Clockwork Tangerine

This is a part of a series of stories I wrote, based on characters from my novels The Long-Timer Chronicles, which I’m developing for inclusion in a future volume of the series.

Tangerine Carson, better known as Tangie, looks at the ornate clock on the wall and watches the slow-motion progress of the minute hand. She checks her watch, the white gold contrasting against her dark skin and confirms the time. She’s been waiting for half an hour but she knows this time it’s her fault as she was late for her doctor’s appointment and they had to squeeze her in between those more punctual. Since learning her secret, she hasn’t really needed to be under the care of a doctor, and she wishes her employer didn’t insist on annual physicals so she wouldn’t have to bother with them. All they do is ask questions she’s certain she can’t answer without people thinking she’s crazy. She expects this examination will yield the same results as every one she’s had up to this point, that she’s perfectly healthy and still looks like a woman in her early twenties though she’s nearly forty-three.

How she looks so young is one of the questions she can’t answer, though she well knows the answer.

“I just eat right and exercise,” she always lies. If she told the truth they’d think she was some sort of freak, that is, if they believe what she’s told them and it’s almost certain that they won’t.

Tangie finds it hard to believe herself, yet every time she looks in the mirror the evidence stares back at her. Her daughter Beatrice, called BeBe, who’s twenty-seven, already looks like her older sister which most people are quick to remark on when the two are out together. When they learn Tangie’s true relationship to BeBe, they respond with an incredulous look and the exclamation, “No, it can’t be. You’re much too young.”

“I guess I’m just one of the lucky ones,” she replies. She is one of the lucky ones, more so than anyone could imagine.

She thinks back to the night of the shooting twenty years ago, the night her life changed forever. She remembered being confronted by Lukas, her abusive boyfriend while she was on her way back to the shelter where she and the kids had been living for nearly nine months. She recalled how he’d cornered her in a vacant lot on Houston Street and pulled a gun. The rest was a haze. She recalled seeing the flash as the gun fired and felt the sensation of being hit just above her left breast. Then there was nothing, just total darkness.

Then, suddenly she was aware again, sitting in a pool of blood, her blood, with her friend Victoria consoling her. The cops were staring at her like she was the second coming which, in a way, she was. She hadn’t understood what it meant that night and didn’t really believe it once Victoria explained how they were different than everyone else.

“Ms. Carson?” the nurse says from the door that leads back to the examination rooms.

The nurse takes her height and weight, five feet six inches and one hundred twenty-eight pounds, then leads her into the exam room. Her vital signs are perfect, as usual, so the nurse leaves her there to await the doctor.

Tangie glances at her watch and decides she’ll need to get takeout somewhere on her way back to work. She had no good excuse for being late. Today was a slow news day and therefore no production assistants were needed so she’d been playing around on the Internet, checking her email and looking at some photos a friend sent her. She almost forgot about the appointment entirely but her calendar alerted her about fifteen minutes too late to make it to the doctor’s on time.

“Ms. Carson,” Doctor Gray says as she enters holding a file. “I don’t know what to tell you. Just like clockwork, everything looks good. I wonder why I even bother with tests since the outcome is never any different.”

“Thanks, doctor,” Tangie says. “I guess I just take care of myself.”

“I guess you do,” the doctor says. “I was talking to a colleague about you and he couldn’t believe what I was telling him. I know some African-American women don’t show their ages, but you’re unbelievable.” The doctor hesitates a moment, then says, “What would you say if I asked to do a study on you. A case study.”

“I don’t know about that,” Tangie says. “I’m not all that special. Just good clean living.”

“No, I think it’s more than that,” the Doctor Gray says. “I just want you go keep a diary for a couple of months, what you eat, how often you exercise, how often you rest. Routine stuff.”

Tangie considers it. “I suppose I could, but I don’t think you’ll find anything unusual.”

“You’re the healthiest person I’ve ever seen,” the doctor says. “You’ve never had the flu even though you refuse to get a shot. Your cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar are always under control. Your physical condition is closer to that of a twenty-year-old and you’re over forty. There has to be something you’re doing right.”

