Interview With a Drug Lord

by: Vinson Flanigan

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So by the luck of the draw you‟re dating a stripper. Next thing you know you‟re shooting „round town every night, late. I‟m talking 3, 4, 5 in the morning, and getting to know all the cool people. Your girl is hot and used to sleep with every other guy you meet, at some point in time. You‟re in and out of bars, restaurants, and underground spots, meeting dealers, bartenders, other girls, the whole nine. You ain‟t paid for a drink, a line of coke, or nothing in a week. Then she‟s gone. She tells you she‟s too busy to hang out now. She might mention that her old man started back hanging out at the strip club. Get lost. But she already blowed your mind. You‟re a made man in the party underground. You don‟t need her. Shit. You know a couple of people „round town now. A couple of dealers that she introduced you to like your style. Next thing you know you just bought your first bag of this or that. And you got new chicks stalking you „round the bar cause the stripper was kind enough to put your name out there. In a positive light. That damn stripper girl wasn‟t so bad after all. Sweet Child of mine. God bless the child that‟s got his own (shit). Now I could tell it from a female point of view, but instead of dating a stripper you‟re dating the hot new guy at the bar. He ain‟t pushing a Mercedes or Lexus, but a Camry or Pathfinder or car of that nature. A high-class luxury vehicle would just draw

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too much attention for the way you two are spinning around town. So after a world wind week or two of breast to walls exhilaration, he leaves you right where he found you, at the bar. So you‟re peeking in and out of that designer purse, checking that cell phone to see as to whether or not he called. Wondering all the while, which one of your girlfriends he‟s banging tonight. He‟s done got you sprung. And you can‟t stand it. He was a bad boy. And that young fellow standing there whispering sweet nothings in your ear won‟t replace him. But you notice one of your new dealer friends across the way. He really ain‟t your friend but a bag of that marching dust he‟s holding will make you feel better all the same. Things ain‟t so bad. A plethora of new boys continue speaking to you as sit; posted up at the bar sipping vodka and tonic. Apparently, he put the word out too, that you might climb a Jack like Jill, while completing the session with a little head therapy.

So we‟ve arrived at the same point. Both male and female He created them.

So you think you‟re Mr. Cool Man or Ms. It Girl cause a couple of people know you „round town now. Then we put out the call. You get a call from your dog. You‟re flabbergasted. Two months ago you were square bait. Now your drug dealers done invited you to a bona-fide underground party. But wait a minute, it could be a set up, a sting. Hell naw, them guys are way too cool for that.

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So you go. You‟re a child beginning your descent into our world. We like you. You didn‟t know it but you were pre-screened by two or three layers of our kind, making sure you weren‟t all clogged up with mainstream bullshit. Why do we like you? Cause we know that you will not become an addict. You might binge and try shit you ain‟t got no business fucking with. You might lose a year or two‟s salary over the next three years doing drugs and chasing women. But you won‟t destroy yourself totally. You came into our world to communicate. It‟s the Matrix bitch. You thought there was something more than that boring job and that uptight girlfriend or boyfriend. So now you‟re taking the blue pill. Welcome to my world. my friend.

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Who said rave was dead. “Boom-titty, boom-titty, boom-titty, boom-titty,” is all you heard. The sound of ravers. The sound of house music. It was somewhere in New York. Lower Manhattan: The Village, Soho or something. NYPD had been tipped off. It was another one of those party‟s. The beautiful people couldn‟t even get an invite to one of these. You just had to know somebody. Getting in was mostly clientele based though. The call was a little something thrown at the cool drug dealers who weren‟t on the corner „blinging.‟ These type of dealers had clientele. A regular list of customers who didn‟t cause stirs: people who could handle themselves. If we were talking alcohol these customers would be the ones who could hold their liquor. But we ain‟t talking „bout alcohol. Now what we are talking about is designer drugs. And this clientele, you would be surprised or maybe you won‟t. Most of them are working people like you and me,

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descending from all walks of life. But the ex-hustlers and the people who used to be in the “business” really drove the movement. The word “business” here denotes exbartenders, servers, restaurant managers, strippers, bouncers, musicians, street corner pharmaceutical salesmen, etc. These were the people who had learned to function on high-powered chemical boosting. Think about it. What other individual other than a bartender or stripper could stay up all night doing line after line of cocaine while working. Equals what? Plus service economy. Doing the math, equals a whole class of functional drug users. In addition to the children. Children being those who are beginning their descent into the darkside. Upon moving on or retiring from the “business,” these people still want to party every now and then. Having a selection of connections to choose from, these folks select as their dealers the ones who don‟t bling, have consistently good product quality, and make themselves available. The worst thing you could possibly do as a dealer is to act a fool when a man is short five dollars or something. By acting a fool I mean calling the customer all hours of the night, knocking on his door, or getting loud in public over a $5 or $10 drug tab. We don‟t fuck with them. A good dog or dealer will even extend you credit every now and then. You‟re a working man. He‟s knows you‟re good for the money. Who‟s the son-of-a-bitch from Popeye who was always yelling “you buy me a hamburger today and I‟ll gladly pay you a dollar tomorrow,” or something like that. “Boom-titty, boom-titty, boom-titty, boom-titty,” is all you heard. The sound of ravers, The sound of house music. “Buzz”… “Buzz” …

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As if a purple cloud, music filled the room. Moving lights spun with pale indigos and turquoise. Turquoise seemed to be the theme of color. It shadowed itself across thin screens of see-through white fabric. White fabrics hung in varying lengths extending outward from the ceilings center. Light danced among the darkness. “Buzz” The pulse of the room throbbed with the splendor of a crystal heart. The throbbing heartbeat of the bass drum drove the energy upwards to a place above the physical plane. The other instruments, the high-pitched ones, answered the demanding knock of the ever present beating drums. Alas, sweet vocals welcomed the trancers into spiritual oblivion. The 4th dimension. This was our kind of party. About 200 of us were there. There‟s a few times in everyone‟s life when the energy is right. You become one with the spirit world. Athletes call it being in the zone. But it‟s the same feeling a mother gets when she wakes her four year-old up in the morning. She might be taking him to the playground, or the zoo, or to grandmas. Propelled by chemical processes deep within the bowels, new neurological pathways are forged, triggering happy roads within the mind. Better living through chemistry. It‟s the place where the spirit, body, and mind are one. Thought is futile because everyone is plugged into the one consciousness. They move as one. The partiers didn‟t move to the rhythms. They moved with the rhythms. Movement was the body and minds childlike attempt to express another state of consciousness. It was always our goal as an organization to put people in the zone. To

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blow them up. We needed that. Our kind needed that. The World didn‟t present us with enough options to reach self-actualization. There were no platforms for us to reach our potential there. We had to do it ourselves. “Buzz” And the people tranced on. “Shit, my phone is ringing.” I finally got the damn thing out of my pocket. It kinda scares you a little bit, feeling that buzz on your leg amidst all that light and noise. Looking at the display, I recognized the number. This was a call you never hoped to get during a party. It was the watch commander, the cop in charge of the precinct on this side of 14th street. “Yeah, hello,” I said, hitting the button on my Bluetooth, and quickly walking towards the bathroom to get away from the noise. “Hey kid, nkd mds ps ps” “What!” I screamed. There was still too much noise for me to decipher what the hell was being said. Upon getting to a quieter spot I heard, “Hey kid, they‟re coming. Get your ass out of there. Smith got called to Internal Affairs. We got a new watch commander this morning. He‟s coming.” That god damned Smith. This was bad. For one, Turner, the night watch commander, was supposed to get off at 8. He usually hangs around the station house till about 9 finishing paperwork and his report. Shit, it‟s 10:15 in the morning. In addition to the fact that he called me on an unsecured, wireless phone line. I‟m sure the New York Police Department didn‟t know

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anything about that phone, but with the voice recognition software in play these days and the fact that the standard procedure would be to text me if anything went wrong, the whole scenario suggested alarm. Smith was our boy too. He ran the precinct during the daytime. He‟s across the way at Internal Affairs. All right, so there‟s some conspiracy level shit going on. We must have left too many signs around town. The Government is on our ass. I guess your biggest question now is why.

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Me and my man ain‟t no street level drug peddlers. We don‟t sell drugs on no street corners. What we do is provide compounds to tune up drugs for the cooler dealers around town. On the street, our compounds are known as Sugar. This is because our original compound resembled powdered sugar in texture. Or at least that‟s what most of the dealers thought. If the World only knew the power of sugar. That was nine months ago, now our compounds are flavored, thus the name Kool-Aid. When cocaine or ecstasy are cut with our flavors, people see and feel shit that they never felt before. They call it the holy ghost. Lord forgive me for blasphemy. But without being an ascended monk from Shaolin or something, the high that we provide is the closest thing that you can get to bliss. Nirvana. Heaven. But that ain‟t the kicker. Imagine taking a pill that caused your skin to change colors. What if your eyeballs turned blue? But that ain‟t it. The policemen‟s eyes told it all. Officers of the NYPD see it all during the course of a career. Bewilderment on the face of a NYPD cop was a marked sign that we had done our job.

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Storm tried to drag me away. I couldn‟t hang around long because I blowing up. In a few minutes it would be obvious that I had been a part of the spectacle. We hadn‟t used the front entrance for the party. There was an abandoned lot in the back of the building that had stairs leading down into the basement. We told all of the dealers to meet their clientele in small numbers at Washington Park or something and walk them over. Most had come by train, taxi, or parked elsewhere. Only three or four cars parked on the concrete slab out back next to the stairs. We frowned on that, but what are you gonna do. How we found a vacant lot in New York City in the year 2029 behooves me. One of somebody‟s clientele worked in real estate, and found out about it after his firm closed on the block to build condos. See, that‟s one thing about us. We didn‟t always deal in cash. But we will get into that later. The two-story building had a tight alleyway beside it. The alley was half blocked by a scizzored, accordion style wrought iron gate that could be pulled say, in front of a storefront entrance. Well, the gate was in front of the corner doorway to the building up until a few minutes ago. Dogs could deal what they wanted before they got to the party. But once the folks got inside, it was our turn to blow them up. Basically, no dealing inside the party. We gave our shit away. As a service. And we tweaked it up nice. You got to let the dogs know whose gone cut the shit right. To the various customers of the various dealers it was the best party they ever went too. But we used these parties to advertise new cutting compounds and solutions to the dealers.

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Now back to that stripper or hot boy you used to date. Maybe you got lucky and fucked her twice. Or maybe the hot boy banged you against the sliding glass door of his condo overlooking downtown. Your stripper friend is at our party. You see her across the way. Smiling, all you want to do is thank her for inviting you into her world. Her eyes are pretty glassy but she smiles back at you. Your stripper friend‟s done blown up to Nirvana. About 20 minutes ago she took a pale blue pill that a girl on roller skates gave her. Your stripper friend is wet between the legs but doesn‟t want sex cause it would only be a let down at this point. You‟re standing there smiling with a big cheesy grin on your face. Then the bitch turns green. With blue leopard stripes. In multicolored hues the people spilled into the street, clumped together like newborn baby mice. The cops‟ faces told the story. Fluorescent blues, reds and oranges covered the arms and legs of the busted. The colors arranged themselves in stripes or other animalistic patterns. A cloud covered breast or two fell out of a low cut dress as the cops attempted to herd the people. NYPD had ripped the scissored gate open and kicked the door in. Sirens were everywhere, overpowering the low beats that were coming from inside. It was 10:19 in the morning. As if midwives, NYPD pulled the people from the darkness into the light. Like newborn baby mice, the brightness of the gray overcast sky forced the partiers to hold their hands and arms over their faces shielding their eyes. They moved slowly and clumsily like newborn mice too. Falling, stumbling, coming to rest on the sidewalk and in the street.

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NYPD didn‟t know what to make of it. At first glance it appeared as if they had busted some sort of crazy, fetish, body painting party. But upon closer investigation there was no paint or tattoos visible amongst the herd. We noticed one or two cops rubbing someone‟s arm or pouring bottled water on one of the hundreds, trying to wash paint off the skin. But it wasn‟t paint. “Damn, you got „em good this time.” That was my man Storm talking to me; dragging me up the street. I looked down at my arms. My completion is dark; not like a black man, but like a white man with a tan. My parents were Latin. Purple leopard stripes were beginning to appear on my forearms. Wait a minute. Leopards don‟t have stripes. I was happy though. Matter of fact I was feeling pretty invincible all of a sudden. Not in the “want to kick somebody‟s ass type of way.” But I was feeling pretty good given the fact that I barely escaped our party before it got busted by NYPD. Obviously, I was blowing up. It was that Tiger. This was a new flavor we put out there tonight. It gave you that „happy invincibility.‟ Now my tiger stripes were beginning to kick in hard. See, we added visuals to our shit. Storm looked at me and gave me his shades. The whites of my eyes had become pale blue. After the call from the watch commander, I found Storm at the DJ booth. It really wasn‟t a DJ booth. It was just a folding table with a couple laptops on it. We still called it the DJ booth for nostalgia sakes. For you ignorant, we used the laptops to play music and control the light show.

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Never had to say much to Storm in times of crises. I just kind gave him the look, shook my head and pointed a thumb off into space somewhere. We were gone man. I was really worried about all of those people. What if they all got arrested? Storm reassured me that we could fix it later. Surely, the boys down at the precinct needed softball uniforms. And you better believe that someone down at City Hall would be wanting to get their hands on some of this shit we put out there tonight. We just went worldwide. Storm and I would later hear about whiskers growing out of peoples faces after a couple of hours; eyes changing into those of cats. The cops down at the bust didn‟t know what to make of it. The people had mutated into multicolored beings. The busted were oblivious to the cops, the cops did not matter. And the cops had no idea what to do with the busted. Ambulances were called. A few partiers were taken downtown for questioning. But for the most part everyone was let go at the scene. The dust was settling. The people were beginning to come down. Their skin and eyeballs were returning to normal after an hour or so. There wasn‟t much else NYPD could do. But let them go. Too much paperwork. For nothing. Storm and I disappeared into the subway. With great foresight, the city‟s founding father‟s had provided their own escape route into the underground. And now you‟re wondering how this story about partying and a stripper became a science-fiction tale. Well, it just did.

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Once again, I don‟t know how we made it back to the apartment. It was up there pretty high, 116th street, on the east side of Manhattan, Spanish Harlem. Harlem had

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remained a cool place to live since President Clinton moved there in 2001. We kept a little place on the 17th floor of some building. Of course, by now I was full blown. Purple tiger stripes covered my body. The purple resembled that of a richly colored blood blister. Looking in the bathroom mirror, my eye whites were sky blue. My pupils narrowed just a bit resembling those of a house cat. Under the bright bathroom lights, it was a scene straight off the X-files. “Hey man, you want me to call your girl,” Storm yelled out from across the flat. I guess he figured I needed to come down, and my girl would help calm me down a little bit. For those non-drug user types, coming down is the space in time when a drug‟s effects begin to wear off. The effects wear off slowly at first but then there‟s usually a rapid drop off. At that point you get the „jones‟, or the „geek.‟ The body starts fiending for that substance. When folks start geeking like a rat, they do more of the same drug, take a nap, or take another drug to dampen the effects of the original drug. For instance, cocaine and hard liquor go together like cigarettes and beer; or rice and gravy. The alcohol in the liquor has a way of balancing out the jerkiness of cocaine trips. Say for instance, one went from 0 to 100 miles per hour in 2 seconds in an iron chair. Alcohol would serve as a cushion to ease the transition. The same would be true in the come down. If one decelerated from 100 to 0 miles per hour in 2 seconds, alcohol would serve as a seatbelt to keep you from flying through the windshield. Flying through the windshield would be like getting the jones or geeking. As a rule of thumb, one should not do cocaine unless they have already started drinking hard liquor. That way the body won‟t get used to cocaine alone. If the body ever got used to cocaine alone, the individual was in danger of becoming an addict.

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Now, chicks usually take a sleeping pill or Zanex to counteract the 150 beats per minute heartbeat of being jacked up on cocaine. Did you notice all of those commercials on the Nets for sleeping pills? Humm? But see, that was another selling point of our organization. When you cut drugs with our compounds, it smoothed them out. Whether or not you started geeking depended on the cut. For God sakes, it was the year 2029. If dealers had not figured out how to cut drugs at this point, there was no help for the World. The average street thug is an idiot though. He or she is all about the right now. They figured they hustled you because you bought a $90 or $100 sack of “believe that” from them. Now they might have cut or mixed the contents of your sack with baby laxative or aspirin. So after your first line or two, you got to shit. And they wonder why you don‟t call them back. I told you it was all about the cut. Real hustlers understand clientele. If I take care of this customer by providing him with a quality product and excellent customer service he will come back with that same $100 again and again and again. Now that‟s business. And that‟s why we only dealt with dealers who had clientele and not silly assed street thugs. What in the hell was Storm talking about. I know the sample beans and powder we had mixed the other day were smooth. I‟m not gonna have a rough comedown. Shit, matter-a-fact, I‟m feeling pretty good. “What in the hell you talking bout Storm. I don‟t want to see that girl right now.” “Well I called her,” he grumbled “She said she‟ll be over here about 8.” That god damned Storm. It was about noon now. Shit. I think I‟m gonna do another line, have a drink, and watch a movie.

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Storm was standing in the kitchen working the phones. I imagine business was booming pretty good after last night. When you got people at your party turning into rainbows and pussycats, I imagine the word gets around. Storm was a good friend. What other friend would come hang out with you for weeks at a time and handle your business affairs. Man, dealers were trying to hook up from all over the city. Like I said, we didn‟t sell drugs. I might know a little bit about DNA and the human genome. It was obvious I was gonna have to get back to the lab. We had four or five gallons each of Tiger, Rainbow, and Cloud hidden somewhere downstairs, and they were not gonna last long. Tiger, Rainbow, and Cloud were the names I had giving to the newest flavors. Not to be confused with cocaine, but I refined the sugars into powder form and stored them in plastic buckets. Down in the basement, the Super would think that one of the maintenance men had left a couple of buckets of paint or plaster in the boiler room. This was Sunday afternoon. I heard Storm in the kitchen say something about a Roles Royce. A Roles Royce sounded pretty good right about now. Dealers were offering all kinds of shit to get their hands on the sugar. The powders could be mixed in with cocaine or pressed in with ecstasy pills. Funny, cause cocaine usually cancels ecstasy‟s effect. Our compounds temporarily altered DNA. Altered DNA rearranged the brains chemistry and other bodily processes. The effects were temporary in that the immune system would expel the foreign particles after a while. On the molecular level we made sure our shit had markers. Our shit literally screamed at the immune system, „hey, don‟t fuck with me now, but kick me out after a couple of hours. Unless you want to be a tiger.‟

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So maybe I can get out to the lab for a minute or two tomorrow. My man is flying in Tuesday, so I guess we will have dinner Tuesday night. And I can knock out my lab work Wednesday. All right, fuck this. I‟m doing another line.

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“Boom-Boom, titty-Boom.” This time it was old-school hip-hop. Loud, low bass rhythms seeped under the door and through the walls. The bedroom was dark. According to the little red clock on the nightstand it was 8 o‟clock in the P.M. I heard the voices of a deep voiced man, and some women giggling over the hip hop beats. Storm‟s done got the party started. You know how it is waking up in the dark when you are not obligated to be anywhere. Peaceful. Real peaceful. There‟s five or seven minutes of free thought. Easy thoughts linger at first; the remnants of REM sleep. Then the spirit and brain start spiraling upwards. Brilliant concepts and revelations hit you. But you got to check yourself, because on further inspection you don‟t know which side those ideas are coming from; light or dark. Sleep walking into the light, yawning, rubbing my eyes, the scenario in the living room begins to come into clarity. My forearms are back to normal. I don‟t see tiger stripes anymore. “What up Dogg!” That god damned Storm. Stop screaming at me mutherfucker. You got the walking dead here. I tried to say all of that but this zombie really didn‟t feel like saying shit.

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“Oh my God, it‟s alive.” Now that was a girl‟s voice. A couple of vague blobs sat on the couch and an easy chair in my peripherals. The two blobs were yapping, sipping on cocktails. For some odd reason this zombie was headed for the kitchen. I don‟t know if it were a kitchen or not. A counter separated the food preparation area from the living room. Everything was beige, the carpet and walls that is. Brown couches, easy chairs, and tables broke up the monotony. The monotony was further broken by the richly stained, brown hardwood floor of the kitchen “You‟re not gonna speak to me babe?” My girl‟s here. “Hey babe.” I muttered. I had to say something on that one. Any man in his right mind knows that he might want to respond when his girl speaks to him. I was half-way across the room now. I had ignored her. Hell, I had ignored everybody. Some other chick was sitting on the couch. One of my girl‟s friends. “How we do Storm?” Ok. I had said something else. Storm was in the same spot he was in 8 hours ago. While I heard him talking shit earlier, he was talking to space command again by the time I made it out of the bedroom. Man, take that damn earpiece off your head. I didn‟t say that. “Hold on a minute.” Storm hit a button on his handset. “A‟ight, come on in.” Storm hit the end button on the handset. “What up dogg.” Storm was talking to me now. “ Chillin,” I retorted. “ We did 17, a Roles Royce, Broadway tickets. Somebody‟s got a vacation house in Florida.”

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What Storm was really saying was that we had about $17,000 U.S. on the way in hard cash orders for Sugar. Somebody Uptown wanted to trade a Roles Royce. That might be hard to fence. Maybe I‟ll drive it for a while, but it will probably end up in a garage in Atlanta, at a safe house. You get the idea on the Broadway tickets. I don‟t know about that vacation house thing. It might be a set-up. Depends on whose it is. “All right Storm. Maybe we ought to ramp up the cash a little bit.” Saying this, I began opening the Chinese food boxes that called out to my nose from below me on the counter. Maybe it was Storm‟s food, or maybe one of the girls brought it over. I don‟t know. I‟m eatin‟. Where‟s a small plate? “BLAP, BLAP, BLAP, BLAP, BLAP, BLAP” Dammit. Now somebody‟s beating on the door. “Who buzzed somebody in,” I said? For those non-New York types, to gain entrance to a high rise, you have to call that apartment from the ground floor. Upon reaching your party, they have to „buzz‟ you in. Buzzing in is usually accomplished when the tenant or owner presses 9 or some other code on their phone line, thus sending a signal to the locking mechanism down below to open the door. “It‟s cool, it‟s cool. That‟s my man E.” That‟s Storm talking yall. “Somebody get the door.” A thin brother, and a shorter thin brother entered and walked over towards the kitchen. By “brother” I mean a black man.

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“What up nigga.” That was Storm‟s greeting. Since Storm was a big brother himself, I imagine he could get away with calling another brother a nigga. The taller of the thin brothers replied; “Shit, I heard yall niggas on some ole‟ crazy shit. What‟s it gone take to get down with that Kool-Aid.” Upon saying that, he threw a small backpack on the counter. Blocks of $100 bills fell out. I was eating. The thin brothers spoke with that strong New York street dialect. The dialect that the rappers use on TV and the Nets. I let Storm work out all the details. “Niggas on the run might want to hit that Tiger.” Storm continued “Ladies like that Cloud.” All right, I‟m done eating. That business shit is a little too complicated for me right now. I‟m going back to bed. I had almost made my way across the living room. The tentacles of love sucked me back into the melee. One of the girls asked; “ Are you going to bed, babe?” “Yep,” I retorted. “It was kind of you to make an appearance.” That was sarcasm coming from one of the girls. I kindly retorted, “Cut the music down!”

This time it was going on 5. 5 A.M. I didn‟t have to look at the clock with the red numbers on it. I just felt it. Turning on my side, my arm came to rest on a soft naked body. I could recognize those curves anywhere. It was that brown skinned Dedra, my girl.

