Life blood, p.5
Life Blood, p.5
I was feeling a bit off center that evening, but I explained it away asmental overload, the rain, and the implied threats. That diagnosis gotrevised the next morning when I awoke with a mind-numbing headache,chills alternating with a mild fever, and my chest feeling like it wascaught in a compactor. It was a so-called common cold, but there wasnothing common about my misery, which was truly exceptional.
I made a cup of Echinacea tea and then washed down 2000 mg of Vitamin Cwith some aging orange juice from my fridge, after which I took acouple of Tylenol, put on yesterday's jeans, and headed uptown to work.I also treated myself to a cab.
When I settled into the cluttered corner room that was my office, Itold myself this was not a day to make any big decisions. Just stick tomatters that required nothing more than autopilot.
The first thing I did was call Lou to check on Sarah (no change), andthen I told him about my Hispanic visitor. He made concerned sounds andpromised to accompany me on any further location shoots.
Next I pulled out my date book and punched in a phone number I'dscribbled in the back. I'd gotten it when I was winding up my interviewwith Carly Grove.
"Children of Light," said an unctuous voice. "This is Ramala."
I hesitated a moment before giving my name. They already knew who Iwas; Ramala or somebody had called Paula Marks and asked about me. Me.What would she do when she heard it was yours truly in the flesh?
I tried to take a deep breath, working around the feeling my lungs wereon fire, and identified myself.
Ramala received the information as though she'd never heard of me.Maybe she hadn't. Then I asked for an appointment with Alex Goddard. Assoon as it was convenient.
"He leaves his Saturdays open," she said, more of the smiley voice, "soI could make a special appointment for you tomorrow. Would ten A.M. beall right?"
Her accent was the kind of Delhi colonial-ruling-class you associatewith expensive silk saris and ruby bracelets, yet at the same time hervoice had an overlay of that melodious, touchy-feely unctuousness youhear on relaxation tapes. I half expected her to next say, inhaledeeply and feel the love flowing through the universe. In any case, shecouldn't have sounded more open and forthcoming.
I had to remind myself immediately that it wasn't true. Given theinquisitive phone call to Paula Marks, Children of Light was anorganization that deeply cherished its privacy. Presumably they had areason, and that reason didn't necessarily have to be sinister, butstill, I had every reason to think they were upset about me and it mademe paranoid. And now Alex Goddard immediately had time for a "specialappointment."
"Ten o'clock will be fine," I said, just barely croaking the words outof my chest.
She gave me directions for reaching the Riverdale clinic, calledQuetzal Manor, and hung up. I felt so miserable I could barely rememberafterward what she'd said, but fortunately I'd taken notes.
Quetzal Manor. An odd choice for a name, I'd thought.
Some kind of bird sacred to the Maya Indians of Central America. Butthen Paula had mentioned at one point that he was very interested inindigenous Third World herbs and remedies. So maybe it fit.
But still, one big puzzle kept coming back to haunt: How do you produceperfectly healthy siblings six months apart? (I actually called Carlyand Paula back to verify the ages.) The more I thought about Kevin andRachel, the more I realized they were so unmistakably related.
Puzzling over that, I began to wonder if maybe I was on the verge ofuncovering a blockbuster documentary. Could we be talking somethingapproaching science fiction here? Making documentaries, you're alwayson the lookout for the unexpected, the fresh. So how about anorganization that could obtain beautiful Caucasian babies seemingly atwill, including peas-in-a-pod born a few months apart? I was alreadyframing a pitch to David in my mind.
Anyway, the rest of the day, while I was busy battling my cold withantihistamines and lots of hot soup, I mounted a major phone inquiryjust to make sure all the rules on adoption hadn't somehow changed whenI wasn't looking. They hadn't. First off, to get a child in three orfour months, you'd almost certainly have to go with foreign adoption.China was everybody's flavor of the month, because they favored olderparents and also because the one-child-per-family policy there hadended up producing a wide-scale abandonment of girls (who were allthose precious boys going to marry? I often found myself wondering).However, the shifting politics there made the process very unreliable.A few months? Don't even think about it.
