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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-five WATERSHED

an excerpt from the novel

by
COLIN DODDS
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B

RED 99 was a storefront done up like a campy space opera from the last century, all white plastic surfaces and day-glo accents. The girls behind the counter wore white lab coats and transparent plastic aprons. They doled out ninety-nine flavors of bread pudding to adventurous tourists and New Yorkers who didn’t know any better.



Tyra told a server she was there to interview the chef, which was the phrase she’d been given by Socks’ wrong number. The server got a big man, not wearing sci-fi gear, from the back. He gestured her to follow him out the back of the BRED 99 dining area, through the blindingly bright kitchen, out the back door, down a narrow metal staircase to a tiny sunken concrete courtyard below, and into the basement of an adjacent tenement.



In the illegal hospital’s waiting room, Tyra waited beside a woman with a snake tattoo that ran from her exposed cleavage to her right temple, encircling her eye like a scaly, dark-blue monocle. Her left breast, shoulder, neck, and face showed the pale muddled scarring of cut-rate tattoo removal. Across from her, an elderly Chinese woman held a blood-drenched pillow against the side of her son’s head to keep his ear on. The skin around the ear appeared burnt, blasted off. The son, a middle-aged Chinese man in a shiny purple suit, looked bored, and annoyed that his mother was involved.



The place seemed set up to be abandoned at a moment’s notice. Tyra looked down at the dirty checkerboard of red and tan linoleum tile. On the wall were framed photographs of old men posed in satin jackets, the frames screwed into the wall, as if they might be stolen.



Despite arriving last and having no blood pouring from her head, the tall young Chinese nurse called her first. In the examination room, the doctor waited, a tall white guy with jumpy, buggy eyes, a boyish double chin and a too-sudden smile.



Tyra sat back on the examination table in the center of the room, below a hooded hanging lamp from a defunct beer distributor. The red-felt pool table, whose place the table had taken, had been moved against the far wall and covered with a plastic drop cloth.



“Oh. You are…” he said, his eyes darting up and down her body. “The ForTrac removal. The main event. Right. I forgot that was today.”



“Yeah, I’m Sylvia…”



“No, no. No, you don’t have to do that,” he said, taking her hand and shaking it gingerly. “Names, names, names, ‘Hi, I’m Bob, but it’s not really,’ ‘Hi, I’m Janet, and I don’t know how I wound up here,’ and so on, whatever. Unnecessary if you have the money. And you do, and so we’re here. Now, let me see what you’ve gotten yourself into, or vice versa, rather.”



The doctor didn’t care if his jokes landed, which made Tyra uneasy. She held out her arm. If not for the redness from her scratching, the capsule would be invisible.



“Ooh, you’ve been picking at it,” he said, clicking his tongue. He caressed Tyra’s arm in a way that didn’t seem very medical. “Where’d you get it?”



“Here, in the city.”



“Where? Centre Street?”



She nodded again.



“Umkay. Fuckadee, fuckadoo. That means it’s one of the new ones, or worse, one of the new new ones,” the doctor said, rubbing his forehead and walking a lap around the examination table.



“Is that a problem?”



“Could be. I don’t know if I have all the specs on the new new ones. They only print the specs, on, like, paper, so they’re hard to get. It makes this not as easy as I’d like. And so, you, little lady, need a plan B.”



“What does that mean?”



“You have a boyfriend, a girlfriend, coconspirator, extortion-ee, husband, wife?”



“Excuse me?”



“Do you have anyone who can give you a ride? If the capsule breaks, the solution I use should dampen the signal long enough so I can kill the mechanism. But if it does open inside your arm, you’ll be flat-out dead to the world for a minimum of two days. And you’ll need someone to get you out of here. What entrance did you use?”



“The bread pudding one.”



“Go back upstairs, get a bread pudding, and call someone who can get you out of here fast if this doesn’t go so smoothly. But don’t worry…” the doctor said, staring off into space.



“Don’t worry? You just said you don’t know how to take this thing out.”



“Sorry, I meant to say don’t worry, you don’t have to actually eat the bread pudding. It was a joke, but I forgot to tell the whole thing. Long day, long day.”



“So, walk me through plan B, if it breaks open…”



“Right. If it breaks, we dampen the signal and fry the capsule. But after that, you can’t go back home. They’ll be looking for you there as soon as the capsule stops pinging.”



An hour and a half later, after a long hard look into a cup of choco-banana bread pudding, she’d booked a nearby hotel room under another name and called Gavin to meet her. As they entered the waiting room, the Chinese man in the shiny purple suit was walking out, a massive white bandage engulfing one side of his head and his mother chattering into his good ear. He still looked bored. Gavin and Tyra waited across from a teenage girl and her boyfriend or brother. She rocked back and forth, murmuring a Slavic-sounding prayer to herself, while he counted the sticks of gum left in his pack and sneered into space.



