Excerpt from Stolen Children

posted by amber

Shaun, September 24, Ana’s Suite in the Hibiscus Hotel, Miami

            “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stay,” Shaun told Ana as he arranged their breakfast on the table.  “The great lord and master wants to meet with me this morning.  I told Chuleta to buzz me when he arrives.”

            Ana stood with her back to him, staring out the balcony’s glass doors.  “I hope he does leave today.  I hope he can.  Look at this weather!”

            He joined her at the window.  The ocean was tarnished pewter, edged by white-topped waves battling in frothy confusion, the beach deserted except for a few bundled-up joggers pounding along the cheerless shore, palm trees flexing in the wind.  “I’ll check to see if he’s filed a flight plan,” Shaun said, taking his coffee and bagel over to the computer. 

            “Come look at this!” he called after a few minutes.  Eating a banana, she stood behind him at the desk.   “I logged on and three messages were waiting for me.  The first is from Man of Peace saying Caldos left for Brazil last night, so the meeting is cancelled.”

            “That’s good!”

            “The second is from Felicity – it’s your schedule for the next three weeks – one healing ceremony at the palácio each week – and she says Caldos doesn’t want you to leave the hotel at any other time.  She’s cc’d it to Chuleta and Imogene.”

            “What’s that mean?”
            “They get a copy too.  But already it’s a problem because the third message is from President Greystone, wanting to know if you can help his wife.  She’s very sick.  They flew in from Washington during the night.”

            “Where are they?”

            “At Jackson Memorial hospital.”

            “So, let’s go.”  Shaun keyed the intercom and asked Chuleta to have the limo ready at the back door.  When they emerged into the blustery alley, garbage swirling around in small vortices, grit stinging their eyes, the security head stepped in front of Ana, saying, “She’s not to leave the hotel.”

            Expecting such a challenge, Shaun held up the copy of Greystone’s message he’d printed out, but Chuleta shook his head and pushed the fluttering paper away.  “Doesn’t matter.”

            “This is from the President of the United States, you idiot!”

            “He’s not my boss.”  Chuleta stood with his arms crossed, calm but obdurate, his gun held loosely, pointing more in Shaun’s direction than Ana’s.

            “Call Felicity,” Ana suggested, but when Shaun took what shelter he could against the wall and dialed the Miami office, Imogene answered.  She told him, “Felicity started her maternity leave today.”

            “Well, can you tell Chuleta it’s okay for Ana to go see Mrs. Greystone at Jackson Memorial?”

            The woman gasped.  “You haven’t seen her yet?  I forwarded that message to you three hours ago.  And I tried to phone you.”

            “My cell won’t work inside the hotel.  You should have used the number for the land line in the security office.  Here.  I’ll let you talk to Chuleta.”

            The long-haired guard took the phone, listened for a long time, interrupting periodically with “But-” and “No, I-” as his face clouded into a scowl.  At last, he handed the phone back to Shaun.  Imogene told him, “He’ll take you to the hospital now.  I’ll tell President Greystone to expect you.”

#

            After being waved through the perimeter security, they were met at the hospital emergency entrance by three men in dark suits, ear sets and no obvious weapons.  Once they’d been scanned with a wand, Shaun and Ana were allowed to come in from the blustery weather, irregular spatters of rain being hurled this way and that by the swirling wind.  Chuleta was politely turned away.

            “I’m sorry, sir.  You are not on the list.”

            “But I’m Miss Ana’s guard.”

            “She’ll be kept safe, don’t you worry about that.”

            As he and Ana were escorted toward the elevator, Shaun heard Chuleta still arguing, now about the men’s insistence that he and the driver move the limo to another location.  They passed through the deserted emergency room, stolid guards who stood motionless and silent replacing the usual atmosphere of hubbub and frenzy.  An elevator brought them to a brightly-lit and eerily quiet floor.  Guards were posted at intervals along the hallway.

