For Baldino, it brought back memories of trips to India, where Gurka bodyguards traveled with Masts, protecting said Holy Men from the burdens of the World of forms. Cuthand seemed to be a well armed Gurka, and the Elder was in the Beyond World now, or most certainly beyond coming back into the ‘real’ world, God help and bless him.
Cuthand turned his rifle and attention on John.
“Erica sent me,” he replied, refusing to put his hands up. He appended the name of the woman who sent him with some Apache passwords he didn’t understand, but had taken the time to pronounce correctly. The reply was a circle of bullets around his feet.
“One bullet for each of the four directions,” Jake proclaimed. “North, East, South and West.”
“Erica sent me!” John repeated.
“Why?” the soft-spoken challenge, from the Apache Rambo, half of his wardrobe from the Vietnam War, the other from more Ancient times. “Why?” Cuthand repeated, with commitment in his voice, and terror in his eyes.
“Because I’m the only one who can help all of us,” Dr J replied, stepping up closer to the man who seemed to know more than anyone should have to about anything..
“No more White doctors on this land. Even stupid ones.” Jake raised his rifle and shot again, sending John’s cowboy hat into the wind. “Turn around and leave.”
John felt his head. His hair and brain were intact. He walked forward a few more strides, bold, wide ones this time.
“That shirt yer wearing belonged to Tom Cloud. You wanna tell me how you got it?” Another warning shot nicked John’s boots.
“Ask the Elder,” John asserted. “Or better yet, I’ll ask him.”
John took another bold step forward. He paid for it with a nick in the gluteus.
Jake reloaded, visualizing the next bullet hitting its mark.
John pressed on, leaving a trail of fresh blood on the parched earth.
Jake aimed, at John’s testicles, groind, then brain. Another warning shot nicked him in the arm.
“Friend,” John said in Apache to the Elder as he continued forward, showing Jake the Eagle emblem on his arm.
“Dead Moron,” Jake said, cocking the hammer on his rifle.
John braced himself to absorb the bullet. It would hurt, but maybe it could be fended off. Or maybe not. This final moment was about dignity, and defiance.
“Very dead moron,” Jake repeated
“Who?” The Elder interrupted.
“Friend,” John said, showing Jake the Eagle emblem on his hand. Supporting the claim, the avian messenger and friend, landing on the roof, showing off its wing span with pinasche and what appeared to be a joke with a punchline known only to his winged brethren.
The Elder smiled. “Friend,” he said warmly to John as the Gringo approached.
“I don’t understand,” Jake said.
“I don’t either,” John confessed. “But I need to know the answers to the kind of questions Erica can’t ask.”
“You know the risks,” Jake warned.
“I know OF them,” John said from a very linear part of his brain.
“Strike one,” Jake said. “You get two more and you’re out.”
“Jake, we’re the last chance each of us has.”
“No!” Jake asserted. “You’re the last chance WE have, God help us. Tom’s shirt fits you. Particularly around the eyes…”
John gave a respectful and silent ‘thank you’.
“I only hope that the desert fits around your soul as well,” Cuthand continued with a tone as firm as it was hopeful.
The objectives were simple. One–Get the list of the Eagle Clan members, comparing them to those killed by MID, living and dead. Two–obtain the vision-promoting herb that had no English name except “toxic and dangerous”. Three–experience the visions no White man had seen, or perhaps survived. If so, hypothesis that Mad Indian Disease is not related to Native Mysticism proven to the Big Wigs in Washington, Atlanta and Bethesda. Procede to new hypothesis to be figured out, and asked.
But in the desert, nothing was simple, or obvious. Even the name ‘desert’ was a misnomer. One square mile of desert had more variety of vegetation and animal life than the equivalent space of Upstate New York woodlands or even Floridian everglades. It was hidden from the eye because it was just so much more colorful. Gentle green for plants and cozy browns for furry animals suited the East, but Western wildlife was about every hue on the color wheel, and beyond. So were the rocky mesa walls that changed color AND shape every time you looked at them.
“The rocks really are alive out here,” John commented to Jake from atop the horse that was now a connected extension of his body. “Why do they seem to have faces?”
“They have faces to you now, Doctor Baldino?” Jake challenged.
“Can’t you see them? What are they saying?”
“I don’t know. They don’t talk to me,” Jake replied, one eye on the narrowing trail going progressively upward, the other at the trail behind to be sure Baldino didn’t lure in unannounced guests.
John listened to the silence, a very loud sound out here that even Jake could here. From there, and the actively open universal perspective in his mind, John felt the first message. “It was an ancient cult.”
“IS, Doctor Baldino. IS,” Cuthand asserted, his body made for the horse, the horse one with the ground below its feet..
“And it’s very…Apache,” Baldino replied, knowing his ass was on the line, and getting a firm workout from the rebuilt saddle under it.
“Is that a question or a comment, Doctor Baldino?”
“A feeling. There are places in the world where bioelectric energy under the ground is strongest. Tessla suggested that they get found, and claimed, by people seeking power, and the Energy that needs no power to be expressed.” John felt the voices sing, or more accurately, chant in a tune that only the inner and open mind could dance to. “The pyramids of Egypt, the llamasteries of Tibet, the temple at Stonehenge, and the visions of Geronimo?”
Jake smiled. “You and Tessla have an interesting way of looking at the world.”
“Certainly one that can make you poor very fast.”
“Broke,” Jake interjected. “Broke is a state of economic. Poor is a state of mind.”
“What happened here?” John asked.
“This morning– the sun came up, my horse took a shit and yours took a liking to you. Thought you’d be bucked off by now.”
“No, in the past. A century ago.”
“Five Apache tribes decided to go different ways. Three surrendered to the Blue Coats. Two didn’t. A lot of people died. Geronimo kept the fight going with eleven Apache warriors against five thousand Blue Coat and Turncoat Indian soldiers. Warriors always beat soldiers.”
“Particularly when they can become the mountains they hide out in,” John said. “How long did Geronimo hide here?”
“Long enough to get another vision, and do what I do.”
“Which is what?”
“Defend the Seers who are still alive. From turncoats, blue coats and white guys like you who want to put our spirituality under your microscopes.”
“I’m on an exploration here, Jake. Under orders.”
“So were the Missionaries out of Madrid, Mexico City, Salt Lake and St. Louis.”
“History is full of missionaries who listened rather than talked.”
“But the ones who talk bring in those who shut us up. Your Constitution of 1787 guarantees the right to freedom of religion.”
“The Indian Acts a hundred years later outlawed our religion, and language. Take a look at the local law books and they’re still there. Ever noticed why PBS hasn’t done a special on us?”
“Ken Burns getting all the money for another Baseball series?” John offered. ‘The American pastime.”
“The Eagle Cult, as it is roughly translated into your language, had and has much to teach you. And every one of our missionaries brave enough to go to your world got hung.” His voice turned vengeful. “YOU killed the carriers of the Ancient Messages. YOU killed the healers, Doctor Baldino.”
Jake stopped his horse, turned around and aimed at John’s head. “Give me two reasons right now, why I shouldn’t shoot you.”
