“This is absolutely bullshit.” Denise Rosen set the two plastic cages on the lab table. “You haven’t even submitted a testing protocol.”
“It’s not bullshit.” Adam checked the cages, noting that each held a mouse. “I’ll write a protocol in the morning. Which one is the female?”
Denise fumed, reached into her pocket. “The female is the one with the pink card. The male is the one with the blue card. Those clues seem to work for most people.”
“You want a cigarette, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. But it’s against regulations.
Adam turned on the hood vent. “You can smoke under here.”
She stared at him coldly, then sat by the edge of the metal table and lit up.
“You’re sure that one is a male and one is a female?”
“I am,” she said. “The male has a penis and the female does not. That’s how we tell.”
Adam stared at her, checking her out. Dishy little bod; she’d be fine if she kept her head under the fume hood. “When did they eat last?”
“About five hours ago.”
“Is the female ovulating?”
Denise inhaled deeply. “She’s been moody lately.”
She shrugged. “You know, we don’t really test for that. The females tend to sync with each other. Last week saw a lot of sexual activity, so my guess would be that she is not ovulating.”
Adam nodded. He had diluted the meth additive in water with a little glycerin. Using an eyedropper, he dripped the solution onto a couple of food pellets in each cage.
“They’re going to die, aren’t they?” Denise watched as the mice devoured the food.
“Yes,” he said. “Technically.”
“How do you ascertain death?” Adam asked.
Denise watched as her smoke was pulled up into the vent. “They roll over, and we find them with their feet in the air.”
“What if they’re not dead, just comatose?”
“They tend to not to be upside-down and cold.”
“So you check temperature?”
The female mouse went first, convulsed and curled up. The male did the same four minutes later.
“What did you give them?” Denise asked.
“It’s a fairly complex and strange compound. African figs, deep sea blowfish and Seattle methamphetamine.”
“What is it for?”
Adam stared at the mice, watched as their breathing slowed until their tiny rib cages were motionless. “Getting high and smiting enemies, I think.”
Denise stubbed out her cigarette in a petri dish. “Well I think you have smitten your rodent enemies. What am I supposed to be looking for in the autopsies?”
“Nothing.” He opened the cages, picked up the mice, and set them on the table. “No autopsies. I don’t think they’re dead.”
She picked up one of the mice and lifted its eyelids. “Dilated.” She rubbed its chest, and then did the same to the other mouse. “No heartbeat.”
“Do you have a stethoscope?”
“Not with me,” she said, “but the sensor array has digital thermometers. We can monitor temperature.”
“You’re cold,” he said, admiringly. “Eight years of graduate school and now you’re spending the evening probing mice rectums.”
“Ears, not rectums.” She rummaged through the cabinets for the appropriate probes, then used adhesive tape to hold the probes against the mice ears.
Adam sat heavily. “I’m going to bet that they’re not dead. They’re in a deep coma, so core temperatures aren’t going to drop much.”
Denise shook her head. “Mice don’t really go into comas. They’re too small. Small mammals are metabolically precarious. They burn calories too fast. I’ve never seen a mouse in a coma.”
“You’re seeing it now,” he said. “Do you play cards? We might be here awhile.”
“OK. Do you know any workplace gossip?”
“I know you’re sleeping with one of the secretaries.”
“That’s all I’ve got,” she said, lighting another cigarette. “How about twenty questions?”
“Were you really a drug dealer?”
“So you never sold drugs?”
He shook his head.
“Did you ever use drugs?”
“Did you like them?”
“Were you ever a high-ranking member of a drug syndicate?”
Adam shrugged. “That’s a hard one. I’ll say no.”
“But you were a big shot at a meth lab.”
“Oh boy, yes.”
“Do you feel bad about that?”