“Look,” Tangie says, “I don’t do anything special. I eat my share of junk food, more than my share at times. I don’t work out very much and I generally get no more than six or seven hours of sleep at night, a lot of times even less. There’s nothing special that I do. It’s just the way I am.”

“I’ve been treating you for ten years and you haven’t changed a bit,” Doctor Gray says. “As I said, I’ve never seen anything like it before. My colleague thinks I’m exaggerating.”

Tangie thinks about it a few seconds, then says, “If I tell you the truth, you’ll have me locked up.”

“The truth about what?” the doctor says.

“Why I look this way,” she says. “Why I’m so healthy.”

“I promise I won’t have you locked up,” Doctor Gray says. “You can tell me anything.”

Tangie hesitates a moment, then says, “When I first saw you, you noticed the scar on my chest. You said it was lucky I wasn’t killed.”

“That’s right,” the doctor says.

“What if I told you I was killed,” Tangie says. “What if I told you I did die that night, I just came back.”

“I’d say that’s nearly impossible,” the doctor says. “I know of patients who’ve flat-lined and were revived but I’ve never heard of anyone getting up from a fatal bullet wound.”

“But that’s what happened,” Tangie says. “I died and came back to life. I can do that. The reason I look as young as I do is because I’m not aging the same as a normal person. I’m aging much slower.”

“I find that very hard to believe,” the doctor says. “If you don’t want to do the study, you can just say so. You don’t have to invent some far-fetched story about yourself.”

“I said you wouldn’t believe me,” Tangie says. “But I’m telling you the truth.”

“Perhaps I’m not the doctor you should be talking to,” Doctor Gray says. “I know a very good psychiatrist who deals with this sort of thing.”

“I’m not delusional,” Tangie says. “I know it’s hard to believe.” She pauses, then thinks of an idea. “I can prove it to you.”

“Okay,” the doctor says skeptically. “How will you do that?”

Tangie retrieves her bag and rummages through it. She removes a nail file.

“Now watch,” she says. She holds out her right hand and plunges the nail file into her palm. Then she pulls it out and blood spills from the cut.

“My god!” the doctor says. “What are you doing?”

She goes to one of the drawers to look for some gauze.

“No don’t look away,” Tangie says. “You have to watch.”

“Watch what? You bleeding to death?” Doctor Gray says.

“Just watch, you’ll see,” Tangie says.

The doctor takes Tangie’s hand and holds up where she can see the cut. As she watches, the cut stops bleeding and begins to repair itself. The doctor stares at Tangie’s hand until the cut is completely healed. She releases the hand and takes a step back.

“How did you do that?” she says, her eyes still focused on Tangie’s hand.

“Exactly how it works, I don’t know,” Tangie says. “But it’s how I survived this.” She places her hand on her chest where the scar is.

“That’s impossible,” the doctor says. “Nobody heals that fast.”

“I just did,” Tangie says. “It’s why I look so young and why I don’t get sick. I’m different than everyone else. It’s why I’m going to live for a really long time.”

The doctor is shaking her head. “How long?”

“I’m not sure,” Tangie says. “But my friend, who’s like me, said we can live for at least a thousand years or more.”

“This is incredible,” the doctor says. “Frankly I find it hard to believe, but your hand–”

“See this is why I can’t participate in a study,” Tangie says. “I don’t want others to know about me. There’s no telling how they’ll react.”

“This is the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard,” Doctor Gray says. “How did you get this way?”

“I suppose I was born like it,” Tangie says. “I’ve never done anything special, just lived.”

The doctor is still shaking her head. “I can see why you’d want to keep something like this under wraps.” Giving Tangie a disbelieving look she says, “A thousand years?”

Tangie nods. “Probably longer.”

“And you say there are others?”

“Several that I’ve met,” Tangie says.

“Unbelievable,” the doctor says. “Now I really want to study you. Find out more about what you can do.”

“Like I say, I’d like to keep it under wraps,” Tangie says.

