Wednesday, January 29, 2014

29. How acting became reality

While they were perusing the dinner menu, in which Mark could find little to suit his vegetarian diet, his phone rang.  He glanced at the display and said, "Excuse me, Shannon.  It's a reporter."

"Oh, go ahead."

"Thank you."  He pressed the green button, "Hello?" 

"Doctor Mark Lee?"


"Hello, Dr. Lee, the man on the move, Danica Swanson here, from the Trenton Times.  How goes the battle?" 

"Hey, Danica.  Going as well as can be expected.  Now in Allentown.  How've you been since we last spoke, what, last week?"

"Well, one of my cats has developed a urinary problem.  Otherwise fine.  Um, I'm calling about something different from last week.  We just received a copy of a petition from a social justice group pressing for an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution.  I want to see what you have to say about it."

"What in specific?"

"They're citing Title 13."

"Oh, that.  I suppose you're already familiar with it?"

"Why don't you tell the readers about it?  A sound bite would be good."

"Sure," said Mark readily.  "Title 13 says that of the eleven voting members of the New Jersey Fish and Game Commission, which determines wildlife management policy, at least six, that is over fifty percent, must be 'sportsmen', meaning 'sport' hunters, and another three must be farmers, most of whom being also hunters.  So, obviously, the 'majority' always has its way.  The result is wildlife management policy by hunters, for hunters.  Hunting and culling are their only accepted 'management' tool.  Non-lethal methods such as immuno-contraception of Whitetail deer is categorically excluded, in spite of the fact that the majority of New Jerseyans want it or at least want to try it.  The whole philosophy has become corrupted into a general impression of hunting being good for wildlife, at worst a 'necessary evil' if intended for a non-hunting audience.  In truth, to promote and expand hunting is their prime agenda, "culling" being a form of it, and 'conservation' being merely an excuse for it.  Now I have to congratulate New Jerseyans that theirs is the state with the lowest hunter population - less than 1%, versus, say, Pennsylvania, where the hunter population exceeds 5% which is about the national average.  And yet, the wildlife branch of the state government of New Jersey is not only prohunting, but run by hunters, as this Title 13 starkly attests.  Any input from the 99% is not only ignored, but unwelcome.  If you want a term for this, it is a Miscarriage of Democracy."

"A miscarriage of democracy - that's great!  Anything you wish to add?"

"If you have room, please tell the activists that your article of their great campaign is going into the time capsule."

"That would be fantastic!  Thank you, I will.  Please feel free to call me if you come across any new information."

"I will.  Thank you, Danica.  Bye for now."

Hardly had he set the phone down and picked up the menu again did the phone buzz again.

"Sorry, Shannon.  I'm going to ignore this."

"No, no, I'm easy.  Please feel free to answer it.  It might be important." 

"Okay, thank you, Shannon."  Mark picked up his phone and glanced at the display.  Instantly, he glanced at Shannon and frowned.  

"Mark Lee here."

"Hello Dr. Lee.  My name is Rebecca Bates.  I hope I'm not disturbing anything."

"Well, Ms. Bates," with a quick glance at Shannon, who caught the name.  "I happen to be in the middle of dinner.  How may I be of help?"

"I would like to add an item to you time capsule, if not too late."

"What is it?"

"I'd rather show it to you in person, if you don't mind."

"That would be fine.  Where and when do you have in mind?"

"I'll come to wherever you happen to be, whenever convenient to you."

"I'm in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  I'll be heading west to Cleveland tomorrow, by road."

"How long will you be in Cleveland?"

"About three days."

"How would it be if I meet you somewhere in Cleveland day after tomorrow some time in the evening, say 8 pm?"

"8 should be fine.  Any place in mind?"

"I haven't been to Cleveland."

"Okay... How about the entrance foyer of the physics building at Case Western University?"

"Terrific!  I'll see you then.  Thank you for being accommodating, Dr. Lee."

"You're welcome, Ms. Bates.  Good night."

Mark clicked off the phone and placed it face down back on the table.  To answer Shannon's questioning look, Mark said, "She wants to add something to my time capsule."  Then he added, "I'm switching off my phone."

