“Watch it. What the hell do you think you’re doing? Watch his head.” The pair cursed and grunted in subdued, paranoid tones, with Stan sounding out of breath and out of sorts.
“God damn it.”
Dr. Angelo stood well clear, holding Mr. Scruffles in his arms and keeping out of their way.
Somehow they missed the door frame with the subject’s cranium. They were in a hurry to get in, of course, and obviously, they were even more eager to get the hell out of there and away from him.
These moments of self-realization had been coming to Doctor Angelo more and more often lately.
It must have been a long night for the boys, bordering on zero degrees as it was, and with the freezing rain and high winds, and their imaginations running wild. The paranoia running wild. Of course he understood, and even sympathized to some extent.
They were risking a lot for him. It wasn’t for fear and it sure as hell wasn’t for love. It might not even be about the money.
Doctor Angelo winced involuntarily, as the pair heaved the inert form up off the litter and lowered him unceremoniously onto the raised operating theatre bed. They really did have more experience than him.
These guys had their own little world too. He saw all that. In the low light their faces were haggard, and yet they looked pleased.
They looked tired as much as anything else.
They straightened up and took their furtive looks at the racks of electronic and medical equipment, as if seeking reassurance that all of this was real and someone at least knew what they were doing…Doctor Angelo plastered a look of benign patience on his round, bespectacled face.
Stan always looked a bit scared, the face of a father and an honest man. Mikey always got a strange grin right about now in their little routine. Sure enough.
Money in the pocket had a lot to do with it, of course, and Doctor Angelo bustled right over to the desk. He could imagine the men exchanging looks behind his back.
He put Mr. Scruffles down. The animal sat and gave them an amiable look. He proceeded to lick his crotch, bored by it all.
Opening the top right-hand drawer, he pulled out a pair of white envelopes, all of an inch thick, stuffed with fresh, crisp, multi-hued hundred-dollar bills. He turned and gave them an approving nod, and they stepped forward.
“One for each of you.” He lifted a chin, for they towered over him alarmingly, and engaged them in turn with a frank and open look.
It was like being one of the guys for a moment, an odd feeling but a kind of male bonding nevertheless, one that cut across all barriers of class and income. He’d already developed a ritual or two. They were junior partners, that’s what he had told them.
Doctor Angelo pulled glasses out of a cupboard and then found the brandy in another cupboard. They coughed and shuffled their feet, as he unscrewed the cap…they were very aware of him, and he of them.
But it also showed trust of sorts—symbolically he wasn’t afraid to turn his back on them. He hated to waste too much of their time over it, but this was an important moment.
He poured out some generous portions of amber fluid and took the third in hand.
He raised it in silent salute as they sipped and then downed theirs, with significant nods all around.
He shrugged, still savouring the nose of the fine liquor.
Stan grinned at the cat.
"None for you, Buddy."
The remark fell upon deaf ears as Mr. Scruffles wandered off in the direction of the back room and his litter-box.
“Sorry about all that, but you know how I worry, the importance, ah…I know that I really couldn’t do this without your help, gentlemen…” He raised the glass. “I thank you, oh, how I thank you, from the bottom of my heart—and I salute you, gentlemen.”
Stan nodded politely while Mikey just looked impatient.
He always tried to be bright and ingenuous with them, taking them into his confidence as to the risks and rewards and such. But it was best to keep it small. There was no bringing someone else in. They were indispensible, and he had sort of let them know it. That might have been a small error, for neither man was truly stupid.
They were well enough informed for his liking, and they had to know what they were all up against if someone messed up. They had to know their worth, and enough not to upset the applecart.
It was best if they stuck together.
It was best to keep them sweet, and it was best if they all stayed out of trouble. He’d reminded them of that often enough and now was no time to repeat it.
“Don’t drink all that in the same place.” Stan nudged Mikey with an elbow.
Doctor Angelo’s eyes lit up.
“Yes! That’s exactly right, er, Stan.” Fallows was the name, an ambulance driver by trade, he had all the paramedic certifications, and people sort of trusted him.
The experience was vital, the skills needed—both men’s skills, and the uniforms and gear were part of the bait.
Who wouldn’t want to render assistance when the Emergency Response Teams were in crisis mode? Who wouldn’t come along when they stuck their heads out of an alley and began barking instructions to passers-by, and well-chosen ones at that. The important thing was that Fallows worked with Mikey, and Fallows had the gambling habit real bad.
“So, ah…how did it go? I mean, how exactly did you…?” He really needed to know, as it affected his procedure to some degree.
He still handed over the envelopes readily enough.
He’d bought and paid for one or two duds over the months of their brief acquaintance. One bloke was already dead and useless, caused by rough handling on their part, and Doctor Angelo hardly even mentioned it, pleading for more care in future.
“The gas-pen, doc.” Mikey was the scary one. “That, and the usual sedation for the ride.”
They’d picked him up, and two hundred miles from home. That was the main thing.
“Good, good.” He stood looking at the face of their prize. “Well.”
The subject was pretty much all set to go.
There was always this strange social awkwardness. It was a bizarre fate that had brought them together, the sort of thought even Stan could appreciate.
