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Douglas MacAskill, D.O. is a physician who works and writes in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. This is his first published story.

Image Copyright 1997 by Karen Bidinger.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@cyberus.ca.

All materials copyright 1996-1998 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

Wrist Takers by Douglas MacAskill

November, 2024

     Dr. Romulo Chavarez waited nervously inside the deteriorated clinic. He could barely see his surroundings, keeping the lights low until absolutely necessary. They had taken down the clinic signs in the front of the building when he had gone bankrupt. He could barely read the signs in the dimly lit surgical suite as they laid on their sides in the corner now, "Chavarez Family Clinic."
     He laughed as he looked at his Rolex; he didn't need to advertise any more. Through the hall, he could see the old entrance to the clinic. The front doors were boarded shut and bolted from the inside. He could see some of the waiting room chairs covered with white sheets to protect them from dust. Nobody waited there any more. The takeover of the federal HMOs had left him without much of practice. After the big healthcare reform at the beginning of the century, his reimbursements had hit an all-time low.
     The clinic had gradually gone downhill over the years. He had to lay off the office help that final year. He tried doing the books himself, but things just got worse. Letting his faithful nurse of twelve years go was the hardest consequence of the clinic's demise. He angrily scoffed at the American Dream he once held as his own. Most of the independent physicians took a beating. If you didn't have an American degree, your chances of staying in business were slim. From the appearance of the building now, one would never guess he was making more money than ever before.
     He looked out the back window of the clinic anticipating the electric hum of the vehicle bringing him his next 'patient.' Hopefully Alfonse had cut the arms off high enough this time. If he hacked the wrists carelessly close, the electrodes were usually ruined, which made extraction of the biomedical chips very difficult.
     Chavarez had gotten better at his black trade, but was still not as deft as an orthopedic surgeon would have been. There were no texts or disk programs to detail the delicate surgical extraction. He was on his own.
     Dr. Chavarez looked at his antique Rolex again; he hated to stay long at the clinic. Not that it really mattered. He had nobody to go home to any more. When the clinic finally failed, his wife took their son back to Brazil to live with his in-laws. Now he had more money than ever, but Anastasia wanted nothing to do with him. He had become an alcoholic, and in the end, that was why she left him. He hated the U.S. government and didn't care that he was committing felonies. He didn't kill anyone; he just performed procedures on dead tissue.
     He heard the hum of the electro-car filling the silence of the back alley now and he prepared his surgical field for the night's task. Better now, he thought, than in the middle of the night. Often, the grim extraction was requested on a STAT basis. The Wylie brothers needed his services quite often lately and he never asked any questions. He made ten thousand dollars for every intact, bacteria-free biomed chip he could deliver. Soon he would have enough money to get out of the country. He would find Anastasia and his little boy and make them a family once again.

