Angelica's Heart: Part 2

By Dan McClenaghan

ClonedPigsBBCI'd spent six months in Baja California, and now it was time to go back to the states. My new heart—the heart of a pig—pumped human blood with a youthful vigor, and the man who had financed this experiment in xenotransplantation wanted to see me with his own eyes. A Skype holograph connection wouldn't do.

The limousine seemed to float toward the border, the engine a low hum that slipped into the subliminal. Some sort of seriously high tech suspension gave the ride a feeling of weightlessness, of no physical contact with the Earth, like a monorail. The glass shield between the driver's and the back seats remained up, communication nonexistent. Orchestral jazz played low on an extraordinary sound system: Ellington, then Miles Davis and Gil Evans. I sipped an ice cold Negra Modelo I'd pulled from the limo's small refrigerator and gazed out on the blackness of the Pacific, to our left, and a billion stars suspended in the dark curtain above it. Dr. Mahanthappa, my cardiologist/surgeon, sat beside me in silence. The proximity of a woman made me think about Jolene.

We'd married in our early twenties, eloping to Las Vegas to escape an overblown and ostentatious wedding catastrophe her mother was brewing up. Our marriage was a good one. We raised three kids—Sarah, Steven and Sam—before the cancer came and made surprisingly short work of the termination of the life of Jolene Phillips. I'd always thought that those things stretched out, that in the worst cases three to five years of life could be milked out after even the worst diagnosis. I'd been wrong. I'd held her hand as she passed, and I cried silent tears to the sounds of Miles Davis playing Gershwin's "Gone, Gone, Gone" as the limousine drifted toward the bright lights sprawl of Tijuana.

Dr. Mahanthappa, sensing my mood from my grim silence, perhaps, took my hand. Her skin was cool, satiny. The touch of it was more comfort to me than she could possibly know.

The driver dug into the sluggish chaos of the border traffic. Somebody had been paid off. The limo was given access to a special lane, circumventing what looked to be a two hour wait to make the crossing. After a cursory inspection, we rolled into the United States, and I knocked on the plastic partition and said that I needed to use the rest room. The driver stayed stoic, eyes straight ahead. I thought the passenger compartment might be soundproofed, and that I might have to pee down the neck of my empty beer bottle, but in San Diego the car veered onto an off-ramp, navigated four turns on the city streets and pulled into the parking lot of a Hooters. It was then that I discovered the absence of an ability to exit the limo from the inside.

"Nice choice of restaurants," I said to the driver who had opened the door for me. I climbed from the limo and leaned back with hands pressed into the small of my back, stretching stiff muscles and looking up at the stars, their sterile twinkling dimmed by the city's light pollution.

"Boss's orders," the chauffeur said.

Dr. Mahanthappa came around the back of the limo—the driver had opened her door first—and looked up at the Hooters sign and said, "You've got to be kidding me."

"Who's the boss?" I asked the driver. He smiled. He'd left the chauffeur cap inside the limo. His black pants held a knife edge crease. The knotting of his bow tie was perfect. An oval brown face that originated, genetically, in East Asia, creased at the corners of the eyes with the expression of indulgent amusement.

"You'll find out, Mr. Phillips, soon enough."

He gestured toward the Hooters. "You hungry? We can get a burger."

"I've never been in a Hooters before."

He held my gaze for a beat, trying to figure this out, it seemed. "You shittin' me?"

We began our walk toward the entrance. "No. My wife, she thought they were in bad taste."

"No disrespect to your late wife, Mr. Phillips, but I disagree."

"Your wife was right," said the doctor. She took my arm as we crossed the lot. My pig's heart stepped up its pace. "Hooters," she said, incredulous.

The driver accompanied me to the bathroom, peed at the adjacent urinal, washed his hands beside me and accompanied me back out to the dining room. We joined the doctor at the bar. "Wanna beer, Frank?"

"I suppose. Say, what's your name?"

"Nando."

"Nando?"

"Short for Fernando."

"Oh." We shook hands. It was hard to tell Nando's age. I thought he could be anywhere between forty-five and sixty, a lean, wiry, alert yet relaxed man, confident in his vest and black bow tie, with an accent that I put from somewhere in the mean streets of Manila, Philippines Islands. That told me that Nando might have come up hard and turned out all the stronger for it.

