Reich Of Passage
December 24, 1943
Jim Blane had been back in the United States for only three months. They were the three longest months of his life. In the blink of an eye he’d gone from living on the edge, to simply existing. No longer did he have to constantly look over his shoulder, no longer did he read the intentions of each person he met, no longer did he have to be someone he wasn’t, no longer did he have to wonder if the next moment would be his last. He was safe and secure, but those two precious commodities, the very thing everyone else seemed to pray for each night, robbed him of his zest for life and passion for each moment. Now, so far from the dangers of war, he’d lost the will to live. With no family, with no place to go, he was spending Christmas Eve alone with a bottle of scotch and a day-old newspaper.
His last Christmas had been so different — celebrated with more than two-dozen of the most powerful men in the world. On that cold December evening he’d been hailed as a hero and given a Mercedes by a grateful nation. It hardly seemed fair. Here in his own country he was the hero no one knew, a man whom no one loved. What a difference a year could make.
Blane had experienced incredible thrills during his almost six years as the top Allied undercover agent in Germany. Thus his current desk job in Los Angeles hardly meshed with the espionage officer’s exotic taste. His drink was as bitter as his mood.
When ferreted out by an American double agent, Blane was just two weeks away from initiating a plan that should have resulted in the assassination of Adolf Hitler. The plan, more than two years in the making, had been perfect. Everything had been put in place. With one shot, the war would have ended. Then the mole had blown the whistle. While Blane had escaped, three others were rounded up, tortured, and shot. They had been his friends, as well as his confederates, and now he questioned why he lived and they had died. On this night he even wondered if they were not the lucky ones.
His usefulness as a spy finished, Blane was now nothing more than another cog in the intelligence machine — a desk jockey with no chances of ever getting back to the work he so loved or finishing the job he started. He was bored and bitter, frustrated and lonely.
Blane had been one of the youngest officers in the Navy when asked to go undercover. Because he had no living family, was fearless, street-smart, and well educated and spoke German fluently, he was the perfect spy. But that before his cover was blown. Now he drank too much, drove recklessly and slept little.
Pacing in his flat, thousands of miles from where troops were dying in battle, it was hard to fathom that the U.S. was fighting a war on two fronts. And maybe what bothered him most was, that in spite of that fact, the holiday spirit was everywhere. Carols were sung, gifts exchanged, cards mailed. One of his buddies from Washington had sent Blane a homemade fruitcake. Yet where was the peace on earth?
Switching on his Philco table radio, Blane cut a piece of the cake, poured another drink, and plopped into an overstuffed chair. As Bing Crosby warbled his newest hit, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, the solitary figure absentmindedly munched on the cake. He tasted nothing. He was simply numb to the world and everything in it. By the time the crooner had finished his song, Blane had fallen asleep in his chair, dreaming of a Christmas a half a world away—a Christmas that put him back in the action and in a place where he could really help bring peace to the world.
A mystery show was playing on the Philco when the agent was awakened by a loud rapping on the apartment’s only door. Looking across the room at a clock on the stove he noted the time—9:45.
Not bothering to get up, Blane shook his head, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and grunted, “It’s not locked.” He didn’t consider who the visitor might be nor did he care.
The knob turned slowly and a large man with mustard green eyes pushed the seven- by three-foot solid oak slab open. Even though it was Christmas Eve and the guest was every bit of six-foot four inches and two-hundred-and-fifty pounds, in the shadowy light, he hardly looked like Santa Claus. He also didn’t appear to be carrying any presents.
“Blane?” He barked in a raspy voice that hinted a Germanic accent.
“Yeah,” Jim replied, automatically feeling for the gun he kept tucked in between the chair’s seat and padded arm.
Still filling the doorway, the big man studied the host for a full minute, then casually announced, “I’m surprised you’re still alive.”
“What do you mean by that crack?” Blane shot back, “And just who the hell are you?”
Without hesitation, the visitor snarled, “Oh, you know me, Herr Gruber.”
Quickly gripping the pistol’s butt and resting it against his leg, the barrel pointing at the figure just ten feet in front of him, Blane, cocked his head and smiled. “Hans Schluter. It has been what . . . two years?”
“A little more,” the visitor replied. “It was October, 1941, Berlin, at the officer’s party. I think you brought Heidi Richter. She had such beautiful eyes. You know I personally pulled those eyes out when we interviewed her after you disappeared. I kept them for you. I thought you might want them to remember her by. It’s a shame I didn’t bring them with me tonight. They’re back at my hotel in my shaving kit. Oh well, maybe next time.” Schulter laughed, a cold, haunting laugh, before adding, “Oh that’s right, there isn’t going to be a next time.”
Though rage pounded like a kettledrum, Blane remained outwardly cool, controlling his emotions as if his life depended on it. And he knew it did. So rather than leap into action, he studied Schluter’s clean-shaven face. A scar ran from just below his left eye to the corner of his chin. It was jagged and ugly, just like the man himself. Pointing to it with his left hand, Blane coolly quipped, “You should be more careful when you shave.”
The German lifted his fingers to trace across the old wound. Grinning, he shot back, “I kind of like it. It sets me apart from all the other members of my unit. Besides, it was the last thing Heidi saw. She took that image to her grave!”
Schluter represented everything Blane had fought against when as a double agent. Back then, when he was pretending to be an integral part of Hitler’s machine, Jim had acted as arrogant and demonic as his guest. He had played their games and pretended to worship their leader. But not now, not with this Nazi. Not in the States. Now the SS stood on his turf. It was time to even the score. But there was no rush. He would take his time, savoring each moment of retribution.
“You want to sit down?” Blane offered as he pointed to a wooden chair just to the right of the door. “What a drink? I feel as if I owe you for your country’s years of hospitality to me.”
“No,” the big answered, his fleshy face framed by a wicked grin. “I just came by to look at your lifeless body. I must have gotten here a little early.”
