Make Trouble, Watch Things Happen
It was 2AM. Kochanski was already awake and hungover when his phone rang from halfway around the world. Chicago Caller IDs painfully flashed: Trisha Talwar, his lawyer, and Ben Dodd, the detective.
Allergic to the police — corrupt brute power in his experience — he said hello in his humblest voice and thickest accent.
“Mr. Kochanski, great news!” exclaimed Dodd, “We located your painting.”
“Didn’t know it was missing,” Kochanski lied, slurring his voice, pretending to still be drunk. It would fit their profile of him. Or should he let the police think he was another eccentric rich man who lost his artwork, “shocked, shocked, that such things could happen.”
“I’ve been traveling the last few months for work,” he explained. “Oh my God — really — I said to Trisha when she told me.”
“We’re investigating the thief,” said Dodd in an official voice. “Do you know Oscar Sanchez?”
Talwar chimed in, “The news about Sanchez’s death has been upsetting to —”
“It’s a murder, Talwar,” Dodd cut her off.
“To answer your question,Oscar lived and worked in my building as a security guard,” Kochanski said, “the Pierre Building on the Gold Coast. I didn’t know that his ID papers were faked till Trisha told me.
“Where was my painting recovered…and how?” he then asked, fumbling his words.
“We’ll talk more when you return to Chicago soon.”
After Dodd hung up, he joked to Talwar, “Trisha, you’ll be needing to earn your retainer.”
She asked him some questions.
“No, I didn’t pay his taxes,” he said, “because he wasn’t my employee. He had his own security company.”
After she hung up, he turned on the lights. After tapping his finger on the scanner, he entered his walk-in closet. Neatly ironed clothes hung on each side with a rack of gleaming shoes. The back wall housed a refrigerator.
He drank from a jug of orange juice. After popping Tylenol, he peeled slices of roast beef to eat. Nervously stuffing his mouth, he next munched leftover Chicago pizza, thick cold crust, loaded with congealed cheese and smoked herring (even he didn’t dare bring into Saburia a favorite topping, pepperoni — pork was forbidden). Having sunk to the carpeted floor, he took the lid off the box next to him.
Garcia’s Drukker cases were inside. On the top lay the purple case. The tamper-proof electronic seal had an abstract imprint — only someone in-the-know would see the Pharaoh image. He curiously shook it against his ear. Thicker and heavier than the others, there was no sound.
Still fully dressed, Kochanski returned to bed. Two hours later, he woke up and changed out of his suit into the light pajamas that had been laid out for him. He stepped back out onto the terrace with its cold starlight and salty sea breezes, listening alone to the eternal beat of waves.
At the wink of dawn, he changed into workout clothes and went for a slow, panting jog around lighted paths on the compound. The guards and dogs were silent witnesses. The sunrise over the Red Sea flamed the sky and burned through the clouds, rapidly heating the cold air.
By the time it was a convection oven outside, he was indoors cold showering. The new morning attendant brought coffee and breakfast. Lathering butter onto slices of a sweet roll — against his dietician’s instructions — Kochanski watched BBC News.
At 8 AM, there were sharp knocks on his office door. He leaped to open it.
“Elise, good morning! I hope you slept well and enjoyed your breakfast.”
He elbow-bumped Campbell behind her. When Kochanski dismissed their guide in English, she was slow to leave. Nodding at the door after she left, Kochanski sighed. “That woman’s a minder. You two will usually find one nearby, until you convince them that you don’t wear horns.”
Sheraton said. “David, please do the technical part of your presentation. I have to travel again today to pick up Mary. At least it’s just the local airstrip. The sensible thing to do would be to helicopter her into our base from Ramses.”
“Michael,” Campbell suggested, “we should talk to the Saburians about changing their security protocols.”
“Another thing,” Sheraton said. “Where’s Dr. Bhattacharya? He’s the one who persuaded me to come here —”
“We just call him Dr. B, or AJ,” Kochanski interrupted. “Because — “
Elise raised a finger to stop him. “AJ and I go back a long way. He said he needed my help because Mary’s immune infusions are 24/7. We’ll alternate shifts.”
She met confused silence.
“When large amounts of tumor are destroyed,” she continued, “the by-products are toxic to the human body. Whole organs can shut down. AJ told me he has ICU life support and hemodialysis equipment.”
“Patients sometimes have to get sicker to get well,” Kochanski.
“Your turn,” Elise told Campbell, “tell us about what the Drukker can do?”
No makeup, owlish eyes behind stylish glasses, she was a different person today, a bit more like Shelly, he thought. When he had finished, she had questions.
“Once upon a time,” she told Campbell, “remember I also earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry so I really appreciate that you explain in-depth.”