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“Hey babe,” she said. Damn, she had a sexy, waking up voice. Raspy, soft, yet feminine. At some point in the night, she had slipped her fine ass into my bed. “Hey babe,” I greeted, or rather, welcomed her into my bed. Dedra‟s presence felt good at this moment. Her presence felt good at any moment. It was strange to feel this way around a girl; strange in a good way. Most party girls got on your nerves after a few hours. But Dedra never did. “I had a good time. I‟m glad you invited me over.” she said. “Oooh yeah,” I yawned. Just as I‟m feeling all cuddly, Dedra jerkily reaches for something at the side of the bed. I thought she was half-asleep. All of that sudden movement startled me a little bit. “Babe, you have got to see the pictures from the party.” she said. Dedra and I always called each other Babe. Shit, I don‟t think she even knew my real name. I never told her. She might have overheard it once or twice in my conversations with Storm. But here it was, nine months later, and she was still showing up two or three times a week; following me all over town, following me all over the country for that matter. So Dedra reaches for a lap-top, which is now lying between us on the bed. I lay there not saying anything while she scrolls between the various windows setting up a slide show. I didn‟t want to break her concentration or anything. “All right, here we go,” she said. It was the usual party pictures, flash brightened figures with dark backgrounds. The slides changed with pictures of people smiling and throwing up fingers in various

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configurations of peace symbols and gang signs. Well I‟m just calling them gang signs cause I don‟t believe anyone at our party actually banged. Then it got weird. There it was; a white girl with a low-cut, iridescent blue dress that barely covered her panties. Bluish-purple animalistic stripes flowed down her legs from her sweet spot. The space in-between the stripes was pink. Some white folks are known to be pale. Upon exposure to extreme sun, pale white folks may turn pink. Back in the day, they didn‟t call them rednecks for nothing. But this ain‟t the type of pink we‟re talking about. We‟re talking bubble gum pink. Bubble gum pink filled the spaces in-between the girl‟s stripes with an occasional yellow highlight running along a stripes edge. It was beautiful. The striped pattern flowed from her breast, past the two strings serving as straps to her dress, and down her arms. Pedigreed dogs worldwide, shuttered in their paws at the radiant beauty of the girl with the blue dress. “Damn,” I said. The pictures rolled on. The next subject was a sister. When I say sister, I mean a black girl. Giraffes don‟t have stripes. But rather, they have large, pentagon shaped spots in varying shades of brown and yellow. The sister‟s face was like black-face in reverse. Her face was covered with large, dusty-white giraffe spots with her silky brown skin forming the lines in between. Wow, I thought. It was amazing how the Tiger compound affected people differently. Dedra asked, “How did you guys do that?”

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“I don‟t know,” I mumbled. What in the hell was she talking about? I was the biological engineer. Storm just handled my business affairs. I swear. Sometimes women didn‟t know shit. I ain‟t the jealous type and I ain‟t gonna tell her any different. I liked Storm. In a way Dedra was right, though. Storm and I were a team. He really facilitated the whole thing. We worked together. I wouldn‟t be involved with all of these rogues if it weren‟t for him. I didn‟t have the personality for it. Jesus sent them out two by two to preach the Gospel. Apart, Storm and I were just two guys at the bar. Together, we were underworld puppet masters. I‟m not bragging, but I‟m just saying. Where he was strong, I was weak, and vice versa. Batman and Superman. Together, we always made it through the cliffhanger. But that was the whole point; going all out, not holding back. The Lord continued; one can cast out one-thousand demons. Two can cast out tenthousand. One of us, by ourselves could sure fuck shit up. But the two of us together were tearing down the whole town. Towns. So what the fuck was I thinking. I have a beautiful naked woman in my bed and I‟m having a Kodak moment about Storm. “All right, I know that brother got all the pussy the other night.” That‟s the only thing I could say when I saw the next picture. Ever seen a well built, black man in Speedos covered with white zebra stripes? Well, there he was. It was animalistic. Tribal. It was awesome. It was amazing how that Tiger compound affected people differently.

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8 A.M. Monday morning. There was a note on the kitchen counter. Poppi, had to run downtown to take care of some business. p.s. answer your damn phone. be back in a minute. Storm.

Ah shit. That meant I had to work the phones today. Storm didn‟t do drugs. He probably had to run around town to collect money and drop off sugar. So much for going to the lab. He didn‟t do drugs. That meant after he ran all of his errands, he was going to sleep. For the non-drug user types, cocaine keeps you up. Most people can‟t sleep on it. Notice the alliterations to sleeping pills and liquor earlier. Storm had to sleep at some point. It had been a long weekend. I had been up two or three days with a couple of hour or two naps in between. So was the case with bingers. I would do cocaine for a day or two, finally crashing into 12 or 18 hours of sleep. It was like that. I don‟t know how Storm did it. How the fuck are you gonna stay up all of them hours without sleep? Cocaine. But Storm didn‟t do drugs. He never missed an after party, though. He was good for cutting deals deep into the next day. My number was up. Dedra‟s friend Janet, was still sleep on the couch. Her name was Janet and she was fine like Janet Jackson used to be, too. Shit. Morning light glowed from the side of the blinds. Dedra moseyed her ass into the kitchen with panties and a bra on, reaching into a cabinet for a pan.

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“Babe you want some eggs?” “Yeah, all right.” I returned. That was another thing about coke. Most users lost their appetite after the first one or two lines. Bingers like me ate voraciously after coming down. I can‟t say that I wasn‟t hungry. Let me give you another sign right quick. If a mutherfucker can eat a bunch of food while high on cocaine, he‟s been doing it for years. By the time Dedra and I had eaten, Janet had called a cab and left. I guess the picture of that Zulu warrior with the zebra stripes had worked. Dedra was intent on giving me head after breakfast.

Dedra was gone. After another nap, it was finally time to get up and cut the phones on. Dedra was good. After head like that how could you do anything but sleep. 11:31A.M. “BUZZ” One of the cell phones went off. “Yeah,” I answered. It was Vladimir, one of the Russians. Street thugs usually didn‟t use their real names. This fellow was Russian. He was cool. So we called him Vladimir. The Bolshevik on the other end of the line came back with a strong accent. “Hey my friend. We got a little construction project going on down at the garage. We need concrete, a couple of yards. Do you think you can help us out?” “Hey Vladdy.” Vladimir worked out pretty good as a street name. I continued.

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“Man, I don‟t know? I might be able to get seven or eight buckets of Quick Crete down there later. But the whole two yards might take a couple of days.” “That‟s fine, that‟s fine,” Vladdy responded. “Come right away, come right away.” Vladdy‟s voice strained with a slight bit of pressure. You could tell that the Russians really wanted to get their hands on the shit. “All right Vladdy, calm down.” I said. “How about 2 or 3 o‟clock. I can come over and fix the asphalt then.” “Ok, ok. Poppi, you very good peoples.” “All right Vladdy. Chao.” In the beginning was the Word. After love, linguistics became the second weapon. In the beginning it was all about what was said. What was said, came into existence. Over time, humans finally caught on to the second dimension of linguistics technology; the way things are said. It was all about innuendo. Constructing one‟s language so that the real message was in-coded between the lines. As a most simplistic example, American grown-ups talk this way when talking about sex around children. The wife might say, “Hey honey, I‟m going to take a nap.” But what she was really telling the husband was; “Hey Neanderthal. I think I‟m horney. Come back here and fuck my brains out before I change my mind.” The cops had their codes. We had ours. So basically, with the phone call, Vladdy had ordered 20 pounds of Sugar. Each yard denoted 10 pounds. I told Vladdy that I could get him 7 or 8 pounds right away, and could fill the rest of the order by the end of the week.

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Storm and I were Americans. We still dealt in pounds, half pounds, quarter pounds, and ounces. We did not convert our shit to kilos and grams. It was a subtle way of putting an American stamp on our products. The Russians had controlled the ecstasy trade for the last 40 years, all the way back to the early 1990‟s. For some odd reason Russian authorities didn‟t bust Russian ex labs with the same ferocity the FBI and ATF busted American meth labs. It was the same way in South America with the cocaine farms. Guns ran shit and everyone seemed to turn a blind eye to the money cocaine was generating. Night lifers everywhere have gone into a bar and noticed the new Russian bartender. Not being stereotypical, but there might be a trail of ecstasy beans behind him. It was obvious, with such a big order, that the former Socialist wanted to start cutting their ecstasy supplies with the new flavors. We could expect bigger orders in the future. I don‟t know how we were gonna keep up. So you think Storm and I are wrong for accepting money and gifts for Sugar given to drug dealers? Well maybe you ought to check Exxon and Texaco first. Try British Petroleum or Dow chemicals. Cocaine is processed with kerosene. Who do you think my brothers in South America get the kerosene from? Not once in all of these years of „drug wars‟ have I seen a President blast an oil company for providing kerosene to drug dealers. And that‟s just the beginning. So fuck yall. And since the conversation has turned all international all of a sudden, check this. The pictures Dedra had shown me had not been her own. Rather they were pictures posted on various Myspace accounts and web pages. So basically, the pictures of the colored people from our party were going worldwide. And the chat and blogs followed

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the pictures. All of the real players knew about the Kool-Aid now. The players were hunting us down. Dealers worldwide were awakening, trying to find out who we were and how to connect with us. What had started as an effort on my part to smooth out my party favors was beginning to snowball into something else. I had grown pissed off at the horrifying come downs from cocaine that had been cut with bullshit. Demons seemed to chase you around and whisper things in your ear. Telling you shit like you‟re a failure and you‟re never going to make it, irregardless of what degree of success you were experiencing at the time. Recalling some of the things from my parent‟s notebooks, I had gone to the lab and developed the first party sugar. I always told Storm about those demons. Upon completing the compound, Storm gave some to one of his drug dealer friends and asked him to cut it up with some cocaine. The dealer sold a few bags with the new cut and came back at us with samples of our own. The response was incredible. It was the smoothest high anyone had ever experienced. And there were no demons in the come down. Niggas, ho‟s, white boys, and model chicks flocked to that dealer like flies on fresh dog shit. That dealer went on to glory, fame, and riches, around the five boroughs. It had all happened only nine months ago. Based on that success, the dealer set us up with a business partner in Chicago. The partner sponsored a party that featured bags cut with Sugar # 1. So another dealer goes „all city‟ in Chicago, based on me getting pissed off. So Storm and I knew we had something at that point. So fuck it, we‟ll throw our own party this time. So I went back to the lab. We‟ll get to the lab work in a minute, but I

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synthesized blue orchid proteins in with the base mixture. Holy shit. So we throw the party. And guys and girls hitting the coke and popping the beans cut with Sugar # 2 are turning blue. That‟s when Storm and I went national. Folks in the underworld were rumbling about the party with the shit that made everybody turn blue. Sugar # 2 later became the Cloud flavor. This whole mess that I was in on Monday afternoon had began after party number 4. Calls like the one from the Russians had trickled in at first. But by the time Oprah came on, I had to stop answering the phones. There were just too many calls. All of the dealers had finally woken up and were jamming the phone lines. The fuckers were driving me nuts. Where‟s that damned Storm? Damn, Oprah‟s old as shit now, like Barbara Walters. I had to run downstairs and check the inventory. I still hadn‟t packed or measured out anything. I was running late with the Russians. I decided to load the buckets of sugar on the elevator and bring them up to the apartment so I could begin measuring. I had told everyone that the candy store was closed until 5. They could begin making pick-ups then. It was 4:20. I was missing Oprah, trying to drag buckets from the elevator back into the apartment. “BUZZ” “Fuck!” The phone on my side was going off. The voice pal in my Bluetooth informed me that the call was from Brett. He was an old friend. I had to take it. “What up, son?” “Hey Nando, you sound a little winded,” he said. “Yeah, I‟m moving some things around.” I replied.

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“Well, don‟t hurt yourself,” he continued. “I‟ll be flying in about 2 tomorrow. Are you still cooking dinner?” “Yeah, Yeah,” I replied, still breathing heavily. “I don‟t know if I‟m flying into LaGuardia or Newark. I haven‟t checked my itinerary yet. But I‟ll probably stay overnight and fly out of JFK in the morning. Is that cool?” “Yeah, man. You‟re always welcome here.” I replied as if the national spokesman for Yes Men Incorporated. I continued. “I might go out for a minute and have a drink after dinner. Is that ok? Let me know.” “There you go, starting trouble brother,” Brett said. “You know I have to be ready to roll when I get overseas.” “All right, All right. You know me.” I returned. “Have you heard from Carla,“ Brett asked? Carla was an old girlfriend we shared. “Naw. I don‟t know if she‟s in town yet. Knowing her she‟s probably out shopping. You know she won‟t stay here.” I replied. “But she always calls. Man you know that.” “Yeah, she does.” Brett continued. “Don‟t worry about picking me up, I‟ll catch a cab.” “Are you sure,” I asked. “Yeah. You know it‟s easier that way. I wouldn‟t want to tie up your whole day.” Brett continued. “It‟s cool watching the people move about the streets. New York ain‟t bad on scenery, you know. I like the cab ride.”

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7
Sometimes, to go forward, you got to go back. Way back. Once upon a time, before life got complicated;

My parents had been researchers at the CDC. The Centers for Disease Control are a group of government run facilities in Atlanta, Georgia. They are into some highpowered scientific shit. Most of the facilities are on the outskirts of the Atlanta, city limits or in different suburbs all together. One cluster of compounds lie in Decatur, Georgia, on the edges of Emory University. Emory is a damn near Ivy League level school. The only thing preventing it from being in the Ivy League is age. „She‟s too young for you honey.‟ Thus, in this little pocket of Decatur, I grew, sheltered in an upper middle class world of academia. Great scholars and scientist passed through the grounds of the campus. My parents lived a life among the greatest minds in the world. Even those in Atlanta, didn‟t realize the richness of the brilliance hidden among the manicured lawns, mini-mansions, and Oak canopied streets of this little pocket of Decatur. But it all ended. My parents were killed in a tragic car crash near the end of my junior year at Druid Hills High School. The tragedy didn‟t hit me at the time. Amongst the things that I do remember is my Uncle Fred coming over a couple of nights before I lost my parents. Dad had taken him upstairs. Upon returning Uncle Fred had several files in his hand. I remember Dad saying something like don‟t forget where the rest of the files are.

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My parents were Latin. Mom was from Mexico. Dad was from Costa Rica. Despite greatly understanding my Latin heritage, I was a child indoctrinated with Americana. Uncle Fred wasn‟t a blood uncle but rather a friend of the family whom I had seen from time to time over the years. I later came to know that he was a scientific fellow at Emory University and my parents and his research were inextricably linked. My parent‟s death didn‟t hit me at first. At this point my life had been too happy. Friend‟s parents had stayed with me in the days following my loss. My parent‟s families were too poor to come to their funeral on such short notice. Or at least that‟s what they claimed. Despite the fact that my parents had been supporting their families abroad for years. Another curious fact was that none of my mother or father‟s co-workers appeared at the funeral or ever came by the house. Then amidst the aftermath and confusion of the wake, our home was full of my friends and several parents. It was about 10 P.M. My friend Norman was there. We had all just returned from the funeral home. And all of a sudden, Uncle Fred appeared at the front door. The parents were a bit startled, but I reassured them that Uncle Fred was a friend of the family and it was ok to let him in. In my growth as a human being, this was the first time that I consciously recognized the look. Uncle Fred was trying to tell me something with his eyes. There were too many people around for him to say it out loud. It was telepathic, spiritual communication. “So you need the rest of the files from Dad‟s office.” I just said it. I don‟t know where it came from. In front of everybody, I had to give Uncle Fred a reason to get those files. I knew that it was important to make this move right now.

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“Yes Nando. As a memoriam to your father we want to publish his last findings in our University Journal.” That was bullshit. Spiritual confusion welled up in me. The Spirit within me was saying, „definitely make sure Uncle Fred leaves here with those files. Do not wait until tomorrow.‟ But that whole journal story was a lie. When in Rome, stay with the script. I announced to everyone, whom were now standing near the foyer by the front door; “Will you guys excuse me while I run Uncle Fred up to the office to get those files.” Several parents displayed the bewildered look of caution. They didn‟t know Uncle Fred from Adam‟s house cat. As far as they were concerned I could be handing over the car titles and the deed on the property to this con man. “It‟s ok. It‟s ok. Uncle Fred has worked with my parents for years,” I reassured the parents. Dad‟s office was set in the first little cove as you entered the upstairs. Uncle Fred quickly reached into a shelf under a computer monitor and grabbed several green file folders. Without saying a word, we returned downstairs, Uncle Fred waived good-bye, and we both proceeded out the front door. Halfway across the brick walkway to the street he turned. “I can‟t contact you now, son. Remember this e-mail address acidman2323@hotmail.com. acidman2323@hotmail.com.” He said it twice so I would remember it. With urgency he pressed, “Now what is the e-mail address son?”

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“acidman2323@hotmail.com,” I answered. “Now when the dust settles contact me. Do you understand son?” “Yes.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” At that moment he turned. The intensity in his eyes frightened me. A grown man had never talked to me like that before. Uncle Fred had unwittingly burst my cherry into adulthood. Innocence was lost. From this moment, I was on fast forward to the cruel realities of the real world. Uncle Fred slammed a car door on what was the middle of three black Towncars. The windows were tinted. The cars sped off like some type of political motorcade. Now I had the bewildered look of caution on my face. What had I done. Whereas the Force was strong within me a moment ago, I now felt nothing. Going back inside, I played it off. The parents grilled me. “What did Uncle Fred say?” “What did Uncle Fred ask you outside?” I played it off. If adulthood meant doing things that you really didn‟t want to do, I wanted no parts of it. But it was too late. Uncle Fred had already forced me to eat the apple. There was only one course of action. I lied. “Uncle Fred just asked about the funeral arrangements and told me how sorry he was.” Phew. I didn‟t know if I was going to like this adult thing or not. Now I was sweating. Not visibly but I could feel the cool expansion of my pores.

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“He must be a big wig at Emory, with all of those cars following him around.” Dammit. The parents just wouldn‟t stop. Up until that moment I had never really used curse words. But the effects of the apple had all types of new expletives running through my brain. god dammit.

8
The funeral had gone off without a hitch. It was a beautiful service. I wasn‟t mad at the Lord yet. Without being a racist it would be safe to assume, that since my mother was from Mexico, she was Catholic. She was. Dad also had Catholic roots. But since the priest couldn‟t get their shit together he had converted to Presbyterian after his first year or two over here studying. Dad was always complaining. “If St. Peter, the second priest after Jesus Christ was married and had a family, how come the rest of the priest couldn‟t get married, too. Moses and Abraham were married. Pharaoh gave Joseph a wife. Manasseh and Ephraim, Joseph‟s sons, founded their own tribes for God‟s sakes. Those priest wouldn‟t have all of those problems if they could lay with a woman. Of course a molester would want to be a Priest. It was the perfect alibi.” The Presbyterians were good Bible teachers. Despite the life I was living right now, I knew what the Word was all about. In this regard, I choose to look the other way. There we go with that blasphemy shit again. I knew what was right, but I choose to do what I wanted to do. So here I am, spilling Sugar all over the carpet. So I can be cool with the drug dealers. damn. Back to the past; the funeral party had returned to our home after the burial at the local memorial gardens. The parents, Dad‟s lawyer, and several people from the church

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had made all of the arrangements. The women brought over a large dinner for us all. It was cool. My friends were there and I definitely felt the compassion of those who where caring for me. Overwhelmed by the constant love I was receiving from the gathered masses, I needed to take a break. I had to breathe. I needed a minute or two to myself. I let the parents know that I was going upstairs to my room to change clothes. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, a strange feeling hit me; a frightening feeling. I felt a presence. It felt as though someone had been in our home while we were gone. Looking to my right, I noticed Dad‟s office. Everything seemed to be in place but at the same time the placement of objects had changed. Subtle changes had occurred. I didn‟t see the changes. I felt them. When you live in the same house for 16 years you knew whether or not someone had been there. Someone had definitely been in Dad‟s office. At that moment, I knew that I would never feel safe or rest comfortably in our home again. Something else was missing. My parents. The realization that I would never see Mom or Dad in the intimacy of our private living space was beginning to hit home. The emotional cloud within me could no longer hold back the storm of tears. Drops seeped from my eyes as the muscles around my face began to convulse. I tried to drive this body down the road of despair, to my room. But the flow of rain was too much for the eyelids to wipe away. Angels do exist. The gentlest touch from a friend‟s mom awakened me from my slumber. They had left me alone; alone to deal with this most personal side of grief in my

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on way. The peace that I had felt in my dream world was now succumbing to the realizations that I felt in this realm. I was scared. Angels do exist. My angel offered to let me stay at her house for a while so that I would have company. I couldn‟t let on that I was scared. This was the perfect cover. Leaving, with a suitcase full of clothes, and a laptop, I knew that this would be the last time I would see my home like this. A week or two past, and the second miracle happened. Nana, my Dad‟s mother showed up on my friend‟s doorstep. It had been decided by my Dad‟s lawyer and a couple of the parents, in my best interest, that our home be sold, and the profits and insurance money be put away for me in a couple of trust funds to be released to me at 18 and 21. Perfect, because I was too scared to go back home anyway. Meanwhile, Nana and I are set up in a townhouse and she is given an allowance from the funds to take care of us both. All right, So I‟m a 16 year old kid with a $1,000,000 in the bank and I can‟t touch it. Ain‟t that some shit.

9
The dust was settling. Nana and I had settled into our new middle class neighborhood. The townhomes were occupied by college kids, young married couples, and old folks. Not many teenagers. School had ended and I was 17 now. I have to give it to my friends. Through the end of the school year they had shown much love. But it was summer now. I didn‟t play any summer ball or have a job. Most of my friends were involved with those types of activities. I was getting pretty lonely. Nana was cool. She always had dinner on the table and interesting small talk. But she couldn‟t replace my parents. To her credit, Nana always made me go to church on Sundays.

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Another strong personality had stuck with me. It was my friend Norman. You wouldn‟t believe it but Norm was the captain of the football team. He was a brother. And he was built slightly bigger than the rest of us. I don‟t know what Norm and I had in common. Maybe it was the fact that he had been raised by his grandparents. We spent warm, summer nights huddled up inside the townhouse or his grandfather‟s house playing X-box or PlayStation. Of course he loved Madden, and my love of football probably grew from the games we played and the things he taught me. But I always convinced him to play Halo, Sniper, or some other soldieristic, killing game on-line. It was funny though. Before my parents died we weren‟t all that cool. We spent hours and hours gaming that summer, and it was amazing the things we learned about one another. Yet and still, I was getting lonely. You couldn‟t game all day. After a while, football was gonna take Norm away. And why had God, who loved me so much, taken Mom and Dad? Then it hit me. The dust had settled. Uncle Fred had told me to e-mail him. Nana was cool. But she was a Spanish woman. She was nosey and always knew what was going on in the house. Nana was up moving around, cleaning. I couldn‟t e-mail Uncle Fred from the house right then. So I went to the store for a candy bar and e-mailed him from my phone. What was that e-mail address?

To: acidman2323@hotmail.com From: nandoruiz111@google.net Subject: how r u?

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Uncle Fred. What‟s up. I am doing fine. Nana is taking good care of me. I am getting a little bored this summer, though. How are things at work? Nando SEND

Later on that evening, I checked my e-mails on the laptop. Going to my Google account first, I was happy to see a response.

FROM: acidman2323@hotmail.com TO: nandoruiz111@google.net Subject: (none) meet me at wiley‟s for lunch tomorrow. 1pm. be good son.

10
Wiley‟s was a local burrito spot. Everybody ate there from time to time. I had so many questions for Uncle Fred. I wanted someone to tell me about my parent‟s work. There was an insatiable desire to know what they did. Wiley‟s was right around the corner from me and Nana‟s house. In a sick, sadistic way, the death of your parents wasn‟t all bad. I now had the keys to Mom‟s two-year-old Volvo station wagon. For all practical purposes it was mine. And it was paid for. Dad‟s lawyer was always calling me about paying the insurance. I usually ignored that call. I guess he paid it for me. Nana drove Dad‟s Camry. But Nana didn‟t drive much. Me or one of the neighbors usually took her where she wanted to go.

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I got to Wiley‟s about 12:50 P.M.. Looking around, I didn‟t see Uncle Fred anywhere. At Wiley‟s customers waited in line, and then ordered their burritos at the counter. Behind the counter two Mexican girls made your burrito to order. They had all kinds of shit: steak, pork, guacamole, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, cheese, everything. So I‟m waiting there, mouth salivating at the smell of grilled beef. “Are you Nando?” to my left, behold, the sight of a tall, brown-haired, white woman speaking to me. And she was fine. A pair of cotton warm-up shorts adorned her hips revealing long tanned legs. An Emory University T-shirt covered her body. The deep brown eyes hypnotized me for a moment. “Yes, I‟m Nando.” I finally spit out. “Dr. Tomlinson couldn‟t make it. He wants you to follow me over to his office,” she said. “You mean Uncle Fred?” “Yes. I think he did mention something about you calling him Uncle Fred.” “Ok.” I said with a puzzled look on my face. “We don‟t have time to eat. The Dr. has a meeting at 2, and we have to get there before then.” I was hungry. But whatever the beautiful woman says. After a traumatic event such as the death of ones parents, you really don‟t think about girls. But this tall woman just reminded me that I was 17 and had testosterone leaking out of my veins. Walking out of the door to Wiley‟s, the fantasy continued. “Parking on campus might be hard. Why don‟t you just ride with me,” she says. “Ok,” whatever the pretty girl wants. “By the way, my name is Carla.”