The American curled his finger around the Smith and Wesson’s trigger and raised it to where the barrel was pointed right at the German’s heart. Though he could easily see the gun, the visitor showed no signs of fear.
“It looks to me like I’m the one who has the upper hand,” Blane casually announced as he waved the gun. “I can kill you at anytime I want. For what you did to Heidi, John, and Joseph, and who knows how many others, it will be a pleasure to watch you bleed.”
“Fine,” Schluter laughed, “Go ahead and shoot. I’m not a dumkoff. I noted the pistol when I first opened the door. I also saw the half-eaten fruitcake. You know, I baked it myself. It’s an old SS holiday recipe. We perfected it in the death camps on the worthless Jews. I’ve been told is quiet tasty, but it is also very deadly. It’s a really shame the only antidote is on the other side of the Atlantic and I forgot to bring it with me,just like I forgot Heidi’s eyes. I need to start making myself a list. Oh, I didn’t forget this tidbit of information you need to know. I can assure you, from watching men and women eat the cake in concentration camps, your death will be slow and painful.”
As the German laughed, Blane smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Death didn’t scare him. He almost welcomed it, especially if he could take one more dirty Nazi down with him.
“Well then,” the American shrugged, “at least I have an excuse to finish you off right now. From the first moment I met you, almost seven years ago, I wanted to kill you, you stinkin’…”
For a man so large, Schluter was quick. He hit the light switch, killing the lone source of illumination and whirled toward the door. Yet, as fast as he was, the Nazi hadn’t fully cleared the entry when Blane squeezed off two rounds. The first caught the big man in the side. The other passed through his hat, creasing his hair and embedding itself in the hallway wall. Before Blane could fire again, Hans Schluter was down the steps. He never looked back as he jumped into a dark Buick and sped off into the L.A. night.
Blane didn’t doubt for a moment that the fruitcake was laced with poison. He knew, even without Schluter telling him, that the formula for an antidote was half a world away. And if he had managed to kill Schluter, he might have just sat on those facts, welcomed death. Yet the nasty German had slipped through his fingers and the image of that big man slowly draining the life out of Heidi was more than the American could stomach. He had to get to the office. He still had a few friends who were American agents in the SS. It was time for the spy to use those contacts to try to save his own life and give himself another shot at Hans Schluter. Grabbing a briefcase from the table, Blane rushed into the cool Hollywood night.
It was a typical early summer day in Southern California. A slight breeze and a cloudless sky tempted those trapped in offices to give up their lives of work and surrender to the intoxicating wonder of childlike play. This was why thousands had called in sick and why the beaches were full. Yet Tell Boyer was one of the few who had not given into the call of the sun and fun. He had put the top down on the Cobra as he drove into work, but nothing more. For this responsible man, deadlines always beckoned, appointments had to be met, and the routine of making the dull interesting always won out. Yet as Tell sat at his desk, as he stared at the computer screen, as he planned another syndicated column, as he embraced the routine that had sustained him for more than a decade, he had no way of knowing an earthquake was about to hit. Not one that would shake the city, causing buildings to shatter and godless people to fall to their knees and pray. No this quake was far different. Its epicenter would be Tell’s desk and the aftershocks might well change every facet of life for billions. On this June day, beginning with a simple phone call, the world’s fate would be placed in the hands of a man completely unsuited for the task.
Distinguished, well spoken, a slight hint of a Germanic accent, almost aristocratic in bearing, Jonus Gould had been an easy man for the writer to approach. From the instant Boyer and Gould first sat down in the doctor’s study, an impressive room filled with old dusty books, fascinating photographs, and antique furniture, it seemed like there had been a spiritual connection. Yet it was a strange connection to say the least.
During their dozen or so visits, Gould’s dark brown eyes always seemed to stare passed Boyer. It wasn’t as if he was being rude or bored, it was as if he was focused on events from another era, a time he relished much more than the present. For hours, almost without pause, Gould would speak about those bygone days, bringing them to life as only a witness to the era could. The way he told it, and Boyer heard it, the doctor’s past was not just history, it was an adventure—his adventure. And Gould had reveled in it the way some relish fine food and drink. And what a life he had lived!
For more than two decades, from the early thirties to the mid-fifties, Gould was known as the doctor to the stars. During Hollywood’s Golden era, there didn’t seem to be a single actor or actress whom Gould hadn’t treated for everything from a cold to “social” diseases. For reasons he kept to himself, the doctor passionately related behind the scene tales of Garbo, Bogart, Davis, Cooper, Fields, Chaplin, and almost every other film giant to Tell only. Those stories were filled with power, money, sex, scandal, and genuine moments of very personal kindnesses. So, in short order, within minutes of their first handshake, Boyer knew he’d discovered the most incredible untapped source of inside information on the golden age of the motion picture industry. And it was all his, as long as he played by Gould’s one simple rule — he was to never call the doctor, their visits were to be by invitation only. For the scribe their meetings came far too seldom. Then, two years ago, when he died, the rest of the stories, the ones Boyer so wanted to hear, were forever lost.
Boyer was in the middle of rewriting a feature on the emergence of another up and coming actress for America This Week when the ringing telephone interrupted his rhythm.
“Tell Boyer,” the writer automatically grunted after he picked up the receiver.
“Mr. Boyer,” a distinguished voice returned, “I am Dr. John Gould, Jonus Gould’s son. I’m sorry we have never met, but during your visits with my father I always seemed to be busy.”
“I was unaware Dr. Gould had any relatives,” Tell curtly replied. “All he seemed to want to talk about were the old days in Hollywood.”
“In many ways my father had little use for the present, except professionally. He was always vitally interested in the continued developments made by science and medicine, but his real love of life came from his past. But enough about that. I called you to ask a favor. I need for you to come by the family home this evening. My father left something for you.”
