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New Fiction: The Green Scorpion (Part IV)

October 12, 2001

Concluding the tale of the Green Scorpion and the Metropolitan Man.

There are three constants regarding a patient’s admission to a U.S. hospital:

1. The temperature of the patient's room will be cold--much colder than the patient would prefer. One can assume the patient rooms are kept at a low temperature to limit the spread of airborne illness. It can also be hypothesized that nurses, who typically are assigned more patients than they can possible manage, require a cool environment in which to work to limit their own perspiration from constantly being on the move. The conspiracist would conclude that hospitals maintain a cool temperature in order to increase the chances of colds and pneumonia in their elderly patient population.

2. The smell of ammonia and other similar cleaning agents will hang heavy in the air regardless of the time of day, floor, or room number to which the patient is assigned. This statement is self-explanatory and needs no further clarification suffice to add that the combination of chemical and food odors (i.e., ammonia, coupled with the aroma of the meals given thrice daily to hospitalized patients) can become so displeasing that many patients simply will not eat while hospitalized. Those patients who are “fortunate enough” to be receiving intravenous medications have no fears regarding malnutrition in this regard. Others, however, are not as lucky. To which the conspiracist would allege the hospital administrators are attempting to starve their patient population (a theory which, perhaps not coincidentally, relates to the third of the three constants).

3. Even if the ill-smelling chemicals were not present, the hospital meals will be neither appetizing in appearance or in taste. Be it a liquid diet consisting of gelatin, coffee, and tea; a soft diet comprised of eggs, toast, and peas; or a basic diet of pasta, meat, and cake, it will all taste pitifully unappetizing. It is, therefore, little wonder that most patients lose weight following a brief hospital stay. It is not the size of the meal portion, as much as its failure to be even remotely appetizing, that contributes to in-hospital weight loss. Thus, it is also small wonder that many hospital patients will ask, beg, or plead with friends, relatives, and loved ones to smuggle food in from the outside. Given the choice between a strip of flounder that has all the appeal of shoe leather, and a cheeseburger and fries from the “real” world, it is little surprise that so many patient trash cans overflow with wrappers from Wendy's, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Chubbies. To which the conspiracist would conclude, perhaps correctly, that U.S. hospitals are run not by physicians, but by the employees and management of the McDonald’s Corporation (billions and billions served).

In his dream, Ray was the captain of a steel-gray battleship called the S. S. Metropolitan. He'd sailed the ocean for decades in search of an elusive killer tidal wave that had taken both novice and experienced sailors by surprise for over 100 years. The elusive but deadly wave was known to sea-faring persons as the Scorpion wave, so named because it struck suddenly and without warning, and because its attacks were always lethal. Ray had been given the task of finding and destroying the killer wave, and he'd sailed his sturdy vessel into the killer’s home waters--the North Atlantic--with pride, determination, and fury. But he soon learned that his fury was miniscule in comparison with the fury of the Scorpion wave. It sprung from the deceptively calm ocean waters on the third evening of Ray's latest—and soon to be final--sojourn, and rose 10,000 feet above the ocean surface in a matter of seconds. The rugged battleship was tossed like a grain of sand in a desert sandstorm, and it plunged to the ocean floor, carrying its vast crew to a watery -grave. Ray had, somehow, survived the onslaught. He bobbed on the ocean, a tiny thing in an endless pool of water, and tried to hide his tears. Yet tears cannot be hidden in the ocean, as he soon learned. The tidal wave wrapped itself around him and lifted him gently into the air. "You little fool," it said in a voice most feminine with a quality as soft as spring rain, and dragged him to the ocean floor where he was impaled upon the bow of his own vessel. His cries were inaudible beneath the ocean’s depth, save to all but a school of f.i.s.h. that swam slowly past him taking little notice of his peril. Ray woke suddenly from the dream, his head lifting off the pillow, but he did not cry out.

Ray’s eyes adjusted to the light of the room, and he assessed his surroundings, which were completely unfamiliar. The Seth Thomas wall clock indicated the time was 9:35, and through the darkness of the drawn curtains Ray knew it to be p.m., not a.m. To his right was a table upon which sat two items: 1. a telephone. 2. a paper bag containing French fries and a form of fried-chicken strips or nuggets. He attempted to reach the phone, but was unable to move his arms. He quickly realized that his wrists were handcuffed to the side railings of the bed. At that moment, he paused, trying desperately to piece together his last memories of consciousness. Any attempt at thought was disrupted, however, when the man in the coffee-stained gray suit appeared in the doorway of the room. He was bulky, a Silly-Putty figure of a man, whose slacks were too long for his stocky form and whose neck flab hung over his wring-around-the-collared collar. He snorted, and said to Ray in a voice that was gruff charcoal, “You’re awake. That’s good.”

