As I leaned against the hood of the car, the world spinning out of control, my thoughts ran wildly through my teenage mind – as the laughter of my friends seemed far away and frightening, little creepy creatures popping in and out of dimensions like real life monsters. Is this what I want? Really? Am I actually a bad guy? I always played the criminal in cops & robbers as a kid, because I liked to go against the rules, against the control system, but I always admired justice. Maybe reading thousands of superhero comic books had given me some sort of moral compass, because I sure the hell didn’t get it from any church.
Right now, I was hurting myself.
Beer was what the “cool” kids drank; except they weren’t very cool at all. Most of the teens that drank in high school were messed up in one way or another, just like me, and that made them easier to hang with, easier to hide with, and with a big enough force field, hell, you could even talk to the girls.
But right now, the world revolved like a dark Ferris wheel, dipping and diving and I wanted off the ride.
“Hey, Alcoholman, what’s up, man? Crazy white boy.”
The vatos, the few that were my friends in Taco Caliente, liked to call me Alcoholman because I drank so much Billy Beer.
“Damn, ese, you be livin’ the vida loca, homes.”
A year later I had graduated from “Alcoholman” to “Surf Bum” as my family relocated to Surf City, just west of Taco in terms of Los Angeles. Instead of going to school, I lay on the beach, or when I was brave enough, I tried to surf the Venice break. Sometimes I would go to the beach at night and try to surf under the moonlight – just so I didn’t have to look awkward in front of the more mainstream “hot-doggers.” I guess I was a little insecure that way, but I’ve never liked eyeballs. Watching me.
The sea, that big lonely-looking saltwater world of mystery, I could look at that forever. I suppose that’s what put the United States Navy inside my head. It had become clear to me that high school wasn’t working out. I couldn’t find a focus. Sure, I could blame the problems at home, but that’s not enough. People make choices.
I dropped out of Surf City High, signed up with the Navy, passed the test for the General Equivalency Diploma, and left that summer for a new world that promised hula girls, bikinis, islands, and adventure. And booze.
Sailors like to drink.
Now it was the hard stuff, mostly American whiskey, and the days before night seemed longer and longer. Boot camp was an interesting sort of hell, and then more training, and then the fleet … And the nights that got longer and longer as a sort of quiet desperation raged inside. Is this what I want? Am I becoming a good guy in the Navy or increasingly becoming one with the bad?
And what about women? Did I want a good one or a bad girl? How about a Betty & Veronica combo rolled into one dynamite package? Sounds good, but where is she? As I searched, the Surf Bum in me wanted the ocean and the Alcoholman in me wanted a sea of liquor.
I found both.
Years pass slowly in military service. I’m not Stephen King, so I won’t bore you with every goddamned detail, but I became a pretty good boat pilot for an amphibious assault cargo ship in Long Beach, California. Yeah, despite choosing the Navy as an escape route, I was still basically at home in Southern California. A boat pilot in the Navy is actually called a coxswain. I was an Assault Boat Coxswain. We used mike boats to hit the beach and ran cold war drills out to sea at three and four o’clock in the morning, sometimes out in the boats away from the ship for days, searching for the correct light codes, etc. You see a classified series of lights; you hit the beach and let the Marines and Navy Seals blow shit up. Different lights, you float around eating food out of cans …
And when these fun and games were over, and lucky enough for leave off ship, you got drunk and looked for the impossible blond. You had very little money and very little time, hence the intensity of the sailor on shore. Fun, fun, fun, and then back to work. Turning to, they called it. “Turn to!”
When you’re not floating in boats or watching people accidentally die from war games; you bust rust, chip paint, swab the deck, sweep the ship, oil wire ropes, work cargo lines, and played Popeye until the work was done whether the sun was up or down.
I don’t remember how this particular shore leave began. I awoke with the sound of the ocean roaring in my ears and a feeling of utter helplessness. Something was out there. I wanted it, needed it, couldn’t find it.
