Coming of AGE
By Bob Sojka
YOU THE REPORTER? How’d you get here before the EMT? Really? In this building? I never knew that. C’mon in. Mrs. Hamilton told me you’d be coming, but I thought for sure the EMT would get here first. She told me to keep you here until she’s ready for them to talk to you. But you’re not allowed any pictures if you want an exclusive.
So put that camera away. It’s no pictures or I call all the other papers too.
Who me? I’m his personal receptionist. Michelle. Michelle Lindsey, with an e-y. Want some gum? It’s strawberry flavor.
Mrs. Hamilton? Oh, that’s his executive secretary. She’s inside with the board. They were in a meeting when he took sick. We thought he might have been having a heart attack or something. It’s so warm in there. They’ve dialed down the thermostat.
Then the blue froth started pouring out of his mouth. We knew it had to be the AGE virus. That’s when we laid him out on the floor and I got on the phone to security for the EMT. God, I wish they’d hurry.
Security phoned just before you got here. They said the emergency medical team’s van was just coming down the parking ramp. You can hear the siren. They’ll be here any minute. They said not to panic. I told the dispatcher that we had him on the floor and put a seat cushion under his head. He’s all curled up like a baby. What do they call that?
Yeah, a fatal position.
That’s right. I remember from health class.
Anyway, we figured we better not try stretching him back out. It might hurt him or something. His condition seems to be changing pretty fast. I’ll sure feel better when the EMT gets here. Ooo, I wish they’d hurry!
No. Stop! Don’t go in there with that camera. Mrs. Hamilton never allows photos of Mr. Lodabuques, not even for spectacular news. She doesn’t just answer to Mr. Lodabuques; she’s in constant touch with Mrs. Lodabuques when it comes to things like pictures. And if you go in there before they call for you you’ll wish you were the one with the virus.
What paper are you with anyway, some check stand tabloid? Oh, really? Wow, they’re big.
You could take my picture.
Did I tell you I’m his personal receptionist?
I used to be in advertising. A model actually.
Mr. Lodabuques sits in on lots of our advertising shoots, especially the ones at the beach. He likes to make sure they send a good environmental message. Ever since the epidemic started, the company wants a greener image. They’re worried about eco-terrorism, I guess.
The virus has hit several of our top executives. Isn’t it strange how it seems to zero in on management types? I guess they’re still trying to figure that out.
I’ll tell you what, though. My boyfriend? He’s an intern over in the big NIH hospital? He says they think it has something to do with certain kinds of stress. Just like with the Herby virus.
Herpes? Yeah, maybe that’s the one.
Well, Ricky says—Ricky’s my boyfriend; he says executives are more prone to stress than, say, construction workers? So, the virus hits executives more often. It’s not like an absolute rule or anything, just kind of a pattern.
I heard somewhere that the French think it was spread in some bad caviar. Go figure. I’ve never tried caviar, but Mr. Lodabuques has it all the time.
I’ve got a second cousin that got the virus? He used to just love to hunt. The whole family did. After he came down with it they just didn’t have their hearts in it anymore. They all laid up their guns. After the virus did its thing, and my cousin was back on his feet, so to speak, they took him up to the cabin so he could spend all the time he wanted in the woods nearby. They all go up and see him there. At least they think it’s him they see. Hard to tell. But it’s just not the same anymore.
Oh, here comes the EMT. You’ll have to stand back.
Ahem ... He’s in there, through these doors. Let me hold them open so your equipment can get through. Oh, what is that awful stink? It smells like sewage. The virus does that? Oooo!
Stand back, you! I said no pictures.
My God, look at him on the floor. The froth’s all over him.
You’re lucky you got a look through the door. But I promise, if you take a picture, I’ll have that security guard break your arms. Now you get back so they can close the door.
Sorry to be pushy. I’m his receptionist. It’s my job. No offense. Mrs. H. told your editor our conditions if you want an exclusive. And one of them is NO PICTURES.
Freedom of the press? Sure I believe in that. But this isn’t some street mugging, you know. Mr. Lodabuques is one of world’s most important industrialists. You don’t spy on his life like some Peeping Tom. For now, you’ll have to live with what you can get ... from right here ... from me. And when Mrs. H says it’s OK, you can talk to the others when they come out ... without pictures. But that’s it, buster!