“I would sincerely love to come by,” a genuinely interested Boyer replied, “and I wish I could do it this evening. But I have an interview set for seven. That meeting will take a few hours and by the time I could get to your home it would be well past ten.”
Boyer paused for a moment, glanced at his calendar, and added, “I don’t have anything on my schedule for tomorrow night. Why don’t we do it then?”
The last word had not even cleared the writer’s lips when Gould snapped back, “That won’t do! Not at all! It has to be tonight! I don’t care how late, but I have to see you this evening!”
In one brief moment the caller’s tone had switched from rather placid and stoic, to edgy and passionate. This agitated nature quickly spelled out he would not take no for an answer. Boyer didn’t want to blow an opportunity for a last chance at some unknown information, yet he also couldn’t reschedule his other commitment. It had taken him months to get this interview. Thus a compromise had to be found.
“After I finish the interview,” Boyer offered, “I could meet you at . . .”
“No!” Gould cut him off, his voice now hinting at anger. “It has to be at the family home . . . the same one where you visited my father. I feel the matter urgent enough to insist on your coming tonight.”
The writer allowed an awkward silence to come between his caller and himself. He wasn’t stalling, just confused. Why, after all the time since his father had died, why was tonight so urgent? What did the man have that couldn’t keep one more day? After all, his father’s news had always been old news. It had kept for decades, so why couldn’t this wait one more day?
“Dr. Gould,” Tell asked, his tone reflecting his curiosity, “could I inquire as to what this concerns?”
A split second later Gould hoarsely barked. “No! It’s something I can’t go into over the phone. I need to meet with you here, tonight, alone, or it will be too late!”
Boyer again paused. Even with his finely honed reporter’s instincts he couldn’t draw a bead on anything that had to be done this evening.
“Mr. Gould,” he finally explained, “it might be eleven or later before I could get to your place. Are you sure you want to wait that long? Tomorrow I could easily get there at any time you wanted. Even for breakfast.”
“Mr. Boyer,” Gould barked, “tonight is the night you must meet with me. I know I have given you no reason for the necessity of the visit. I won’t go into the matter on the phone. I don’t care what time you get here, as long as you do. And believe me, no visit with anyone who is alive on this entire globe is as important as being at my house tonight.”
The doctor’s final claim seemed absurd. Still, it added an even more intriguing element to the mix. It also hung out a question that Boyer had to have answered.
“I’ll make it when I can,” the curious writer replied. Then, as soon as he had completed his acceptance of the peculiar invitation, the line went dead. Gould hadn’t even bothered with a thank you or a good-bye.
Boyer was no longer a political writer; the information people shared with him was rarely cloaked in mystery. Most of his subjects simply sought good public relations. They were promoting a movie, a television show or a recording. If they were meeting with Tell, they wanted the public to know something that was happening in their lives. So having Gould dangle a carrot of mystery in front of him all but drove the reporter crazy. After all, real mystery was indeed something that rarely came into his life.
It was almost ten when a large iron fence at the corner of Regal and High Mountain Drive caught the beam from his car’s headlights. Turning right at an open gate, the writer drove up a familiar long circular drive and eased to a stop in front of the red brick house. Even though he had seen it many times before, he still couldn’t help but be taken aback by the scene before him. This was not just a mansion, it was an estate. There were only few like it left anywhere, even in Hollywood. Huge, massive, almost foreboding, an American castle, a mismatch of three or four kinds of architectural design, somehow melded into a style that retained class and distinction, while offering little warmth.
The front doors, two mighty pieces of oak bathed in a yellow glow cast by a huge brass porch lamp, stood twelve feet high. The late Jonus Gould had once informed Tell these doors had hung in an ancient English castle. On each side of massive wooden doors were stained glass windows their many facets sparkling as light echoed throughout the rambling and massive brick home. From another of the late doctor’s stories Boyer knew these had been saved from a bombed-out German church just after World War II. From the porch molding to the doorknobs themselves, everything had seemingly once been in another place until Gould had reassembled them all here. Maybe this was why the house seemed to be as draped in mystery as the cryptic call that brought Boyer across town in the middle of the night.
At the far corner of the house, exposed by open carriage house doors and a bright floodlight sat a 1937 Lincoln Zephyr four-door sedan. Like the home, it was a museum piece. After spending a few moments studying the deep garnet and chrome art deco marvel, the reporter scanned the remainder of the grounds, pausing only briefly to glance through an ornamental fence surrounding a garden featuring a twenty-foot lighted fountain.
What a place. Hate to pay the power bills on this baby!
Easing from behind the wheel of his black ’2011 Mustang Cobra convertible, Boyer reverently strolled up the native stone walk, slowly climbing the three steps to the front doors. Taking the massive round knocker in hand, he pulled back and let it drop. The sound could have been heard from one end of the twenty-four-room home to the other. If anyone was alive in the house, he felt sure they knew he had arrived.
Thirty seconds later, the huge door, so well balanced it swung effortlessly, opened without a sound. Stepping out from behind it, his face bathed in the yellowish glow of the porch light, was a thin, well-dressed gentleman who appeared to be in his late fifties or early sixties. He carefully studied the reporter’s face before sticking out his right hand.
“Mr. Boyer,” he whispered. “I recognize you from your picture in the newspaper.”
Grabbing the extended hand with a firm grip, Tell nodded his head.
“Come in,” the host quietly offered as he opened the door wider. “We have much to talk about.”
Boyer followed Gould into a marble-floored foyer, only to stop and stare at the thirty-five foot ceilings and sweeping staircase leading up to the second floor. As the doctor shut and bolted the front entry, the writer studied one of the large paintings hanging on the room’s walls. Sensing a presence just behind his left shoulder, Boyer casually observed, “An original Monet, isn’t it?”
“No,” Gould replied in an almost detached tone, then without another word walked toward what Tell knew to be the study.
