With a sigh, he scribbled his answer to the final question, and threw the form down on the table in front of him. Richard Fields glanced at his wristwatch, noting that the damn thing had taken him over a half an hour to finish. The questionnaire had been thorough and a lot more invasive than he had taken at any other therapist's office. Nearly every aspect of his life was now outlined in the eleven pages he had reluctantly completed. Friends, family, his hopes, his dreams, his nightmares. It was all there, waiting for some asshole to analyze it.
He needed a cigarette, but most of these places didn't let you smoke anymore. Richard looked around the small room, which was uniquely bare compared to other waiting rooms he had seen. There were two wooden doors; the entrance he had come through, and another one that he assumed led into the doctor's office. The small loveseat he sat on and the polished coffee table in front of him constituted the only furniture. The walls were a stark white color, devoid of the slightest decoration, although Richard could see the small holes where nails had been hammered in and then removed. A large mirror faced him from the opposite wall. For all he knew, it was probably one of those two-way things, the kind the cops always used in interrogation rooms. Somebody might be watching him right now.
Unable to resist, Richard raised his middle finger at it, sneering. His reflection, of course, did the same, seeming to mock him with his own gesture. Richard put his hand down and stood up with a grunt. He strode over to the mirror to get a closer look.
The face scrutinizing him from the revealing depths of the glass was so different that he almost could have sworn it was the visage of a stranger. The lines around his blue eyes were deeply pronounced, an indication of the countless nights he hadn't been able to sleep. His mouth sagged in a continuous frown, the dark stubble on his cheeks complimenting the untidy appearance of his salt-and-pepper hair. The pallid skin was entrenched with the wrinkles of deep thought and frustration. He appeared at least ten years older, which wasn't fair, since it had only taken her two. Two years to destroy his heart and ruin his life. God, he needed a smoke.
Richard turned away from the mirror just as the door to the office opened. The young man standing there flashed him a warm smile, asking, "Did you complete the questionnaire, Mr. Fields?" He walked into the room, quickly striding over to pick it up before Richard even had a chance to answer.
"Yeah, what's with that thing, anyway? I'm surprised it didn't ask me which one of my balls I liked to scratch more often. Or are we saving that for the next session?"
The young man, dressed casually in a pair of light-colored trousers and a blue-button down shirt, only smiled at him once more before quickly scanning the pages. "I know it's quite lengthy, Mr. Fields. I am sorry for the inconvenience. If you'll follow me into the next room, Dr. Henderson is ready to see you now."
"Hooray," Richard commented under his breath.
The doctor's office was nicely furnished, complete with plush carpeting and oak paneling on the walls. Dr. Henderson's certificates of recognition from various schools and organizations were neatly spaced around the room. A leather recliner had been placed in the farthest corner from the door, directly opposite from a darkly stained mahogany desk. Two rigid armchairs made of plastic faced the desk, which Dr. Henderson was standing behind.
He waved one of his arms graciously, stating, "Welcome, Mr. Fields. Won't you please have a seat?"
Richard stood in the middle of the room for a moment longer, eyeing the plastic chairs and the recliner. "Where at?" he asked.
"Wherever you prefer, of course," the doctor quickly answered.
Richard walked over to the desk, sitting down in one of the chairs. He was sure that it had been a test, and that the doctor had presumed he would choose the recliner, since it was more comfortable. Just another one of their little mind games to get you to start feeling like a patient the minute you walk through the door. Screw that, Richard thought. He was here to check this guy out, not to be psycho-analyzed. Not again.
The doctor's facial expression never altered, remaining passive as he watched Richard settle himself before turning his attention to the young man, who had remained standing at the door. "William, may I have the questionnaire please?"
"Of course, Dr. Henderson," he obediently responded, crossing the room with a swagger of self-importance as he handed the forms to the doctor.
"Thank you, William. You may have a seat as well." The young man nodded his head, refusing to look at Richard as he moved behind him to perch alertly on the edge of the recliner.
"Is he your assistant?" Richard asked.
The doctor politely smiled, crouching over to pull his padded swivel chair closer. He sat down behind the desk, exhaling loudly in relief. "That feels better," he sighed. "My old legs aren't as strong as they used to be. No, Mr. Fields, William is actually one of my understudies."
"You mean, like a trainee?"
