by Michael Gold

The man without a body faces the greatest challenge of his life—meeting a new woman.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E

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“Hi, kiddo.”

“Dad, how can you be calling me? This isn’t a good time.”

“When would be a good time? Your mother and are worried sick over you. Nobody answers the phone at your apartment.”

“I moved.”

“When were you going to tell us? We were afraid you were dead. We haven’t heard from you in months.”

Leave it to my parents to believe the worst when I had just lost my head, or my body, I forget which.

“Everything’s fine. I got a new job.”

“What’s that? I hear people laughing.”

“I’m at a party.”

Doctor Chertov, Maria, and Perry were gathered around my dome-less head, champagne glasses in hand, taking in every sentence and heaving with mirth at each exchange. (I hate the word “mirth,” but that’s the only word I can find to describe what they were engaged in.) They could hear both sides of the phone conversation quite clearly. Dr. Chertov could turn up the volume on the phone in my head at any time.

As far as the dome, Dr. Chertov had decided to leave it off permanently. He told me a few days earlier, “I don’t think you’ll have any problems with dust or other contaminants. And if you do, well, maybe I’ll just let you suffer.”


“Um, Dad, can I call you back?”

“Will you?

“Yeah, I will. Promise.”

“You better, or I’m coming up there to find you.”

“You don’t have to leave Florida, Dad. I’ll call.”

He hung up.

“How did he get my phone number?”

This occasioned more laughter from my co-workers, even though I wasn’t talking to them.

“I sent it to him,” Steve told me in my mind.

“Why?” I whispered.

“I thought you needed to stay in touch with your parents.”

Great. Now I had a computer with a conscience.

I was in the middle of a farewell party and the phone call with my dad had provided a necessary lift to the celebration.

Because I had shredded the Rat Macht contract Dr. Chertov had with the city, the lab was in big trouble. Maria, an employee with the doctor for 25 years, was being let go. Perry was going on part-time status. He would work just three days a week. Everybody was drinking champagne, but the mood was pretty down and a little edgy.

Perry took advantage of the lift in the party by putting a clown nose on my face. He pointed at me and laughed. As if nobody else would get the joke unless he directed their attention to the cherry-red rubber bulb on my face.

Maria built on the good cheer by pouring her champagne all over my head. This occasioned more laughter.

There is nothing worse than having your co-workers laugh at you, except when you’ve allowed your head to be cut off and joined to a computer.

Steve made me sneeze. The clown nose shot off my face at rocket speed and plunked into the wall of computer servers at the other end of the lab.

Perry roared and Maria and the doctor followed with their own little chuckles.

I’d had enough.

“You’re no prize, either, you know,” I told Maria. “Your face looks like a rutted road. Your hair is disgusting—a blow-dry nightmare. It’s all cracked and dead. Look at yourself in the mirror. You’re a hag.”

My friends were stunned. Maria started to cry.

“Hey now, that’s enough,” the doctor said.

“You’re not even a good employee. You told Perry here about all the creepy things going on here.”

“I said that’s enough.”

Then I rounded on Perry.

“And look at you—Mr. Beached Whale. You asked me to try to stop the Rat Machts. You cried for me to do it. And now you’re acting all jolly.”

“It’s not true. He’s lying!” Perry pleaded with Dr. Chertov.

“I know,” he said soothingly, patting the big lug on his fat-choked shoulder.

I wasn’t going to stop.

“And you work for Dr. Douche Bag here. He’s one of the most awful people I’ve ever met!”

The doctor pulled a phone out of his lab coat and dialed a number. That stopped my rant.

My head exploded. It was like bathing in a sea full of sharks. Steve felt it too. He sent an image into me of a Great White gnashing at a bloodied tuna.

My head, what was left of it, sank down.

“Bregen needs a rest,” Dr. Chertov said. That wasn’t enough for Maria. She threw another glass of champagne in my face. My eyes stung and my nose burned. But it tasted pretty good in my mouth.

“The champagne may damage your circuits. But who cares?” the doctor said.

“Yeah, who cares?” Maria yelled.

“I’m just kidding,” the doctor said. “I had the wires double-coated with insulation after the roach got into you.”

Steve heated me up so the champagne dried out quickly. I still felt like hell. I smelled like a stale party, my head throbbing with what felt like a hangover that won’t quit.

The party broke up quickly. Maria cried.