“That’s not a yes or no question. But to be perfectly honest, I think I didn’t pay alot of mind to who was using the product. I just figured I would make it as clean as possible and maybe the users wouldn’t suffer the same effects as those that did not. Like the teeth thing.” He stood and began pacing around the room. “There’s nothing central to the product that rots teeth, but people cook it so badly, put so much shit into it, and the shit rots dental enamel. Nobody using Candlestick meth has that problem.”
“Next question. You know that what you just said is a bunch of hypocritical justification, right?”
“You’re trying to make zombie mice, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he said. “Look. It’s late and you have a long night ahead of you. I’ve got to go.”
Denise looked up, surprised. “You’re kidding, right? I can’t stay here. I have a date.”
Adam stared at her. “My turn to ask questions. You don’t really have a date, do you?”
“Mouse #2 just dropped one degree,” she said, watching the monitor. “And no, it’s not really a date, but I’ve got something on standby, something on tap.”
Kathryn Mosely slammed her notebook down, turned to leave, and almost knocked Julia down when she came through. “Sorry,” she said, “but I hate him.”
“Who?” Julia recovered her balance.
“Schwarzenegger. He’s killing us. But more to the point; Carson. I’m scheduled to run my analyses and he’s got the damn computer tasked for four more hours.”
Julia saw Carson plugging away at Prometheus’s terminal. “I’ll talk with him,” she said.
“Hey, boss.” Carson looked up.
Julia walked past him to the control panel on the wall, keyed in her access code and hit the emergency shutdown button. Prometheus’s robot arm paused and then retracted to its base as the fan motors kicked into cool down. Eight halogen bulbs flicked off in unison and the terminal screen went blank.
Carson stared in disbelief. “What the hell?”
Julia worked hard to contain her anger. “This is a research facility and you are a student here. As such, you have broad privileges to utilize a very expensive leased supercomputer for approved projects at specified times.”
“This is important,” Carson whined.
“So is Kathryn’s research. I have seventeen graduate students. That means you and sixteen others.”
Carson seethed. “I was in the middle of something.”
“And the same thing happened yesterday, right? For the next three weeks, you give up your time to Kathryn.”
“That’s bullshit,” Carson said. “Kathryn is working on fetal rabbit cells. She’s looking at bunny hibernation for Christ’s sake.”
“Bunny torpor,” Julia corrected him. “Rabbits don’t hibernate. And it’s not bullshit. Over the last two months she’s sequenced a seventy-two hundred base segment of a gene that codes for epiphyseal union. Do you know what that means?”
Carson glared at her. “Of course I do. It’s responsible for releasing hormones that fuse a juvenile rabbit’s skeleton when it reaches it maximal dimensions. It’s a gene that makes an adult rabbit skeleton.”
“That’s right, and it’s important work.” Julia started at the computer monitor. “What the hell is this?”
Julia read the activity log on the screen. “This isn’t right. What the hell is this?”
Carson looked down. “I retasked Prometheus.”
“You did what?”
“I retasked it. I downloaded the beta version of a commercial paternity software program.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Paternity software. The CPU is easily large enough and the parameters are sensitive enough. We have the testing platforms, so I took the standard programming off-line so that we could test DNA samples to determine the genetic relationship between Millicent and Karen Sorrows.”
Julia stared at him.
“We have the capabilities. The test itself takes seventy-two minutes, but the load time was longer than I had hoped.”
“No, no, no.” Julia shook her head. “This is not OK. Since when am I not consulted about what goes on around here?”
“If I told you and I got caught, you would be liable.”
“Jesus, Carson.” Julia sat down. “We can’t do this. Prometheus belongs to the Centers for Disease Control. They have a tap line on the modem. They can monitor it at any time.”
“I know,” Carson said. “The modem had a short. I gave the modem a short; loose cable or something.”
“Professor, I already did it, OK? I was just running the paternity test again to confirm, but the results are already in. Want to have a look?”
Julia spent the next twenty minutes reading and rereading the report. “No one has ever seen anything like this,” she said finally, “not in a human.”