Baldino held his ground, possessed by a rush of courage he didn’t have. Or was it wisdom, intuited knowledge beyond the obvious facts? “My relatives were squeezing grapes in Italy while yours were being massacred. And in case you haven’t read in the papers, I’m a fugitive from what the White Eyes call justice, too. What kind of trial do you think I’ll get with the murder, rape and now child molestation charges on my head?”
“In the right light, you do look guilty, Doctor Baldino.”
“Guilty of not doing enough. Guilty of not being enough of a GLOBAL solution so, by inference I became part of the problem! Guilty of not being a perfect healer in a world where patients demand, and deserve 100% results! Guilty of not killing demon death!!! Guilty of letting my brother Vincent go to the places of change, doing all the struggling, fighting…dying.—”
“Tears, Doctor Baldino,” Jake noted. “You CAN cry. For your family, and someone in our family, it seems.”
“Yeah,” Baldino said, remembering Selena, missing her more than ever, but knowing that it was hunting time, not grieving time. “I’ll be okay…Just give me a fucking minute!!!”
“No problem, John,” Jake said with a warm smile, John having passed his test of manhood and hearthood.
The rest of the trek along the rocky canyons and beneath the high mesas had its ups and downs, literally. A cloudy winter sky hid not only the sun, but all sense of direction. Jake insisted that John do it on foot.
“Are we going in circles?” John asked wearily.
“The shortest distance between two points out here,” Jake mused.
“Potassium. And water. And food,” John slurred out through exhausted breath. “If the body is depleted of water, you lose potassium, you get weak muscles and delusional in the head. And hypoglycemia alters thalamic input to the cerebral cortex, particularly in primary sensory strips. Add to that, ketone bodies that make the blood acidic, throw in hypoxia at high altitude and…How long have we been up here?”
“Long enough for you to have worked and fasted appropriately,” Jake commented.
“So the Eagle Cult visions are about hypoglycemia, low oxygen and potassium depletion?”
“Hey!” John protested. “This cranial knogin of mine is living in ten different universes on any day, but I don’t base ANY conclusion on illusion, or mind-altered states caused by sheer exhaustion, fatigue and starvation.”
“Neither do we,” Jake said. “That’s why we’re gonna stop here.”
John looked around. Nothing in the surroundings seemed to say ‘destination’. No rock formations, not teepees, no eagles nests in the high pines. Nothing but—
“Here, we eat,” Jake said as he offloaded a meal for two from his saddle bag. “I’ll open the cans to prove to you that it’s white food, not dreaded cancer communion wafer. Eat and drink as much as you need.”
“But not a morsel more,” John stated, helping himself to just enough Gator Aid, beans and rice pudding to maintain body systems at normal levels so inner mind could see things clearly, and objectively.
“I tried to starve myself, work myself to death, not sleep for three days. The visions didn’t happen. Not the ones the Ancient Ones see.”
John noted a medicine bag hung over Jake’s saddlehorn, the Eagle Clan emblem on it with beads that said ‘sacred’ in any language. “What’s that?”
“Dessert,” Jake said.
“To be eaten…when?”
“Fear again, Doctor Baldino?” Jake gobbled down the last of the beans and tacos with gusto and bravado. “You wanted to see the visions. You needed to confirm that our sacred visions aren’t MID reality.”
“Where?” Baldino countered, his chin up, his hand trembling.
“Over yonder, to your left, what do you see?”
“Misquite bushes, a field mouse taking a shit, a bunch of rocks in the ground…connected to each other—in a wheel.”
“Base hit, on the way to becoming a home run, Slugger,” Jake said. “All the other Palefaces we took here just saw stones in the ground.”
“What happened to them?”
Jake smiled. “They died.”
“Who killed them?”
“The answer to that, I can’t tell you. Not without a lawyer present, at least.”
John allowed himself a silent moment of self-congratulation, which Jake allowed. But then—
“Take one of these,” Jake handed Baldino a crushed pellet having no distinctive odor, texture or taste. “A Gringo portion. Add one part belief, three parts ‘open’ and call me in the morning.”
Jake mounted up, grabbed John’s horse by the lead line, and threw a blanket on the ground along with a canteen, two sticks of dried deer meat and a book of matches.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to work,” Jake said, turning his horse back down the hill, leading John’s with it.
“Hide inside your head as you have to, see that the rattlers don’t bite, and be damn sure that your fire doesn’t burn out and keep your shirt on.” With that, he spurred on his horse and disappeared into the desert.
One way or another, there was always someone in John’s world who could be asked for help when you exhausted your supply of knowledge, fortitude and even courage. Thesis bosses, attending physicians, soldier-warrior fathers, ex-nun mothers, God or in dire emergencies, Vincent. None were here, in body, mind or spirit. “What the hell do we do now, Selena?”, he asked, very alone, and vulnerable.
John’s answer came from the silence, and the avian companion who flew in to the middle of the medicine wheel, beckoning the physician pilgrim for the ride of his life, or death.
“There are three times in your life when you really find out what you are about inside,” John told himself as the sun set in the Western sky that seemed very, very big. “The first time you present a research report at a real meeting, the first time you get stranded in the Baltimore bus terminal at two in the morning with real junkies gazing at your briefcase, and the first time a burnt-out Indian Activist leaves you alone in the desert to experience Visions that he says he’s never had and never will..”
True to the observation that there is no such thing as an aethiest in a foxhole, or a windblown plateau of a mountain with no name, belief systems came out of John that he never expected.
The genetic proportions in John Baldino’s definable spirituality was one half Italian Catholic and three halves Greek Orthodox guilt. It wasn’t intended that way, but see enough images of Jesus on the cross at Parochial school suffering because you didn’t get your Latin homework in on time and it sunk in. It was only the deluded vision of a few disgruntled Nuns who should have become hookers or Wrestlers, but ignorance and fear were often more contagious than wisdom and confidence.
But John was a scientist now, all growed, up, and knew the real Tessla, Spinoza, Nitche and the Bhagavad Gita better than any of the Nuns ever did. Even Ben Franklin knew that to believe in a God with a long white beard and a baritone voice who spent 90% of His time extracting vengeance on mortals who violated a holy commandment, felony or misdemeaner was not only unscientific, but unproductive. To Franklin, the Heavenly Father left the affairs of man to the laws of Mamma Nature, who had no attribute except love, the highest form of self interest which dictated that the world was, ultimately, designed for the good guys to win. But victory was obtained by the doing, not for the asking, begging or praying.
Warn multicolored desert twilight became dark sky, then night, then cold, then very, very long, with no Visions in the sky or even impressions in the mind. John found himself turning his focus to that bothersome detail of physical survival. “God is great, God is good,” he repeated to himself in a loop to stay warm, to the accompaniment of the fading Beethoven in his head. “God is…” he stopped, assessed the new state of the world around him, and pondered it.
“God is the ultimate human. God is Life. Life is human, therefore God can be a sadist, a lover, a bitch, whore AND slut, an asshole AND an idiot, but most importantly—or ideally—”
A flash came to John. Punch drunk with exhaustion, over-exertion and over-commitment, it happened. A loud laugh, fueled by anger, channeled by love. “God is a son of a bitch!” he screamed up to the sky, standing on his own two frigidly-cold feet. “A jokester who lives behind the serious icons. A lonely man who wants someone to defy the icons, defy the beliefs, defy the fears of eternal damnation, and crash through to the other side of ‘Holy’ to ‘Alive’, shake His hand, have an argument with Him, then share a laugh that He AND us have been denying ourselves for the last two point three fucking millions years!”
