Life blood, p.30
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       Life Blood, p.30
 

          
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  Chapter Twenty-eight

  When we reached the parking lot, several more Army thugs were waiting,grown-ups now, khaki shirts and dense mustaches, the regulation G-2sunglasses even though it was still dark, with 9mm automatics inholsters at their belt. I took one look at them and I think I blackedout. Steve and I were about to "disappear," and possibly Sarah too.Probably in another hour or two. My tattered mind finally just slippedaway.

  Soon afterward, I sensed myself being transported in a large vehicle,and after that I was being carried, up, up, as though I were floatinginto the coming dawn. When I regained consciousness, I realized I wasstanding in a rainstorm near a small stone building. A dozen Army menwere huddled inside, shielding their cigarettes from the blowing rainwhile they guarded a row of olive-green bassinets. Around me, censerswere spewing _copal_ smoke into the soggy air.

  I became aware of the cooling sensation of the fresh rain across myface, and wondered if it might clear some of the toad venom (surelythat was what it was) from my brain. Maybe it was working. Instead ofseeing vivid colors everywhere, I was abruptly experiencing a hyperacute clarity of every sensation. The stones beneath my bare feet werebecoming so articulated, I felt as though I could number every granule,every crystal, every atom. The paintings and carvings on the lintelabove the door to the stone room--I recognized it as where I'd spentthe first night--sparkled, leapt out at me.

  "Stand there on the edge of the platform," Alex Goddard commanded,urging me forward. It was only then I realized we'd come up the backsteps of the pyramid, where the G-2 men had parked their black LandRovers, unnoticed and ready.

  Looking down at the crowd of people gathered in the square, I realizedthey couldn't really see much of what was going on atop the pyramid. Tothem it was just a cloud of _copal_ smoke and foggy rain. Although thesun was starting to brighten the east, the only real light still camefrom the torches stationed around the plaza.

  Then like a ghost materializing out of the mist, Marcelina moved up thesteep front steps, leading a line of Maya mothers from the clinic--Icounted twelve--each carrying her newborn, the "special" baby she wouldgive back to Kukulkan, perhaps the way Abraham of the Old Testamentoffered up his son Isaac in sacrifice to Jehovah. It was a sight Ishall never forget, the sadness but also the unmistakable reverence intheir eyes. I wanted to yell at them to run, to take Sarah's votivebabies and disappear into the forest, but I didn't have the words.

  Next the women arrayed themselves in a line across the front of thepyramid, facing not the crowd below, but toward Alex Goddard and me.Then, holding out a jade-handled obsidian knife, he walked down theline, allowing each woman to touch her forehead against its flintblade. I assumed each one believed it was the instrument that wouldtake her child's life, ceremonially sending it back to the MayaOtherworld whence it came. Had he drugged them too, I fleetinglywondered, hypnotized them or given them some potion to prevent themfrom comprehending what was really going on?

  I kept remembering . . . a hundred other insane episodes of immortalyearning leading to a mass "transport" to some other "plane." This, Ithought, must be what it was like in the jungles of Jonestown thatdeath-filled morning. And Alex Goddard was their "Jim Jones," thespiritual leader of the moral travesty he'd imposed upon the lostvillage of Baalum.

  I was going to stop it, somehow. By God, I was. I stared at the womenand felt so sad at the sight of the hand-woven blankets they held theirbabies in, primary greens and reds and blues lovingly woven intoshimmering patterns that mirrored the symbols across the sides of thestone room. Their faces, especially their eyes, were transcendent in akind of chiaroscuro of darkest blacks and purest whites, as though alltheir humanity had been caught by their blankets and shawls, surelycreated for this ultimate moment. And the mother of Tz'ac Tzotz wasthere, carrying him, the baby I'd so wanted to hold one last time.

  Next Alex Goddard emerged from the stone room bearing a basket filledwith sheets of white bark-paper. He approached Tz'ac Tzotz's mother,then took a wide section of the paper and secured it around her facewith a silk cord, covering her vision. Down the line, one afteranother, he carefully blindfolded the women, while they stoodpassively, some crying--from joy or sorrow, I could not tell. Finally,at the last, he also covered Marcelina's face.