“No, no, nothing like that,” the doctor says. “I’d just take some blood samples, maybe some DNA. It would be totally discreet.”

“What about the other doctor you’ve been talking to?” Tangie says.

“He doesn’t need to know,” Doctor Gray says. “No one needs to know, I just want to find out more about you for my own research.” She looks at Tangie and smiles. “I mean, if I tried to publish any of this I’d be laughed out of the AMA.”

Tangie returns the smile and says, “As long as it stays between us, I don’t mind. But it can go no further.”

“Yes, yes, I understand,” the doctor says. “To think I’m sitting on the biggest find in all of medical history and no one will believe me.”

She asks Tangie to set up a time when they can get together again and excuses herself to see other patients. Tangie collects her things and heads out to the appointment desk.

“Does the doctor want to see you again?” the clerk says.

“Definitely,” Tangie says.

Rebecca, Too, Synopsis and Characters

Synopsis

Within a month of losing her father, Alyssa Caine is in a serious car accident which leaves her in a coma for several days. Upon awakening, she claims she’s Rebecca Asher and insists on seeing her brother Steven. Alyssa knows enough details about Rebecca’s life to suggest the two knew one another, but neither Steven, nor Alyssa’s husband, Tim, have any idea how the two were acquainted. Leah Walker, Alyssa’s estranged older sister, takes it upon herself to unravel the mystery and bring Alyssa back.

Characters

Alyssa Caine

Age 29. Alyssa is quiet and demure, considered “sweet” by those who know her. She’s blond and athletic, enjoying hiking, running, and cycling with her husband, Tim. She and her father were very close and she has taken his recent death very hard. Family is important to Alyssa and she regrets not being closer to her sister, Leah. Alyssa has an excellent, nearly photographic memory for details. She likes to dress up and even when she’s wearing casual clothing, her attire is very stylish. She loves children and works as an elementary school teacher (first through third grades), and looks forward to eventually becoming a mother. Alyssa’s sister refers to her as “the Princess”.

Rebecca Asher

Age 24. Rebecca is loud and outgoing. She’s very intelligent and does not suffer fools gladly. Rebecca studied Journalism at Columbia University but did not graduate and worked as a cultural reporter for Creative Loafing and other regional online publications, and regularly attended movies, theatrical events, and concerts. She’s a very expressive writer. Rebecca has dark hair and features, giving the impression that she’s of Spanish or Mediterranean descent, and she’s not very tall. She’s not at all style conscious and usually dresses in shorts, oxford shirts or baseball jerseys, and sneakers or loafers. She’s a lifelong fan of the Atlanta Braves and frequently wears a jersey with the number ten on it (Chipper Jones’ number). She always looks as though she’s slept in her clothes, usually because she has. She smokes, and drinks to excess, but does not otherwise have problems with alcohol or drugs.

Leah Walker

Age 41. Alyssa’s older sister. Leah was a dutiful but under-appreciated daughter who had a distant relationship with her father, but was very close to her mother. Leah was twelve when her sister was born and has never had a close relationship with Alyssa. Her father was a real estate developer, and Leah sometimes dabbles in real estate herself. Leah has a dry wit and a sardonic take on life. She attended Pace Academy in Atlanta, Wellesley College in Boston, and received a Ph.D. in computing from MIT, then a second Ph.D. in Internet Security from Georgia Tech. She sees things the way they are and can sometimes be very blunt and straight-forward in conversation. After her mother died, she deferred her admission to MIT and toured around the country doing improv with her friend Dan Barton. Leah dresses casually but it’s upscale casual, jeans with an expensive top, expensive shoes or boots. She’s very low-key but attentive to what’s going on around her. She’s also well-traveled and speaks several languages, including French, Italian, Japanese, and Russian. She’s dated both men and women, but generally avoids long-term commitments, and prefers living alone.

