Listening to the Words
By Joseph Jordan
Part One of Two
As doctors, we
can be proud of the advances made in
medical science. Our
ever-increasing knowledge of
the human genome, along with the
nanotechnology, has enabled us to cure many of
most insidious illnesses; however, we must
never forget that we
treat people, not diseases. We
must be careful what we promise to
our patients. High
hopes and expectations, even in this age of
wonders, can often lead to disappointment.
Care in the New Age”
Medicine –- October Issue, 2048
thought I was pretty lucky getting a black judge for my case.
though I’m white as a sheet, I figured a black man would take
on a poor, deprived fellow like me. I’d come from a broken
and had to put up with a lot of shit as a kid. My mother had been a
part-time hooker, fulltime drunk. She’d gotten her kicks from
slapping me around. When I turned thirteen years old,
Child Protective Services took me away. As for my father? Well, I
hope he’s having fun, whoever the hell he is.
defendant will rise for sentencing.” The judge’s
through the chamber.
stood up, but my attorney had his head buried in his arms on the
counselor, we’re on.” I nudged the guy with my
hand, trying to
wake him before the judge looked our way.
attorney groaned and raised his head. His eyes were bright red and
his hair was a mess. He’d told me earlier about this great
he’d gone to last night.
much for public defenders.
D’Andrea.” The judged turned away from his computer
terminal. He gave a disapproving glance at my lawyer before continuing.
have entered a guilty plea to one count of selling intellectual
property in violation of Maryland Criminal Law Article 8-611.”
count, huh! I got caught selling a single Interactive Content Cube
to an undercover policewoman. If the cops had bothered to search my
apartment, they would have found hundreds of blank cubes and a
voice-activated, high-speed digital transfer system. I had quite a
scam going. A friend of mine had hacked the databases of a large
entertainment content conglomerate. He downloaded petabytes of
material and turned it over to me so I could make copies and sell
them on the black market. I pulled in quite a bit of money from
those sales, enough to buy a fancy automobile and plenty of sex
the defense have anything to add before I pass sentence?”
. .” My attorney rushed through some papers on the table and
glanced at me to see whom he was defending. “Yes, your honor.
We’d like to call your attention to our memorandum.”
judge tapped away on his computer’s touch-monitor till he
is my client’s first offense.” My attorney had
the strength to stand. “He has confessed to the crime and
cooperated fully with the court. We have drawn up a monthly payment
plan to cover the fine and court costs. Therefore, we ask that the
court consider our suggestion for probation and community service as
an alternative to jail time.”
offense -– what a laugh. Fortunately, in Maryland, juvenile
records could no longer be subpoenaed by the District Courts. As a
teenager I’d bounced back and forth between juvenile
centers and foster homes so many times I’d felt like a yo-yo.
offense?” The judge shook his head in disbelief, as though he
stamped all over my face. “Mr. D’Andrea, according
presentence report, you’ve been given all kinds of
yet you have done nothing with your life.” His finger scanned
the computer monitor. “As a virtual orphan, you were entitled
attend any college in the state for free, yet you dropped out of high
school. You have no job. The state even provides you an allowance
to help with rent and utilities.”
judge frowned. “You’re a leech on our society, Mr.
D’Andrea. Still, the probation office recommends no jail time
as well. Since
this is your first offense, I’m almost obliged to follow your
glanced at the computer monitor again. “Seems you like
automobiles. A completely restored Firebird. Air conditioning. Media
content system. Navigation system.”
Damn! The probation officer
accessed my insurance records when
writing the report.
don’t know where you get the money to afford such luxury, but
not allowed to speculate. However,” and the judge’s
face lit up
with a devilish grin, “I am allowed to do whatever I deem
to enforce the sentence I pass down. Therefore, Mr. D’Andrea,
are hereby ordered to one year probation, starting immediately. During
that year you will perform ten hours of community service a
week at. . .” He read over my attorney’s report.
“. . .the
South Baltimore Group Foster Home for Boys. There you will report to
orphanage? Geez! I hated kids. What was my attorney trying to do
the judge continued, “and during the year’s
impounding your automobile.”
my wheels!” I almost jumped towards the bench, but my
grabbed my arm.
judge stared at me, daring me to raise my voice again. “Let
make one thing perfectly clear: if you don’t do as Ms.
tells you, or you violate the terms and conditions of your probation,
or you are convicted of any other offense over the next year, then
you will serve eighteen months for this crime.”
judge banged his gavel.
much for throwing myself at the mercy of the court.
group foster home was way down in Curtis Bay, over an hour bus ride
from my apartment in the Baltimore Highlands. Ms. Harding
an old croon as I’d expected. She was a young woman with
brown skin, a pudgy but cute face, and a pair of the biggest boobs
I’d ever seen outside of porn content.
must have noticed me eyeing her over. “Buster, you better get
those eyes back in your head, and if you ever think about letting
your hands wander where your eyes have been, I’ll cut your
much for first impressions.
am I going to do with you?” Harding rubbed a hand through her
and sighed. “The court’s gonna have to convict
better people if
they think they can help me.” She glanced over her shoulder
group of kids playing on a swing set behind the home. “Right
need someone to watch the children here while I see Mr. and Mrs.
