Doctor Who Internet Adventure #22 - "Clockwork Orange"

"Epilogue — Against the Wall"
by Matthew Harris


So, this was the story.

       We saw this goon plug a woman who refused to pay protection on her night-club, drive off with her body. We tailed him into the desert, crossed the state line, which was stupid, but we were angry, we didn't want to lose him. We kept radioing for back-up, but they couldn't find us. We went on in a civilian capacity.

       Goon drove to this old broad he knew in the mountains. We got too close, the pair clocked us and there was a shoot-out. The woman bought it, so did my partner, and a bystander got shot in the face. The goon got away, into the mountains. He caused an abandoned mine up there to collapse. It buried him.

       I got a couple of weeks on full pay, decoration and headlines. Hallaghan got decorated too, got a hero cop's funeral with all the trimmings. They hung a photo of him, the wife and sons, in the station- house lobby.

       None of it was true. There wasn't even a body in Hallaghan's coffin.

* * *

After the stranger drove off in the other car, I left Hallaghan's body and drove to Vegas. I told the Vegas cops what had happened, they said they'd drive out and have a look. They told me to go to a hotel, I said I wanted to get back to LA. They let me go.

       I filed a full report with my chief immediately. No sleep, running on fear and caffeine, I told my story. I spent that morning at the station, pacing, staring blankly at faces that kept asking what the hell was up. In the afternoon, I went round to Hallaghan's place. His wife already suspected. She didn't cry when I told her he was dead. I said I couldn't tell her what had happened. She said she understood, cops couldn't talk about cases. She asked if I was okay. I said I was.

       The son was there. The queer one. He cried. I didn't talk to him.

       I drove all that night, all round LA. Drank two short dogs of bourbon. I finally got home at three a.m. I woke up feverish after two hours, got drunk some more, then slept for ten hours straight. Pissed myself in my sleep.

       Next day at the station, the chief asked what I'd been smoking out there. Said I'd been in the sun too long, traumatised by my partner's death. A "more accurate" story had been prepared, the facts of the case with a few bits added for simplicity. Said I'd go along with it if I knew what was best for me. It'd be easier this way. I'd be decorated. Gave me two weeks off. I knew then that it was going to be hard.

       I phoned John's family in Seattle. They hadn't heard from him in a couple of years, told me not to call again. I phoned all his friends. Nothing.

       A couple of easy collars passed my way, headline grabbers. They said I'd make detective before I was thirty. I was a tabloid hero, one man crime-stopper wave. I figured they were keeping me occupied, building an image. After a month, it got too much. I drove to the store. I couldn't even get near it. A few square miles of desert, fenced-off, patrolled. I got busted by the sheriffs for nosing around.

       They sent me back to LA. The chief roasted me. Hints and threats. "A face like yours, you don't want to get it dirty. Folks in this town don't like to find out their white hats are really pink." Said if I went after this I'd be banging my head against a brick wall. He told me to take some time off. I drove around the coast, tried to pick up new leads on John. I resigned the LAPD on January fourth 1959, the day after Eisenhower made Alaska the forty-ninth State.

* * *

Years passed. Years of searching.

       An El Monte chisler put me onto my first real lead in late '59. Said he knew an ex-marine named Georgie Green who talked about the desert out of Vegas like it was hell on Earth.

       Georgie was a mob fist in Pasadena, dapper brown suit and pattern tie, used to beat the shit out of guys and girls with his belt and his cane. He was cold, and he was blind. Told everyone he lost his eyes in Korea. He broke down when I asked him about the desert. He didn't say much, but he said one thing that got me: 'Clockwork'. He said it like it'd call up the devil. Said it was a secret military thing. Blubbed something about Nazis and snakes, then said he couldn't talk about it. Said he couldn't face it. A couple of his goons pulled out .38s and told me to go.

       I met guys like this all through the early sixties — guys with scars inside and out, guys who knew about the place but weren't talking. I tried strong-arming some of them, used booze and sweet talk on others. Nothing worked. I swallowed each new lead frantically, highballing into dead end after dead end. Eventually, I got a couple of names: Horowitz, a doctor, and Cray, a marine officer.

