by Kris Jackson
Chapter 2 | Chapter 3
He was being mugged. It was the kind of experience that was prosaic, even tawdry in the abstract, but overwhelmingly terrifying to actually go through. His assailant was a nervous young man with greasy blond hair, a limited vocabulary and a great big gun. He kept repeating that he wanted "all the money" and seemed quite upset to hear that there was no more money. He danced and twitched a lot, but the gun never wavered. It remained fixed on his victims head at all times.
The huge gun was really fascinating. The blue-black barrel glinted in the dim light. The muzzle looked large enough to stick his fist into. He could dimly see the rifling inside spiraling into the darkness. What the hell kind of gun was this, he wondered. It had to be a .357 magnum. He could hear Clint Eastwoods wheezy snarl in his mind: The most powerful handgun in the world. Take a mans head clean off. At any moment his head could be vaporized and his neck become a spurting stump. His heart beat in his throat, his bladder wanted to burst and his ears rang like two cheap guitar amps.
The mugger was talking but the words made no sense. Then, for the briefest moment, the gun wavered and pointed away. He turned and ran into the night.
He never heard or even felt the shot. One moment he was running through the darkness, the next he was soaring through a universe of light. There was no pain, no fear, no sensation at all except for that light. Dimly he was aware that he had no body.
He rose like a mass of bubbles through water. Behind and below him was a world of shit.
He looked back and saw his life, the life he was leaving, laid out before him. To his mild
surprise there were two of them. Before the life he remembered was another life, one in
which he laughed and played and swooped through the air like a bird. And there --
And there was the Bad Thing. It sat at the border of his two lives and burned like the fires of Hell. It was the worst thing that had ever happened to anyone, and it had happened to him. It surprised him that he had forgotten all about it.
He remembered that he had to tell somebody about it.
He struggled back down to that world of shit. Back to life.
"Jesus, what a goddam mess!"
"Do you want me to suction?"
"No. I mean, what a goddam mess this guys brain is."
"Do you think hes going to live?"
"I think so, I just dont know how Im going to get that bullet out."
"Do you want to see the pictures again?"
"No. I know just where it is. Its just that I have to cross a lot of very expensive real estate to get to it. All of this stuff is very non-redundant, and it looks like Ill have to wreck something."
His assistant nodded and repeated the oldest joke in neurosurgery: "There go the violin lessons."
"Or maybe the postdoc."
"You think this guy had a postdoc?"
"Not everyone who gets found in an alley in the Tenderloin is a bum. Good sized brain here. And he kept himself in shape. Say, look at this." His fingertip traced a fine line in the skull, blurred almost to invisibility.
"Who did that?"
"I didnt. I was a little kid when that was done. That was done with a wire."
"Ive never seen a wire cut before."
"Heres another one. Why was this done, I wonder?"
"Maybe he had a tumor?"
"Hes never had a tumor." Butterfield made his decision. "Im going in from the back of the hippocampus. Can you figure this one out, Sally?"
"Youre going in through the olfactory lobe?"
"Hell only be able to smell using the right side of his brain."
"Lets hope it works. Nurse, give me the number seven retractor, please."
He seemed to be wandering the corridors of his own mind, trying to find his way back to
himself. There were too many choices, too many ways to turn. Sometimes as he started into
a corridor he would encounter himself coming out and be told dont bother,
theres nothing down there.
Eventually he made it to a world of pain. Yes, he thought, this must be right. This would be my life. With a great effort he opened one eye. He saw what looked like a tiled ceiling. A voice seemed to be telling him that the ceiling was at fifty million miles, visibility unlimited, but he couldnt be sure. Exhausted, he let the eyelid drop.
"Good morning. How are we doing today?"
"Im doing okay. I cant answer for you."
She smiled, a being-nice smile. "Im Dr. Maggie Tarkasian. Im a psychologist on the hospital staff, and Im interested in how you feel."
"Uh, okay, I guess. The chick who fed me this morning said Id been unconscious for four days, but she wouldnt say what happened to me. Did I crack my bike up?"
"No, you were shot. Shot in the brain."
"Oh my God! In the brain? Isnt that, I mean, I thought that killed you."
"Well, usually it does, but you were lucky. It looks like youre going to recover with no permanent damage."
"Well, thats good. Is this Peter Bent?"
"Is this Peter Bent Brigham in Boston?"
