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Specimen51 by WestShore
Summary: A woman scientist, faced with a personal life crisis, discovers a mysterious young prisoner who needs her help to recover what was taken from him — his memories. In return, the handsome stranger helps her to learn that memories and fears are not the sum total of who we each are.
Disclaimer: The X Files characters are the brainchildren of Chris Carter and Company. I have only borrowed them for “fun”, not profit. I have messed them about a bit, but I have also cleaned them up and returned them to the shelf from whence I took them — so that some other imaginative type can play with them. All other characters and the story are mine.
May I dedicate this?
This one, Ladies (and Gents), is to Friendship: That quality in a similar soul that we respond to whether it is over the unseen connections of cyberspace, over the unknown stretch of many lifetimes or over the distance across an aisle on the Dial-A-Ride bus…
To The Saint and Our Amazon Progeny.
To Dodie and The Dot — and the friendship they had for over 45 years.
“Are you NUTS?” — Dodie June 1997 R.I.P.
“Specimen 51” X Files Tale by WestShore
“There is an ancient Indian saying that something lives only as long as the last person who remembers it. My people have come to trust memory over history.
“Memory, like fire, is radiant and immutable. Those who will douse the Flame of Memory in order to put out the dangerous Fire of Truth… Beware of these men, for they are dangerous themselves — and unwise.
“Their false history is written in the blood of those who might remember and of those who seek the Truth.” – Albert Hosteen (“Anasazi”/”The Blessing Way”)
Summer Cottage Late May 6:45 a.m.
Walking down this road, in the stillness of early day, always brought back the memories.
The sights: a country road dappled with sunlight pouring through the canopy of fragile green spring leaves, tall stately evergreens standing sentinel at the roadside for as long as he could remember.
The sounds: noisy songbirds, busy preparing nests for the arrival of new life, the muffled roar of the ocean waves crashing on a sandy beach that was hidden beyond the trees and the cliffs to his left, the faint echoing bark of some distant neighbor’s dog.
The smells: ocean freshness and the early morning loamy smell of pine needles and earth.
Fox Mulder stopped his slow stroll to stand still for a moment, letting the memories overtake him. He closed his eyes and lifted his head to the mild warmth of the morning sun, breathing deep.
Let the memories come.
Hot summers. Sea spray. Breathless exhilaration.
The play of children. The musical shriek of her little-girl laughter as he chased her down to the seaside. And that last summer… so very, very long ago.
He opened his eyes abruptly and stared stonily through the pines toward the rose-colored dawn sky, abruptly willing the memory of his sister away.
It was a useless memory after all. Nothing to learn from it. It served no purpose.
He twitched his shoulders in his denim jacket and stretched lazily, concentrating on the sunrise. Pink sky in the morning; Sailors, take warning. Was there a storm predicted today, he wondered?
Three days into his vacation.
The decision to come up to the old summer house had been a big mistake. He had thrown himself back in time.
Eidetic memory was his cross to bear. He sometimes wondered what it would be like to be without the power of perfect recollection, living in blissful ignorance. Everything he touched or saw for the past three days triggered a childhood memory. Even the sweet ones had a cloak of sadness around them now.
Three days had been two days and twenty three hours too much.
He grimaced to himself as he recalled the worry he saw in the quick look his partner Dana Scully had given him when he announced his vacation plans.
Well… okay. It WAS a dumb idea.
He wasn’t good at this vacation-planning nonsense. Next time he’d sign up for one of those ocean cruises and spend his days and nights as a hostage to his motion sickness and blue-hair ladies that would single him out for Macarena lessons.
Would that make Dana Scully look any less concerned with his decision-making process for vacations?
He stuck his hands into his jeans pockets to warm them against the early morning chill and started down the long winding two-track drive that led to the summer house.
Behind him, the sudden screech of tires on pavement and the growing roar of several car engines shattered the morning peace.
He never looked back. Instinct told him to do so would be to lose precious time. It wasn’t necessary to pause and wonder if the noise was a danger signal meant for him or not.
His long legs served him well. Speed on familiar grounds. He could hear the splintering of young saplings and the grind and whine of rubber tearing and sliding in damp earth as the cars neared.
The summer house was in sight.
When he broke into the clearing of the yard, he veered right sharply and headed for the protective cover of another thin stand of woods. He knew he would never make it across the clearing to his house.
His phone. Everything was in the house.
How much more fucking stupid could I have been this morning, he berated himself. Lulled in memories of a carefree past, he had foolishly forgotten the cautions of his present life.
He could feel his heart pounding in his throat when he saw the glint of metal from the hood of another car. It was waiting, half-hidden in the stand of woods. He swerved again, aware that the growl of a car engine behind him was much louder now.
Head to the cliffs.
There had to be one he hadn’t counted on. There always has to be one…
Mulder felt his knee and thigh strike the bumper of the car that bolted into his path. He went down among the spray of dirt and gravel thrown up by two more cars that screeched to a halt around him. Doors were opening.
Forced to flail blindly at rough hands that were pulling him to his feet, he fought to clear the dirt out of his eyes. He kicked out and was rewarded with the minor satisfaction of connecting with some faceless thug’s soft tissue. He heard a grunt and the rough hands got rougher.
Body-slammed to the ground and pinned down, he continued to struggle. Bizarre silence. No shouting. No cursing. No threats. Just efficiency.
A professional abduction. Men in Black.
There was no need to see them. Faceless men.
There was no need to scream. No one near enough to hear.
Oddly, his panic-stricken brain called up the calm, amusing memory of Dana Scully, looking worriedly after him as he left the office that last day. She had waved.
“Don’t forget to come back,” she had called after him.
He felt a soft cloth being pressed firmly to his face. His stomach lurched at the cloying sweet smell of chloroform. His last thought was another memory…
Pinck Pharmaceuticals Company Lobdell, Louisiana Site Mid-June
It’s been a long three weeks. And now, walking the concrete block and institutional steel hallways of Pinck Pharmaceuticals Company — Louisiana Division, I regret that I hadn’t opted to stay away longer as was the original plan.
Perhaps I should quit altogether.
I’ve lost my fire. I realize I hate it here. I hate my job. I hate my life.
I hate myself — defined by an indefinable position in an obscure company in a go-nowhere town.
Forty-five years of age is a hell of a time for a woman to realize what a wasteland her life has been.
If I’m brutally honest with myself, I can say the realization has been creeping up on me for a long time. I’d gone from timid child to timid teen to timid adult, hiding in books and studies until attaining my Ph.D. in Clinical Research at Louisiana State. Horrified to find myself facing the real world on my own, I immediately took cover in a tiny research job in a lab that was only a mere hundred miles or so from my birthplace. I became a lab assistant with Pinck Pharmaceuticals, Lobdell, Louisiana, just north of Baton Rouge.
Almost twenty years later, very little has changed. I live in the same small apartment. Drive the same five mile route to and from work. And have the same empty life I’ve always had.
.. I’ve always wondered.
Wondered what it might be like to be someone else. To be in love. To have children. To grow old with someone. To have someone to care for.
Someone to look after…
Oh, I’ve often thought these things as the days have slipped by, melded by routine into months, molded by indifference into years. After these last three weeks, however, the ache of loneliness and the sense of loss have become tangible things in my life.
And Pinck Pharmaceuticals has become the symbol of all that is wrong. After all these years, I know no more about it or what it really does than when I started here. I am the perfect employee; I know nothing beyond the door of my own lab and office, and I do not ask.
From timid child to timid worker ant.
I have been my own greatest disappointment. And for that, I’ve been handsomely rewarded each payday by the unknown faces behind the signatures on my paycheck twenty-six times a year, with bonuses at Christmas.
God Bless Ye, Mystery Gentlemen… whomever you may be.
A two week death watch over my Grand Marraine and a week-long funeral in the best of New Orleans Cajun traditions is the probable cause for all this soul-searching. Marraine Solange Terrebonne was a woman who loved life.
And she loved me.
And even though I haven’t had a blood relative to answer to in twenty-seven years, I considered her my only real family. And she happily made me part of hers, always trying to infuse my paltry soul with her “joie de vivre” (love of life).
Marraine Solange had seemed ancient when she became nanny to the dingy Branson household and its single pale, forlorn girl child forty -three years ago. In retrospect, she may have been godsent; she had no need of the miserly salary my father paid her. She had a large, loving family of her own. But she chose to stay by my side until I was old enough to go out into the world on my own. I had so much to be grateful to her for. Our old house along the Mississippi River in St. Gabriel, Louisiana was brightened by her presence and so was my life.
I had lost my mother to a failed childbirth, and I had lost my father to my mother’s memory, it seemed. Colonel Emerson Branson wandered through the rest of his life a haunted man, making me an orphan for fifteen years before he actually died.
Marraine Solange, a instinctual practicing “psychologist” without benefit of formal schooling, knew that she would have to step in with the love that had been taken away from me.
She saved me. But for what?
When I wandered off to my schools and books and studies, she headed back to her family in the heart of New Orleans, and our relationship became one of long heartfelt letters, occasional visits and phone calls. When her health began failing earlier this year, I selfishly feared for myself. I hadn’t been face to face with her in almost two years, but she was still the only candle flame that kept the darkness of my dismal life from claiming me.
She knew it, too.
Her last words were to me, even as her great-niece Lucille and great-nephew Edel stood behind me at the bedside. “Try happiness, Deanna,” she had said. “You should have a happiness in your life so that you have a light for your soul…”
“You are my light, Marraine Solange,” I said.
She had smiled sadly at me. “Cherchez l’amour, ma petite. Don’t be so afraid. Take the love if you have to, but find a happiness. You have been a sad child for too long.”
I sat numbly through the clamor and joy that accompanied Marraine’s spirit into the next world. Marraine’s niece, Lucille Terrebonne, a lusty, beautiful woman just a few years older than me, invited me to stay, to become part of their lives again as I did when I was young and to leave my nowhere existence behind.
But her life terrified me, as I suppose, everything about life terrifies me.
Even as I am fascinated by it.
Lucille and her handsome brother Edel, run one of the more successful nightspots off Rue Bourbon in New Orleans. Sultry jazz music, the smell of sex, expensive cigars and booze, all night partying and lazy daylight living. All of it light-years from my dreary little existence in Lobdell.
So, I said hurried good-byes and fled back to…
What? What have I come back to? What am I doing here?
How will I ever “find a happiness — take a love” here, eh, Marraine Solange?
My own thoughts are so loud in my head that for a long time I don’t even register all the racket coming from inside my lab. I pause with my card at the lock. It had been an automatic gesture: pull the keycard from its secret compartment in my purse. Swipe the card. Unlock the door.
But the door was already open.
And I can hear my lab animals — the few that are left — frantically scratching and banging in their cages. They are terrified by the burr of drills, the bang of hammers and the clang of metal upon metal.
What is going on in my lab?
I stand in the doorway of the lab, open-mouthed. To my right, twenty cages hold my frightened charges: six rabbits, ten rats, and four macaque monkeys. The monkeys in particular are throwing up a fracas all their own. They have worked themselves into a frenzy, and I despair of calming them down enough to get them ready for the daily rounds of feedings, meds and tests.
Over their screeching, I can hear the man-made disturbance.
To the back of the lab are two darkened rows of cages that have been unused for several years as the usefulness and morality of animal testing has dimmed in the eyes of the public. Just beyond them, stands a doorway into the old primate labs.
A vestige of days when research money flowed a little faster, the primate area was handsomely equipped with a small clinical room for testing and surgery, six large primate cages and an employees lounge that had bunks, a kitchenette, showers and a locker room. Those were the days! But now that entire area is deserted.
Or rather, WAS deserted.
I am surprised to hear anything going on in there. The primate caging and testing area has been closed down for over a year! I never asked why. I know that a lot of the experiments were secretly moved to another location — I wouldn’t know where — under the supervision of my former partner, Doctor Victor Kent.
Victor’s departure was a relief for me at the time. We worked closely in these shared quarters for nearly nine months, and we had begun an odd, uncomfortable relationship beyond the walls of the Pinck Pharmaceuticals Company.
Terrified again, I rejected him later with little finesse. He wasn’t attractive: he was a bookish type with a balding pate and soft rounded thighs and shoulders that marked an non-athletic scientist who spent too many hours in an office chair hunched over slides, data and specimens.
Still, in all, that wasn’t what had bothered me most about him. I had always had a second sense about him. There was a cruelty and unreasonable ambition behind his eyes, and even though I never heard the man utter a nasty remark about anyone or anything, I had suspected there was another, much darker side to Victor Kent.
He scared me. His ambition scared me. And the stupidity of having an affair with one’s work partner had taken its toll as well. Our communiction dropped precipitously in the last few weeks.
However, before I could find out more about him and his intentions for the future of the Genera Project to put to rest my fears, he had taken the project and moved it elsewhere.
No preamble; no postscript; no good-byes.
So I am shocked to see that back door to the extinct experimental lab open and to look again upon the visage of Dr. Victor Kent.
He stops short when he sees me, his pale blue eyes blinking owlishly in surprise behind his heavy horn-rimmed glasses. He is still wearing the tense scowl I noticed on his face when he came through the door. He changes it quickly, though, softens it into the shy smile of a rejected beau as he makes his way hurriedly toward me, arms open.
“Deanna!” He has to shout over the din. His hoped-for moment of a staged, sentimental reunion is ruined by circumstance.
“Victor.” I politely acknowledge him at the same time I reach for my lab coat and turn to my distressed animals. I am not touched by his offer of open arms. I am suspicious. What is he doing here? Why is he in MY lab? What is going on?
I should ask. But will I?
A good PPC soldier never asks.
“Dr. Branson, I thought you might be glad to see me.” He sounds sincerely morose.
Good. He dropped the play-acting fast enough, I note.
“Of course, I am, Victor. I am a bit put off by the disturbances in my lab, though. And so are the animals, as you can see. I will lose an entire day — or more — depending on the duration of the commotion back there. I wish I had been informed.”
“Yes, of course. I’m so sorry, Deanna.” The play-act is back. I can see the falseness in his manner. There is something going on here, and I wasn’t supposed to know about it.
Victor Kent is nervous. But why?
“I was told the lab would be available for a short term use. And…” He looks at me with mock sheepishness. “I didn’t expect you back from vacation for another two weeks. I would have been done with the experiment and gone by the time you…”
I brush past him, heading for the supply cabinets. “I was not on vacation, Victor. I was on a death watch — for Marraine Solange.”
For a few moments I could feel his silence, even through the rest of the noise. He knows how much my former nanny had meant in my life.
“Oh. I… I’m so sorry, Deanna.”
Well, that at least sounds sincere. I brush past him again with food for the lab animals. They are probably too scared and excited to eat, but keeping to my routine is important for my sanity if not theirs.
Victor is just standing there, staring at me. His expression is only semi-readable.
I know he’s still attracted to me. At forty-five, my figure is still remarkable, and I am fortunate not to have any gray showing in my red-blonde hair which I keep in the same professional, shoulder length bob that I have had for years.
He had often told me he thought I was beautiful.
I thought “beautiful” might have been a strong word, but I knew I wasn’t homely, either. It could have been a line he used to wheedle his way into a sexual relationship with me, but as suspicious as I was of Victor Kent, I always chose to believe his compliments. It made our few clumsy, pathetic attempts at “lovemaking” more palatable. It also made it easier to excuse myself the following morning when I’d look in the mirror, remember his clumsy groping and grunting and pushing, and ask myself — again — why I couldn’t “fall in love”.
Depressed and disappointed, I remember thinking at the time: If sex is considered an innate hunger, I may be anorexic. It has never been a need of mine. I often told myself that if it were one of the basic instincts required for sustaining my life, I would have been dead a long, long time ago. Survival of the fittest, indeed. Perhaps it is survival of the least insecure…
It’s time to say something. Time to fill the silence and shake off my melancholy musings.
So I say something he doesn’t expect from a fellow PPC “good soldier”: “What’s going on back there, Victor? Is this experiment part of the ‘Genera Project’ that you were working on?”
I stop myself short of saying <“…before you ran out of here without a word to me. Wham. Bam. Thank you, ma’am.”>
His eyes widen a bit in surprise.
Deanna Branson asking questions? I’m sure he’s shocked.
Well, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet, as they say.
He draws closer to me, looking perturbed. “You weren’t supposed to be here, Dr. Branson.”
Hardly an answer to my question.
“But I AM here, Dr. Kent, and if your research is going to threaten my research, then I should be informed.”
He looks angry and waves his hand at the twenty cages of my animals. His sharp movement sends the already-disturbed animals into a new frenzy.
“Your ‘research’, Deanna? Who are you kidding? You’ve been marking time here — that’s all. You and your little mammalian congregation in the Church of Saint Deanna! You’re just feeding, cleaning, weighing, measuring — until the note comes down from Corporate to ship them out, just like all the other animals have been shipped out. Or killed. Or whatever. Don’t hand me that bullshit about ME disturbing YOU and your precious research! Why don’t you just go work in a veterinarian’s office? Clean rabbit cages! Line the monkey cages with your damned Ph.D.!”
That hurts. True as it is, I just don’t need to hear it right now. Stiff upper lip, Deanna, I tell myself.
“Nice remark, Victor. Very kind. Very sensitive. Your astute observations about the uses of my doctorate aside, the fact remains — I AM here at the moment, and I think I have a right to know why you have returned. After thirteen months without a word from you, I think I can safely assume you haven’t come back just because our pitiful attempts at sex were so unforgettable…”
I am as shocked by what I hear come out of my mouth as he appears to be. Again, silence.
I think I see that darker side I always feared in him rise up behind the pale blue of his eyes and make them glitter with annoyance. “I’ll take that under consideration, Dr. Branson,” he hisses. “As for my experiment, it is currently none of your concern. Yes, it has to do with the Genera Project. We’re securing one of the large primate cages and the old lab for a special subject — tagged Specimen 51. As long as you’re here, you might as well know this much: the area is off-limits to everyone but me and designated security. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Got that, Deanna?”
There is something not right about this…
He is acting oddly.
There is something else lingering behind his words.
God help me.
I can see it in his eyes. I know why he is nervous.
It is like having the “second sight” as Marraine Solange called it. I can’t keep the horror out of my voice.
“Specimen 51. It’s not an animal, is it?”
“Specimen 51 is human, isn’t it, Victor?”
He just glares at me, but there is a glimmer of discomfort in his manner. His anger is some kind of facade. I sense he is afraid.
“I know how far along you were with the Genera Project, Victor. You were YEARS away from human trials! How is it that you suddenly have a human specimen to work with? How, in the name of all that is sacred in science, did you ever get approval and clearance for this?”
“All that is sacred in science?” Victor snorts.
It is a cryptic comment. He sounds more disillusioned than derisive. He avoids eye contact as he continues, “He’s a ‘volunteer’, Deanna. A serial killer. A death row murderer and rapist with nothing to lose. A human monster at the end of his appeals. At the end of his rope, so to speak. I have all the necessary signed papers. It’s all nice and legal-like, doctor.”
He is sneering again.
And he is lying. I am sure of it.
He stares at me now, as if daring me to defy him on this. I am briefly puzzled by the fact that he still looks as if he feels uncomfortable with this “lie” he is trying to foist on me.
From what I was familiar with of the project, having assisted Victor in some of it last year, I knew it was far from ready for human experimentation — that is, if the Genera Project should ever even BE introduced to humans. My mind reels. A human subject for the Genera Project! As ground-breaking as this part of the research project is, it has some very wicked implications.
Victor’s work with lab rats had produced some promising results in regard to regenerating essential neurotransmitter cells through the introduction of fetal animal brain matter delivered to the areas of the specimen’s brain deliberately injured in the name of exploratory science.
When I first worked with the project, I shared Victor’s vision, seeing great possibilities for helping people with minimal brain damage from injuries, strokes, disease or even birth defects.
However, there were several unsettling hints that the project’s broader scope could have a more sinister purpose.
Doctor Kent was specializing in what was euphemistically called “brain-wiping”. His lab rats were systematically and selectively wiped of their memories. The Genera injections of progenitor cells — fetal brain matter — helped the rats’ brains regenerate necessary brain tissue, but in doing do, it also helped to “re-invent” the rats: they became “different” rats when given distinctly different personalities, re-created according to Victor Kent’s whims and data needs.
The research went swiftly. Too swiftly. Victor was anxious to press his skills and theories further, knowing full well that there were other comrades-in-arms working in this tiny field of research.
Victor Kent wanted to be the first. Victor Kent wanted his name to be the one printed most prominently on this particular page of scientific history. It was this part of his ambition that divided us. He had been unafraid of the costs.
So, apparently, since our abrupt separation, rats with re-invented personalities quickly had become bothersome child’s play to him. Somehow, in the past thirteen months, Victor had reaped a research scientist’s dream: permission to move into human testing.
Too soon. Too odd. The arrival of Specimen 51 seems just a bit too opportune at this point in the research.
I shudder to think what could be done if this “re-invention” were successful on a human being.
Specimen 51 will be re-born. He will be made into a virtual “tabula rasa”, a blank slate. A new man without memories — but open to…
What ? Programming? Brainwashing? A brave new world?
Maybe if Specimen 51 really WAS a condemned murderer and rapist, Victor’s brain-wiping expertise and subsequent Genera treatments could be his redemption, I tell myself. As well as a grand experiment for society?
No, the implications are still there.
Messing about with a human’s mind? It was too god-like, and the temptations for power over another human being would be too seductive. Besides, if it were so easy to turn a murderer / rapist into an ordinary citizen, it would also be possible to turn an ordinary citizen into a murderer / rapist! Armies of similar-thinking, killing machines could be fashioned out of the mundane hordes.
The death of free thinking, to be sure.
And Victor is already lying. There is already a cover-up going on. What are the chances that this is part of a conspiracy that Victor has gotten himself involved in with his senseless ambitions for the Genera Project and his own personal fortunes?
And how much did I care anyway?
To use a worn-out analogy, if Victor is “laying down with dogs”, he deserves “the fleas”.
Re-fashioning a murderer and rapist into a tax-paying, flag-waving, church-going, stock-buying, voting member of the American middle class? Why?
Seems to me that the Genius of the Genera Project is selling out for something — or to someone — mysteriously outside of the public domain of our science.
The buzzing and banging in the back rooms slows and finally stops. Three dusty workmen file out, carrying ladders and tools. They nod wordlessly at Victor and ignore me as they leave the lab.
“I’ve got some set-up to do in the clinical room, Deanna. There will be a clean-up and sterilization crew coming in after the noon hour. I expect they’ll be working past the time that you head for home. Just so you know.”
He moves toward the back door again and suddenly turns as if having an afterthought.
“Would you like to have dinner together sometime before I leave again?”
I can’t tell if he’s sincere or just mocking me, so I just level an icy look at him.
He shrugs and reaches for the code box next to the primate lab door, stabbing at the buttons. “Suit yourself. By the way, this lock code has been changed. Don’t try to make contact with Specimen 51, Deanna. He’s being isolated in here for your safety.”
“MY safety?!” I chortle. “Who’s kidding whom here, Victor? I thought this guy is a ‘volunteer’! Why is he being caged and locked up and treated like an asylum patient.”
“Because he IS like an asylum patient, Deanna. I’ll let you study his records if you like, then you can decide if you’re more comfortable with him being caged up. He knows what he bought in for, but he may not play by our rules. Just to be safe, stay away! In fact, maybe you should use up that huge amount of vacation time you have coming until I’m finished with him. It would be easier on me if I didn’t have to worry about you.”
He pauses and adds, “Please. Don’t get involved in this.”
How touching. He almost manages to sound really concerned for my safety. And his offer to examine Specimen 51’s files is too quick, too smooth. He is up to something.
I smile pointedly at him and turn back to my work without further comment. I hear the clang of the back door and the scrape of the heavy lock.
Worry about me, indeed.
Pinck Pharmaceuticals Company The Following Day 6 a.m.
My nerves are on edge already.
I hadn’t slept well. I had been wakened hourly by ghostly feelings of dread. A change is coming, Marraine Solange would say, and if I would open my heart as well as my eyes to what my subconscious is trying to tell me, I would be prepared for whatever is to come.
I had awakened for the last time at 3:26 a.m., sick over a myriad of conflicting emotions and quaking over the new moral challenge that Dr. Victor Kent and his “Specimen 51” now presented in my life.
Victor had a human specimen. A human! It wasn’t right. He had to be lying. He could not have gotten a “willing” human subject through any known legal means — no matter what he may have told me.
The “lie” had preyed on my mind all of yesterday and throughout my restless night.
It wasn’t right.
And what was I going to do about it?
I had no answer to that. The thought that I might have to do anything or challenge anyone still terrified me. But my own terror might be nothing compared to the terror and suffering an unsuspecting human subject might go through, my little voice had kept saying.
I had finally resigned myself to the day, getting out of bed, hoping to dull the insistence of that little voice in the back of my mind. I made strong, sweet Cajun coffee and sat by my bedroom window, waiting for dawn like a beggar outside of a church, willing myself NOT to think about Specimen 51 and Dr. Victor Kent.
But even the dawn had been denied to me today. How symbolic. An early morning storm had rolled in and squelched the lazy gray light of the new day. I had sighed, given in and decided to come into work two hours early, telling myself I had a lot of records to review to make sure everything had been cared for properly in my recent absence.
At least that’s what I had been telling myself as I showered, played with my hair, put on makeup. But, as I was driving in this morning, half hypnotized by the steady “thuck-thuck” of my windshield wipers, I had begun to wonder what it was that was REALLY bothering me. Why was I unable to commit to this moral dilemma?
Simple depression after losing a loved one? Forced re-evaluation of my life in the glaring spotlight of loneliness? And what about the re-appearance of one Dr. Victor Kent in my life ?
Whoever is scripting this absurd comedy I call “My Life”, he or she has a very odd sense of humor. Victor couldn’t have shown up at a worse time.
By the time I had reached the familiarity of my lab and began the day’s routine, I had sensed that that was not the entire problem, either.
There remains a deeper, nagging sense that I should act now to stop Victor’s research. But there is also a sense that there is something else going on, and after years of living with my head in the sand, so to speak, I feel ill-equipped to determine what it is that seems so very, very wrong now.
I know I am very, very bothered about the sanction of experimentation on the unknown Specimen 51. What kind of
human rapes and murders, gets captured, convicted and sentenced to death, and yet still wins a second chance at life? And what kind of company allows for dangerous trials on humans far before the recommended tests and research data are done? What conspiracy of greed would drive the unseen and unknown directors of Pinck Pharmaceuticals to chance the make-over of a human monster into a human being without considering the moral implications on both sides of this issue?
It doesn’t make sense.
There is too much else going on within my head, I tell myself. It’s Victor’s business, and I should stay out of it. Just shut down and shut up, Deanna, and get your work done.
Just shut down. And shut up.
My animals seem nervous again. They aren’t as frenzied this morning, but they are definitely wary. Smarter than me in that respect, I guess.
Even Suzie, one of the younger female monkeys is reaching out for me, a gesture indicating she wants comfort, needs to touch. She rarely does that. Curious. She must be very upset. I pop open her cage and allow her to jump to my shoulder and cling to my neck while I go about the rest of the business of opening up for the workday. She hides her face in my lab coat and does not move, making me wonder just what these animals witnessed last night that upset them so.
I throw a glance toward the door in the darkened shadows of the unused part of my lab. All quiet. A sliver of weak yellowish light shows through a tiny crack at the bottom, but there are no sounds.
Something must have happened last night, though.
Moments later, as I begin to pull up data screens on my bank of computers, Suzie starts screeching in terror and tries to burrow further into my lab coat.
“Damn it, Suzie! What has gotten into…?”
As I turn, trying to pull her out of my coat, I see what has her so upset. A large cruel-looking man has just come through the door of the old primate lab and is making his way across the lab to the exit. He looks enraged and ignores me and Suzie, whose screeching has struck up another chorus of terror in the other animals.
The man is scowling. It looks as if he is nursing a swollen eye, but that part of his face is turned away from me before I can be sure. I do see blood on his thin lips. He is wearing the dark blue uniform of the PPC Security staff, but I’ve never seen him around here before.
He is gone before I can even utter a cross word about disturbing my animals. I do notice, though, in his fury, he has not shut the primate lab door completely. The sliver of yellow light is much wider, indicating the lock may not have set back into place.
I glance back at the exit through which the man has disappeared. Victor’s warning of “Off Limits” is still buzzing in my brain, but I impulsively ignore it and head toward the door, surprising myself again.
Once in the hallway of the old primate lab, my own fear disorients me a bit. I had worked in here for years. I knew this lab complex by heart. But now, after Victor’s warning, it feels foreign, and I feel like a naughty child about to get caught.
I press on, however, stroking Suzie’s silvery-brown fur. More for my comfort than hers, I suspect.
The door to the clinic is open. All but the safety lights are off. In the dimness, I can make out the procedure table. It is covered with drapes — already mussed, used. A few dark stains. Blood, perhaps? There are thick black straps hanging loosely from the table.
I back away. This is more than I wanted to see, I tell myself. There was a procedure done here last night, but if it was on Victor’s “volunteer subject”, my first guess would be that the subject wasn’t very happy. There is a syringe with a bent needle at my feet near the doorway, but before I can lean over to retrieve it, Suzie pushes herself away from me and skitters across the hallway, toward the confinement area.
“Suzie, no! Not now.” I moan. I give chase, hoping that no one else is back here. All my curiosity and resolve are gone, melted into a leaden ball of fright that has settled into my gut.
What the hell was I thinking? What am I doing here? This is insane! Where is that damn monkey?
As I come around the doorway of the room that had formerly housed the big primate cages, I see Suzie. She is huddled at the door of a barred cage that has been totally refitted, its floor-to- ceiling interior covered with thick, well-padded canvas, bolted to the inside of the bars and to the door. The only visible opening was a slot at the bottom of the door, presumably a pass-through for trays and things.
“There you are! Come on — get over here!” My voice comes out in a nervous squeaky whisper. “We’ve got to get out of here! Hurry!”
Suzie just gawks at me. We both jump a bit when we hear a moan and the muffled sounds of movement coming from behind the padded cage door. But, Suzie, more intrepid than me, dips her little head down to the slot in the door and begins reaching in for something.
This is too much. I start for her only to stop dead as I see her tug a man’s hand through the slot . It is slender, elegant-looking. Long fingers. As I stoop to snatch Suzie away, I can see bruised, bloody knuckles. Perhaps these are the knuckles that met with the thin-lipped mouth of the man I had seen earlier.
It is becoming clearer that a monumental struggle had taken place. I again recall Victor’s description of his volunteer: a murderer and a rapist. Looking at this pale hand, though, I don’t get a sense that it is the hand of a criminal, as foolish as that sounds. I am a scientist, not given to relying on flashes of intuition.
I hesitate, studying the hand for a moment longer, while Suzie chitters beside my ear. I can just see the slim wrist. It is red and raw-looking. Markings of restraints? What kind of “volunteer” is so unwilling that he has to be beaten and restrained?
Another impulse. I brush my fingertips lightly over the bruised knuckles, wondering about the rest of the body this belongs to. It moves with a drugged slowness in response to my light touch. I draw back quickly and hug Suzie to me.
“We’ve got to get out of here! Let’s go!” I whisper as if Suzie would answer.
It is a soft, hoarse voice on the other side of the door that responds. “S-Scully? Scully? Is that you?”
It sounds slurred, laden with drugs, but it sounds desperately hopeful, too. I am too shocked to answer. What have I done?
“Scully?” He tries again.
I don’t know what to do. I should go.
I edge back toward the door, but that hand is moving now, reaching shakily for me. “Dana? Please. Scully? Who’s there? Help me — please.”
His voice is so weak, so desperate. He thinks I’m someone named… Who? Dana Scully? Should I answer? Should I try to make him understand?
But what is there to understand?
Fear rules again. I hold Suzie tightly to me and bolt back down the hallway toward the safety of my own little lab. This is Victor’s project. I have no reason to be here. I have no business snooping after his research. I’ve got plenty of my own work to…
The door opens just as I reach for it, and I find myself staring into the startled face of Dr. Kent. And just as I feel the warm flush of embarrassment rush through me, I see his face darken over with anger.
He pulls me roughly forward into my own lab and slams the door shut before he turns on me. I’ve never seen him this angry. He seems to be shaking with rage. I back away from him. Suzie is squirming and starting to shriek again.
Suzie. My salvation. She is the perfect foil.
“Victor! I had to get Suzie. Your security guy got the animals all worked up this morning, and Suzie bolted from her cage. She headed right through this door he left open — and I had to go get her.” My words tumble out in a rush, sounding idiotic, even to me.
Is he buying this? I can’t tell. His face is so vicious-looking. Then, thankfully, I see him waver. He looks from me to the frantic Suzie and back at the door as if considering the possibility that my little fabrication might be true. His face relaxes a bit. He believes me!
Thank you, God.
“What did you see?” he demands gruffly, still pinching my arm too tightly.
“Nothing,” I snap, wriggling free of his grasp. Having gotten away with my lie, I allow myself a little indignation at his treatment of me. “I found Suzie by the cages. She came right to me when I called.”
I don’t know what else to say. I have to be careful with the web I am weaving; I know there were security cameras back in there somewhere. And those cameras never lie.
He chews his lip, considering my tale. Perhaps he just chooses to believe me. In any case, his manner softens considerably and he uses his stern father-lecturer voice that I have always despised:
“You’ve been warned, Deanna. We’ve got a violent, dangerous man in there. For your own good, stay clear!”
I force myself to be cheery-sounding. “No need to tell me twice, Victor. I saw the face of that security guard this morning. Must have been quite a fight. I sure hope none of your work on your new specimen was compromised.”
Victor seems to get a bit concerned at that. His face blanches visibly, and he hurriedly moves to unlock the door. I am not going to allow him the luxury of running away from my irritation with him and his special project.
“Tell me again how they got this man to volunteer for this experiment, Victor?” I say it in my sweetest voice, but Dr. Kent does not take it sweetly. He sends one last scowl my way and disappears through the doorway, slamming and locking the door behind him.
I stare darkly at the closed door. Amidst my tumultuous thoughts, I can still hear that man’s soft pleading voice: “Dana? Scully? Help me…”
He’s NOT a volunteer. I’m sure of it.
However, I didn’t survive this long at PPC by being curious about every secretive project that slithered through our doors along with our regular work. I have been lucky to have been involved in simple straight-forward research projects over the years.
No reason to ask questions. No reason to cover things up.
Should I even let this get under my skin? Last year, I respected Victor Kent’s work with the Genera Project. Regeneration of essential brain cells would seem like a boon to mankind — surely headed for Nobel Prize recognition in several years.
This part of the project is new, though. And sinister.
And so is my former lover, Victor Kent.
Why am I not more surprised, I wonder?
I catch myself rubbing the tips of my fingers absently. I can still feel the cool bruised flesh of that mystery man’s hand under my fingertips. I can still hear the desperation and fright in that quiet voice.
Who is “Dana Scully”?
I resolve to remember that name. And I resolve to pay a bit more attention to my little “inside” voice, the one that Marraine Solange said I should listen to more often.
Right now, it only says there is a change coming. And I should be ready.
Pinck Pharmaceuticals Company Day Three 6 a.m.
Another nearly-sleepless night.
I am in a deep funk. Depressed. If I dreamt at all, I cannot recall the images. I don’t feel rested.
I feel haunted.
And immediately irritated when I step into my lab this morning.
All the lights are on. The animals are disturbed, of course. If these lights were burning all night, they probably didn’t sleep. They were off their feed yesterday, and I’m willing to bet they will be today, too. I will have to note this in the logs and reports — again.
This constant uproar is going to show up in their weights and measures soon. I might as well kiss off my carefully gathered data. Did anyone – including me – care?
I feel a rush of anger at Victor. At PPC. And at myself. Why was I allowing myself to be trod on like this?
I hear a raised voice coming from deep within the old primate lab. It is hard to resist the urge to listen in. As I slip on my lab coat, I move closer to the back door. The voice was not familiar. Not Victor’s. Not the velvety voice of that stranger in the cage. Deeper, rougher. Certainly angry.
“Eat, you bastard! Or you and me are gonna go another round!” I wince at the sharp unmistakable sound of flesh striking violently against flesh. “EAT, goddammit!”
There was a scraping sound, like a chair being pulled back across floor tiles and a muffled cry. Without thinking, I begin pounding on the door. I have absolutely no idea of what I’m going to say or do if it opens to me. I am acting almost instinctually, enraged by the sound of that slap, spurred on by the sound of that cry.
