By Liz Parkes
“AND finally, I would request that my head be cryogenically frozen to be reinstated on a body as specified below when medical advances have progressed enough to make this viable.”
The solicitor looked up over his lop-sided glasses at the smartly dressed man sitting on the other side of the coffee table. Silas Peters shifted uncomfortably, at his age he preferred more upright seating. Noticing the grey scum forming on the cold coffee, the solicitor put through a call for a fresh pot.
“These matters can be tedious I’m afraid, although I’ve not had to deal with a clause like this before. Now do you have a donor?”
Professor Peters slid his laptop onto his lap. The time taken for the program to install gave him some welcome thinking space. 40 years ago he had sat in this office incredulous at his own good fortune as the last will and testament of Jacobus Dracowski had been read. His professor had left him all his research, the private hospital and the business. He had never looked back nor even thought about this final clause until that email had dropped into his life three weeks ago.
“You have a donor?”
“These things take time.” A solicitor could not be expected to know much about donor registers, blood matching, rejection rates -nor how ethically difficult it would be to implement the terms of a will that he had so lightly accepted as a young man. Families were difficult enough as it was when approached to help the living but to ask them to donate to an old man whose death had taken place 40 years before in a time they would not be able to comprehend- impossible.
“I might have.” He was stalling. The solicitor tapped the sheaf of papers on his desk, Silas was sure he knew.
“Professor Peters, you have benefited greatly from the terms of Professor Dracowski’s will. Things have moved forward considerably. Babies are being born from frozen tissue, frozen limbs are being used to avoid the spread of diseased areas and, I believe, the Chinese have resuscitated their dear leader circa 2023 to a functioning political life, although to what degree one cannot verify.”
Silas could feel the annoyance in the man. The final settlement in the will would not be sanctioned until Professor Dracowski himself signed it off and Dracowski was still in a state of frozen suspension waiting to be resurrected. The solicitor stood to make enough to finance a comfortable retirement 40 years was quite long enough to live in a state of anticipation.
“I am sure that Professor Dracowski would have preferred we wait until things are a little more advanced. It is all new science at the moment.”
The solicitor’s annoyance was palpable.
“I have taken it upon myself to set up a video conference line for your department with the Chinese. I am sure you will find their work most enlightening.”
Silas left as the girl came in with the fresh coffee. He was furious. They both had a vested interest in the final terms of the will being actioned but he had his medical reputation to think of. True he headed up one of the most experienced teams in the Western world, true the Chinese with less stringent ethical considerations had pushed the boundaries and done some amazing things but this…….
The video conferencing had been more successful than he expected. The Chinese were keen to impress; their operating teams were skilled and professional and the camera work showed every detail of their technique. Silas’ team were inspired and quite prepared to travel out to take part in the cutting edge work going on in Chairman Mao District Nine.
He had sold his soul to the Devil and now he had to pay. The hospital could spare the team over the Christmas break and Silas was left with the task of finding a suitable donor.
The copy of the will had not seen the light of day since probate early in the 2020s. It was filed at the back of a cabinet in his office at home. Shutting out the noise of his eldest boy’s computer game he poured three fingers of whisky and settled to re-read it.
He skipped the first few pages of financial detail that had made him the wealthy man he was today for the conditions attached to the bequest. It had all seemed so reasonable 40 years ago but made him distinctly uncomfortable now, now that his own children fell within the target age bracket. Jacobus Dracowski had fought a long battle against a failing heart, transplants and access to the best surgical techniques of the time had only been able to prolong his life in increasing discomfort. His fame as a pioneer in cyrogenics had ensured him the best treatment but age and infirmity could not be avoided. The will spoke clearly-
……….My head to be frozen until such time as it can be successfully attached to the body of a young, healthy, white Caucasian male, between the ages of 20 and 30. For this I leave the sum of £500,000, inflated by RPI, to compensated the family of the said male.
This was the bargain Silas had struck with his mentor as a young graduate, in the days when he had been in awe of his tutor. Now the pressure was on to find a donor body. Young males in this age range died frequently on the roads or in fights but these bodies were often so badly damaged that they were only of use in organ transfer. This was a problem that he could do without so close to his retirement as an acclaimed and well respected figure of the medical establishment.