The Eagle cawed, somewhere in the distant dark of the night. The wind howled hard and cold. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’!” John screamed to the Blackness between the stars. “We’ll start with a light bulb joke. How many Deities does it take to screw in a light bulb? Give up? None, because the Light is already there…Get it. Get it? Get it!!!!”
A tree trunk snapped, falling on John’s leg. He looked down. “Trapped but not broken. Nice touch. Very nice touch. Hey, at least I know you’re listening. Or am I only listening? I can feel my brain work, but I can’t define any landmarks. I think the occipital cortex is lighting up heavy in area 19 but, it could be 18, or even temporal lobe, or maybe it’s not even my head. Maybe we’re sharing a head together, my…What should I call you? You can call me schlep, king, doc, but not Doctor. I’ve grown weary of my old and overdefined title, as probably You have as well.”
The sky answered back with a warm breeze. John’s stomach churned with hunger. He took the two pieces of deer meet out of his pocket. “Sound body, sound mind” he said. “This piece is for you” he said to the Eagle, the bird seeming to be in need of food. “And this, is for You,” the offer up to the sky, followed by a second helping to the avian visitor. “Eat well, my friend,” John said to the bird. “Now,” he said to each of the Spirit inside the Earth, fire, wind and impending snow. “Let’s talk.”
John closed his eyes, and let the first vision happen. Or was it with eyes open? It didn’t matter much. The visitor inside the circle was long awaited, and addressed John as expected. “All these years of schooling to be sitting out here in the middle of nowhere,” Helene Baldino said to her son from a cloud, disembodied body or perhaps an hallucination as real as a loyal 19 year old woman in a relationship with a 45 year old man. “You sure you want to do this?”
“I have to, Mom,” John said. “Right, Dad?”
“You’re the boss, son,” from Iron Mike Baldino’s lips with a thumbs up. “See you on the other side, John.”
“The other side of what?” John asked.
Mike and Helena laughed, then disappeared into the wind. In their place emerged a headless man in a military uniform, scared, wounded, limping, but standing firm. He could only be one man.
“Vinny!” John screamed out. “You forgot to put on your head this morning.”
“You still got your blinders on, John. I’m not headless, I’m just clear-headed. I think that’s a joke,”
“What’s with these visions, Vinny?”
“You’ll see. I think that’s a joke. No, it isn’t.”
Vincent’s apparition disappeared into the misquite bushes, but it lingered, somehow.
“Selena. Or whoever you are. Vinny’s alive. Where is he? When will I get to punch him in the face? At the risk of sounding stereotypical, why have you forsaken me?”
“I haven’t”, the wind whispered. “I’m the one who brought you to the many. I’ve been with you all the time.”
“So you can bury me here.”
The ghost left John’s brain and hovered above. It was formless, but had a face easily recognizable. “Maria! You died in New York of MID!” John recalled, and related.
“I didn’t look much like the picture Leonard showed you at the Plaza, Dr J. My people thought I was a lot more accomplished than I really was, ya know?” she confessed. “Ya can send a lot of encouraging lies to Rez Zero from New York. Ya get asked to go to an audition, ya say ya got the part. Ya get fifty bucks for being an extra in a movie, ya blow up into getting five hundred as the lead. Ya find people who like ya and tell yourself it’s love. Lies about what how successful you are can encourage other people to get their lives off the ground, right?”
Finally, it made sense. Maria’s face was on John’s mind from the moment he saw it in Leonard’s file of confidential data. The ‘index case’of MID that occurred in New York, kept confidential and swept under the rug by as-yet unknown parties. The woman who moved into John to that place where Selena had taken charge. Or perhaps the disembodied spirit who was mascarading as Selena. Whoever Maria was in real life, whatever her lack of accomplishments, she certainly earned a ‘well done’ from ALL cultures in her post-death ‘life’ with John. But, there was more to be done. “What’s next?” John he asked. “What do you want me to do?” he continued, anticipating a warm relationship with her.
“Bury me, Doctor J,” she requested with a young voice, and an Ancient Wisdom. “Here, on this desert that bears the kind of fruit that only my people can appreciate, or connect to.”
A tear streamed down John’s cheek. “Where will you go?” he asked..
“A place a lot happier than Rez Zero, or New York,” Maria appeared in front of John from a cloud of mist. Her skinny legs shook, her arms were little more than loose skin over frail bone, her chest and neck smelling of burnt flesh left behind by the radiation treatment that didn’t work. But in the eyes buried in her hairless head, still bearing the ‘lobotomy scar’ performed without her permission, was….hope. “I’ll be okay now,” she said. “You will be to, if you just let go.”
“Let go of what?” John screamed out. The eagle cawed a ‘laugh’ at his ignorance. “What am I supposed to let go of?” he asked Maria, the bird, and the sky.
“Your fear, John,” she replied, softly. “Let go of your fear, and grounding.”
Baldino couldn’t believe his eyes. As he followed her instruction, her disease-ridden and medicine-destroyed body became a vision of health, beauty and youth. Strong legs, flowing arms, long black hair flowing down her back as she danced across the desert with a style, grace and pinache that would out-Bolshoy any Boshoy Ballet dancer. Flying above the ground. “It’s been a great ride, Dr J. Thanks for letting me feel like a grown up woman in a real man’s mind.”
“Where are you going?” Baldino pleaded, trying to let his own feet fly, still unable to get off the ground.
“Away…for a little while,” she echoed as she flew into a low-laying cloud. “But you have some books overdue, John.”
“The library,” the wind blew back. “The library.”
John looked up at the sky, the blackness, and a silent symphony played with triple fortissimo intensity.
“Beethoven’s Ninth,” John intuited, then let run through his brain, and soul. The first movement made him see a bright light. The second opened up a hole inside it. The third transported him through the tunnel to a time of warriors, woods and chants. It was the ancient times that was Tibetan and Native American. But for the markings on the prayer flags, it could be the High Plains of the Himalayas or the Blood of Christ Mountains, and maybe was both. Voices and songs merged into one harmonic expression of Vitality, Holy Men who laughed with God, sharing the Divine Humor with all creatures on the earth. There were horses, birds, dancers all with one common denominator—movement, and the echoing words “You can only find rest, and Truth, in motion itself.”
Several dimensions later, in the ways not measured by time or definable human experience,
John found himself on horseback. He was a messenger, riding a white steed from one place of worship AND joy to another, over high plains, then over clouds, then on top of them, then through a mountain–landing on the other side in Central Park, facing the world of man with the most powerful steed alive—the imaginary horse between his feet which he could call on at anytime to get him mobile in a war for the collective soul of humanity. Then—
The fourth movement of Beethoven’s ninth gave music to human voice, in German understood by any culture. “All Men Become Brothers!” John asked for the source of that brotherhood, and was shunted to the back entrance of a high pyramid. Inside, columns with words read from left to right. He found himself reading them, looking two to three feet above his head, understanding all the words with his inner mind, but not being able to repeat any of them in Earthly tongues such as English, Greek or Latin. Every time his mind asked a question, it was answered, with the makings for an even more intriguing question to follow. The joy of discovery happened three times a minute, with so much harmony, instead of three times an hour in front of students who just wanted to know what they needed to know for the next exam. Indeed, this Atlantian library was heaven, a place where knowledge was pursued, obtained, shared and appreciated. Being right came before being first, and being first had no meaning at all. Then—the final note of the symphony and a bright light so intense it blinded John.
