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Spencer is seated in a comfortable leather chair. Looking nervously around the room, his eyes skim over the large library, drawn to the many professional certificates and degrees that adorn the office walls. As his anxiety rises, he curses his court order requiring him to see a psychologist as a part of his sentence. Irritated, Spencer leans forward to rise from the chair as the door to an inner room opens and the psychologist walks in.
‘Please, don’t get up, son. Sit back and make yourself comfortable.’
‘I am Dr. Taylor. So glad you have made the decision to seek help. The first step toward recovery is recognizing you need help.’
‘Well, you’re not the first doctor who’s told me that, and it’s a load of bull. And it ain’t like this is my idea, or that I even want to be here.’
‘Those other doctors were unable to help you with your issues, then?’
‘Naw. They were all quacks. Prescribed me a bunch of pills so they could get their free trips to the Bahamas from big pharma. But the pills don’t help. They turn my stomach, and I walk around stoned most of the time, but I just don’t feel like myself when I take them.’
‘I understand. Anti-depressants and sedatives can be very debilitating. Rest assured, you will get no pill-pushing here.’
‘I hope not. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep as long as I can remember. My anxiety is getting worst. My life is miserable. I swear I’ll do myself in soon, if I can’t get myself straight.’
‘Well, you sitting here in my office is a positive step towards recovery.’
‘Whatever you say, Doc. Like I said, not my choice.’
‘Okay, let’s start with some background, Spencer. Your medical file indicates that you have suffered a broken jaw and a fractured ulna, and show evidence of repeated physical trauma sometime in the past. What happened?’
‘No freakin’ idea. Those other guys told me that too, but I don’t remember breaking anything. As far as I know, I ain’t never been in the hospital. Maybe they got the wrong file or something.’
‘Interesting. You are Spencer Fay from 1004 Willow Avenue, New York, are you not?’
‘Yep. That’s me.’
Then these are definitely your x-rays.’
‘Whatever. Like I said.’
‘This type of memory loss is nothing new. I will have to delve into your past memories in search of the cause of your memory gaps.’
‘You don’t think you’re going to pull that hypnotism baloney on me, do you? Ain’t happenin’, Doc.’
‘No. Using today’s advances in medical technology, my methods have eliminated the guess work associated with hypnosis and reveals repressed memories I much greater detail.’
‘Wait a minute! I’m nobody’s guinea pig, okay?’
‘I assure you that my methods are perfectly harmless. All that is involved is a small injection, and I will explore your memories while you get some much-needed sleep.’
‘Will it hurt?’
‘Not a bit. In fact, you’ll awaken well-rested to good news. Trust me son-no drugs, no hypnotism and no free trip to the Bahamas. What do you say we get you feeling better?’
‘Gotta trust someone, sometime, I guess. Might as well be you.’
‘Good. I am almost positive that your physical traumas had their sources in certain bad experiences during your childhood, experiences so psychologically damaging that you could neither understand nor handle the details of those events. Your mind has chosen to block those memories, essentially locking them away and throwing away the key. I am going to find that door, unlock it and examine those memories.
Spencer is surprised to find that the chair in which he is seated reclines as if of its own accord. He hadn’t noticed Dr. Taylor push a button on the side of the armrest as he retrieved a syringe from the cabinet beside the chair. The Doctor injects the sedative carrying a microscopic kernel into Spencer’s inner elbow. Within seconds Spencer becomes semi-unconscious, his body relaxing and settling deep into the padded chair. The kernel has already dissolved in Spencer’s bloodstream, releasing myriad nanobots that immediately begin navigating toward the brain.
Taylor injects the nano-controller into his own bloodstream. Seating himself behind his desk, he flicks a switch under the center drawer. To his left, an oil landscape hangs in the wide space between two floor-to-ceiling bookcases. A large rectangular frame slides in front of the painting from behind the right bookcase. The frame is a faintly blue-tinged matte silver and empty; the painting is visible through the empty space.