     Most of the time Alfonse hated doing this, but right before he attacked his 'chip' victim, he felt a rush to which he was quickly becoming addicted. He couldn't name the emotion. It was part rage, bloodlust, fervor and greed. It overtook his conscious mind, driving him to do the deed. He didn't care; he needed and wanted the money. He wanted to get himself and his mama out of the Zone. He took a deep breath, feeling the adrenaline surge rising in his bloodstream. He raised his carbon edged hatchet above the man's arm, and then quickly, cleanly this time, he amputated the forearm.
     A good clean cut he thought, Dr. Chavarez couldn't bitch about this one. Last time he was scolded because he had chopped the wrist too close to the hand. He was told to bring a right wrist over to the old clinic on Pearl street. It was easier to hack through the wrist joint. The wrist bones were much easier to cut through than the heavier forearm bones. How was he supposed to know? Now he knew they really wanted the area above the wrist, so he invested in a heavier carbon blade and learned how to hack right through the forearm with one good, clean chop.
     He knocked the druggy out with one blow to the back of the head. Then he felt a strong pulse in the victim's neck, just like the Doc showed him, so he knew he had a few minutes to get his solutions ready. He had to amputate the arm while the addict was still alive to keep the circulation going.
     Now that it was over, he began to feel sorry for his victim. Out of pity, he brained him with the back of the hatchet. The pulsing from the stump slowed and stopped now. The addict was no longer in pain.
     There was very little bleeding from the amputated forearm now and Alfonse dunked the chopped end in the bacteriocidal solution as he had been instructed. Then he stuffed the gruesome limb into the bacteria-free tissue bag provided by Dr. Chavarez. He covered the rest of the body, including the severed arm stump, with garbage. Perhaps everyone would think the addict was just passed out and leave him alone, increasing the time from the crime to discovery.
     Alfonse needed to get back to the Zone and check on his mother. She had witnessed several unrelated murders, and now her own life was in jeopardy. Murder was still a way of life in the Zone, but mostly, it was a way of death. Alfonse narrowly escaped death at the hands of his own schizophrenic father several times as a child. Then, when Alfonse was thirteen, his old man was shot to death right in front of him. Since then, it was just his mother and him, and he was getting them both out, no matter what. And Alfonse knew only one way to get out. Money. Unfortunately, getting it fast involved more death. Mercifully, he thought to himself, he took the wrists and lives of only the homeless and the lost.
     He had done three wrist jobs in three hours and was finished for the night. He punched in the code and the car's trunk popped open. He unlatched the metal box's lid, and as condensation vapor filled the trunk, he slung the third bacteriostatic bag into the sub-zero liquid. The bag and its contents crackled as it quickly froze. Alfonse closed the lid and latched it tightly. He got into the driver's seat and programmed the navigation system with Dr. Chavarez's address and initiated the start sequence. He put a THC patch on the back of his neck, slid into the passenger side and relaxed as the auto pilot drove him away. He felt the drug seep into his bloodstream and sighed; stoned again, just the way he liked it.
     As the car automatically slowed and announced its location, Alfonse could see the nervous doctor frantically waving his hands from the back door of the clinic. The older generation just couldn't get used to programmed cars. He was waving as if the car didn't know where to stop. Alfonse waved back as if to say, "Oh, OK, I'll stop." He laughed to himself and then got out of the passenger side to show the Doctor he had it on auto pilot anyway. The heavy-bellied doctor rushed out and whispered angrily at Alfonse.
     "Why don't you drive yourself, you lazy son of bitch, now there's a computer memory of this destination." Dr. Chavarez looked up and down the alley and saw no one. Alfonse popped the trunk and shook his head. He liked to rile up Dr. Chavarez, it made his Brazilian accent come out stronger. The cold box had thin wisps of nitrogen condensation oozing from the lid.
     "Relax Doc, the car is stolen. When I drop it off in the Zone, the electronics won't last overnight. My homeboys will gut this electro hummer quicker than crap." He put a protective glove on to grab the three red bags out of the box. The neo-plastic bags crackled and popped as they condensed, swinging through the warm night air. "Watch it Doc, freeze yo' ass." Alfonse shuffled up the stairs as Dr. Chavarez held the door. After Alfonse disappeared inside, the Doctor took one more nervous glance around the alley, then clanged shut the metal door.
     Once inside, Dr. Chavarez handed Alfonse a sealed envelope. The sooner he had his money, the sooner the gangster would be on his way. At least that's what the physician hoped. But Alfonse's curiosity was aroused, once again, after he glanced at the operating suite. He had never seen what Chavarez did with these arms and he planned on watching now.
     "Thanks Doc, you didn't peek inside did you?" Alfonse ripped the end of the brown silicate envelope and blew it wide open, as he looked with contempt at the Doctor. He silently read the translucent stamp on the quartz check and smiled, 'twelve hundred dollars and no cents.' "I'll bet you make even more'n me don'tcha?"
     "Never mind you. Go wash your filthy hands and then go!" Alfonse held his hands up, "Okay, Okay, Doc. Take it easy." He went into the bathroom and washed his hands.
     Meanwhile, Chavarez began coding his own quartz check into his wrist. Something he should have done before Alfonse arrived, but he had been too busy preparing the surgical suite. He stepped around the corner and voice activated his chip with his pin number, "Four-eight-six-RC-two-nine." His chip beeped twice and he clearly stated the account code name, 'Anastasia.' A second set of beeps sounded and the doctor slid the check over his wrist. A final beep confirmed the transaction and Chavarez sighed with relief. At least Alfonse couldn't steal his money, the quartz check was worthless now.
     Alfonse heard the Doctor's code from around the corner and memorized it, making a song out of it. He pretended to just be walking out of the bathroom and yelled out, "Hey Doc, let me watch and see how you make yo money now, huh?" He walked back out to face the physician.
     Chavarez's whole face was as red as his alcoholic nose. "Please go. I just want you to leave, quickly. Please, you have your money." The Doctor wished he had downed another shot of tequila, it would have given him more courage to confront the insolent young punk.
     "C'mon Doc, I just want to see you do your thing, you know. I'm thinking of becoming a brain surgeon some day," he laughed.
     The doctor glared at Alfonse and snarled, "I don't want to have to tell our mutual friend that you are becoming a problem now, do you understand?" He was holding back years of anger. Alfonse had badgered him every time he made a delivery, and he'd just about had enough.
     "OK, cool out Doc, I'm outta here."