Slightly embarrassed, the writer shoved his hands into pants pockets and followed his host. After entering, the younger Gould, obviously a man of very few words, pointed to a chair just in front of a large walnut desk. As Boyer made his way to the leather-covered antique, he heard the study door lock behind him.
Just in front of his chair, sitting on library table, was a large photo of Clark Gable and Jonus Gould. Tell marveled at Gable’s inscription—“To my dear friend, I owe you, Clark!” Looking up from the picture, Tell found a set of piercing blue eyes anxiously fixed on him.
“Mr. Boyer,” he began, “I apologize for my insistence on meeting you here this evening, but you will soon see why it was necessary.”
He paused for a moment, pointing at a decanter of brandy and lifting his eyebrows. Boyer, who never drank, shook his head. Pulling an old three-sided wooden ruler from the desk top, Gould continued, striking the straight edge against his left palm to emphasize words.
“My father thought a great deal of you,” the younger Gould began. “He often told me of not only your visits, but how you had a real respect for people. That was something he found lacking in most writers. He also deemed you to be very bright. As a matter of fact, he was surprised that someone of your abilities would settle for a job that tapped only a small amount of your talents and intelligence.”
For an instant Boyer felt an urge to justify his existence, to explain why what he did was important, but Gould didn’t give him the chance. He seemed intent on cutting to the chase.
“Mr. Boyer, what I’m about to tell you will at first seem unbelievable, more science fiction than fact. Yet if you will hear me out, I know I can prove to you that my every word is true.”
Quickly forgetting the earlier insult, Tell found himself intrigued. He knew old Dr. Gould had been privy to adventures and tales long buried by the movie public relations machine. Leaning forward he fully expected to now hear some seven-decades old gossip that Jonus had planned on telling him, but had died before he could arrange another meeting.
“More than seven decades ago on the morning of June 6, 1936,” John Gould explained, his voice again little more than a whisper, “My father received a call from a medical associate, Dr. E. C. Fishbaugh. My father recounted to me the essence of that phone call and the rest of what you will hear tonight, many years later. Only a few trusted employees, and only one of them is still alive, know the full story.”
Boyer was intrigued. There might be a story here. Maybe even a book!
Gould leaned back in his chair as he continued, “Dad informed me that Dr. Fishbaugh was assisting a Dr. Chapman. The two men were dealing with a patient who had been transported to the Good Samaritan Hospital. She was in critical condition. Though my father had never met either man, Fishbaugh had heard from a mutual friend in the medical community about some experimental techniques my father had been using to slow down the spread of infection in seriously ill patients. Yet Fishbaugh’s information had been erroneous. In truth, Dad had not been doing research in this area at all.”
The names Fishbaugh and Chapman sounded familiar. The reporter remembered reading them in an old biography. But who had been the subject?
“After canceling all his morning appointments,” Gould continued, “Dad drove to a coffee shop about a block from Good Samaritan. In a private dining room behind the kitchen, out of view of the public, he met with the two doctors. He was given the facts of the case and allowed to study the patient’s charts. He was then asked if his research could in any way help the young woman the doctors were vainly trying to treat.”
Whoever was ill must have been important to rate this kind of care. Boyer was about to ask her identity when Gould’s words cut him off.
“My father indicated the only way he would know if he could aid the patient was by examining her personally. At first the other two men resisted. Yet when Dad shrugged his shoulders and got up to leave, they offered a deal. Chapman and Fishbaugh would sneak my dad into the hospital, but only if no one knew he had been called in on the case.
“Dad agreed to this unusual demand and an hour later walked through the hospital’s back door dressed as a janitor. Via a service elevator he was spirited to the woman’s room and allowed ten minutes alone with the semiconscious patient.”
So far the story reeked of a 1940s Hollywood movie. It had the all of the elements needed to make big box office.
“Dad told me,” Gould continued, “the woman’s entire body was swollen—her arms, legs and face seemed to be filled with fluid. A high fever was raging and her breath smelled of urine. Her pulse was weak, her blood pressure dangerously low, and her breathing shallow. It took him less than five minutes to conclude that the woman’s kidneys had failed. Worst of all, the infection had spread to the point where there was nothing that conventional medicines could do. She was also in incredible pain. He knew she had less than twenty-four hours to live. Still, even though burning up with fever, the patient found the strength to smile at my father. As you will soon find out, her smile must have touched him in a very special way.”
Gould stood up and slowly crossed the room to a window. He stared out into the garden area for a few moments, then turned and directed his gaze at his guest.
“After his examination,” he explained, “Dad met with the two other physicians in the head nurse’s office. As Chapman and Fishbaugh looked to him for some hope, my father could only shake his head. He told them, ‘Gentlemen there is no medicine or surgery available today anywhere in this world that can save this woman’s life. With all the knowledge at our disposal and all the training we have received, we are as helpless as any child in a grammar school in this matter. Someday what we are facing here will be easily addressed, but not today.’
“At that point my father turned to leave, then paused a moment. Facing his two discouraged colleagues he then presented to them a reason for hope. Hesitantly he added, ‘Doctors, my research might be able to offer something for you. In truth, the odds would be very long and I’m afraid that everyone from the medical establishment to the clergy would rail against us if we were to attempt the procedure. You see I have been working on a process and it is still in its crudest state right now, but . . . but there is a very small chance it might buy us the time we need.’
“At first the two men jumped at the chance. They were willing to try anything at this moment. Yet by the time my father finished explaining what would have to be done, both were as pale as ghosts.”
Gould stopped his story, sweat now puddling on his brow, his voice not nearly as strong as it had been a few moments before. Perhaps it was the study’s lighting, but he seemed much older than he had when he greeted Boyer at the door. He appeared much weaker too. It was as if this old story were draining the life out of his body one word at a time. He picked up the decanter and poured himself a large glass of brandy. He looked at Tell as if asking if he wanted any. Again the reporter shook his head.
