Ron Mckenzie sat in the
Conley’s living room, his head in his hands. “I don’t know what to do. She’s getting more and more
involved with that church. I even went and talked to one of the deacons.”
Conley perched on the back of the sofa where his wife sat.
“And nothing. I mean
the guy was offended that I’d accuse them of brainwashing my wife. I think the guy’s on the level. Basically it’s
an alright church. He reminded me Christians are supposed to be on the offensive against the evil of the world…that’s
what he called it…and I agreed with him.”
“Yeah, well you had
to. I mean, we were part of that, too: carrying signs and all.”
“But not the way
Paige sees it. Not some great holy war we have to fight.” Ron rubbed his arms below his tee shirt sleeves, where goose
Pete shook his head. “I’m
sure it’s not that bad, Ron. When you guys came to church with us that time, she seemed so gentle. I haven’t talked
to her a lot since then, but Mary has, and—”
“And he’s right.”
Mary turned to face her husband. “Paige was here the other day. Something’s haywire. She talked about rifles and
Eric Rudolph and every other thing she said was about The Cause. She told me to stay away from that clinic nurse,”—she
glanced at Ron—“the one from Sorkin’s place. Said
the woman was being watched.”
I mean.” Ron turned to face the window. “I don’t know what to do. I’m sorry to put all this on you,
but I didn’t know where else to go. If we’d started going to church with you two, we probably wouldn’t be
in this mess, but she found that ‘Hope place’ and somebody there is messing with her mind.”
“I think, sooner
or later, she’d have had problems anyway, Ron. That’s why she sought out that church to begin with, and those
Ron turned his head, looking
back into the living room. “Mrs. Conley…Mary, what can I do? She had these awful nightmares. Walked in her sleep,
woke up screaming. But even that was better than seeing her now. I’m scared for her.”
Mary was looking at him
with pity in her eyes. It was too much. Ron leaned against the wall, his shoulders shaking with his sobs.
The phone connection was scratchy. “This is Amanda Stroh. I’m a charge nurse at Prairie Vista. Your brother has
been quite agitated and the doctor changed his meds. We just needed to notify you.”
“That you changed
his medications? Usually I’m told this at his staffings.”
see, he’s had a slight injury, too.”
“What injury? He
can’t even take himself to the toilet. How can he injure himself?”
“Well, after his
visitors left the other day, when we were getting him laid down for his afternoon nap, he cried out. His left index finger
seemed to hurt him. Today, it’s pretty bruised. Dr. Sorkin, I want you to know we reprimanded the aide. If you think
we should, we’ll fire her.”
Abraham’s throat tightened.
“The men who came
to see him. They said they were old friends of his. The morning charge nurse thought they were pretty young for that, but,
“Did they give you
“No, sir. I mean,
they didn’t sign the guest book, and they didn’t take him anywhere, so they didn’t have to sign him out.”
Abraham was sick to his
stomach. “What do you mean, agitated?”
“They were just talking
to him and he started yelling, thrashing around, trying to get the restraints off.”
not going to the hospital. It didn’t make sense. At the hospital they had belts on, or something. It upset his visitors,
too. They left.”
The waitress pocketed her
order pad in the apron tied over loose black pants. Her customer flashed a brilliant white smile, dimples showing in his tanned
cheeks, and she blushed and fingered her black mandarin collar. The girl hurried through a door where a man could be seen
spraying dishes and putting them into a dishwasher. Smoke, from years of cigarette-puffing patrons, had turned the white background
of the lotus-patterned wallpaper a dull yellow, and the stale smell hung in the room, mixed with the scents of spiced foods.
“Leave her a five
dollar tip and she’s yours,” said the man’s companion, heavy, balding, in his fifties.
“Ah, James, there’s
nothing wrong with being friendly. She said to help ourselves to the buffet. Shall we?”
James Wirth wrinkled his
nose. “In China, they eat dogs.”
Putting two fingers inside
his waistband, Robert Patton grinned. “How do you think I keep the pounds off? Three times a week at the gym and dog
every night. Come on, Wirth. Take a chance.”
Patton twisted in his chair
and stood, brushing at the creases in his pinstripe suit pants. He bent his head toward the buffet line, then looked back
at Wirth and grinned.
“Do you practice
doing that?” Wirth struggled to free his slacks from the cracked vinyl of his seat. Finally, he jerked the fabric and
followed Patton. “Smiling like that, I mean?”
Robert Patton ignored the
question. “Try some of this.” he dished out a generous portion from a metal tray in the steam cabinet. “Kung
Wirth wrinkled his nose
again. “I’m allergic to shellfish.”
Patton shrugged and lifted
the cover of another tray.
His companion poked at
a broccoli dish before ladling some onto his plate. “That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Because we took
a chance? If the hospital board ever found out you were involved in this, you’d lose your seat in a minute.”
“I don’t see
why you’re sweating, James. In my opinion, everything is fine. Before long, we’ll progress from eyes to limbs.”
Patton headed back to their
table where two sweating glasses soaked the paper placemats. Wirth placed his nearly empty plate on the table and laid his
napkin on the chair before sitting down.
“Fine? Out of five
transplants, two people have committed suicide.”
“Three. But think
of what we’ve learned. The medical team didn’t factor in the mental aspect, that’s all. It’s correctable,
and the loss factor is acceptable at this stage.”
“The thing is, Robert,
my friends and I are getting a little nervous. The cops have to be looking into that thing in Thornton.”