"Oh, you don't have to do that for me, really.  In fact, with it off, I would feel rushed to finish the dinner so you could turn it back on."  And adding, with a smile, "I know you're in demand." 

He left the phone on the table and returned a smile.  "I don't know about that.  Sometimes I turn off my phone for days at a time, and no one seems to miss me."

"That you know of," said her ongoing smile.  "Or it's a case of 'it never rains but it pours'?"

"Yeah, there is some truth to that.  But mostly, I prefer to reach out rather than wait for people to reach in.  So, the majority of the calls going through this phone are outgoing rather than incoming."

"You're more like a jumping spider than a web-weaving spider."

"Where spiders go, that's a good analogy."

After dinner, they took Shannon's dog Chopper for a walk in the neighborhood.  By 10, they had returned to their respective rooms, though not before giving each other a warm hug.

Two days later, during dinner with his host Dr. Seth Koffman, Mark asked Shannon sitting next to him, "Would you like to go with me to see what Rebecca Bates is up to?"

"Do you want me to be there?  You don't have to feel that you should ask me just to be polite."

"I see only advantages and no disadvantages."

"What advantages?"

"Another pair of eyes to witness, another pair of ears to hear, another mind to interpret.  Plus, you might like to meet the infamous Rebecca Bates."

"She may not want anyone else to be there but you."

"If she is straight forward, there is nothing to hide."

"I mean, from a woman's point of view, she might want you to herself."

Mark looked taken aback, then beamed.  "I'm sure I'm not her type.  But so much more the reason for you to go then."

And so did she.  "Okay, it might just turn out to be the second adventure on this trip, the first being Trexler."

"As my girlfriend."


"Just a tactic.  Professionally, it stops all personal questions.  And personally, if what you say about the woman's point of view is true, you being there in that capacity will draw a thick black line she can't cross."

Shannon's astonishment turned to understanding with a nodded.

At 8 pm, they walked, hand in hand, through the front door of the physics building of Case Western, and there she was - the blonde woman Mark had seen so many times in the rhino-hunting video - at the far end of the foyer, apparently looking at a display.  Mark recognized her instantly by her hair and body shape, though not her face as much which was blurred in the video by the distance and the slight vibration of the camera mounted on his drone, nor her attire, which was a flowing skirt and heels rather than her trademark camo garb and boots.  But when she saw them and began walking towards them, wearing a broad grin, both he and Shannon did a double take.  

By facial features and build, Rebecca Bates and Shannon Stone could have been sisters if not twins.  The most visible difference was in their hair colors, Shannon being a redhead.  Rebecca could have taken a double-take herself, though it was too subtle to see.  Slightly more obviously was her being taken aback at Shannon's unexpected presence, as if a small monkey wrench had been thrown into her preparatory works.

In the last ten feet of her approach, her eyes were on Mark.  When they shook hands, Mark introduced Shannon as his girlfriend, and Rebecca shook Shannon's hand without question.  Instead, she said to Mark, "I hope I'm not flattering myself to say that you have a gorgeous girlfriend, Dr. Lee."

"Well, Shannon is indeed a gorgeous lady, and you do look a lot like her," said Mark evenly.  

"And you remind me of a very handsome gentleman by the same surname as yours.  His first name was Bruce."

Mark for once couldn't find his words, and Shannon said, "Ah, thank you, Rebecca!  There's something about Mark's looks that's been gnawing on me.  Within seconds you put your finger right on the button.  You're much sharper than me."

"Sometimes, when you get too close, you can't see the forest for the trees," Rebecca said easily.  "So, how long have you known each other, if you don't mind me asking?"

While Mark was still searching for words, Shannon put her arms around his waist and looked up loving at him.  "Never too long; always not long enough."

Mark put an arm around her, looked deeply in her eyes, and kissed her a soft though fleeting kiss, and Shannon responded either genuinely or at least convincingly.

Rebecca just stood there, looking a little uncomfortable.  Then, forcing a smile, she said, "Well, I guess that answers my question."

There was a moment of awkwardness, and Mark seized it to change the subject and said, "So, Ms. Bates, how did you hear about the time capsule."  