When the sun-blast toned down, John saw in front of him the Eagle Dancer. He seemed cured of MID, completely, and spoke of high truths in the most down-to-earth language possible. The tongue was Apache, John fully conversant in the tongue. When he indulged in asking the question, ‘why’ to this new ability, the Dancer showed him a mirror. Gone was John Baldino, Selena Horowitz, or even Maria. The face seemed different, very Apache, Tibetian or, perhaps, Atlantian. The details didn’t matter. All that mattered was that John was there. He had visited the library, and it’s keepers.
“Did we do good?” he asked the Ghost Dancer.
A thumb’s up and warm smile was all the communication required, and given. The eternity of the moment was confirmed by the Ghost Dancer placing his hand on John’s head, saying a prayer of thanks, then removing them.
“My brain hurts!” John felt himself screaming as a slide-rule was extracted from the corpus colossal bridge the connected left and right brain. “It hurts!!!”
“It only hurts until the pain goes away,” the Elder said. His claim was confirmed when he swiped an Eagle feather across the incision on John’s forehead. All became light, then dark, then a feeling resembling timeless bliss! Then—morning.
John woke up with the sun, but felt like he had been roasted by it. The Eagle cawed out a ‘Great morning, Doc’ greeting. “My hippocampus hurts, so does my sensory cortex, olfactory lobe. I hurt all the way down to the thalamus, so keep it down!” he grunted to the bird that had had apparently taken it upon himself to be John’s sentry, walking and flying the perimeter around him like a mother hen.
John’s head did genuinely hurt. Not the kind of headache you get from a hangover, wack in a bar fight, or even removal of a brain tumor. The world seemed to be spinning around him, AND inside of him.
“This could have something to do with it,” came out of nowhere.
John turned around. Standing in front of him was Jake Cuthand, a bloody slide rule in his hand.
“Huh?” John countered, feeling what felt like a fresh laceration on his forehead, healing very quickly. But there was another question that needed to be asked first. “The Elder. The Ghost Dancer. That Old Man who was hiding from the Cops in town. And who I saw at your place when I got out here. Where is he?”
“Dead,” Jake said. “He died last night. We tried to keep him alive from sunset to morning. The drugs you bought him from Erica’s place bought him some time. But… his brain got killed by MID virus, but his spirit hung in there.”:
“Yeah, I think it did,” John said. “Or maybe it all was a dream.” John looked at Jake’s medicine bag. It was very, very full.
“I fugure you’d need a whole bag of tutilikik, Doctor J.”
“Of what?” Baldino inquired.
“’Injun’ name for peyote. Very sacred to us.”
“And deadly?” John pressed.
“Only when you mix it with aresnic, cyanide or whatever REALLY causes MID.”
“Which kills Indians AND Whites?” John surmised. “Like that Republican Senator’s kid who came here on an anthropology field trip and came back home in body bag.”
“So you heard about that too, John.”
“Not the way I was supposed to,” Baldino hide his eyes, and thoughts. He took a whiff of the peyote that hadn’t been used, according to the reports and rumors, for over 300 years. “You wouldn’t want to share the Latin name for it,” he pressed.
“The most I can do is show you where it grows. And share with you one other secret.”
“REAL madness is best enjoyed straight. Tutilikik has as much kick as a cherry lifesaver. It’s the belief in it that makes it work.”
“Like Father Dominick. I asked him what Communion Wafers were made of. He said, two parts flour, one part sugar, ten parts faith.”
“Influential scientists and politicians never go to your churches or ours. You’ll probably need some scientific proof. Do what you have to with it.” He took a piece of paper out of his front pocket. “And you may need this. The list of all Eagle Clan members, living and dead. I don’t think you’ll find any relation between MID and the people on this list. Except, maybe, in someone you probably know better than I do.”
Jake pulled out a jar, a brain fixed in formalin. “The Spirits forbid me to take the old man’s brain, but when I asked him about you last night, he said that you could be trusted with it.”
“Your Einstein,” John said respectfully.
“We have MANY Einstein’s, Doctor Baldino. Just be sure that this one died of from White toxin, not Indian magic.”
“The others, Jake?”
“I took whatever body parts I could from the dead bodies the Feds didn’t get.” Cuthand looked to the mountains, hesitating as to what to reveal next. “It was the Elder’s last wish. Dispell this lie about MID and maybe you can get enough people to start figurin’ out the truth.”
“What about Erica?” Baldino asked.
“She’s a brilliant scientist, a useful ally.”
Jake’s eye remained fixed on the mountain, asking with his heart, once again, what he was allowed to say. “Be careful, John. Be very, very careful..”
Whenever John came back to New York, the directions were always easy. The car seemed to find its way home on automatic pilot. As were the feet on the horse Jake loaned his new comrade, colleague and friend on the way back to ‘civilization’. The desert was still big, but it wasn’t infinite. Strangely familiar, not scary.
Jake said nothing at the drop off point, when Erica’s jeep pulled into view. He nodded, took John’s horse, and galloped off into the hills. Dr J stood at the crossroads of two worlds with Apache treasures to which no White man, or woman, had been entrusted. The MID-inducing ‘peyote’, the list of surviving members of the very outlawed Eagle Clan, and the brain of one of its Elders, cause of death still undetermined.
“Well, what now?” John thought to himself as the Eagle cawed ‘good luck, Whitey’.
“What did you find out?” Erica asked, emerging from the gasoline-fueled vehicle that broke the desert Silence like a bang “What did they tell you?”
“Things,” John related, dismounting from his horse with a swing of his right foot over the saddlehorn. “And more things,” he continued, displaying the wears Jake entrusted to no White man or woman.
“And the visions?”
“They aren’t MID hallucinations.”
“Some specifics about what they ARE, Doctor Baldino?” Erica asked, examining John’s pupils, complexion and hydration status.
John looked down.
“You aren’t going to tell me, either,” She folded her arms, stomped on the ground, then turned around to yet another man in her life who brought her hope, love, then frustration. “You’re also not going to tell me where whatever this herb they use grows.”
The ride home was quiet. John needed to absorb what had just happened, and see what was really brewing behind Erica’s eyes. Underlying every half-thought and grunted-word was one emotion—fear, the kind that is contagious.
The hour long ride finally ended, Erica pulled into her ‘garage’, a collection of trees which hid everything under its branches from view in all directions, including the air. On the trek to the cabin, John noticed a mailbox. A REAL mailbox, serviced by someone. “You have mail,” John he noted.
Erica opened it, slowly. “No one knows I live here. No one important.”
“Do firebombs come in envelopes now?” John asked as Erica took out a postmarked box. .
“Only from dead people.” She lifted out the contents, slowly, with a prayer said to a God she hoped existed, somewhere.
