26
 

To the Head of Human Resources it comes as a revelation that a former employee once doubled as a former patient—causing, in both capacities, a major embarrassment. Assured by Dad O’Rourke that his is a non-litigious inquiry, the Brigham And Women’s Hospital representative agrees to cooperate. Files long classified 'sealed' are authorized to be pulled and opened (supervised, of course, by a staff attorney). Thus Dad is granted access to records he deems germane.

Tediousness in jargon-bound style notwithstanding, the cache of documentation proves utterly enthralling. By the time Dad leaves the premises he is privy to deeds so vile that he supposes Satan himself to have had a hand, or a hoof, in their perpetration.

Settled into the corner of an intimate North End restaurant—checkered tablecloth, bottle of Chianti, a slew of sling-slung sausages dangling overhead, smell of freshly grated Parmesan in a tug of war with garlic, dish of extra-virgin olive oil beside a basket of flour-encrusted bread—Dad unfolds the keyboard and tri-hinge screen of his Micro-Manager Module.

SRYME@JEANNECLAUDE.ET.NET

#2

UPDATE ON CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING AFOREMENTIONED 9 SEPTEMBER HOSPITAL STAY: STUYVESANT (AGE 10) DIAGNOSED SCHIZOPHRENIC. ANTI-PSYCHOTIC DRUG HALOPERIDOL ADMINISTERED. PATIENT MONITORED, RELEASED 23 SEPTEMBER. 30 SEPTEMBER READMITTED VIA EMERGENCY ROOM SUFFERING SHORTNESS OF BREATH, UNCONTROLLABLE MOVEMENTS OF HEAD AND NECK, BIZARRE FACIAL EXPRESSIONS, AND RAPID EYE BLINKS. HALOPERIDOL DISCONTINUED. 7 OCTOBER, PATIENT RE-RELEASED, TARDIVE DYSKINESIA-LIKE SYMPTOMS PERSISTING. MALPRACTICE SUIT FILED BY PARENTS. SETTLED AS PREVIOUSLY INDICATED. (NO OTHER REFERENCE TO THIS EPISODE, OR THE ILLNESS PRECIPITATING IT, DISCOVERED THUS FAR).

Dad interrupts his report to take a swallow of mediocre wine; "watery" is his assessment, therefore typical of vino in the States, if somewhat heartier than the vino he remembers from a visit to Venice, where he and Florence had honeymooned, replete with crooning gondoliers in the world’s most famous "sinking city," its irreversible submersion uncannily picturesque; would that all things aging, dissolving in brine, could disintegrate so aesthetically, his own dilapidated carcass a lamentable case in point, buttocks draped over thighs with the same flaccidity as paunch over groin, pectoral muscles swagged like a clothesline-hung brassiere, barrel chest and bandy legs resembling the physique of an American bison—self-deprecating, yes, but altogether accurate. Polishing off bottle one, Dad orders an aperitif.

Trim I used to be, when I cared, when the job demanded prowess, when Special Forces training (post Special Forces duty) extended my career, affording me a lifestyle of affluence based on risk, on perilous commissions whose ultimate success reaped sizable rewards, to wit: the farther I stuck my neck out the higher I set my fee, exacting the steepest retainer for selective assassination, a service I provided (at last count) thrice, each unique in circumstance, identical in outcome, with income in excess of three million dollars...

"Would I care to order? Not just yet. A scotch, however, neat, should nourish me through happy hour."

... funding both my courtship and subsequent marriage (an elopement, actually) with ill-gotten gains, or so they would have been judged by His Honor, father-of-the-bride,  a subscriber, by conviction, to the Law’s precise lettering, uncompromising, bigoted, and patriotically hypocritical, aware, as my father-in-law was, of this country’s counterintelligence organizations breaking the law as a matter of course, as a matter of international expediency, with the blanket justification of national security...

"Nope; just freshen this up, thank you."

... representing America, to the global community, as a nation ready, willing, and elaborately able to realize its interests by fair play or foul (let collateral damages fall wherever they may), out of sight, out of mind the USA’s most valued axiom; time and time again I argued with His Honor, citing covert actions as contrary to all the man held dear, asking how goodly ends (whomever defines them) when achieved by evil means (as defined by any law-abiding citizen) could be condoned...

"If absorption is the issue, I’ll have the prosciutto."

... what we do abroad considered immune, per se, to the rules we obey at home, implying right is relative and wrong is whatever pisses off the United States; plenty lately, uncooperative democracies far more irksome than complicitous dictatorships, friends distinguished by profits, you get yours so long as 'we'... by proxy 'I' get mine.

"Does such persistence ever earn you a tip? Veal scaloppini, then. And a bottle of Valpolicella."