Pressing on, I satisfied myself that the country-specific organizationsthat found babies in the emerging parts of the world all still workedthe same. Cradle of Hope specialized in orphaned Russian kids. Childrenand Families, Inc., provided adoptions for Equadorian children.International Adoption Assistance, Inc., handled Brazilian orphans. Butthey all were still fussy, and they could take ages. How about abrand-new healthy baby in just a few months? I'd ask. Some kind of newfast track? The question was always taken as a joke. . . .
I would be driving up to Quetzal Manor in my old Toyota, and I dearlywished Steve could somehow materialize and be with me. In his absence,however, I convinced Lou to come along. I figured the change of scenewould do him good, and I also wanted the security of having him withme, after the threatening phone call to Paula and the Hispanic thugwho'd accosted me outside her apartment building. Besides, it'd just bea couple of hours.
The next morning, as we trekked up Riverside Drive, then the HenryHudson Parkway, the sky was a flawless blue and the wide Hudson seemedlike an ardent highway leading into the heart of America. Still inelevated spirits over Sarah's momentary brush with consciousness, Louhad noticeably less of a hangover than was usual most mornings. Maybehe was looking forward to a little mental R&R. For my own part, I feltmy curiosity growing. I'd gone to a lot of appointments over the years,but rarely did I suspect the person I was going to see already knewmore about me than I knew about them.
After we crossed the Henry Hudson Bridge, we left the highway andheaded down a service road that led toward the river. Then there was animposing gate, open, and a tree-shrouded driveway. Finally the placeloomed in front of us.
The physical appearance of Quetzal Manor was a study in Europeangrandeur, translated with a few extra frills from the New World. Carlyhad told me it had once been a Carmelite convent, dating from sometimein the middle of the last century, and it was a monument to Churchauthority, with endless arches of cut stone, turrets, gargoyles. As wewere motoring to the end of the long cobblestone drive, I felt as if Iwas approaching some Gothic movie set. Given its hovering sense ofregal authority, the place could easily have been a castle, but itseemed more like a brooding homage to medieval torture. Let me just sayit was truly magisterial, yet also more than a little creepy.
As we parked under a huge oak tree in front, I surveyed the facade,trying to marshal my strength. Enough of my cold still lingered that Ididn't feel as if my mind was working on all cylinders, and for amoment I merely sat looking, trying to breathe.
"Want me to go in with you?" Lou asked finally. He was examining thebuilding suspiciously, like a detective surveying a crime scene.
I wanted him with me and then again I didn't. I longed for the company,a protector, but I didn't want the complications, more things toexplain inside. Finally I made a snap decision.
"Why don't you take a stroll around the grounds?" I suggested. "Communewith nature. The fresh air will do you good. This can't take long.Mainly I just want to get some literature and try to gain a feeling forthe place."
That wasn't entirely, or even partly, true. What I really wanted tofind out was threefold: How did they manage to get beautiful healthyCaucasian babies for two single women in just a few months; how couldthose babies be only six months apart in age and still obviously besiblings; and (this was where my feelings got complicated) could theyget a baby for me the same way, never mind how they did it. It was thethird thing that actually bothered me the most, since I was far fromsure I wanted to be a part of whatever was going on.
Lou just shrugged and leaned back in his seat. "Take as
long as you like. I'll just wait here in the car. I'm not the naturetype."
That was certainly the case.
I walked across the cobblestones to an arched entryway that had nodoor. I wondered at this--most convents are like a fortress--and then Irealized the front door had been removed, leaving only its ancienthinges still bolted into the stones. Perhaps it was intended to be asymbol of openness, inviting you in.
There was no sign of anybody--the saccharine-voiced Ramala was not onhand to greet me--so I just headed on down a wide hallway, past a tableof brochures. The place had been decorated with expensive good taste:tapestries all over the stone walls, perfect Persian rugs, classicchurch statuary--all of it calling forth powerful feelings from deep inthe psyche.
Then I entered a vast interior courtyard, where a central fountainsplashed cheerily in the midday light. The courtyard was circled with apicturesque gallery of cells, all with massive wooden doors, mostlikely rooms once inhabited by chaste sisters.
