by Charles M. Bonanno
©2000 Charles M. Bonanno -- all rights reserved
"Not again! I've already been a chicken." I screamed silently. Just inches away, the blurry image of a small white hen reflected back from the polished inner wall of a tiny metal cage. Yeah, there was no mistake. Doctor Merit had done it to me again. I can't tell you how sick I'd become of waking up inside these critters. Talk about uncomfortable.
Anyone with an ounce of common sense could tell that the cage was too damned small. The hen, whose body I was sharing, couldn't spread her wings without hitting a camera, a microphone, or who knows what else that psycho had managed to cram in here. And, what's worse, whatever this bird was sitting on was crushing its breast feathers something fierce. It didn't take me long to figure out that it was an egg, and it took me even less time to guess who'd laid it.
As a passenger within the bird's tiny brain, I watched through its beady eyes as it stood up and used its beak to roll the egg towards the rear of the cage. Carefully squatting down again, it fluffed its feathers and began to cluck contentedly. I'd sure like to know what she was so darn happy about! Its -- our -- butt hurts like bloody hell! It was obvious that this feathered moron couldn't correlate the pain in its rear with the beach ball it'd squeezed out of its ass. And, what's worse, I really didn't want to know if that thing was fertile. That would mean... OW! OW! OOOOOWWWW!!!!!
Needless to say, it's rather difficult to express yourself when you're stuck in a body that doesn't really exist anymore. While birdbrain clucked up a storm in anticipation of yet another egg's arrival, I cursed silently and prepared myself for the painful event.
I sure didn't look forward to re-living a crocked bird's memories until Dr. Merit showed up. Rather than annoy him anymore than necessary, as much as I enjoyed taking every possible opportunity to do so, I followed his instructions and memorized the time displayed on the clock built into the cage.
Take it from me, pecking corn mash out of a metal bowl and dropping an egg or two each day isn't my idea for a relaxing stay at Club Med. But I did have one advantage over this feathered egg factory, I was still alive. The fact that I could see out of its eyes was proof that it'd died hours, or even days, in the past. Hardly a comforting thought, as I'd most likely be following it into the Great Beyond any day now.
"Ah... shit. Here he comes. Less than fifteen minutes. Damn it. This is gonna hurt," I yelled within the confines of the bird's minuscule brain.
With a loud screech of dry metal hinges, the wire-mesh doors swung open and Doctor Merit reached inside. Before the bird could react to his presence, a heavy black rubber glove clamped around its neck and it was dragged outside squawking and flapping its puny wings.
As had happened so many times before, I felt the overpowering urge to imitate those drooling pinheads that scream warnings at slasher-movie victims. Fully aware how futile the gesture would be, I wanted to warn the long-dead bird about of its perilous situation. Ah, heck. I did it anyway. Not that it did any good.
I'd time-shared the bodies of dozens reptiles and birds by then. I can't remember how many times I'd woken to find the transplanted memories of frogs, snakes, frogs, salamanders, geckoes, toads, pigeons, sparrows, and who knows what else, bouncing around inside my head. Pretty much any kind of animal the Mad Doctor -- I only wish you could've seen how pissed off he got when I called him that -- could get his hands on cheap. Not that it really mattered. They always went out in the same way.
Whenever doc thought his latest concoction had done its job, he'd enter the sterile specimen lab wearing his yellow contamination-proof suit. Without a word of warning, he'd grab some unlucky test animal and decapitate it with the largest scalpel I'd ever seen.
You must've heard this old wives tale. Lower-order animals don't have the capacity to feel real pain. From personal experience, I tell you that those old bags didn't know squat about what they were talking about! I used to spend hours at a time locked inside my cell fantasizing about meeting someone stupid enough to repeat that old saying to me. I would've loved to break a few of their bones to give 'em a hint of what it felt like.
Putting aside that unlikely happy prospect, I got to see my body -- in this case, the poor hen's body -- flopping around upon the tile floor as he carried its -- our -- bleeding head across the room. Man, I sure could've used some Dramamine! Since chickens have a brain the size of a small pea, the blood sloshing around inside their tiny craniums can keep 'em going long after the noodle and body have parted company. That's why -- oh so fortunate Me -- I got to enjoy the entire sickening ride for the minute or two it took him to carry the hen's head across the lab and drop it into a flask filled with liquid nitrogen. And I woke up screaming my guts out.