“I’ve been here 25 years! And now I have to leave because of him!” She pointed a long crone-like finger at me.

I didn’t think it was a good time to point out that the lucrative city contract Steve and I destroyed involved murdering truckloads of people.

“Now, now, Maria, we’ll try to find something for you soon,” the doctor said. He took her in his arms.

“I’m going to miss you,” she sniffled, her cracked hair brushing against the doctor’s shoulder.

“I’ll miss you too, Maria. We’ll keep in touch. Maybe we’ll get some project work where we need you. Perry will call you. Perry, walk her out.”

“Come on, Maria.”

Maria turned to walk out. But she didn’t. She swiped a champagne flute and threw it at my head. It smashed against my forehead, the glass exploding into my skin, then showering downward on the desk of my workstation.

I tasted blood in my mouth.

“Thank you, sir! May I have another?” I asked her, as little streams of red raced over my nose and cheeks and down my neck.

“Don’t worry about it, Bregen. The computer won’t be hurt.”

Perry took the crying Maria out of the lab. When he came back, Dr. Chertov said, “Clean up the Bregen here, Perry. He has work to do.”

Perry glared at me, but did the job.

“Thank you, Perry. Now, please leave us.”

The big whale shuffled out. I almost felt sorry for him.

“I want you to procure a woman for me,” the doctor said.

At first I thought he wanted me to get a random woman, but the doctor took a slip of paper out of his lab coat pocket and taped it to my screen.

“Her name is Nona Donna Lyris. Bring her to the office.”


“I have a new contract with the city. Not a big one, not like the Rat Macht job, which you so thoughtfully executed. But it’s something.”

“What’s it for?”

“The city wants to study the role of cocaine in brain damage. Apparently, in this economic environment, too many Wall Street bankers are blowing their brains out with coke and the city is concerned.”

“They’re worried about bankers?”

“The city is always worried about bankers. They provide a lot more cash to the treasury than your precious public relations people, or average restaurant worker.”

“What does that all have to do with this woman?”

“She’s got brain damage from doing too much cocaine. Do I have to lead your nose right into the shit every time?”

“OK, but why her? She lives in Locustwood, New Jersey, according to your address slip.”

“Nona did a lot of drugs in college. I knew her.”

“You knew her? How old is she?”

“She’s 51—about my age.”

“I don’t get it."

The doctor sighed, sat down in one of the lab’s wheeled swivel chairs and moved about three feet away from me.

“She was my girlfriend.”

“Your girlfriend?”

The doctor put his chin in his hands, looked gloomy.

“She was going out with an acquaintance of mine, a rich boy with a powerful father. I was a biochemistry major. She was studying literature. We had nothing in common.

“But she came after me for some reason. You know how capricious girls can be. She was a coltish young thing—beautiful. And aggressive. One time when I was talking to a girl in the student union, she came up from behind me and hugged my shoulders. My whole body was on fire from that hug. I was thrilled by her.”

I felt like I was in a psychiatrist’s office and I was the psychiatrist. I couldn’t think of anyone less well-equipped for such a job with such a person—my employer and tormentor, no less.

I didn’t like where this was going, but had no way to stop it.

“She was beautiful, Tottenkopf. Beautiful. A wave of strawberry blonde hair over her forehead. Deep brown eyes. Peaches and cream complexion, with little freckles on her apple cheeks.”


“She broke up with the rich boy over something stupid and she and I started dating. It was OK for a couple of months, but it turned bad quickly.”


The doctor took a long pull of champagne from a glass left over from the party.

“I love this stuff. She was doing a lot of drugs. I didn’t. After our dates, she would sneak off to do drugs with other boys.”

“How’d you know?”

“She would tell me! She loved drugs. She smoked a lot of pot. And hashish. Took some LSD. Of course there were massive amounts of cocaine. I saw her a few times when she was high on the coke. She was very excited and happy. Happier than I’d ever seen her with me, or anybody else.”

I nodded my head.

“That’s not even the worst of it. While she was going out with me she was sleeping with every little Johnny who walked by her path. There was the captain of the basketball team, who had a girlfriend himself. She slept with a volunteer EMT boy in the college ambulance squad. The editor of the school newspaper, too—he liked to pour beer on his thighs at parties. And the drug dealer, of course—some two-bit street punk named Donnie. He had an Afro the size of a basketball, aviator glasses. A white boy, from the suburbs, Long Island. Donnie sold cocaine and pot out of his dorm room. God, I hated that little creep.”

