Stories About Me, Written By Others…

Chapter 1

I usually play video games with my wife and son on Thursday nights. Our rule: if the phone rings, we ignore it unless it’s important. Since not much is more important than helping my son blast assorted nasties to bits, the phone rarely was answered. Still, I’m no fool, and when the caller said, “…we have a freelance job available for you from a well-paying client, if you can pick up the phone now. Are you in? It’s now 6:15pm Eastern Time, and if you can get back to me before…”

“Dude, frag that Elite!” I yelled as I picked up the phone. Then I forced a smile into my voice. “Hello, hello, well-paying client? What can I do for you?” I try to be moderately informal, even in business. I only freelance on the side, so I like to have fun with it. I don’t like dealing with uptight clients anyway.

Caller ID showed a blocked number, but he identified himself as working for a company in Boston that was offering me $10,000 if I would fly out to Colorado on Saturday morning.

I laughed a little. It wasn’t the biggest offer I’d ever gotten. On the other hand, it was the biggest I’d gotten in a few years. He repeated that he was serious, but wasn’t allowed to give me any more details. He said that if I could accept delivery of a package with a written offer tomorrow morning by 10AM, and call him back by 11, I’d have the gig. Otherwise, he had a list of other people he needed to call right now instead.

“Well what the hell,” I said. I told him I’d accept his package and call him back.

The next morning, at about 9:15, I got an overnight envelope. I opened it, looked through the contents, then called my wife.

“Hey babe,” she said. “Did you get that envelope?”


“So what’s in it? Lots of money I hope.”

I laughed. “Well, there’s what looks like a short story manuscript, a first-class ticket to Denver, and a traveler’s check for $10,000 from an M.G. Baker.”

“You’re kidding, right? A traveler’s check? Not a company check?”

“There isn’t even a company name, unless ?M.G. Baker’ is a company. Then there’s just this note that says I should send it back if I don’t want it, but if I come to Denver, I can keep it, and pick up another one just like it when I get there.”

“Short stories? You don’t do a lot of that kind of work.”

“Yeah, I know, but that’s what it looks like. There aren’t many details, I just have to call this guy by 11 if I accept.”

“Why haven’t you called him yet? When do you leave?”

That’s my woman. Short, to the point, and not many questions when money’s on the table. That’s what I love about her.

“The ticket has me flying out of Detroit Metro at 5:05AM tomorrow.”

“Call him. I’ll make sure you’re packed and ready.”

“Hey. Ten grand will buy a lot of beer.”

“Twenty. They said another ten thousand when you get there.” She never misses a beat.

We hung up. I sat back, shuffled through the thin packet of papers, and looked it all over again. Airline ticket, traveler’s check, note with a phone number, and a hand-written story snippet. The snippet had been in its own sealed envelope, and was obviously a photocopy.

I gave it another read:

?[Begin Journal entry]?

16 November 2004

Dennis is screaming at me, his hands gripping my arms, shaking me, his face, twisted with pain and rage, screaming.

“Why couldn’t you save her? Why did she have to die? Why?”

Driving away… then nightmare images, the world spinning, pain and fear, my chest on fire, I cannot breathe! Hands on my shoulders, forcing me back, too many, too strong, voices trying to be soothing, voices shouting, agony in my belly, fuzzy images of my abdomen laid open, men in masks, shouting.

“Dammit, I can’t work with a conscious patient!”

“I’m pushing the limit now! Just finish it…”

There is momentary nothingness, blank oblivion. Then thoughts, memories of pain and horror. Consciousness returns as if from the bottom of a cold, dark cave. It is slow and confused and wrong in so many ways. I want to retreat into the darkness, but I cannot, I know I must not.

My eyes open, the light painful to behold, but I compel myself to look through the dazzle and blur, attempting to force sense to emerge from the unfamiliar shapes and forms around me. My teeth close about something thick and resilient?there is a tube down my throat. Suddenly the sounds and images snap into stark relief: a hospital. I can hear the rhythmic whirring of what can only be a respirator. Carefully, quietly I assess myself, flexing my feet, my legs, my hands… I cannot feel my left hand or my left leg. My chest and belly are sore, but not unbearably so. My head hurts, but my thoughts grow clearer by the moment. I am in a cervical collar; my hips are frozen in plaster.