He shuddered as he passed his son’s bedroom door. Already he felt ghoulish, how was he going to find a match and then persuade the family to relinquish the body? Nothing could persuade him to hand over his child, why should he expect anyone else to do such a thing?
The team returned on a late-night flight from China in time for the New Year celebrations that Jeannie, his wife, had laid on. She loved these lavish parties and to be invited was a particular honour to the hospital staff. Silas was grateful to the husbands and wives who had deferred their Christmas celebrations in the interest of the hospital and had been particularly generous with his gifts. The atmosphere was electric, his registrar was buzzing with all he had seen. Silas had to bring him back to earth with a gentle reminder of the different conditions the Chinese doctors worked under. Wine flowed and tongues loosened there was a great deal of confidence and little caution.
They were young, eager to make their mark as he had done. All were familiar with the pioneering work of Professor Dracowski and well aware of the value of the publicity that would be generated by the miraculous revival of a legendary figure.
The summer had been a good one. Car crashes, drunken brawls, all the usual harvest of broken bodies. One or two came in from the battle fields abroad which would have been ideal but the families were tenacious and the Ministry frowned on any communication. The solicitor’s letters were intimidating coming as they did in batches their language archaic but menacing.
Finally Silas took the step that he had been so unwilling to contemplate six months previously, he put a discreet advert in the Times. It went viral.
The letter appeared on his doorstep buried in the usual heap of post he received. It had attracted his attention as it was hand written in a scrawl that was either a doctor or a moron. The contents of this letter turned his life upside down.
Two days later Silas was sitting on a park bench wondering what had possessed him to accept the cloak and dagger meeting with a complete stranger. He had recorded the voice on his mobile as an additional insurance against…. against what? What could possibly happen out here in a park with mothers and push chairs? It had to be the voice that had made him nervous, ungrammatical and rough with a touch of menace below the wheedling tone. Still he had accepted the meeting and the man in the pink waistcoat was coming towards him towed along by a Rottweiler.
‘Professor Peters I presume?’ The man laughed at his own joke, Silas managed a wan smile.
The man settled himself on the bench, legs stretched out on either side of the dog which rested its heavy jowls on his thigh and stared balefully at Silas.
‘I haven’t much time. I have a busy schedule. Could we make this swift.’ Silas hoped that by taking the initiative his tone of authority would put this stranger at a disadvantage. The man leant over and spat onto the floor at Silas’ feet. A long silence followed.
‘”I got a young, white male 26 years old for you.”
Silas’ heart raced, “This is hardly the conventional way to deal with these things. The family, the hospital……. You approached me days ago, the body will be past use…”
“He ain’t dead yet.”
Silas was hardly aware of leaving the park his reaction had been so swift. He ran faster than he had done for years the man’s laughter following him. What horrors was this pact with the devil leading him into?
He had had to take the two days running up to the weekend off as the exertion at his age had made him violently sick in his consulting room. Concerned about infection, his staff had sent him home. It was an unusual luxury to be able to watch the daytime TV.
The captions ran along the bottom of the screen in a continual newsfeed of which he was only aware at a subconscious level. The Chinese were trading with the Taiwanese in a new pact to annoy the Americans; the education secretary had promised to close every failing astro-school and there had been a major prison riot.
Silas found time to go through the mailbox on his computer. There were offers of young male bodies from all over the world but not one that came through official channels, most were nutcases like the man in the park. The money had been a mistake, he should never have indicated how much.
Jeannie was home from her job in the council. She had used her flexi time to be with Silas who had never called in sick all the time she’d known him. The meal she placed on the table smelt delicious.
“Only one place laid?” Silas was disappointed he and his wife seldom had time together in this busy household.
“I have to go into the office. That riot in the prison is getting out of hand.”
“Surely they can manage without you?”
“Maybe, but it will be my neck on the line if it isn’t contained. You know what the press are like.”
It would take all afternoon to organise the response the fire brigade, the specially trained officers. Silas resigned himself to a lonely meal. Finishing off with a coffee he turned the sound up.
