Look: things get stuck inside people asses, and somebody has to pull them out, okay? Sorry for losing my temper, but there’s no need to dance around the issue. It’s not a glamorous job, but I get paid ridiculous amounts of money to do something that’s usually pretty easy, is always interesting, and is something at which I consider myself a consummate professional. Let me just say, to clear the air, I have extricated some hilarious protuberances from the rectums of some very important people and not once have I even so much as cracked a smile. And no pun intended about the ‘cracking a smile’ bit, either.
The jagged and cylindrical abortions of the extremely unlucky and inordinately curious require a tender midwife, and I feel I have answered the call with poise and humility. But I did not come here today to defend my chosen occupation. I came here because I need help. And I think you can help me.
Don’t worry about the plastic bag right now. There will come a time when I will open it and you are going to want to panic, but for the time being, ignore the beeping and glowing and just focus on me. In fact, I am going to put it under my chair. It's the reason I have come, but before I can spring it on you, you are going to need a hefty bit of background to pad the shock.
Two weeks ago found me listening to your radio program and doing a routine surgical operation on a particularly high profile patient who I am not comfortable naming. This was not by itself unusual. My phone number as a physician is unlisted because I have more business than I can handle due to my presently unrivalled expertise in the craft of rectal excavation, and because my demand among the nation’s elite has, along with my career, reached its apex. You would be shocked and amazed if you knew how often members of the first estate require the care of an excellent emergency proctologist. When a situation arises that requires nothing less than the best of the proctologic field, I am informed via emergency pager by a trusted nurse, causing me more often than not to immediately hop on a plane with barely enough time to pick out a festive new pair of surgical gloves. Due to a variety of factors (discretion, whim, obeisance, competitive quality control) I frequently service my patients in their homes, making do with an operating theater that has the easy potential to be less than optimal. Usually all that can be found as audio accompaniment to my work is AM radio.
Take this however you like, but whenever I work and if I can find it, I like to listen to your radio program. Your voice relaxes me and your often very droll and stimulating speculation into realms of the supernatural and extraordinary does a good job of occupying my mind’s dangerous extraneous anxiety. And if I am pacific, my patient too becomes more relaxed, even sensing my peace if they are already unconscious. Sometimes a relaxed patient is all it takes to get the job done, if you catch my drift.
Anyway, there I was, elbows deep in one of our nation’s premier Hollywood bad boys, enjoying your thoughts on inconsistencies in the Drake Equation and hoping I would be able to get the video game controller out in playable condition as I had been instructed. The sharp angles and ridges, not to mention the expansive Batarang-like structure, were making things touch and go. We were in a vaulted-ceilinged, oak-and-red-velvet paneled dining room, and my patient’s moody valet insisted on observing the proceedings. I found this odd. Most rational human beings can’t stand the smell of proctologic spelunking, but I suppose loyalty knows no bounds. I did, however, find his occasional peals of laughter distracting. I was about to send him out to get me some sort of expensive French pastry, a banana éclair perhaps, when my pager went off quite unexpectedly.
My message service clearly warns those who have my pager number not to disturb me when I am working. It could be dangerous. In this case, my thumb twitched slightly out of shock and I must have pressed one of the buttons on the controller because I heard a zombie explode on the television in the next room.
No major damage done, but enough to irritate me.
“Could you see who that is, O’Neill?” I asked the valet.
“Just read me off the number.”
It was from my nurse. I decided to ignore it for the time being. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing. Not necessarily for me, but I believe our handsome celluloid superhero on the operating table would have considered my jittery hands a liability to his continued career.
After finishing up and giving my fingers and forearms a good herbal soak, I was ready to take my leave. My host begged me to stay, pleading for me to get high with him and play some Contra. However, after giving him a vague physicianly lecture on the importance of mindfulness in all of our activities, not quite pointing out that intoxication and pixilated distraction was probably what brought me here in the first place, I bid my good day and retreated to my awaiting rented sedan.
