Life blood, p.9
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       Life Blood, p.9


  Chapter Nine

  After giving me a small bag with two bottles, Ramala led me out, and Idiscovered I really _had _been in a different building, the onesituated across the long-term parking lot and all but hidden in thetrees. It was new, one-story, and probably larger than it appeared fromthe front. Again I wondered what went on in there, since it seemed soempty.

  Check it out and soon, I told myself as I slipped my key into theignition. You've got to find out a lot more about this place.

  On the drive back to the city, my main thought was that I'd lost a dayof my life. It'd just sort of slipped away. But that wasn't all. I alsobegan to meditate on the fact that Alex Goddard could have an immenseinfluence over my body (or was it my mind?) with a simple touch. Givehim his due, he could definitely make things happen. First my cold andnow this. Perhaps he could give me a child, if I got "centered,"whatever that meant. But why should I trust him?

  And there was another problem. For a baby I'd need Steve, the man Iloved, the guy who'd promised to be with me through thick and thin. Didhe really mean it? He'd have to fly in, which meant a serious piece ofchange for the airfare. Finally, could he face another chance offailure? My spirits sank at the prospect of having to ask him. Were weboth just going to be humiliated one more time?

  He'd made his home base in Belize, that little Rhode Island of acountry abutting big, bad Guatemala. He liked the fact they usedEnglish, more or less, as the official language and they hadn't gottenaround to murdering two hundred thousand Maya, the way Guatemala had.In a romantic moment, I'd programmed his Belize hotel number into thememory of my cell phone--the telephones down there are amazingly good,maybe the Brit legacy--though I'd never actually tried it. (I'd calledhim from home about half a dozen times, but he was rarely there.) Well,I thought, the time has come. Maybe it was the sensual feelingsreleased by all the Chi flowing around, but for some reason I foundmyself feeling very lonely. He hadn't called recently, though. . . .

  It took ten rings, but eventually the hotel answered. A moment later,they were trying his room. I guess I was half afraid a woman might pickup, but it was him and there were no hushed tones or crypticmonosyllables. I heaved a minor sigh of reassurance.

  "Baby, I can't believe it's you," he declared. "I've actually beentrying to reach you for a day now."

  "You finally get around to missing me?" It was so good to hear hisvoice, full of life and energy.

  "All the time. Never didn't. You've just got to understand it's crazydown here. All last week I was in Honduras, haggling over permits.Don't ask." He paused. "So, when are you coming down? They've got anational park here that's a pure chunk of rain forest, jaguarseverywhere." He laughed. "But forget that. If you come down, we'llnever get out of the hotel. Just room service all day."

  "No immediate plans," I said, immediately wondering how I could swingit. "But you never know."

  I wasn't entirely sure how to approach Steve anymore. There wassomething about the abrupt way he took off that left things up in theair. A tiny sliver of uneasiness was slipping into my head-over-heelstrust, the camel's nose under the tent.

  "First the good news," I declared. "David's talking to Orion about atheatrical release for _Baby Love_."

  Steve knew how deeply I longed for a theatrical--it would be myfirst--and he enthused appropriately. But he also knew I wouldn't callhim early Sunday morning just to tell him that. There was only oneother thing that would inspire such an unsocialized act.

  "Uh, should I be asking how the other baby project is going?" he said.

  For a moment I wasn't sure what to say, since I didn't really even knowmyself.

  "Still a work in progress," I said finally. Then; "Honey, I've justbeen to see a doctor who's . . . well, he's a little unconventional.And nervous-making. But everything else has failed."

  Whereupon I gave him a quick, cell-phone summary of what I'd just beenthrough at Quetzal Manor.

  "So are you going to go back eventually?" He sounded uneasy. "For thefull 'program'?"

  He had a way of zeroing in on essentials. The truth was, my baby hopesand my sense of self-preservation were at war with each other. . . .

  "Morgy, are you there?"

  "I'm here. And I guess the answer is, I'm still trying to decide. LikeI said, he's into Eastern medicine and Native American . . . I'm notsure what. But if I need you, are you still in the project?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "Darlin', don't play dumb. You know exactly what I mean. Could you comeback if I needed you? Really needed you?"

  There was a long pause, wherein the milliseconds dragged by like hours.Trees were gliding past, throwing shadows on

  my windshield, and I still felt vaguely dizzy. I also had a residualache in my abdomen where Alex Goddard had given me those damnedmuscle-relaxant shots. Why was I even considering going back?

