by Charles M. Bonanno
©2000, 2001 Charles M. Bonanno -- all rights reserved
Hey, you! Yes, you! The guy with the laptop! How about ya look up for a second and answer this question. Have you ever been sick as a dog with a bad hangover? Now I'm not taking about your average go out and tie one on, mind you. I'm talking about suddenly returning to consciousness after having spent a good portion of twenty-four hours drinking things the EPA wouldn't allow you to dump into a landfill. Well, I truly hate to admit it, but I've done it on more than a few occasions.
My most memorable lack of common sense happened down in the Yucatan a few years back. I'd just delivered a couple cash filled suitcases to reward a local Generalissimo for his aid in expanding Don Bastion's import-export business, when he asked... that's asked as in show up or else... that I attend a wedding party for his oldest daughter.
If you'd ever seen his daughter, and consider yourself lucky that you never did, you would know exactly why he felt like celebrating. He probably thought he'd never find someone blind enough to want her. I'd hate to even think how many trips it would've taken to bring down enough payoff money to get her face fixed. Shit... the last time I saw something that looked like that it was chewing a milk bone!
We started late in the afternoon with a couple six packs of that horse-piss tasting Tijuana beer, Corona Extra. Towards midnight we were going full steam, belting back shots of some no-name tequila as we sang our lungs out to the musical accompaniment of a four-piece Mariachi Band.
The Sun arose the next morning to find us staggering around in circles looking for anything even vaguely alcoholic. We'd just finished making serious plans to drain the antifreeze out of his jeep when soldier boy pitched forward into the remains of the wedding cake, and I tripped over backwards into a goldfish pond.
Oy Vey! My aching head! My aching stomach! My aching tail! My tail? I don't remember sitting on the bottom of the pond feeling like someone had dropped a Wells Fargo safe on my tail. Actually, I'm pretty sure I didn't have a tail when I went to the wedding party. As drunk as I was, I'm pretty sure I would've remembered having one. Wouldn't you?
Usually, waking up inside one of Doc's lab critters was a pretty much painless affair. Think about it. How much can transplanted memories really hurt? Besides, Mother Nature is obviously an old softy at heart. When most critters check out it's usually a quick and relatively mild affair.
Just because she'd spent billions of years filling the lower end of the food chain doesn't mean she'd want her creations to suffer needlessly. That honor, the old bag left to higher-up suckers like us.
Lyle's capacity to feel real and long-term pain was nothing to write home about. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't have cared less if someone had skinned him alive to make a good pair of boots. My only question was very simple: WHY ME TOO?
I -- or should I say Lyle? -- was extremely uncomfortable. Some unknown object was pressing down on his body to the point where he was having difficulty breathing. And, from a reptile's point of view, the fact that the once warm object crushing him was getting colder by the second only made the problem worse.
As usual, I spent what felt like hours silently ranting and raving helplessly at my idiotic host. "Do something, stupid! Move your butt! Just don't lie there like a stuffed friggin' toy! This hurts! Get the lead out!" Nothing. Nada. Zip. Lyle didn't move a muscle despite the agony he was feeling.
And it got worse. Suddenly a piercing whistle started blasting. On and on it went for what felt like a good slice of eternity. If any sound could be said to wake the dead, this one was it. Whatever was crushing Lyle down did little to shield him from the earsplitting noise.
In a purely automatic reflex action, I tried to raise my non-existent human hands to cover my ears. Imagine my surprise when I felt the palms of my hands -- my clawed paws? -- scrape across cold linoleum floor tiles. "Now there's something new," I thought in total confusion.
"I'm dreaming! This ain't real! I'm strapped down on a metal table dreaming Lyle's memories. Doc killed him and I'm dreaming his thoughts. That horrible sound must've made him move on his own. It was nothing but pure coincidence he'd moved just then. A fluke. If I try to move again nothing will happen.
Once again, I felt, and heard, rough skin and claws scrape across plastic. Okay. Now I get it. I'm nuts! Doc was always worried that I'd lose my marbles sooner or later. Well, guess what boys and girls, it finally happened. I'm as crazy as the Mad Hatter. I've taken one too many hits to the noggin and I'm ready for my close up -- er, straight jacket -- Mr. Demille. No wide lapels and stripes please. They make me look fat.
"Wait! Hold on a bloody second. Don't get the rubber room ready just yet." I yelled and wasn't in the least surprised to hear a faint hissing sound escape my mouth.
It's an illusion. A nightmare. My brain is taking input from Lyle's memories and blending them into my own. It's like I'm on a weird déjà vu trip in reverse. What else could it be? I might as well lay back and enjoy the show while it lasts. I'm probably gonna be stuck thinking like this until Doc turns off the gas and wakes me up.
Feeling rather smug that I'd been able to figure out the situation without Doc's help, I decided to play the cards I'd been dealt. "What would a croc do if something heavy landed on it?" I asked myself while debating my next move. Duh! It would move away.
Concentrating on controlling limbs that felt much too small to get the job done, I was amazed to feel my chest and stomach slide across the smooth tiles with almost no resistance. Now there's a thought. If you'd ever wondered why cold-blooded critters hide the family jewels within their bodies, now you know. I'd like to see the average low-hung horse try this trick. Ouch!
Gaining more control by the second, I wriggled and clawed out from underneath whatever was trying to crush Lyle into paste. Just how the moronic croc had managed to get into this predicament was anyone's guess. As a rule, Doc didn't undo the straps until the donor was permanently unable to offer any resistance, if you get my drift.
My first thought as Lyle finally broke free and turned around was simple: Who the #%# are you?
From inches away I -- I mean Lyle -- was staring eyeball to eyeball with the lowest form of animal life on the planet, a NYC cop! "Help! Someone get me a lawyer. I'm innocent. Ya can't pin this on me," I yelled automatically before noticing that Blue Boy wasn't moving.
You'd expect most people to jump up and run away when a large lizard starts bellowing and slapping their toothy jaws inches from their face, but this joker was real cool. He didn't bat an eyelid as I crawled closer and poked him gently in the chest with the tip of my -- damn it, I mean Lyle poked him with his snout.