       I found lots of old articles about Jeremiah Horowitz, from '52 to '58. Society surgeon, Hollywood clients and powerful friends, a party guy with magic hands. He'd been in a car accident, lost his eyes, the same night Hallaghan died. He'd been driving with an old friend, who turned out to be Cray (Major-General, USMC). The accident killed Horowitz's career, destroyed his life. Killed Cray altogether. There was talk of a film, friends in the industry wanted to honour Horowitz's memory (as if he's died). Charlton Heston was in the frame, everyone said he had the right looks. Orson Welles was going to play either his war-hero father or Cray. Lots of starlets were going to cameo as themselves. But nothing came of it.

       I checked the service records. During WW2, Cray was in Horowitz senior's platoon. So was another young officer named 'Jagged' Joey Merker. (A little digging showed he changed his name from Merlatte.) The guy at the store was named Merker, the guy who disappeared. He'd taken his girl to a hospital in Vegas while I was with the local PD, the girl I later realised I'd interrogated a week before (the same night Hallaghan had first nabbed John, strange how these things keep circling each other). As soon as she was patched-up, he pocketed some pain-killers and they disappeared. He walked on a promising career, too — but one on the opposite side. As if sides mattered anymore. Spotting yet another connection, another strange coincidence, put him back in my mind.

       I never did catch up with him, or his girl. I heard they drifted around LA for a time, then went east to Washington. Spotted a clipping in January '63. Seemed Merker had been dragging the girl around with him for those five years. Finally popped a bullet in her brain, then drove around for a few hours before jumping in front of a train. A smear on the tracks.

       Soon after, I met Jacoby, a half-crazy AWOL marine medic driving around the desert in a painted bus. I asked him about Clockwork and it poured out. He talked for two hours. About medical experiments and victims nobody would miss, top brass and Washington suits, flying sauces and aliens. And then he talked about metal snakes, and I knew.

       He told me the whole place went to hell one day. Everybody died or ran. Corpses littered the floor, eyes and mouths screaming hollow, him frozen until someone grabbed his collar and hauled him up some stairs and out into the daylight. He told me he crawled away from the other soldiers, as they packed up and evacuated. He told me his uniform was covered in blood and shit, so he stripped off, rolled in the sand, ran into the desert naked and screaming. Went AWOL there and then, been driving around Death Valley ever since. Circling the place of madness and blood, where he did things and saw things done. Where everyone was blind. Told me that this hole in the ground nearly swallowed the whole Earth. He didn't make a lot of sense.

       He gave me another name, some sadistic scientist he'd worked with. A kraut named Krebs.

       I couldn't find anything on Krebs until I got a call from a guy in DC. Seemed he'd been checking on the incident in the desert, too. He'd heard about me. We exchanged what we had, which wasn't much. He told me it was some kind of government research that went wrong. He hadn't heard the names before, said Krebs might be a Nazi. Said a whole load of Nazis got brought over in the late 40s, ultra hush-hush. I didn't tell him about the flying saucer.

       I was working as a private eye in '64, when I got a letter from a Lizzie Fennig in Wisconsin. I flew there, met her in a little town surrounded by cabbage farms. We sat up all night, and she told me the same things Jacoby had — the government presence, the experiments, the under- lying madness of the place. She'd been a secretary on 'Project Clockwork', typing reports. Accounts of torture. She'd left before the end, transferred to a project in Texas. After that, Washington, more secret stuff. She said she'd seen my file, that the government had been keeping tabs on my investigation. I questioned her, and found out they hadn't been watching that closely — didn't know about Jacoby or my friend in DC. They didn't know I knew so much, and I didn't let Lizzie know.

       I asked why she'd contacted me. She said she hadn't slept right in seven years, thought talking to me might put her demons to rest. Finally, the kicker. She'd seen Doctor Horowitz, in Washington, in the secrets house where she worked. Just a glimpse, but she knew it was him.

