Teasers & Deleted ScenesAshton, VA, Christmas Eve, 2009
Clemson McCain is dying.
Clemson McCain has been a gamma for close to fifty years. He's not an old man--he's not all that much older than Solomon Todd--but his kidneys are failing, his liver, his heart. Todd has known him for over fifteen of those years, and in that time he's watched McCain's body crumple and stretch, watched Stone and Demmer's type-example monster go from a bulky, striding, arm-swinging evangelist to a cramped and puffy invalid. Now, McCain lies between taut white sheets on a hospital bed, in a room designed so the staff who care for him need never touch his skin, even with nitrile-gloved hands. He breathes through an intubated tracheostomy; a machine assists. A line running to the fistula in his left forearm feeds a dialysis machine. His wrists are Poseyed to the bed rails, to preserve the safety of the healthcare professionals and the integrity of the equipment.
When he opens his piggy little eyes and sees Todd on the other side of a Plexiglas wall, he seems too tired to glare. His left hand closes on a balloon, inflating the stop in his trach that allows him to speak.
"Come in, Solomon," he says, voice tinny through the speaker, breathy with the tubes. "I've been waiting for you."
Todd swipes his access card and hands it to William, the aide who sits outside the door. William tucks it into the shirt pocket of his scrubs and crosses broad dark arms across his chest. He turns his head so McCain can't see his lips move and mouths, Be careful in there, Agent Todd.
Todd nods and walks through before the automatic lock seals again. When the transparent door clicks behind him, there's always a shiver.
The room smells like every other hospital room Solomon Todd has ever been in. "You've been waiting for more than me, Clemson." Todd tugs pea-green nitrile over each finger, concentrating on making sure the gloves fit like a second skin, and his shirt cuffs cover the edges. "You're almost out of time."
It's not really cruelty. McCain knows he's dying. If being reminded hurts him a little, well. Sometimes hurting people is a part of Todd's job.
"Your butcher is going to get to cut my head open soon," McCain says. "I bet she can't wait."
Todd shrugs. "You can look down upon her and judge her work."
That gets a sticky laugh, which looks like it hurts McCain. "I won't be in any position to do that. I've known since I was a bitty baby where I was going. You can bet my daddy made sure I knew it. What did you come to ask today?"
"No questions," Todd says. "Not really. I just came to say goodbye."
And to look at you now, so I'll have it in my head what a jammer looks like when he dies of old age. Because the odds are pretty good I'll be seeing it again some day. But not for a long time yet.
I hope. I hope we all live that long.
Todd's done the math in his head. McCain is the source of a lot of what the team knows about the gamma metabolism. He converted sometime in the late fifties. Demmer and Stone brought him in in '64. He was young and healthy when the switch was flipped, and since then he's had good food, lots of rest, excellent health care.
The anomaly's been burning him up from the inside anyway, in spite of anything anybody can do.
So fifty years is an outside. Fifty, maybe fifty-five. It's not such a bad stretch of time. Fifty-six is all Shakespeare got. Todd's done a lot with his own nearly-fifty-seven.
He hopes to do a lot more.
McCain says, "Do you believe in Hell?"
Todd looks at him, lips pursed, and nods slightly. He could say, I used to work there, but McCain would see it as dismissal rather than honesty. Whatever he reads in the nod, McCain grunts his answer.
Todd checks for tubes and sits down on the edge of the bed below the rails. He puts his left hand on McCain's shin through the layers of gloves and blankets. It's a risk, but a small one. And it's also been nearly fifty years since McCain touched anybody except to kill them. Human beings need comfort. They're wired for it. "Do you want to sit up?"
McCain nods. Todd reaches for the bed control with a gloved hand and gives the monster a scrap of dignity. Servos whine under his ass. He stops when McCain starts to wince.
"Thank you, Solomon," McCain says, ceremoniously. His face is the color of sun-baked limestone, and as sweaty as if he turned it up under falling rain.
Todd lets the control hang down beside the bed again. "You're welcome. Your dad didn't touch you much, did he?"
McCain shakes his head, but what he says contradicts the gesture. Sort of. "He believed in not sparing the rod. He touched me more than I wanted. It was good for me, though. It made me grow to be a better man."
Todd's also got years of practice in concealing his expressions of disbelief and sarcasm. The shit some folks will talk themselves into believing is good for them--
Clemson isn't looking at Todd, though. His head has fallen to the side and the only apparent motion is his chest rising and falling with the action of the bellows.
"I know what you were waiting for, Clemson."
"Don't flatter yourself. I don't need your pretend understanding."
Todd smiles. "You were waiting for more poison. You learned from Reyes and me that you didn't need the arsenic to make your hands poison. All you needed was the poison stored in your mind. And you've been hoping maybe someday you wouldn't need your hands, either, haven't you?"
Clemson's eyes pop open again. He stares at Todd, and his right hand jerks against the Posey, snapping the cuff taut around his withered wrist. He grunts, but Todd is out of range.
Todd squeezes McCain's shin one last time before letting go. He folds his hands in his lap, demure and thoughtful. "But you haven't been able to do it. You haven't been able to make a new metaphor. It's got to be the hands. You know what that tells me, Clemson?"
McCain has turned his face away again. He stares at the barred window, but can't keep himself from shaking his head, the smallest response.
Todd pats McCain's covered knee and stands. He signals William through the glass, and William rises from his chair, passcard at the ready. Todd says, "It tells me you're not the one who put the poison in your head, who built the monster and put it in you, Clemson. So I don't believe you're the one who is going to Hell."
There's no answer.
The click of the transparent door sounds so different from the outside.