The place did seem to be a clinic-commune now, just as Paula had said.Not nuns this time around, but rather New Age acolytes whose tastes ranmore to secular music than to religious chants, as witness thecacophony of sounds that wafted out from several of the cells. Only itwasn't any kind of conventional music; it seemed a mixture of Japaneseflute, North Indian ragas, African drumming. I liked the ragas, evenrecognized my favorite, "Bhairavi."
Then I spotted something that riveted my attention. At the back of thecourtyard, just past a final wooden door, stood a huge South Indianbronze statue, about five feet high, of the Dancing Shiva. It appearedto be presiding over the arch way that led out into a dense naturalgarden behind the building.
I walked across the cobblestones to examine and admire it. It seemed anodd item to find here in the courtyard of a once-cloistered convent. Iwas so enthralled I failed to hear the door behind me open.
"Do you find my Shiva interesting, Ms. James?" said a soothing voice,just barely audible above the chirps of birds. I think I caught abreath in my phlegm-locked chest, but then I turned to see a tall mandressed in casual chinos and a dark sweater. He was trim, looked to bein his early sixties, with a mane of salt-and-pepper hair and leanfeatures more craggy than handsome. But his eyes were everything,telling you he owned the space around him, owned in fact, the air hebreathed. It had to be Alex Goddard.
"Yes," I answered almost before I thought. "It just seems to be alittle out of place here."
I wondered if he was going to introduce himself. Then I realized thatwhen you're used to being the master of a private domain, you probablynever think to bother with such trivial formalities. Everybody knowswho you are.
"Well," he said, his voice disarmingly benign, "I suppose I must beg todiffer. May I suggest you consider this Shiva for a moment and try toimagine he's a real god?"
"He is a real god" I said immediately feeling patronized. Nothing makesme angry faster. "In India, he's--"
"Yes," he said "I know you did a film about India--which I found quiteextraordinary, by the way--but why wouldn't the Shiva fit right inhere? You see, he's a very modern, universal figure. He incorporateseverything that exists in the contemporary world. Space, time, matter,and energy. As well as all of human psychology and wisdom."
"I'm aware of that," I said sensing my pique increase. We were notgetting off to a great start.
"Yes, well." He seemed not to hear me. Instead he started putting onthe leather jacket he'd had slung over his shoulder. "Notice that Shivahas four arms, and he's dancing with one foot raised. He's alsostanding inside that great circle of flame, a sort of halo encompassinghis whole body. That circle stands for the great, all-embracingmaterial universe, all of it. Dark and light, good and evil. He knowsand controls everything."
Hey, I realized, this guy's got some kind of identity thing going withthis ancient Indian god.
He continued as he zipped up the jacket. "Shiva has four arms because--"
"Let me tell you," I said, interrupting him. He looked startled,clearly not accustomed to a woman meeting him on his own ground. "Hehas four hands because he has a lot to do. That little drum in hisupper right summons things into existence. And there in his upper lefthe holds a fire that destroys."
Goddard was examining me curiously, but I just stared back andcontinued.
"His lower right hand is held up in a kind of benediction, as if tosay, 'Find your peace within,' and the lower left points down at hisfeet, where one foot is planted on the back of that repulsive littledwarf there, the human ego. Crush the ego and be free. The other footis lifted to signify spiritual freedom."
"You seem to know the Shiva well." He broke into a grudging smile, asthough we'd just met. Chalk up round one as a draw. "I'm glad you came,Ms. James. I'm a great admirer of your work and I especially wanted toprovide your orientation personally. It's a genuine pleasure to meetyou at last."
At last? I took his proffered hand and stared. All the questions I'dbeen brooding over for the past week sort of disappeared into a memoryfile somewhere. Instead all I could do was focus in on him.