She went on to remind Campbell of her other credentials, signalling her authority in the scientific world with her degrees, titles and publications.
By 9:30 AM, Campbell and Sheraton were ready to go to the Drukker area. Kochanski called for the minder to return.
They got up. “David,” she said, “I used to screen scientific proposals in industry. Michael is curious about technology and medicine and I’ll have to go back and explain things to him.”
Kochanski waved goodbye. “Agree. Thank you Elise.”
The uniformed Saburian led the two down a long corridor with industrial lighting.
“Elise,” Campbell said, “I may not know much about Michael back in Poland, but it sounds like he hit the streets young.”
“Don’t know either,” Elise agreed, “There’s booksmart and then there are people like Michael. It’s my first time meeting him in person. But online, I’ve been tutoring him in Gyani’s genetics master class for lay people.”
In the Drukker room, they chatted with technicians who were setting up the machines, a cheerful group speaking a babble of languages, still taking turns at a late breakfast.
The aroma of spices filled a side-room where a chalkboard sign said “Naashta: Breakfast,” next to a hot kettle of chai. Indian dishes steamed in hotplates with descriptions on index cards, with English, Chinese and Saburian translations. A steel tray with colorful dollops of chopped red pepper, green coriander and golden brown tamarind chutneys, yellow mango pickle and a peppered white yogurt condiment lay next to the sink. The Indians chatted in Hinglish about a Bollywood movie they were going to air tonight in the movie room.
Next, the minder led them to the entry area, with its central fountain, stone floor and instead of Captain, an elegant Saburian woman, head tightly wrapped in black, chatted with the Egyptian from the plane with her looser draped style of white scarf. Campbell smiled at them and they broke their conversation to nod at him.
Down a hall, the minder touched her finger to the scanner outside Room 728. The door quietly slid open to a room that was large and freshly painted. He heard Elise’s intake of breath.
Intricately carved and painted crown molding and baseboards, a delicately patterned Persian rug on the hardwood floor, they faced a giant Chinese drawing, mountains sketched with black ink, thick splashes and delicate lines above a calm expanse of blank ocean. Saburian botanical prints decorated the walls around the king-sized bed. Fresh flowers in porcelain vases gave a lie to the vast desert outside. An antique bell from colonial days hung over the bed.
The minder looked wistful. “Our king changed this room. His father loved to hunt, and the decorator had picked stools that were real elephant feet and traditional ivory sculptures. The rug was the skin of a big dead lion, full head and claws.
“But … this appeals more to international guests.”
She pressed a button. Heavy gold and purple tapestry drapes parted, letting in the fierce sun over the blue stripe of the Red Sea. Smoothly, bamboo blinds dropped and then lace gauze curtains drew over them. Now fine patterns of light played cooly over the floor.
“Sumptuous!” Elise said. “And that old bell out of a Sherlock Holmes story. The king can’t mind that bit of Saburian colonial history too much if he only removed the endangered animal things.”
Campbell stifled his groan. The Saburian’s eyes met Elise’s before she went on. “We call this room The Silk Road, not just for Western patients.”
She pushed a small knob on the wall, and a panel slid open. “Dr. Sheraton, here’s the dispensary. Syringes, needles, drugs, refrigerated medicines, blood pressure cuffs, thermometers and more.”
Another knob and another panel slid open. “A crash cart and a defibrillator,” she said, “so for this room, our staff is advanced life support trained. We haven’t needed to use that yet.”
“Oh my,” Campbell said.
“What’s wrong?” Sheraton asked.
“Terminal cancer patients can be desperate,” he said. “One doesn’t want to take financial advantage of that. Even if the treatments work, they are only available to a privileged few who can afford this.”
How could he even begin to explain more, how he and Garcia had been rebels? They had laughed over FDA and NIH appointees and decisions, shared their disillusionment with publicly funded Western research and its chieftains: crooks and cronies with bottomless support, from taxpayers to mercenary pharmaceutical, hospital and insurance corporations.
This did not feel like a victory over that system.
“I guess so, David,” Sheraton said briefly.
Then she sharply reminded the Saburian, “We have an appointment with Dr. Bhattacharya in less than ten minutes.”
“Yes. That will involve a little walk outside.”
Campbell whispered to her, “You know Elise, that sounded harsh.”
“Just between you and me, David,” she replied softly. “I’m not difficult, just proud of our particular American tribe and that we run on time. You and I can make each other look bad or good. You could say I’m reveling in the glory of my tribe of people, yes, which you’re now making difficult. I’d do the same thing if I were a Zulu, or a Hutu, or a Tutsi or a Kenyan Masai warrior. Then I’d be rocking their jewelry and paint and traditional costumes — very cool!”
“That’s one way to look at it,” he said.