Dr. Henderson shrugged his shoulders. "If you would like to call it that, then yes."
"Well, you can forget about me telling you a damn thing about my problems. I've been through this shit before, and it doesn't do any good. So you might as well have junior here-" Richard jerked his thumb behind him, "learn on some other sucker."
Dr. Henderson folded his hands together, listening as Richard vented his anger. It was always the first emotion to seep out from behind the behavioral wall that his clients had inwardly constructed. "Then why are you here?" he asked softly.
Richard sullenly stared back, crossing his arms over his chest. Dr. Henderson waited patiently another moment, knowing that he wouldn't have an answer. "Besides, Mr. Fields, I really don't need you to tell me anything. That's why I have this," he continued, picking up the questionnaire and leaning back. "If you will please excuse me."
While he studied the papers, Richard took the opportunity to study him. Dr. Henderson was well-aged, his thinning hair and neatly-trimmed goatee completely white. A pair of bifocals rested on the bridge of his nose; his gnarled hands shaking slightly as he scanned Richard's answers with jerking movements of his head. The doctor's suit looked expensive, tailored perfectly to fit his gaunt frame. An elegant cross necklace stood out against the red silk tie, gleaming brightly as it caught the light. Richard had never seen any other therapist display something so openly religious.
"Do you like it?" The doctor had noticed as Richard focused his eyes on his chest.
"You mean the cross?" Richard countered.
"Well, it was either that or the tie, Mr. Fields. I will gladly take a compliment on either one."
Richard tried his best to smile, a half-hearted grin being the only result. "They're both nice. The cross reminds me of the one my grandfather used to wear."
The doctor set the papers down in front of him, never giving them a second look. "As I have grown older, I have found myself turning to God more and more for the answers to my own problems, Mr. Fields, and I have taken comfort in the power of performing good deeds." He paused, then asked, "Do you go to church, Mr. Fields?"
Richard could see no harm in replying to the question. "The last time I went to a church was on my wedding day."
"That's a shame," Dr. Henderson sighed. "Perhaps that is why you have forgotten that killing yourself is considered a sin."
Richard involuntarily glanced down at the gauze that had been wrapped around his left wrist. The jagged cut underneath had been done with one of his serrated kitchen knives. Richard had passed out before he was able to finish the job, falling to the floor with a loud bang that had apparently startled the people living in the downstairs apartment. The cops had responded to the complaint, eventually forcing his door open to discover Richard lying face-down in a puddle of his own blood. A rescue squad had been immediately alerted, and by the time they reached the hospital, the wound was safely under control.
Just another failure, Richard thought to himself as he jerked his sleeve back down to cover the bandage.
"Would you like to tell me why?" the doctor probed, clasping his hands together. Richard remained silent. "Mr. Fields, I am only trying to help. I know that this is difficult for you."
"Enough with the damn 'Mr. Fields' shit, all right?" Richard snapped. "Call me Richard. And why don't you tell me why I did it? Can't you figure it out from your little manuscript there?" Richard heard the groan of the leather recliner as William shifted behind him, but he kept his eyes locked on the doctor's face. Waiting.
Dr. Henderson could tell the emotional barrier was breaking down, weakening from the self-inflicted punishment of Richard's own hatred. He cleared his throat, stating, "From what I can gather, Richard, there seems to have been a disagreement between you and your-"
"She cheated on me!" Richard interrupted, yelling loud enough to make William jump in surprise. Dr. Henderson never even flinched. He opened the top drawer of his desk, and quickly found what he was looking for.
He slid the box of tissues over to Richard as he began to sob uncontrollably. "I was married to her for nearly eight years, the best years I have ever known. I worked my ass off to give her everything she always wanted. A nice home, expensive jewelry, a new car. She loved me, and I loved her. I still love her. She told me that we would be together forever, and when our daughter was born..." He wiped his face with a tissue, no longer concerned that the gauze around his wrist was clearly visible. "It was like a dream come true. I remember how excited we both were, and thinking to myself that this was it, life couldn't get any better, this is the way it was meant to be."
"But it wasn't good enough for her, apparently," Richard continued. "She started having an affair with some guy she met at work. I didn't find out about it until nearly four months later, when she figured it was the right time to tell me that I was no longer the one for her. It's been two years since she forced me out of our home and away from our daughter, who she won't let me see. I tried...I tried to fight it in court, but she convinced the judge that I was a bad influence, that I wasn't mentally stable enough to be around her. She made up some bullshit story about how I used to beat our daughter when she was an infant. I never laid a hand on her, on either one of them."
