William Doonan

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MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Eight

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Adam had it planned perfectly.  It would be over in an instant.  He had been waiting nearly 45 minutes in front of the capital building for the meeting to be over.  The governor would exit the main door and then walk the three blocks to the Convention Center to meet the Mexican trade delegates.  There were maybe three hundred people waiting outside here, behind the barricades, waiting for a glimpse of the man, maybe get a chance to shake his hand.  He’d have an entourage, but all Adam needed was a second to shake his hand.  That’s all it would take.

Time to give the governor a taste of his own medicine, he told himself.  Governor Zombie.  One quick dusting, blow the powder on the man’s shirt.  He might not even notice, and if he did, he’d get confused pretty fast.  The powder was so fine it was almost invisible.  Adam’s heart began pounding as the doors opened and the governor stepped out, flanked by several members of the Assembly and Sacramento police.  He was shorter in person than he looked on the big screen.   Adam spotted Billy St. Clair in the group.  He was smiling and waving at the squirrels in the branches overhead.

Adam opened the little case and withdrew one of the white tubes.  Shaking, he put it in his mouth.  Just don’t inhale, he told himself.  That would be bad.  He waited as the governor approached, shaking hands with the crowd, even kissed a baby. He was three feet away when he turned and looked Adam straight in the eye.

Adam nearly wet himself.  He stared back as Arnold Schwarzenegger frowned and shook his head.  The governor walked straight toward him, looking angry.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he told Adam.

Adam’s mouth opened and the tube fell to the ground.  “Do what?” he asked.

Schwarzenegger held up his hand and waved a finger back and forth.  “Smoke,” he said, pushing along, looking back to frown at Adam one more time.

Adam backed his way out of the crowd and ran.  He didn’t stop until he got to the rose garden, until Erzulie ran up to him.  He picked her up and reached for Celeste’s hand.  Maybe it was OK to relax now.

Written by williamdoonan

September 19, 2013 at 10:52 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Seven

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Rocky wiped the crumbs from his mouth and opened a bottle of water as he watched Julia swim.  “So this is the end of it?” he called to her.  “You’re just going to give up?”

She swam toward him and rested her arms on the edge of the pool.  “It’s not about giving up,” she said.  “It’s about refocussing.  I just don’t have that much interest in immortality anymore, which is actually good since they took away my funding and my robot.”

Rocky picked up the tray and came over to the edge of the pool.  “You’re telling me you don’t want to live forever now?”

“Well now I know how,” she said.  “It’s simply a matter of very precisely mixing some of the most potent toxins ever found in nature and inducing a massive assault at a cellular level.  It was almost a lost art, Rocky.  But we have it all written down.  All of it.  And Carson will come around.  He’s a scientist before he is anything else.  We were just perhaps unwise not to think through the implications of all of this before we started.”

“You really don’t want to live forever?” he asked, pressing her.

“Not without you, baby,” she said.  “And it only works on women, remember.  Humanity could make it without men, Rocky.  We really could as a species, at least for a few thousand years.  But it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun.”

“So no more new zombies.”

“Let’s hope not.  What did you find out about ours?”

Rocky ate another piece of cake and showed her the front page of the Sacramento Bee.

“You’re kidding,” she said, climbing out of the pool and grabbing a towel.  “Let me see.”

“Secret Human Experiments at Folsom,” read the headline.

“California State Prison at Folsom – Authorities have yet to respond to the claims of three men who claim they were unjustly prisoned.  Wigbert Gomez, Angel Rivera, and Randall Townsend left Folsom Prison today.  Family members are concerned that their loved ones had been drugged.  Psychiatric evaluations of the three men reveal similar stories; they were sitting on their Harleys outside Petunia’s, a popular bar in Galt, when they were accosted by a woman in a van.  None of the men were able to account for the time period between that encounter and their awakening in the medical ward at Folsom Prison.

“It wasn’t like we’d done nothing bad-like,” Randall Townsend said at his home in Vacaville.  A biking aficionado, Townsend is a full professor in Berkeley’s Physics Department.

Or was, until students began complaining that Professor Townsend was not actually teaching his classes, was actually doing little more than maneuvering through Powerpoint slides.  While students were quick to point out that this was not unusual for Berkeley, the fact that Professor Townsend had done little more than advance the slides for two weeks gave rise to concern.  Berkeley’s Physics Department has temporarily suspended Dr. Townsend from active teaching pending a psychological review.