            “This way,” they were told.  Sandwiched between two escorts, they walked quickly down the hall and around a corner toward a room where five men stood in intense conversation outside the door.  Nearing them, Shaun noticed that three of the men wore the crisp black suits, nearly military in cut, which signified Presidential security.  One man, in a rumpled grey suit accessorized with a stethoscope, was obviously a doctor.  The fifth man, taller than the rest and wearing a smartly cut dark suit, equally wrinkled, turned toward them, his face smoothing into an expression of relief.  It was the President.

            “Ana!  Thank God you’re here.  Come on in.”  He put a hand on her shoulder and guided her through the phalanx at the doorway.  Shaun hesitated, not sure if he should enter the room, from which a female voice could be heard sobbing and groaning.  But Ana’s hand snaked out, grabbed his sleeve and tugged him along.  He possessed nothing of her power yet he sensed through her grip that she was terrified.

            Inside the room, the woman he had seen only on television and in magazines lay on a high bed, her legs straddled apart, sheets and draping barely providing modesty, her blond hair standing out in all directions, her make-up streaked.  Doctors and nurses clustered around, some adjusting the various bags attached to tubes entering her body, some checking the monitoring equipment at the head of the bed, but most standing in an attitude of helplessness.  One doctor, garbed in the same pale green pants and tunic as the other medical workers, his rank evident in his over-seeing posture, like a bird of prey observing a scuffle of lesser birds, approached them and demanded, “Is this her?”

            President Greystone said, “Yes.”

            The doctor pursed his lips and scrutinized Ana disdainfully.  He said, “I don’t know what you expect her to do.  Miss … Moreira, this is a case of a severe birth defect.  The President’s wife-”

            Ana flung her hands up to cover her ears.  “No, don’t tell me anything.  Just let me touch her.”
            “That’s not-”

            “Yes, let her do what she wants,” the President averred.  “Let’s move out of her way.”

            As they retreated to stand against the wall, President Greystone briefly shook Shaun’s hand.  “You’re Shaun Payne, aren’t you?  I know your father, of course.  Caldos told me you’re watching out for Ana while he’s away.  She’s a very special girl.”

Ana, September 24, Jackson Memorial Hospital

            Ana stepped toward the table where Mrs. Greystone lay, green-clad attendants parting to allow her through, closing in behind, continuing their ministrations to machines which clicked and whirred, beeped and chimed.  The President’s wife stopped moaning the minute Ana took her hand.  Her head swiveled to look directly into Ana’s eyes, her wild desperation and fear fading to a determined intensity.”  “Help my baby,” she breathed. 

            Ana sensed her aloneness and terror in their shared touch, and much more.  The woman’s body was in a state of siege, not one organ working properly, the red flare of a damaging substance flowing freely through her veins.  Ana felt a raised series of bumps on the hand she held, opened her eyes to see concentric rings of welts, some pink, some blue, some a yellowish white.  “That’s rainbow flu,” came the President’s voice from across the room.  “We think she caught it from the Chinese ambassador’s wife, but she responded well to the anti-virals.”

            “But she’s still sick.”

            “They say the baby is putting out toxins,” he reported sadly.

            Ana closed her eyes again.  The burning substance did originate in the dark area where the baby swam, undisclosed to her because she could not touch it directly.  A hand tapped her shoulder, there came an insistent rattling and faint fanning of the air in front of her face, like a trapped moth striving for freedom.  She opened her eyes and saw a print of a scanned image held between her and her patient.  The doctor’s finger stabbed at a shadowy transparent doll-shape.  “Can you read this?” he demanded.

            “Yes.”

            “Then you can see, the baby’s heart is gone.  The virus destroyed it.  He’s barely alive and he’s pouring out toxins which will kill her, and quickly, unless she allows us to terminate the pregnancy.  The best thing you can do for her is to convince her to let us do this.”

            Hearing his words, the woman shook her head.  Ana felt her resolution to keep the baby, sensed there had been many years of trying to become pregnant.  “She wants me to help the baby.”