Steven Asher

Age 23. Rebecca’s younger brother. Steven is studious and thoughtful, and generally easy-going, but can be serious when the situation warrants. He’s endured quite a bit of loss in his life, as his father abandoned the family when Steven was three, his mother died when he was ten, and his sister was killed in a car accident just after he went away to college. Steven chose to be the one who identified Rebecca’s body after the accident and it had a profound effect on him. He maintains a close relationship with the aunt who was appointed his guardian before being replaced by Rebecca. After Rebecca’s death, his father reestablished contact and they’ve slowly repaired their relationship. Despite the tragedy in his life, Steven remains upbeat and optimistic, but with a bit of a fatalistic view on life. He appreciates those around him and never takes anyone for granted. He’s attending law school with an eye toward corporate or international law, but does not aspire to be a trial lawyer. He had a good relationship with Rebecca and was always a bit in awe of his older sister.

Tim Caine

Early 30s. Met Alyssa through friends during a hiking excursion about six months prior to their getting engaged. Tim works in the mortgage division of a credit union. He’s a caring and supportive husband who looks forward to raising a family with Alyssa. He’s a transplant to Atlanta, originally from the Pacific Northwest, settling in Atlanta after college. Tim got along well with Alyssa’s father and sometimes acts as the mediator between Alyssa and Leah as he’s less intimidated by Leah than Alyssa can be. Like her father, Tim sometimes tends to be overprotective of Alyssa, particularly when it comes to dealing with her sister.

Claire Belmont

Early-30s. Rebecca’s girlfriend. Claire is intelligent but very insecure, particularly about her relationships. She has a number of personality quirks, notably she does not like to be photographed and has very few pictures of herself as an adult. She and Rebecca had a very tempestuous relationship and she’s harbored a good deal of guilt over the fact that they weren’t on good terms at the time of Rebecca’s death. Claire’s from Middle Georgia, and was raised in a conservative church with a man she thought was her father and who physically and emotionally abused her. She uses her outward appearance as a shield to intimidate people, making her seem unapproachable.

Owen Asher     

Late-50s. An airline pilot. Owen walked out on his family when Rebecca was nine and Steven was three. He felt constrained by having a family, but later came to regret not staying in touch with his daughter and son. After his ex-wife’s death, he tried to reestablish contact with his children, but Rebecca refused to have anything to do with him and his former sister-in-law forbid him from contacting Steven. After Rebecca went away to college, Owen dropped in on her unannounced to try to patch up their relationship, and the encounter upset Rebecca to such an extent, she dropped out of college and started having problems with alcohol. Though he was counseled to stay away, Owen attended Rebecca’s funeral and reestablished contact with Steven, and since then they’ve made progress in repairing their relationship.

Boom Town

This is part of a work in progress, to be entitled Boom Town, about the late-nineties technology boom in Atlanta. In this excerpt, the lead character, David Cairo (pronounced Kay-ro) enlists the aid of a local public relations firm, to help him deal with his new-found fame.

Before starting his own company, Cairo had been a low-level web developer at Bickering Plummet, a monolithic, multinational corporation based in Atlanta. He had seen the vast potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web from the beginning, however, and knew that in just a few years a lot of people would be making tons of money on it and he wanted to be a part of that. He convinced several of his co-workers, all highly skilled technicians with specialties in programming, web site design, and database management to form a start-up, and began to publicize the endeavor wherever anyone would listen. While initially promoted as a collective of workers, Cairo was listed as the founder, and quickly became the public face of the company. They had been together less than six months, and had picked up a number of expensive contracts when a financier proposed the lofty suggestion of taking the company public, citing the examples of Amazon, AOL, and Netscape as pioneers in the field and Cairo liked the idea. The company was listed on the market on Cairo’s birthday, April 20, 1997, priced at $40 per share. By the end of trading the following day, shares were going for $550 and climbing rapidly. Over the next year the stock split twenty times.

In less than twenty-four hours David Cairo had gone from being a no-name computer nerd to one of the richest men in the world and the movers and shakers in Atlanta definitely took notice. The city’s elite quickly lined up to pay homage and for several months, no one could turn on a television, or pick up a financial publication without seeing Cairo’s face. Whenever purveyors of the “new economy” were discussed, Cairo’s name was routinely mentioned alongside those of Jeff Bezos and Steve Case and yet, for all that was said about him, few knew the man himself for Cairo had adamantly refused most interview requests and the local news establishment had very little beyond anecdotal information about him and much of that was suspicious.