As always, I returned to consciousness strapped down on an ice-cold metal operating table. I think it's some kind of weird tradition. You know, mad scientist rule number 12: If at all possible give test subjects pneumonia by making him, or her, lie down near naked on a stainless steel slab for days at a time. Heck, I've seen napkins larger and thicker than the blanket covering my shivering body. Pneumonia. Right! I should've been so lucky!
That I could've had fixed with a couple antibiotic shots and a few restful days in a hospital watching daytime soaps on TV. What was sending me to an early grave laughed at penicillin and any other kind of medicine you'd care to mention. Otherwise Dr. Mengele -- my personal and favorite pet name for ol' Doc Merit -- wouldn't have been wasting his time pouring crap down the holes he'd drilled through my skull.
Sorry, did I forget to introduce myself to my audience? Howdy, folks! I'm Oscar Morton. That's Monty or Mr. Numbers to my friends. Just one of the countless faceless middle-aged CPA's trying to make a semi-honest buck in ew York City.
Yo! You! How about putting down that paper? I'm talkin' here. Man, the nerve of some people.
Like I was saying, despite the great amount of time that has obviously passed, for me it still feels like it was just a couple months ago that my life went down the crapper. After running away from doctors and hospitals for decades, my luck finally ran out one bright summer morning. I'd nearly made it. I nearly had gotten the chance to die peacefully in my sleep never knowing what'd killed me. No such luck.
Without the slightest warning, the world faded to black and I awoke to find a pimple-faced intern waving a humming x-ray machine in my face. Oh, glorious day. With all the inane joy of a kid with a shiny new toy, the insensitive idiot seemed to relish pointing out the CRT image of a golf-ball sized tumor growing in the center of my brain.
The fact that the tumor was going to destroy my mind, and ultimately end my life, didn't reduce his childish antics one iota. So help me, if I hadn't been so heavily medicated, I would've grabbed the damned thing and shoved it deep into his intestinal tract. Instead, I spent the next few days flat on my back and watched the games begin.
As you can expect, my medical insurance carrier and their HMO cronies tried to avoid paying. That was pretty much standard procedure those days. Why waste money on a terminal patient was their unspoken rule. But pay they surely did. It's not like they had much choice either. Screwing around with the guy that cooks your tax books is never a wise move. I'd long ago squirreled away enough of their shredded paperwork to keep a Federal judge and the IRS busy for decades. And I wasn't the least bit embarrassed to tell 'em about it.
After a couple weeks they finally threw in the towel and shipped me upstate for a second opinion -- and a third, a forth, a fifth and, I'm pretty sure, even a sixth. I've never been prodded and poked by so many people in my life. If I never saw another rubber-covered finger in what time I had left I would've been ever so grateful. Heck, I must have been radioactive by the time they were done. If I didn't know better, I would've bet that they were trying to microwave my carcass with all 'em CAT scanners and X-ray machines. Not that it did much good or changed anything.
Getting told that the tumor is growing like wildfire, and that you've got maybe a couple months left, surely gets boring after the second, third and forth repetitions. I was getting ready to put on a pair of those gloves and stick one of them when they advised me to go see Doc Merit.
"He's retired, Mr. Morton... and getting a bit on in years," they said. "But he's still the best clinical neurologist on the East Coast. He's got a little lab over in Passaic and we consult with him on our more challenging cases. Just say the word and we'll have our ambulance take you there."
If you ask me, that tumor must have eaten most of my brain by then. How else could I be so dumb? There I was sitting on enough evidence to shut down half the HMO's in Manhattan, and I forget who runs them. Jeez, what a maroon. I'm lucky they didn't throw my ass into the Hudson with all the other jokers who've crossed the Mob. But say yes I surely did.
