Life blood, p.22
"My program?" I stared back at him, feeling a jolt. With my thoughtscompletely focused on Sarah, the last thing on my mind was my own baby.
"Now that you're here"--he smiled--"there's no reason we shouldn'tproceed. This is, after all, a place of miracles."
Right. You let Sarah destroy her mind and now you want me to . . .
Don't even think about it.
"I have to tell you, I'm not overly impressed thus far with your'program,' " I said. "First I passed out in your clinic, and then mydoctor in New York told me those drugs Ramala gave me are highlyillegal, and for good reason."
"What is 'legal' is more often than not the judgment of medicalreactionaries." He dismissed the issue with a wave of his hand. "Mywork has moved far beyond anything the FDA has ever dreamed of." Thenhis look turned grave. "I hope you'll give me a chance to try to helpyou. I've been giving your case a lot of thought since our firstexamination, about what we should do. But first let me ask you . . . doyou have a partner who could come here soon?"
Okay, maybe the thing to do was appear to play along for a while, moveunder his radar, and then get Sarah and split.
"It's a possibility."
He smiled again. "Excellent. If this person can come here
to the clinic for a . . . deposit, then we could put you on afast-track schedule."
"One thing at a time. First I'd like to know exactly what it is youhave in mind." Would his "program" include stringing me out on the toaddrug, the way he'd done with Sarah?
"Of course." He leaned forward in his chair. "I believe that, givenyour history, an in-vitro procedure would have the highest chance ofsuccess. You undoubtedly know how it works. We remove a number of eggsby aspiration and grade them for maturity and viability, after which wefertilize them to begin embryos growing. Then we pick the mostpromising for implantation."
"In vitro is invasive and dangerous and there's a lot that can gowrong." I genuinely hated the idea.
"To some extent." He examined his watch for a moment, then looked up."But let me just say this. Since any reproductive therapy, particularlyin vitro, is strongly dependent on the factor of timing, I've developedexperimental compounds down here that can regulate egg maturities veryprecisely. It minimizes a lot of uncertainties, which is why we're solucky you're . . ." He paused. "Look, the first thing we need to do isput you on a strict regimen of diet and spiritual discipline, using mysystem for regulating your Chi, your energy flows. Then, if you respondwe can start thinking about the procedure. And should you eventuallydecide you want to go ahead and you can have your partner come here, wecould possibly have everything done in just a few days."
"Well, you can forget about me taking any 'experimental compounds.' "How long could I stall him?
"Morgan, there's more to this." His look grew pained. "It's awkward tobring it up, but your presence here creates no small difficulty for me.I told you certain people in the military high command have concernsabout the film you're making. And then the next thing they know, youshow up here. It's just going to heighten their paranoia. But if I canconvince them you're here for fertility treatment . . . In any case,it's important that nothing you, or I, do is at odds with thatpresumption. I hope it's true, but even if you chose to forgo it, Istill need to put you on my normal regimen. You understand."
That's baloney. Somebody had me brought to _Baalum_. Whoever did itknows full well why I'm here. The problem is, I still don't know whatthey really want.
"Well, you can say I've come to take Sarah home," I told him. "Thatseems reason enough."
"The other story is simpler to explain." He took a last bite ofgazpacho, then rested his pewter spoon on the table. "Take my word forit."
"And what if I don't choose to go along with this charade?"
"We would both be in jeopardy. They're entirely capable of . . . thingsI'd rather not have to elaborate on."
I sat there, feeling a chill envelop the room. How was I going to getout of this place?
"By the way, a while ago Sarah mentioned something about a 'ceremony.'What's that--?"
"It's a special time here." His gaze shifted to the ceiling. "In fact,it's supposed to take place in three days, but the Army has informed meit has to be two days from now. That's the day they rotate the troopshere, so there'll be double strength."
"But why do they need--"
"Things can get a bit frenzied." He smiled, though he seemed to beembarrassed. "However, the people will love the fact you're here toshare it with them."
Did he say "frenzied"? My mind immediately flashed on the Aztec ritualsof ripping out beating hearts. But the Maya didn't go to that extreme,at least so far as I knew. Once again, though, I had the feeling I wasonly hearing what he wanted me to know, not the whole truth. It feltlike a chess game where I didn't know the location of all the pieces orhow they could move.
"Tell you what." He was getting up, turning toward the hall. "Why don'tyou let me show you around the clinic? In fact, I'm scheduled toperform an in vitro this morning for a childless couple here. You'refree to see it. Perhaps that could help you make your own decision."
"Well . . . do you have a phone? I need to make some calls." Would helet me call out? That would be a first test of what his intentionswere. It was all getting so insidious. I had Sarah to worry about, andthe Army, and now some kind of "ceremony" that he'd managed to staycannily vague about. I only knew I wanted the whole world to know whereI was.