You'd think a croc's nose was a thermostat or something. Don't ask me how he knew it, but Lyle's reptilian senses were sure about two things. This guy had permanently turned in his warm-blooded membership card, and he wasn't -- if Lyle's highly sensitive nose for decaying meat was right -- likely to be moving under his own power anytime soon.
Just as I'd begun to wonder why a cop would decide to shuffle off his mortal coil in Doc's operating theatre, Lyle's finely tuned senses informed me that Dick Tracy hadn't been alone. Spinning around in a circle, I counted four more life-impaired members of New York's finest taking up valuable floor space.
Now that's strange -- and I'm not taking about being in the middle of a room full of corpses. I've seen that more times than I could tell you. It was something else that I found peculiar. With a moniker like "Mr. Numbers" you'd expect me to be a whiz with figures, but suddenly I found myself unable to count above the number four.
No matter how much I concentrated, I couldn't see the number. Weird! I was still pondering this strange situation when I noticed the misshapen markings on dead guy's flack jacket. From long experience, I knew that the letters had to be SWAT. Instead, they looked like the gibberish you see sometimes when you're dreaming. Great! That's just great. Doc would pick the only crocodile in existence that needs glasses.
Actually, I spent little time pondering about Lyle's visual shortcomings. It was his over-developed hearing that was bothering me the most. I would've happily spend days in Dreamland reliving his memories if it weren't for a single problem: THAT $#%ING NOISE WOULDN'T STOP!
I'm normally not a violent person. I've always been more of a lover than a fighter. If I'd ever wanted a weapon, my employers could've given me enough hardware to arm Bolivia. Yet, despite my normally placid demeanor, that blasted howling was making me see red -- literally.
I know it doesn't make sense, but at that moment I wanted nothing more in life than to bite it, to chomp it in my jaws until its flesh was shredded and I could swallow down the pieces, to rip it limb from limp until the water around me was stained by its blood. KILL! KILL! KILL!
"Water around me?" That odd though brought me back. While you wouldn't expect a water dwelling reptile to care a fig that it was floating in about a half-foot of purple fluid, this was frankly the first time I'd noticed. Man! This dream was just getting better and better.
Doc was gonna blow a gasket for sure this time. All his hard work was slowly gurgling down an open storm drain. Someone, maybe my rapidly decomposing friend here, had done a great job shooting up the place.
Large caliber weapons had punctured nearly every metal barrel I could see. At least a couple thousand gallons of his Doc's miracle juice was flooding the basement knee-height in places and gurgling down that pipe. To top even that off, most of the glass walls had been shot to shit. I'd hate to be the contractor who's gonna have to explain to Doc what happened to all that, supposedly, bulletproof stuff. Not that I gave a flying F*** right then. I just wanted to shut that damned noise off!
Wouldn't you know it? Someone must've blasted off a couple hundred rounds down here, and practically the only thing that'd survived intact was that damned television set. What are the odds against that?
It took me, that is, it must've taken Lyle a good fifteen minutes to crawl out of the operating theatre and into the room next door. I -- I mean he -- seemed unable to crawl past each corpse without checking it for edibility. Like a kid in a candy store, I was torn by familiar and yet oddly inappropriate emotions: greed and indecision. Why did I feel like all these bodies belonged to me? Why did I feel like I needed to protect them? Why did I feel rich? And why did I feel like I couldn't decide which to chomp on first?
There were exceptions. Namely, Smiley and Broken Nose. The only phrase that came to mind as I crawled over their well-ventilated bodies was over-kill. With those Uzi's they still had clutched within their hands, even those two idiots couldn't have failed to make an impression on the cops storming the basement. And the cops, from what I could see, had obviously returned the favor with interest. No open casket funeral here, folks. Doc Merit himself couldn't have made hamburger that was the remains of their bodies presentable.
A single sniff of the stench coming off those two was enough to get me -- Lyle that is -- moving again. I don't know what you might've read or seen on television, but there are things that even a starving croc won't contemplate eating.
I had to swim the last few feet to reach the television set and, within seconds, I wish I hadn't bothered. I hadn't seen hide or hair of Doc, but his handiwork was plainly evident. Instead of just leaving the damned thing tuned to whatever channel interested him, he'd left the machine on full automatic. The picture was bouncing around every few seconds between views of every security camera in the joint, and the few network stations his rooftop antenna could pickup for free.
Did I already mention what a cheap ass$%# he was? I did? Millions in free taxpayer's money to play with and he wouldn't plop a few bucks down for basic cable. Geez! What a character.
So there I was, feeling like I was stuck inside a big lizard and trying to make sense of the images that kept changing ever few seconds. What's worse, one of those channels was responsible for a loud screeching wail that any self-respecting crocodile would feel duty-bound to destroy.
Just my luck, it was sitting high and dry on a table safely out of my, I meant to say, Lyle's reach. It was almost funny in a strange way. I'd give orders to Lyle's body, and somehow his limbs would move. With each passing second it was becoming almost second nature. My brain must be more screwed up than I thought.
Turning away from the monitor, I watched through Lyle's eyes as he lifted his head high enough to stare up at the operating table. Except for the soles of my bare feet, I couldn't make out much of my sleeping body from a croc's ground level viewing angle.
I wasn't really worried. If I'd be unlucky enough to stop a bullet during the fighting, I surely wouldn't have lasted this long and I sure in heck wouldn't be dreaming Lyle's memories. I'd more likely be working on my tan in a place famous for molten lava Jacuzzis and little red skinned devils carrying burning-hot pitchforks. Since neither seemed to be about, all I had to do was wait for the second batch of cops to come looking for the first.
How long could that take? Five minutes? Maybe fifteen? With my luck there's a Dunkin' Donuts within walking distance and I'll have to wait a good half-hour until I get rescued!