One minute I'm resting comfortably in bed watching the nurses walk by, the next I'm in an ambulance tearing across Brooklyn with the planet's ugliest orderly behind the wheel. That fact alone should have tipped me off that this was no ordinary trip. The forty-five-caliber automatic sticking out of Prince Charming's waistband was the clincher, though. Frankly I couldn't have cared less at that point. I hadn't been able to stand without help for over a week, and my left hand was shaking like a hula-hula girl's skirt. Why they would bother driving me across town to rub me out was a total mystery. Just stick a knife in my hand and I'd have gutted myself.
And you should've seen Doc's place. What a dump. No self-respecting wino would've been caught dead sleeping in front of it. If I were his accountant, I'd advise him to torch the place for the insurance. Or, if he didn't care to put this rat trap out of its misery, to make a few bucks by renting it out to a movie production company. It'd make a perfect set for one of those endless teenage slasher movies Hollywood cranks out each year. That four story pile of crumbling bricks he called home could easily house a whole army of Freddie Krugers.
As plug-ugly wheeled my gurney through the front door, the doctor in residence made his appearance. You ever see that George Romero movie, Night of the Living Dead? Remember the zombies? Take the worst looking one, wrap his skinny butt in a suit that went out of style in the forties, and you've got a good idea what Doctor William T. Merit looked like. Calling Michael Jackson! Calling Michael Jackson! One of your dancing corpses is loose!
If you ask me, this joker had his medical diploma carved on a cave wall while Woolly Mammoths still roamed the Earth. And I'll be perfectly honest; I was lucky I went to the bathroom before getting into that ambulance. Otherwise I would've emptied my bladder when he walked over and stared down at me. Instead, I froze up like a deer in a trucker's headlights. The first words I heard through his plastic choppers were far from reassuring.
"Take him back! I don't need any more cadavers!"
"Mr. Numbers, alive! See!"
With a hand that'd look just about right on a mountain gorilla, the guy who put the "ugh" in ugly jabbed me in the chest with a finger the diameter of a broomstick. The sudden impact made me exhale explosively and I began to fight the straps. Isn't blind panic wonderful? Schwarzenegger with a truckload of steroids in his veins couldn't snap one of these nylon straps, and, there I was, weak as a baby, giving it the old "Win-One-For-The-Gipper" try.
"Stop that!" Doctor Merit wheezed through ancient vocal cords as he removed a clipboard from the gurney and flipped through the pages.
Clearly not liking what he'd just read, he looked up and stared at my early Neanderthal male nurse. "What am I supposed to do with this... thing?" Doctor Merit demanded while shaking arthritis bent fingers in my direction. "I don't need any more fresh body parts in my research."
"Boss say bring Mr. Numbers here. Tony does what Boss say."
Holy shit! It can talk in full sentences. Will miracles never cease? I was so shocked that handsome could actually communicate without simian grunts or arm waving that I almost missed what he said next.
"Boss say he pay you. Boss wants what Mr. Numbers hiding."
Humming lightly to himself, the old guy approached the gurney until he was just inches away. Looking down with much the same expression hungry people have when they encounter a free buffet, he scanned my body from head to toe before speaking. "Good evening, Mr. Numbers. Do you have any idea what Tony is talking about?"
At this point, I'd already returned to my corpse imitation. It's amazing how long you can hold your breath when you're scared out of your wits. Unfortunately, it appeared my acting skills were less than convincing. Faster than I thought his bony arms could move, he raised the heavy metal clipboard in both hands and slammed it down upon my body. Where you ask? Here's a clue. It starts with the letter "z" as in zipper.
With the Doc's assistance, my act had become an Oscar winning performance. Except for a single, pathetic, girlish squeal of agony, I couldn't make another sound as my lungs collapsed and refused to refill. Totally numb from top to bottom, my brain had all the time in the world to concentrate on the urgent signals coming from my middle. Where, it seemed, a rather important appendage was reporting that it had just been run over by a bus.
As patient as any vulture waiting for something to die, and rot, he continued to stare down at me until I could once more draw breath. With the clipboard held clearly in view, he repeated himself. "Good evening, Mr. Numbers. Do you have any idea what Tony is talking about?"
"Can't tell you. They'll kill me," I replied in a tone so high pitched that dogs halfway across town probably ran away in agony.