Dr. Henderson nodded, gently asking, "How old is your daughter now?"
"She'll be six this year, in March," Richard replied.
"And the man that your wife left you for, are they still living together?"
"Yeah, they're still together. My wife, my kid, and this asshole, just one big happy family. And here I am, just...just..."
"Miserable," the doctor finished for him.
"Yeah," Richard meekly submitted.
"Well, I can certainly tell you that killing yourself is not the answer," the doctor advised, watching Richard closely.
"Then what is?" Richard retorted. "To forget about them? To go on with my life, and find somebody new? I've heard it all before, doctor. All you guys say the same shit, but you don't understand. Everything reminds me of them, every fucking thing in this whole damn world. I have trouble eating, because my stomach gets upset from thinking about my wife sleeping with somebody else. I haven't gotten a full night's rest since she left me, and when I wake up, I find myself wondering why. The loneliness I feel makes me desperate to find somebody else, but my insecurities keep me isolated and alone.
"Do you want to hear something sad? I keep thinking that one day the phone will ring, and it will be her, my wife I mean, on the other end, crying. She'll tell me that she made a mistake, that she misses me and wants me back. So that things can be just like they used to be." Richard's mouth quivered as the mental image of his fantasy hit him hard. He raised a hand to cover his misting eyes.
"I understand," Dr. Henderson whispered. And he did. Despite having heard the same sad story a countless number of times, the pure emotion with which they were narrated never failed to tug at his heart strings. "Richard, I can help you."
Richard lowered his hand, staring at the doctor with a scornful look. "Of course you can," he said disdainfully.
The doctor's eyes never wavered behind his glasses as he stated, "Yes, I can. First things first, Richard, which orderly was it that informed you of my humble practice?"
Richard raised an eyebrow. "How did you know it was an orderly? And why do you want to know?"
"There's no reason to get defensive. I just want to know who I have to thank for bringing you to my attention, that's all."
"I'm not being defensive. I just don't know why you presumed an orderly told me about you. How do you know that I didn't look you up in the phonebook or find you on the internet?"
Dr. Henderson smiled, picking up a fountain pen from one side of the desk and tapping it lightly on the first page of the questionnaire. "Because I'm unlisted. In a case such as yours, there was no other way you could have known about me. I have come to a certain, let's say, understanding with several of the orderlies working at the hospital. They help me find patients like yourself, people who need a little more than what conventional therapy can offer. In turn, I pay them for their services."
Richard frowned. Something about that didn't seem right to him. "You mean, like a finder's fee? Is that legal?"
"Absolutely," the doctor assured him, waving the pen in the air. "Come now, Richard, who was it?"
Richard sighed. He remembered her well, and how nice she had been to him. "I didn't catch her name, but she was blonde, with a small build. Pretty."
Dr. Henderson wrote the description down on a small notepad. "And where was your room located?"
"Third floor, Section B," he answered.
The doctor added this below the description, shaking his head affirmatively. When he had finished, he carefully placed the pen back in its original spot, giving Richard his full attention. "Thank you, good sir. I'm sure the lady is going to be very appreciative for it as well. Tell me, Richard, did she happen to tell you about a little thing I do called extraction?"
"She had mentioned it, yes," Richard recalled, "but she didn't go into too much detail."
"Oh, I'm quite sure that she would have, if she knew anything about it. What did she say?"
Richard mirrored the seriousness of the orderly as he repeated the words she had spoken to him. "That it's one hundred percent effective, and it works every time."
Dr. Henderson allowed himself a small grin, saying nothing.
"So what do you do?" Richard finally had to ask.
The doctor took a very deep breath, closing his eyes. When he reopened them, he began to talk in a smooth, pleasant voice. "There are actually two things that I do, Richard. One part is the extraction itself, and the other is everything else. The extraction process is relatively simple, and doesn't take very long at all.
"Now, I know that you're going to find this hard to believe, but I have invented a device that can clear all the memories that you now have. It will wipe them away, forever. Instead of going through years of possibly ineffective therapy, in which the patient is persuaded to cope with their problems, this marvelous innovation makes them vanish in one easy step. Just 'poof', and they're gone, and so is the pain. What do you think about that?"