The suit slowly walked into the room, and Ray asked, “You’re not a doctor, are you?”
“Did you know the most powerful of man’s five senses is his sense of smell? I once read about a woman from Vermont in her 40s who’d been comatose following a skiing accident. She’d remained comatose for over 2 years and her doctors said she’d probably remain in that dreamlike state for the rest of her life. So one day, the woman’s daughter, who is about 18 or 19, is cleaning out the attic of the house, and she finds this old teddy bear--it had belonged to her mom years earlier. This bear was old. It smelled of the past. You’re probably too young to really know that smell. But it smelled of old Saturday Evening Post magazines, of Amazing Stories pulps, and of Lincoln Log canisters--smells from yesterday. So the girl brings the bear to her mom and tucks it into bed with her. The mom awoke from her coma the next morning and told her doctors she’d been dreaming of her past. It became quite the local interest story, and she reported the press, “I could smell my past and knew it was time to wake up.” Anyway, in your case, I figured the scent of fried food would work just as well.”
“Actually, I had a nightmare,” Ray answered.
The bulky man sat his bulky form on a chair that would probably not support his bulk for any length of time. He reached toward the end table and grabbed hold of the paper bag. Ray stared at him, dozens of questions dancing in his head like Nutcracker Ballet extras on a stage. Where was his costume? How had he arrived here? How long had he been here? Why was he handcuffed? Who had unmasked him? Where was the Green Scorpion? But there were no immediate answers to most of these questions. He lie on the bed, awaiting his chance to speak, while the fat man bit into a chicken piece.
“Cold now,” he remarked, and tossed the bag into the nearby waste basket. “I’m detective Murphy, homicide. You’re, uh, you’re in a lot of trouble Ray.”
Ray again looked at his wrists, his hands beginning to tense.
He knows my name. How does he know my name?
Ray thought for a moment and remembered that he always carried an ATM card with him when he worked as the Metropolitan Man. Early in his career, before he’d adopted the ATM policy, Ray’s adventures had taken him across river from New York to New Jersey, where he’d defeated the super-criminal known as the Coffee Mate, who was attempting to transform New York’s water supply into coffee, specifically, French roast. Ray had defeated the fiend by force-feeding him Pez candies (he’d learned the Coffee Mate was diabetic), rendering him unconscious. Following the altercation, Ray found himself far from home with no money or ID; thus, he’d been forced to walk the 23 miles back to the Big Apple. He’d gotten a total of seven blisters on his feet and had been twice shot at. The following evening, he’d started carrying his ATM card while on patrol.
“Take a look at this, sir,” the detective said, and extended a Polaroid photograph to within several inches of Ray’s face. Ray flinched at the image. The photo showed a young blonde woman. Her slender, naked body lay across an unmade bed, the sheets of which were crimson saturated; the multiple stab wounds on her flesh revealed the source of the saturation..”
“Her name was Alexandra Penn, but I guess you already knew that, Ray.”
“I’ve never seen that woman before in my life.”
The second Polaroid showed the woman’s right ankle, upon which was etched, in green, a scorpion. “Look familiar? I thought it would.”