  So she's not supposed to know what's really happening. Nobody'ssupposed to know except him, and me. And, of course, Ramos and the G-2secret police and whoever else is in on this crime. But, secretly, shedoes know. The God of the House of Darkness.

  When he finished, he put down the basket, then turned to me. "Stand atthe front edge of the platform and lift your hands in benediction. Theyall want to see you, the new bride."

  I took a couple of steps, then looked back to see him adding more_copal_ to the main censer, sending a fresh cloud of smoke billowingout into the rain. As the incense poured around us, the Army thugswho'd been loitering at the back of the stone room began comingforward, each carrying one of the bassinets. They set them down on thestones, ready to start taking the children. My outraged mind flashed onGhirlandajo's "Massacre of the Innocents." Here, though, Sarah'schildren weren't being stabbed to death; they were being--kidnapped andstolen.

  Revulsion pierced through me as though I'd been hit by a jagged shaftof lightning, but instead of being knocked down, I was energized. Ormaybe the final effects of the toad venom were giving me a spurt ofadrenaline. Letting his criminal charade continue one second longerbecame unbearable. What would happen to me, I didn't know, but Icouldn't let it go on.

  "No," I yelled, startling myself by the sound of my own voice. "InGod's name, stop."

  The rain was growing more intense, and I was soaked and bleary-eyed,but before I could think I found myself stalking over to Tz'ac Tzotz'smother, shouting at her. The next thing I knew I was ripping the paperfrom her frightened eyes. I hugged her as best I could, then yelledback at Marcelina.

  "Tell them all to take off their blindfolds. This is obscene."

  Then I went on autopilot, shutting out everything around me--the rain,the perilous sides of the pyramid, the pistol-carrying G-2 thugs, evenAlex Goddard. The way I remember it now, it all took place in slowmotion, like some underwater dream sequence, but surely it was just theopposite.

  Anyway, I do know I snapped. I started shouting again, and with the G-2hoods momentarily frozen, I started flinging the still-empty bassinetsdown the steep side of the pyramid, where they just bounced away intothe rain. As I watched them disappearing, one after another, I feltmarvelously emboldened. I would throw one and watch it go flying, andthen I would throw another. Yes, damn it, yes!

  I wanted to show anybody with two eyes that it was all a sham. Oncethey realized what was really happening, surely they would rise up anddrive Alex Goddard from their home.

  For a moment it seemed to be working. A stunned silence was slowlyspreading over the square, while everybody around me was paralyzed,like waxworks. Maybe it's the same way you're temporarily caught offguard when a stranger on the street goes berserk.

  By the time I'd flung away the last bassinet, the women had all removedtheir blindfolds and were staring at me, dumbfounded. Finally, Tz'acTzotz's mother whispered something to Marcelina, and she turned to me.

  "She wants to know why you're angry. You're the bride. They only wantto please you."

  Angry? I was terrified, but also fighting mad.

  "Marcelina, this is all a ghastly lie." I'd finished throwing and I wasmoving to the next stage. Get control. Could he risk killing me infront of all these people? "Tell them to take their babies and hide inthe forest."

  That was when I heard a cry that pierced through the rain and acrossthe square beyond, and I turned back to see Alex Goddard shoving towardme. He's coming to murder me, since I've exposed him. But I wouldn'tlet it happen without a fight. I clenched my fists, waiting, feeling myadrenaline surge.

  Instead, though, he just brushed past me, headed toward the edge of theplatform. At first I didn't know why, but he was intent on somethingoff in the mist, his o
pen hands thrust up at the rainy skies.

  That was when I heard the Guatemalan Army hoods yelling curses.

  "_Vete ala chingada!_"

  They also were staring off to the south, in the same direction.

  Hadn't they noticed I'd just dismantled their sick pageant? I wanted areaction that would drive home the truth to Marcelina, to the mothers,to everyone.

  "Damn it, look at me," I yelled, first at him and then at the G-2thugs. "_Mira!_" But their focus still was on something beyond thesquare.

  Finally I turned, following their gaze, and for a second I too forgotall about everything else. An intense red glow was illuminating themorning sky from the direction of the clinic, a vibrant electric roseweaving its hues in the mist. Then I saw spewing spikes of flame,orange and yellow, dancing over the top of the clinic. There was afinality about it that momentarily took my breath away.