With nothing better to do, I decided to watch the tube until the Boys-in-Blue showed up. I hoped they didn't blast poor Lyle to bits when they came marching down those steps. Peanut brain was bound to hiss and snap his jaws when the first cop showed up. How often can it be that a little scaly runt like Lyle lucks into a full larder? Not counting all the little critters like mice and lizards swimming around the basement, there's just gotta be enough uniformed pig-meat down here to keep him going for years.
And who would've thought Doc had so many cameras stashed away? It seemed he'd hidden one in every room of this roach motel. Not that I gave a hoot, but doesn't that seem a wee bit like raving paranoia to you?
Anything you could possibly imagine had a camera and microphone aimed at it. Every floor had at least a dozen or more cameras peeking into every bedroom and bath. There must've been two or more movement-activated cameras scanning every inch of the sidewalks outside. What a setup. No doubt about it, I was deeply impressed. None of my employers had ever used even a fraction of the high tech, and extremely high cost, gizmos Doc had buried in his walls.
It would've been child's play to do the Big Brother routine on anyone within shouting distance of this rock pile. That is, It would've been possible if even a single person I could see outside had been moving.
Maybe it was the anesthesia, or maybe it was getting harder to interpret Lyle's memories, but it seemed to take me forever to notice that the people outside were doing something weird. Like I've said before, I've lived in the Big Apple for many decades and, in all those years, I've never become bored with the passing seasons and the strange antics people seem to enjoy celebrating during each one.
But never, in all that time, have I ever seen so many people lying down in the snow to take a snooze. Sure, I've seen lots of people taking a nap on the grass in Central Park, but never in deep snow. That's not normal, is it?
Besides, it looked like a used car lot out there. As far as any of the cameras could see, private cars and emergency vehicles took up every square inch of the road and sidewalk. If even a single one of them started rolling, someone's ass was sure to get run over.
All of them stood silent and unmoving under a thin blanket of fresh snow. Only one, a monster sports utility vehicle still had smoke coming out of its tailpipe. The camera pointing in that direction seemed to be fascinated by the small puffs of white smoke coming out of its tailpipe, and I just happened to be watching when it ran out of fuel and shuddered to a stop.
How much fuel does a mountain of metal like that hold? It could've been idling out there for days to burn up that much gas. Just how long have I been out cold? And when was someone coming to get me the F*** out of here?
With no further movement to hold its electronic attention, the picture started cycling between outside and inside camera shoots. Even though they lasted only a few seconds at most, when there's that many cameras linked together, it takes quite a while to cycle through them all.
Suddenly a human head flashed on the screen and stayed there. I recognized that unshaven mug instantly and his presence confused me even more. With all the high priced newsmen working for NBC, why was this no-name weatherman screaming into the mike?
I could hear his voice rattling the monitor's speaker, but I couldn't understand a single word he said. Maybe it was that oxygen mask he'd crammed over his face, or maybe a stray bullet had damaged the set. Regardless of the cause, all I could hear was something like an animal's growling -- not that it really mattered. One look at that guy's face told me everything I needed to know. I'd bet you a couple 'C' notes that he was getting ready to piss his pants behind that desk.
In my business, there's usually a simple reason for looking like that. In most cases, someone pointing a gun at your head and explaining the terms of the Mob's forced retirement plan. Unlike almost every other kind of job, age brackets don't mean all that much to us; whether your sixteen or sixty-five nobody could care less.
Despite what might've been many years working for one Family or another, people would look just like him when they discovered how they'd be rewarded for screwing up. Those are the breaks, baby. You had your chance. You could've taken that safe nine-to-five job for forty years, but you wanted the Big Bucks. Sorry. Bon voyage, and don't forget to write.
The guy on the monitor looked even worse than usual. I've seen people with guns the size of cannons pressed against their skulls that looked more cheerful.
Once again, I had the same problem I had with that cop's jacket. Weather Guy started pounding frantically on his desktop computer and lines of closely spaced sentences started scrolling across the bottom of the screen. At least I think they were sentences. I couldn't read a single damned word. For all that I could tell, he could've been typing Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The pictures were a different story altogether. After yet another round of frantic pounding on that poor abused keyboard, he finally managed to flash a handful of pictures on the wall behind his desk. Most were automatic remote feeds and what they were transmitting was nearly identical to what Doc's cameras were showing. The only significant difference seemed to the locale.
Only a few showed anything other than groups of people and their pets lying prone on the ground, or just as motionless behind the wheels of their stationary vehicles. People lying outside on the ground almost looked like they'd suddenly decided to take a break and make snow angels, and not very good ones at that.
Despite what appeared to have been brief periods of agitated flaying around, hardly anyone had done a good job. Strange. You'd think at least all those kids out there would've gotten it right, or would've shown their parents how to do it.
I had only a few seconds to ponder this question before the keyboard was attacked again and, surprise, surprise, people were actually moving this time. Everyone in sight seemed to be screaming at the top of their lungs as they fought and pushed each other aside to reach what few boarding ramps still had planes attached to them. That's right, a typical day at John F. Kennedy airport during the holiday season.
It'd probably take every Jumbo jet in the Western Hemisphere to carry everyone packed inside that airport and it'd be even worse if all those people sitting motionlessly on those uncomfortable plastic chairs, or the floor, had suddenly decided to start moving again and demanded seats too. Now you know why I hate air travel. Just give me a car or a boat and I'm happy.
The next shot showed a place I knew like the back of my hand, the World's Fair Marina on the East River. Four hundred slips plus and I've kept my tiny motorboat down there more years than I'd care to count. Unfortunately, my employers always seemed to find a use for my boat.
No matter how hard I tried to be discrete, they find out I was planning a little trip and I'd discover some joker and his suitcases hiding out inside. I'd fought like mad to keep the -- not communal property -- through three messy divorces, so I never really appreciated having to play cruise director for some chowder-head trying to skip town incognito.
What else could I do? Momma didn't raise any idiots. Saying no to any of my employers wasn't exactly conducive to a long, and happy life. Lucky for me neither the Coast Guard nor the cops ever traced her registration papers back to me. I can just imagine the results! I'd probably spend the next fifty years staring on America's Most Wanted. After years of fruitless searching for missing cons, just imagine their surprise if they caught on to my midnight cruises!