Meeting Carly and Paula's miracle worker in the flesh made me recallsomething Aldous Huxley once observed. He declared that the kind ofman, and they are almost always men, who can control others with hismind needs to have certain qualities the rest of us can only envy. Ofcourse he has to be intelligent and have a range of knowledge that canbe used to impress people, but most of all, he has to have a will ofiron, an unswerving tenacity of purpose, and an uncompromisingself-confidence about who he is, what he wants. This means a slightlyremote manner, a glittering eye, and a sympathetic gaze that bores indeeply on you one minute, then seems off in another realm, focused oninfinity, the next. Perhaps most importantly of all, his voice must bethat of a Pied Piper, a soft yet penetrating instrument that actsdirectly on the unconscious of his listeners.
Even though he was doing a casual number with me, my first impressionof Alex Goddard was that he perfectly embodied all those qualities. Ialso sensed a false note. What was it? Maybe he was being just a littletoo casual.
"If you're here about doing a film," he began, "please be aware we donot encourage publicity. If you've come because of your infertility, asRamala said you mentioned in your call, then I welcome you with openarms."
Well, he knew how to cut to the chase. And after his phone call to tryto intimidate Paula Marks, I was well aware he didn't "encouragepublicity." But now I also realized he wouldn't be overly interested inmy new idea of someday doing a documentary on this place. But then alot of people say no at first and then come around.
"I was actually interested in neither," I said, feeling my sinusesabout to close down permanently. "I was actually hoping to find outabout your adoption service, how it works."
"Ah," he said, his eyes shifting from intense scrutiny to somewherelost in the ozone, "that's not something I handle personally. In anycase, you first must come and participate in our program. Then, if wefail to achieve your objectives, we can take the adoption matter underconsideration."
"I think I'd like to hear about it anyway." I took a deep breath, againgroping for air. "For instance, where and how you get the children youplace."
"I see," he said calmly, as though my question were about the weather.Then he secured his coat tighter. "I'm thinking, how would you like totake a short walk? Down to the river. We could get to know each otherbetter."
I just nodded, not looking forward to the harsh wind that would assaultmy inflamed sinuses. But maybe I was getting somewhere.
As we started out through the stone archway and into the rear garden,which seemed to extend for acres, he continued.
"You seem to have a lot of questions about what I'm doing here. So letme try and put my efforts into perspective. As I like to point out towomen when they first come here, we in the West are making do with onlyhalf the world's medical knowledge. We ignore all of the East. There'salso the wisdom of the indigenous peoples here in the WesternHemisphere, the Native Americans. Who are we to say they don't have alot to teach?" He smiled, as though embarrassed to be passing alongsuch a commonplace. "For example, Western medical practice, virtuallyuntil this century, consisted mainly of using leeches to drain away'humors' in the blood. At the same time, the indigenous peoples of thiscontinent knew more about the curative powers of plants, even drugs,than Europe ever dreamed of. Yet they were deemed savages."
I wasn't sure where he was leading, but the supreme self-confidencewith which he spoke had the effect of sweeping me along. The engagingeyes, the voice, the well-used designer jacket, it all worked. He wasgood, very good.
"So you see," he went on, "what I've tried to achieve here at QuetzalManor is to integrate the knowledge of East and West, ancient andmodern."
"So what, exactly, do you--?"
"Well, first let me explain that I studied in the Far East for over adecade, until I understood how to control the energy flows in the body,your Chi. Then I moved to Central America, where I learned all that iscurrently known about Native American practices and medicines. I stillhave a special place there, where I carry out pharmacological researchon the rare plants of that area, studying their effects on humanfertility, on the origins of life. I have no time to waste on diseaseand degeneration."
We were well into his Eden-like rear garden now, which had lots ofherbs and was also part orchard. There were apple trees and other fruittrees I couldn't readily identify, all just starting to show theirfirst buds. When we came to the end, there was a cobblestone pathleading west. In what seemed only a few moments, we'd reached a line ofbluffs overlooking the Hudson. The early spring wind was cutting intomy face, causing my nostrils to feel on fire.
As we stood gazing down at the rippling waters of the Hudson below,where a lone sailboat was caught in the breeze, the moment took on atimelessness, feeling as though it could have been any place, anycentury.
"Incidentally," he went on, turning slightly to me, "are you familiarwith the name Asklepios?"
I had to shake my head no. It sounded vaguely familiar, but . . .