  Then it hit me. Steve's in there. It was a horror that, in my initialshock, I couldn't actually process, the thought just hovering in therecesses of my brain defying me to accept it.

  Then Alex Goddard turned back, shouting at the Army men in rapidSpanish--I recognized the word for fire--that galvanized them toaction. They snapped out of their mental paralysis and headed down thepyramid, toward two Land Rovers parked at the back.

  Next he turned around and fixed his gaze on me. At last he knew / knewhe was capable of unspeakable evil, and I knew he knew I would doeverything in my power to stop him.

  "All my records." His voice sounded as though it was coming fromanother world, and it held a sadness that touched even me. "You have noidea what's been lost."

  He was distraught, but also obsessed. With his wild mane of hair, hedid, finally, look like Shiva the Destroyer. He stalked over and seizedthe obsidian knife, then turned toward me.

  I looked for something to defend myself with. The bassinets, which Imight have used as a shield were gone. I only had my bare hands.

  I had to get away from him, get down the pyramid and find Sarah andSteve. But as I started toward the front steps, the women were allclustered there, blocking my way.

  Then, for no reason I could understand the mother of Tz'ac Tzotzstepped out of the group and handed me her baby, saying something inKekchi Maya and reaching to touch my cheek.

  I was so startled I took the bundle that was Sarah's child. But then Ithought, No! Alex Goddard will just kill him too.

  "She said he must not harm you," Marcelina whispered moving beside me."You are the special one. She wants you to give her child back toKukulkan."

  She still believes, I realized. They all do.

  Holding Tz'ac Tzotz, my eyes fixed on Alex Goddard, I'd entirely failedto notice a new presence on the pyramid a ghostlike waif in a whiteshift who now stood silently in the doorway of the stone room. Sarah!

  Marcelina had said she'd wanted to come for the ceremony. She was beinghelped to stand by the two Maya women who'd fed me the _atole_.Somehow, she'd gotten them to bring her.

  "Morgy, are you there?" Sarah asked gazing up at the rainy skies, thedownpour soaking her blond hair, her eyes unblinking. At that moment, Ifelt we'd joined become one person--me the dogged rational half who'djust gone over the line, her the spiritual part that needed to float,to fly free. "I wanted to be with--"

  "Sar, get back," I yelled and started to go to her, but there wasn'ttime. Now Alex Goddard was moving toward me holding the knife, asthough tracking a prey, oblivious to Sarah, to everything. He'dconcentrated all his hatred on me and me alone, and I hated him back asmuch. Death hovered between us, waiting to see whom to take.

  But then the woman who had borne Tz'ac Tzotz said something in KekchiMaya, pointing back at me and her child, and lunged at him. Theycollided together in the rain and next she slid down, first seizing hisleg, then losing her grip and slipping onto the stones, her long blackhair askew in the hovering smoke.

  She's trying to save me, I realized. Why--?

  Then I saw Sarah pull away from the women supporting her and slowlymove across the platform.

  "Morgy . . ."

  She was walking in the direction of Alex Goddard, but then she stumbledover the fallen woman's leg and her hand went down as she sprawledacross her. She must have touched something, because she recoiledbackward, and only then did I notice the flare of a torch glinting offthe obsidian knife now protruding from the woman's chest.

  Sarah rose up, her eyes full of anger, and awkwardly flung her arms,searching. I could feel the passion that had been pent up all thosemonths she lay in the coma, feeding her madness. She managed to catchhold of Alex Goddard's arm, and they began an awkward minuet, neitherrealizing how close they were to the stone platform's edge. I stoodmesmerized a moment, then dashed toward them, but only in time to watchthem vanish into the rain and haze. It was as though there had beensome sleight of hand. One second they were there and the next theyweren't. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but thenI realized it was real. They were gone.

  "_Sarah!_"

  I reached the side in time to see them land on the first tier of stonesbelow. She'd fallen near the edge, but she was solid and safe. AlexGoddard, however, hit with one foot on and one foot off, and the resultwas he slid away, then vanished into the dark rain.