Taylor closes his eyes and waits. He winces. The pain is sharp, but brief; over in an instant. Somewhat more unsettling is the nausea that accompanies the perceptual shift in his senses as the tiny machine lodges itself alongside the hippo-campus and asserts control. Taking a couple of deep breaths as his stomach settles, he swivels the chair to face the screen.
The frame is no longer empty. The painting is now hidden by a mercurial mist in constant motion. As the Doctor watches, snippets of Spencer’s memories begin to flash through the mist, as if someone were impatiently switching t.v. channels. Before Taylor can become too disoriented, the controller begins to order the images. Leaning his head back, Taylor relaxes and focuses his thoughts. He must concentrate on the types of memories he seeks. Spencer’s random memories and life experiences race through the mist becoming more coherent and slowing.The memories slow dramatically and become extremely detailed. Abruptly, the mist seems to have become a window pane looking out on Spencer’s past.
The doctor sees the memories through Spencer’s eyes as the young man himself experienced the moments when they first occurred. He finds himself standing in a bedroom just as a man backhands him across the face, knocking him to the floor. Looking at his hands and arms as he gets up, he realizes Spencer is only a teenager at this time. Gaining his feet, he rushes for the door, but the man grabs him by the shirt and slams him hard against the wall. The man has the advantage of several years and pounds.
‘You’re not going anywhere, you little gangster,’ shouts the man, kicking the bedroom door shut. He jerks the boy around so they are face to face.
‘Let me go. You can’t stop me,’ answers Spencer, belligerently.
‘Like hell I can’t. You don’t question my authority. I make the damned rules around here. I’m your father and you’ll do as I tell you. Understand?’
‘Let go!’ shouts Spencer.
‘Are you going to do what I tell you? Are you?’ asks the father, furious. Raising the boy off the floor by the front of the shirt, he leans in, their noses almost touching.
‘Let me go or I’ll call social services and tell them you are abusing me,’ threatens Spencer.
‘You got a lotta balls for someone with no power. I guess that last lesson I gave you didn’t teach you anything. Now you’re gonna get an ass-whooping like you never had before.’
‘You’re crazy! Take your hands off me.’
The father drops the boy to the floor and holds him there with one hand, while he unclips his belt buckle with the other. As he slides the leather belt from his waist, Spencer jerks himself free. Cut off from the door by his father, the boy crawls to a corner by the dresser. Folding the belt in half, the father approaches, slapping the leather across his open palm.
‘What’s wrong with you? Leave me alone.’
The psychologist averts his eyes from the mist, shakes his head, and quickly recollects himself. He hears Spencer shifting around in his chair muttering in his unconscious state. Taylor looks back at the swirling mist and sees the father standing over the boy, lashing him about the head, neck and upper body. The doctor jumps out of his chair, runs toward the screen and dives into the mist. He hits the father waist-high, tackling him to the floor on his back. He lands an awkward but powerful punch on the side of the father’s head.
‘Run, Spencer,’ commands the doctor.
Spencer, seizing the opportunity, gets to his feet and is immediately out the door.
‘What the… ? Who are you?’ asks the father.
‘Consider me the equalizer,’ answers the doctor as he rains a flurry of punches on the father’s head. By the time he stops himself, the father’s face is a bloody mess. His mouth and eyebrows are split in several places, bleeding profusely and beginning to swell and turn a lurid purple and turquoise.. The father looks up at the doctor through puffy blood-shot eyes and grunts.
‘Let that be a lesson to you. If you ever lay another hand on that boy, you can expect worst. Understand?’
The father, half-conscious, nods his swollen head in submission.
The doctor steps back and appears to fade into the wall. He emerges from the frame into his office to find Spencer is no longer seated in the chair, and the frame once again contains only swirling shiny mist. He takes a deep breath, presses a button on the upper surface of his desk, and speaks his receptionist’s name to the open air.
‘Karen. Have you scheduled Mr. Fay for a follow-up appointment?’
‘Sorry, doctor, but I don’t recall a Mr. Fay on your patient list. Have I overlooked something?’
‘Uh, no, Karen. Never mind. An oversight on my part. Please cancel my appointments for the rest of the day.’
‘Very well, Doctor. Is everything okay?’