     Three men sauntered into the room, filling it with arrogance. The leader, Billy Bob Wylie, had slicked back blonde hair and was perfectly manicured from his head to his nails. He wore the latest in trilobite jewelry, including the aluminum eyebrow rings. The youngest brother, T.J., was just as immaculately dressed, but not quite so ordained in jewelry; his muscles were his showpiece. He remained standing. The middle brother, Toby, smiled charmingly at his new business partners. He was in charge of public relations. His grin represented something between confidence and blissful ignorance. Their family had controlled the wildcat oil industry for decades in Texas, but now they were hustling chips instead of oil barrels.
     Alfonse leaned back in the comfortable chair, obviously enjoying these plush surroundings. As instructed, he had anonymously booked the hotel suite for this meeting. He looked over the three brothers, trying not to be intimidated by their fierce, cocky attitude. He had two of his homeboys with him from the Zone, and they could probably hold their own in a physical fight. Trouble was, the Wylie's carried the latest in laser weaponry. He could see the characteristic bulge jutting out from their silk gortex suits. Their old fashioned automatics were no match.
     Alfonse introduced them to his crew. "Tome, Marky, these are the Wylies. Billy Bob, Toby and T.J." Each nodded in succession, not changing their game faces. "They all yo' bosses now."
     "Okay," T.J. started, "mainly I want to make sure you new guys know how to keep the chips from congealing. You have to make sure you get them in the nitrogen box within ten to fifteen seconds after the arm loses circulation. Which means if you stop their hearts ...."
     "You mean if we wack 'em out first," Marky chuckled, looking for support. His laugh stopped abruptly when Alfonse and Tome's faces remained serious.
     T.J. continued, not amused, "If circulation is halted, the chips automatic congealing mechanism starts and the chips become worthless. That's why everyone quit trying to steal chips when they first came out. Government was pretty smart."
     Billy Bob chimed in, "Yeah, but not smarter than the Wylie brothers, eh, Toby?" Toby just looked at him, waiting for T.J. to finish the meeting.
     "Well, with the help of Dr. Chavarez, we can keep the chips alive, by freezing them in the liquid nitrogen, until we get 'em extracted from the wrists. Once they're correctly removed, the congealing system is de-activated. Then we can decode the information we want or sell them to the chip maker's competition. Most of the chips you procure for us don't have a lot of money in their accounts. But an intact, encodable chip is worth a lot of money on the open market."
     Only the Wylie brothers' connections made it lucrative to steal chips. The government contracts for chip makers were limited to only three companies. All were rich beyond reach. If a company could tool up to make the chips, they could compete for future chip manufacturing. The brothers had connections with several of these hopeful companies. It was industrial espionage at its best. The government was very protective of its chip business. Alfonse finally understood why chip stealing was never profitable, until now.
     Everyone knew the history of the biochips. Since 2006, every U.S. born child had a five millimeter, multi-function, octavium derivative biochip inserted surgically, into their right volar wrists. The chip served as the new social security identification for life. The government had assigned numerical codes to activate the chips and each person had certain functions protected by PIN numbers. It had changed the way Americans lived. The chip recorded peoples' taxes, their bank accounts, their personal bills, their medical and dental records and even police records. Nobody carried wallets anymore. Personal chip codes and simple transfer devices made payment for any service easy. By the year 2020, everyone in the United States was required to have a chip in their wrist. The United States government had required and paid for the surgery.
     "The next shipment of chips will be expected in five days," Toby stated dryly, as T.J. passed out beeper bands to Marky and Tome. Alfonse already had his.
     T.J. said, "We'll beep you to our private number when we need an order. Each new order better take less than 48 hours to, uh ... process. Billy Bob will be in charge of pick up from the Doc."
     Billy Bob didn't even look up. He just fiddled with the tooth pick in his mouth, sucking his teeth dramatically and then said, "You better memorize our number and when it comes up, you call us right back. Or your own number will be up."
     Alfonse knew the last wrist couriers had been killed and he was glad Billy Bob was trying to scare his homeboys into compliance. They were pros and maybe Marky and Tome would realize that.
     T.J. turned back to his hosts and grinned, "Gentleman, we look forward to a mutually beneficial relationship. Thank you for your time." Then he looked at Alfonse and said, "Chop-Chop, can we have a word with you? Private like?"
     "Sure. He motioned his homeboys toward the door, "I'll meet you guys at the car." Marky and Tome filed out. Alfonse suddenly felt hot and sweaty. Something was up. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath.
     Billy Bob pointed his tooth pick at Alfonse. "Sit down, boy." He pulled a chair around and sat backward on it facing Alfonse. "The good doctor is not happy with your behavior. He says you bother him and he don't like it. If he don't like it, we don't like it." He looked at his brothers who shook their heads in agreement.
     T.J. sat uncomfortably close to Alfonse on the couch now. "The Doctor is the key to this operation. You my friend, are ..." He shrugged his shoulder and looked around the room as if trying to find the right word, "... expendable."
     "I just tease the dude, that's all. Really."
     "Well, stop it or we'll tease you ..." T.J. was interrupted by Billy Bob.
     " ... to death." He snapped his soggy toothpick at Alfonse's face and the younger man flinched.
     "Dr. Chavarez was hard to find," Toby chimed in, "and we don't want to scare him off. We want him to keep taking those chips out for us. If anything ..."
     Again, Billy Bob dramatically interrupted, "Anything at all,"
     "... happens to him. We will hold you ..."
     Again, Billy Bob: "And your sweet mother,"
     "... personally responsible."
     "Yes sir." Alfonse knew when to be respectful.
     The three brothers all nodded their heads and left the room in mock military fashion.