            “They tell me you have to touch your patient, so how do you propose to do that?” the doctor sneered.  “The baby’s too sick and too premature to be born yet, he wouldn’t survive a minute outside her.”

            With the thrill of a bold idea and icy horror at the possibility of failure, Ana touched Mrs. Greystone’s chest.  “Leave me alone with her.”

            “No, she needs us to maintain her blood pressure.  She’s far too close to crashing as it is.  This is ridiculous.”  The doctor set a hand lightly on Ana’s back, began a subtle pressure to move her away from the table. “We’re wasting too much time.  Do you want her to die, sir?” he demanded of the President.

            Without replying, President Greystone stepped over to his wife and murmured in her ear.  Ana could tell the woman was now too ill to be aware of her surroundings.

            The doctor increased his force.  Ana braced her feet and pressed back.  She said, “I’ll keep her steady.  That’s not hard.”

            “Her pressure’s already come up, doctor,” one of the nurses reported.

            “And if anything goes wrong?”  His fingers tightened, his deep grip wrenching her toward the door.

            Nearly shouting, Ana blurted, “Shaun can stay.  He’ll get you if we need you.”

            The man would not relent.  Ana began to worry she’d have to use Caldos’ style of compulsion when the President reached across the table and broke the doctor’s grip, declaring, “We’ll do exactly what she wants.”

Onça tribe, September 24, Choromos

            That lady (her fat stomach) (like Petit) there’s a baby in there (Mother Ana says she’s sick) (is Petit) sick too? (too much light, too much noise) Tio João we (want to see) (we want to hear) Uncle João, close your eyes, close your ears, feel this instead (thank you, Mother Ana) is that (the ocean?) now, leave me alone, I have to work (she has to help) the lady (meat lady) no! (Mother Ana said) we shouldn’t call people that (I want) we want to see the baby (we like) babies (babies can be new friends) touch the baby, Mother Ana (so we can talk to it) (she can’t touch it) we can’t (touch) Petit’s baby until it (comes out) now it’s (covered with meat) (sorry!) look at what Mother Ana’s thinking! (Mother Ana, can you do that?) she is doing it (there’s blood) blood is (coming) no, she stopped it (the baby!) she’s touching (the baby!) oh, he’s hurt like (I was) Nepata was (see how) Mother Ana helps him (baby!) come see us (no, he has to stay with his mother – promise me) yes, Mother Ana (now let me work) we can (help you.)

Caldos, September 24, Brazil

            Caldos had boarded his jet with a feeling of confidence.  With his recent troubles overcome satisfactorily, new plans in place and loose ends secured, he’d felt free to cast his attention forward to the challenges and rewards of this Brazilian foray.  Telling Man of Peace he didn’t want to be disturbed, he’d retreated to his suite at the rear of the plane where an ample meal had been laid out for him.  After enjoying the food and a nap, he’d been ready for the pleasure of going over the plans for the trip – the official schedule prepared by Felicity, outlining visits to various religious and political figures, meetings with his Golden World representatives, appearances at the country’s five largest palácios.  Between the lines of that schedule was a hidden agenda Felicity had only a faint whiff of, the way he intended to influence, seduce or punish various individuals.

            Felicity was also ignorant of his actual purpose for the ‘free evening’ he’d asked her to pencil in for each of the five stops.  No documentation existed about the festivities planned for those times, beyond cryptic emails or phone calls from trusted friends, men powerful enough to assure the required level of privacy to allow them and Caldos to fully enjoy the third ceremony, the Darkness of the God, a pleasure he’d feared he’d have to cancel.  Now, with Ana’s gift of regeneration proceeding quickly, he felt quite confident he’d be able to attain the unparalleled release of riding his passion to the end of his partner’s life, a climax moment during which a door opened to the possibility of limitless knowledge, limitless power.  He felt quite confident, but not absolutely.