Rathchild. They’re here to talk with Jimmy Kramer. I think
might adopt him.”
smiled briefly at the prospect of little Jimmy being picked up by
some loving, all-American couple. Her smile faded quickly when she
looked back at me. “It’s only for a couple of
minutes. You stay
here and make sure none of the children get hurt on the
tried to tell Harding that kids and I don’t get along, but
through the back door and into the house before I could get any words
out of my mouth.
shuffled closer to the swings, checking out the place as I went. The
whole group foster home was a mess. The building was as dirty and
run down as the rest of the neighborhood. Most of the windows had
cracks in them, or patches where whole sections had been broken out.
The paint had peeled away in so many places I couldn’t tell
color the siding should be.
a rotten place to raise kids. Why weren’t the boys placed in
foster homes? Even the social workers handling my
case had managed to find unsuspecting couples to take me in.
I watched the kids playing, I noticed something weird. One of the
boys had braces strapped to each leg. Another boy had only one arm. A
third kid was sitting on the ground, his head lolling back and
forth, saliva dripping from his mouth.
had I gotten myself into? This place was a goddam freak show!
boy with the bobbing head suddenly reached into his trousers. When
he pulled his hand out it was all brown.
the. . .” I turned towards the house. “Harding!
out here! Now!”
continued screaming until Harding hurtled through the door.
going on here?” She stopped in front of me.
at this!” I pointed towards the kid on the ground with his
in his pants.
am I going to do with you?” she said to me,
ignoring the kid playing with his own shit as though he did it every
day. “Don’t worry about him, we’ll clean
him up. But you -–
man! -– I only asked you to look after the children for a few
other boys gathered around Harding, staring at me as though I
was the freak.
lady, I don’t like kids and they don’t like me. So
I suggest you
keep them away from me.”
fine. I don’t want you near them anyway. I don’t
trust you.” She patted the head of one boy who had walked
over to hide behind her
skirt. “You can do the cleaning. And you can help Martha with
glanced at her watch. “Damn.” Her frown sank even
must have had a million things to do around the foster home. I
almost felt sorry for the bitch.
I really need is someone to take David to the hospital for his
therapy.” She looked at her watch again but still
what she saw. “Think you can handle that? He’s just
fifteen years old. He won’t give you any trouble. Just take
to the Weinberg Institute up at Franklin Square. The bus will be
here in ten minutes.”
thought about telling Harding how much I hated buses, but I
think she would care. “Sure. Where’s the kid
I found the third bedroom on the right, I knocked on the door.
“Yeah. Come on
door creaked something awful as I opened it. I looked around,
surprised that the room was clean. Three beds sat against the wall
to my left, all of them made with the covers tucked under their
mattresses. Along the right wall I saw shelves covered with plastic
space ship models. A skinny boy stood next to the shelves. He was
holding one of the models in his hands.
David?” I asked.
boy’s hair was cut short and actually missing in some spots,
otherwise he looked okay. At least I didn’t think he would
his hands down his pants to check out his own shit.
are you?” David cocked his head like a confused puppy.
am none other than Antonio D’Andrea. But don’t you
ever call me
Antonio. You have to call me Tony.” I walked towards the
shelves. “I’m here to take you to the
placed the model he’d been holding back on a shelf.
figured Ms. Harding was busy.”
scrutinized each of the boy’s models, trying to decide
not I approved of his collection. “You like toy space ships,
aren’t they?” His face almost glowed as he
stared at the shelves.
peered at David from the corner of one eye. “Yeah, neat. I
thinking just that.”
picked up a large, silver colored model. It looked like some kind of
satellite with big black flaps sticking out from the front and back.
“Now this is neat.” I held it and studied it.
“What the hell
laughed. “That’s the old International Space
Station. It was
built at the beginning of the century.”
one’s my favorite.”
kid, we gotta go.” But I did like the model David lifted and
before me. It was sleek like a jet fighter, all smooth with a
needle-shaped nose and a fuselage that fanned out to form delta
wings. It was painted dark blue, with few features showing on the
skin. “Hey, that’s the AeroSpacePlane,
ain’t it? I saw it on
television not too long ago.”
the LM-ASP-1. I hope to see a real one someday. Ms. Harding says
she’ll take me to Edwards Spaceport as soon as she can. I had
wanted to be an astropilot when I grew up.” He got a dreamy
on his face, his mind traveling far away.
we’re all ready late.”
boy snapped out of his trance. “Yeah, okay. Let me grab my
watched the boy’s shoulders slump over.