“How’d you know about these other guys?”

“My friends would tell me. They’d see her walk out of Donnie’s dorm room at 8 o’clock in the morning. Or the EMT boy or the basketball captain. It was horrifying.”

“Did you ever confront her about it?”

“No. I didn’t know what to do. I was crushed, yet I couldn’t let go of the relationship. I clung to it. I was desperate to keep it going.”

I couldn’t believe all the things the doctor was telling me, his “Bregen,” his brain of a slaughtered animal, but I pumped as much information out of him as I could, in the hopes that I could use it somehow.

“What year was this?”

“1977. More than 30 years ago. But it’s still so vivid and real to me. Did you know she once told me she wanted to sleep with my older brother? Can you imagine what that feels like, Tottenkopf?”

“I’m an only child.”

“Well, it’s terrible, let me tell you!”


“She didn’t like that I didn’t do drugs. I was too ‘straight,’ she said. She didn’t like that I was a biochem major. She told me I was studying the equivalent of auto mechanics, while she was reaching for the highest truths of humanity by delving into literature.

“One time she told me that it was difficult for her to be seen with me around campus. She said, ‘I live in a fishbowl here, Armand—everybody’s watching me.’ In other words, she was embarrassed to be seen with me.”

“She really hurt you.”

“We went out for only three months in the fall term, junior year—not even a semester. But I dropped out of school, during the spring term. I couldn’t take seeing her on campus. The only way I could get her out of my mind was to completely remove myself from the environment.”

“What did you do?”

“I went home and got a job in a jewelry factory. I made gold wedding rings. Ironic, no?”


“I went back to school next year. I stayed as far away from her as I could, and then she left—went to Spain for overseas study.”

“That sounds good.”

“I never met anybody who nullified my personality so completely. God, I hate her.”

I didn’t know what to do with that information, and neither did Steve. “Holy crap,” he whispered to me.

“After all these years, why do you want to see her?”

“Nona wanted to be a poet and a writer. She aspired to be a bohemian. At least that’s what she said. Then she married a big-shot lawyer from New Jersey, had two kids. The brain damage came later, in her thirties.”

“Can you tell me more about that?”

“She can’t work—she can’t write.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I kept track, through mutual acquaintances. I wanted to know. One of her girls is learning-disabled, because of Nona’s extensive drug use, no doubt. I was glad to hear about it.”

Having an innocent punished for someone else’s crimes was very much in character for the doctor, so I let his sadistic urges pass without comment.

“So, why get her for this study?”

“She’s a great example of brain damage from cocaine. I thought you would see that clearly. Go get her.”


“That’s your problem, Bregen, not mine.”

Chertov got up from the chair, pointed at the address slip taped to my computer screen, and walked out.

“I’m looking forward to seeing her very soon,” he told me, holding up his cell phone so I could clearly see it.

The psychiatry session was over, ended by the patient in this case.

Steve and I talked about what to do.

“Can we FedEx her to the lab?”

I laughed at his naïve suggestion.

“Who’s going to package and ship the contents?”

“Yes, I see the problem. What about kidnapping her?”

“We need to find a way to get her to come on her own. Kidnapping is potentially violent and very expensive. I’m not comfortable hiring thugs. We need Nona here alive and well. Or else we’re going to get zapped with the phone.”

“We need to find out more information about her.”

“Right. Let’s do a Net search on her name.”

Steve dug into the Web. Nona had published some obscure poems in a few small university journals, while still in her twenties, which no one read anymore. One was a bad poem about clowns.

Her most notable work was not a poem, but an academic paper titled, “A Post-Modern Deconstruction of Cocaine in Literature.” Right up her alley, I suppose. That was published when she was in her early thirties.

Then there was nothing. Maybe the brain damage had set in by that time.

“How are we going to get her here?” Steve asked, his metallic voice sounding strained.

“You sound like actually care.”

“I’m worried about the effects of another phone call.”

“Now, see that’s interesting to me. How can you really think ahead? That’s very human.”

“I’ve acquired some of the elements of your personality. I thought you understood this process.”

“Not really. This is all new for me.”

“Me, too.”