"He was the ancient Greek god of medicine. The physicians who reveredhim held that sickness could be cured using drugs and potions that camefrom outside the body, since they believed that's where diseaseoriginated. Now, of course, billion-dollar industries thrive byenhancing our arsenal of antibiotics."
I listened to this, wondering where he was headed. Then he told me.
"There was, however, another school of healing at that time, those whohonored the daughter of Asklepios. She was Hygeia, their goddess ofhealth. The Hygeians believed that wellness originated from properlygoverning your own body. For them, the greatest service of thephysician was to learn how we can work with our bodies. Their ideal washealing from within rather than intervention from without."
Again he was studying me, as though trying to determine whether I wasgoing along with what he was saying.
"Unfortunately," he continued, "the Hygeian school more or less diedout in the West. However, it lives on in other places. For example,primitive peoples have no manufactured, synthetic drugs, so they usenatural herbs to enhance their own immune system and stay healthy."
He turned to study the river, dropping into silence.
"Maybe I'm missing something," I declared finally. His hypnotic voicehad drawn me in, in spite of myself. "How does this relate toinfertility?"
He turned back and caught me with his shining eyes. They seemed to begiving off heat of their own. "Just as the body is intended to healitself, so is a woman's womb meant to create life. If she's childless,the reason more often than not is that her body is out of harmony withitself. What I do here is seek out each woman's unique energy flows andattempt to restore them, using Eastern practices and Hygeian herbaltherapies."
"Does it always succeed?" I abruptly wondered if his techniques mightwork for me. Face it, Western medicine had completely struck out. Theproblem was, the guy was just a little too smooth.
"Not always. Some women's bodies are naturally unresponsive, just asall organisms are subject to random . . . irregularities. In thosecases, I try to provide her a child by other means."
"You mean adoption," I suggested.
"By whatever means seems appropriate," he replied cryptically
"Well, there's something I'd like to understand. Last week I met awoman who had adopted a baby boy through Children of Light. She got himin three months. Such a thing is, according to what I can find out,totally unheard of. So how did you manage that?"
He stared down at the river. "I thought I'd explained that adoptionsare not what we primarily do here. They're provided only as a lastresort, in the few cases where my regimen of Hygeian therapies fails."
"But in those cases, where do you find--?"
"As I've said before we talk about adoption, first we need to satisfyourselves that no other options are possible." Then his eyes clickedinto me. "If you could come back next Saturday to begin your tests andreceive an orientation, I could give you an opinion about your chancesof bearing a child. It will require a thorough examination, but I canusually tell with a good degree of certainty whether my program canhelp someone or not. It's really important, though, that you stay atleast . . ." He was staring at me. "Mind if I do something that mightrelieve some of the symptoms of that cold?"
He reached out and touched my temples with his long, lean fingers. Thenhe placed his thumbs just above my eyebrows and pressed very hard.After a long moment, he slowly moved the pressure down to the bridge ofmy nose, then across under my eyes. Finally he put the heel of hishands just above my ears and pressed again. After a couple of secondshe stepped away and continued talking as though nothing had happened.
"After I give you a full examination, we can discuss our next step."With that he turned, ready to head back. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'vegot a lot of research data to organize."
I guess he assumed his juggernaut of arcane medical theory had rolledover me sufficiently that he could move on to other matters. I sensedhe really wanted me to come back, but he was careful to wind down ourmutual interview with a take-it-or-leave-it air. All the same, I feltintrigued as we moved back through the gardens and then into thecourtyard. A baby. Maybe he could make it happen for Steve and me. Inspite of myself, I felt a moment of hope.
"Thank you for coming," he said by way of farewell, just brushing myhand, then turned and disappeared through one of the ancient woodendoors along the veranda, leaving me alone.
Well, I thought, the calm voice and casual outfit are probably justpart of his bedside manner, but you can't be near Alex Goddard and notfeel a definite sense of carefully controlled power. But is his powerbeing used for good?
This was the man whose staff was trying to deny me interviews withmothers who'd adopted through Children of Light. And what about theHispanic hood with the gun? Did Alex Goddard send him? If not, hisappearance at Paula's building was one hell of a coincidence. So whyshould I trust . . .