“Hey,” I said, “maybe
you’ll become a -– whatever type of pilot you
returned the AeroSpacePlane to its shelf. He caressed the plastic
surface. “No, I won’t.”
shrugged. “Suit yourself.” I opened the door.
of the reasons I sold stolen media content was to buy a car, so I
wouldn’t have to ride the damn Baltimore buses. But there I
standing because all the seats were taken, rocking back and forth on
a bus whose computer-controlled suspension had gone on the blink.
you travel this route every day?” I almost fell over as the
hit a large bump.
few times every month. Usually Ms. Harding brings me. Sometimes a
person like you shows up. Those people never stay. Will you be at
the home for long?”
I hope not.”
took us almost forty minutes to get to Franklin Square. The Weinberg
Institute was a hospital specializing in cancer, so I knew whatever
was wrong with David couldn’t be good. Once inside, the kid
through hallways that stank of medicine and antiseptic. We entered a
room with a sign above the door that read ONCOLOGY
in large, blood-red letters -– whatever the hell oncology
David waited to be called, I took time to watch the female nurses
walk by. I thought about how long it’d been since
I’d been with
a girl. Almost three years. Lucy was her name. She wasn’t
great looking, but she moved like a mink in bed. When she turned
eighteen, she decided there was no reason to give herself away to a
pimple-faced guy like me when she could make good money with her
body. So, she picked up her prostitution registration card, kissed
me goodbye, and strutted off to find her fortune.
much for true love.
when I turned to sex drugs. Orgasmo-tablets, cum-drops: whatever
you wanted to call them. Great stuff. They gave you the feel of sex
without having to put up with a girlfriend’s yakking mouth.
Unfortunately, the damn things cost as much as a girlfriend.
nurse came over and told David the doctor would be ready for him
soon. While I’d been watching the girls, David had been
through magazines on the waiting room table.
looked at me with a smile.
wrong with you, anyway?” I asked.
heard of that before, back in high school when we learned
about diseases. If I remembered right, leukemia was one of the bad
ones. “What do they do to you here?”
giggled. He must have thought I was an idiot. He opened his jacket
and began unbuttoning his shirt. Before I could ask him what the
hell he was doing, I noticed a large bandage on his chest, right
above the heart. He pulled back the bandage to expose a –- a
hole! There in the skin of his chest was a small hole, surrounded by a
metal ring that looked like one of those old-style headphone jacks.
I gawked, David calmly explained, “The doctor fills me full
drugs through this catheter.”
kind of drugs?”
smile left David’s face. “Drugs that
don’t make me feel so
put the bandage back in place and buttoned up his shirt.
wasn’t sure what to think. “These drugs gonna cure
shook his head. “I’m not responding to the
that mean?” I moved closer to him, lowering my voice.
dick ain’t gonna fall off, is it?”
smile returned to David’s face. “No, nothing like
patted the top of his head. “But I’ll probably lose
the rest of
doctor came up to the doorway. She was a tall, older woman, with
hair as white as her smock. “David, you can come back
tapped her fingers against the doorframe as she waited.
stood up, but I tugged at his arm.
David, what do the doctors say?”
walked towards the doctor, turning his head just long enough to say,
“I have about four months to live.”
felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach.
. .about four months to live. . .
don’t know how long I sat there staring into space with my
hanging open, but after a while I felt saliva rolling down my chin. I
closed my mouth and leaned back in the chair.
years old and the kid knew when he would die. No, there was
something wrong with that. Fifteen-year-old boys were at the
beginning of their lives. That was when you’re supposed to be
happy. You should be finishing school soon, looking forward to
driving and moving out on your own. Girls were starting to look
shouldn’t know you’re going to die in four months!
stood up and began pacing. I couldn’t breathe right.
I told myself. He’s just some kid you met an hour ago.
Fifteen-year-old boys die all the time.
they don’t usually know
they’re going to die. What do you do when you only have four
months to live? Of course, you sit at home and collect plastic
models of spaceships.
had this crazy idea that I should do something. But they must be
doing everything they can, all these doctors with their twelve years
of schooling, their millions of dollars worth of fancy medical
equipment, their three-hundred-thousand-dollar salaries and their
kicked one of the waiting room chairs so hard it almost tipped over. A
couple of nurses passed by and gave me a strange look, but I
care. I just kept pacing.
calmed down a little before David returned from his treatment. His
face looked pale and his eyes had lost their humor. He walked to me
very slowly, as though he had to concentrate before making each step.
this how his last four months would be?
me, sir!” David’s doctor had to call me several
times before I
noticed her. “Will you be accompanying David back to the
give this to Ms. Harding.” She handed me a funny looking
her we had to increase the antineoplastic dosage today. We
administered an antiemetic drug before the procedure, but he may need
more tonight. Tell Ms. Harding to give David one dose if he feels
ill. The computerized dispenser will give him the precise amount.
wh-what’s wrong with David. I mean, I know he’s got
but can’t you do anything to keep him from dying?”
a moment I thought the doctor would tell me she didn’t have
talk, but she must’ve seen genuine concern in my face.
has a particularly resilient form of acute lymphocytic leukemia. He
just doesn’t respond well to any combination of drugs we can
up with. Usually, in cases like David’s, bone marrow
solve the problem. But David has no living relatives to donate the
marrow, and it’s almost impossible to find suitable donors
rubbed my face, amazed at the difference in David before and after
doctor placed a hand on my shoulder. “I know it’s
understand. Right now we’re just trying to prolong his life.