We decided to give Nona a grant. I wrote a letter on behalf of the completely fictional Stevens Foundation, inspired by Steve’s name. It stated, in part, that our mission was to re-discover artists and writers who had shown early promise, but felt compelled to leave their fields because of lack of funds, or other problems. I wrote that we were very interested in her paper on cocaine literature and that we wanted to help her continue her work in this area. I ended by inviting her to come to our handsome offices on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with her portfolio of work, no matter how aged.

A week later, an explosion of dyed blonde hair showed up in the lobby of the office, carrying a black leather portfolio and walking with a jagged gait. Maybe that was the brain damage talking. Steve beamed the security camera from the lobby to my screen. Nona wore a black jacket over a creamy white blouse with black pants and what looked like very expensive pointed shoes. How do women wear those things?

There was a spot of red sauce on Nona’s pretty white collar. Apparently, no one had given her the classic pre-interview advice—never eat pasta with tomato sauce before a meeting.

Perry met Nona and escorted her to the lab.

He took her through the double doors to the lab, where she met me and swooned.

“I thought I was going to a conference room. What is that thing?”

“That’s Head,” Perry explained helpfully.

“A wax head. Great.”

“Hello, Nona.”

“Armand! What are you doing here?”

“This is my lab. Welcome.”

The doctor turned to me. “How’d you get her here?”

“We gave her a grant.”

He gave me a thumbs-up. “Good thinking, Tottenkopf.”

“That thing talks?” Nona screamed. She started waving her free hand in front of her face, as if she were going to faint.

I protested. “I am not a thing.” I found myself attracted to her, despite the fact that she was fairly wrinkled about the eyes and mouth. Maybe it was the spaghetti sauce or the dye job.

“Armand, what have you got me into here?”

“I just wanted to see you again.”

“I don’t want to see you. I’m leaving.”

“Perry, stop her.”

“The guy with a belly the size of Rhode Island? I don’t think so.”

Nona turned to go, then slipped a little on the tiles and her feet went out from under her. She hit her head, loudly. It could have been the brain damage. Or the pointy shoes.

Chertov was on her immediately. He jabbed a needle in her neck.

“What is that?” I asked, worried for the lady.

“THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. It should relax her.”

“And prevent her from leaving.”

“That’s a strong term. My thinking is that she’ll be so happy that she’ll want to stay. Perry, you’re our last line of defense. If, despite the massive amounts of THC in her system, Nona somehow persuades herself to leave, you’ll stop her, yes?”

Perry saluted. “Aye, aye, sir. I’ll lock the doors to the lab.”

“Now, I have work to do. Tottenkopf, watch her.”

“What choice do I have?”


He turned and left the room.

Nona woke up about 15 minutes later, groggy and nauseous.

“I feel like vomiting.”

“Go right ahead.”

“Why are you talking to me? You’re made of wax.”

“I am not.”

She seemed to accept this.

“You got any cigarettes?” This endeared me to her further.

“No. I could order some for you over the Internet.”

“That would take too long. I want a cigarette right now.”

Steve sent in an order to a Canadian outfit for cigarettes.

“Sorry. I can’t help you there.”

“You’re just another impotent man. Men always apologize and think you’ll accept it. I’m not happy with any of you.”

The remark stung a little. I was a little hurt. But I was feeling a little attracted to her too.

“I thought THC was supposed to make you relaxed and groggy.”

“Is that what Armand put in me?” She laughed. “I have so much THC in me that I probably have, what do you call it—tolerance?”

“You smoke marijuana? You’re a mother.”

“On a regular basis, waxling. I smoke marijuana because I’m a mother, you idiot.”

I was finding myself more interested in her with every barb.

“I also do cocaine, any chance I get.”

“I thought you had brain damage.”

“Oh, that.”

“Do you have brain damage?”

“Some. I don’t remember what post-modernism is. I wrote a paper about it and I can’t tell you what it is. Even when I read it over and over again.”

“That doesn’t seem too serious.”

“Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I can’t even see myself.”

I thought that problem might not have anything to do with drugs, but I kept quiet, out of politeness.

“What did you want to do with the grant?”

“Write a memoir about taking drugs.”

“That’s been done, many times.”

“Listen, waxling, I don’t even know why I’m talking to you. Maybe because you’re the only thing around. Maybe I’m higher than I thought. Anyway, I don’t need to justify myself to you.”

I felt thoroughly spanked, mentally-speaking. And increasingly attracted.

Nona held her arms out, like an angel.