Carson nodded. “You’ll note that Millicent Sorrows is not genetically identical to Karen Sorrows.”
“We never thought she was, right?”
“Right,” Alice came through the door, holding a printout. “We thought she was Karen’s grandmother. Karen’s mother, Millicent’s daughter, was a parthenogenic child. That means that Millicent had a daughter without the benefit of paternal DNA.”
“We don’t have a license to use this software,” Carson added, “but this analysis suggests that Millicent is Karen’s mother.”
“But she’s not,” Julia countered. “Karen Sorrows was born in a hospital. We know who her mother was. We know who her father was.”
“Agreed,” said Alice. “Millicent can’t be her mother, but the fact that Karen got half her DNA from Millicent conclusively proves that Millicent’s daughter, Karen’s mother, was born parthenogenically. Millicent had a virgin birth.”
“Here’s the cool part,” Carson added. “This means that Millicent Sorrows is Karen’s mother and grandmother too. How cool is that?”
“I think we have to meet Karen Sorrows,” Julia said softly.
“Well we can’t, can we?” said Alice. “She’s protected. She’s being kept at Ruth Black’s compound. Armed guards, remember? They won’t let us see her.”
“Ruth Black,” Julia repeated. She took out the folder that Rocky had given her. “I asked my husband to look into this. Do either of you guys remember an actor named Condor Nyle? He was a little before your time but…”
“Are you kidding?” Alice laughed. “Of course we remember him. Werewolves of Baja, 1939.”
“1941,” Carson corrected. “Condor Nyle was one of the greats. His movies are classics, in a really bad sort of way. He did this one exceptionally low budget film about a family of Mexican werewolves that did the Aztec rituals. I can’t remember what it was…”
“Aztec Werewolf,” Alice said. “They cut the heart out of their victims, but instead of using a knife, they used their paws.”
“Condor Nyle willed the compound to Ruth Black.” Julia shared what Rocky had told her. “But there were a codicil. For some reason, part of the property had to remain pristine habitat for some species of badger.”
“Badger?” Alice leaned over her shoulder to read.
“Right, and apparently their most recent water quality assessment revealed excessive excretory contamination.”
Alice nodded. “Too much pooping, and the pooping is contaminating the badger habitat.”
“You’re joking,” said Carson.
“The upshot,” Julia explained, “is that Ruth Black has a hearing on Thursday to counter charges or make suggestions as to how the badgers will be better accommodated. I think we need to be there. I think it’s time we met Ruth Black.”
This was the first cover, back on October 30,2011, when this project began. I had the idea to do an epistolary horror blog, and I’d write one chapter each week. I figured it would keep me honest – keep me writing. And I wouldn’t be able to just rough it either. I’d have to produce a final draft each week.
And it worked. I published 43 chapters, ending on September 7, 2012. And that’s when the real work started. I took it all down and scrubbed through it, brought it to my writing group, and tore it apart. As much as I had hoped to end up with something that was a final draft, ready-to-publish, it didn’t happen.
So I spent another year working on it. And now it’s ready! You could go ahead and read all the chapters in their original form, but if you’d like to check out the brand new, illustrated, e-book, head over to Amazon.com and pick up a copy for 99 cents. Check out this killer cover:
If you enjoyed reading The Martian by Andy Weir, you’ll love The Mummies of Blogspace9. Why? Well, for starters, The Martian is a great story, and if you haven’t read it yet, you really should. At 99 cents, it’s a steal. Seriously, go buy it right now and start reading. But if you have another 99 cents ($1.98 total), The Mummies of Blogspace9 is the right purchase for you.
It’s a taut, high-stakes epistolary thriller about a team of archaeologists who inadvertently dig up more than they bargained for. Demons of antiquity are not easily amused, nor are those who’ve sold their souls to protect them. The Mummies of Blogspace9 will fill your heart with terror and and with glee (but not at the same time, because that would be very strange, and also pointless).