any luck, he’ll soon be sent to the Microgravity Hospital at
saw my blank expression. “The Hope Space Station,”
heard of that
they have a new treatment up there that could save his life. But I
don’t have time to tell you about it. Unfortunately,
the only child in Baltimore suffering from a disease like this. I
have more patients to see. Ms. Harding can tell you more.”
walked away, leaving me with David. I couldn’t imagine seeing
several kids like David every day, waiting and watching as they
dropped off, one by one. I guess the doctor was stronger than me.
put an arm around David’s shoulders. “Ready to go,
looked up and smiled, a feeble attempt to show me he was okay.
pulled him close as we walked through the corridors.
much for modern medicine.
promised, I had a chance to help cook and clean up afterwards. When
I finished putting the last plate away, Ms. Harding thanked me for
taking David to the hospital. “Did it go okay?” she
shook my head. I
tried to come up with a smart-assed remark, but
just couldn’t think of one.
know.” Harding sighed. “It’s tough.
I’ve been dealing with
David’s ailment for three years.”
years? Man, what’s going on? Why can’t they cure
the poor kid.”
a long story.” Harding looked exasperated, the way I must
looked when listening to the doctor. “They give him certain
and the cancer goes into remission. . .”
-– uh, goes away. Temporarily. Then it comes back, but the
that made it go away before don’t work anymore. So the
give him stronger drugs that make him feel worse, and the leukemia
goes away again. But it always comes back. This time. . .”
stared at the floor and let her voice trail off.
boys came into the dining room with crayons and coloring books. They
climbed up on chairs and began coloring on the table. One boy had
hearing aids attached to his ears. I couldn’t tell what was
with the other fellow, but I knew all the boys at the group home had
some kind of handicap. They were Baltimore’s forgotten
children: the orphans no family wanted in their home –- not
much less permanently.
Harding touched me on the arm. “Come with me.”
went into the living room. Harding curled up on the couch and I sat
in an old armchair opposite her. Springs dug into my ass, but I
didn’t say anything.
mother died in an auto accident about five years ago. Then David
came down with leukemia. His father couldn’t handle it alone.
When the doctors told him his marrow was unsuitable for transplanting
into his own son, he killed himself. David’s been here ever
all he does is build model spaceships?”
but he loves it! He loves everything about space. He reads all
kinds of books and magazines. When he’s not building those
he’s glued to the Internet on the only computer we have here,
surfing for one space-related thing or another. He sends letters to
the NASA astronauts. David doesn’t know it, but I always put
short note explaining his condition along with his own letter so the
astronauts will be sure to send photos.
really enjoys building and painting those models. I try to buy him
one every once in a while, but the things are so expensive.”
wasn’t enough that she had to look after twenty boys with
three regular staff members. Harding also spent her hard-earned cash
on the kids. My opinion of the woman was changing rapidly.
keep telling him I’ll try to get him to Edwards
continued, “but I haven’t been able to scrape the
speaking of space, the doctor said something today about the Hope
Space Station. She seems to think David could be saved if he went up
got a treatment
that can genetically alter the bone
marrow. But the procedure can only be performed where there’s
how the hell does a kid like David get up there? It must cost a
does. David’s on a list to be sponsored by the federal
but the list is long.”
slammed my fist on the chair. “Dammit! Doesn’t the
dying matter at all?”
down, Tony.” Harding rubbed her eyes. She looked too tired to
keep talking. “All the people who go to the Hope Space
seriously ill or dying. But the station is small, and they take
patients from all over the world.”
don’t know. The whole thing stinks.”
is another possibility, one we’ve been working on for over a
year. There’s a charity organization that sponsors one child
months for a trip to the Hope Space Station. It’s sort of
lottery. We haven’t won. . .”
turned to see David standing at the bottom of the stairs in his
pajamas. He was holding his stomach.
gonna be sick. I need. . .”
he could even finish his sentence, David puked on the hardwood floor.
Yellow liquid gushed all over the place. It took a lot of
concentration to keep from throwing up myself.
no!” Harding jumped from the couch. “I’m
out of anti-nausea
shit!” Harding’s remark jogged my memory.
“I forgot. The
doctor gave me some medicine for David.” I ran to the kitchen
grabbed the little bottle with its strange looking dispenser on top.
cleaned up David and let him rinse his mouth out with water. Then
Ms. Harding put the dispenser up to David’s mouth and sprayed
stuff inside. He felt better about a half hour later –- at
he stopped making those terrible heaving noises. He still looked
like a cat that had been run over by a truck.
the time we got the living room floor cleaned and David tucked into
bed, it was late.
guess I’ll stay here the night,” Ms. Harding said.