‘Everything is fine, Karen. Everything is just fine.’
Taylor pulls his Lexus over to the curb across from 1004 Willow Avenue. Crossing the street, he mounts the three steps to the porch and knocks on the screen door. After a few moments, the door swings open. The man is yelling at Taylor before the door is wide enough for him to step out.
‘Can’t you read? No solicitors allowed on our street.’ He points at a small sign, Absolutely No Solicitation, hanging next to the door.
‘I’m not selling anything. I’m here to speak to Spencer Fay, please?’
‘Are you some kinda joker? I oughta punch you in the head right now.’
‘Why? I don’t understand. Does Spencer not live here? This is 1004 Willow Avenue, is it not?’
‘Of course it is. Who are you and what business do you have with Spencer?’
‘I have some important information to share with him?’
‘Sorry, bud, but Spencer hasn’t lived here for years.’
‘Can you give me his new address? It’s imperative that I contact him at once.’
‘Okay, listen. I don’t know what you want with Spencer, and frankly I don’t want to know. I haven’t talked about him for years, and if I never hear about him again, it’ll be too soon. That animal has caused enough pain in this family to last several lifetimes.’
I don’t understand. What do you mean animal? Please tell me how to get in contact with him.’
‘You can’t. He died in prison several years ago, stabbed in his cell.’
‘What? My god, that’s terrible. Are you sure?’
‘Of course, I’m sure, I’m his god damned uncle, for Pete’s sake, I should know what happened to my own nephew.’
‘I don’t understand-why was he in prison?’
‘Not that it’s any of your damn business, but he murdered his mother and sister in cold blood. Sliced them open like cattle. He was one sick puppy, right from childhood. Ask me, he got what was coming to him.’
‘What about his father?’
‘My brother was never the same after. He quit his job and almost lost the house. I bought it from him so he had a few dollars to his name.’
‘May I speak to him please?’
‘He don’t live here anymore. He took the money and dove into a bottle for nearly twelve years. In no time at all, the wife told me I had to make a choice-her or my brother. No choice, really.’
‘Any idea where he might be?’
‘Last I heard he lives down by the Hudson with the rest of the local homeless. Haven’t seen hide nor hair of him in years.’
‘Well, thank you, Mr. Fay. I appreciate the information. I’m sorry to hear such distressing news. I hope you and your family have been able to find at least a little peace.’
‘Yeah, well, it’s not your fault. Hey, if you do find my brother, say hi for me, okay?’
‘I will. Have a nice afternoon.’
Just after six in the evening, Taylor follows the brickwork path along the Hudson to the soup kitchen on Hobarth and Tenth. Finding Spencer’s father here is a long-shot at best; he may have moved to another section of the city or relocated to an entirely different city all together. The soup kitchen is located in an old renovated warehouse preserved by the city to help the local needy.
Entering, Taylor walks down the center aisle between several rows of tables. A few dozen homeless, mostly men, are seated at the tables, some in small groups, but most are spread throughout the hall, eating alone. A bald man stands behind the food table serving hot vegetable soup from a large pot. As Taylor walks up, the server points to a stack of bowls at the end of the table.
‘Oh, no thanks, I’m not hungry,’ says Taylor, then goes on, awkwardly. ‘Well, what I mean is, I’m not here to eat.’
‘We don’t offer accommodations. You need to line up at the church down the road by 9:00 p.m., if you want any chance at getting a cot for the night,’ answers the big man, pointing with his ladle in the direction of the church.
‘I’m sorry, no, I don’t need a room, either. I’m here looking for a man.’
‘Listen, mister. I really don’t care what turns your crank or how you get your jollies, but this is a soup kitchen and you’re holding up the line. I suggest you move along.’
‘Look, you don’t understand. It’s not like that. My name is Edward Taylor and I am a doctor. I am looking for George Fay. This person may be in danger, and it’s of the outmost importance that I find him.’
‘Well, why didn’t you just spit it out? You looked a bit high falootin’ to need a free meal. Yes, of course, I know Grumpy Georgy. He is a regular here.’