The silence is telling. I pound on the door again, full of righteous indignation. This time, a voice answers.
“Who is it, and what is your business here?” came a lighter male voice, different than the one I had just heard.
“Dr. Deanna Branson. Open up! I am a partner of Victor Kent’s on the Genera Project.” A white lie. Victor would be furious.
But I must have said all the magic words because the door opens, and a thin blond man in a PPC security uniform looks out at me. His face is absolutely unreadable. I shove my sudden rush of faintheartedness to the back of my mind. There is someone in here being manhandled, and that’s a breech of civility in this lab. We never mistreat our animals; why should it be allowed with Specimen 51?
“What’s all the noise I’ve been hearing?” I demand as I step into the hallway with a renewed resolve. I have to put a stop to this.
The young man looks a bit confused by my assumed power. He must be new. He doesn’t know whether to question my authority or not. I can tell he’s not going to last long in the security guard game here.
I don’t wait for him to ponder it all. I head down the hall toward the small kitchen area where I assume the ruckus had been coming from. As I pass the confinement area, I see the big man who had made the hasty exit through my lab yesterday. He is closing the door to that big padded cage and hurrying to lock it.
“Stop right there!” I demand.
He merely looks at me and turns the key in the lock with a deliberate defiance.
“Open that up! I want to see him!” I hear myself shouting. I’m surprised at how much anger I’m feeling.
The big man scowls at me. “On whose authority ?”
I pull forward the lapel of my lab coat, showing him my PPC ID which carries the special blue bar indicating my rank here at the lab. There are at least two grades above me with greater security clearance. I know that, but will he?
He sets his jaw and crosses his arms over his massive chest.
Yes. He knows I’m too far down on the organizational chart to be any threat to him.
“She’s Dr. Kent’s old partner in the Genera Project, Eddings.” The voice of the smaller security guard came from behind me. “Maybe she’ll be able to help put him down. He might not get as feisty with a woman. If we don’t get that guy on his way dreamland before Dr. Kent returns, there’ll be more hell to pay.”
Eddings and I just glare at each other for a moment.
“What needs to be done?” I ask, attempting to break the stony silence.
“The bastard has been uncooperative. He’s overdue for his morning drugs.” Eddings drops his arm in angry resignation and moves to unlock the door. “He’s supposed to get two drugs — both by injection. Keeps him asleep throughout the day until the doctor wants him prepped for treatment. He gets cleaned up, fed and given a fresh round of drugs before he gets dragged into the treatment room at midnight. Trouble is, our boy here isn’t being as companionable as our schedule requires.”
He pulls open the padded door and for a moment all I can see is a plain mattress laying on the floor. As my eyes adjust to the dim interior, I can just make out the huddled form of a man in the far corner. The hallway light falls on his torn clothes — formerly a set of immaculate white scrubs, now stained with what looks like food.
He makes no movement, but I sense he is watching. I can only see the quick heaving of his chest and the racing movement of his pulse fluttering under the skin of his slender neck. A thin ribbon of blood is slipping over his jaw and along his throat, but I can’t see where it’s coming from; the rest of his face is too well hidden by the shadows.
I step toward him, but he pulls further into the dark corner. I crouch nearby trying not to look too “officious”. This guy might not be in the mood to deal with another authority figure after being treated to breakfast in Eddings’ style.
“Hi,” I say as softly as I can. I extend my hand. A silly gesture — as ancient in human communication as the smile, the first and most famous “mixed signal”. He still does not move, but I can see the glitter of his eyes. He is looking at me oddly.
“Dana.” His voice is a soft shocked whisper. “Scully?” Now his voice sounds incredulous, and his hand darts out of the shadows to touch my hair.
The move startles me and the trigger-happy guards. I hear the slap of leather and metal and the click of a cocked trigger. “Get back, boy!” Eddings barks.
The man jumps back into the deeper part of the shadows immediately.
My heart is thumping loudly. Specimen 51’s impulsive touch scared me. I can’t afford to forget that this man is supposed to be a murderer, a rapist. Maybe all my well-meaning intentions are misplaced here. Maybe the best people to deal with this fellow are the guys with the fists and the drugs and the guns.
But he had only stroked my hair.
And he had called that woman’s name again.
Dana? Dana Scully? Maybe she has red hair like mine. Maybe he just thinks I am her. He wasn’t being aggressive.
In retrospect, it even seemed like a forlorn gesture.
Once again, I wonder how true it is that this man volunteered to have his brain re-wired by Victor Kent and his Genera Project. This man seems more like a prisoner than a willing recruit.
“Get him some clean clothes and something to clean up with, please.” I am as pleasant as I can be with Victor’s goons. Eddings doesn’t move, but the other man hastens to do as I ordered.
“Does Victor know how you’ve been treating this man?” I ask Eddings pointblank.
“Dr. Kent knows Number 51 is uncooperative,” Eddings replies, casting an angry look at the man in the shadows. “The treatments are already off schedule, and his progress is slow.”
“Has he had any treatments at all?”
Eddings shrugs. “If you want clinical information, you can talk to the good doctor. You aren’t even supposed to be this close to the creep. He’s human scum, and Dr. Kent is going to make him over into a new man.” He turns and spits in the other man’s direction and snarls, “Isn’t that right, Number 51? Tell the pretty lady what a scummy bastard you are. Tell her about those kids you killed in Maine. Tell her how you did that teenager in Boston. Tell her about…”
The huddled figure in the corner seems to shrivel, trying to pull further into the darkness. He throws his arms up over his ears and begins rocking against the padded wall of the cage. “No…. No. No. No. I didn’t! That wasn’t me. No. That’s not me. Stop it!”
Eddings laughs. “Naw, maybe it wasn’t, buddy-boy. Maybe it was that ‘other’ you — the one that hears voices.” The big man chortles with glee.
The figure in the corner is clearly distressed.
I am getting angry with Eddings’ brand of cruelty.
“That’s enough! You’re out of line! And as for the treatment of this man, as a patient of Dr. Kent’s Genera Project, he should be handled gently. These are delicate procedures on the brain, and the experiment’s success can depend on how the patient is physically.”
“Christ, Lady! Get a clue!” Eddings cackles loudly. “This guy is a throw-away. A nobody. I’ve got my orders. See to it that he wakes up without a thought in that pretty little head of his except for the new ones that Dr. Kent is going to plant there in seven days. That’s all we have: seven days. Two have been wasted already. If we lose any more time, he’s headed for the ‘scrap heap’.”
“What are you saying?” I ask, horrified at the implication.
“I’m saying that this guy either cooperates and gets himself a new brain, or he heads for the fate that the American justice system originally had planned for him — death by lethal injection. Ain’t that right, bucko?” Eddings nudges the man in the shadows with his foot, but Specimen 51 does not respond. He just keeps rocking himself against the cage’s padded wall, muttering denials under his breath.
I swallow hard, trying to clear the dry knot I feel rising in my throat. Watching the distressed figure, listening to his litany of “No. No. No.”, it is easy to believe he might be crazy or trying to escape a death sentence by paying his debt to society with an offering as extreme as the sacrifice of his mind.
Victor’s Genera Project could give him a new life.
I still feel something is amiss here. Something is not right.
The other security guard returns with a fresh set of scrubs and some wet towels. “Clean him up and I’ll help with his medications, but DO NOT hurt him! Understood?”
The blond nods at me, but Eddings just scowls. I hear the prisoner’s voice rise with a sudden desperation as I step out to give them some privacy.
“Scully? Wait! Don’t leave… No! Don’t touch me! Dana! Goddammit! I said don’t touch me! DON’T LEAVE ME!”
I can’t figure this guy out. He is definitely confused. He’s mistaken me for someone; he doesn’t seem to know who he is; he’s combative. If he IS schizophrenic as Eddings has implied, he’d have never ended up with a death sentence because of his illness. Victor never mentioned schizophrenia in this man. And besides, how could a mentally impaired man legally sign away something as important as his life?
Too many questions. I resolve to ask Victor when he comes in later this morning.
“All right!” Eddings is shouting. “C’mon! Give this wildcat his sleepy-time shot! We’ve got him down.”
When I step back in, I see the two guards have their troublesome charge pinned face-down onto the mattress. Miraculously, the man is still squirming under their combined weights. For the first time, I can see he is long, of slender build, but obviously strong. His hair is thick, a rich chocolate-brown color. His hands are gripped behind his back and his face hidden from me by his warden, Eddings.
Eddings is grunting with the exertion of trying not to be bucked off his charge and trying to keep a hand clamped over the man’s mouth. “The syringes are in the case right outside — by the door — where I left them.”
I open the blue leather case. Two new syringes, ready to use. Thorazine — labeled — a moderate dose. The other: an anti-convulsive medication. Odd. It is not labeled by name. Tegritol, perhaps? — presumably to keep seizures, the brain’s natural reaction to some one poking around inside its tissues, at bay.
These were for the patient’s own good, I knew. Why would he want to fight them so?
“Hey now… calm down. These medicines will help you. They’ll help you relax. You’ll sleep. Won’t that feel good? Wouldn’t you just like to close your eyes… and sleep?” I keep my voice soft and low, trying to relax him — just like my lab animals. “Come on… Come on… Calm down now. It won’t hurt if you just … relax. Just a little bit…”
I talk as I slowly peel back his scrubs enough to reveal some thigh muscle. He has stopped squirming. He seems to be listening to my voice. Still I can feel how tensed his muscles are when I push the first needle, loaded with the Thorazine, in. It must hurt.
I wait a moment, rubbing the injection site gently, still talking. “Shhhh… Shhhhh. It’s going to be better now. Don’t fight it. Relax…”
I can feel him loosen up, and so I move quickly to finish the next injection.
“Enough,” I snap at the two security guards, waving them off the patient. “Leave him alone now.”
The blond moves away quickly, but Eddings lingers, clearly defying me. He smiles at me, slowly touching the man underneath him in a way that gives me the creeps. He finally rolls off of him.
“Thanks for the help,” he says.
I don’t want to be thanked for this. I don’t want to think I’ve helped them. I have to convince myself I am helping HIM — the young stranger. I have to convince myself that I saved him from being brutalized any more.
Well, for today anyway.
Wordlessly, I return to my lab. For the rest of that day, I am unable to accomplish anything, gnawed by guilt and indecision. That young man is being tormented. I keep thinking he can’t have volunteered for something like this.
Yet, what if I’m wrong? What if he really is a convicted murderer? What if he really did have nothing to lose? Was his treatment in response to who he was or how he had behaved in the past?
Twice during the day, I pick up the phone. Perhaps I should call…
Call whom, Deanna? What are you willing to start? Are you willing to shoulder the possible humiliation if Victor is right? Or the censure of PPC? Or the ridicule of the local cops?
So, twice during the day, I also put the phone quietly back in its cradle.
With silent apologies to Specimen 51 for my weakness.
Following Morning 3:45 a.m.
The dream woke me up. Shook me up.
I decide to drive into work if only to run from the dream. Besides, I am still irked that Victor Kent managed to avoid me yesterday. I wanted to know more about his little “project”.
At this hour, I may even catch Victor hard at work.
The entrance gates are locked. Not unusual at Pinck. Arlie Jackson, one if the night shift guards who has been with the company for years, approaches my car with a quizzical expression.
“Why, it’s you, Dr. Branson! What brings you here at this hour?” His black face is, as always, open and friendly.
“Sleepless night, Arlie,” I tell him truthfully. “And I’ve been a bit behind since I’ve been gone so…”
“Yes, ma’am,” he says reverently, giving me an honest look of sympathy. “I was powerful sad hearin’ about ol’ Mizz Terrebonne’s passin’. She was a wonderful woman and well known in every parish from here to N’Orl’ans. Lotta people gonna miss her. I ‘spect you most of all…”
I can only nod.
My dream rose up sharply again in my mind: Marraine Solange, standing at the banks of the Mississippi River behind our big house, silently motioning me forward. The river, swollen and dark. I could only see into it when flashes of lightning from the angry clouds overhead lit the sky. I moved slowly in my dream, reluctantly. I felt my heart pounding with fear over what Marraine was trying to show me.
Her face was sad. She motioned again, pointing urgently toward the angry river. When I followed the gaze of her ghostly eyes, I saw someone struggling against the rage of the flooded Mississippi. A man. He had dark hair. His eyes were wide with desperation and fright. He was struggling for his life as the seething waters threatened to pull him down.
His eyes fixed on me, pleading. In my dream, all I could see were those eyes. He reached out for me just as a black whirlpool claimed him. I felt frozen, locked up with fright. I recognized the bruised elegant hand as it sunk beneath the surface of the inky water.
It was the hand of the stranger. Specimen 51.
I was unwilling to reach out to him.
I was afraid to reach out to him.
My feelings of absolute loss and regret woke me up. I could feel the keen disappointment of Marraine Solange in me. I could feel my own self-hate. I had failed to act. I was too late — immobilized by my fears and uncertainties.
“Dr. Branson?” Arlie’s voice brings me back to my senses. “Is there anything I can do for you at this hour? The facility is locked up for the whole night, you know. I can’t let you in ’til ’bout six.”
What? His statement is slow to register in my brain. I can’t go in? This has never happened before. Victor and I used to pull a lot of night shifts.
“What do you mean, Arlie? I’ve never been denied entrance!”
“Yes, ma’am. Please, ma’am. I know it’s damn peculiar, but…”
“No, it’s more than damn peculiar! It’s damn insulting; that’s what it is, Arlie!”
“Yes, ma’am. You know I wouldn’ do it to you, ma’am, if it weren’t for the order from…”
I am fuming. I am not even listening to Arlie’s apologetics. From where I sit, I can see three cars in the west end parking lot. Victor and his goons, no doubt.
“It’s an order from Victor Kent, isn’t it?” I demand of the hapless guard.
“Well…uh… actually, it came down from the main office, Dr. Branson, but I know it has something to do with Dr. Kent.”
I wave my hand dismissively. “Let me in, Arlie. It’s just Victor and his damnable Genera Project again. Now you know he and I worked on that together last year. I know what he’s doing in there.”
Arlie is looking unsure; time to trot out another little white lie. “I assisted with the project specimen yesterday, Arlie. In the primate lab. It’s all right. You can let me in.”
Arlie is visibly squirming. “Well, maybe I should phone over to…”
” For God’s sake, Arlie! I’ve worked here for nearly twenty years!! Let me get to my job, or I’ll crash right through the gates!”
The old security guard looks startled at my raised voice. It sounds as new to him as it feels to me, I suppose. Deanna Branson gets an attitude? Finally?
There is only a brief moment of uncomfortable silence. Then Arlie smiles shyly. “Sure thing, Dr. Branson. I don’t guess I’ve ever seen you this excitable.” He reaches back into the guard house and hits the controls. He smiles and waves me through the clanking and groaning gates.
“My apologies for shouting, Arlie. It’s been a rough few weeks for me.” I feel compelled to explain myself. Arlie has been a kind friend for a long time. His smile tells me all is forgiven, and I drive forward.
I am worried about what I might do. I had told myself that I had merely driven in to get some of my work done. To escape a disturbing dream. But when I enter my own lab and see the door to the old primate lab standing wide open, I realize what had really drawn me here: the need to know more.
I have to be sure that Victor is telling me the truth about Specimen
And I have to look into the eyes of the stranger to see if I can read the terror in them that I had seen so vividly in my dream. I have to see if I can do what Marraine Solange was asking me to do in the dream.
And then I have to make a decision that is going to affect the rest of my life, one way or the other.
The hallway is dim. The lights in the clinical area are on, though. I can hear the steady beeping of monitors as I approach the room. I can hear a garbled conversation, drifting on the air, coming from the far end of the hallway. Two, perhaps three, voices.
I halt at the doorway of the clinical room. For a long moment, all I can do is stare. I have spent most of my career at Pinck Pharmaceuticals in clinical testing, but only on animals. I know are were labs elsewhere in our organization that do the necessary human testing when a new product reaches the readiness stage. I, personally, never worked with human specimens, though.
Yet, I am sure that what I am looking upon is not right. It violates the standards of procedures we have for animals. The condition of the helpless human I see before me violates the standards of humanity.
Specimen 51. Strapped tightly onto the procedure table. A thin sheet thrown carelessly over his body. His head locked into a position by a cruel-looking metal brace, turned a few degrees toward the wall, exposing some of the back of his neck and a tiny patch of shaved scalp under his longish dark hair. Another small shaved patch is barely visible under the hair midway between his left ear and temple.
My first impulse is to free him from this wicked brace, but reason dictates that to allow him to move now, when I don’t know what his neurological status is, may do him more harm than good. I will have to talk to Victor first…
As I draw closer to him, I can see his chest shuddering with each breath he takes. There are electrodes scattered over his body: on his head, his torso, his legs. Wires attached to a cardiac monitor. Wires attached to an EEG monitor. A chest band attached to a respiratory monitor.
No IV’s? No scanning equipment?
What in the hell is Victor doing to this man?
I come around the side of the table where I can see his face more clearly. I hear an odd clicking and chattering sound that I cannot identify. Drawing closer, I lean down to look at him for the first time.
I am taken aback for a moment. He looks like a boy, but that can’t be so. A well-defined jaw-line, beautiful full lips and hazel eyes that just now look vacant as he stares at the wall in front of him. His body begins shuddering again, and again, I hear that odd clicking sound.
It’s his teeth! They are chattering as his body shivers with chills.
I touch his arm softly. Oh God, he’s freezing. His skin temperature must be well below what it should be! Fool Victor! He knows better than this! I search the room for blankets or anything to help his body with its struggle to stabilize its temperature.
Linen is scarce. But I find two plastic warming blankets. Small — chimp-sized, actually. Two will at least cover the man’s torso. Once I have them hooked up and the plastic chambers fill with circulating hot air, he should at least feel some relief from the cold.
I work quickly over his trembling body. “Give it a minute… Just a minute… You’ll start feeling better in a minute.” I surprise myself with my whispered cooing at this stranger.
My annoyance with Victor Kent is growing as quickly as my sympathies for Specimen 51.
His shivering eases. I can no longer hear his teeth chattering. His glittering eyes are still fixed on the wall in what seems like an empty stare, except he seems to hears me. There are tears rolling gently from the corners of his brown-green eyes. It might be gratitude. It might be relief.
Or he may be mourning for something.
Or perhaps someone.
I wonder about this young man as I wipe his tears away with a warm damp cloth. I run the cloth over his lips. He is drooling, unable to help himself. A quick scan of his restrained body shows vivid colorful bruises, the reminders of his struggles. I can see the tell-tale pink and red welts left by belts or whips and shudder inwardly. This is way beyond inhumane treatment, hardly “typical” procedure!
It should be reported.
But to whom, Deanna, asks my timid inner voice. You’ve worked at PPC long enough to know that the company has its secretive, probably dangerous, side, I tell myself. This young man is evidence enough…
And besides, who’s going to stop them? Me?
It had been easy to turn a blind eye to it when I never had to deal with it directly. I had put all the lunchroom gossip and rumors about PPC and its “top secret” dealings down to the everyday urban myths that common people seem to thrive on.
Now, however, I’m standing over a victim of PPC’s “darker side”. I am sure of it. This is no volunteer trying to escape a death sentence for murders and rapes. He’s an innocent. He had to have been forced into this.
Kidnapped off the streets, perhaps? He doesn’t seem like a homeless person. He looks too well taken care of, too healthy underneath all the recent bruises. But there are some tell-tale scars, too. Might be an indication that this young man’s life had a dangerous side to it. His hair is longish, but it has obviously been well cut in the past. His hands are smooth, not roughened over by hard labor.
This looks like a man who lived by his brains, not his brawn.
And soon, through the manipulations of Dr. Kent, he may not have that brain to count on for whatever will remain of his life.
Seeing a file on the cabinet by the door, I open it to read that Specimen 51’s name is Gary Redmond, age 32, born in Paterson, New Jersey. Never finished high school. Spent time as a drifter. Began his “career” in serial murder and rape in 1980. He was apprehended in Montreal and extradited to the States to stand trial for the kidnap, sexual assault and murder of a 13 year old girl in Massachusetts. He was brought in as a serial killer through the work of a special team of three FBI agents from the Violent Crimes Division out of Washington, DC He stood trial, was convicted and sentenced to death nine years ago, slowly making his way through appeal after failed appeal.
I stare at the file photos of an extraordinarily handsome young man. The eyes that stare back at me out of the pictures are lively, intelligent. I shake my head. The file and report look official enough. The pictures don’t looked doctored, but perhaps too recent to fit the time of arrest.
There is more:
Gary Redmond’s signature on the legal document that brought him to this fate. An arrest record detailing a mix of juvenile offenses, a troubled childhood. Small details: mother deceased, three years ago. Mother’s home address. Social workers’ notes on a troubled youth. A childhood affliction of stuttering that followed him into adulthood. A physical description — matching the description of the man just a few feet from me now, right down to the scarring from gunshot wounds.
Signatures of a dangerous life.
A copy of the FBI case report and trial summaries and medical records. I flip back to the FBI report. There is a long document, a detailed psycho-analytical paper on the serial killer suspect. I skim through it, wincing. Gary Redmond was — is — a monster. I glance over at the still form laying on the procedure table and shiver with the first doubts I have felt about this man.
What if my instincts are wrong? What if he is an unnatural human? Does he deserve a chance at a new life? Will the Genera Project even work on a human? Can a monster like Gary Redmond be reborn with a cleansed conscience and a kinder soul?
I glance back at the report. I’m familiar with enough psycho-babble and theory to know this analysis — “profile”, I guess they call it — is remarkably rich with details that would seem to have taken a godsent psychic to predict, if one believes in such things as that.
Still, the report was signed and dated November 30, 1986 and Redmond was apprehended shortly afterward by Canadian Mounties on a tip from the FBI team which was present at his arrest. Curious, I glanced at the signatures of the three men who had signed the report: William G. Patterson, S.A.I.C.; Reggie S. Pardue; Fox W. Mulder.
I smile at that last name as I close the file. Fox. Odd name for an FBI agent.
I look over again at the man resting quietly within his restraints. He seems more comfortable now. A glance at the monitor tells me his respiration and heart rate have slowed considerably.
This is still not right, my little voice is screaming. This handsome young man hardly seems like a drifter, a drop-out, a serial killer. Things are just not adding up here…
I return to the patient’s side and carefully move aside the lock of silky hair that has fallen over the small shaved patch that marks the probe sight that Victor used. At least he swabbed the area with an antiseptic, I note with derision toward my former partner.
There is a small puncture wound where Victor must have inserted the needle and probe to seek out the particular part of the brain in which this man’s memories, motivations and morals were housed. Simple manipulations of the razor-like edges of the micro-fine needle could destroy and remove tissue, gradually changing Gary Redmond’s reality forever, theoretically.
If Victor was indeed following the procedures proscribed in the Genera Project, this man’s brain should be allowed a recuperative period. Then the same area would have fetal brain matter, rich in new neurotransmitters, introduced which would then regenerate new brain cells for the patient.
Then Gary Redmond would be ready to be programmed for his new, wonderful life.
Or so the theory goes.
But it is a theory that is fraught with dangerous unknowns. Navigating our way to another star system would be easier than navigating through all the great unknowns of the complicated human brain. I know there isn’t enough test data available to predict the outcome of a project like this.
So, what then, is being done to Gary Redmond? And why?
“You’ve become rather careless about your job security, Deanna.”
I whirl to face Victor Kent and the two security men. The younger blond smiles slightly at me, but the one named Eddings is glaring.
Before I can say anything, Victor gestures at me with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Don’t even make excuses for yourself, Dr. Branson. Was it Arlie that let you through the gates? I’ll see to it that he’s out of a job before he punches out at seven.”
” You’ll do no such thing! It wasn’t his fault, Victor. I lied to him. Intimidated him into it. And that’s what I’ll tell a Board of Inquiry — maybe the same board that’ll have to listen to me lodge charges against you for cruelty and carelessness in procedures and treatment — of a human being.” I back up against the procedure table, placing myself between them and Specimen 51.
Victor looks uncertain for a brief moment, then, as if mindful of the presence of the security men, his eyes become bright with rage.
“You’ve changed, Deanna. What is it with you and this sudden need to rebel? Playing Nancy Drew? Jane Bond? You don’t threaten me, Ms. Branson. This project is being documented step by step. I’ve had enough problems without adding your troublesome new persona into the mix. Now, get out! You were ORDERED to stay away from here!”
His histrionics have a “staged” quality to them. I dismiss my suspicions, though. Specimen 51 is foremost on my mind right now.
“I can’t ignore the cruelty being inflicted on this patient. You can’t ask me to turn my back on this and just sit in the next room and pretend this isn’t happening in here! Have you seen this man’s body? He looks like a prisoner of war! He’s being beaten, manhandled and… and…” Eddings allows a lecherous smile to creep over his face while he watches me. “God only knows, what else,” I sputter.
Victor’s face has not changed. He knows.
Of course, he knows! How could he not? It is written all over his prisoner’s body. I realize that the mistreatment is part of the treatment! Someone wants this man to suffer horribly. This isn’t the noble cause of the Genera Project any more. Victor has been given a sanction; he is operating his own private Auschwitz!
And with that realization comes two more: I am probably right about this man being an unwilling captive. And I am now — officially — in danger.
Maybe the safest place for me is in the middle of it all.
“You need more help, Victor,” I say hastily. “Your goons are more responsible for delaying this project than I am…”
“Hey…” the young blond begins to protest at me. Eddings just continues to glare.
“If you are going to do a proper job on this project, Victor, you need me. You know I can help. We’ve worked together before. Now, unless Gary Redmond is supposed to leave here in a pine box, I’d like to help you with the procedures that will ensure him a new — you know — ‘lease’ on life.”
I pray he will buy my false concern for him and the project.
Victor stares at me. I can tell he is taking it under consideration. He glances quickly at Eddings. Why? “Sure. Sure, Deanna. Our working together again might just be real fine… again.” He hands me the file. Too quickly. I think I notice a shade of aggravation bloom over Eddings features.
Victor continues, ignoring the other man, “Here’s some interesting reading. You’ll love to hate our Mr. Redmond here. Lots of people do. Oh, and don’t hassle me about the way things are done in here, Deanna. There are some aspects of this project that are…” He glances over at Eddings again. “…uhm… top secret. By necessity. Do you understand?”
I nod, but Eddings looks angry. I can tell he and Victor are going to have “words” later.
He pauses near the procedure table, noting the warming blankets I had secured over the patient’s torso. “What’s this?”
“I had to raise his body temp, Victor. When I came in, his temperature was dangerously low.”
Victor purses his lips and looks grim. And — surprise — he looks concerned! “He’s been having trouble maintaining a consistent body temperature. He’s had several bouts of Cheynes-Stokes breathing that set off the monitors. And a few episodes of bradycardia. But all that seemed to even out in the last hour or so. I think the procedure must have caused more a little more localized swelling than I thought it would, possibly near the hippocampus. His para-sympathetic nervous system seems compromised. I think it’s temporary.”
“You THINK it’s temporary?!” My eyes widen in shock. “That’s serious! If you think he’s got problems, where is the respirator he might need if his system ‘forgets’ to breathe? Where are the intravenous lines for emergency medication? What were you going to do if you made a mistake, and suddenly his brain ‘forgets’ to tell his heart to keep beating? Why did you allow his body temperature to get so low? And how can you allow him to be beaten like he has been, Victor? It’s going to affect how much success you have with him. He needs time to recover between treatments! He needs…”
Victor leans on the table, bowing his head wearily. “I know, I know! Christ, Deanna! I’m working BLIND here! Do you SEE any of the equipment I really need to do this?” He sighs and looks at Eddings again.
What is going on here?
Eddings’ face is an impassive mask, but Victor seems a bit fearful of the man.” I-I’ve been giving him medications for… Oh, what the hell…You may be right, Deanna, but I’m not the only one in charge here.”
“That’s right,” Eddings chimes in with a big smile. “He has his orders. I have mine. And right now, according to the schedule, me and Number 51 have a ‘date’ this morning in the showers.”
I feel nauseous.
There is no opportunity for commentary, however. The body of the prisoner suddenly arches and snaps into rigidity, straining at the straps that hold him down. I see his fists clench and tremble, muscles and veins standing out on his pale arms.
A grand mal seizure!
Victor moves quickly to force a padded bar into the patient’s mouth. Alarms sound, and the EEG machine kicks on to record the violent quake inside the young man’s brain.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, it is over. His body flops exhaustedly back onto the table and is still again. The inevitable loss of control over bodily functions is made evident as a wet stain spreads over the thin sheet draped over him. Eddings just snickers and begins to unbuckle the straps and remove the head brace. The other security guard has enough decency left to look embarrassed for the unconscious victim.
Victor is already absorbed in the EEG readings. Is this man a human or lab rat to him? It seems as if he doesn’t care about anything except the data.
I have to stop Eddings from lifting the young man off of the table. “Please! Let him rest for just a bit! Victor! Would you tell this man to stop?”
Victor turns around as if just realizing we were all in the room. His face is pale, and he seems a bit shaken by the “event”.
“Eddings, just let him be! You’ll have to put your blood lust on hold for today. Besides, he’ll be too out of it after that seizure to suit your demented fun and games anyway.”
Eddings looks angry, but he drops the man in his arms back onto the table and begins snapping on wrist and ankle restraints. He pulls the restraining strap over Specimen 51’s chest testily.
“Dr. Kent, we need to talk. Now!” the big man barks and then pauses to glower at me before leaving the room.
Victor looks perturbed. “Deanna, you start work immediately. Specimen 51’s medications are in the cabinet right here. I have charted what he’s had and when he’s had it on the first page. You’ll find the dosage information I’ve worked out for him on the last pages. I’ll be back in a bit.” He leaves the room slowly, as if reluctant to face this new conflict.
I don’t feel sorry for him, but I do wonder if I’ve dug myself a deeper hole. What am I doing?
“Ma’am? I’ll be glad to help you with him, if you’d like.”
It is the blond security guard, standing beside me with clean linen and scrubs for the unconscious man on the table.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Offer accepted, Mackey. Let’s get the lead wires that Eddings ripped off attached to these electrodes again. I’d like to keep him on the monitors for a while. That last episode scared me. Has he been having seizures like that all along?”
Mackey shook his head. “No. But Dr. Kent has been a bit behind in the treatments because this fella’s been fighting us so hard. Orders came down yesterday to speed things up, so Dr. Kent was in here later than usual, and — according to the way he was grumbling about it — doing more than he felt he should be doing to the — uh — patient. I think he’s feeling like they’re pushing too hard, and Number 51 is going to…” He stops and purses his lips. “I probably shouldn’t say more. Dr. Kent is going to have to be the one to give you details. But I am sure that your help will be what he needs.”
“Who are ‘they’?”
The blond man won’t answer me.
“Do you know this man?” I gesture toward the still form on the treatment table.
“No, ma’am. I know OF him. I read the files, too. Except…” He pauses.
Mackey shrugs. “I’m not sure. I kind of got the feeling that the guy in the file and this guy are two different people. And the whole time this fella has been battling us, he’s been screaming that he’s not him — you know — this Gary Redmond guy. But he won’t — or can’t — say who he really is. Eddings claims he’s just a psycho. I don’t know who to believe, and I’m not supposed to care.” He drops the linens on the cabinet dejectedly. “Christ! I should just learn to do my fucking job and not question anything. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.”
He avoids my eyes and mutters, “Sorry ’bout the language, ma’am.”
A decent man? Amidst all this? He sure was out of place in this torture chamber.
“You’re new at this, aren’t you?”
He nods again. “This wasn’t even supposed to be my assignment. It was a last minute thing — my ‘trial by fire’, the CO said. After six friggin’ years in the Marine Corps, I thought I’d be prepared for some of this kind of shit. But I’m thinking I made a mistake getting into this line of work. I should have stayed with the Marines.”
“Well, then, get out of it.”
Sure, Deanna, like you’d be the one to give advice, my little voice is snapping at me. Look at your own wasted life, you idiot.
Mackey is looking at me wide-eyed. “It’s just not that simple, Dr. Branson, or I’d have left the first day I saw Eddings doing…” He stops again, glances at Specimen 51 and swallows hard. His face has flushed red. ” I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just easier to shut down.”
He looks over at me and lowers his voice in warning. “And safer. If you don’t mind me sayin’ so, ma’am, you seem new at this kind of stuff, too. If you’re going to move over to this level of thinking, Dr. Branson, you’d better be ready for anything they send your way. The Company is God: creator and destroyer. And forgive my streak of sexism, but I don’t believe it’s any place for a woman, either.”
He doesn’t look willing to say anymore, and I’m not sure I want to hear anymore. I am beginning to feel scared again. I nervously make myself busy undoing the restraints on the patient. He looks so peaceful at rest. Finally. His own brain has shut him down, protecting itself.
I run my fingers through his dark hair. Asleep, he looks even younger than I expect he is. Who is he really? And who do “they” want him to be when this experiment in cruelty is done?
There must be some way to find out this man’s real identity. Fingerprints? Dental records? Blood typing? What? Where do I start? Who do I call?
What had Victor called me? Nancy Drew? Jane Bond? I smile at the irony. Well, maybe…
There won’t be too much time to think about it. And this certainly isn’t the time. I glance at the clock. 5:15 a.m. already!
“Mackey, let’s get him cleaned up. If we give him a sponge bath and his medications now, perhaps we can get him past the nasty little agenda Eddings has set for him. And he’ll need someone to stay with him and watch for any more seizure activity — at least for the next six to eight hours. Can you do that?”
“Sure. But you’ve got more guts than I do,” responds the security guard.
I almost laugh. “More guts than a six-year vet of the Marine Corps? Why, thank you, Mr. Mackey!”
Maybe this is what they mean by “change of life” for a woman.
Almost time to head for home.
I glance back at the closed door of the primate lab. I managed to get a lot of my work in my own lab done today despite the constant wanderings of my mind.
Eddings had returned to the clinical treatment room after about thirty minutes of heated conversation with my former partner.
Eddings had told me I would have to leave for the time being. The dark-haired young man was resting comfortably by then. Well medicated. Sleeping deeply. I had no assurances that Eddings would leave him alone today, but I hadn’t heard any commotion behind that locked door, so I assumed the big brute had honored Victor’s orders.
Victor had wandered through my lab at about 9 a.m., looking exhausted. He had paused by me long enough to say, “I usually come back to the lab at about midnight. There is more to do with him tonight.”
He had looked uncomfortable, watching the door of the old primate lab nervously. “I have things to tell you, Deanna,” he had said in an almost conspiratorial whisper that startled and confused me. “I could use your help,” he had continued. “This isn’t going well. I wish you hadn’t gotten involved, but now… Now, I can only hope you know what you’ve bought into, Deanna. I wish I had.”
He had left with that cryptic remark still hanging in the air.
Maybe I had jumped into this too quickly. Maybe I really didn’t know what I’d “bought into”, as Victor put it.
Throughout the workday, I had fantasized: I imagined taking Specimen 51 out of the clutches of the monsters who conspired to keep him. I imagined helping him find himself again — whoever he was. I imagined he’d be grateful to me, and that he’d take me so far away from my nothing existence that it would be as if I were the one being re-born, not him.
By 1:45 p.m., my vague fantasies have evolved into a resolve to help the victimized Specimen 51 escape this prison. There will be time enough to check on his real identity, and I know someone who may help. My first priority will be to find out who he isn’t. Then I’ll find out who he is.
I lock up and head home for a quick shower and some sleep before I return tonight. My search for an escape plan occupies my thoughts all the way home.
Midnight Pinck Pharmaceuticals Laboratories
I am getting rattled. Nervous about my “plans”. This is more than a timid lab scientist could possibly attempt. I think I must be going mad. I am starting to imagine things.
When I had gotten out of my shower earlier today, the phone was ringing. I picked it up. There was no one on the line. A feeling of dread crept over me, not helped by the fact that it happened two more times, waking me each time out of a restless sleep.
Had “they” wanted me to know I was being watched? I dismissed that idea. Conspiratorial thinking is too foreign to me.
Arlie isn’t on duty at the guard station when I drive up to the company’s security gates. My feelings of dread deepen when I look upon the impassive face of a stranger wearing the company security uniform. My instincts tell me not to ask about Arlie’s whereabouts as the new guard waves me in.
As I get out of my car, I notice two more guards posted at the far ends of the parking lot, almost hidden from view. I think I can make out the figure of a third man at the corner of the building, half hidden in shadows. Too much has changed in the past eight hours. I feel a trickle of sweat roll down my neck as I make my way toward my lab. There is a new security camera in the hallway, its red alien eye blinking at me as I swipe my keycard over the lock.