Be that as it may, it looked like the biggest regatta in New York City history was going on down there. I couldn't see my boat, but anything that looked like it could float seemed to be heading down river. Only a handful of motorboats remained tied to the dock. As was my long-standing habit, their owners had most likely disabled the motors to prevent thief. Not that it really mattered. Very few of the crowd lying quietly on the wooden pier seemed interested in boating right then.
While still trying to get a glimpse of my boat, Weather Guy's image suddenly popped up on the screen again. Working on television must be real tiring when you're all alone. Sometime during the break between the last couple of images, he'd lowered his head to the desktop and fallen asleep. Lucky for the network's ratings, all that keyboard pounding kept the show going.
In quick succession, a barrage of other less understandable images replaced his. The Washington Bridge, a virtual parking lot of unmoving cars. Madison Square Gardens, burning furiously without a single fire truck in sight. Army troops shooting skywards at the pigeons in Times Square. And most bizarre of all, National Guardsmen using flamethrowers to torch the Bronx zoo's aviary and herpetology exhibits!
"Holly Cow! Forget Lyle's memories." I thought as I continued to watch the strange images flash by. "This has gotta be the wackiest dream of my life. Wait until I wake up. Doc is gonna freak when I tell him about this one!"
My glee was short-lived. Without warning that damned shrieking noise started up again and I felt an overriding compulsion kill it by whatever means possible. I -- Lyle that is -- must've lost a few teeth when he grabbed the metal television stand in his jaws and tried to tear it apart.
Damn that hurt. As fast as it'd arrived, the urge to destroy everything in sight faded away when the nerve-grating sound cut out in mid-warble. Wondering what was coming up next, I crawled back a few feet and stared up at the picture tube again. Damn it! I meant to say, "when Lyle crawled back a few feet and stared up at the picture tube again."
Once again I found myself struggling to decipher the words, or in this case, what looked like three letters. One by one, they slipped in and out of focus until, finally, with a supreme effort, they slowly began to make sense.
Yes! That one's an -- E? And how about the next one? Was that a B or D? Nope, definitely a -- B. Okay, only one more to go. Right. I'd bet the farm that one's an -- S. I did it! The letters on the screen were EBS. Now comes the next question. What the heck is EBS? Damn it! I know it meant something important, but for the life of me I couldn't remember what.
I was still pondering the significance of these letters when they faded away and Weather Guy showed up again. Nope, that's not right. It wasn't him. Why was I having so much trouble recognizing faces? I -- knew -- this guy. He's name was -- his name was -- I give up. I couldn't remember. I knew he was somebody important, but I couldn't place a name on his mug.
If anything, he looked even grimmer than Weather Guy. Without moving a muscle, or cracking a smile, he stood ramrod stiff besides a map of New York City. As the camera followed his every gesture, he pointed at an ever-expanding series of circles that someone had drawn upon the map in red ink. If anything, his grimace got even worse when he finished playing Vanna White and he pointed at the clock nailed to the wall behind the map.
I was getting really ticked off at Doc's cheap television set. I still couldn't understand a single word this guy was saying. All I could hear was, "Growl! Growl! Growl! Growl!" His lips were moving in sync to the sounds, but I'll be damned if he was talking English. It almost felt like something inside me was missing. I could hear the sound of his voice loud and clear, but they weren't registering at all.
Wait a second! This guy wasn't wearing a mask over his face! "I can read his lips!" I yelled at myself when I finally noticed the obvious.
Expending far more effort that it usually took, I stared up at his face and tried to concentrate fully on watching his lips. What the Hell! Where's this guy from? Sweden? I couldn't catch more than a few words when he spoke, and what little came through left me more confused than before.
"...Law! Martial... in effect! City-wide... in effect! Repeat... wide quarantine in... Stay in... homes. Don't touch... animals. Most are... infected. Warning! Keep away... birds or reptiles. Help is on... way!"
Whenever I needed a little cash to tide me over 'til next payday, I'd drive my old heap down to the Boss' nightclub and play a few hands of poker with the guys. That is, I use to play at playing poker. As predictable as the sunrise, some young punk would try to weasel his way into our game.
"Sure. Take a seat and make yourself at home. We're all friends here," we'd reply nearly in chorus as the cards were cut and another turkey got led to the chopping block. How dumb can you get?
I've worked this scam for nearly four decades and my poker face is truly a sight to behold. Don't even try, you're not gonna learn much by staring at my puss. I take money far too seriously for that. But those two dumb-f****s Vince or Mario can hardly keep a straight face when they see a fistful of cash.
So I didn't need to look twice to know that the stuffed shirt with the shiny medals on his chest was lying through his teeth. Whatever he was selling was a load of crap, and, like all crap, it wasn't likely to be pretty.
That thought had barely crossed my mind when GI Joe vanished taking the channel with him. Left to their own devices, the surveillance cameras continued to bounce around looking for movement. Floor-by-floor they traveled, getting closer to the basement with each new image. I could only think of one thing as each image flashed onto the screen. Old Doc Merit was one sick puppy.
Come on! Would you hide over a dozen super expensive lowlight micro-miniature video cameras inside toilets? No, I didn't say bathrooms, I said toilets. You know, that porcelain thing you sit on. Makes you feel kinda queasy, doesn't it?
For lack of a better term, I was still trying to digest what appeared to be Doc's favorite viewing material as I waited for the basement to appear on the screen. I wasn't really worried. I had to be in pretty good shape to be reliving Lyle's memories. However, I was still more than a little curious to see if a stray bullet had blown off one of my more vulnerable appendages.
The screen had just shown the lobby and its standing room only -- make that "lying-down-on-the-job" room only -- complement of cops and news people, when the lights went out. Bang! Wham! Total darkness in a room filled with reeking shot-up corpses! Weird! It made absolutely no sense. Why was I feeling an overwhelming sense of safety? I hate the dark. Where were all these strange flashes of emotions coming from? From Lyle? Give me a break. I'm dreaming, aren't I?