John looked at the return address, and name—Tom Cloud, stamped yesterday. “But he died…”
“With a will, a week ago, and instructions for this to be sent to me, John.”
The note was simple. “Harvey Smith, 36, 24, 38. Behind the tongue”.
“Doctor Smith is developing breasts and hips now, Erica?” the bait for a lighter, and perhaps clearer perspective.
“The safe combination, behind that Einstein poster he’s got, Doctor Baldino. I have to get in there, tonight.”
“WE have to—”
“–Work together, Doctor John. Against a clock that’s already working against us. I need you here to verify what we already know.”
“Which is?” Baldino invited any answer Erica wanted to give him, from any part of her she needed to speak from.
“The biological activity, if any, of whatever you have in that medicine bag,” the emotionally-distraught ‘dead scientist’ replied in the most sterile and safe language she knew—Science. “I have a line of glial and neural cell lines going, and a bunch of rats who were kind enough to hump enough to give me my own colony. At accelerated mitotic indices of 10 divisions a day, you should be able to determine carcinogenicity within three hours.”
“Done,” Baldino vollyed back.
“The identity of whatever Jake Cuthand put in that medicine bag,” she continued, focusing on the matter at hand. “Maybe you got that secret peyote because you’re White, male, crazy of ‘special’, but at least we got it now. Do you still know how to work a spectrophotometer, Doctor J? We’ll need a lipid, protein and chemistry analysis of whatever it is.”
Baldino hesitated, looked at Erica’s equipment through the window, and assessed the options at hand. “Done”.
“Which you’ll compare with the residual agent I extracted from the MID brain tumors.”
“And which I’ll compare with whatever toxins Smith has in his safe.”
“With YOUR technical assistance,” Erica added.
“Fair enough,” John’s reply.
“I will return.” Erica kissed John, on the lips. It seemed that she meant it. “I will return, soon,” she promised, hugging onto him with a desperation John only felt from people who knew they were about to die. “If anything goes wrong, you ride into those hills,” she said. “And do not turn back!”
“And if Vincent calls?”
“Tell him you were a better lover than he ever was, and a better friend, too.”
Erica zoomed into the haze over Flagstaff faster than John could say “Viva la Revolution!”
“She’ll be back,” John said to the eagle perched outside of Erica’s ‘laboratory’. “Some promises aren’t lies. They can’t be.” Even the Eagle sensed something would go wrong, particularly if everything would go right.
John hadn’t been in a research lab for at least three years, excluding the milk runs he had to make with blood samples when the flu hit town, decimating his office of staff and filling the waiting room with patients. If it bleed blood, John could patch it up. If it leaked oil, he was a mechanic’s worst nightmare. Still, the pieces came together, slowly, filtering through cerebral cortex delegated to linear processing, seat-of-thy-pants intuition and everything in between. Wearing jeans instead of pantihose helped. But so did having had the feel of living as a member of the, seemingly, more helpless gender.
“You could have been a great scientist, Maria,” he said, discovering skills in his hands that his head never imagined existed. Channeled through someone. “Thank you for showing me how to think logically, but in curves,” he continued, hoping to hear his departed, perhaps beloved, speak something back, or whisper something through the wind. But the wind blew out of the West, and Rez Zero was twenty miles East. Best to leave restless spirits alone. More important to avenge their killers.
Less than 28 hours were left on the doomsday clock Erica stuck on the wall. By any reasonable calculation, 28 days of research were needed to get everything in publishable form. Accuracy could be obtained in half that time, preliminary results in a day and a half. But by accelerating the time-space continuum, maybe the laws of physics could be bypassed. It worked before, on so many research projects in graduate school, and on so many patients where a life-saving operation that was supposed to take four hours got done in forty minutes.
The mechanisms of how to identify the biochemical composition of tilikiki, assess its biological effects and ascertain how much of it, if any, was in tumor samples obtained from brains stolen from the Klasen morgue and lent out by Jake Cuthand in the space of a double-feature sci-fi TV film festival was clearly in the range of science fiction—or was it? All John knew was that he committed himself to the task, found his hands and head doing it, then emerged on the other side with reams of data, not knowing where his body was, and a car pulling into the driveway a half-hour ahead of Erica’s expected ETA.
He shut the lights off, hid, and waited as two shadows emerged from the green sedan, side by side. One carried a gun, the other a stiff gait and rigid back. One of them knocked.
John turned off the lights and hid under a desk. “Shhh” he said to the rats he had injected with the Apache communion wafer extract. “You’re supposed to feel normal, not like super-rats. Unless you have sharp teeth, and can fly, and know how to get to those G-men jugulars, and—”
“—We have to talk, Doctor Baldino,” the raspy voice rang out after turning the light on.
“Hold it right there, Major Wentworth!” John yelled at the six-foot-eight figure in the doorway, armed with an Apache hunting knife and the conviction that he’d use it.
“That’s what he said to me, ” Erica said from behind him. She pushed Wentworth over, his dead body falling flat on the ground. “Until something happened.”
“Two bullets to the brain?” John noted.
“Another bloodless execution.”
“Done by who?” John asked.
“Somebody…unimportant, I guess,” Erica commented, preoccupied with something far more important than a white lie about the killing of a White bigot. “You’ve been busy, Doctor John.”
She looked over the biochemical readouts, histochemical data, examined the tissue cultures and the MRIs of the first rats in history to be given sacred Apache herbs.
“So the Eagle Cult is about sugar pills, pharmacologically-speaking.”
“Is about something else.”
Erica slapped the papers on the table. “A156-D. It causes tumors in rats which resemble those in people. Harvey Smith has developed an antiserum to prevent the tumors from getting to stage I, and an antitoxin that seems to work even at the end phases of stage II. He even incorporated my regeneration extract into the treatment. I’m flattered. And as for delivery of toxin and treatment, a liposome specific for astrocytes in the areas of the brain which, coincidentally, develop MID tumors.”
“The data look sound, solid and biologically brilliant,” John noted.
“Until you look at the dates of the papers and the sequence of the studies.”
John examined the manuscripts. “Postdated!”
“I knew that steroids were used by neurosurgeons for treating CNS trauma at least twenty years before dexamethazone was tested for its effects on spinal cords in rats, but…”
“He’s going to publish the rat data next month, the human tumor findings in six months, the treatments and vaccine data in a year. In the exact opposite order the data was acquired.”
“Winning Nobel Prizes takes time.”
“As does doing business with pharmaceutical companies that want to inflict a disease on the world, then have the cures in hand, to be released just at the time when profits can be maximized.”
“Huh?” Erica’s reply.
“The check stubs in here. The Farnsworth Crop Duster, Ltd. has the same number as a pharmaceutical company by the same name that almost filed for bankruptcy three months ago. The idiots used the same logo as well.”
Erica grabbed the stubs, data and reassessed the situation. “How did you figure that out? You never had a head for business, or numbers.”
“But Maria did, I think,” John related. “Tom’s other friend, as far as she told me.”
“Can you and that underage squaw-bitch pull off a medical miracle?”
“I can do a lot of things, but getting pregnant by a ghost isn’t one of them.”
“Test A156-D. I took helped myself to three bottles of it.”
“You only have two in this case,” John noted.