“Where is she?” I said.
“There he is,” someone said.
“Yup,” said another familiar voice, “it’s the Alcoholman all right.”
“Hey,” said the first one, “hey, Surf Bum. Wake up!”
“I saw her,” I said.
The first guy was Noah, only black friend I had on the ship and currently the cause of at least a third of my troubles. The racist Petty Officer First Class, BM1 Tantrum, didn’t want a black guy in the boat crew. Actually, when I told him Noah should in fact be in the crew, Tantrum said: “Nigger in the boat crew? No fucking way. Besides, he’s the fattest sonofabitch on the ship.”
“Noah, I saw the mermaid,” I said.
He laughed. “You know you’re UA, right?”
UA stood for “unauthorized,” which meant I was illegally away from the ship.
Coming ever so slightly out of the haze, I recognized the second sailor as a little Italian dude named Joe. He said, “Get the fuck up before Senior Chief gets here!”
“Senior? What the hell would he be doing on the beach?”
Noah laughed again. “Dude, you’re under the pier.”
“I saw her,” I said. “I saw the blond mermaid.”
Waking up after a horrible night of drinking is one of the worst things in the world. Your heart beats too fast. Your mouth feels dry and awful, as if you’ve eaten rotten meat and maybe you have. Your head hurts; stomach hurts. Nausea, nauseous, and guilt-ridden about things you can’t even remember. My nerves rattled my blood as I sat across the desk from Senior Chief Petty Officer Perez. His brown skin was thick from the sun and salt of many voyages. He reminded me of Charles Bronson with a moustache as I sat there, not feeling so tough myself.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
I shook my head. I didn’t know.
“Everybody in the Navy drinks. Yeah, even underage. Nobody cares about that crap as long as you show up on time and turn to, go to work.”
“I’m onboard, not that late am I?”
“You would have been very unauthorized and probably very fucking dead if Washington [Noah] and Ravioli [Joe] hadn’t pulled your ass offshore.”
I nodded my head in blank agreement.
“You gonna have to pay for that damn golf cart.”
“Saying you don’t remember driving that utility cart off the goddamn pier, drunk as baby Jesus, straight into the salt? I’m confused as to why you didn’t drown, somebody with you?”
“With me? No, not a bad swimmer. You guys trained me.”
He smiled at that, wasn’t supposed to, but he did. “You’re a good coxswain, kid, and a fair swimmer, maybe. I’d hate to lose ya for being such a soup sandwich. You have a death wish or something?”
“Death wish … don’t think so.” I took a drink of hot coffee. “A girl,” I said. “Maybe I wasn’t alone.”
“Girl? Jesus, Adams, we gonna find a dead broad under that pier?”
“What? No. I saw her. In the water. Beautiful. A blond. I had left the Navy club after a few drinks …”
“A few, right,” said the Chief.
“Yeah, then I, uh, well, I found a cart.”
“Captain’s gonna wanna know how you got the keys. They leave ‘em in the ignition?”
“Those kiddy carts are dumb easy to hot wire. I was cruisin’ along home and I saw this girl, most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. She was waving. To me …”
Well, I landed in the Navy brig (Federal prison on base in Long Beach) three times: Two times for a three day vacation of bread & water only and once for 90 days hard labor. Again, I’ll spare you the day to day horror story. There’s more action to come. We just need to get out of the Navy. Anyway, you’d think with a track record like that: A) The Navy would boot me out or B) I would get my act together and quit screwing up.
However, there was a blond to beat all blonds to consider. A class act. In fact, I would start thinking of her with a capital “B” in front and an “e” at the end, my continental super spy fox.
She appeared to me in my dreams. I saw her in day visions and in nightmarish drunkenness. A mermaid calling me to sea with the song of the siren, a angel with soft white wings and naked breasts, or a devilish temptress in sexy silk stockings … The Blonde.
