Alias Adam (Chapter 6)

Chapter 6 – The Explanations Continue

Angel’s face betrayed not a hint of falsehood.

“Before I give you an answer, I need to say something. What I go through is violent. There are cuts and bruises, vaginal tearing, and considerable pain. I’ve been slapped and punched. I’ve had a knife held to my throat and a gun to my head. Another time, I was bound and gagged, and I had to depend on someone who happened by later to untie me. That was embarrassing. I hate it when my ability to resist is taken away, because I normally fight back – hard. I will not be a cooperative victim, and it lessens the likelihood of more serious injury. I also want to discourage an attacker – give him every chance to quit – and to make it very clear that what is being done to me is against my will.”

He held out his hand, signaling her to pause.

“Has anyone ever died without following through?”

“No. Identifying real offenders is something I’m good at. I’m responsible, and I have standards. I don’t try to entrap anyone who wouldn’t think to do this on his own. I’m not even after the kind of guy who gets too pushy with his girlfriend. My method and the settings where I operate tend to select violent and habitual offenders. I know that by going where I go, I assume risks that women are advised not to take. Aside from that, I do everything I can to protect myself except for three things. I don’t run because that would defeat my purpose. I don’t beg for mercy, and I never cry for help. Besides, I’m usually in places where those measures wouldn’t make any difference. I’m a good tracker, and that often leads me into fairly isolated areas like where we’re sitting.”

“So you tracked those guys here.”

She nodded.

“I found out about them from one of their victims. She works in the same bar as I do, and she opened up one night – said they’d followed her after she got off work. That was before I came to town, or they might have targeted me instead.”

“And she still works there?”

Angel shrugged.

“She’s a single mom who needs the money. Anyway, I figured they might be the types to lay low for awhile and then strike somewhere else. It had been awhile since she’d been attacked, and I started making the rounds of bars in different parts of the city on my nights off. My coworker had given me some approximate descriptions. All it took was being observant. Sometimes I could cover two or three places a night.”

“What about the evening you left me at that coffee shop in Westport? Where were you going?”

“Reconnaissance. I didn’t catch up with them until tonight.”

“Before I interrupted, you were explaining why you don’t have any marks and that you’ve been roughed up before.”

“Yes, I was. But you know what the worst is, the part of it that bothers me the most? It’s what they say. Not everyone talks, but you might be surprised by how many do. No matter how big they are, no matter how many, they’re cowards. They’re all afraid of getting caught, but it’s more than that. It’s like they’re trying to justify their actions by impugning my character. Their taunts and comments are unspeakably ugly because they involve more than words. Intent is hideous beyond anything I hear, see, or feel with my physical senses. I call it the invisible assault. Sometimes, the verbal abuse precedes the act as if they had to work up their resolve first.”

Not wishing to interrupt a second time, her listener remained quietly patient. She leaned lightly against him. It was an unconscious gesture and one that surprised him. He was unaccustomed to being touched except during altercations or unsatisfying sexual encounters. This casual contact was something new and incomparably more meaningful. People were not normally this relaxed around him.

“Now I’ll answer your question. I heal completely and very quickly. ‘Regenerate’ is probably a better word. Afterwards, it’s as if I was never harmed. I must have an extraordinarily high metabolism. When I’m recovering, I eat like a man, and I sleep a lot. The injured areas give off heat, but I don’t develop a fever. Minor cuts and bruises heal in hours, more serious damage in a day or two. I can actually tell when I’m thoroughly restored. It occurred to me that I might be able to feel processes in my body that normal people are never aware of. Every now and then, I wonder if I’m detecting things at the cellular level.”

“Assuming you’re right – that you heal that rapidly – what about broken bones?”

“That hasn’t happened.”

“You mean not yet.”

“Hey, I didn’t say this is without risk. No, not yet. Maybe not at all.”

“You’re not going to tell me you’re immortal, are you?”

“Do I look that gullible? I can’t bend myself out of shape by worrying about consequences, but I’m responsible about doing what I can to preserve my shelf life. My diet is healthy, and I get plenty of rest and exercise – mostly walking and calisthenics. I even wear my hair short and my clothes form-fitting since that makes them harder to grab and pull, and you’ll notice I’m not wearing any jewelry, especially necklaces or earrings. Except for infrequent conversations of any quality, I don’t waste time or effort on a social life because I can’t get attached. My only luxury is reading. The longer I last, the more good I can do. I’m performing a valuable service, and so far, I’m none the worse for wear.”

“Aren’t you concerned about sexually transmitted infections?”

