by Joseph Hirsch

A man suffering from an undisclosed sexual malady pays a visit to Priapus, Inc., a clinic known for curing deviancy through an unconventional therapy.

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Customer 09-15-2024-56 located Priapus, Inc. on the board in the lobby. Then he took one of six elevators up to the fifty-fifth floor of the building. The car disgorged him onto a lush tropical simulation that soothed his nerves as much as they could possibly be soothed under the conditions that had brought him here.

It was too late to back out now. He'd had the appointment for three months, and even if he were to change his mind, he would forfeit his deposit and Priapus would retain ten percent of the twenty-thousand Euro rehabilitation fee. It was a clever way to discourage reneging.

Customer 56 walked forward, past a wall-length stained glass relief depicting Adam and Eve, nude and succumbing to an apple borne in the venomous fangs of a coiled serpent.

That was where it all went wrong, he reflected to himself as he stepped into Priapus's main office. There was a direct corollary between their actions some millennia ago, and his presence here today in this office, A.D. 2024.

He was glad to see that no one else was in the waiting room, and doubly pleased to see that the secretary behind the desk with ear-bud and mouthpiece was not female. Knowing that they went by number and not name wouldn't have given him enough consolation, could never have shielded him from the shame of some random woman knowing that he was a preemie.

56 could imagine her commiserating with her fellow female coworkers around the water-cooler. Minute Man. Premature ejaculation was funny so long as one wasn't the victim of it. He could never understand, this male secretary before him, confirming his appointment with the nano-sized computer in his ear. He would never appreciate what it felt like.

And hopefully, 56 thought, after today, I won't be able to remember what it felt like. The secretary looked up at him with his color-shifting contacts, as lambent as mood rings, and said, "Fifty-Six?"

"Yes," Fifty-Six said.

"Through that door." The secretary pointed around the winding kiosk. 56 followed the varnished wending of the rotunda through a door where a man stood, stooped as if afflicted with spina bifida. Another man lay, full length across a gurney, invisible above the neckline.

The standing man said, "I'm Doctor Kremins. How are you, Fifty-Six?" They shook hands. 56 returned the doctor's firm pump with a limpid, milquetoast half-grip.

How are you? The question was a wasted, rhetorical formality. The doctor knew how he was, knew too much about him, in fact. The important thing at this point was the state of that faceless man strapped to the gurney. Was he really as pure as they said he was?

56 looked at him again, giving a more thorough inspection than when he had first come through the door. A graduated conical device, almost like a lampshade, funneled out around his head, glossed with a heavy resin. The thing terminated in an identical reflection which spread across an opposite gurney, where 56 would place his head, once his fears had been properly allayed.

Dr. Kremins could tell that he still needed some convincing. He fidgeted with one of the few remaining wisps of hair on his nearly-bald pate, and said, "Do you have any questions of me before we begin?"

56 pointed at his headless, supine savior and said, "You're sure he's normal?"

The doctor chuckled, spittle whiting at the edges of his liverish mouth. "He's as American as apple pie, Fifty-Six. General issue, standard heterosexual male, one each." The doctor flipped behind the main contract, and its carbon, to read the specs on the Linker-Control.

"He boasts an average performance of twenty-seven minutes before reaching ejaculation."

That's about twenty-six and one half minutes longer than me on my best day
, 56 mused bitterly.

The doctor continued. "He's not only dealt with premature ejaculators. He's cured more than a dozen pedophiles through linkage." The doctor flipped back to the contract, and proffered a pen. "You're in good hands." Then he nodded toward the subject. "And you have my assurances that you that you will be in a good head."

56 glanced down once at the subject. Then he took the pen and signed. The doctor tore the black carbon from behind the original. He fanned it on his way out the door. "I'll give this to the secretary to hold for you. Just ask for it after your treatment is completed."

Doctor Kremins left the room, making way for the two attendants who guided 56 onto the gurney. He trembled slightly as he felt his head forced into the funnel. The bright fluorescent lights of the room worked in tandem with the echo-chamber acoustics of the funnel, lulling him into a state of full submission as he succumbed to waves of anesthesia that carried him out of consciousness, and into the mind, the sex, of another man.

On the other side of the two-way mirror, the good doctor sat with his back to his intern Sanjiah, who was still new enough to be fascinated by the pupilometer. He locked eyes with the massive right eye of 56, which shared a split screen with the left eye of the Control.

Sanjiah watched the monitor for a period of three minutes, his slight curiosity morphing into fear until he was perturbed enough to bother Kremins.

"Doctor," the intern said.

"What is it, Sanjiah?" Kremins asked, annoyed.

Without taking his own eyes away from the eyes of two men on the monitor, Sanjiah said, "I think we have a slight problem."

Dr. Kremins stood and joined his employee in front of the monitor. They watched as 56's eyes blinked, then blinked faster, shuttering at a hummingbird speed until each flutter cut into them like the edge of a serrated knife.

"Jesus," the doctor said. The Control's left eye was just as spastic, offering no solace, no soothing of the mania that the customer had brought with him into the office. No one was being treated. Neither man was being helped. Both had to be in absolute agony.

The chaos imprisoned in the eyes suddenly erupted into the bodies of both men, animated enough to strike fear in the doctor and his intern, even with the barrier of the two-way separating them from the room and its gurneys.

56 began struggling with his straps, flailing with his arms and legs as if he were in the throes of a nightmare. But there could be no question that he was no longer asleep. The sedative had worn off, and no amount of piped-in vapor anesthesia could hold him.