To the old-moneyed elite of Atlanta, Cairo was an enigma wrapped inside a conundrum accompanied by a puzzled look and a lot of question marks. He rarely drank; he didn’t play golf and, despite having amassed arguably the largest personal fortune in the region, had virtually no conception of how business actually worked. He refused to show up for business meetings unless he received a guarantee, in writing, that food would be served and he had been seen on a number of occasions packing left-overs into his briefcase to take with him. Many in the Buckhead business establishment regarded Cairo as a loon and steered clear of him unless it was deemed absolutely necessary to engage him. Given Cairo’s penchant for acquiring smaller, more established companies, however, it was becoming increasingly necessary to deal with him and many business leaders did so with the same sort of enthusiasm one garners for changing a child’s diaper. Their mantra concerning Cairo seemed to be “love the money, hate the man.”

If only it could be that simple.

Against all reason, the Buckhead Coalition decided to give Cairo their “man of the year” award, hoping against hope that this would satisfy him and he would go away and never bother them again. Unfortunately, this also meant he would be invited to speak and this was something many feared more than they feared the second coming of Jesus. At a previous gathering, Cairo had rattled on and on about the need for Atlanta to “embrace Freaknik” and proposed the building of a gigantic pedestrian bridge to connect Lenox Mall to Phipps Plaza. Then he complained about bus service along Buford highway and suggested to the mayor’s representative that a high level commission should be empaneled to study the issue. In the course of this same evening, he had insulted one of the largest and best-established real estate developers in the region, Paxton Walker, by saying, “Not since Sherman has anyone had such an impact on this city.” Walker, a life-long Georgian with deep family roots in the state, and a graduate of UGA was incensed, and refused to acknowledge Cairo for the remainder of the evening. The general mystery surrounding him and the repeated public relations gaffes were perhaps what led Cairo to contact Boomer & Associates Public Relations in mid-1998.

“I believe in giving smaller firms a chance,” Cairo explained at his first meeting with Boomer. “Sure, the big guys could get me a lot of slick coverage for big bucks but where’s the fun in that?”

“I understand completely, Mr. Cairo,” Boomer said, pronouncing “Cairo” like the name of the Egyptian city.

“Kay-ro,” Cairo corrected. “It’s pronounced kay-ro. Like the town.”

“I am terribly sorry,” Boomer responded. “Before we were introduced, I wasn’t aware that’s how you pronounce it.”

“You’re not from Georgia are you Mr. Boomer?” Cairo asked.

“Ah no, New Jersey by way of San Francisco,” Boomer responded.

“You’ll find we pronounce things a bit differently here,” Cairo went on. “It’s confusing, but you’ll catch on.”

Boomer smiled, though a bit put off by the suggestion.

“I’ve lived in Atlanta for over fifteen years,” he replied.

“Oh then you’re practically a native,” Cairo responded, a bit of sarcasm evident.

“I don’t feel we’ve gotten off to a very good start,” Boomer said, anxiously trying to save the conversation.

“Nonsense,” Cairo exclaimed. “You’re doing fine. I’m just about ready to hire you.”

“Really,” Boomer said, perking up. “Is there something that will seal the deal?”

“Seal the deal?” Cairo said. “You’ve already done that. You don’t need to sell yourself anymore.”

“What was it that did it for you?” Boomer said, somewhat uncertain.

“Boomer, I’m not someone who likes to devote a lot of time to hunting and gathering,” Cairo said. “I figure you’ll do a good job or I’ll find someone else.”

“Okay, then,” Boomer said, not sure whether or not to be insulted. He reassured himself by recalling how valuable this contract would be. “But how exactly did you find this agency if I may ask?”

“I looked in the phone book,” Cairo replied. “The name caught my eye. I don’t like acronyms and this was the first I saw that had a real name assigned to it.”