"Oh!" She had thought he was making some kind of lewd remark. "No, youre in Mercy Hospital in San Francisco."
"How the hell did I get to San Francisco?"
"You dont know?"
"No, I got no idea!"
"Well," she explained gently, "the bullet struck near a part of the brain associated with memory. There may be some things youve forgotten."
"Oh. How can you check that?"
"Well, Id like to ask you a few questions."
"Oh, okay, shoot." He smiled weakly. "You know what I mean."
She smiled back. "Thats a good sign, that you can make jokes. First off, whats your name?"
"Gerry Sullivan." He smiled again. "Did I get that one right?"
"Actually, I dont know. We didnt have your name until now." She wrote it down.
"You didnt have any sort of identification on you when you were found. We think you were robbed."
"Wow. So nobody knows about this."
"Would you like to call your family? Are you married?"
"No, I live with my folks."
"Do you think you can make a phone call to them?"
"Sure. I guess so."
"I suggest the first thing you tell them is that youre going to be okay, then tell them youre in the hospital, and then say you were shot. And I can talk to them too, if youd like."
"Okay." He started to sit up but was unable. She reached out to stop him. "No, Gerry, lie still. Youre hooked up to too many things to move around much. Let us wait on you." She handed him the bedside phone. "Just dial nine, then one, then the area code and number."
"Okay." He reached out, then hesitated.
"Whats the matter, Gerry?"
"Nothing, Im just not used to your push-button phone." He laboriously tapped out the number.
It was a wrong number. The woman who answered confirmed that he had reached the number he had dialed, but insisted that she had never heard of his parents, and moreover she had had this number for more than twenty years.
He hung up and looked at the phone, clearly annoyed. "Hill," he muttered, and dialed again.
This time he got a dentists office. The receptionist had never heard of Willie Hill and wasnt interested in his insistence that Hill lived there. He slammed the phone down in frustration. "Fuck it!" he exclaimed. "Its like everybody I ever knew has disappeared! I feel like Im gonna look over to the side and see Rod Serling standing there with his hands in front of him."
She smiled reassuringly. "Maybe youll remember things better after youve had some rest, Gerry," she said. "After all, you were inj --"
"My memory is fine," he muttered.
"Why dont you let me try to call them? Also, give me your home address, just in case I have trouble reaching your family. Also, Ill need your Social Security number." She wrote the information down and turned to leave. He grabbed her arm.
"Something bad!" he said. "Something bad happened, and I have to tell somebody!"
She didnt resist. "What, Gerry?" she asked.
He let her go. "I dont know," he said.
She returned within the hour. "Gerry," she began gently, "there may be
more damage to your brain than we had thought."
He stirred on the sheets. "Am I going to die?"
"No, its not that, but there may be some problems with your memory. Do you know what todays date is?"
"Well, I was out for a couple of days, but I guess it should be about the end of May."
"What year? Its 1969, of course, what the --"
"This is 1997, Gerry. Im very sorry to have to tell you this, but your parents died in 1972."
Maggie Tarkasian had set up a treatment team with Chic Butterfield, a neurosurgical
resident, and Frank Lamont, Mercy Hospitals chief of neurosurgery. They were having
their first meeting to discuss Gerry Sullivans case.
"So," Lamont said, "Chic and I have read your report. Anything you care to add, Maggie?"
"No, its all there."
"You know what I mean. Anything you didnt feel like committing to paper. Like could he be faking this? Or is he just crazy?"
"I dont think hes faking, and he doesnt talk crazy. This seems very much for real."
Lamont paused for dramatic effect. "It might interest you to know that Ive done a bit of snooping."
"You have! Tell us."
"I have a friend in the Boston area whos an insurance investigator. Hes a former state cop. He looked our friend Gerry up on the Great Computer."
"Hes real, all right. Or at least he was. In 1969 he was draft-exempt because he was working at a defense plant. He got fired and lost his exemption. He was drafted and scheduled for a physical but never showed. No further information is available."
"Thats it? No information on him since then?"
"Is that information only for Massachusetts?" Butterfield asked.
"No. Theres no information on him from anywhere in the United States since 1969. Thats the last time he paid any income taxes."
"How did your friend get his tax records?" Maggie asked.
"Sorry, Id have to kill you and bury you in the rose garden if I told you. Let it suffice that this is the first appearance Gerry Sullivan has made on the American stage since before the Beatles broke up."