He tore all four bonds at once. Then he stood. The doctor opened the line on his ear-bud, speaking to the secretary in the waiting room. "Nathan, something has gone terribly wrong! I need security from Wing-A!"

Sanjiah's eyebrows furrowed into a look of confusion. He had never heard of a Wing-A, as only key personnel had been informed of the clandestine world that was waiting on the other side of these walls, a violent world that may have finally bled into their peaceful clinic, the way Dr. Kremins had always feared. That goddamn lieutenant and his reassurances that nothing could go wrong.

The doctor's anger gave way to terror as he watched the morbid scene of 56 struggling with his cranial link, the image of a chicken with its head cut off volunteering itself at the most inappropriate of moments.

56 stumbled and pulled with both of his hands, until his head was free. Then, in one motion, he flipped the cone and suspended it over the chest of his counterpart, still in the bondage of sleep. He brought his link down hard onto the man's chest, a sound like a redwood snapping along its ringed trunk accompanying the crack of ribs.

Superhuman from the exertion, 56 had little trouble with breaching the door, and even less trouble escaping from the building. When it was all over, and two useless security staff from Wing-A had arrived, the only good news to report was that Nathan the secretary had somehow survived the rampage by hiding underneath his desk. The Control had not been so fortunate.

Paramedics carried him out on a stretcher, blue-purple striations of bruised tissue flowering out around the thin puncture that had ended his life. The two Wing-A flunkies stood before the livid doctor, who had nothing to say to them, and everything to say to their superior.

"Tell Consiogn to get his goddamn ass in here! He probably just cost me my license. I'm going to cost him his commission." Sanjiah slinked behind the doctor. Nathan half-remained underneath his desk. The police officers, one a corporal, the other a private with measly mosquito-winged rank, turned and left.

* * *

Lt. Consiogn, Los Angeles Sex Crimes Division, arrived at Dr. Kremins' office some thirty minutes later. He looked contrite, wringing his beret between his hands. But he did not seem afraid. And why would he be? The doctor was privately financed and stood to lose everything. This cop lived off the public trust, and would not have been doing his job had he not betrayed that same trust every once and awhile, like any other crooked public servant. Dr. Kremins hated him, and the lie of his broken promise.

"You assured me," the doctor began, "that this would never happen."

"What?" Consiogn asked, twisting his beret until it was formless.

The doctor intended to show him what. He booted the monitor above the pupilometer and replayed the feed from yesterday. On it, in black and white, both men saw the door that was supposed to remain closed at all times flung wide for the criminal to repose at leisure on the gurney opposite the sleeping (now-deceased) Control, oblivious and afflicted with whatever this criminal had carried in his mind, his soul, and in his sex.

The doctor stopped the tape and said, "I only agreed to provide you with space and equipment because you had a federal writ. This equipment was created to cure sexual malady and dysfunction."

The doctor tapped the blank cathode of the pupilometer. Above it, the transgression from yesterday replayed on an endless loop, the closed door opening again and again. "This equipment was not created to study criminals and sex offenders."

"Profiling," Consiogn corrected, gaining a little bit of courage under the chastisement. Regardless of whether the doctor was right and he and the entire LAPD were wrong, he still had the physical advantage of size, and he imposed some of it as he stood over the sitting doctor.

"If we can see into a criminal's mind, we can develop a more fully realized system for profiling, one that doesn't rely on half-measures, like race."

"And who is this?!" the doctor asked, tapping the glass of the security feed above the pupilometer. "This man who disturbed my Control while he was hibernating, fed his mind God knows what, to be unleashed onto the next man who came into this clinic with the intention of being healed? Who did you let into my clinic, lieutenant?"

"I," the lieutenant said, stressing the spuriousness of his culpability, "didn't let anyone into your clinic, doctor. I'm not responsible for security. The city commissioner has charged me with oversight of the sexual predator profil—"

"Who!" the doctor shouted loud enough to force the policeman to flinch. Lieutenant Consiogn stared through the two-way, into the torn shambles of gurneys and blood-spattered walls.

"His name," Consiogn said, "is Martin Galman."

"His crime?" the doctor coaxed.

The officer pursed his lips. "Rape… and murder." The doctor sighed, put his head in his hands, massaging his face as the Lieutenant attempted to mollify him with consolations. "He's safely in Wing-A right now, doctor. I honestly can't tell you how he snuck out. If you'll let me review my own security feeds, we'll coordinate—"

"No," the doctor said, cutting him off for the second time. "It's too late, and you're wrong."

"How?" the officer challenged.

"This man, Martin Galman, is not in Wing-A anymore." The doctor pointed through the two-way. "He was on that gurney less than an hour ago. He walked out of this building, and now he is out there somewhere."

The doctor threw up his hands and swiveled in his chair. It was no longer his problem. The Lieutenant could now handle it, get out there and do what he did best, beat the pavement, what he and the LAPD should have been doing from the beginning, instead of trying to play doctor and bringing true members of the Hippocratic order down in the process.

Doctor Kremins glanced up, saw that the policeman was still there. The man probably wanted further argument. But the doctor was done with him, and strangled by the thought as it hit him, like some cryptic lyric from a song that made no sense.

56 came in a preemie, and left a killer.




Copyright © 2008 Joseph Hirsch

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Joseph Hirsch: I was recently given an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. Before that, my travels in the military took me to Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Germany. I currently reside in Columbia, South Carolina.

Five of my previous short-stories have appeared in the Pushcart-nominated "Undergound Voices Magazine." Some of my fiction will also appear in the Spring edition of "Zahir Tales."

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