The EMT’s been in there for nearly two hours. I never thought being a personal secretary could be so stressful. Them being in there that long makes me more scared, you know? I wonder what they’re doing.
Have you ever seen anyone get the virus before?
I thought maybe you ... being a reporter and all.
Really? Sports mostly? Fascinating. So, this story could be a big break for you, huh? I could help with some background information. You could take my picture and say how concerned Mr. Lodabuques’ employees all are about him.
Sit on the desk? Sure, how’s this? Wait let me get my steno pad and pen. There. Cross my knees? Sure.
Mrs. Lodabuques? Of course I’ve met her. I take care of their kids sometimes. She was an environmentalist even before the virus. She used to try to get Harry, that is, Mr. Lodabuques, to do a lot of environmental stuff. You know, like stop pollution from our factories?
Mr. Lodabuques doesn’t like her interfering. He goes along with the environmental angle when there’s a chance for good publicity ... or if not doing it was going to cause trouble with the EPA that he can’t figure out some way to work around.
Did I tell you that I met him on an advertising photo shoot? It was a commercial telling about some seashore restoration work.
It really bugs Mr. Lodabuques sometimes, Virginia’s, that is Mrs. Lodabuques’ tree hugging. I guess it’s pretty much driven them apart. I don’t think they’ve been intimate for a long time. Lucky break for me, I guess. Hey, don’t write that down.
Odd though. He never used to listen to her about environmental things, but when the epidemic hit last year he started paying more attention to the green image. He cleaned up a couple of the company’s pollution sites and started a big ad campaign. But Virginia is always on him, demanding more. She told him right in front of me one afternoon that he wasn’t really trying hard enough. She accused him of it being all for show. Poor baby. When Virginia was on his case like that it was all I could do to keep him happy sometimes.
What are you writing down?
His commitment to the environment? Oh, good. He’d like that.
They stopped manufacturing some of our products last year. You probably heard about some of those lawsuits. Mr. Lodabuques still doesn’t understand how some of that information got in the hands of the prosecutors. Did you know that the company will be forced to put over a third of its profits into environmental restoration next year? Mr. Lodabuques fired a bunch of the company’s lawyers after that all happened. Too bad in a way, some of them were really cute. But Virginia didn’t like them much.
Virginia would come into the office, slam the door, and argue with Harry and the lawyers. Sometimes they’d give in. Harry would quit making one of the chemicals or put some water filters in at one of the factories. But Virginia was never satisfied. She complained that it was barely a start. They fought about it a lot.
Virginia called Harry’s nephew over in Detroit the other night? She told him to have this non-polluting economy car design on Harry’s desk in two months or she was going to release information on efficiency concepts that Detroit’s been stonewalling for decades. She said Harry’s dad ... Mr. Lodabuques Senior? ... knew all about the way his brother was involved in buying up fuel efficiency patents, and she has found a lot of old records on them. Harry doesn’t own much oil anymore, but his uncle still does, I guess.
Mr. Lodabuques Senior, Harry’s father? He turned into such a sweetie in his old age. Kind of forgetful and goofy sometimes, but Virginia made a special effort to become good friends with him before he passed away. They used to kind of gang up on poor Harry sometimes.
Anyway, people say how bad the virus has been and all? But I think it’s the reason why a lot of things have been changing for the better. The bosses think it’s some kind of plot.
What if I got the virus? Boy, I don’t know. Depends on how it turned out. You know what I mean? I’m not worried though. They say it’s like only a one in a million thing. And like I said, mostly it only hits people that seem to be kind of heavy duty stressed all the time ... lots of corporate executives.
They all eat a lot of caviar too don’t they?
You know, come to think of it, my cousin used to like anchovies on his pizza ... I wonder if he ate caviar? He drove a Cadillac.
Oh my God! Look at this. Here’s Mrs. Lodabuques.
Hello, Mrs. Lodabuques.
Yes, right this way, Mrs. Lodabuques.
No, ma’am, he’s not alone. There’s already a lot of people in there.
When? Two hours ago. I haven’t seen him for over an hour. They wouldn’t let me stay.
Oh him? He’s a reporter. No, ma’am I haven’t told him a thing. No, ma’am; I haven’t let him take any pictures of Mr. Lodabuques. Thank you, ma’am. I always try to do my best.
Lucid? Well, ma’am he was still mumbling and squirming when I saw him.