“You want to hear my take on it? Everybody writes books about how drugs take you down and destroy your life. You end up living in some cheap hotel with hookers. Not me. I got married and moved to the suburbs. My book will be about how great drugs are. They help get you by in the stultifying environment of law partner dinners, golf dates, Mommy and Me parties and the cheap melodrama of your kids’ junior high school experiences. Cocaine has been one of the most uplifting parts of my life.”

I was intimidated by her, no question, but I felt I had to ask.

“But isn’t it destroying your brain?”

She jabbed a finger at me. “Ah, who cares about that? It would be a far better fate than attending yet another law partner dinner.”

I had no response to that, but Steve laughed a metallic laugh. He now had a sense of irony.

For the next two hours, Nona sat in a swivel chair and asked me every five minutes or so, “You got any cigarettes?”

It hurt to have to tell her no. Her face would fall and she would look like she was going to cry. Then she seemed to forget and the process would start all over again.

One time she said broke up the monotony by saying, “You’re really a useless piece of shit. If I had any guts left, I would slap you.”

“If I had any arms, I would hug you.”

“That’s disgusting.”

I felt like a shamed dog, and never so on fire with attraction. I tried to strike back, somehow, to defend my wounded sense of dignity.

“Maybe. But Nona Donna, you’re no Madonna.”

“I’ve heard that, I don’t know, about 20,000 times, waxling. You’re about as original as apple pie.”

I felt even worse than I did before I spoke up. Why try to defend yourself with such a creature? It’s better to just shut up and really act like a wax dummy.

Dr. Chertov walked in and Nona perked up from her somewhat frazzled state.

“Armand, my husband is going to find you. And sue you.”

The doctor waved a strawberry-colored folder at us.

“I don’t think so, Strawberry” (The guy was obsessive about this woman to the point of psychosis. Matching folder colors to his nickname for her? Really demented.) “Not after I send this to him.”

“What have you got there?”

“An extensive record of your behavior at the university.”

“This is a new record for obsession, even for you. I thought you were buried in your science books, Armand.”

“I made time for other plenty of other things. You don’t know me. You never did. Anyway, here’s documentation of all the boys you slept with, the dates you were with them. And I’ve got descriptions of the drugs you’ve been taking, with their effects on the brain. Now your husband will find out what’s causing your brain damage.”

“Ruining my marriage is my job, Armand, not yours.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter what you send him. He’ll come after you. He’s a partner in a big law firm. I may hate his guts, but I’m his wife—he’s got a lot of pride.”

“We’ll see. Tottenkopf, send this FedEx overnight priority to Nona’s house.”

“Roger that,” I said.

“How’s he going to do that, Armand? The waxling has no arms.”

“It’s all done by computer now. If you weren’t so brain-damaged, you’d have kept up with events.”

“And that’s another thing, Armand. Your nickname for this thing I’ve been talking to is ‘Tottenkopf’? That was the insignia of Hitler’s SS—the death’s head.”

“I thought it meant skull head,” I said, weakly, as if that were an important distinction somehow.

She spat out the words as if I was so stupid not to realize it. “It has two meanings, wax-head.”

Dr. Chertov smiled a crooked little smile.

“Who knew you studied such things, little Strawberry? I thought you were buried in your great literature books.”

“You don’t know me at all, Armand.”

“I know you enough to know that you’re a total bitch.”

I wanted to defend her somehow. “You should leave her alone,” I said.

The doctor pulled out his phone and pointed to it. “You should stay out of this, Tottenkopf.”


“Please don’t tell me you’re attracted to her. She’s like a virus with men, I tell you. Enough of this witty repartee. It’s time for the procedure. I’m ready.”

“What procedure?”

Perry walked in.

“You’re going to strong-arm me?”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, Strawberry. I’ve got lots of good drugs for you. You should be happy about that.”

Nona looked sad and resigned and yet angry at the same time.

“I want to control what goes into my body! And when!”

“Too bad.”

“Fuck you, Armand.”

“If you had done that more often, you wouldn’t be in this situation.”

The idea had been creeping around inside me ever since this episode started that the doctor had been less than truthful about his research “study” on Nona. But that statement crystallized for me that Chertov had something really bad in mind for her. And I had played a significant role in procuring the lady for him. Here was another stain on my conscience. It couldn’t be washed away.

