Chapter 18 – Shiva’s Messenger
Operating with Unorthodox Stitches
“It’s wonderful to be practicing medicine again but working at the convenience store sure wasn’t as hectic.” Dr. Cindy Smart left the Creston clinic after a long day. No longer working at the c-store also meant giving up the apartment above. She had bought a small hobby farm in the Lister area. Only a 10-minute drive from town, it was a quiet area and she was even considering buying a horse.
‘Will you have time to ride it? It’ll be an expensive, road-apple producing, lawn ornament’. Jessica had splashed some red ink into Cindy’s decision-making process.
“Maybe I should get a goat instead to keep the grass trimmed.” The doctor kicked at a tuft. She looked up at the sound of tires crunching on gravel but didn’t recognize the Lexus entering her driveway. A man with short light brown hair struggled to get out and his possible identity shot instantly to mind.
“Roger?” Cindy confirmed her guess despite the huge change from his previous appearance. Then, she noticed the ashen color of his face, the sheen of perspiration and the un-focusing eyes in his pained expression. “What’s wrong?”
“I have bullet pox and I didn’t know who else to turn to.” She had asked him to return if afflicted by childhood illness but this form of lead poisoning wasn’t specifically included in the invitation.
“Come into the house.” The petite doctor ducked under his armpit to support his tormented gait. “How did you find me here?”
“I waited until you left work and then followed you home.” His words were stilted between groans. “Will you keep me?”
“You should have come straight into the clinic. This time you do have to go to the hospital.”
“I can’t.” By now, they were into the house. Cindy took him directly to her spare bedroom.
“Let me see it.” She grabbed her scissors and cut away the bandages. “Oh, this is bad. I’m going to call an ambulance.”
“I’ve done some things,” he grabbed her wrist but his grip lacked even the strength it would take to milk a goat, “and a hospital would report the gunshot wounds. I would rather die now.”
“I know what you’ve done.” She looked more closely at the puckered bullet holes but couldn’t view his back for the exit wounds. “Did they go all the way through?”
“One did but I think I’m still plumbiferous.” His prone position was triggering the long resisted body urge to shut down and attempt self-repairs. On that quip, his consciousness lapsed.
“Don’t try to make me laugh right now!” She couldn’t suppress a snicker even in spite of the critical situation and had to rail against the urge to slap him playfully like she had several times during their scrabble games. Plumbiferous, an adjective, denotes something containing or yielding lead. The uncommon word had probably never been used to describe a human condition.
“If it were anyone but you.” She continued even though he was too far-gone to even hear. “I don’t have the necessary equipment.” Cindy dialed her phone.
“Hello?” A naked young female answered impatiently after about the tenth tone and stood dripping on her carpet. At first she had been just letting it ring but after six, it started to sound urgent.
“Come to my house.” Cindy sounded slightly out of breath like she had run hard before phoning.
“It’s a bad time.” Jessica protested. “I have a date tonight.”
“Cancel it. Someone showed up here and I need your help.”
“Who—” Jessica didn’t have to finish the question before she deduced why Cindy would be only hinting. “I’ll be right there.”
“I’ll be out, so just walk into the house when you get here.” The woman threw the phone down and ran to her car.
Using a gurney as a shopping cart and pushing it through the hospital like it was a grocery store, the doctor picked up the needed supplies. Torn between grabbing too much and not having urgently required gear, she was looking at a defibrillation unit when the duty nurse caught her.
“What are you doing, Dr. Smart?” The duty nurse asked.
“Just a favor for a friend. Her dog jumped a fence and landed on a stake. My friend thinks ‘doctor’ also means ‘veterinarian’.”
“It appears she is right.” The nurse chuckled.
“Don’t worry about this stuff.” Cindy shrugged off the small mountain of supplies. “I’ll bring everything back or replace it.”
“Does the dog need a heart transplant?” The woman looked puzzled at the excessive amount of stuff
“I’m not sure exactly what I’ll want, so I’m taking more than I need. The stick is pretty far into the dog’s chest.” Cindy hoped that she didn’t see the plasma that was in one of the boxes. That would have been difficult to explain for a canine, but the cardiac arrest kit she’d been considering, well, that would have been impossible.