I am starving.

Movement catches my eye? there is someone in the room, a doctor? His back is turned as he makes notes on a hand-held device. I cannot speak with the tube so I raise my right hand. I notice that it is in a restraint, but one that permits a fair range of motion. I manage to snap my fingers after a couple of attempts. He turns with a start. The surprise on his face is evident as I wave him over.

“Well now, are we… awake?”

I gesture to the tube. Take it out.

“The tube? I’m a nurse, and I’m afraid that’s up to the doctor, but I’ll page him for you. But first, can you focus on my finger? Just follow it with your eyes…”

He runs through a basic neurological examination. I do as he asks, and when he is done I fix my gaze upon his until he looks away. A bit flustered, he tells me he will go get the doctor right away. He avoids even looking at my left side as he leaves, looking uncertain, and I count off the minutes waiting. Finishing my internal audit I conclude that my left arm is missing at the elbow, and most of my left leg seems to be gone. The right side is sore but functional. Finally, the doctor arrives outside the door, and I listen as he and the nurse murmur about me. Both are incredulous, but I cannot make out the words. Finally he enters the room and approaches me. He is a young-looking forty or so, with the unmistakable bearing of a dignified black man from Africa.

“My name is Dr. Omar, I was one of the surgeons who took care of you when you were transferred up from our emergency room. Do you understand me?” He has a Nigerian accent.

Thumbs up, then a gesture to the tube: Take it out.

“I’m sorry, nobody likes the tube,” he says in a loud, carefully enunciated voice. “But you have been hurt very badly and have stopped breathing more than once. I have some questions we need to answer, are you up to it?”

I make a gesture, miming writing.

“Of course, here you go.” He lays a pad on the small rolling table and slides it over to me, handing me his pen.

How long?

“You came in five days ago. Do you know what happened?”

I was in my car- don’t remember- an accident, yes?

“Yes. Miss Baker, are you a drug user?”

No. Take out the tube.

“We’ll see, after we check you out again. I asked about drug use because we had a very tough time with you?you came out of anesthesia three times during your surgery.”

I remember. That gives him pause.

“I didn’t see any track marks, but… your blood work was unusual.”

Enough. Take out the g d tube!

“I’m going to examine you,” he says. “You’re not going to try to hit me again, are you?” I blush. I do not remember that. I form an ‘OK’ with my fingers. He unbuckles my right hand and says, “I need to leave your left side immobile for now.”

He is obviously being reticent, but I let it go. He is trying to be kind. He begins a chest evaluation, probing for pain, listening to my breathing. He repeats everything the nurse did and clicks his pen light into my eyes. Eventually, he relents. Soon two nurses and another doctor extract the tube. After a few moments of coughing and clearing my throat I feel much better.

“I’m hungry,” are the first raspy words to pass my lips, followed by “I need to make a phone call.”

?-[End Journal entry]?-

Scrawled at the bottom were five words: “Come. I will pay you.”

I don’t do a lot of fiction.

Well, this could be fun I guess.

I gave the guy a call and told him I’d be on the plane first thing in the morning. He told me I’d be met at the gate.

The sun was up but the skies were still gloomy when my plane landed. Stepping out of the gate, I immediately spotted two guys holding a sign with my name on it. One was obviously a driver from an airport limo service, and the other was a young guy in a three-piece suit. The latter worried me a bit because I hate neckties and I hate clients who expect me to wear one. Still, I smiled and shook the guy’s hand. He kept the conversation carefully confined to light pleasantries and indicated that we’d talk business once we got to the car.

The limo was a little odd. Instead of your typical airport limo, it was a white, stretch party job, the kind people normally rent for weddings and such. When we got in and I noticed that the driver’s compartment was sealed off from us, I got the idea. I also noticed that the bar was stocked. He offered me a drink, but I declined. I’m not opposed to eye-openers but I’ve been trying not to drink so much lately. He launched right into it once the car pulled into traffic.