     Dr. Chavarez took his magnet tool and under the Japanese microscopic finders, feathered out the final delicate electrode fibers wrapped around the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. The chip came out smoothly but he was tired and getting shaky. He looked at the counter and saw his bottle of Tequila, now more than half empty, beckoning him to hurry and finish. But he mustn't hurry, these chips were worth $10,000 each if they remained electronically and anatomically intact. The surgical field was kept at liquid nitrogen temperature until Chavarez could de-activate the congealing circuit. Once that was done, he set the chip under the ultraviolet lamp, protecting it from contamination by both bacteria and viruses. A contaminated chip was also worthless. He closed his magnet down and slid it into its sheath. As he pulled the blue sterile towels away from the gruesome stump, he wondered who the arm had belonged to. He hoped it was from someone without a family.
     Suddenly, he heard a hum coming from the alley and quickly shut down the surgical lights. He listened again. Definitely. The hum of an electro-car vibrated the empty alley. He walked quietly through the hallway, then quickly ducked as a bright light panned through the back window of the clinic. The surgical suite, in the middle of the building had no windows, but he cursed himself for leaving the ultraviolet light on and the door open to the hallway. The glow from the surgery suite was incandescent, maybe dim enough not to be noticed from outside. He kept down out of the spotlight as it swung past and above him.
     Out in the alley, a lanky red-headed detective named McCorkel called the precinct back on her microwave line, after turning off her spot light.
     "Nothing here, just the old Chavarez clinic. I'm giving up for tonight. I'm 10-42ed at," she looked at her wrist watch, "18:30." She punched in the coordinates for her apartment on Lemmon avenue. Another empty night of chasing down stolen car computers. She had surprised a gang of looters tonight just before they wrenched out the last of an abandoned electro-car's on-board navigation system. She had managed to salvage the system's mangled processor and bring up the last programmed location of the car after it was reported stolen. The address was probably a mistake.
     She glanced one last time at the deserted building. The Chavarez clinic had been closed down for a year. She knew because Dr. Chavarez had treated her daughter for asthma until he went bankrupt. McCorkel remembered him fondly. He was a good doctor, often staying late to give her daughter breathing treatments well after the clinic had closed. It was quiet now. The doors were boarded up in front and the windows remained dark. She had found nothing. She felt worthless as she headed home. She tried to think about the only good thing in her life right now. Her daughter. She would be spending Thanksgiving with her. She was due to arrive at eight thirty, so she had just enough time to spruce up the apartment a little more.
     On the drive home, she wondered what ever happened to Dr. Chavarez. She hadn't heard anything about him for months. Brittany had found a new doctor in Oklahoma where she lived with her father now. She closed her eyes as the electro-car hummed along, bringing her safely home. She glanced up at the building across from her own and remembered seeing Dr. Chavarez dropping himself off in front, leaving his car to park itself. The doctor used to own the penthouse in that building, but McCorkel hadn't seen him around in quite awhile.
     When Detective McCorkel stepped into her apartment, her green-eyed daughter was already there. Brittany's wavy blond hair bounced as she ran down the hall to greet her. She ran over to her and exclaimed, "Hi, Mom," and jumped into her arms.
     "Hi punkin, Dad drop you off early?" She hugged her and noticed she had gotten even bigger since their last visit. Brittany was ten now and McCorkel hadn't seen her child in over three months. Ricky, her ex, had managed to keep Brittany away from her with pathetic excuses until now.
     "He said he was sorry, but he and that new girlfriend wanted to catch an earlier flight." She wrinkled her little button nose trying to remember something. "Oh, and I was supposed to say it was detergent business or something like that." She giggled.
     "You mean real urgent business." McCorkel put her down and Brittany nodded, giggling some more. Her effusive personality cancelled out the irritation she felt toward her unreliable ex-husband. She should have gotten full custody of Brittany, but the courts ruled that a female detective, who prowled the Zone perimeters in Dallas, was not a safe occupation for a parent. Ricky was a real estate broker and convinced the court that he was the proper custodian. McCorkle was happy for any extra time she could get these days.

     Dr. Chavarez had stayed low until he heard the car drive off. Why would someone be shining lights into his office? He had been extremely careful about keeping the appearance of abandonment preserved. He kept his surgical instruments with him, but took all the trash to the nearest hospital for disposal. The local community hospital had an incinerator outside which was usually left open. He had been throwing the severed stumps in there. It seemed like a neat solution for disposing of the fleshy evidence. He wore his white coat and nobody ever questioned his presence behind the small hospital. It was perfect, he thought, as he carried the trash bag and his surgical bag out the back door of his clinic.

     Detective McCorkel took the next day off to spend with her daughter. She took her to the Dallas Zoo and then through the Dallas Arboretum. Brittany started wheezing late that afternoon, and by the time they got back, she appeared to be getting worse. The detective remembered the awful time they had had with Brittany as a toddler. She had been admitted to the hospital several times with severe asthmatic conditions. No doubt the zoo and the pollen-filled Arboretum triggered this attack.
     Brittany pulled out an inhaler, shook it and squeezed it as she held it to her lips. Nothing. Her mother grabbed it and squeezed it herself. Definitely nothing. It was empty. The label was worn and she could only make out the year of the expiration date. It was over a year old. Damn Ricky, McCorkel thought, picturing her careless 'ex' jetting off to the Caribbean while her daughter was starting to turn blue.
     Brittany was getting more and more short of breath. McCorkel looked at her ribs under her shirt. She wasn't retracting yet, but she would be soon. McCorkel knew she had to get her more medicine. She pulled her coat over her and headed them both out into the darkening street. She looked at his daughter's lips again. They were still faintly blue. McCorkel began to panic.