  It's her final act of self-destruction. She's joined me in my rage, butwe've both been spared. That's the miracle of _Baalum_.

  "Sar, don't move." I finally found my voice. I was still holding Tz'acTzotz, who'd begun to shriek, his blue eyes flooded with fear.

  Now several village men from the square were running, shouting, up theslippery steps. Their faces looked like they'd been painted at onetime, but now the rain had washed most of it away.

  While I yelled down to Sarah, again begging her not to move, Marcelinawas asking them something, and their answers were tumbling out.

  Finally I turned to look at her, the screaming Tz'ac Tzotz still in myarms.

  "No one knows where he is," she was saying as she looked down over theside. "He's gone into the forest."

  "Good." I pulled Tz'ac Tzotz to me and kissed him, trying to tell himto calm down. It wasn't working.

  "Marcelina, here, please hold him. I've got to get down to Sarah."

  She took him. Then I walked over to where his mother lay bleeding onthe stones. The woman wasn't moving, the obsidian knife stillprotruding from her chest. She'd saved me, but now death had taken her.There was nothing anyone could do.

  I was trembling, but I turned and began easing myself over the side ofthe stone platform and onto the first tier of the pyramid.

  "Sar, don't move." I inched my way across to her. "Just

  stay still." The rain was pouring again, but the electric bloom ofsparks and flames from the direction of the clinic was unabated. Itwould be completely gutted. Was Steve awake enough to get out? He'dseemed alert when I left him.

  "Morgy, is that you?" She was holding out her fingers. "I can't seeyou. Where are--?"

  "I'm here, Sar. Right here." I reached down and took her hand, whichwas deathly cold. "Come on. Let me help you get up."

  Carefully, leaning against the wet stones of the side of the pyramid, Igradually pulled her to her feet and away from the treacherous edge.Then it hit me what she'd said.

  "Sar, what do you mean, you can't see me?"

  "I'm okay. It's just . . ." She was gripping my hand now, and then shebrushed against the stone side of the pyramid and put out her otherhand to cling to it. "Morgy, I took it again. To go to their sacredplace. But sometimes you can only see visions and then after a whileeverything goes blank."

  That bastard. Alex Goddard had given her the drug again. Now she waslost in a world of colored lights, a place I'd just traveled throughmyself. She probably had no idea she'd just pushed him off the pyramidand into the dark.

  "Your hand feels so soft," she was saying. "You're like warm honey."

  "Sar, try to walk. We're going to turn a corner and then we'll be atthe back of the pyramid. Next we'll come to some steps, and
then we'regoing down."

  As I inched our way along, scarcely able to keep our footing because ofthe rain, I wondered again about Steve. Please, God, let him be allright.

  When we finally got to the steps, Marcelina was there, standingexpectantly, holding Tz'ac Tzotz. He was still crying, intermittentsobs.

  "He belongs to you now," she said, holding him out for me. "It's whatshe wished.

  "What--?" I took him before I realized what I was doing.

  As I cradled him, gazing down at his tender little face, I realized hetruly was Sarah all over again. And I was so glad she couldn't see him.Never, I thought, she must never, ever know.

  I finally forced myself to place him back into Marcelina's arms.

  "You've got no idea how much I want him, but I can't. Let one of thesewomen give him her milk, have a twin for her own child."

  For that wrenching moment I'd held the very baby my heart longed for.But he was the last one on earth I could have. Just go, take Sarah andfind Steve and go as far from _Baalum_ as you can, before you lose yourcompass and do something terribly selfish.

  "Marcelina," I said, reaching to hug her, "tell them these 'sacred'children are all from his _medico_. Look up 'in vitro' in yourdictionary. That's all it is."

  She hugged me back, though I wasn't sure whether she understood. Then Iasked her to take Sarah's hand for a moment while I went back up thesteps to the platform. I felt a primal anger as I took one last look atthe women Alex Goddard had wronged, now clustered around the body ofTz'ac Tzotz's mother. Then I bade them a silent farewell, turned, andwalked, holding my tears, back through the stone room.

  The rear of the pyramid was deserted, the steps slippery and dangerous,but it was our way out. I began leading Sarah down, step by treacherousstep. Everything had happened so fast I'd barely had time to thinkabout Steve. Those flames, my God. It was finally sinking in, trulyhitting me. Had he gotten out in time?