Wigbert Gomez’s associates at Paint My Car, asked that he be relieved of duty when he insisted on applying paint to windshield wipers.  “It’s pretty,” Wigbert noted before he was ushered into the waiting room.

The sad case of Angel Rivera is by now known to most readers.  After his release from custody, Angel failed to show up for his job at the South Sacramento office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Instead, according to family members, he insisted on a surfing trip.  “He was acting strange,” his wife, Annabel Rivera noted.  “First, he suggested I drive to the beach, which he never does because he likes to drive.  Then once we got there, he didn’t want to have anything to eat, which is so not like him.”

According to his daughter-in-law, Mavis Fuente, Angel took his surfboard and headed out into the sea, paddling ever outward without looking back.  “We finally called the police,” Mavis told this reporter, “but by that time, you could barely see him.”

As reported on national television, Angel Rivera apparently kept paddling his board until a rogue wave swept him overboard.  His body was recovered by the coast guard early the next day.

Authorities at Folsom State Prison again declined to address the conditions or circumstance of the incarceration of these three men, and their families are left to wonder.  Our calls for comments have to date gone unanswered.”

“I feel so bad for their families,” Julia said.

“The two still alive, do you think they will ever recover?

Julia shook her head.  “They’ll learn some coping skills.  Repetitive tasks will become second nature, but they’ll never regain the lost cognitive capacity.  This poison destroys entire regions of frontal lobe, almost as effectively as a surgical lobotomy.”

Rocky said nothing.

“You’re thinking about Billy, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he said.

“How is he?”

“He seems happy enough.  He started his new job.”

“No way,” she said.  “You didn’t really go ahead with that plan.  Please tell me you didn’t.”

“I had to,” Rocky said quietly.

“I think it’s cruel.”

‘We made a deal,” he reminded her.  “That’s why I’m here right now eating cake by my pool with you and not sitting in jail.  I killed a policeman, remember.”

“A zombie policeman.”

“Try selling that to jurors.  We killed thirty-four people, Julia.   And we burnt down a twenty million dollar historical landmark.  Who do you think cleaned all that up after we drove away in a stolen police car?”

“I know,” she said.  “You made a call and Rick Biondi covered it up.”

“No,” he said.  “It was too big.  Schwarzenegger covered it up.  No police, only his personal security on the scene before the firemen got there.  Or maybe after the firemen got there.  It’s hard to say, but read the headline on page twelve, you’ll see that the California Firefighter’s Union just got some major pension dispensations from the governor.”

“Why would he want to cover it up?” Julia asked.  “He got nothing out of it.”

“He wanted a zombie.”

“Well he didn’t get one.”

“Yes he did,” Rocky reminded her.  “That was the deal to keep us all out of jail.  Biondi had Billy’s paperwork done in just a few hours.  Billy is a state worker now, a proud new member of the governor’s security detail.”

“It’s cruel,” she said, slipping into her sandals.

It is cruel, Rocky told himself.  “Wait,” he called after her.  “Can you bring me another one of these cupcakes?  I think I’m addicted.”

Written by williamdoonan

September 16, 2013 at 10:45 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Six

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“I can’t accept this.”  Hammermill tore the page to shreds.

Adam said nothing.  He stared out the window onto the sprawling Sentec campus, admiring the sunset, feeling good about himself.

“And there’s the issue of the patent you filed.”

“I successfully completed the terms of my employment,” Adam told him.

“This is a resignation letter,” Hammermill reminded him.  “And you have a contract.  That means I own you for at least thirty-two more months.  And you’ll need to amend the patent.”

“I won’t amend it,” Adam said.  “And I am leaving.  As of today.”

Hammermill faced him squarely.  “I’m not going to pretend I like you,” he said, “but you have a legal arrangement with this company.  You cannot register a patent in your name if that patent is the result of work product.  Your transfat macro is a work of genius, though the name you chose, ‘Magic Molecule’ will need to be amended along with the patent holder identification.”

“I’m keeping the name,” Adam told him.  “And if you read my contract, the contract you had me sign when I began working here, you’ll see that I am precluded from registering a patent in my own name.  You’ll note that I did not register the patent in my own name.  The patent belongs to Adam Westlake and Denise Rosen.”