As Gould sat back down and stared into space, Boyer considered what he had heard. He found the tale fascinating, but couldn’t understand why the events of seven decades before were so important to his own life and why he had to hear them tonight. After all, a good story keeps, there are no time limits on telling it. So this has to be more than just a story. There has to be a payoff that was more forgotten medical miracle.
Without warning Gould’s voice interrupted the writer’s rambling thoughts. “Chapman and Fishbaugh were desperate men. Extremely powerful people had a vital interest in their patient. But what my father had proposed must have sounded like something taken from Frankenstein. So normally the men would have waited weeks to fully consider what Dad was offering. Yet their patient was dying. Her time was now measured in hours not days. They had to act! They had to either tell Dad to take his experimental voodoo somewhere else and let the young woman die or try the only option at hand and possibly face the wrath of not only the medical community, but some of the most powerful men on earth. In an act of tremendous courage, they opted to take the risk in hopes it would save the woman’s life. Yet even after they decided to go with my father’s methods, things were still unbelievably complicated.
“There were hordes of people coming in and out of the patient’s room at Good Samaritan and the woman’s mother was practically hovering over the dying girl. Chapman, Fishbaugh, and my father had vowed that no one must know what was going to take place. It had to be kept a total secret. Yet it was quickly obvious that by working by themselves they couldn’t pull it off. So in order to purchase the time needed to spirit the woman out of the hospital and to my father’s laboratory, another man was contacted—a man who wielded more power than any person in Los Angeles at that time. He listened, evaluated the pros and cons, and agreed to help.”
Now it really did sound like a like a movie script. Boyer could almost see it on the big screen. In his mind the story was rolling on black and white film too.
“On June 7,” Gould said, his words carefully paced, “at an hour before noon, after seemingly heroic attempts by the Los Angeles Fire Department’s life revival team, Dr. Fishbaugh pronounced the patient dead. A hearse was quickly ordered and family and friends were told to plan a funeral. Only four people knew the woman was still clinging to life, and one of them—my father—was entrusted with using an untried method to bring her back from the grave.”
Gould paused, finished his glass of brandy, plucked a handkerchief from his coat pocket, and wiped his brow. Shaking his head, he closed his eyes and appeared to drift off. To Boyer it seemed like time had stopped, as if he were caught in between the ticks of a clock. The air grew heavy, the silence deafening, and the anguish of not knowing the finish to the story became shear agony for a man who liked to get the facts and get them quickly! Yet there was no choice. He had to wait. One minute became two, two became five and five became ten. All the while Tell stared at the picture of Gable and tried to figure out why he was being told this strange story.
“Mr. Boyer,” the doctor’s voice suddenly jump-started time causing Tell to literally bolt upright in his chair. “There were problems that so complicated this case my father really had little chance at success. There had to be a funeral. So now funeral officials had to be bribed. The gravely ill woman also had to appear to be dead when the family viewed her. It was a cat and mouse game as my father, now dressed as an undertaker, worked around the clock at the funeral home using all his years of medical research to keep his patient alive. Unknown South American drugs Dad had employed while in Germany induced the deathlike trance needed to fool those caught up in grief, but these primitive agents did nothing but buy some small bits of time. If the funeral had been even a day later, the woman would have died before she could have been taken her to the lab and had her needs addressed using something other than a patchwork basis.”
Gould paused, took another swig of brandy and recomposed himself. While he did, Boyer decided to jump into what had so far been a one-sided conversation.
“This is really a very interesting story,” the reporter contritely acknowledged, “but I don’t see what it has to do with me and why you had to tell me about this tonight. I mean I cut short an interview with one of the hottest stars in Hollywood just to come here. So far all I’ve heard is a story that sounds like a 1930s movie script. I don’t write about medicine, my world is entertainment. As George Raff would have asked your father, where’s the payoff?”
The host shifted his head and glared at his guest for a moment, then leaned forward, laying his arms on the desk. He was obviously frustrated.
“Mr. Boyer, I understand you’re confused. I would be too if I were in your shoes. But I had to give you the background. I just couldn’t jump to the payoff as you say. Let me see if I can tie up the loose ends for you. Maybe I can come up with a short cut. Let me ask you a quick question. Have you ever heard the term cybersleep?”
The writer nodded his head, “I’ve heard the term used in science fiction movies. If I remember correctly cybersleep is an induced hibernation—suspended animation. It is often used as a plot device when writers are faced with a space ship spending years in a journey to another planet. Rather than have their cast look out the window and do nothing, they simply put them to sleep. In the next scene they show them waking up. Using this device makes the plot move much better than having to come up with things to do while traveling from one planet to another.”
“You have a fair understanding,” Gould replied. “You know science has successfully frozen and thawed many smaller life forms. Mice for one. The process has even been used in humans in a less radical form for many years. It involves lowering the body temperature during certain risky medical procedures or putting a person into a forced coma when the body needs time to heal itself. Yet long before your scriptwriters or the medical community discovered it, my father was aware of the possibilities and potential of using extreme and very quick freezing as a life-sustaining tool. He and another doctor had been involved in this study in Germany in the late twenties and early thirties. Father continued the research when he immigrated to this country. When Chapman and Fishbaugh called him, he had already successfully placed the family cat in cybersleep at least a dozen times.”
“So what you’re telling me,” Boyer cut in, “is that dying patients, or in this case, a patient, becomes a human ice cream cone.”
Gould nodded his head. Then, in an almost scolding tone shot back, “Your attempt at humor hardly does justice to my father’s work. His mind was so far beyond the minds of those of his era. He saw things others couldn’t imagine. He foresaw antibiotics, cancer killers, mechanical organs, all of those medical miracles even before scientists began to whisper of them. He sensed that if terminal patients could be placed in suspended animation, then awakened when a cure was found for their disease, millions could be saved from needless suffering and death. Yet rather than just dream of these things, he set to work making his dreams a reality. But because these progressive ideas would have ruined his medical practice and his livelihood, he had to go about his labors in complete secrecy.”