  Then the slimy Rio Tigre, now swelling from the rain, came into view. Istared at it a second before I noticed the three young Army recruitsleaning against the trunk of a giant Cebia tree next to the trail,their rifles covered in plastic against the rain. When they saw us,they stiffened, shifted their weapons, and glanced up at the top of thepyramid, as though seeking orders. Neither group had any idea why theother was there. Sarah and I were an unforeseen contingency they hadn'tbeen briefed on.

  What are they going to do? They have no idea what just happened.

  "Morgy," Sarah said, gazing blankly at the sky, "the colors are sobeautiful. Can we--?"

  "Shhh, we'll talk in a minute."

  I smiled and nodded and began walking past the young privates, holdingmy breath. Then a spectral form emerged out of the rain just behindthem.

  It took me a moment to recognize who it was. I was hoping it might beSteve, but instead it was a man dressed in white, now covered with mud,and holding a knife, not obsidian this time but long and steel. Hiseyes were glazed, and I wasn't sure if he even knew exactly where hewas. Why had he come down to the river? Had he known I'd come here, too?

  For a moment we just stood staring at each other, while the Armyprivates began edging up the hill, as though not wanting to witnesswhat surely was coming next.

  "Why don't you put an end to all the evil?" I yelled at him finally,trying to project through the rain. "Just stop it right now."

  "_Baalum_ was my life's work," he said. Then he looked down at theknife a moment, as though unsure what it was. Finally he turned andflung it in the direction of the river.

  "It could have been beautiful," I said back. Thank God the knife wasgone. But what would he do next? "But now--"

  "No," he said staring directly at me, his eyes seeming to plead. "Itis. It will be again. To make a place like _Baalum _is to coin theriches of God. I want you to stay. To be part of it. Together, we . .." But whatever else he said was lost in the cloudburst that abruptlyswept over the embankment. In an instant it was a torrent, the lastoutpouring of the storm, powerful and unrelenting. Nature had unleashedits worst, as though Kukulkan was rendering his final judgment.

  "Morgy, I'm falling," Sarah screamed. The ground she and I had beenstanding on began turning to liquid as though it were a custard meltingin the tropical heat. As we began slipping down the embankment towardhim, I gripped her arm with my left hand and reached up to seize alow-lying branch of the Cebia with my right.

  Then, under the weight of the water, all the soil beneath us gave way,tons of wet riverbank that abruptly buckled outward.

  Alex Goddard made no sound as the mass of earth lifted him backwardtoward the river. His sullied garb of white blended into the graysludge of mud and rain, then faded to darkness as the embankmentdissolved into the swirling Rio Tigre.

  "Sar, hold on. Please hold on." I felt my grasp of the tree slipping,but now the mud slide had begun to stabilize.

  I managed to cling to the limb for a few seconds more, the bark cuttinginto my fingers, and then my hold slipped away, sending us bothspiraling downward till we were temporarily snagged by the Cebia'snewly exposed undergrowth. I still had her hand though just barely, butthe torrent of rain and mud was subsiding, and finally we collapsedtogether into the gnarled network of roots.

  After a moment's rest, I managed to crawl out and pull her up.

  "Come on, Sar. Try and walk."

  Together we stumbled and slid down the last incline before the river'sedge, then turned upstream along the bank. After about fifty yards,sure enough, the native _cayucos_, the hollowed-out mahogany canoes I'dtold Steve about, were still there just as I'd seen them that firstmorning, bobbing and straining at their moorings. In the rain Icouldn't tell how usable they were, but I figured going downriver wasthe only way we'd ever be able to get out. We'd have to flee the waySarah had that first time.

  For a moment I thought they all were empty--dear God, no--but then Irealized there was a drenched figure in the last one in the row. When Irecognized who it was, I think I completely lost it; all the horror ofthe last two days swallowed me up. I grabbed Sarah and hugged her fordear life, feeling the tears coursing down my cheeks. I literallycouldn't help myself.