“If you’re having trouble with what I’ve said up to now, you’ll reject this, too, but I may as well add another brick to the load. I have a freakish immune system, and I’ve never been sick – never. Not even a cold. For a while, I did get tested at this or that free clinic, just to make sure, but the results always came back negative. Eventually, I decided I could trust myself. I know my own body, and medical norms don’t apply to me. Disease isn’t a problem. When I die, it won’t be from that.”

Inoculated as he was against hardship, the surprisingly sensitive hulk of a man unguardedly let a look of worry slip across his features. He caught himself, but not soon enough. She gently placed a hand on his shoulder.

“This isn’t about living to old age. I saw the way you just looked at me, and I suppose it’s sweet. Yes, I’m playing the odds, and, yes, I might die. I’ve been knocked out before. Maybe one day I won’t wake up. That’s all.”

“Or maybe you won’t remember who you are.”

“My powers of regeneration extend to my head as well. I don’t get concussions or long term brain swelling. If anything, the repair is faster inside my skull. There are no symptoms, no impairments. I did consider the possibility, however, like I’ve considered everything else. I don’t act impulsively. I’m prepared, meticulous, and deliberate. To be on the safe side, I participated in a brain study before I first left Saint Louis. There are some outstanding hospitals there, and it’s not unusual to see fliers or on-line announcements for various research trials. I volunteered because I got paid and because I could find out the information I wanted to about myself. The MRIs and EEGs showed no signs of brain damage. There were more than the average number of folds and fissures, which I was told can be taken as an indication of superior intelligence.”

“If you’ll permit me another question, can you get pregnant?”

“That I don’t know. I never have been, but that could be because I routinely get contraception from free clinics or through Medicaid. Like you, I’m not always paid by employers who keep and submit records. My reported annual income is low enough that I don’t have to pay state or federal income tax, and I qualify for assistance with health care. I don’t take anything else from the government. Due to how I heal, I imagine my reproductive system is functional, but I can’t imagine ever having children – not with the life I lead or the toxin I produce.”

“But you’ve touched me.”

“Mostly through your clothing. I’m not under duress, and I don’t feel threatened. You’re safe. You wouldn’t have been if things had gotten farther along before you stepped in. I wouldn’t have touched you or allowed you to touch me if they had.”

Her story was evidently concluded. She started to rise, but he touched her knee carefully. She settled back onto the curb.

“Yes?”

“Does it feel good to get even?”

“No. It feels right. At least I get the satisfaction of knowing I’m doing what I can. Since I don’t resort to violence, I’m not a true vigilante. I’m like a dust mop, only better. A mop moves the dust around, and some actually clings to it. Ultimately, most just gets transferred from one place to another or is left behind altogether. The legal system is like that. Some perpetrators are caught and convicted, but only a minority. Of those who are incarcerated, most are eventually released, and some of them create more victims who must learn to become survivors. But imagine making the dust disappear. That’s what I do, and my approach is one-hundred percent effective with no recidivism. “

“Is that why you don’t spare yourself and get a gun?”

“Exactly. Then I’d be guilty of murder before finding out for sure whether they would have violated me. This way, I know they deserve it. The punishment is inherent to the crime, and I avoid being investigated and prosecuted.”

“If what you’re saying is true, you still can’t save the world, Angel. There isn’t enough time in one life.”

“But what about a piece of it? That’s why I work my circuit in the state where I live. I know cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles have bigger statistical problems, but they’re more expensive. I’d have a harder time supporting myself where there would be even fewer connections than I have now. At least I’m from this part of the country. So what if I fail? I’ll still have done some good.”

“How many?”

“How many what?”

“You know.”

“Are you sure you want to?”

“I asked, didn’t I?”

“Forty-seven, most by visual confirmation. I try to be there when they die, but not for the purpose of gloating. Following through to the end is the responsible thing to do. If I’m in no condition to keep them in sight, or if they have weapons, they still don’t get very far before expiring. I’ve always been able to find out one way or another.”

Shaking his head, he considered all he had heard. His hands dangled in front of him as he rested his elbows on his knees. She slipped a delicate hand through his arm.

“Well? Is there one person on this planet who believes me?”

“I want to for your sake, but this is outrageous. It’s impossible.”

She tightened her grip on his arm.

“But it’s real.”

Letting go, she brightened.

“That’s more than enough of this. Let’s change the subject. You listened to me. I’ll do the same for you if you like.”

“Will you walk with me, then?”

She gave him the same giggle she had used days earlier in the coffeehouse.

“At least I won’t have to worry about my safety.”

“All the same, I’d rather not knock those bums out twice in one night. Let’s move along before they wake up.”