I didn't have long to ponder. Despite my normal cynicism, I soon learned that Doc had used a significant fraction of the government's money for something useful. With a muttered roar that shook the ground under my belly -- damn it again, I meant to say Lyle's scaly belly -- what must've been a huge diesel generator roared to life and everything started working again.
F***! I missed it. One of the rooftop cameras was practically spinning around in circles, but the only thing it was showing was blue sky. What'd set it off? Duh! It must've been a bird. That's just lovely. Now I'd have to wait for some stupid bird to fly away before that camera would shut off again.
There! There it is again. That's no bird, that's a jet; birds don't fly that high with contrails shooting out of their butts. That's just great! Here I am stuck on an operating table waiting to get rescued and some F***ing flyboy up there is taking a joyride. Peachy! That's just freakin' peachy!
Great! It's gone. The roof camera switched off. The basement cameras should be showing up soon and I'll be able to check myself out, but what was that plane doing up there? It almost looked like it was in trouble. And what was that thing that fell out before it spun around and took off like a bat from Hell? Did someone up there decide to go skydiving?
Who cares? Here we go! That's the basement door, or should I say, that's what's left of the basement door. Can you say kindling boys and girls? Here comes the staircase and basement landing. No shortage of ammunition in this state folks, just look at all those bullet holes. You can't exactly call NYC cops subtle. I wonder who started shooting first?
Look there! That looks like the animal holding area. Nothing much to see, but it looks relatively intact. And over to the right -- what's that?
I don't believe it! One of you jokers has finally condescended to speak to me? I'm just getting to the good part, and now one of you wants to ask something? Okay, I'm game. What is it? You, what? You want to know what I was doing with all those rocks last night? Are you stupid or something? Tell me smart guy, what does the Boy Scout manual say to do when you get lost and you're trying to get found? Nothing? Give up? Well, it's quite simple. YOU MAKE A MARKER, YOU DUMMY!
How else do you expect Doc to find me? Heaven knows I've been looking for him. And did I find him? Not with my luck. So far I haven't found anybody but you characters. I don't know what compelled me to swim -- I mean what compelled me to sail -- up here. If I'd known how difficult it was gonna be, I'd have stayed down in Florida.
Don't take this too personally, but I wouldn't call any of you people the chatty type. Talking to any of you is like talking to an oil painting. Scratch that, it's like I've spent the entire night taking to a damned wall. I don't know why I bother. It'd be easier to hold an intelligent conversation with all those dumb lizards and birds that keep following me around. At least they look like they're trying to say something.
Now, where was I? That's right, the cameras. The power had just returned and...
What? For crying out loud, that makes two interruptions in a row. This had better be good. Huh? Whaddya mean Manhattan's gone? Are you some kinda screwball? Let me look. What the..? There's the island but I can't see anything but trees. Where'd the bridge..? Where'd the skyscrapers..? Where's the... okay, there they are. Damn, ya had me going for a second. Happy now? Say something. Well? So we're going back to the silent treatment again, are we? Well, screw you. Don't bother asking me anything else. If ya want to know why the stars look so screwy, go figure it out yourself and I couldn't care less why the ferry hasn't shown up all night.
Getting back on track, Doc's backup generator had just kicked in without warning and the lights, and everything else electrical in the basement came back with it. Still curious to discover my physical condition, I watched with more than a little interest as the TV screen flipped over a few times before the image of the basement steps showed up again.
As bizarre as the thought was, I still couldn't quite shake the eerie feeling that I was somehow controlling Lyle's grotesque body. Just imagine that! Me, Oscar Morton, AKA Monty, AKA Mr. Numbers, stuck inside Wally Gator's scrawny frame. Aren't dreams wonderful? This one was getting better by the second.
I know it sounds like a I've blown a mental gasket, but I really felt like I was controlling that reptile's ugly body and not just dreaming his final moments of life. Hard to believe, ain't it? It must've been a good fifteen minutes since I -- I mean since Lyle -- crawled out from under that SWAT cop and the uncanny feeling that I was controlling his body was mounting with each passing second. And that feeling grew even stronger when a camera directly overhead clicked on, and Lyle's image appeared on the screen.
Over my life, I've owned a slew of dog and cat couch-potatoes. I've even owned a parrot that'd attack the set every time a cat showed up on the screen, but I'd never seen lizard pay the slightest attention to the moving images on a boob tube.
Curious to see how far the illusion would go, I decided to experiment until the moment another camera clicked on and Lyle's image faded from the monitor. I know it's kinda silly, but lets see if I can make him open his jaws.
Wow! What a rush! Ouch! Ouch! Brain-freeze! Brain-freeze! No wonder crocs look so happy when they're resting with their jaws gaping wide! They're getting buzzed! It only lasted a few seconds, but the cold air in the basement zapped Lyle's brain with all the strength of my favorite summertime drink, a double-bourbon chocolate milkshake. I like! I like!
Rats! It's over! Very well, lets try something else. Come on, Lyle, don't just lie there like an ugly rug. Stand up. Stand up! Stand... oops! You are standing up. Sorry about that. I kinda forgot how short your legs are. Not exactly made for steeple jumping, are we?
Hummm! Large tail ya got there, Lyle. How about moving it to the right? Okay! Now move it to the left. Great! Now lets move it back and forth. Even better! Faster! Faster! STOP! STOP! STOP!
Damn! That felt... weird. I've dreamt all kinds of crazy stuff during my lifetime. Everything from flying through clouds and falling like a feather off a cliff, but never had I felt like I had an extra leg stuck to my ass. Weird, bizarre, and downright wacky.
Now what's happening? I feel -- full? I suddenly have this overwhelming need to... OH, CRAP! And I mean that last word literally. Come on, Lyle. Please don't. I don't want to -- too late. Happy now? Phew! At least ya could've lifted your leg before ya did that.