Where was I? Muttering about my father-in-law, who didn’t want his daughter hitched to a "spy." Espionage was never within my purview; "Daddy" nonetheless insisted on that defamation. "Are you fraternizing with that spy again, Florence? Please desist." "Self-defense," he called it—any dirty trick our government thought to employ. Good enough for his country, not good enough for his darling little girl, regardless my denials of affiliation with agencies he defended publicly (yet privately reviled). I’ll never forget the look on his face when I compared "pre-emptive self-defence" (a concept coined and carried out during one of America’s most venial administrations) to shooting someone in the back whom you had a hunch was plotting your demise. "Apples and oranges" he countered; "democracy needs safeguarding."

"Ah, dinner. Plus a very decent vintage. My compliments to the steward. 'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.' Satisfied?"

God, with His Commandments, wrote the only code worth honoring. Laws can be negotiated, overturned, or conveniently rewritten. Sins, on the other hand, stay sins, from birth through Armageddon. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ allows no wiggle room. "Pre-emptive self-defense" like ‘selective assassination’ (my term) are euphemisms for murder, the killing of human beings with malice of forethought, clear and simple, nothing to plead but I did it (or had it done; an important distinction, since most killing people do is done secondhand) or I did not; the Lord will be my judge, the Devil His executioner, for surely misbehavior (past, present, and future) guarantees damnation...

"Make that an Irish coffee and I’ll double your gratuity."

... mine, that is. Unless the Pope reinstates Indulgences; ah, those were the days! Wipe the soul’s slate clean with a generous contribution to the Vatican. Presto; all is forgiven; welcome to Salvation. Paradise Lost regained for penitent folks well-heeled. Even for us rogues. For Dad O’Rourke, slurring his swan song, clearing his throat for one last Act of Contrition; 'Oh, my God'...

"Could this be the bill?"

'... I am heartily sorry...'

"Hope you take barcodes."

'... for having offended Thee...'

"Where’s my wallet?"

'... and I detest all my sins...'

"Here 'tis."

'... because of Thy just punishments...'

"There you go, Lad."

'... but most of all because they offend Thee, oh Lord...'

"I’ve me own pen, thank you."

'... Who art all good, and deserving of all my love' (well, apart from that owed Florence), 'I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace...'

"No, that’s for you, Laddie; I insist."

'... to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin...'

"You’re very welcome."

 '... Amen.'

Once plates and cutlery are bussed, Dad repositions his Module, squints at uniform rows of the incomplete report, skims to refresh his memory, and resumes where he left off (spelling errors and typos attributable to his blood alcohol content).

12 YEARS LATER, STYUVESANT, NOW A GRADUATE STUDNET AT MIT, BEGNS INTERNSHIP AT BRIGHAM AND WOMENNNNN’S CENTER FOR CLINICAL INVEXTIGATION.

(Two years I suffered twitches and ludicrous-looking grimaces. Can you imagine the stares, smirks, and taunts I received at school, all because some quack mistook my quirk for a goddamn mental illness? Sure I talked alone a lot—to Rockefeller, yes, my Siamese twin, from whom I knew, at the tender age of two, I was irrevocably ripped; and, no, I don’t have proof, other than a sense memory. Unless you count my ribcage-to-hip-bone scar, admittedly undetectable by eyes lacking true vision. Plain as day to mine, though, especially as a child, who learned, post BAWH, to keep secret his brother’s disembodied presence.)

EMPLOYD UNTILL 8 MARCH, HIS SECOND SEMESTER

(Which is not to say I had it in for Brigham And Women's Hospital when I later got a job there. In fact, the incompetent psychiatrist who misdiagnosed me had long-since departed— was peddling psycho-snake oil at a far less prestigious institution, some nuthouse, I was told, in the Lone Star State. Hence fate, not premeditation, provided my chance for revenge.)

3 JUNR, 2003, ALEXANDRA ALBRIGHT (AGE 12) ADMITTED TO BRIGHAM AND WOMEN’S HOSPITAL ER, TARNSFERED IMMEDAITELY TO INTENSIVE CARE, FRACTURD SKULL, SEVERE TRAUMA TO THE BRAIN, CAT AND MRI SHOWIING DIFFUSE AXONAL INJURIES, INITIAL COMA FOLLWED BY PERSISTNT VEGETATIVE STATE

Poor kid. Never should have happened. Or should have been played over, like my old man’s trusty “mulligans." Left handed, was George O’Rourke. Friend of his gave him a set of golf clubs for a righty, so George tried to adapt, resulting all-too-often in dubbed chip shots and little dribbler drives, after which a ball (from his pocket) would magically appear and drop in place of the one he'd just mis-hit. "Mulligan," he would call, if anyone was watching. Otherwise, he never let on, just played the stroke as if its predecessor never had occurred.