I had a
feeling she did that a lot. “How about you? Got a way
looked at the clock and cursed. “The buses cut back after
o’clock. It’ll take me about two hours to get home
an extra bed in one of the rooms upstairs.” Harding smiled
weakly. “Afraid I get the couch.”
much for a good night’s sleep.
weeks later David had another visit to the hospital. Ms. Harding
took him this time. It made my skin crawl to see David after his
treatment. I spent enough time with him to know how he should be. To
see him limp as a noodle, eyes glazed over. . . I couldn’t
I hoped to bring him back to life a little with a gift. That morning
I went to a toy store and bought a model rocket for his collection
The damn things were too big to steal; besides, I
wouldn’t appreciate the gift so much if I picked it up that
David,” I called out when he returned. “Come here.
something for you.”
ambled over to the kitchen table.
a big grin on my face I pointed to the table where the box sat. Damn
if I didn’t feel like Santa Claus himself.
bit of David’s spirit returned as he inspected his new toy.
“Wow.” His voice was weak, but I knew the
enthusiasm was there. “It’s
the Chinese Jianghu
heavy-lift vehicle. It can carry a hundred thousand kilograms into
you don’t have this one all ready, do ya?” I
which models David owned. I simply asked the salesperson for the
biggest, most impressive space ship they had.
no.” David turned the box around to review the instructions.
“I’ve read a lot about them, though. I’ve
always wanted it.”
Harding gave me a kiss on the forehead. “That was a sweet
do. How can you afford something like that?”
ask.” The model cost over three hundred bucks.
much for common sense.
Harding caught me that evening after I’d finished washing
dishes. “I’d like to show you something.”
led me to a small den where a computer sat in the corner. It was an
antique model, probably donated by some geek twenty years ago. At
least it had high-speed Internet access.
is the website for that charity I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.
It’s called Hope for the Children.”
sat in front of the computer, fumbling at first with the mouse
first time I’d had to use one of those things in a long time.
for the Children had started about five years ago. Every quarter a
panel of judges went through a list of children recommended for the
trip. Anyone could enter the name of a child for consideration, but
the board had strict guidelines on who could be entered into the
drawing. The child had to have an illness or injury that could be
treated only in the microgravity environment of the Hope Space
didn’t know what microgravity was until I followed a link to
definition. Apparently, if you went high enough above the Earth,
your body would be weightless. There’d be no up or down, and
things would kind of float around in the air. They used to call it
zero-gravity, but some wise guy pointed out that there is no place in
the universe where there is no gravity. So another wise guy said
fine, we’ll call it microgravity.
another web page I found a digital image of the Hope Space Station. The
thing looked strange, like someone had thrown a bunch of railroad
boxcars into space and welded them together with large pipes. Much
of the station was devoted to medical experiments and treating
patients. Those parts of the space station were called the
man.” I clicked on another link.
at Hope for the Children, the names of all the candidates who passed
the panel’s inspection were placed in a computer and chosen
random. The winner received a fully paid trip to the station. The
last person to win was a U.S. senator’s son who’d
with burns from an automobile accident. Doctors had developed a new
method to graft skin that could only be done in microgravity.
I guess this kid really needed help, but more so than David?”
looked over at Harding who’d been watching me read.
know. It doesn’t seem fair.”
senator’s son, no less.”
followed another link to a web page listing all the kids
chosen by Hope for the Children. I recognized half the names. The
kids’ parents were either famous, or rich, or both.
much for random drawings.
the bottom of the home page I found a photo of James Watkins,
director of Hope for the Children. Under his smiling face was an
address where you could send tax-exempt contributions.
Harding, you’ve been wasting your time with this charity. The
whole thing’s a setup. They receive donations from the rich
choose one of their own. It sucks.”
Harding started crying. “I know. But what else can we do?
time I keep thinking they’ll come to their senses and pick
likely.” I stared at the monitor screen with
smile. “I’d like to strangle that
tried calling him.” Harding blew her nose into a handkerchief.
sure that did a lot of good.” I continued staring at the
hate building inside me like a bomb ready to explode. “When
the next kid be picked for the trip?”
think it’s next month.”
noticed an imaging unit attached to the computer. I clicked the
key on the keyboard, pleased to see that the unit still worked. A
hardcopy of Watkins’ face and the address to his charity spit
information could come in handy.
tiptoed into the bedroom, trying not to make any noise on the
hundred-year old floor. I crossed the room, passing the three beds
where David and two other boys slept. I opened the closet door and
reached for the top shelf. Like so many other nights, I was staying
over at the group home. Only this night it was cold in the other
room where I slept. I couldn’t find any blankets there, so I
thought I’d try David’s room.
found a thick, wooly blanket and pulled it from the closet shelf. A
large cylinder-shaped object behind the blanket caught my attention. It
was a plastic model, one that looked familiar. It was the Chinese
heavy-lifter I’d given David earlier in the day. But no, this
was completely assembled and painted.
looked over at the table next to David’s bed. In the dim
saw the model that I had given him, now only half built.
be damned,” I whispered. David did
have that model, but he’d hid it away so I wouldn’t
put the blanket back in place. It wouldn’t kill me to sleep
cold for one night.