Tensing my body and screwing my eyes closed in anticipation, I waited for the blow that'd permanently change my voice into the Mormon Tabernacle Boy's Choir range. To my surprise it never came. Peeking out of a single eye, I watched as he re-read the papers attached to the clipboard. What he did next was far worse than the pain he'd already inflicted upon me. He looked down and smiled.
Did you ever notice that history's worst monsters all had the same damned look in their eyes? Take your pick from Genghis Kahn to Adolph Hitler and from Charles Manson to Ted Bundy. They all seemed to be enjoying a private little joke. And guess what, your agonizing demise at their hands is the punch line.
Still smiling as if expecting me to join right in, he casually reached into his pocket and removed a long shiny object. At first I thought it as a pen. My eyes nearly pooped out of their sockets when I saw the large, super-economy-sized scalpel in his liver spotted hand. In a move too fast to follow, he swung it over my body from collar to belt and pocketed the blade.
"Just an act to scare me. I'm too old for these mind games," I thought confidently to myself. The word "wrong" doesn't even begin to cover my error as I watched his skeletal hand reach out and, one by one, pluck the loose buttons off my shirt and drop them onto the floor. As his focus shifted to my middle again, and that part of my clothing that starts with the letter 'z', I suddenly found myself all too happy to answer his question. "My office! Under the smallest filing cabinet! Loose floorboard! Metal box! It's all there!"
"Thank you, Mr. Numbers. It was nice seeing you again, Tony. You can go now."
"But Boss tell Tony..! Boss says Tony should..!" Tall, dark, and extremely gruesome struggled to communicate in something approximating human speech. Clearly exhausted by the mental effort of linking several thoughts together, Tony gave his frontal lobes the night off and began to pantomime. In a gesture far older than the pyramids, he nodded in my direction and slashed his throat with a single huge finger. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure Don Mike "Eye Gouger" Bastion hadn't ordered him to give me a shave after I'd confessed where all the incriminating evidence was hidden.
"No need. On second thought, I think I have a use for this body."
I've got to give Mr. Repulsive his due. The look he gave me before walking away could've only been pity. If I'd known what Methuselah had in mind for this body, I might've asked for that close shave myself.
As I watched Tony disappear through the front door, a sharp pain made me yell out-loud. Looking down and to my left, I saw the Doc's hand pushing the plunger of an antique glass syringe into my arm. Something in the back of my mind told me that it probably wasn't a vitamin shot.
Before I could say a single word in protest, the room began to spin like a top and a blinding white light filled my vision. As I walked into the glare I looked forward to seeing family members who'd preceded me into the hereafter, but, knowing my luck, I'd probably just find people I still owed money.
Some indeterminate time later, my dreams of scantily clad female Angels and Monster Trucks smashing through cotton candy clouds were interrupted by the strident whine of a high-speed drill. No matter how hard I tried to ignore the noise, it kept rattling my teeth and drowning out Heaven's angelic choirs as they counted down the top one hundred Heavy Metal hits. You've got your idea of eternal paradise and I've got mine, let's leave it at that. Okay?
Opening my eyes, I prepared to give the inconsiderate bastard with the drill a piece of my mind for waking me up. Just imagine my surprise when I discovered that Doctor Merit had already beaten me to the punch. Dressed in something you'd expect an astronaut to wear, he stood behind me with a small contraption in his hands. As I looked up at the mirror covered ceiling, I could only watch in stunned disbelief as he drilled another small hole into the top of my shaved head.
Don't get me wrong. You can't work for wise guys long before you learn the score. A bullet in the back of the head is the best you can expect if you screw up or cross the wrong customer. Trust me, you really don't want to know what's the 'worst.'
Take my predecessor, Kim "Four-Eyes" Mulholland. He got himself caught a couple years back feathering his retirement nest with a little extra from Don Bastion's private slush fund. As a reward for his many years of faithful service, Bastion gratefully arranged for Kim to take an extended vacation. By most accounts -- you never can be too sure about these things -- Kim's resting comfortably under the concrete foundations of a skyscraper somewhere in Newark.
But never... ever... in my wildest nightmares... did I expect to get whacked by an old coot with a Black and Decker. So you'll please forgive me, when I tell you that I started to cry like a baby and fight the straps once more.