“Your now my new nurse.” After toting the sleeping form to the kitchen table, Cindy looked at the lawyer in her expensive suit. “So I suggest you take off anything you ever want to wear again. Then scrub your hands and brace yourself.”
“Is he going to live?” Jessica stripped to bra and panties.
“That depends on us.” Cindy took a calming breath. Using forceps and the scalpel, the doctor probed into the first of the wounds. She sliced the puckered gunshot hole further open so that she could spread it and trace the track of the slug. As she worked, Cindy talked her nurse through setting up an intravenous.
“The upper bullet has snapped off one of the front ribs and a bone section has flailed onto the lung.” Cindy peeled the severed fragment away, giving her access into the chest cavity.
“Is his organ damaged?” The lawyer turned medical assistant grimaced at her next question. “Will it have to come out?”
“It appears intact. If it was pierced then you would be on the phone to 911 right now.” The doctor repositioned to work from a different angle and explained her findings. “One bullet traveled all the way through the body. It managed to slip between the ribs as it entered and exited. The other one hit the denser bone of his rib and that slowed the bullet. That one is still inside and we have to find it.”
Jessica couldn’t help noting that Cindy never referred to him as a person but rather as a specimen, like a formaldehyde frog. She envied the defense mechanism that allowed Cindy to retain enough detachment to do what she needed to do. For the young lawyer, each cut on his body gave her physical pain in sympathy.
“Aha!” Cindy’s forceps extracted a chunk of metal.
“It’s shaped more like a wad of chewed bubblegum.” Jessica put her eyes closer to examine the blood-coated object. Are you certain you didn’t dig into his stomach by accident?”
“I suppose that jab at my competence was in retaliation of my slur on lawyers.” Cindy opened her tool and the item dropped on the table with a dull metallic clunk. “Yep—it’s lead.”
Jessica didn’t respond because she had briefly thought it was gum. Now, she couldn’t even apologize for the unintentional barb without confessing to having a blond moment. They worked together over the next two hours. The worst was over and now it was mostly stitching: a sewing machine would’ve been handy.
“This has to make us rethink our decision not to speak with police.” Cindy looked up from the surgery in progress,
“Why? I thought that’s why we’re operating ourselves.”
“Deciding not to divulge what we believed was our choice,” the doctor offered, “but the reporting of firearm injuries is compulsory.”
“No it isn’t. In British Columbia there’s no law requiring the hospital to report. Maybe it’s policy, but it’s not a code. Ontario just passed a mandatory gunshot reporting statute but even that one didn’t place onus on doctors, only the hospitals must comply.”
“I didn’t know that. But you’re the lawyer.” Cindy had a slightly disconcerted expression but began to work again.”
“You weren’t thinking of turning him in.” Jessica offered after a few moments of considering the odd reaction. “Were you looking for a different answer than simply not having to follow a presumed law?
“What makes you say that?”
“You didn’t say let’s turn him in, you said let’s rethink it.” The young lawyer had already explained the principle of logic and didn’t need to again. “You were busy working but I had time to think. How old were his wounds?”
“I suspect they’re from about the day of the Akron shooting.”
“That means he had to drive half way across the continent and pass over one international border, in pain and risking death, only to avoid going to a hospital where they would report him. That was a conscious decision and it shows a fierce commitment to a cause.”
“I’m wavering about what his cause is.” Cindy put it into the open. “Roger kills people. Just by our count he’s nearly up to thirty and that’s only in a few months. Few serial killers total nearly that many and it takes them years or a lifetime.”
“Few people in general ever demonstrate the tenacity he has either and that makes Romero special. I’m willing to put myself to risk in sheltering and protecting him for at least until I understand what’s driving him so hard.” The woman in the bra and panties took a breath and continued in a lighter tone. “The man here that we both know and love hasn’t showed an evil bone in his body.”
“You’ve seen a few of those to know.” Cindy flicked her eyes briefly to her nurse’s scanty attire.
“Why Dr. Smart,” Jessica pretended to bristle, “spending time with me is fast turning you into a filthy-minded little gutter-snipe.”
With over six hours from the first incision until the last stitch, Cindy and Jessica were both exhausted. After covering him up with a sheet, they sat down as if he were the main course at a feast.