They said I was cracking up, but I knew I was as sane as most guys. After I disappeared again for eight days searching for The Blonde and missed an amphib op – I was right back there sitting in front of the Senior Chief.
“I could strangle you myself,” he said.
I started to talk, but decided to just listen.
“What is it that you want?” he asked. “You trying for a medical discharge?”
I shook my head no.
“I want to serve my country,” I said. “I just don’t feel like I’m doing that. All this cold war bullshit, well, shit, maybe it is driving me crazy. There’s no morale around here. Everybody walks around in a depressed haze – waiting for the next goddamn chemical spill drill to hit the ship.”
“You,” he said, “you’re talking about morale? I think you are nuts. I’ll tell you about goddamn self-esteem. It’s doing the very best you possible can. It’s training day and night to be America’s finest – whether we’re killing Japs or Germans, Koreans, Vietnamese, or just carefully planning to eliminate the Kremlin and kick Russia in the nuts once and for all. All the while taking precaution to not let those godless bastards poison us with biological warfare and all the other cold-blooded crap they’re coming at us with. You think those commie assholes are getting drunk and chasing broads or do you think they’re working overtime figuring out how to kill every last person who loves freedom?”
“Actually,” I said, “I think they are getting drunk and chasing broads, but that’s not the point …”
Senior Chief Perez suddenly stood: “Captain on deck!”
We both stood to attention as Captain Dill entered the Chief’s office.
“Morale,” said the Captain, “comes from working with your brothers to fight a common enemy against all odds.”
“Yes, sir,” we said.
“This invisible enemy bullshit, it’s tough. I’ll give you that. Most of the time we don’t know what we’re dealing with. When you’ve got an enemy right in front of your face and he’s about to kill your shipmate – it’s a hell of lot easier to find your sense of drive. Unless, of course, you’re a coward. Are you a coward Seaman Adams?”
“You want to serve your country, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“Then how ‘bout playing for the home team and stop all this nonsense of acting like a fuck up.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Well, maybe you do and maybe you don’t. Maybe I should give you that discharge you seem to want.”
“No, sir. I want to serve my country.”
We stared at each other for what seemed like a quarter of an hour, but it only took a minute. The Skipper was a big guy. He had an immediate way of making you nervous. Besides, the man with the power to send you back to the brig – doesn’t promote peaceful feelings within. I had meant what I said. I wasn’t trying to get discharged when I broke military law. I just felt lost. I didn’t have anywhere to go when I was on leave. I was wandering. You don’t want to blame it on family; especially if they’re not around to blame.
I needed a purpose.
Captain Dill threw a dossier on Senior Chief’s desk.
“John,” he said to Chief, “see if the Program is a fit. Otherwise, we need to send a new recruit to boat school. At ease,” he said.
He walked out and Senior Chief slumped back into his seat and sighed. “You wanna be a hero, kid? Here’s your chance.”
Program B really wasn’t a bad idea. I mean, with the constant technological challenge the Russians presented, President Reagan wanted a new breed of military man. In the Navy we already had the best fighting men in the world, the Navy Seals. You would think if they were going to experiment with improving the product – they might start there – with the best of the best. Not so. They wanted to strengthen their weakest links. Again, not a bad idea. Well, to be fair, weakest link wasn’t quite right. The sailors deemed unfit for service were discharged regularly for a variety of reasons. At least in me they saw some potential. A potential I obviously had not yet discovered for myself. I was no Navy Seal, but the Seals did train me in Coronado to pilot every kind of dumb boat we put in the water and I had earned the level of Master Helmsman on ship. Sometimes they woke me up at three, four, five in the morning to take the helm from some nervous recruit that couldn’t keep us on course. But you can train apes to do all sort of things.
No big deal.
Now, the options were clear: Take the escape route offered or step up and take a chance on some weird experiment they had planned for me and two other “volunteers” from my division.
We called him “Dr. Sobriety.”