‘That’s wonderful. Do you expect him here tonight? I really need to talk to him.’
‘Grumpy Georgy is not a big talker, but see for yourself. He just walked in.’
The cook nods over Taylor’s shoulder, then turns away and yells, ‘Next!’
‘Um… Thank you.’
Taylor turns. He cannot believe how much George has changed over the intervening years. Taylor doesn’t recognize him, but decided to trust the cook had pointed out the right man. The old man making his way down the aisle towards the table walked with a limp, his weathered face looking much like a pair of old work boots.
Taylor steps in front of George and asks, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Fay. May I have a word with you?’
‘I don’t know you. Get out of my way. I’m here for soup.’
‘It’s important news about your son, Spencer.’
‘Not interested. Nothin’ you can tell me about that bastard could be the least bit important,’ answers George, squeezing past Taylor.
‘Spencer is alive!’
George turns and fixes his stare on Taylor. ‘Hogwash!’
‘No, it’s true. I have evidence to prove it’
‘I said hogwash. The punk got himself gutted by an inmate, another waste-of-skin. I remember reading a recap of the incident in the paper the day they fried his killer.’
‘I know it’s hard to believe, but if you come back to my clinic, I can show you evidence that will prove he did not die that day.’
‘Look, buddy. I don’t know who you are, or what your game is, but I have no interest in meeting that little prick, even if he was alive. In fact, if he was, I just might have to get me a gun and kill him myself.
‘I’m Dr. Taylor. I’m a physician and I could really use your help. Please come back to my clinic with me. I will make it worth your while.’
‘Oh, yeah? Now ya got my interest. What you offering, Doc?’
‘How does a hot bath, soft bed and room service at the Holiday Inn sound?’
‘Sounds swell. But make it a bath and a meal before we go to your clinic, and you got a deal.’
‘I can do that, George. I’ll only need about an hour of your time, then you’ll get to see Spencer again. If you really choose not to see him, at least you’ll get to spend the night in comfort.’
‘Whatever you say. Let’s get going. I’m starved.’
An hour later, Taylor pulls into the parking lot of the towering Interstate Bank building where he has a suite of offices on the ground floor. He parks in his reserved space, and the two men enter through the main door. Next to the door a sign reads 109 Psychiatrist Clinic-Dr. Taylor, Psy.D. Taylor enters the office and walks past the vacant waiting room and reception desk to his office.
‘Please sit down and make yourself comfortable, George. This won’t take but an hour or so.’
‘Whatever, Doc. I ain’t got nothin’ but time.’
‘Okay. So you are comfortable with the procedure as I explained it to you at the restaurant?’
‘Yeah, sure. I live on the street, remember? Not like it’ll be the first time I got poked, man.’
‘I can’t even imagine such a life, how difficult it must be to survive out there.’
‘Don’t sweat it. My choice. I got no boss, no rent and no taxes. It ain’t all bad.’
‘Hmm. Well, George, have you any questions before we get started?’
‘One. You look familiar to me. Did we ever meet before? I swear I seen your face somewhere before, but it’s all foggy, like a dream or something.’
‘Very unlikely. I don’t remember the last time I was down by the docks. Shall we get started?’
‘Sure thing, man. Poke away.’
‘You won’t feel a thing after the initial needle prick. You will fall into a peaceful sleep. then your subconscious mind will answer a few questions. You won’t remember any of the experience when you wake up.’
‘Well, fill your boots. I could use a nap after eating that ribeye dinner.’
‘You certainly have a good appetite, George, I will give you that.’
Dr. Taylor pushes a button on the side of the armrest and retrieves a syringe from the cabinet beside the chair. He swabs George’s dirty inner elbow and injects the sedative carrying the microscopic kernel. George sighs and, within seconds, sinks into the padded chair.
Taylor sits at his desk and injects the nano-controller into his own arm. He flips the switch that opens the bookcase and lowers the rectangular frame. Grimacing in pain, he swallows hard, fighting the urge to vomit, and takes a moment to compose himself. He looks up at the mercurial mist within the frame. Indecipherable snippets of George’s life flash through the mist exposing memories of moments in his past.Taylor begins to talk to his subject in a calm, soothing voice.