It was dark already, but that is no excuse. I should have noticed that something was amiss upon very first sitting down in my car. The driver-side seat was in the most forward position, causing my knees to graze my chin and my chest to inhale the steering column, giving me barely enough room to snake my hand down to the lever on the floorboard. It was strange, but it almost felt like there was something pushing against the small motor that moved the seat backwards on its tracks.
“How peculiar,” I said to myself, thinking nothing further of it. Rental cars always come with their individual idiosyncratic maladies.
I decided to find out what my nurse had wanted from me, now that I was otherwise unoccupied. I retrieved my cellular phone from my briefcase and made the long-distance call.
“What could possibly be so important as to bother me during surgery, Sinclair?”
“Ira? Thank God. I want you to hang up the phone with me, and dial the police immediately. Let them know exactly where you are. You are in great danger, and you would be in custody already if we had been able to find you all evening.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“Right after you left this morning, a man came to your offices that I have never seen before. He was....unsavory. A wretch. You could smell the insanity in him. I don’t know how he got past security downstairs, and I was just going to give him some money and send him on his way, but there was something about the wildness in his eyes that transpierced and transfixed me. He was looking for you, and when I told him you were away, he became very uncooperative. He had a gun, Ira. He forced me to give him the index card with the Los Angeles address of your latest patient on it. I tried to get in touch with you...but you know how your patients are. That phone number and street address are unlisted. He took the only copy we had. I tried everything, and I finally had no choice but to use your emergency pager. I don’t know why you won’t switch to a computer customer database.”
“I don’t trust them. Besides, computers can be hacked. And you know how cunning the tabloids have become. Listen, Sinclair...are Maddy and the kids alright?”
“Yes, they are fine. They are with your brother in Spokane. I drove them myself.”
“You are a good man. I am going to call the police right now and get to the bottom of this. No need to worry any further. This is probably just some desperate reporter trying to win a Pulitzer.”
“I’ll stop worrying when that man is encased in several miles of prison.”
“Let’s not let our imaginations run away with us.”
I was a big fat pot and he was a kettle, and I had just turned down his application to the Klu Klux Klan. Every pore in my body was excreting liquid fear. With plummeting dread, I suddenly remembered the resistance of my chair motor, and the oddity of my chair’s forward position. In my rear-view mirror, I thought I saw movement in the backseat.
“Sinclair, would you hold on a second? I don’t think I am alone.”
“Jesus Christ, Ira! The police! Call the police!”
I adjusted my mirror slightly with my trembling right hand. There was definitely something hominoid occupying the seat behind me. Those were definitely eyes. That was definitely an unhinged grin on a face that didn’t need any expressions to make it any more stark and unsettling. And that was definitely the barrel of a small firearm.
“I don’t think calling the police would be a very good idea at this point. I’m going to have to let you go now, Sinclair. My love to Maddy.”
It took me three tries to sufficiently stab the END button on my phone and silence Sinclair’s panicking digital squeals.
“Hello, sir,” I said. Anybody with a gun is automatically a “sir” to me. Human beings are slowly getting bravado naturally deselected from their genome, and I consider myself at the tip-top of the evolutionary ladder.
I turned around to face my assailant head on. It’s strange how sometimes you can’t smell something unless you see it first. It’s possible that I wasn’t able to smell anything until he opened his mouth to speak. Regardless, his odor hit me like a chunk of Gothic masonry to a Faberge egg. If I wasn’t a professional rooter through the foul orifices of the diseased, I wouldn’t have been able to cope. Imagine finding a colony of maggots enjoying the ripe and rotten remains of a cottage-cheese-and-tuna-salad casserole in your broken refrigerator, throwing up all over the writhing and festering dish out of shock, and then taking the entire brimming concoction and leaving it in your locked trunk in the middle of a particularly humid summer, allowing the maggots themselves to die, and your vomit to grow fragrant blue mold. It is a testament to my constant professionalism that I was able to keep my composure. I did, however, roll down a window. He seemed to understand.