You guessed it; my fellow “Super Sailors” from Deck Division were my pals, Joe and Noah.
Joe whispered: “He looks like Mr. Rogers with a pipe.”
Instead of a sweater, he wore a white lab coat and we were the “Three Blind Mice,” he said.
Dr. So chewed on the end of his unlit pipe. “Works like this,” he said, “every payday you get your shot, and then you get paid. No shot; no pay. Meanwhile, you check in at the lab every morning and we’ll do a series of tests to see how you guys are doing? Oh, and I’m sure it goes without saying: Absolutely no alcohol. Questions?”
Washington: “Yeah, what’s in the shot?”
Sobriety: “Good question. Answer: Classified.”
Whenever a new flu shot was available or whatever the hell else they wanted to pump into us – no shot/no pay was the rule. So no surprise that Plan B worked the same way, but these shots were much more intense than the regular old vaccinations. A big needle long enough to puncture all the way through your arm seemed unnecessary, but that’s the way the doc’s nurses operated.
We took ‘em tough. You didn’t wanna be a cry baby in front of a dame in a tight nursing uniform.
We figured the doc was pumping us up with weird vitamins and we’d be made to run obstacle courses and cool stuff like that, but they just wanted inside our heads. The Navy is like that, a heavy mind trip – beginning with boot camp. They want to see if you can hack it, mentally.
But if they thought a shot of whateverthefuck was going to blast open some sort of extrasensory range of the brain – I think we’d been had. We had heard rumors the AIDS virus got loose this way. They experiment on monkeys, apes … Yeah, what’s next?
There are three main divisions of sailors in the United States Navy: Airmen, Firemen, and Seamen. We were deployed out to sea just off the coast of the big island of Hawaii when the three airmen in Plan B commandeered a helicopter, took off from the air deck, cut the engine, and crashed into the sea. The bird exploded on impact. Our frogmen searched the water, but no bodies were ever found.
“Don’t blame the medicine,” said Dr. S. “You’re all in this program because you have had certain difficulties and conflicts while serving in the military. Just because those men decided to go UA – does not mean they were having a negative reaction to the treatment.”
“Yeah,” said Joe, “then why’d they cut the engines a hundred feet over the water?”
Dr. Sobriety looked at us with a slight smile creeping over his pipe. “Faulty tail pin is all it was. Don’t believe all the scuttlebutt and sea stories you hear. Just remember, stay sober. Stay on task. You’ll be all right.”
I didn’t wanna tell the doc, but more and more I was realizing that life is really like a cartoon. I could see the edges blurring, the fine line of masks and layers to people and their backgrounds. We’re all made up of ink and color and flipped pages – animating us along.
The next day we docked at the Navy base in the Philippines and all three firemen from Plan B spontaneously combusted while on leave in Olongapo City.
“Oh, that is seriously fucked up,” said Seaman Noah Washington.” I could not have agreed more.
Seaman Joe Ravioli was a gunner’s mate. He had taken to oiling and polishing a shiny .45 caliber handgun – over and over – until he could see his reflection smiling back.
The medicine was working. Well, at least Seaman Washington showed a marked improvement. He of the usually well-fed beer belly had lost damn near all his body fat and was now benching twice his body weight. This from the guy who’s greatest talent used to be eating three Hostess Twinkies all in one bite.
Noah used to be a part of the fat boy crew, made to run around the deck in order to lose weight that never seemed to disappear. Now he could outrun anyone on the ship. He turned into an acrobat overnight, and worst of all, Joe could no longer beat him in chess. His mental strength was kicking in as well.
Operation Super Sailor was a success.
But what about me?
What about Joe?
And what about those three firemen that set themselves on fire, or as rumor had it: spontaneously combusted?
We were told they died while involved in some sort of weird sex game with a fire eater.
“I know it’s strange,” said Sobriety. “Indeed. You’re a part of a nine man experiment and only the three of you are left. Sure, you could make an argument that the chemicals introduced into the other men’s central nervous system played some role in their irresponsible actions, but that’s what military men are born for: sacrifice.”