I am terrified. I can’t indulge my silly fantasies and foolish escape plans in the face of all this! The level of beefed-up security is intimidating. Who are these people? And who is Specimen 51, really?
He must be very important to someone.
Eddings is waiting for me outside the primate lab. He is expecting me, it seems. Of course. The security cameras, the guard at the gate. He had lots of ways to know when I would arrive.
He punches a code into a brand new keypad. Codes must have been changed. Oh God, what is going on?
He wordlessly opens the door for me and signals me to move ahead of him. He’s wearing a gun tonight. I try very hard to look unaffected by this show of power though I am nearly breathless with terror.
I head for the clinical treatment room, but Eddings pulls me away at the door. “You’re going to baby-sit, missy. Your pretty patient is awake. The treatment’s made him calmer than he was yesterday, but I think he is still aware he has some needle-time coming up again. Not to mention some one-on-one time with me.”
He smiles pointedly at me as he swings the cage door open and pushes me forward into the dim interior. “Oh, he has some food in here, too. In about thirty minutes, it will be too late for him to eat it. He’s going to be under the needle in about two hours, so see if you can get the little bastard to eat. Damn stuff must be stone cold by now. Serves him right.”
The door clangs shut. I am shocked to hear the lock turn.
Eddings’ laugh is mean-spirited. “How does it feel to be locked up and alone with a convicted serial killer ? You’d better hope that your partner is doing his job correctly…”
My heart feels frozen. I don’t move, trying to get my eyes to adjust to the dimness. I can see another red blinking light high in the corner. Another new security camera! Can it see anything in this low light?
I jump at the rustle of fabric I hear just to the left of me. My eyes are adjusting. I can see him. He’s standing, braced in the far corner of this padded cage. I can just make out the glitter of his eyes in the shadows.
Swallowing the knot in my throat, I move toward the mattress on the floor in the center of the little room. The food tray is there. I sit beside it and pat a space on the mattress next to me. “Come here,” I say quietly, hoping he doesn’t know that the quiver in my voice are fear and doubt — my two old friends. “I… I’d like you to eat your supper. You need it — if you’re going to…” I pause.
Going to what? Everything seems so futile now.
“If you’re going to fight them,” I add quietly.
It sounds so foolish. He is David against Goliath. Without the divine help, it would seem.
He doesn’t move, just keeps staring at me.
“Please? I won’t harm you.” I’m not sure he’s the one who needs reassuring just now. I can feel myself relaxing, though. My initial fright and recurrent doubts are fading away. I just can’t feel a threat from this young man. My heart is beginning to go out to him again, because as my own fear melts away, I am beginning to sense the depths of his terror.
I motion him forward. He won’t move. He won’t talk.
“Come here,” I say as softly as I can. “I don’t want to hurt you. Are you hungry? C’mon now…” I think I see a hesitant move, but then he seems to tighten up again and push himself further into the corner.
I lean in his direction. The single poor light from the tray slot in the door catches on my hair, and I hear him gasp. He slides to the floor and sits, wrapping his long arms around himself. He is staring at me intently. Or rather at my red hair which is lit by the weak light.
He had seemed fascinated by the sight of my hair the first time I saw him. Maybe it resembles someone he knows. Or knew — depending on how much his brains have been scrambled by now. Perhaps I can use this to my advantage.
What was the name he had called out? Is sounded a bit like mine, I remember. Dana? Yes, Dana Scully.
I extend a hand toward him. “Do you remember Dana Scully?”
His eyes study my face.
“Dana,” I repeat.
He blinks rapidly and rubs awkwardly at his eyes, but he remains silent. Perhaps last night’s treatment has taken more of this “Dana Scully” memory from him. What else had last night’s treatment done to him?
I offer him the stale roll from the tray. At first, he doesn’t move. He looks from me to the offered bread. He has to be starving! How can he refuse himself this?
I hear his stomach growl, betraying him. It pushes him to reach out and take the food from my hand.
He eats a bit too eagerly. He is obviously very hungry, yet he had stubbornly refused to eat for them. I marvel at the will power! Surely this instinct to resist comes from a deeper part of him.
Maybe there would be hope for him after all this…
Who am I trying to kid? By the time he has had all of the preliminary Genera treatments, essentially stealing what remains of his mind, he would be an empty shell.
No will, no memories, no … soul?
I hand him the large Styrofoam container of lukewarm milk, which he accepts quickly. He glances at the rest of the tray and back to me. He is still unsure, but now that his hunger had been unleashed…
I pat the area on the mattress beside me again. “Come on. It’s okay.”
He glances toward the locked door with a visible shiver and then slowly pushes himself forward to the mattress. Without another glance at me, he eats the food wolfishly. Fish and rice — cold. Must taste ghastly, but the high protein will be good for him. There is a bowl of wilted strawberries and a lime-green puddle of melted gelatin that I thought he would surely shun, but it is all gone in a few minutes.
He looks up at me, self-consciously. He does not smile. He does not speak.
“Feel better?” I rub his back lightly.
Wrong thing to do.
He winces and pulls back into the corner. This time I am a bit bolder, and I follow closely, planting myself beside him. I touch his forehead to gauge his temperature, feel his hands and bare feet for circulation, even as he squirms under my examination. I silently curse the dim light. His pupils are dilated, making his eyes dark, but in this light I can’t be sure if the wide-open irises are a sign of brain injury or not.
He seems to be moving well, with only a bit of awkwardness. I wish he would talk. It would be another good sign if he could show me his speech center hadn’t been affected.
“Who is Dana Scully?” I ask, trying to prompt him.
He looks at me quizzically and then abruptly turns away, not rising to the bait.
“All right, then… Is your name Gary Redmond?” He stiffens his back. “Gary? Is that your name?” I ask a bit more insistently.
He is still silent as if thinking. His shoulders sag, and he shrugs. And just as quickly he turns to me and whispers, “N-no. No! … n-not me!” His voice is strained and hoarse. He is stuttering, desperately trying to express himself.
A small alarm bell goes off in a corner of my mind. Didn’t the file on Gary Redmond indicate he had a stuttering problem?
However, I can see genuine frustration in his eyes. He isn’t used to this. Perhaps, instead, the “treatments” might have begun their insidious damage to his speech center? He is clearly struggling to communicate.
I brush his dark hair away from his eyes gently. “It’s okay. I believe you. I do.”
His lower lip quivers for a moment.
“Can you tell me your name?” I continue, gently.
His big dark eyes fill immediately with a glaze of tears that he does not allow to fall. He shakes his head. The question panics him, and he tries to crawl away from me. I grab the bottom of his shirt and stop him. He rocks and rocks, not so much to pull away from my grasp as to comfort himself. He is quietly sobbing, quivering with the effort to get himself under control.
“Hey, hey, hey… stop. Don’t go away from me.” I speak softly, moving my hands to cup his wet face and bring him forward to rest on my shoulder. He sobs openly then, leaning stiffly into my embrace.
What have they done? Why is he being subjected to this? How does something like this… this… torture happen in this country? Is this kind of secretive abuse really happening in MY America? Who is he? Who are the people who brought him to this end? Who could possibly wield this kind of power over another human? Nothing of my former life and sensibilities can exist after finding Specimen 51. My mind whirls as I feel his warm breath on my neck, hear his soft crying in my ear, feel his hot tears run over my shoulder.
My little voice is screaming now. From this point on, there can be no way back for me or the mysterious Specimen 51. How could I have ever doubted the wrongness of all this?
This man has been targeted. He is being tormented for a reason, for someone’s dark purpose. I feel so helpless. For all my misguided good intentions, I am useless to this young man. Another half-ass attempt on my part, and this time I had made a dangerous move.
As I rock him, I can feel him force himself to calm down. He lay quietly, yet somewhat rigidly, in my arms. He does not seem used to this, but he appears to need it. With a sigh, he pushes clumsily away from me, rolling onto his back, sprawling onto the thin mattress and staring into the shadows overhead. He won’t look at me, but he does attempt to speak again.
“Th-they’re c-c-coming a-g-gain… M-m-more…” He gestures at his head. “M-m-more… h-hurt.” He drops his arm to the mattress and squeezes his eyes shut.
Oh God. He knows. He’s aware of what is being done to him. He hasn’t even been spared the horror of knowing his mind is being taken from him.
I’m sure he doesn’t want the memories he can recall; memories of these last brutal days. Or the loneliness and hopelessness he probably feels as he loses more and more of himself to Victor Kent’s needle and probe.
It would have been kinder to kill him.
But I’m sure “they” knew that.
My eyes wander the dim interior of his padded prison. It is then I notice that the blinking eye of the camera is gone. Turned off? Why? Who? Perhaps they don’t think of me and this prisoner as a threat any more? No. I can’t imagine Eddings letting his grip of control loosen for one moment.
My heart begins to race. Something is going on.
And no sooner did I have that thought than I hear a key turning in the lock. The young man beside me scrambles to hide in his shadowy corner even before the door swings completely open.
Lifting my hand over my eyes to protect them from the sudden brightness outside the cage, I try to determine who the shadow against the light is. I hope it isn’t Eddings.
“Deanna. Come with me now.” I am as surprised to hear Victor Kent’s voice as I am to recognize a conspiratorial tone in it.
“What is it, Victor?” I snap at him. “Have you invented another biological torture device that you and PPC can scam the government into paying for?”
“This is really not the time, Dr. Branson.” he whispers harshly as he steps forward to grab my arm. I can see perspiration standing out on his shiny head. He looks very nervous.
However, before I am pulled to my feet by Victor, I feel the grip of another hand over his.
“N-no! S-s-stop!” The soft yet insistent voice comes from close behind me.
Specimen 51 has become animated. His eyes are full of anger and hate, and while his grip on Victor is shaky, his handsome boyish face looks uncommonly stormy. Whomever he once was, this protective temperament must have been second nature to him.
Victor looks shocked and for one giddy moment I thought: This is how Dr. Frankenstein must have looked the first time his “monster” talked.
I don’t wait for this moment to escalate between them. Fearing that Eddings might be lurking nearby, I pat the young man’s hand reassuringly. “It’s okay. Dr. Kent and I have to talk, that’s all.”
His hand falls away. He looks crestfallen, as if I am betraying him. I look back angrily at Victor. “You can say anything you have to say to me in front of him. I’m not leaving here.”
“Deanna! Please! This is important to our survival and…” He nods toward the young man glaring at him. “…to his survival, too.” He swipes his hand over his sweaty forehead and looks quickly at the now-blind camera. “Please. Now. There isn’t much time.”
I turn back to Specimen 51 to say something comforting, but he has already withdrawn himself. His eyes avoid mine. There isn’t much time, Victor had said. The mighty Dr. Kent looks scared. What is going on? It actually seems like I can feel my heart struggling to get up into my throat.
I know this looks like a betrayal to the forlorn prisoner whose trust in me had been slowly growing. No time to talk. I follow Victor out and watch him lock the cage after me.
The young security guard is just outside in the hallway, motioning us forward. “Act naturally as you head to the treatment room. The hall camera is still on. The surveillance equipment in the room is off, but it won’t be long before he notices,” whispers Mackey.
Victor pushes me lightly forward. Once in the treatment room, he shuts the door. “Deanna, as I talk, we must look busy — as if preparing for 51’s next treatment.” He begins pulling out instrument trays. I follow suit, wondering what in the world is going on!
“Victor!” I hiss. “What is this about?”
“I never expected you to be here, Deanna. You must believe me.” Victor is talking in a breathless rush. ” I had hoped to be done with this dirty work on that young man in there and be out of Lobdell before you got back. And now just when I didn’t think it could get worse…”
“What? WHAT is getting worse?”
Victor leans heavily over the treatment table, his shoulders slumped, shaking his head. “I was such a fool,” he groans, clenching his fists.
“All this has nothing to do with your work on the Genera Project, does it, Victor?” I ask quietly.
Victor sniffs pathetically. He won’t look at me. “No, Deanna. Oh, it has some relation, of course. That’s why they chose me — because of my work in altering brain wave patterns with manipulations of cells within the temporal lobe region. You know what that does…”
I sure did.
The temporal lobe was widely believed to be the storehouse of human memory. It has been conjectured by some that most of what makes us each unique individuals occurs within this area. Lifetime memories. A reference library for an individual’s entire existence. I used to say to Victor, in our few late-night pillowtalk sessions, that I wondered if that is where one’s soul might reside. It is such a precious area of the brain and so close to other vital brain functions.
I thought about Specimen 51.
“Victor, you’re going to take away his memory? His… his life! Permanently. That’s what you’re doing, aren’t you?”
He winces at the accusatory tone in my voice as I continue, “There was never any intent to ‘regenerate’ that young man’s affected brain cells, was there? Who is doing this? What is he to them? WHO is he? He’s NOT any creepy killer named Gary Redmond, is he?”
Victor just held up his hand, as if he could physically ward off my outrage. “Wait. Deanna, just listen.”
“Victor, how could you!?”
“Please, Deanna. I know how all this must look to you right now. There is much you don’t know and damn little time to tell you everything… First, before I tell you what we must do, I beg you to believe at least this: that young man’s memory capabilities had already been severely altered before I ever saw him. All I knew was what they told me. I really did assume they wanted this done to a killer named Gary Redmond. Everything I knew about him is what I was handed in that folder you read.
“I was called in with all sorts of promises made to me about furthering my work in the Genera Project.” He looks up at me and cringes, knowing the judgment I am passing on him. Hopefully, he has passed judgment on himself already.
“I KNEW it was wrong, Deanna, but I was going to LOSE my funding. They threatened to put an end to my research!” His voice went from a desperate hiss to a self-pitying whisper. “It would have been like murdering my own child. It would have killed me, Deanna. I couldn’t lose the project!”
I wait impatiently. What in the hell is he trying to tell me? And why tell me now? Is this his bid for absolution? Or another ploy to further his ambitions with me as his helpmate again?
Victor licks his sweaty upper lip nervously and continues. “They had had problems with him — Specimen 51 — whoever he really is. They told me he was this Gary Redmond guy. They told me he was a willing participant in a government experiment. It was clear to me that they had attempted their own ‘brain-wipe’ a while before they brought him to me. But it wasn’t taking. He was resisting and showing signs of trace memory.”
My eyes must have widened in shocked surprise at the implications of what he was telling me, because Victor nods knowingly at me.
“Yeah, and you thought the only ‘brain-wiping’ that was being done was on rats and rabbits? I suspect this has been part of an arsenal of secret weapons for a long time, Deanna. And it made me wonder all the more about Specimen 51’s true identity.
“The people who approached me — Eddings is one of them — ordered me to attempt another brain-wipe with the Genera pre-lim methods — the brain cell removal procedure. ‘Just perform the brain-wipe and don’t attempt the Genera restorative treatments on him,’ they instructed. Then I could write my own ticket for further research grants. I confess, it didn’t take much to convince me.”
He looks at me for understanding. He doesn’t get any.
“Don’t you see, Deanna?” he pleads ineffectually. “They were GIVING me my own human test subject! All I could think at that time was: this would put me YEARS ahead of anyone else! Well, in the public domain, at least. I’d be able to attempt this on a human subject! I knew it was an opportunity. I would be the first…”
He pauses when he notices the look on my face. I’m sure he can read the contempt I am feeling for him right now.
I cross my arms and say hotly, “But you aren’t the first, Victor. You just told me they wanted you to do only the preliminary operation — the brain cell removal. They don’t want you to give him any ‘help’ with regenerating brain cells. Didn’t I hear you correctly?”
He sighs heavily before he continues, “Yes. Yes, you DID hear me correctly, Deanna. But when I first laid eyes on Specimen 51, it occurred to me I could still prove something to these people with my Genera Project.”
I stiffen. “What are you talking about, Victor?”
He looks up at me. “When 51 first arrived here, I was alarmed to find he had been beaten unconscious, possibly drugged, not knowing who he was when he came to. His memory loss seemed complete to me at the time. I suppose that was part of the plan all along. They must have had him held somewhere else for weeks before I was called in. I suspect I was summoned in on this just to make sure that their prisoner remained a total amnesiac – permanently. Technically, his life — as he knew it — would be gone forever as soon as the treatments were completed.”
“Does anyone know who he is?” I ask breathlessly. This was too much to comprehend.
Victor shakes his head and has the decency to look ashamed. “No. I mean, Eddings might… I was only supposed to make his amnesia irreversible. Here’s the thing, though: They were going to see to the new memory input — ‘brainwashing’, if you will, nineties-style. As for who he is or where he came from — they’ve told me nothing. I was merely to do my job. But I thought I could prove the Genera Project’s worth to them with this man, so…”
I draw up close to him, angrily interrupting him. “And how far along are you in your part of this little task, Dr. Kent?”
He backs away from me. ” We… uh… got behind. He was very combative. He put ME out of commission the very first night. Knocked me flat on my ass! I was out for over ten minutes! And, of course, when I woke up, I found that he was hardly ready for treatment after Eddings punished him for that prank. So, he has only had a preliminary treatment and the one I did last night. They are pushing me to finish the next five in these last two nights, but…”
“That will kill him!”
“Probably.” Victor agrees grimly. “But let me finish: It could kill him IF it were true that I was doing exactly as they commanded.”
“What?” I gaped at my ex-partner. ” ‘IF’? Victor, what are you saying? What have you been doing to him?”
Dr. Kent glances around and lowers his voice fearfully. “I haven’t been taking brain cells AWAY from him, Deanna. I’ve…” He hesitates again.
“In the two chances I have had with him so far, I have begun the Genera treatments — the implants. I have been GIVING that young man fetal neurotransmitters — helping his body repair his already compromised memory.”
I am stunned. Did Victor think this news would make me think he was some goddamned Albert Schwietzer? Some hero? Some balding, bespectacled angel of mercy?
No, I KNOW what motivates Victor Kent.
“You son of a bitch!” I hiss at him. “So you get your human test subject anyway, right? Long live your damn Genera Project, right? Victor! How could you?”
Victor grabs at my arms which I had begun swinging wildly at him.
“Deanna! Shut up! Keep your voice down! LISTEN! Just listen to me… Yes! Yes, I have used 51 as a human test subject — but believe me, Deanna, his future may be better NOW than what they had in mind for him. We — Mackey and me — have a plan to get him out of here.”
I immediately go still, gaping at Victor. Did I hear him right?
Victor smiles at my shock this time. “He’s part of my Genera Project now, remember? We made plans just two days ago. It was a simple plan then. Mackey was having an attack of guilt about the treatment that young man was getting and I was worried about keeping Specimen 51 in a more stable environment, with better working conditions , than here with Eddings.”
He heaved another sigh. “Now — suddenly — something’s changed here. Maybe it was your unexpected arrival. Or maybe his people are near, looking for him. As of a few hours ago, everything has been locked down, and the pace of the treatments has been ordered stepped up. I let them know how I felt about it — another mistake on my part, I’m sure. I don’t know where these orders are coming from. Eddings has contact with them, not me.
“I’m the puppet here, Deanna. You must believe me. We are in danger. We have to get ourselves and that young man out of here. It won’t take a rocket scientist to determine that I’m not following their plan for treatments soon. If given half a chance, I think that man will recover his memory — but not if we remain here.”
He suddenly pauses and looks at me with a tenderness I never saw in his eyes before.
Brushing my cheek lightly with his fingers, he says, “Deanna, there is so much I would have done differently. My ‘mighty brain’ has not served me well enough in the practical matters — personal matters — of my life.”
He seems to be struggling for words. I’m sure he is. Victor never, ever acted as if he had feelings. But who am I to criticize anyone else for lack of feelings? Maybe he and I were more properly matched than I cared to acknowledge, but right now he is revolting to me.
His face hardens with resolve. “Not enough time for regrets.” He glances at the quiet security camera. “We must hurry — Listen closely ! We are going to attempt to break out of here tonight.”
What? Break out tonight? Now?
I’m becoming frightened. I suppose I knew this danger was coming when I noticed all the changes, the heightened security.
“We must break out… There will be no other choice for any of us. I certainly don’t believe I was ever meant to walk away from this experiment, Deanna. I recently realized these people have no interest in me or the Genera Project. There is nothing I could show them that they would be impressed with. So, if I want to save the Genera Project…”
“Why in the hell should I help you save this bit of illegal, irresponsible research?” I rage at him God help me. I have never been so angry at this man as I am now. He is using the prisoner for his own purpose, too.
Specimen 51 is everyone’s pawn, it would seem.
“Because now you may be in danger as well. And as for that young man in there? They won’t let him ‘walk out’ of here either if their agenda hasn’t been followed. That should be sinking into your brain by now. If I don’t get him to a safe facility where my work with him can be continued, he has either a coffin or a padded cell in some mental institution to look forward to. We must be successful in getting him — and ourselves– out of here tonight!”
Victor shoves a black duffel bag at me. “In here are his records. Every note that I’ve kept on that kid. Observations, monitor strips, procedural documentation, medications. The Genera treatments are documented in a code that you will recognize… I’ve also put a week’s supply of the sedatives and anti-convulsants in here with a box of syringes.”
He begins rifling through the cabinets for something.
“Victor, why are you giving these to ME?” He was really scaring me now.
He avoids the answer I am looking for. “We have a plan. A hasty, ill-defined plan, but a plan, nonetheless. Mackey is a big help. He approached me earlier this evening about this… Ah. Here it is.”
He finds a locked leather box and places it in the duffel bag.
“Deanna, in that box is everything that is current and known in our field of research. It IS the Genera Project – the only child I’ve ever given birth to and cared for.” His voice is laden with bitterness. “If we should get separated…” He pauses and swallows hard. “If I don’t make it, that may be 51’s only chance at getting back to who he once was. I want you to see to it that he gets the right kind of help, and I want you to see to the success of the Genera Project, with or without me.”
He searches his shirt pocket and pulls out a business card. Squeezing it into my hand, he instructs me, “When everything seems quiet and safe enough, call this man: Neil Radamacher, Director of Cognitive Neuropsychology and Research at Johns Hopkins. We have corresponded frequently about his work and my progress on the Genera Project. He is familiar with my theories. His studies and mine most closely resemble each other. I trust him, Deanna. He’ll help him. He’ll know what it takes.”
“But Victor, how long? What is the prognosis? When do I bring him in?” I am panicky at the thought of having another human’s life and future dropped into my hands. This is no longer my fantasy escape. It’s reality, and it’s frightening.
“I can’t say, Deanna. There was no time for proper assessment. These weren’t lab conditions as you and I would have them. They have toyed with that man’s life, and now , I guess, I have, too. I don’t know who he is — or what he may be returning to if you and Neil Radamacher are able get him back to himself. There are so many unknowns… including the capabilities and recuperative powers of Specimen 51 himself.”
“How could you do this, Victor? Your research is automatically compromised. These aren’t the strict conditions required to document something like this! What if you’ve harmed that young man?”
“Or maybe I’ve already helped him, hmmm?” Victor snaps back at me, even though I can see he is getting more nervous about his grand rationalization. “Remember, Deanna, if Specimen 51 made these kinds of enemies — ones powerful enough to change him like this — well, it just might be better for him to take on a new existence and never go back to whatever hell they were making his life at the time.”
I am shocked by the significance of what Victor is saying.
When I had looked upon the prisoner’s naked body yesterday, it had not escaped my notice that he had a number of old scars, at least two of which bore the signature scarring patterns of gunshot wounds. One high on his chest, near his left shoulder and the other, high on his right hip, dangerously close to his groin and the life-line of a major femoral artery.
Specimen 51 is no stranger to pain and horror. Victor Kent and his ambition had just added another layer of uncertainty to his life. I can only hope this will work for him, not against him.
And I vow I will make Victor Kent answer for this sin against Specimen 51, whether it helps the young man or not.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the camera’s dead red eye blink back to life. It quietly rolls and tilts in its housing. Victor takes the duffel bag from me almost casually and zips it up, dropping it by the door.
“There you are, Doctor.” Eddings’ mechanically distorted voice hisses from the speaker below the camera eye. “A few of these new cameras seem to be acting up on that end. Can you hear me?”
Victor smiles woodenly and gives the camera a thumbs-up signal.
The room falls silent. Victor returns to calmly laying out instruments as he says to me, almost sub-audibly, “We must be on the lookout for Mackey’s signal. Don’t hesitate when it comes, and do not look back for me.”
I lay out new drapes for the treatment table. Hopefully, the young man will never have to feel the cold touch of these straps and this table again. With good luck, we will all make an escape and leave this evil insanity behind. I will have to follow blindly, and I will have to pull Specimen 51 along with me, too.
The proverbial “blind leading the blind”.
Mackey comes into the room, breathless. “Dr. Branson, I’ll need your…” He looks at the blinking red eye of the security camera and seems to go pale. “Uh… I-It’s Number 51… He isn’t being cooperative. Maybe you had better stay with him until it’s time for his treatment ?”
I nod slowly. I must look like a dunce. Things are going too fast. My heart is racing, and I feel so helpless. But quivering and quaking isn’t going to serve any purpose now. If what Victor says is true then this is a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” mission. This action of theirs, however hasty and ill-conceived, may be a last chance for all of us, especially the darkly handsome young man in that cage.
As I passed close to Victor on my way out the door, he shoves a heavy black package at me.
A full-sized body bag?
He lays a syringe on top of the dense plastic, shielding his movements from the eye of the camera with his back.
He looks into my eyes as if evaluating me. ” Hurry. Use the sedative on him if you have to. It’s relatively short-term. Now go!”
I turn numbly away, my “gifts” from Victor held close to my body, away from the prying eye of the security camera.
He is aware something is going on. He is aware that the routine has been changed. He is aware of all the tension. The air is thick with it.
When Mackey lets me back into the cage, Specimen 51 is pacing back and forth at the back of the tiny space. He sees me, but he does not stop his frantic pacing. His eyes are wide with wariness and fright. There is a feline grace to his back and forth pacing; he seems ready to leap, ready to fight. A reaction to this heightened anxiety we are all swimming in, I’m sure.
As lost and weak as he must be, he is still ready to fall back on his instinct to fight. Amazing.
I glance at the camera. Still dead. But for how long?
“Calm down. Stop and listen to me. Please!”
My voice is shaking. He can probably hear the panic in it. His eyes grow steely as he looks from me to Mackey to the open door and back to me again. He keeps pacing, chewing furiously on his lower lip, clenching and unclenching his fists. He is taking everything in. My own fright. The black package in my arms. The syringe.
Oh, damn! The syringe.
He fixates on it. Keeps pacing. Never lets his eyes off of it.
“We’ve only got minutes, ma’am,” Mackey warns. “I’ve got my vehicle at the loading dock, and the next guard pass will be in less than thirty minutes.”
He lowers his voice. For my ears only: “Shall I take him down for you? We need to get him into…”
“No!” I hiss.
Mackey steps back quickly. He decides to stand outside of the cage and opens the cage door wide with a friendly smile and a nod at the nervous young man. A signal of reassurance, I’m sure, but I doubt that the prisoner is going to trust it.
I lay out the body bag on the mattress and unzip it. He does not slow his pacing, but he is watching me. I put the syringe on the floor in his path. He stops and stares down at it. The gesture confuses him. It is different than his experience with these things for the past few days. He stoops slowly and picks it up with unsteady hands.
He looks from me to Mackey. I can see he is unsure, but he has lost some of his wariness.
“Will you listen to me now?” I ask softly.
He clutches the syringe tightly and takes a step backward, but he nods.
“We want to get you out of here. We have to hide you in here.” I pull open the body bag. There is no way to make this less threatening. I realize that he seems to be aware of what the zippered bag is for, as if he had seen a few in his lifetime.
“I’m sorry. This all we have for now.” I hasten to chase the horror out of his eyes with my silly, cliched reassurances. “We won’t hurt you. The syringe only contains a sedative. It is to help you stay still while we get you out of here. This bag is to hide you from the guards outside when we go through the gates.”
He lifts his hand to look again at the syringe and then at Mackey again. The distrust is back. He shakes his head firmly.
This time my voice isn’t as soft. I let my own desperation flow through. “There is no time for this! You must do this! Or we’ll all die – and soon!”
He listens to that! I can see, however, that he is battling with his instincts. He has nothing to trust. No reason to trust.
Miraculously, he drops to his knees beside me and rolls gingerly into the shadowy folds of the body bag. He stiffens when Mackey moves forward to pull the flaps together and begins to zip it shut. He looks at me and then offers the syringe, clenched in his fist, to me.
“N-n-no m-more,” he stutters pitifully.
“But you will need…”
He shakes his head adamantly. Mackey looks at me anxiously and then at his former prisoner. He lays a hand gently on the young man’s shoulder. “All right, but you have to stay still no matter what you hear, okay, Sam?”
“Sam?” I inquire.
Mackey shrugs. “That’s what I named him. He’d be yelling that name out whenever he was having bad dreams. ‘Sam’ — and that ‘Dana’ name he called you. C’mon. We have to hustle.” He pulls the zipper up to the young man’s chin and pauses. “Listen hard, Sam! I’m going to be carrying you on my shoulder out of here. Got that? It’ll feel scary — but you can’t move, okay? Then you’ll feel yourself being slid into the back of a vehicle — like a mini-van, understand? If we make it out of here, we can get you out of this contraption real quick-like. In the meantime, you absolutely cannot move!!”
Mackey looks every bit the proud, fierce marine he was for six years of his life. “Sam” is looking at him with dark, serious eyes. He nods. I’m sure he understands. He doesn’t seem to be a stranger to this danger-game stuff, either, even though he looks scared stiff right now.
I take my cue from him; if he can face this with as many doubts and fears as he has, then certainly I can do this, too.
It takes Mackey only a minute to seal the prisoner in the black bag and lift him into a fireman’s carry. It is only when I swing back to make sure that I close the cage door tightly that I notice the blinking red light of the camera inside.
It is alive!
How long had it been watching?
Too late to send out a warning. Mackey is already headed to the back of the lab, toward the door that leads to another short hallway with storage rooms and the door to the back dock area. He is moving fast, and I have to nearly run to catch up.
I reel my head back and forth, looking for Eddings. Did he see those last few minutes in the cage? Where is Victor?
I move ahead to hold open the back hallway door. No one there, I note with relief. Not yet anyway. “Mackey! I saw the camera In the cage. It was on!” I whispered.
I freeze the moment I look back at Mackey and his cargo. Just behind him, back in the hallway, I see Eddings’ sadistic grin. He has just come out of the staff quarters across the way. His gun is unholstered and a com radio is in his other hand.
Mackey sees the look in my eyes and comes to an abrupt halt. He does not turn around.
“It was pretty efficient of you to put Number 51 in that body bag, Mackey. It’ll save me a lot of time and trouble.” Eddings moves up behind Mackey and begins feeling for the zipper at the head of the black plastic bag.
True to his word, Specimen 51 does not move even though he must know what is happening. Mackey looks defeated and angry. I am so numb with terror that I can’t imagine how I must look. Like a ghost, perhaps.
“Where you taking my boy, Mackey? Gonna get some for yourself, maybe?” He grabs at the other man’s body in a cruelly suggestive gesture then looks at me with scorn. “Or maybe you and your lady friend were anxious for a threesome?”
He snorts and goes back to working the zipper open. “What do you think, soldier-boy? If — when I put this gun barrel between this boy’s pretty lips and make Number 51 swallow some lead — right here, right now — is there a chance the bullet will go through you, too? Huh? What are the odds? Suppose I can get one bullet to do the work of two?”
Mackey remains statue-still, glaring into the empty hallway beyond us. He’s probably thinking the same thing I am: How could we only be a few feet away from freedom?
I can’t stop myself from watching. I can see Eddings clutch a fistful of the silky chocolate-colored strands of the young man’s hair as he lifts the black pistol up. I draw up one shaking hand to press over my mouth to halt a scream.
This can’t be happening.
The blur of motion from behind Eddings confuses me at first. When the bastard gasps and claws at the syringe sticking into the side of his neck, he lets the radio fall to the ground with a clatter. He sinks to his knees, momentarily stunned, and now I can see the figure of Dr. Victor Kent standing behind him.
Victor looks as white as a sheet. “Go!” he hisses to me. He tosses the duffel bag full of Specimen 51’s future to me. “Don’t forget this! Get in the Jeep! I’m going to drag him out of sight and be right with you! Go!!!”
Mackey has already pushed forward. I linger only long enough to look again at Victor. He waves me on with a weak smile and stoops over to grab Eddings’ shirt. As the door swings shut behind me, my mind registers a picture of Eddings with startling clarity.
The gun was still in his hand.
His hand was moving…
By the time I am through the outside door, the significance hits my anesthetized brain! I hear a single shot from within.
Mackey snaps into full guerrilla mode. He pulls me off the concrete dock when he sees me hesitate. “In!” he shouts, throwing me over the body bag he has already pushed into the back of a black Jeep Cherokee. “Stay down!”
He slams the back cargo door, and I hear his front door open. Almost simultaneously, I hear a burst of automatic gunfire. The clank and ping of real bullets hitting metal and concrete bursts all around us. To my left, the side window blooms into a fine web of broken glass, and I feel a frightening tug of something at the back of my lab coat as if a bullet had caught the cloth, narrowly missing my head.
Beneath me, our “package” squirms. I tighten down on him. “NO!” I hiss at him.
He stops moving. I think I hear one quick report of a pistol, and the gunfire stops. I hear Mackey cursing furiously to himself, and then the engine roars to life. As I lift my head up gingerly, I can see a man’s body sprawled on the pavement as we rocket past. There is shouting behind us.
“STAY THE FUCK DOWN!!!” Mackey is screaming at me.
The rear window blooms into that same webby pattern as the window on my left. I can feel some pebbles of safety glass rain over my back as I lean protectively over the black body bag.
I realize Mackey is not going to make it through that main guard gate.
Ignoring his earlier command, I scramble over to the seat behind Mackey and shout over the roar of the straining engine. “Right! Go right! Beyond this field back here is an old entrance that has been fenced over. If you can crash through and stay ahead of these guys, there are a bunch of quick turns we can make to lose them!!!”
Mackey’s jaw is tensed. He is breathing heavily and a sheen of sweat stands out on his forehead. His young handsome face looks pinched with pain, but he looks determined. With a quick glance at the rearview mirror through the ruined window, he cranks on the steering wheel and sends our escape vehicle into the dark field to the right of the lab building.
I am sure they can see our headlights bobbing and bouncing over the rough terrain. Two sets of lights suddenly appear far behind us. Mackey curses audibly.
“Okay, Lady Doc! Where is it? Where’s our out?!” His voice is high, strained with tension.
I catch sight of the overgrown remains of the old concrete entrance road in a flash of our head lights. “There! There it is!!” I shout excitedly.
Mackey sets his jaw again. He pulls onto the old road. I can feel the jolt of acceleration as the tires grip the familiarity of a firm surface.
“Get your head down!!” Mackey cries out as we bullet toward a ten foot tall chain link fence.
I fall into the well between the seats just as the Jeep hits the fence. There is an incredible bouncing and shocking shuddering from the vehicle. It seems to pause for an unreal amount of time, as if we were suspended in time and space.
Then, the jarring impact of wheels against roadway surges through our bones.
Mackey is grunting with the exertion of keeping the Jeep moving forward at breakneck speeds. “Okay, Lady Doc! Finger the turns!! We’ve got a chance here!!”
The next twenty minutes were spent maneuvering hairpin turns at impossible speeds. When I point out that a mile to our right, west as the crow flies, is the old Ambrose Highway which eventually skirts the boggy waters of Lake Pontchatrain on its way into Ponchatoula and then New Orleans, Mackey bites down on his lip and sends us veering into another dark field, taking a more direct route to the road we need.
I pray, and I pray hard. I blink as I stare into the darkness ahead. I imagine I see Marraine Solange’s image floating eerily in front of us as if hovering just outside of the reach of our rocking headlights.
Had I ever believed in God well enough that He should be listening to me now?
I think I can hear the silvery laugh of Marraine Solange, as clear as it was that day decades ago, as we sat by the riverside talking about God and prayers while she braided my long red locks of hair: //Non, non, mon chere//, she had laughed at my childish theories. //If God is not answering, maybe it is because HE is a SHE and is sorely insulted by being addressed as a man!//
Male or Female, He or She will have to send us a miracle now. Louisiana fields are merely human attempts to fight Mother Nature’s nature; they are true swamps, tamed and risen by farmers’ hard work, but struggling everyday to sink back into their lazy former life.