I couldn’t tell what was filth and what was hair on his head and face. He was wearing a navy blue suit, and was probably either Mexican-American or Puerto Rican. He had never been handsome, but once, maybe not so long ago, he had been lucid and healthy. His eyes were milky-coffee colored, and they spun and fluttered like his consciousness was trying to escape but was bound by the glass confines of his will, like smoke in a mason jar. This was a man who had not slept or eaten for a very long time, in my medical opinion. He could probably be overpowered quite easily, but I didn’t like the way his hand kept tensing up around the trigger of his weapon. He knew his gun was all that gained him an advantage over beefy spry little me, and I could tell he would not be easily convinced into banishing the threat of violence from our impending hostile congress.
“You are the proctologist right? The best one, right? You do all the asses of the superstars, right cabron?” His voice was thick and throaty, but powerful. He would have made a spectacular nightclub emcee in the thirties. In college, if he had tried to sell me drugs, I would have bought them.
“At your service,” I replied.
“I thought you would be white. What kind of black name is Ira Witherspoon?”
“It was my father’s name.”
“Huh. It doesn’t matter. Your name could be Casper Whitington Palesman the Third and that would be alright with me. You got all your tools and equipment with you?”
“They say you are some sort of badass ass doctor. A proctologiant. Amen: that’s what I need. We are going to go somewhere private, and you are going to give me a free consultation. I got something inside of me, and you are going to get it out. If you fuck up, though, it’s going to kill you. If you fuck up, it’s going to kill me, too, eventually – unless I go to the government, and I ain’t going to the government. Hell, even if you don’t fuck up, it’s probably still going to kill us both. But you are going to get it out anyway, or die trying, because I say so. There’s more to it – but I don’t feel like talking until I get some food in me.”
“As exciting as this all sounds, I’m not staying anywhere in town. There’s really no place I can take you.”
“Then you gonna get a hotel room. Start driving: I saw a fancy place on the highway, and that’s where we are gonna go. I need to eat, and I want a comfortable bed. With the good pillows. You need to eat, too. You got to be in perfect condition for this shit. Trust me.”
The man needed medical attention, and I was a doctor. True, he was absolutely insane. True, all of my monkey intuition told me he was a killer and I was prey. But when you get right down to it, you either believe in the Hippocratic Oath or you don’t. I surprised myself: I’d always figured I was only in it for the money. Turns out I had a heart after all. Plus...well. He did have that gun.
“Uncle Ivan’s EZ Lodge, here we come.”
Let me just say that acquiring a room was awkward. Awkward to the point of rendering the entire downstairs lobby of a medium-large hotel chain completely silent. I’m not sure what exactly the clerk thought our intentions were, but I guarantee you his internal film was at least rated R. When we finally made it up the elevator and to our room, the nameless stranger pulled out a pair of leather handcuffs. Even I began to dread I was in for a Torquemada weekend. Speculate however you will about the sexual peccadilloes of proctologi; let me assure you that my personal tastes run to the sweet, boring, and Puritan.
“Relax. I just want to take a shower, and I can’t trust you to behave. If you think about it, you’ll probably agree that taking a shower is good idea. We are going to get pretty close once things get clinical, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been awhile since I’ve had a place to get cleaned up. Why don’t you order us some grub while you wait, and then I’ll explain everything.”
It sounded reasonable enough. Crazy guy wants me to order food while he’s in the shower. Here’s where I make my grand escape, or at the very least alert the hotel personnel as to my unwilling captivity.
Nameless bound my hands to the pay-television and then sequestered himself in the bathroom. The television was bolted to the ground with what looked like Lockheed-Martin jet engine linchpins. I wondered how often the Mafia also took advantage of this fact. As I searched for any way to free myself, I could hear Nameless making horrific loogie-hawking noises magnified to Niagra Falls levels by unmerciful porcelain. It sounded like he was trying to cough up his own kneecaps.
“Um, excuse me? How am I supposed to order food without a phone?”