"I don't believe it," Richard blatantly remarked.
"Of course you don't," Dr. Henderson stated, removing a key from the pocket of his suit jacket. He slowly bent over, unlocking the bottom drawer of his desk. Removing the device from its protective casing, he carefully set it down near the questionnaire.
To Richard, it had the appearance of a Walkman, the kind that used to play those old-fashioned cassette tapes. The radio part of it was a bit bulkier, with a few more buttons. Two wires, one red and the other blue, trailed off from the bottom, both of them connected to a clear suction cup at the other end.
"That's it, huh?" Richard was unimpressed; the thing looked like it came out of a cheesy mad scientist movie.
"Yes, this is it," the doctor proudly answered, patting the device gently with one hand.
Richard scoffed. "How does it work?"
Dr. Henderson resumed his grin, once again leaning back in his chair. "It's technical."
The doctor responded to the challenge with practiced ease. "All I can tell you, Richard, is that I have devoted my life to studying human behavior. After a while, it became nearly predictable to me. But changing it!! Ah, all the years I wasted in a futile attempt to do just that, to find out that it is nearly impossible. No matter what, personality is something that cannot be altered, not on a permanent basis anyway. The brain, however, can be. I have come to the undeniable realization that due to its chemistry, the human brain, all brains in fact, function in an amazingly similar pattern. The device you see here simply disrupts this pattern."
"So," Richard said, "this thing is supposed to make me better by erasing all of my memories of my wife?"
"As well as your child, among other things," the doctor added.
"Bullshit," Richard spat, "I think I've heard enough. I hope that you don't expect me to pay for this session, because if you think-"
"Payment will be discussed at the appropriate time," Dr. Henderson interjected.
"Like hell it will." Richard rose up out of the chair, turning to leave. William, who he had all but forgotten about, stood up from the recliner at the same time, moving forward to block his way. Richard smiled. It had been a while since he had beaten up on somebody other than himself. "You want to go, buddy?" he threatened, squeezing his hand into a tight fist.
"Richard," the doctor softly called out to him.
Richard forced himself to relax, still watching the young man closely as he said, "Look, I don't want to cause any trouble. I just want-"
"What is it that you want, Richard? To go home? To be alone, and think about what you've lost, and will never have again? To kill yourself rather than accept the truth?"
"Fuck you," he stated, pointing a twitching finger at the doctor.
Dr. Henderson remained calm, well in control of his emotions and a master of manipulation. "All that I ask is for a little more of your time. Let me finish, please. If you don't agree with what I have to say, then you may leave, free of charge. What do you have to lose?"
Richard smirked. "I don't know, are you sure that you're not going to kill me for finding out about your little invention there?"
The doctor laughed. "I may be eccentric, but I don't think I'm a murderer." He coughed, rubbing his throat. "I do know that all of this excitement has made me thirsty." Opening another desk drawer, he brought out a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey, followed by two glasses. "Would you care to join me, Richard?"
"All right, so let me get this straight," Richard said, noticing that his words were already beginning to slur as he drained his second glass of bourbon, "you mean to tell me that this thing not only clears my memories of my wife, but my kid, my family, my childhood, and everything else?"
"That's correct," Dr. Henderson affirmed, twisting the cap back on the bottle after pouring himself a refill. Richard watched as he moved to put it back in the drawer.
"Let's say your mind ray, or whatever it is, does work, and I'm not saying that I believe it does. Why would I want to do such a thing, to forget about everybody that I love, to forget about myself?"
Dr. Henderson looked at him compassionately. "I understand that it sounds absurd, and that it's going to be a very difficult decision for you to make. In order for the extraction process to be completely effective, however, you must not be able to remember what has caused you so much pain. I am going to give you a clean slate; the person you now know as yourself will be gone, and you can start over, to live a life that is productive and rewarding."
"But what kind of father would I be if I just gave up on my daughter?" Richard wondered.
The doctor sighed. "You're trying to hold on to a past that has long since moved on. Do you honestly think that one day your wife will call you, and want you back again?"
Richard nodded his head slightly, refusing to meet the doctor's penetrating stare.