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Carla turned out to be one of Uncle Fred‟s upper level students. She was going into her final year at Emory. As part of her work-study scholarship, she did a few secretarial things for him. i.e. grading papers, running high school kids all over town, etc. I didn‟t understand such things at the time. To me she was a beautiful, grown woman. Making the short drive to campus, one had no idea that she and Uncle Fred were orchestrating this whole episode all along. “All right, I have to stop by the library before we see Dr.T.” “I thought Uncle Fred had a meeting at 2,” I asked? “We have time,” she retorted. Carla had pull. Upon entering the library she had me waived passed the security desk without an ID check. “He‟s with me,” is what she told the uniformed brother standing there. By far this was the biggest library I had ever seen. Volumes and volumes of books with names I couldn‟t pronounce covered the shelves. Five balconies full of those shelves cascaded above our heads as we made our way to an elevator. I said nothing. Quiet covered the room. Descending two floors, Carla had me waived past another desk of librarians guarding a special collections room. Going forth a bit, she opened a door and we entered a service corridor. Pipes and ventilation shafts protruded everywhere. A loud mechanical hum replaced the stillness of the library. “Where are we going?” “Don‟t worry, we‟re almost there,” she said. She was right. I had come this far, I might as well keep going. Surely a woman that pretty wasn‟t a campus killer. She was too

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fine. Weaving our way through a maze, I caught the smell of gas as we passed a couple of huge generators. A rush of conditioned air blew against us as she opened a door at the other end of the labyrinth. We walked. This was a hallway. The rooms that branched out were filled with odd shaped glasses and bowls. I recognized the equipment from science class. They were laboratories. We were no longer in the library. Turning into one of the labs, there he was, Uncle Fred. “Thank you, Carla,” he said. Exiting the room, she closed the door behind her. “This is weird Uncle Fred,” I said. “I‟m sorry young man. I got caught up in some lab work. How do you like Carla,” he asked? “She‟s pretty.” Something was fishy. I couldn‟t figure it out. I didn‟t know what question to ask. Uncle Fred sat there in a classroom chair staring at me. “Sit down.” “I‟m fine,” I fired. A slight taste of nerves was apparent in my voice. I just stood there, waiting on him talk. My head jerked back and forth looking at all of the lab equipment. The various beakers, glasses, and test tubes offered some strange form of kinship within my soul. It must have been hereditary. The feeling was slight though. “Strange meeting me in a place like this, eh?” “Yeah,” I responded. “This was your mother and father‟s world Nando. They spent their days in a lab similar to this.” I knew that. But what did that have to do with anything.

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Uncle Fred continued, “I don‟t have time to get into details young man. But what I can tell you is that their work was important. Your parents couldn‟t share their work with their friends and neighbors. “ “What was my parent‟s work? Uncle Fred. I mean, I‟m kinda curious now. I‟ve been thinking about it for a few days. Can you tell me something?” That was my reply. “I don‟t have time to explain it Nando,” Uncle Fred paused. Then he rose from his chair. “Do you trust me Nando?” So I‟m trapped in a room, god-knows where, with a grown man. There was only one answer. “Yes, I trust you.” I said. “Did you and your parents ever have any family secrets? House talk. Things that you only talked about around your home.” “Um, yeah, like…” But he cut me off. “All right, All right. Nando, don‟t tell me,” Uncle Fred said. “It‟s about those files Nando. Certain people want those files.” Naturally I had to ask, “Who wants those files?” “People,” he replied. “I‟m trying to say this in a way that doesn‟t frighten you lad. Let me try to explain it another way. Your parents‟ files are like a great discovery. If someone else finds out where the secret is hidden, then they will get rich instead of you.” “Ohhh.” Now that made sense. “The fact that your father gave me those files is a family secret. Nando, I have to ask you something. I have to ask you to do a grown up thing for me. Can you do it?”

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“Yes,” I answered. “If anyone asks you about those files you have to lie.” “Like the other night. When you told everyone that you were gonna publish something,” I said. “Yes Nando,” he said. “Your future depends on it. If anyone asks, you have to say „I don‟t know what you are talking about. What files?‟ Do you understand now son.” “Yes Sir,” I said. “So lets suppose someone comes up to you in class, one of your high school chums and says „Your Dad and Uncle Fred worked together. Did your Dad ever give Uncle Fred or anybody any papers or disks from work?‟ And your goddam answer is what?” “Uh, no.” “Very good young man. That goes for adults also, and by god don‟t tell Nana.” He went on. “That‟s why I can‟t see you now.” I was saddened a bit. For some odd reason I trusted this man. I was leaning on him as a father figure then he told me he couldn‟t see me. But Uncle Fred didn‟t give me a chance to get down on myself. “Your parents discovery will make you a rich and powerful man one day. For now, we can‟t give any indication to the World that the University might be holding the files for you. You mustn‟t tell anyone that we‟ve met here today or any time in the future. Is that clear,” he asked? “Yes Sir,” I responded.

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“If anyone asks, tell them that you were hanging out with your new friend Carla, from Emory University. Do you understand?” “Yes, Sir.” Suddenly, the tone switched. “Do you want to go to college?” he asked. “Yes Sir.” “Very Well. I‟m going to get Carla to help you with your SAT‟s. If you need me, she will be around. She knows how to contact me. Is that clear young man?” Uncle Fred moved towards the door. “Yes Sir.” Opening the door Uncle Fred left me with this; “In due time, the World will open up to you. Study hard Nando. Prepare yourself.” Carla had taken me back to my car at Wiley‟s. She had given me her number and asked me to call her. But I couldn‟t imagine calling a beautiful woman like that. However, she took my number also. The whole scenario was strange though. We had not exited from the library rather; we had exited from the campus hospital. Questions lingered in my mind as I ate a double cheeseburger. Hungry, I had decided against Wiley‟s and gone across the street to McDonalds. What in the hell were my parents doing? Why all of the big secrets? What was this invention that was so valuable? Was I gonna inherit a billion dollars? Warm Friday nights in Atlanta, provided a canvas on which high school rituals were built. Some worked. Many cruised. Others dated. It was July. Norm and I played

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video games. Despite the feelings of guilt associated with breaking Uncle Fred‟s confidence, I couldn‟t help but tell Norm about all of the secrecy surrounding those files. Norm told me this; “Man, that‟s family business. Some things you got to keep secret. Your Uncle Fred was probably right.” And I be damned if it wasn‟t two days later when Dad‟s lawyer called. It was a Sunday for that matter. No one did business in the South on Sunday. „Damn lawyer,‟ with the picture of a jackass, came up on my caller I D. Hitting the talk button I heard: “How ya doing Nando.” “I‟m ok Mr. Grossman,” I replied. I knew what he was gonna ask me about. There he goes again. Like clock work Mr. Grossman called every thirty days to remind me to pay the car insurance. I didn‟t pay it. He did. “Nando, you have got to keep up with those car insurance payments. When are you planning on sending a payment off?” “Uh, tomorrow. I think I‟m gonna transfer the funds online.” I said. It was all bullshit. “Nando, will I have to call you again next month? We are trying to teach you some responsibility here.” “No. No, I‟m gonna do it,” I replied. “Nando, before I go, I wanted to ask you about some of your father‟s paperwork.” “What about it,” I asked?

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“Well, we are missing some files. Do you know whether your Dad gave some paperwork to anyone at work or had a special place at home where he kept files or flash drives?” FUCK! My heart damned near exploded. You sly dog. Holy Cow. Play it off. “Um, no Mr. Grossman. You have all of my father‟s files. I double checked everything before we moved out of the house.” Phew. God damn you Uncle Fred. Mr. Grossman pressed on. “Are you sure Nando? Think back.” Ever got that feeling that someone was on the other line. The feeling that you were on speaker phone. My ears tuned intently. There it was. Through the silence you could hear it. Space. Like an old pro, my bullshit continued. “Naw, Mr. Grossman. I‟m thinking back and I think you have everything.” I fired a bluff. “We don‟t have any papers at the townhouse. You can double check with Nana to see if she saw anything, though” “That‟s ok. Nando” Grossman‟s retreat continued, “If you come across anything, let me know.” Upon hanging up the phone I could have swore I heard someone in the background say; “The kid‟s all right.” HOLY FUCKING SHIT. Norm was right. Uncle Fred knew what the hell he was talking about. My sentiments about the whole situation may have been lukewarm up until that point, but from then on I lived on Uncle Fred‟s every word. He knew something. In addition, retrospectfully, Norm had saved all of our lives. He was a good friend.

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11
As with the seasons, the landscape changed. Cool Atlanta, mornings transformed rich greens into flaming reds, flashing oranges, and an occasional streaking yellow. Daylight-savings time forced morning light to shine brightly in the waking hours. Street lamps could never compensate for the lost illuminance of the evenings. Shorts and sandals gave way to tennis shoes and jeans. Other jersey‟s changed as well. Norm went on to star in football. I went to all but one game, both home and away. Friends and I would carpool, or I would go solo. It didn‟t matter. A student cheering section from Druid Hills High School was always there. New attitudes and ideas were presenting themselves. The whole face of the planet had been explored and mapped, yet there were still new discoveries within myself. Exhilaration came with the new experiences. I had not gone to many games before. These games were different. New sights and sounds called themselves out: things that had been there all along. The band played. Yet it was interesting how the steps of the majorettes changed with the drum cadence. Norm hit people. But it was amazing how he positioned himself on the field in response to where opposing quarterbacks were looking. My classmates and I cheered. New emotions burst forth within me: happy emotions. I enjoyed being a fan. While Norm drew power from the heat of battle, or the energy of the crowd kept the drum major bouncing up and down the field, I was totally exhilarated absorbing the whole scene from the sidelines. These were the good emotions. I found myself reaching for new things. The exhilaration of discovery had begun to provide a high. I didn‟t know it, but the new

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feelings that these new experiences gave me, were the beginnings of an addiction. The new feelings replaced the despair of the loss of my parents. Although he had not been recruited by many major universities, in our minds, Norm was a star. He had decided on a small football powerhouse down by Savannah, Georgia Southern University. Going two games deep into the state playoffs, his high school football career had come to a close. Other subtle changes occurred. I had not heard much from Carla. True to Uncle Fred‟s word though, she helped me register for the SAT‟s and I was accepted into Florida State University. Around Druid Hills, senioritis was kicking in pretty hard. I had Norm back from football. Norm knew everybody. There wasn‟t a weekend that he didn‟t get invited to the coolest house party in Decatur. He had a network of fans and associates from other high schools as well. But amidst all of the popularity Norm and I grew tired of it all. We were getting bored. We wanted more. Within myself, there was a hint of a desire to discover more of those new feelings. Discovery provided a certain high. The air got colder now. Old leaves, once beautiful, had fallen off. Their transformation was complete. Now they lay rotting along the curb or amidst brown grass, yearning to be part of another life cycle. It was November or December. Carla began calling more. It started slow at first. She would break our weekend routine of parties and video games by inviting Norm and I to the movies. We had to go. Going to the movies with a grown woman, who was pretty, was a new experience. Shy and intimidated at first, by the end of our first couple of forays, I had grown comfortable in her presence. Beneath all of the beauty she was a woman. She had intelligence and a sense of humor.

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Norm was not always there now. Carla and I developed our own intimate space. I often found myself at her apartment late into the evenings. Nana would have killed me if she knew. But Carla and I never fooled around. She told me things about women; about life. She was the big sister I never had. It came out that her boyfriend had left her in December. She had caught him fooling around but he had decided to stay with the other woman. Lonely, Norm and I presented people to hang out with away from her college set. But there was a problem. She was growing attached. The craziness began in the spring. New buds were appearing on the trees. It got warmer. Carla had taken Norm and I to a sorority house to hang out with a few of her sisters. By now the grown women didn‟t intimidate us so bad, Norm and I fit right in. As far as the sisters were concerned, Carla was our mentor; our big sister, too. We all just sat there in the living room, talking and joking. I have to admit, the white girls couldn‟t keep their eyes off of Norm. He was a brother. And for his age, he was built pretty nice. I‟m not gay either. Then one of the sisters excused herself, and came back with this glass lamp looking thing. It turned out to be a bong. O shit. So Norm and I are getting high with four or five grown ass women. Not just high, but stoned mind you. I don‟t remember much after that. What I do remember is Norm disappearing to the back with one of the sisters. Apparently she had gotten high and molested him. He didn‟t mind though. So I‟m thinking, all right it‟s my turn. But it never happened. We all left. Carla dropped Norm off. And there it was. “You know I can‟t fuck you,” she said. Things had definitely changed. There must have been something in the air.

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“You‟re like a little brother to me. Dr. Tomlinson would kill me if he knew. Goodness, he‟s the President of the University now. You‟re cute.” At that point Carla looked over at me. Her eyes were different. They were googly eyes. I didn‟t recognize it at the time but they were “I want to fuck you eyes.” Reaching over she gave me a peck on the lips. Her hand grazed against the rod that was now tearing a hole in the fabric of my underwear. We had made it to the townhouse. “Get out.” She said. “I can‟t do this. You‟re too cute. Nando, why do you have to be so cute. Get out! I‟m serious.” Carla had facilitated our exploration. As she sped away, I realized that these too were new emotions that I felt. Confusing ones. Nana was getting suspicious. I had to tell her something. But not tonight. Flowers and leaves were in full bloom now. Every now and then a sweet smell filled the atmosphere amidst the smog. Graduation grew close. New attitudes and ideas were presenting themselves. As fate would have it, Nana got called home. Her husband was sick and missed her. He was her second husband. My real granddad had died before I was born. I assured her that I would be ok. She said that she would try to make it back before graduation. She didn‟t. For the most part I stayed with Carla. I had turned 18. My first trust fund kicked in. Theoretically, the fund was supposed to cover 3 years of school with housing and books. The second trust fund would kick in the fourth year. But Uncle Fred had it arranged that I have a full ride scholarship to Florida State. Carla helped me trade dad‟s Camry for a new Mustang. Paying the difference, I was an 18 year-old kid with $138,000 in the bank.

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Carla was like a sister. She had graduated and was held over in Atlanta, waiting for a job to materialize. From what I understood she still did lab work around campus from time to time. I never thought about it, it would be like sleeping with a cousin. But the nights grew warm. There was only one week left in school. All I had to do was show up and say goodbye to the underclassmen. Carla and I sat in her living room watching television. The sun was going down and the ambient light in the room dimmed a bit. Carla lay on the couch and I sat on the floor with my back resting on the same. A gentle hand reached around my shoulders stroking my chest. I turned, as she lay there with glistening eyes, I kissed her. Passionate kisses and caresses commenced. Her body was perfect, fully developed, voluptuous breast. And her sweet spot, was neatly shaven and fat like that of a grown woman. A finger or two slipped into the moisture. “I can‟t do this,” she said, convulsing to my touch. “This would be like screwing my sister,” I returned. “Shut up Nando, you don‟t have a sister,” she returned, cramming a hand down my pants. “Oh my God, I love you,” I said. I was no longer in control of my speech or actions. Instinct had taken over. “You can‟t love me Nando. It‟s your time.” She said. In naiveté I responded “My time for what?” “It‟s your time to love me, but you can‟t stay, you have to go on.” The kissing and caresses continued. “I want you inside me Nando.”

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Her panties slipped off. Unfastening my belt, she pulled my shorts away. I lay on top of her, my rod grinding the pedicured hairs. The wetness sucked the rod in. “OH MY GOD,” I screamed. It was my first time feeling the warm wetness of the walls. Electric tingles shivered up and down my spine. “Take your time baby,” she whispered. “You‟ve got to hold it.” Hold what? I thought as she started to pulsate back and forth up under me. “OH SHIT.” Carla was killing me. Energy rose in our mid-sections. A slow grind picked up the pace. “AW FUCK, NANDO, don‟t do this to me,” she screamed. Heat and sweat gave way to trembling in her mid-section. “God dammit, mutherfucker.” She went on. “You weren‟t supposed to do that to me. DAMN YOU Nando.” She paused. “Slow Down. Now put it all the way in me. Deep and slow.” She spread her legs, throwing one on top of the couch and the other on the floor. “Oh God,” I muttered. “I can‟t hold it.” “It‟s ok Nando, do it deep and slow,” she coaxed. “SHIT,” I think a nuclear bomb went off in her pussy. My pelvis shimmered. “FUCK,” I screamed. “Yes you did Nando. You fucked me good.” She said, her body draining all of the fluid from my loins. And she lay there, holding me.

Carla made me go to school that final week. Our nights of passion were broken up with schoolyard goodbyes and senior skip parties. Football was calling Norm to school early. I didn‟t want to be alone, Uncle Fred had pulled some strings and got me enrolled

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early, in summer school at Florida State. Now I wanted to stay with Carla. But she wouldn‟t let me. She told me that she knew I loved her. But I had to go on, live life. I didn‟t understand. Graduation came. And amidst the cheers, the smiling, and the adoration, I had no one. This was tough. Those new emotions that I longed so much for were hitting me hard; sad ones. I was breaking down. Then I saw her. Off in the distance, Carla smiled and blew me a kiss. At that young age I now understood the love between a man and a woman. Her glimmering light kept me from falling into the pit in front of all of those people. She gave me hope, a reason to keep going. Norm, myself, and the rest of the crew said goodbye at the graduation party. Amongst all gathered, there existed an element of finality. You knew who you would and would not see again. I had already packed the Volvo and was gonna be pulling out in the morning. All the Pomp and Circumstance set aside, drunk and high, there was only one thing left to do; go fuck the shit out of Carla.

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Tears streamed from my eyes driving down that lonely road from Georgia to Florida. Her seduction complete, Carla had totally corrupted my young soul. It took years to realize it. I appreciated the education though. She got me up to speed in life. I had a better grasp of relationships and wouldn‟t propose to the first girl that blew me off. Carla taught me that. I missed her. Great expectations of a new life overpowered the sadness. School presented a whole new dimension of shit to get into. For the most part, things went pretty smooth. I spent the summer at Smith Hall. It was coed. Males and females had opposite floors. It was one of the few residence halls

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open for the summer. Smith Hall was a great place to be in the summer because of the mix of freshmen and upperclassmen residing there for the semester. The upperclassmen schooled you on campus life. But it was only right to experience some things for the first time with your freshmen brothers and sisters. Fall came around and it was on. I had gone home and traded out cars. Not that freshman needed a car on campus, but I had one. I pulled my own strings and secured a parking pass. So here I am, the Latino kid from Atlanta with the black Mustang. My stock value soared. I met cool young women and men from all over Florida, and the Southeast. Norm would have been proud of me. I even branched out and met some sisters from the school across town, Florida A&M. But every fairy tale has a catch. By way of the scholarship office, an Associate Dean of the University summoned me. “Dr. Tomlinson speaks highly of you,” he said. We‟re glad to have you here. How are your classes going so far?” “Fine,” I said. “I see that you have decided to major in counseling. Is that right,” he asked? “Yes sir,” I replied. Having survived the trauma of my parent‟s death, the last thing I wanted to think about was biology. Then he laid it all out. “Son, the University doesn‟t mind you cruising around campus with a forged parking pass, but in order to make your scholarship work it is expected that you give something back.” “Sir, what do you mean by giving back,” I asked?

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“Well, we don‟t require you to work on campus son. But most scholarship recipients of your type do provide some service to the community or campus.” “Ok,” I returned. “Is there any particular area you might be interested in working,” he asked? “Uh, no sir. I‟m gonna have to think about it.” “Well Mr. Ruiz, I„ve reviewed your high school transcripts. You seem pretty bright. How about doing a little tutoring for us?” He scribbled a note on a pad of paper. “I want you to report to the athletics building on the far end of Doak Campbell Stadium tomorrow evening at 6. Just tell them you are a new tutor. They‟ll point you in the right direction.” That was the end of that. I had watched Carla do little odd and end jobs around campus. No big deal. I could give something back to the University. It was only right. But I had never worked a day in my life. For all intents and purposes, I was a “trust fund baby.” The job couldn‟t be that bad.

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“My name is Nando Ruiz. I‟m here for tutoring.” “I think you‟re in the wrong building. We don‟t have any tutoring here.” “No, I‟m a tutor. I was supposed to report here for a job,” I said. “Oh, ok. Hold on a minute.” The student receptionist at the athletics building picked up the phone. Trophy cases stood at attention around the lobby as if guarding the Holy Grail. One would have thought the Ark of the Covenant was in a nearby room. The Hall of

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Champions lay dim. But streaks of controlled light glimmered through glass shelves sparkling off of bronze statuettes and silver plates. A young black man in khaki pants and Garnet golf shirt appeared from a door on the balcony. They called it Garnet but to the non-Florida State types, the color was red, or maroon. “Hello, My name is Nando Ruiz.” “Hey,” he said. “You‟re the guy the Dean sent over. Follow me.” We walked silently, passing through the dimly lit Hall of Champions to another door at the rear corner. Ornaments, a testament to past athletics glory adorned our way. The most striking of which being John Hiesman trophies and National Championship crystal footballs. Going through another passage we entered a dining hall. “Go ahead, get something to eat,” he said. “The players will be here shortly.” He left me there amongst cafeteria tables and chairs. Running late, I had skipped dinner at the student dining hall. Something smelled good, I was getting hungry. Damn. At the serving counter there was fried chicken, t-bone steaks, macaroni and cheese, and rice and gravy. We didn‟t eat that good on the student side of campus. One of the ladies fixed me a plate and I sat down and commenced to eating. Despite my Latin roots, I was a Southerner deep down. I couldn‟t pass on down home, country cooking. Football players started coming in. So I‟m an 18 year-old boy. To me, most of these guys looked huge. There were a couple of them that looked regular. I imagine they were freshmen or receivers.

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Players soon filled all but a couple of the chairs. Their mood was that of soldiers taking a break from battle. They laughed and joked but there was an air of seriousness about them. Later in life I understood it. Playing football at a major football powerhouse was like a job. The players were the workers whom had just returned from the cotton fields or sweatshops. The seriousness was the realization that they would have to return to the fields tomorrow. I saw the black man at a door across the room. He motioned for me to come on. I cleaned my place and followed. This time we went upstairs to what appeared to be a classroom. He explained that a few of the players would be there soon and that I was to help them with any problems that they had with their schoolwork. All right, no big deal I thought. And of course, he left. Another guy was already in the room at a desk. He read a textbook as he held a pen over a pad of paper. He was a thin white fellow. He didn‟t look like a football player but a there was a struggle written on his face. The Spirit within me let me know that he was going through something. We both sat there. After a while a few players trickled in. The whole scenario turned out to be a study hall for football players and other athletes. Obviously, I was the odd man out. I was the new face and with that scrawny teenage body, could not have played football. I noticed a player or two ask the white guy a few questions. Then I was up. A big brother came over and asked me to help him out with his algebra. Painless, an hour and a half had passed and the players started trickling out. The black man with the Garnet shirt appeared.

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“All right guys, that‟s it,” he said. One or two players stayed behind, but I got up. Puzzled, I noticed the thin white guy get up too. Silently we followed the black man back down the stairs and through the Hall of Champions. “Nando, we‟ll see you again Thursday,” he said as he let us out the front door. “Brett, you know your schedule. All right fella‟s.” That was his way of saying goodbye. Alone with the white guy I spoke. “Man I didn‟t know you were a tutor.” I said. “I‟m not. I was on the soccer team. I don‟t know if they are going let me play this year.” Alas, I was hearing the beginnings of his internal anguish. “Ah man, don‟t worry about it. Shit. Trouble don‟t last always.” There I go preaching to the man. Thinking about it, I was working on a degree in counseling. “Yeah, I guess you‟re right,” he said somberly. “My name‟s Brett.” “I‟m Nando.” Reaching out, we shook hands, not knowing that this was the beginning of a lifelong affiliation. Brett needed to vent. He needed a shoulder to lean on, because he kept going. “I was recruited here as a soccer player. After working out with the team last week, Coach said that he was probably going to redshirt me. He said that since I wasn‟t playing, I had to start coming here. And help the football players out at study hall.” “Man, we‟ll be all right,” I reassured.

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“I‟m a player,” Brett continued. “ When I decided to come here, I thought that I was gonna be playing. I don‟t mind sitting on the bench, but now I don‟t even believe I‟m going make the team.” Brett must have stunk it up pretty bad the other day at practice. My inept attempts at counseling continued. “Man, you got to hang in there.” I said. “I been through a lot myself. I shouldn‟t even be here. The battle ain‟t won by the swift or the strong, but by those who hang in there till the end. Shiiit.” Where in the world did that Bible verse come from. Nana and my parents had made me go to church, and now the verses were just spilling out of me. “Yeah man. You‟re right,” he said. “I‟ll give it another day or so Nando.” “Bet.” We shook hands again and parted ways. Tutoring for the Florida State Football program had its perks. The season had started. The black man turned out to be Coach Taylor. He was an assistant athletics trainer. For the most part, he wrapped ankles and filled up the world pool. Folks down South didn‟t like you standing around too much. So after practice began, he took on the extra responsibility of coordinating student tutors. On game days Coach Taylor was in charge of Gatorade. Tutors got invited along to help out. As you know, all athletic trainers have groupies. Coach Taylor was no different. There were always pretty little college girls who wanted to feed Gatorade to stinking assed football players. For the most part, on game days Brett and I didn‟t do shit. We just stood on the field and watched the games from the sidelines. We let the girls do all the work. Coach Taylor would just look at us and shake his head. But he never said anything.