If we get over this field and onto the patchwork safety of old Ambrose Highway, it will be a miracle akin to Jesus’ walking on water! No sooner do I think that than the vehicle jerks and bounces violently and settles into a steady pace. We are on solid, blessed pavement. I crane my neck in all directions: no lights to be seen.
“Nothing,” I tell Mackey.
In the green glow of the dash lights, his face looks grim. “They’re there. It’s only a matter of time,” he asserts. Impossibly, he urges more speed out of the Jeep’s straining engine. The dash clock blinks the time: 1:15 a.m. We are the only ones on this near forgotten stretch of road.
I move back to check on our passenger. He had wriggled free of half of the body-bag and still has his long arms bracing him against the seat and back door. He looks at me, eyes dark and wide. “O-k-kay n-now?” he stammers.
“For now,” I answer with a smile that is supposed to convey confidence, but I sure don’t feel it. I extend my hand to help him up into a sitting position. The hand that had been closest to the shattered back window feels wet. I notice a thin dark line flowing from his hairline. He was laying among shards of glass and a few had found their way to his unprotected skin.
“I’ve got to bring him forward, Mackey!” I shouted to the man in front. “He’s cut and laying in all this glass!”
I see Mackey quickly nod. I turn back to helping my new charge out of his black plastic wrapping and over the seat to sit beside me. Settled, he still looks a bit bewildered and frightened. This must all seem so strange to him.
“Wh – what… ha – hap… ha-…” He stops, frustrated by his stuttering.
“Even I’m not sure,” I say to him, brushing aside a dark lock of hair and probing for cuts. He jerks when I touch one. There a several pebbles of safety glass still in his hair, and I pluck them out gently.
Mackey leans over and snaps on the radio. He rolls through several noisy rock and Cajun music stations and stops when he hits upon a news broadcast. “… that will raise roadblocks along all major thoroughfares from Texas to the Mississippi border. Please, folks, the police want you to remember, these people are armed and dangerous. If you spot a vehicle of this description, call the state or local police immediately. Do not approach the vehicle — Best to leave these escapees to the authorities…”
Mackey snaps off the radio and laughs. “How long has it been? Thirty minutes? Forty maybe? And they’ve thrown the net out already!” He laughs again.
I don’t understand.
“What do you mean, Mackey?”
“Our beloved employers — the keepers of our ‘brother’ Sam, here — have alerted authorities. I’m sure they made a real convincing case for our ‘armed and dangerous’ tag.”
“What? What do you mean? Weren’t they talking about some escapees from a…?” I stop myself as my brain begins to churn.
Dear God. They mean us! The roadblocks are being set up for us! How in the hell…?
The dark eyed young man next to me is watching my face anxiously. He looks sad, resigned. When I meet his eyes, he simply turns quietly to stare out at the darkness we are rushing through, bringing his bloodied hand up to play absently with his lip.
“Mackey. Did you and Victor…?” My throat tightens suddenly at the mention of Victor’s name. I had not had room enough in my terrified mind to give him any thought since that last awful moment when I heard the crack of a pistol shot from within the lab.
Mackey is glancing at me through the rear view mirror. “Did we what?”
“Did you have a plan for where you were going to go?”
Mackey snorts and seems to grimace sharply again. He takes a minute before answering. “Dr. Kent had a safe route mapped out into Arkansas, skirting Baton Rouge, going toward Natchez and heading directly north from there. I was going to get us into the mountains in Kentucky and lay low for awhile. I was kind of hoping Sam would come around and remember some of his people — I gave up THAT hope after that seizure he had following last night’s treatment, though.”
I look over at the man beside me. He heard that, I’m sure, but he just continues to stare out into the blackness.
Mackey waves his hand in a gesture indicating futility. “Well, it’s all a moot point now. And good marines are prepared for any eventuality, Doc. We’re way off plan. Fate is pointing us toward New Orleans.” He laughs weakly. “We’ll have to hide in plain sight! My favorite trick… Used to do it all the time as a kid.”
He falls silent for a long time. I can feel my forebodings returning. Mackey is leaning too far over the steering wheel, grimacing.
“Mackey? Are you all right?”
“Fine, ma’am…” he says quickly, but he does not straighten up.
We drive in silence for a while. When we rocket past an old sign for directions to Ponchatoula, I realize that we aren’t too far from the little farming town on the northern end of Lake Pontchartrain. Will the road blocks be in place?
“We’re going to have to get off this highway soon, aren’t we?”
Mackey just nods. He doesn’t look hopeful.
“It’s okay. I spent a lot of time, with people that were sort of my family, outside of Ponchatoula. I can get us through the back roads if need be.”
Mackey doesn’t answer. He is grimacing.
“Mackey? What is it? Oh my God…”
I had moved toward the front and for the first time I notice Mackey holding a bloody fist over his groin area. There is a dark, wet stain spreading over his lap. I push myself into the passenger’s seat in front.
I can see how bad it is. I can see the pain, and now — for the first time — the fright written on his face.
“Mackey! I – I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you say…?”
“Not much point at the time, ma’am,” he says weakly.
The young man in the seat behind us has straightened and is listening intently. He has realized something is wrong, too.
“There’s a hospital in Ponchatoula! We’re not too far…”
“No, no and NO!” Mackey is shaking his head. “When they see my blood on the floor of that dock, they’re going to know someone was hurt. They’ll be waiting at any hospital in a hundred mile radius, and by breakfast time, they will have had the whole state canvassed!” His speech is becoming punctuated with little grunts of pain.
I look around wildly. The terrain is getting familiar. If I can get in the area of the Terrebonne family, they will help. I was practically a blood relative. Much of my childhood was spent here, playing with Lucille and tagging along after her older brother, Edel. Many of their cousins still live on the family lands, farming.
“Let me drive. We’ll take the next turn-off, Mackey. Maybe we can get some help for you yet…”
Mackey tries to smile as he pulls over to the side of the dark highway without an argument. He looks doubtful. The young man in the back seat looks worried. I get out of the jeep and work my way to the back door. Another shower of shattered safety glass clatters to the pavement as I reach in for the duffel bag Victor had given me.
Back in the front seat, in the dim overhead light, I fumble for the box of syringes and vials of sedatives. As I bring up one of the vials to draw a dose into the chamber of a syringe, I am aware of “Sam” moving nervously in the seat behind me.
I don’t have time to make explanations to him. Mackey is my main concern right now. He is collapsed, as if only road-weary, over the steering wheel. I pull on his shirt to move him back against the seat. He is already halfway to unconsciousness, and he feels like a lead weight.
“Help me!” I cry desperately to the man in the seat behind Mackey. “I need to sit him up!”
He untangles himself from the corner of the seat and leans forward a bit hesitantly. I can see he is still fighting his own fears and mistrust. He pulls Mackey back and holds him semi-upright, watching anxiously as I look for a site to give this injection to the injured man.
“Mackey? Listen. We’re going to make it.” I am talking too hurriedly, covering my own doubts. “I’m giving you a shot. It’s the sedative from the lab. It will help you cope.”
Mackey seems to laugh, closing his eyes wearily. “Sam’s stuff? Hey, Sammy — thanks for sharing, buddy.” Another laugh. The other young man looks confused, not understanding Mackey’s ironic joke.
“Help me get him into that seat,” I command. He moves a bit more quickly now. Between the two of us, we move our injured driver to a semi-reclining position in the middle of the Cherokee.
The wound is far more vicious than I imagined. I pull off my lab coat and ball it up to use as a pressure bandage over the bullet hole in his inner thigh. Useless. The mere change of position may have harmed him more than I care to admit.
Tears of fright and frustration begin trickling, then pouring, from my eyes. I am sobbing loudly and hysterically as I press the useless cloth over Mackey’s leg.
He is dying.
Suddenly, I feel the nameless prisoner’s hand on my shoulder. He is drawing me out of the back seat and gently pushing me toward the driver’s door. He looks at me with a kind of understanding as he climbs in next to Mackey and takes my place at the futile attempt to keep Mackey’s life from draining away.
Still sobbing, I start the engine and head us toward Ponchatoula’s obscure web of back roads. The damp Louisiana night could care less about all this soul-wrenching agony.
Nature can be a cold mother, heedless of our woes.
The starlit sky would be beautiful if a man weren’t dying here.
The sonorous love songs of the swamp critters would be entertaining if we could afford to pause and listen.
The inky shadows would seem comforting if they weren’t a reminder that more man-made horrors will be out here looking for us soon.
The jeep gamely bumps and rolls over ragged back roads and over rutted dirt roads. I had become so fixated on the drive and the changing landscape that I am genuinely surprised when the engine begins coughing and sputtering.
What is going on?
The Jeep Cherokee rolls another few hundred yards before the engine falls silent. I could only sit, stunned, for a few long moments.
I stare with horror at the gas gauge.
“Are we stopped?” The weak concerned voice is Mackey’s.
How can I possibly tell him this? I stare out at the cypress lined dirt road in front of us, saying nothing.
“Snap off those headlights, Doc!” Mackey orders. Dying or not, he still has the most common sense of the three of us.
The silence is made to seem more ominous by the now total darkness around us.
Mackey, bless him, is still in his survivalist mode – at least for the sake of me and his former prisoner.
“Lady Doc, you’re going to have to listen closely. They’ll be in the skies soon, probably in helicopters. Using FLIR equipment and night-scopes. Do you know what that means?”
FLIR — Forward Looking Infrared — equipment that could track us through the darkest night with our own body temperatures leading them right to us. It was hard not to give in to the feeling of hopelessness right now.
“You… have to take Sam here… and head out on foot…” Mackey was talking with effort now. “You won’t have much time… Take the… flashlight I’ve got in the back. You’ll need it… And if they’re looking now…” He cursed quietly for a moment and continued, “If they ARE looking by air, you two are in trouble…”
My heart is pounding. The young man is looking bewildered. I can see his profile in the dim greenish lights from the dash board as he turns from Mackey to me and back to Mackey. Maybe his internal confusion is saving him from all the terror I’m feeling right now. He just looks lost, pulled along in the wake of all this inexplicable frenzy.
Mackey regains his voice. “They’ll be looking… for three – maybe two heat signatures — moving, running. As soon as you think you hear them, try for cover… God… I don’t know how you’ll … fuckfuckfuck… I can hardly think…”
“Mackey. No more. Don’t try!” I rush to fill the silence. “Don’t worry about us. I-I think … I’m pretty sure I know where we are out here. Help’s not too far away. I’ll come back for…”
That gets Mackey animated! He opens his eyes wide. “No! Don’t you come back! You keep going with Sam! Keep moving. Never stop…”
“Mackey, I can’t just leave you!”
He smiles. “Fine. I’ll watch for the rescue team you send back, Doctor. Sure. Send someone… but YOU have to take Sam and keep going! Keep him safe until you can find his people … where he came from … who he is…”
As I race around to the back to collect the flashlight, the tall dark young man is slowly backing himself away from Mackey’s side. He stands stiffly outside of the Jeep, staring back at the man who just hours ago had seemed like an enemy to him. I’m sure this is all adding to his confusion.
“My gun!” Mackey suddenly says. “Dr. Branson… get my gun. I tucked it under me on the front seat. There are two extra clips in the glove compartment.”
I hastily retrieve them and innocently hand them to him. He smiles sadly and shakes his head, pushing the weapon back into my hand.
“I’m not going to need it. You will. And, Lady Doc? One more favor?”
“Anything, Mackey,” I answer as I nervously place the gun and two clips of ammo in our duffel bag.
“Could … Would you please fix up a fatal dose of those drugs of Sam’s?”
My heart seems to stop. I can hardly look at Mackey without the tears starting up again. I swallow hard, blink away the tears and open the duffel bag.
“Anything for you, Mackey.”
My words are choking my throat, and I have to fight to keep my hands steady as I draw two overly-large doses of the sedatives.
As I place the two syringes near Mackey’s hand, I can feel that his flesh is already beginning to feel unnaturally cool. Impulsively, I lean over him and kiss his forehead. “Thank you,” I whisper. “You are an unexpected guardian angel, Mackey.”
Sam is watching, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
Mackey’s eyes are closed, but I can see him smile wanly. “Well, don’t look for my bill in the mail,” he says softly. He opens his eyes to gaze at the dark young man standing at the open car door.
“Hey, Sam? Forgive me, buddy?”
Sam is biting his lower lip. “S -s-sure,” he stammers in his soft voice. He looks so bewildered and helpless.
“Better give him my boots, ma’am. He’s not outfitted for the Louisiana farmlands. They should fit. I know he’s a Big Foot like me. Right, Sammy?”
The young man nods numbly but makes no move to get Mackey’s boots. I rush to remove them as gently as I can and shove them into his arms. He seems immobilized, staring at his former guard. I hurry to lock up the vehicle protectively around Mackey.
I can see our guardian angel fingering one of the syringes already. I know he won’t wait for rescue. He and I both know rescue is the matter of fiction and fantasy by now. The arrival of the killing troops, the search team? That is fact, and they will be here soon.
“Come! We have to go… Come on!” I have to pull my new responsibility away from the Jeep and down the darkened road. I can feel his puzzlement as he stumbles to keep pace with me, still clutching Mackey’s boots to his chest.
Night is no protection from the steamy blanket of humid heat that hugs Louisiana. We are both damp with sweat.
“Sam”, as I have now come to think of him, is stumbling more often. He is probably exhausted, but I am too terrified to let him stop and rest. He does not complain. He has followed me meekly since we left Mackey over half an hour ago.
I had to stop to help him put on Mackey’s boots when we finally ventured off the road. He was either unable or reluctant to do it himself. I hope it is the latter. I still can’t assess how functional he is, and his inability — or unwillingness — to communicate has not made it any easier. I hope he is more frightened than impaired.
As I navigate through tangles of brush, clutching his hand, pulling him forward, I wonder if he had been a quiet young man in the life that had been wiped from his brain. I wonder a lot about him. Did he have a girlfriend? A wife? Maybe this “Dana” that he seems to recognize in me is an important piece to the puzzle of “Sam”.
He’s handsome, with a perfectly imperfect face. A lean, youthful body. And eyes that seem haunted, one clue that his other life may have had the kind of danger in it that we are now running from. That and the mysterious scars on his body.
There has been pain; that much is easy to deduce. His body is the witness to the physical pain. His sad eyes are the windows to the emotional pain.
What was it about him that made three very different people lay down our lives for him?
I feel a bit of anxiety over examining my motivations right now. But I am sure of one thing: timing certainly figures prominently.
“Sam” was tossed into the lives of three people who had big personal struggles going on, I realize. Mackey was feeling the dishonor and discomfort of a bad decision to join an inhuman organization. Victor was feeling the regret of a decision to work on a company task that mocked all he had worked for in his research career.
I had gotten the feeling he was regretting “us”, as well. Both of us, living lives of denial and desperation.
Who knows if that could ever had been changed? Maybe this is all just Fate, having a rocking good time with our puny lives. I can’t bring myself to “miss” Victor, but I do regret his death. Even as I am awed by the bravery it took to make so dramatic a move on his part.
Such a sacrifice.
Had he really cared that much? About me? Or about Sam, who was now Victor’s legacy, the first human treated with the Genera Promise. Would Sam regain his memory because of what Victor took it upon himself to do?
Shamefully, I had to admit a bit of scientific curiosity with my hope for Sam’s recovery. However, Dr. Kent’s “experiment” was too easy to compare to Frankenstein and his monster. I turn away from that thought, too scared to contemplate it. Too scared, for Sam’s sake.
But Victor had taken this risk for another reason. He had also intimated that he had cared for me.
That realization will take a while to sink in deep enough to touch that part of me that I keep so carefully hidden. Am I also hiding all the personal reasons I have come to feel so protective toward this young man from myself?
Suddenly, I am pulled out of my reverie-on-the-run when I feel Sam’s hand jerk violently from mine. I turn to see him trying to struggle up from where he had fallen. He is panting. And trembling. His long legs go out from under him once more before I can get to his side.
He is trying so hard. My heart goes out to him. He is exhausted, leaning momentarily, pausing in the cradle of my arms.
“S-s-sorry.,” he gasps. “F-fell d-down…”
I prevent him from trying to get to his feet again, holding him tighter to me. “It’s okay. Let’s just catch our breath for a moment. We need a bit of rest.” I stroke his damp hair, listening to his labored breathing in the dark. It feels good to stop running. It feels good to hold him. His body is firm and warm in my arms.
He is not uncomfortable this time. He seems to give into his need, reaching up to wrap his arms around my waist, hesitantly at first, and then leaning wearily into my embrace. He seems to only take as much as he thinks he must. As soon as his breathing slows, he gently pushes himself free and rises to his feet.
I take his hand and start forward again. We hadn’t gone a hundred yards, before he tugs me to a stop again. “L-l-listen!,” he says in an alarmed voice.
It takes me a second or two, but finally I detect a distant thrumming. The whipping of heat-heavy Louisiana air by the long blades of helicopters. It sounds as if there are more than one!
I yank the young man forward, just now regretting that he is wearing those damnable white scrubs. Even in this shadowy starlight, he glows! Viewed through a night-vision scope, he would seem to shine out of the darkness like the sun! And Mackey had warned us about thermal surveillance equipment! I fight feelings of hopelessness as we dash across a small open field, hoping to find cover before those choppers come over the tops of the cypresses and sight us.
My blood is pounding in my ears, and my ragged breathing is noisier than the man I am pulling a step behind me. He grunts and goes down again. I can feel my heart sinking as I turn back for him yet another time.
But this mishap is a godsend! As I turn, I spot an oddly familiar cow barn to our right, about two hundred yards away. I force him to his feet quickly and drag him off in the direction of the barn.
The helicopters are still a distance away when we make it as far as the old wooden structure. I can hear the nervous lowing of cows inside. Forcing the broken door open just enough to squeeze through, I push myself through the narrow opening and pull him in after me.
Startled cows trot quickly away from us to huddle in a corner. I shove Sam to his knees near bales of hay and begin burying him in the dry stuff. I am out of breath and damn near out of adrenaline-fueled energy. “Got…to cover… you… Sam… Stay! Hear me? Stay! Don’t… move a muscle… until I come to get you… Understand?”
I realize I am shouting at him when I notice his eyes go wide with that bewildered fright again. I can’t waste time on soothing him and making explanations now. The deeper I bury him in these bales the less of a chance there is that the heat from his body will be picked up by the sensors.
As for me…
I slowly approach the skittish cows and work my way into the midst of them. I cling to the neck of an aging Jersey, sandwiched between it and another cow. I listen for the approach of the helicopters. If they are using the sensors, my heat signature might get confused in the blend of heat signatures from the mass of cow bodies around me.
It takes such an agonizingly long time. I am scarcely breathing as the thunderous rumble of the choppers rolls overhead. The hi-tech engines are almost undetectable, but the pounding of the blades on the air is palpable. The cows snort anxiously and move about as one big helicopter moves low over the roof of the barn.
Oh Sweet Jesus! Is it hovering? I press myself closer to the leathery hide of my Jersey. She does not move, thank God. I watch the hay bales from where I stand. Sam seems to be doing okay. I do not see any movement from his direction.
Prayer is the only thing left. And they don’t have a sensor for that, do they?
Does God, I grimly add to my thought.
I am suddenly startled by the blast of a shotgun. Close. Very close. The cows start mooing and shuffling. Another blast scatters them, and this time I have to cling to my Jersey as she runs for the communal safety of her bovine sisters.
I can hear the helicopter still hovering. But above the pulsing rumble of the blades, I can hear a stream of curses in Creole the likes of which I haven’t heard since I was a kid! The voice, vaguely familiar even as raised and furious as it is, seems to be coming from just outside of the barn.
I see a brilliant light illuminate the outside, penetrating our hiding place through the barn’s many chinks and holes. Have we been discovered?
No. The light from above seems to be directed at the wiry figure of the man shrieking outside. I dare not leave my cow-cover, but I can peer through a cracked plank of wood to see what has their attention.
A little man, clothed in a thin night shirt that comes down to the middle of his bowed calves, is jumping up and down in a rage, shaking a fist at the metal death angel hovering above, cursing it. Unafraid. And looking utterly ridiculous.
Until he reaches down to load another two rounds into the old shotgun he is carrying and swings it skyward again. There are chickens squawking and scattering in every direction over the illuminated barnyard.
The helicopter seems to pause, then slowly lifts and swings away, dimming its huge searchlight. I still dare not breathe. Does this mean they didn’t see us? Are we safe? For now?
The cranky Cajun is still cursing a blue streak over the chicken noise. The barn door swings open and a bright light plays over the interior of the barn. “Awright, you lit’l’ weasels! I am seein’ you run in here. I am ridding you of the cops, eh? So now you come out and face ma ‘Sadie’! Out! Vite!! Vite!”
I only knew one person in this part of the country who named a shotgun after a much despised ex-wife: Marraine Solange’s younger brother, Guy. It could only be divine intervention if I had stumbled into his fields at a time like this!
“M’su Guy?” The craggy little man I remember swings both light and the barrel of “Sadie” in my direction. Rising from the midst of his small herd of cows, I must look like a night demon.
“Red-on-the-Head? Eh! Is that you?!”
“Yes sir.” I feel like I’m twelve years old again. Marraine Solange’s family called me by that nickname. Red-on-the-Head. My red hair always stood out against the handsome dark heads of the Terrebonne clan.
He lowers the gun and starts forward. “Mon Dieu! This I cannot believe! These flying bastards — they are looking for YOU?” In the light I can read the incredulity on his brown, craggy face.
“Uh — yes. Me and…” I dart forward and began pulling hay bales down from the haphazard pile. Guy Terrebonne looks at me as if I am crazy, until he sees the young man I have uncovered in the midst of the hay. Sam is spitting bits of hay, snorting it out of his nose, coughing it out of his throat, slapping it out of his hair.
Guy’s brown eyes go large. “First I am thinking you are escaping from a crazy house, mebbe? Now, I am seeing that you are bringing another crazy with you?” He is staring at the young man’s blood-stained, formerly white hospital scrubs.
Sam is silent, ducking his head down to avoid the painful glare of the flashlight in his eyes.
“Don’t be silly!” It feels good to laugh again, even if it is out of nervous relief. “I am not sure who they are. But they are after us. After this man.”
Guy runs a critical eye over me. “Surely, it has only been a few weeks since I am seeing you at the funeral, little one,” says Guy. “So now you are running through swamps with criminals? You were never known for your high spirit or love of adventure, cherie.”
“He is not a criminal!” I am wringing my hands. How DO I explain Sam? “We don’t know who he is. HE doesn’t know who he is! He was brought into the lab and Victor — Dr. Kent — was told to perform an experiment on him. They have taken his memory. They were trying to manipulate his brain, his thinking…”
“Yes?” Guy regards the young man with more curiosity. “And this Dr. Victor Kent? Is he that weak-chinned Protestant bastard that you brought to us last year?”
Dear Guy. Famous for his direct and bigoted comments. Marraine Solange was constantly slapping him on his sun-browned, balding head for his nasty remarks. But we all knew his acidic tongue hid a very soft heart.
“It’s been nearly two years, and yes, that was him,” I say, recalling the disastrous weekend in New Orleans long ago. “He is dead, killed last night at the lab, trying to get us to safety.”
Guy’s dark eyes settle back on me, wordlessly.
“There is another young man dead, also,” I continue. “We had to leave him in the car on the back roads east of here.” I am still wringing my hands. “I didn’t know where to run. I thought the family would know how to get this one to safety. Or — or help me find out who he is. I know Edel has many connections.”
“Legal or illegal?” Guy snorts. But he is not derisive. He is proud of his family, proud of their bohemian ways. “It appears you have a long and serious story to tell me, Red-on-the-Head. Let us help your mystery man to the house. He is looking none too steady on those long legs of his.”
Guy grips Sam, who has managed to wobble upright, under an arm. Guy is old, but lean and strong, his hearty little frame forged by a lifetime of work on his farm. I grab the duffel bag, feeling inside for the gun. I don’t know why the feel of it is comforting. It is useless against the army in the shadows.
Two hours later and I am finally feeling the need to sleep.
Sam had stumbled, uninvited, onto Guy’s worn but comfortable couch. He had fallen asleep almost immediately, probably his first drug-free sleep in a long time. I worried about the need for medication. I had not even had a moment to study Victor’s notes on his patient!
Recalling the man’s seizure on the treatment table yesterday, I made sure I had at least injected him with Victor’s recommended dose of anti-convulsants. Sam moaned a bit at the injection, but he never moved, never opened his eyes. I sat and watched him sleep the way a mother watches over a fever-ravaged child while I listened to Guy’s brisk fractured-French chatter on the phone in the kitchen.
He was talking to Edel, his nephew who had stood quietly with me during Marraine Solange’s death watch. Edel would come for me. I knew he would.
Guy had begun fixing some food for me. Sam’s breathing had been deep and regular for quite a while, and he was as still as stone. I rose wearily from my self-imposed vigil and went to take a cool, cleansing bath.
The next hour was spent eating in the warm company of one of my adopted “family”, telling old Guy my long story, worrying over my “mystery man” and waiting for Edel to arrive at dawn.
I fell asleep on Guy’s musty bachelor’s bed. He had remained unmarried since driving the legendary first wife “Sadie” from his home – nearly fifty years ago. And the story was still told in family circles. Why watch soap operas, I had thought before I drifted off. This family has its share of lively stories.
And now, I guess, timid little “Red-on-the-Head” would add to the rich family tradition with a story of her own. Almost unbelievable.
How my life has changed.
I can feel the gentle shaking of the bed. It seems as if I had just closed my eyes!
I awaken, looking into the dark, twinkling eyes of Edel Terrebonne. His vivid smile lights up his dark handsome face. Forgetful of where I was and of all that had happened, I smile back remembering with affection my schoolgirl crush on this big man. Now, even with his neat black beard and curly black hair elegantly peppered with gray, he still has that charm that made me as giddy as a fool back then.
But my smile fades quickly. The memories of the events of the past few days come flooding back to me. That tortured young man…
“Sam! Is he all right?”
Edel’s smile dims just a bit. “Would ‘Sam’ be that filthy pup on Uncle Guy’s sofa?” He laughs and stands up. “Yes, Deanna. He seems fine. Sleeping soundly. He could use a bath, though.” He offers me his broad hand so that I can get to my feet.
I feel so timid around him. “Thank you, Edel, for coming to get us. Has Guy told you…?”
“Uncle Guy has told me part of a story so fantastic — so crazy — that I had to come here and see for myself! And here YOU are! Little Deanna.”
“Please, don’t start, Edel. I am terribly unsure of what I am doing. Or why I am doing it.” I brush my fingers self-consciously through my hair. “I – I have to check on Sam.”
I flee the bedroom — and the questioning gaze of Edel.
“Your young man is being hard to waken,” Guy tells me in his sing-song Cajun accent. “I am trying for the past five minutes!”
It doesn’t look as if Sam had moved at all during the night. He is still breathing deeply but normally. His skin feels a bit cool, but not unreasonably so. I shake his shoulder. Gently at first, then with increasing firmness. He moans softly and stirs but does not wake.
He is too hard to rouse, I think worriedly.
“Sam? Sam? Sam, listen to me! You have to wake up now. Sam!”
His eyes flutter open and stare dully forward for a moment. His eyelids threaten to slide shut again. I shake his shoulder quickly. “Sam! Wake up. Sam?”
His eyes pop open, a bit more focused this time. “S-Sam?” he whispers. “Sam…”
He is acting oddly, as if he were somewhere else, lost in thought.
Sam is not his name. It can’t be.
My suspicions about his assigned name grow stronger as I watch him work “Sam” over in his mind. I sense this is the name of someone he knows. Someone close? If it were an enemy, I don’t think he would look as wistful or melancholy as he does just now.
“Are you remembering something?” I ask quietly.
Sometimes the shadowy relaxation of twilight sleep allows the brain to conjure thoughts and images we would be otherwise unable to experience. Maybe the young man’s injured brain was trying to fight its way back.
He turns his eyes on me. “N-n-no,” he says with sadness. Then his eyes wander to Guy and Edel, and his breath catches in his throat. I can feel his body tense under my hand.
“These are friends, Sam,” I hasten to reassure him. “My family. They will help us.”
“Hello, Sam,” rumbles Edel’s deep voice. He reaches forward and grips the younger man’s hand in a friendly shake. “I’m Edel Terrebonne. And this cranky Cajun is my uncle, Guy Terrebonne, who runs off cops and copters with his rusty shotgun!”
“Silence, boy!” Guy snaps at him with feigned annoyance. “I’ll be feeding you, Sam, before Edel is leaving wit’ you. Y’all be needing a clean-up ‘fore then, eh?”
“Do we have time?” I ask Edel, panicking. “There may be roadblocks.”
“There ARE roadblocks, Deanna,” Edel assured me with that damn twinkle in his eye again. “You and the pup, here, must be very, very famous. You needn’t worry. I understand the need to stay hidden. We will sink you into the ocean of life in the Big Easy’s French Quarter for the time being, eh?”
He looks at Sam who is struggling to sit upright by now. “He will need help, yes?”
I nod and Edel easily lifts Sam to his feet, steering him toward the bathroom.
“Edel, be careful with him. He has many reasons to be frightened of strangers. His warden was uncommonly brutal with him.”
Edel’s eyes darken with concern. He nods, understanding. “I will throw his clothes out to you. It may be that Uncle Guy will have a shirt that may fit him, but between us, we have no pants that will be long enough – or narrow enough. He’ll have to use these pants again.”
I just nod. Sam is looking worriedly over his shoulder at me as he is led away. I try to tell him with my smile.
I feel safe. As I always do when I am near this big, rowdy family. I know I can trust them.
But how does Sam feel?
The Louisiana dawn was warm and softly lit when we finally got on the road. Sam, still looking exhausted but better after his bath, had wolfed down Guy’s breakfast offering of bacon, eggs and biscuits. He stammered his thanks as we left.
Edel had directed me to the back seat of his Cadillac and guided Sam in alongside of me. “Try to sleep,” he said to us both. “It will be about an hour and a half before we get to ‘The Blue Lady’.”
The “Blue Lady” was the blues bar that Edel and his sister Lucille owned on Toulouse, just off of Bourbon Street.
Sam doesn’t hesitate to curl up on the gray leather seat and lay his head in my lap, immediately closing his eyes. He has fallen back into that deep sleep again, even before Edel has made it to the end of Guy Terrebonne’s property. Either he is feeling less suspicious of all this strangeness I am pulling him into — which is unlikely — or his weary body is demanding this of him.
I lightly rub my hand over his shoulder and back, hoping he feels the comforting touch through his heavy blanket of sleep. I worry, slipping my fingers absently through his damp silky hair. He’s so dependent upon me right now! What am I going to do with him ?
“He looks illused, Deanna. I saw the bruises…”
I look up to see Edel’s eyes on me in his rear view mirror. I nod and sigh. “Yes, he was beaten… drugged… had his memory taken from him.”
“And Victor Kent’s part in all of this? What had he done?”
I think to myself. But to Edel, I say, “He was the scientist in charge of seeing to it that Sam’s memory – his life, really – was taken from him permanently.”
Edel’s eyes look angry. “You know, Deanna. I didn’t like that doughy brain-boy Victor Kent when I met him,” he growls. “But I don’t know if I can imagine him being so inhuman as to destroy a person’s life so deliberately or so painfully.”
“I know. Me neither.” I lean my head back against the soft leather. “In the end, Edel, he failed at it. He realized — too late — it wasn’t him either. He is one of two men we have to thank for getting out of that lab alive last night. And he may have given Sam some help in regaining his memory, I hope. Time will tell, I suppose.”
“And the other is a young man, found dead in a black Jeep Cherokee on Countyline Road about two miles from the back of Uncle Guy’s farm ?”
I gasp. “How do you know that ? Has it been on the news already?”
Edel doesn’t answer just then because he is slowing to a stop and lowering his automatic window. I freeze when I see the approach of a uniformed state policeman.
No, Edel! What are you doing? I want to scream. My arm tightens protectively over Sam, who is still oblivious to all of this.
The policeman leans over and nods companionably to Edel and turns to look directly at me. If he talks to me, I will not be able to answer. My heart is in my mouth.
“‘Mornin’ again, Edel. So. This is Mizz Branson?” He tips his hat politely to me, and he runs an evaluating look over the man asleep on my lap. “And is that the fella they’re bustin’ our balls over?”
“Yep.” Edel’s answer sounds too pleasant.
What the hell is going on?
“Well, y’all got clear sailin’ from here to the Blue Lady as long as you stay off of 55 South and I-10 into the city, y’hear? Just as well. Morning commuter traffic is going to be a mess, especially with all these roadblocks.”
“Sure thing, Rudy,” Edel says as he shifts back into drive. “How goes the search, eh?”
Officer Rudy flashes a smile directed at me. “Far as I can tell, they’re frustrated as hell. Oh, and of course, we’ve all been gettin’ the usual dose of bullshit and name-callin’ from these fools, whoever they may be. You know — all about us ‘close-mouthed Cajun motherfuckers’ an’ what ‘dumb, lazy-ass idiots’ all we ‘swamp-suckin’ Southerners’ are.” His smile broadens. “I don’t know from dumb, and I may not know from lazy-assed, but there’s a bunch of us that down-right resent being called close-mouthed!”
He and Edel roar merrily over his joke. I smile weakly.
Edel and his connections.
We were still safe. Maybe safer than I realized.
“On our way, Rudy,” Edel says to his friend. “You hear anything more on that man they found?”
“Nope. That got shut down quicker than the snap of a cocodrie’s jaw! I don’t think they even have a name on the corpse –”
“Mackey!” I realize I am almost shouting. Rudy jumps a little.
“His name is Mackey. Was Mackey. I don’t know if that was a first or last name, but don’t let them bury him without a name. Please.”
Rudy nods and tips his hat solemnly. “Sure thing. I’ll do what I can, Mizz Branson, but I think those Big Guys that have been yankin’ us law enforcement types around by our leashes have already taken him away. The Jeep. Everything.”
I flop back into the seat, numbed and incredulous.
Rudy leans over Edel’s shoulder and looks at me and Sam. “That’s the least of your worries, ma’am. You stick with Edel. We’ll do what we can to keep a cover over you and that fella there. And we’ll try to figure out who that boy is, and why he’s causing such a fuss out there.”
“I have some of his records. They’ve been faked I’m sure, but maybe that’ll be a starting point. I have them right here.”
“Keep ’em close for now.” Rudy looks around nervously just then. “Okay, we’ve chatted long enough. Get on your way, folks. Edel, you know where to find us with that information she’s got, okay?”
Edel just waves and accelerates the car forward.
“Edel Terrebonne, you are still a secretive son of a bitch,” I begin growling.
“OoooEeeeee, Little Sister!,” he chortles. “You’ve picked up some spicy language with your new-found spunkiness, eh?!” His laughter is infectious. I smile and shake my head at his nonsense.
Little Sister, indeed.
“Did you think I had turned you and your pup in? And dishonored the unwritten Terrebonne family law? No, mon chere, you are quite safe.” He sobers suddenly. “But your Sam presents some problems. We must see what we can do for him. But first, food and rest, eh? We’ll buy clothes for you and Sam, and Lucille will hide you two safely away. Better now?”
In the rear view mirror, his eyes are crinkled and twinkling again. “Much better,” I say with evident relief. Suddenly, I feel safe enough to drop off to sleep.
“…Up. C’mon, Deanna. Wake up… Deanna!”
Wha…? Where are we? I stare stupidly around. My neck aches. I begin to sit up but have to stop when I realize Sam is still sleeping soundly with his head in my lap. Edel is reaching into the back seat and pulling him gently away from me and into a sitting position. I can see a big black man standing by Edel ready to help lift the stranger into a carry between them.
I feel a stirring of fear, wondering if all this is being watched. Toulouse Street is nearly deserted in the early dawn hours. Time for this part of the French Quarter to rest from its nightly merry-making and prepare for day tourists and more revelry. Streets are re-opened. Bars wiped down, floors mopped, garbage set out in the narrow cobbled streets. No one notices our odd, clumsy pilgrimage into the dim interior of the “Blue Lady”.
“Deanna! Thank Mother Mary! You are safe!” The strong arms of Lucille, Edel’s sister wrap around me in genuine affection. She kisses my cheek and fixes her beautiful dark eyes on mine. “What has happened since we saw you last? How is it you have come to be in so much danger?”