He sucked on that pipe and we hated him. Well, Joe and I hated him, but Noah …
“Not everyone can go the distance,” said Washington. “The doc’s a genius. This stuff is great. We’re going to build a whole new race of men that can handle the tough stuff.”
“Race?” I said. “A few weeks ago you couldn’t get into the boat crew based on your …”
“You guys are weak,” he said. “You shouldn’t be in this program. Maybe you should go flying or play with matches.”
He walked out of the room and slammed the steel hatch. If it had been a wooden door it would have broke off its hinges.
That night we were sailing just north of Catalina and I caught Joe smoking weed while standing the fantail watch lookout.
“Whata ya doin’, man?”
He smiled and tossed the roach overboard. “Um, what I do everyday.”
“What about the experiment?”
He shrugged his shoulder. “Sobriety said not to drink, didn’t say about smoking pot. I’m pretty sure you’re the only one that’s broken Rule No. 1.”
“Shut up,” he said. “I know you have those little Pan Am airplane kiddy-size bottles of liquor in your locker.”
“Okay,” I said, “whatever. Speaking of booze, you wanna hit the club when he get back to base tomorrow?”
“You know …” he said, “these stupid chemicals we’re taking are probably going to kill us, right?”
“Yeah, well, you wanna live forever? Besides, maybe we’ll turn into super studs like Washington.”
“Or super assholes,” said Joe.
At the Navy Club on base in Long Beach, Washington stayed on program. He drank a soda while I ordered a picture of beer for Joe and I, and then I saw her. Again. A cover band was playing some 1980’s hit. Insert whatever song you think would be cool in this scene and save me the copyright hassle.
She was dancing with two other girls: One black, one brown, one blonde. The perfect trio for my merry band of pirates whom had been out to sea for far too long too many times. They danced in the middle of the floor and that cartoon universe I had been experiencing kicked into full gear. They were wearing costumes. The brunette was dressed in some sort of yellow spandex with a mask and a cape. The sexy carob-skinned beauty was dressed like a cat. Then there was the Blonde. She was dressed like the Devilgirl of my dreams.
The sailors circled around them and howled like sea wolves. I wanted to kill them all. Right away, I just wanted them dead. We approached the girls as if pulled by invisible magnets. No amount of shyness could have stopped me. This was destiny. And you know what the poet says. Destiny is created by desire.
She stood in front me and I was feeling a weird sense of déjà vu as she said the word, “Secret …”
She might have said something else but I couldn’t make it out. The band was loud and I was lost in the brown chocolate marbles of her eyes.
The light-bulb hung over my head.
Over and over again, the same questions.
The walls, they’re made of rubber. Actual rubber. You know that? They cover the rubber with leather. And you know the worst bit? When you get an itch while wearing the jacket.
She was trying to tell me something but it was difficult to listen. My mind was skipping from yesterday, back to today, and maybe tomorrow, too. Places and people I’d never seen, but I was there.
“Don’t take the antidote,” she said.
“Do you trust me?” she said.
“Then don’t take the antidote.”
“To what?” I asked.
“Don’t be stupid,” she said.
“Tomorrow it’ll be all right,” she said.
Question: “Do you remember what happened to Seaman Ravioli and Seaman Washington?”
Answer: “Sure, I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“Yesterday,” I told the impossibly beautiful blonde in the red devil costume.
“Yesterday died tomorrow,” she said.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Just don’t take the antidote,” she said.
By this time Seaman Washington was clearing the path to the cat girl by picking up sailors around the neck and throwing them at the band – while demanding they play “Freebird.”
“I have to go,” said the Devilgirl.
The three women ran outside. I followed. “Hey …” I said, but as the brunette in yellow touched the hands of the other girls they all disappeared.
The light-bulb hung over my head as the men in black suits asked me what had happened yesterday.