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It was always cool hearing the head coach deliver the pre-game pep speech or the halftime bitching. At the halftime bitch out, in a not so pleasant way he was always saying something like; “I be darned boys. We practiced it a million dag gum times.” The head coach might have been right about that one. I had gone with Norm to watch several college teams around Atlanta work out. Whether it was Georgia Tech or Morris Brown, one thing stood out at Florida State; the speed at which they practiced. Other teams moved lackadaisically through drills and formations. But when the head coach installed the offense at a Florida State practice, it seemed as if the players moved in a higher gear. There were always three or four guys moving out of the backfield or off the line at full speed. I could never figure out if the athletes were that quick or they just practiced that fast. On game days, that speed made a difference. There weren‟t many teams that could keep up with three or four guys running 25 to 30 miles per hour. And if every thing went according to plan, our quarterback knew where and how to get these guys the ball. We had won all of our games thus far. All of those fast guys became stars both locally and in the national media. Brett and I got to know many of them. Brett got other good news. The soccer coach had decided to keep him on the team. He probably wouldn‟t play but he was on the team no less. I had told him to hang in there. However, halfway through the football season, I had lost another friend to the sports world. Brett didn‟t have to tutor anymore. Football was moving along pretty fast. The pressure was mounting. You could feel it when the coaches passed by. You could hear it in their speeches. A few of the players were getting behind in their schoolwork. Many of the guys were starters or

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second string, and we would need them for the bowl game in January. If they failed a class or two now, they wouldn‟t be eligible to play then. After a while, coach Taylor began giving me a manila folder once a week. The folder would be filled with instructions and notes for papers that players needed written. I asked Coach Taylor if this was ok and he said that I would be all right. So I wrote a few papers for some of the players. The perks of the job were pretty good. I rationalized that I was going to school for free. I was helping the University. It couldn‟t be that bad. But deep down, a bit of my conscience was eating at me. The season went on. My workload increased. My own studies were starting to show signs of strain. But I hung in there. We won all but two games. I thought my work was done. While football season was over, the school semester wasn‟t. Players still had to pass their classes. My workload of papers decreased but still I had to write. I began to feel uneasy about things. But still I wrote. It was my job. Apparently some of the players had given up on going to class but the football machine that was FSU wouldn‟t let them fail. Florida State needed that bowl game. They wanted the money. That money kept kids like me going to school for free. So I wrote. Cycles in my life were repeating themselves. I had lost another friend to sports. I was handling mysterious files that I had to keep secret. I was a freshman. I was supposed to be enjoying my freshman experience. But the happiness was slipping away. There was only one thing missing. And I be damned if she didn‟t text me.

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Text Message To: boy toy

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From: Carla hey nando. uncle fred wants 2 c u. urgent. call me. don‟t waste time. love Carla After class, I slipped into the courtyard and called. “Hey, hot lips,” she answered. “Que pasa, Mama.” My Latin roots slipped out. I didn‟t use Spanish around foreigners. My folks were funny about that. I continued. “You still as fine as you used to be,” I asked? “Yeah. I‟m waiting on you.” She was full of shit. “You‟re full of shit.” I said. “You mean to tell me you‟re saving all of that fine ass for me?” “You have to come home and find out,” she replied. “Bet, Mama. Let me knock out these couple of classes and I‟ll come check you out.” Picking my brain up out of the gutter I asked, “What‟s up with Uncle Fred?” “Nando, he‟s sick,” she answered. “He wants to see you. He had a stoke two weeks ago.” “Whaaat! What happened?” I asked. “I don‟t know. He‟s the President of the University. I don‟t know. Maybe it was the stress? It‟s pretty bad Nando.” “What do you mean by „pretty bad,‟” I asked? “Nando, you should come and see him,” she went on. “He asked for you. I don‟t know how long he‟s going to last. I mean. He might not be here much longer.” “Well, I got exams in two weeks.” “Nando, listen to me,” her tone got serious. “You need to come home, now.”

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A bright idea hit me. I could give Coach Taylor his folder back and tell him I had to go out of town on family business. Yeah, that would take a little stress off of me. “All right Carla, I can leave Thursday or Friday,” I said. “I can get there by the weekend.” “Get here, Nando.” “Ok mama.” “Get here, Nando,” she repeated. “Ok, see you in a couple of days, all right. I‟ll call you when I get in. Chao” Things went according to plan. I gave Coach Taylor the manila folder and let him know that I was going out of town on family business. There wasn‟t much he could say but “all right then.” I packed a bag, grabbed my laptop, and threw it all in the Mustang. Friday evening I opened the door to the townhouse. An old stale smell hit me. The power was off. Rotting food sat in the refrigerator. Damn. I was too tired to deal with the shit now. Four and a half hours had been a long drive for this college student. I got on the phone and headed over to Carla‟s. She greeted me with a lukewarm reception. It wasn‟t the greeting I expected. We sat down and talked for a minute and she told me that she would run me over to the hospital in the morning. I turned on the TV and fell asleep. Carla slept in the bedroom and I slept on the couch. I had thought that I might get lucky, but Carla hadn‟t put out. It had been a long day and I was too tired to think about it anyway. I had awaked in the early morning hours and watched music videos. Carla finally made it out of bed and heated up some English muffins.

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Ironically, Uncle Fred hadn‟t been admitted at the Emory University Hospital, but rather at Piedmont in Midtown. He was a high profile patient and Carla had to make a couple of calls before we went down. Atlanta was sunny but cool. Carla had talked me into letting her drive the Mustang. That bitch was crazy. We zipped in and out of cars on the interstate and seemed to arrive at the hospital in minutes. Two men in suits guarded Uncle Fred‟s room. Carla‟s charm worked again. She smiled and let the men know who we were. One of the men disappeared into the room. Returning to the hallway, the suit waived us in. And there he was. “Nando, I‟m so glad to see you son. I didn‟t think you were going to make it. We have much to discuss.” Uncle Fred had aged. Something was killing him. He had had a stroke. He lay in the hospital bed writing notes; perhaps his own eulogy. Turning he asked; “Carla, do you think you could help me down to the courtyard? Nando and I should walk the grounds.” “Dr. Tomlinson, you know that I have to call the nurse first.” Ever the teacher‟s pet, Carla always had Uncle Fred‟s best interest in mind. Making it down to the ground floor of the hospital we entered a garden. Uncle Fred left the guards behind. “Thank you Carla,” he said, once again excusing Carla from the session that was about to commence. Struggling to produce syllables in a strained jerky voice, he said,

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“You must never let the World get their hands on those files. Your future depends on it. Do you understand son?” “Yes Sir,” I replied. “Your parents were biological engineers at The Centers for Disease Control. For the most part they studied and analyzed organic matter on the cellular level and experimented with ways to modify cellular chemistry. These modifications could one day be used to eradicate disease and sickness. Do you understand so far son?” “Yes Sir” “Your parents got too good; particularly your father. Housed within CDC are samples of organic material from all over the planet. For the most part, the common individual knows that the CDC maintains samples of various pox, diseases, and other plagues that have threaten to wipe out mankind. But there are other samples as well; samples of things that don‟t make the newspaper. In the biological world, everything is connected. So in addition to diseases, the Center maintains samples of plant and animal tissues, bacteria, and other multi-cellular beings. As scientist, we never know which of these tissues will produce the right bi-product to get us to the next breakthrough. Do you follow so far son?” “Yes Sir.” “Here is the part that doesn‟t make the newspaper Nando. The Center also maintains samples of ancient microscopic beings and plant life. But there is a problem.” “What‟s the problem Uncle Fred?” I had to let him know that I was paying attention and still interested.

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“The problem is that most of the organisms are dead. Therefore as biologist we cannot gather as much useful data as to the organism‟s function and bi-products as we would like to. Do you follow son?” “Yes Sir” “There is one way around the problem,” he said. “Cloning.” That was a real jaw dropper and eye-opener. I was definitely interested now. “Are you still with me son,” Uncle Fred strained. “Yes Sir,” was my answer. “Well, you know those chromosomes that everyone talks about. Do you remember from science class Nando?” “Uhhh, no not really?” I said. “Nando, I have told you, time and time again, that you need to study and prepare yourself. It‟s critical to your success, do you understand? What are you majoring in down there in Florida?” “Counseling,” I said. “The son of Nobel laureate scientist majoring in counseling?” Bewildered for a moment, he went on. “All right young man, back to those chromosomes. Within the nuclei of cells, the chromosomes become visible when a cell is about to divide. You do know what the nucleus of a cell is don‟t you?” “Yes Sir, I know that part.” “Very well. Chromosomes are nothing more than strands of DNA. The DNA bundles and becomes visible before a cell divides facilitating the strands copying themselves for the next generation. In the simplest terms, DNA could be described as a

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three dimensional chemical blueprint for a life form. Now follow me Nando. In order to clone or in order to bring to life a long dead organism, one needs a complete copy of the life forms DNA strands. Scientist can take intact DNA strands and insert them in the nucleus or cell matter of a similar being. Upon cell division the new cell has been reprogrammed with instructions from the new DNA. Thus it has become another being all together with different chemical processes and motivations.” “Wow,” I said. “Let me finish son. Using this process, scientist have been able to replace DNA in animal eggs on the microscopic level with those from a similar animal. When the new creature was born, it was an exact copy of the animal from which the parent DNA was obtained. That‟s cloning. Or at least that‟s one way to do it.” “There are ways to artificially copy DNA strands such as Polymerase Chain Reaction, but scientist are limited in the lengths of the strands they can copy. In PCR one wouldn‟t be able to copy an entire genetic blueprint.” “But for all practical purposes, we are talking about the cloning of DNA and things on the microscopic level and not farm animals. Stay with me Nando,” he said. “If we wanted to create a drug we would need to clone a cellular chemical process on the microscopic level. If we can change a chemical reaction within the cell, we could eliminate a disease. Your parents tried to create and discover those reactions.” “Now back to that ancient beings part. In your parents search for new chemical processes they began to study the cellular reactions within ancient organisms. But most of these organisms were long dead. So how does one resurrect an ancient organism? By removing the DNA strands from the dead organism and placing the strands in a similar

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organism that is alive today. When the organism divided a new creature all together would be created because of the reprogrammed DNA. But alas, the new creature is nothing more than a resurrected ancient creature. I be damned Nando, there is a problem with that too,” he said. “Nando, it seems as if life is full of problems. It‟s not that we have problems, it‟s whether or not we develop the emotional or professional skills to overcome them.” Damn, I thought. That was a nugget. Knowledge was being dropped as if the Holy Spirit was falling on me. Back in the Old Testament days, the Spirit didn‟t live in man, the Spirit just fell on them from time to time. That was usually about the time Sampson would slay a 1000 men with the jawbone of an ass. I was at a Devine appointment, being spoon feed by a once great teacher. Uncle Fred‟s voice dropped. He strained a little harder now. “So there is another problem Nando. With ancient material, parts of the DNA strand have deteriorated. We do not find complete strands of DNA, but rather pieces. That‟s why no one has resurrected a dinosaur yet. But you never know what‟s going on in the World. Especially after I tell you this next part. I must hurry. I‟m getting tired. Are you still with me son?” “Yes Sir.” “That‟s where your father‟s genius kicked in. I can‟t go into details now Nando. I grow weak. Your father figured out a way to put those pieces together. It was all about enzymes. He built a super enzyme. But it was more a combination of enzymes. Enzymes play the major role in cell division and the copying of DNA. If the body were an ant hill, enzymes would be the ants that made everything happen. Enzymes are nothing more than

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proteins. Proteins are combinations of amino acids. You will have to figure the rest of that lecture out on your own. It‟s all in the files Nando. That‟s why I emphasize that you must study and prepare yourself. Your father resurrected a super bacteria. The bacteria reproduced at a super fast rate. He and your mother modified it to reproduce faster. If we inserted DNA strands into the bacteria, the enzymes within produced hundreds of millions of copies in a short time. Using the bacteria as a surrogate calf we could produce great quantities of DNA, RNA and proteins. We could produce enough, that upon extracting the genetic material, or injecting the modified bacteria into living tissues, we could begin to reprogram cells. We could reprogram the structures of micro organisms, plants, animals and even human beings.” Shit, I thought. That was heavy. Uncle Fred‟s voice got lower. He struggled to breathe now. Truth hurts. Tears began to well in my eyes from the overwhelming feelings of joy and closure. I finally knew the truth about my parents work. Mom and Dad were involved with cloning; some real sci-fi shit. Wow. Pride filled my heart. But pride is one of the seven deadly sins. We sat on a low wall in the garden. “I grow dim Nando,” he said. Uncle Fred was no longer talking. The Angel was. “The sun is setting on my days. This is the part that is going to hurt you. CDC is a government agency. The President at the time got wind of your father‟s experiments. He claimed to be some Christian radical who was against cloning and genetic research. He claimed that God didn‟t want man fooling around with human chromosomes. It was made known to him that scientist may have come up with a way to resurrect dinosaurs. Rumors spread throughout the scientific community worldwide. Those dark advisors played on the Presidents fears that government workers at the CDC might begin cloning human

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beings. Your parent‟s research was starting to have all kinds of implications and draw the wrong types of attention. It is impossible to keep secrets within government agencies. Instead of realizing that your parents‟ research could have eradicated every major diseases on the planet, his dark advisors only reiterated the possibility of human cloning. Pharmaceutical interest pressured the Cabinet to put a stop to the research. Your parents‟ discoveries would have put all of the major pharmaceutical corporations out of business over night. Worldwide. We in the scientific community tried to protect your father. Your parents‟ car crash was no accident.” Time stopped. The world stood still.

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I balled. Anger filled my heart. I lost it. Uncle Fred went on. I tried to look him in the eye. My vision was too blurred. “Your father‟s staff had been spread around the country or otherwise disappeared. We tried to protect them. I didn‟t work for CDC but I was affiliated with your father. The Human Genome has been mapped. That is, we have mapped DNA. A section of the DNA blueprint is a gene. Each gene controls a trait for a particular organism. I provided sections of DNA to your father. Not just human genes, but genes from all sorts of organisms. Your father would replicate the genes in the super bacteria. Then he would insert the genes into other organisms in an attempt to create modifications. The experiments were working. We had successfully changed the colors of flowers in fully grown plants.” Uncle Fred struggled to breathe now. “The scientific community in Atlanta protected me. They got the Governor involved. He had provided security for me on the

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fateful night that I retrieved the remainder of your Father‟s files. Do you remember the three cars? The community further protected me by making me the President of Emory University. Surely there would be an investigation if the President of a prestigious University turned up dead. It would have drawn too many eyes. There might have been links to the President. They left me alone.” “But time marches on Nando. That administration has been out of office for a time now. Yes, I lived. I had a chance to go on. My life was spared. I got to go home to my wife and daughter. Your father and mother didn‟t. I thought that I would be able to carry on the research in the future. I figured I could give up and live to fight another day. But look at me now son. It‟s killing me. We never had a chance to reach our potential. What kind of life is that? They gave me the Presidency of the University. But what good is it for a man to gain the World and lose his soul? I‟m dying in the end anyway.” Inconsolable at that moment, Uncle Fred offered words that gave me strength. “Do you understand son? You must go on. I know you‟re angry. And this doesn‟t make a lot of sense right now. But the world needs that super bacteria. It‟s a DNA factory. It‟s an RNA factory. The components of which can mass produce proteins to alter life.” As if a tortoise, Uncle Fred reached into the chest pocket of his gown. It was a scrap of paper. He put it in my hand. Then right on cue, Uncle Fred faded. “Carla,” I screamed! Alarmed, she sprinted to us from across the garden. “Daddy,” Carla screamed! Holy shit. This is too much.

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“Daddy, wake up. Daddy, wake up,” she pleaded. We sat on the wall sobbing, holding up Uncle Fred. His functions gave way. A wet spot of urine appeared at his mid-section. He was still breathing. Uncle Fred opened his eyes. Looking at Carla he said, “I love you my daughter.” Carla lost it. She held him. Trembling waves of sorrow and tears shook her body. All she could say was “daddy.” Pulling myself together. I left the two to fetch the nurse. Yanking Carla away from her clutches we followed the nurses into the bowels of the hospital. Dragging her, another strength hit me. A supporting strength. I was crushed my damn self. But some Force gave me the strength to carry her. It was like that poem footprints. Emotionally she wasn‟t walking. I was carrying her. But who in the world was carrying me. Uncle Fred was carted to the back of ICU. Carla and I waited in the wings. Just then, Uncle Fred‟s wife and another sobbing college aged girl burst through the door of the ICU waiting room. I had never met the wife, but you just knew. That was Uncle Fred‟s other daughter too. The legitimate one. I overheard references to “Fred Tomlinson” and “I‟m his fucking wife” as the woman verbally assaulted the medical staff. Carla lost it.

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She was the fucking wife, but it was now apparent that she wasn‟t the only one Uncle Fred was fucking the last 20-something years. The wife and legitimate daughter never knew we were there. With arm around Carla, standing from my chair, clutching her tightly, I began to walk. Gone. Tears streaming down both our eyes, I dragged her away from the scene. “We can‟t leave him,” Carla moaned. “We can‟t leave him.” We cried all the way to the car. Holding each other briefly in the Mustang, I knew that we had to go before the saddening neurological chemical processes pulled us back upstairs. Life was all instinct at this point. Crying like babies, I crunk up the car and I drove.

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That was the last I saw of Uncle Fred. I loved him. He had been there for me after my parents‟ death. Why did the government take my parents? How come my parents couldn‟t have choose to stop their research? Because they were fighters. Now that‟s rational. Not. But I had to lie to myself to make it past the moment. This whole saga had started because of a string of Fascist Presidents. Presidents who wanted to do things their way. President‟s who were too ignorant to tolerate another man‟s point of view thus destroying the other man. Presidents like Bush W. destroying the Bill of Rights in the name of fighting terrorism. The major drug companies of the world had a hand in it also. If it became possible to reprogram cells, pharmaceutical companies and the prescription drugs that they produced would become obsolete. Thus canceling out hundreds of billions of dollars in

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revenues and upsetting national economies. It was no longer any wonder why pharmaceutical interest poured so much money into campaign funding. Anger, a new emotion for me, was transforming itself into yet another new emotion; rage. I was outraged that I couldn‟t do a damn thing about any of my circumstances. Where do we go from here? My parents were dead. The government had them killed. The University was extorting me to write papers for ball players to keep my scholarship. All my friends were gone. I didn‟t have a dog. Exams were next week. How the fuck could I concentrate on school now? In addition to that, I had been fucking the President of Emory University‟s illegitimate daughter. And now that son-of-a-bitch was dead. And he was my Uncle. God damn, was I committing incest or what? And as far as me and Carla knew, his wife and other daughter knew nothing about her. Shit was bad. We drank that day. We drank like the World was gonna end at god damned midnight. The sorority sisters came by. I was glad to see those girls. Carla was hysterical. The sisters provided tranquilizers and comfort in ways that I no longer had strength to give. I be damned, women know how to get their hands on some pills. I didn‟t go to the funeral. The trauma of my own parents‟ death was too great. The sisters joined Carla. She never told them her secret. As far as the Emory University community was concerned, Carla was one of Dr. Fred Tomlinson‟s long time assistants who was extremely saddened by the loss of the great Doctor. But I knew. I saw her pain after the visitation. I felt the anguish of a woman who could never acknowledge her father. The anguish of a child who never felt the tender caresses of her daddy or heard the words “baby girl you did a good job.” Not until her adult life, but never in public.

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I sat alone in Carla‟s apartment drinking heavily. Everybody had gone to the memorial service. It was Tuesday. Uncle Fred had passed Saturday. So much for going back to school. So much for exams. Fuck the World. The Government had killed my god damn parents. I was mad. I was mad at the World. I was mad at God, too. How could a God in Heaven allow all of this shit to happen to me? Every figure in my life that I ever looked up to had been taken away from me. Nothing made sense. Fuck this shit. What was the point of going on? What in the hell was the Lord doing? Sitting on his fucking hands? Excuse me for the blasphemy Lord. Then my phone rang. “What up man,” I asked? Why did I answer? I don‟t know? It was my friend Brett from school. Maybe he had something good to say. What the fuck else could go wrong? “Sounds like you been drinking.” he said. “Yeah,” I answered. “Everything all right,” he asked? “Hell naw!” My southern was coming out now. Over the years, I learned that it got that way when I drank heavily. I continued; “My uncle died.” “Damn bro, you got it rough. Your whole family is passing away.” Thanks Brett, master of the obvious. I didn‟t say that. Brett was a new friend. I had to be careful how I cracked on him. Given the light of the moment, his statement was kinda funny.” “He wasn‟t my real Uncle,” I noted.

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“That doesn‟t make it any less sad bro.” Yeah, he was right about that one. Uncle Fred‟s death was stinging pretty bad. “So when are you coming back to school?” he asked. “Man, fuck it,” I answered. “I got a lot of shit on my mind.” “So you are just going to throw away a whole semester of school? Are you not the one who told me to hang in there?” God dammit, Brett was right again. But I didn‟t know if I could recover from the whole government killing your parents‟ thing. I couldn‟t tell him about all of that. Much less that I was fucking my cousin. Just then a ray of light shot through the blinds. A cloud had shifted. I ain‟t the superstitious type, but maybe Uncle Fred was trying to tell me something. He said I had to go on. I thought about hiring a lawyer, and getting the police involved. But what good would that do? If the information contained in the files was all that, the lawyer would only steal it. And the police might have me killed. They would kill me for the right price. This was Dekalb County, Georgia. Deputies were known to carry out assassinations way back to the 1990‟s. “Nando, you still there,” Brett asked. “Yeah, I‟m still here.” “All right, we got exams next week. Just come back and take your test,” he said. “All right, man,” I returned. “I‟m serious Nando. Do it for me.” Brett ended. College friends are special. In the beginnings of these life long friendships there are codes or rules of conduct. Brett called me out. I had told him to hang in there and he

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did. He told me to hang in there. I had no choice. He did it, so I had to do it. If I didn‟t it probably wasn‟t meant for us to be lifelong friends. You reap what you sow. I still didn‟t know how I was gonna go on. Brett‟s words were strong enough to get me through the moment. But would they be strong enough to get me through tomorrow? And that‟s exactly what it was. Existence had been broken down to a moment-by-moment basis. The horrors of all of those traumatic memories replayed themselves in my mind. Including new visions of my parent‟s murder. It was all that you could do to make it past one moment when you didn‟t think about all of that shit. Carla and I held each other in the cold hours of night. I had gone through the loss of parents before. I should have been the one offering strength but it was her. Perhaps the long years of suppressing her secret had unwittingly prepared her for such a time as this. The early morning glow spilled golden pours of light into her apartment. I lay in the bed pondering life, not knowing which way to go; not even able to recognize the crossroads. She stood in the bathroom, naked before the mirror. “Nando, maybe you should think about going back to school,” she said. All right, this shit is getting spooky, first Brett, now Carla. Was Uncle Fred hiding in the closet or something? I got up and walked towards the bathroom. The beauty of her body was stunning. Carla stood in the mirror and pulled her hair back. Through the morning glory, for the first time, I was struck by her resemblance to Uncle Fred. It was surreal. She had his spirit. It was like Uncle Fred was talking to me. “How can I go back? What‟s the point Carla,” I asked? After she made the suggestion, I knew that I was going back. I just wanted to see what she was gonna say.

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“See Nando, that‟s your problem,” she said. “ You wake up in the morning and behold this beautiful body and ruin the moment. A body on which I let you work out your childish desires. A body that has shepherded you into adulthood. A body you don‟t deserve.” Damn, she didn‟t disappoint. That‟s just what you need sometimes, a person to snap you back into reality. So much for that dream. Our pity party was over. That bitch was schizo, but she was good. She told me exactly what I needed to hear. She knew me like a sister. This had to be incest. The old school brothers at Florida State had told me that once a bitch found out she looked good, she was gonna be trouble. After that outburst, I knew that Carla was gonna be all right. She was strong. She had been dealing with shit for years. “I let you fuck the shit out of me, suck your little dick and you‟re constantly ruining the moments. Why don‟t you grow up!” She went on. She was mad boy. Cause she grabbed me, pinned me down on the bed, and commenced to whooping my ass. Rage must be contagious. To her credit, she didn‟t hit me in the face.