Doctor Angelo was alone with his thoughts for a brief moment as they stood waiting.
Mikey was just way too quiet, although a lot skinnier than Stan, who weighed in at about two-eighty, He was taller than Stan. Mikey had a sort of ruthlessness about him. He was lean and hungry and had made one or two sardonic remarks calculated to shock the doctor. That said a lot about the man’s psyche—as if he was looking for moral reinforcement, or more likely, moral contradictions. The doctor didn’t care to dwell on such things, his silence had implied at the time. Mikey let it drop. There was just a hint of superiority, in that all he had to do was to bring them in. His job was all physical toughness, and he was good at it.
Perhaps his job really was tougher. Doctor Angelo would be wise to accept that. And to remember it.
They stood regarding the body on the slab table.
“He was certainly a good looking fellow.” Mikey was using the past tense.
Dark eyes probed the doctor’s mind. Mikey was the more dangerous of the two, and yet the doctor didn’t feel particularly threatened by it. It was like they understood each other a bit better.
The doctor was the one with the big plan in life, Mikey’s look seemed to imply. Ambition wasn’t what had brought the gentleman to this point in life. Rather, it was a kind of desperation, and one he didn’t care to discuss, as the doctor recalled.
“Ah, yes, good.” All part of the act, really. “And…?”
“We grabbed him before he even hit the ground, doctor.” Such stiff formality. “The important thing is, there were no cameras and no people around.”
The subject’s habits were known. The doctor took his time and scoped them out and then briefed his men on the mission, ‘corpse-sicles,’ they called them. It was as good a word as any. Once brain-wiped, the subjects were as good as dead, for the average person never got around to having their persona stored electronically.
There was no rescue. They never got around to it, or if they did, they didn’t keep up with the updates. A consciousness even a couple of years out of date might be next to useless.
In the subject’s case, that part was all academic now.
The subject, a porn star, could have had all the sex he wanted. He’d been having the perfect life, although it wouldn’t have suited any one of them.
“But poor old Rick fell in love—always a serious mistake.” Mikey spoke in a kind of reverential awe.
The doctor saw it as pure narcissism a performance for his own sake.
“He fell in love with a woman who demanded some discretion, and so the subject started sneaking around, not telling anyone where he was going. He was alone, in the wrong place and at the wrong time. And this in a man with so much worldly experience.”
Mikey heaved a forlorn sigh.
“You’d think he would have known better.”
Stan and Mikey laughed delightedly, usually Angelo’s wit fell on duller minds.
Normally, this was a serious moment, for they understood well enough of what they were doing.
Habeas corpus and all of that. There you were, with someone else’s body and no real good way to account for it.
The thing to do was to change out the body’s persona and then stick someone else inside of it.
The quicker the thing was done, the more secure they were.
Stan nodded. Mikey had a point, even more importantly this was a special request, and there were often irreducible consequences—a word Mikey at least understood, although the doctor figured Stan didn’t.
Mikey reached in and pulled out a wallet from the man’s breast pocket; still wearing his disposable gloves.
He’d be taking them with him and disposing of them on his own terms in just a few short moments. The doctor saw the professionalism in this.
The man handed it over.
“Is that the right guy, doc?”
With slightly trembling fingers, Doctor Angelo opened it up, although he already knew the answer.
Yes, they had really gotten Ricky ‘Spuds’ Moynihan, surely the most famed porn-star of them all. The driver’s license photo was one of those rare ones that actually look like the person, and Spuds came across well enough.
He had a client who would pay through the nose for the privilege of being Spuds Moynihan, if only for a day.
It wasn’t just the sex, either—in fact that had little or nothing to do with it.
Spuds was good-looking, he had a wonderful frame, really quite good bone structure, amenable to cosmetic facial surgery, and more importantly, he had started off in collegiate athletics. Body control and sheer rugged vitality was a high priority for this client.
Doctor Angelo could offer so much more than that.
His client, a quadriplegic and former Grand Prix driver, was going to get a new start on life. And poor old Spuds was a full fifteen years younger than the client.
That sort of thing really couldn’t be bought, but Doctor Angelo doubted if any of them had ever considered that.
The client was well and truly hooked.
“So when do you need us again?”
They were hat in hand at the door.
“I don’t know for sure, gentlemen.”
They had put the glasses down on the end of the counter.
“No later than next weekend. That’s about all I know at this point.”
With a cold blast of winter wind, the door opened and they made their way out. Doctor Angelo went and slid the bolt across, checking the alarm, and peeping out to see the empty street behind the building was clear, just footprints and a darker patch where the vehicle had stood.
He went back and checked Moynihan’s breathing, and made sure the straps were tight.
Funny, how Stan and Mike had never even asked. Doctor Angelo had a way of taking care of the cast-offs, strictly on a need-to-know basis.
They probably didn’t want to know anyway.
Pulling a disposable cell phone out of the desk, what they called a burner, he activated it and then carefully picked out the phone number.
“I’d like to speak to Mr. Yamaguchi. Tell him Mr. Dobbs is calling.”
“One moment, please.”
With a bit of luck with the weather, the man could be here within forty-eight hours. That was about as long as they could reasonably keep Moynihan sedated and avoid undue complications.