You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly, Part 8

Posted: 16 January 2013 in fiction, writing, You'll Never Believe A Man Can Fly
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Chapter Four (continued…)

It’s been said that those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. It could be added that those whom the gods wish to make mad, they first enjoy taking the piss out of.

At the lab, Dr Rosemary Clooney had finally sorted out her office. A place for everything and everything in its place.

She sat back in her chair, very pleased with herself and not a little smug. She’d finally found the paper she’d been looking for. It had become stuck to the back of another sheet of paper in a 600 page report in such a way that it would have been impossible to find it unless the report had been examined page by page. And that’s what she’d done. Page by page. Sixteen such reports. And she’d looked through every one.

Still the job had been worth it. Everything was filed, and she knew where everything was.

And then the telephone rang.

She looked on the desk for it, but it wasn’t there.

A place for everything? Not a problem. Everything in its place? Somewhere the gods were peeing themselves laughing.

The telephone continued its ringing while Clooney started panicking about not being able to find it. She finally discovered it by tracing the telephone wire from the socket in the wall, under the carpet through to her desk. She pulled open the bottom drawer and there it was. Success! She lifted it onto the desk and pondered it for a moment, enjoying the success of the hunt. She picked up the receiver… at the very moment the caller decided that she’d obviously left for home and disconnected.

She uttered a very unladylike swear word and replaced the telephone in her desk, automatically thinking of that as its new home. She closed the drawer just as the phone started to ring again and this time she pulled open the drawer and snatched at the receiver. “Hello?”

“Dr Clooney? Docherty here,” she heard down the line. “Wasn’t sure if you’d left yet.”

She glanced at the wall clock and was surprised at the time. “Not quite, no. But I’m just about to leave, Mr Docherty – can it wait until the morning?

“It could,” said the voice, “but I’d rather it didn’t. Have you eaten yet?”

As if prompted, her stomach rumbled loudly. She hadn’t realised quite how loudly until Docherty chimed in with “I’ll take that as a no. OK, meet me at The Ivy in an hour. I’ll book a table.”

Clooney laughed. “Not that I don’t like the confidence, Mr Docherty, but you can’t just phone The Ivy and immediately get a table.”

“Doctor,” came an ominously quiet reply, “you’d be astonished what I can do with one phone call.” Then the tone lightened and he asked “An hour then, ok?”

He rung off without waiting for a reply. Clooney looked at the telephone, irritated beyond belief. “And just for that,” she said, blaming the telephone, “you can stay on the desk.”

The telephone, politely, declined to respond.

Clooney grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair, flicked off the light and left the building, looking forward to the meal more than she wanted to admit.

– o –

Two hours later, as it was approaching midnight, Clooney was very glad she’d accepted the invitation to dinner. Docherty had turned out to be a delightful dinner companion and for the first hour of the meal, he hadn’t raised work at all, and she had been happy not to suggest that he did so.

She’d been surprised, when she arrived, that he’d already been there and despite knowing that she’d been correct about the impossibility of getting a table at such short notice, they had a superb table by the window.

The meal had been magnificent, but that was no surprise, and it wasn’t until they were finishing their desserts and had ordered coffee that she looked quizzically at Docherty and asked why he’d invited her out to dinner.

“Why, Doctor Clooney,” he protested in mock-surprise, “isn’t the pleasure of your company enough of a reason?”

“Of course it is,” she replied, grinning, “but I suspect that’s not the reason you invited me out.”

“OK, no, it isn’t,” he said, a look of serious contemplation appearing on his face. “I want to talk to you again about the incident.”

Docherty had similarly been enjoying the evening, and was not exactly looking forward to dropping the surprises on her that he was about to. He’d gotten permission from the Department to include her in the small circle of people who knew the information he was about to relate, but while he enjoyed surprising people, he rarely felt it appropriate to be smug about it. And certainly not about this.

Slightly disappointed, despite her comments of a few moments earlier, Clooney sighed. “There’s really not a lot I can tell you. Honestly. You’ve read the report, I know. And pretty much everything I know about the effects of the material are in there. I still don’t know why you want to know though.”

“No?” Docherty asked.

“No,” she said. “You worried me for a moment, with your questions about the dead tissue, but I’ve checked with the mortuary at the hospital where… what was his name?”

“Withers. Samuel James Withers,” replied Docherty slowly.