“It’s still work product,” Hammermill said, his voice almost a yell.  “They too are prohibited from registering their own patents.”

“And they didn’t,” Adam reminded him.  “I registered the patent for them.  It’s an ass-fucker of a loophole.  If I were you I’d work with my legal team to rewrite that section of the contract.  As it is, the contract is binding.  You’ll want to incorporate it into your product line, but you’ll be paying them royalties.  When you come in tomorrow morning, you’ll find their resignations on your desk as well.”

Hammermill worked on maintaining his calm, his cheekbone muscles flexing as he breathed deeply toward a calm.  “Adam,” he began, gripping the edge of the table, “you and I both know I’m not going to let you just walk out of here, don’t we?”

Adam picked up a water glass, tossed it from one hand to the other, getting a sense of its heft.

“Don’t even think about it,” Hammermill told him.  “If you throw that glass at me I will have you arrested for assault.  You should know that this conversation is being taped.”

“Not just being taped.  It’s being monitored as well.” Adam figured that Tom Kerwin or some other senior manager was sitting somewhere close by, staring into a monitor.

Hammermill sat back.  “Why don’t I take a different approach ?  How about this; l bought you.  If you break your contract with me, your SUBA contract reactivates.  You’re never going to leave us, Adam.”

Seven ounces, Adam guessed, feeling the heft of the water glass.  That could take out a tooth it necessary.  But it wouldn’t become necessary.

“See, I know all about you,” Hammermill continued.  “Baker gave me your file.  Little orphan boy raised by the state, comes under the wing of some tweaker family who pimped him out to support their habit.  Thin little boy; you didn’t even get fat until you were twelve.  Why Adam?  Is it because pedophiles don’t find fat boys attractive?”

Adam watched the clouds through the window, watched as they moved gently, effortlessly, obscuring the setting sun.  Down below, in the west parking lot, Sentec employees were finding their cars, thinking perhaps of the potential left in this day.  There would be food, there might be music, and god willing, there might be mating.

“And don’t even think about making a life with that whore Celeste,” Hammermill continued, putting his feet back up on the table.  “I’ve had a go at her a few times myself and I have to say I found it lacking.  Perhaps it was a lack of enthusiasm, I can’t be sure.”

Adam stared.  At this distance, he calculated, a seven ounce water glass properly propelled could reduce between eight and twenty teeth to dental powder.  But that wasn’t going to be necessary.  He took out the little gold cigarette case from his pocket and opened it.

“No smoking in the building,” Hammermill cautioned him.

Adam pulled a thin cigarette-shaped tube from the case.

“I’m going to give you right back to SUBA,” Hammermill told him.  “It will be like you never left, only they have a new cook now, so maybe you’ll be working on the line.”

Adam gestured with his finger, bringing a hesitant but grinning Hammermill closer.  “You shouldn’t have called her a whore,” he said.  He set the tube firmly between his lips as if it were a joint.  He smiled at Hammermill and blew the powder into his face.

Written by williamdoonan

September 12, 2013 at 9:38 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Five

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“How is he, really?” Rocky asked the nurse, looking out at the fenced garden where Billy St. Clair sat smoking the cigar Rocky gave him.

“It’s difficult to say,” she said.  “I’m not pleased that he’s smoking, but he seems happy.  Did he seem to enjoy your visit?”

Rocky nodded.  “He talked to me about the pool, how he liked the diving board, and about the macaroni and cheese which he liked at lunch.”

“That’s normal in cases like these,” she said.  “Stroke victims take their time coming back.  I’ve seen it again and again.”

“I’m not sure he had a stroke,” Rocky said.  “Could there be something else responsible for this?”

The nurse shook her head.  “We see all kinds of pathologies here.  And each one is different.  In time, he might regain his full faculties.  But we should be prepared for the fact that he might not.  Billy is lucky in this regard.  He has a job, and they pick him up each morning to go to work, and he’s good at it.  Many of our other patients are not so lucky.”

“He’s only forty-five years old.”

The nurse nodded.  “I’ve seen stroke victims as young as ten.”  She put her hand on his arm.  “Give him time.  And if there’s any comfort I can give you,” she produced a business card and wrote her phone number on the back.  “I want you to call me.”