Ray spent the rest of the evening handcuffed to is hospital bed. A uniformed officer was stationed outside his room. The next morning, he was released from the hospital and was immediately transported to the 117th police precinct where he was “processed” and placed in a holding cell. On television and in films, Ray knew that in situations like these, the accused invariably phoned a friend or loved one who would then take the necessary steps toward freeing said accused. The phrase, “I want to speak with my attorney” had plagued Ray’s mind all morning. He did not have an attorney, did not know an attorney, did not want to know any attorney. Thus, when asked if he would like to have an attorney appointed for him, he consented. The morning dragged into the afternoon and eventually he was placed in a room where he met with his court-appointed defense attorney, an impish-looking brunette who tried to hide her acne scars beneath eyeglasses that were too big for her face, and make up that seemed to be applied like icing on cake. Her voice was raspy and she smelled of too many cigarettes, the stains from which were evident on her teeth.
“I’m Veronica Malady, your public defender,” she said, and sat at the table across from Ray. She wasted little time attending to matters at hand.
“The case against you is strong. The weapon used to murder Alexandra Penn--a kitchen knife—has the victim’s blood on it as well as your fingerprints. A glass was found containing the victim’s blood along with your fingerprints. The victim’s phone number, written on a piece of paper, was found in your possession. Members of F.I.S.H. have stated that you told them you’d seen the high-profile super-criminal code name: Green Scorpion, and that you intended to apprehend her. You were found at the murder scene lying unconscious on the floor of the victim’s apartment. At least two witnesses report having seen you in the vicinity of Kelley Street the afternoon before the murder. Your fingerprints were found on the doorknob of the victim’s apartment. The prosecution will state that you killed Ms. Penn and ransacked her apartment and that, in a rampage of violence, you proceeded to topple a bookcase which, to your misfortune, toppled down upon you, rendering you unconscious. The prosecution’s case is solid, but I don’t buy it. Tell me what really happened.”
Ray breathed deeply and exhaled slowly. He tried to remember how it all had begun. It had begun, of course, with the tattoo, and with Doublemint gum. Ray explained as best he could given his increasing nervousness.
“It was the ankle tattoo. I knew that tattoo, you see. Which is how I knew I’d stumbled onto her—the Green Scorpion. When I saw her apartment, I thought I’d made a mistake. Except…except for the painting! On her wall. Did the police check it? She had a stolen Degas hanging right on the wall of her little apartment. That’s when I was sure it was her. Tell the investigators to check the painting!”
“Yeah, I saw that in your statement and the investigators did check it. Ray, it was a just a print. An ordinary print of the original--you can buy them in any art or poster store for $20.”
“She offered me a glass of water—that’s why my fingerprints were on the glass. I’m being set up. Can’t you see that? She murdered that Penn woman; I’m not sure why. She set me up. I remember now, her fingernails were tinted with green. She must have tattooed the scorpion image onto the Penn woman’s ankle, to give the appearance that Penn was the Green Scorpion.”
“Continue,” she said.
“The other night, I fought the Green Scorpion on the rooftop adjacent to Penn’s apartment. I leaped off a rooftop to apprehend her. She could have dropped gently to the ground. But she tumbled with me in tow through the balcony window of the apartment where Penn lie dead in the bedroom. I was disoriented from the impact of the fall. She threw a knife at me and I instinctively caught it. Then she threw a glass of Penn’s blood on me, to give the appearance that I’d done the murder. But I didn’t kill Penn. I didn’t kill anyone. The woman I followed, the real Green Scorpion, was a brunette, not a blonde.”
“That’s hardly going to make for credible testimony. People can dye their hair, Ray. There were also several wigs found in Penn’s wardrobe closet--not an uncommon thing for a woman to wear a wig. I sometimes do.”
He tried to stop the words from leaving his mouth before he said them; he tried to stop them because he realized how pathetically cliché they sounded, but they were climbing the roller coaster track of his tongue and once at the top there was nowhere to go but down and out: “Look, I’m innocent! I didn’t do anything!”
“Calm down. Listen to me. It’s a question of believability. The prosecution has hard evidence. They have a motive.”
“What motive?”
“They will allege that you were obsessed with the Green Scorpion and with Alexandra Penn. They will propose a theory that you were infatuated with both of these individuals and that in your mind the two became one. The police have already searched your apartment. They found tattoo needles and dye in your bedroom along with dozens of photographs of Alexandra Penn and several…undergarments…they believe were hers. That you were dressed in a costume bordering on fetish-wear will certainly work to the D.A.’s advantage.”
“Until I was accused of her murder, I’d never even heard of, met, nor seen Alexandra Penn. Don’t you understand, I’m being framed.”
“By whom?”
“The Green Scorpion, obviously. She needed a patsy, a way to end her career. If the Scorpion is believed to be dead, she’s no longer a fugitive. She planned her own murder with me and Penn as the victims.”
“If that were the case, why was the Green Scorpion seen robbing a jewelry store earlier today? Being in here, I guess you hadn’t heard about that. The police are certain that Alexandra Penn was not the Green Scorpion. Your theory is nearly foolproof, but it fails in the end based on this morning’s burglary. Perhaps, as you claim, you were set up. We have to answer the question: why? Why you, Ray?”
“I have no idea. None.”
“Had you previously encountered the Green Scorpion in your guise as the, um, Metropolitan Man?”
“I fought her once, a few years ago when I was in New York.”
“What happened?”
“Well, she kicked my ass, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Was anything said?”
“No. She never spoke. It was over so fast. But somehow I’d ripped the fabric of her costume--that’s when I’d first seen the ankle tattoo.”
“Are you familiar with the term Aphephobia?. DSM-IV defines it as the fear of touching or of being touched. We can theorize that your adversary suffered from this phobia and responded to your touch by slowly and methodically calculating your downfall over the last several years. Perhaps her life is that structured, that precise, that no indignity suffered would ever go unpunished. It’s not a convincingly plausible defense, but it’s a start.”
“It doesn’t explain why Alexandra Penn was murdered.”
“In every war, Ray, there are pawns. Alexandra was a pawn, nothing more. I’ll need to do a lot of research—talk with some colleagues who work in the field of psychoanalysis--but I think we can build a plausible case for your innocence.”
“Would you be willing to submit to polygraph testing?”
“Whatever’s needed.”
“That’s fine.”
She removed a series of papers and slid them across the table to Ray.
“You’ll need to sign each of these documents where I’ve indicated.”
He began to read the first document, which stated that Ray had voluntarily conceded to Ms. Malady’s legal representation.
“It’s just the beginning in what’s going to be a multitude of paperwork and documentation, I’m afraid.”
He read approximately one-half of the first document before growing weary of its legalese. He then robotically signed each of the papers and slid them across to Malady who returned them to her briefcase. Her right index finger innocently scratched at an acne scar, and when Ray looked up and noticed her action, she stopped and blushed slightly.
“It’s a bad habit; old scars,” she said, resignedly, before returning to her professional role. “The D.A. will formally charge you later today and a bond will, hopefully, be set. A preliminary hearing date will also be determined since the D.A.’s evidence is strong and justifies a trial. At the arraignment you’ll enter a plea of ‘not guilty,’ and we’ll go forward from there.”
“It sounds very complicated.”
“It’s really quite simple; it’s a standard process.” She stood up and said, “I’m meeting with another client, but will be meet with you again in a few hours.”
“Aphephobia, huh? Ray asked, not entirely listening.
“Thank you for your help, Ms. Malady.”
“It’s my job; and call me Vicky.”
The counselor removed a pack of chewing gum from her handbag and offered a stick to Ray.
“No thanks, really.”
“Here. Take the pack. It’s okay.”
“Okay. Thanks.”