“I already told you,” I said. “Ravioli, who was always self-conscious about his height, began getting noticeably smaller, shorter.”
“What about Seaman Washington?”
“He got bigger. And crazier,” I said.
“That was weeks ago,” they said. “What happened yesterday?”
“Yesterday?” I said. “Yesterday Seaman Ravioli shot Seaman Washington point blank with a .45 caliber AMT Hardballer.”
“What’s so funny?” they asked.
“Well,” I said, “he didn’t die, did he?”
In the office of Dr. Sobriety …
“Yes,” he said, “very unfortunate this experiment hasn’t taken properly this time around. We’ll have to start a detox program for you.”
“Would that be an antidote, sir?”
“Of sorts. Just clear you up for Program C. You’re actually very lucky to have had a sort of neutral reaction. Aside from some minor memory problems and mental confusion, I think you’re okay.”
“Okay? Everybody in the fucking program’s dead and you think I’m okay?”
“Here,” he said, “let me give you something that will relax you.”
I’m serious, the walls are made of rubber and you can laugh all day long if you want. You can laugh your goddamn head off.
“What happened to Seaman Ravioli?”
They knew the answers, but they just kept asking.
“He shrunk. I told you guys that. He just shrunk out of existence.”
Here’s what I heard when I was spying on Dr. Sobriety:
“What about Adams?”
I don’t know who asked the question. I was hiding in a steel duct that ran over his office. Maybe one of those government men. But hey, we were all government men, right? No problem. I understood secrets. I was in this for Uncle Sam just as much as the next guy, but I needed to know what the fuck was going on.
“He doesn’t seem to have much reaction at all. He may have ingested something that counteracted the vitamin supplement. As far as I’m concerned he’s a washout.”
“Should we take him out?
“No,” said Sobriety, “I don’t think so. Looks better to leave one alive. You can transfer him, get him kicked out, or throw him in the nuthouse. He’s been acting pretty weird. If anything, the drugs are pushing him toward a psychotic breakdown, but it could just be the stress of seeing his shipmates die.”
“What about Plan C?”
“He’s not a good candidate and he doesn’t want the detox shots. I could force him, of course, but I’d rather concentrate on Seaman Washington for the moment.”
“He really take a slug in the gut?”
“Yes,” said Sobriety, “and he’s almost completely healed.”
“What about the Italian kid?”
“I suspect,” said Sobriety, “he went UA.”
UA my ass, I thought. He shrunk down to nothingness, just like a disappearing cartoon.
“It’s okay,” she said. She reached across the table and put her gloved hand on top of mine. Her touch felt soft and she filled me full of beautiful distraction.
“I was crazy,” I said.
“No you weren’t.”
“I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“But you’re not to supposed to; don’t you get it? Yesterday died tomorrow,” she said.
“What the hell does that mean?”
The room was dark and they fed you by sliding a plate of food through a slit that opened in the door during hours when free of the jacket.
Senior Chief Perez’s office:
“We’re gonna have to discharge you if you don’t cooperate with the doctor.”
“You know,” I said, “he’s some kind of mad fucking scientist. I heard him talking about killing people and …"
“That’s the whole point,” said the Chief. “These experiments are dangerous. It’s shitty that men have died for this thing, but it ain’t over yet. The admiral’s putting a lot of pressure on us. We thought we had this thing on green-light with Noah – until Ravioli went nuts.”
“He didn’t go crazy. Washington was trying to kill him.”
“You need a break,” said the Chief. “I know that, but you’ve gotta get back on board or say goodbye. That’s the way it is: OTH.”
“OTH [other than honorable discharge], that’s the fuckin’ thanks I get?”
“You’re refusing orders,” he said. “Look, I don’t like it either …”
I walked out.
Let them kick me out.
There are other things to do.
I could go to college – minus any benefits.
Maybe I’ll study psychology.