Nando ordered two Bud-Lite drafts and two bacon and avocado burgers from a busty brunette with a Coke Bottle-shaped figure and the word “Trina” emblazoned on her name tag. Dr. Mahanthappa said that beer and bacon burgers weren't the optimal diet for a heart patient. Then she ordered a veggie wrap and iced tea for herself. Trina poured our beers from a tap that was mounted high enough to require her to stand on her tiptoes to catch the golden flow, her perfect buns flexing beneath thin cloth. She placed the glasses, white foam overflowing slightly, onto the coasters, flashed a dazzling smile, and said, "I'll get your iced tea, Ma'am," to the doctor.

I sighed deeply as Trina bounced away.

"You like her?" said Nando

I turn my gaze from the girl back to the chauffeur. I'd like to have Jolene back, I thought, but I said, "Maybe if I were twenty years younger."

"Your heart's only a couple of years old, Mr. Phillips. We can take her with us, to meet the boss."

I gave him an incredulous stare. "You mean you walk up to her and invite her to some strange rich guy's house and she just drops everything and goes?"

Nando's eyebrows slipped higher on his head. "Works about forty percent of the time. The key is dangling the right enticement." He sipped his beer, gazing after the tightly-packaged teardrop of an ass of another passing waitress.

"You're disgusting," said the doctor.

"You're a real piece of work, Nando," I said. "But forget it."

He nodded sagely.

Trina came back with the doctor's iced tea. Nando ordered us two more beers. We watched the pouring operation again, and when she slid the glasses in front of us, Nando said, "Could I have a very short private talk with you, Trina?"

She looked puzzled by the request, and pleased. Nando came off as courtly rather than lecherous, and off they went to the entrance to the hallway that led to the bathrooms. In they went, Nando gesturing for her to go first. They reappeared two minutes later, both of them laughing. She touched his arm and he patted hers and they parted. Nando walked with a jaunty spring in his step back to the bar to announce that Trina had suddenly taken ill and would be leaving work early, and that we would be picking her up at her place to take her with us to see the boss.

"Just like that?" I asked, snapping my fingers.

Nando nodded, snapping his fingers in reply, and I decided not to ask exactly what the right enticement had been.

Dr. Mahanthappa added her view of the situation. "What sort of woman runs off with some little dude in a vest and bow tie, just like that?" She snapped her fingers, mimicking Nando me.

"A woman who appreciates a thousand quick bucks," Nando said. "with the possibility of a bigger payday down the line."

•     •     •

Trina walked by us on her way out, an oversized red purse slung over her shoulder, a black sweater hung over her arm. I stuck a bit of bacon that had dropped from my burger into my mouth as a waitress named Alex took Nando's credit card away to pay our bill.

"I don't believe this," said Dr. Mahanthappa once we'd climbed back into the limo. "You know, of course," she said, turning to me," that he picked her up as your potential lover."

Through the partition, I could see a map that Nando had punched up on his cell phone then transferred to the dashboard display.

"This 'lover' thing's not going to happen."

She stiffened. I turned my gaze out the side window as the limo floated onto the street. We passed a Yum Yum Donuts and a Big O Tires, then a seedy little strip mall with a dentist's office and a place that wanted to buy my gold.

"But it must," said the doctor.

I gave her no answer, and she filled the silence with, "Your son's a diabetic."

We'd never talked about that. "He is."

"Type 1."

I turned to her profile, silhouetted by the neon light of a Pizza Port Brewery as we sat at a stop light. "Yes. Type 1."

"His pancreas makes no insulin."

I stayed silent, my eyes straight ahead. She reached over and touched my wrist. "I have a baboon with a pig's pancreas back at the Foundation. We transplanted it four months ago. She's doing fine. She has no need of insulin anymore. She makes her own"

The light changed and Nando hit the gas. The forward thrust pushed me back in the seat. "So, if I dance to your tune, you set my son up for the first pig-to-human pancreas transplant?” I turned to look at her.

"Don't put it that way." Her grip tightened on my wrist.

"How should I put it?"

The doctor took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "Put it this way, Frank: With your cooperation, with a reasonable and benign, but perhaps odd and even rather unseemly request—to establish the presence of libido and the ability to copulate in a transplant recipient (that would be you, Frank)—your precious son, Sam, could be the first recipient of a pig-to-human pancreas transplant, and this beneficial program of ours, which has the potential to improve millions of lives—to save million of lives—can go on."

She knew my son's name. I'd never told her that. "Sounds like blackmail to me, Dr. M."

Now the grip on my wrist tightened further, included her fingernails, digging in, like her hand had become a claw.

......................................

About Dan McClenaghan

I write stuff. I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and four (soon to be five) beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!