‘Your son Spencer is in his bedroom. You’re mad at him, aren’t you? He’s upsetting you off and you’ve had enough of his lies.’
George shifts in his chair, grunting.
‘You’re going to end this once and for all. It’s time to teach him a lesson. Talking isn’t working.’
‘Yeah. Gonna give him an ass whopping. Teach him right,’ grumbles George.
The images on the screen suddenly begin to coalesce into comprehensible short scenes. It’s morning. George Fay pulls his Buick into his driveway, steps out of the vehicle and walks up the front steps of his house. He walks into the kitchen and retrieves his forgotten briefcase, then turns back towards the door. Rustling sounds are coming from his son’s bedroom. He quietly walks to the door and peeks in. His son, Spencer, is gathering plastic bags of a white powdery substance from the back of his closet and stuffing them into his backpack. Then standing, the boy gropes above the closet door and comes down with a pistol which he immediately drops into the open backpack when George steps into the room.
‘Damn good thing I forgot my briefcase and came home, or I wouldn’t have caught you skipping school. And worse, dealing drugs!’ George’s face is livid as he approaches the boy.
‘I’m just stashing it for a friend. What’s it to you?’ demands Spencer edging away from his father.
‘Right! And the gun is for squirrel hunting, I suppose. I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Your mother and I have had it with you. Year after year of nonsense, the countless meetings with your school principals so you don’t get suspended or, worse, expelled again for fighting. We’ve spent a small fortune in counseling fees to set that dimwitted brain of yours straight, not to mention the lawyer fees to keep you out of juvenile detention. Well, enough is enough, and we’re way past. Give me that bag and get yourself to school. Now!’
‘To hell with you, old man I’m outta here,’ exclaims Spencer, making for the bedroom door.
‘You’re not going anywhere, you little gangster,’ shouts George, kicking the bedroom door shut. He jerks the boy around, face to face.
‘Let me go. You got no right to stop me,’ insists Spencer, belligerently.
‘Like hell! You don’t question my authority. I make the damned rules around here. I’m your father and you’ll do as I tell you. Understand?’
‘Let go of me. You’re hurting me,’ shouts Spencer.
‘Are you going to do what I tell you? Are you?’ demands the father, very close to losing control. Raising the boy off the floor by the front of his shirt, he leans in, their noses almost touching.
‘Let me go or I’ll call social services and tell them you are abusing me,’ threatens Spencer.
‘You got a lotta balls for someone with no power. I guess that last lesson I gave you didn’t teach you anything. Now you’re gonna get an ass-whooping like you never had before.’
‘You’re crazy! Take your dirty hands off me, old man!’
George drops the boy and holds him against the floor with one hand, while he unclips his belt buckle with the other. As George is sliding the strip of leather from his waist, Spencer jerks himself free. Cut off from the door by his father, the boy crawls to a corner by the dresser. Folding his belt in half, the father towers over the boy, slapping the leather across his open palm.
The boy jumps to his feet and defiantly walks up to his father. ‘What’s wrong with you? Leave me alone.’ Spencer makes a grab for the backpack. George reacts, but stops short as Spencer pulls the pistol from the backpack and takes aim at his father’s head. ‘See old man. See now who has the power? Now you’re not so tough, are ya?
Waving the pistol for emphasis, he growls, ‘Get out of the way, old man, or I swear I’ll shoot you,’ threatens Spencer.
George grimaces in disgust and slaps the pistol from Spencer’s hand. The gun hits the floor and slides to the bedroom door.
‘You ungrateful, despicable, no-good for nothing little missfit,’ shouts George closing his fist. Infuriated, he punches Spencer in the mouth dropping him to the floor.
Taylor sits rigidly in his chair, disgusted with himself. He cannot believe how badly he had misread Spencer and the whole situation. Obviously, Spencer was the problem, a very poorly adjusted person who has complete disregard for other, especially those in authority. He unleashed that evil upon society once before, to very bad results. He must not do it again. Making his decision, he lunges out of his chair, rounds his desk and jumps into the mist.