You’ll laugh out loud, cringe in fear, and shake your head with delight. Here are some plot elements you might enjoy:
- undead mummies;
- very attractive protagonists who you will develop crushes on;
- carefully-chosen fonts;
- delightful full-color, high-resolution illustrations.
Here’s a blurb from one of Leon’s posts (Leon being a protagonist)
“None of us knew what was at stake. And that’s the thing about archaeology – you never know what you’ll find when you start digging into an ancient pyramid. Maybe some burials, mummies even. But surely not a five hundred year-old secret worth killing for.
Had I known at the onset that seven weeks later most of my friends would be dead, I would have left Peru in a heartbeat. But of course I didn’t know that.
I didn’t know that a demonically-possessed Spanish Grand Inquisitor would haunt the crap out of us, or that a pair of undead conquistador knights would help us find the secret to putting down walking mummies.
And surely, I wouldn’t have just sat around had I known that something was watching from inside that pyramid, some malevolent force that could animate the dead.
But it’s all true, as you’ll come to realize.”
The Mummies of Blogspace9: Horror has a new URL
Adam parked at the Sacramento Amtrak station and hailed a cab.
“Are you serious about this?” the driver asked when Adam showed him the address. “This is deep in Oak Park. Are you a cop?”
“No,” Adam said. “I’m not, so there’s no chance of entrapment. Talk with me. I’m looking to buy some drugs.”
The driver turned. “Maybe I could help. What do you want?”
“A couple of joints.” Adam unbuttoned his pants to make the ride more comfortable. “And three grams of Candlestick meth.”
“You’re just yanking my chain,” the driver said. “Big fellow like you has no business with no Candlestick. How about you pay me in advance for the ride? Union says I can ask that.”
“Tough but fair.” Adam slipped two twentys into the Plexiglas drawer.
Ten minutes later they turned onto Martin Luther King and came to a stop in front of a pornography store.
Adam entered and bought six tokens from the clerk. He stepped into a booth and fed the machine. A mechanical window opened onto a room where a blond black woman sat smoking a cigarette and reading Vanity Fair. Adam frowned. He knocked at the window.
“In a minute,” the woman said, turning back to the magazine.
Adam waited, then knocked even harder. The woman held the magazine up and squeezed her breast half-heartedly.
“This is a rip-off,” Adam said loudly.
She gave him the finger.
When the tokens were used up, the window closed and Adam left.
He walked past two hard cases loitering near the door. They called out for some money but they didn’t look to have any fight in them. Adam kept walking, passing a 24 hour barbeque chicken place that was closed. Next door was Eastern Thoughts, a bookstore dedicated to meditation and philosophy. The incense hit him when he opened the door. Nag Champa and some rosewood. Near the back of the bookstore, a young man played a sitar to an audience of two.
Adam perused the prayer mats. Most were too small. In karmic desperation, he selected the largest, one which promised support and serenity, a bargain at nineteen dollars. He took it to the cashier and asked to speak to Baker.
“Mr. Baker is in meditation,” the woman said. “He’s not available.”
“He’s expecting me.” Adam unbuttoned his sleeve to show her the tattoo he had agreed to under duress some years back- a poorly-inked image of a little sheep next to the word SUBA. “I need to see him.”
The woman frowned “We try to make a living here. People like you…”
“Look,” Adam interrupted. “I’ve got a lot of karma to burn off.
She made a quick call on her cellphone, then she stared at the prayer mat. “Do you really want to buy that?” When he didn’t respond, she gestured toward a door. “You’ll find him in there.”
Baker was sitting in the lotus position surrounded by stacks of twenty dollar bills. “Look what Shiva dragged in.”
Adam sat heavily. “Your security sucks. I could be packing.”
“Yes. I got this sweet little automatic pistol from my girlfriend’s ex. It’s tiny, but if the online manual can be trusted, it packs a punch.”