Her eyes settle on my handsome young companion. Sam, who has wriggled free of his two helpers, is looking unsure of these new surroundings and still half-claimed by sleep.
“And your new friend? He is the center of much excitement, eh?” says Lucille with a smile.
My return smile is rueful. “His name is…uh… Sam. He needs a bed and some solid undisturbed rest, Lucille. And a doctor.”
“Of course. And so do you, my sister, by the sight of you.” Lucille reaches behind the ornate, old-fashioned bar that dominated one entire wall of the tiny night club. She jangles a set of keys before me. “You will have Queen George’s apartment. It is above us and sits in the corner with balconies overlooking Bourbon and Toulouse. It will be impossible to sleep once the sun sets tonight, but for now it will be safe and quiet enough.”
Edel shrugs. “He’s one of Lucille’s many gay boarders. Queen George The First. And The Last. Trust me, there will never be another like him.” Edel laughs at my puzzled face and ushers me toward a back door that Lucille has already disappeared through. “He’s quite a fixture around here. Lucille says he is staying up in the Garden District for the week. His apartment is small, but it will do until we can find someplace safer for you and –”
He cranes his head around, looking for his other charge. Sam is still standing by the door, looking uncertain.
“Sam!” Edel calls, waving him forward. “Come on. This way, eh? Hurry.”
The young man hesitates, looking once again at the new strange surroundings. I extend my hand to him. He steps forward and takes it like a man reaching for a lifesaver. This must be costing him; I am amazed at his trust in me when so much of what he has already experienced has been so hurtful and terrifying.
Queen George’s apartment is indeed small. One bedroom, one bathroom, a tiny kitchenette. But the expansive living room is decorated in beautiful old antiques and has a corner of French doors that open up onto a wrought iron balcony , overlooking the very heart of Bourbon Street. Lucille throws open those doors to encourage a breeze.
“Ooooo, it’s going to be steamy today, Deanna! Still, there is a soft wind coming up from the riverfront. George has an air conditioner in his bedroom window. It works, but it is old and noisy. Have you eaten yet?”
“Yes, Lucille. Thanks. Guy fussed like a hen over both of us.”
Sam is wandering wordlessly through the living room to the open French doors. Lace curtains dance lazily in the hot breeze as he reaches for them.
“NO!” I hear myself shout at him. He jumps nervously and stares at me over his shoulder.
Edel is already pulling him away from the open windows. “I don’t think she wants you to be seen by anyone out there, Sam,” Edel says trying to explain my outburst. “You’ve got to keep out of sight for a bit. Do you understand?”
“N-no. I-I was j-just l-looking.” He seems upset. When his hazel eyes turn to me, they are dark with the suspicion I saw in them in that cage at the lab. “A-am I s-still a p-prisoner?”
Well, how do I answer that one?
In a way, I note sadly, he IS still a prisoner.
When I don’t reply, Sam slides down onto the old couch and stares sullenly at the open doors that I denied to him. I sit next to him and take his hand, but he won’t look at me.
“We can’t take chances right now, Sam. Edel and Lucille are helping us stay safe — away from those men who took you. But they are still looking for you — and me, I guess. We need a place for you to recover. We need to find out your real identity. And we have to be especially cautious right now.”
I can still see the resentment in the set of his jaw. I squeeze his hand. “You have to trust me, Sam. I would never keep you caged up. I am not one of them. Understand?”
He turns those soulful eyes to me, finally. Again, while he searches my face, I get the feeling he is seeking someone else in me. He lowers his eyes and nods, resigned.
Edel, bless him, slides one of his big hands over Sam’s shoulder supportively. “It won’t be long, Sam. Let us help until you are better, stronger. Okay?”
Again, he nods but does not look up. “I am t-tired,” he says softly.
“Take the bed, Sam. I have to talk to Edel and Lucille.”
He rises a bit unsteadily and heads into the bedroom, leaving the door open. I am sure he doesn’t want to be in any small closed rooms again.
Lucille watches him worriedly. “What have they done to him, Deanna?” she asks, shaking her head. “Apparently, they’ve done enough damage to take away his memory, his life. But to continue to hunt him? What is that about?”
“I think the answer to that is in who he really is,” I answer wistfully.
“Well, be that as it may. Right now, he will need new clothes,” Lucille declares, “And you, too, Deanna. Will you come with me? We can talk on the way. Sam will be safe here. The boys downstairs will watch out for him.”
Despite only a few hours sleep, I am interested. It will seem like the only normal thing I have done in ages. I automatically turn as if to look for my purse, when a horrible realization comes over me. I look at her, a bit embarrassed. “I’ve left everything behind, Lucille. In the middle of an escape scene resembling something out of a B action movie, I had little time to grab my purse or money or…”
Lucille hugs me before I can finish. “Sister, sister. That is not your concern. We are well able to take care of you and your Sam. Come now — before reason overtakes you and you insist on sleep.”
Edel has a frown on his face. “I’ve been thinking, Deanna: If they’ve found your purse, they’ve found their way to your apartment, eh? They’ve probably searched your personnel records by now. Your personal business files. I am concerned that if you try to access your bank accounts, credit cards or any part of your life back in Lobdell, they will be watching. They will find you.”
I pale. I had never given it a thought.
Now, images flood my mind: shadowy strangers creeping through the shredded remains of the life I knew less than forty-eight hours ago. I see familiar furniture being toppled, pictures torn from walls, drawers emptied, mattresses thrown and personal papers being carefully studied by a dark cadre of men I’d never met and who had never met me. Yet, there they were: standing in my home, now suddenly investing much time and interest in the quiet life of one Dr. Deanna Branson.
I shiver and shove the vision from my mind. “They’ll go through everything, won’t they?”
Edel nods. My gut feels twisted.
“And they’ll find you and Lucille as well, won’t they?” I speak, not as though it were a question, but a certainty, a realization that was quickly chilling me.
Edel shrugs, but he looks grimmer. “That may be, Deanna. We will prepare for any contingency. It is not for you to concern yourself with. Perhaps we should stop to see a lawyer friend of ours. With power of attorney, she can access your accounts. By the time they have figured you are in New Orleans, we will have set up a safe place for you and Sam.”
My mind is reeling. Edel seems to have considered all these matters already! I have not. This is so alien to my thinking.
Suddenly, I feel overwhelmed. There is so much to do! I still need to find a doctor among the Terrebonne’s many contacts who can reasonably evaluate Sam’s condition. His stuttering and unsteadiness are disconcerting. And there has been no assessment of the damage that has been done to his memory — or of the mistreatment he suffered before arriving at that PPC lab.
I glance at the old grandfather clock. It has been about five hours since his last medication. By the time I return, he can have another dose. Then we will both sleep — I hope. However, while I am with Lucille and Edel, I will have to make time to plan a bit further into our uncertain future.
Before leaving, I slip into the bedroom to check on Sam. He has already curled onto the antique four poster bed, draped with a web of fine mosquito netting. His eyes are closed. He seems to be sleeping despite the clanking and whining of the old air conditioner. I tenderly brush a lock of his silky hair from his forehead and pull the red coverlet over him.
Six shopping bags. I am exhausted. Shopping is not for the fainthearted. And it is not something I excel at under the best of circumstances.
The wardrobe I managed to assemble for Sam and myself was a study in Spartan apparel.
For him, a few pair of practical jeans and summer weight light pants, a number of light plain T-shirts, socks, a pair of sturdy walking boots, and with the help of Edel’s expert input, several lightweight pair of boxers.
For myself, summer tees, cotton shorts, a few sun dresses, sandals, walking shoes, jeans and, politely rejecting Edel’s playful expertise this time, a respectable cache of bras and panties.
I leave Edel and Lucille in the outdoor courtyard behind the Blue Lady, discussing our conversation with their lawyer and making phone calls. I am grateful to let them handle my life right now. I am too tired to think.
Juggling packages for a better grip on the apartment keys, I glance ahead down the old narrow hallway as I round the top of the stairs. I halt in my tracks, not daring to breathe. The apartment door is gaping open!
I drop the packages and run to the tiny apartment. The breeze from the river is pushing the curtains about. I can smell the threat of rain. The cloudy dimness is settling over the apartment.
No one is here.
My knees feel watery as I head for the bedroom. Useless. I can see from the living room that the old bed is deserted, its brilliant red coverlet thrown back. The bathroom is empty as well. Gripped by the fuzzy logic of fear, I even search dark corners of tiny closets, behind doors, under the bed.
Panic has so totally seized me that I do not remember stumbling back downstairs and out into the courtyard. I can see Edel and Lucille rise from their chairs, their faces mirroring concern.
“Deanna? What is it?” Lucille’s voice is like an thin echo above the roar in my ears. Edel is helping me to a chair.
“Sam! Sam is gone,” I wheeze. I feel faint. Edel presses a glass to my lips. The sting of strong Southern Comfort burning its way down my throat shocks me to my senses.
“I’ll check with the boys,” Edel says quickly. “Maybe someone saw him.”
But when he returns, he is shaking his head. “Mario says everyone has gone for the day. He saw no one go through.”
“We’ve got to find him,” I say shakily. “He’ll get hurt. And he hasn’t had his medication. He should have had it half an hour ago! What if he…? What if they…?”
I can barely talk. I can barely think.
Lucille takes my hand firmly and pulls me to my feet. “Come. There is little time to waste. If he is just wandering, then he is probably near-by. We can split up, go in different directions.”
“No, Lucille! I don’t want Deanna on the streets. We’ll lock the bar up and Mario can help. He saw the boy this morning. He knows what he looks like. Deanna, you must stay in the apartment. Do you understand?”
I nod woodenly, tears welling up in my eyes. I feel so helpless again, so trapped.
Is this how Sam felt? Is this why he left? The angry look in his eyes when I called him away from the open windows haunts me now.
Lucille guides me upstairs while Edel hastily makes a few phone calls on his mobile phone. I sit numbly on the old chaise lounge by the French doors of the apartment balcony. I can see the mid-morning throngs of tourists. I can feel the approach of a storm, see the charcoal clouds roiling over the riverfront several blocks away.
When the torrents of rain begin to fall twenty minutes later, I am still staring up the street, expecting to catch a glimpse of Sam. Hoping that he is okay. Praying that he will be found.
I have not moved — I glance at my watch — in three hours.
Three hours that passed slowly. The storm moved in and intensified, sending rolls of thunder down the nearly deserted wet streets. Sheets of rain paint the French Quarter scenery with a pall of gray.
The lace curtains still dance in the wind, but now they move heavily, weighted with dampness, flicking raindrops at me as they snap in the shifting breezes of the storm.
I am aware of someone pulling the French doors together, closing out the wind and the wet.
Blinking, I look up at Edel, clothing soaked, rubbing his curly dark hair with a bar towel. I don’t need to ask. I can see it in his eyes: they didn’t find him.
I wrap my arms around my queasy stomach.
“Hey, Little Sister,” Edel says softly. “It’ll be okay. We’ll find him. I called a few of my friends in the police department – ones I can trust to keep their mouths shut and their eyes open. They know the situation.”
I squeeze my eyes shut to prevent the tears that are threatening. “He may be sick, Edel. I’m so afraid something has happened to him.”
Edel wraps his big arm around me and presses his rain-damp forehead to mine, sighing. “Deanna. I don’t know how you managed to get yourself in the middle of all this intrigue, but I can see Sam is important to you. If you care for him, then we — your adopted family — we will care for him, too. He will be fine. Maybe this is just something he needs to do.”
I wave my arms in exasperation. “NEEDS to do? I don’t even know if he KNOWS what he needs, Edel! He needs doctors! He needs hospitals. Technology. Science. He needs to get help. And, I can’t even get him that because we are running from some unseen enemy, some hidden threat.” My voice collapses into a whisper and a sob. “I’m so scared, so scared.”
Edel pulls me to his big chest for a few moments. “Hush now. Remember that Sam is scared, too, Deanna. Think of all that has been taken from him. Maybe his freedom is the one thing he felt he could get back.” With that wisdom, he gives me another quick hug and then firmly lifts me to my feet.
“Come. Keep vigil with us downstairs. We must open up the bar in a few hours, but until then, you can sit with Lucille and me, and we can discuss what must be done when your Sam returns. I think we have a doctor we can trust — a good friend of Lucille’s from Baton Rouge. And we’ll start the search for Sam’s real identity. Antoine Judice is coming by soon. You remember him, eh? That greasy little squirrel that used to irritate you so when you were younger.”
I grimace through my tears at my memory of a nasty, gap-toothed, freckled boy with a penchant for chasing and bullying girls. Edel had caught him up by the collar more than once for bothering Lucille and me at play. I have not seen him in over thirty years.
“How can he help?” I ask.
Edel shrugs and smiles. “Well, after all those years of practice chasing the young Terrebonne women around, he finally up and catches himself one! My cousin Laurelie. And he has also caught himself a cushy position in the detective bureau of the New Orleans Police Department. Captain. Only God knows how that happened!”
My eyes must have widened in shock. Edel hastens to add, “Don’t worry. He is just one of the many who can help, Little Sister. Sam will be taken care of. He’ll come back — safely. Now, come. Let’s go downstairs and worry as a group, eh?”
A small bit of my bleakness falls away. It is so easy to believe when Edel believes. He is such a pillar of quiet strength. Sam and I are very fortunate to have him here for us.
Another hour crawls by. The rain has not let up. Fine. It suits my mood. Most of my time is spent leaning over a cup of steaming cafe au lait, holding my head, imagining what trouble Sam might be getting into and replaying the horrific events of the last few days of my life.
At 3:00, I am roused out of my waking dream state by the loud rattling at the locked doors of the bar. I look up as Lucille sprints for the door. I can make out the rain-blurred image of a tall black man standing at the window panes. He is supporting a slightly smaller man at his side.
I rise slowly, nearly in shock, as Lucille opens the door. “Boukman! Mon Dieu! Look at you two! Where have you been?”
It IS Sam beside him.
He looks miserable. Utterly exhausted. Soaking wet. Blood streaming from a cut on his lip. The plaid shirt given to him by Guy torn at the neck and right sleeve. White scrub pants now blackened with mud.
The tall black man with the beautiful toothy smile helps Sam to a chair beside me. Sam does not look at me. And I am too stunned to touch him. Lucille drops a warm, dry towel in my lap, so I move to gently wipe the blood and rain away from his face. He still won’t look at me.
“Sam,” I whisper kneeling in front of him, trying to catch his eyes. “I was so worried! Why did you leave?”
He stiffens and shifts his face away from me. The muscle in his jaw is jumping with tension. His face is flushed red with exasperation and embarrassment. He remains silent. Lucille drops another warm towel over his head and shoulders. With a slight nod of unspoken thanks to her, he slowly moves to dry himself off.
I am beginning to feel my initial relief turn into annoyance. He is acting like an errant child and treating me like an overbearing mother. At least, that’s the way he is making me feel right now.
I turn to the big black man who had brought him in. I had noticed him earlier this morning, cleaning up behind the bar with Lucille and had assumed that he was one of their nighttime bartenders. He is accepting towels and coffee from Edel.
“Where did you find him?” I ask a bit too tersely. It is clear that Sam won’t tell me.
“Never lost ‘im, Ma’am,” Boukman chuckles in his deep rumbly voice. “I saw Sam here on Pirate’s Alley near the St. Louis Cathedral this mornin’ just after I was off shift. I knew he wasn’t supposed to be out gallivantin’ about by himself, so I tagged myself along, staying behind him most o’ the time.
“I sure don’t know what he was up to — eh, Sam? He seemed to be jus’ kinda wanderin’. Lookin’ in shops. Watchin’ street musicians, performers in the square, the vendors settin’ up at the market place. Restin’ up at the riverside near the Moon Walk down at Woldenberg Park. Gettin’ rained on.”
Boukman stops and smiles at Sam, who is looking more embarrassed. “Tailin’ him in the rain was almost all worth it when he wandered down into the old red-light district. Some of the working girls spotted him and were all over him like hungry cats on a stick o’ sweet cream butter! Right, Sammy?”
Sam shifts uncomfortably in his chair and swallows, not daring to look anyone in the eye.
“I was content to let him do his wanderin’, Ma’am,” Boukman says to me. “He seemed like a kid in a candy shop. He spent a lot of time in the museums, especially the voodoo museum. He made a big mistake, though, headin’ up to the St. Louis Cemeteries.”
Edel grunts, shakes his head, looks over at Sam. “Not smart, Pup,” he growls softly.
“Well, he found that out the hard way, eh, Sam?” Boukman chortles. “He stops at the old tomb of Marie Laveau — Maman Laveau, our famous VooDoo Queen — and he seems all transfixed by the X’s that people are always chalkin’ on her tomb to pay homage to her spirit. He didn’t even see the gang of toughs headin’ at him until it was almost too late.”
Boukman leans toward Sam. “Lucky thing I was there to save your skinny white ass, boy! Those bastards live for the slippery feel of someone else’s blood on their hands. You never go in those cemeteries ‘less you’re in a group — and a damn big group at that!”
“Yeah, like the National Guard, eh?” Edel grumbles. Everyone laughs except Sam. I don’t think his head could have hung any lower at that moment.
“Wh-what happened?” I ask breathlessly.
“Well, I had swept away two of the little pricks, but three had taken Sammy down. Or so I thought. He was up and fighting like a rabid wolverine in seconds. Did a pretty professional job of bringing down two of them with a fancy spin-kick — karate-like! He was sheer poetry to watch! Mah man! Sammy!”
Boukman is warming to the story. Sam seems to be shrinking in his chair.
“We cleaned up, eh, Sam? Five of them motherfuckers an’ not a one left standing! I grabbed Sam and got him outta there before the patrol rode through. He wasn’t too steady on his feet after that, and he was actin’ a little funny. So, I bummed a ride for us from Rocky Morton. I didn’t think he should be out adventurin’ any more today.”
Acting funny? I look at Sam, but he is still avoiding eye contact. “How do you mean ‘acting funny’?” I ask Boukman.
The handsome young black man rolls his eyes to Sam and back to me. “Uh, well, ma’am — He sorta went quiet and spooky. Just starin’, not answerin’ me when I was talkin’ at him. That’s when I saw Rocky go by, and I waved him down. We hustled Sam back here. He seemed okay by the time we got him in the car, though.”
“Sam? That sounds like a petite mal seizure. Do you remember anything about it?” I ask solemnly.
The young man shrugs at first and then slowly shakes his head, self-consciously fingering the tattered remains of his plaid shirt. I just stare at him in exasperation. If it was a seizure, it could have been much worse. And had it happened just minutes earlier, when he was attacked…
“Why did you leave, Sam?” I ask him again.
Without looking at me — or anyone in our group — he answers me with his own question, “Am I s-still a p-prisoner?”
There is silence. Fueled by lack of sleep and hours of worry, I can feel an unreasonable irritation growing in me.
“You should have called, Boukman,” Lucille scolds harshly, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
Now it is Boukman’s turn to look chagrined. He smiles charmingly, though, flashing his white teeth and looking over at Sam. “Yeah, well, I do apologize for that. I just didn’t want to rat him out. Besides, he seemed to be doing okay for himself — most of the time. Just seemed to me that I could let him do his explorin’ as long as I held back and kept an eye on him. Never seemed to need my help until he headed into that cemetery, and I knew that was gonna be trouble. Maybe I shoulda helped you fight off those women, too, eh, Sam?”
This time, Sam cocks his head, looking up at Boukman and smiles, just a little. Then he glances over at me and quickly returns to studying the floorboards. Inexplicably, my mild feelings of annoyance transform into hurt and rage.
I push away from the table and run blindly upstairs to the apartment.
Flinging aside the mosquito netting, I throw myself onto the bed and let go with a flood of tears that can in no way make up for the betrayal I am now feeling.
The arrogant bastard.
The selfish prick!
Is THIS who he really is? A self-centered risk monger? Doesn’t he know he OWES me some consideration? Did he do this kind of inconsiderate crap to a wife? A girlfriend? To that… that… “Dana” person, perhaps?
I can’t do this. If “Dana” did, well, then she’s made of stronger stuff than me! More power to her, whoever she is! I punch the pillows angrily. I feel a cool damp hand on my shoulder and freeze.
“Hey…” I hear Sam’s soft voice near me.
I will NOT answer him. Two can play at these damn childish games.
He shakes my shoulder gently. “Hey…” he repeats, more softly than before.
I will NOT answer.
There is a long silence. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see him slide down along the wall beside the bed and sit, pulling his knees to his chest and running long fingers through his damp hair. He sneezes and sniffles. His clothing — the remains of it, that is –is still wet. I’m sure the air-conditioned room is chilling him.
Serves him right…
He sneezes again. This time he groans and holds his head.
Serves you right. Serves you right. Serves you right!, I chant angrily at him in my thoughts.
He sneezes again.
That does it! I whirl on him, feeling like a demon summoned from hell.
“Is that supposed to make me feel sorry for you, you stupid bastard!” I shriek. “Just stop it! Get out of here! Get out of this room! If you think that you can wander loose in goddamn New Orleans while half of the underworld is out for your ass, then GO! Have fun. Knock yourself out! Just GET OUT OF HERE!”
His jaw drops a little in shock at my outburst.
I cannot stop my bitter tongue. “You don’t get it, do you? Mackey died trying to protect you! The only family I’ve ever known have put themselves at risk for you! I’ve turned my whole life inside out for you!! How stupid can you be?”
I can see the shock slowly evolving into torment on his face. He is leaning away from me, his eyes glistening.
And still I did not stop.
“Go on! Get out of here! I’ve got DAYS of sleep to catch up on — lost because of you, you self-centered bastard! You brain-damaged… child!”
He flinches, looking stunned. And very, very hurt. Oh God. That was uncalled for. Congratulations, Deanna.
In the leaden silence that follows my outburst, he looks at me, nods, and slowly gets to his feet, still unsteady. He leaves the room without a word.
I throw myself back on the pillows, unable to stop my tears. I am just as angry at myself now. I have hurt him with a different kind of cruelty. And I should have known he was feeling locked in, caged and restless. I’ve been treating him like a passive player in all this high drama. Treating him like my lab animals. Controlling him, not explaining, talking over him as if he had no say in this desperate part of his own life.
Treating him like a lab specimen.
There has been so little time to consider the true man behind the mystery.
All along, Sam has unconsciously given us little clues about himself. He wasn’t a stranger to these dark events and intrigue. He looked scared, sure, but on a purely instinctual level, he knew when to fight and when to run. He pushed himself hard throughout this ordeal. He would have done so without my help, certainly.
I sit up and wipe my eyes. I think I’m being a little self-indulgent with this pity party of mine. What did I really expect of Sam? What did I really want from him?
I pause in the doorway. Sam is sitting on the couch, arms crossed protectively over his chest, staring out beyond the lace curtains at the endless torrents of rain. The room is dim and shadowy without the afternoon sun to brighten it.
It looks like Sam. Dark, moody.
I sit quietly at the other end of the couch, watching him, unsure of what to say.
He speaks first, without looking at me. “I d-didn’t m-mean to… D-didn’t w-want to m-make you angry. I j-just…j-j-just…”
Frustrated with his stuttering speech, he gives up struggling for words. He drops his hands into his lap and stares at them.
He finally bursts out emotionally, “I’m n-not s-s… s-stupid!”
I edge closer to him on the couch. “Sam, I didn’t mean those words I said. You know that, don’t you?”
He doesn’t answer, just keeps staring at his hands.
“I should apologize, Sam. What I said was said out of anger. I was scared. When I came here and found you had gone, I felt… I felt…”
What? WHAT? What did I truly feel when I saw that empty bed?
I touch his shoulder, left naked by the torn shirt. He shivers but does not move. I can feel his body’s warmth fighting the dampness of his clothes, the velvety touch of his skin under my fingers. I watch, fascinated at the sight of my own fingers caressing his skin, caring — not clinical.
“I felt abandoned,” I whisper. “I felt alone and frightened. And frightened for you.”
There. I said it. That was my need speaking, and now I can’t look at him. I’m too embarrassed. I pull my hand away from him quickly. Too quickly. Best not to examine my emotions and my needs now with this vulnerable young man. I can rationalize a thousand reasons why I suddenly need him so. I can talk myself out of this. I’m very good at distancing, shutting down.
And that’s what I do — with a vengeance.
Standing up abruptly, I say, “You need to wash up. Get out of those wet clothes. There are new clothes for you in the bags near the bathroom. Just let me get your medication and then — please — I need to sleep. I’m very tired. And you should sleep, too. The action out there on Bourbon Street will pick up soon, and the noise will be unbearable.” I keep my voice deliberately light. I’m back in my lab doctor mode, where I feel more control over myself.
Unfortunately, it means having more control over him, too.
He says nothing.
He says nothing when I give him the injection he hates so much. But I know he is watching me with a new intensity. I can feel his eyes on me. He suffers the shot and then gets up, heading for the bathroom.
All without one word.
As I watch him leave the room, I am overcome with an unreasonable desire to call out to him. To have him hold me close. To hold him close to me.
Why is he so hard to read when I am feeling so naked, so emotionally exposed?
In the bedroom, I undress and pull on a long cotton T-shirt. I cocoon myself in the old bed, pulling the netting all around me and pulling the coverlet over my head. I just want to hide.
Disappear — like Sam did today. I just want to get back to the safety and numbness of my old life — like Sam.
Did he have a safe life to go back to?
No. Maybe not…
I must have slept. When I wake, the apartment is dark, except for the shifting palette of bright colors dancing on the walls of the living room, choreographed by the garish blend of flashing neon lights outside. Even above the rattle of the ancient air conditioner, I can hear the night-long party on Bourbon Street has started. The mix of human voices and a seductive beat of music invades the apartment.
The warmth in the living room is oppressive. The French doors are still closed. The rain is still spilling against them. It is not enough to quell the crowd of revelers in the streets below.
It is impossible for me not to notice Sam. Among the graceful old antiques, he looks like a breathtaking work of art. A statue.
Adonis At Sleep.
He is sprawled on the chaise lounge by the French doors, oblivious to all the noise outside. The rain on the window and the shifting neon lights play colorful patterns over his chest. Over his handsome face. Over his lips.
I kneel beside him, enthralled with watching the rise and fall of his chest. In the play of lights, his bruises and welts and scars are almost lost. There is a light sheen of sweat on his body, giving him an eerie polish, like a statue.
He must have fallen asleep quickly. He clutches a pair of the new boxer shorts in one hand while the other holds his bath towel modestly in place. I pull the boxers gently from his fingers. He does not move. Like a statue.
Adonis At Sleep.
Suddenly, I need to touch him again, to see my hand on his shoulder again as it was this afternoon when he sat silently on the sofa. I want to touch him, and I don’t want him to know it. I don’t want him to see how really needy I am. I don’t want his pity. I don’t want his rejection.
But I need to touch that marble-like skin with the blurred colors playing over it.
I place my palm on the flat plane of his stomach. So hot and silky. I lean forward and run my hand over his lightly furred chest. The hairs are silky, too, and fall in the wake of my fingers as I move to brush one nipple, ever so softly.
I hear his breath catch and pull my hand away quickly. In that instant, a thousand bewildering thoughts and emotions flood my brain. Aside from the perplexing flush of my own sudden desires, my conscience is screaming at me: I am taking advantage of him! He’s injured. I shouldn’t be doing this. He trusts me.
What if he wakes?
But he does not move. He is a statue.
Bravely — or perhaps pathetically — I give in to my impulses and that innate hunger. I draw my fingers along the muscles of his arm, delighting in the ripple of goose-flesh that blooms along the trail of my hand. He shudders and sighs, rolling his head toward me. He still does not wake.
Emboldened, I push away just enough of the soft bath towel to expose a hip. I hesitate: I can see a narrow strip of bruising, making my guilt bloom anew in the pit of my stomach.
I bow to tenderly kiss the marred flesh there, but feeling its warmth, feeling the stony hardness of bone just beneath his velvety skin, fills me with longing. I run my teeth lightly along that ridge of bone, enjoying the slightly soapy taste of his skin on my tongue. I can feel the goose-flesh prickle and spread over his groin.
This time, he moans and shifts his hips slightly.
I pull away hastily, watching for any sign that he might be awakening. His head lolls again, changing the play of shadows over that handsome face of his, but he remains asleep.
I marvel at his male body. At the simple joy a woman can get from merely touching, exploring. My sexual encounters, like my life, have been prescribed: text-book gropings in the dark. Needless to say, they have been few and far between – and I never felt like I missed much.
I shower his arms and shoulders with light kisses, brush his flat nipples with my lips and delight in watching them harden.
It is such a sweetly powerful feeling to tease these reactions from his sleeping body. Desire and need are driving me now…
I lay my head gently on the heat of his stomach, lightly massaging his legs and inner thighs as far as I can reach. I smile as I feel the goose-flesh race along his leg, and I see his erection stirring to life under the hand and towel that lay protectively over it.
His moans and tiny gasps are barely discernible over the beating drums outside our windows. Under my ear, I hear the beat of his heart begin to pick up. Suddenly, I feel fingers run through my hair. I lift my head to look at him.
His eyes are open, looking down at me, soft with an unfamiliar emotion.
Well, maybe unfamiliar to me.
He cautiously makes no other move except to tilt his head and part his full lips, inviting me. Offering himself to me. Letting me feel my power as a woman.
He is so beautiful…
Doubt creeps into this moment. Perhaps this is wrong? Am I taking advantage of him? He’s been through so much…
When I hesitate, his eyes darken with wariness. I can almost feel him pulling back, going into himself with practiced abruptness.
Sweet Jesus, the man is just as afraid of rejection as I am! Before he can completely distance himself, I place my hands on either side of his face and bring those wonderful soft lips to mine.
At first, I feel some of his initial reluctance.
Then, his sweet surrender.
His mouth opens for me. He offers himself to me again. A supplicant, willing to serve. He slips the towel away, allowing me to look at him. He reaches under the soft cotton of my T-shirt, and suddenly my touch-starved flesh is alive with sensations.
He tugs gently at the cotton, nips at the material with his teeth. He is anxious to reach my breasts, to suckle, to please me.
I laugh and pin his wandering, insistent hands to the chaise lounge. “Let me enjoy your body first,” I whisper into his ear.
He closes his eyes and shivers with excitement. He is willing.
He will do as I ask.
A dream lover.
The lovemaking was just that: the tender creation of passion with attention to detail, the slow weaving of a spell. The delicacy of devotion, not the clinical restraints of sex without feeling. The half-shy explorations of each other, built slowly into the joyful discoveries of each other.
He did not rush me, seeming to know what I needed.
It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
We had both slipped into sleep in the comfort of the big antique bed. When I awake later, I look down to see him asleep with his mouth still at my breast, one long leg thrown over my body, one arm wrapped possessively around my waist. He has entangled me so, it is hard to see where I end and he begins.
I marvel at my boldness with him last night. Unconsciously, this is the need I was seeking to fill.
The street party has ended. The dim light of dawn is chasing the dark shadows out of the living room and color is seeping back into everything. I am content to lay here and tangle and twist my fingers in Sam’s dark hair and think again about making love with him last night.
Such an unexpected treasure.
Such a flood of need and emotion coming from both of us.
His own need rivaled, maybe surpassed, mine… Another clue to the mystery of Sam?
My thoughts wander as I think about him, feeling his silky hair slip through my fingers.
Today, we would begin the search for who he was. Maybe Edel’s new cousin-in-law… the detective. Antoine Judice, once the bane of my childhood. Maybe he could help…
I feel a small pang of apprehension at the thought of Sam recovering his memory. For the first time, I realize I may be alone again. Maybe more alone than before. No job to return to. No apartment to return to.
My apartment! The vision of my ruined apartment rises up again. They — the unseen ones — they will have ransacked my apartment by now. Searched through my things. Studied my address book. Looked for clues for where I might run.
Surely it won’t be long before they discover the significance of the Terrebonne family in my life.
These anxious thoughts begin eroding the satisfaction and wonder I felt when I awoke with Sam in my arms.
I feel him moving, sweetly nuzzling my breast, tightening his arm around my waist. I smile. He is still half-asleep, yet I can feel his physical eagerness growing again, hard against my hip. Just as I reach down to caress his face, I hear him gasp and freeze with shocking suddenness.
He lifts himself up on one elbow, staring at his hand on my stomach. His eyes rake over my nakedness and then his. He looks at me with pure anguish in his eyes.
“Sam? What’s wrong?”
He is frightening me.
He pulls sharply away from contact with me, as if he had just discovered his hand stuck in a flame. Horrified by his body’s own natural reaction, he desperately claws at a sheet trying to cover his erection.
“What are you doing? Sam? Where are you going? What’s wrong? Please. Don’t do this to me…”
I am reduced to pleading?
He blindly tears at the mosquito netting, trying to get free from the bed. He is acting as if he had just woke up and found himself in bed with a dying leper! He is making me feel dirty and worthless and…
“I-I’m s-sorry, D-Dana,” he gasps.
My heart lurches. Dana! Did I hear him right? Did he think he was making love to that Dana Ghost of his?
He turns his back on me and rises quickly out of the bed. “I-I sh-shouldn’t have… I’m so s-sorry.”
He is gone from the room quicker than it takes me to realize that tears are streaming silently down my face.
I try to feel numb, but this is too humiliating. I feel like a foolish teen who has just given her virginity to the class lecher and then discovered him bragging about his sexual conquest to a huge audience of leering listeners the following day.
Pulling on my long T-shirt, I steel myself for the short walk to the bathroom. I will have to pass by him. There is no way to save my dignity. I refuse to beg an explanation for his odd behavior from him.
I have a fragility to protect, too, you heartless bastard. I needn’t have worried like some neurotic about facing him. He has parked himself on that damn chaise lounge and turned into a statue again, his head in his hands, staring out the French doors toward the riverfront. An icon of absolute misery.
I feel sick to my stomach. What had I done?
Why had he become so different from the dream lover I discovered last night?
Alone in our aloneness again.
Neither of us would make the first overture that would explain or end this sudden painful rift.
I head into the bathroom, already driving the emotions and pain deep inside me, trying to bury them before they weaken me.
Bathed, dressed in a light sundress, make-up carefully applied. I still don’t feel any better. Watching my reflection in the mirror, I wonder if my years are more apparent on my face — or body — than I think they are. Was he horrified at the prospect of making love to an older woman? Did I repulse him so much as that?
I stop that line of thinking immediately. I could derail myself on that runaway train of thought in no time flat.
I check myself in the mirror again. And again. And then become angry with myself for falling victim to this nonsense. Whatever it is, it’s HIS problem, not mine.
So how come it hurts so much?
Enough. I have to go out there and face him sometime.
Sam is dressed in new jeans, a simple white T-shirt and his new shoes. He is on the couch, quietly waiting for me. He looks up quickly and rises to his feet as soon as I enter the room, but I determinedly avoid eye contact with him. I was never good at “talking things out” when it came to personal matters, and right now, my feelings of humiliation are threatening to overcome me.
Shit. His medication. Time for another injection.
“You need another dose of the anti-convulsant,” I say simply, still avoiding eye contact.
He sits again, looking awkward and nervous. He pulls the sleeve of his T-shirt up for me as I ready another syringe for him. As I swab the injection site with an alcohol pad, he turns his face up to me.
Ahhh, God – he wants to say something. Spare me.
“C-can we talk about…?”
I plunge the needle in a bit more roughly than necessary. He jumps and grimaces, making me feel like Dr. Mengele for a moment. But at least it cut off his attempt at conversation.
I cannot afford him the luxury of trying to smooth things over right now. I just don’t want to hear what he has to say.
“Will you be coming downstairs with me?” I try to keep my voice cool and detached-sounding as I head toward the door.
I don’t know how successful I am, because he seems to quail at my question. Perhaps he is quailing at the icy tone in my voice. He stands, rubbing the sore spot on his arm making me feel another twinge of guilt. He silently nods, waiting for me to take the lead. He still looks as if he wants to say something to me, but his hesitancy merely makes for a stupefying silence between us.
Which pisses me off all the more.
“Fine,” I reply to his silent response. “Well, let’s be on our way. Today is the day we start looking for clues to who you are. We wouldn’t want to waste any time finding you a way out of this prison I seem to have trapped you in, would we?”
Christ, I sound like a bitter old harridan.
As I reach for the door, I feel a strong grip on my arm. I am pulled around to face him. He is still looking miserable, and that just makes me feel angry at him. I snap my arm away from his grip and struggle to turn back to the door.
He grips my arm again and this time pushes his body against mine, pinning me against the wall. “D-don’t! Please! L-listen to me!”