Boomer let this pass and offered to show Cairo around and introduce him to the team that would be working on his account. As he did, he tried to get a read on Cairo, some clue to allow him to better understand this man who had garnered so much press over the past few months. Cairo’s name, if not the pronunciation, was well-known to Boomer, but like most, he had many questions about who Cairo was or where he got his start. Apparently, Cairo knew a few things about Boomer as well.

“I hear you had something to do with the Olympics coming to Atlanta,” Cairo said as they toured the offices.

“Yes,” Boomer said, impressed that his new client had in fact learned something about his background. “I used to be with the firm that helped with the bid. We also developed Izzy, the mascot for the ’96 games.”

Cairo stopped suddenly and grimaced.

“I wish you’d told me that up front,” he said. He thought a moment, then said, “That could be a show-stopper. You weren’t directly responsible for that were you? I mean, it wasn’t your idea, right?”

“No,” Boomer responded a bit perplexed.

“Oh good, that’s a relief,” Cairo said. “That makes me feel much better.”

Boomer smiled and suppressed the urge to vocalize what he was thinking, now fully understanding why Cairo needed his services. Boomer was surprised to find there wasn’t much to his new client and certainly nothing that betrayed the fact that Cairo was the wealthy entrepreneur everyone knew him to be. Had Boomer not been introduced to Cairo, he might have assumed Cairo was just another techie applying for the job of network administrator. Cairo was shorter than Boomer, definitely below six feet, and his girth betrayed the fact that he probably spent most of his time sitting in front of a computer screen. Cairo had apparently made the effort to “dress up” for his visit to the firm, but that seemed to amount only to wearing a slightly newer pair of Dockers and topping it off with a slightly ill-fitting blazer over top of a dark polo shirt. His hair was long and pulled back in a frizzy ponytail and he had at least a day’s growth of beard and he was wearing thin, wire-framed glasses which he would frequently push up by applying equal pressure to the sides using his thumb and middle finger.

“So how visible would you like to be in promoting your company?” Boomer asked him.

“Not visible at all,” Cairo said.

“A lot of the Internet CEOs are out in front of their companies nowadays,” Boomer said.

“That’s fine for them, not for me,” Cairo said.

“Okay,” Boomer said. “What sort of approach would you like to take?”

“Anything that sells the company, not the personality behind it,” Cairo replied.

“So what is your mission statement?” Boomer asked.

“I’m not sure I follow,” Cairo answered.

“Your company, does it have a mission statement?”

“Ah, statement of mission,” Cairo said. “I’m not sure.”

“But you’re the founder of the company,” Boomer said.

“Yes, but I’m not sure I’d say I have any sort of mission,” Cairo responded.

“Then why did you start the company?” Boomer asked, growing anxious.

“I started the company hoping I’d make a lot of money so I wouldn’t have to work anymore,” Cairo said. “I knew the Internet was hot and figured a business tailored toward the ‘net would appeal to a large number of investors.”

“I see,” Boomer said. He took a long, deep breath, then expelled it slowly, then said, “Let’s take a different approach, what does your company do?”

Cairo shrugged, leaned back in his chair and said, “To be honest, I’m not 100% clear on that these days. All sorts of Internet stuff to be sure. When we did the IPO we just used a lot of words like ‘synergy’ and ‘e-commerce’ and Wall Street just ate it up.”

“Okay,” Boomer said. “That might be a bit hard to put on a billboard.”

Cairo leaned forward smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I have complete confidence in you — in spite of that whole ‘Izzy’ thing, of course.”

Boomer let the “Izzy” comment pass and said, “Anything you can give me to go on will be helpful. I just need a starting point.”

“I guess you could say, we’re in a state of flux,” Cairo said. “We build websites, but also develop applications that can run on the web. Plus we create graphics and video. We do a little of everything.”

Boomer nodded, smiled, then said, “How about Complete Internet Solutions for Home or Office?”

Cairo clapped his hands once, pointed and said, “See, I knew you’d come up with something. We’re going to get along great!”