William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Fifty-One

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Adam enjoyed the Audi as he drove West toward Berkeley.  Need to get one of these, he told himself.  Or one of those, he thought, as the big gray Hummer overtook him near Vallejo.  That’s what the governor drove, a Hummer.  Adam frowned, thinking about Schwarzenegger, who was today back in Sacramento trying to balance the budget by reducing funds for social programs, closing parks, and screwing over the educational system.

Getting upset, Adam slowed the Audi down to 85.  Focus on the easier issues, he told himself.  Figure out the zombies, and leave the easy things like the state budget for later.  He would have plenty of time to give the governor a piece of his mind.

Adam had spent the afternoon researching Fremont Wicket.  A 70s radical, Wicket was on his way to a Ph.D. in Chemistry when he was convicted of bombing an Oakland courthouse.  He did eleven years at Folsom prison, and later, another six at Pelican Bay for being in the wrong car with the wrong people and a pipe bomb.

After that he went underground and was believed to be in Liberia.   He resurfaced in Dublin in 2008 where he went on to finish his Ph.D. and then taught at Trinity College before taking the job as chief chemist at SUBA’s Seattle kitchen.

Adam put the Audi in a garage and walked the few blocks to Telegraph, found Blake’s and waited by the door while his eyes adjusted.  He spotted Wicket right off, sitting at a booth watching the door.

Adam sat across from him and admired the silk Armani jacket and the house reserve Dior cologne.  Wicket had to be in his late sixties but he looked great.  “Glad you could make it,” Adam said.

Wicket stared at him.  “Two Berkeley boys in the booth by the restrooms,” he gestured, “are not really Berkeley boys.  And the dishwasher peeking out of the kitchen is not accustomed to washing dishes.  I brought friends with me tonight.”

Adam shook his head.  “No worries.  Hey, what are you pulling down these days?”

“A million, three.”  Wicket stared at him.

Adam frowned.  “I was only getting a million.  But I liked the dental plan, no co-pay.  Hey, I’m surprised you’d take a job like this.  Weren’t you a Black Panther or something, fight the Power, kill whitey.”

“Fighting the Power takes money.”  Wicket sipped from a beaker of cognac.  “Cooking tweak for white crackers suits my sensibilities.”

Adam ordered a beer.  “You’re having some issues with downstream quality control. Someone is tampering with your product.”

Wicket folded his hands.  “Has Baker been to see you?”

“He asked me to do an independent test.”

“I suspected he had engaged an outside contractor.  Looking back, it makes sense that it was you.”

“I did it as a favor,” Adam said.

“So what did you find?”

Adam told him about the three samples, from the lab, from Seattle, and from Oakland.  “So I told Baker that the Seattle sample was the compromised one.”

“Did you identify the compromising agent?”

“Tetrodotoxin as a primer,” Adam said.  “A little African fig, and trace amounts of Datura; all together, we have a central nervous system relaxant, but it’s so much more than that.”

Wicket refilled his glass from a flask.  “So how do you think it got into the Candlestick sample?”

“You put it there,” Adam told him.

Wicket raised his eyes.

“I told Baker that the Seattle sample was the only one compromised, but the sample from your kitchen was also tainted,” Adam lied.  “I didn’t tell Baker that part.”

Wicket took a deep drink.  “Why not?”

“I don’t like him.  And I respect you.  Call it professional courtesy, a chemist has to have some license to experiment.”  Adam told him about the zombies.

Wicket lowered his head and looked at Adam over the rim of his glasses.  “It was something I was working on in Liberia.”

Adam nodded as his beer came.  “I read up on you.  You did a dissertation on ethnobiology; a chapter on datura and two on tetrodotoxin.  So you cooked this new strain yourself, and then lied to Baker about it.  Why?”

“Like I said, it was something I was working on in Liberia.  I was working on a  small project in Buchanan.  Seventy-five percent of the population were drug users.  Mostly hashish, some heroin, negligible meth until recently.  I thought if I could cut the right proteins into the supply line then we would see some pacification.” He chuckled.  “Funny when you think about it; it’s in that very part of the world that a secret society of chemists first isolated these  toxins and used them to paralyze their enemies.