"It's not going to happen, Richard. You know it just as well as I do. If you didn't, then you wouldn't have done that." He gestured toward the bandage on Richard's wrist. "Look at what they're doing to you, and what you're doing to yourself. You deserve to be just as happy as they now are without you."
Richard groaned, trying to force back the tears. The doctor was right; he had to accept the fact that his family wanted nothing to do with him anymore. Sooner or later, he was surely going to kill himself. If this extraction process did work, it would be a second chance. One that he hopefully would not waste. Richard found himself starting to seriously consider the idea, when he thought of something that worried him. "If you're going to erase my memories, doesn't that include my knowledge, you know, what I've learned?"
"A very reasonable question. I can assure you that your intelligence will not be harmed. You may find that the procedure actually has the reverse effect, clearing your mind from the heavy burden of self-doubt."
"Yeah, but you could make a mistake," Richard pointed out. "Can you assure me that you won't accidentally kill me, or turn me into a drooling vegetable?"
"I can tell you whatever it is you want to hear, Richard. I can promise you everything, or promise you nothing. It wouldn't really matter either way. But I do have a philosophy when it comes to my patients, and it is simply this: never harm a client, and always guarantee satisfaction."
Richard rubbed his eyes, deciding to let it go. "What if my wife wanted to talk to me after I had this done; let's say she had an issue with child support or something like that. What happens then, would I start remembering her again?"
Dr. Henderson folded his hands together as he replied, "That won't happen."
"You mean that I won't believe her when she tells me she's my wife?"
"No, I mean that she will not be able to talk to you, Richard," the doctor solemnly intoned, "and even if she wanted to, the conversation would be completely one-sided."
"What are you talking about?" Richard said irritably, feeling the first signs of a headache as it throbbed at his temples. He wasn't sure if it was the doctor's confusing choice of words, of if the bourbon was beginning to wear off. He wanted to leave, but he had heard too much not to hear the rest. "I don't follow you."
"This is where it gets more involved, my dear boy." Dr. Henderson shifted his gaze to look at William, making sure that he was paying attention. He was, of course. Satisfied, the doctor continued. "Your wife won't be able to talk to you because you will be dead. She will be told that the accident killed you instantly. Now, I'm going to need your car, so that I can have it destroyed. Running it off the side of the road is probably a good idea, and setting it on fire is another good measure that should be taken." At this point, the doctor seemed to be talking to himself more than Richard.
"And how are you going to convince people that I actually died in this wreck?"
The doctor winked, smiling complacently. "I know somebody who is simply brilliant when it comes to creating a likeness of another person from wax. They are astoundingly real, and beautifully detailed. Your casket will be closed at the funeral, but even if a curious person did decide to look, they would never doubt that it was you. Horribly disfigured, of course."
"And the police won't know that the deceased is a wax dummy when they investigate the scene of the crash?" Richard sarcastically ventured.
"It would not be possible to pull off such a hoax without a little outside help," Dr. Henderson answered. "Let's just say that I will have to go through the proper channels.
"As for you, your physical features, most notably your face, will have to be altered so that you cannot be recognized. This will be completed long before you resurface from the extraction process. I will make arrangements with my cosmetic surgeon, as well as contact a resource that will provide you with the paperwork for a new identity. Driver's license, social security card, birth certificate, so on and so forth."
"How can you do all this?" Richard asked in disbelief.
"As I said before, all it takes is the proper channels. Believe me, Richard, I've been involved in this practice for quite a while now, and I have yet to achieve anything other than a desirable result. Upon awakening from the procedure, you will be informed by one of my associates that you have just undergone the final phase of a radical new treatment to combat the tumor in your brain. Although it was a success, the loss of your memory was an inevitable side-effect. He or she will help familiarize you with your newly created identity."
"And point me in the right direction as to where to go?" Richard surmised, knowing full well that he would not be allowed to return to his apartment.
The doctor nodded, regarding him with a look of profound appreciation. "That is absolutely correct, Richard. On the day of your procedure, you will come to my office with no possessions other than the clothes you are dressed in. These will be removed while you are being treated, and I will outfit you in a new set of attire. To help you start your new life, I will provide you with a cargo bag containing a few more clothes, and a wallet with some money in it."
"How much?" Richard had to ask, his eyes widening as he leaned forward in the chair.
Dr. Henderson shrugged. "It's not going to be a substantial amount, just enough to get you by on your way home."