Rocky looked out at Billy who was smiling now.  He had taken off his shirt and was trying to make a puppet of it.

Written by williamdoonan

September 9, 2013 at 9:30 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Four

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“I feel empty,” Alice said.

“He’ll call.”  Julia leaned against the glass enclosure where Prometheus used to sit, empty now save for a few cables that managed to tangle themselves on their own, at night perhaps, as cables do.

“I was talking about the program,” she said.  “About the robot, about our protocol.  It’s over now, right?”

Julia nodded.  “For now.  It’s a setback.  That’s how a scientist refers to utter defeat.  We call it a setback.  We’ll be back on our feet in no time, Alice.”

The lab door swung open and Gloria Beltran came in with a pizza.  “Hot, hot, hot,” she said.  “I figured you were going to be hungry as well as mad.”

“When did they take him?” Julia asked.

“Who?” she asked.

“Prometheus?”

Gloria nodded.  “Your robot, yes.  Just after midnight, I think.  I asked the desk clerk.  By order of the governor.  It was a health risk.”

“Was it now?” Julia asked, reaching for a slice.

“Did you get the sausage one?” Alice asked.

Gloria Beltran nodded.  “I did.  Have you heard from your boyfriend?”

Alice looked down, concentrated on her pizza.

“I’m worried about him, Mama,” Julia said.  “I have calls in to all of the dialysis units in the neighboring counties.  But so far nothing and it’s been ten days.  We’ve gone to his apartment too and he hasn’t been there.”

Gloria Beltran took her time selecting a pizza slice before handing Julia an envelope.  “The desk clerk gave me this for you.”

“It’s from him.” Alice snatched the letter from her hand.  “That room is still airtight,” she said, pointing to Prometheus’s vacant cell.  “If you’re concerned, we can put on masks and go inside.”

Julia nodded, and they did just that.  They closed the glass door behind them and sat against the Plexiglas wall, watching intently for a moment as an unexpected moth made a quick flight path across the small room.  They fitted the airmasks over their faces, and opened the envelope.

Dear Professor and Dear Alice,

They’d come after us if I were to tell you where we are.  Not the priestesses or their Bizango chemists, because there are no others left.  But the people who want what we know, they’d come.  Some California Corrections officer, somebody who owed Schwarzenegger a favor, they’d come for us.  So I can’t tell you where we are, but I can say that we’re safe.  We rented a little house here and Karen will be starting school next month.  Folks around here understand me to be her uncle, and I guess that’s what I am.

OK, so here’s the thing, if you want it.   I kind of figured it out and I kind of intuited it, which means I’m interpreting some of Karen’s thoughts, and framing them against the backdrop of the work we’ve been doing.  So here goes, here’s your timing gene: it’s a 2800 base pair CTG stutter at 23Xp7-p11 and at 23Xq5-q7.  I wrote out the mutation on the back, but basically its a C to G substitution.  Feed it to Prometheus if you can, but I’m thinking the fuckers might have taken him by now.  So plug it in to any sequencer running on Linux, download the seventy-two or seventy-three shotgun sequences that begin with the markers I indicated and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The zombie powder breaks down the protein so the control gene cannot direct cellular aging, but the gene also interacts with four stutters on the ninth chromosome to direct synthesis of an enzyme that draws waste from neurons.  This means that you need a mutation to live forever, but you still need the gene intact so that your brain doesn’t fill up with shit and stop working.  That’s why it doesn’t work on men, Julia.  The neurons in their brain stem become polluted and can no longer maintain basic bodily functions like heartbeat and temperature.  Generally, the damage is restricted to the cerebrum and they keep breathing and pumping blood, but they’re somewhat mindless.  That’s how our zombies are made.  That’s how women can live forever.

And in rare instances, a woman who has one functioning gene and one modified gene will produce a non-disjoined ovum, an egg with 46 chromosomes that understands itself to be fertilized, even though it is not, and that egg will implant in her uterus and develop into an embryo and eventually a child.

But it’s a secret, Julia.  It’s a secret, Alice.  And it should stay as much.  The priestesses kept it from the chiefs, kept it from the French, kept it from everyone.  Now you make sure you keep it from Schwarzenegger.