"Of course," he said. "You're welcome to use my office." He waspointing down the hall. "It's right this way."
Yes! Maybe I'm not completely his prisoner yet. I still haveprivileges. But I'd damned well better use them while I can.
I walked out and felt a breeze, and then I studied the far end of thehallway, at the opposite end from the entrance, and noticed hugeslatted windows. As we walked in their direction, I realized there wasa stairway on one side, at the end of the hall, leading up to thesecond story of the building.
"What's up there?"
"Hygenic nursery rooms." He glanced at the stairs. "Unlike U.S.practice, new mothers here aren't sent home after a day or two. Womenand their newborns are encouraged to stay here at the clinic for atleast a week. It's actually very much a part of their tradition, aperiod of bonding. You're welcome to visit with them later if you like."
I intended to. In fact, I found myself looking around and trying tomemorize everything about the place. A two-story building, a marblestair, a nursery upstairs, downstairs rooms along either side of thehallway (what was in them?), and an office I was about to see. Couldthe clinic be locked down? What were the escape routes? How closely wasthe Army watching? The time would come, I was sure, when I'd need everyscrap of intelligence I could collect.
When we reached the end of the hall, the fresh cool wind still blowingagainst my face, he stopped in front of a large, ornate wooden doorwith a brass knob in the very center. There was no sign of a lock, justa sense of great gravity about its purpose.
"The phone's in here." He pushed the door and it slowly swung inward onhinges that must have required ball bearings.
It was indeed an office, dimly lighted by the moving screen-savers oftwo computers, each on a separate desk. He flicked on the overheadlights and I noticed that one computer was hooked to a fax machine, theother to a separate printer. An impressive assembly of data-managementtechnology for out here in the rain forest.
Then I focused on the central desk, on which sat an open,briefcase-looking box containing a mini-console labeled Magellan WorldPhone. A small satellite dish was bolted down next to it.
"It uplinks to the Inmarsat Series 3 geostationary satellites." Heindicated the dish. "But it works like a regular phone. Theinternational codes all apply." Then he turned to leave. "I should beready for the procedure in a few minutes."
I picked up the handset and flicked it on. Three green diodes flashed,then two yellow ones, after which a white light came on and I heard acontinuous hum, a dial tone.
I'd long since memorized the number of Steve's hotel in Belize City,and if I could reach him, he could go the embassy in Guatemala City and. . . I wasn't sure what. I still hoped to get out of here on my own,but if that failed . . . maybe some of those sturdy Marines . . .
When I dialed the Belize number, however, the phone just rang and rang.
Come on. Somebody please pick up.
Then they did. Thank goodness. But when I asked for Steve--
"So sorry, mon," came the proud Caribbean voice, "but Mr. Abrams checkout Monday. Early in the morning."
"Right, I know that. But he came back last night, didn't he?"
"No, mon. He say he be coming back, to hold his room, but--"
"He didn't come back?" I felt my palms go icy. Who was going to knowwhere Sarah and I were? "What do you mean?"
"He not coming back here, mon." The man paused and mumbled something toanother clerk, then came back on. "Nobody seen him since. You wantleave a message, that's okay. But I don't know when--"
"No." I didn't know what to say. The implication was only graduallysinking in. "No message. Thanks anyway. I'll try back later."
"Any time, mon. No problem."
I hung up, trying to stay calm. Steve, where are you?
Okay, I told myself, you don't actually know something's wrong. Itcould be anything. Still, it was very worrying. Steve, my one and only. . .
I was staring at the phone, wondering what my next move should be.Whatever else, I've got to try to reach Lou, tell him I've found Sarah.But then what? He certainly wasn't going to be any help in getting usout. If he blundered his way down here, there was a real chance he'dmisread the delicacy of the situation and end up getting us all"disappeared" by the Army. But still, I had to tell him about her.
I picked up the handset again, keyed in the U.S. country code, andtried the number for his place in Soho. He'd said he was going to bereleased from St. Vincent's today, so maybe he was home by now.
The familiar ring jangled half a dozen times and then . . .
"Crenshaw residence." It was the Irish tones of Mrs. Reilly, Sarah'sday nurse. Hallelujah. I guessed she was there now taking care of Lou.
"Uh, this is Morgan James. Mr. Crenshaw's niece. Remember? I came by.Is he home yet? I need to talk to him."
"He's resting, dear. I was just about to go out and get some things,milk and soup and the like."
"So . . . dare I ask? How is he?"
"He's weak, but I think he's going to be fine. If people will just lethim be."
"Look, I hate to bother him, but it's really an emergency. I'm callingfrom Guatemala."
"Oh. I truly don't know if he's awake, dear. He was napping a whileago."
"Could you . . . could you go and see? Please. And take the phone?"