“Put it over there on the desk,” Baker said.
“I just sat down,” Adam told him, “so let’s agree that I won’t take it out. Anyone could have walked in here, you know.”
“Not anyone.” Baker fastened a rubber band around the last stack of twenties. “The cashier, Asoka, she did eleven years for manslaughter. She’d have cut you down if you didn’t have reason to be here.”
“Good to know. So hey, someone is tampering with your product.”
Baker stood. “I know that much. That’s why I came to you.”
“It’s being cut with an obscure complex of proteins.” Adam removed a card from hiw wallet. “I wrote it down for you. Most of the components are inert, but the two active ingredients are a kind of psychotropic fig, and something called Tetrodotoxin, it’s a protein that comes from a pelagic blowfish. It’s also got a little Datura mixed in.”
“What is a pelagic blowfish? I’m thinking a blowfish is one of those fish that can puff up, but pelagic is a hard word. Does it mean stripped of leaves?”
“No,” said Adam. “Pelagic means deep sea. It refers to a fish that swims around the world.”
“Why is that significant?”
“I have no idea,” Adam answered. “Something that can swim around the world can be anywhere.”
“What does the fish do?”
“It mostly just swims around and puffs when threatened.”
Baker nodded. “What does the protein do, Adam?”
“It suppresses the central nervous system. Its use was popular in West Africa some centuries ago. In the 1790s, slaves in Haiti used it to repel Napoleon’s forces by poisoning half of them and scaring the shit out of the other half.”
Baker closed his eyes. “You heard about the junkie at the hospital, right?”
Adam shook his head.
“Man checks into Sacramento Medical Center, dies, and then comes back. My guess is he was enjoying our product.”
Adam shifted on his cushion. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t you watch the news?”
“I do not.”
“A meth junkie OD’d. He was declared dead, then he bolted awake in the morgue.”
Adam stared. “Do you have anyone there who can help us? I’d love to get a bloodscan or a toxicity report.”
Baker shook his head. “No, but let’s just say it’s probably our product. What do I do? Who is doing this?”
“You gave me three samples,” Adam began. “The first was from the SUBA kitchen, my old kitchen, where Fremont Wicket is now chief chemist. That sample tests fine, so Wicket is still cooking pure Candlestick methamphetamine. The second sample was street product in Seattle, the third was street product in Oakland. Oakland is fine; Seattle is cut. What’s more, it’s really well cut. Somebody used a centrifuge to introduce the additive components. So whoever is doing this is well-trained.”
“Could Wicket be doing it?” Baker asked.
“How would I know? Hard to see the point though. Maybe you have a competitor who got into your internal Ops.”
Baker nodded. He picked up five stacks of twenty dollar bills and tossed them to Adam. “I appreciate your help,” he said. “I’ll convey the substance of this conversation to Butcher. He’ll be pleased that you helped out.”
“So I guess this is goodbye.”
“Yes.” Baker folded himself into an awkward lotus position. “Meditate well, Adam. We must be mindful to think about our eternal souls.”
“If your plan is to get terribly drunk, then I’m finding another seat,” Alice warned.
“For me, it’s a moral imperative,” Carson told her. “You know, first class costs five times as much as coach and confers only three advantages: free liquor, really good reclining seats, and individual salt and pepper shakers.”
“You’re a freak.”
“We got nothing here,” Alice said, irritated. “We came all this way and we got a nice bullshit interview with a woman who has well more street smarts than we do.”
“You underestimate so much,” Carson said, twisting the caps from two little bottles of Dewars. “Did you notice her lipstick?”
Carson downed the bottle. “Millicent Sorrows. Who is it you think we are talking about here?”
“No, I did not notice her lipstick. “
“Me neither. She didn’t have any lipstick on.”
“So we have saliva on the cigarette butt,” Carson said, producing a zip lock bag containing a cigarette butt.