As for me, I don’t know why it worked like it did on me.  I’d love to have my single ravaged X chromosome sequenced, find out why I’m still alive, but I don’t have  the patience.  This is a strange place for me.  All my life I’ve hated this disease, yet it’s the muscular dystrophy that saved me.  Funny thing, no?

Alice, you have to know that I love you.  You should also know that I’m coming back for you before long, like Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentleman, and I know you’re laughing right now because I’m being saucy and because you see me wheeling you out of that factory, but it wouldn’t be like that because I’m walking now, baby.

Not that much, a few steps here and there, but we were on the streetcar the other day and it was crowded and guess what, I had to stand.  Loved it, I tell you.  Nothing in my life has ever pleased me more.  I’d like for you to examine me one day (we’d be playing doctor!) because I expect you’d find that I am producing dystrophin.  The chemistry, that powder Millicent Sorrows blew at me did not produce her desired effect, but it produced an effect nonetheless.

Both of you should know that I’ve never been as happy as I have been with you, and that these past few months have been the best of my life.  When things cool down, when I’ve learned more, I’ll be back like I said.  Until then, know that you are in my thoughts.

Karen is of course the last of the line, and I will become in time, her chemist.  She she is teaching me some incredible things.  It’s slow going and I have to develop entire new skill sets for interpreting multilayered data and contradictory phenomena, but we have the coming centuries to get this right, Karen and I.  I hope we have your blessing, at least until we can talk again, which I hope can be soon, but not too soon.

– Carson

Written by williamdoonan

September 5, 2013 at 9:23 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Three

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Julia cut the restraints from Karen’s hands, then hugged her tightly.  “What are we doing here, sweetheart?”

“We’re making peace,” Karen said.  She slipped from Julia’s grasp and ran a finger over Condor Nyle’s lips.

He sat up instantly.  “Hello, child.”

“Karen,” Julia began, “we have a big problem here.  I want to help you, and I think you want to help me too.”

Karen jumped into Carson’s lap and made herself comfortable.

He hugged her, tears flowing down his face.  “Yes,” he said.  “Yes I will.  Always.”

Julia knelt on the floor next to her.  “Karen, right now I just want to go home.  Can you help me now?”

“Mrs. Black is here now,” she said.  “She will make it all beautiful for everyone.”

Rocky didn’t see her until Tim Murphy pointed.  She was sitting like a garden gnome on a porch post.  No legs, that was immediately apparent.  She was a little thing, not more than sixty pounds. She opened her toothless mouth.  “Do you believe that with a wave of my hand I can have you all killed?”

One of the nearest zombies moved in.

“Tell him to get back,” Rocky said.

Ruth Black looked straight into his eyes.  She said nothing but the man withdrew.

“I’m going to go in there and take my wife home,” Rocky said.

“No you’re not,” she said.  “You’ve stolen a secret from me, and I cannot let you leave with it.”

“I’m taking my wife home now,” Rocky spat.

She shook her head.  “I want my Bizango back.  You’ve stolen him.  And I want the boy who sits in the chair.  I need him for the girl.  He will come of his own volition.  And I’ll need your wife for a number of years.  After which, she may return to you if she chooses.”

“Absolutely not,” Rocky spat, raising his gun as one of the zombies began climbing the steps, moving toward him.  “This is how you want it?”

“No,” Ruth Black spat, but the zombie kept coming.  “Obey me.  Desist.”

When it didn’t, Rocky shot it in the head, dropping it.  Another came across the porch and he shot him too.  “This is how you want it?” Rocky repeated angrily.

“No,” she said.  “This is not my will.  I’m telling them to stop.”

“And yet they’re not stopping.”  Rocky shot two moving up the steps.  They went down fairly easily.

Tim Murphy moved around the corner, shooting seven of them before he had even reached the porch.  “Are these things afraid of fire, you think?” he called to Rocky as he reloaded.

“Don’t know.”  Rocky paused to reload.

Tim Murphy pulled out a flair.  Striking it quickly, he pointed the bright red flame at a young man wearing overalls who held a garden rake over his head.  “Fire,” he shouted, waving the flair, but the man kept coming.

“Three o’clock,” Rocky called out.

Tim Murphy tossed the flair at the man with the rake and picked up his guns, backing towards the door as he shot.  “Inside, Rocky,” he said.  “There are ten or so more coming around the corner.