He stood quickly, and she pulled herself up by hanging on to his hand. Already, they had established an ease of nonverbal communication despite the content of their conversation and the events which had preceded it. They took a few steps together, then, suddenly, she stopped walking.

“Oh. What about your job? You must have been gone for half an hour or more.”

“So a few more minutes won’t make any difference, right?”

They started off again. Aware that she was watching him expectantly, he began.

“You took me back to when you were twelve. I think I can top that, but the rest of the plot won’t match yours. I haven’t bored anyone else with the details of my life, but until now, I haven’t had the chance.”

“So get on with it, yeah?”

“Here goes. For starters, I have four biological parents.”

“How?”

“I’ll get there in a minute. How would you describe me physically?”

“Let’s see… large, powerful, quick…”

Her voice trailed off.

“You’re being kind. I don’t know if society is getting to the point where shades of melanin don’t matter as much, but based on my experience, how it’s distributed is still an issue.”

“I don’t care about that.”

“An awful lot of others do. The more polite ones stare briefly when they think I’m not looking and then turn their heads the other way. It’s the inverse of your problem. Maybe you can understand how being ignored can make a person self-conscious. Regardless of severity, I get it from blacks and whites. Mine is an equal opportunity condition. As for derogatory epithets, I’ve been called names like ‘half-nigger’ and ‘patches’ among those that are repeatable. The guys I work with call me “Two Tone Tommy” as a joke. Either they think I don’t mind, or they don’t care.”

“Is Tommy your name, then?”

“As much as yours is Angel.”

She permitted herself a soft laugh.

“Score. Go ahead.”

“I was an IVF baby. I was conceived in a fertility clinic – twice. I discovered this when I aged out of the foster care system at eighteen and demanded to see my file under the Freedom of Information Act. Along with my enrollment as a ward of the state, my birth information and some medical records – including genetic tests performed right after I was born – were included. The names of my parents were redacted…”

She carefully extended her arm in front of his chest, and he stopped.

“Do you ever think about finding your parents?”

“To say what?”

He laughed bitterly.

“Maybe we could work out a joint custody arrangement.”

She maintained an inquisitive silence, and they started walking again.

“It wasn’t all that much, but this small amount of information got me to reading seriously for the first time in my life. I started with articles about science because I thought they might tell me more about who I am, and that proved to be an effective back door into other forms of literature. I always was intelligent – just unmotivated until then.”

“But how do you have four parents?”

“Someone obviously messed up, but let me go back a little. From my informal study, I arrived at some logical conclusions. I don’t look like this because of some genetic defect. I’m derived from two different cell lineages, two racial types. The procedure that made me isn’t cheap, so my parents were at least fairly well off. My birth mother must have been at least thirty-seven because that’s the age above which multiple embryos are implanted to increase the odds of pregnancy. I must have been formed as a result of two things: a mistaken implantation of embryos from two different couples into the same woman and an accidental fusion of those two embryos in her womb. Even though it’s unlikely, there are a number of cases of such fusions occurring, especially in connection with the deliberate implantation of multiple embryos. What makes my case unique is that I have two mothers and two fathers. My last conclusion is that my parents obviously didn’t want me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been placed in the system.”

“Okay. I think I understood about half of what you said.”

He went over it again, filling in his account with more background information and explaining it more slowly. She proved herself a quick study.

“Got it, I think. By the way, I know I said something like this a little while ago, but you speak very articulately for someone who didn’t finish high school.”

He grinned.

“Reading has its benefits. Besides, I get the impression that my school system was a little better than yours. I was taught pretty well, and some of it got in there even if my grades didn’t show it. Maybe my speech is geeked out because I mostly ended up defending geeks. They’d at least talk to me long enough to say thanks. Some would sit with me at lunch for protection.”

“Have you had any confusion about your identity?”

“Only in terms of having a family or a social group. I don’t know what it’s like to be part of something greater, but that could apply to everyone to at least some extent. I am who I am. I may be a mixture of traits from four parents, but I’m pure me. It may sound strange having only myself to refer to, but it’s all I’ve ever known. Other people won’t let me belong. That’s their problem.

“What I find laughable and disgusting is that they think they know me. Folks look at all the wrong things. When they notice my size and how I dress, they think I’m clumsy. Based on my skin and my hair, they think I’m stupid.”

“You’re definitely not stupid.”

“Or clumsy. I can do more than knock people down. Let me show you something.”