“Secrecy you say?” Boyer cut in.
“Yes,” Gould replied, “Companies weren’t giving out huge research grants back then. So it took him years to build a chamber large enough for a human being. He had to fabricate many of the components himself. He spent more years working with animals until he could complete and fine tune that chamber. He also experimented with drugs that would work with the extreme cold to preserve the keys to restoring life. He had to make sure there would be no cellular damage. And for all that time—years mind you—the only one who helped him was my mother, a topflight biologist in her own right.
“In June of 1937, the human chamber had just been completed and was still untested. In fact it was far from ready for trials. Dad himself believed it would be at least 1939 before he could feel confident in using the chamber. Yet he overruled his own judgment and altered his timetable to try to save the dying woman.”
“If he was not ready,” Tell broke in, completely seized by the drama of the events of so long ago, “then why did he attempt it? Wasn’t this living out the Frankenstein model?”
“He broke a cardinal rule of medicine,” Gould replied. “He did what he did because the woman in question was a friend. He couldn’t bear to see her die without a fight. Long before he visited her in her room, he had come to know her as a person he liked and respected. I know he spoke to you many times of stories about his close friends in Hollywood during this time. You of all people should realize what each of those friendships meant to him.”
“Yes, I do.” Boyer replied. “If put in his place, I would’ve probably tried to do it for a friend as well. So I can understand why he did what he did. I’m not questioning that at all. But what I want to know is did the chamber and process work? And if it did, miracle that it was, why didn’t I hear about it? It should have been all over the newspapers of the time and still written about today. He should have earned a Nobel Prize!”
Gould took a deep breath, slowly pulling himself out of the desk chair, then walked over to a far window. Not bothering to face his guest, he picked up his tale, but now spoke in such low tones the writer had to move quickly across the room just to hear his words. As he spoke, Boyer watched the man’s reflection in a large window looking over the gardens.
“Imagine being faced with the task of preserving a human life in the circus that Dad had been thrust into. Working in secret, working around a funeral, trusting no one and trying a procedure even he didn’t have complete faith in. Imagine knowing that before he had successfully experimented on the family cat, he had failed time and time again with mice, birds, dogs and rabbits. Some had never come out of the cybersleep. Others had come back to life, but they had profound brain and muscle damage. Only the cat had come back unscarred. And Dad hadn’t figured out why this one animal had survived the process. There were so many questions and no time for answers. He just charged ahead on faith and threw logic to the wind.
“For a solid week, working literally around the clock, my parents kept the woman just barely alive. Then they slowly placed her into a state of suspended animation. At the time my father felt a drug to combat the infection that had riddled the woman’s body would be discovered within a matter of months—at most a year. Yet the discovery didn’t come, not in that year or the next or the one that followed. As time passed, his other confederates urged him to pull the plug on the experiment, to finally allow the woman to actually die.”
Turning toward Boyer, Gould, his face now drawn in pain, shook his head and folded his fingers into a fist.
“He probably should have,” he sighed, “yet he held onto his dream. Even after my mother was tragically killed in a car wreck, he held on. For fifteen years he waited, always hopeful, always searching. Finally, just at a point he was going to admit defeat, antibiotics were developed. Now there was a real chance. Pulling the woman out of her deep slumber, but keeping her in a drug-induced light coma, he tried the new regimen of disease fighters. They worked to a point, but he quickly discovered her kidneys were too badly damaged to rid her body of her system’s poisons. Rather than let her die, he again placed her in suspended animation.
“My father surely sensed that the woman in the chamber was destined to outlive him. I think this is the reason he pushed me to become a doctor. Then as medical science continued to develop new methods of fighting ancient problems, he shoved me into transplant research and then into stem cell development and finally cloning. I didn’t know why these medical elements were so important to him at the time. Yet when Dad suffered a small stroke in 1991, he showed me the hidden rooms beyond his study and introduced me to the woman in the chamber.
“At first I was horrified. I thought it was sick. Here was a man I had lionized who suddenly seemed like a mad scientist. It took me almost a year to accept what I had seen and talk to Dad about it. It would be another year before father’s dream of restoring this woman’s life gripped me as well.”
There now seemed to be a glint of life illuminating the man’s face. His eyes sparkled and the veins in his neck throbbed. The payoff was coming and Boyer could scarcely wait.
“So, now caught up by a desire to play God,” Gould explained, “I had a thirst for the mission. It became my life too. I devoted so much time to that end my marriage broke up. I’m sure my practice would have suffered as well, if I had not needed the money I made from my work to foot the bills for the project. I prepared the lab for a transplant and spent every spare hour searching for a “private” kidney donor. As DNA testing became more common and advanced, I determined I wasn’t going to take a chance on just a good match; I wanted one as perfect as possible. So I tracked down all of the woman’s living relatives and managed to get DNA samples from each without their knowledge. But I couldn’t find a match. So using the woman’s own cells and my knowledge of cloning, I produced kidney after kidney. It took me years to get to right.”
Gould’s words now spewed forth in a machine gun fashion, his face aglow, his moving hands accentuating every thought and phrase. “Two days ago, I suddenly found myself with not one, but two fully-mature kidneys. They were not just any organs either; they were the woman’s own kidneys. There would be no fear of rejection, no drugs. They were perfect.”
Gould’s voice drifted off as he slowly crossed the room to a small leather sofa. As if all his energy had suddenly been drained from him, he literally fell onto the cushions, took a deep breath, and buried his head in his hands.
A cool sweat popped up on the back of Tell’s neck as he walked over and sat beside the doctor. The reporter wanted to demand his host finish his story, but he also knew the man needed a chance to pull himself together. So for almost thirty minutes Gould and Boyer sat quietly, alone with thoughts of something that seemed unimaginable. When Gould finally raised his head it was well past midnight. He slowly rose from his seat and opened a small refrigerator that had been built into the cabinets lining the wall behind the desk. Pulling out a bottle of Ozarka spring water, he looked at the writer as he waved the plastic bottle. This time Tell accepted.