I've never been much good at channeling my dreams in a desired direction, and this particular attempt was going even worse than usual. Sometime I suspect my subconscious still has issues it's trying to resolve over my chosen career, and that my folks had died while still deeply disappointed in the fact that I'd refused to follow in their footsteps.
The mind is a funny thing. Even before Doc started mucking around with my brain, I could still remember ever fight I had with my folks when they learned that I'd signed up for night courses in accounting thirty years ago.
'Why can't you be like your brothers and sisters. Look at how much money they're making. Your father and I are so proud of them," they kept repeating until I packed up my bags and moved out of the house for good.
Who needs that kind of grief? And every time I'd visit them for the holidays they'd repeat the same old song. At least they did until Pop got a little sloppy one day and they were killed pulling a bank heist in Newark.
Needless to say, I was the only left in the family that could attend their funerals. Everyone else was either gonna serve more time in a Federal pen than the USA had been an independent nation, or had been on the run for so long that their post office photos had to be computer age-enhanced to show what they'd look like today.
For this reason, and many more examples that I'd care to number, I've always suspected that my subconscious wanted nothing more than to punish me for my many obvious moral and ethical shortcomings. My dreams have always been its favorite target of opportunity.
Want an example? How about this? Less than a week before my unexpected trip to the hospital, I'd spent several nights in a row dreaming how I was spilling my guts to a Senate Organized Crime subcommittee while decked out in a Barney the Dinosaur costume. I'm still trying to figure that one out.
So I wasn't particularly surprised by...
Am I boring you? Hey, you! Brainiac! The jerk with the newspaper. I've already asked ya to put that thing away while I'm talking. Do you want me to crawl -- damn, I meant to say -- walk over there and shove that thing in to ya where the Sun don't shine? Tough guy, eh? You're just lucky I'm leaving soon or I'd deal with your stupid butt.
As I was saying before the idiot with the paper ticked me off, I wasn't particularly surprised by this strange dream. Even before becoming Doc's favorite guinea pig, I use to have some whoppers. His science-diet brain drops only make 'em a little bit weirder.
Now, I've got to admit that this particular dream was a real dozy. In my whole life I'd never dreamt I was in control of an animal's body, let alone all the odd doomsday Sci-Fi junk my subconscious has been dredging up.
Who cares that Doc's junk doesn't really work? While it's a minor shame that Lyle got whacked for nothing, Doc is still gonna make a mint when he hears about the dream I've been having. He'll probably release me and go into full production before the end of the day.
With that happy prospect in mind, I decided to go with the flow and enjoy the remainder of this strange dream. Turning Lyle's head sideways as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do, I fixed a single reptilian eyeball on the television monitor and the other one my operating table.
I planned to be ready whether I woke up and climbed off the table or... Hummm? "Something doesn't sounds quite right about the logic of that last thought," I said to myself just before putting the entire issue aside. The camera showing Lyle sprawled near the monitor had just clicked off and another image was fading in.
"Whoopee! Here we go," I yelled mentally as the edge of my table showed up. In a few seconds, the slowly moving lens was going to show me sleeping like a baby, an extremely ugly baby it's true, but sleeping nonetheless. All I had to do was wait a little longer and -- DAMN IT TO HELL! That's not my table, its Lyle's.
"My bad luck is sure batting a thousand today," I yelled mentally even louder than before and wasn't the least surprised to hear more hissing and grunting coming from Lyle's jaws. Now I'd have to wait for that camera to finish panning over his decapitated remains before it got to me.
Like I'd really want to see any more of Doc's handiwork. Over the last couple of months I've seen enough slice n' diced animals to last me for... what the F***? That's not my table; it's that dumb croc's.
Oh, shit! He's gone! The straps have been undone and their isn't a drop of blood in sight! He's alive! How's that possible? Don't tell me that scaly horror is wandering around free somewhere.
I sure hope those two idiots weren't responsible. If I woke up and found that cold-blooded monstrosity sleeping on my chest again I'm gonna kill them both when I get loose. Just you wait. I'll tear them both into so many pieces that all the super glue in the world won't be able to... wait a bloody second! They're dead, aren't they? They died fighting the cops, didn't they? Or was that a part of this dream too?
Damn it! I feel so confused. It was like I needed to concentrate with all of my strength just to finish a single thought. Even asleep, could Doc's gas be slowing down my mental processes to a crawl? Could my poor abused brain have finally thrown in the towel? Hell! I'm too young to go senile. Although, wouldn't that finally qualify me for a change in criminal careers? Screw that! I don't want to go into politics. Believe it or not, I still have some self-respect left.
All these depressing thoughts vanished as the overhead camera finally reached the other side of Lyle's empty operating table and clicked off. Yippee! It's me! At long last it was my turn. Ah, crud. Anyone with even a single rational bone their body would program an automatic camera to start at my head and work its way down my body. Or, at the very least, start filming from a wide shot and slowly zoom towards whatever part of my anatomy interested him at the moment.
Right. But who ever said Doc Merit was rational? For there, centered in a high definition television screen, and in glorious Technicolor, was a shot of my bare feet.
That's just perfect. Now I'd have to wait for the camera to pan over my entire body before it got to my sleeping face, and, to make matters worse, that high pitched wailing noise started the second the camera began to inch its way up my naked body.
Not again! That sound, that horrible F***ing sound. I can't stand it. It's driving me crazy. Stop it! Stop it! Kill it! I've got to -- wait a bloody second, where's it coming from? That tiny speaker could never make that much racket. Now there's dust falling from the rafters. Is it coming from outside?
"I've got to ignore that sound. It's only a dream. Come on. Wake up, stupid. Fight the gas. That's the only way you're gonna get away from that deafening sound," I yelled mentally hoping to jar myself awake.
Nothing! Not a damned thing happened. Despite his tightwad nature, Doc sure hadn't scrimped when he'd gone searching for high-quality knockout gas. I can only guess that he was trying to avoid another unfortunate incident.