"And where, by chance, is that going to be?"
"Unfortunately, I'm not able to tell you right now, for the simple reason that I myself don't know yet," the doctor explained. "Provisions will be made for a suitable living environment, as well as an appointment with a job placement facility. Wherever this takes place, I can promise you that it will be far away from here."
"I see," Richard submitted, stealing a furtive glance toward the door. His headache had intensified; he could feel the relentless pressure of it pushing against his eyeballs. "And how much do you charge for doing all of this?"
Dr. Henderson wordlessly tore a blank page from his notepad, writing a figure down. He slid it across the desk to Richard, who erupted in laughter when he saw it. "You must be kidding me," he said.
The doctor's expression remained stolid. "I know the amount seems to be quite exuberant, Richard, but look at what I am giving you. The foundation to start a whole new life, with the freedom to build upon it whichever way you see fit. Surely you could not expect such a thing to be cheap."
"Surely," Richard mocked, "but there's no way in the world I would be able to afford that."
"Don't let the price scare you," Dr. Henderson reassured him. "I will take a small down payment, and the rest would be subtracted from your future wages, under the guise of a supplementary tax."
"For how long?" Richard sneered.
"For as long as it takes," the doctor responded.
"Well, thank you, Dr. Henderson. It's been a pleasure," Richard started, rising out of his chair.
"I take it you're not interested?"
"You take it correct. Thanks for the booze." Richard turned to leave, making his way toward the door. He could feel the doctor's eyes on his back.
Richard lunged for the doorknob, ignoring him. His hand barely brushed against it before he fell to his knees, surrendering to a sharp pain in his leg. "What..." he muttered, his lips suddenly going numb. Richard craned his neck over his shoulder just in time to see William holding the tranquilizer gun he had retrieved from behind the recliner. Then the room slipped away as the colors faded and he went unconscious, hitting the floor hard.
"Good night, Richard," Dr. Henderson whispered.
He slowly resurfaced, feeling groggy, blinking his eyes to clear the haze. A wooden door came into focus, and then the rest of the room as his vision adjusted itself. He noticed that it was tastefully decorated. A black leather chair complimented the sofa he was laying on; the set adorning a spotlessly clean glass table on two sides. The walls were decorated with several inspirational works of art, as well as a certificate from some medical board. A miniature evergreen tree had been placed in the corner near the door, standing upright in a beige pot.
He tried to lift himself up, only to fall back to the sofa again from a dizzying spell of nausea. What was the matter with him? Where was he? And then, with a frightening sense of alarm, he realized that he didn't even know who he was. Taking a deep breath, he glanced toward the mirror that faced him from the opposite wall. Carefully, he made another attempt to stand up, moving gingerly this time. The vertigo he had experienced earlier wasn't nearly as bad as it had been before, giving him the courage to take a step in the mirror's direction. At that instant, the wooden door opened.
The young brunette that entered the room beamed him a friendly smile, moving gracefully as she walked toward him. She was undeniably beautiful, wearing a skirt that sensually clung to her shapely legs, and a sapphire blouse that nearly matched the color of her eyes. "How are you feeling, Mr. Corban?"
"Fine," he answered her, paying no mind to the fact that he so readily responded to a name that was unfamiliar to him.
"That's very good to hear," she said. "If you would please take a seat, I would like to talk to you." She took his hand, leading him back to the sofa while she took a seat in the chair. "I'm sure that you're very confused at this point," she stated matter-of-factly, smoothing her skirt. "Mr. Corban, did you recognize your name when I first addressed you?"
"No," he responded truthfully.
She nodded her head with understanding, as if she expected just such an answer. "All right, in that case, allow me to reintroduce myself to you. My name is Dr. Mary Bisel, and you are Sam Corban. The reason why you can't remember much of anything is because you have just undergone the final phase of a radical new treatment for brain tumors."
"Oh my God," Sam muttered, "I have a tumor?"
Dr. Bisel shook her head. "You had a tumor, Mr. Corban. The infected area has completely healed, just as we expected. I am very pleased to tell you that you are cured."
He exhaled loudly in relief. "Please, call me Sam."
"Fine, Sam," the doctor obeyed, her cheeks blushing slightly.
