ADVENTURE THE 52nd: THE TIME OF ANGELS
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ADVENTURE THE 52ND:
THE TIME OF ANGELS
There’s a very old proverb that claims we were not meant to see the future, because once revealed we might choose otherwise for ourselves. I think I understand that sentiment now; after hours of surgery and months of excruciatingly painful recovery. Today I stand on my two feet for the first time without a walker or cane. Nearly a year’s elapsed and somehow as I hobble more diligently towards a saunter I find myself slipping away from that mental limp that only a month before might have prevented me from escaping my own destiny.
It hasn’t been easy. Hell, it hasn’t even been humane. At times, I would have severed my own jugular at the thought of another day in medical limbo. When I recall it to mind now, my first day at the clinic in Montenegro began uneventfully. With Dr. Bartelli and Father Montague as my mentors in waiting I met the man whom I would come to fear, then passionately hate, and finally, respect – for he was my surgeon…the butcher who hacked into this crippled flesh and brought forth the salvation of renewed steps upon the earth that I once believed so fervently were a thing of my past.
At first glance, Dr. Roberto Estofani was not prepossessing of any great physical stature. He behaved even less like a physician and very much more as I imagined a seventies game show host from the Balkans might – if only I had had access to television programming to confirm my own suspicions. Before my surgery, Dr. Estofani daily waxed affectionately about his work being more akin to an art than a science. I would hourly regard it more as witchcraft after the first blade had been inserted into my spine.
There became a reality of the darkness I had committed myself to; a terrible struggle between this stubborn paralyzed form and the sturdy, unrelenting grip of a madman, so consumed by his own reality to work voodoo magic upon my bones that I am fairly certain many, if not all, of the ethical canons in respectable medicine were broken to satisfy his ego. Only now do I understand that they were also fractured for my benefit.
Where do I begin to put it all into perspective, when so much time has passed without a frame of reference? Was it September…no, October, when I felt as though I might breathe out the last strained exhaust of oxygen and sail into that uncertain abyss from which no mortal has ever returned? It was after the first attempt, I suppose that I surrendered hope to the angels or demons around me. I gave neither more nor less weight – but rather, cast myself upon an open altar to the highest bidder for this unworthy soul.
There were no takers, you see; none who would gamble so wantonly with this wreck of a human being who still believed he could tempt or barter with the fates. I was, after all, a bad risk. But the saints did not want a sinner, and yet, for the blackest heart, my recent conversion appeared more turncoat than running true to form. More contemplation would be needed by all…more time to assess whether I really hated the world or only pretended to for their benefit.
I came quite nearly to the precipice of blind rage, only to be moved into reconsideration by monthly visits from Dr. Bartelli and Father Montague. Each had their reasons. It made it easier for me to believe that Bartelli’s were driven by professional curiosity alone. Many times could I hear his quiet, solemn voice in hushed conversation with Dr. Estofani out in the hall beyond my bed and picture for my own sanity, through the lush haze of morphine, a man so utterly wrapped up in the experiment that he had completely forgotten the human creature at the other end of it.
I reconsider now, through more sobering clarity, that perhaps Bartelli did indeed care about what happened to me on a more social level. Certainly, Father Montague did. Many a night did he pray…or did I? Perhaps we both did, although I’m not predisposed to asking for help – not even from God. But Monty did. Why did he? It was his job. But more than that…at least I think.
For there were some nights I humbly recall in only nightmares now where then I openly wept aloud; relentless, blubbering tears of utter and complete exhaustion. Please let me die, I would think to myself as Monty prayed that I should live. Perhaps we confused Saint Peter with all of our contradictions. I wanted to be done with this life; have the clot of phlegm choke off breath as completely as it had clotted out reason. The only clutch between my sanity and that utter shriek of stark never-ending madness came in the soft flesh of Monty’s fingers tightly clenched around my own, as he softly spoke into my ear that the time of angels had yet to come.
Where his strength derived, I cannot say. I only know I tested the resolve of his wellspring frequently. Were the tables turned, I would have long abandoned my visitations to him. I suspect he knew me too well – with tender heart and moistened eyes he would wipe the beaded drench from my brow and beg me to sip the cool water from my drinking cup…and to never, ever be disheartened.