“Now we wait until the anesthetic wears off.” Cindy heaved a well-earned sigh of relief. “I can’t think of how we could’ve done any better for him.”
“Do you know what this means though?” Jessica smiled and clasped her hands under her chin in satisfaction. Then, at only a quizzical look in response she continued. “We don’t have to speculate anymore because the answers are all right here.” Jessica patted his sleeping leg, “Romero, you’ll know the exact definition of the legal term discovery by the time this attorney is done with you.”
The president and his Chief of Staff worked far into the night as they studied the Shiva file again. It was more than a bombshell—it was a ticking nuke. The complicated areas dealt with where the financial connections were. Knowing exactly what they were made for an easy task of selective erasing, to avoid any suspicion of a cover-up. Then, released carefully, this package would prove to be the perfect steak to place on a 40-year-old black eye.
“The money trail from Operation Shiva to my presidency looks like a Greek autobahn.”
“Yours and a few others.” Taylor looked up from his work. “I wasn’t aware the no speed limit highways were extended past the German borders yet.”
“When your head is on a chopping block, it’s small comfort to know that others are beside you.” The president was sullen.
“Why don’t you get some rest?” Nick noted the dark circles under Larry’s eyes.
The president’s Chief of Staff had his investment to protect. Nick Taylor had decided early in life that the way for him to achieve power was to water-ski behind a faster boat. His meeting the future president in college wasn’t coincidental. Nick had studied potential leaders in his age bracket and selected young Larry Weeds to be his friend. Taylor had moved across the continent to attend the same campus and arranged his courses to match Larry’s. Like a billionaire’s fiancé, Nick then chased other suitors away.
Doing everything from providing answers to exams, to setting up dates with prom queens, Taylor made himself indispensable to the rising young political star. Larry Weeds had the pedigree and Nick Taylor provided the political savvy to propel them to the top. The president might claim that Taylor was riding his coattails but both were very aware that Weeds wouldn’t have gotten this far without Nick’s backroom tactics.
“I can’t sleep even when I do go to bed.” Larry moved from the desk to sit on the more comfortable sofa. “What did Stryker say?”
“You know it’s better if we don’t talk about that.” Taylor was tasked with one other vital job for Weeds. He was the arm’s length liaison between the presidency and Bernard Stryker. If the long and expensive path to the Oval Office was a turnpike then the Stryker Group of companies was the asphalt.
“I know—plausible deniability.” Larry Weeds put his feet up and leaned back. “I’m tired. Forget I mentioned it.”
“If you can’t sleep in bed, then try to nap on the couch. On my way out, I’ll send the steward in with a blanket and pillow.” The chief of Staff left, but Stryker was foremost on his mind.
The allegiance of a lifetime forged between Nick Taylor and Larry Weeds, had subtly shifted on the day that Nick met Bernard Stryker. Taylor would never have risen to the position where he was without Weeds but Stryker could lift him even higher.
“Monitor the president’s state of mind,” Bernard hadn’t even batted an eyelash when Nick told the head of the cartel about the existence of the file. He had obviously known about it before and the group had a huge investment to protect. The file was like a squall of dread around the presidency but this assignment blew Nick a slight zephyr of personal ambition.
“We’re making some progress.” Bob Waters, the head of the Shiva Task Force had to choose words carefully in presenting this briefing. The president had mowed down a few careers lately. Giving the true blunt synopsis, without some positive spin would be a game of Russian roulette—without any empty chambers. “The assassin was a very young man and we’re seeking to trace his origin. He used the name of Allen Powers to do his reconnaissance. Then he had the alias of Allen Wright to set up his access and escape. We discounted the theory that two conspirators might be involved. Allen Powers must also be Allen Wright.”
Nick Taylor snapped upright in his chair and listened with piqued interest to the rest of the short briefing. He brusquely ushered the Task Force commander out, then slamming the door behind, he faced the president with a serious demeanor.
“Shiva’s messenger has told us what he wants from you.” Nick paused as if still in thought, to allow the drama to build. This is going to be a stretch but as coming from me, you’re completely gullible. “He spelled it out in his names. Allen Powers must also be Allen Wright. All in power must also be all in right. Psychopaths are often very intelligent, as this one obviously is. They hide information that they want found in their work.”