The prison was in chaos, a warder’s keys had been taken and two wings were in the hands of the prisoners. The press were outside interviewing old lags and warders who seemed to be on remarkably friendly terms considering their past history. Both sides seemed to be in agreement that inside would be a very dangerous place to be where old scores would be settled on drug deals that had gone sour. The sooner the prison was back under control the better.
Jeannie was exhausted when she came home. The situation had been touch and go but it seemed that the night and the water from the fire-brigade hoses had cooled things down somewhat. She spent the evening listening to every news programme.
“You can’t be going into work, it’s Saturday.” Silas rolled into the duvet.
Jeannie was up and dressed. Silas never even heard her car pull off the drive as he slid back into sleep.
When she came home again she was visibly shaken.
“It’s all over. We’ve had a fatality. A young man only 26 years old.”
Something stuck in Silas’ throat. “Was he Asian, black…….?” he hated the hint of hope in his voice.
“No, a white boy, local. Suffocated. Someone had it in for him. Silas we couldn’t keep him safe even in there. What will his parents think?”
The phone vibrated in his pocket. Already Silas was behaving in a clandestine manner. What had he to be afraid of? He walked out into the garden where the reception was always better, no one would think anything of it. He had half expected to hear that voice again.
“I got him for you.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“His parents are okay about it, you have the money ready.”
The line went dead.
Jeannie could not sleep that night or the next. She alternated between concern for the young man’s family and guilt at her worry that her department would be sued. Silas went back into work exhausted and handed his operating list to his staff to reschedule. His morning coffee had never been more welcome.
The phone call from the local hospital was not unexpected.
The young man had been taken to Grey Cross the night before, everything had been done but he was beyond saving. The doctor had been overwhelmed by his parents who had been very decent about it, despite the obvious upset they had offered their son as a donor. The doctors had explained that the coroner would be involved and here was the strange thing, the parents were very concerned that the body should not be damaged yet they were not planning to visit the funeral director’s yet .
“They asked to speak to you Mr Peters.” Silas dropped the phone back into its cradle without replying, a migraine was building at the back of his eyes.
The man from the Home Office was waiting in his kitchen when he got home. Jeannie was doing a sterling job of entertaining him. No one but her husband would have detected the anxious edge to her voice.
“Carruthers,” he extended an immaculately manicured hand. “your charming wife has been telling me all about your work, fascinating.”
Silas was not about to fall for that, Jeannie was always discreet.
“What can I do for you Mr Carruthers? I have a busy day tomorrow catching up on rescheduling. Could we please be brief.”
“Certainly. Nasty business when a prisoner dies on our watch. Caused a few ripples you understand. Your wife will have told you all about the circumstances I suppose?”
Was that a hint of bribery or even blackmail?
“There was little need for her to mention it as it has been headline news.”
“Ah, yes. Tricky for a lot of people. I hear that his parents would like to donate his body. Very generous of them. The doctor I spoke to was quite overwhelmed.”
“Mr Carruthers, I am not sure what this has to do with me. I am a very busy man.”
“I hear the young man in question is a good match for Professor Dracowski.”
“It is not as simple as that.”
“Nothing ever is. However the young man is dead. There will be many uncomfortable questions to be answered. A good news story coming from such an unfortunate accident could be a godsend to my office….and your wife’s.”
“Jeannie, I believe Mr Carruthers has a train to catch back to London, would you call a taxi?”
Carruthers extended a hand, Silas pretended to be involved with setting up his computer.
When she returned from seeing their visitor to the door, Jeannie was furious. “That was so rude. You offered a bounty to find a body now we have one you behave like that poor man was a demon.”
“I am not going to get involved with this.”
“Fine. We get sued for breach of contract by Dracowski’s lawyers; my department gets sued by that poor boy’s parents and the press have a field day with us all.. You are so…………”
She stormed out slamming the door sending the flashing lights before his eyes into a frenzied dance.
The next day, Silas made his own breakfast and left a cup of tea beside Jeannie’s hunched form in the bed. There was a business to run.