Brrrrr! Can you imagine being one of his patients and waking up to find him sawing off your hands and feet to replace 'em with cow hooves? Or, to open your eyes and find every inch of your body covered by silicone breast implants? While either scenario would be the epitome of rude awakenings, I suspect the later would be the most perplexing. Decisions, decisions, decisions. How to decide which to squeeze first?
Damn that noise! Okay, here come my legs, both present and accounted for. A little thin and pale maybe, but I've never been much for walking or exercise. Like I've always said, if God had wanted us to do much walking he wouldn't have created Cadillac's.
Look! There they are, my pride and joy. What the..? I don't remember..? That's it! I'm gonna kill him! Forget the friggin money. Forget everything. His ass is grass as soon as I got off that table. What made him do it?
I'VE BEEN CIRCUMCISED!
"That Mother****er!" I yelled while barely noticing as the camera kept panning up my chest. "I'm gonna rip off his arms and legs off and beat him to death with them. I'm gonna slice him open and wrap his guts around a tree. I'm gonna...
MY HEAD! WHERE'S MY HEAD? WAKE UP, MORTY. WAKE THE #$#$ UP! I WANT OUT OF THIS #$#%ING DREAM RIGHT THIS BLOODY SECOND!
The wackiest dream of my entire life had turned into a nightmare, and I couldn't escape. My head was missing! Gone. Nothing remained but a bloody stump and some equally gory surgical instruments to mark were it'd once lain!
The image of my headless corpse lasted less than a second before the monitor, and everything else, died when a powerful electrical surge tore though the building. From the clicking sounds of fail-safes ricocheting around the basement, I'd say Doc didn't have much trust in Con-Ed's ability to provide safe power to all his expensive equipment. No surprise there. Who does?
Not that they did much good. I was still trying to force myself awake as an awful stink of burning insulation and smoldering transformers filled the basement. "Come on you stupid croc," I yelled at Lyle. "These are your memories, not mine. Do something. Press the fire alarm you idiot."
The mind boggling absurdity of talking to a crocodile, let alone the memories of a dead crocodile, hit me just as the ground rose and pitched me -- I mean Lyle -- across the room. Accompanied by the sound like a runaway train, the entire building rocked on its foundation and began to break apart.
Nearly every intact cylinder of Doc's miracle goop burst apart when most of the ceiling and chunks of the upper floors rained down into them. Only by sheer luck did Lyle and I survive.
Bruised, battered, and, from the vague sensation of pain I was getting, bleeding slightly from a small wound to his head, that moronic croc had survived where little else could. Doc sure had these guys pegged. While you can't exactly call any of Lyle's kind rocket scientists, they've got survivor written on every cell in their slimy bodies.
Although, I wouldn't want to be in Lyle's crocodile shoes when Doc discovered his blood, and who knows what else, contaminating what little remained of his hoard of nutty chemicals and whatnot. That is, what little hadn't disappeared down that open drain.
But that was, frankly, his problem not mine. My only concern could be put simply into a few well-chosen words.
"WHAT'RE THOSE #$#%'iING COPS USING UP THERE? DYNAMITE? Idiots! Jerks! Ass*****! Since when do you rescue people by blowing 'em up? We're in NYC, for God's sake, not Beirut. How are you gonna get me out alive if you drop a mother****ing building on me?"
I was still cursing up a storm when I -- damn it to Hell again -- I again meant to say -- when Lyle crawled out from under the shelter of a heavy steel computer rack and looked around. Damn! That was close, too friggin' close. Some of that junk had missed my operating table by inches.
"Now what's going on?" I asked myself as a rapidly growing shaft of light and warmth filled the basement. Hummm! Doesn't that feel good, Lyle? Look over there where the ceiling fell in, that's the sky and there's a beautiful yellow and gold cloud moving this way.
That's odd. The light almost feels like it's burning hot -- and where's that delicious smell coming from? It's like someone's cooking chicken. That smell, it's coming from -- me!
Now wasn't that one hoot of a dream? A seven point nine on the personal Richter scale I'd say. Doc was always worried I'd go blotto under the weight of some critter's memories. My only guess is that he sent me away to recuperate.
I'm practically unique, ya know. Maybe its because of that tumor, or maybe not, but I was the best test subject he'd ever found for his junk. Just because I'm still having trouble sorting whose thoughts I thinking, doesn't make me any less the best test subject he'd ever had.
What could be safer than a hideout in Florida? Sun, sea, and tons of food! And, what's even more important from my point of view, lots of places to hide out -- damn it, I meant to say -- hang out undisturbed.
Why don't some of you people come down? You'll like my place. It's nothing much, just a little cave -- house -- on the coast and fishing is absolutely fantastic. You can spend your time on the veranda sunning yourself, or crawl -- damn, walk -- a few feet to the beach and fish a while.
You'll love it. There's more fish around here than you could ever catch. Just open your jaws and snap -- damn it again, I meant to say -- just drop a line and you'll soon be snacking on as much yummy fish as you can hold.
Not much hunting to speak of though, the place is positively packed with birds and reptiles, but I've haven't seen anything larger than a swamp rat or bat in all the time I've been down there. Once, a long time ago, I seem to recall something that looked like a small dog, but it was in pretty bad shape, dying in fact. All it did was stagger around in circles while making some of the creepiest sounds you've ever heard. If I didn't know better, I would've sworn it was trying to talk.
Maybe it was something it ate? There were some small bird feathers stuck in its fur, but that can't be right. I catch and eat as many as I can, and nothing bad has happened to me.
In fact, the taste of bird in my mouth was one of my earliest memories down here. I just love the way their feathers tickle my throat as they slide down -- that is, when one of my ex's cooks 'em to a golden brown just the way I like them.
Did I forget something? That's right. All my ex-wives are down here too. I'll never figure out how they found me. I just felt like singing one day and they all swam -- boated -- onto my private beach.
They're a bit like you bunch, not real heavy into conversation, but that's fine with me. Talking is the last thing I feel like when they're around. Once or twice a year they'll show up and we'll have a little fun before they disappear again. Where the heck they vanish too is a total mystery to me. Only once have I had the misfortune of running into one of the old girls when she wasn't in the mood for you-know-what.