  Finally: "You're not making this easy, you know. Down here, without our. . . project on the front burner every day, I've been reassessing . .. well, a lot of things. If we had a baby, it would turn our livesupside down. I mean, it's not like we just bought a sheepdog andchipped in on the grooming. This is a human life we're talking about.Are we really prepared to do justice to a child?"

  There it was. I didn't know whether I wanted to burst into tears, orstrangle the man.

  "Well, why don't you just think about it," I told him. "This doesn'tsound like a conversation we should be having on a cell phone." Blasthim. "If that's the way you feel now, then I might just have a baby onmy own." How, I wasn't sure. I'd been so certain we were a couple, I'dnot given it any real thought. "Or then again, I might just go aheadand adopt, with or without you."

  "Look, I'm not saying I won't do it. I'm just saying it's not a trivialthing." He paused. "So where does that leave us?"

  Translation: second thoughts.

  "I don't know where that leaves us, Steve. In the shit, I guess. ButI'd still like to know if I can count on you, or am I going to have togo to a sperm bank or something?"

  "Jesus. Let me think about this, okay? Do I have to answer you now?"

  "No. But I'm not going to wait forever either."

  "All right." Then he paused. "Morgy, I miss you. I really do. I justneed some time to think about our next step. Are you sure you're okay?You sound a little out of it."

  "Thanks for asking. I've just got a lot on my mind."

  Turmoil, dismay, and hope, all tossed together, that was what I had onmy mind. I really didn't need mixed signals from Steve at the moment.

  A few more awkward pleasantries and I clicked off the phone, wiped thestreaks from my cheeks, and abruptly sensed Alex Goddard's facefloating through my psyche. Why was that? Then I looked down at thebottles on the seat beside me, the "herbal extracts" Ramala had givenme on the way out. What, I wondered, should I do about them? For thatmatter, what were they anyway? And what did they have to do with"centering"? If I started on his homeopathic treatments, what would Ibe getting into? Then I lectured myself: Never take something when youdon't know what it is.

  Hannah Klein. That's who I should ask.

  I was so focused, I pushed the number I had stored for her in my phonememory before I remembered it was Sunday. Instead of getting heroffice, I got an answering service.

  "Do you want to leave the doctor a message?" a southern-sounding voiceenquired.

  Without thinking, I heard myself declaring, "No, this is an emergency."

  What am I saying? I asked myself. But before I could take it back,Hannah was on the line.

  I know how intruded on I feel when an actor calls me at home on Sundayto bitch. Better make this good, I told myself.

  "I was at an infertility clinic yesterday and passed out," I began."And now I have some herbs to take, but I'm . . . well, I'm not sureabout them."

  "What 'clinic'?" she asked. There was no reprimand for calling her onSunday morning.

  When I told her about Alex Goddard, she said little, but she did notsound impressed. Looming there between us like the dead elephant on the
living room floor was the fact that she'd specifically warned me not togo near him. And after what had just happened, there was a good caseshe might be right.

  "Can I buy you brunch?" I finally asked, hoping to lure her back ontomy case. "I'd really like to show you these herbs he gave me and getyour opinion."

  "I was just headed out to Zabar's to get something," she said, somewhaticily. Well, I suppose she thought she had good reason. "I'll get somebagels and meet you at my office."

  Sunday traffic on upper Broadway was light, and I lucked out and founda parking space roughly two blocks from her building. It was one of thelow-overhead "professional" types with a single small elevator and nodoorman. When I got there, the lobby was empty.

  Her suite was on the third floor, and I rang the bell before I realizedthe door was open. She was back in her office, behind the receptionarea, taking off her coat, when I marched in.

  While she was unwrapping her sesame bagels, smoked sturgeon, and creamcheese with chives, she got an earful. My feeling was I'd better talkfast, and I did. I told her everything I could think of about what hadhappened to me at Quetzal Manor. I didn't expect her to make sense ofit from my secondhand account, but I wanted to set the background formy next move.

  "When I was leaving, his assistant gave me these two bottles ofgel-caps. She said they're special herbal extracts he makes from plantsin the rain forest. Do you think I ought to take them?"

  I suspected I already knew the answer. Given her previously voicedviews on Alex Goddard, I doubted she would endorse any potions he mightdispense. But plant medicine has a long history. At least she mightknow if they presented any real danger.