     Alfonse's beeper went off and he instantly recognized the number of Billy Bob Wylie. He turned his back to the party where all his homeboys were wasted on 'shrooms and beer. He grabbed the cellular phone, pressed his wrist against the activator pad and the phone clicked on. His personal account instantly grew smaller as the biochip in his own wrist allowed the phone company instant access to his money. He voice dialed the number and an Italian answered after just one ring.
     "Yeah," the flat voice answered.
     "Chop-chop here." Alfonse thought his code name was funny, but the voice on the other end was not amused.
     Billy Bob Wylie cleared his voice sharply and said, "Six more by tomorrow night. At least two tonight."
     "Six? Jesus Christ, you're kidding me." The line remained silent. They never kidded him. He knew that. Alfonse also knew he would need help on this order. He looked at Marky and Tome. Neither of them could even walk right now, let alone complete the task he needed. Wylie would have to settle for just two tonight. Alfonse could do that all by himself. "OK, you'll get two tonight, but I'll have to recruit some help for the other four tomorrow. How 'bout some bonus for this big job, boys?"
     The line was silent for a scary few seconds and then the voice replied, "OK, the bonus, according to your contract, is that we won't kill you."
     With a click, the phone line died.
     Alfonse shook his head. Although he tried not to ever show it, he was terrified of the Wylies. They had already threatened his mother. They knew how to get to him.
     He gathered himself and his 'tools.' At least it was Friday night. There would be a lot of addicts getting toked and stoked on whatever they could score. He shook his head at the wasted gangsters as he walked out of the party house. He could whack one of them and they wouldn't even know it. He had to get out of this place. Maybe after he delivered a few more chips. He was sick of life in the Zone. He couldn't get drunk enough to tolerate this damn place, he thought.

     McCorkel carried her little girl across the street to Dr. Chavarez's old building. Maybe the doorman knew where the Doctor had gone. If he lived close, it would be easier than trying to get Brittany to a hospital. Besides, she would have all sorts of hassles if Brittany's medical chip was only good for Oklahoma. The cool air had seemed to help her anyway. They crossed the curb and approached the doorman under the canvas entrance way.
     "Please sir, can you help me? I'm trying to find Dr. Romulo Chavarez. Does he still live in the building?" The detective was breathing hard, her daughter was a lot heavier than the last time she had carried her. She put her down. Brittany held onto her coat and hid from the burly doorman.
     The doorman recognized the detective from some previous encounters and smiled. "Yes ma'am, officer. How are you?"
     "Fine, you remember me from the precinct, eh?"
     "Of course, ma'am. You're the cop that traced down one of my tenants' stolen car last July." He ushered them both inside the elegant doorway, out of the cold air. He unbuttoned the top collar to his scarlet uniform and peeled off his gloves. "Dr. Chavarez had to move out last year, I'm afraid. Does the little girl need a doctor?"
     "Yes, and she's from Oklahoma and I'm sure Ricky, my damn 'ex' didn't get her medical clearance code for Texas."
     "Okay, hold on." The doorman grabbed a computer pad on his podium and frantically accessed his personal files. "It's OK, sweetie, I have Dr. Chavarez's home number right here. His little boy was kidnapped back to Brazil by his 'ex,' so he gave me his new number in case any of his family ever showed up or called here again." He punched in several more numbers and patted Brittany on the head awkwardly. She was sobbing now.
     "He lives two blocks over and one down. You know, in the old Crescent hotel. Shall I call a transport car for you? You can call him on the way."
     McCorkel's accounts were almost empty and she knew her wrist wouldn't even let her through the door of a transport car. "Umm, I think we'll just walk over there. Brittany is doing OK, aren't you baby?"
     "I'm OK."
     "We can walk there."
     "You be very careful ma'am, that's the edge of old Oak Cliff, you know."
     "The Zone, I know."
     The doorman smiled, "Right. I guess you would, eh? Dr. Chavarez was in Room 212 last time he checked in with me. You be careful over there now."
     McCorkel forced a smile. "Yeah, we will. Thank you, uh, Mr. ...?"
     "Hastner, Charles Hastner, at your service." He graciously bowed.
     Brittany barely waved goodbye and the pair headed off around the corner holding hands. McCorkel hated to be out after dark and she knew the Crescent was not a safe place to be, but without medical access in Texas, even an emergency room would have trouble getting Brittany taken care of without a long hassle.
     The McCorkels finally reached the front entrance to the Crescent hotel. Detective McCorkel remembered the hotel in its heyday, back when she was just a kid. It had really gone downhill. They carefully made their way up to room 221.