After both had taken a much-needed drink, the doctor sat on the corner of the desk and continued.
“The transplant was a success. From what I can tell, there has been no damage to her motor functions during all these years. In a few hours she will become conscious and then we can tell if the brain function has survived as well. If it has, what a world she is going to see. Consider the changes! I wonder what she will think?”
Again there was absolute silence as both individuals pondered the differences in the woman’s world and the one where they lived today. It was Tell who finally breathed, “It’s incredible. It is a modern miracle that will make the greatest story I will ever write. It will be in headlines all over the world. You and your late father will probably get a Nobel Prize.”
Waving his hand, Gould fiercely cried out, “No! No one must know. Not now anyway. Writing the story is not why I called you.”
Confused, Tell firmly met the reply head on. “If you didn’t call me over here to write about this amazing medical miracle, then why I am here and why did you tell me the story? How can I not write about it? This is the accomplishment of a lifetime for you and your father and the chance of a lifetime for me. We could change the world!”
“Mr. Boyer,” a completely fatigued Gould explained, “my father didn’t want you to write anything about this and I don’t want any glory for this either. Even now I don’t even fully understand how the process works. My father took much of that knowledge to the grave with him. What Dad wanted was for you to take care of the woman. If she is mentally sound, he wanted you to help her find her new identity and rebuild her life. When she is ready to leave here, he wanted me to give her to you. You are to help her adjust to a world that has changed a great deal since 1937. So I thought you needed to be here and know her story before I wake her up.”
Boyer was totally aghast. He couldn’t believe that Dr. Jonus Gould would have the gall to pick him as the nursemaid to a woman who for all practical purposes stopped living more than four decades before he was born. A dozen or so interviews on old Hollywood stars were hardly worth the price of being stuck with something like this. Just who did the doctor think he was?
“I’m a writer,” the scribe hissed through gritted teeth. Then, his jaw still solidly set, he spat, “I don’t know anything about caring for any kind of patient. I couldn’t nurse a child through a common cold much less deal with someone who has been exposed to the ultimate Rip Van Winkle experience. You don’t need me; you need a team of psychologists.”
Gould slowly walked over to Boyer, genuine compassion reflected in his eyes. Placing his hand on the man’s shoulder, he nodded and whispered, “My father didn’t think you were the doctor for the job; he believed you to be the man for the job.”
He stepped away, strolled back to his desk, sat down, then added, “My father said you knew more about Jean Harlow than anyone on earth.”
Boyer was numb, almost weak-kneed. He somehow made it a chair and collapsed into it. Grabbing his half-empty bottle of water, in one swig he gulped down what was left.
This has to a dream, he thought. Harlow was the one star Gould never mentioned. He never spoke of even meeting her. Whenever questioned about her, he always changed the subject.
If Boyer was living a nightmare, it was also apparent he wasn’t going to wake up. The study with all its books and pictures still surrounded him. The chill of the mansions’ air conditioning system still blew on his neck. The younger Gould still stood a few feet to his left, the doctor’s eyes focused on something unknown in a far window.
Glancing back at his host, a plainly shaken Boyer proclaimed, “It can’t be . . . .” His words tailed off like a spring breeze.
The doctor simply shook his head. “It is.”
“This has to be a joke,” the reporter whispered. “A really bad joke.” Still even if the story was fact, not fiction, it was too inconceivable for Tell to fully fathom.
After finally coming to terms that as impossible as it seemed, Harlow might be alive, Boyer began to wonder how he had failed to pick up on the fact the patient had been the actress. He should have known. He had written a dozen stories about the tragic life and death of Hollywood’s original platinum blonde. He had interviewed everyone he could find who had known her, worked with her or just met her in passing. Now, except for a few like Mickey Rooney, Harlow’s acquaintances had passed away. The sex symbol, who he and everyone else had thought died at the young age of twenty-six, had not died at all. The star outlived everyone who had covered the story or been at the hospital that day!
Slowly pushing himself off the chair, Boyer walked unsteadily to the doctor’s side.
“I should have realized the woman was Harlow,” he admitted. “I’d known for years that Fishbaugh and Chapman had been the doctors in charge. I know the date she died as well as I know my own birthday. But as you spoke about your father’s special patient, I just wiped away all connections with Harlow herself. I hadn’t put the obvious facts together. I ignored the common denominators.”
“I was surprised you didn’t guess who it was before I dropped the bombshell,” Gould matter of factly replied. “It should have been obvious to a man armed with your knowledge.”
Nodding, the still overwhelmed writer sighed, “What is more surprising is how your father thought I could be the one person in all the world to help Jean Harlow adjust to the twenty-first century. I can’t begin to grasp how she will fit in. I mean more history has happened since her death . . . rather during her sleep, than had transpired in the thousands of years before she was born. A second world war, men on the moon, television, the Internet, the advances in science, transportation and education, the world she is about to awaken into is nothing like the one she has known.”
“This was the flaw my father hadn’t foreseen,” Gould dolefully admitted. “He thought it would only take months before he could bring her back. Even if it had been a few years, the catching up would have been pretty easily accomplished. Her friends and family, as well as the millions of fans who loved her, would have been there. But I don’t know how you can bring someone up to speed who has missed more than seven decades of life. I don’t know if it can be done.”
Boyer was more than confused; he was scared. How indeed? Again it was the doctor’s words that halted the myriad thoughts racing through the reporter’s brain.
“Mr. Boyer. This might be easier if I took you to the lab. I think you need to see Jean Harlow before we awaken her.”
Believing the story had been one thing, and it was something that Tell had almost accepted as fact, but he didn’t think he was ready to go the next step and see the living proof with his own eyes.