“Compare the identity and effects of A-156-D with what you got for this…what did they call that potion you got up in the hills?”:
“It loses everything in translation.”
“I can compare the absorption peaks with everything else I’ve tested. You can name it after yourself, if you want. No scientist has done that in a long time.”
“Sold. In the meantime, I’ll investigate the Farnsworth connection. They have to be working out of somewhere that can be—”
“Destroyed?” John interjected, noting Wentworth’s dead body, shock and innocence in the Major’s lifeless eyes as his hands got back to work, inspired by Maria’s wisdom and death at the hands of the MID money machine.
“You do what you have to do, I do what I have to do.” Her tone was secret, her intensity uncompromising. The dialing of the number quick, fast and direct—
“You have reached a number that has been disconnected or reassigned,” the message over the phone.
“Try a different area code,” John suggested. “202.”
“I saw it on Three Days of the Condor. It’s worth a shot…No pun intended, Major Wentworth.”
The number rang nine times. Erica tapped her foot and clenched her fist, patience being a vice rather than a virtue to her. “This is real life, not a movie, Johnboy.”
“Four more rings, Erica. Please.”
Erica rolled her eyes, contemplating the next wise crack she could deliver to John, then heard something that turned her determined eyes into nothing but blank. “Central Intelligence Agency, extension 412.”
“Hang up!” Herb yelled out. “Hang up before they find us.”
Why Erica’s hand developed a deathgrip in the phone receiver wasn’t the issue. What was more important—the helplessness that overtook her, and the data she had in the lab back in the lab at the Klasen.
John pulled the cord out of the wall, praying that the call was not traced, but knowing it was. “Erica, we have to clean out your lab, and get out of here.”
“No, no, John,” her reply, softly and helplessly delivered into space.
“Vincent. Where’s Vincent?”
“Somewhere…someplace…somehow.” Erica’s voice faded.
“Harvey Smith. Where is he?!”
“New York, I…eh…I think. Someone told me he was going to conference in New York. The Plaza.” She turned her head, facing downward. The only time Erica did that was when she was an intern, the time she lost her only patient, and only husband.
“Who told you?!” John pressed.
“I think it was Thompson…Yeah, Thompson.”
“Okay, that’s where we have to go.”
John checked the situation out the window. Traffic had found its way to Erica’s traffic-less, road-less mountain retreat. mountain road. A line of green and white sedans, and two large trucks with government licence plates.
“Can you fly, Erica?”
“I think so.”
“Or so we’ll find out.”
The Indian motorcyle in Erica’s ‘garage’ was not trained to handle two Gringos, two packs of medical samples, a briefcase full of data, the very last batch of Erica’s forged credit cards and a bag of ‘props’ picked for the script now in full play. But it was quiet, swift and sure footed. As long as it flew down the mountain undetected.
Maria had left inside John’s head the instinct for flight. How to get through airspace around Kennedy Airport was another matter, but John’s fortnight in Montauk Point showed him the most isolated Wilderness in New York State wasn’t the woodlands by the Canadian border, but the foggy pines of Eastern Long Island. A quick hop on the Long Island Railroad from Riverhead afforded a safe and, apparently, inconspicuous arrival into the Big Apple, particularly given the new looks the fugitives had acquired.
“I thought you’d look like an aging Hippie in those Indian leathers and moccasins, John, but you do look like the real article,” Erica commented from the side of her mouth.
“I always was scared of what you’d look like in a plain-brown sensible mushroom-doo,” John said as he looked once again at the ‘Selenized’ Erica next to him. “Short hair seems to work on you.. I can see your eyes more clearly.”
“So can Smith.” Erica trembled, caught between anger and fear. She caught another look at herself in the mirror, shrugging with regret.
“No one recognizes you, or me.” John said, noting his own physical transformation. “That was the point, right?”
“I suppose.” She puffed up her coiffed hair, adjusting the bangs, to her escolating dis-satisfaction.
“You could have worn a wig,” John said.
“And you could have worn a dress. But…” She faded into her head again.
John gently touched her trembling hand. “What are you thinking?”
“The woman is supposed to ask that question,” Erica spat back.
Before John could finish talking, or thinking, he found Erica cuddling next to him. “Warm and tendor, finally,” her thought. “So, this is rest without motion,” he pondered with delight. “So, that’s what’s going on,” he noted as Erica’s face-hiding cuddling motion seemed to correspond beat for beat with an Off Duty Cop who seemed to know who she was, or wanted to.
Still, John let his heart do the talking for the rest of the trip in. Erica had something up her sleeve, and he had to trust her. He hoped that the thirty-five minute train ride would last forever, but knew it wouldn’t.
Erica hadn’t been in Manhattan for five years. She put in time as an undercover Rasta-babe in the Bronx foiling a drug-smuggling cartel, hooked her way into the Brooklyn bedroom of a Senator on the take from Algerian skyjackers, and intersected a shipment of Mad Cow Disease-infested meat originating in a very dis’ed group or Radical Ex-Soviet soldiers in Staten Island, but Manhattan was always where you got the real New York buzz. It was the only place Erica knew where you could be just another person on the street and STILL be something special. Everyone won their own private war against the system as long as they kept fighting.
But this time, the off-yellow-brick road from Penn Station to Central Park South seemed more corporate, more harmonic. The Billboards above featured smiling superstars, aspiring overachievers walking down below, with an army of middle-people in the offices in between. Then, a sight even more frightening.
“Kids, and parents. Smiling at me.” Erica commented. “Don’t they know that we’re carrying on our backs information and toxins that could destroy everything they know, value and even hate?”
“Should they?” John proposed, seeing the City through the kind of eyes Sitting Bull might have if he decided to visit the land of the White Eyes before deciding whether to go on the warpath or not. “Ignorance is bliss, but for regular people, sometimes it’s enough. There can be a lot of heart in ignorance.”
A Black kid eight years wise spotted John and had to announce herself. “Are you an Indian, Mister?”
“He’s Jesus Christ,” Erica said. “Out to save your soul, and your race.”
“What she mean by dat?” the girl asked.
“That the sun is shining, it’s a great day, and you have a bright future ahead of you,” John said, lovingly.
“Better not extend that hand out to append that lie,” Erica warned John from the side of her mouth. “The posters in that Post Office across the street have you Wanted more than prompt delivery service. We could have resurrected Selena Horowitz for this one.”
“There wasn’t time to shave,” John said by way of commentary. He waved good-bye to the girl and moved forward at maximal marching speed, catching up with Erica only with the most maximal effort.
Noticing something else about Erica, he had to comment. “You look very convincing for this role, too. The hair cropped neatly on the neck, hanging squarely over the tip of the ears, the subtle-red lipstick and subdued earth-tones on the cheeks, the knee-length business skirt and matching jacket, the sensible shoes, the librarian glasses.”
“A cover is a cover,” she grunted.
“And yours is very ordinary. The best kind of camaflouge is to be ignored or go unnoticed and in that outfit, with that walk, and that look you’re projecting to these people, you look like the most ordinary person I know.”
“I am NOT ordinary!” Erica screamed out. She stopped, looked around, then shook in fear.
“Relax, Erica. Arguing in public is normal in this town. And as for being ordinary, I was giving you a compliment.”