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Bruised. Carla and I made our way to the law library on the Emory campus. Like an old couple we managed to get happy after breakfast. That‟s when I showed her the slip of paper that her father had given me in his death throws. It was a card catalog number. I had no clue what the letters and numbers represented. But Carla did. Damn she was good. She seemed to know everything. I didn‟t know what it was like to have a partner, a life partner, a soul mate. But she continued to give me glimpses of what real life was all

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about. The same as the day she blew me a kiss when I graduated from high school. And there was a new eagerness about her. Carla was intent on helping me. The Mustang hugged the sculpted curves of some of Decatur‟s finest landscaped neighborhoods. Arriving on campus she charmed us straightway into the law library. The number led to a boxed file on the upper shelf of a dusty rack of law volumes. The dusty testament found it‟s way into my hands. I opened the box. There it was. A volume of disheveled papers in my father‟s handwriting. I thumbed through. Corners of sheets were bent. Coffee stains made an occasional appearance. Blue lined pages had been ripped out of notebooks. Other sheets offered blank canvases displaying only the hieroglyphics of my father‟s chicken scratch. Carla yanked the papers out of my hand. She accessorized herself with an oversized black pocket book on this occasion as if she knew the order of the day would be covert activities. She stuffed the papers in the purse. “Let‟s go,” she said. Following her lead I closed the box. Wait a minute. I thought I saw a pussy cat. Opening the box again, I saw a couple of sticks of chewing gum wrapped in silver foil paper at the box‟s bottom. Brown, rotten gum oozed from the edges of the foil. Fuck it. The sticks might have been Mom‟s. I‟ll keep the rotten gum as a remembrance. I stuffed the two sticks into my pocket. Again, Carla yanked something from my hands. With a scarf she wiped the inside and outside of the box clean and replaced it on the shelf. Perhaps to conceal fingerprints. We were gone. The Mustang whipped around them corners again. My schizo sister was driving. It was Friday. We had had a long week. Drinking was in order. The

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contusions on my ribs reminded me of the ass whipping I had suffered at the hands of my kissing cousin as the g-forces pressed my torso into the seatbelt and passenger door. Not knowing that the bitch would have me begging for another ass whipping later on that evening. Binging. We knew it was bad. Carla and I commenced to drinking and smoking pot. She showed me some new shit. She drags me in and out of several bars in Midtown and Virginia Highlands. This wasn‟t the college scene. This was some adult shit. My 18 year-old ass didn‟t have no ID either. It didn‟t matter. I was with her. One of the baddest bitches in Atlanta. “Fuck me Nando,” she moaned. The pace quickened. “You better not come,” she said. How do you like fucking your sister, huh?” God damn we were fucked up. “Fuck me Nando… faster.” That was the night that I became a man. Dick control. Carla was teaching me dick control; how to hold an orgasm until the woman spilled all of her sexual energy on the bed. “Oh my God, Nando, I‟m coming.” Her eyeballs rolled. Totally enraptured in sensuality and contortions she groaned; “Oh god, Nando, fuck your cousin… Oh please don‟t come.” I focused on holding my juices. Then the weed kicked in. Her insides fluttered. What intense pleasure as her juices caressed the throbs of my ramming cock. Holy fuck.

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“Oh, you‟re fucking me so good right now,” she moaned. “I love you Nando... everything is gonna be alright baby, ok... Oh, you‟re doing me so good. Oh god, it‟s yours. Take it from behind Nando.” She rolled on all fours, her plush, rounded ass exalted in the air taunting me. Behold the star. Momentarily paralyzed, I paused for a time to take in the splendor. The meaning of life seemed to be resting there amongst all of those crevices and pubic hairs. This was manhood. The epitome of. Why men fought wars. For future soccer moms. But there was so much more to this moment than virginas and intercourse. Thank you God. Then the sweet spot winked at me. As if a dog, I mounted her from behind. It was time to plant the flag. Time for conquest. The curved, creviced, black forested land between the legs needed a king. “There you go,” she whispered. “Oh god… now touch me.” She pulled two of my fingers to her clitoris. “Lightly Nando… fuck me hard… stoke this lightly.” She went on, “squeeze my tits now. Oh god, I‟m coming again... Oh.” The pleasure derived from her backshot defies human comprehension. I held my load. But when it came on it‟s own, oozing at first… “You‟re gonna do it aren‟t you,” she said. “I feel the burn of your cum.” She reached through her legs and squeezed my nuts. “FUUUUUUUCK,” I screamed! The cannon blast that shuttered through my midsection nearly blew my head off, overloading every pleasure receptacle in my body. The throbs went on…and on...and on.

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Carla had to be fucked like that. She needed it. All women did. Men too. Kept them balanced. Kept the angst to a minimum. Kept all the grown folks calm and cool around the house. She needed her curves conquered. There was no other way. With the pressures the both of us were facing there was no other way to get that release. I sold out. She sold out. We gave it our all. Me and Carla had to fuck like that. Two people selling out for one another. That was sex, in a nutshell. That‟s what soul mates did. So is the relationship between life partners, in a nutshell. One of the purest questions in a relationship; to what degree is your life partner willing to sell-out for you in all aspects of your life? I found myself in the fetal position on the floor. She lay on top of me pressing in, covering my body like a blanket. “Oh my god Poppi,” she whispered. “You fucked me like somebody‟s daddy. I love you Nando. I hate this. I keep having to send you away. You know all of my secrets. I‟m gonna help you. If I keep fucking you, I‟ll have to marry you. You did me too good just now. I can‟t play with you any more. You made me feel like a woman. Oh my god, don‟t fuck another woman like that, promise.” “Oh God I love you. Nando you have to go. Go take your exams. Come back for Christmas break. I need you now. I‟m so fucking proud of you. God, you fucked me like a grown man. I didn‟t think you would grow up so soon. I‟m gonna help you. You are so special to me now. Oh my God Nando, I had multiples.”

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Carla sent me away. I returned to Florida State University to take exams. Brett and I managed to hang out a couple of times.

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A 5-week semester break presented itself. Returning to Atlanta, Carla and I resumed our incest. She was on break too. I began the deciphering of father‟s files. Most of it was in cursive. I couldn‟t read it. I was a child of the 2nd millennium. Hell, nobody wrote anymore. But I was smart. I figured it out. I learned to read the hieroglyphics. There was talk of enzymes, episomes, and other microscopic bodies. And Carla helped me. True to form she explained all of those things. Betwixt nights of drinking, drug abuse, and rabbit sex, there were science lessons: genetics, chemistry, biology. Carla was a great teacher. Following in her father‟s footsteps she had accepted a post of assistant professor at the prestigious Emory University. Being the genius that she was and given the lab expertise that her father imparted on her, the University didn‟t bother forcing her to work her way up the ranks as a graduate assistant. However, she had begun taking a graduate class or two while waiting for that job to materialize. I don‟t think she was ever serious about leaving academia. It was in her blood. Biology and genetics were among her specialties. But like most prodigies in their early stages of development, she only revealed her true gifts to those she trusted most. When it came to DNA, and cellular functions on the molecular level she was a lock. Carla was a natural born geneticists. She took after her daddy. Time marches on. Destiny calls. In spite of my running it caught up to me. I ran into it. I found myself registering for science classes: organic chemistry, cellular processes, and introductory biological lab techniques. My lover sent me back to school. My cousin made me keep going. My sister wouldn‟t have it any other way. It hurt, leaving the one who comforted me; leaving the one who had put me to bed at night.

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Confusion reigned. Anger drove me. After periods of great darkness and sorrow there could only be light. I was driven to understand Dad‟s files. After a while, rage guided my life, as if the Green Lantern were shooting that ray beam at the enemy. Were Carla and I healed? Hell naw. Were we gonna go on until the sun started back shining? Hell yeah. I missed her. Carla did the right thing. She stole my innocence. In return she put me on the path of destiny. I loved her. But I was still young enough to forget her, totally immersing myself into studying and campus life. Things weren‟t so bad. So God takes one but he sends another. And there was Brett. I watched him from the stands working out with the soccer team. His ball control was supreme. But he lacked that break away speed to get away from the defender. If he could just get half a step on the player marking him, he might make an impact on the division one level. I sat in the stands pondering the question. It was winter in Tallahassee. It really didn‟t get cold, but a sweatshirt was definitely in order. The wind kicked up pretty brisk off of that soccer field. I thought of the great athletes that Brett and I witnessed up close, on the football gridiron the previous season. Humm… The debate had raged on for damn near a century, as to whether black athletes had more fast twitch muscle than whites. Who cared? Some say it was a matter of will. Which could be expounded as to which culture the black athlete grew up. If an athlete had the genetic disposition and grew up around hard-core mutherfuckers playing ball, he had a good shot of making the pros. Then it was a matter of politics and chance.

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Brett was different. He had the will. Genetically he was just skinny as hell. He couldn‟t will new genes. It was a gray day. The sky was overcast. Despite the mild climature, cold shrills blasted through my sweatshirt every now and then. What if Brett had the legs of one of those wide outs? Better yet, what if he had the speed of a defensive back. There was a once great cornerback that played for Florida State. His name was Deion Sanders. Legend has it, it wasn‟t that he made mistakes or got beat, but he was so quick that he could always recover and break up the pass from the quarterback before the receiver caught it. Then it hit me, putting shit together in my head you know…. thinking about dad‟s files…. What if we could reprogram the muscles in Brett‟s legs to be that of a cornerback? I mean god damn, Brett had the ball control. That‟s why he was on the team. He was a magician with that damn soccer ball. But what he really needed was that break away speed in his legs to get past all of those fuckers. He could be a star then. A man on the up swing is too settled and cautious to try something new. Folks kind of get locked into the whole house, two kids, and a dog thing. But a god-damned man that‟s down is crazy enough to try some shit.

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I thought about it. Could it all make sense one day? Brett‟s legs were skinny. Steroids could give him an advantage. They could make his muscles denser, therefore giving him the ability to produce more power. But he would have to keep taking them if he wanted any lasting, long-term effects. Besides, the NCAA was still routinely testing athletes for those substances.

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I hadn‟t checked in with coach Taylor. Upon doing so he immediately sent me to the Dean. “Mr. Ruiz, I heard about the loss of your Uncle,” the Dean said. “Dr. Tomlinson was a good man and a hell-of-an educator. We at the University are deeply saddened. “ Once again I sat in his office staring at him from across his desk. He continued. “The University is going to give you a little leeway this time. But in order to maintain your scholarship you must stay on task. You must report to Coach Taylor and do your damned job.” What the fuck, I thought. These mutherfuckers are heartless. That‟s all right. I got something for their ass. Wait a minute. Revenge is bad. Vengeance should be at the hands of the Lord. Let the Lord fight your battles. I thought about it. The sky changed. The sun‟s rays warmed the skin during daylight hours now. Photons endowed advancing cloud columns with brilliant silver linings. Could it all make sense? I scoured over Dad‟s papers. My mind churned along with the sky. Life eased on, some kind of way. I sat down and ate dinner at the athletics complex. The watermelon, it had no seeds. It had been genetically altered to grow that way. A new picture was presenting itself. Like his daughter, Uncle Fred had always told me what I needed to hear, so that I could understand it. It really wasn‟t about cloning. My mother and father were master gene splicers. In their search for cures to the World‟s plagues they had unwittingly transformed themselves into genetic engineers.

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The cloning process by which new DNA was introduced into a surrogate organism was very similar to gene splicing. The difference being that, instead of a whole new DNA strand being inserted into the parent cell, only a particular gene, or miniscule section of the DNA was replaced. So upon cell replication, the essence of the watermelon‟s DNA had been maintained, while the seed producing genes had been altered or knocked out all together. Thus, the seedless watermelon that I was savoring. The seedless watermelon was a genetically modified organism or GMO. At the same time, something ain‟t hitting right. I guess cubed steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, and watermelon, don‟t go together. Cause all of a sudden I got to shit. And it was that same shit that started the whole genetic engineering thing. E. Coli is a bacteria that exist naturally in the intestines of mammals. The bacteria aids in the breaking down of intestinal waste products. That‟s why E. Coli levels are tested for in drinking water. To see whether or not the water has been contaminated with shit. Scientist had modified this same E. Coli bacteria way back in 1978, through gene splicing so that that same bacteria produced human insulin. Countless lives were thus saved in the insulin‟s treatment of diabetes. The scientist went on to win the Nobel Prize for medicine. Their names were Werner Arber, Danial Nathans, and Hamilton Smith. They were among the first official practitioners of recombinant DNA technology. Shit. The more I learned, the more I realized I had to know. Uncle Fred wasn‟t lying about the “you must study and prepare yourself” thing. I understood genetic modification and the recombining of DNA. Biological and genetic engineers had been practicing the techniques for decades. But in actuality they were extremely complicated processes. I was a 19-year-old college student. Most of my peers were penniless,

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incurring credit card debt and amassing student loans that they would catch hell repaying. How in the hell was I gonna figure out how to recombine DNA. Besides, up until that point, most of the successful genetically modified organisms had had their cells modified at the embryonic or stem cell level. Then the organism was allowed to develop in a surrogate or on it‟s own into a fully functioning or adult being. Scientist had only been able to make minor modifications if any to fully grown organisms. And often times, the effects were short term in that the immune systems of these organisms would expel the mutant cells after a short time. There wasn‟t much football going on in the spring. The scorecard said we lost the bowl game but in actuality the University still won, scoring a cool $8 million. Not to mention the countless tens of millions they had scored during the season licensing jerseys, t-shirts, and television and Internet rights. I still had to show up for tutoring though. Players had time to do their own work for the most part. Coach Taylor really didn‟t give a shit. I spent most of my evenings wiping down weight benches after the football players got through working out. There they were. Defensive backs usually showed up to work out between 4:30 and 5 P.M. There was my man, Credale Watkins. He had started as a cornerback last season, his sophomore year. He was slated to be a big star next season. After having snatched 4 interceptions, and fifty something tackles, the sports information office would make sure that he caught the eye of the national press. Credale wasn‟t a huge individual in the football sense. He was average height, lean, yet strongly built. Off distance you could tell that an above average muscle structure covered his average frame. But up close, he didn‟t appear grossly huge.

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Word was that the coaches were planning on moving him to safety next year. They could get a younger, skinnier fella to play cornerback. What they needed, was a fast, strong individual who could cover great distances quickly to play safety. But the player couldn‟t be too big or else he would only be good for one or two plays at the time, chasing receivers and running backs all over the field. Besides if he was that big and quick he would probably be playing linebacker. Upon final debate, Credale was strong in a lean sort of way. He had a little meanness to him, and it was clear from the stat sheet that he wouldn‟t have a problem putting the big hit on a running back busting through the secondary for a touchdown. A cornerback couldn‟t always be counted on for that. “What chew doin in here Ruiz?” he asked. “You need to get on them weights.” It took a week or two to get used to talking to superstars. The same men upon whom headlines were built, graced magazine covers and starred on the Nets in that Saturday afternoon spectacle in the fall, worked out here. This was Florida State University. For the most part, the players were pretty cool. They were cliquish though. Being stuck in the slave camp for four years made you that way. But for the fortunate few, there would be a big payoff. Million dollar contracts might be in their futures. Call it exploitation. The pro leagues generated billions off of these boy‟s backs. But what other entry level position was gonna pay you a couple million bucks, put you in a video game, and give you a spot on MTV Cribs? Pro ball. So what if you were crippled at 50. The slave camp offered other perks. Bouncy, young girls sacrificed their bodies to the football gods. Oft times, things got out of hand in the spring. There weren‟t but two weeks of „official‟ practice. The gladiators had time to search and destroy. Really, it was

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the other way around. The ho‟s had time to search and destroy the ball players. Most of the girls weren‟t in it for the long term. They just wanted to be able to say to their girlfriends that they got banged by this ball player or that. The nigga was on TV for god sakes. And amigos like me wrote papers for them. “What up Credale,” I said. “ Yeah man. Um a hit them weights over the summer. Shit, nigga I might take yo spot.” Laughter broke out in the weight room. I had made a funny with the ball players. “I hear you little man,” he returned. The football players were leaving. “I‟ll see yo little ass tomorrow.” Many athletes worked out with a towel. The towel was used to wipe sweat from themselves and the various weight lifting apparatus. Some used the towels like wastepaper toilet seat covers while laying on a particular piece of equipment. I keened in on Credale‟s, following close behind. The players deposited their towels in a hamper upon entering the locker room. Trying to be slick, I grazed my towel in and out of the hamper while really replacing my towel with Credale‟s. I don‟t think anybody noticed, or better yet, gave a shit. Then played it off by quickly returning to the weight room as if I had forgot something. The first piece in place, I packed the towel in my bag and headed on back to the dorm. Fuck coach Taylor. He knew I was coming back.

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Problems. Brett and I were trying to figure out how to hook up with one of the pretty girls? Better yet, which pretty girl would we hook up with? Events were getting out of hand. It was down right hot. It was deep in the semester.

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Distractions had provided a temporary release from all of that rage. And right then they were keeping me away from my schoolwork and Dad‟s papers. But that‟s why Carla sent me away. To grow up. The dark time had been tough. On a spontaneous whim, the football players had decided to have a throw down at Reynolds Hall on this particular Saturday. The football dorm was behind the stadium and so named Reynolds Hall in honor of famed actor Burt Reynolds, who erected the dorms first incarnation. The actor had appeared on a roster or two way back in the black and white days. Reynolds Hall wasn‟t so much a dorm but a village of luxury suites. I guess I was cool. The players had invited me. I brought Brett along. They had waived the Mustang past the gate and everything. The ballplayers couldn‟t blow it out too much because the paparazzi was too bad. But the coaches couldn‟t do anything about this one but look the other way. Notice the spontaneous nature of the whole affair. Undergraduate pussy was everywhere: low rider jeans, firm titties, the whole nine. That low bass music that was indicative of Florida blasted out of speakers intermixed with an occasional rock song for the white boys. Fuck a keg party. Along with beer, a couple players had set up full bars in their rooms. Rent-a-cops and campus security guarded the whole thing. You couldn‟t get past the gate to the courtyard unless a ball player waived you in. It was still early, about 5 or 6 in the evening. Partying was an underlying theme at FSU. Amongst keg parties, house parties and club joints, this party was a top ten for the college career. Grills roasted hamburgers and chicken quarters. I be damn. I saw Coach Taylor posted up in a corner talking to a coed. I ain‟t mad player.

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So Brett and I are buzzing, drinks in hand, leaning on the Mustang like mutherfukin „what‟. The sun‟s done dipped below the trees. Brett‟s got the sniffles. The constant transition from soccer field to air condition was having an effect on him. He kept blowing his nose every now and then. Irregardless, we got a couple of „em going. I got a fine one standing in front of me and I‟m spitting lines. Brett‟s got one leaning in, between his legs. Is she gonna kiss him or what? Both of the girls got the glistening go-go eyes. This shit‟s a lock. Unless we fuck it up. “BEEEEEEP.” Then my phone goes off. I ignore it. My new lady friend and I didn‟t miss a beat. We keep talking. Brett‟s making out. You got this Nando. “BEEEEEEP.” All right. Um cool right. So without checking the caller id, my dumb ass answers the phone. “Yo,” I say. “Hey baby.” Shit. It was Carla. “Oh, what up,” I say. Damn it‟s getting hot. “Nando, sounds like you‟re partying,” Carla says. Oh shit, more of that adult stuff. I got sexy new pussy standing in front of me with killer old pussy on the line. Shit. I got this. Carla trained me. “Hang on one sec,” I say and put the phone on mute. So the sexy sister is standing in front of me smiling with her arms folded and says, “Go ahead. Answer it. I‟ll be here when you get back. Don‟t take too long.” Then new pussy leans in and kisses me. Staring at her, I hit the mute button. “OK, I‟m back.”

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Carla goes on about Spring break and what I was gonna do and all that shit. I was going to the beach. I would catch up to her when I got good and god damned ready. But wait a minute. I needed her. I think I love her. Whatever. “All right Carla, I got to go.” I say. “I can‟t hear you, the music‟s too loud……Ok baby, I‟ll call you later.” click. Damn, new pussy done stepped away from the car. Brett‟s making tongue love. “All right baby, I‟m back, “ I say stepping up to the sexy slim sister. “That didn‟t take long,” she says. “I‟m still here.” “It was my sister,” I say. “I thought you said that you didn‟t have any sisters,” she says. Oh shit, I‟m fucking up. “You got a girlfriend,” she asked? I didn‟t answer. Ok, my day is ruined. Let me find another one before the sun goes down. “Back home,” she asks? “As long as she ain‟t showing up knocking on my door.” “NANDO, WHAT‟S UP NIGGA!” It was Credale, shirtless, screaming from a balcony, a couple of floors up. He and a couple of other players were assembled there surrounded by a few chicks. I threw up the peace sign. Now that‟s what you call team ball. I scored major cool points for having a star player holler at me. Or so I thought. Brett was still making out. Apparently his date didn‟t mind being infected with a virus. Brett had dropped a couple of tissues into the car. “Let it flow,” my girl said. Damn, I forgot her name. “Yall ready to go,” I asked?

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That‟s all it took. Brett and his playmate slid on in the back. I did the one thing that always came naturally. I drove. All the while, I thought about what I was about to do. Cheating. But could this really be considered cheating? Surely Carla had her own life. She was a beautiful sexual creature. She wasn‟t possibly holding all of that pussy for me this past year. But maybe she was. My new friend stroked my cock through my shorts. See, that‟s how you drive. Besides, Carla sent me away. Yet and still, a bit of uneasiness was hitting me again. She‟s still stroking my cock. Twenty minutes later it didn‟t matter. And it didn‟t matter a couple of hours after that either. It was all about perspective. I could shift my paradigm a little bit.

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“You know all of my secrets,” Carla said. “You know me like a brother,” I returned. “How could I possibly hide anything from you? You can see right through me.” The boys and I had driven down to Panama City, for the weekend to commemorate Spring break. But how much beer can you drink. For a brief space, I was about all partied out. Alas, I found myself in Atlanta, Monday night. I‟m sure Carla had looked over Dad‟s files, but how much did she really know. Yet and still, two pieces of the puzzle were already in play. Could I develop a third? “My father gave me about $40,000 dollars before he died,” Carla said. “Nando, I‟m tired of living in this apartment. It‟s too small. I started grad school in December. It would be nice to have another presence here. I‟m thinking, if I get a house, I can get a roommate. I want to buy a house.”

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“Hummm…” I thought. I already had a house. “Baby, I‟ve been in that dorm for almost a year now. It‟s getting old, too. I‟m thinking about moving off campus. What do you think?” “I think you‟re mature enough for it Nando. You‟ve been on your own for two years now.” Answers swirled about my mind. Then it hit me. “Carla you know my secrets, too. It‟s about my Dad‟s files. I want to try something. You‟re looking for a house right?” “Um huh,” she answered. “I tell you what,” I offered. “If you help me out, I‟ll let you stay at the townhouse until you close a deal. That way you don‟t have to worry about paying rent for a while.” “Sounds good baby, but what do you want me to do?” “Splice a couple of genes.” “You amaze me,” she said. “I‟m so fucking proud of you.” It was early in the morning when we rose. Carla dressed me in a lab coat and skull cap. The lab was freezing. “Allright, Nando. What do you got,” she asked? Opening my knap sack, I pulled out Credale‟s towel and one of the crusty tissues Brett dropped in my car a couple of weeks ago. “Nando, you got to be kidding me,” Carla said. “How am I supposed to isolate any DNA from these contaminated samples?” And she was right. My plan was to swag the chromosomes or DNA from Brett‟s snot. And surely Credale lost a cell of sweat, skin or hair to the towel. Every cell in the human body contained the map. The same DNA, or

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chromosomes were present in the nucleus of each one of them. When I say DNA and chromosomes I‟m talking about the same thing. It was up to the enzymes, the little proteins, or worker ants to activate the particular functions of each cell. It was 2021. The human genome had been mapped 20 years ago. So basically, scientist, doctors, and biologist had a pretty good idea of where all of the genes were. The genes were small sections of the DNA map that determined an individual‟s characteristics. For instance, this small section of the DNA may determine eye color. This section in combination with that one may determine your disposition to asthma. Like I say, the map was complicated. If you changed the one thing over here, it might lead to another thing over there. So Carla and I had to be careful, as to what we were fucking with. So the plan was to extract two perfectly good DNA strands from Credale and Brett. Upon doing so, we would splice the genes for Credale‟s muscle structure into Brett‟s DNA. It was an advanced gene therapy project. Simple enough right. Not. 1) We had to extract undamaged DNA. 2) Find the proper gene on Credale‟s DNA. 3) Cut it out and copy it. 4) Figure out how to merge Credale‟s muscle gene into Brett‟s DNA without killing him. If we spliced into Brett‟s DNA at the wrong spot, we could give him cancer. We might cut in half the gene controlling cell reproduction. In addition to killing my friend, number four opened a realm of other problems. There were ten ways to fuse Credale‟s gene into Brett‟s. But it might not be the muscle genes at all. It might be a combination of other genes or chemical processes that was making Credale so strong.