“You should know that your client is Miss Genevieve Baker. I’m an attorney with a law firm that represents some of her interests. I know it sounds odd, but, Miss Baker is such a stickler for privacy that she prefers not to let people know she’s our client. So for now you can just call me Mitch.”

“I’m not entirely comfortable with all this,” I said.

“Hey, it’s not like I’m a secret agent or gangster or something,” he chuckled, making little quote marks with his fingers. He certainly seemed normal enough. “It’s just how our client wants it.”

“So, ?Miss’ Baker, eh? Kind of an old-fashioned lady?”

He paused and cocked his head. “Well, yes,” he said, drawing out the second word slowly. “In a weird sort of way. In other ways, no. No, no, no.” He paused. “I’d say she’s eccentric, but she’s a little young for that.”

I smirked. I didn’t say anything, but now it seemed obvious: she was probably a rich brat and a frustrated novelist. I’d never done any ghostwriting work, and wondered where the hell she’d gotten my name. My buddy Jerry, maybe? But I kept silent. I was pretty sure I had the idea now. This probably wouldn’t be much fun, but the money could be useful.

“Anyway,” he said, sobering, “I assume the Boston office explained her current condition to you?”

I paused. “Uh, no.”

“Oh. They should have… oh. Okay.” He ran his hand through his hair, sighed, and sat back for a second, then leaned forward with a pained expression and serious voice. “She was in a terrible car accident last week. It’s been horrible seeing her. Not that I’ve known her for long, but I mean… Christ. It’s bad. It’s a miracle she’s alive at all.”

My mouth went dry. “But she’s been writing stuff?”

“Oh yeah, I’ve been getting clearly-written instructions from her for a while, and that hasn’t changed since she came out of the coma. I can’t believe how calm she is. But a few of us from the firm have been sent out here to negotiate with the hospital for her. The hospital doesn’t want her to move, and she’s agreed to that for now, but she’s unwavering about wanting certain things done certain ways and won’t bend an inch. It’s been like trying to negotiate a Middle East Peace Treaty. Money talks though.”

Suddenly, he stiffened, and looked at me a little sideways. “I’m sorry, that’s all more than you needed to know. In fact, I’d appreciate if you didn’t mention that I was complaining. I…we at the firm are very happy with her as a client.

“Anyway now that you’re here, she wants me to give you this envelope. There’s a check in there for you, and a note. She’d like you to follow the instructions on it. Oh, and here.” He pulled out a small flip phone from his breast pocket. “She says you can use this for anything you want while you’re here. My cell number is on the first speed dial entry, here.” He spun a little wheel, and his name showed up on the screen. “Call me any time. I won’t be going up with you today, but I’ll be around the hospital. And yes, you’re allowed to use it in the hospital. Anything else for now?”

I sat back and contemplated. There didn’t seem to be anything else to ask. I opened the envelope; saw the traveler’s check and the note. I decided not to read it until we got to the hospital.

When we arrived, the limo dropped me off at the visitor’s entrance. Mitch said he’d take care of my luggage and that they had a hotel room set up for me. He said that Miss Baker had been very specific, that the note would have all further instructions I’d need, and that he was to have me come up alone. So I was left standing there, my briefcase and the note in one hand. In the other hand I had a fairly heavy, pink carrying case that he said I was to deliver to her. He gave the case an odd look just before closing the limo door and riding off.

I set down both cases, and opened the note. It was written in the same handwriting as before, but a bit crisper and more elegant:

?[note begins]?

20 November 2004

I apologize sincerely for the secrecy. I am aware this seems quite melodramatic, but I assure you it is necessary. I need you to understand that at this point, after we meet, you need not tell me whether you will accept my commission. If you choose, after our meeting you may simply call Mitch and tell him you wish to be sent home. You may keep both traveler’s checks as gratitude for your patience and inconvenience.

I need your help. This is a matter of some importance to me, hence the machinations employed to bring you here. You are uncomfortable, walking blind, alone and with no proper introduction into a sick woman’s room. I ask that you recognize I find this awkward as well: I plead necessity for reasons I cannot entirely explain in this note. I am certain you have many questions, and when we meet this morning I promise to answer those questions. Rest assured, you have nothing to fear from me.