Discharge papers in hand, I stopped by to say goodbye to the good ol’ doc.
“Well,” he said, “I’m sorry to see you go. I had thought your commitment to serving your country ran deeper than a fear of failure.”
“Fear?” I said. “Failure?”
“Surely, you’re afraid to continue?”
“Is it just me or does everybody seem to not notice that your experiment is a bust that destroyed eight lives and will most likely give me a cancer sooner or later? Am I missing something?”
“Well, you’re young and sometimes it’s hard for younger guys to understand the level of responsibility and sacrifice involved in these types of operations, and as you well know, your accounting is faulty. We’ve six casualties, one man missing, and another in sick bay.”
“Yeah,” I said, “that’s great.”
“Look,” said Sobriety, smiling, “you want a second chance? I can make that bad discharge go away instantly.”
He opened a black box on his desk. “You want to compete with Petty Officer Third Class Washington?”
“He was promoted?”
“Of course,” said Sobriety. “He’s a very brave man. I’ve no doubt he’ll be a chief petty officer or even a warrant officer someday.”
“And you want me to stay in the program?”
He scoffed, sucking on that pipe. “I don’t care one way or another. Fresh recruits come into service everyday. However, since you’re here and you’re familiar with the process, as I’ve said, I can give you one last chance – one last shot.”
He pulled out the mother of all syringes.
“I call this bad boy mix the Angel of Light. It’s got everything, right here, in one formula. You take this and you’ll be a superhero by morning.”
“Or a monster,” I said.
He shrugged his shoulders. “No doubt, it’s a gamble, but what would you give to be the most powerful man alive?”
He lifted a beaker from his desk and squirted the formula into the glass. “I’m assuming you weren’t going to go for me sticking this giant needle into your ass. All you’ve got to do is drink it; one cocktail and everything changes.”
I stood and he gently handed me the mad potion. The glass seemed to pulse with power.
“You know,” I said, “you’re going to Hell.”
He smirked. “I’m quite sure,” he said, “Hell does not exist.”
I reached into the inner pocket of my peacoat and pulled Joe’s shiny .45, (which would soon turn up missing from the armory).
“Are you sure?” I said.
His teeth clutched the pipe. “You’re crazy,” he said. “Pull that trigger and you’ll be taken to Leavenworth for the rest of your life.”
“I really don’t care. I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t have a job or a home anymore. I need somewhere to stay, and to be honest, your stupid drugs made me a little fucking weird in the head.”
“Drink the formula,” he said. “You’ll see that I was right.”
“Actually, you’re going to drink.”
“Put …” he stuttered, “put the gun down, please.”
I smacked him across the nose with the butt of the weapon. He screamed out like a little girl. I pressed the .45 against his temple and held the drink up to his face. “You killed my shipmates. You killed my friends. Now you drink this fucking baby formula or I’m going to blow your fucking brains out.”
He drank it down like a good boy and slid back down into his chair.
That light-bulb and the question was about the doc.
“What happened to the doctor?”
“He drank the Super Sailor formula.”
“Then what happened?”
“He went berserk; it was too much for him.”
“Why was his nose broken? Did you force him to drink?”
“His nose was broken because he killed my friends.”
“The asylum is cold and he’s happy to have a snug jacket. He’s … He’s not me.”
I looked at her, the wild beauty of the Blonde, sitting across from me at a table in a secret underground facility. I had reached tomorrow and yesterday was dying every minute I was with her. “Wasn’t me in the nuthouse, was him. The doctor’s crazy and I got inside his head …”
“Because you drank too much vodka,” she said. “Your minds sort of bonded, because, well, originally, you began the antidote and … sort of went a little crazy for awhile, too.”
“So you and the girls time traveled and told me not to take the formula. You changed my yesterday …”
“For a better tomorrow,” she said. “But You have to take it easy on the hard stuff.” She put her soft gloved hand on top of mine again. “We don’t want to lose you, Agent Adams.”