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After isolating Credale‟s gene, how were we going to make enough copies of it to make major changes to Brett‟s muscle structure? Furthermore, even if we succeeded in a splicing mixture, I couldn‟t inject Brett with a needle. He was an unwilling participant in our sadistic Dr. Frankenstein drama. Brett didn‟t even smoke weed. Like I said earlier, attempts to modify cells in adult life forms was tough. The immune system usually expelled the mutant cells after a while. They didn‟t recognize the fuckers. Enzymes pretty much did the work of cutting DNA and RNA. Pharmaceutical companies sold the enzymes with dispositions to making cuts at particular temperatures and places on the DNA strands. Basically, enzymes separated the double stairs of the DNA chain. At that point, the same or other enzymes would copy half of the stairs thus creating a strand of RNA. The RNA would then travel to various parts of the cell, upon which other enzymes or cell bodies would create, other enzymes. There were 23 amino acids, which are the basic proteins at the molecular level. From the RNA‟s genetic sequence, enzymes or cell bodies made complex or simple constructions from the 23 amino acids. These amino acid combinations were the enzymes. Not only was their combination important, their shape was too. Certain enzymes fit into certain enzymes. Certain enzymes also fit into various cells, cell bodies, or other molecules, turning reactions on or off. Like I said, the enzymes were the worker ants making everything happen. Theoretically is was possible to program the body to do anything, by inserting enzymes, chemical combinations that increased or decreased enzymes production, or reprogramming DNA or RNA, so that they would produce

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specific enzymes to make something happen. That was biological engineering in a nutshell. That‟s one way pharmaceutical drugs were developed. But you can‟t let the problems of tomorrow fuck up what‟s going on today. See that‟s the problem with the scared man. Always finding more excuses than reasons. Could Carla and I isolate the genes in Credale‟s DNA? Yes. Did I know how to insert that gene into an adult, fully functioning Brett? Hell naw. Was I gonna let that stop me before I even got started? Hell naw, captain. Carla went on about the contaminated samples. “Oh, you better be fucking like a grown man tonight,” she said. “This is a lot of work. Get your little ass over here. Let me show you how to do something.” She was a great teacher giving me a crash introduction into this technique or that. Just like her Daddy. And she was right about the samples. It was easy enough to gather genetic material from Brett‟s snot, but the towel was a horse of another color all together. Ain‟t no telling whose sweat or skin had been exposed to the towel in that weight room. I had handled the towel and carried it around in my bag for weeks. We could be fusing my DNA into Brett if we weren‟t careful. We really needed another sample. But since Carla had me in the lab, she made me work. “Ok Nando, this is what we„re gonna do. We‟ll take samples from the towel, copy the DNA and look for matches. The sample with the most matches should be the one from the football player.

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Scraping and scratching, we examined fragments of the towel under microscopes in search of cellular material. Upon finding cell‟s we extracted the chromosomes or DNA from the cells‟ nuclei under even more powerful microscopes. Shit. Day‟s passed. By weeks end we were copying DNA samples in a process called Polymerase Chain Reaction. Polymerase was an enzyme found in the bacteria residing in hot springs and geysers. In PCR, DNA was heated to a certain temperature at which the hydrogen bonds of the DNA separated naturally. Polymerase would then copy small sections of the DNA strand. The polymerase enzyme was used because it didn‟t break down at the high temperatures associated with heating DNA. The heating, copying, and cooling was repeated until a substantial amount of DNA was available for harvesting. PCR had been utilized by crime labs as part of identify tests in paternity and rape cases for decades. But PCR could only be counted on for copying extremely small sections of the DNA chain. It probably wouldn‟t be feasible to copy the genetic makeup of ones muscle structure using the process. The various portions of the map were too big. In addition to the fact that we were gonna need a shit load of genes to reprogram Brett‟s muscles.

„Nando, it seems as if life is full of problems. It‟s not that we have problems, it‟s whether or not we develop the emotional or professional skills to overcome them.‟

Uncle Fred

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I thought about answers as I drove back down that lonely road to Tallahassee. Carla would call me in a week or two to let me know if she had any matches. We didn‟t have any choice now. Credale had signed with an agent and flown to Canada to play pro ball. Fuck school. I guess he got tired of that shit, too. Mutherfuckers making millions and millions of dollars off of him and he not getting shit but a pork chop and a raggedy assed, twin sized bed. With the million dollars he was gonna make next year, he could buy a degree. I thought about it. Holy shit, that rotten ass gum!

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“Beeeeep”…….”Beeeeep”…….. “The caller you have reached is not available. If you would like to…….” Damn girl, pick up the phone. “Beeeeep”……”Beeeeep” My brain was about to explode from the week of lab work. It was late. I sped down the highway hoping Carla would pick up. “Beeeeep.” “Hey baby.” Phew. She answered. She was in the bed. “Are you ok,” she asked? “Naw, I just wanted to ask you something right quick,” I said. “Remember when we picked up those papers. You remember those two sticks of gum. What did I do with them?” “Hang on baby,” she said. There was a rustling. I heard something open. “They‟re right here where you left them. In the nightstand beside the rubbers that you never use. We‟re gonna have a baby.”

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Whatever. Carla wasn‟t pregnant. I knew she wasn‟t. “Cool babe,” I said. “Save those for me.” “The rubbers or the gum?” she asked. “The gum.” “I‟m glad you called me, cause I was gonna throw all of that trash out tomorrow. I don‟t know why I keep these rubbers.” Whatever, I thought. Just hold on to the gum. It was all about reading in between the lines. Most people never learned to put 2 and 2 together. It was a spiritual thing. When you were one with the Spirit World, sometimes you could perceive an answer. With smooth techno beats repeating themselves in the background, and dotted lines blurring past my tires, I often times entered into some sort of weird trace world while driving; especially while driving long distances at night. Most Americans fight true Christian spirituality because of some bad religious experience they had had. Yet they have no problem embracing other belief systems even though they have problems too. Perhaps the preacher had said something about women that they didn‟t like. Or they were involved in a business deal with a church member who turned out to be a scoundrel. Or the Preacher got in trouble with the authorities over misappropriated church funds. Either way, they still missed God and that connection with the Holy Spirit. Now that was priceless. During hard times, Even David said „Lord take everything. But don‟t take your Spirit away from me.‟ So what does that have to do with anything? Mom had a curious habit of smacking on gum while in deep concentration. You would have thought that a stick of

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gum had died and gone to hell from the gnashing she put it through. Dad and I were waiting on Gum Chewers of America to file a case against her with the ACLU, any day. Going from gum, another American phenomenon is that of parents forcing their children to brush their teeth before going to bed. This prevents plaque from building up on teeth and thus causing cavities. Where was this mysterious bacteria that Dad‟s papers talked about? Now put 2 and 2 together. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar. I‟m sure Mom continued to punish sticks of gum during her workday. If a scientist wanted to smuggle super secret microscopic material out of an ultra secure CDC complex how would they do it? Inject the material into a stick of gum. The papers didn‟t mention the sticks but surely Mom and Dad had smuggled their genetically modified bacteria out of the government labs in sticks of gum. Carla and I were running behind but for some odd reason I had a good feeling about the whole endeavor. Destiny had forced me to learn so much biology and genetics in such a short span of time. Yet there was so much more to learn. I had to keep going. My present circumstance would not allow me to remain in the space and time that I was in. I termed it “getting bogged down in the middle.” Everything had changed. I felt as if I were on the right path though. For once in my life I was gonna finish a project. For God sakes, I was a 20-year-old college student attempting to execute a professional level genetics project. Forget grad school. Forget the masters and the doctorate degrees. The school year was coming to a close. Carla moved into Nana and mines townhouse and I made the move off campus into an apartment. Nana had never come

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back. Then the call came. Carla informed me that she had matches with Credale‟s DNA sample. Unknowingly, she had swagged my DNA from her old apartment and ruled me out as a donor all together. Phew, it wasn‟t my baby. School ended and I came on back to Atlanta for semester break. Carla and I continued our lab work. „What do we do now,‟ was the question of the day? I delegated Carla the task of isolating the various gene groups for Credale‟s muscle structure. Remember, the human genome had already been mapped. So it was just a matter of locating the sections on Credale‟s chromosomes using the map. Meanwhile, I brought the two sticks of gum into the lab and began analyzing slides under the microscope. Big sister to the rescue again. The slides from the gum offered things that I didn‟t recognize. “Hey Carla, come over here and tell me what this shit is,” I said. “Oh, you‟re getting uppity,” she said. “You must think that you‟re a grown man for real. Wait a minute, I‟ll be right there.” Gazing into the microscope she said, “these are bacteria. But they don‟t look like any I‟ve ever seen before. Wow, they‟re big. Nando we should be careful handling these specimens from now on. “ Bingo. My Spirit was right. Holy cow. Mom and Dad had left me a sample of their super bacteria. Ok. I felt good. Unless you were gifted, learning to hear ones Spirit was often times a matter of trial and error. When the voice in your head told you to do something and the something was wrong, that wasn‟t the voice. Like when you wake up in the morning and the voice tells you to cuss your girlfriend or wife out for something that happened three weeks ago.

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Now that was the wrong voice. And you knew it was wrong cause your girlfriend didn‟t let you touch those firm breast for weeks. Your wife may have spent the weekend at her sisters. Or at least that‟s what she told you. How could you trust anyone in this day and age after being burned so many times? Now when another voice told you something and it turned out to be right, then you knew that was the right voice. For instance, „hey dumb ass, your Mom and Dad hid the bacteria in the gum.‟ Carla went on, “Goodness, some of them have lysed. Wow, Nando, this slide is pretty cool.” Wait a minute. She sounds like me talking. “Let‟s look at them under something more powerful,” she said. Removing the slide Carla and I went across the hall to a stronger piece of equipment. As we walked, I thought that the organisms did sort-of resemble pictures of bacteria that I had seen in textbooks. But none that I recognized. Carla inserted the slide into a microscope and pulled it up on a video monitor. “Wow, Nando,” she said. “I‟ve never seen anything quite like this. These bacteria are really large.” Reaching for a knob, she intensified the magnification. “Whoa,” she said. The science lessons continue. Bacteria are single celled organisms that are not necessarily bad. Among other things, they serve an important role in nature in the breaking down of dead life forms into base molecules. Bacteria don‟t necessarily have a nucleus where a DNA strand would be housed, but rather the chromosomes just float freely in the organism‟s goo. “Those must be the plasmids,” I said.

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“Wow, Nando. They‟re huge. They‟re so many of them.” Along with free-floating DNA strands, bacteria often housed plasmids. Plasmids were free floating strands of DNA that may have had nothing at all to do with the bacteria‟s function. It was an interesting phenomenon. Why would God leave left over strands of seemingly useless DNA in the bodies of bacteria? Maybe He left them there for us. It was our time. Scientist often harvested plasmids, fused new genes into the plasmids, and then inserted the plasmids back into a bacteria. The bacteria would then multiply, thus producing new copies of the gene. This is pretty much the process that mother and father had used. One problem associated with using plasmids to replicate genes was size. Scientist had only been able to attach very minute DNA sections to plasmids for copying. For the most part they could only duplicate the part of a gene that cut something on or off but not necessarily the whole gene. “Wow, Nando. They‟re huge,” Carla repeated. For some odd reason the plasmids from the prehistoric bacteria Mom and Dad resurrected were massive in the microscopic sense. Later on, Carla and I speculated. The Spirit was telling me that everything was bigger back then. Sort of like things are in Texas. Big. Think about it. The air was purer. Seeds and spores had to be able to cover greater distances. A bacteria would have to be massive to break down a dinosaur. It was in the Bible. Notice the part when the spies returned from scouting about the Promised Land. They came back carrying grapes on poles. Now what grapes do you know in this day and age that need to be carried on

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poles? True enough there are some big grapes in South America but none in North America. Goliath was a giant. It only made sense that an ancient bacteria and the plasmids it housed be huge. Things were getting spooky again. The natural and supernatural worlds were crossing. Carla and I spent hours and hours stolen away, veiled in the unseen research labs of Emory University. Emory was on break too. An occasional grad student or professor would pass by every now and then, but for the most part our work went unnoticed. All the while, a resurrected organism began to reveal it‟s power. A power that we had no way of comprehending.

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I reviewed Dad‟s papers.

“Observed a great many plasmids in bacterium bodies. Anna and myself amazed at their mammoth size… Attempting to make a genetic modification to plasmid bodies.

Let‟s go back for a minute. Bacteria are single celled organisms with no nucleus. The DNA or chromosomes for the bacteria float freely inside the organism‟s goo. Plasmids are other seemingly useless, free-floating strands of DNA within the bacteria. Scientist often attach miniscule pieces of genes to plasmids so that the genes can be copied when the bacteria multiplies. So basically, Mom and Dad had resurrected a bacteria in which was housed unusually massive plasmids or left over DNA. The plasmids appeared huge because the strands bundled themselves up into balls.

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Mom and Dad began attaching genes to the plasmids to see if the new genes would be copied when the bacteria multiplied. The results were astonishing. The new genes were definitely being copied by the enzymes within the bacteria upon multiplication. So Mom and Dad pushed the envelope and began adding longer and longer pieces of genes to be copied. Before they knew it, the enzymes were copying enormous sections of the new chromosomes. It was a great discovery in that before that time only very small sections of DNA were able to be copied; using Protease Chain Reaction, bacterial multiplication, or other processes. Bundled within the huge plasmid strands were recipes for new enzymes that were capable of copying great passages of the DNA blueprint. When Mom and Dad attached long sections of genes to the plasmids, the sections would be copied without a problem.

I skipped a page or two and fathers discussion of the plasmids continued.

“Spliced episome gene into plasmid several weeks ago. Anna and I are very excited. Test look positive… So much for the mail man. Coming with an 18 wheel truck.”

Ok. So we have the plasmids, which are seemingly useless, free floating DNA strands. An episome is a plasmid that can integrate itself into the host organism‟s DNA. So basically, If DNA was carpet, an episome would be a rug that could weave itself into the carpet and become a part of it. Holy shit. Answers.

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This had to be the biggest collision in scientific history. It was a double collision. The first breakthrough being that Mom and Dad discovered a way to copy large genetic sequences. Then they gave their discovery the properties of a virus. Episomes re-wrote their message into somebody else‟s DNA. The same way a computer virus re-writes things into your computer. The second breakthrough being that once new gene copies were made the episomal quality would automatically integrate the copied genes into the new host DNA. Mom and Dad were geniuses. But what were Mom and Dad really discovering? The bacteria had existed on this Earth all along. It wasn‟t so much a discovery as a revelation. With that mind frame, what else was waiting to be revealed on this Earth? Huh? (the Spirit world can tell you, that‟s why professionals should be one with it) Now you can start to get a sense of what a scientist goes through, dealing with new shit that ain‟t even in the text book, encyclopedia, or posted on the Internet yet. And then the political interest come into play. What if this new technology could really be applied to the world in which we live in? Are we ready for it? How would it effect socialeconomic factors? What if the aliens really did land in Area 51? Or what if it were a time travel experiment from 10,000 years ago gone bad? Seemed far-fetched at first, but it doesn‟t seem so off base now. Does it? That‟s the essence of thinking outside the box. What if? It‟s only natural that society wants to keep you in line. Or better yet keep you inside the lines. You might discover something. You might figure something out. You might change the world. Wait a minute. If we had an episome that would automatically weave itself into Brett‟s DNA, why did we need a copy of Brett‟s DNA? Carla and I could simply splice

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Credale‟s muscle genes to the episome, and the episome would do the work for us. See, that‟s a major part of science, technology, innovation, exploration, and discovery. When you discovered something new, it often made previous techniques obsolete, instantly. That‟s why niggas and essays got mad at you. Cause you moving in on their block selling some new shit that‟s hitting harder. Of course the pharmaceutical companies would try and take you out if you were gonna put them all out of business. And everybody‟s bitching about gangs. While discovering, your mind has got to be free enough to let old things go. In football terms its called having a “cornerback mentality.” If a receiver beat a cornerback and caught a pass for a touchdown, the cornerback had to pretty much forget that he made a mistake the next time he came on the field to play defense. Or else the cornerback might feel sorry for himself and make more mistakes. Mom and Dad‟s endeavors had simplified our work. Basically, all we had to do was cut and paste Credale‟s muscle genes to the episome. But we had to manipulate a couple of things to the strand. We had to camouflage Credale‟s DNA so that Brett‟s immune system wouldn‟t attack it. How do you do that you ask? More cutting and pasting. We had to cut out a sequence on Credale‟s DNA that the immune system used for recognition. Basically, we had to burn the fingerprints off of Credale‟s DNA. If we were lucky, Brett‟s body would think that it was his own genetic code. We made it yall. The crazy science lessons are over. So Carla and I have a new genetic sequence ready to go. Another problem. We need about a trillion copies. For some odd reason, several species of bacteria like sugar. Remember the part about bacteria creating plaque, which destroyed your teeth. Notice, Mom and Dad had

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placed the bacteria in a stick of gum. The bacteria had pretty much devoured the sugar in the gum. Carla taught a summer class or two. So of course, with my 20-year old mind being left alone in the lab, what did I do? I dropped a sample of the bacteria into sugar water. High fructose corn syrup. Gatorade was officially developed in 1965 by Dr. Robert Cade, Dr. Alex DeQuesada, Dr. Dana Shires, and Dr. Jim Free, at the University of Florida. Florida State Seminoles, and University of Florida Gators can‟t stand to be in the same room together for more than five minutes. I‟m serious. The folks ain‟t too fond of one another. But you got to give it to the Gator doctors. They came up with some shit when they invented Gatorade. The fuckers should have won the Nobel. The commercial was right. The liquid did give one team the advantage. All right, so in theory, what was the difference between Gatorade and steroids. Both chemically altered cellular function on the molecular level. Gatorade introduced carbohydrates and electrolytes. The carbohydrates act like smooth, clean burning, hightest gasoline. The electrolytes have metallic properties that enable electric pulses to travel through muscle cells. For this reason, if you drink just the right amount, Gatorade can help prevent cramping. Steroids enable cells to take on more water weight. The cell body becomes denser and can therefore burn more fuel, or push your legs past the other man‟s in a footrace. So what was the difference betwixt steroids and Gatorade. All kinds of shit crosses your mind while isolated in a hidden research lab for days at a time. Sucrose, Glucose, High Fructose Corn Syrup. Reads like the back of a candy wrapper. Carbohydrates and sugar are closely related. Both are fuels, but in actuality

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sugar can burn too fast and hot. Sort of like the nitro in drag racers but maybe not to that extreme. Sugar can get your cells to working hot and quick. But you might burn yourself out too quickly in the process. That‟s why the marathoners eat pasta instead of Snickers the night before a big race. So what the fuck does that have to do with anything? I dropped a couple of the bacteria into sugar water. A day later, the whole Petri dish was full of bacteria. Uncle Fred had said something about rapidly producing. He wasn‟t lying. That ancient bacteria damn near killed itself feeding on the refined sugar. I guess the bacteria had been used to breaking down fruit, berries, and dinosaurs, but the refined sugar was akin to the bacteria being on crack. Upon examination under the microscope, most of the bacteria had lysed. Basically they had eaten so much that they had burst. This was good for us cause we didn‟t have to worry about harvesting the episomes from the bacteria. The episomes were already there, in the sugar water, waiting on us.

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“Beeeeep”…..

”Beeeeep”

“Hey Nando. What‟s up,” Brett asked? “Nothing,” I said. “What you doing?” “Nothing,” Brett replied.

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“Well, um cooking. Steak. Why don‟t you come over to my new apartment and eat?” “Cool.” “‟member how to get here don‟t you?” “Yeah dumb ass. I helped you move in remember.” That was Brett.

So what was on the menu: steak, mashed potatoes and Kool-Aid. It was midsummer. I had managed to make it back for the second summer semester. I figured I might as well take a class or two and get ahead of the game. Brett was thinking the same thing. If he took a class or two now, he wouldn‟t have to take a full load during the fall soccer season. Brett had made it over. We stood on the deck watching the grill. Rap music played in the background. “All right, man,” I said. “I‟ll have these steaks ready in a minute. I ain‟t got no brew yet. Want some Kool-Aid?” “Yeah,” he said. “The steaks smell good. Let‟s eat first. We can get some brew later.” Going inside, I fetched my man a big glass of the flavored sugar water. Wow. The mysteries of science continued. That was a big hint. Brett and I stood on the deck watching the grill as if watching was gonna make the steaks cook faster. As far as I was concerned, the evening was going well. Brett was taking steady gulps of Kool-Aid. Confidentially, we discussed his desire to rush a fraternity in the fall. I didn‟t want to join shit. But if he made it, I would damn sho party

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with the mutherfuckers. Even still, I didn‟t lean either way. If he wanted to do it I told him to go for it. “Shit man, I think these steaks are done. I like my shit kinda rare. Um a put some salt on mine. You like salt?” I asked? “Yeah,” Brett replied. Going inside, I heaped a couple a mounds of potatoes on some plates. I was in a quandary. It might look funny if I went to the table drinking water. Brett knew I liked sodas and shit. Fuck it. Um a drink some Kool-Aid. But not that much. I‟ll just sip it. I cut the music down and cut the TV on. Some news reporter went on about mutherfuckers fighting in the Middle East. The US had their hands in the shit again. Fuck that. I ain‟t eating dinner while watching that shit. There‟s got to be a ball game on. We settled on an old school episode of Battlestar Galactic. Damn, fools could act back then. Either the food or Battlestar Galactica was good. Cause there wasn‟t much talking during dinner. All you heard was forks and knives scraping plates. Damn. This was going too good. I sat on the couch rubbing my belly. Brett sat in a chair working a toothpick. Battlestar Galactica was going off. I picked up the remote and switched on some dead rappers. It‟s funny. When you were dealing with original hip-hop, some of the best stuff was from artist who had been slain. Now that was an interesting phenomenon. It was hard trying to find some of those tracks on the net. “Hey man, what you doing tomorrow,” I asked? “It‟s Saturday. I don‟t have any plans,” Brett replied. “Have you started back working out with the team yet,” I asked.

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“No. I been a lazy ass. Coach pretty much left it up to us to work out on our own this summer. I kicked the ball around a couple of times.” “Well, I don‟t know,” I said. “I was thinking about going to the gym. You ought to come with me. The season will be here in a minute.” “You‟re right,” he replied. “Maybe my big brothers won‟t kick my ass so bad if I get buffed on their ass. A hot body won‟t hurt with the sorority sisters either. I heard they like guys with a lot of stamina.” Dumb jock. Damn athletes. I can‟t believe I‟m sitting here with a campus soccer star and he‟s worried about the damn sorority sisters. “Man your motivation is all twisted.” I said. “Amigo. Have you seen the hot ass bitches going in and out of those sorority houses? I can have that.” Damn, he had a point. “Whatever,” I said. “Just have your ass ready when I call you tomorrow.” “Sounds good,” he said. “Anyway. We got to find something to get into later.” “Some of the bros from the soccer team bought a keg the other day.” “O, really now,” I said. Brett replied, “Yeah, we should help them finish it off.” “Yeah. That would be the right thing to do,” I said. “We can stop by after dark. There might be some chicks over. I guess we better get some brew for now,” he said. “Fuck that brew,” I said. “Man, let‟s get a bottle.”

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All right. Everybody keep his or her fingers crossed. Brett and I went to working out. It was summer. And after class, there wasn‟t shit else to do between keg parties. I was independently wealthy and didn‟t need to work. Brett was a bona-fide NCAA scholarship athlete now and they frowned on athletes making too much money while working in the summer. It went slowly at first. But by the third or fourth week of July, Brett and I were working out four or five days a week. For those of you who haven‟t figured it out, there was one last problem to solve. How would we get our recombinant genetic strand into Brett‟s body? We couldn‟t inject him with a needle. It was all about proteins. Muscle cells had a protein skin. Once the genetic sequence was in the bloodstream, if it were attached to or covered with a protein the same as the one covering the muscle cells, the more likely the muscle cells would absorb it. Once the gene sequence was inside the cell, the episome would do the rest. After we built our strand and multiplied it within bacteria that lysed, Carla and I would add a protein base in hopes that the gene sequence would bond with the protein. Notice, I continued to feed Brett a steady stream of steak all summer. I always added salt in hopes that a negatively charged compound would aid in bonding and absorption into positively charged muscle cells. Brett continued to drink steady streams of Kool-Aid laced with the compound. I did my best not to, but obviously I ingested small amounts of it. Brett may have also had a bit of the mix drizzled into his mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.