“That’s awfully obscure,” Weeds looked at the concentration in his friend’s face and tried to match his thoughtful intensity, “but assuming you’re correct, what could it mean?”
“Shiva’s Messenger doesn’t like the power brokers controlling who buys the elections: he wants a democracy.” That’s probably true. Only the name play was Nick’s invention to connect the incident, with the scheming raison d’être.
“The assassin is a Democrat.” Weeds misconstrued with a sage nod at the brilliance of his deduction.
“No, they are as prone to corruption as the Republicans are. The fingerprint matched a set hidden to all but the CIA file. That he deliberately provided it proves he knew they were there. He’s also doubtlessly aware that the Kennedy assassination was a profit oriented coup d’état—as the found file confirms that it was.” Nick Taylor inwardly gloated. Those facts are very likely correct.
Larry nodded and thoughtfully stroked his chin. He had no clue where this was leading.
“Shiva’s Messenger ordered you to enact legislation returning democracy.” There was the second thick slice of fabrication and with the truth in the middle makes a nice sandwich.
“A terrorist can’t push a president.” Weed’s touted out a gem he’d heard somewhere. He probably got it from Nick.
“If he were only threatening to blow up a city or even a state, then he couldn’t. This one is trying to shove you personally and where you move, so does the nation. He dropped a high trump in Akron to show he can do it and he left the print to suggest the deck is rigged to turn the Dallas card. Shiva’s Messenger is confident in his hand and he’s playing it face up on the felt.”
“He didn’t kill me in Akron.” It still felt convoluted but his friend was invariably correct about everything. The president’s thinking steered off on the same obtuse tangent to follow Nick’s lead. “He knows that my vice-president would stuff money into a glass wallet. He would rather deal with me.”
“Precisely.” Wow Larry, that last observation was more astute than I expect from you. Taylor hadn’t thought of that angle but it complemented his manipulation like a red rose in a black lapel.
“We can afford to sit on the file until we’re holding the finger to fit the print.” Weeds pushed the last nibble of Nick’s crap canapé into his mouth and swallowed it whole. He heaved a contented sigh.
Taylor found the meal savory even though he wasn’t the one chewing it. This would renew Larry’s confidence in his advisor’s skill of deduction and his devotion to keeping a promise to solve a riddle. A gravy train’s undercarriage must be greased as often as possible.
Conning his friend was too easy. Taylor’s next recipient would be much more difficult. The shrewd head of the Stryker industrial conglomerate was an infinitely tougher sell than the president. On the plus, it wouldn’t matter if Bernard thought this Powers/Wright interpretation was hallucination from smoking banana skins. The only important factor was whether or not Larry Weeds believed it strongly enough to be worrisome to his investors. The ambitious Nick Taylor, as Brutus, would have a better blade tucked in his toga.
“What’s my plan?” Larry paced his office pretending to think of one while he waited for it to arrive from the standard source.
“Simple choice from the only two available.” Taylor walked the floor alongside. It was better than watching a tennis match. “Bow to the Messenger’s demands and he will let you live. The downside is that you’ll make your backers very unhappy.”
“If that’s the first, then I can take the second without hearing it.” Weed’s halted just at the thought of that one. “If I roll over on the people that paid my campaign bills, then I’m worse than dead.”
“The alternative isn’t pleasant either.” Taylor warned as they strolled again. “That is business as usual but it tells the assassin that you’re not yet willing to negotiate. The hope is we can silence him before he can voice his displeasure.”
President Weeds paced the Oval Office with his now silent friend for a few minutes. Periodically, he looked to his Chief of Staff, but apparently, Nick had said all that he was going to. Larry was the president and the final decision had to be his. The president mulled the two ugly options but really, he had his mind made up before he even heard the second. The difficulty was in finding the intestinal fortitude to make it.
“At my hazard, I’ll opt for the second but I reserve the right to change my mind.” Thinking of the escape clause was the deal clincher for him. “I also need improved security.”
“That’s the brave decision I expected.” Nick stroked. “While you were deciding, I thought of something else but it will take even more courage on your part.”
