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!”