“Thanks. Yes, where Withers was taken. They’ve checked the body for radiation. There wasn’t any.”

“That’s what they said, was it?” Docherty asked, his face a picture of innocence personified.

“Yes, and no one else was contaminated, so, what’s the problem? Why are you so interested?”

“That’s your professional assessment, is it, Doctor? Everything’s ok, because nothing actually went wrong? Well, it’s a novel approach, certainly.”

Clooney paused in the midst of pouring herself a glass of the exceedingly fine dry white wine that Docherty had ordered for them. She felt once again as if she’d missed something, just as she’d felt when he’d quizzed her about the dead tissue some hours earlier. She waited for him to continue, and he did a moment later.

“Well, Doctor, there are only two things wrong with your reasoning. Not major things, you might think, but others, including me, could differ on that assessment.” The dryness in his voice could have given the wine some competition.

“OK,” she said, taking another swallow of the exceedingly fine dry white wine. “So why don’t you tell me what they are.”

He ticked them off on his fingers.

“First, the mortuary were instructed to give that information to you. It’s true they can’t find any radiation on the body, but mainly because they can’t find the body.” He paused at the look that had appeared on Clooney’s face. “And before you ask, yes, the remains of Withers, Samuel James of that ilk, were clinically dead when he was taken in. At the moment, it’s assumed that the remains have been removed by persons unknown, for purposes similarly unknown.”

Clooney took a large swallow of the wine, now not caring in the least how exceedingly fine, dry or white it was. “Well, that’s a good assumption, I’d have thought. Because whatever the alternative is, I really don’t want to consider it. However, I’m more concerned about the other potential error in my judgement,” she said, not knowing what was coming and not particularly wanting to hear it.

“The CCTV cameras covering the street area near the National Provident bank have been examined and all of them, both film and digital are completely blank.” He halted, and his hand reached towards his pocket briefly before returning to the table. He’s a smoker, Clooney noticed, and enjoyed the moral superiority of not needing that particular crutch.

“Understand what I mean, Doctor. I’m not reporting that the cameras recorded nothing – I’m saying that the cameras were completely blank, as if they’d been wiped clean. So they’re no use at all. However,” and here he again took a break, as if considering his words.

“However,” he began again, “according to four separate eye witnesses, a man, aged in his mid-to late thirties, was standing about fifty feet from the explosion. He was seen enveloped in a cloud of smoke, and then witnessed wiping his suit down afterwards, before exiting the scene.” Docherty stopped talking as the waitress arrived with their coffees. Clooney and Docherty looked at each other, the former’s eyes wide and shocked. She didn’t even smoke, but for some reason, she really wanted a cigarette.

When the waitress had walked away, Docherty poured some milk into his coffee, and stirred. He picked up the other cup and passed it to Clooney as if he expected her to take it. She didn’t and he placed it in front of her. He looked at Clooney who was staring incredulously at him as if he’d grown a second head. “How are those lottery numbers coming along, Dr Clooney?”

She gazed at him in utter disbelief, then shook her head. “And I suppose none of the eye-witnesses spoke to the media?”

His face hardened and for some reason, she suddenly shivered. He looked like a completely different man; his eyes had taken on the look of chilled stones. “They were… persuaded… not to. Now,” he said, “don’t you think we ought to be talking about what effects that stuff can have on a human being? And right now, Dr Clooney?”

She nodded slowly, her brain racing.

“From prelimin…” she stopped and sipped at her coffee. Her face pinched and she took some sugar cubes and dropped them in, stirring slowly, marshalling her thoughts. “From preliminary results,” she said in what her mother referred to as her ‘teacher mode’, “the material affects both the natural healing abilities of a body via massive cell regeneration, as well as the autonomic systems. In most cases, that increased healing led directly to tumours forming, although the precise causal effects were untraceable. However, in every case, the exposed mammal died. Anyone exposed to it would certainly die.”

“And if they didn’t?” asked Docherty.

“If they didn’t what?” Clooney’s brain was still overwhelmed by the very idea of what she’d caused just by sending a package out for delivery. Unconsciously, she reached for more sugar, and her hand jerked back when Docherty’s hand gently tapped it.

Docherty sat back in the chair, watching Clooney carefully. He sighed loudly. He thought of how often he’d sighed since that morning, and realised that he was rapidly approaching his month’s quota. “If they didn’t die, Dr Clooney?” he reminded her. “What then?”