     The black medical bag's contents were strewn about the dining room table as Dr. Chavarez cleaned the last of his surgical instruments in the nanowave. Then he hooked the phone modem to his wrist and verified, on monitor, the balance of his bank account which included his last ten thousand dollar deposit. His balance flashed up in shades of green: two hundred and sixty thousand dollars. He shamefully grinned. When he got to three hundred, he would head for Brazil and start a new practice.
     He looked around the smelly room. Yes, he could afford a nicer place, but this was saving him money, getting him closer to leaving for Brazil sooner. He wanted his family back. He would get sober again and he would--
     The doorbell screen interrupted his bank screen. Who was calling on him now? Did the Wylie brothers need something else? Or was it that insolent punk?
     He put the routine screening message on:
     "Dr. Chavarez is unavailable at the present time. Please go to the nearest hospital where your biochip records are assigned, if you desire medical care. Otherwise, please leave a message."
     The cheap remote camera showed a thin red-headed woman and a small child outside his door. He didn't recognize them at first, but even with the bad graphic quality of the crummy hotel cameras, he could see the girl was in respiratory distress. He stopped the screening message and opened up a live mic and video image and said, "Una momento." Outside, Detective McCorkel breathed a sigh of relief as the Doctor's familiar face filled the screen.
     "Doc, it's me, Mary McCorkel. Brittany needs some help and I can't get her to the local E.R." She spoke quickly, anxiously, "She's supposed to be in Oklahoma. Her asthma's getting really bad, and I don't know where else to take her!" The Doctor's outside video screen in the hall went blank, but the detective heard the door being unlocked.
     As the door creaked open, McCorkel could smell the alcohol and stench of a rundown hotel room. Why was Dr. Chavarez living in such a dump? She looked at the Doctor as the door opened wide. She saw a fatter, much older physician than she remembered, but the genuine look of concern that gripped his face filled McCorkel's with relief. She saw the Doctor shove a bottle of Tequila out of sight.
     Dr. Chavarez led the little girl into the unused bedroom and grabbed a stethoscope to listen to her lungs. She was wheezing hard now. She would need epinephrine, but for now he scrambled through an old medication bag. He found an unused beta-agonist inhaler and put it in an aero chamber for the girl to start using. "Don't worry little one, we get you feeling better right away." He looked at Detective McCorkel and tried to convince her as well, with a confident smile, that the little girl would do fine.
     Dr. Chavarez asked the detective to stay with her daughter in the extra bedroom and that gave him time to both find the epinephrine and to clean up the tools of his new trade before McCorkel got a good look around. He quickly covered up the magnet scope. Nobody except chip installers should have that tool. Surely McCorkel would know that he wasn't one of the government installers, they were the highest paid orthopedic surgeons.
     Feeling safer with the tools hidden, Chavarez racked his brain trying to remember if he even had any epinephrine in the apartment. He knew he didn't have any of the modern venous patches. The recent surge in use of 'patch' medicines was still not embraced by some of the older doctors. He preferred giving epinephrine and other drugs as real injections. The new patches eliminated the side effects of injections and supposedly had even better bio-availability properties than shots, but old habits died hard. He searched his refrigerator, where he kept most of his injectables. He was a miser, never throwing away anything, a habit from the old country. His apartment was full of equipment from his old practice. He spotted a red-labeled, multi-dose vial of epinephrine and headed back to the bedroom with his bag of sterilized injection set-ups.
     Brittany was already doing a little better. The doctor checked her lungs again and noticed some improvement, but she still needed to have the bronchospasm completely broken. He checked her capillary refill by pressing down the thenar eminence of her hand. It blanched, then took three seconds for the capillaries to refill, bringing a red flush back to the hand; less than two seconds was normal. Despite all the recent improvements in medicine, an old clinical test like 'capillary refill' was still very reliable. He turned to McCorkel and said, "Detective, please turn the shower on in the bathroom, hot as it can go, leave that door open, and shut the bedroom door. We'll make our own mist tent for Brittany."
     As McCorkel did that, Dr. Chavarez sterilized the top of the epinephrine bottle with an alcohol pad and withdrew a half 'cc' of liquid into the syringe.
     He kept his back to Brittany to decrease her anxiety concerning the upcoming injection. He turned around and found his patient already beginning to cry. She had seen this routine before in his clinic. She knew what was coming.
     "It's okay Brittany, you aren't a little girl anymore. The last time you got a shot it really made you feel better remember?" Dr. Chavarez had a soothing way with kids. McCorkel came back from the shutting the door and the room began to fill with steam from the bathroom.
     "C'mon honey, you don't want to have to go to the hospital right?" Her mother's approach worsened the situation as Brittany started to bawl.
     "I hate shots. I hate shots!"
     "It will be all over by the time you count to five. Remember, it's just like a tiny little bee sting and then it's gone." Dr. Chavarez motioned for McCorkel to hold her daughter still. The detective knew the drill. She leaned over and hugged her daughter and carefully secured her left arm at her side by her elbow. Dr. Chavarez quickly wiped her deltoid with the alcohol pad and said, "OK, start counting, it's almost over."
     "One, two, ouch . . . three, four . . . it's all gone!" Brittany exclaimed. McCorkel hugged her for real this time and Dr. Chavarez smiled at them both. He felt better himself.
     "You'll be OK now. Let's take one more inhaler treatment, what you say?" He was at his most charming now and Brittany smiled and took the aero-chamber. Epinephrine was still one of the best drugs in the world, Dr. Chavarez thought. Brittany's bronchospasm began to relax and her wheezing declined. Her capillary refill became brisk again and her respiratory rate relaxed to twelve per minute.
     McCorkel went on and on about how grateful she was to Dr. Chavarez. Brittany was up playing now, swirling her arms in the mist from the shower. The two adults faced each other.
     "What do I owe you, Doctor? I'm pretty tapped out right now, but I can pay you something next week when my paycheck is wired in." McCorkel looked around the drab room; she felt bad for Chavarez. Since his son was kidnapped, he seemed to have gone downhill himself. "Is there anything else I can do for you? I could probably try and help find your son down there in Brazil."
     Dr. Chavarez stared at the thin detective. "How did you know about that?"
     "Charles Hastner told me. That's who I got your address from. I don't think he would have given out your address, but he recognized me from the force."
     "It's OK. You owe me nothing, perhaps a favor in the future." The tired doctor gazed at the picture of his boy on the wall.
     "You know, he wasn't really kidnapped, my wife has custody while I ...." he hesitated and looked toward the hidden tequila bottle, "while I try to get organized again." His face was full of regret and guilt.
     McCorkel gathered up Brittany and their coats. The detective nodded her head and said, "I'm sorry. If I can do anything, I'd like to help. You helped us so many times over the years." They headed for the door.
     Dr. Chavarez couldn't really look at them. He looked at his shoes instead and covered his brow with his hand, "Thank you, I'll be fine. You get Brittany's chip encoded for medical care in Texas tomorrow, OK?"
     "Yes sir. I will. You're a Godsend, Dr. Chavarez."
     The doctor just nodded.
     As the door closed, Chavarez heard his T.V. screen pop on and heard the irritating sound of Alfonse's voice. He walked over to the screen, but didn't hit the receive button. Alfonse would just have to leave him a message. Dr. Chavarez grabbed his Tequila bottle and poured out a large shot as he listened to the message. He silently cried as he heard the cocky Zoner order him around.
     "Okay, it's time to go to work, Doc. Getcho ass up! I got two more orders for you tonight. Meet me at the clinic in two hours. Our mutual friends are counting on you. Be there or be square, you Brazilian Butcher. Love ya, Chop-chop signin' off." The screen went blank. Chavarez downed the last of the tequila right from the bottle. He hated that punk. Just when he was starting to feel good about himself again, after providing some real medical care, this had come up again. He kicked at the monitor and buried his face in his hands.