       I flew to DC, finally met my man there. He never did tell me his name.

       The trail ran cold, no sign of Horowitz anywhere. I picked up work on Bobby Kennedy's crusade. My history as hero cop worked okay, and they indulged my 'crackpot' rep. Everyone on the team was paranoid about something — right up to Kennedy, who once told me about this organization called Majestic that he reckoned was involved in his brother's death. I started having sex again. Lots of it.

       Then I just drove around. Over two years, following up ghost leads from time to time, but mostly just driving and fucking. Miami, New Orleans, Kentucky, Dallas, Chicago, Frisco. The lost highways of America. I relaxed a little. The search had become the narrative of my whole life. I became afraid that if I found the end, reached the conclusion, I'd end too. I had wanted to find John, then simply to know what had happened to him, whether he had survived or died. Now I was afraid that if his story ended, mine would too.

       I dreamt about him every night. Looked for guys that looked like him. I bought clothes just like his special outfit, the one he wore as a joke and a dream — cowboy boots and a tasselled shirt, jeans to die for. I could never find a hat like his. I couldn't get him out of my head. I was stuck in the past we'd had, the present we could have been living. The career he would have had.

       We both wanted to be heroes. Me on the streets, doling out justice. John on the big screen, doling out dreams. No matter how much he'd loved 'Sunset Boulevard' and 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof', what he really wanted was 'High Noon'. The swaggering sheriff, the lone hero bringing justice to the desert. Saving the sweet, vulnerable dame, blasting the smile off the black hat's face. That may sound like John was stupid, naive, immature. Like his ambitions were fantasy, nothing to be proud of. But people forget how important dreams are. How important hope is. And people forget that we all live in a dream, sometimes. A lot of times. Even in real life, we believe in a simple battle between good and evil, heroes and villains. You can't put labels on real monsters. They don't dress in black, they're not the average hopheads or fudge-fuckers. You can't spot them in a crowd. Not the important ones.

       John was brave enough to love me, in spite of everything. Brave enough to try to be himself. I was never that brave. I did what was expected, what people wanted me to do. If he hadn't died, I'd have left him. Eventually. Never have made captain without a family.

       Hallaghan was never much of a partner. Treated me like shit, never taught me anything good. I couldn't rely on him. He didn't give a fuck about me. John was my real partner. My secret partner. And I treated him like shit. Never taught him anything good, couldn't be relied upon. There were times when I didn't give a fuck about him.

       The way I saw John was how I wanted to be. He was closer to that, ahead of me on the race against self-doubt. But he wasn't at the finish line. He knew Johann Wisniewski wouldn't make it in Hollywood, so he became John West. He had doubts, secrets, he told lies. There was no other way to survive. But he had the strength not to hate himself.

* * *

Two conversations, two rooms.

       Next door, my partner and a bunch of guys, still talking about what happened last weekend. Making plans. I stopped making plans a long time ago.

       It's been almost eleven years. Again I cruise the city streets at night with my partner, Hallaghan. Different city, different streets. Different Hallaghan.

       I moved to NYC in '67, settled in the Village.

       In March this year I met Michael Hallaghan for the second time, in the men's room of Canal Street subway station. He'd been kneeling in front of the muscle boy against the wall, while I stood groping on one side. We'd all finished, were zipping up, when I glanced right at him. He was in a suit, looking down to see if the wet patches on his knees and crotch showed too much. I only recognised him after he was out the door.

       I caught up with him on the platform. He was scared at first, thought he'd been stung like so many others. He didn't recognise me, but I told him who I was and he remembered.

       Over coffee he asked about his dad's death, what had happened. I told him what I knew. He believed me. I told him what had died in me that day, and what had been born. He understood. He was pragmatic. We started hanging around together, then sleeping together. I can't tell him the truth about his father.