“I don’t know,” Boyer replied, his voiced noticeably quivering.
“I would love to put this off,” the doctor answered, “but we can’t. We don’t have that luxury. She has to be awakened. Her body is ready to rejoin the living. Every moment I delay makes the odds that much greater against the successful completion of my father’s dream. Believe me, when it comes to a matter of my own fears, I’m not ready either. But . . . .”
His voice tailed off as he resolutely walked back and unlocked the study door. The moment of reckoning was at hand.
Though his every instinct cried out for him to race through the door, exit the house, and drive away, Tell Boyer numbly followed Dr. John Gould. They walked down a long hallway to a staircase that led to a lower level. From there they wound their way through two more hallways before entering a large laboratory. The room, filled with beakers and chemicals, looked just like the labs Tell had seen in the movies. Yet the normally detail-oriented reporter failed to record any of it in his brain. For him the windowless cubicle were shrouded in a deep fog.
As the writer limply waited by the door, Gould crossed the room to a long row of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. From about halfway between the floor and the ceiling, he pulled a large book from the third shelf on the right. He then moved to the other side and took another book, this one from the bottom shelf next to the wall. When the second book cleared its resting place, a piece of paneling in the middle of the wall to the men’s right sprang open. Gould replaced the two books, then crossed to the wall. He glanced back at his guest before pulling the hidden door open enough to step through.
For a few painful moments, Boyer waited. He was at that instant both horrified and curious, wanting to know what was on the other side of the wall and scared to actually face it. Finally, taking a deep breath, his skin crawling up and down his back, he stepped through the opening and strolled into what seemed to be an episode of the Twilight Zone.
“Close the door, if you will,” Gould asked the reporter after he entered what appeared to a small hospital ward. Pulling it to, the almost panic-stricken scribe stole past a desk filled with computers and monitors and over to a large plate glass window. Before he could spy what was on the other side, a woman’s voice, coming from behind him, scared him to death!
Quickly turning, a traumatized Tell found himself face to face with a blue-eyed brunette dressed casually in jeans, a red turtleneck and a lab coat. She held an iPad in her left hand and a stethoscope was draped around her neck. As Boyer stared blankly at yet another unexpected surprise, Gould crossed in front of him and stood beside the Barbara Hale look-alike.
“Mr. Boyer, I forgot to warn you,” though his words seemed apologetic, the doctor’s tone failed to indicate any real remorse. “This is Jeannette Feller. She is the only other person who knows what we know. She is also a doctor and has provided the care and observation for the patient when I was away.”
“I have read your features in America This Week for many years,” Dr. Feller announced. “I also followed you when you wrote political stuff. I wanted to meet you even before Dr. Gould’s father informed me of his plans to make you Miss Harlow’s guardian.”
Still a bit too stunned to respond, Tell nodded his head and continued to stare directly into the woman’s beautiful face. In another time and another place, he might have been tempted to wow her with his considerable charms. Yet now none of his male hormones kicked in. Boyer continued to stare in her face, not because of her beauty, but only because his mind was too deadened to function in normal parameters. If called upon to do so, Dr. Feller would have probably diagnosed his condition as shock.
“Jeannette,” Gould explained, “impressed my father when she was a college student and he was doing some lecturing at UCLA. He paid for her medical education with the condition she help us with a rather unusual case. She was brought up to speed on the matter about five years ago and has been involved in every facet of making this moment possible. Obviously, I couldn’t have accomplished this all by myself.”
Tell nodded in a robotic fashion, slowly refocusing his attention from one doctor to the other and turned his attention back to the window. Hesitantly he forced himself to step toward the glass. That first step was followed by a second and a third and a fourth. Though it was obviously his objective, never once did Tell look into the glass as he resolutely covered the short distance. When he finally stood with his toes just inches from the wall, he took a deep breath and brought his eyes to viewing level. Surprisingly this was not some ghoulish scene from a gothic novel, in front of him was a small sterile cubicle with a bed and all the equipment usually found in a state-of-the-art Intensive Care Unit. The only thing indicating this was any different from a room in any other hospital was a large, steel chamber pushed against a far wall. The grayish chamber had been opened and was empty. No one had to tell the writer what the casket style receptacle had held.
Shifting his vision from the chamber to the bed, he spotted a small figure, a woman, her honey blonde hair freshly washed and combed. Her face was pale, the only color the natural blush of her cheeks. She appeared innocent, almost angelic, somewhat childlike. As Boyer studied the woman more closely, her true identity became more evident. The round face, the small chin with that distinctive crease, the almost perfect porcelain skin and the deep set eyes, left no doubt that he was indeed looking at Jean Harlow.
“My father always said,” Gould said, “that Jean Harlow was more beautiful in person than she ever appeared on screen or in pictures. He told me that her skin glowed and the life in her eyes was unlike any other woman he ever met. As you can see, Mr. Boyer, her skin does glow, but I haven’t seen the life in her eyes yet. No one has since 1937.”
Studying the sleeping woman as if she were a priceless piece of art, the scribe was immediately mesmerized by the vision in the window. Yet no piece of art had ever breathed. No piece of art had ever had a chance to come to life either. The sight that filled his eyes and all but paralyzed his mind and body was a part of history, but if what Gould had told him was true, this woman was soon to bring a part of history to the now. The reporter wondered if the most miraculous moment in medical science might very well also be the most horrifying moment in human history.
“Are you ready?” Gould asked.
At first Boyer didn’t realize the doctor had been directing the comment his way. Yet after a few more moments of awestruck silence, the reporter mumbled, “Ready for what?”
Gould put his hand on his guest’s shoulder and breathed, “To wake her up?”
Tell Boyer was not ready, but as scared as he was, he no longer wanted to run. His fear had been conquered by the desire to see the life in her eyes. To really know the woman he had written about for years. To meet Jean Harlow face to face.