“Then the white traders came,” he continued.  “They came in their ships and the Africans were happy to sell them slaves.  But the slavers didn’t get what they expected.  They imagined that the slaves were fresh from the bush, when in reality, West African kings were selling off their most fearsome enemies, including the most powerful chemists the world had ever known.”

“Because they wouldn’t reveal their secrets.”

“That’s right,” Wicket said.  “If a king had this knowledge, nothing could stand in his way.  No army, no faith.  He could unleash hell on earth.”

“And the chemists knew this.”

“Of course.  Many died.”

“And the rest were sent to Haiti,” Adam said quietly.

“That’s right,” Wicket said, nodding.  “To Brazil, to Georgia, to Jamaica, but most were sent to Haiti.  And in 1790, without an army, and with less than a thousand rifles, runaway Haitian slaves revolted, ultimately destroying the French navy, the most formidable fighting force in Europe by poisoning the hell out of them.”

“I’ve heard about that.”

“Some of these ex-slaves built up their own physical tolerances to the extent that their body fluids would be saturated.  At that point, they could kill someone just by spitting.”

“You’re joking.”

“No,” Wicket said.  “So when I was in Liberia, I thought I could attenuate the effects of some of these toxins.  Use the datura with the tetrodotoxin not to kill, but to pacify.  Mix it right, get it into the soldiers’ pipes.  Pacify an army that was intent on getting high.  That was the idea, but my initial clinical trials were not successful.”

“People died,” Adam noted.

“Yes.”  Wicket loosened his tie.  “I made substantial progress during my years in Ireland.  And I continued my refinements in Seattle.  Recently I introduced a limited supply of modified Candlestick to distributors in Seattle, and in Modesto.”

“Why Modesto?”

Wicket smiled.  “Distribution there is run by a white supremacist group operating out of the public library.  I always hated those assholes.  But it didn’t work.”

“Why would you want to pacify women?” Adam asked.

Wicket shook his head.  “No,” he said.  “No.  It doesn’t have any effect on women.  But if you market it just to women, our  surveys have shown that 10 – 20% make it into men’s pipes.”

“So what happened to the men?” Adam asked.

Wicket frowned.  “It’s not working yet,” he said.  “Most of them die.  A few don’t seem to suffer the same brainstem damage and they can still more or less at least walk around, but they’re not good for much else.  Now tweakers are getting pissed off, and Baker is getting heavy on me.”

“He wants it to stop.”  Adam nodded.

“No,” Wicket said.  “He liked it.  He got hold of another package, took it right from the kitchen.  Seven grams of my enhanced product, and he shipped it to Avenal.”

“Avenal?” Adam asked.  “The prison?”

“Yes,” Wicket said, angry now.  “My understanding was that SUBA didn’t supply to prisons but I think that might not be the case.  One boy died and three were placed in solitary after becoming excessively violent.”

“Another clinical trial?” Adam suggested.

“Not one I’m interested in,” Wicket said.

“Why not?  You could dicker for another half a million a year.  Anybody who can pacify a prison population would surely merit under this state’s new leadership.”

“Not my thing,” Wicket said sharply.  “I have no interest in pacifying Avenal convicts.”

“Why not?”

Wicket stared him in the eyes.  “You don’t think Black folks have it tough enough already in this country without being turned into zombies?  Black people in America need guns and bombs and jobs in that order.  I’m not going to see my life’s work used to pacify Black convicts, make it cheaper to warehouse them, make the prison corporations even richer.  30% of California prisoners are Black, that’s more than 50,000 men.  That’s an army that’s kept in check by an equal number of Corrections Officers who make a hundred grand a year to make sure the cells stay full.”

Adam felt a dire need to pass wind.  The moment being completely inappropriate, he quieted his body and his mind, bore down, and hoped for the best.  He smiled when the slow silent gaseous release overcame him.  “Good Christ,” he said.

Written by williamdoonan

July 22, 2013 at 6:36 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

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