There I was swimming -- walking -- alongside a nearby creek without a care in the world when Lola jumped out and tried to bite my tail -- butt -- off.
Most likely she'd hidden something nearby. Probably another pile of furs she didn't want me to see. Knowing her, she's probably put a massive dent into my MasterCard again. She always was the greediest bitch in the unholy trio, just ask my divorce lawyer. Hoo boy! She even scared him.
There's nothing much left to tell. With each passing year I get bigger -- I get my strength back -- and my nosy neighbors become less of a bother. I'm so far out in the middle of nowhere that I rarely have to run off some young moron trying to take a piece of my turf, or messing with my women.
I know Doc's gonna get his panties in a bunch when I show up uninvited, but I couldn't wait any longer for him to show up. After a little friendly persuasion to convince a few nearby squatters to go peddle their wares someplace else, I pointed my snout -- my boat's bow -- north and took off.
In less time than it takes to say, I was swimming -- motoring -- up the Hudson. It was like I'd never left. The city lights still rippled over the water as the muted sounds of traffic echoed gently from shore to shore. The only thing odd was the total lack of traffic on the river.
Where the heck is everybody? I've been cruising the river for nearly a day and I haven't seen anything afloat but a few logs. By now I should've been a nervous wreck! It's not like commercial traffic cares much for the little guys.
Just ask the captain of your average freighter if he has anyone on the look out for small pleasure craft. Not likely. If you're too tiny to show up on his radar, you're toast. All they'll find of you, and your boat, is a small smear of paint on his bow when he pulls into his next port.
So, really, I'm not gonna complain, but it does seem bizarre that the city lights are shining down on a river apparently barren of all traffic. Weird. Where the heck did all the river traffic disappear too? It's not that foggy, is it?
Don't tell me the Harbor Patrol closed the river down again, not that it would be a first for those airheads. For a few bucks they'll let anyone sneak a leaking oil tanker into the river, but let one tiny sailboat smack into a pier because of a little fog and they go spastic.
Yet, somehow that still doesn't explain why the fog seems to be following me around. That's funny. I really don't believe I just said that. Am I getting paranoid in my old age or what? Just because the city seems to turn into a forest whenever I'm not looking directly at it doesn't mean I'm getting ready for another mental breakdown. Does it? It does? Rats!
Okay! That's it! I'm out of here! Sorry, folks, I'm still not as well as I thought. You wouldn't believe what I just saw when I looked at you people; and I've wasted enough time looking for Doctor Merit as it is.
I'm heading out now to do a little fishing to fill up the old fuel tank before turning around and going back home. Something is telling me that I've got to get back right now. Who knows what kind of mischief the little women have gotten into while I've been gone?
Just do me a favor, okay? If Doc stops by show him that pile of rocks I scraped together over there. He'll know what it means. He's so old, Sitting Bull himself probably made him an official Indian scout.
Okay, okay! That's been enough bull-shitting for one night. Just don't forget to tell him that I'm getting bored out of my socks waiting for him to show up and... NO! NOT AGAIN! TAKE IT AWAY! I DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT! IT'S NOT REAL! IT CAN'T BE! PLEASE, GOD, MAKE IT GO AWAY!
I'm... I'm... I'm sorry. I didn't mean... I didn't mean to scare all of you. That was a bad one. In a million years you'd never believe what I just saw. I've gotta get... I've gotta get back home before something like that happens again.
What? What's that? Please don't ask! Trust me, ya don't want to know what I just saw. It's impossible. It's all in my head. You wouldn't believe it if I told you. You'd all would think I were crazy if I even tried... STOP SCREAMING! I'LL TELL YOU! JUST SHUT UP ALREADY.
I know you'll think I completely nuts, but for a few seconds all you people changed. I was looking directly at you -- the guy with the laptop -- sign -- you, the kid throwing the ball into the air... and, yes, you too -- the lady pushing the baby carriage. You all turned into nothing but shadows burnt onto a wall next to that sign.
Happy now? Is there any doubt I'm crazy? If nothing else, that sign tells me I'm crazier that a bedbug. Well? Say something. Please? Won't any of you please talk to me? I've been... I've been so lonely for such a long time.
That's okay. Just knowing you're here makes me feel better. I'll try to get back someday. Even though it feels like I've been here a thousand times already, I know you'll talk to me someday.
Ciao, everyone! I loves ya, and don't take any wooden nickels while I'm gone!
There is no reply, only the gently lapping sounds of water splashed upon the shore as a large submerged object moved away a great speed. The rising Sun, unable to pierce the river's cloudy waters, contents itself by reflecting off the glass-like surface of a limestone wall and the barely visible outline of a long vanished metal plate.
Damn! Is that blockbuster material or what? Admit it C.J., we've got a megahit here."
"Yeah, it's got potential." He paused in thought and the toadies around him stood frozen, awaiting his final verdict. "But the ending's weak."
"I know. I know. It's historically accurate, but we're in the entertainment business. Folks expect us to use a bit of literary license. As it is now, the audience will leave thinking it's just another fluff piece, a bit of fantasy to while away a couple of hours. Even then, they'll be wondering if it was a dream or if our protagonist was insane. They'll also wonder why they paid good money to see it.
"Change the ending to put the scene with the park sign earlier, just as he leaves the zone of destruction. Most of our patrons have never heard of Liberty Island, so it won't mean anything to them, but the backdrop with the heat waves flickering over the ruins will make the point. End with him back on his island in Florida, basking in the sun with a couple of his ex-wives." He looked around to see if one of the smaller crocs around him would dare to challenge him and disagree, but none did. With a sigh of contentment and the firm belief that he had once again grabbed profit from the jaws of disaster, the Executive Producer slithered out of the viewing room.
Just before he left, he stopped and turned back to the subordinates he'd left behind to complete his work. "Oh yeah, and lose the references to him being insane. No one wants to know that the First Croc, the Father of our race, was a nut case."