The Black girl looked strangely at Erica. Something about her seemed odd was very out of place between the ears. John smiled, gave the girl a feather and sent her on her way again.
Erica froze, incensed. John led her forward.
“What was that about? I called you ordinary.”
“So did Harvey Smith, super-scientist to schlep. My work was always second rate, pedestrian, obtuse, obscure, out-of-step, old-hat, or, when I had him dead to rights on the conference floor—‘sloppily presented’. I never wanted his admiration, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to get his respect!”
“You’ve got mine, as a scientist, man and, speaking for Selena Horowitz, woman. I’d go to the wall for you as any of the above.”
“That doesn’t count.”
“That makes me feel appreciated.”
“No, John. It’s about respect from strangers. Being known for your work. If given a choice between having professional respect and personal friendship, I’d take respect any day. I only tell my best friends that.”
“And as for my motivation. Did I ever tell you why I went into science?”
“You enjoyed the smell of methane coming out of the Bunsen burner?”
“Dr. Bronson smelled a lot worse than methane,” she growled. “He reeked of ‘cool’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘elite’. I was the only tenth grader in that school reading university-level biology books, and I was hooked. Really hooked. I lived biology, breathed it and would die for it. There was a biology club. The ‘in crowd’ were in it—the group who got 700s on their SATs or knew how to convince the college admissions people that they could. I wanted in on that club. All that chance to DO what I read about in the books. To maybe even cure acne while I was still old enough to get it. I asked, begged and petitioned why I wasn’t allowed in. His answer—‘You weren’t invited'”.
John saw the determination of a mad-woman in her face, a fiery anger that busted through the mid-Western mediocrity-mamma facade like a Panzer tank crashing through the Maganon Line.
“And speaking of 1939,” Erica continued. “Yes, John. The stories are true. Hitler wanted to be an artist, and he wasn’t that bad at it, either. His stuff was bold, outlandish, expressive and had a lot of heart in it. He was dedicated to the craft. But ‘cooler than thou’ Jews on the admissions board of Art Schools kept telling him that he ‘wasn’t invited’. The lesson, boys and girls of the jury—if a passionate, overexpressive, manic-depressive painter wants in to your art school—LET HIM IN!” She took a deep breath. “Asshole like Smith, and the ALL others, have smooth music coming out of their mouths, but that doesn’t mean they have the notes right. And it’s time that ‘loud’ stick it back to ‘smooth’.”
“Is that what this is all about, Erica?”
“Big people keeping little people out of the club, the game and the pursuit of happiness? That’s what it’s always been about, Johnboy.” Her tone was genuine, concerned and final.
The streets of New York changed with every passing day, expressing every color of the human experience in musical tones sometimes major, sometimes minor, and sometimes both at once. But the Plaza Hotel was always about three hues.
“Red carpets, gold curtains and white table clothes,” John noted.
“They’re staring at YOU this time, John,” Erica noted.
“Not for long.” John saw a sign brought to the front lobby. “Advances in Liposome Technology–Keynote Speaker, L. Harvey Smith, Ph.D., M..D.”
“Selena Horowitz was going to find out what the ‘L’ stood for,” John noted.
“‘Lori’, spelt the way a girl spells it,” Erica commented.
“How did you know that?”
“I know more than…more than I wish I did, sometimes.” She walked to the reception desk, eyes down, neck tense.
“Hello,” she asked in her best Iowanese. “I’m Doctor Smith’s sister, from Des Moines. I was wondering what room my brother is in.”
“I can ring him for you,” the clerk said.
John took note of the dialing from the side, with his eye and the sonogram Erica adopted to for hearing conversations inside the cabs of trucks coming up the mountain road to the cabin NO one had ever entered without permission. “Rm 666”, John noted. “Appropriate, once again.”
John did the rest of the numerical calculations. Harvey Smith always rehearsed his talks three times, in front of a full length mirror. His presentation was scheduled for 3:30 pm. It being 2:15 now, that meant he would be in his hotel room, rapping up the past work he’d done at Harvard and beginning on the methodology used at the Klasen by 2:20. Add a full fifteen minutes to boast about the means to answering the question rather than the results obtained, it would take ‘Lori’ till 2:45 to relate his results. The conclusion would be rehearsed by 2:55, to the accompaniment of the Wagner tape he always brought with him. By 3:15, final mirror check. By 3:35, entrance into the room, from the back, with the Wagner in his head, and, with enough cajoling, the P.A. system.
John hummed the grand entrance music to “Die Miestersinger” through his mouth, and let the orchestra do the rest in his head. Something stirred inside Baldino, something proud, bold, Nordic and—
“Come on, Adolf,” Erica interrupted, carting the entire cargo of data, samples and toxins by herself. “We have an appointment with destiny.”
Directly on cue with John’s humming, came the orchestral music from Smith’s hotel room.
“I always did like Wagner,” Erica said quietly to John. “Do Black folks, Indians and Jews like Wagner?”
‘”If they listen to the music, and not the other people in the audience,” John related. “Georg Solti said that the most beautiful piece of music ever written was the finale from ‘Tristan und Isolde’. And he hated Nazis as much as Einstein.”
“What was Tristan und Isolde about, John?”
“Two people loving each other more than life itself.”
“And screwing up the rest of the world in the process, John?”
Erica picked a hell of a time to show her real feelings for John with her eyes, and Baldino didn’t look away or make a joke this time. Meistersinger wasn’t Tristan und Isolde, but it was still Wagner, pure, pristine and—
“Ahhh” Erica blurted out, and John thought, as his foot accidentally pushed too hard on the door—already opened.
As expected, Smith was standing tall and proud, pipe in left hand, right arm extended out with an index finger that pointed the way to the truth and a partially-made fist under it prepared to enforce said truth on anyone who would challenge it. His eyes were open wide, his mouth in mid-pontification. But his voice was silent, quieted by a hole between the eyes and one under each earlobe.
“A bloodless execution,” the voice softly said from behind John and Erica. “He felt nothing.” The door slammed, then locked shut.
Nerd of the decade Thompson still had no rhythm or cadence in his drone. What he couldn’t say with his mouth, the revolver in his hand had already made clear.
“I will take those files and coolers from you,” he informed John and Erica.
Erica raised her hands up. John, shocked to see Erica surrendering to anything, did the same.
“No, not you, Doctor Baldino. The goods you stole is what we want. You, and even Erica, are inconsequential.”
“Is Vincent ‘inconsequential’ too?” John asked.
“You want me to answer that in the past or the present tense, Doctor Baldino. That way you find out from me if your brother is still alive.”
“It is an inconsequential question,” Thomspon said.
Even Erica could see something else in Smith’s eyes besides shock of the bullet and fear of dying. John did the talking.
“Smith looks guilty.”
“And he was,” Thompson commented, keeping Erica and Baldino on one side of the room, the goods she stole from Smith’s lab, along with the other precious evidence about MID on the other. “Dr. Smith wanted to save the world. MID was a model of so many kinds of cancers, and he could cure them all.”
“Which is against your plan,” Erica asserted.
“No, yours. If diseases were abolished, there would be no need for healers or scientists. Could you imagine a world full of people with brains, passions and/or ethics looking for work? Do you know what you would have?”
“Something not much different than what’s happening on those streets down below us,” Erica bolted out.