"I saw you, and it, on TV when I was in DC a couple of weeks ago.  I'm very impressed by your work and accomplishments."

"Thank you."  Indicating a group of chairs in a corner, he said, "Why don't we sit down over there?"

Rebecca seemed relieved by the little interlude of walking over to the chairs.  She took one, and Mark and Shannon took the two side-by-side facing her.

"So, you said you have something to add to it?" 

Rebecca opened the purse in her lap, brought out an ornate silver box about a cigarette package in size and laid it on the low coffee table between them.  

Mark looked at it, but did not pick it up.  "What's in it?"

"Two items.  A glass bottle containing crystalline morphine, and a flash drive containing a video."

"Morphine?  What for?  Why would you want to send a bottle of morphine to the year 2050?"

"Well, I believe there is a strong possibility that society may have regressed back to the Dark Ages by then, or even sooner, where anesthesia becomes a thing of the past, or the future, depending on which way you look at it.  I want my son to have the morphine, just in case."

"Some foresight you've got there, lady.  I thought with the time capsule I'm the master of it."

"How old is your son?" Shannon interjected.

"Justin is 15."

"Welcome to the club.  My Trevor is also 15."

"Really?" said Rebecca in a sisterly tone.  "Tell you what.  I could ask Justin to share it with Trevor if Trevor ever needs it."

"That's very kind and thoughtful of you."
Mark cut back in, "And what is in the video?" 
"Something highly personal."

I would need to know what it's about, of course.”

I understand, but I do not want it perused.”

Why not?”

As I said, it is highly personal.”

Of what nature?”

Rebecca hesitated a moment.  It involves, um, nudity and sexual activities.”

I'd need a better explanation than that.”

It is a video of my late husband and I together on the night before he left for Iraq.  Roger was a Navy SEAL and was killed within a month of being there by an enemy sniper.  It was on that night that our son Justin was conceived.”

Sorry to hear that,” Mark said sincerely.  “But still, my general policy with the time capsule is that it is not to be used for personal purposes involving private items, not even mine."

Rebecca look a little miffed, then brightened up and said, "I could pay for the space the items occupy."

"I'm sorry, but the time capsule is not a commercial enterprise," Mark maintained his hard line, but then, softened it slightly and asked, "How long is the video anyway?”

About two hours.”

Were you clothed in the video at any time?”

In the first fifteen minutes or so. Why?”

Well, I really do have to check the content of all videos, but for this one, I'll do it this way.  Show me five seconds of the video anywhere between 12:00 to 13:00. If they do contain yourself and your husband, I'll let the whole two hours through.”

Hmm, that's decent of you, and very clever. Yes, I can oblige. Please give me a minute to choose which five seconds to show you.”

Take your time,” said Mark while taking Shannon's hand and holding it.

Rebecca brought out a tiny key from her purse, unlocked the silver box with it and flipped open the lid.  Indeed, there was a flash drive and a brown glass bottle in it, cushion in royal blue velvet all around. She brought out a 10" laptop from her purse, opened it, booted it up, inserted the flash drive, clicked open the video file labelled "in-tent", slid the pointer to 12:00, skipped several times to 13:00, then reversed the pointer to 12:23. “I'm ready,” she said demurely.

Alright, maybe I don't have to see it. Just tell me what you were doing.”

Roger and I were kissing.”

Oh, is that all? I have no problem seeing people kissing.  In fact you just saw Shannon and I kiss.  I'll take a look.”

And that was nice to see two people so in love.  Okay, here goes.” She turned the laptop to face Mark and Shannon, then clicked “Play”. The video came alive, showing a 45 degree view of the left side of her face, and obliquely of the back of the head of the man she was kissing. She clicked “Stop” at 12:28.


Good enough,” said Mark a little hesitantly.  He had in his mind's eye envisaged Roger's face, but it was not visible in the five seconds, and what he saw gave him the impression of a man older than what he thought Roger would be.  But he decided not to force it and let it pass.

She unplugged everything, replaced the flash drive in the silver box and the laptop back in her purse, and moved to close the silver box when Mark said, “Not yet.  May I see the bottle please?”