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Not knowing whether there was gonna be adverse affects or a major rejection, I always tried to get Brett drunk as a skunk on the nights I feed him. That way he would think it was the alcohol and not my bad cooking that got him sick. There was no way to tell if the plan was working. Carla was steady calling, asking how our boy was doing. I didn‟t know, but after a few weeks of lifting, we were both developing some cuts. She wanted to meet him in person. I got another call that summer that I wasn‟t expecting. My friend Norm had finally caught up to me. I can‟t believe we went that long without talking. I felt bad about it. “What‟s up Poppi,” he said. “What‟s up nigga.” I returned. “Shiiit man. Chillin like a villain. Fuck the robbin‟ and stealin,‟ it‟s all about wheelin‟ and dealin‟.” “Oh, you on some ole pimp shit now,” I said. “Naw Poppi, just messing „round down here in Statesville.” The pleasantries went on. I was truly glad to hear from my brother. He was the closest thing I ever had to one. Brett and I were pretty cool though. Norm and I traded a few war stories. But when it came down to it, Norm expressed his unhappiness with his football career. “I got no run last year,” he said. “And it ain‟t looking too good this year. I don‟t know if I‟m pro material. I mean, I‟m going for a management degree, but I might quit this shit and go join the Army.”

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There was a once great general who led American forces in one of the Middle Eastern skirmishes. His name was Norman Schwarzkopf. “‟Stormin‟ Norman,” I screamed! “Nigga, that ain‟t funny,” he said. “That‟s your name,” I said. “Stormin‟ Norman.” “Hell naw, Poppi.”

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“I might can help,” I said. “Naw Poppi. I ain‟t got time to wait on these people to put me on the field.” I reiterated. “Storm um serious.” I couldn‟t possibly tell him over the phone about all of the work that Carla and I had done with my Dad‟s files. When we hung up, Storm was still undecided. Irregardless, I think the plan was working. We were a week into the fall semester now. Brett was looking good. Movie star good. I had put on a couple pounds myself. It was gonna be an interesting semester. The moment of truth was approaching. I felt good about things, „cause Brett received a steady stream of „how are you‟s‟ and reckless eyeballs from the ho‟s as we walked across campus or hung out. I got a few eyeballs myself. Maybe it was one of those side effects that Carla and I were afraid of. But Brett‟s completion grew darker, as if he had a good tan. I grew a little darker myself. Remember, Brett was a pale, skinny white kid when I met him. Weird shit man. I don‟t remember us laying out or anything that summer. Never the less, I wasn‟t gonna tell him shit. I was a

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biologist now, no longer a counselor. If Santa Clause still showed up at Brett‟s house on Christmas, who was I to throw rocks at the reindeer. The moment of truth arrived. Often times, real athletes played a game or two in the hood to maintain their street credibility. During the off-season, brothers from the NBA still showed up at the Rucker or Washington Park in the NYC every now and then. But not just the brothers. White players and foreign nationals began making pilgrimages to neighborhood courts too, putting their skills up for display on the street so that the hustlers could see up close what was what. Who was real or who was riding the hype bandwagon. Brett was no different. I hung with Brett. He was real. When he strapped his boots on, didn‟t nothing matter but the game. He didn‟t mind sharing his skills with the common man. And it was on a day like many on asphalt, in the back alley, or that abandoned field across the street, that a legend was born. Come, and follow me. The grace of the soccer god had been kind to a poor amigo like me as his hand chose me as the first disciple in his entourage. I tagged along with a couple of the soccer bros to the intramural fields. A pick up game was developing. Brett and the bros were tuning up for the season but destiny called it‟s own number and executed a temporary escape from all of that structure. I had tennis shoes on. Notice. Not cleats but tennis shoes. I really wasn‟t no ball player. For the first little bit I took up my normal place on the sidelines. Brett was making fools look lame without even trying. He was zipping in and out of those civilian fuckers like it wasn‟t shit. But to me that was normal. His job on campus was to play soccer. He should have been able to boogie around regular college students like me. Shit nigga, I

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wasn‟t impressed. Until he started zipping around the other two soccer bros that came with us. These two guys were upper class starters on the team. I heard one of them say “boy, what the fuck did you do this summer.” Bret came over to me and said, “Nando, I ain‟t hardly touched a ball since July. I don‟t know what the fuck‟s going on.” Breathing hard he went on. “Man, I got to keep working out with you. Damn, those bitches are slow as fuck. Man, get your ass in the game.” Then he screamed, “HEY, Nando‟s on my team.” That was only two months after our first dinner. Brett continued having dinner with me from time to time throughout his entire collegiate and professional career. Perfect. The bros from the soccer team adopted me like some kind of good luck charm. or mascot. It didn‟t matter. Good times my friend. Football season had started and I hadn‟t checked in with Coach Taylor. The Dean was calling. I ignored his messages. I was in my own world. A happy one. By effort I had altered my circumstances. It felt good; having a new set of friends and bros to hang out with. But the kicker was that I was learning. I was devouring science books, ever determined to learn everything there was to know about biology, genetics, and chromosomes. It was a great period in my life. Self-actualization had been achieved. I didn‟t need pot, alcohol or women. Not saying that things didn‟t happen, but I awakened everyday with a natural high. I was on top of the world. Those messages were getting on my nerves. The Dean had worked his way to the top of my shit list. Things were going too good. I was tired of him fucking up my high. I didn‟t need that kind of energy in my life. I could face the devil. I was invincible. I went to see the Dean.

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“Mr. Ruiz, there will always be ramifications for your actions,” he said. Cut the bullshit I thought. Standing from in front of his desk where I had sat so many times before I said, “Fuck this scholarship. I can pay my own god damn fees.” I was a trust fund baby. I still had over $100,000 in the bank. Hell, I would be a millionaire this time, two years from now. I walked out and never spoke to that fucker again. I felt good. Football, learning, and keg parties were exceptional. Brett was dazzling fools on the pitch. He was starting and everything. His name began making it‟s way to the sidebars of the local and campus newspapers, next to the American football stories that is. Mutherfuckers were calling him a sophomore sensation or something. Now could the Dean really be mad at me? Huh? I had given back to the University. They just didn‟t know it. I wasn‟t at all compelled to tell them shit. But my man Brett struggled silently in other ways. The Frat bros were putting the wood to that ass. It would pay off for him though. He was about to be a bona-fide, frat boy, soccer star. There was no higher social capital. Even the bros from the football team were starting to take notice. I would chat with one of the football players on campus or stop by Reynolds Hall every now and then. Brothers were always saying something like “Man, your boy Brett is showing his ass. Tell him I said what‟s up. Shit Poppi, yall niggas fall through and kick it with us sometimes.” “All right,” I would say, and give the brother a pound. When you gave somebody five with your fist, that was a pound. That was part of that new Florida terminology that I had learned.

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Life must be cyclical because the same patterns repeated themselves yet again. I had made another circle. The wheel slowed to a moment of clarity. The blur of things going by came into focus. As the motion stopped I could see and understand everything in my World. It was truly a happy place. In the back of my mind I faintly heard something that almost went unnoticed. It was a little girl. The voice was too low to make out what was being said. I felt the bump of motion as if the train were pulling out of the station. Life was moving again. The voice was talking. As the wheel began spinning I couldn‟t help but wonder who would be thrown off this time. Once again, I was best friends with a star athlete. Yet, this was a much grander setting and stage. The gods of vanity, excess, and superficiality had slipped an “in crowd” membership card into my back pocket. There was only one thing missing. And I be damned if that bitch didn‟t call again.

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Caller ID: Mama “What‟s up Mama?” “Hey baby, I‟m coming down,” Carla said. “Come on. Shit yeah. You can stay with me.” I returned. “I want to meet our boy.” “He‟s big,” I said. “He‟s a pretty baby, too. Like his mama. Everybody loves him.” “I love children,” she said. “I never thought that I would be a father at this age,” I returned.

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“Nando, you‟re too grown for me. I have to get back to class. I‟m coming this weekend.” “When,” I asked. “I don‟t know, but I‟m coming. I have to teach a class. I‟ll call you later. After I‟m done,” she said. “Ok baby. Chao,” I said.

Brett had been tied up with Frat boy shit the last few days. It was hell week. The old school bro‟s were playing mind games with him and his pledge bros. They claimed they had to see how bad they really wanted it. Brett still didn‟t know if he was gonna make it. This had to be a big time Frat cause most organizations had given up on hazing in fear of lawsuits from maimed pledges. Irregardless, for some odd reason, fools really wanted to join this organization terribly bad even though they insisted on beating people. I thought Brett was joining a gang from some of the ass whippings he was taking. Never the less, the cycles were repeating themselves. Between beatings and soccer practice, Bret was running a little behind in his classes. He asked me to help him out. He was my boy. Of course I would. I told you the cycles in my life were repeating themselves. Once again I found myself writing papers for NCAA scholarship athletes. But my sentiments were different this time. I didn‟t mind. Brett was a friend. It was a labor of love. It was Friday, and Carla had made it down to Tally Ho that after noon. She was great. I ditched class and we spent time walking the campus and sharing a meal. Despite being held captive with the Frat bros all week, Brett managed to sneak in communication

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time with me, when they released him to go to class or soccer practice. Hell, I had to do his schoolwork. Amongst our communiqués I mentioned that Carla was coming down and would love to meet him. He buzzed me that afternoon and we all arranged to meet at my apartment around 5. “I‟ve heard so many pleasant things about you. You‟re more beautiful than I expected.” That god damn Brett, already working that Frat-boy charm. Carla was all smiles and I might have even notice her blush a little bit. Maybe she was having a hot flash, cause she wiped away tiny beads of perspiration with her hand as she brushed her bangs away from her reddened face. Speechless at first she finally uttered: “Oh my god, Nando. This kid is so nice. I love him already.” Yeah whatever, I thought. Brett and Carla hit it off from jump. Next thing you know they were talking all that Frat boy and Sorority girl talk. I just sat there, watching. Sitting there shaking my head, I finally opened my laptop and began writing one of Brett‟s papers. Turns out, Carla was in the sister sorority of Brett‟s fraternity. Bret was going over tonight. In other words, he was being officially accepted into the fraternity on campus. After final, private initiation rites with the bro‟s there was gonna be an all-Greek ball. I was invited, but never being one for pretense and puffery, I was intent on chilling at the house writing papers. I would celebrate with the frat bro‟s once the initial hoopla crested a bit. But of course, Carla fit perfectly into the role. A hot ass, old school, sister sorority broad, from Atlanta, at a fraternity ball celebrating a neophyte, making the young nymphs look stupid. Like I said, Carla and Brett hit it off from jump and she was all of a sudden going to the ball. I was totally cool with it. I had work to do.

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Carla returned late, drunk as a skunk. She had to have been lit up pretty good cause her car was parked all crooked when I got up in the morning. I fed her ass to help knock her hangover off. We spent Saturday together, cruising around town, the mall and the flea market. And of course she was off to party with the frat bros again Saturday night. It was cool, cause I had to finish Brett‟s papers and a couple of projects of my own. Oblivious to the scenario, Carla returned mid-morning Sunday. No big deal. That was my big sister. She could do what she wanted to. We hung out for a few minutes. She showered and packed her girly things. I walked her down to the parking lot. We hugged, and she left. I hadn‟t heard from Brett. I was giving him space to enjoy some time with his new frat bros. “BUZZZZ” It was Sunday, late. My phone was ringing.

“BUZZZZ”

It was Carla. She‟s calling to let me know she made it back home ok. “Hey baby,” I answered. “Nando, I have something to tell you,” she replied. “Ok,” I returned. “I slept with Brett,” she said. “Bitch, I didn‟t know you were a pedophile!”

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Time waits on no one. Before you know it, your generation is running the show. For every struggle there must be a pay off. Ever grander than your wildest imaginations.

I stand in my office perched over the city like some type of hero. It‟s the corner spread. Tens of stories up, a great metropolis expands before me as if an M.C. Escher etching. Traffic speeds below in infinite directions, most of the fools driving off into useless lives. At this moment, I am too far up to make out the people in the streets below. It‟s the morning of the big press conference. Storm arranged it. We made a major breakthrough with the technology. We successfully reprogrammed a genetic sequence to cure AIDS. AIDS results from the HIV virus. And it‟s a mean little virus. If you don‟t know, the HIV virus actually reprograms an individual‟s DNA in a way that destroys the immune system. Can you imagine the complications associated with curing a disease that actually reprograms your chromosomes. Because of this, discovering a cure has led many a scientist into fits of madness, for decades. And whenever anyone got close, HIV altered itself. In order to beat tough opposition, you have to be stronger than it. Our genetic sequence is. It‟s in the Bible: “bind the strong man.”

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Plenty has changed in my life. A couple of men showed me the light. And destiny called for aggression on my part to make it these last few years. The personality of the cure is mean and it could have only come from a mean creator. Only one or two people in my life understand this phase of progression. All of the heartache and anger were necessary. Redirected rage was the only force capable of pushing me to this development. I no longer make apologies for having an aggressive personality. I accept it. For such a time as this it is necessary. Love being the strongest force, I love Storm, Brett, Carla, my craft, all of the other brethren in the scientific community, and my fellow mankind. Even those I love most doubted my motivations towards the end. Notice no mention of a significant other in my personal life. For now, adrenaline and drive have to suffice. To the others, I‟m full of attitude and out of control. They don‟t understand. They don‟t see me in the lab fighting for the destiny of mankind: fighting cellular processes, DNA structures, and most of all fighting the belief of everyone on the planet that it couldn‟t be done. The belief of every individual but me. The Lord showed me. Mom and Dad left me clues. And with their help I did it. I thought myself to this moment.

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The place I‟m in is grander than the vision of where I imagined myself 15 years ago. Things around me have a constant clarity now. The table, desk, and vases on the shelves are real. No longer blurry dreams. I thought myself here. Did I think I was gonna get here all the time? Hell naw.

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Things had gotten rough on me and Storm back in our New York City, party days. For a minute we were rolling pretty good. There were no obstacles to obtaining cash, women, and vehicles. Maybe I got it wrong. Life was a cakewalk. Then the heat began to crack down.

“Mr. Ruiz,” it‟s my secretary. “Go ahead Vickie.” “Your car is waiting for you in the garage.” “Ok.”

The press conference ended about 20 minutes ago. Now I got to shoot around town and take pictures with the politicians and appease the media outlets. The President will probably be calling with a congratulatory call in a minute. He‟s cool. I reckon we‟re buddies now. I wish we could keep him in office for another term. That knuckle headed Roosevelt messed it up for everybody. Whatever. Oh yeah, what was I thinking. Ole‟ Storm and I had it going on back then. But that heat was creeping in. We were barely escaping drug bust and illicit underground parties. We didn‟t know who was chasing us: the FBI, ATF, or New York Undercover. It‟s funny cause we were clean. We didn‟t move drugs. We just traded a little bit of KoolAid every now and then. Meanwhile, working folks are turning into pussycats and rainbows all up and down the East Coast. Cats came from all over. I remember we had these two weird gunrunners come up from Florida to cop Kool-Aid for the some Florida interest. I was a coke snob. I didn‟t

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talk to new customers that much. Storm did all the talking. Those guys had all kinds of ray guns and the car was rigged to blow up if they got caught. But that‟ll make sense in a minute. At that point in my life, I did sort of have a significant other. Dedra jet-setted with me. She followed me around and I allowed her to stay in her place cause she had a way of keeping my nerves calm. So anyway, Storm and I are rolling pretty good despite shielding our true identities from the World and stepping out of the back doors of underground spots before the fuzz showed up. In the midst of our run, one of the truly heartbreaking events of my adult life occurred. Dedra‟s dog Montana passed. Truly, saddened, I had grown close to the pooch from our various walks around the five boroughs and parks of NYC. Montana often jetsetted with us. I was the nice guy. I made sure Montana had a steady stream of table scraps despite Dedra‟s insistence on a diet of dog food. To me, that just wasn‟t right, forcing a creature to eat hardened chunks of soybeans and horse meat his whole life. Dedra was distraught beyond comfort. The dog had been her companion for several years. He was the man in her life and most of the time got treated better than I did. It‟s at times like this that grown men often do stupid things for their mate. These are the times when ball-players buy their wives $10-million dollar diamond rings or $2million dollar Lamborghinis. Though often futile, men try to show the woman on the physical plane that they are still there for them emotionally. It came across my mind that someone had offered time at a beach house in Florida in exchange for sugar. I called Storm and set the play in motion. Then suggested to Dedra that she let me take her away for few days, so that she and I both could be away from all of those reminders of Montana.

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Mankind was still acting a fool in the Middle East. It still made domestic airtravel a hassle at times. The female security guard had to be a butch cause she took her time running that scanner over Dedra‟s body. I laughed. We were flying out of LaGuardia by morning heading for St. Pete. My phones were steady blowing up with calls from customers and other women. Dedra was all over me so I had to cut them off. My spirit was talking to me. By then I was used to ignoring it. But this was different. There was an urgent nagging sensation. I remember having felt that the whole beach house thing in Florida might be a set-up. Come on, a underworld player spending time at a home or hotel of someone else‟s choosing. Foolish. For all I know the whole place could have been rigged with cameras and microphones. Upon final approach, I switched on one of my phones and texted Storm.

To: Storm From: Poppi hey storm. beam me the number of those crazy gun runners in florida. I want to cross check this scenario.

“Sir, you are going to have cut your cell phone off!” That was the stewardess. Airlines still didn‟t appreciate folks using electronic equipment during take offs and landings. Whatever.

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After landing in Tampa, I checked Storm‟s text at baggage claim and sent another text of my own to one of the runners.

To: Rose Colored Glasses From: Poppi

poppi NYC. down here on business. know anybody named potus on the st. pete side. can‟t find no references. hit me.

I meant to keep my phone on, but amidst hauling bags, renting a car, Dedra being all over me, and a steady stream of other women calling, I inadvertently shut it off. We found our bearings and Dedra drove us on across the bridge to St. Petersburg. Distracted by her small talk, I forgot my original intention to touch base with the runners and check this Potus fellow out. Driving on down to the bottom of the bay, Dedra and I hit the surface streets of St. Pete. Seemed like a pretty cool town with an eclectic mix of rednecks, old folks, and Latin people getting along pretty good. Dedra was pretty good with directions. Too good. By now were hitting the avenues and numbered streets close to the waterfront. Suddenly, it struck me that I better switch on my phone and see if the runner had called back. Soon as my phone switched on it was blowing up. That doggone Dedra was already cruzing a neighborhood looking for the address. Slow down girl. “Hello,” I said.

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Dedra‟s pulling into the driveway of a nice waterfront house. It sat on one of the millions of miles of canals on the Florida coast. You could see yachts and pleasure boats docked all behind the houses across the canal. As she‟s putting the car in park the voice on the other end of the line says; “Get out of there man, it‟s a set-up.” “DEDRA, turn the car around!” “FREEZE!” “Hands to the sky!” that‟s all you heard. Men in black jumped out of bushes and came running out of doors and windows in every direction. The jig was up. Dedra was hit with a poison dart as she tried to get out of the car. That pretty much ended our relationship on the spot. I imagine it‟s kind of hard for a woman to keep believing in you after her dog dies and a man in a suit shoots her in the neck with a tranquilizer. I reckon the luster wore off, instantaneously. “Secret Service! Put your hands on your head and get out of the car son.” Now how was I supposed to open the car door with my hands on my head. The car doors were electric. The men hit a frequency that unlocked everything. All of a sudden this big black man, in a black suit, with black shades, and snub-nosed black machine gun, came up from the rear of the car and opened my door for me. That question was answered. Somebody else‟s arm put me in a choke hold while the set of hands put a rag over my face and took me under.

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I awakened groggily in a white room hand cuffed to a metal chair. A metal desk placed in the middle of the room separated me from a middle aged white gentleman who

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was seated in another metal chair. He had that federal agent look. Balding with lowcropped hair, he sat confident, clean cut, and cop like, but not in the goofy sort of way. His copness was for real as if he had serial killings to solve or bombings to prevent. I didn‟t get the impression that he was trying to make captain by sending kids up the river over $20 bags of dope. I faded in and out of a heavy drunkenness of consciousness. I had been traveling. Visions of engine noise, white light, and the inside of a Leer jet surfaced in brief intervals. It was hard to concentrate on what the man was saying. Handcuffed, the weight of my head slumped as I faded in and out for what seemed like hours, but in actuality were no more than 10 and 15-minute intervals. Before me, the man spread pictures from our parties. All the colored people were there. Many of the photos were the same as the ones Dedra had shown me. He mumbled something. I couldn‟t make out what was being said. Seemed like hours passed. I finally came to some semblance of awareness. “Were you ever in attendance at any events such as these?” “Are you friendly with or an acquaintance of any drug dealers in the New York City metropolitan area?” “Are you the Kool-Aid Man?” The man pressed on with the calm questions and picture pointing. He went on for at least another three hours. He didn‟t drink a glass of water, a cup of coffee or anything. I don‟t even think he blinked. Like dear old Montana, I imagine he was trained not to piss or poop for hours at a time.

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He did his job and I played the role of the street hustler that I had become. I assumed that he and whomever he was working for didn‟t know anything. As always, it wasn‟t my job to inform those who thought they knew. They claimed to be smart, I‟ll let them figure it out. Never the less, the man went on. “Mr. Ruiz, it would be beneficial to you and those you love if you were to cooperate with us?” All right, so they know my name. I still ain‟t talking. I won‟t confirm or deny that they got it right. And yet again, here we go with those repeating cycles. So I‟m back in the Dean‟s office. I‟ve graduated and everything but the Old Kentucky Colonel still got me. Another white man is telling me what I ought to do from across a desk. Well, I really didn‟t have no leverage in this situation. I couldn‟t necessarily stand up and cuss this man out. My trust fund might not be able to buy me out of this scenario either. I‟m screwed. All the while, the Dean‟s words are haunting me, „Mr. Ruiz, there will always be ramifications for your actions.‟ Ouch. I should have been nice to that old man. “Mr. Ruiz, are you the son of George and Anna Ruiz?” “Mr. Ruiz, did you obtain an undergraduate degree in biology from the Florida State University, and go on to do graduate work in genetic engineering at Ithaca University outside of New York City? All right, those fools were cutting deep now. Be cool, I thought. Poker face. “Mr. Ruiz, have you perfected a way to manipulate the human genetic code? “Mr. Ruiz, are you going to cooperate with us are not?” Old habits die hard.

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“You mutherfuckers killed my parents. I ain‟t telling you shit,” I said. Lord forgive me for cursing. “Thank you for your time,” he said in a cool manner, packed his pictures and left the room. Jesus, is that all I had to do to get the man to leave.

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The room was darkened. I sat there. The man struck a nerve. I had managed to forget all of the pain and heartache amidst the fast life that Storm and I were living amongst the beautiful people. But the man opened something up. All of a sudden I was thinking about Mama and Poppi. Years of suppression began to become undone. My parent‟s flames were snuffed out. They were murdered. They would never see the grandchildren that I might one day have. There was no home for me to bring my girl home to. Tears rolled. Again I sat convulsing in a darkened place. I sat there, wishing for an Angel to come and release the chains of sorrow and incompleteness that life had presented me with the last few years. Adult life can be tough. Slow down little children. Enjoy your time. We got to stop rushing these little kids to grow up so fast. The light was coming. I didn‟t know it. Time passed. I faded again. The old me died a broken man. For once in my adult life I was little bit vulnerable. More importantly, I needed to hear something new. I needed to hear something that could complete me. My hard-headed skull was eager to listen. I awakened to a brightened room. Two men in suits unlocked my handcuffs.

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“All right son. It‟s time for you to clean up. You got people to meet and places to go.” Whatever. I imagine spending a few years in the Federal Pen wouldn‟t be too bad. These guys were nice enough. The interrogator didn‟t even raise his voice or slap me in the back of the head. I did have a problem with the whole knocking an amigo unconscious thing. Never the less, I was on deck. I was lead to another space within the facility. It was like a dorm room. There was a bed, wooden desk and storage locker. Before me on the bed was laid a new suit of clothes, drawers, socks and everything. I knew I had to put the clothes on. No one had to tell me. However, before I could step in the bathroom and shower, a stylist showed up. The middle-aged woman in a black military styled dress sat me down in the desk chair and commenced to clipping my hair. She even tightened up my edges. The lady went on and shaved my face clean, toping it off with a steam towel. I think may face had an orgasm. Now I‟m confused. Federal prisoners don‟t get this type of treatment do they? So now I‟m being lead away to a garage after showering and donning the new suit of clothes. It was a miniature version of the parking decks that adorn major cities today in that it was only one story. With 20-foot high ceilings and the standard protruding pipes and ventilation ducks, the whole area was only 40 or 50 foot square. The garage doors were closed. Black and white cargo vans and a few of those official looking Town cars littered the tight area. A draft hit me as I passed through a door with the little square window in it to the semi-external space.