He subtlety leaned forward, grasping one of her hands. Her mouth parted in shock, but she didn't pull away from him. "And it's because of this treatment that I can't remember anything?" he softly whispered, looking at the doctor flirtatiously.
"A side-effect that could not be avoided," Dr. Bisel added. "I'm sorry."
"At least I know my name, thanks to you," Sam told her, smiling warmly.
She looked down, letting out a small laugh. "I know that it's going to be difficult," the doctor said with compassion, "but, in time, you will be able to pick up the pieces and start living your life again."
She abruptly stood up, slipping her hand away from Sam's tightening grip. "It's getting late. I have already arranged for your brother to meet us at the bus station. He will take you home and help you get situated. The cargo bag that you brought here is in my car. We should get moving." She walked over to the exit door behind the sofa.
"But I..." he stammered, hesitating.
"Mr. Corban...I'm sorry, Sam. Do you really want to keep your brother waiting? It's at least a twenty minute ride to the station, and depending on the traffic, it could take us even longer to get there. We can continue this conversation in the car."
Sam turned toward the mirror. "Can I have another minute?"
Dr. Bisel breathed out in apparent frustration, but her tone remained polite as she said, "I'll be waiting for you outside, Sam. Please try to hurry." And with that, she was gone, closing the door softly behind her.
Sam approached the mirror, hoping that his reflection would bring back a memory of who he was. But it only showed him a face that he had never seen before.
His blue eyes looked upward to the curly salt-and-pepper hair that was still disheveled from where he had rested it on the sofa. He tried to pat it down, with little success. The dark stubble on his face told him that he was in desperate need of a shave, and his pale skin could use a tan.
Despite his lackluster appearance, Sam felt good, almost like a giant weight had been mercifully lifted from his shoulders. It was the tumor, he was sure of it. But it almost seemed like there was something else, something more. He shrugged his shoulders, imagining that once he cleaned himself up, he would be quite good-looking. Maybe even handsome enough to keep a certain doctor coming back for checkups.
Sam put his hand close to his mouth and smelled his breath. Grimacing, he could have sworn he picked up the faintest whiff of liquor.
Dr. Henderson and his young associate, William, watched the man who had formally been Richard Fields turn and walk out of the room. They sat on the plastic chairs that had been in front of the doctor's desk, studying him from a small partition that had not been wired for electricity. The only available light that barely filtered into the room came from the waiting area beyond the glass of the two-way mirror.
"She seemed kind of agitated," William noted, referring to the woman that had been chosen to play the part of Dr. Bisel.
"Jessica's great," the doctor affirmed. "She's just tired of all the guys falling in love with her." They both laughed.
"And his brother?" William asked.
"Another very competent associate of mine. He will help Sam get started and then be on his way, keeping in touch with him sporadically."
William nodded, wondering just how many people the doctor employed. "Dr. Henderson, I have a question. Why did you lie to him about the cosmetic surgery? His face is exactly the same."
The doctor sighed. "It's just easier the other way, my dear William."
The young man failed to understand, but didn't want to push the topic any further. He was sure that the doctor would explain it to him when he felt ready to do so. Instead, he decided to change the subject. "What if his wife does change her mind, and want to call him?"
"That won't happen," Dr. Henderson answered confidently.
"I know that it's highly unlikely, but she could," William pressed on.
The doctor turned to stare at the dim features of his associate. "No, she can't."
This time, he understood exactly what the doctor was saying. He jerked back in surprise. "How could you...I mean...did you...what about the kid?"
Dr. Henderson subconsciously began to finger the cross around his neck. "It had to be done," he simply responded.
William couldn't believe it; he felt like screaming. He put his head down into his trembling hands, trying to control himself. "I never would have helped...I didn't know. Why didn't you just have him killed?"
The doctor lowered his hand from the cross and placed it on the young man's arm, feeling the goose bumps on his flesh. "Remember my philosophy, William. I never harm a client, and their satisfaction is always guaranteed. Even if they don't know it."
"Dear God," William muttered, shaking all over.
"Dear God indeed," the doctor said, returning his gaze to the mirror in front of him. The young man would come around, or he wouldn't. Either way, his invention had served the dual purpose of clearing more minds than just those of his clients.
One blessed day, Dr. Henderson hoped, he would be able to find somebody competent enough to take over for him. And then his own memories would be washed away.
All the doctor could do in the meantime was be patient. And, of course, pray.