All my hurt wells up in an unreasonable rage. I ball my fists and hammer on his chest. “Let me go! Get away from me! I don’t want you to touch me — ever again!”
He pushes away from me immediately, and I dive for the door, blinking away those stupid threatening tears.
“It w-wasn’t you!” His raised voice cracks with emotion.
He couldn’t have picked a worse response. I turn on him sharply.
“Wasn’t me? WHO wasn’t me? The woman you were having sex with last night? That wasn’t me? It wasn’t me you were making love to? Well, you made that abundantly clear this morning! You acted as if you woke up with a dead dog in your arms… You made me feel like dirt!”
He is backing up, stumbling, as I advance on him, shouting and crying at the same time.
“I-I’m … I’m s-sorry,” he pleads in that godawful, pitiful stammer of his. “P-Please listen. J-Just listen! Don’t go until you l-listen! Please!”
We are both startled by a sharp rap on the door.
“Deanna? It’s me. Antoine Judice.”
The voice is not familiar, but over thirty years have gone by since I have last seen the loathsome pest from my childhood. The deep rough voice from the other side of the door has practiced authority.
I swing the door open wide, and my eyes settle on a dark, heavily jowled, mustachioed man. The freckles I remembered are gone now, but the gap-toothed smile is not. Shiny shoes. Tailored suit hiding a large pot belly. Brown, curly hair oiled and slicked back from a receding hairline with just enough to pull into a tiny pig-like tail on the back of his head. Gold pinkie ring.
All these years later, he has managed to maintain his annoying, arrogant facade.
“Antoine? Come in. Have you spoken to Edel already?”
Antoine Judice steps swiftly into the apartment, almost seeming to ignore my greeting.
I look behind him out into the hallway. Neither Edel or Lucille are anywhere to be seen. My new guest grasps my hand in a limp attempt at a gesture of greeting, but his attention is clearly focused already.
“Did I hear an argument? I did not mean to pry.” He does not look at me, but instead, moves toward the young man.
Sam casts his eyes down at Antoine’s question, hooking his thumbs in his jeans pockets and turning away.
I answer. “Uh… Yes. You did hear an argument — of sorts. I’m sorry, Antoine. I didn’t expect to have comp–”
Antoine waves a hand at me dismissively. “No problem, Deanna. Just wanted to be sure everything was okay.”
He looks from me to Sam.
When he turns to me again, it is with outstretched arms. He kisses me wetly on both cheeks. God help me, I still feel a bit of revulsion. I have to resist the urge to wipe my skin clean of the feel of him. I wonder briefly where this sudden reaction of mine comes from. Certainly not the annoyance I felt toward him in my childhood?
No. This felt more sinister. My little voice is struggling to be heard, again.
Antoine has returned to his study of Sam, planting his wide body firmly in front of the young man, as if symbolically cornering him. Backed up against the couch, Sam has no place to move. The New Orleans detective pushes his thick hand forward as an offered greeting, but the way he looks at Sam bothers me.
“Hello. Captain Antoine Judice, City of New Orleans Detective Division.”
Sam shakes the proffered hand, but he looks a little perplexed, uncertain of how to react. I had not told him that a policeman had been drafted to help in the search for his identity. Our touchy disagreement forgotten, Sam looks helplessly toward me for guidance on how to react to the stranger before him.
I thrust away my initial feelings of unease. After all, Edel had sent this man to us…
“Antoine, please sit down. Sam, this is a childhood friend of mine.” I almost choke on those words, but I save Sam from the need to make a response to Antoine’s introduction. The big man eases his bulk onto the couch, apparently unaware of my discomfort.
Sam is aware of it, though. He is looking at me with wide dark eyes that speak volumes. He is reacting to my body language like state-of-the-art radar, alert and tense.
I rush to seat myself across from Antoine. Sam, however, retreats to that damned chaise lounge and settles where he can keep a sharp eye on both of us.
If there is an air of discomfort here, Antoine has deliberately chosen to ignore it. Or perhaps, he is cultivating it.
“How is your wife, Antoine? Edel tells me you married his cousin Laurelie?”
The heavyset man shrugs his shoulders, broadcasting his lack of interest in pursuing a conversation about his family. Certainly not Terrebonne style; family pride and loyalties run deep.
“You’re looking fine, Deanna,” he says, turning my polite inquiry into an opportunity to leer at me. He smirks. “You really filled out as a woman. Real fine…”
He looks suggestively at Sam and back at me.
I wonder how much of the argument he had heard before he knocked on the door. Sam is blushing, and I can feel the tell-tale heat creeping into my face, too.
I am getting fed up with this odd behavior, but I decide to press beyond it. “I’m sure you’ve heard our story from Edel. We need to find out Sam’s true identity. The records that came with him to the lab may have been manufactured.”
I hand the burly detective the file folder that I had taken from the lab.
In the corner of my eye, I can see Sam stir a bit, as if startled. He seems attentive and curious. It suddenly occurs to me that this is the probably the first time he has become aware of the existence of any information on himself. I feel a bit guilty. Why had it never occurred to me that he should have been shown the file? Because I had considered them fake?
Antoine is leafing through the file, pausing every now and then to read something more carefully. He looks over at Sam, evaluating him.
“Says here your name is Gary Redmond.”
Sam shakes his head emphatically. “N-n-no!”
“N-n-no? R-r-really?” Antoine mocks Sam. “You stutter, boy? Says in here that Gary Redmond stutters… has since he was a kid.”
Sam looks again at the file in Judice’s hands, stunned.
Antoine continues in his snide manner: “These are pictures of you. Your fingerprint file, no? Bulletin descriptions — describing a dark young man…. ’bout your height… ’bout your weight… Distinguishing characteristics…” He leans over, glaring at Sam. “Says here Gary Redmond has a gunshot wound — upper left quadrant of his chest, close to his shoulder. How about it, boy? Seem familiar yet?”
Sam lifts his hand to his left shoulder in a self-conscious gesture, touches the smooth cloth of his brand new T-shirt, feeling for the rough skin of a haunting old injury. His eyes meet mine. They are clouded with confusion. I am as breathless as he seems, remembering how it felt to have my lips pressed against that scar last night, kissing it tenderly, not asking him the “how” or “why” or “who”. Afraid to ruin the sweetness of the moment with a sudden ghost of a memory gained or a memory lost.
Antoine Judice makes a rude sucking sound over his teeth and snorts at Sam, “Arrest reports — also yours? Where’s the big mystery?” He looks back at me. “Seems pretty clear, Deanna. This young prick is a killer named Gary Redmond.”
“You know that kind of evidence can be made up, Antoine,” I say through clenched teeth. Why is he acting like this?
Judice arches an eyebrow at me as a sort of challenge and abruptly turns back to Sam. “1666 Merrimac Court,” he barks at him. “Mean anything to you, boy?”
Sam starts to shake his head and then hesitates, as if remembering something. Suddenly, he pales a bit. “Y-yes. Th-that’s the address of… of G-Gary Redmond’s m-mother’s home,” he answers in almost a whisper.
I feel a precipitous drop in my gut. “How would you know that?” I gasp. I know he has not seen this file.
Sam looks as shocked and confused as me. He opens his mouth as if to speak, but he clearly has no answer, no defense.
I whirl on the New Orleans detective. “What is the meaning of all this, Antoine? His answer means nothing! With everything else that has been done to him, it’s easily possible he could have been subjected to… to…”
What, Deanna, what? Is there an excuse? A rational explanation? How, in God’s name, could he possibly have known this stuff? I am screaming inside.
I push away my suspicions and exclaim, “…to brain washing!”
“This isn’t international intrigue going on here, Deanna,” Antoine snorts derisively. “Brain washing isn’t as easy as you might think. It’s not like something out of the dime novels. Have you thought maybe this is just a routine case of this psycho trying to press an advantage here? I mean, you have to admit the amnesia routine is a good ruse. He’s made a pretty clean escape so far, and he seems pretty comfortable living off you and…”
I cut him short, not wanting to hear any more. Not wanting to have my suspicions raised again. Not wanting to think that the man I held close to me last night might be a sick, vicious human.
“Surely, you can’t be serious, Antoine. Have you heard the whole story or not? There is nothing ‘routine’ about this. Sam was a captive, an innocent. He was held — against his will — as a prisoner, not a willing volunteer! I was there, Antoine. He still has the welts and bruises from the beatings and the tracks in his veins from the drugs. That would seem to be evidence enough that there is something amiss here!”
I am aware of Sam moving apprehensively, but I force myself not to look at him. I can not look at him. It is easier to ague with the greasy bastard in front of me. I am afraid that if Sam sees my eyes right now, he will see my doubt, my betrayal.
“Relax, Deanna.” Judice adopts a smarmy, patronizing tone with me. “From another point of view, all this fuss over one man seems a bit odd, don’t you think? If he’s not Gary Redmond, then who the hell is he?”
Who the hell is he, indeed…
“THAT, Antoine Judice, is what you were meant to help us find out!” I reply icily, clenching my fists.
The detective’s entire face seems to be curled into a sneer. “And what if I find out that this here boy of yours is a serial killer who was supposed to end his days on Death Row, missy? Are you going to stand aside when I drag him back to the lock-up where he belongs?”
I hear a strangled cry of protest from Sam as he starts to get up from the chaise lounge. Antoine is quick to raise his hand, gesturing firmly to Sam to remain seated. The young man obeys, but he seems coiled with frustration now. He perches on the edge of the chaise lounge and looks as if he is anxious to blurt out a defense.
Antoine leans forward with another question for him. “Deirdre Jean Holloway. Remember her, Gary? Tell me how she died.”
I glance at Sam, anxious for an answer myself. I didn’t think it was possible for Sam to get any paler, but he suddenly looks sick, his lips white. He rubs a hand over his stomach nervously and does not answer.
“Do you know how Deirdre Jean Holloway died, boy?”
Antoine spills a bit more viciousness into his question, like a chef with a favored recipe: Add some tension, turn up the heat, watch for squirming. Get ready to burn the poor animal skewered alive on the spit, roasting over the hot coals of “justice”.
God help him — Sam looks cornered. He licks his lips and looks at me. And once again, I have the odd feeling that he is not seeing me. He is looking for someone else. He desperately wants me to be that someone else right now. That someone who might come to his emotional rescue right now…
I drop my eyes quickly. I am not whomever he is looking for.
At the same time, I realize that he knows! He knows how the person Antoine is asking about died! I could see it in the misery and fear in his eyes. But how can he? How can he know who Deirdre Jean Holloway is and how she died and yet NOT be her killer? How?
I feel as if I am caught in a deep freeze, slowly numbing the emotions I had been unraveling in myself through Sam. I can’t have been this wrong about him! The needful, tender lover I touched last night? Is he a sick murderer? The idea was so inconsistent with what little I knew — or sensed — of the mysterious young man.
Yet, there is so much that isn’t known.
“I d-don’t feel w-well,” Sam stammers weakly, still looking at me.
“Deirdre… Jean… Holloway.” Antoine intones angrily over Sam’s soft protest. “Tell me how she died, boy.”
Sam shakes his head and drops his face to his hands. “N-n-no! I c-can’t!”
“You know, don’t you, Gary?” Antoine presses.
Sam keeps shaking his head. “NO! I-I mean… y-yes! I do, but I d-didn’t k-kill her!”
His face is paper-white.
“Oh? You d-didn’t k-kill her?” Antoine is mocking again, becoming the bully I hated in my childhood. “How’s that, Gary? How could you know if you’re NOT the killer himself? How do you know about Gary Redmond’s mother’s address? This is YOUR face in this police file shot, isn’t it? These are YOUR fingerprints, eh? And this? See? It’s YOUR rap sheet, Gary… Look for yourself. Maybe this will jog that so-called faulty memory of yours!”
Antoine flings the file at Sam, and it strikes him in the face. Loose papers flutter all around him onto the floor. Sam drops to his knees and grasps at the file’s scattered contents like a starving beggar after bits of bread tossed to him. He is breathing in quick, tight gasps. He is just as terrified of the possibility that these papers might reveal his true life as I am. His hands shake visibly as he picks up and drops each sheet, scanning them only briefly.
“I think he’s taken advantage of you and the Terrebonne family long enough, Deanna,” Antoine says smugly, rising off the couch and hitching his tailored pants up over his belly in a self-important gesture. “I’m going to make arrangements to take him in.”
I can feel the dread welling up in me. I can hear my little voice protesting the injustice of the mock trial just enacted before me.
The prisoner is the victim; the prosecutor is the criminal.
On the floor, Sam is clutching the FBI report, reading and rereading, lips moving. He is rocking himself slightly, curled against the chaise lounge.
Through all of this, he has never looked as scared and lost as he does right now. I recognize the erosion happening within him: self-doubt, one of the most destructive acids that can be poured into a human soul.
Sam may not have been able to remember who he was, but he had been absolutely sure about who he wasn’t.
Until Antoine had poisoned him with self-doubt.
This is not the time for me to let my own doubts and weaknesses allow me to fail him. I will not become part of Antoine Judice’s game plan.
Flooded with irritation, I snap the papers out of Sam’s hands and hastily gather up the rest of the file. I can feel the heat of rage in my face. “Well, thank you very much, Monsieur Judge-And-Jury Judice! Is THIS the help you offer to us? You intended to haul Sam out of here in handcuffs, no matter what, didn’t you?”
I straighten up and stand as close to Antoine’s face as his belly will allow.
“Well, YOU aren’t calling the shots right now, Antoine. I AM!”
“THIS is a police matter now, Miss Branson.” He tries his official cop chatter on me. I am tolerating none of it, however.
“Screw you and your police matters, Antoine! It’s been my life, my family, my job, my apartment, my money, my safety, and my sanity that has been compromised here! And as long as I’ve gone so far as to lay all that on the line for this man, I WILL have all the answers I need to justify putting myself, as well as my adopted family, at risk. And ONE of the answers I am seeking is Sam’s identity. Until I have that answer, I WILL NOT turn him over to the likes of you nor to the very people who have been trying to harm him.
“There is too much that does not make sense here, Antoine. If you were indeed looking out for our interests, you would know that. Just tell me: whose side you are really on, Antoine Judice?”
My raised voice becomes an accusation. Antoine seems to be seething at my outburst, but he offers a bit of a retreat from his Top Cop persona. I’m sure he expected me to be the same meek and mild victim he was used to terrorizing. He probably gets away with it with women to this very day.
Too bad, Antoine. Right now, I am as far away from that timid little self within me as I have ever been.
“All right. Okay! Jesus, you’ve gotten feisty in your old age, Deanna! Calm down!”
“Stop telling me to calm down, Antoine!” God, what a stupid bastard he is.
“Fine! All Right! Merde! I’ll stop, but I do have to ask you, MISS Branson: What else have you laid on the line with this guy? What’s your real interest? Just a lonely old spinster looking for some action?”
Incredible! He is daring to turn his spotlight on me now? Again, in less than a second, he has started sounding like the bullying pest that haunted part of my childhood.
I am almost too shocked at his switch in tactics to react at first — but not shocked enough. The sting in my palm as it strikes his fleshy cheek is exquisitely satisfying. I can “sense” more than “see” Sam starting to bristle with tension over this emotional tussle between me and Antoine. Out of the corner of my eye, I am aware of Sam looking over at us.
He had been oblivious to us when he was absorbed in the horror of the file that has the name of Gary Redmond on it. My raised voice is drawing his attention again.
Doesn’t stop Judice, though. The Sonofabitch. His leer has a meaner edge to it this time.
He reveals the snake that he is, moving closer to whisper to me. Coward! He is instinctively removing himself from Sam’s range of hearing. “Nice, Deanna, real nice. So? What’s he got, huh? C’mon, tell me. What’s he got that is so fucking special? What is making you act like such a silly schoolgirl? Is he hung like a stallion or something?”
“You ignorant bastard!” Enraged, I am about to slap him again. He prevents my striking him by pressing in closer to me. His smirk has a personal quality to it now. This isn’t the tactic of a cop; it’s the weapon of a twisted man.
“What cute little tricks does he perform for you, eh, Deanna?” His breath is hot on my face, stinking of bad coffee.
I can see Sam slowly rising to his feet. I don’t think he can hear Antoine’s piggish insults, but he is certainly divining the threatening behavior correctly.
Oh, please God, I don’t want him to get involved in this.
“How’s he keeping you entertained? You like your pretty boys young, eh? Doesn’t matter if he’s a convicted rapist? Killer? Is he showing you some exotic techniques, or are you teaching him some new…”
That does it! I’m not going to allow his sick insults to continue. I bring my arms up to shove Antoine away from me, but already, Sam has moved more quickly than I would have thought possible. He spins my tormentor around and away from me.
And for his effort, he catches the backside of Antoine Judice’s meaty hand, hard, across his face, sending him hurtling back to the floor. Judice snarls and leans over to grab the front of Sam’s shirt. Before he can do anything else though, I run to throw open the apartment door and hiss, “Get out!”
I notice Antoine’s demeanor shift dramatically, and he lets go of Sam immediately. I am confused by the abrupt change until I notice he is looking past me. Almost as suddenly, I realize why the brute is now behaving himself.
Edel is standing in the doorway.
His bushy dark eyebrows are knotted in consternation as he regards me, my childhood antagonist and then Sam. He steps inside with deliberate slowness, brushing my arm in reassurance, turning his ebony eyes on Judice.
“Antoine,” he says with a nod and a forced smile.
Then, with calculated exaggeration, Edel smiles at Sam who is still slumped on the floor.
“Sam! How are you feeling today, Pup? Feel any need to go out adventuring again?”
Sam looks up at him, blinking and favoring one reddened eye.
Edel is being very deliberate in his attention to him. He moves beside the young man and gently helps him to his feet. He straightens Sam’s shirt. He takes Sam’s jaw in his hand and slowly turns the young man’s face to look at the bright red handprint that now mars it.
“Your ‘guest’ attacked me, Edel,” Antoine has the nerve to huff as he straightens his tie.
I start to protest but Edel looks at me and shakes his head, silencing me. “Allow me to apologize for the Pup, here, Antoine. He, perhaps, does not understand your exalted position in the Police Department of the City of New Orleans,” Edel says evenly.
“You’re harboring a murderer, Edel,” Antoine snaps. He jabs an accusing finger my way. “And the saintly Doctor Branson is an accessory. Aiding and abetting is serious stuff, Edel. She’s putting you all in danger for the sake of a little…”
“Please. Sit down, Antoine.” Edel’s tone is still too aggravatingly calm. “Sam, are you all right?” He places a friendly hand on the younger man’s shoulder before he turns to the New Orleans cop. It is a silent gesture, meant to tell Antoine that Edel Terrebonne has judged Sam worthy of his trust and protection and daring the other man to question it.
For his part and to his credit, Sam just nods and remains silent. He looks wan and moody, but he does not register any astonishment at Edel’s friendly attentions nor his calm deportment in the face of all this outrage.
Sam has well-honed instincts about people and situations, it seems.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I register this as another clue. He is extremely perceptive, even in this strange environment. He has lived by his wits before.
Antoine shifts his gaze from Edel to Sam, lingering angrily on the young man’s face.
Edel is grinning broadly. “Sammy here went out yesterday and did the ‘tourist thing’, Antoine. Did you hear the story? Maybe Sam will tell you himself someday, eh? Free as a bird! And yet, he came right back here. Funny, eh? It’s just not the kind of thing you’d expect of a convicted serial killer on the run.”
Edel roughs up Sam’s hair affectionately and then takes a seat on the end of the couch opposite from the big detective. “Sit, Antoine! As I stood outside that door, I thought I heard that you were about to give Deanna some ideas on how you might be able to help us find the Pup’s real name.”
I deliberately let the door slam shut with a bang and take another seat. Antoine glares at me like a seasoned chess champ who just got check-mated by a pre-schooler. I force myself to be polite as I press the disarrayed file back into his hands.
“Evidence says he’s Gary Redmond, Edel,” Antoine growls, dropping the file disdainfully to the side. “We’ve got notices out all over the state. They want him back. And it wasn’t too hard to figure you had him here when I got your message earlier. You’re harboring a rapist and a killer of young girls.”
I notice Sam’s face go leaden, almost trance-like when Judice begins his accusation again.
However, I am so immersed in the electric atmosphere of anger and distrust permeating the air right now that I am barely aware of Sam slipping quietly toward the short hallway to the bathroom.
Antoine moves quickly though, gesturing sharply at Sam. “Sit down, mister! You’ll stay right where I can see you!”
Sam stops, leaning weakly against the wall, but Edel waves him on.
“Let him be. He’s not running away… Go ahead, Sam. It’s okay.” Edel is still keeping his voice level and patient. I can tell he is angry with Judice, however. “I think we all know that kind of evidence you see in that file can be convincingly created and planted, Antoine. There is too much that seems suspicious about the circumstances under which Deanna found him at Pinck Pharmaceuticals Lab in Lobdell, don’t you agree? I mean, you being a detective division head and all, I’d have thought you’d want to double check a few facts first, wouldn’t you?”
Edel’s eyes are bright with challenge, and the two men are locked in a silent glaring contest for a few moments.
The sound of violent retching in the bathroom propels me to my feet, leaving them behind.
Sam is on his knees, bowed over the toilet seat, gagging. He is ashen-colored and shaking. He has nothing in his stomach to offer, yet his body is insisting on trying to heave something up.
When I touch him, Sam starts violently and shrinks away, sliding up against the old claw foot tub.
“I c-can’t stop seeing it…,” he moans. “B-blood. Blood. So m-much blood…” Running his hand over his sweaty forehead and hair again and again, he looks nearly frantic.
He is scaring me. He suddenly seems so disconnected, not even aware of me.
There is no room in here to move. I start to feel lightheaded, conscious of the suffocating confines of this tiny bathroom. It is becoming prison-like, transformed by Sam’s panic and my alarm.
He is hyperventilating. Wild-eyed. Acting like a trapped animal. “Why? W-why do I see them? H-how could I kn-know ?” he is whispering. Clearly, he is not addressing me.
“Sam? Hey — take it easy.” If I can calm him down, I will be able to calm my own fears. God forgive me. I’m too scared to even reach out and touch him. I can only utter my impotent clich�s. “Hush now. Breathe. Come on… Slow down. Deeper breaths… Hush. Hush now. It’ll be okay…”
“No… It can’t be okay,” he whispers as if talking to a ghost. He doesn’t even look up at me. He suddenly fixates on his hands, staring at them open-mouthed and wide-eyed. He begins rubbing them frantically over his jeans. “How can it be okay? L-look. S-s- so m-much blood. How? How?”
He grits his teeth. He grimaces and rubs his hands against his thighs with more fury. He is grunting with the exertion of trying to rid his hands of the unseen blood. He is absolutely unaware of me. I am certain of it.
Unaware of where he is.
Unaware of who he is now.
I watch helplessly. It is like watching someone drown and being powerless to save him.
A pair of big arms push past me, reaching down to Sam. The young man is tugged to his feet as I hear Edel’s deep baritone voice rumble, “Stop it! Sam, you’re going to hurt yourself. Stop! Settle down! Now!”
Edel has the young man in a fierce bear hug, trying to calm him down. Watching the two of them, I feel a sensation of relief.
Sam is responding.
He has stopped his hysterics and is now clinging to Edel.
Edel is the lifesaver for the drowning man.
He has shown me more strength than I would have thought possible over these past several days. I can only watch with new appreciation the way he gently handles the mysterious stricken stranger I have dragged into his life. He and Lucille have accepted Sam without question. They shouldered my burden and joined in the fight to save him, without considering the cost. Watching Edel as he speaks in low soothing tones to Sam, I feel again the unconditional love I was given by these people.
I hope Sam can feel it, too. He seems to need it.
I fear I have failed him at that.
I watch Edel and Sam with the last of my pent-up tears coursing down my face. So much for the morning make-up session. Max Factor himself couldn’t hide the war-paint of unchecked emotions that I have on my face!
“Better now, Pup? Eh? Are you okay?” Edel has Sam standing, shaking him gently by his shoulders, looking into his eyes. I see Sam’s head nod slowly, but the fright and misery are still hanging like a pall over him. Edel dampens a washcloth and presses it into one of Sam’s hands while simultaneously nudging the young man into the hallway.
Turning to me, he hugs me close for a long moment then says, “I’m sorry. My apologies… to both of you. Antoine Judice was a big error in judgment on my part.” He holds me a bit away from him, looking down at me. His eyes are full of deep concern. “Are you okay?”
I don’t know what to say. I am such a mess of emotions right now.
“I don’t know, Edel. I’m just hoping against hope that I haven’t made any big errors in judgment myself.”
As those ill-thought-out words escape my lips, my eyes meet Sam’s.
I’ve done it again.
He looks wounded and quickly turns away. Edel prevents me from going after him.
“Just wait, Deanna. Feelings are running a little high right now,” Edel warns me wisely. He brushes away tears from my face and tries a reassuring smile. “Clean up, woman. Judice is gone. I came up here to take you and Sam over to Lucille’s house in the Garden District. Her doctor friend, Peter deBroca, arrived last night from Baton Rouge, and I’d like him to check Sam over this morning, okay?”
Edel, the lifesaver.
I nod numbly. I am beginning to feel some real empathy for Sam; I feel pushed and pulled between every little event these days. No control.
“What about Antoine?” I ask before Edel leaves me to join Sam in the living room.
Edel’s face darkens almost imperceptibly. “That will be my problem, Deanna. It was my error. It remains to be seen if Antoine Judice left here just now with any sense of honor — He promised to check on the Gary Redmond facts and to contact the law enforcement agencies involved in the case. I am not holding my breath, however. I didn’t wish to involve too many others in this, but now, I may have to. If Antoine turns out to be a bad seed, Sam is in danger and so are you… Now, get ready. And pack your things. I don’t want either of you to be here if Antoine returns in force.”
That thought chills me to the bone. The pursuit is about to start again?
The pursuit had never stopped, I remind myself wearily.
The ride to Lucille’s Garden District home took less than twenty five minutes through the heart of New Orleans, but the time passed in sullen silence. Edel was lost in thought, preoccupied with the possible risk that Antoine Judice might represent. I was too numb and too weary to wonder about which way Fate was going to pull us this time.
Sam sat quietly in the back seat, still gripping his file in his fist. Back at the apartment, he wouldn’t let me have it, clutching it tightly when I reached for it. There was little use in trying to explain my thoughtless remark about my “judgment” to him.
By the time we were ready to leave, he had shut himself down quite efficiently. I had sensed anger where the hysteria had been, resolve where the confusion had been. And was there any “trust” left for me? I hadn’t been able to tell. He was too damn good at hiding those feelings.
He probably always had been, and I wondered if that had made him a dangerous man.
During the ride, I would sometimes hear the shuffle of paper and knew he was rereading his “life”, trying to make sense of his jumbled memories and the horror that described a man named “Gary Redmond”.
As we turn off St. Charles Avenue onto a street lined with stately oaks and blooming magnolias, I can see Lucille’s beautiful home behind its wrought iron gates, much smaller than the many mansions surrounding it in this district but a jewel in its own right. Even the gray noon mist of rain does not take away from its gentle beauty.
The gates open to admit Edel’s car into the short driveway just as the mist turns into a genuine Louisiana deluge.
“I won’t be coming in,” Edel says quietly, looking over at me and then back at Sam. “Dr. Pete deBroca is here, Sam. He’s a good friend of Lucille’s, a neurologist. He hails from Baton Rouge and has tried unsuccessfully for several years now to separate my sister and business partner from the Blue Lady and whisk her away to that backwater town…” He allows a smile to me. “Seems some of us Terrebonne’s come to love a bit later in life than others,” he adds cryptically.
His manner turns serious again. “Deanna, I have some contacts to make. Tell Lucille about Antoine and the wild hair he seems to have up his ass over Sam. Tell her to be on the lookout when she goes down to the Blue Lady this morning and to call me on the mobile phone if anything happens. It won’t be too much of a stretch for Antoine to suspect that I’ve brought you here. We’ll have to move on quickly. I know I can get you to a safe house south of here in Terrebonne Parish. Before we do that, though, I’ll have to attend to some business for you. There won’t be time to swing by my lawyer’s office and see how much success she has had in getting some of your assets liquidated. I’ll get some cash for you, and then we have to get you and Sam out of town, I think. The sooner, the better.”
He leans over and places a gentle kiss on my cheek. “You have been remarkable throughout all of this, little sister.”
I am surprised at the wistfulness in his voice, but before I can react, he turns back to Sam. “And so have you, Pup. We’ll find a way out of this mess, Sam, if you’re still willing to trust me.”
I realize what Edel is doing; he’s extending an apology and a measure of respect toward the young man. And Sam realizes it, too. He reaches over the car seat to grasp Edel’s hand, but he is still not smiling. His eyes are dark and troubled.
“I-I’m the cause of the mess. I don’t want to bring you all this t-trouble,” he says with a quick glance at me. “I’ve been thinking… It would be better if I s-struck out on my own. I should go…”
I tense with terror at the thought, but it is Edel who reacts the quickest. He grips Sam’s hand and does not let go, his own eyes growing dark and serious. “Sam, I’m sure you know that’s the worst thing you could do right now. You leave; they win. You won’t get any closer to the answers you need, and you’ll be putting your own life in their hands.”
Sam glances at me again. “At least — that way — it will just be me,” he says so softly that it is almost a whisper.
Time for me to speak. “Please, Sam. Don’t. There is so much else that is a danger to you out there. You have no idea what they’ve done to you… to your brain. Dr. Kent — Victor — gave me as much information on the procedures done to you as he could. You have had damage done to a very vital part of yourself! You may need help. ”
He lowers his eyes, but does not look any less resolved in his intent to leave.
Edel repeats his earlier assertion, still gripping Sam’s hand. “You leave; they win. It’s that simple, Sam. And as for us, we are hip-deep in this mess with you already. And I don’t rightly cherish the thought of leaving this challenge unfinished. This has become personal with me, too. Understand? Trust me?”
Sam lifts his eyes to Edel, studying him, it seems. After a long pause in which the steady drumming of the rain on the car roof was the only noise that could be heard, Sam nods, but with a kind of resignation. Trust isn’t a word he seems comfortable with.
Maybe it’s been an alien concept to him for a long, long time.
“I-I am sorry,” he says unnecessarily. Edel just shakes his hand, firmly as if a pact were made. Or perhaps renewed.
“I can’t say how soon I’ll be back,” Edel says quickly. “Just be ready to move as soon as I show up. Now get. Both of you. I can see Lucille standing at the door, waiting.” He spares another quick smile to reassure me and nods toward the door.
Sam bolts from the car into the rain, pressing the file protectively to his chest. I reach over and get the duffel bag full of Sam’s medications and the Genera information on him. “I wish this were over,” I admit quietly to Edel. “I wish I hadn’t involved you and your family.”
“Hush! We are YOUR family, too. Now, go!” Edel’s tone is scolding.
He is gone from the driveway by the time I make it onto the porch and look back.
Dr. Peter deBroca is unusually tall — Lincolnesque. He must enjoy the similarity himself because he has a carefully trimmed beard resembling President Lincoln’s, inviting more comparison.
His eyes have none of Lincoln’s world-weary expression, though. They practically spark with liveliness and intelligence. As we meet in the foyer, Lucille making the necessary introductions, I can see him beginning to evaluate Sam already.
Sam looks apprehensive again. Nervous. He remains quiet through the polite ritual of greetings.
Pete commands the moment, subtly taking charge. “The Cajun Princess, here,” he laughs as he nods to Lucille, “Has already begun making breakfast for us all. A ‘womanly’ duty she excels at — along with waiting on me hand and foot.”
Lucille sputters and gives him a playful glower. She looks so much like her brother, Edel, when she does that, I notice.
“Watch your step, Peter. Your sexist remark will be duly noted by the OTHER doctor in the room,” she says in a deliberate tone. “Y’all go into the parlor. You know where I’ll be…”
“Wait,” I call after hastily as she heads down the hall. “I have some things to tell you.” Looking back at Pete and Sam, I ask, “Do you need me to be with Sam right now?”
Pete shrugs. “I can do a quick preliminary neuro exam.” He looks over at Sam. “He can talk, right?”
Sam shifts his weight anxiously. He looks annoyed.
Oh-oh. Pete would have done better to address him directly. I know Sam is getting weary of being talked about as if he were a senseless being.
“Of c-course I c-can.” he says a bit tersely. Then he looks more upset, as if he feels his stuttering has betrayed him.
Realizing his error, Pete moves to place one of his long hands on Sam’s shoulder in a gesture of reassurance. The young man stiffens slightly at his touch, but Pete just smiles. “Sorry, Sam — I slip into my ‘bad bedside manner’ mode far too easily. I am working on it, though. Why don’t you and I head into the parlor?”
Sam turns wordlessly, following the direction Pete motions to him.
“He’s having a hard time with this,” I whisper as I put the duffel bag in Pete’s hand. “Information on some of the procedures that had already been completed on him are in Dr. Kent’s journal in this bag. His memory was ‘taken’ from him — possibly several weeks ago. The latest procedures on him were done to try to help him repair damage…”
I nearly choke on my “sanitized” description of what Victor did to Sam. It sounded so… altruistic, and that was far from the truth about Victor Kent.
“Look for signs of brain injury on the…”
Pete raises his hand to stop me mid-sentence. “Let me draw some conclusions without the facts first, Deanna. We can talk later. Has he had any medications?”
I nod my head and watch as Sam sits stiffly on the couch near the fireplace, studying the room, awaiting his next “test”.
“Earlier today. He’s been getting some anti-convulsants — but irregularly, thanks to our adventures over the past couple of days. It’s all in the journal. Everything about the Genera project and what has most recently been done to Sam is in there.”
I pause, watching as Sam drops his head wearily to his hands. His eyes are closed and under different circumstances, the casual observer might suppose he is relaxing. But I can sense his tension.
He is seeming less like an invalid and more like a caged animal with each passing hour.
“He has shown some remarkable improvements, Pete. He’s been through a lot — physically and mentally,” I add, sadly, as I watch the dark young man.
Pete just nods and waves me away from himself and his patient.
Lucille reacts with less surprise than I supposed she might have regarding my story about Antoine Judice.
“He is a slippery bastard. I always thought so,” she grumbles. “I have often worried about Laurelie — we hear very little from her since she married that fool seven years ago. Her sister — remember Jeanine? — thinks she is getting physically abused.” She pauses and gives an angry shake of her head. “Antoine is an odd man. I would not trust him, and I should have insisted that Edel stay away from him. Edel is surely beating himself up over this mistake.”
“Yes. He is,” I add quietly. My guilt is threatening to consume me again. “Lucille, do you think Antoine will turn Sam in?”
She gives a derisive snort. “We have had few dealings with Antoine Judice, Deanna. I do not trust him. Merely a woman’s strong intuition. I suspect — and I know Edel has wondered — whether Antoine is a ‘corrupt’ cop. He has risen through the ranks down there a little too fast for comfort, and he dresses a little too well, if you know what I mean. If Edel chose to confide in Antoine on Sam’s behalf, I’m sure it was because he believed Antoine is well-connected and could get some answers for Sam more quickly than some of Edel’s other resources.”
“So. You do think there is a danger?”
Lucille sighs. “I do. Antoine is connected, for sure. I am suspicious of how deeply he is connected — and to whom.If it came to a choice between his own hide and his family… Well, Antoine feels pretty invulnerable, and he doesn’t think he has anything to fear from Edel. It is the security of a fool.”
She sets a steaming mug of molasses-sweetened coffee in front of me and looks me straight in the eye. “If he betrays you — if he betrays Sam — he will have much to fear, Deanna.” Her remark is cryptic.
“This merely changes the pace, Sister. Edel will do his best for you. You know that.”
I nod. “I know. This is all complicated by the question of who Sam really is, Lucille. The further I get drawn into this whole unreal mess, the less sure I am. About anything. I feel helpless, without control, without assurances, without… a life!”
She pats my hand, gently. “I imagine you are, little sister. And I imagine that is much the way Sam feels, too.”
“I think about that often,” I admit. “And I think of how little I have been able to help him with that lately. It’s as if, with Sam getting stronger, I have had a harder time letting myself trust and care for him.” I can feel the tears starting. “I sometimes think the only things I ever learned to care for or relate to are lab animals — specimens — which he was when I first laid eyes on him. He was easier to care for when he was helpless, when I could be in control.
“And then I worry. About myself. Maybe Sam and I are alike right now, Lucille. He doesn’t know who he is, and I don’t know who I am. He’s facing some nasty suspicions about his past, and I’m getting some nasty suspicions about myself, too.”