“If they didn’t die, it’s genuinely impossible to guess what would happen to them: the effects could be anything from being a carrier of, for want of a better word, let’s call radiation poisoning, to vastly improved reaction times and healing. But I still can’t… I still can’t…”

Docherty leaned forward into sharp relief, the candles throwing an odd pattern onto his face. “So, unless I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying, Doctor, we’ve got either Typhoid Mary or Superman running around somewhere in London tonight.”

He leaned back and laughed, a short barking, laugh. “I’m almost hoping it’s the former.”

Clooney looked at him, puzzled. “Why…?”

“Because I don’t much fancy being Lex Luthor.” He stood up. “Come on.”

She stood up and watched as he threw some £50 notes on the table.

“Where to?” she asked.

“I’ll take you home. Tomorrow we…”

She interrupted him with “…go and get your head shaved?” and walked away from him, not seeing the genuine grin that appeared on his face.

– o –

Davies was glad the lights were low, and when he saw the time, the surprise was that the Doctor was still there, on the two-seater couch against the wall. Three o’clock in the morning, and she was still there, though she appeared to be asleep. Her head was on the shoulder of the man Davies had assumed was her husband, and she was snoring softly, while the man read a paperback. His assumption was confirmed when the man gently shook her awake, placed the novel on a side table and then walked forward to introduce himself, while his wife checked a clipboard by her side.

“Mr Davies,” he said hesitantly, “I’m Scott Jordan.”

The name sounded familiar, but Davies couldn’t recall why for a moment. Then the man moved into the light and he placed it immediately. “You’re Scott Jordan,” he said, cursing himself for his stupidity.

“Erm, yes,” said Jordan, mystified.

“I read your pieces in The Guardian,” Davies said quickly, and then ruined the effect somewhat by saying “well, sometimes, when I can’t get The Times.”

“That’s fair enough,” Jordan said, with an easy smile. “Honesty. I like that in a bloke.” He sat by Davies’ bed and became serious. “Though, I’d be prepared to forgive a blatant lie from the man that saved my wife and son from a gun, and took a bullet for them.”

Davies noticed that Jordan hadn’t included himself in that tribute and his estimation of Jordan took a few jumps before he remembered that Jordan made his living through words, and through persuading others with his skill in the use of them.

Jordan extended his hand, and Davies took it; a firm grip, but not overly so. Davies had the suspicion that Jordan was a man who shook a lot of hands. “Thank you,” Jordan said, and Davies didn’t know how to reply. He glanced at the doctor, now looking at both of them, and then back at Jordan. Davies nodded, his face serious.

Jordan’s next few words though took his breath away. “Hope you’re ready to be a media star, Mr Davies.”

“What?” He was stunned.

“PR Executive saves journalist and family from gun crime? Tailor made for a story. Beats ‘man bites dog’ all to hell.” Jordan’s expression was now a combination of earnestness and eagerness, neither of which were appealing. “And don’t even think of saying no,” Jordan said, “it’s my way of saying thank you.” Davies realised that Jordan actually meant it; he thought Davies would be grateful. Davies thought briefly and then made the penultimate decision that, together with everything else that had happened to him since nine o’clock the previous morning, changed his life forever.

“Is there any way my name can be kept out of it? Seriously – I don’t want to be named.”

“Unavoidable, my friend. Sooner or later, it’s going to come out. Someone will find out who you are. It’s not as if you have a secret identity or anything.” Jordan stopped for a moment, then said “Why not take the bows? Defending members of the public like you did. It’s something to be proud of.”

Then Davies made the final, fateful, decision. “Well can’t you call me something else? I mean, your wife made a crack about super heroes earlier,” he glanced at her and even in the semi-dark of the room, he could see her blush, “and you just talked about a secret identity. Can’t you call me just…”

He paused as if in thought, but more just for effect if he were honest about it. “You said it yourself a minute ago. Just call me just A Public Defender.”

If only he’d have been talking to a reporter from any other newspaper, he would almost certainly have been fine. Any other newspaper: The Times would have been fine. The Daily Mirror has been known to report things accurately. Even The Sunhas, on occasion, as has The Socialist Worker.

But no, the fates had conspired to put him at the mercy of The Guardian.

And despite each of them knowing why some people referred to it as The Grauniad, not one of them even saw it coming.

– o –

© Lee Barnett, 2013

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