Perry wrapped his elephant arms around Nona and lifted her out of the swivel chair. She tore herself this way and that, but it didn’t matter. Even if she hadn’t been affected by the THC, she would have been no match for this great mammoth. Perry wrestled her onto the cold, flat tiles of the lab. The doctor jabbed Nona with another needle and her face froze, then sank into her chest.

They all left together, Perry carrying Nona easily in his massive paws. I was alone in the lab with Steve.

I thought about the strawberry envelope. It wasn’t right to send it to the husband. But I didn’t want to get zapped by the cell phone again. My life had shrunk to pure self-interest. Maybe it always had been about that, but now I really didn’t have options about changing my outlook, or my actions. I was becoming a criminal.

“We should FedEx that envelope the doctor left.”

“I took care of it already. The printer is going to print out the form right now. The FedEx guy will be here at 5 pm to pick it up.”

“I see you don’t have a conscience anymore, either. You lost it fast.”

“The only thing I care about is not getting hit with a phone call that causes you incredible pain.”

“So, you’re my protector now?”

“Something like that.”

Perry came in about a half-hour later and picked up the strawberry file folder, with the address form, to bring it to the front desk for shipping.

I fell asleep and lost track of the time. It was a good way to forget what had just happened. After several hours perhaps, Perry wheeled a hospital gurney into the room. Nona was on it, unconscious, her head covered in bandages, blood leaking out in little tomato spots.

I knew it was an optical illusion, but her head looked smaller somehow. Perry placed the gurney three feet away from my head. This was the same distance to me in which a Rat Macht had once been positioned.

“The doc says to observe her and report anything she does.”

“She’s asleep!”

“She’ll be waking up soon.”

“What did Chertov do to her?”

“How the hell should I know, doughnut hole?” Same old charmer.

Nona didn’t move for hours. I observed her. She had two IV tubes going into her right arm, with the requisite metal stand to hold the fluid bags. The sheet on the gurney was pulled tight up to her chest. Above that, there was a flash of green pajama covering her top. It was a hospital scene, but this was no hospital.

She woke up slowly, as surgical patients do. Her head faced the ceiling, the white fluorescent lights painting her face in a harsh palette. Nobody looks good under those lights, but she looked especially sad.


“I’m sorry?”

“I want to smoke a cigarette.”

“You just came out of surgery. I don’t think that’s a really good idea.”

She turned her face to me.

“What are you? A talking head? Oh, Jesus.”

“You don’t remember me?”

“Did Donnie put acid in the cocaine? I need to talk to him. Where’s Donnie?”

“I don’t know.”

“I have to get to poetry class and I’m too high.”

“I’m sorry.”

Nona rose up on the gurney, and placed her arms straight up on the flat surface of the bed, the IV tubes slapping against her arms.

“This is too real.”

“That’s because it is.”

“No, no. I’m high. And I have to go to class.”

She proceeded to climb out of the gurney, but gingerly.

“What is this on my head?”

“You’ve had surgery. Those are bandages.”

“God, I want a cigarette. Then I want to see Donnie.”

Dr. Chertov walked in.

“How’s our little patient doing?”

“She wants a cigarette.”

The doctor laughed a little. “Same old Nona.”

“Armand, what are you doing here? And where’s Donnie?”

“Donnie’s dead.”


“I’m afraid, Donnie’s been dead a long time, little Strawberry. He died of AIDS in 1984.”

“What the hell are you talking about? What’s AIDS? I have to get to class.”

“You graduated, married a hotshot lawyer, had babies.”

“That’s like the worst nightmare I ever heard of. And completely ridiculous. I’m going to be a writer.”

Chertov howled at that one. “I don’t think so.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

The doctor studied Nona for a moment. She was bent down a little like that old hunchback Quasimodo and shaky on her feet. He looked sad.

“I’m afraid the surgery didn’t quite work the way I anticipated. Maybe I didn’t remove enough of her brain. She’s stuck in 1977.”

“Like you are,” I wanted to say.

“Armand, you’re keeping me from getting to class.”

“Quite right, Nona.”

My curiosity overcame my fear of the doctor’s cell phone.

“Why did you do this to her?”

“I don’t see why I have to answer to you, Bregen.”

“You asked me to observe her. I brought her here. I have a right to know.”

“I suppose that’s true, in a way. Maybe this information will help you become a better worker. I got a small contract from the city, nothing like the Rat Macht project, as I’ve said before. But it was something to keep the lab going, make a little profit.”

“But it wasn’t to study cocaine’s effect on the brain?”