next time David had an appointment for his treatment, I talked him
into running some errands with me before going to the hospital. We
grabbed a bus headed for East Baltimore. On Hoffman Street, the bus
lurched to a halt.
is our stop,” I said to David. After stepping off the bus I
grabbed David’s hand. “This way.”
crossed the street while the sign said DON’T
pissing off motorists as their pedestrian-avoidance systems detected
our bodies and brought their vehicles to a screeching halt. We
continued up Hoffman Street, dodging the cardboard-box homes of the
city’s less fortunate residents. This area was the part of
Baltimore the mayor and his Office of Community Investment would
rather you didn’t know about.
we safe up here?” David mumbled as he struggled to keep up
pace. We stepped over a body that may have been sleeping or may have
kid, just stick with me.”
we traveled, the buildings became more decrepit. We rounded a corner
into a residential section where only black people lived. We stuck
out like sore thumbs around here, but everybody ignored us. White
people came up this street for one thing only, and that’s why
found Tammy where I’d expected her to be, two blocks away
back of Greenmount Cemetery. She saw me coming and turned her back. Her
multi-colored shawl flew through the air as she turned.
come on, baby,” I said, “ain’t you glad
to see me?”
tilted her head my way. I could barely see her eyes through the
strands of straggled hair. “I got nothing to say to
on, Tammy, you know you’re the only love in my
the crap.” There was no humor in her voice. “Man,
you are hot. Whatcha doin’ up here so soon after being
arrested? You bring any
bug-eyes with you?”
was the newest nickname for the police. The name came from the
night-vision equipment they wore after dark.
Tammy, you worry too much. I got picked up for one little
misdemeanor. They caught me selling one of my cubes.”
grunted as though she didn’t believe me. Then she saw David.
“What’s with the kid?”
a friend. He’s okay. Look, all I need is some
after sex drugs again?” She finally smiled. “You
I need coke.”
“Cocaine? Gonna cost
got the money. Give me two bags.”
reached under her shawl and came out with two one-gram packets. I
pulled out three hundred dollars.
uh.” She shook her head.
dropped my hands to
my sides. “Damn, Tammy, would you believe
the stuff’s not for me? I’m actually gonna do a
a good deed?” She laughed, but then she looked at David. Her
expression turned solemn. She could tell David was suffering, almost
as though she could see the leukemia inside his body. “You
gonna. . .”
it’s not for him. But I’m trying to help him
closed her eyes for a moment, the numbers clicking away in her mind.
“Tell you what. Another two hundred will get you the coke and
I don’t know. . .”
when’s the last time you had a good orgasm?” She
hand against my crotch.
don’t want any of those. . .” My voice trailed off
as I stared
at David. He was standing on the edge of the curb, shuffling his
feet nervously. I knew he felt out of place in this neighborhood,
away from the safety of Harding’s group home. If he had his
he’d be sitting in his room with those damn space ship
kid had nothing else to live for. He needed something more.
you talked me into it.” I passed Tammy the cash and she
the merchandise. “Ciao!”
grabbed David by the shoulders and steered him in the direction we
needed to go.
have a bus to catch.”
David,” I said while rocking back and forth on the bus.
kid looked up at me.
ever been with a girl? I mean, really with a girl. In bed, you
giggled. “Tony, I’m only fifteen years
dumb question. You ever play with yourself?”
forget that. What I’m trying to tell you is, I’ve
pills that’ll make you feel like you’re with a
glanced around to make sure no one was watching and pulled the packet
of tablets from my pocket.
lowered his voice. “Aren’t those things
but don’t worry about that.”
don’t want you to get into trouble.”
won’t. But I think you should try these.”
stared at me for a moment, not sure if I was serious. “Uh
uh.” His mouth puckered up like he’d just eaten
something sour. “No, I don’t want to do
it feels real good.”
it wouldn’t be real. Sex should be something special between
people who. . .”
you sound like a damn preacher!”
passengers turned around to glare at me. I crouched down in my seat
till they turned away.
David continued. “Being with a girl would’ve been
shrugged. “It’s too bad I won’t have a
don’t say that.”
it’s true. . .”
closed his mouth and moved closer to the window, away from me.
felt like a heel. The kid was so brave. He’d come to grips
death, something most of us couldn’t even bear to think
here I was trying to rip down his wall of strength. Dammit, I
want him to feel bad, but I wanted him to fight.
probably should’ve kept my big mouth shut at that point, but
so helpless. “Listen, David, I can’t explain what
it is now, but
something wonderful is going to happen soon. I promise you.”
continued staring out the window. I couldn’t tell for sure
the noise of the bus, but I thought he said, “I doubt
Charlene finally arrived at the coffee shop, she barged through the
door like a tornado.
dripped all over the floor while she searched
for me. The other customers stared at her.
much for being inconspicuous.
sloshed up to my table and grabbed a chair.
day you picked.” She dropped her body into the chair with a
“Sorry. Forgot you hate
a matter of a fact, Charlene hated everything. She had been a friend
of my ex-girlfriend, Lucy. I had tried to make a move on Charlene
after Lucy left me, but Charlene made it clear that I disgusted her.