     Dr. Chavarez was out of tequila, and though he hated going to the bar in his own building, he was already past the point of reasoning with himself. He needed more alcohol; he wanted to escape from the horrible life he had made for himself. He put off confirming the rendezvous with Alfonse tonight. He was supposed to call the Wylies too, to tell them when they could come and pick up the new chips, but he could only think of one thing: More tequila. He staggered to a booth in the corner and ordered a whole bottle of Brazilian tequila.
     "You'll need to make a deposit on that Doc, sorry." The waitress cracked her gum and waited for his reply.
     He stuck his right wrist out and she moved his Rolex out of the way so she could beep the thirty dollars out of his wrist chip from his consumer account. No PIN was needed for that account. "Be right back doll," she winked at the doctor.
     Forty minutes and forty ounces later the waitress ushered him out the back door. When Chavarez napped through his beeper going off, it was the last annoyance the cocktailer would endure. He wasn't wanted in the establishment any longer. He was too drunk.
     He woke up a bit when the cold street air hit him. He looked at his beeper finally and noted the Wylie's number. He felt terrible. He kept seeing, in his blurred mind, the little girl he had saved from hospitalization tonight. That was real medicine. That's was what it was all about. He tucked the tequila bottle into his vest and stumbled out into the alley. He didn't want to go back to his hotel room. He was supposed to be at the clinic in forty-five minutes. He tried to look at his watch. He couldn't focus on it. He shook his head and got very nauseated. He needed to sit down and he needed to vomit. He looked for a suitable place.
     He decided right then that he was through with the chip business. He already had enough money to get out of the country anyway. He would tell Anastasia that his practice had done well after she had left, that he was sober, that he --
     He vomited on the side of a garbage collection unit, then slid down its side and landed in a cardboard box. It felt good. He would just rest for a little bit. Then he would call the Wylies to confirm that he received the message from Alfonse, but he would go to his old clinic and tell that damn zoner he wasn't taking any more chips out. He would tell them . . .
     Dr. Chavarez passed out. His liver was failing. It could no longer process the tequila fast enough. He hadn't eaten a good meal in two days and would be unconscious for quite awhile. Even in his stupor he was not relieved of nightmares. He saw his wife Anastastia scolding him for drinking again. He had gruesome images of all the arms he had worked on. He imagined the inanimate arms coming after him. Then, his nightmares blurred into an incomprehensible melange of grotesque memories and depressing emotions. Finally he rested peacefully, the tequila completely anesthetizing his consciousness. His beeper, buried somewhere between his coat and the cardboard, repeated its brief, unanswered lament.