"Stop moving. You're distracting me," Doc Merit's amplified voice blasted out of a small speaker built into his helmet. It's at this point that I noticed the metal ring bolted around my head. Move? How? King Kong himself couldn't budge that thing, let alone the heavy straps holding my body fast to the top of a stainless steel operating table.
"Stop whining. You can't feel a thing."
To my surprise the wacko doing the This Old House number on my skull was right. Except for the pressure of the oxygen mask strapped over my face, I was completely numb from my neck to my feet. "What did you do to me?" I yelled. "I'm paralyzed."
Cursing something unintelligible in a strange sounding foreign accent, maybe it was Canadian, he slammed the drill down and stomped around the operating table until he could look directly at me. Tearing the mask off my face, he bent down until his plastic face piece was barely an inch from my nose. "If you don't keep still, I'm going to use a hammer and chisel to get what I need. Do you want that?"
"You're boring holes in my brain... you bastard!"
Looking back, I wasn't exactly in the best position to call someone names. Blame it on my innate inability to think straight while someone's trying to kill me. As I stared back, I could almost see the gears meshing behind his eyes. What was he thinking? I couldn't tell for sure, but I'd bet it had something to do with my freshly segmented corpse and jars filled with formaldehyde.
"Do you want to live, Mr. Morton?"
Don't blame me. I'm never at my best for snappy repartee when I wake up with someone drilling holes through my skull. Try it yourself someday and let me know what happens.
With a flick of his fingers, Doctor Merit unhooked the leather band holding my left hand down. "Raise your arm," He ordered.
Imagine my surprise when my arm came up smoothly without the slightest bit of tremor.
"I'm cured!" I yelled in glee as I wiggled my fingers.
"No, you're not. I've only just begun work and unless you let me stop the hemorrhaging, your brain will be floating in a jar by tomorrow morning."
See? I was right. Can I read faces or what? "What did you do to me?" I asked as he clamped the leather strap around my wrist again.
"I removed a small section of the tumor that was pressing on your motor cortex."
"That's impossible! All the doctors said my tumor was inoperable!"
"They also said you'd be dead soon. Say the word and I'll make both their predictions come true."
It's at this point, my curious audience, that I must make a little confession. Like many people, I grew up from earliest childhood terrified of dying. I know what you're thinking. Boring. Not a unique phobia I must admit, but I've always made the most of it. Even the slightest passing thought concerning my inevitable demise has always been sufficient to scare me spit-less for hours. You'd think that someone with my clientele would be more blasé about the subject. It's not like mobsters and their associates have a great retirement plan, you know. Watching rival gangsters find ever-more-gruesome ways to kill each other had always both fascinated and repelled me.
Yet, in some perverse way, their frequently messy ends helped to keep me from dwelling upon my own mortality. In much the same way that people who are phobic about drowning purchase fancy swimming pools or take long ocean cruises, I'd never miss the opportunity to attend a Family wake for a dearly departed member.
My clients, Mob bosses for the most part, could always count on my attendance with a sorrowful expression etched upon my face. Holding a well-soaked handkerchief against my red-rimmed eyes, I'd sit through the entire church service with my lips moving silently as if in prayer. Unbeknownst to anyone but myself, I'd actually be repeating a simple mantra to sooth my private fears, "Hip-Hip Hooray! I'm not dead! Nope! Not me! Yahoo!" As you can expect, my presence practically became a Family tradition over the years.
Whereas many Capos and their lieutenants never dared attend in person for security reasons, they appreciated that I, a well-known insignificant paper-pushing nobody, could always be counted upon to stand in their stead. No one over nearly three decades, and countless repetitions, ever suspected that I was simply completing my performance as I laid a wreath upon the grave while fighting the urge to scream out my joy for not being inside that box myself.
You don't need to tell me. I know I'm going to Hell. But you know what? I don't care!
After having revealed this facet of my warped personality, you should have little difficulty predicting my response to the Doc's question. "What are you standing there for? Get back to work!"
"I thought you'd see it my way," Doc Merit responded dryly as he dropped the mask over my face and a new flood of anesthetic gas returned me to my heavenly dreams. I sure hoped I'd get back before the tractor pull competition started.