"Just a minute." She sounded reluctant, but I could hear her movementsas she shuffled across the loft. I listened, wondering how long AlexGoddard was going to be away, and then a moment later . . .
"Yeah." There was a rustle as Lou got a grip on his cordless. "Morgan,is that you? Where the hell are you now?"
It took me a second to even find my voice, I was so thrilled to hearhim. He sounded just like always.
"Hey, how's it going, champ?" I said. Come on, Lou. Get well. Fight.
"I started having these migraines, but they gave me some medicine--"
"Listen." I cut him off, and immediately felt guilty I'd been soimpatient. "I'm up in northern Guatemala and I've found Sarah."
"Oh, my God." That was followed by a long silence, probably anemotional meltdown. "Is she all right?"
What was I going to say? That she'd been brainwashed or worse by AlexGoddard? That we were both in his clutches, cut off from the world, andin deep, deep trouble?
"She's able to stand," I said.
I don't remember what white lies I eventually managed to tell him. Ithink it was something like, "She's being treated for a post-comasyndrome by a medical specialist. I've found out that when she was inGuatemala before, she was given some very bad drugs, and someone herewho knows about them is trying to reverse some of the damage."
"Alex Goddard, right?" There was no BS-ing Lou for very long. "Thatbastard."
"Lou, I'm going to get her out of here and back home as soon aspossible. Everything's going to be all right. Don't worry. It's reallytoo complicated to try and explain over the phone."
"Yeah, well, I'm coming. Soon as I'm up. I'm gonna take that son of abitch by the--"
"Don't. Don't you go anywhere. I'm handling it, okay?"
I heard him grunt, whether from pain or frustration I couldn't be sure."Lou, listen, I'm going to try and phone you every day. If I miss aday, then you should call the embassy down here. Tell them you're FBI.That might get their attention. The place where I am, where Sarah is,is named Baalum. It's a . . . kind of village. In the northern PetenDepartment. I don't know if the U.S. has any clout up here, but that'swhere they should come looking."
I got him to write it down, and then eased him off the line as gentlyas I could and hung up. I would have loved for him to be here, but Iwanted to try to get Sarah out by stealth if I could. And stealth wasscarcely Lou's style.
My calls were one for two, and there still wasn't anybody to help me.The time had come to try David. I was having the glimmerings of a newstrategy.
It was lunchtime in New York, but on Wednesdays he usually just had asandwich at his desk. Maybe I could catch him.
"Hello," declared the British female voice he'd put on his machine,hoping it would sound like he had a classy secretary. "You've reachedthe office of David Roth, president of Applecore Productions. We'resorry Mr. Roth is not available at this time to--"
"David," I barked into the phone. "If you're there, pick up. This isMorgan. I've got to talk to you."
While the announcement kept running, noises erupted outside in thehall, voices and a clicking sound, as though something was being rolledalong the tile floor. Shit. Was Alex Goddard about to walk in? My mouthwent dry. Come on, David, I know you're there, hiding--Variety with atuna salad on rye, extra pickle. Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda.
"David damnit, pick up." I said it quieter this time, but I could feelmy heart pounding. "This is an emergency."
"Morgy, don't!" He yelled as I heard the receiver being
lifted. "Jesus, I just walked in from the deli. Listen, thank God it'syou. Drop whatever the hell you're not doing and get your butt in here.Jerry Reiner called, you know, the Orion distribution deal--and hewants a rough cut of _Baby Love_ yesterday so he can pitch it to thesuits on the fifth floor. We could be staring at financial successhere. I hope you can handle the vulgarity of that."
"David, you're not going to believe where I am," I began, working outmy game plan as I went along, trying to sound cool and control myracing pulse. "I'm in northern Guatemala, at a place that would make aterrific feature. It's like a Maya theme park, deep in the rain forest.But it's real. I want you to contact the embassy and get them to greasethe way for my crew to come here. This is too good to pass up." Ithought about the costs and then added, "At least one camera and sound."
One sure way to get Sarah out was to blow the place open to the world.
"What's . . . where are you again?"
I gave him a glowing trailer of the Williamsburg-like qualities ofBaalum--a beautiful, exciting recreation of times gone by thatout-Disneyed Disney. The cable channels would be bidding for thefootage.
"Hey, look, all things in time." He wasn't buying. "I'm talking anactual deal here. You know, money? Fuck the jungle wonderland. You'vegot exactly one more day down there on the Tarzan set, or wherever thehell it is, and then I'm gonna start finishing final cut on this damnedpicture mys
"You touch a frame of my movie and I won't be responsible for myactions." God, he was missing my SOS. "David do one thing for me,please. I can't tell you how important it is. I haven't explainedeverything. This situation is . . . It's very threatening. I need youto at least call the embassy down here and see if they'll sendsomebody. The Army's all over the place and--"
A loud noise intervened followed by complete, absolute silence. Thediodes on the panel all began flashing yellow.