“Ain’t you ever been in a place like this, Doc? You just use the TV menu. Punch in what you want with your nose if you have to. I want steak and eggs. Holler for me if they knock while I’m busy in here. They’ll bring it right up and it all goes on our tab. Eat good: it may be your last meal.”
The aggressive hiss of the high-pressure shower added dramatic punctuation to this last assertion.
I did as I was told, glumly, seeing no alternative. There was no option to just have somebody come up to your room ASAP. I considered ordering a single lemon, hoping it would arrive posthaste, but I immediately scrapped this bit of ingenious cunning, imagining what might happen if my machinations went sour and falling back on an old dictum never to trust the service industry at any cost. Eventually, I ordered him the Ropin’ Gropin’ Farmhand’s Mornin’ Platter, and myself the Captain Dainty’s Melba Toast Explosion, with a side of pecan fritters, a jug of coffee for the both of us, a bottle of Jack Daniels (just in case), a bucket of ice, and a Colossal Fruit Basket (whatever that was). He was out of the shower and dressed almost as soon as I completed keying in the eleven-digit security numbers with my elbows. After freeing me, he picked up his gun and took a seat in one of the leather recliners, suggesting I do the same.
He smelled...better. Tolerable. Like the stench had been driven back into its hole by a freak cloudburst and put to sleep by the rain’s soothing cadence.
“I need coffee before I start yapping at you, so just sit tight.”
Bored, he snatched the television remote from the night stand and flipped through all the channels several times, growing increasingly disgusted. With one hand holding a lethal firearm and the other a television remote he shook and strangled like the last desert island jackrabbit, dangerous confusion seemed imminent and I prayed for our food to arrive. Eventually it did, without incident. We both began to eat and he began to talk.
“Alright, patient’s history time. First things first. I’m not crazy. I’m not a schizoid who haunts the countryside kidnapping medical specialists and forcing them to operate on him to feed a sick hypochondriac power-trip. I got a college degree, even. That’s like, a get-out-of-crazy-free card, right? I’m not a particularly nice guy, I guess. But I used to at least be respectable.”
“I turned forty a month ago. I don’t have any family, really – but my mom and dad are still alive and they depend on me for money. So that means it’s time to go see the GP and get me a check-up to keep my insurance company happy. There I am sitting on the table in a paper pixie-suit when my whole world turns to shit.”
“I’d been going to the same doctor for ten, twelve years, pretty regular. Dr. Jim Spivey. Anyway, he’s feeling around on my abdomen, pressing down hard with the tips of his fingers, when all of a sudden he stops, and grunts, and then he says he feels something irregular. There’s some sort of lesion or hard encrustation in my bowels and he wants me to have it checked out by somebody more knowledgeable about internal medicine before he signs me off as 100% healthy. But he knows a guy, so it won’t be too big of a deal for me. He isn’t freaking out, seems pretty calm and reasonable, so I don’t freak out either. I take the business card of this other guy and make an appointment for the next day right there in Dr. Spivey’s office.”
“So the next day there I am in this proctologists office, naked as a Polynesian howler monkey, not particularly excited about what’s about to happen, but resigned to my fate just the same. He comes in, immediately tells me to turn over, and starts making polite chit-chat, obviously unaware he has just reached inside my anus with a giant gnarly old hand and is having himself a hell of a time exploring the recesses of my deepest inner sanctum. Without taking a close look at his hand before it went into my crap factory, I could now tell that his middle finger was both his longest and his most in need of a fingernail clipping.”
“The joke’s on him, though. He’s feeling around like a guy trying to get a coke out of a vending machine without paying for it, when all of a sudden he tenses up real tight – I can feel it – and he starts making choked, sickly gasping noises. I instinctively try to scramble off the table, but the procto has grabbed something inside of me and won’t let go. The pain almost knocks me unconscious, because whatever it is, it is wider than my sphincter. It’s a miracle I didn’t rip out my colon or something. Anyway, finally, after an agonizing couple of seconds, the procto finally lets go – POP - and collapses to the floor.”
“I start screaming. A nurse runs in. Turns out he’s dead. Heart attack. But I got my degree in electrical engineering, and I know exactly what happened to him. He took direct current straight to his heart, stopping it like a thunderbolt to a Timex. I could smell the burning hairs on his forearms. But he was old, he had a history of heart trouble, and nobody asked any questions. My better judgment told me not to volunteer any information.”
“I should have said something right then, but I was in too much shock. I would have just created a criminal dilemma, and I hate cops worse than I hate doctors.”
“That’s when the dreams started. That’s when I stopped sleeping. I also stopped bathing. Not for any rational reason. I’d been taking baths all along without turning myself into human toast. I simply decided it was probably a good idea to avoid immersing myself in water until I found out just what exactly was going on. It seemed smart not to push my medical luck. Since you didn’t hear me just now frying like a Florida Death Row granny-strangler, I guess I was being paranoid. God, I needed a bath.”
He shuddered and swished around his cup of coffee, sniffing at the dregs. He uncracked the bottle of whiskey and filled his mug up to the top. Probably smart. If he didn’t start drinking of his own accord, I was going to suggest it. There was no way he was going to let me put him under. Once you pass a certain point in sleep deprivation and your mind has exhausted its normal bag of tricks to get you to shut it down, it normally takes some pretty strong atypical antipsychotics to get you centered enough to even consider rest.
“Anyway, every night afterward I started to have the same dream. I was a flashlight in the woods and I couldn’t turn myself off. It sounds weird, but it was scary as hell. There were wolves all around, and demons, and I simply couldn’t make myself turn off, because, you know, I wasn’t a person – I didn’t have fingers – I was a flashlight. So I’m just hoping that my batteries will run out, but I know they won’t because batteries only run out when you don’t want them to, and all the time, the wolves are getting closer, and the demons know where I am, and they are going to find me...”
He knocked back his grainy black coffee-whiskey and poured himself a clear fresh cup.
“Did you know that it is actually possible to will yourself awake? Not just wake up out of shock or fear – but to actually will your brain to stop dreaming and experience consensus reality again? Let me tell you, Doc, it’s about the most painful thing there is. It’s like reaching down and tearing the skin off your own leg in a big sweaty patch. You can do it, but why in God’s name would you want to? Your brain feels all raw and chewed, and you start getting loopy – thinking in big, crazy circles. Well, Doc, let me tell you: I started willing myself awake every time I fell asleep, because that dream was so terrible. It was the demons and wolves. They were not human. Not even imaginary. They were something alien my mind was only able to handle by replacing them with things I understood. My brain chose the things that used to scare me most when I was a kid. My brain wanted me to submit. But I knew it wasn’t really a dream. I really am a flashlight, Doc, and it really is the woods. And you got to pull my batteries out.”
“Sometimes a flashlight is just a flashlight,” I said. He ignored me.
“I stopped sleeping altogether after about a week of tossing and turning,” my penitent continued. “That’s when I put two and two together. So I scheduled another visit with a different proctologist, this time with somebody who had been around. I had some friends in the army, and I had them recommend me somebody who had seen military action. Somebody tough.”
He stared at me with big, bulging flapjack eyes. It was like somebody was stepping on the neck of a Chihuahua and the head was just about to pop off and go whizzing round the room.
“My friends thought I was starting to, you know, go nuts. Unmarried workaholic engineer: it’s time for him to snap. My best friend Billy actually thought it was some sort of gay S&M fetish. You believe that? Anyway, eventually I extracted a phone number from them and met up with The Sandpaper Quaker down at his office in the 5th ward in Houston. They called him the Sandpaper Quaker because he had Parkinson’s disease and his hands were notoriously rough. But he would do whatever you wanted - for money - and he was grim as old Jack Death. I told him my situation, and he said he would take a look. For 3 grand.”
“Keep in mind, by this time I was starting to turn a little bit sour smelling, and I was not at my tightest and most lucid. Now that I think about it, The Quaker was probably just trying to get rid of me. It almost worked: that money was my retirement nut. But I had to sleep, and the thinner I got, the more I actually felt something buried inside my abdomen. My time was running out. There’s no do-it-yourself home proctology kit, and I think any doctor with his AMA card paid up would have nodded politely and then had me taken away by the cops.”
Too true. That’s what I would have done.
“But I had the money, and he was a man of his word. Ummm...are you going to eat that last fritter?”
“Thanks. Since I had warned The Quaker about what had happened to Doc Spivey’s man, he was a whole lot more cautious. He got out this heavy duty speculum with a long snaky video camera, and he wore a full-body rubber jumpsuit. It made me feel good, like somebody believed me. But it didn’t matter. He was only subterranean for ten minutes when my ass began to buzz. I felt this very strange muscular contraction, all the lights went out, and the Quaker started to scream. It was painfully high pitched. He whistled like an industrial tea kettle. I rolled over on the examination shelf and looked behind me. His head was on fire. He fell down to his knees and then he hit the floor. I could hear the sickly crunch of breaking face, and then everything went dark as the fire extinguished. I ran out of that place as quick as a man with two feet of video equipment dangling from his innards can. The video cable got caught on a chain link fence, but I was so scared I didn’t even slow down when it ripped its way out. Later, in a bar, I saw on the news that The Quaker was as dead as I suspected. He had inhaled a rare compound gas – Tuuoxine - and while it was crystallizing in his lungs, his own carbon dioxide ignited it and blew apart his chest and trachea from the inside. His bloody sternum fragments collected inside his body-suit, thankfully sparing me the grisly memory of his disemboweling. I assume the gas also reacted explosively with the fluorine in the lights. For some reason, I was okay.”
“My buddy Billy was on the news, too. He was pleading for me to turn myself in. Despite the good luck of my survival, my fingerprints were everywhere. There was an exhumation and an autopsy of my first doctor. I was a wanted man, now. I swear the amount of helicopters in the Houston sky tripled.”
“Which brings me to today’s debacle. Now you see why I had to kidnap you. And now you see why you got to help me.”
He looked at me expectantly.
“Look,” I said. “You are going to have to be more forthcoming if you want help. And don’t be cryptic. If you are telling the truth about what has happened, which I doubt, and if you are even slightly sane, which I also doubt, you must have some kind of theory, at least. You are holding back. Look at it like this: before I examine your guts, you’ll have to spill them.”
He sighed deeply and clutched at his head with both hands. The gun was now pointed at the ceiling. Now was my chance to spring and Battle Him to The Death. But after listening to him talk, I was more curious than afraid. I think it must have been the influence of your Wednesday “Ten-Minute Improbable Problem” segment. You don’t shoot the comedian before the punch line. How do you keep a moron in suspense? How do you keep a moron in suspense? How do you keep a moron in suspense?
“Aliens,” he said. “It’s aliens. I know it is. They must have gotten to me when I was sleeping. They must have left something behind. A tracking device. You have to help me, Doc. Or die trying. I’m not going to the government. I refuse.”
“Like extra-terrestrials or like migrant farm workers?”
“Why would migrant farm workers implant me with a high-tech tracking device that defends itself violently against all attempts to remove it and then wait for me to discover it by accidentally killing a few quacks?”
“Maybe you are an unwilling drug mule. Maybe whatever is in your posterior is guarding a few pounds of Bolivian flake cocaine, and you want to hustle your American contact. I’ve got to tell you, it’s a whole lot more likely that Paco and Miguel are responsible than Zanzar and T’lok Nor Nath.”
He started crying right then – sobbing like a broken-hearted twelve-year-old girl. I reached over to pat him on the shoulder out of sympathy, but he jumped out of his chair like an electromagnetic tiddlywink, and the gun was back in my face before I could even remember what Bruce Lee looked like.
“I’m ready,” he said, his eyes suddenly very clear and very dry. “I don’t care what you think. Let’s get started.”
He took off his pants in one sudden movement, straddling the easy chair and lifting up his flaccid penis.
“You’re going in frontwards like I’m giving birth. I’ve got to keep the gun on you. I can see that I can’t trust you very much.”
I shrugged, opened my bag, and rolled up my sleeves.
“I suppose since I can’t persuade you to reconsider your options, we should at least do this logically. First off, it seems like it would be a good idea to use the rubber gloves and not the latex.”
I snapped them on.
“Second, I think we can assume that Tuuoxine must be lighter than air, and that’s why you were not affected by the gas. Your head was below your waist in patient position number forty three, was it not?” I mimed the position with a hand gesture
“Yeah, my ass was all up in the air like that. That’s true.”
“Then I suppose I will have to drop into a rather undignified crouch for this procedure. Now. What other fatal scenarios can we foresee besides electrocution and aerial poisoning?”
“I don’t know. Dynamite? Nanobots? A Teflon hunter/seeker dart?”
“Hmmm, not much we can do about those except remain flexible. Speaking of, you are going to have to open a bit wider.”
“Okay. How’s that?”
“Fine. I’ll just bend this lamp around to give me some light, and then we begin.”
“Just like that? You’re ready to go? No lube?”
“Try to hold still.”
Let me stop right here and just say that he was either deliriously sleepy, or he hadn’t thought about this very much. Forcing someone to perform medicine at gunpoint is usually a bad idea. Especially a proctologist. The most powerful nerve clusters in the human body are located in the nether and genital regions. I had an entire Anatomy 101 textbook full of options.
Thrusting one hand deeply into his anus, I used the other hand to plunge a butter knife into the interior wall of his sphincter, and then neatly kicked away the gun as it fell out of his hand. Every nerve in his body went critical neon red before his neo-cortex could catch up, and he began to howl in agonizing, atavistic agony. Thinking fast, I cold-cocked him with the ice bucket. He fell in a shallow stupor to the floor. I wiped my working hand on his shirt.
“Tough luck, Nutbar.”
I was trying to decide what to do next when I began to hear the beeping. At first I thought it was coming from the TV, but I quickly ruled that out by unplugging it and registering no change. It began to grow in rate and volume. Was it a cell phone in my unconscious captor’s pocket? Half of me was interested in investigating further, but by this point, the other half was merely interested in making my escape and leaving further investigations to the authorities.
I picked up the gun from under the bed and made sure it was loaded and the safety was off.
The beeping was definitely coming from Nameless.
“No, it couldn’t possibly be true. And yet…”
I put my head against the ample belly of the snoring Latino. This was truly the origin of the short, shrill beeps. And they were getting faster.
That settled that. Time to get the hell out of there.
I was halfway to the door when the man regained his consciousness. I had figured the sleep I had given him would be lasting and welcome, but he seemed to have other ideas. He stood up carefully, and then slowly looked down at his belly with growing horror.
“You sure are.” I raised the gun and pulled the hammer back.
“Why am I beeping?”
“How the hell should I know? Don’t come any closer.”
He reached around behind him and pulled out the bloody, shit-encrusted butter knife.
“Doc, you have to help me. I don’t feel right. I think you did something to me when you stabbed me. I think I’m dying. There sure is a lot of blood.”
“I’ll admit: it wasn’t my cleanest work.”
He took a step forward. I shot him in the leg. He fell to the ground, alternately blubbering and screaming. I think he was praying. The beeping became a deafening, pulsating siren, rattling the windows and making my teeth hurt. I opened the hotel room door and quickly stepped outside.
Nameless reached for the door with his full length, one leg tucked underneath him in a convulsive, cramping manner.
I shut the door behind me.
There was the sound of what could only be a small, localized explosion. I held my breath. Silence. And then, faintly, I could make out the sound of a gentle, arythmic tapping – but no screaming. No sounds of further carnage and destruction. A bell-hop came running down the hallway, brandishing a walkie-talkie. I suddenly remembered that my fingerprints were all over my orange juice glass, among other things. I pressed my back up against the closed door, crossed my legs, and tried to look nonchalant.