Sometime in college, maybe just after I had thrown in the towel on studying the human brain and took up the equally insane task of writing as a major field of study … I started to experience super human qualities when I drank alcohol. All those little bottles of liquor I drank during the experiment somehow bonded with the formula, slowly restructuring my molecules. When I drink vodka … I can get inside other people’s heads. I can read their minds. When I drink whiskey … Well, you don’t wanna be around me when I drink whiskey.
Senior Chief Perez drove me to the gate with my discharge papers. I would have to take a bus to Treasure Island, over by San Francisco to check out officially, but essentially, I was a “free” man. Whatever that means in this world.
Before I left I asked the Chief about Seaman Noah Washington.
“Probably live out his life in a VA hospital – wondering why he was stupid enough to volunteer for an experimental drug program.”
I felt grim, but I smiled. If nothing else, life was interesting and you had to give it your best shot no matter how weird or hard things got.
“How do you feel?” he asked. “From all those damn chemicals, I mean. You okay?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I think so. I cheated a little. You probably know that. I drank during the experiment, probably helped wash out the bad stuff from the mix.”
“You got lucky,” he said.
“Other than honorable,” I said.
“Skipper’s a hard-ass,” said the Chief. “Sometimes I’d like to punch him in the nose.”
I nodded my agreement.
“The doc’s face,” he said, “looked like hell.”
“Yeah, well, that’s okay. He told me he doesn’t believe in Hell.”
For the second time I got to see the Senior Chief smile.
“You did good, kid.”
I had been hanging around the Surf City district again. There are actually a few towns that have picked up the nickname of “Surf City” for their surfing conditions, but this was the real one, the one that connected the dots of Los Angeles – from it’s beautiful shoreline to its darker inner core.
I had taken to wearing my Navy work clothes when I tested my “powers.” They felt right for the situation, the blue work shirt, the peacoat, knit watch cap when it’s cold, and the boondocker boots, those things last forever. I couldn’t get that old surf bum out of me, and the aspect of Alcoholman was all too damn real now, but a part of me would always be a sailor as well.
I was in a dark alley drinking rye (actually trying to see if I could fully become invisible) when a man in a trench coat and hat appeared at the entrance and started walking toward me. Looked like a real creepy character, something out of a pulp magazine, either he’s some kind of a cop or I’m about to get mugged, I thought.
When he stood before me I almost screamed. He looked like he was wearing some kind of a mask, like a skeleton face, but it seemed to damn real.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. Yet, his voice was about the scariest thing I’d ever heard. “I’m a friend.”
His gloved hand held a dossier not unlike the one that got me in trouble in the Navy.
“You from the government?” I asked.
“Not exactly,” he said in that graveyard voice. “I work for a Society that’s a little more … Secret.”
“So …” I said, “I’m supposed to just walk off with a guy who looks like a skeleton and go … somewhere … secret?”
“Um, did you …” He pointed at my face. “Are you aware,” he said, “that you’re … you’re pretty much invisible right now.”
“Oh, uh, well, yeah,” I said. “That’s why I … I was sort of working on … So, you’re a skeleton, huh? All right. Sounds good. Makes perfect sense. Let’s go.”
The world had taken on a cartoon aspect. That’s true. But I knew deep inside that I was seeing reality as it truly is for the very first time. I was an outsider looking in, and the world that I saw was beautiful and unusual and sometimes full of dark secrets.
Bradley Mason Hamlin
Secret Agent Adams will return …
"Yesterday Died Tomorrow" by Bradley Mason Hamlin.
Edited by Lucy Hell. © 2012 by Mystery Island Publications. Published: 01.29.12.
Secret Agent Adams art, Lucy Hell Devilgirl art, and Eddie Crossbones art by MORT TODD.
Photo of Lucy Hell for Intoxicated Detective by BMH. All rights reserved.
*"Bob" art (standing in for Dr. Sobriety) believed to be in the public domain.
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