“I didn’t see you pick that up,” Alice said.
“I’m a cripple, love of my loins, and as such, my actions are subconsciously ignored by most people. I could be holding a tuba in one hand and my balls in the other, and nobody would notice because they’re so intent on not staring.”
“So you got a cigarette butt. You think you have her DNA on the cigarette butt?”
“Yes. She’s a smoker. Her lips are chapped. I have her DNA. I win. Hey, you want to join the mile high club? Because I shit you not, nobody is going to rush me in the bathroom. Seriously, come with.”
“Pass, thanks. But damn, you are a sneaky boy.”
“You have no idea. Last month I stole a Playstation 3 from Toys R Us.”
“You did not. They have all the merchandise chipped.”
“Please, it’s like a two-bit encryption. It was so easy I took three Barbies as well, and I gave them to a homeless woman.”
“Was she pleased?”
“No,” he said. “I think it irritated her. But to answer your question, yes, I do intend to drink heavily for the duration of the flight, and yes I do have Millicent Sorrows’ DNA.”
Although it was inappropriate, the night nursing supervisor was known to slip out every hour or so for a cigarette. Since standing by the front door was out of the question, and the back door was too close to the dumpsters, Gloria Beltran’s habit was to smoke inside the hospital.
Julia found her in the boiler room with the chief engineer, half of the custodial staff, and the hospital administrator, all of whom were indulging their smoking habits.
“I should call the fire marshal.” Julia closed the door behind her.
“I think he’s probably in here somewhere,” someone called out.
“Can someone get me an oxygen mask, or tell me where my mother is?”
Gloria Beltran fought her way to the front.
“What the hell is going on here?” Julia asked. “You all look like you’ve seen a ghost or you smoke too much, or both. It’s both right?”
Most of the assembled staff nodded. “It won’t matter much in a month, anyway,” someone in the back noted. “Schwarzenegger’s going to start laying off medical personnel as well as teachers.”
“Can we talk, mama?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Gloria led her to the elevator. “First he dies, then he comes back.”
“Were you on duty?”
“I was in Receiving. White guy, twenty-three, his friends dropped him off. He was conscious but barely coherent.”
“Did you do the intake paperwork?”
Gloria shook her head. “No, but I read it. He had been drinking, smoking a joint, and then did two quick hits of methamphetamine. He said he got weak, and had a nosebleed and then lost control of his bladder. Ten minutes after he was admitted, he had a seizure and he coded.”
“End of story, it would seem,” Julia said, as the elevator took them up to Imaging.
“The body was taken downstairs to the morgue. The medical examiner filled out paperwork and left him on the table. An hour later when the orderlies went to move him to the freezer, he jumped up yelling.”
“It’s been known to happen.” Julia followed her mother out of the elevator. “Throughout history, people have been declared dead, then buried only to revive later and often perish in their coffins.”
“Yes, but it’s rare in a hospital.”
“Agreed.” Julia tried to imagine a circumstance where death would be misdiagnosed. It would not be easy.
The Imaging Lab was filled with people. “We have almost nobody downstairs,” a nurse confided to Gloria. ”Everyone is here trying to watch.”
“Trying to watch what?” Julia asked.
“Juarez put the guy in the MRI to confirm lack of brain activity.”
Julia pushed her way through the crowd and found Pete Juarez in the control room with a technician.
Julia dated Pete Juarez in medical school. She thought he was one of the loveliest men in the world. This feeling was mitigated by the fact that Pete Juarez also felt himself one of the loveliest men in the world.
“Your beauty is lost on the dead,” she had commented one late night, lying next to him.
Juarez laughed. He had heard this before.
Julia stopped taking his calls soon after.
“Can I talk with you?”
Juarez finished up with a technician. “Hey you.”
“Just curious. What the fuck happened here, Pete?”
Juarez shrugged. “I was right there, Julia. I got the body, got the documents, watched as the tag was put on his toe. He was dead. I’ve seen dead people. He was one of them.”