  She was schmearing cream cheese on the bagels, but she put down theplastic knife, took the two bottles, and examined them skeptically.

  "These are not 'herbal extracts,' " she declared giving her firstanalysis before even opening them. "They're both manufactured drugs.The gel-caps have names on them. It's a Latin American pharmaceuticalcompany."

  Then she opened the first bottle, took out one of the caps, crushed itbetween her fingers, and sniffed.

  "Uh-huh, just what I thought." Then she touched a pinch of the whitepowder to her tongue. "Right." She made a face and wiped her tonguewith a tissue. "Except it's much stronger than the usual version. I cantell you right now that this drug, in this potency, is illegal in theU.S."

  What was it? I wondered. Cocaine? And how could she tell its potencywith just a taste? Then I reminded myself why I'd come to her in thefirst place: She'd been around the track many, many times.

  "It's gonadotropin," she said glaring at me. Like, you damned fool."I'm virtually certain. The trade name here in the U.S. is Pergonal,though that's not what this is. This is a much stronger concoction, andI can see some impurities." She settled the bottle onto her desk withwhat seemed almost a shudder. "This is the pharmaceutical equivalent ofhundred-and-ninety-proof moonshine."

  "What is it? What's it supposed it do?" Jesus, I thought, what's hegiving me?

  "It's a hormone extracted from the urine of menopausal women. Ittriggers a greater than normal egg production and release. It'ssometimes prescribed together with Lupron, which causes your body torelease a similar hormone. Look, if you want to try Pergonal, the realversion, I'll write you a prescription, though I honestly don't thinkit's going to do you the slightest bit of good."

  I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I'd almost been consideringgiving Alex Goddard the benefit of the doubt, at least till I found outmore about him, and now he hands me this.

  Now we both were looking at the other bottle.

  "What do you think that is?" I asked, pointing.

  She broke the plastic seal, opened it, and looked in. It too was awhite powder sealed in gel-caps, and she gave one a sniff, then thetaste test.

  "I have no idea."

  She set the bottle back on her desk, and I stared at it, terrified ofwhat it might be. Finally I got up my courage and reached for it. Awhite sticker had been wrapped around it, with directions for taking .. . whatever it was . . . written on it. Then I happened to notice thatone corner showed the edge of another label, one beneath thehand-applied first one. I lifted a letter opener off her desk andmanaged to get it under the outer label. With a little scraping andtugging, I got it off.

  "Does this mean anything to you?" I asked her, handing it back. "It'sin Spanish, but the contents seem to be HMG Massone."

  "I don't believe it," she said, taking the bottle as though lifting acobra. I even got the distinct feeling she didn't want to leave anyfingerprints on it. "That's an even more powerful drug to stimulateovarian follicles and induce superovulation. It's highly illegal inthis country. Anybody who gives these drugs in combination to a patientis flirting with an ethics charge, or worse."

  I think I gasped. What was he trying to put into my body?

  She settled the bottle back on the desk, her eyes growing narrow."Since you say his 'nurse' or assistant or whatever she was gave youthis, I suppose there's always the chance she made an innocent mistake.But still, what's he doing with this stuff at all? They manufacture itdown in Mexico, and also, I've heard, somewhere in Central America, butit's not approved in the U.S. Anybody who dispenses this to a patientis putting their license at risk." She paused to give me one of thoselooks. "Assuming Alex Goddard even has a medical license. These'alternative medicine' types sometimes claim they answer to a higherpower, they're board-certified by God."

  "I don't for a minute think it was an 'innocent mistake.' " I wasbeginning to feel terribly betrayed and violated. I also was gettingmad as hell, my fingertips tingling. "But why would he give me thesedrugs at all? Did he somehow--?"

  "I think you'd better ask him," she said passing me a bagel piled highwith cream cheese and sturgeon.

  She bit into her own bagel and for a while we both just chewed insilence. I, however, had just lost all my appetite. Alex Goddard whomight well be my last chance for a baby, had just dispensed massivedoses of illegal drugs to me. Which, my longtime ob/gyn was warning me,were both unnecessary and unethical.

  "What do you think I should do?" I asked finally, breaking the silencebut barely able to get my voice out.

  She didn't say anything. She'd finished her bagel, and now she'd begunwrapping up the container of cream cheese, folding the wax paper backover the remaining sturgeon. I thought her silent treatment was her wayof telling me my brunch consultation was over. She clearly wasexasperated with me.