"Shit!" Had Alex Goddard been listening in and decided to cut me offbefore I could get word to the embassy?
I slammed the box and went for the usual maneuver: I cut the connectionand tried again, but nothing. Again, and still nothing.
My hands were trembling. I'd just lost contact with the outside world.I was completely isolated in the middle of nowhere.
How convenient. Alex Goddard let me tell a couple of people I wasphysically okay, and then he blocked the line.
I exhaled settled into the padded chair next to the computers, andtried to think. David, David why wouldn't you listen? He was so excitedhe'd completely ignored my distress signal. Nobody was going to comeand help me get out of here.
I gazed around the room, wondering what to do next. Was there anotherphone, a radio, a box of flares, for godsake?
That was when I spotted the outlines of another door--why hadn't Inoticed it sooner?--this one steel, there on the left. Alex Goddardmight walk in any second now, but I had to try to learn everything Icould as fast as I could. What was going on besides what was going on?
Alert for any new sounds from outside, I quickly went over and triedthe knob.
It was locked tight.
Figured. Now I really wanted to know what was in there.
When I glanced around the office, I noticed a ring of keys on the desk.Could he have forgotten them?
More important, would I blow everything if he caught me snooping? Inspite of his attempt at a cool veneer, he might go ballistic.
I made a snap decision. Take the chance and give them a try.
My hands were so moist I had trouble holding the slippery keys, butfinally I managed to shove in the first one. It went in, but nothingwould turn.
Come on. I managed to wiggle the next one in, my hand trembling now,but again the knob wouldn't budge. Footsteps outside marched up to thedoor and I stopped breathing, but then they moved on.
Hurry. I was rapidly losing hope when the fifth one slipped in and theknob turned. Yes!
Taking a deep breath and working on a story in case Alex Goddard walkedin, I clicked the lock and eased the door inward just enough to lookinside.
Hello, what's this? The space was a fully equipped medical researchlab. The lights were off, but like the office, it was illuminated bythe glow of several CRT screens stationed above a long lab bench. Therealso was a large machine, probably a gas chromatograph, with its ownscreen, flanked by rows of test tubes. Finally, there was a largeelectronic microscope complete with video screen.
One non-medical thing stood out, though: There in the middle of theworkbench was a two-foot-high bronze Dancing Shiva presiding overwhatever was going on. It was breath-takingly beautiful.
So . . . what was The Lord of the Dance giving his blessing to? Time totry and find out.
Now clanking noises were filtering in from out in the hall, along withthe pounding of heavy boots, and my pulse jumped again. Was the Armycoming to drag me away?
Just go in. Do it.
The CRT screens were attached to black metal containers, their doorsclosed, that all were connected to a power supply, doubtless tomaintain some temperature. It looked like Goddard was incubatingsomething in a carefully controlled environment. The whole arrangementwas very carefully organized and laid out.
Finally I noticed a row of large steel jugs, six in all, near the backand covered with a sheet of black plastic, thin like a wrap. What couldthey be? Some kind of special gas for use in the lab?
Voices in Spanish drifted in from the hallway. A woman and a man werearguing about something.
Okay, get out of here. Come back and check this out when nobody'saround.
I stepped back into the office, clicked off the thumb latch on the doorso it wouldn't lock, and closed it. I realized I was pouring sweat.
What next? Well, see if the phone's working again and try calling theCamino Real and see if Steve's come back there for some reason, maybe achange in plans. It would be a long shot, but still . . .
My hand was shaking as I opened up the phone case. Thank God, thediodes were all quiet. Maybe . . .
The steel door I'd closed only moments before swung open and AlexGoddard walked through. Did he realize I'd left it unlocked? How did heget in there? Was there another door?
He'd changed clothes and was wearing a pale blue surgical gown. I shutthe phone case, as though just finishing with it. Could he tell I'dturned myself into a nervous wreck? I tried to smile and look normal,but my shirt was soaking.
"Ah, I see you're finished," he said, not seeming to notice.
"Good. As I said, I've got an in-vitro procedure scheduled now for oneof the couples here in the village. You're welcome to observe. It mighthelp you decide what you want to do in your own case." He was movingacross the room. "You can watch on the closed circuit."
He reached up and snapped on a monitor bolted to the wall in the corner.
"Oh, just one small word of forewarning." He was turning back. "Downhere I've made certain . . . cosmetic changes in the procedure to keeppatients' anxiety levels as low as possible. It wouldn't be appropriatein your case, but . . . well, you'll see."
Before I had time to wonder what he meant, he disappeared back throughthe steel door with a reassuring smile.
Life Blood by Thomas Hoover / Horror have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on16 votes