Still, we remained friends. I kept her supplied in drugs because she
didn’t like buying the stuff out on the street, and she
she didn’t do a damn thing for me.
now. I had always believed it would come in handy having a secretary
for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore as a friend.
Charlene, you got the information on Hope for the Children, or
but why the hell are you interested in this case?” She pulled
plastic pouch from beneath her raincoat. “Do you realize how
trouble I’d be in if someone caught me accessing files from
waitress stepped up to the table. “Can I get you something,
gaped at the waitress and almost panicked.
yeah,” I intervened. “A coffee for my friend,
waitress wrote down the order and headed towards the kitchen.
will you calm yourself. . .”
don’t understand, do you?” Charlene’s
eyes remained wide open,
like a wild animal backed against a wall. “These documents
from the main Department of Justice database down in D.C. I’d
to know how you even knew
about this case.”
guess. Relax, I got something special for you today.” I set
packets of cocaine on the chair next to hers. She snatched up the
case is really strange,” she said.
this case is never going to trial.”
rolled her eyes. “How would you
the guy being investigated is a friend of the Attorney General. Hell,
he’s friends with almost everyone in Washington.”
how long has the case been open?”
two years. A complaint was registered by one of those citizen groups
that watch over non-profit organizations.”
“Right. And how many
times has an agent
from the Justice Department been
over to talk with the director of Hope for the Children?”
opened her mouth to object, but closed it. She’d read the
knew I was right. “But what is your involvement
stood up and grabbed the pouch. “I’ll tell you
about it another
time.” I tossed a five-dollar bill on the table.
waiting lounge at Hope for the Children headquarters was spacious and
nicely decorated. Real leather chairs, oriental rugs, oak paneling. I
wondered how many kids could be sent to the space station with the
money spent on this lounge alone.
Harding sat next to me, fidgeting with the camera hanging around her
don’t worry about it.” I leaned back in the chair,
two-piece suit Harding had found for me was ready to rip along most
of the seams. “You know the bastard deserves it.”
know.” She continued staring ahead.
receptionist strutted up to us. She was one of the cutest brunettes
I’d ever seen. Her smile melted my heart. “Mr.
Watkins will see
led us down a long corridor that gave me ample time to admire her
curves and the way they shifted as she walked. Eventually we arrived
at a pair of wooden doors that opened automatically as we approached.
Inside, Watkins greeted us.
yes, the people from the Baltimore Sun.” He offered me a hand
I forced myself to shake. Ms. Harding’s hand trembled as she
accepted his handshake. I hadn’t wanted to bring her along,
thought we looked more legitimate as a two-person crew, and Harding
was the only person I knew with a decent looking camera. Besides,
she had a car, and I had dreaded the idea of taking public
transportation all the way to downtown Washington D.C.
receptionist departed and Watkins offered Harding and me seats across
from his desk.
sat down in his own chair, adjusting his tie in anticipation of a
photo session. “The Washington Post comes over frequently for
interviews and statements, but your news media company has never
shown an interest.”
of things happen in Baltimore,” I said. I pretended to
the computer-tablet I’d been carrying. “So, tell me
do you believe your friendship with the Attorney General will keep
the Department of Justice from charging your organization with tax
evasion and fraud charges?”
sat perfectly still, examining me with his blue eyes while trying to
think up something to say.
sorry,” he finally said, “what are you talking
threw the stack of
papers Charlene had given me onto the desk in
front of Watkins. “We know about the case that’s
been open on
you and Hope for the Children over the past two years.”
flipped though the printouts and then pushed the stack back to me.
“This case was not to go public. How did you get
you really expect me to tell you?”
glanced back and forth between Harding and me. “So, this is
the Sun is suddenly interested in me.”
dumb shit, we ain’t reporters.”
see.” His frown deepened. “You really think you can
know what would happen if these documents went public. Not only
would people stop donating to your so-called charity, the friends
you’ve accumulated around the country would desert you,
after their own asses. The Justice Department would have no choice
but to prosecute.”
what are you looking for? A set price? A percentage of the
not after money.”
slammed a fist on the desk, making Harding jump in her seat.
what the hell do
slid another piece of paper in front of him. The paper held a photo
of David and all the information needed for his application.
want this boy to be the next winner for the trip to the Hope Space
studied the paper. “We’ve all ready selected the
a five-year old girl. Her face was disfigured when her brother hit
it with a baseball bat.”
God!” Ms. Harding covered her mouth.
front of her skull can’t be reconstructed in
continued. “She must go to the Hope Space Station.”
must go,” I insisted, “or he’ll die
within four months.”
people think you’re so noble.” Watkins sneered.