Butterfield looked at Maggie. "What do you know about traumatically-induced amnesia?"
"Well, its pretty rare. There are some pretty interesting cases in the literature, though. There was the case of a postal worker who took several blows to the head over the course of a day and just wandered away and assumed a new identity somewhere else. Then twenty years later he got hit in the head again and remembered who he was."
"Did he remember the time in between?"
"Yes. There are cases like this, too, of course. There was a recent case of a Maryland man going to Florida to witness the birth of his son. His son had actually been born in 1971. Turns out a brain tumor had canceled nearly thirty years of memory."
"Was treatment effective in that case?"
"Yes. The tumor was removed it was near the hippocampus, same as Gerrys bullet wound -- and his memory came back. Slowly and retrograde, as is typical in such cases."
Butterfield nodded. "Thats right. It was in the Journal of Neurosurgery."
"So we could be looking at something similar here," Lamont said.
"Its plausible. The gap in his memory began at the time of his disappearance. Maybe his firing coincided with something that affected his memory, and the bullet was the blow that restored it."
Lamont looked at Butterfield. "Sound plausible to you, Chic?"
"Well, the bullet lodged near his hippocampus, and thats associated with memory." He frowned. "And his head was opened up at about that time, although I cant tell why."
"Perhaps," Lamont offered, "he suffered a head trauma and they trepanated to allow the brain to swell."
"Well, could be, but I doubt it. For one thing, thats not the kind of trepanation usually done to relieve swelling. Second, I would have seen some evidence of that kind of swelling when I was in there, some residual brain damage, and I didnt."
"Heres another theory," Lamont said. "Maybe he never lost his memory at that time, he just took off to escape the draft. Then he gets shot in the head years later, and he loses his memory of everything after 1969."
The other two nodded. "I dont really like that, though," Butterfield said. "It depends too much on coincidence."
Lamont raised his hands in a shrug. "So where does that leave us?"
"I have a suggestion," Butterfield said. "I think hed benefit from a wire shunt. Id want to do a PET scan first, but I bet I could restore at least part of his memory."
"If hes even amnesiac," Lamont said. "And if hes even Gerry Sullivan, for that matter. That might be a good idea, Chic. Present him with that as a treatment option. You be present, too, Maggie. If hes not really amnesiac this could make him blow his cover."
"You think he might not be amnesiac?" Butterfield asked.
"He still hasnt convinced me. This could all be some elaborate game. Pardon my cynicism. Its partly my advanced age, partly a rigid application of the scientific method."
"A game?" Maggie asked. "What kind of a game? To what end?"
"Beats me." Lamont took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He was a grizzled man in late middle age. His rugged build made him look more like a longshoreman than a doctor. He liked to say that he wore glasses because no one would believe he was a brain surgeon otherwise. "Thats the trouble with this specialty. Livers and kidneys never have an agenda. Brains always do."
At that moment Gerry Sullivans agenda consisted of peach cobbler and a Roadrunner
cartoon. He was feeling a strange affinity for Wile E. Coyote. It seemed to him that he
was taking as many hits as the scrawny canine on the tiny television screen. He ran
through his troubles one more time.
It was 1997. The Future, right out of science fiction, and he had no idea how he had gotten there.
His parents were dead. That was a tough one.
Hill and Barbara, all his friends, had departed to parts unknown.
A few days ago he had been shot in the brain.
He needed a cigarette wicked bad and they wouldnt let him have one.
He was an old guy now. Older than his father had been last time he had seen him.
Or was he?
The thought came out of the blue and was so startling it made him sit up in bed, pulling at his tubes and wires: maybe this was all bullshit. Maybe it was really 1969 and someone was just fucking with his head. He could hear the rhythmic beeping of his heart monitor speed up as he considered the notion.
He glanced around. The other three guys in the ward were all busy with their meals or absorbed in their television shows. He cleared the stuff off of his metal tray and looked at the bottom.
The finish on the tray bottom was too dull to reflect his face. He fished around his bedside table until he found the little reading lamp and shone it full in his face.
The tray reflected his image now. It was his fathers face looking back at him, wearing a turban.
He was an old guy.
All of this was for real.
He dropped the tray on the floor and cried for half an hour. The orderly who cleaned up after him pretended not to notice.