They had reached a parking lot abutting a brick building and surrounded by a chain link fence which stood a good eight feet high. He sprinted toward the corner of the building and leaped up and into the wall. When his waist was level with the top of the fence, he took a running stride off the wall with one foot and stepped onto the fence with the other. He then ran backwards along the narrow barrier until he was above Angel. Jumping off, he landed next to her, facing in the same direction, and resumed walking.

“Not bad for wearing construction boots,” she commented. “Are you done showing off?”

“Just making a point. That wasn’t for you as much as it was for everyone who’s made fun of me. I’ve been keeping it pent up. The only reason I showed you is because you haven’t ridiculed me. I feel no obligation to enlighten the arrogant. Rather than appear to brag by telling you what I can do, I decided to show you. I believe in evidence. The percentage of fast twitch fibers in my muscles must be off the charts, and I’m guessing my fine motor coordination and balance are better than those of a gymnast.”

“Then what about athletics? With your ability, you could have gotten a full ride to college.”

“You mean scholarships,” he said flatly.

“Yeah, scholarships. You could have had a free education at almost any university you wanted.”

“Well, that would require not getting kicked out of high school, which brings us back to the fighting.”

“Why do you fight?”

“Not for myself. If someone’s trying to bait me, I have no trouble walking or even running away. I don’t need to defend myself with my fists, but I can’t stand to see someone else being hurt. I put some classmates in the hospital for bullying a little guy in the hall, and that’s why I got expelled. It wouldn’t have been that serious if they hadn’t turned on me. It was an all out brawl.”

“Who’d be foolish enough to go after you?”

“I wasn’t quite this big then, and they put too much trust in their numbers. They didn’t know how strong I was by looking at me. Testosterone impairs judgment, and that applied to me, too. I didn’t need to unload as forcefully as I did. I’ve learned to regulate myself better since then. I had to. I’m bigger and stronger than I was, and I don’t want to kill someone. The scary thing about rage is that it makes me feel in control when I’m not.”

“Do your scars have anything to do with what you just said?”

“You’re very perceptive. More on that later. Anyway, trouble has a way of finding me, so I’ve turned it into sort of a profession. Where I work, I simply do what’s good for my employer’s business when things get out of hand. I’m supposed to put a stop to it without taking sides, but it’s in my nature to stick up for those who can’t defend themselves. That’s why I couldn’t watch you being roughed up without getting involved.  I never start a fight, but I always finish it.”

Angel frowned pensively.

“Tommy, you’re a lot like me.”

“Yes, like you” he answered with only a trace of sarcasm, “but with one major difference. You plan. I react. I tend to live more in the moment. I’m so quick that everything seems to happen in slow motion around me. I’ve taken out thugs who were drawing knives or guns before they had a chance to use them.”

“Then how did you get the scars?”

“Those are from when I was little. I had the foster parents from hell. My so-called dad was especially vindictive. The foster care system is overburdened. There aren’t enough qualified parents, and there aren’t enough caseworkers to supervise them. My house slipped through the cracks, and I got the worst of it.”

“Don’t tell me. You tried to protect your foster siblings.”

“I don’t know if I was courageous or rash. I made it slightly better for them and a lot worse for me.”

He pulled his shirt up again.

“Those little, round ones are cigarette burns. My foster mom helped by holding me down. When I got too strong for her, the husband took it out on me with a paring knife. He knew better than to stab. He made short, shallow slices that didn’t require stitches. Those are the longer scars. They’d patch me up and treat me better until I healed. Then the abuse would start all over again.

“This continued until I turned ten. I was always big for my age, but I had grown enough by then that I started to notice he was having more trouble restraining me. I knew I had him, that it was only a matter of time. I backed off a little, and waited for my body to develop. When I was twelve, I caught him at it with a younger kid, and something snapped. I went after him and held my own. He threatened to refer me to a caseworker, but I knew he didn’t dare, not with the way my stomach and back looked. I guess he thought I’d gotten lucky, because he started in on me the next week. I took it off of him.”

“Why?”

Tommy shrugged.

“It was only me he was hurting. I have standards, too, Angel. I wanted to make sure he really deserved what was coming, and I didn’t want him taking his frustration out on someone else when I wasn’t around. The next foster brother he attacked gave me all the justification I’d been waiting for. I decked him. When he came to, I’d called a meeting with everyone in the house, including his wife. Since she didn’t look too upset when I dropped him, I think she must have been helping him out of fear. We were all standing over him, and she knelt down beside where he was lying. I told them both the new rules of operation: no more abuse, and we’d do our assigned chores. Things in the house improved after that. The situation wasn’t ideal, but it was better.”

“Hold on. If there were other boys in the house, why didn’t you notify the authorities?”