“Deanna,” Lucille says forcefully, busting up my pity party. “What Sam needs now are people who believe in him. Belief keeps those suspicions at bay. It is the same for you. We have had you in our lives for a long, long time. We believe in who you are. It is time for you to realize that.”
The philosophy session is brought to an end abruptly as Pete deBroca walks in and seats himself across the table from me. “Good news. Bad news. Want my first impression?”
“Where’s Sam?” I ask, startled.
“I gave him a mild sedative and told him to lay down for awhile,” Pete sighs as he reaches for a mug of coffee. “He’s upstairs in the front guest bedroom. He’s wound up pretty tightly, Deanna. I don’t think he’ll sleep.”
“Did you get to do an exam?”
Pete shrugs. “A quickie. On the good side, he seems reasonably alert and aware of his situation. Considering what the journal chronicles about what was done to him, he is doing unusually well. I can’t say whether that is a tribute to his own recuperative powers and good fortune or to the ‘skill’ of Dr. Kent and the promising miracle of the Genera Project.”
I shiver at the mention of Victor’s name.
Pete continues, “On the bad side, I can tell SOMETHING has happened to him. There are weakened reflex responses from his right side. Small delays. A difference in reaction times and size of his pupils. His eyes are the only real clue that he has had some injury or physiological interference in his brain. It is so subtle… And his memory — just damn peculiar. He is unable to access much of it. Or so it seems. Yet he tells me he has some very vivid pictures of some rather disturbing memories. He is genuinely frightened. He doesn’t believe these memories ‘belong’ to him, and frankly, I am inclined to believe him.”
Peter shakes his head and looks at me. “This is scary, Deanna. I’m not reading this kind of stuff in the medical journals; it’s more like something out of science fiction. Someone actually severed that young man from his real life in his own head — and then ‘planted’ other memories in him? Is that possible?”
“The whole concept behind the Genera Project was science fiction until a few years ago, Pete,” I reply wearily. “Now there are several pioneers in the field of brain cell regeneration. Victor Kent was one of them. When I found out Vi — Dr. Kent — had a human subject, I knew the timing wasn’t right. Human trials on this are years away. Maybe decades away.”
Pete deBroca’s frown deepened, but he listened with rapt interest as I continued.
“It became pretty clear, pretty quickly, that the Genera research was a smoke screen for some other plan these unknown people already had in place for Sam. Dr. Kent was nervous about losing his damnable research opportunity and so he decided to use Sam in his experiment anyway — hoping to escape with Sam and his Genera Project intact. He lost his gamble back at the lab, but we were able to get away, as I am sure Lucille told you. As for the details of Sam’s condition and prognosis… Well, things happened so quickly at the lab over these past two days, I can’t tell you much more than what is in those notes.
“I can tell you, though, that in spite of some very harsh physical treatment and the extreme circumstances of our escape, Sam has been showing signs of rapid improvement. He’s steadier on his feet. He’s more talkative, despite that stutter. He seems more alert to his surroundings, more responsive…”
I stop, suddenly assaulted with the memory of his body against mine last night. The hungry eagerness that radiated from him. The need, so apparent in his kisses and moans of pleasure at any touch…
Pete is talking, snapping my attention back into the present.
“The stutter is probably more the result of the emotional trauma — maybe a mild childhood affliction that he had grown out of and regressed back to under this stress.”
That doesn’t make me feel better. Gary Redmond was a stutterer. I pray it is a coincidence. As Lucille said, Sam needs someone to believe in him right now. He needs that belief from me.
“His physical comeback would be a good sign, though.” Pete is saying. “Has he had any seizure activity?”
I tense at the memory of Sam, on that lab table, head locked down, his tortured body in the throes of a grand mal seizure.
“Yes,” I answer quietly. “He had one just after the last procedure performed on him in the lab. And he may have had one yesterday while he was out wandering. I wasn’t with him. He had just been in a fight with some gang toughs at one of the Saint Louis Cemeteries. By the way it was described to me, the seizure was most probably a ‘petite mal’. Plus, he had a kind of… dissociative episode this morning. He didn’t seem to be aware of me or his surroundings. He acted as if he were hallucinating until Edel snapped him out of it.”
The good doctor raises his eyebrows. “That doesn’t figure into the picture. Was it prompted by a physical trauma?”
I cringe at the memory of Antoine Judice backhanding Sam. “He had been struck, yes, but it was also in the midst of some pretty scary accusations that were being put to him at the time. That was when he seemed to recall those vivid memories he claims do not belong to him.”
Peter deBroca’s face was full of consternation. “How odd. You said you’ve been medicating him?”
“He was getting a sedative and an anti-convulsant at the lab. I give him injections of an anti convulsant — Tegritol, I think. The vial isn’t well labeled. He got an injection about two and a half hours ago.” I offer weakly.
Pete raised an eyebrow. “This morning? Before he had that dissociative episode you told me about?”
I nod. Pete looks perplexed. “How long after the injection did he have this episode?”
Oh my God…
It never occurred to me…
“About twenty minutes later.”
“And where had you gotten the medications?”
“Well… uh… from Victor. Dr. Kent. I would suppose he got them from the lab at Pinck Pharmaceuticals.” I stop, choked with horror as I begin to suspect something about the unmarked vials of “anti-convulsant”. I don’t think Victor knew either.
“The medicines. Could they have been tampered with all along? Could Sam’s recollections…? Could some of them actually be ‘false’? Induced? Suggested? With drugs to keep him in a mildly hypnotic state — vulnerable to suggestion?”
Pete shrugs. “Of course, there are drugs that will aid a state of suggestibility. If he hasn’t been getting a regular anti-convulsant, it could explain why he is having occasional seizures. But those ‘memories’ he says he’s having… I’m just not sure. They are pretty vivid to him. False memories, perhaps?”
Pete shrugs again. “Well, we know nowadays that that is a very real possibility. I wouldn’t be able to tell you too much more about Sam’s memories — especially the ones that are so disturbing to him — until he has some tests. PET scans have been used recently to differentiate a ‘true’ memory from a ‘false’ one. It’s a bit complicated, but essentially, the medial temporal lobe of the brain is active during true or false memory events, but only ‘true’ memories will show activity in the temporal parietal region, the area where we process sound. A good cognitive neuroscientist could give Sam an idea of what is going on in his head — and why — with a procedure called cortical mapping. If Sam’s only vivid memories right now are shown to be false, than it is a pretty clear indication that his brain had been subject to some experimentation before you found him. And as I said, drugs could be part of that process, too.”
My mind is reeling over these new possibilities. How much had Sam been exposed to before he was brought to the labs at Pinck Pharmaceuticals? The medications he had been receiving and those that I have been giving to him unwittingly may have exacerbated his already complex problems.
Perhaps they were part of the plan to make Sam into someone else. Perhaps Sam wasn’t Gary Redmond. Perhaps “they” intended that he was to be re-made into that killer named Gary Redmond.
I close my eyes and drop my head into my hands.
“How much else can they have done to him? Why? Who is he to them? And here I am — playing right into their hands.”
“You’ve helped him more than harmed him. Don’t forget that. And don’t worry; we’ll find out more soon. He’s lucky to be alive, Deanna,” Pete responds. “Look, just leave the rest of those medications with me. I’ve already taken a blood sample from him as well. I can run a complete drug screen on that at the labs I use here in New Orleans. In the meantime, I’ve given him a dose of oral Phenobarbital. I’ll get a prescription written and filled for him. I’m sure he’ll appreciate getting away from those shots, anyway.”
“Is he really lucky to be alive?” I ask with a heavy heart.
The question is cynically rhetorical. Neither Pete nor Lucille respond. The thick sullen silence is cut by the trill of the kitchen phone.
As Lucille answers it, Pete leans toward me. “Deanna, you know that he needs further evaluation. I’d prefer that he be hospitalized and evaluated with every neurological test known to mankind right now.”
“I’d prefer that, too, Pete,” I answer a bit too angrily. “But those people — the faceless ones — the ones who did this to him — they are standing between Sam and any hope he has of a complete recovery. You know, it’s ironic… They could have killed him more simply than all this! But as long as they keep him running and keep him away from getting help, they still will have ‘killed’ him.”
Doctor deBroca agrees with a rueful nod of his head. “Whatever happened to Sam is subtle. It was done with a level of expertise that is unknown out here in the day-to-day world of medicine. That kind of purposeful manipulation is frightening. Not just for Sam, either. If power like this exists out there, then every citizen is in danger.”
Lucille hangs up the phone noisily just then. “Time for me to head to The Blue Lady. I’d better be there in case Antoine decides to send in the troops with a search warrant.”
Pete stands and puts his arms around her waist. “Ah, The Blue Lady. It’s sad, Deanna; my ‘competition’ is another woman!”
Lucille kisses him quickly and pushes him away. “Come on. There is much to do! Deanna, here are the keys to my car. If we call, take it and head out — anywhere! Pete, you’ll have to drive me down to the Quarter.”
“Right,” Pete agrees grimly. He looks at me. “I’ll get his prescription and get those tests ordered.” He pauses. “It’s a shame, Deanna. He’d benefit from treatment and therapy right now.”
I nod glumly. No need to beat a dead horse. Sam’s first priority right now is survival.
Lucille puts her mobile phone in my hand. “Edel’s number is #1. The Blue Lady is #2 and Pete’s phone is #3. Call if anything happens.”
The house is eerily quiet after they leave. In an odd attempt at normalcy, I finish the making the breakfast that Lucille had started: bacon and eggs, cinnamon toast. If Sam is awake, he should be hungry.
And just as that thought occurs to me, I hear his soft voice from the doorway behind me.
“They are ccoming, aren’t they? I can feel it.”
He states it as a fact. His premonition. His feeling.
His handsome face is drawn and somber when I turn to look at him.
“There is no way to tell, Sam,” I try to reassure him. “We’ll do what we can to stay safe. Come, eat breakfast.” I set the plates of food on the table, still feigning “normalcy”, but I am sure he can tell how disheartened I am feeling.
Sam pulls out a chair and sits down, studying me for a moment. He places the wrinkled, much-abused file he has held for the past two hours in front of him.
“I think I know w-where the answers are,” he says, fingering the paper, ignoring the food.
He opens the file and lays his hand over the copy of the FBI report. “I have to call — I need to talk to these men, the ones who signed th-this report.”
“Sam, there is no time to do this now!” I say in a voice that sounds too much like pleading. “Eat. We have to be ready to leave as soon as…”
The look on his face stops me. I am controlling him again.
He is adamant. His jaw, clenched; his eyes, dark. “They will never give me the time. Not now, not later. If th-they mean to throw me into a cell or drag me back into a lab, they w-will do it. And there will be no other time for me to get this answer. Do you think they would hesitate to do this t-to you? You could wake up tomorrow without a memory of all of this.”
His eyes meet mine and linger. “Without a memory of me,” he says softly, a near whisper. “You would never know I had been in your life at all.” His eyes drop away from mine. “Maybe that w-would be a good thing.”
A deep coldness settles in my gut. He’s right. There will be no other time. I pick up the phone. “Information. Long distance. Area codes for Washington, DC, please.”
Sam looks at me with obvious relief.
“Please eat. This is bound to take more than a few minutes,” I say. This time he listens, turning to the breakfast hungrily.
The precious minutes it takes us to get through to the FBI Headquarters seem to stretch into hours. Sam is waiting silently on the phone for a connection, bouncing his leg nervously, chewing his lip and running his hand over the well-worn report.
I find myself listening over the rainstorm outside, straining for the sound of police sirens. Would Antoine Judice be that bold? Would he send a squad of police after Sam? I expect if Sam really WAS a killer named Gary Redmond, then yes, we would hear the wail of sirens now.
If, however, Sam is a target, a chosen martyr for some shadowy cause, then this will all happen quietly. Secretly.
I am beginning to feel the stirrings of real fear and panic. I wonder how long Edel will be gone.
At that moment, I hear the thin electronically-distorted voice of a woman coming from the phone Sam is holding. The automation of the government. Sam squirms as the mechanical voice offers him a menu of endless choices. He looks grim, punching a few more numbers into the keypad.
More waiting. More menus. I realize I am as impatient as Sam at this point. I reach over and hit the speaker button on the phone, anxious to hear whether this attempt will reap real information or expose us to a new danger.
“Violent Crimes Unit. Washington Bureau.” A male voice this time. Human. Somber, professional.
Sam is momentarily speechless. “Uh… H-hello. William Patterson, please.” He is trying to speak slowly and carefully, keeping his stammer at bay.
There is a long pause at the other end of the line, then: “Agent Patterson is … uhm… no longer with the Bureau, sir. May I help you? What is this in regard to?” The voice is still polite and professional.
Sam shakes his head as if trying to clear his thoughts. “H-How about Reginald Pardue? May I speak with him?”
“Reggie?” The voice on the other line sounds surprised then hesitant. “Sir, Agent Pardue is deceased. What is this about? May I help you?”
Sam swallows nervously and says, almost as if uttering a prayer, “Fox Mulder… I-Is there a Fox Mulder in your unit?”
Sam is shaking, and the voice on the other end is silent for a much longer time. Over the speaker, we can hear an odd muffled click, as if a mute button were suddenly pressed.
What in the hell is going on?
Sam squeezes his eyes shut as he waits. And waits.
I have half-convinced myself this was a big mistake. Visions of police cars bearing down on this house from all directions rise up. Just as I lean forward to tell Sam to hang up, I hear the deep professional voice on the speaker, startling us both:
“Sir? I’m sorry about the delay. I was checking something for you. I am forwarding you to Agent Mulder’s office. Please hold.”
I didn’t even hear the tinny ring before I heard the sound of a woman’s voice. “Agent Dana Scully.”
Sam looks as if he’s stopped breathing. “Is Fox Mulder…? M-may I speak to…?”
He can’t finish his sentence.
The silence on the other end is deafening but only for a moment. “Mulder?”
Sam is stunned. Is she addressing him?
“Mulder? Mulder? Dear God… MULDER!” she is crying.
My heart is pounding.
Dana Scully. She exists.
She is an FBI agent. She knows Agent Fox Mulder, who until now had just been an unusual name on the end of an exceptional report.
There is no time to rejoice at this discovery for Sam, because the lights in the kitchen flicker and go dark just then.
The woman on the speaker phone is still trying to reach through to Sam. “Mulder, please, answer me… Are you okay? Where are –”
I become aware of the creak of floorboards out in the hallway. The careful yet clumsy step of someone trying artlessly to be stealthy. I look frantically for the gun. Damn! It is still in the duffel bag, and the duffel bag is in the parlor.
The voice of Dana Scully has been cut short. The line is dead. Sam looks at the useless phone in his hand as if just awakening from a dream.
“This is not good,” I say nervously. I reach for the mobile phone that Lucille left for us. “We have to call Edel. Now!” My voice is quaking.
“No. Don’t bother our dear Edel, Deanna. He’s been so touchy today.”
Antoine Judice’s voice.
He is standing in the doorway, a gun trained on us. Smiling, he ambles forward to Sam and pulls him roughly back in the chair. Sam loses his grip on the phone he had been clutching as if his life depended on it. It clatters to the table, and Antoine laughs.
“Who was that, Gary? Calling the governor for a reprieve? A waste of time. This is the end of the road for you, mister.”
“You’re making a mistake, Antoine,” I tell him with as much warning in my voice as I can muster right now. “It’s just like he’s been telling you: he isn’t Gary Redmond. If you take him away, you’ll spend the rest of your days in a federal prison for the kidnapping of a federal agent. Sam is most probably an FBI Agent by the name of Fox Mulder.”
“Oh? Says who? I’ve got 100,000 crisp new dollar bills that say he IS Gary Redmond, Deanna.” He pulls his prisoner back further, gripping him fiercely by the neck. Gun in hand, Antoine pulls a folded piece of newspaper from his suit coat pocket, shakes it in front of Sam and slaps it on the table for us to see.
The handsome visage of Sam — no, Fox Mulder — stares out from the printed page. It is a copy of an obituary, dated three weeks ago. Carefully worded. The kind of vague, delicate prose written for victims of suicide.
A cliffside tumble into an uncaring ocean.
No body recovered.
I’m sure Fox Mulder didn’t expect this death.
Fox Mulder. Alive, but still cut off from his life. And they have come to make sure he remains buried.
Antoine is leaning over his prisoner with a malicious grin.
“See there? Fox Mulder is D-E-A-D — DEAD! Understand? Listen up, boy — if I say you’re Gary Redmond, then that’s who you are! If I say you’re Elvis, then that’s who you are. If I say you’re Hillary Clinton, then that’s who you are. Do you get the point?” he hisses into Sam’s ear.
The young man is almost unable to nod; Antoine has him in a murderous clinch. He shoves Sam forward onto the table, sending dishes and food crashing to the floor. Sam’s face is coloring over with anger as the heavy man leans onto him, pinning him and cuffing his hands behind his back.
“There!” Antoine puffs, pushing himself off of his prisoner. He then gives Sam a patronizing pat on the head and laughs, “Your warden is waiting for you, boy. And, my-oh-my, is he anxious to see you!” He looks over at me. “I have a set of bracelets for you, Deanna Darlin’. We got a bit of a ride ahead of us. Will I really need to use them? Or will you and your young stud behave?”
Anger. Despair. Weariness. I feel lost in this struggle. I feel ineffective and powerless. Sam is going to be returned to “them” — the makers of his nightmares, the thieves of his memories, the creators of his mind-prison.
“I won’t fight you, Antoine,” I say quietly. “Will you listen to reason?”
Antoine gives me his hideous gap-toothed grin. “Did I tell you I have a ‘bonus’ coming to me if I bring you along, babe?”
“He may be a federal agent,” I keep talking, ignoring his words, looking him in the eye.
“He’s a very wanted man, Deanna,” Antoine insists, the smile on his face stiffening angrily. “This here boy is the Brass Ring, and I grabbed him. He’s my ticket to Paradise.”
“They’ll never let you live after you’ve done this for them,” Sam growls.
“Shut the fuck up!” Antoine snaps at him, batting Sam across the back of the head viciously. He pulls his prisoner roughly up off the chair and pushes him toward the door.
Waving the gun at me, he demands, “Where are his medicines? I was told to find the ‘medicines’? Get them!”
Fearing for Sam, I hurry to obediently retrieve the black duffel bag from the parlor without further comment. I can feel the heaviness of Mackey’s gun still inside it and pray fervently that Antoine is sloppy enough and lazy enough not to check the bag.
I needn’t have worried. He is a predictable fool. He is preoccupied, busy manhandling Sam, who had begun a struggle. Judice has pushed him to his knees and is bracing him against the hallway door, paying little attention to me as his prisoner fights against his cruel grip.
I keep silent. As long as Sam’s resistance is occupying most of Antoine’s attention, I may have some chance to look for a moment, an opening, an opportunity. An opportunity for another escape…
“Get those papers!” Antoine’s order is shrill. He is clearly growing angrier with his prisoner. Waving his gun at me, he indicates the files still on the table. He is grunting with the effort of keeping his hold on Sam. “Hurry! … Hold still, you little fucker…We’ll be taking my car, Deanna… You’ll be driving. Gary — here — has to be delivered on time. We’re on a strict schedule.”
As I unzip the bag, I see the glint of the hand gun Mackey had given us that night we left him behind in his Jeep. My knees almost buckle at the sight, but there is little opportunity to grab it. I know full well that my limited knowledge of guns is now suddenly a liability.
And Antoine Judice would know that, too.
My eyes fall on Lucille’s cellular phone, resting on the table near the FBI report.
“Hurry! Goddamn it! We have an appointment!” Antoine roars at me. At Sam, he fumes, “Settle down, you prick! Or I’ll put a bullet in your girlfriend!”
I see Sam freeze at that, ending his struggle abruptly. Now Antoine is free to turn his attention to me.
He is too close. I sweep the papers up, hiding the mobile phone in my hand. As I make a pretense of struggling with loose papers, I feel around the keypad for what I think is the number “1” and the “send” button. There is no way to see if I have successfully dialed Edel’s number.
I use the file to cover the gun and the phone at the bottom of the bag. Maybe there would be a chance, an opportunity to use it. My heart begins to beat a little faster.
“Hurry, damn you, woman!” Antoine is pulling Sam roughly to his feet and wrenching him toward the porch door. Sam hazards a glance back at me and suffers a punch from his captor for it, bringing him down to his knees for the second time.
“You are a sadistic son of a bitch,” I say hotly, as I lean over to help the young man to his feet again.
Judice’s only reply is a short derisive laugh. He pushes Sam forward and waves his gun at me, silently ordering me to follow.
Edel, where are you, I think to myself as I obediently get into the driver’s side of Antoine’s big, black Lincoln. How long before we will be missed?
My stomach sinks as Antoine orders me to start the engine. I can only hope that Edel has gotten my call. I can only hope that he is listening now as Antoine growls orders at me. I can only hope that help is on the way…
Minutes later, we are headed out of the Garden District and toward the frayed, decaying edges of the city. Blocks of abandoned buildings. Deserted streets. Broken pavement.
Every time I risk a glance in the rearview mirror to check on Sam, his face looks unreadable. He spends much of the trip staring at the floor, thinking perhaps, about the woman’s voice on the phone.
The woman who heard his voice and recognized him as Fox Mulder.
The woman whose voice was full of terror and grief and concern for Fox Mulder.
Maybe Dana Scully…
She was an FBI agent, wasn’t she? Is Sam her missing comrade? Partner, perhaps? She must have realized by now. She must have guessed. Maybe she had started the search the moment the line was cut. She has resources.
Oh God, Dana Scully. He needs you now. WE need you now.
“Over there!” Judice is pointing down an alleyway. A nondescript white utility van is at the far end. I stop before it, and Judice snaps the engine off, taking the keys out. “Just sit. Don’t move.”
I watch the van door open and see a familiar figure get out and turn toward us. I hear Sam’s nearly inaudible gasp. I know what he is feeling, because I’m feeling it, too. My own stomach roils, and I almost gag, nearly losing my breakfast. Nausea is more welcome than what I feel now: sheer terror.
It is Eddings.
Sam’s tormentor. Victor’s assassin.
He survived Victor’s attack with only a minor injury, it seems. His left arm is cradled in a sling. It takes nothing away from his dangerous aura though. If anything, he looks meaner, angrier. And he is looking right past me to the back seat — where his prize sits.
Eddings’ Specimen 51: Sam.
With his jaw set, he starts toward the car. I am almost too scared to think. I wonder uselessly if I could reach the duffel bag at Antoine’s feet, but the door is already opening, and I can feel Eddings’ rough hands on me, pulling me out of the car.
“Well, we meet again, Doctor Branson!” Eddings says, squeezing my arm painfully.
Antoine has gotten out of the car and retrieved something from the van. He shows Eddings a cotton rag. It hangs limply in his hand, damp, reeking of some kind of chemical. A drug, I realize. Chloroform, probably.
“That bastard of yours is in a fightin’ mood. We’d better put him to sleep for the trip, or there’ll be hell to pay.”
Eddings seems to consider it as he peers in the car window at Sam. Taking the rag from Judice, he hands it to me and smiles through the window at Sam, who has remained quietly seated, as if resigned to this fate. As if he expected this horror.
“I’ll let you do the honors on my little lab rat, Doctor. He was always more cooperative for you, wasn’t he? And I just don’t have the time for his games.”
He opens the back door and smiles again at his prisoner. “Hello again, Number 51. Did you enjoy your time out? Did you find yourself a name? Did you find a name like — Fox Mulder?” Eddings’ smile gets broader. “Well, I’m about to take that name away from you again, and they’ve only given me twenty-two more hours to do it in. So don’t get used to it.” He pushes me at Sam. “Put ‘im to sleep, Doctor Branson.”
I don’t want to do this to him.
He looks up at me, eyes dark and fathomless. He nods slightly, silently assuring me he’ll be okay. Giving me permission to assist again in his imprisonment.
Forgiving me, I hope.
I press the cloth gently to his face with a trembling hand. He has an almost involuntary reaction; he tries to pull away, but relaxes into it when I place my other hand gently behind his head and stroke his hair.
I watch as his eyes lose their brilliance and his lids close over them. He leans toward me, limp, unconscious. Nothing said. No struggle. This submission is the awful price of his trust in me.
I feel ill.
I just want to hold him, to pretend for a second that this isn’t happening, to will away all this insanity.
Eddings is laughing again.
“Aw, ain’t he just an angel, Doc?” He pulls me away and motions to Judice to bring Sam as he tugs me toward the van. “Hope you enjoyed your few days of freedom, too. It’s gonna cost you and my adventurous Specimen 51.”
In the van, Eddings shoves the cloth in my face, not nearly as gently as I had done with Sam. I panic. It feels like death. How could Sam have suffered this without a struggle?
Where is he? Where is … ?
From the blackness into…
The blackness? I blink my eyes experimentally. No change. I can’t see a thing. To be sure I am opening and closing my eyes, I put my hand up to them and blink again, feeling my lashes against my palm.
The darkness is total. I am on a cold, tiled floor. Smooth. There are familiar smells, but I can’t place them. I feel hung over, and my mind is working far too slowly.
“Sam?” I whisper.
“Fox?” I whisper.
I roll onto my hands and knees, feeling into the blackness all around me, hoping I will make contact with his body. Praying that he is alive and unhurt.
My fingers have only told me I am in a small empty room. There is a door, well sealed, enough to keep light and sound out. I sit for a long time, huddling at that door, with my ear pressed to it, straining to hear something.
This is frightening. This darkness. In such blackness, it is hard to keep fears from becoming large. Hard to keep them from becoming real. I feel blindly around the entire room again, if only to reassure myself that Sam is not dead and that his corpse has not been thrown in here with me as imagined visions of his torture or execution at Eddings’ hands keep swimming back into my mind.
The vision of Sam, imprisoned once again.
I check the room again, stumbling blindly, recklessly seeking Sam, wanting to touch him again. Wanting the reassurance of his presence. I have gone over the walls and floors three times before I am even aware that my cheeks are damp with tears and the soft keening sound I hear is coming from me. Time to stop. Time to huddle by the door again and try not to think.
I have no idea how much time has passed. Sometimes I move away from the door. Find a corner. Doze.
But I am wakened by a dream: Sam screaming. Begging me. I am back at the old house in St. Gabriel again. Beside the angry, swollen river. Sam is struggling against the killing currents. I can see his face quite clearly this time. I look around. Grand Marraine Solange is nowhere to be seen.
My heart skips. Has she abandoned me, too? So much has happened. It seems so long since she left this life, left me…
I think I can hear Edel’s voice, calling my name as if searching for me.
I look around for him in the storm. I cannot see him.
I feel tears running down my face. I am unable to reach Sam.
Not unwilling this time.
Not afraid this time.
Just — unable.
My own sobs startle me into awareness.
Footsteps. I hear footsteps. Someone is at the door, fumbling with keys. The door opens to spill in painful light, shattering the blackness. It is merely the soft glow of lights from the hallway beyond, but it still feels like knives in my eyes.
I can’t even see who is pulling me to my feet, but I can smell him.
“Don’t touch me, Antoine,” I snap, wrenching myself free from his grasp. I hear his familiar laugh as I struggle to adjust my eyes to the new light.
Oh my God.
I look out onto a very familiar hallway. We are in the old Primate Research Lab. Pinck Pharmaceuticals. We are back where this ghastly adventure began.
And where is Sam?
I stumble forward, Antoine close behind me. The air is heavy, close, as if the air-conditioning has been turned off. The lights are soft, I realize, because only a few emergency lights are on.
Something has happened. Something is different.
I stop at the door housing the primate cages. Sam’s cage is still there, shrouded and locked as before. It is dark and silent, but I sense he is in there. Around his prison, all the other cages and fittings have been stripped away.
Across the hallway, I can see Eddings, standing in the pared down remains of the treatment room. Much of the equipment is gone; just empty cabinets and that damnable treatment table.
I can feel an icy stab in my gut. The table has been readied for Sam. Eddings means to complete his assignment: the annihilation of a man’s mind. No interference this time.
“What do you think of our little operating arena?” says Eddings, pointing at the table. “Seem familiar, Doc?” He sweeps his arms open in a grand gesture, indicating the nearly deserted lab.
“W-What are you doing? What has happened here? Where is Sam?’ My voice sounds too fragile for my liking. I hate these men with all my soul, and I despise showing them any weakness.
“Aa-aa-aa. One question at a time,” Eddings says with a smirk. “Although, all of the answers should seem obvious.” He tugs at the black restraining straps on the treatment table, as if testing them.
“After your little joyride, Dr. Branson, I was given an ultimatum by my superiors. I was to retrieve Number 51 or pay with my own life. As you can imagine, such a high, high bounty was an incentive for me.”
His lips twitch angrily. Glaring at me from across the room, he continues, “But their threats weren’t really necessary. It’s kind of ‘personal’ with me now, if you know what I mean. When they received confirmation of Specimen 51’s whereabouts from Detective Judice, over there, well, they agreed to let me have time — 24 hours to be exact — to finish my assignment.”
He smiles tightly. “That was 20 hours ago. So here we are — almost back at the beginning. Except, you may have already noticed: there are fewer amenities I can offer you. It seems that all the uproar you and my prisoner caused several days ago resulted in the immediate shut-down and evacuation of this site for PPC. Not a real nice thing to do to your former employers, I’m afraid.”
He moves slowly around the treatment table and approaches me. Instinctively, I step back, bumping into the firm belly of Antoine Judice, standing directly behind me. “It’s ‘showtime’, Doctor Branson. In less than two hours, I expect to deliver Specimen 51 into the hands of those who want the bastard back, mindless and drooling all over himself. Clueless. No memory. A blank slate for them to write on.”
“You can’t do this,” I rasp uselessly.
That amuses Eddings. “Of course, I can’t, my dear doctor. But, hey! — you were Victor Kent’s partner, weren’t you? You should have a passing familiarity with the procedure, shouldn’t you? How about this: we set it up so you can help Specimen 51 meet our goals and expectations? My superiors will be more than grateful. Might even be a reward in it for you. Maybe they’ll let you keep your life — minus a few superfluous events and people they might not want you to remember.”
I feel a wave of dizziness that has nothing to do with the drug they used on me. I must have looked faint because Eddings grabs my arm again, roughly.
“Whoa, there, Doctor. Wouldn’t want you falling down and breaking your neck just now. Number 51 is going to need you and all those skills you have learned from your work with the late Doctor Kent.” He says this through clenched teeth, his eyes glittering malevolently.
ohgodohgod. Me? Do a procedure on Sam? Take his mind away from him with my own hands? I feel sick to my stomach again.
Eddings reels me around and drags me back into the hallway, snapping orders at Antoine at the same time. “Bring that black bag with the medicines in it. She’ll need it.” He addresses me, “Well, let’s go see your pretty traveling companion, all right? You’ll have to make sure you give him those shots. It will help it go better for him. I’m sure he’ll cooperate this time: He and I have had some time together to — well, let’s just say ‘discuss’ — his delinquent behavior. He’s been very contrite — very, very contrite.”
Eddings smiles that smile that is more like a death’s head grin. Fear for Sam overwhelms me, and I practically run across the hall to get to his dark prison cell. The older man just smirks and takes his time unlocking the door.
I peer into the darkness inside, wondering at first if I had been duped and that Sam was not here at all.
The padded cage is dimly lit as always. Gray and black shadows.
Sam is here, looking like a shadow himself.
He is sitting on the floor, pressed back against the far wall, legs drawn up, with his arms resting over his knees. His head is bowed, and he does not look up when I am shoved through the doorway.
He seems different.
Something has happened. Something has changed.
Eddings strolls past me and crouches beside Sam, arrogantly confident of his prisoner’s docility. He lifts Sam’s chin and directs his face toward me.
“See, Number 51? I’m as good as my word!” Eddings chortles as he addresses Sam. “I’ve brought your lady doctor to you. As promised.”
Sam carefully pulls away from his touch and avoids looking at me. He says nothing. Which seems to amuse Eddings. The stocky, older man rises back up to his feet with a grunt and ambles past me.
“He’s stopped fighting me, Doctor Branson.” His voice is oily and obscene. “He has become a model prisoner. I’ll miss our little sessions.”
Eddings draws closer to me. I’ll gag on the smell of him. I can feel the hate I harbor for him and all inhuman pigs like him — I merely lock my eyes on his. To let him see the sheer horror I feel for Sam would be to give him what he wants. To let him see this getting to me — tearing at my naive sensibilities, making me sick to my stomach — would delight him.
And I am not interested in giving this monster any pleasure or satisfaction. He has stolen too much from Sam. If he has a soul, I want it damned to the hottest corner of hell.
Eddings spits in Sam’s direction and says to me, “Give him the shots ASAP, Doctor. I want this business over with as soon as possible. Judice and I are going to do a quick perimeter check, and then we’ll get started.”
He leaves just as Antoine appears at the door, clutching the black duffel bag. It is hard to tell in this light, but it looks as if they hadn’t opened it yet.
I pray he will just drop it and leave.
I pray hard.
But Antoine has to press his advantage. He pushes against me suggestively. “If you hurry, Deanna, you will still have time for a quickie with the kid over there. Mind if I watch?”
Angered, I strike out with clawed fingers, deliberately reaching for his eyes. He is surprised and moves just a little too slowly. My fingernails scrape along his puffy cheek, and he squeals like the pig he is. I prepare for a backlash, but there is none.
Antoine just mutters a curse under his breath and presses his hand to his bloodied face. “You’ll pay for that, Deanna. I promise you.” He backs away from me, scowling.
He is cartoonish in his evil; a foolish, inept figure. And I hate him for that, too. No honor. Nothing remotely redeeming about him. I hope the one thing he does read in my eyes is my utter contempt.
The door slams. I hear his curses as the lock turns and his heavy footfalls fade down the hallway.
“Sam? Are you okay?”
What an absurd question.
He lifts his eyes to meet mine for a quick moment. In this half-light, he looks like a lost child. “H-he wouldn’t tell me where you were. I wanted to m-make sure that…” He glances away from me. “…they hadn’t hurt you,” he finishes in a whisper.
I kneel in front of him and put my hands over his arms where they rest on his knees. He seems to flinch at the sensation of my touch and swallows hurriedly, but his eyes will not meet mine now. He keeps them fixed on my hands.
I ask him again, gently. “Are you okay?” The absurdity deepens; of course he is not okay.
Yet, he only answers with a question of his own, tinged with fear, words tumbling over his tongue in a rush, as if he were desperate for reassurance. “D-did they hurt you? He said th-they would hurt you. He said he w-would unless I — I stopped fighting him.”
“Oh God, Sam. Shhh. I’m fine!” I hurry to calm him. “I was locked in a room. I didn’t see anybody until just now. I was so worried about you.” The words die on my lips. Even in this dim light I can see the dark stripes of welts over his bare shoulders. He is half-naked; his clothing, torn and hanging on him. If he had stopped fighting Eddings near the end of his torment, he had put up a hell of a fight in the beginning.
Until Eddings had threatened him with my safety.
Shocked, I reach out to touch a particularly vicious injury, tracing it along his neck and over his jaw. He pulls a shred of his T-shirt over one shoulder, uselessly hiding another sign of abuse, saying nothing.
His T-shirt is as shredded as his sense of hope. He still won’t look at me, pretending to be suddenly focused on drawing his torn clothing back into some semblance of wholeness. “I just wanted to be sure you were okay.” he murmurs again.
I would scream if I didn’t sense his fragility, his vulnerability right now. He has been changed. What is it that I sense radiating off him?
Futility? Powerlessness? Grief? Surrender?
“I j-just had to be sure. I needed to know that you were okay. He said that they… He said that you were …,” Sam repeats, his soft voice fading to a choked whisper. He is still dwelling on his excuses, making them for himself, it seems, not for me.
He draws me close to him suddenly, hugging me.
I feel it now. In this embrace. He has surrendered.
When he gave over his will to fight, he had given over his soul as well. On the very day he may have discovered his true identity, he has had the urgency of the search for himself beaten out of him. He has given it up, along with the battle against his enemies.
I pull out of this useless embrace and take his face in my hands, forcing his eyes to mine, trying to search them for an answer. Is he using his concern for me as his excuse?
Has he truly surrendered?
He smiles sadly, his dark eyes brimming, glittering in the shadowy half-light. He shakes his head.
He closes his eyes and a single tear slides out from under his long lashes. He shakes his head again.