“You come in
here with your threats and your sob story. We sort through thousands
of applications every month of babies and children who are crippled,
sick, or dying.”
shrugged. “I can’t save the world. I can only do my
sat silent for a moment. He weighed his options and came up with the
only possible solution. “Very well. But if I agree to select
friend here, how do I know you still won’t go public with the
information you’ve got in your possession?”
we want you to send David to the space station. The last thing we
want is Hope for the Children to close down.”
took David’s application and folded it. “Okay. You
stuffed the paper into his shirt pocket. “Now, please get out
week later, Ms. Harding ran into the kitchen clutching a letter.
“It’s here! The official notification is
dumped the sponge I’d been using and grabbed the letter. It
announced David as the newest winner of the Hope for the
cheered and Ms. Harding took me in her arms for a hug.
tell David.” She wiped tears from her eyes.
met David in the living room and showed him the letter. He read it
carefully, but still seemed confused.
boy’s shoulders as I spoke. “You’re going
Hope Space Station. You’re going to get the treatment you
the Microgravity Hospital. You’re going to be
eyes widened. “I’m going to the space station? Wow!
believe this. I’ll be in freefall and I’ll get to
see Earth from
outer space!” He ran over to Ms. Harding and hugged her.
get to fly in the AeroSpacePlane. Unbelievable!” He ran back
me. “The letter said an adult must come with me. Will you go
even considered that possibility. I hated to disappoint
the kid, but I’d never even been on a regular airplane. No
would let them launch my ass into orbit. “Sorry, David. I
come on.” David tried his best. He made me feel awful, but in
end he saw I wouldn’t change my mind.
well, I’ll tell you all about it when I come back.”
He ran for
the door. “I can’t wait to tell everyone
remained seated for a long while, staring at the wall. Something was
don’t understand why you won’t go.” Ms.
startled me. I’d forgotten she was still in the room.
you to go so badly.”
it. You can’t make me go. Why don’t you go?
looking forward to this longer than I have.”
wish I could, but I’ve got to look after the group home. Can
imagine these boys with anyone else in charge?” She laughed,
remained silent. “Too bad,” she added.
“You would’ve been
ideal. Still. . .” She walked over to me and kissed me on the
forehead. “What you did was wonderful.”
noticed the far away look in my eyes and asked me what was wrong.
don’t get it.” I scratched my head.
“David didn’t seem the
least bit interested in the fact that he’s going to be cured.
only happy because he’s going to space.”
you have to understand something.” Harding sat next to me and
hugged my shoulder. “This isn’t the first time
told he’s going to be cured.”
stood up and walked out of the kitchen, leaving me alone with my
stayed at the group home that night, but I couldn’t sleep. I
pushed the pillows against the wall and sat up in bed, careful not to
make any noise that would wake the other boys in the room. The whole
day had been exciting, and I couldn’t help but smile when I
about David going to the space station.
I’d done was
wonderful. In fact, I deserved a reward. I reached for the floor
and grabbed my trousers. The sex drugs Tammy had sold me were still
in the front pocket. I popped one tablet in my mouth and set the
others on the nightstand.
the “back street chemists” had found a way to
create drugs that
stimulated directly the sex drive part of the brain. They had
modified medicine normally used to treat sexual dysfunction in
clinically depressed patients -– probably much to the
embarrassment of those who created the original medicine. Obviously,
I didn’t understand the technical stuff, but I’d
known for years
that the things work.
minutes later, the pill took affect. The chemicals caressed my brain
in all the right places. My skin felt like it was on fire, as though
a soft hand was gliding over it. Blood began pounding against my
temples and collecting in my groin. My heart beat faster –-
breath came in short gasps.
didn’t even have to touch myself, just imagine that I was
beautiful girl. Yeah, like Watkins’ receptionist.
We’d do it in
his office, on his desk. She would wrap her legs around me and hold
me tight, calling my name. I began writhing on the bed, the same way
I would if I was with that girl. My body shook uncontrollably.
imagined we would climax just as Watkins entered the office.
when the orgasm hit me.
body jerked. I had to squint against the morning sun. I saw Ms.
Harding standing over my bed, hands on hips in that way women do when
they catch a man doing something he shouldn’t. I pulled the
closer to my neck, painfully aware of the wet spot between my legs.
when I thought you were turned around and heading in the right
direction, you go and do this!”
followed the sweep of her hand to the nightstand. I groaned. How
could I have been so stupid? The remaining sex drugs were sitting
there for all the world to see.
paced back and forth.
“Disgusting! In the
same room with
children sleeping nearby.” She grabbed the
tablets from the nightstand. “If I told your probation
about this, you’d be locked up for sure.”
judge’s words came back to haunt me: you
will serve eighteen months for this crime.
I’ll give you a choice, young man.” She looked down
at me as
though from a mountaintop. “We can tell your probation
about these drugs, or you can make David a very happy boy.”
pulled the covers over my face. “Oh God, not that!”
To be continued...
© 2007 Joseph Jordan
Joseph Jordan is a 47 year old defense contractor who has served
in such places as Germany, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. When not wondering
around these exotic locations, he tries to keep up with his wife, his
daughter 24, and his son 21, who live in Naples, Italy. His novelette,
At the Gate of God, won third place in the Writers of the Future
contest for the third quarter of 2005.
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