  "They were tied up here just like you said." Steve wiped the rain fromhis eyes, then reached to take my hand. His bandaged nose was bleedingagain, and he looked like he'd just been half killed. "I told thoselittle Army _chicos_ I was a big amigo of _el doctor _and they salutedand showed me where these were tied up."

  "Thank God you're okay. What happened? Did--?"

  "Ramos, the son of a bitch. He came in and ... I guess it was time tofinish me off. But I wasn't as drugged out as he thought." He wasstaring at Sarah, clearly relieved but asking no questions. "I broughtalong his nine-millimeter"--he indicated the silver automatic in hisbelt--"in case we run into problems."

  I wanted to kiss him, but I was still too shaken up. Instead I focusedon helping Sarah in without capsizing everything.

  After I'd settled her, I pulled myself over the side and reached for apaddle.

  "If we go with the current," I said, "we'll get to the Usumacinta.Hopefully the flooding will help push us downstream."

  "Honestly, I didn't think the fire would get away from me like it did."He shoved off amidst the swirling debris. "Jesus. I heard them takingyou away, and I assumed you didn't get to mess up his lab. So I figuredthere was one way . . . I just threw around some ether and pitched amatch. The place was empty, so . . ."

  I looked around at the roiling waters, snakes and crocodiles lurking,and felt a lifetime of determination. Was Alex Goddard still alive? Ino longer cared. . . .

  Sunrise was breaking through the last of the rain, laying dancingshadows on the water as we rowed for midstream. Someday, I knew, whatwas real about _Baalum _and what I'd dreamed here might well mergetogether, the way they had for Sarah. But for now, true daylight neverlooked better.

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  We got picked up by a ragged crew of Mexican fishermen just beforedark. Aside from being sunburned to medium rare, we
were physicallyokay. The fresh air and sunshine did a lot to bring Sarah back, thoughshe did have lapses of non-rationality, and once tried to dive over theside of their fishing cutter. They dropped us off at the tourist siteof Yaxchitan, a Mayan ruin on the western bank of the mightyUsumacinta, where we joined an American day-tour on its way back to SanCristobal de las Casas. There we caught a prop flight to Cancun, andthen American Airlines to New York. We had no luggage, but I flew usfirst-class, and I still have the MasterCard slip to prove it.

  As things turned out, though, returning Sarah to normalcy--or me, forthat matter--was another struggle entirely. For me, time, after thatrainy morning in the Peten, became an essence that flowed around me asthough I were aswim in the ether of interstellar space, pondering theconjunction of good and evil. I suffered flashbacks, late-nightreveries of forests and children that must have been like those Sarahstruggled to bury. For weeks after that, I had a lot of troubleremembering meetings, returning phone calls, giving David an honestday's editing.

  For her own part, Sarah just seemed to drift at first, to the point Isometimes wondered if she realized she was back at Lou's loft. Thenabruptly, one day she snapped into her old self and started sending forre-registration materials from Columbia. I really needed to talk withher about our mutual nightmare, but she seemed to have erased allmemories of _Baalum_, except for occasional mumbles in Kekchi Maya.Perhaps that was best, I consoled myself. Maybe it was wise for us alljust to let the ghosts of that faraway place lie sleeping.

  As for Lou, I told him as little as I could about what happened to herthere. He hadn't returned to work, had mainly stayed at his Soho placeto be near her, as though he was fearful she might be snatched awayfrom him once more. Frankly, I think all his enforced closeness wasstarting to grate on her nerves, though I dared not hint such a thingto him.

  In the meantime, Steve returned to Belize to wrap up his photo essay,and David submitted a (very) rough cut of _Baby Love _to the selectioncommittee at Sundance (our hoped-for distribution deal with Orion was,alas, in temporary turnaround pending yet another management shuffle).We did, however, squeeze an advance from Lifetime that lowered the heatwith Nicky Russo.

  Nevertheless, the story of how Alex Goddard touched all our lives stillwasn't over. It was two months after we got back to the city that mydark dance with the man who thought he was Shiva, creator anddestroyer, had its final pirouette, as though his ghost had returnedfrom his rain-forest redoubt for one last sorcerer's turn.