There might have been a microsecond of displeasure on her part, but it just as quickly disappeared.  “No problem.  Here.”  She took out the brown glass bottle gingerly and handed it to him.

Just as gingerly he held it up to the light, then against the light.  "So, how do you suppose Justin will get the morphine?"

"I'm thinking that he could go to the time capsule when it is opened and claim the morphine with his ID.  I could paste a label on the box saying 'For Justin Bates'."

"And how will he know where the capsule will be?"

"I guess I'll have to tell him."

"I'm sorry, but that is privileged information.  Not even Shannon knows about it.  The best I can suggest is that Justin watches the news on December 31, 2050, and go where it says the capsule will be."

"What if there'll be no newspapers or radio or TV by then?  Or anesthetics, for that matter.  The morphine is for just such a medieval world.  This seems self-defeating, a Catch-22."

Mark thought for a moment.  "You do make a good point.  The general rule doesn't include any consideration for any morphine.  Tell you what.  I can say that it will be somewhere in or near Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada.  Ask Justin to go to Vancouver by year-end, 2050, I will have someone post the location of the capsule on the bulletin board on the main floor of the Student Union building at the UBC.  That should work."

Rebecca gave an uncertain and subdued nod.

"I do have a question.  Why don't you just give Justin the morphine now, and ask him to hide it some place only he knows about?"

"That's easy.  I don't trust him."

"Where is he now?"

"With his grandfather."

Mark said after a spell, "Look, Ms. Bates, I hope you can understand the need for secrecy and not take it personally.  If I let anyone know about it, that person or his or her friend or friends, could just go and steal your morphine in a few months' time and have one hell of a high for Christmas.  Given what you just said, I'm sure that you see my point."


Still with the bottle in his hand, Mark said, "May I open it?"

"Why?  What more can it tell you by just looking at it without the lid than through the glass?"

"Not just looking at it.  I want to take out a small sample, and to run it through a test to ascertain that it is indeed morphine.  No offense, but this is a general rule for all entries.  Everything has to be inspected and verified."

"What kind of test."

"I could run it through a GC - a gas chromatograph - which will take time, or by testing it on a live subject."

"What live subject?  You mean an animal?"

"No.  I don't believe in animal experimentation involving substance injections."  Glancing at Shannon, he quipped, "I'm not thinking about Chopper, don't worry."

"You just did!" Shannon said with a laugh. 

Rebecca's eyes suddenly widened.  "You mean me?"

"Can you suggest someone else?" ask Mark.

Rebecca was dumbfounded for once.  

Mark said almost out of kindness, "Sorry, I don't mean to sound that way.  And as I said, we could do it by chemical means, though the result won't come back for days.  Either way, there is a lab right here on campus I could use, for analysis or injection."

"Are you serious?  About the injection I mean," asked Rebecca, incredulous.

"As I said, we could use a GC, but it'll take time, and is expensive."   

"Ah, well, why not.  I've never had a morphine high before, it just might make this trip worthwhile." 

"Very well, let's go over to the chemistry building."  

Mark led the way, hand in hand with Shannon on his right, and Rebecca at arm's length to his left.  Most of the time, his eyes were cast towards the right, where Shannon's were.  They both felt the sparks flying.  Their hands turned from a mechanical hold to a mutual embrace.  Their mutual smiles became one.  For them, during that little walk, Rebecca did not exist.

They reached the chemistry building, then the lab on the second floor, and Mark walked right into it as if he owned it.  He sat down in front of one of the computers and searched for "morphine injection", with Shannon and Rebecca looking on.  He then followed the instructions, ending with a solution in a syringe, which he held in his right hand.  He indicated a chair and asked Rebecca to sit and roll up her sleeves.  

When the needle tip was within an inch from Rebecca's vein, Mark paused, then withdrew the syringe and placed it in a pan.

"What are you doing?" asked Rebecca, confused.

"It is not a chemical test, but a psychological test, and you pass.  Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Bates," said Mark almost clinically.  "By the way, you can give the key of the silver box to Justin.  That he can keep."

They walked back out to the tree-dotted lawn.  The moment Rebecca walked out of sight, Mark and Shannon fell into each other's arms.

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