            Banishing the grim thought with a shake of his head and a gulp of sweet guarana juice, he reached across the table to pick up a long-anticipated report.  Man of Peace had handed it to him just prior to take-off.  “Frank says it’s good news,” he’d said.

            Frank, a man Garik Kroll referred to as ‘the best of your unimpressive lot,’ was an eye-patch wearing Louisianan eager to return from his assignment to claim a promised cure for an eye destroyed years ago in a knife fight.  The price of the cure was the discovery of a prize Caldos wasn’t sure existed – another Amazonian tribe with an onça healer.           

            A five-day ‘jungle tour’ was scheduled after Caldos’ appearance at the Manaus palácio.  Ostensibly this was a nostalgia pilgrimage, a notion he’d had to assist Felicity to absorb, since he’d complained to her too many times about how dirty, uncomfortable and tedious his tribal village had been.  Caldos opened the report, hoping it contained information which would give him the desired destination for his jungle tour. 

            It read, “For the eyes only of Caldos Moreira.  I have lived with the Yaru tribe for five months, posing as an emissary from a distant tribe wishing to exchange weapons and practices.  This tribe has had no contact with Europeans since the time, over 75 years ago, when rubber tappers forced them to flee deep into the jungle.  The language, being similar to the one you helped me learn, was easy for me to pick up and once that was done, I was able to verify that the rumors given me by neighboring tribes were true.  The healer in this tribe is said to be of the panther clan and she is able to cure with the laying on of hands, exactly as you do.  At first, I worried that she might touch me to command my obedience and induce me to hand over my possession which everyone in the tribe coveted, but her role seems very circumscribed.  All she does is heal, and that only when the chief gives the go-ahead.  If you aren’t in his good books, you’re left to suffer.  I told her about you, a powerful healer who rules many tribes and answers to no chief.  She immediately passed my comments on to her chief who began to pester me to allow him to meet you.  I would advise caution if you proceed with this, as there seems to be a hidden mechanism he uses to force the healer’s allegiance.”

            Caldos leapt from his couch and crossed to the door of his suite, flinging it open with a bang.  Man of Peace, dozing in his seat, startled awake.  “Have you read this?” Caldos demanded.

            “No, but Frank told me he’d found what you wanted.”

            “I think he has.  Take a look.”  As Man of Peace began to read the report, Caldos gazed out the window, seeing the vast green carpet of the Amazon rainforest below, broken occasionally by thin bright ribbons, rivers glinting in the morning sun.  “Did you let Jorge know we’d be arriving early?” he asked.

            Man of Peace, frowning as he concentrated on the words, his lips moving microscopically, looked up and muttered, “Yeah.”

            Caldos reached out impatiently as if to snatch the report from Man of Peace’s hands, then thought better of it.  He paced around the cabin, looked out the window again and returned to sit across from his henchman.  “Any update on the weather in Miami?  I told Chuleta if that storm is bad, Ana should be moved further inland.  Has he called?”

            Man of Peace laid the report face down on the table, “No, I turned the phone off.”

            “What?”

            “You said you didn’t want to be disturbed.”

            “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be disturbed, por amor de Deus!  Turn it on now!”

            The man dug the phone out of his jacket pocket with irritating slowness, breathing in a deep aggrieved manner.  After punching buttons with his large spatulate fingers, he reported in a monotone, “There’s five messages – one from Imogene and four from President Greystone.”

            “Cristo!  Give me the phone!”  Caldos didn’t recognize the voice which answered the President’s line, a line which should have been direct.  “Who’s this?” he demanded.

            “This is Colonel Jim Park.  Who is this?”
            “Caldos Moreira.”

            “Oh yes, Mr. Moreira, President Greystone has been trying to reach you all night.  I’ll see if he’s free to speak with you.  Will you stay on the line?”  The wait was interminable, made doubly tedious by watching Man of Peace frown and mutter as he struggled to finish reading the report, his slumped posture showing his distress at his mistake.  Caldos knew the blame was partially his.  He normally gave very specific orders to Man of Peace, aware that the man – though now worlds beyond the dull youth he’d been when they first met, thanks to Caldos’ ministrations – tended to take things too literally, tended not to recognize the implications of the levels of power and world-involvement his boss had attained.  If the problem turned out not to be too serious, Caldos would let him off the hook.  But it potentially was very serious.  Why else would Greystone have been calling all night?