Go to the reception desk and tell them you are here to see me. You are expected, and I eagerly look forward to our meeting.


?[note ends]?

I stood there for a minute, thinking about what was happening. It’s tempting to say that I found it all bizarre, but really I just found it a little uncomfortable. So I picked up the cases, walked inside, gave my name, and said I was there to see Genevieve Baker.

When I reached her floor, I couldn’t help but notice how gloomy it was, but Intensive Care Units are usually like that: lit at a constant, dim level. I checked in at the nurse’s station, gave my name again, and told them whom I was there to see.

Several of the nurses stopped and looked at me. One of them in particular frowned, and her mouth got small. I smiled nervously and said I was just a visitor. They directed me to the appropriate room. I heard the annoyed one mutter something about “her majesty,” but one of her companions shushed her. I began to wonder just what kind of hellion I was about to encounter?in an Intensive Care ward, no less.

The doorway was unusually wide, and completely open. I knocked politely on the doorframe. There was a brief pause, and then I was relieved to hear a friendly contralto voice sing out.

“Please do come in!”

I walked in self-consciously, bracing myself for what I would see. It was a lot less gruesome than I’d imagined: there was no blood, no smell of sick. She was pale, with a number of machines hooked to her, but mostly through thin wires or tubes tucked discreetly under blankets. She was sitting up, with no tubes near her face, and no breathing mask. Her right arm rested comfortably below her chest, with only a single IV going into her wrist.

She looked like no more than a pretty coed who’d been pulled through the wringer.

Her cheeks were sunken, and her eyes were bulgy and dark under the lids. Wisps of red hair stuck out of the bandages around her scalp. She looked like she hadn’t eaten in a week, and was very tired. A fierce energy seemed to vibrate out of her large green eyes, an energy that turned surprisingly friendly when her eyes met mine.
She smiled brightly, greeting me by name, and gestured toward a chair set next to the foot of her bed.

“It’s so gracious of you to see me. Please do sit down.”

I thought for an instant about shaking her hand, but it would be a bit awkward to maneuver around the machinery, and she put her hand back down so I just sat. As I did, I put the cases on the floor. Looking up, I noticed that her eyes had seized on the pink one; as if it was suddenly the most important thing in the room.

Her voice changed completely in tone as she asked, “By chance, is that the case Mitch had made up for me?” She looked ready to lunge at it.

“Uh, yes,” I said. I gestured toward it and said, “Would you like me to…”

She stared at it a bit longer, then gazed back up at me with the same disturbing look in her eyes. Before I could say anything further she suddenly flashed me a smile. “Thank you for bringing it. I must apologize again for the unusual circumstances under which you were brought here. I trust you were not unduly inconvenienced?” Her look was friendly again, although that fearsome intensity still seemed to burn beneath. Her eyes were very large, and very green.

I sat back and shook my head. “Well, in my line of work, traveling on short notice is isn’t all that uncommon.” I gave her a half-grin, still trying to take her measure.

She nodded graciously. “I promised to answer your questions. First, did I write that manuscript, and was it written shortly after I awoke? I did, and it was. Writing helps me to organize my thoughts. I have kept a journal of sorts for… quite some time. The accident was very traumatic.” Disturbingly, she lifted the bandaged stump of her left arm, but I was careful not to flinch. “I lost most of my left leg as well, but that is not my primary concern at the moment.”

She paused, looking at me intently. As I gathered my thoughts, she continued. “I need to tell a story, and I hope you will be the one to write it. I will be at your disposal to answer questions, discuss details, and provide evidence. I am offering a large sum of money up front because once this begins you may decide that I am at best a liar, or at worst, deranged. You are already wondering if it’s the latter, and I accept that.

“Here, this is for you,” she said, reaching to the small tray-table next to her bed to pick up a smallish silver box. “It’s a digital recorder. I’ve taken the liberty of activating it already, so you will have a record of our conversation today, and may review it at your leisure. You’ll also need it as we go forward?assuming that we do.” As I stood and took it from her outstretched hand her fingers brushed lightly against my knuckles, and she smiled at me brightly. I sat back down, looking at the recorder. It had apparently been running ever since I’d walked in.