The next moment he is standing just inside the closed door staring across Spencer’s bedroom at George Fay, Spencer and an earlier version of himself. He watches his younger self punching George on the side of the head. His resolve gets stronger and he feels himself calm. He reaches down to pick up the gun lying in the doorway.
A bloodied Spencer turns towards the door, reaching for his backpack. He freezes at the sight of some unknown old guy standing there with Spencer’s revolver.
‘I cannot, in good conscience, allow anyone else to suffer at your hands,’ the old guy says, raising the gun. Spencer throws the backpack at the man and rushes him just as the gun goes off. Not surprising that the bullet missed its mark.
A moment later, Spencer is standing in the doorway alone. The gunman has vanished, the gun falling to the floor. Across the room, two men lie on the floor-his semi-conscious father just beginning to stir, and another stranger with a bleeding bullet hole in his throat.
George sits on the street bench in front of the building and lights a cigarette. He has so many unanswered questions going through his head. He had taken out a second mortgage on the house in order to hire a good law firm to defend his son. After a long court battle, Spencer’s defense team hadn’t been able to convince the jury of his innocence. In the end, the simple fact was that his were the only other fingerprints on the murder weapon, a gun linked to other past killings. Too compelling to ignore.
Today is the anniversary of Spencer’s death. One year ago, in the New York State Prison, Spencer was knifed by some rival gang member, apparently for stealing cigarettes-a senseless end to a young man’s struggle with crime and addiction.
Not a good day for George. Most days he can push the memories aside by keeping himself busy. Not today. The remorse is eating him up inside. He keeps remembering how much time he spent at the office when Spence was young.
He is plagued by questions he’ll never be able to answer. Was I too lenient from the beginning when he stole that first chocolate bar from the corner store? Sending him to his room with a ‘talking to’ certainly had no effect. Did I enable his behavior? He needed a father and I let him down. I let the whole family down. I guess I should be thankful his sister turned out okay. A nursing degree and a good job at City Hospital; she’s doing okay. I’m surprised I didn’t mess her up too.’
A Yellow cab pulls up along the curb. George snaps out of his thoughts and butts out his cigarette. A middle aged woman and a young lady step out of the taxi.
‘Hi, dad. You know smoking is the major cause of lung cancer and heart disease, right?’
‘Hi, Emma. You’re right. I should quit.’ Quickly changing the subject, George asks, standing to greet the pair. ‘How’s work?’
‘Busy, but I’m happy. I am getting to help people in need.’
‘Sorry we’re late, George. Heavy traffic on the Queensboro this afternoon,’ say’s the older woman. Walking up to George, she kisses him on the cheek.
‘It’s okay, Susan. Thanks for coming. I’ve only been here a few minutes. We could meet at a different place, if you like, but you know this was Spencer’s favorite diner. I think this was the only spot where he was ever at peace.’
‘Spencer would spend hours here drinking coffee and sketching in his scrapbook. Some of his work was disturbing, yet really cool,’ adds the daughter.
Susan agrees. ‘Spencer was a troubled boy, but he was talented. I wonder if he would have straightened out under different circumstances.’
‘I should have done more. I should have been there for him, I could have prevented this,’ answers George, eyes glistening and fighting back tears.
‘No, dad. You’re wrong. The only person who could have prevented this was Spencer. Don’t blame yourself. You and mom did all you could to help him. Spencer was a troubled soul. He made bad choices and never learned from them. Don’t you dare blame yourself for this.’
‘I don’t know, baby. I think I should have done more. I-. George begins to cry.
Emma steps closer to hug him.’It’s not your fault, Dad. Do you understand? It’s not your fault.’
George weeps for a minute. Then, rubbing the tears from his cheeks, he takes a deep breath and composes himself.
Breaking the awkward silence, George say’s, ‘I hope you’re right, angel. Let’s go in and have a bite.’
George, his ex-wife and his daughter cross the sidewalk to the corner of the block and enter the Time Zone Diner situated in the ground-floor corner of Interstate Bank Tower #109.
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