She shook Ray’s hand in an attempt to assure him he had nothing to fear. A uniformed officer escorted Ray to his holding cell. As Ray’s counselor walked through the precinct, she removed a document from her briefcase—Ray’s typed, signed confession—and placed it atop the in-box of the desk sergeant. As she walked outside and embraced the sunlit afternoon, she casually removed a pair of skin-tight, flesh-colored theatre gloves and deposited them at a corner trash receptacle. Her index finger again scratched at her facial acne scars as she worked loose the spirit gum that held them in place, paying little mind as they fell one by one onto the sidewalk. At the following corner, she removed a brunette wig and eyeglasses. She walked two blocks south and paused to observe a trashcan fire which burned steadily in front of several condemned buildings. She added the wig, eyeglasses, and briefcase contents to the hungry fire and continued walking. At a nearby pawn shop, she sold the briefcase for $15.00. She stopped at a post-office branch where she cashed a series of five postal money orders; the memo line of each contained a single letter which, to the causal postal employee, would hold no special significance but which, when arranged in a specific order, spelled "Degas." That evening, following a light meal at a diner near the bus terminal, she boarded a Greyhound bound for Chicago. There were many like Ray—much unfinished business to conduct.

In his holding cell, Ray Jenesew--the man who was the Metropolitan Man--removed a strip of chewing gum from the packet he’d been given. Doublemint. His favorite gum. As his fingers mindlessly unwrapped the foil wrapper, his eyes noticed something unusual—a message had been written on the interior of the wrapper. Ray slowly read the five-word inscription and his heart sank: You dropped this on the bus. And the conspiracist would conclude, quite appropriately, that Ray and Alexandra Penn had been casualties in a conspiracy most grand.

NEXT: Part 1 of an all-new story: RAINMAKER

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