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Toto, we ain‟t in Kansas no more. The air was different. I was probably back up north somewhere. In America, it doesn‟t matter when the man detains you, you‟re supposed to get a speedy trial. At least a preliminary trial to set a bond, or inform you and the rest of the world about your charges. That preliminary trial didn‟t always happen these days. All of those Fascist presidents had deconstructed the Bill of Rights through executive privilege, legislative maneuvering and judicial manipulation. Irregardless, I assumed I was headed to one of the many federal courthouses somewhere. We pulled out in one of the white cargo vans. Passing through a couple of security perimeters we eventually hit the highways of a suburban area. The cargo van had no rear windows. So as I sat in the back, I could only see what the driver and the man in the passenger seat saw through the forward windshield. Only difference, they had side rear view mirrors, I didn‟t. This might have been a good time for an escape attempt. I wasn‟t handcuffed. The two guys almost acted as if I wasn‟t there, except for an occasional “you alright buddy.” What Dicks. I did notice that we were following one of the black Town cars. Ain‟t no telling who‟s riding in them or whether more followed. These fools probably wouldn‟t waste the few seconds it took to knock me out this time. I had already been interrogated. Buildings came into view. The signs on the highway read Virginia and Maryland. I knew where I was. It wasn‟t long before I saw the monuments. Washington‟s was there. Lincoln‟s was there. Martin Luther King‟s had even been added. Off distance, all of that granite and marble seemed pretty majestic. But up close, The Capital, and all of those other Egyptian, Greek, and Roman structures really blew you away. Especially if

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perceived in their true historic and symbolic significance. It was Washington‟s city. Washington D.C. And this cargo van was headed straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

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“Come on in,” the President said. Ever been star struck? Were you ever approached by someone so famous or influential that one or two of your five senses stopped working. I was speechless. I couldn‟t move. Supermodels and entertainers made their way to our after parties every now and then, but this was different. The Rose Garden sat in the background through the glass doors. Lincoln‟s portrait was on the wall. It was the Oval Office. It‟s apparent that the whole story is about to change. Free your mind. Prepare for expansion. “Son, come on in. I don‟t bite.” He stood in front of his desk holding a stack of papers. He didn‟t look up at me, rather his attentions were turned towards a flat monitor in the chiffonier. “The US national team is prepared to take on Costa Rica,” an announcer with the pronounced iambic pentameter of a United Kingdom accent said from the television. “Led by Brett Chatman, the international star will be called upon to provide more heroics on the pitch for the Americans. He provided five goals to vault the U.S. out of round robin play and into the round of death. It‟s the 2030 World Cup.…” “Very good work son. You almost fooled us,” the President said. “Does he know?” “I don‟t know.” I returned. It was an honest answer. Times like these called for honesty. No time for posturing.

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“…And Chatman does look young. It‟s amazing that his legs have kept so well. The international game is very hard on players in their thirties.” “That boy does look young,” The President went on. “Men like that could represent the tactical advantage for our armed forces,” he noted. “We been fighting some of these same groups for 50 years,” I said. “How do you ever think we‟re going to win?” “It‟s not about winning. It‟s about being able to make the first move. It we can always make the first move, strategically we can predict what‟s going to happen. That‟s how we prevent bombings.” The President went on. “Do you know that the Europeans requested 10,000 of our troops to help protect the World Cup this year. I don‟t know son. With men like Brett we could always have a marked advantage.” “It‟s funny,” the President continued. “We been injecting plants and animals for years, genetically altering all kinds of shit. How you gon‟ grow a full grown chicken from an egg in six weeks? Look at how big Americans are in comparison to the rest of the peoples of the World.” “First there was the Industrial Revolution, with it‟s steam engines and assembly lines. The World thought that it was hot shit for a minute. Despite the child slavery and pollution. Just when the World thought it could go no further, here comes the A-Bomb and computers. Information was available at your fingertips. Globalization occurred.” “But most soccer mom‟s and 9 to 5er‟s never think about the other revolution that had it‟s roots in the 1950‟s and 1960‟s. Birth control, son. Artificially introducing

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estrogen into a woman‟s body to prevent pregnancy. What do you think fueled the sexual revolution? Damn the side effects. No one cared to ask if we were inducing mad cow disease, hysterectomies, or shrinking balls.” “That‟s the fucked up thing about it son. We‟re in another age and most people don‟t even realize it. So a ball player artificially introduces a chemical to make his muscles stronger or react more quickly. There are plenty of old-folks and sick folks taking cocktails of pills everyday to keep them alive. Hell, we been giving pilots speed for years. Do you know how powerful an epidural is. A woman doesn‟t even have to experience pain in childbirth if she doesn‟t want to. And every body‟s worried about a god damned ball player.” “Barry Bonds. Who cared if he broke the record? It really didn‟t matter. There was no argument. A more significant point had been made. There‟s B.C. and A.D: Before Christ and Anno Domini. Now we got B.C. and A.B: life before Birth Control, and life After Barry. It‟s the Barry Bond‟s Effect, Nando, the official sign that we‟re in The Age of Better Living Through Chemistry. Genetic programming is he next big thing. We can cure cancer, AIDS, the common cold. Didn‟t you come here to talk about super soldiers? A soldier could walk through a chemical weapons field. We could send a man under the sea for 10, 15 minutes at the time. You have one of the keys to this revolution, son. It‟s not cloning and no stem cells are involved. Hey let me ask you something. Say a soldier got his arm blown off in a roadside bomb attack? Using genetics, could you regenerate the man a growing of a new arm?” “It‟s possible,” I answered. “I like you son. You don‟t think inside the box do you?”

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“No sir,” I answered. “Your mind is more valuable than anything you could possibly give us.” The British voice bellowed out of the plasma screen. “Chatman receives the cross. He maneuvers past one and another. Pulls up at the 18. Shoots…….GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL.” The President and myself watched the screen in reverence. That was my friend Brett, conquering on the biggest athletics stage there was. The World Cup. Sanctioned by FIFA. A whole stadium of individuals with various international citizenships were going nuts, somewhere in Europe. It was a beautiful goal. It was the beautiful game. If only for a moment, folks weren‟t thinking about bombs or blowing up shit in the Middle East. “Sure thing son. We‟re in another age and most folks don‟t even realize it; The Age of Better Living Through Chemistry.” “Your processes represent the tactical advantage in guerilla, urban combat, and other obsolete forms of ground war. Uncle Sam‟s got a couple of things he needs some help on. We need fresh new approaches. I don‟t want the politicians to get their hands on this technology yet. They have a way of bogging everything down in bureaucracy. The pharmaceuticals own half of „em. I ain‟t never heard of no career politician. Does a man aspire to be a politician? So what do say Nando. Your Uncle Sam needs you?” “Uncle Sam needs Jesus,” I said. “What makes us any different from the other side Mr. President,” I asked? I went on;

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“Who‟s really attacking America? I mean, America is really facing the attack of those who won‟t allow free thought. Your dictatorial government and a Fascist president much like yourself had my parents killed. Who the fuck is right? Christians or Infidels?” “You‟re right,” the President said. “Fascist Presidents did screw it all up along the way. Along with an over legislative Congress that specialized in knee-jerk and futile laws just to win votes. Judges with no balls let the legislative branch strip their powers to where the judges are no longer able to discern or correct based on circumstance. The judges have allowed themselves to be locked into mandatory minimums, why? So the politicians can win votes.” “So what makes you any different,” I asked. “What the fuck are you gonna do about it?” “I‟m the fucking President. I‟m here to make sure the citizens have choices. Sort of like the one I‟m presenting you with today. America is screwed up for sure. Yet and still, it‟s the best system going. But in a lot of places, your ass is stuck. You can‟t choose to go to this school or that. There might not even be a school. Your daughter couldn‟t go to it. You can‟t bitch your congressman out over the phone. For God sakes Nando, we got people burning flags and telling the Vice-President to „fuck off‟ on national TV. And motherfuckers talking „bout they ain‟t got no rights.” “After the oil companies, who runs the World Nando? The pharmaceuticals: Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson. Glaxo Smith Kline, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly. But, think about it. What is an oil company? What‟s a pharmaceutical company for that matter? They‟re god damned chemical companies. No different from Dow and Union Carbide. Ha Ha Ha Ha. Think about it son. Chemical companies are running the World.

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And all of those hippies that turned Republican didn‟t even know what they were doing. What‟s stopping you from forming a corporation that can eradicate pestilence and disease around the world? All we ask is that you work on a couple of projects for us from time to time? So we can defend freedom. So we can defend choices.” “Think about it Nando. Hypothetically, scholars have argued this. Basically, what if Eve said fuck it. I want to make up my own mind. I like this bliss thing but I want to get there on my own. God being the cool Father he is says ok. But he lets her know that becoming an adult is going to hurt.” “It‟s in the Bible, Nando. That‟s why Christian religions work so well here. Cause the people can exercise their own free will to create positive conclusions. We are facing an attack of those who won‟t allow free thought both domestically and internationally. As controversial as it seems, free thought is America. The fact that me and you can disagree without killing one another makes us Americans. Anyone who is against that is our enemy: Fascist Presidents, Middle Eastern thought processes, Church folks, and any other som-bitch who ain‟t opened mined enough to tolerate the other man‟s point of view without being so insecure as to where he has to kill off everybody else to prove he is right. Cain and Abel. That‟s Fascism in a nutshell. Are you a Nazi?” “We conquer by having stronger emotional and intellectual systems. The country that learns to control his emotions first will win. That‟s the danger of free thought. As a teenager sometimes you think you‟re doing the right thing. You figure blowing up shit and cussing out your parents is cool. But only as an adult do you learn which battles are worth fighting. Free thought has to be mature and ideas have to be thoroughly considered. Otherwise some people in this country or abroad might feel like it‟s ok to do something

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stupid, like be a Fascist, or fly planes through office Towers. That‟s when daddy‟s got to kick your ass and show you what it means to be a man.” “We got Middle Eastern thought processes to deal with, Nando. The sad thing about it is that this generation of Americans has forgotten what our Arab brothers are mad about. We forgot about all of those puppet leaders and weapons sold to this faction or that.” “On the home front, we even got Church folks running round here condemning everybody to Hell. I imagine having a Bible beat over your head hurts pretty bad. I thought you were supposed to let your light shine. That would draw all men to you, right. As far as I‟m concerned some of the church folks are acting like infidels. God damn Nando. What are we gonna do?” “You‟re a trust fund baby. Your best friend, the soccer player is worth hundreds of millions. We pay. We pay good. But I tell you, you ought to see our lab equipment. So what are you gonna do Nando?” “What about my patents,” I asked. “You stop those other companies from stealing my shit, and I‟ll help you out.” “I‟ll do you one better. While I‟m in office, this Administration will do it‟s best to protect your patents domestically and abroad.” “So what‟cha say young man,” he asked. “Quit being abstract. Are you gonna help us out or not?” He was looking at me. The British fella and crowd noise went on in the background. I looked away and thought and then looked right back at him. His eyes were telling the story. He was doing me a favor. I had to forget about being knocked

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unconscious. At this point the government knew everything. The government could have taken the technology. He was trying to give me a chance. Trying to right a wrong. He was telling me with his eyes. I thought about Mama and Poppi. Even Uncle Fred came to remembrance. I was trapped in a room with Uncle Fred once. Things didn‟t work out so bad then. There were a great many twists and turns along the way. This time I was trapped in a room with the leader of the Free World. There was only one answer. “I‟ll do what I can to help you out,” I said. And was about to go into an explanation but he cut me off. “Well done Son,” he said. “Good choice.” “So you got two and half years to rock. I can probably win again. As long as the First Lady takes care of me, I won‟t get in no trouble. Teenage girls didn‟t used to have titties and asses like they got now. Look at all these interns and assistants walking around here. Did you see the curves. It‟s in the food Nando.” “Let‟s just say I‟ll adopt you for now,” he said. “Don‟t worry about the others stealing your patents. I‟m „bout sick of those chemical brothers. Let‟s say we have our own gentleman‟s drug war against them.” The President cut the TV down. He had been holding the deck in his hand since our discussion began. “Let me show you some pictures of a few corporate execs from our favorite chemical companies.” He held the pictures at our torsos as he flipped through the deck. He went on; “So and so indicted on bribery. Embezzlement here,” he said as he continued flipping pictures. “Oh, this picture might be of particular interest to you. They were sent

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to us a few hours ago by some friends in Brazil. Two officials from a certain pharmaceutical company washed up on a beach dead. I guess we could call that justice. Nando. What‟cha say, balance. We can‟t tie up the courts with everything. We didn‟t kill your parents. The pharmaceuticals did.”

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We made a deal, I‟ll help him out. He would protect my patents domestically and internationally. This dude was cool. He created win-win situations for everybody. He could have taken the technology for the government and locked it away in some secret politburo. But he let me have it, so I could give it to the people. I was in my early thirties. He wanted to see what I was gonna do with it. See if I was gonna twerk it. He righted a wrong. The universe was back in balance. Mama and Poppi could rest in peace now. Damn, I cried that day. By myself, in the back of the bulletproof Presidential limo, on my way to the Pentagon, I cried. I had been traveling. You ain‟t necessarily got to travel the World or be a Mason to be a traveler. There are plenty of scenes and sets to explore right there at home. And that‟s what I now had; memories and scenes from the time I had spent traveling. That‟s what made cities like Atlanta, and New York, so important. In one geographic location, travelers could explore, experience, and spend time in different sets of life. If you were cool, you could pass through the different levels. That‟s why people choose to spend time off the tourist track on vacation or holiday. It‟s all about that local flavor. Seeing what another man is thinking about, how he‟s doing things. The old school calls it „local color.‟

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Leaders of other sets would approach you, isolate you, spend time with you, hang out with you. A platform was always presented to communicate with the leader of another universe to exchange ideas, and explain agendas. At spiritual moments it would become evident as to how you could work together. Not necessarily then, but in the future. We recognized each other. The President was one of them. I met another one as I came around the corner inside the Pentagon. He was a captain of industry. I was an underground party icon who in actuality controlled the cocaine and ecstasy trade up and down the East coast. He was waiting for me. He knew I would arrive. “James Radcliff‟s my name,” he said. “But everybody calls me J.R.” At one time he had been a kingpin in the thieving world. He and his associates had set up a network at the truck stops all along the interstate highways. They bought, sold, and stole their wares straight from the distribution centers of America. The reformed criminal was now a captain of industry. After a tough spot he had went on to work with his Uncle in the rigging business. They elevated the steel beams, construction equipment, and other heavy elements on all of the major constructions sites nationwide. This tale is starting to read like a chapter of Revelations. Around every corner there seems to be somebody with something to tell. So saith The Lord of Host. “Nando‟s my name,” I said. “I guess you got recruited here the same way as I did. If you don‟t mind me asking, what kind of project you working on?”

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“Well, me and my Uncle got a few cranes and all. There‟s other pieces of heavy equipment to go along with it. We lift thangs you know. Well, using electromagnets and polarities, I figured out how to levitate stuff. I came up with a new way to fly.” “God damn I say.” I had to pause for a minute on that one. I sat with this clean-cut redneck. He wasn‟t one of those kinds who wore khakis and tried to be a yuppie. He was totally comfortable with himself in construction boots, golf shirt, and a clean pair of jeans. We sat in a waiting area outside one the General‟s offices. There were a lot of people to meet that day. Every Branch of the Service wanted to see what we had to offer. Every Branch of the Service had their own ideas about how our technologies should be applied on the battlefield. “I reprogram DNA,” I said. “I make super men.” “Is that right,” he said. Nodding his head up and down, he looked at me and smiled. I‟m cool too motherfucker, I thought. “I don‟t know J.R. I can‟t help but feeling like I‟m selling out to the Government.” “Well Nando,” he said. “I probably took some thangs from folks that I wasn‟t „posed to. Hell, I did a little time. But look at me now. You can‟t always change your destiny or social-economic class in other places „round the World.” “With free thought, I had a chance to evolve here in America. With free thought, I can think my way where I want to go. Hell, I was robbin‟ Wal-Mart blind. But now the General wont‟s to talk to me „bout helping with the country.” He went on: “But that‟s the problem with the Justice system. How you gonna categorize a man for what he did 20 years ago when you ain‟t offering no chance for rehabilitation. That

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man might have new thangs to offer. He got new ideas and insight too, ya know. How you gonna categorize a man not realizing that he could change his station in life. That‟s the cool thing about America, Nando. With free thought you can thank your way into another set.” “After I got out the chain gang, working with my Uncle and all, helped me a lot. You like comic books don‟t you Nando. Hell, I used to. I thought about a book I read in prison. The man was saying that Superheroes and Villains are usually the same people. Both have the same goal: to change the World. Heroes use their powers in good ways to affect change. Villains don‟t care if 10 million people are killed in the process. I thought about all of that, out there in the hot sun and freezing cold, lifting shit with my crazy Uncle. That‟s when I decided to change my ways.” “I changed my modus operandi Nando. Instead of hooking local thieves up with one another, I start putting materials and lifting technologies together. Before long, I was levitating thangs. Construction companies were paying what we charged. Me and Uncle Saul tried to keep it a secret. But we were lifting thangs too big and too fast. That‟s when Sam came looking for me.” J.R. and the President were right. Their ideas were worth fighting for. Our forefathers had died for these rights and ideals. My mind went to spinning. We did have choices in America. You could change classes. You could change socio-economic groups. The playing field might not always be level. The odds were stacked higher against some than others. The chemical companies might kill your parents along the way. That god damn J.R. Again things came into clarity all of a sudden. I could use my gifts to control the underground worldwide. Or I could use the gifts to eradicate sickness

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forming a multinational corporation that could change the World. I could change the World as an underground kingpin. But what would be a superior end to the means. That‟s what J.R. was telling me. The superior end made sense. The motherfucker was right. I could stall my brain out a couple of days thinking about it but I knew I was going his way. LCE. Life Changing Event. “Well, I don‟t know J.R.” I said. “The fast life wasn‟t all bad. I like alcohol, pussy and drugs. I‟m worried about my partying. I been doing this a long time. I don‟t know man. Talk to me.” “I‟m a family man,” he said. Now what kind of shit was that. “I made a change,” he said. “I got a beautiful wife, that „um madly in love with, two kids, a house in the mountains and the suburbs, dogs. Liftin‟ ain‟t so bad. But instead of lifting out of trucks, stores and warehouses, I lift my dreams now. I can send Dorothy back to Kansas. The house, Toto, Oz, the Tin man and everybody. And their ain‟t no place like home with all of that love surrounding you.” “A man‟s joy is in his work, Nando. That‟s in the Bible. Make supermen, then party. You‟ll feel better then. Folk‟s „il come along and love on you. Long as you don‟t run „em off. After while, making supermen and lovin‟ your woman will bring you more joy than runnin‟ the streets every night. Just remember to put the good Lord first. He‟ll show you what to do.” “Yeah, Nanna used to make me go to church,” I said. “Well, I ain‟t saying you got to be no zealot,” he said. “Lifting all that weight over peoples heads, I got to believe in something. I don‟t give a damn what these other

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folks thank. When I got a problem on the job, I ask the good Lord to show me a way. I don‟t always like his answers and sometimes his answers come from unexpected places. Sometimes I don‟t get no answer at all and got to rely on experience and imagination. But I be damn, he showed me how to levitate shit. I had to put the pieces together and will it to happen though.” “What the fuck J.R. Are you trying‟ to make me a Christian or what,” I asked? “Hell naw.” he said. “Ain‟t we in the Pentagon?” “Yeah.” “Navy Seals, Nando. Mind over body,” he said. “Most recruits don‟t think they can do a 1000 push-ups till Master Sergeant puts a boot up that ass. Right.” “Ok,” I said. “Well, what‟s over the mind,” he asked. I shrugged. “The Spirit,” he said. “Mind over Body. Spirit over Mind.” “Mr. Radcliff, the General will see you now,” a secretary said. “I got to go Nando. This is America. It‟s beautiful. You can believe what the hell you want to.” I thought about it. The motherfucker was right. If you had a dream, a goal, a job that you were happy with, a wife that didn‟t work your nerves, you didn‟t have to do drugs. The motivation to keep those things going was stronger. And I be damned, it was right there in the Bible all along; Proverbs 28:18. Where there is no Vision, the people perish. It was a spiritual thing.

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I would only change if stronger knowledge was presented. J.R. presented superior knowledge. He presented a new point of view. Fuck the clubs and becoming a star of the party underground.

34
On September 29, 2037, an interview was scheduled with Vogue magazine at 11:15 A.M.

Vogue: It‟s known that your parents died tragically under suspicious circumstances. How have you been able to deal with their deaths?

Ruiz: Well, you go through the five stages of death. At first you‟re angry. You‟re confused. You want to do bad things to people. You don‟t know why they had to die. Then you move on to denial. There‟s no way that my parents were murdered. They could not have been killed because of their work. Then you move on to mourning and depression. Feelings of sadness and sorrow sneak up on you every now and then. At times you feel sorry for yourself. And that‟s one of the worst enemies of them all. Eventually you come to acceptance.

As a historian you can examine the Clarence Thomas figure. He was one of the first African American judges to sit on the Supreme Court. At first, in his early life he was a rebel. But then he decided, instead of fighting the system why not be the system. In my mind, the best way to right my parents‟ death was not to become angry and fight the drug

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companies, the pharmaceuticals, and the great chemical companies of the World, but to be them. Take their place.

The interview turned lighter.

Vogue: Rumor has it that you were once a bachelor of great interest, a ladies man, a playboy.

Ruiz: Exactly. I was in my early thirties when I formed the company. After having partied for so many years, the realization hits you that sex, drugs, rock and roll, and party girls were fun on Friday and Saturday night. But would they be there on Sunday morning? After binging two or three days, the result was always the same. I‟d be sitting there Sunday afternoon watching the football game all by myself. I had already missed the preacher at morning worship service. At that point, the debate was over. Drugs and pussy always ended in the same spot. After a while, there was no need to continue. What was the point?

Vogue: Can you tell us more about your heavy drug use?

Ruiz: Hell naw. But I can tell you about party life. If I wrote a book about the life of Nando Ruiz, I would start with me and Storm‟s party days in New York. Then I would jump to the back story. After seeing me go through all of that shit, it would blow your mind to see me standing in my office so many years in the future having cured AIDS.

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Stimulated, your mind would be racing to catch up. Sort of like a hit of crack. That‟s why people are addicted.

Vogue: You got to be kidding me.

Ruiz: Naw man. Everybody‟s gotta return to square world at some point. Folks go to party world to communicate. The World doesn‟t always present options for most folks to reach their potential. Party world provides an answer or at least a temporary release. But after you get your answer you gotta come back. That‟s the problem with criminals and drug addicts. They get stuck in their sets in life not realizing they can move on. That‟s the difference between recreation and addiction. Once the answers end, why keep going back. If you keep going back after the answers end, then it becomes a mindless habit.

Vogue: Well, what‟s the answer?

Ruiz: I think a better question is are we permanently affected by prolonged drug use. I was a binger. I hit it hard for two and three days at the time. Binging is all about rearranging your mind. Back to that book I would write about myself. Why not rearrange it. Tell it from the present, past, then to the future. That‟s rearranging. That‟s what binging is like. Rearranging your mind for prolonged periods of time. So now you know what it‟s like to be in party world. It‟s awful stimulating looking at situations with another part of your mind or from another room in the future. Most folks keep rearranging chemically thinking that‟s the answer. In actuality, the answer was there but

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they missed it. Why not rearrange in sober life to create a more positive result? That‟s hip-hop in a nutshell. Sci-fi too.

Vogue: Do you have any tales you can tell us from your party days?

Ruiz: Naw. I can‟t go around here endorsing people to use drugs. Many would become addicted. If they hit it hard like I did, some would die. Young people might get the wrong idea. There are some substances a man just shouldn‟t fuck with. They have a life of their own and will steal everything you got. I will give you one freebie though. I‟m an old school hip-hop fan. My man J.R. turned me on to some things. You wouldn‟t expect it coming from a Kentucky boy. You ought to try Del the Funky Homosapien, and a slain rapper named Big El, stoned.

Vogue: What are some of your other influences?

Ruiz: If you‟re a sci-fi fan and like this kinda readin,‟ you ought to try Ender‟s Game. Brave New World ain‟t too bad either. That‟s what the future is though, right? It‟s all about epilogues. And that‟s what we really never get enough of, epilogues. I might not fill in all the details so your own imagination can do some of the work. So really you and I are completing this work together. But I figure my clientele have hung with me this far, through the tough parts, the least I can do is give them a future. An epilogue. That‟s what curing AIDS is all about, right. Thank You.

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Vogue: Your colleagues say your religion is pretty sound. What do you believe in?

Ruiz: I don‟t believe in religion. A bunch of fools doing a bunch a rituals for the sake of rituals. Now what kind of sense does that make? I believe in the Trinity. Now if I go to church and the preacher is „on‟, he can tell my spirit exactly what I need to hear. If I pray to Jesus and things start going His way, so be it. Being a Christian is like using the Force. You know, “Luke use the Force.” George Lucas had it right the first three movies. Fuck the mitochondria. THX 1138, (George‟s) first commercial flick, is on my hit list too. You hung out with the kids. You hung out with your boys. You hung out with the girls. That‟s all God wants to do is hang out. Just like he did with Adam in the beginning. Then man got all religious and fucked up everything.

marlonflanigan@hotmail.com

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