You should ask… Back then, I didn’t even know who the authorities were or how any of that worked. I expect you can relate to my immature frame of reference at that age. My efforts were directed at putting an immediate stop to what was going on. That was successful, and I became a kind of hero to my foster brothers. I’ll admit I liked the way that felt.”

“So you kept it up.”

“I kept it up,” he repeated. “Most of my opportunities came at school, and I discovered that teachers and administrators didn’t appreciate my kind of altruism.”

“What happened to your foster parents and the other boys?”

“I was getting to that. By the time I aged out, I had a better grasp on the inner workings of the system, and I did expose what my foster parents had done. All I had to do was show the scars. That put the house on the map with caseworkers, and they examined the rest of my foster brothers. Same story. Since I’d never lived anywhere else but the orphanage, they couldn’t say I was that way when I got there, and they couldn’t explain away all the other evidence. The funny thing is, it was their cruelty and their greed that did them in. I’ll bet the main reason they kept all of us was the allowance for our care. They cut corners. We ate barely enough, and it wasn’t the best of fare – you know, day-old bread, mac and cheese. By keeping us in the house as long as they did, and by continuing to abuse us, they’d strengthened my case. I don’t know if they’re out of jail yet. As for the other guys, I never heard what happened to them.”

“Now it’s my turn to challenge your story,” Angel chimed in. “Didn’t anyone age out before you, and, if so, why didn’t they report it?”

“The only ones older than me – two of them – had a reputation as troublemakers who had been bounced from one home to another before they got to ours. They were too big to handle, and they got bounced again. I doubt they would have been believed even if they had been beaten, burned, or cut. I can’t imagine a middle-aged man of his stature having the guts to take on anyone as old as they were. That coward and his wife must not have been working their con all that long before I went to live with them.”

“If you weren’t eating all that well, how did you grow so big and strong?”

“When I was old enough – six, I think – I stole… from the cupboard and the nearest grocery. Then I discovered dumpster diving.”

“Okay. I’ve done some of that, too, except the stealing. I suppose your tale is more believable than mine, and you backed it up a little by showing me your wounds and performing that stunt on the fence. But I can think of more questions, too. Why don’t you get a G. E. D.? You could do it easily. I know it’s not much anymore, but it might get you better employment or a chance at college.”

He made an odd face as he considered this.

“Not likely.”

“Granted. But what about a tryout with a professional team in some sport? Don’t they have camps or something for the general public to see if anybody’s good enough to walk on and get a contract? Surely you’d be able to do something.”

“There are a few things wrong with that as I see it. Although I’m confident I could pick up the skills in one game or another, I’ve never been interested. With the number of scrapes I got into at school, I wouldn’t have been allowed on any of the teams, and I wasn’t encouraged by any of the coaches. I was labeled as not worth the difficulty, so I never received the background or the orientation. Also, what’s the use of putting myself in full view of a public that would rather not look at me? When they did, they’d essentially be paying to watch me do tricks, and I’m not a performing bear. What if they applauded? My attitude towards sports is that I don’t want to be ‘accepted’ only on the basis of what I can do.”

“But you could support yourself.”

“I’m supporting myself now. Neither one of us can instruct the other on financial stability.”

“What about using a higher salary to help the disadvantaged?”

This caught him short for a moment.

“I’ll have to give that more thought. If I can help them with my body, though, why not my mind? I don’t have the grades or placement test scores to prove it, but I know there’s a good engine under the hood.”

“And I have all that along with a college degree. You could ask me the same thing.”

“I wasn’t aiming at that. There’s another way I differ from you. I’m not as focused. When I’m confronted with something I don’t like, I deal with it. You already know I’m not much for thinking ahead.”

He stopped walking and pointed.

“Oh, look,” he said, feigning astonishment. “Here’s a bus stop. I’ll wait here until you’re safely aboard.”

“You didn’t have any trouble thinking ahead about that. You knew where we were going. I’m not asking for your protection.”

“And you can’t stop me from standing here. I hope this isn’t the end of me getting to know you.”

She looked at him sympathetically and took his hand.

“It probably is. Thank you for listening to me. You’re actually pretty good at it.”

They spoke little after that. With regret, he stayed dutifully by her until she had boarded the correct bus. He had been gone for well over an hour by the time he pushed the door open and entered the bar. The bartender assessed him dubiously.

“What about that tab?”

Tommy shuffled his feet.

“They’re, uh, not in a position to pay it.”

Somewhere between scorn and admiration, the older man smiled almost imperceptibly.

“I’ll bet they aren’t. Boss says you pull a disappearing act like that again and you’re fired.”

 

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