“I ask only that you listen, suspend your disbelief and let me give you what you need to draw your own conclusions. You are under no obligation. At any time, for any reason, you may choose to walk away and all monies you have been paid are yours to keep, but I hope I can convince you to give me just a few days before you make up your mind.

“I chose you because I saw qualities in your writing that I believe will be enormously helpful, but I had to meet you to be certain, hence my efforts to bring you here. Having met you, I am now convinced you are the man I need for this endeavor. There are others who might suffice, but I do believe you and I will be able to work together.” She paused and took a sip of water from her bed table. I was startled at the certainty in her voice, for I really hadn’t said much of anything yet.

“So this story,” I said, “you’ve written some of it already? I’d like to look over any other material you have. That manuscript was a bit… intense.”

She gave a short laugh, not creepy but a little loud. “You have no idea. Assume nothing. I’m going to have Mitch make you an offer you’re unlikely to refuse. This would be your primary focus over the next few months at least, so I’ll want you to take a leave from your day job. It will be worth it, believe me. If you’re willing to consider this, Mitch will have a set of documents for you to review. I’ve also arranged for you to have full access to my doctors?they are under strict instructions to share everything with you.

“I’d like you to stay nearby for the moment, but you won’t have to remain in Denver too long. I’ll likely be leaving soon myself, once I convince the doctors I can survive without their ministrations. Please, do give this a chance. I need your help.” She suddenly looked vulnerable, then snapped back to the moment. “I’ve arranged a room at the Hyatt Regency- it’s yours for as long as you choose to stay. You should find the accommodations adequate. Whatever you need you may simply charge to the room account?anything. Call Mitch if you have any issues or questions. He is at your disposal. He can contact me here at any time if there is something urgent you need to ask.

“I understand how this sounds. I understand you have reservations, but please, give it careful consideration?just a few days are all I ask. Do you have any other questions?” She sagged back into her pillows, suddenly looking small and very tired.

“No. Not at the moment, other than, ?what next?'” I said.

“Mitch will take you to your hotel. Read, and consider. I’m sorry for making this so brief, but as you can see I’m not entirely well. I am unaccustomed to being so unforgivably rude, but I would take my leave of you now.”

“Of course, I understand,” I said. I picked up my briefcase and turned to leave.

Then with an odd inflection to her voice she asked, “Umm, before you go, could you lift that case on to my bed? I’m somewhat tethered here.”

I hefted it onto the bed for her. “Thank you,” she said. “One last thing,” she said, her look burning into me now. “If you agree to do this I will never lie to you, ever.” I almost felt sucked into her green eyes as she went on. “There may be questions I cannot answer because I believe the answers will harm others, and if so I’ll tell you. But trust is the most precious coin I have in this arrangement. I’ll not squander it between us.” She sat back again and closed her eyes. “I’m done hiding things,” she whispered.

Uncertain of what to do I said, “I hope you’re feeling better.” Lost in thought, I walked out. I suddenly realized that in the last ten minutes, she had answered almost every one of my questions without my having spoken much at all. I also realized that I was going to accept her job, for now, if the money was any good.

I also realized that she probably knew all this. I found that a bit unsettling. I pocketed the digital recorder and called Mitch. Both he and the limo were waiting for me when I got downstairs.

Mitch looked at me and grinned. “She can be intense, can’t she?”

I nodded. “Did she go to school in Europe or something? She seems a little… affected.”

His grin just got bigger and he shrugged, then held out a thick manila envelope and said, “Did you want this, or…?”

I took it and said, “I guess I’d like to go to the hotel. Need to call my wife.” Then I started a bit and asked, “Oh, by the way, what the hell was in that case?”

“Just some food,” he said. “She’s been complaining about the food here for three days.”

2 Responses to “Stories About Me, Written By Others…”

  1. Sorry to be off topic, but where has isabella gone? You are the only person I can think to ask…

  2. Unfortunately, I have no information regarding Isabella. She and I corresponded briefly mid-2003, then never again. I do wonder what may have become of her.