“James, believe me,
it’s being taken care of.”
“Well, I think we
need more than your word. We’ve had enough of that ‘need to know’ stuff. Now we really do need to know.”
Patton stared at the dragons
encircling his plate, planning his words. Finally, he took a deep breath, made eye contact and began.” Fourteen years
ago, a friend of mine at University did a paper for JAMA on the effects of the Holocaust on survivors’ health. He met
with a man who’d been a medical student during the war, interred in Bergen Belsen. A collaborator named Sorkin.”
Wirth’s mouth opened
as though to ask a question. Patton anticipated his reaction.
“Not the one you’re
thinking of. His brother, Saul. The Nazis did some studies on twins. Identical cell structure and all. Used one for a control,
experimented on the other, then dissected both of them.”
Wirth’s eyes widened,
he leaned forward, his shallow breathing making little wheezing sounds.
Wirth nodded and waved
Patton on with his story.
“Anyway, the whole
thing was overseen by a big-wig Nazi name of Mengele. Joseph Mengele. They had an idea of the DNA thing,
though their instruments weren’t sophisticated enough to really get into it. Still, they laid a foundation. When GI’s
liberated the camp, Sorkin snatched the experiment records and smuggled them out.”
Patton stopped and turned
over a mound of rice with his fork. Wirth watched him, bird-like, and Robert Patton felt a jab of irritation. He jerked his
head toward the plate of food that sat in front of the balding man, and held up his fork. They ate in uneasy silence Finally,
Patton took a gulp of tea, and wiped his mouth on his napkin.
decided to explore their…mutual interest. But Sorkin was concerned about his health; he’d been having memory lapses,
mood swings and stuff. He brought his younger brother, Abraham on board. Good thing, too, because now the old guy has Alzheimer’s.
Can’t tell you how to tie a shoe.
They realized they were
going to need money, and lots of it. Sorkin approached a few foundations but my friend had contacts in Central City, Vegas…you
understand? Big money. They let some little guys like you and me in, too, but we’re small potatoes to that kind of money.”
“How may people are
“What? In the whole
research…about twenty, I’d say.”
“And what if one
of them decides he doesn’t want to play our kind of ball any more?”
“You want to hear
“Sorry. Go ahead.”
“Anyway, they got
it to the trials phase and recruited some people off the transplant waiting list. Five of them, as you know. Everything has
gone according to plan. I mean, there have been a couple of setbacks but… We have a crack medical team, and they just
need those notes again, the ones from the camps, to compare with their findings. To fine tune things, right?
“The medical team.
That’s another thing, Patton. What about the old doctor? The Jew. Austin said he wanted
not getting, is it, James?”. “We’re taking care of it. The preacher is going to persuade him.”
“How do we know we
can trust him? What’s his name…Soudo? Sounds ethnic.”
Patton laughed. “We
can trust him because he likes nicer things than he’s born to, James. And, he’s come in handy so far. See, the
Pro-lifers think he’s a fanatic, in it to scare the old doc into closing up shop. But he set up that bombing to warn
the old man about bugging out on us, not to help out those Holy Rollers. Really earned his keep.”
He waved at the waitress
and she headed toward the table.
“Honey, can we have
the check, please?”
The girl scurried off and
Robert Patton sat back, munching on the shrimp tail sections piled on his plate. When she returned, he glanced at the paper
she handed him, pulled a twenty and a five from his wallet and stuffed it in her hand. Then he stood and led the way to the
Two cars , side-by-side,
were the lot’s only occupants. Wirth went straight to the Caddy, grasped it’s chrome door handle and paused.
“Patton, have you
ever seen that web site? It’s disgusting. Blood running down the screen…demons dancing in flames.”
“Yes, well that’s
why it’s so…opportunistic. Few people ever get beyond the index page, and if they do, they see the hit list the
group from Soudo’s church puts out. You’d have to know what you were looking for to find our…catalog.”
“What if Sorkin goes
to the police?”
“James. Get real.
He’s in up to his eyeballs, too. You really think he’s going to go to the cops?”
“I guess not.”
going to get his attention.”
“Not like Thornton?”
“See? You remember.
Sorkin will, too. Pro-lifers went just a little too far. That’s what the papers said. Police are still investigating.
If the Thornton doctor had listened to reason….”
have to kill anyone.”
“No. I don’t
think they intended to. But what’s done is done. And Sorkin knows we mean business. He’s not scared for himself,
but if he thinks innocent people might get caught...”
“Like the kid in
“Exactly. Then, after
we get the notes, I don’t think we’ll have any more trouble with him. We’re shipping Soudo out of the country.
Wirth opened the door and
got in. He started the engine, then rolled down the window and sat behind the wheel as though thinking of something else to
Patton walked over to the
turquoise car, rubbed his sleeve over a gold-plated mirror fitting, then leaned on the open window frame.
over, if Soudo does his job, there won’t be any strings left to tie us to anything. He’ll take all the heat, but
you know what the news will say? Another corrupt preacher, using his congregation to feather his nest. A thief, hiding behind
the honorable Pro-Life movement.
“And what if they
“The police? Not
a chance. Once he gets to Nassau, he becomes somebody else. Leonard Soudo is dead.”
“I don’t know…”
“Look, James, that’s
why we let Soudo in on this. The cops are looking for some radical anti-abortionist and your lily-white hands will stay clean.”