“Yes, quite true. But we are up here, and they are down there.” Thomspon looked down. “A collection of eight million two-legged black, red and yellow rats fighting over the same piece of cheese in a twenty-square mile cage. And overseas, it’s even worse. A species that overpopulates destroys itself.”
“So sayethe the WHITE rats,” Baldino challenged.
“You are a scientist, Doctor Baldino. And a scholar. With exceptional abilities and talents. You know how important it is to regulate the population of countries that are growing too big for their own good.”
“By killing them?”
“Or wounding them,” Erica added. “Make one mother sick, and you tie down a whole family. Save her and you make them indebted to you.”
“Bravo, Dr. Linquist. Spoken as a true Skinerian Political Scientist. We can train the Third World humanoid by rewarding him with good health when he or she is acting wisely, and allowing epidemics to have their way when they are acting against the interests of the global community.”
“When?” Erica asked.
“I thought you would ask ‘where’?” Thomspon said, turning the Wagner off, putting on “Happy Trails” in its place, loading up a second gun with an imprint John noticed from the Security Clearance station at the Klasen.
“Selena Horowitz will have killed Professor Smith, then both of you. That should discredit anything she had said, or written, about this nasty business. And as for Dr. Linquist—”
“–When?” Erica interjected.
“In about three minutes. ‘Happy Trails’ is such a happy song.”
“No, I mean when are you planning to send the first shipment of MID to Africa? Is the first air-drop still scheduled for eight tomorrow morning, and will you be using crop-dusters to de-bug their crops, or something more creative?”
“Your information is…accurate. Yes.”
“Good. So that means that before you start killing a few thousand African kids, we can still off three of yours. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in Glendale, Arizona, or back home in Springfield, Massachusetts, or with their grandparents and all the other nieces and nephews back in…I forgot, but we have it in our rolodex.”
John saw something highly uncharacteristic of Thompson—anger, rage and lack of control. “Who is ‘we’, Erica?”
“Friends of mine, who are expecting a call from me AND Chief Baldino here every week, voice AND tone matched, things happen.”
“We have antidotes, and vaccines.”
“Which may not work.” Erica worked her corner into an ever-increasing zone that encircled Thomspon like the Sioux at the Little Big Horn. “Maybe I stole all the cures. Maybe I replaced them with sugar water. Maybe I altered their potency with a few chemical tricks you wouldn’t let me get into press because there were too many typos in the manuscript. Or maybe Doctor Smith faked the data, so he could grab the money and start his own work on something more interesting” Her tone turned from fury to pity as she looked at the corpse of the man who she wished dead so many times. “Or maybe Harvey was even going to do something honorable with the money. He was smart enough to know that to be remembered in the history books, you have to do at least one thing that’s….honorable, even if it goes unnoticed in your lifetime.”
Thompson’s sympathetic discharge went haywire. His pupils dilated, he sweat profusely, his arms turned cold and his hands started to tremble. All the was left was hypotension in the knees and he’d lose control of his body as well as his composure. “Yooouuu…wooullddn’tttt”
“Yyeesssss, IIIII would,” Erica said, mockingly with an “I gotcha” that had waited a lifetime to be expressed. She took the cases, data and samples. “Gee, with this new look I’ve got, I could go down to that conference as the drug rep of the company and kill them all with boredom, or something more potent.”
Thompson raised his hand, aimed at Erica, then felt the grip of finality.
“No more toys,” John asserted, his hand over the barrel of the gun, the Eagle emblem clearly visible to Thompson. “We treat our people OUR way!” he said in English that made Thomspon shiver, then in Apache that caused the model of academic dispassion to wet his pants and release control of the weapon.
“Are you going to let her do this?” Thomspon blasted out to John.
“Shoot him, John,” Erica said. “If he talks—”
“He’ll make an even bigger fool of himself. Selena Horowitz will see to that.”
“He’s killed people, John! Maybe even your own brother!”
“He’s already dead, Erica. And if he tries to do anything about it….HIS children. He’s worth more to the world discredited than dead.”
“Selena has a lot or writing to do,” Erica said.
“But will she get it published!!!?” Thompson lashed out.
“To those who will listen,” John’s reply. “And I’ll expect those charges about me being a rapist, murderer and bankrobber to be taken care of. If not, Selena will pin it on you. I know here very, very well, and she has connections you and I only dream of.”
Baldino turned his back on Thompson, took a deep breath, and gave his poker face a badly needed break.
“Doctor Baldino. You go out that door with her, and you’ll never be able to practice again.”
John stopped, back still turned. “I’ve stopped practicing, I’m now DOING!”
The ride down to the ground floor was interrupted by three couples, all non-white, all foreign, all recently married. They insisted on pressing all the buttons going down. John and Erica watched.
“Do you think they’ll ever know that we just saved the world for them and their kids?” John asked Erica.
“The most important paper that you write doesn’t have your name on it,” her reply.
“You said you took three bottles of MID virus from the lab, but we only brought in two. I suppose you lost count.”
“I was never good with numbers, and you were always too good with questions, John.”
“There is one more question I have to ask, Erica.”
“One case of adult MID in Africa on Tuesday is retaliated by with a hundred kids in Glendale, Arizona or White City, USA. It was a bluff. Right?”
“Do you really want me to answer that, John?”
John turned his head to Erica, daring not to look into her eyes. “No…Some questions are best unanswered.”
When they were residents, John and Erica walked along Central Park South often, gazing at the sunset over the Western sky, each doing their own brand of Big Sky dreaming. But this walk was to be their last, a thought not spoken but felt.
Erica stopped at the entrance to the A-train. “Selena is going to need these,” she said, handing John the data, keeping the coolers for herself. “You may need this. Dispensed product to be administered to patient, not doctor.”
“Thompson’s gun”, John noted. “I never killed a man before.”
“I hope you never have to. You would become a lot less likable, and lovable.”
Erica gave John a hug, pulling back before he could return the gesture. She scurried down the stairs at a brisk walk, disappearing into the traffic of other ordinary people catching the incoming A train on another ordinary day.
John felt accomplished, lost, then touched by something far bigger than himself, Erica or even MID. The world felt big, his consciousness expanded to every corner of it. Affirming the feeling, pristine white snow flakes finally released from the gloomy winter sky. Orchestration came from the Eagle, landing on the statue of George Washington, cawing a farewell to John, then laying a terd on the Father of the Great White Country in retribution for winning so much of the American Revolution and American West at the expense of the Continent’s original Inhabitants.
John contemplated. Selena would have to file some kind of story, but what? The hook line was obvious, written as he walked northward into a Concrete Jungle transformed from sludge into, for a little while, a Winter Wonderland. “The greatest gift loners give each other is the assurance that somewhere out there is another sailor trying to cross the ocean in a rubber dingy. Sometimes, they share oars, masts and hearts….”
John could feel Vincent behind him, and beside him. As in Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and accompanying opera, Fidelio, the secret to family is that all men are brothers. Vincent would be in every man, and women, he would encounter from this day forward. One day, soon, the reward would be complete, but saving enough Vincent’s would lead him, one day to Vinny. “It’s enough, for now,” the subnote in the Physician-Poet’s private diary between his ever-open ears.
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