Overalls with the rake was on fire now, though not paying much attention.  Rocky kicked him into the railing, knocking over a second zombie.  For a moment or so, everything seemed calm.  Then the flames licked up onto the railing and began spreading across the rotting wood of the porch.

Adam limped onto the porch just as the flames fanned out.  He pushed through a side door and came into the ballroom from one of the dining rooms.  When he spotted Ruth Black, poised motionless on the edge of the balcony, he recognized her instantly.  “You’re the boss,” he told her softly.  “You can stop this.”

She groaned.  “I can’t.  There’s too many now.  More than four, and I get, I get confused.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have made more than four.”

“Time to go,” Tim Murphy called.  “Everyone in the car, now.  Twenty seconds.”  He grabbed Julia’s shoulder and shoved her toward the door.

Condor Nyle swooped down on Ruth Black and gathered her up into his embrace.  “You’ll leave her alone,” he shouted.

Julia ran to her, noting the smoke billowing up near the high ceiling.  “There’s so much you and I can accomplish,” she said.

Rocky grabbed her arm but she shook free.  “We can still work everything out.”

She smiled, cold and hard.  She reached for Julia’s hand and her mind locked onto Julia’s.  “Even in Benin,” the thought began, “the chiefs tried to take the secrets from us and we never told them.  Even when they shipped us across the ocean, we never told the masters.  Now the new masters want the secrets and they can never have them.  Never.  Better we should die.”

“No, please,” Julia said.

Ruth Black leaned up and kissed Condor Nyle on the mouth.  “My sweet Bizango” she said.

Condor Nyle smiled and the zombies came in unison, like an army.

Tim Murphy stood at the door and fired almost continuously, pausing only to reload, the pistols getting hot.  He counted nine hits.  Rocky got seven of them.  But it was Adam, realizing that there were a lot more of them out, who fired a clean shot through Ruth Black’s head, a shot which dove deep into Condor Nyle’s chest.  Ruth Black fell over dead.

Condor Nyle dropped to the floor.  “Help me,” he begged.

Alice reached for his arm but it was already exfoliating skin.  “I’m not sure I can.”  She tried to find a pulse but found nothing, the arm itself already turning brittle.

“I’m too young to die,” he cried.  “I want to see Errol.  I want Errol here beside me.”

“Errol Flynn died like fifty years ago,” Alice told him.  “And he didn’t mention you in his autobiography.”

“We were a secret,” Condor Nyle said as the last of his facial muscles lost their tone.  “But I was great once, wasn’t I?”

“To be fair,” Alice said, “Vermin of Yemen was first rate, but you sucked in Werewolves of Baja.  Nowhere in the literature do werewolves surf.”

“It was a sequel,” Condor Nyle said as his heart stopped.

Written by williamdoonan

September 2, 2013 at 10:08 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Two

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Julia and Carson tied Condor Nyle in a series of bungie knots as Billy St. Clair stood motionless by the window.

“Rocky should be here soon,” Julia said.  “I don’t really want to be here alone for much longer.”

“We’re not alone.”  Carson looked around.  “She’s here.  She’s here right now, I can feel her.”

“Who?”

“Karen Sorrows.”

“You know this how?”  Alice demanded.

Carson tapped his head.  “She told me just now.”

“No way.”  Alice stared at the shotgun that rested by the wheelchair.  “If she’s here, I’ll bet dollars to donuts, she’s not alone.  This isn’t good, Julia.”

“Agreed.”  Julia picked up the shotgun. “If Ruth Black wants to talk with me, she can send me an e-mail.”

They heard a knock on the door, but Carson was already maneuvering his chair.  “It’s for me,” he said.

Karen Sorrows stood at the entrance.  She was wearing a blue blazer over gray sweatpants.  She looked like a healthy young woman.  She looked alluring.  “I’m going to need you,” she told Carson.  “I’m going to need you for a long time.”

Tim Murphy sped through the open door.  He scooped up Karen and carried her inside.  They heard the car a moment later as it roared up the low stairs and came to a stop in front of the open door.
“No,” Carson screamed as Rocky leapt out of the driver’s seat.  “Leave her alone.”

Tim Murphy bound the girl’s hands and left her at Julia’s feet.  Then he moved out onto the terrace where half a dozen men lumbered toward the door. “In or out, Rocky?  I think we have too many here right now to get us all out.”