His PA had tidied the office. There was a pleasing sense of order, of things falling back into place. His mobile vibrated in his pocket. The voice was chillingly familiar.
“Well. We’ve done our bit. The parents have given permission and want their cut. Can I say we have a deal?”
“I need time. I need to talk to you. I haven’t been able to..”
“This could run well with the papers……” the man’s voice had lost its whine and had a threatening edge.’
“Look I’ll see what I can do. Give me today to sort things. Money- that kind of money cannot be moved overnight and there will be strings.”
“This time tomorrow.”
Silas asked his PA to contact Grey Cross Hospital and arrange an urgent meeting with the doctor whose call the day before had set this nightmare in motion. The young man was still on life support but there was a limit to how long the hospital would hold the bed.
He went down the corridor into the cool rooms where the bodies of the wealthy, famous or vain glorious were stored in deep freeze shelves behind treble glazed glass. His old professor was well towards the back behind a footballer who has lost the fight with alcoholism and a girl whose parents had sold everything in the hope that they would live to see her resurrected. He called the technician and gave the order to start the slow process of defrosting and revivifying the head of Professor Dracowski.
Things were now in motion and no-one knew where they would lead.
The months after the successful transplant went by in a whirl of press interviews, chat show appearances and medical lectures. Carruthers had been right when he predicted that the poor man’s death would be supplanted in the public conscious by the achievements of western medicine.
Professor Dracowski had made a full recovery; his Christmas present from the staff at the hospital had been gym membership to one of the most fashionable gyms in town. He was struggling a little intellectually – it remained to be seen if this was a result of the inevitable confusion at the remarkable advances that had been made since his death in the twenties or something relating to the long period of frozen suspension. Silas had always had a good relationship with his old mentor, more like a father and son, that was how it felt still only the roles were now reversed, he was the one with all the knowledge, the one who had to be patient.
Jeannie encouraged their children to educate the professor in modern culture. Botox had worked wonders on the wrinkles and in the dim lights of a nightclub the body and head with a 50 year age gap could be melded into one. It seemed that the tattoos that had been incongruous on a renowned professor were a positive bonus in the cafes and Professor Jacobus soon became plain Jake to the young men that hung around the streets.
So it was that Silas was caught off guard when his son started to cry off the late nights out even using his exam revision as an excuse although the exams were months away. Jeannie cornered Silas in the kitchen,
“Could you talk to Ben, he’s been acting so strangely for weeks now.”
“He talks to you. He grunts at me.”
“Don’t be silly. He was really rude to Jacobus. I don’t know what’s come over him.”
Silas cornered Ben in his room that evening and after making awkward conversation about the chemistry homework he broached the subject of Jacobus.
“You used to like Jake.”
“He needs your help. It must be very difficult.”
His son pushed violently past him, ran down stairs and out of the front door. Silas had never seen him so tense, so close to an explosion. He resolved to speak man to man to Jacobus.
Jacobus was in his office early leafing through old files. There was so much to catch up on that Silas was concerned that there could be a place created in this modern business for its old founder. He shut the door.
“How are you finding things now the finances are sorted with the donor’s family?”
“Rather glad they took off to Spain. Unpleasant lot.”
“What they lacked in intellect they made up for in physique.”
“My body is perfect, I have all the stamina and desires of a young man.”
Silas grimaced, it had been so long ago that he had felt that he could do anything he wanted.
“I should be delighted,” Jacobus continued, “but there is something wrong.”
Immediately Silas was the professional. Every detail of Jacobus’ progress had been monitored. He was alert.
“My head wants your daughter but my body desires your son.”
The first reaction was of a father, disgust at his children being spoken of in such intimate terms, so this had been Ben’s problem, this was the one area of compatibility between the head and the body that had not been thought of; then came the waves of excitement, as a scientist he realised the potential avenues of research opening up before him.
“Are you saying that your body retains a memory of sensations felt previously? That the nerves have a mind of their own? That sexuality is not rooted in the identity, the brains perceptions?”
“Silas, I have a young man’s desires and no way to satisfy then either way, this body is constantly denying this head; this head is denying this body. I am in torment.”