Was I? How I was, and for so long that it seemed to be merely the way life conducted itself in my hospital room. An endless barrage of tests and surgeries and more tests robbed me of my dignity. I no longer equated my form to that of any man but rather a strange and oddly defective piece of deformed flesh that somehow refused to die as incongruously as it refused to truly live.
Gradually, my reason returned in proportion to the subsiding pain; the ebb of pin prickling arthritis surrendering to genuine feeling in my lower extremities; first, my inner thigh, then loosely about each knee where the woolen lace of my comforter suddenly itched as it had not before. Therapies followed, or torture masked as therapy; absurdly strapped to machines that pulled and stretched and twisted my lower extremities until, in retaliation, they began to stretch and pull and twist on their own.
Little by little, I began to realize what Dr. Estofani regarded as his crowning achievement was indeed a minor miracle. I stood, for the first time, all too briefly in April, in time to observe the swallows returning to their roost high in a turret at Bled Castle. It was exhilarating to wobble as a rag doll on two petrified stilts that were hardly real legs anymore. Still, I began to feel a strange fascination grow within me – a sort of warped sense of self punishment that I fed off of as I continued to subject myself to the therapeutic machinery that worked daily to reprogram my body.
It was Father Montague who first saw his faith confirmed one rainy afternoon as I stood leaning heavily on my walker, waiting patiently with my umbrella overhead for his arrival at the docks. At first he did not see me, or perhaps did, but could not bring himself to acknowledge that somehow, against every fiber of common knowledge, I had defied the odds. Now, it was he who wept great tears of joy and, dropping his black suitcase upon the shimmering cobblestone before me, threw upward his hands into the dull gray heavens before reaching them to embrace me as only a long lost brother might have.
It was the greatest moment of my life, I believe, and so unaware that it could not last forever. I stumbled forward with the toddling confusion of a one year old, each dragging pace hailed as grace itself by Monty. What joy he felt for me that day. What elation to his soul it must have been to have the living proof of his blind believe put forth tangibly.
It’s odd to me, but I cannot recall the rest of that final visit for you now. There are only flashes that sporadically come to mind – as yellowed, bizarrely posed snapshots I am certain do not represent our friendship in any concrete or factual way. It is as though some unnerving force beyond my control has attempted to delete those memories from my mind.
But that last day of our visit is ingrained for eternity within the walls of my heart. Father Montague smiling as we reached the docks and removing a gold chain from his neck with a medallion of St. Christopher hanging from it. He patted me gently on my shoulders as I modestly declined his generous offering, then, accepting, he placed the religious icon about my own neck.
“You have great strength of courage,” I remember Monty saying.
I thought it an inaccurate assessment then. He had been the courageous one. I was revealed as the coward. And so we parted, never to see one other again. I stood with the use of my cane, watching as his small boat sailed away, becoming a distant bobbing bead upon the shifting tides.
For several weeks thereafter I heard nothing from Milan. An unusual and disturbing silence fell on Bled and I came to feel more uncomfortable with each passing day. Then came the unholy news from abroad; that on the eighteenth of June a human pestilence in the shape of a man had arrived on the steps of the Hospital Milano to make inquiries as to my whereabouts. Not finding the answers easily at hand, he had chosen quietly to return the next afternoon and poison the water supply that ran as arteries through the entire complex.
Death spread quickly amongst the patients and staff who drank from their fountains and cups. And still the pestilence was dissatisfied. It crept into the second story offices above the ward, indiscriminately slaughtering all who passed its way, leaving Dr. Bartelli and that beautiful young nurse whose name escapes me now in a bloody pool upon the floor.
And then another report; this one of a body floating face down in the canal outside the city; strangled and bloated from three days sogginess and an uncharacteristically chilling rain that caused it to become entangled in a fisherman’s net. Father Montague was no more and with his untimely passing went the last vestige of my hope for normalcy and a life I could take pride in.
It’s the 10th of August now, and I will do this; not according to Monty’s teachings or the will of God. The die is cast. For the animal that sent my friends to Him did not abide any higher laws. And so shall I, on my next crusade for vengeance, hunt the hunter until he stalks no more; committing myself to the only power in forgiveness that cannot honor, but just kill. The time for avenging angels has arrived.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure,
MY LOVER’S OASIS on Sept. 20th, 2009.
@Nick Zegarac 2009 (all rights reserved.)