“No heart beat?”
“No. No blood circulation, no response. We do check these things. Body temperature of 92; Hector was wheeling him to the fridge. Then he pops up.”
“You were there?”
“Three feet away. He leaps off the table screaming. Hector tried to grab him but he slipped and went down. So I walk towards him. I’m shaking like crazy, but I walk towards him and then he grabs the bone saw.”
“Was he conscious? Was he cognizant?”
“He looked down at the saw and turned it on. I asked him if he was OK and he shook his head. I told him to put the saw down but he didn’t move.”
“So you were talking to him.”
“Yeah, but then Hector unplugged the saw and this guy just stares as it stops spinning. Then Hector grabbed him and dropped him and his head hit the floor and that was it.”
“That was it?”
“Yeah, he was unconscious. We found a pulse, rushed him back up to ER but we lost the pulse in the elevator. They tried to revive him but they couldn’t.”
“So he’s dead now.”
“Oh yeah, he’s dead now.” Juarez worked at the keyboard, watching the body slide out of the MRI machine.
Julia stared at the dead man. “So this is the zombie.”
“Does he have a name?”
“Not as far as the press is concerned, right?”
“His name was Wendell Corman. He sharpened knives for a living.”
Julia opened the man’s eyes, felt for his pulse. “Is it possible that there was a mistake in ER, and he died when Hector knocked him to the floor?”
Juarez shrugged. “I’m not going to go on record saying that.”
“What’s your guess?”
“Well, that’s what it has to be, right? He was probably still alive when he got to the morgue, but barely. Something suppressed life signs. There’s no doubt of that. So yes, there being no other possible explanation, he was alive in the morgue, but barely so.”
“That’s not normal for a junkie, Pete.”
Juarez nodded. “I think we have a new strain of pharmaceuticals on the market. Most recreational drugs don’t suppress life signs – that would reduce their attractiveness to potential users.”
“Do we have a toxicity report?”
“Give me a couple of days. I’ll copy you on the results of the scan.”
“Thank you, Pete.”
“You can come visit at other times too,” he said, “like at times when zombies are not present.”
Downstairs she found her mother in ER. “Have to be going, mama.”
“Bye, mi hija.” Gloria looked over a clipboard. “Be careful on your way out. The news people are already here.”
Alice stabbed at the radio buttons. Moving from country music to Christian rock and back again, she realized she didn’t have any idea how she was going to approach Millicent Sorrows. How do you start a conversation with a one hundred and seventy year-old former slave?
After one last consultation of the GPS screen, she turned onto a pebbled road lines with Spanish oaks. “Wake up, fool. We’re here.”
Carson rubbed his eyes. “I feel like I’m going to throw up.”
“That’s why most people don’t drink for the entire duration of their flights.”
“First class; I feel guilty if I don’t drink.” He pointed at a bent trailer. “That’s got to be it over there.”
“Do you think she’s been pulling down social security since its inception?”
“No, look at the address. It’s the one next door.”
Alice rolled up to a tiny bungalow, set back from the street, a sycamore dominating the large overgrown yard. Two women sat on the tiny porch. One was in a wheelchair. “There’s our entree,” Carson said. “We have something in common.”
Alice helped him unload the chair, and together they approached the house.
“Can I help you?” the younger of the two women called out.
Alice’s heart raced as she locked eyes with the old woman, the one in the wheelchair. “We’d like to speak with Millicent Sorrows.”
“Who might you all be?”
Alice took a deep breath. “My name is Alice Yee. I’m a doctor from California. This is my assistant, Carson. We’d like to talk to her about her granddaughter, Karen.”
The older woman lifted her head.
Carson rolled forward. “Your granddaughter, Karen Sorrows.”
“Karen,” the old woman said softly. “That girl hasn’t been around here for years. She went up to New York. She got married.”