  Truthfully, it all transpired so fast I could scarcely take it in, buthere's the rough outline of what happened. I was working late thatThursday evening in the editing room at Applecore, around seveno'clock. And I was feeling particularly out of sorts, including aheadache and stomach pains from the leftover pizza I'd microwaved tokeep me going. I was re-cutting some new real-life interviews I'dfilmed to replace those of Carly and Paula. (Children of Light had gonedefunct, by the way, the phone at Quetzal Manor disconnected, but Ididn't need any more excitement in my life of the colonel Ramosvariety. The replacement interviews weren't nearly as bubbly and fullof exuberance, but they were actually much truer to the realities ofadoption.)

  Anyway, I listened to my stomach, and decided it was high time to tossin the towel. I got my things, locked up, and then I ran into David onthe elevator, coming down from the floor above.

  "How's it going?" he asked, ostentatiously checking his watch, anapproving gleam in his eyes. I was glad he wanted to let me know he'dnoticed I was logging long hours. Then he looked at me again. "Hey, youfeeling okay?"

  "I've been better," I said, thinking how nice it was that he cared."Could be a couple of aspirin and a good night's sleep are called for."

  "So now you're a doctor?" he said, following me into the lobby,"Providing self-diagnosis--?"

  "David, give me a break. I just happen to feel a little off today,okay? It doesn't mean I'm at death's door."

  "Yeah, well, the way you look you coulda fooled me." He headed down thestreet, toward the avenue. Then he called back over his shoulder. "Idon't want to see you in tomorrow unless you look like you might livethrough the day. I pay for your health insurance. Use it, for God'ssake."

  After I found a cab, I began to think he might be right. This was notypical down day. So I decided I'd stop at the Duane Reade on my cornerand talk to the pharmacist.

  The second-shift man was on, a gray-haired portly old guy who knew moreabout drugs than most doctors. The tag on his jacket said "Bernd" andthat's all anybody ever knew of his name. I sometimes called him "Dr.Bernd" by way of banter, but nothing I could do would ever make himsmile.

  The place was nearly empty and the pharmacy at the rear, with itsspectral fluorescent lighting, looked like an out-take from alow-budget Wes Craven movie. Bernd, who was in back puttering, came outand looked me over.

  I know it sounds naive, but I trusted him more than I trust half theyoung, overworked interns you get at an emergency room these days. Ipoured out my symptoms, including the story about how I'd been givenfertility drugs and toad venom. Was it all coming back to haunt me, thedark hand of Alex Goddard?

  He began by asking me some very perceptive questions, about things thathad been puzzling me but I'd sort of managed to dismiss. Finally, hewalked around the counter and lifted a small, shrink-wrapped box off arack.

  "Try this," he said handing it over, "and then come back tomorrow.Maybe it's not such a big deal."

  You're kidding, I thought, looking at the box.

  I got home, collapsed onto the couch, and opened it. Believe it or not,I actually had to read the instructions. I did what they said, checkedthe time, and then decided to run a hot bath.

  I filled the tub, dumped in some bubble-bath, put the cordless on thetoilet seat, and splashed in. It felt so good I wanted to dissolve.Then I reached for the phone.

  The clock above the sink read eight-thirty, and I figured rightly, thatSteve would be back at his hotel in Belize City. Sure enough I got himon the first try.

  "Honey, you sitting down?" I said.

  "I'm lying down. You wouldn't believe my day."

  "You 're not going to believe what I just heard from the pharmacist atthe corner. Remember I told you I've been feeling strange, and somethings were a little behind schedule? Well, guess what. We're about tofind out something. We can't be together, but we can share it over asatellite."

  "You mean . . ."

  "I'm doing the test right now. You know, you take the stick out of theglass holder and if it's turned pink. . . ."

  He was speechless for a long moment. Finally he just said, "Wow."

  I checked the clock again, then reached for the test tube. This, Irealized, is the most incredible moment in any woman's life. Is yourworld going to go on being the same, or is it never, ever going to bethe same again?

  When I pulled out the stick, it was a bright, beautiful pink.

  "Steve. I love you. It's--"

  "Max." He didn't realize it, but his voice had just gone up an octave.

  "What?"

  "That's my dad's middle name. I want to name him Max. It's an oldfamily tradition."