Not Fox, either?
“N-no one. I am no one,” he says softly. “He’s been t-telling me that, you know. All this time, h-he has been teaching me: I am no one. He’s right. I hate it. I h-hate him — but he’s right. I can’t fight this any longer.”
I can feel another shudder pass through him as I lay numbly within his arms, watching him in horror. He is giving in to the dark river, the killer currents that had caught him in my dreams.
“What have they done to you? Why? Who are you?”
He actually laughs aloud at my questions, looking at me through bright unshed tears. “Don’t you see, Deanna? Don’t you understand? It doesn’t matter now. As far as I am able to see into my brief, so-called ‘past’ or into my future, there is nothing but pain. Pain and struggle.” He hesitates for a moment and then gently strokes my face with the back of his hand.
Again, I have the eerie feeling that he is looking for something — or someone — that he is missing.
“I’ve been having thoughts, daydream-like. I don’t know if they are memories,” he whispers. “I don’t know… They seem familiar and not familiar. Everything is becoming so confused. So hard to cope with — and he is going to turn me into a ‘no-one’, a ‘nobody’.”
His hand drops away dejectedly.
So. He has given up the search.
No, dammit! Not now.
I pick up his hand and press it back to my face. I am surprised to feel my own face wet with tears. “You ARE someone!” I insist with a mix of anger and fear in my voice.
Dear God. If he gives up, that means I must, too.
“Fox Mulder. You are Fox Mulder. An FBI Agent. A man with enemies, certainly, but a man of courage. Passion. Determination. I have seen all of things in you as ‘Sam’ — They are as much a part of your being — perhaps more — as your real name! I have seen these things in you and much, much more. Don’t you understand that that is why you can NEVER be a ‘nobody’? They haven’t taken that away from you. They can’t! And that is what scares them about you, isn’t it? They are terrified of Fox Mulder and what he is.”
He is listening to me. He has stopped sinking into the dark river of abandonment. Maybe this is the lifesaver I am meant to throw to him.
“Why would you let them have this last bit of you? Why would you give in?”
He is staring at me.
“Don’t do it.” My voice deteriorates into a childish plea. “Don’t give yourself to them. Please. Even if they take every last memory in your head, don’t let them have your soul, Fox.”
True confession time, Deanna. I know why this man and his struggle has come to mean so much to me.
“You’ve been the strong one through all of this. Do you realize that? Do you know how much that has meant to me? I have clung to your strength of spirit to get me through a time when my own soul was dying. Sam — Fox — whoever you are — you have been the catalyst in this part of my life. Don’t make this a useless gesture for me.”
“But they will take your memories, too, Deanna. You won’t even know I’ve been a part of your life.”
My turn to laugh. “You are more than just a memory, now, Fox Mulder. You are a part of me. And as foolish as this sounds, considering our present circumstances, I need you to keep fighting for yourself; I need your strength; I need someone to trust in.”
He looks alarmed. “How can you trust in me?”
“Because I have seen how hard it was for you to trust in me — under impossible circumstances. Like now. And yet you did. Your trust was like a gift to me. It gave me the courage to do things that I never dreamed I would be capable of. Whether this has come to me too late or not — or whether God will grant me the chance to live with this new strength, Fox — I have you to thank for helping me discover who I am.”
I smile at him and kiss his lips gently. “And — too late or not — we have discovered who you truly are. Don’t let them take that away. Who you are — truly are — isn’t a function of memory, Fox. You will rise like the Phoenix, no matter what they do.”
Looking into his dark eyes, I ask, “So soon after he found his life, does Fox Mulder deserve to lose it again?”
He returns my embrace, suddenly and fiercely. Clinging to me like a lifesaver. There is no resignation in this touch. There is need and gratitude.
I sense the return of his determination, as if he had never really lost it, just loosened his grip on it for this moment. Eddings will not win this round with this young man, either.
The mysterious Sam is the mysterious Fox Mulder.
And the eyes that look back at me now are growing steelier.
“I won’t — can’t — submit to that procedure again, Deanna,” he says with quiet resolve. “That makes me afraid for you. This may be a suicidal gesture on my part. That man won’t let me live, and I don’t want you to suffer the consequences of my choice to die fighting.”
Those should be terrifying words, but they do not affect me.
“I will not become your liability, Fox Mulder. I would never wish a living death on you, either. You can’t worry about me if you are going to give them the fight they deserve. And if you are really Fox Mulder — an FBI agent — maybe what I have in here will be more useful to you than it is to me.”
I pull the black duffel bag between us and unzip it. The metal is cold and heavy. I hear him gasp when I press it into his hand. Even in the dark shadows between us, he can tell what it is. I see a weak smile of disbelief and relief on his face.
“Mackey’s gun? You still have it? Mackey’s gun!” His voice is almost giddy with joy. He presses a quick fierce kiss to my lips. “Is the other clip still in there?” he asks anxiously.
I can hear him checking the gun in the dark: automatic gestures, as if he had done this a million times before. The FBI training and instincts are apparently still in his head, and I wonder for a second whether his vague returning memories are being helped by the few attempts Victor had already made with the Genera injections.
We may never know. And right now, I don’t care. It is wonderful to see this man struggle to come alive again, no matter the cause.
I feel around in the bag for the second clip. “I didn’t know how to use this. I could have stopped Antoine at the house if only I knew. I-I should have…”
“Deanna, don’t. There is no time for could-have’s and should-have’s.” He is taking the second clip from me and stuffing it in the pocket of his jeans. He takes a ragged breath and looks at me, saying grimly, but with an odd, wry humor, “Well, let’s both hope Fox Mulder is an ace shot, huh?”
The distant sound of a burst of automatic gunfire and the sound of breaking glass startles us both. Nearer, down the hall perhaps, a heavy door opens and slams, and I can hear someone running toward us.
The sound of keys in the lock.
Antoine Judice’s big bulky shadow in the now-open doorway. He has a gun, and it is trained on us. Still huddled close to Sam — no, Fox — I am blocking any chance he has to draw Mackey’s
gun on Judice.
“Get up!” Antoine is puffing. He looks scared. What is going on? Have Eddings’ superiors arrived early to collect their goods?
“GET UP! Goddamn you!” Antoine is screaming. “I need hostages, and you’re it!”
I rise slowly and carefully, pulling clear of Fox. Antoine does the predictable thing; his eyes follow me. It is a satisfying moment when I see him glance down at his prisoner and freeze in shock as he realizes there is a gun pointed at him.
Antoine’s face goes nearly purple with rage. “Son of a –,” he starts to hiss.
Fox Mulder has not moved a muscle. He is poised. Ready. Waiting.
Antoine does the next predictable thing. He laughs at me. “What’s this? You gonna tell me this mind-fucked moron can shoot a gun?” He sneers at the man in front of him. “How about it? Gonna shoot me, idiot? Think maybe you really are a fed?” He lifts his own gun slowly. “If you’re really a fed, then you won’t shoot. Honor. Justice For All. The American Way.” He grins.
And then Antoine Judice does the unpredictable thing: he foolishly raises his gun to fire on Fox Mulder.
The blast is deafening at this close range. I fall to my knees, throwing my arms over my head and ears, squeezing my eyes shut, not daring to breathe.
I jump at the touch of a hand on mine. Who?
“Deanna. Come on. We have to get out of here.”
His voice. Sam.
Fox Mulder. His voice.
He has survived. I am stupefied with relief, hardly able to move.
He is pulling me to my feet and over the corpse of Antoine Judice. I don’t know if my hate makes me feel no remorse, or if I am too scared and numb right now. I look at Judice’s lifeless stare as I step over him, tugged by my companion, and I feel nothing.
No joy. No hate. No sorrow.
Judice has been served his rightful sentence by Fox Mulder.
In the dim hallway, Fox pauses and looks to me. “Which way?” he asks anxiously.
He doesn’t look well. For the first time, in the weak lights of the hallway, I can see how much Eddings’ beatings have taken out of him. He is struggling to stay steady on his feet, probably feeding off his own adrenaline to keep moving.
The gunfire starts up again, coming from the back door, the loading dock area. I hasten to pull Fox toward the door going into my old lab. If these are Eddings’ superiors, coming to exact their bounty from that cruel bastard and to collect their prize specimen, we can at least lead them a merry chase through the abandoned halls of PPC.
The door is unlocked, but before we can push through it, the knife-like sting and the simultaneous crack of a bullet ricocheting against the metal door and brick walls drives us apart.
On my knees again, arms thrown protectively over my head, I can see Eddings at the far end of the hall.
“You’re MINE, you little bastard! You’re mine! No one will have you!” He is screaming as he raises his gun again, pointing to my right, aiming at his former prisoner.
Happily, he has no chance to fire. Delayed responses or not, Fox is able to swing Mackey’s Godsent gift to us around in time to send a volley of three shots in Eddings’ direction.
I don’t think any of those bullets were stopped by Eddings. Fox has had too little time and too little stamina for a true aim. I see Eddings drop to the floor and roll, lifting his gun again.
But Fox is on his feet and dragging me through the door before the next spray of ammunition comes at us.
On familiar ground again, I take the lead, pulling Fox through the dark, toward the next door and a labyrinth of hallways that will keep us safe for the time being.
I can still hear the sound of engines and occasional breaking glass near the common entryway of the building. Without knowing who is trying to break in here, it won’t be safe to chance going that way.
My fears are confirmed when I see two heavily armed men in black fatigues round the corner ahead. I gasp and freeze in my tracks. Fox does the same.
For an odd, almost comical moment, we all gawk at each other, until one of the men raises a gloved hand and points our way. “Hey!” he starts to shout.
We are not about to wait to hear what he has to say.
I pull Fox down another dark hallway and round a corner, running and testing doors as we stumble down another long, nearly-black corridor. I realize, with cold terror, that Fox is lagging, weakening.
There is an exchange of gunfire behind us, and I hear footsteps, running, trailing — hunting for us.
One of the doors gives under my experimental shoves, and we stumble into…
What? Where are we? I am frantic to get my bearings.
Fox Mulder sags against the door frame. At first, I think he is just leaning on it, listening for our pursuer. Then I realize he has been hurt. He weakly slides along the wall until he is on his knees.
Oh no. Please. Not now.
“Fox?” I pull him around to face me. His forehead is bloody. It’s hard to tell in this light, but the wound looks superficial, perhaps inflicted by shrapnel from the lab door.
He is conscious, lifting his hand to gesture that he is okay.
But he doesn’t seem okay.
We can both hear the distant hurried steps of someone at the far end of the hallway. Doors are being tested, kicked; some forced open.
He is looking for us.
They are looking for us.
I am finding it hard to breathe. Even harder to think.
I look frantically around me. It seems familiar. This is an old chem lab. I can see the last vestiges of it: the tell-tale sink wells, titres and pipettes, half-filled jars of chemicals, tagged and awaiting disposal.
There are doors on either side of this lab, I realize with alarm, connected to other lab rooms.
Easy access for anyone who wants to corner us in here.
Fox Mulder is breathing raggedly, and it looks as if he’s struggling to stay alert as he gingerly pushes the last round of ammunition into the gun he holds in his shaking hands. I pray his injury isn’t more serious, but as the person out in that hallway draws nearer, I realize I am going to have to find a quick hiding place for us.
I tug Fox along with me, heading toward a tiny glassed-in office. I know this office: This was Perry Marcus’ domain, Queen of the PPC labs. Long gone now — but her office has a huge metal desk, big enough to conceal one wounded FBI agent, at least.
He is groaning softly as I am urging him to get under the desk.
Damn! The door lock!
With that sudden thought, I pull myself erect and stare out into the lab.
The door is still unlocked; I can see it, even from this distance. It still seems to be open a bit. A marker.
A flagrant sign to our stalker: Come ‘N Get Us.
I am scared to death, but I think if I can get to that door and quietly lock it, it may serve to serve to cheat the Death Angel seeking us. Like the Passover, he might steal by this doorway, leaving us safe and alone.
When I start to step away, Fox’s hand is immediately on my leg, clutching at me urgently. “Deanna! What in the hell are you doing?” he gasps.
“Shhh! Stay still!” I whisper, brushing him away. “I have to try to lock that door. Otherwise, he’ll know we are in here.”
It is a bad sign that he is too weak to argue with me. I am halfway across the dark lab when the breaking of glass in the next room freezes me to the spot.
What in the hell… WHO in the hell is that?
Half-turning, I can see a dark figure in the east doorway, in the short hall that connects this lab with another. His gun is trained on me, held at arms’ length as he moves with a slow, calculated grace toward me. I think I can see others behind him, in the murky shadows.
He steps slowly into the room, peering into each of the shadows. But as he nears me, he cannot see the one thing I can: Fox Mulder, rising slowly to his feet and pulling up his own gun.
“Dr. Branson? Deanna Branson?” the figure says softly as it draws nearer.
Oddly, I sense no malice from this man. He seems concerned. A dark-eyed serious professional. And behind him, a much smaller figure, helmeted and rigged in black fatigues, too. It is a woman.
A woman about my size.
And even in this dimness, I think I can see the glint of red hair under that helmet.
Behind them, in the next room, ready and waiting, more trained guns. I can make out the bold lettering on the jacket of one of them that is turned away from me: F. B. I.
Mother of God. They’ve come! They’ve found us! I don’t know how. I don’t care how. We are…
The next thought is ripped from my brain. I see the dark man launch himself at me, just as I hear that woman shout: “Mulder! NO!”
I am only aware of the sound of more gunfire and shattering glass. And the heavy weight of the dark man as his body impacts mine, taking me down to the floor. Stunned, I realize he is not moving. He feels unnaturally heavy on me.
I am having difficulty keeping my thoughts clear. I think I see Eddings’ bloody body on the floor near me, and I am puzzled by that.
I think I see bursts of bright lights.
I think I hear that woman’s voice again.
Shouting. Commands. Names and instructions being called out.
A curious mix of blurred images and distorted voices in my head…
“Get the medics in here.”
The dark man’s dead weight being lifted off of me…
“Jesus, it’s Skinner …Two down. Maybe three… One dead, for sure. Let’s get a move on. Secure that hallway.”
“Search the rest of the building.”
I hear his name as if from a distance.
Fox Mulder. She is calling to him…
“Mulder? Mulder? Can you hear me? Mulder? Medics! I need medics in here!”
I just can’t stay in this struggle to remain conscious.
I can feel myself slipping into oblivion, aware only of the dull ache in the back of my skull where I had struck the floor.
Ludicrous images of eggshells. Humpty Dumpty. Fell down and broke his crown.
I awake to the echoes of that silly nursery rhyme in my head and the vise-like grip of a headache the likes of which I have never experienced.
Soft light around me. Antiseptic smells. Clean crisp linen against my skin. Soft signal bells and the muted voice of a hospital intercom system beyond the closed door on my right.
And to my left…
I smile, even though it hurts to do so, at the sight I see.
Slumped back in a stiff leather hospital lounger, reading glasses slid down to a precarious point on his patrician nose, the New Orleans Times-Picayune scattered over his lap. He is snoring softly.
He must have been here a long time. Beyond him I can see the lights of this city, pre-dawn, through the window. A big institutional clock on the far wall tells me it is nearly 5 a.m.
Means nothing. My sense of time and date has been so seriously askew for so long that I might as well have been living in an alternate universe.
I look at Edel again. And smile again. Funny I never noticed how long his lashes are. I’d always thought he was handsome, but now, without my silly schoolgirl crush of years ago filtering my sensibilities, I realize how really genuine my affection for this man is.
Why hadn’t I seen this before? Why hadn’t I thought of him before this?
I knew the answer. Because of my fear. Because of my denial of life.
But not any more. I think I’ve found myself. I think I know what I want.
“Deanna? You’re awake?” Edel’s voice is gravelly with the light sleep he is trying to shake off as he slowly straightens in the chair. His reading glasses clatter to the floor, but he ignores them to come closer to my side.
He smiles that brilliant Terrebonne smile, genuine joy.
“Hey there, Sleeping Beauty. Are you okay?” His voice is softer, with a hint of concern. I have not said a word yet, and that worries him. I am not sure I can trust my voice, however. I am so happy to see him. So happy to be safe. So happy to be alive.
Then, I remember.
“Sam? Where is he? Is he all right?”
I sound panicky I’m sure, because Edel hastens to take my hand.
“Hey, lie still. Shhhhh. The Pup is okay. He’s in the Intensive Care Unit with…”
“Intensive Care! Edel! What happened? Is he…?”
“Shhh. Shhh. Shhh.” Edel is being too gentle with me. “Deanna, you have a bad concussion. You are supposed to take it easy.”
“What about Sam?”
“Your ‘Sam’ is an FBI agent named Fox Mulder.”
“I know that, Edel,” I say, too excitedly. “We — he and I — found that out at the house yesterday when we –”
“That was four days ago, Deanna.”
What? Four days? I have lost four days? That thought alone makes my head swim. I feel even more disoriented.
Edel must notice, too, because he leans over me and presses the nurse call button. He smiles at me for a moment and then leans down to kiss me gently. “It’s good to have you back, Little Sister. You scared me too much with this ‘adventure’ of yours.”
“How did they find us?”
“A bit of science, a bit of luck and a whole lot of artillery,” Edel laughs with delight. “Your phone call to the FBI in Washington was traced by Dana Scully the moment she lost contact with her ‘resurrected’ partner. As for finding where that bastard Judice had taken you, it was your secret phone call on the cell phone that was the biggest help.”
His eyes are sparkling as he talks. “I knew enough to keep contact with the open signal from the phone. When I got the call, I was downtown, four blocks from the police station. It took an hour to get all the cops and feds involved and talking to each other.”
He squeezes my hand gently as he continues, “Deanna, it was so hard to know you were out there in danger, and yet I had to sit on my hands in a hall in a damn police station waiting for OTHER people to find you. They used the signal for as long as they had it to figure out which direction you were moving in. By the time the signal gave out, it was pretty clear that Eddings and Judice were taking you back to Lobdell. It wasn’t too much of a leap of logic to figure that they were heading to Pinck Pharmaceuticals. By that time, the Washington FBI were in town and suiting up for the raid. And STILL I had to wait! I felt so damn helpless! The ‘not knowing and doing nothing’ was hell. I’ve done nothing for the past four days but wonder how I am ever going to be able to let you out of my sight again.”
He kisses me again, not so quickly this time. I can feel my smile against his lips. God, this feels good. It feels right.
With a heavy sigh, he pushes himself off the bed. “There is a lot to tell you, Deanna. But for now, I’m sure you want to know how Sam — ah, I mean, FOX — is doing. Pete deBroca has been overseeing his care.”
He stops and smiles broadly before he remarks, “Along with that redheaded firecracker, Dana Scully. You know, she kind of reminds me of you. She’s a doctor, too! Forensics. Maybe you two could talk test tubes and specimens sometime.”
Specimens. I shudder.
Gone is Specimen 51. Welcome back, Fox Mulder.
A nurse comes in, and after a brief conversation with Edel that I find too difficult to follow, she begins helping me clean up and get ready for a brand new day.
By the time I am ready and able to get into a wheelchair, the roar between my ears has dulled along with the pain, courtesy of some colorful pain pill whose name I did not inquire after.
It was pretty. It was pink. It was powerful. That’s enough to know right now.
All I am focused on is the ride to ICU and the need to see Fox Mulder with my own eyes.
Edel accompanies me with a nurse for the trip. Two floors down and tucked away in a far corner of the hospital, ICU is like a separate world. Quiet. Subdued. Despite the pinging of monitor alarms, the hiss of respirators, the hum of machinery.
The still bodies of these special patients are almost lost in the web of complicated equipment that stand sentinel around them, documenting their every second of struggle back to normal existence.
I can see him. Hanging helplessly in his own web: IV’s. EEG wires. ECG cables. Cloth restraints, loose around his thin wrists and ankles.
He is still. Seemingly asleep. No. Unconscious is the better word.
I roll my wheelchair toward his bed as Edel talks with the nurse at the desk.
The restraints are soft, I note when I touch them. Good. He would hate to know they were on him, I think sadly. I slide my fingers between his long ones, remembering the first time I had looked upon this hand and wondered about the man to whom it belonged.
It is hard to look at his face, even though he seems to be resting and peaceful. His dark hair is clean, shiny. But the black wires and leads from the EEG monitor are an ominous disruption, snaking through his silky long hair, a reminder that deep within, Fox Mulder is still fighting for himself.
Here we are, safe for the first time in days, and he is still trapped in his private battle to break out of the prison in his head, where he was lost weeks before we met.
Fox Mulder is still a mystery to me – even after we had shared so many intimacies.
The deep voice startles me. I look over to the far corner to see a man I think I recognize, but I just can’t place where I might have…
He steps forward and offers me his hand politely. “I’m Walter Skinner. We… uh.. met the other day. Briefly. Before I knocked you senseless. I’m glad to see you up and about. I feel a need to apologize.”
Ah, yes. NOW I remember. A flash. The dark man hurtling himself at me in that lab. I can feel my eyes widen as I remember the moment.
He smiles, a bit bashfully. “I am an assistant director at the Washington DC offices of the FBI.” Dressed in a trim business suit, Assistant Director Skinner is a good-looking, if not somewhat professionally severe, man. His brown eyes are intense, evaluating.
Nodding toward the young man in the bed beside us, he continues, trying awkwardly to fill in for my silence. “I was trying to get you out of the line of fire. Agent Mulder was able to…” He is searching for some “delicate” term, I realize. “Uh… ‘terminate’ the threat. The man you knew as Eddings is dead. Luckily — for me, anyway — Agent Mulder was a bit low on his first try.”
I am slow to realize that Mr. Skinner is leaning on a cane. Still not having uttered a word of greeting to this man, I find myself staring at the bulky bulge evident around his left thigh, covered by his impeccably-creased suit pants. A bandage over a wound? Fox Mulder did that? Fox Mulder shot his…
“Are you his boss? Did you know Fox Mulder?” I ask.
“His ‘boss’?” Walter Skinner echoes with a slight rise in his brow. “Well, yes. As much as anyone can be Fox Mulder’s boss.” That latter remark seems to be more of a personal aside. He pauses and looks as if what he said was somehow inaccurate, but seems momentarily at a lost to describe his relationship.
Merely given what I knew of Fox Mulder and his unseen enemies, I suspect that Walter Skinner’s job was probably a difficult one.
I shake his proffered hand quickly. “Well, hello, Assistant Director Skinner. Forgive my lack of manners. I’m just a bit vague on everything that has occurred since…” I glance over at the still form of Fox Mulder, leaving my sentence unfinished. “What has happened? Is he going to be okay?”
“Thanks to you, Doctor Branson, his prognosis is good.” A soft feminine voice this time. From behind me.
I twist in my chair too quickly. My vision blurs at the sight of a tiny redhead, dwarfed by the lanky figure of one person I DO recognize, Pete deBroca.
The redheaded woman is by my side in an instant, steadying me with her arm over my shoulder. “Maybe it was a bit too early for you to get out of bed,” I hear her saying as I fight off a swoon.
Pete is crouched before me, looking a little worried. “Deanna? Are you all right? Maybe I shouldn’t have let you do this, but I knew you would want to see Fox before he leaves here.”
“Leaves?” I gasp. I am thunderstruck. It never occurred to me that we might be separated now. That I might not be able to talk to him — to have him tell me that he is okay. That I might not have the privilege of watching him re-discover himself.
But, I should have known.
I look at the pretty face of the red headed woman near me and ask numbly, “Where are you taking him?”
Pete answers, not her.
“He needs to start a recovery program, Deanna. You know that. We have been keeping him heavily medicated to give his brain some R & R. Dana has been with him night and day, and she says he seems to have already begun processing old memories, dreams, names — calling out in his sleep. The few tests I have been able to do on him here, like the transcranial Doppler sonography I did when we brought him in and the comparison test done last night, indicate his brain is making a comeback, but he will need a prolonged period of evaluation, therapy and recovery with someone who knows more than me about what may have been done to his brain and what influence Victor Kent’s few Genera treatments may have on his mind and memories.”
“Will I be able to talk to him before he leaves, Pete?” I ask, feeling a little frightened.
Pete shakes his head, sorrowfully. “Deanna, I wasn’t even sure you would wake up in time to see him now. He is scheduled to be transferred to Johns Hopkins in just about an hour. Dr. Neil Radamacher, the fellow Dr. Kent recommended to you, is readying an ‘environment’ for him that will aide in his complete recovery. The Air Transport team will be here soon, probably before breakfast.”
I must look stunned, because everyone around me looks worried. Emotions are flooding through my aching brain at an incomprehensible rate. I don’t think I can talk — again.
Another face floats into my vision. The pretty red head. She is cradling our hands – hers and mine – in my lap. “Deanna, we haven’t been formerly introduced. I am Dana Scully. Mulder and I have been partners for about four years. I just wanted to thank you. Personally. You helped bring him back. I never thought I’d see… I mean, I thought Mulder was…”
I am paying closer attention to this woman. She is struggling as much as I am. I suddenly recognize her pain had been greater than mine. She had lost him once already. And she had had no chance to say good-bye either.
Fox Mulder meant something to her, too.
Her eyes were wet, but I would hesitate to describe them as tear-filled. This woman is controlled. She grips my hands, and while I may not be able to read the depth of her emotion on her face, I can feel it in her grip. “I… he… WE owe you a debt of gratitude that I am not sure can ever be repaid.”
Now I can smile. I look over at the handsome face of Fox Mulder, linger a moment, and then search the other faces in the room for Edel. He is there, quietly watching me from the corner. “Fox Mulder has repaid the debt already, Dana. He gave me a new life — one that I think I’m going to enjoy.”
I watch Edel’s dark eyes crinkle up in a secret smile, and then I turn back to the silent friend I was about to lose, taking his still hand in mine again.
All but Dana Scully file out of the small room. She pulls a chair beside me and stays respectfully quiet for a moment.
“Your name was the first word I heard him speak,” I tell her.
She looks startled briefly and then allows herself a quiet smile. “I’ll have to file that little fact for later reference — and use it on those inevitable days when Fox Mulder is acting as if he’d rather forget he’d ever met me.”
“He’s a remarkable man, Dana,” I say softly. “I have never suspected anyone could be capable of such will power, such strength — against such impossible odds.”
“From what I’ve been told of your story, Deanna, you are possessed of a remarkable amount of will power and strength yourself.”
It is a compliment that I am going to accept gracefully. I certainly worked for it. “I wonder, though, if I would have ever discovered that if Fox Mulder hadn’t been dropped into the middle of my life.”
“I think he’d tell you that those are characteristics that aren’t learned overnight. I think Mulder certainly didn’t come by his abilities by chance, and neither did you.”
I smile at the young lady beside me. There are questions I must ask.
“Are you and he… Uhm. May I ask? Are you romantically involved?” I am a bit surprised to hear myself asking, cursing my lack of sense as I watch Agent Scully blush a shade darker.
“No. No, we are not,” she answers a bit too quickly. “The FBI, like any other high-profile career opportunity for women, is tough enough without adding an office romance to the mix.”
Ah. The old “women’s lib and responsibility” argument. I nodded ruefully. Romance with a co-worker is hard — as I well knew . In a job with as many dangers in it as they faced, it must be nearly impossible.
I am somewhat ashamed to have asked her that question. But “Sam”, as I knew him, had seemed so needy. So hungry for love. Was Fox Mulder as needy, as hungry?
We both fall into an uneasy silence. And for a moment, I expect that to be the end of her commentary on my question. I am surprised by her soft voice a few minutes later. “He means a lot to me, Deanna. I just never stop to define what our relationship to each other is. There just never seems to be a time…” I see her look away from her partner and begin playing restlessly with her hands in her lap. “Even when I thought he was dead, I just never took the time to ask myself… I couldn’t allow myself…”
She stops and starts again. “I don’t have much time — or energy — for ‘romantic involvements’. With anyone.” Her smile is weak, and she seems to be asking for a kind of understanding from me. “You know… My work. My career.” It was a fragile answer meant to cap the subject closed.
I understand more than she may wish.
She doesn’t finish. And I feel some pity for her along with my total understanding. Dana Scully and I are similar to each other in many more ways than in hair color and height.
I recognize the fear in her, too.
I guess I am a bit shocked. She had seemed so much stronger than me, more resolute. Her outward strength must be her defense. I don’t get a sense that I should attempt to breech that wall and tell her that she was not living her life as fully as she might.
I feel ill-equipped to give advice as I have just begun taking my own tiny steps toward a new personal freedom.
I look between her and her partner. Could Fox Mulder have a lot of “walls” in his real life, too? Is that why they are so well and tragically matched?
“Who is ‘Sam’?” I ask suddenly. “Mackey called him ‘Sam’ because it was a name he called out often during bad dreams. Is Sam a son? A brother?”
“A sister, actually. Samantha. She was — taken — when she was just eight years old. Mulder was twelve at the time — and present at the time it happened. He repressed the memory of the event for years afterward. The search for his sister was — is — a driving force behind everything he does.”
Dana Scully sighs and brushes at an imaginary wrinkle on the coverlet over her partner’s leg. “Ironically, his present condition may be because of that constant, relentless need he has to find the truth… about his sister’s disappearance.” She stops herself short again.
“The men who did this to him? Who are they?”
“Deanna, if I knew who they were I would herd them into hell barefoot over a broken glass highway,” she says with surprising vehemence. Then she looks slightly embarrassed by her outburst and stands up abruptly to straighten her partner’s blankets again.
“It’s a long and complicated story, Dr. Branson. It is a story that has affected Fox Mulder’s life deeply. And seemingly, everyone who gets close to him. Even me. And now, you.”
Affected life, indeed. But I am not melancholy like Dana Scully.
I sense, with my new trust in my instincts, that now was the time to quit asking questions of her.
And now was the time to say good-bye to “Sam” and to send prayers and good wishes with Fox Mulder as he works his way back to his own life.
“I think I should go, Dana. I don’t want to see them take him away,” I say apologetically. “Before I go, though, could we take these restraints off? I’d hate to remember him still tied down like some kind of lab animal.”
She is eager to help me untie the soft cloth strips. She even lowers one bedrail and smiles with a silent understanding so that I may lean over and place a quick kiss on his warm lips.
“Good-bye, Sam” I whisper into his ear, “Forget-me-not.”
February Federal Courthouse Baton Rouge, Louisiana
I shiver and pull my wool coat closer to me. Edel notices and places a protective arm over my shoulders, gently steering me up the steps of the Federal Courthouse as I huddle into my coat.
This is an uncommonly cold winter, or perhaps it just seems that way because I am in the first queasy trimester of a surprise pregnancy. Edel has hovered protectively — well, at least since he recovered from that nasty bump on the head that he incurred when he passed out in the doctor’s office just as she pronounced us “aging, but certain” parents-to-be.
That shock came amidst ten months of changes wrought at a furious pace. I had YEARS of living to catch up on, after all.
Edel had proposed to me before the ink was dry on my release papers from the hospital after my misadventures last summer. I was married, employed at Loyola University, and moved into a new home in the Garden District within three breathtaking months.
And even amidst all that, there was time to wonder daily about Fox Mulder. In the beginning, I was called often by Neil Radamacher at Johns Hopkins for Genera Project information and consultation. Dana called religiously every Wednesday for weeks, detailing with almost breathless surprise and happiness the smallest bit of progress her partner made in the reconstruction of his life.
At first, I felt a distant envy. She was able to watch over him, and now, I could not. Our lives, which had touched so closely and so briefly, were moving so far away from each other.
I wondered if we would become virtual strangers. My life was changing as dramatically for the new as his was regaining the familiarity of the old.
And soon, the business of my new life gradually faded my notions and preoccupied thoughts. Eventually, I longed for the nightmare that was Pinck Pharmaceuticals to be wiped from MY memory.
But at the indolent pace of the American Justice system, PPC and the questions over its illegal, mysterious activities — including the imprisonment and deliberate torture of a federal agent — were to keep haunting me and my family in the form of investigators, depositions and, like today, subpoenas to appear before committees “looking into the matter”.
It hadn’t taken Edel and I very long to grow weary of the process of having our lives and business interrupted by the endless questions and summons when, in fact, no visible signs of censure of PPC seemed to be taking place.
Dana Scully had warned me that it might be this way. She had told me months ago not to expect answers, not to expect justice. The deaths, the violations, the unknown directors of all that horror — It may mean nothing in the end. Relegated to the pages of fringe conspiracy newsletters and tall tales.
She spoke as if she were used to this. As if she and Fox Mulder understood the insanity of living in a country like this where a shadowy group could still command lives and events as if the Constitution was never written.
So, it was with a bit of resentment and frustration that Edel and I were here, again, walking into the church-like marble halls of the Federal Building in Baton Rouge. Summoned for yet another hearing.
But I feel the resentment melt away like cotton candy on my tongue when I think I see a familiar figure at the far end of the hall. Pacing nervously outside the door of the conference room to which we are summoned.
I stop just as he stops. And looks up. And sees me.
Caught in the weak ray of winter sunshine that is streaming through tall windows, Fox Mulder seems to glow. And when his brilliant smile breaks over his handsome face, he seems almost unearthly to me.
He strides toward me on long legs, powerful, self-assured. And healthy.
Oh, Mother of God. He looks healthy!
No longer the tormented creature caught in a nightmare.
He looks like the suited warrior I thought I sensed within him all along.
I don’t even notice that he has quickly covered the distance between us. Now, just a few feet away, he seems suddenly shy, hesitant. He lifts a small bouquet of blue flowers in offering to me.
“Forget-Me-Nots?” is the only greeting my stupefied brain can come up with.
He half-shrugs, looking boyish, and smiles. “I’m known for my inspired gift-giving.” His voice still has that velvet-and-smoke quality to it. Still soft. “I’m sorry if they look a bit wilted. I had hoped I’d see you before all this nonsense.” He waves vaguely in the direction of the hearing room. “I guess I crushed them while sitting through two hours of grilling in front of that useless committee… My ‘memories’ today are their LOST paperwork tomorrow.”
My speechlessness seems to confound him, so he turns to my husband. “Edel. How are you? I hear congratulations are in order for you. You’re a lucky man. I’m — I wish — Damn. It’s just really great to see you.”
I watch with amused detachment as Edel easily pulls Fox into a brotherly Cajun hug and holds him tight for a long moment. The men hug each other shamelessly.
“So — the ‘Pup’ is a ‘Big Dog’, eh?” Edel laughs, holding Fox at arm’s length and surveying the business suit, tie and badge.
Fox Mulder blushes a bit and makes a disgusted sound, shaking his head. “No… Not big enough. They are going to get away with this, Edel.” His voice sounds sad and weary, and for an instant, I can see the tormented creature I knew appear in him again.
He turns and looks at me for a long time before he steps forward to take me in his arms.
Suddenly, ten months are dissolved, and I am adrift in the familiar feel of his arms again. I rejoice in how much stronger he feels. And how much stronger he looks.
We hug, without words, for a long time.
“Fox? Are you truly okay? Have you gotten everything back?” I ask, my voice fogging into a husky whisper, overwhelmed with emotions and memories.
“Everything — and then some,” he says softly, holding me tighter to his chest. I can feel him kiss the top of my head and smile. “Memories I’d be happier without — and memories I’m glad to have forever.” With that he tilts my chin up to give me a tender kiss.
“Thank you, Doctor Deanna Branson-Terrebonne. You saved me.”
Our bittersweet reunion is over before it has begun. Fox is pulled away from me by the growled commands of Assistant Director Walter Skinner, who has suddenly appeared from nowhere with Dana Scully.
Plane schedules and waiting assignments prevent any further visiting. Dana and I hurriedly exchange greetings and news while Skinner and Edel exchange pleasantries and discuss the poor outlook for any results from these endless “hearings”.
I am aware of Fox watching me quietly. He is all smiles when Edel and I announce our impending parenthood, nodding approvingly when I tell him I know from tests that the baby is a girl and will be named after Edel’s grandmother, Solange Terrebonne.
There are no opportunities for emotion-filled good-byes. For which I am grateful, and so, I expect, is Fox Mulder.
Edel and I are called into the hearing room by dour-faced marshals. I cling nervously to Edel’s hand, just as Fox and Dana are ordered in the opposite direction by their boss, who is impatiently tapping his wristwatch in a clear but unspoken signal.
But there was time enough for one glance back.
And I see him there — framed by the empty marble hallway. Standing alone. Watching after me.
He half lifts his hand in one last good-bye before I lose sight of him.
Good-bye, Fox. I’ll forget-you-not.
“Specimen 51” by WestShore
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