            Finally, the President’s voice came on the line.  He sounded tired, but cheerful.  A strange staccato noise nearly over-powered his words.  “Sorry to make you wait, Caldos.  I had to come out to the limo.”

            “To the what?  I can hardly hear you.”

            He spoke more loudly.  “It’s the rain.  I’m in my limo.  They don’t let you use cell phones in here.”

            “In where?”

            “Oh – has no one briefed you?”
            “No.”

            “We’re in Miami, at Jackson Memorial.  Julie was very sick.”

            Suppressing any sign of his relief that it was the wife and not the important man himself, Caldos said, “Oh, yes.  She had that flu last week.  I offered to come up and treat her.”

            “It was a mild flu.  Our doctors gave her medicine which helped, but it turns out the virus was devastating to the baby.  His heart was affected and the dying tissue put out toxins that were killing her.  The doctors wanted her to have an abortion.”

            “She refused?”
            “Well, you know how many years we tried to get pregnant.”
            “If you’d told me about it, I could have helped years ago.”  Matters of fertility were easy to solve.  In the Greystone case, it had taken a simple adjustment in the acid balance of her vaginal fluids.  “And I can help with that again, if this doesn’t work out.  Ana can try to help Julie now, but we’ve never had success with babies in the womb because we can’t touch them.”

            “But Ana did help.  I’ve been given a copy of the scan – the baby’s heart is re-growing.  It’s a lot like my head scans after she … after the two of you healed my brain tumor.  And the toxins are gone too.  Julie’s much better.”

            Caldos sank down, his abdomen clenching as if he’d taken a punch.  Man of Peace looked up from the pages with a questioning look.  “That’s great,” Caldos said, trying to sound as if he meant it, trying to smile reassuringly at Man of Peace.

            The President babbled on, “I’m sorry I left so many messages.  It took us a long time to make contact with Ana and I was hoping you could help.”

            “What was the problem?”

            “I guess your new assistant didn’t know the correct number to call for that hotel where Ana stays.”

            “Well, that will be rectified immediately, don’t you worry.”

            “Oh, Caldos, looking at this beautiful picture of my beautiful baby, I have no worries whatsoever.  You go on and have a successful tour in Brazil.  Everything’s fine here.”

            But as the connection ended, Caldos had a disquieting sense that things were far from fine.  How had Ana healed that baby?  The girl was stepping too far out of his range of ability and influence.  If he could return from Brazil with a new pet onça, dazzled by the glamour of the wider world and accustomed to obedience, Ana’s time of usefulness would be terminated.

            He laid a forgiving hand on Man of Peace’s shoulder.

 

Onça tribe, September 25, Choromos

            Everyone’s asleep (Tio João won’t) I won’t come (Tio João, we need you (you stopped) you stopped blood before (I don’t like the way it smells) if you (stop it) you don’t have to smell it (if you won’t come, we’ll) make you smell it (make you see it!) (be quiet when you come here) everyone’s asleep (Petit’s asleep) (Perhan!) I want to come (Bini – help him come) I like babies (that baby was nice) we call him Coracão (Mother Ana) helped him (will she help) Petit’s baby (it’s not sick) don’t wake! (don’t wake Mother Ana!) (she’ll be angry) is Petit sick? (no) yes – her head hurts (yes) we can (help her) make her stay asleep too (we can do that) you reach in, Bini (I will) we all can feel (Tio João, help us) stop the blood (feel the baby) she’s a girl (call her) name her (Pequeno) where does that shiny river go? (no, Perhan, we can’t) we can’t touch (that) Bini (why) are you (he’s making me) no! (no!) (no!)