“Give it to me.” Weeds winced.
“The last time Shiva struck, it was after he spent time methodically setting it up. Pushing his buttons and challenging him may goad him into trying again, before he’s fully ready.”
“That’s baiting a wolf.” He didn’t need a Harvard diploma to figure this one out. “Except I’m the lamb staked in the pasture.”
“You have the world’s premier security force at your disposal and well beef it up.” The chief of staff promised. “If the assassin makes the slightest mistake we’ll have him.”
“Let’s do it.” Oddly enough, Larry found the plan to provoke Shiva’s Messenger comforting. It was a proactive measure, instead of his cringing at wisps indefinitely. Both his major concerns were now addressed albeit with snags.
“I’m on it.” Taylor turned to leave but only made it three steps.
“What about the man with the brown trumpet?” Larry asked.
“Good line.” Nick chucked at the description. “I’m not sure if he’s played his postmortem bugle yet. He cleaned out his bank accounts. I suspect he’s holed up in a hotel and spending all his remaining money on hookers. It could be he’s planning to do the job on himself.”
“The folder was bigger than he was,” Larry recalled how vividly that manifested. “Still, he showed some guts in coming in here with it and my stomach would rest easier if I knew for certain.”
Though pushed into the hide and seek challenge, with the twist of reality, Carl Eckert immersed himself into it and tried to have fun. Games are intended to be enjoyable and even with the physically punishing pastimes like football, the participants are still playing. Small pleasures found in learning the new rules and gamesmanship tactics kept his spirits up. Interestingly, his life on the crawl also gave the newly homeless man a fascinating perspective.
“I’m witnessing current events from the cheap-seat bleachers and they look different from here.” Carl had no budget for proffered goods, so advertisements no longer drew his attention away from the newspaper’s text. He could fully absorb the story’s subject and they even made nice insulation against the night chill when stuffed into his clothing. As viewed soundlessly in shop windows, television also held a differing slant He could watch with eyes, that don’t lie, without the simultaneous voice over fibbing about what he saw. He scurried through alleyways looking for snippets and then huddled in alcoves digesting the tidbits, until his findings became a revelation.
“My hamster’s cage was the microcosm of my life but in fact, our developed society is a macrocosm of James Bond’s contrived habitat. We simply can’t see it while we’re in it. The media fills our feed dispensers with pellets of happenings but it’s been filtered through politically correct charcoal. Slowly over time, the audience has become sensitized to pure food, as it’s too rich to stomach.” The raw stuff in Carl’s head and pockets would explode picture tubes and transmute printer’s ink into battery acid. “If my piñata disgorged into the press undiluted, the public might just choke trying to swallow and spit it back out.”
“I hope President Weeds find this as disquieting as I found his Oval Office to be.” They were looking for the man Carl Eckert had been. He spotted the surveillance but as the eyes were fixed on watching, they failed to note that they were observed. Something had to be done to dissuade the active searching. With an ingenuity that made him chortle as he worked, Eckert arranged a plausible scenario to up-chuck a red herring. “The president or Nick Taylor might believe me desperate enough to entertain suicidal thoughts, so I’ll just prod that assumption along. What does a hamster man have to live for anyways?”
His task in establishing a defensive gambit now completed, the street denizen shuffled off to find a soup kitchen. His mind trod faster on a walkway elevated far above.
“A grandmaster doesn’t win by concentrating on the ramparts around his king, that’s only playing for a draw.” Carl recalled the self-pledge he’d made to search out the power piece that was also moving on the checkered board.
“It’s no matter that the queen is the powerhouse piece in the game.” The strategic game of chess provides interesting analogies applicable to a range as diverse as life itself. Carl Eckert had just found another one. “It still can’t achieve a checkmate victory on an open field without at least one ally, even if it’s only a pawn.”
“I shouldn’t think of him as a queen without first determining his sexual orientation.” Carl chuckled openly and amusedly watched as an approaching pedestrian make a wide circle around a presumed escaped mental patient talking and laughing to invisible persons.
“He doesn’t need to be a queen either.” If the opposing king has escape blocked by his own forces, even lesser pieces can kill.
“So,” Carl wondered, “where is Shiva’s Messenger most likely to be lurking?”