For decades society had been at ease with people’s sexual preferences. No one batted an eyelid when identity was declared as one on the ever widening spectrum, surely a niche could be found.
“You have your work, fame, money, sex is only a small part, a receding part after all…”
‘”I could accept all this as my lot if my body accepted the restrictions of gradual ageing, but in this body there is no peace, no rest…..”
Silas was dumb –founded. Would castration be any kind of solution? Would he lose this valuable opportunity to research a field of medicine that had not been explored? There could be a Nobel in this, a splendid way to leave a glittering career.
“Jacobus, you need to relax a little. I am sure there will be a way through this. A few tablets will get you some sleep and things will seem so much better after a good night.”
Jacobus looked grateful, trusting in his friend’s skill. He took the tablets proffered and hurried out feeling better than he had done having faced up to his demons.
Silas closed the door. The old man’s gratitude sat uneasily on his conscience. Jacobus is not what he was, once he would have seen through this. Did the donor’s family know? Was this why the young man had been sacrificed? -the criminal classes were not known for their liberal leanings-how far this awful pact had taken him from the ideals of his early medical training.
The knockout tablets helped Jacobus to sleep but there was no peace once he awoke with the young man’s erection and restless urges. He contacted Silas immediately to tell him. Silas recorded all their conversation for later. This formed the pattern of the following months.
Jacobus, unaware that he was being monitored, became evermore explicit and evermore desperate. Eventually he turned up at Silas’ offices.
“I have traced the family.”
“What? Which family?”
“Was that wise, you know they were an unpleasant lot.”
“I need to know more about my body, to understand more.”
“Jacobus, I don’t think this is wise. Let sleeping dogs lie. They are.”
“But we know that they murdered him, for the money, for the fact that he was gay.”
“No one can prove that.”
“No, I suppose not.” Jacobus paused, “would you take this letter to my solicitors if you do not hear from me within 14 days?”
Silas took the letter with a sense of foreboding.
“I think you are overwrought, take a holiday.”
“I intend to go out to Spain. I have booked the flight.”
“You need a rest. Forget about that awful family.”
“Keep that letter safe. 14 days.”
He left Silas with a bulky A4 envelope. The young body that had moved with such careless grace after the transplant, moved less nimbly more hunched into itself.
The next two weeks Silas collated all his notes so far. He had hoped to take his mind off the approaching deadline but nothing could stop the progress of the calendar with its red letter day. His research would not stand up to scrutiny, there was plenty of reported detail but by keeping it secret he had lost the opportunity to employ the professor’s scientific mind. When he came back he would come clean, involve him share the acknowledgement. It would be cutting edge stuff.
The solicitor Silas had dealt with before was retired having received the final generous settlement from Jacobus’ will. A new fresh faced girl faced him. Silas briefly explained why he was there. The girl opened the letter. She took her time reading this and then appeared to start again.
“Are you aware of the contents of this letter?”
Silas was annoyed. “The terms were that I should deliver it to you unopened if I had not heard from the professor within 14 days.”
“As this involves you, I think that you had better read it as the professor requests.”
Silas took the sheets of close print and read.
I have had many months to live in this body that was provided for me following the terms of my original will.
There was another will, Silas felt uncomfortable.
It has not been the experience that I was expecting. For many months of sleepless nights I have examined this body. I have grown to understand that it cannot belong to me. The death of the young man whose body I have was instigated by the terms of my will.
I am unable to prove to the satisfaction of a court of law that the young man was murdered intentionally, therefore I cannot see justice done in the conventional manner. I have decided to confront the family with what they have done, to threaten them with blackmail, to make myself thoroughly unpleasant to them I will do everything in my power to encourage them to dispose of me.
Should they take the bait, this letter will set the authorities on a trail that I have carefully laid to see justice done through the sacrifice of my life. My murder will be proved and the young man will have his justice albeit through my death, which I can only long for as I should have done all those years ago.
Silas breathed deeply. The old man still had something to teach him after all. He had forgotten basic humanity. The old professor had given him this chance at redemption and he would take it.
© Liz Parkes 2016