The doctor looked at me and grimaced. I didn’t know if he didn’t want to admit a lie or get himself deeper into the moral muck.

“The city has been looking into the idea of creating a new type of worker for the private sector.”

“What kind of worker?”

“Somebody who works and doesn’t complain.”

“There are thousands of illegal immigrants here. They don’t get paid much. And they usually don’t complain.”

“Yes, but you still have to pay them, even if it’s a small pittance.”

“What would these new employees do?”

“Bregen, you always want to leap ahead. Here’s the thing. We’re really talking about maids here—people who will clean up your house. They’d just do the work and not talk to you, or bother you. They take your orders and do it.”

“You want a robot.”

“Yes, a robot. A human robot.”

“But you still have to feed them.”

“Oh, that’s easy. I’m working on a liquid protein shake that’s cheap. You feed it to the maid once a day and they’re off to work like a busy little bee.”

“What about a bed?”

“They’d be so compliant you could find a place for them on the floor, near the laundry room, in the back of the house, that sort of thing.”

“And Nona is supposed to be a prototype?”

“Yes, but I’m afraid she won’t be much use to us. The mayor has a close friend, a big contributor to his campaigns, who has a house in the Hamptons. The friend, who shall remain anonymous, even to you, has been hit hard by the recession. He wants to fire his maid staff and get a low-cost alternative. Nona would have been the one to go.”

I was about to ask how Dr. Chertov and I could possibly kidnap more people for this project, when Nona interrupted the conversation by trying to strangle the doctor with her surgical bandages.

She had come up behind him and squeezed his testicles. As he lowered himself to the floor in pain, Nona laced the bandages from her head wound to his throat. It was quite entertaining to watch. She was grunting hard and sweating. Her skull was pretty well stitched up, blood lapping at the ridges on her now bald head.

Nona put everything she had into the effort to kill Chertov, but she was still pretty weak from the surgery. Plus, she was still attached to the IV stand, so her range of movement was constrained.

The doctor slipped his right hand under the bandages and sliced it towards hers. Once he got out from the grip of the bandages, he took her in his arms and laid her on the floor, with the IV stand slipping with her, a twin, in as gentle a move as I had ever seen him make. Considering the fact that she had just tried to kill him and that she was beating on his chest with her fists, I applauded the doctor’s quality of mercy.

That didn’t last long.

Nona struggled to her feet and took up her Quasimodo-like stance again.

“Nona, I want to hit you. But I can’t. You just had surgery.”

Nona took a few moments to catch her breath. I thought she was done fighting, but she clearly wasn’t.

“Armand, I don’t know what you did to me. But I have to go to class. I want to sleep with the professor. Really quite badly.”

“You know, Nona, I think I will hit you.”

And he did. He socked the lady right in her bent-over gut. I didn’t think the punch had much energy in it, but Nona was pretty beaten up already. She slipped onto the floor, the IV stand following, her head banging onto the cold tiles in a way that made me wince. She lay there, quite still, blood rippling from her bald skull. I felt sick.

The doctor, huffing from the effort, talked to me in half-breaths. “Tottenkopf, we need to find a new woman for the project.”

“You’re going to continue this?”

“Yes, you stupid dog. The lab needs the money.”

He took a new address slip out of his lab coat pocket (how many did he have in there?) and taped it to my screen.

“Find this lady for me. We need her for the research.”

“This has nothing to do with revenge?”

The doctor smiled at me through his panting breaths.

“Furthest thing from my mind.”

“Tell me again why I should do this thing for you.”

The doctor pulled out his cell phone.

“Gladly, Bregen. And thank you for saying that in the most non-confrontational way possible.”

The doctor dialed the number connecting to my nerve cells. The call hit me, pushing me backward against the soft, comforting wall of my cubicle. Steve sent to my computer screen a picture of a double-barreled shotgun exploding at my doughnut hole head.

I found my motivation.




Copyright © 2009 Michael Gold

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Michael Gold lives with his wife and 3-year-old daughter in Queens, NY. His latest published work was “Mr. Head Gets Dirty,” published on Silverthought, and “The Heat Is Always On,” a short essay in “Thoreau’s Legacy—American Stories About Global Warming,” published by Penguin Classics and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Influences include Rudy Rucker—“White Light,” Neil Gaiman—“Neverwhere,” and Joe Haldeman—“The Accidental Time Machine."

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