  "Let me tell you a story," she said finally, as she carefully beganputting the leftover sturgeon back into the Zabar's bag. "When I waseight years old all the Jews in our Polish ghetto were starving becausethe Nazis refused to give us food stamps. So my father bribed a Naziofficer to let him go out into the countryside to try to buy some eggsand flour, anything, just so we could eat. The farmer came thatSaturday morning in a horse-drawn wagon to pick up my father. At thelast minute, I asked to go with him and he let me. That night the Nazisliquidated our entire ghetto, almost five thousand people. No one elsein my family survived. Not my mother, not my two sisters, not anyone."

  Her voice had become totally dispassionate, matter-of-fact, as thoughrepression of the horror was the only way a sane person could deal withit. She could just as easily have been describing a country outing asshe continued. I did notice, however, that her East European accent hadsuddenly become very prominent, as though she was returning there inher thoughts.

  "When we learned what had happened, my father asked the farmer we werevisiting to go to a certain rural doctor we knew and beg him to give ussome poison, so we could commit suicide before the Nazis got us too.The doctor, however, told him he had only enough poison for his ownfamily. He did, however, give him a prescription for us. But when myfather begged that farmer to go to a pharmacy and get the poison, heand his entire family refused. Instead, they hid us in their barn forover a year, even though they knew it meant a firing squad if the Nazisfound us." She glared at me. "Do you understand what I'm saying? Theytold us that i
f we wanted to do something foolish because we weredesperate, we would have to do it without their help."

  It was the first time I ever knew her real story. I was stunned.

  "What, exactly, are you driving at?" I think I already knew. The long,trusting relationship we'd shared was now teetering on the brink. Bygoing to see Alex Goddard--even if it was partly a research trip tocheck him out--I had disappointed her terribly. She'd lost respect forme. She thought I was desperate and about to embark on somethingfoolish.

  "I'm saying do whatever you want." She got up and lifted her coat offthe corner rack. "But get those drugs out of here. I don't want themanywhere near this office. I tried everything legal there was to getyou pregnant. If that wasn't good enough for you and now you want to goto some quack, that's your affair. Let me just warn you that combininggonadotropin and HMG Massone at these dosages is like putting yourovaries on steroids; you get massive egg production for a couple ofcycles, but the long-term damage could be severe. I strongly advise youagainst it, but if you insist and then start having complications, Iwould appreciate not being involved."

  Translation: If you start fooling around with Alex Goddard, don't evercome back.

  It felt like a dagger in my chest. What was I going to do? One thought:Okay, so these drugs aren't the way, but you couldn't help me getpregnant. All I did was spend twenty thousand dollars on futileprocedures. Not to mention the heartbreak.

  "You know," I said finally, maybe a little sharply, "I think we oughtto be working together, not at cross-purposes."

  "You're welcome to think what you like," she bristled. "But I have totell you I don't appreciate your tone."

  I guess I'd really ticked her off, and it hurt to do it. Then, finally,her own rejection of me was sinking in.

  "So that's it? You're telling me if I try anything except exactly whatyou want me to, then just don't ever come back."

  "I've said all I intend to." She was resolutely ushering me toward thedoor, her eyes abruptly blank.

  Well, I told myself, going from anger to despair, then back to anger,whatever else I might think about Alex Goddard, at least he doesn'tkick people out because of their problems, even a sad soul like Tara.

  Still, what about these illegal drugs? There I was, caught in themiddle--between an honorable woman who had failed, and Alex Goddard,who'd just lived up to my worst suspicions. Heading down in theelevator, alone, I could still hear Hannah Klein's rejection, andwarning, ringing in my ears. Maybe she had just confirmed that still,small voice of rationality lecturing me from the back of my mind.

  I marched out onto the empty Sunday streets of upper Broadway, and whenI got to the corner, I stood for a long moment looking up at thepitiless blue of the sky. The sun was there, but in my soul I felt allthe light was gone.

  Finally I opened the first bottle and then, one by one, I began takingout the gel-caps and dropping them into the rainwater grate there at myfeet, watching them bounce like the metal sphere in an old pinballmachine before disappearing into the darkness below. When both bottleswere empty, I tossed them into the wire trash basket I'd been standingnext to.

  The next time I saw Alex Goddard, he was going to have a hell of a lotof explaining to do. Beginning with why he'd given me a glimmer ofhope, only to then cruelly snatch it back. I found myself hating himwith all my being.

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