       Some nights we stay in, some nights we go cruising. We're not exclusive, but we are in love. Sometimes the most passionate lovers in the world, sometimes just like brothers. In the years since John, I've tried endless promiscuity and I've tried monogamous love. Neither is painless, neither is perfect. Somewhere in between, I think there's a kind of perfection. And I think I've found it.

       I tell people I'm twenty-nine. That's a conservative estimate. My hair is thinning, I need to get my teeth fixed. I work out, keep my body in shape. I'm a hospital porter during the day, part-time night-watchman down on the docks, sometimes earn a bit as a trainer at my gym — a gay-friendly Italian place. I haven't seen my folks for over six years, lost touch with old friends. I don't have a career and my flat is pokey with some intriguing patches of damp. But I've never been happier. Never felt so alive. Not since John. Maybe not even then.

       Mike's an advertising copywriter. It's a good job, pays well. Makes him the obvious choice to draw-up the flyers me and my friends want to make. Flyers about gay rights. He wouldn't normally be part of this. Gay Liberation Front, they're starting to call it (though I prefer 'The Pink Panthers'). A week ago he'd have scoffed, or shaken his head. He was all for blending in, said things were mostly fine as they were. He was worse than that when I met him. He was in therapy, for fuck's sake — though it wasn't working, thank God. But he's really getting into this. I know the importance of disobedience, now. Of making a stand. He's learning. What happened last weekend really changed him.

       It all started at the Stonewall Inn, a little club on Christopher Street. Only my third time there. Vertical neon, arched door, a fire-trap without a liquor licence. A hot summer night, a full moon. Flags at half- mast for Judy's funeral. Just another three a.m. raid at a gay bar, a stone's throw from the sixth precinct in lower Manhattan. Only this time, we didn't leave quietly.

       Two nights of rioting (or a "melee" and "near-rioting", as the Times claimed). They said that it had been 400 people each night. In truth, it was half that on the first night, twice that on the second. But it's what might follow that's important.

       My contact in DC called me last week, said he was sending this guy down my way. He arrives, we sit in the sitting room, he tells me his story. Devon — first or last name, I don't know — used to be a physicist and worked for the government and now he's a bum. He's forgotten most of it. Blotted it out. Says there was a flying saucer and it had snakes and teeth. Says it tried to get into his mind.

       He says he was injured in a big incident, attacked by robotic-snake- things while trying to evacuate the 'mine'. Can't remember what he was doing there, but he thinks he was analysing stuff. He barely crawled out alive, then lay half-way up a mountain, watching, waiting for the snakes to follow.

       After God knows how long, this guy he'd never seen before dragged a woman out. He laid her on the ground, made sure she was okay, and looked back at the exit. There was noise from inside, someone screaming for help. So this guy left the woman and went back into the jaws of the snake. Then came the biggest explosion in the world. The devil screamed. The hole belched dust and smoke, the mountain shook and rocks fell. The entrance collapsed. The jaws snapped shut.

       Now it gets interesting. The woman woke up, dazed at first, then frantic. She shouted, "John? Where are you?", then stumbled down to the entrance, tried to clamber past the debris. No good. She shouted out again, "John?", then she let her weight fall against the rock with a roar. Then she was crying: "Oh fuck, no, not this. Not this." Eventually, she pulled herself together, climbed down.

       I ask about the man. Devon mentions cowboy boots and a tasselled shirt and I freeze. I dig out an old photo of John. Devon says he isn't sure, but maybe. I give him fifty bucks and send him on his way. Maybe he made that all up. Maybe he was never there. Maybe John died a hero. Maybe John was never there. It doesn't matter any more. It's all past.

       When someone you love dies, a part of you dies with them. But that's okay. Because you get to keep a part of them in exchange. A part of them lives on with you. And, when you die, a little part of you gets past on. And that sounds stupid, naive and immature. So what?

       After Devon has gone, I stare at the open door. I think about John and Project Clockwork, secrets and lies. I think about the desert and flying saucers and mystery men and all those faces. About LA, my partner, the darkness. Then I think about the future, and I go into the kitchen to help Mike and the others build it.


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