  "And what if it's a girl? Don't say Maxine or I'll divorce you beforeyou even make an honest woman of me."

  "Nope. If it's a girl, then you get to pick."

  I couldn't believe I was finally having this conversation. It wassomething I'd dreamed of for years.

  It then got too maudlin to repeat. He was coming home in eleven days,and we planned the celebration. Dinner at Le Cirque and then an eveningat Cafe Carlyle. For a couple of would-be New York sophisticates, thatwas about as fancy-schmancy as this town gets.

  I was crying tears of triumph by the time we hung up. By then it waslate enough I figured Arlene would be home from her exercise class, soI decided to call her and break the happy news once more. Who I reallywanted to call was Betsy, on the Coast, but I knew she'd still bedriving home from her temp job. Arlene would have to do. Telling herwould be the equivalent of sending an urgent E-mail to th
e entireoffice, but I wanted everybody to know. Two birds with one stone.

  I looked down at my body, all the curves and soft skin, and tried tothink about the miracle of a baby finally growing inside it, liferecreating itself. God!

  Arlene was going to break my mood, but for some reason I had to callher. If only to bring me back to reality.

  I reached over and clicked open the cordless again. I was punching inher number when something made me pause. It was a nagging thought thatI'd managed to repress for a while. Finally, though, it wouldn't staydown any more. There was something I had to check out.

  I slowly put down the handset, climbed out of the tub, dried off, thenplodded into the bedroom to dig out my private calendar, which had longsince become a record of everything relevant to my and Steve's babyproject.

  It was buried at the bottom of the desk's second drawer, in amongst oldbank statements. It was also, figuratively, covered by two months ofdust, since that was how long it'd been since I'd bothered with it. Iguess my attitude had been, what's the point?

  I placed it on the desk, trying not to get it wet. Then I wrapped thetowel more firmly around me, switched on the desk lamp, and sat down. Ithink I was also holding my breath.

  I counted all the days twice, but there was no mistaking. The nightSteve and I had spent so gloriously together in the Camino Real wasn'ta fertile time. Not even close. I suppose that by then I'd become sodespairing of ever getting pregnant, I hadn't even given it anythought. It was enough just to see him and hold him.

  I just sat there for a long time staring at the white page, unable tomove, random thoughts coming too fast to contain inside my tangledbrain. Finally, though, I managed to get up

  and numbly put the calendar away. Order, I needed order. I then workedmy way into the kitchen to fix myself something. I had a glass ofwater, then pulled down a bottle of Red Label and poured myself half atumbler. Okay, somewhere down deep I knew it was the worst possiblething I could do, but I wasn't thinking, just going on autopilot anddismay.

  I drank off a shot of the foul-tasting scotch, then realized howthoughtless that was and dumped the rest into the sink. Next, I movedinto the living room and put on a raga, "Malkauns," concert volume, theone where the first note goes straight to your heart. Finally Icollapsed onto the couch, the room now gloriously alive with all thespirituality and sensuality of the raga, notes piling on exquisitenotes. For a while I just lay there numbly, enveloped in its lusheroticism. . . .

  Eventually I started to think. Alex Goddard had planned to take fromme, but had he also given? Had his "proprietary" ovulation drugs . . .causing all those hundreds of eggs to mature simultaneously . . .inadvertently let me get pregnant?

  Then I had a dismaying counter-thought. Could he have done an _invitro_ while I was under sedation, when he harvested my ova? Theultimate link to _Baalum_. Was my baby Sarah's too? One of those lastfrozen embryos in his . . .?

  Then I leaned back and closed my eyes.

  No, surely not. This baby was Steve's and mine. Ours. Had to be. Hisunintended, beautiful, ironic gift.

  Surely . . .

  Uh-uh. Go for a second take. Embrace life. Be Molly Bloom and shout it.

  Yes!

  _Yes_!

  * * *

  BOOKS BY THOMAS HOOVER

  Nonfiction

  Zen Culture

  The Zen Experience

  Fiction

  The Moghul

  Caribbee

  Wall Street _Samurai_

  (The _Samurai_ Strategy)

  Project Daedalus

  Project Cyclops

  Life Blood

  Syndrome

  All free as e-books at

  www.thomashoover.info

 
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