After an hour, that couple left, she stupefied and he still sneering. The nurse called Tyra but gestured for Gavin to stay in the waiting room. He was deep into a robot romantic-action movie on his phone. Back on the table, the doctor took a deep breath and gave her one of his unbalanced smiles.



“We have pills and powders, licit and illicit. One more service we provide our guests. Do you have any preferences?”



“I’ll have what you’re having,” Tyra said, trying to joke.



“No. I would not recommend that. No, no, no. This is a vivid mixture. For you? I think you’d be better off with a softer focus, possibly a jangly looseness or a tingly naptime…do you mind if I mix up something for you?”



“You’re the doctor.”



The doctor and nurse went to the corner of the room and fiddled with a few bottles and a mortar and pestle. He brought back a pair of speckled pastel lines and half a plastic straw arrayed on the lit screen of a small tablet computer. Tyra did the lines and immediately felt calm, floaty and a bit nauseous. The doctor murmured, licked the residue off the tablet, and nodded to the nurse.



She rolled over a table with an elaborate setup on it, centered around a plastic bin. The sticker on the bin identified it as a cat litter box. It was full of murky water, with a pair of wires running from it to a car battery.



“Okay, ForTrac, ForTrac, ForTrac. Sylvia, now what we’re going to do is put your arm in this water. Don’t worry. It’s salt water, but it’s warm and clean. The way it works is that the wires provide a very gentle electrical current, the same current as is found inside your body. The ForTrac is very sensitive to air. So, the temperature, salt level, and current in the water will make it think it’s still inside your body when we remove it. That gives us a chance to keep the ForTrac capsule stable.”



“A chance?”



“A solid, fairly solid, chance. I will remove the capsule, take your arm out of the bath, and then increase the voltage in the water, which will disable the capsule’s transmitter.”



Tyra widened her eyes and wrinkled her brow to request more information, maybe even reassurance. The doctor just bobbed his chin. The nurse sat still as a sphinx, her large brown eyes suspiciously glassy. They gave Tyra a series of injections to numb her arm and lowered it into the water. He paused to visit the back of the room for a long minute and came back, jumpy everywhere except his scalpel hand.



The drugs and warm water made the incision painless, almost abstract. It all seemed so simple, until the scalpel, which had moved so freely through her flesh, snagged on something, and tugged. The thing it tugged on, in turn, twitched.



“What the?” the doctor said. His eyes widened in shock and narrowed in concentration. He began cutting quickly, hacking deep, calling for this and that from the nurse, who brought items from all over the room, moving like a dancer. He cut a wide arc, outside the province of the Novocain, and another arc. Tyra screamed. The doctor restrained her arm with his free hand and grabbed a pair of what looked like pliers. He reached into the bloody water, feeling with impatient fingers, and inserted the pliers. With a short, controlled yank that barely made the bloody water bubble, he removed the object from her arm. By then, Tyra had run out of breath to scream with.



The doctor barked at the statuesque Chinese nurse, who pulled Tyra’s arm from the bloody bath and started wrapping it in towels. The doctor turned a dial. The water hummed and bubbled. The smell of ozone and cheap steak filled the room.



In a tiny voice, the nurse told Tyra to take deep breaths. The doctor wheeled over another table, examined the uneven almond he’d cut into Tyra’s arm, and said umkay to himself a half-dozen times. Working in easy unison, the pair had the gap in Tyra’s forearm sewn up and bandaged almost tourniquet-tight in fifteen minutes.



The procedure had, by nearly every measure, gone badly. Before the stitches were done, the toxins in the capsule took effect. Tyra began sweating and trembling. By the time Gavin entered the operating room, Tyra had vomited herself empty and was retching foul air and phlegm. Black lines traced veins and capillaries beyond the border of the bandages, creeping into her fingers and up toward her shoulder.



“Umkay, now, fuck, now you have to get her out of here. And, assuming the signal was zapped in time, you’ll need to keep the bandages clean for the next week. Leave the stitches for at least two-three weeks. You can cut them out yourself. Just look up how online first,” the doctor said, taking a few pills from the pocket of his white coat.



“Is she going to be okay?” Gavin asked.



“Contrary to appearances, probably. These are the effects of the capsule. Its purpose is to incapacitate, but it won’t kill her, most likely. The only permanent thing is the discoloration. The sickness is temporary, but it will get probably a lot worse. Get her out of here while she can still walk.”



The nurse showed them an exit through a lighting-supply store. Tyra’s knees were weak and her head unsteady on her shoulders. But that part of town was full of bars, so they made it to the hotel without attracting much attention...



   
   

 

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WATERSHED is available for purchase on Amazon.



Colin Dodds grew up in Massachusetts and completed his education in New York City. He’s the author of several novels, including The Last Bad Job, which the late Norman Mailer touted as showing “something that very few writers have; a species of inner talent that owes very little to other people.” Dodds’ screenplay, Refreshment – A Tragedy, was named a semi-finalist in 2010 American Zoetrope Contest. His poetry has appeared in more than ninety publications and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Samantha.



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