“In then.”

“Wait,” Carson screamed.  “You too,” he screamed at the figures outside.  “We can resolve this.”

Tim Murphy counted at least a dozen of them now.  He held two pistols, each with sixteen rounds, and he had always considered himself devilishly fast at reloading.  He felt good about their chances.  It would be dirty, like that time in Mozambique when he had taken a job he shouldn’t have.  “I’m going to start shooting in three seconds,” he said.

“Wait,” Julia told him.  “You wait, Tim.  You wait till I tell you.”

In deploying personnel, it is important to consider both the temperament and potential of each individual.  This much Adam learned the hard way, toiling at SUBA.  When one exhaustive direct mail campaign had failed, Adam detailed its author to the Candlestick floor, where the man proved incapable of even the most rudimentary retail packet assembly duties.  Now, he himself felt ill-used.  A master of chemistry and love, he, Adam, had been detailed to climb a decaying stairway and break into the second floor, to approach from above.

Adam cursed as his foot punched through a step and he maneuvered himself onto the next step.  “I should be directing this from some console somewhere.”

“Don’t you come in here,” called out a voice from inside.

Adam pulled a giant splinter from his hand.  He was  breathing heavily.  So far none of them have been armed, he told himself.  He kicked the door open.

A thick slate fireplace dominated most of one wall, but his attention was fixed on the woman who sat on a decaying  armoire across the room.

“And who might you be?”

“You don’t know?” she asked.  She was an older black woman, dolled up, fashionable even.

“No, ma’am,” Adam said.  “I don’t.”  He held the policeman’s big automatic pistol before him.

“Do you all even talk with one another, share information?  You might by now have some awareness of who I am.”

Adam hiked up his pants.  “I’m going to guess that you’re the number one priestess or the number two priestess.  I’m told both are senior citizens.”

“You’re a funny man,” she said.  “But this has nothing to so whatsoever with priestesses.  I’m a simple woman, nothing more.  But if you were to sit with me for a spell, I could tell you some grand things.”

“What kind of grand things?”

“How you might live to see a man walk on the moon.”

Adam frowned.  “They did that in 1969.”

Millicent Sorrows frowned too.  “Memory serves only now and again.”  She pulled what looked like a cigarette from a thin silver case.  “Wait just one moment and I will open up your world.”

Adam inhaled half a breath and stopped.  Something new here, something very old, a dewy, earthy scent.

“Come closer.” Millicent Sorrows stood.  She had the cigarette-thing in her hand now and took a step toward him.

“I’ll shoot you,” he said, holding the gun unsteadily before him.

“I’m only here to protect my daughter.”

Adam inhaled again, not deeply.  He couldn’t smell any tobacco, though a trace amount of the tea-like substance he had brewed for Karen lingered in the room.  “I helped her,” he said.  “Do you know that?  I made the drink, the tea, that helped her.”

Millicent Sorrows stood still.

“I want her to be safe too,” Adam said.

She stared at him, locked her eyes onto his and sniffed.  “And yet you came to kill her.”

He shook his head and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, placed it over his nose and mouth.  “I didn’t come to kill anyone.”

She held his gaze a moment longer.  “Troubled man,” she said.  “You have much to atone for.”

“I’m trying,” he said.  “I’m trying every day.  Please don’t make me kill you.”

She opened the case and gingerly set the cigarette inside.  “These days, so few men have any sense of decorum.  You may be the last man in the country who carries a handkerchief.  Is it silk?”

He nodded.

“You should know that it wouldn’t have helped; you would still have died.”

“I believe you,” Adam said.  “And with five bullets from my gun, you would have died too.”

“An impasse.”  Millicent Sorrows looked down at the floor.  “Sometimes it isn’t clear what one should do.  I felt that way in the voting booth some years back, but in the end, I cast my lot with William Howard Taft.  I thought he did well in the Philippines.”

“He was a heavy man,” Adam noted.  “Powerfully built.  Also wise.”

Millicent Sorrows picked up her bag.  “This has gone on too long,” she said.  Then she handed him the cigarette case.  “Help my daughter.”

Adam pointed the gun at the floor as she walked out the door.

Written by williamdoonan

August 29, 2013 at 11:38 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand