Chapter 22: THE REAL TEST
Pain. That was Hectors first conscious sensation, a dull throbbing pain in his head as though someone had brained him with a hammer and given him just enough dope to make it bearable. He was conscious of lying face up under the influence of the unknown drug with someone leaning over hima man in his early 40s with wavy black hair, light gray eyes and smooth, tan skin.
As the unfamiliar face and unfamiliar ceiling came into clearer focus, Hector tried to speak and found to his horror that he could only move his eyes.
"Weird, aint it," said the tan-skinned man. "Youd think that if you could move your eyes you could move something else. You cant though. But dont worry about it. The bullet only knocked you out. Musta been a weak powder charge or somethin cause it nailed you right between the horns, broke the skin and bounced off. Damnedest thing I ever saw."
He held up a hypodermic syringe with a milky-white liquid inside. "This is why you cant do nothin right now. Its only temporary. "Pretty soon youll be able to move your lips. A few minutes after that youll be talkin fine. Before you know it, youll be able to jump up and Kung Fu my narrow ass all over this bedroom if you want to."
Hectors mind leached itself to the word, "bedroom." That meant he was in somebodys house. The question was, what did that mean?
The slow, deliberate way the man talked was vaguely reminiscent of someone from another time and place. It was in such contrast to how Brandon Krouse had talked to him in his last indoor conversation that the comparison was inescapable.
Brandon Krouse. Was that it?
No. There was something about the voice itself that brought the little man to mindsomething hed said about Hectors miraculous escapes from death. But what in Gods name was it?
"I dont know if you ever got a good look at me but this aint the first time I pulled yo chestnuts out of the fire. I gotta admit I didnt do nothin this time till it was over. I think that guy I shot for you was about to pass out anyhow."
It's him! thought Hector, the trooper who pulled me away from those Guidos!
"Ah!" said the tan-skinned man, "you know who I am... And I know who you are. Youre the Bogeyman, arent you? I should have figured that out a long time ago. But who would have figured the host of "God" for a man-hunter?
"You know, you and me got a lot in common. My name is Clay, tooHector Clay. No relation though. I checked. Aint that somethin? Now how many people have you ever met named Hector or Clay? You wanna know how I found out about you?"
The host of "God," would have nodded vigorously if he could have. He had always lived by the adage that one coincidence in a game of chance is an accident but two is a plan. To the extent that his life had been a game of chance, this was one coincidence too many to be dismissed as an accident. Hadnt Krouse said something about that, about clusters of improbable converging events leading to preordained conclusions?
"Well," said the tan-skinned man, "I didnt know nothin about you till I got to Honduras. I was Regular Army, a medic with the 24th Infantry attached to the 82nd for assignment to your Division hospital. But there was a mix-up in my records and before I could say, Holy fuck, Batman! I was on a chopper with a bunch of crazy Airborne Rangers like you heading across the border. They was pissed. Kept askin me what I was doin withem. What could I say? Shit, I didnt know."
The tan-skinned man with the cold gray eyes and wavy black hair spoke in a mix of Afro and standard Midwestern English so precise, yet so inconsistent as to give the eerie impression that he was speaking with two minds.
"To make a long story short, the chopper dumped us out in the wrong clearing. As soon as it got out of sight we had Guidos comin down on us out of the jungle like Indians on Custer. They killed everybody but me and the patrol leader in the first ten seconds. Then they got him and I got the fuck out of there. I ran into the jungle right past two of 'em. I saw them but they was so busy breakin brush an talkin that shit they talk when they all excited that they didnt see me.
"I ran and hide and ran some more, all alone and scared to death. I didnt know where I was for two whole days or what I was gonna do . I had enough food for four days but I didnt know what I was gonna do after that. Im a city boy. I never went to jungle school like you guys. Hell, I never even been in the woods till basic training. Shoulda paid more attention to land navigation. Not that it made a whole lot of difference since I didnt have no compass. The only way I could ever tell direction was from what side of Woodward I was on and which way I had to go to get to Canada. Where else in the States but Alaska and Detroit do you go south to get to Canada? So you know what kind of trouble I was in.
"Then, I heard this commotionbuncha Guidos hollerin and shit like the devil was afterem. I snuck through the bushes to see what was happening and there you were in the middle ofem, kicking an jabbin, boppin heads and workin out with that bayonet like you had fo hands an two bayonets in each hand. Wasnt nobody sposta be as good in a knife fight as a Guidohad everybody thinking they was fucked if they got it on with one ofem hand-to-hand. Guess thats why some of you Ranger Ricks started takinem on the way you didtwo on three, three on five. But you! You! Man, I couldnt believe what I was seein. I bet them Guidos couldnt, either. Stupid muthafuckas shoulda shot yo ass up front. You was puttin on such a show I couldnt do nothin myself but watch till I saw you go down...."
As the voice of Hectors two-time rescuer trailed off, he felt the life returning to his body from the head down, as the other Hector said he would. He was moving his jaw now with a prodigious sense of relief and quickly gaining control over his lips and tongue.
"See," said the other Hector, noting the shaky movements, "I told you it would wear off."
Speech did not return as quickly as the Hector in bed would have liked, but his benefactor was well enough in tune to what he was struggling to say to answer him.
"Youre welcome," he said.
The second part of the message was more difficult to decipher, the strained long and short grunts of his first syllables doing more to muddle the message than to clarify it. "You wanna know, what? I cant make out...Oh, you wanna know what happened to me."
This time, the dark-skinned Hector in bed was able to manage something of a nod.
The man leaning over him straightened up. His face clouded over and his eyes began to drift like inflated balloons in an updraft. There was something odd and terrifying about it that the drug-shackled Hector wished he hadnt seen, something that made his bed feel more like a slab in the morgue.
"I died," said the tan man.
Somehow, the Hector in bed knew he was telling the truth.
For a long moment he said nothing else, the cloud over his face not lifting. "I went over, man. No heartbeat, no brain waves, no nothin. It was like them stories you hear about people leavin they body and lookin down at the doctors workin on it. Only the doctors werent workin on the body. They had gave up an was yellin for a orderly to roll it away so they could work on somebody else. There was a lotta fucked-up GIsand Guidos, too. The place was hoppin.
"The orderly that got my gurney pulled my dog tags and stuffedem in his pocket when nobody was lookin. I remember thinkin, hummm, why did he do that? When you floatin on the ceilin outside yo body you dont get emotionally involved in shit like that. But you do wonder.
"Along about then, I felt myself being drawn back into my skin like I was bein sucked into a vacuum cleaner. I never did see no long tunnel or bright lights or nothin like that before I went. I just blinked my eyes and I knew I was back.
"It took awhile for somebody else to see that I was back cause blinkin my eyes was the only thing I could do. Couldnt even rollem. But I could see whatever was in front ofem and I could hear everything. In fact, the only sense that wasnt working was my sense of touch. I couldnt feel a thing. It was probably just as well considering the big chunk of my skull that was missing."
Until that moment, the old scar running like a hockey stick under the left side of the tan man's hairline was virtually invisible. Now it seemed to dominate his features as he talk in that slow, easy cadence of his that would have reminded the Hector in bed of Mayhew had the other Hector not been so discomforting.
Something was definitely out of kilter with this guy and, with a dreadful sinking feeling in his stomach, the host of "God" was beginning to suspect what it was. Though he was sure he could speak more clearly now, he chose not to, judging that it would be unwise to reveal the rate at which the drug was wearing off.
"Yeah, buddy I was like you were when you woke up here, only I didnt have no headache and I didnt get no better for two whole years."
That distant look returned to his face. "You have no idea how educational it can be to listen to whats going on when the people around you think youre a house plant. For one thing, I found out what my dog tags were worth on the black market. The Guidos usedem for hilts on their fighting knives.
"The world changed a lot in those two years. The American Party took over the whole damn government. A Negro conservative turned white and got elected President. The people loved it. No more taxes; no more welfare; no more public schools; no more wars for anything stupid like keepin ordinary people alive and free on general principle. No more principles, period.
"The orderly that took my dog tags woulda fit right into President Leightons cabinet. It was like they say it was in the 1980s and '90s; the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, racism got respectable again and nobody in power gave a shit about anybody without power or money or both. Leighton made race change operations popular overnight. Toasties started usin Psyche Labs Iris Dye on they selves and they babies cause it looked like there wasnt gonna be no other way to get ahead.
"They was right.
"From what I could tell in my cocoon, the Army was the only place left in the government where competence meant more than eye color. But being a soldier in a country without principle is no better than being a hired assassin."
For one brief moment there was real life in the tan Hector's face and in his voice. Then he smiled a smile so cold that it seemed to freeze on his face. He continued in his old passionless form. "My own brother accused me of being a traitor to my people for fighting the white mans war in South America. Even if I coulda spoke, what could I have said? He was right. It wasnt like he was a black revolutionary or anything like that. My people were all successful business people in Cleveland, like yours were here in Detroit.
"I was a carpet man before I joined the Army. Family owned one of the biggest chains in the country. We started here, but we didn't get big till we moved to Cleveland and changed the name to Wonder Carpets. Clay Carpets just didn't get it."
Hectors heart thumped wildly with the mention of the word "carpet." He had no doubt that his fellow veteran of the Guido Calvera War was a carpet man, a shag man to be exact; the Shag Man.
"The only thing I sold was shag," he said as though grabbing the line from the other Hectors mind. "There aint nothin about it I dont know. Id be sellin it now instead of Elation if my people hadnt a sold out to Psyche Pharmaceuticals to pay for my hospitalization. Remember Leightons health and education privatization plan? Well, that was how it worked for us."
Hector recalled with a flash of anger how it worked for his family, beginning with his fathers decision to use their savings to pay for the education of their neighbors children. Then came the change in the patent laws that allowed Condor Industries to manufacture and market the toys and games his father invented without paying for the right to do it. It had cost the family the foundation of its fortune. The spate of accidents and illnesses and insurance cancellations that followed had cost his parents and siblings their lives and reduced his other relatives to poverty.
Shag Man continued without pause, "Course, the carpet thing would have had to wait till my recovery which didnt come till my whole family was either dead broke or just plain dead from fatal diseases and freak accidentslike that white guy with the Mercedes that got ran over in front of your house."
If Shag Man saw the wound hed opened with his off-hand mention of the dead Canadian, he didnt show it. "I understand the same thing happened to your family and the Foski family. There wasnt that many of the Foskis to begin with, so they might nota made nothin out of it. I thought it was interesting, though, that my folks and your folks and their folks all checked out within the first two years of Clarence Leightons first term in office.
"Condor happened to own the hospital and the pharmaceutical company that supplied the drugs I was treated with all that time. When the treatments stopped, I got better. Now, you dont suppose any of those things had anything to do with each other, do you? You dont suppose that anything like that happened to anybody else who might have done the urbs some good?"
The host of "God" suddenly understood what made Shag Man tick. The two old warriors with the same name were fighting the same war. With the drug pipeline to the Mayflower America and the Statue of Liberty America shut down, there was always going to be some spillover from the Middle Passage America. This was a descendant of Middle Passage Americans who had made it his mission to insure as much spillover as possible.
"Go ahead. I know you can talk now. Dont you have somethin to ask me?
Hectors first words began weak and ended strong. "Where is Vivian?"
Shag Man sighed, "Shes dead."
"Youre lying, said Hector, matter-of-factly."
"Why would I lie?"
"To test my reaction."
Shag Man smiled, sadly. "Youre right. It would have been better though if you had believed me."
"So I wouldnt have to put you to the real test."
A tingle of apprehension started in the pit of Hectors solar plexus and leaped to the small of his spine as he followed Shag Mans eyes to the other side of the bed near the top of his head. From the corner of his eye he picked up a motionless form. He had to crane his neck backward to see that it was a woman sitting stiffly in a chair.
It was Vivian Foski.
Hectors eyes bulged and the only sound he could make was a cross between an animalistic growl and a helpless grunt as he struggled to shake his chemical bonds.
"Relax, buddy. Shes not hurt. Just got a little more of that white shit in her veins than you do. Shes awake, though, and she knows whats goin on."
"Why are you doing this?"
Shag man gave him a puzzled look as he withdrew one of two, seven-millimeter pistols from his shoulder harness and cocked it with a loud double click. "You dont think that all this talk was idle conversation, do you. Its a document. Everything we say and do is a document. Dont you understand that?"
Hector wanted to tell the man that he didnt. But he did. He wanted to say that he thought he was crazy. But he wasnt so sure. He wanted to pretend that the gun was a harmless prop. But he couldnt. He wanted to forget that Vivian was in the room with them.
"I had a feeling that something big was about to happen when I had to shoot poor Jimmy. He was a good kid. Not too sharp, though. I tried everything I knew to help him get away. I even left him a ladder next to the fence. He never saw it. God knows I hated to ice that boy."
Hectors eyes moved with the barrel of the gun, which waved and jabbed and pointed like an orchestra conductors baton as Shag Man talked.
"But you know how it is when you have to keep discipline in an organization like mine. Rules is rules. You caint allow no exceptions. If you do, you lose your credibility. If you lose that, you have to do a lot more killin to let everybody know where the boundary lines are. An if you dont do that, you lose control of the organization. It either falls apart or somebody takes it away from you.
"That kid who called you about Ms. Foski here was the one I had to worry about."
Hector saw that Vivians eyes were open now and brimming with fear appropriate to a wide awake assessment of the situation.
Hector turned his attention back to Shag Man as he pulled the other pistol from his shoulder harness. "Did you ice him, too?" he asked.
Shag Man looked down on him with a face that said, dumb question, and didnt answer it.
"Jesse was a good kid," he said, "Smart, tough, responsible. But he had limited vision and couldnt be trusted with the extended reach he would have had as head of The Company. Jesse hated The Company. He thought it was just another violent, cocaine dealin street gang buying it for next-to-nothing from DZ drug stores and selling it to the burbies for twice the price. He wanted to take those stores outkill anybody bringin in it and burn them places to the ground. He couldnt see what difference it made that we didnt sell Elation to kids in the DZ that couldnt buy it from the government stores. All he could see was the lives it was wreckin wherever it ended up an the killin of our own we had to do to stay in business.
"We da biggest, baddest gang in the city. We got chapters in fifteen other cities around the countryand we have rules for civilized behavior that get enforced. Were the closest thing to law and order that any DZ ever had. If the feds found out what we were really about, theyd send in the Marines."
Shag Man nodded toward Vivian who was beginning to move her head and make unintelligible little noises. "Jesse thought I was going to kill her to keep her from testifying about Jimmy. It was the other one, you know, who saw what happened. He signed his own death warrant when he called you."
Hector shrank inwardly with the realization that he agreed with Shag Mans reasoning. He was like a General sacrificing a few of his soldiers to save an army. The boy whod warned him about Vivian had indeed been a threat to the organization. And the execution of Jimmy Cain was, in all probability, the most humane thing for the community that anyone with Shag Mans responsibilities could have done. Moreover, the boy had probably died happier than most, thinking that he was going to live after having suffered the worst he was going to suffer.
Hector shuddered as he cut his eyes back toward Vivian, averting hers as they met his. He wondered whether "the real test" that Shag Man had in store for him, would be similarly humane.
Vivian saw where things were headed long before Hector did. The tall, thin man with the guns was setting the stage for a drama created for posterity, like a politician posing for a campaign disk. Shed known enough time track engineers and seen enough raw time tracks of prominent and would-be prominent people to recognize the signs. There could be only one reason for all of the mans talk, the presence of her and Hector in the same room, incapacitated to different extents, and the two guns.
She listened to Shag Man spell out his two part plan to build up a drug empire with connections reaching to the highest level of government. That part of the plan was already in place. The second part of the plan was to bring media attention down on everybody involved in such a way that the whole country would fight backto knock out all the gun and illegal drug stores like Parmender's in the country. Try as she could, she could find nothing wrong with it, in theory.
"The problem has always been with the media," said Shag Man, as if to answer Vivians unspoken question. "I could never get the media involved the way I envisionedseein that Condor is really a branch of the U.S. government and Tenaka is as dangerous as they are. I had faith that God would give me the answer and it did."
"God?" asked Hector, not sure whether he meant the show or the deity.
"Yeah," said Shag Man. "You may not believe this, but a lot of people believe that God speaks through your show the way other people believe it speaks through the Bible. Notice I said it, as in physics. You know, matter, energy, motion and forceas opposed to He, as in omnipotent anthropomorphic spirit."
Vivians head spun at the ease with which her captor slipped from the "no mo" language of the DZ streets to the "omnipotent anthropomorphic" language of the university campus. She had known others who could speak both languages but none who went from one to the other so erratically. He was like a big league pitcher who combined an impressive repertoire of pitches with a motion so unorthodox and deceptive as to make each pitch utterly unpredictable. She had thought she knew what he was going to do with the guns, but now she wasnt sure.
"If you had your own FRED, we wouldnt have to guess how much of the bible is true. God would speak to us through a T-window instead of a book. Whats to say that wasnt the intent all along? Do you believe that a tool for learning the truth about God was meant only for the three governments and two international corporations who have it now and dont want to know the truth? When I see some of the things youve done with their time track leftoversthe way you put things together that nobody else would think of, has to be a part of a bigger plan than mine. Ive gone as far as I can with mine. If theres one thing I know about the plans of men and the plans of God, its that Gods plans always win out."
He handed the gun hed cocked to an astonished Hector Clay who hesitated long enough for Shag Man to cock his and point it at Vivian Foskis head.
Vivian closed her eyes so tightly they hurt and through the rising serf of terror pounding in her ears she heard herself, as if from a great distance, pleading for her life. "No," she whimpered, "Please, God, no." But, at the same time, another voice she recognized as her own, whispered calmly in her head: Yes. Thats what I thought he was going to do in the first place.
"Then again," said Shag Man, I might be wrong about you."
Hector sat upright in bed, stunned, infuriated and bewildered. "What the hell?" he said, hating the ludicrous, petty dishonesty of saying "hell" for the sake of Vivians feminine sensibilities while thinking, fuck! The truth was, he was only a fraction of what he appeared to be. The major portion was behind the camera in the form of Gail Parker and Vivian Foskiespecially Vivian. But contrary to Shag Mans image of him and the show there were areas of inquiry that no one on the staff would have dared to approach unless someone else took the lead. Why didnt he shoot the man when he had the chance? ..The man with his name who had saved his life twice.
If this was a test of his wisdom and integrity, the host of God figured that he had already failed.
"Dont blame yourself for not pulling the trigger soon enough," said Shag Man. "There were too many variables involved for you to sort them all out in the second or two you had to make up your mind. How do you kill a man who risked his life to save yours and got seriously fucked-up in the process? How do you know if the gun I gave you has a round in the chamber? What if the drug I gave you and Ms. Foski to keep you from movin dont wear off all the way like I said it would widdout somem else ta help it along. If you had 'a pulled dat trigga it mighta got both 'a yall killed. Besides, who knows where this is going?"
Hector wasnt surprised to feel beads of sweat popping out on his foreheadbut it did surprise him to see the same thing happening to Shag Man. The man was nervousreally, really nervous.
Shag Man licked his lips and wiped the sweat off of his nose with his free hand. His gun hand trembled ever so slightly. "This is it," he said, "Judgment Day. God told me this would happen, a choice between my life and an innocent civilian. Whether The Company survives or not depends on me. Whether I survive or not depends on you."
"Hold everything!" said Hector, pointing his gun at Shag Mans chest and putting up a stop sign with his other hand.
The only thing that can stop this," said Shag Man, sweating more profusely, "is the answer to a riddle that has no answer. Ive thought about this all day and I havent come up with an answer yet that isnt, her or me. If you dont kill me, Ill kill your friend in front of you. If you do, thousands of innocent people you dont know will suffer the consequences. And the one chance you got of bringin her sister on board with you goes away. Her sister works for Condor and Condor is where the power is."
By this time, Vivian had pulled herself together to a sufficient degree to feel as much shame as fear at the unheralded thought that she was more valuable to the country and more deserving of life than Mina was. Then, she felt something else that overrode the other emotionsanger.
"What makes you think that my sister would help you if you kill me?"
The strength and suddenness of her challenge, gave both men a wicked turn.
"Jesus, Vivian," said Hector. He had come as close to squeezing the trigger without actually doing it as a man could have and he could see that the same was true of Shag Man.
Shag Man rolled his eyes. "She wouldnt have no other choice," he said. "With you gone there wouldnt be nobody else who could do it. Besides, shed want to, cause thatd be the surest way to get me on death row."
Of course! thought Hector. Hes dead no matter what. He wants to make it count.
Shag Man sighed, "Im going to start count"
Hector cut him off before he could finish, "Dont give me that shit."
"Im going to start counting."
"Look," said Hector, "there has to be another way."
"When I get to four"
"I like to be different,"
"Jesus," said Vivian.
"When I get to four, Im going to shoot Ms. Foski."
"Unless I stop you," said Hector.
"Yeah," said Shag Man, unless you stop me.
Vivians bulging eyes shifted sharply to Hector.
"One," said Shag Man.
"I promise Ill kill you," said Hector
"Three," said Shag Man.
Vivian Foski closed her eyes and prayed.Back to top
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Contact the author: Jasper Garrison