“That was Elvia, dear,” the other woman said. “You don’t have to talk to these people. You haven’t had your nap.”
The older woman frowned. “I like talking to young people. Why are you sitting in a wheelchair, boy? Have you hurt yourself?”
Carson nodded. “Skiing accident. When did you last see Karen?”
“We’ll have some tea, Gwen,” she said, sending ther other woman inside, then turning to Carson. “She won’t give me whiskey anymore, though I keep asking.”
Carson produced two airline-sized bottles of Dewars from his backpack. “I might be able to help you there.”
The woman grinned toothlessly, then drank both bottles. “Thank you, son.”
“When was the last time you heard from Karen?” Alice asked.
“You’re a Chinese girl, aren’t you? Or Mexican. I can’t tell at my age. My grandson married a Mexican girl from Peru. But they got divorced.”
“I’m Chinese,” Alice said. “We’re concerned about Karen. We work at the hospital where she was taken. We want to be sure she’s OK.”
An old Lincoln Continental rolled up the driveway, and a middle-aged woman wearing a business suit approached. “And who might you be?”
Alice introduced herself and Carson, and explained the nature of their visit.
The woman pulled a cigarette from her bag and lit it with a gold lighter. “I can’t imagine she’s been much help to you. Her mind is a little fried with the Alzheimer’s. And sweet Lord, it appears that Christine has been giving her alcohol again.”
“I gave her the Scotch,” Carson said. “I’m sorry.”
“What is it that you are here for?” The woman pulled heavily on her cigarette. “Will you be wanting some cure for your ailments, young man? I don’t just do that on the driveway.”
“We’re worried about Karen,” Alice said. “She had cancer. We’d like to conduct a follow-up.”
The woman exhaled slowly. “Hospitals out west must have a lot of money, sending doctors all over creation.”
The woman in wheelchair perked up. “I remember the hospital we visited when Lilly got the smallpox. Remember that, Ms. Millicent? It wasn’t but a day until she recovered.”
“What we want to know,” Alice began, but Carson interrupted.
“Can I have a cigarette?” he asked.
“It’s you, isn’t it?”
The woman took a deep drag and flicked the cigarette into the yard. “Who’d you think you were talking to here?” She pointed to the woman in the wheelchair. “I did wonder what allure old Laverne had to keep you interested.”
“You’re Millicent Sorrows?” Alice asked.
“I’m going to need to see some identification now.”
Alice produced her medical license and Carson pulled his student ID and video rental card.
“Christine,” Millicent Sorrows called out. “Will you do me a kindness and bring me the shotgun?”
Christine appeared at the screen door and swatted at a mosquito. “Ms. Millicent, please do not be yelling out at me. And that shotgun has not worked properly since Tyson tried to shoot that racoon and instead blew a hole through the barn. And we haven’t any shells left anyhow.”
Millicent Sorrows inhaled deeply. “I did not intend to shoot them, Christine. I meant only to scare them, which is now manifestly impossible.”
“We just want to help,” Alice insisted nervously.
“I don’t believe we need your help.”
“What was Morgan Sorrows like?” Carson asked. “He owned you, didn’t he? That would have been about a hundred and fifty years ago, back when you were a slave.”
Millicent inhaled deeply.
Alice felt her heart beating faster. “Ms. Sorrows, I am a medical doctor. I’m concerned about Karen. If you won’t help me, then I will call child services to investigate an underage pregnancy.”
“Did he beat you or love you?” Carson asked.
“You’ll be leaving now,” Millicent answered. “Now, while I still let you. ”
Alice picked up her bag. “Let’s go,” she said to Carson.
Carson didn’t move until Alice kicked his wheelchair. He trailed behind her but lurched to a stop when Millicent Sorrows grabbed the joystick. “I’m going to tell you something, young man,” she whispered into his ear, “beatings and loving are rarely mutually exclusive.”
Alice turned in time to see Millicent retreat into the house.