     Billy Bob Wylie was anxiously waiting for Chavarez to call him back. He stuffed one more cream puff into his mouth and slugged down some more synthetic coffee. If the Doc didn't respond, they would have to cancel the chip orders for the night. T.J.'s head popped out from the back room, behind the bakery counter.
     "Yo Billy Bob, did you hear from the Doc yet?" T.J. made sure they were the only ones in the bakery.
     "No." He shrugged. "I don't know where the hell he is. I had Alfonse call him at home and I beeped him myself, a coupla' times. Nothin' yet."
     In the back of the bakery, Billy Bob could hear Toby's voice. "Cancel. We can't take the risk of 'Chop-chop' hacking people up tonight if we can't get the Doc to show."
     T.J. agreed and looked back at Billy Bob. "Cancel 'em Billy Bob. Beep that stupid zoner and get him off the streets, eh?"
     "Done." Billy Bob went back to the video phone and voice dialed Alfonse's beeper.

     Alfonse finished wiping the carbon blade off and then closed the lid tight on the nitrogen box. One down and one to go for tonight. He decided to go back where he had seen the other bums laid out in the alley near Pearl Street. His beeper went off again for the fourth time in the last half hour. Marky and Tome were beeping him again, he thought. They had already beeped him three times, probably mad that he had taken off without them. They wanted in on the money, no doubt. Alfonse threw his beeper in the glove compartment without looking at it. He didn't want to be bothered again until his jobs were finished for the night.
     The electro-car hummed along the alley way as Alfonse searched for potential victims. He would use the vehicle for a few hours and then, as usual, he would dump it off in the zone and leave it for scavengers. Finally, he spotted a person in a cardboard shelter, sprawled out as if in a coma in the alley, and pulled over for a good look. He stepped out of the car and raised his tranq-gun at the sleeping bum.
     As he began squeezing the trigger, a door burst open to the alley and he saw a store owner walk out with his trash. He would have to cancel on this one. He jumped into the car and drove around the block looking for another victim.
     Two alleys later, he found one so passed out he wouldn't even need to use the tranqs. He tried to roll the man over, but he was fat, too heavy for Alfonse alone. Alfonse's mean nature bubbled to a frenzy as the adrenalin rushed through his veins. He could probably hack his arm off without even clubbing him first. He savored the feeling the rage gave him. The high of the kill began to overwhelm him now. The drunken man wore a decent suit, but that didn't stop Alfonse. A drunk was a drunk. Still, he didn't want to look the guy in the face, so he just pulled up the drunk's right sleeve exposing it from the elbow down. The man did not resist, so Alfonse raised the carbon blade over his head and looked around one last time.

     "Billy Bob, you still ain't heard from the Doc, yet?" T.J. grew more impatient in the back room.
     "Nothin' yet, bro."
     "Well, why don't you put his beeper on continuous mode or whatever it is. Maybe he just hasn't turned it on, when he does it'll be beeping."
     "Alright, you got it." Billy Bob answered on his way back to the video phone.

     Alfonse tried to pull the suit sleeve off of the severed arm, but it caught on something. He held onto the forearm and pulled again. A watch band was caught on some of the sleeve's threads, but it finally came loose. The man groaned a little and Alfonse threw some old newspapers over his head, almost slipping in the pool of blood accumulating under the man's stump. He grabbed the severed arm again as he got up, this time by its hand. He winced at its suppleness and warmth. It made him sick. He got up, disgusted, and went over to the trunk of the car. He was about to dunk the cut end with the bacteriostatic solution, when he noticed the watch was a nice one. He tore it off before he put the limb in the nitrogen box. He wiped the Rolex clean and slipped it on his own wrist. A bonus, he thought. As he looked more closely at the watch, he heard a beeper go off, and knew it wasn't his own.
     He ran over to his victim's side and found the loud beeper. He decided to smash it. He didn't want anyone else to hear it, but before he destroyed it, he glanced at the caller's number. He immediately recognized the sequence of digits and instantly the adrenaline of fear cranked up his heart. It was the Wylies' number.
     With all his might, he turned the man over to confirm what he already suspected. What had he done? Fear was replaced by pure panic. Alfonse's first instinct was to run and run fast, but he looked up and down the alley, took several deep breaths and tried to calm himself. He had to think things through first.
     Then, with a sudden clarity of purpose, he went to the nitrogen box and pulled out the frozen limb.

     Mary McCorkel sat at her desk and watched the prison van pull away from the station. She had finished most of her paper work and had only one other job to do. She had to make funeral arrangements for Dr. Romulo Chavarez. After all, she owed him a favor. It didn't have to be fancy, only she and Brittany would attend.

     Alfonse Green smiled to himself as the prison van took him down Interstate 45. He had been sentenced to two years at the Huntsville State prison for aggravated assault and grand theft auto. His lawyers said he would be out on parole in five months. He would join his mother in her new house then. His lawyers were expensive, but he could afford them now. The FBI had enrolled him and his mother in the witness protection program when he turned State's evidence against the Wylies, key players in the Dallas underworld. They had also offered him a monthly stipend, unaware of his new-found wealth.
     He watched the barren Texas scrub brush scenery go by, the Dallas skyline getting smaller in the background. He was definitely way out of the zone now. He started whistling his favorite tune, as he felt the warm sunshine through the van's window. He was glad he had memorized the tune and the words he had made up. He stopped whistling and sang out loud now, "Four-eight-six-RC-two-nine, Anastasia is so fine, four-eight-six-RC-two-nine ...."