“Is everything okay in here, sir?”
“Wonderful. Although, the biscuits were a bit dry.”
“Do you want me to take your cart away?”
“NO. We’re not finished. I’ll bring it down myself.”
“Very good, sir.”
He walked away, shaking his head, muttering quiet gibberish into his walkie-talkie.
I took a deep breath, and stepped back into the room.
Nameless was dead, that much was clear. His glazed eyes stared at me from the floor like angry marbles. His lower half looked like an exploded bag of microwave popcorn. Feces, eggs, warm flesh, steak, coffee, and ropy intestines made the hotel room’s sleepy kitty-cat wallpaper somehow deeply disturbing.
Instead of wiping down everything I had touched in the hotel room, I merely grabbed the plastic bag out of the tiny trash can and started tossing contaminated items into it. I’d studied a little forensic pathology when I was a resident, so I was thorough. I could still hear that tiny thumping noise coming from somewhere, but I was trying to reach a Zen state of total awareness and avoid having to think about what had just happened, so I just let the sound pass through me without giving it much attention. There would be time for all that later. Right now, I just wanted out.
And then I saw it.
I’m going to open the plastic bag now. Here’s where I pass on what I found to you.
Here, you can hold it in your hand. It’s safe. It was beeping and glowing just like it is now, except it was hovering in mid-air with a trail of smoke and flame behind it about the intensity of a roman candle. It was tapping against the ceiling vent the way a trapped fly smacks itself repeatedly against a closed window. As I watched, it rotated itself in mid-air and zeroed in on me. I yelped. It kept rotating, though, finally pointing itself at the hotel room door. A door that I had left partially open. It was going to escape.
If you’ll notice, the shape it most closely resembles is that of an expensive female marital aid, perhaps more commonly referred to as a “rocket cock.” Maybe the sheer absurdity of its appearance is what lent me my bravery as I stood in a slippery pile of the entrails of its last victim and decided to make a heroic grab for it as it passed me by. It started to accelerate, and then I nabbed it, tossing the plastic bag over it and cinching the bag tight.
“Got you, you little bastard,” I said.
It fought back, but I was quick and I was smart. I tossed the bag into the bathtub, slammed down on the hot water knob, turned on the bathroom vent, and shut the door on it. The bathroom lights flickered. I heard the crackle of discharged current and the room began to smell like a toy I once bought for my niece called The Amazing Talking Robot that danced around and blew noxious smoke rings when you pushed a button on its forehead. “I am the Amazing Talking Robot,” it said: “Please give my best wishes to everyone.” Not today.
Eventually, I got a hold of myself and went back in to claim my prize. I splashed some water on my face, picked up the inert bag, and split. I phoned Sinclair and told him not to worry. I told him the man had been caught, but that I wanted to take my vacation time early and do a little soul-searching and stock-taking. He’s one of those crystal-rubbing New Agers and he claimed he understood completely. My wife and I often take separate vacations. It is the professional’s prerogative.
And now I am here. For the past two weeks I have been scanning the local papers, making sure the police are sufficiently baffled, and trying to forget. But the weight of my knowledge is just too heavy. I thought, who do I know in Los Angeles who won’t think I am totally, irreparably insane? More importantly, who do I know in Los Angeles? Your name popped into my head, and your gate was open, and I recognized you working in your garden. Don’t question my fear of the law – I am black, and this is Los Angeles. So I am handing this over to you. Surely you have contacts in the underworld, or know people who study this sort of thing rigorously. I just want to be rid of it, and I have realized that I don’t particularly care what it is or where it came from. You are always ranting about government cover-ups and conspiracies –here’s your chance to get a leg-up on the competition.
Don’t try to follow me. My name isn’t really Ira Witherspoon and you are already an accomplice. Trust me, just study the object and try to forget about its origins. I can be dangerous if I want to be.
And, you know. Watch your ass.