I can picture what befell poor Alexandra Albright, palling around with her school chums, waiting for the public bus, the tallest lad in class catching some flak from his cut-up buddies, "What’s the vista like from way up there(?)" or some such badinage, whereupon he squats, gives a nod to Alexandra (who clambers onto his shoulders) and just as the bus pulls parallel to the curb the lad (with his back turned) stands, lifting Alexandra’s head into the path of a protruding side-view mirror, her skull cracked open,  impact knocking the  lassie’s lights out... alas for the duration. ‘Mulligan', she should have called, or someone called on her behalf. Instead she lay, shortly thereafter, unconscious and totally helpless (eyes unable to see, ears to hear, nose to smell, tongue to taste, skin to touch) obliviously immobile... and tragically at the mercy of one opportunistic asshole named Stuyvesant Fink.

"No, you needn’t call me a taxi; yes, I can take a hint."

Dad refolds his Micro-Manager and vacates the corner he has monopolized. Steady as she goes, he navigates to the street. A gust of autumn wind infiltrates his open overcoat, rayon shirt and slacks pressed flat against his chest and knees, crisp Canadian-bred air slapping sobriety into his alcohol-flushed countenance.

Boston, fall in New England, smartest city on the east coast, prettiest season of the year. Should have brought Flo along. Never have. Not while on a job. Dangerous work, it can be... if uneventful this time.

Contrarily, trouble goes 'pop' like the proverbial weasel. Whispered face-to-face is the hackneyed phrase:

"Your money or your life."

Dad detachedly cynical,  
  the Black youth intense,
empty sleeves allowing him to aim through an unzipped sleeping-bag-like parka,
forty years of experience guiding the victim to weigh his options,  
  left hand reaching across his right, occluding the gun.
both hands idle, awaiting a mistake by his assailant—"Son..."  
  "I’m not your son."
"I’d advise you..."  
  "Shut up, Gramps."
—warning ignored,  
  misconstrued as a plea (the armed youth prone to hubris)
billfold surrendered from left breast pocket (the unarmed elder prone to patience), Dad determining that the thief is prepared to kill, if necessary,  
  the thief convinced his robbery will go un-resisted, shifts his focus fleetingly from target to proffered loot, thus triggers another cliché; his life, from birth to death, flashing before his eyes: (mother an addict, sister a hooker, brothers both ex-convicts, father anonymous)
this stereotype en route to padding a staid statistic,  
  (raised in the projects, dropped out of school, joined a gang, accrued in the process four arrests: shoplifting, drug possession, grand theft auto, assault with a deadly weapon, landing him in a juvenile detention center, a county lockup, and twice in state prison, all deterrents futile)
destined to commit, were he to escape Dad’s unexpected choke-hold, another dozen crimes. But Dad is disinclined to release his vice-like grip, applied with a dexterity that surprises his drunken self, having calculated accurately that his move could be achieved without a single round fired,  
  the gun in fact still clutched by a hand whose strength grows limp, as consciousness departs, muscle spasms wane, legs rescind support and collapse in a cradled swoon,
Dad conducting the corpse to its temporary resting place,  
  abandoned in the gutter like an unsung heap of trash.

"9-1-1 emergency."

"There was a young man holding an old man at gun point moments ago, corner of Hanover Street and Hanover Avenue. By the time your squad car arrives, you will find the former dead. I am the latter, and will drop by your District A-1 Station some time tomorrow to fill out an affidavit."

"Sir? Sir!"

Dad pokes DISCONNECT and pockets (with the retrieved billfold) his audio-only cell. Thirst renewed, he walks another block and enters an upscale bar. Scotch, straight up, in front of him, he contemplates the ease with which he just has killed, ended another's life (regardless how patently cruel that life may or may not have proceeded).

Homicide is a natural-world aberration, Man the only species that murders its own. Why, of all God’s creatures, does the one most like Him behave so misanthropically? If Earth is a proving ground for Heaven, such carnage perhaps makes sense. Otherwise...

Dad nurses his liquor.

... humans are largely a menace: builders who destroy, healers who infect, artists who deface their own creations, good and evil cancelling one another out like offsetting penalties.

Apropos, flags fly on an overhead screen at the bar’s sports-fan end. Bills versus Patriots, pro-football, Buffalo battling New England, “holding” called against the offence, “late hit” against the defense, down to be replayed.

Dad, retreating to a booth, orders a refill, checks the time, frisks his overcoat lining, locates his Module, and once more sets it up. With midnight fast-approaching, he forgoes phoning Flo to finish his report.

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