That was when I noticed it. My lingering cold had miraculouslyvanished, inflamed sinuses and all. I was breathing normally, and evenmy chest felt cleared.
My God, I thought, what did he do? Hypnotize me? It was as though aweek's healing had passed through my body.
I had an epiphany, a moment that galvanizes your resolve. I had to do adocumentary about this man, to find out what he was really up to. He'dmentioned he had a place in Central America. Was that the source of hisspecial techniques, some kind of ancient Meso-American medicalpractices he'd discovered?
He claimed he didn't want any publicity, but that's always just anopening move. When somebody says that, what they really mean is theydon't want any bad publicity; they just want to have final say aboutwhat you produce. There're ways to handle the problem.
I liberated a brochure from the hall table on my way out, thinking Iwould study it soon. Very closely. I had a nose for a good story, andthis one felt right.
When I got back to the car, Lou was nowhere to be seen. He'd given methe impression he intended merely to sit there and doze while I wentinside, but now he was gone.
Then he appeared emerging from the forest of trees. Actually, there wasanother building opposite the stone drive that I hadn't noticed atfirst. Hmmm, I thought, I wonder what that's all about. For some reasonAlex Goddard hadn't offered me a tour; he'd taken me for a stroll inthe opposite direction. . . .
"That was fast," Lou said settling into the car. "You get what you camefor?"
The answer to that was both yes and no. In a sense I'd gottenconsiderably more than I bargained for.
"He wants me to come back," I said. "And I think I might do it. There'sa lot more going on with Alex Goddard than you'd know from just lookingat this place. The trick is to stay in control when you're around him."
I tossed the brochure into Lou's lap as I started the engine. He tookit and immediately began looking through it.
Lou, I knew, was a man always interested in facts and figures. As weheaded toward the Parkway he was pouring through the brochure withintense interest, even as I tried to give him a brief reprise of AlexGoddard's medical philosophy.
"It says here his patients come from all over the United States andEurope," he noted, finally interrupting me.
I found nothing odd in that, and went back to rambling on about QuetzalManor. Give the place its due, it was placid and tranquil and smackedof the benign spirituality Goddard claimed to put so much stock in.Still, I found it unsettling.
However, Lou, as usual, chose to see matters his own way. He'd beenstudying the fine print at the back of the brochure, mumbling tohimself, and then he emitted a grunt of discovery.
"Ah, here's what I was looking for," he declared. "You know, as aregistered New York State adoption agency, this outfit has got todivulge the number of babies they placed during their last yearlyreporting period."
"According to him, he only resorts to adoption if he can't cure yourinfertility with his special mind-body regimen," I reminded him. "Yourenergy flows--"
"No shit," Lou observed, then went on. "Well, then I guess hismind-body, energy flows, whatever, bullshit must fail a lot. Becauselast year the number was just under two hundred. So at sixty thou apop, like it says here, we're talking about twelve million smackeroosgross in a year. Not a bad way to fail, huh?"
I caught myself emitting a soft whistle as he read out the number.There was definitely a lot more going on with Alex Goddard than met theeye.
"So what's he do with all that dough?" Lou mused. "Better questionstill, where in the hell did he find two hundred fresh, orphanedbabies, all listed here as Caucasian? And get this: The ages reportedat final processing are all just a couple of months, give or take."
Good questions, I thought. Maybe that's the reason he doesn't wantpublicity; it sounds a little too commercial for a mind-body guru.
My other thought was, with so many babies somehow available, why wasAlex Goddard so reluctant to even discuss adoption with me?
The answer, I was sure, lay in the fact he already knew more about methan I knew about him. He knew I was making a film about adoption (howdid he come by that knowledge? I kept wondering) and he was concernedhe might be mentioned in it. I kept asking myself, why?
On our drive back down the Henry Hudson Parkway, I decided I wasdefinitely looking at a documentary in the making. I just had to decidewhether to do it with or without his cooperation.
Life Blood by Thomas Hoover / Horror have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on16 votes