Still time for what? To sign something? I don’t know, you’ll have to see if the doctors ...
Careful, ma’am, that door is heavy.
God, she can be pushy sometimes!
I wonder what that paper was that she was carrying? You know, Virginia seemed like she was being a little more cordial to Harry the last week or so. They went to a real fancy lunch together yesterday.
I made him pay for that, if you know what I mean. Well, I guess, really though, I don’t mind all that much. Ricky says that this job isn’t good for us. He doesn’t know a lot about what I do, but he guesses.
Virginia has her nice side, though. Ricky met Mrs. Lodabuques a few weeks ago. I saw them shaking hands down in the lobby when I got off the elevator. Not every rich person would be that nice to ordinary people.
Darn! I wish this hadn’t happened to Harry. I’ll probably never make this kind of money answering phones and helping someone on trips again. I told Ricky that I had to make the most of this job while I could; for the both of us.
This virus attack is probably the end of the road.
Kids? Yeah, they have a girl and a boy. Brianne and Claud. Good kids. I take them to ball games a lot. Harry is always supposed to meet us, but a lot of times he doesn’t. It’s a kind of strange family in some ways.
I mean, his kids are bright. They notice when Harry is paying a little too much attention to me. But they don’t seem to hold anything against either of us. The kids and I are friends. But they’re fiercely devoted to Virginia. When the virus started spreading, the kids were always saying things to Harry like:
“Daddy, Mom says our factories kill a lot of fish making chemicals that really aren’t needed.”
“Daddy, Mom says our land development company is buying property that should be left as wildlife habitat.”
“Daddy, how would you like to be a manatee and get cut up by the boat engines we manufacture ... can’t you make the engineers do something about that?”
I think the kids really got under his skin sometimes.
Oh, God, here’s Virginia again. That’s strange. She’s crying and smiling at the same time. I better help her to the elevator.
How long do you plan on waiting here? Till they bring him out? Ricky says sometimes the EMTs spend ten or twelve hours with virus victims before they can move them. Once the cocoon forms it’s safe to.
I thought we had seen it all when AIDS came along. This AGE-virus has got to be the weirdest thing there ever was. I’ve read letters to the editor that say that AGE-virus is man-made. You know, like an accidentally escaped experiment or something? This one guy that Ricky works with claims it was invented by environmentalist terrorists.
What’s it stand for anyway, AGE-virus? Oh, really? Animal Gene Exchanging virus? I should have figured it was something like that.
I’ll miss Harry. It’s incredible, though. They say that transformed individuals, once it’s all over with, three, four weeks after the attack, when they come out of the cocoons? Supposedly they still have their human memories. Some of them can communicate. It’s not so hard on the families when something warm and cuddly is left, like a squirrel or a monkey, or my cousin the deer.
But I’ve seen on TV where sometimes all that’s left is like slime mold or things like that. I didn’t even know what a slime mold was before the AGE-virus.
Harry must have known this was coming, somehow. Just the other day he nearly exploded when one of his engineers said they were going to drain some swamp land to put up a new plant. The guy said something like, “There’s folks with houses nearby that will be a hell of a lot happier to have one of our factories and its jobs in their back yard, than that damn stinking swamp.”
Harry asked him if he would like to be the one to explain that to Virginia. You should have seen the look on that guy’s face.
What paper? You mean the one that Virginia was carrying?
She said something about a powerful attorney.
Power of attorney? Oh, maybe that’s what it was. Harry was still able to talk a little when I took her in to see him. You know what he did? He said he would turn the company over to her ... signed the papers. Can you believe it?
Oh, my God. Here they come. God, would you look at the size of that cocoon. Oof, the smell. Jeez, its oozing all over the carpet. Ooo!
Hey, I said no photos. I mean it.
OK, I’ll ask them. You wait here, though.
They said it’s impossible to be completely certain this early. They do a quick DNA screen right away, but it’s only approximately accurate.
Anyway, they’re guessing surgeon. I never heard of the virus just changing someone’s profession before.
Sturgeon? Maybe. Isn’t that like a big fish?
Bob Sojka is a retired soil and environmental scientist with over 260 career science publication credits. He is an alumnus of the James Gunn, Clarion West, and Odyssey workshops. His last story for us was “Shit Eatin’ Dog” in the 12-DEC-2012 update of “Perihelion.” More about Bob Sojka can be found on his website, Life to Write.