She had said that she had never traveled outside the medical world of the United States or Western Europe before. In Saburia, was she becoming an insecure minority whose feelings of vulnerability translated into hostility?
They stepped out of the air-conditioned building, and immediately the heat suffocated him. Missing his sunglasses, he squinted in the bright sunlight and realized that the last time he had been in Saburia was in the middle of winter, when it was not this hot or so sunny in the daytime.
Sweating profusely with the air swimming around him, he followed Elise down a gravel path. Elise opened her purse and found some sunscreen which she applied liberally over her face and arms.
He put a tiny pink bit on his face, breathing in flowery fragrance.
“An unmanly confection,” he commented.
“You’ve to do more than that.” Elise said after he returned her tube.
Then she pulled a roll-up hat out of the same purse, unfolded it like origami and stuck it on her head. Its flaps fell over her ears and one dropped over the back of her neck. Finally, out of her Mary Poppins infinite handbag, she donned gargantuan sunglasses and was now almost as covered as the local women.
A small white building with a red cross sign materialized in the haze ahead. Campbell followed Elise in, gulping in the cold air gratefully. Refilling water many times into a smudged tiny glass from a tray next to the reservoir, he looked around the crowded room filled with local families.
Discreetly, they shot looks at him, sweaty and pink, paying no attention to Elise, another anonymous Westerner draped in pristine white with a tan hat and black sunglasses. She stepped into the next room after the minder and he followed.
“David, you have to be prepared for the weather here, if they kill me for being the wrong tribe, I’ll go with dignity — not like you.” She was refolding her sunglasses and hat.
“You can stop insulting me, I didn’t know we were going outside.”
“I think you’re the one who’s condescending,” she whispered. “Why not be proud of who you are and of your heritage. Respecting ourselves doesn’t mean belittling anyone else. They say our American history is terrible and imperialistic. But every human society has its brutal past and present, just as bad as ours or even worse.
“You know that the only difference between them and us is how much power one had to perpetrate evil. That’s why everyone wants nukes and the latest tech.”
Working with Elise meant getting along, not debating politics. Sheraton and the minder sat down on a couch in the anteroom with the minder. He took a chair with a wooden carved table between them
A short Indian waiter served tinned biscuits and sweet chai in petite steel tumblers. Another tray held tiny glasses of water with ice and lemon, a box of chocolates and assorted nuts and little mugs of instant coffee, besides bowls of water for washing hands and white cloth napkins.
Their server was eager to hear stories about the country they came from.
“Texas, I always thought that was a country,” he said, “It’s not? Maine. Never heard of it. It’s one of the States, you say?”
Soon Elise and the Lilliputian man were engaged in an animated discussion about American politics.
“I thought our appointment was twenty minutes ago,” Campbell grumbled.
“This is a doctor’s office.” Elise looked annoyed.
But the man stiffened, smiled, nodded and promptly left. Soon, a tall, golden-tanned man entered the anteroom.
“AJ,” Sheraton said joyfully and stood up.
Dr. Arjun Bhattacharya was dressed in a suit, crisp shirt and purple and gold tie. Smiling broadly, he profusely apologized for their “waiting” and dismissed their minder.
“My man enjoyed getting to know both of you,” Dr. B. said. “He loses track of time, time’s relative, the East knew that before the West. Dr. David Campbell, so nice to finally meet you.”
Sheraton and Dr. B. kissed on both cheeks.
“I don’t worry about catching any germs from you, Elise,” Dr. B. said. “Cold adult beverages anyone?”
Sheraton shook her head. “I have to return to the airport soon and get our patient. You forgot that?”
“I’m still nauseous from the heat,” Campbell said. “Just more water please.”
The assistant returned with colorful bottles of juices on ice and a carafe of water which Campbell promptly emptied. He then picked up a date sized dry chocolate chip cookie from a tin with an Impressionist flower print on the lid. Filled with at least a baker’s dozen more on paper doilies, this tin would barely hold three of Lucky’s warm, melting chocolate-chip cookies.
While Elise and AJ talked animatedly about incomprehensible treatment protocols, acronyms and numbers, his mind drifted to Dr. Malone, her clean skin that smelled like soap, somewhere, somehow, with him on a bright blue day at a barbeque with beef brisket and cornbread, drinking cold beers as the evening sun set.
“Pay attention, David,” Elise chided him.
“I have sunstroke? I can’t focus.”
“Here drink this,” Dr. B. said.
He finished a glass of something apple-y, icy and sweet-salty.
Pandolf was mentioned. “Yes, Pandolf tried to recruit me,” the Indian doctor said.
“You didn’t want to stay there, AJ?” He was now feeling better.
“I had grander ambitions.”
“AJ didn’t need to stay at Pandolf,” Sheraton said stiffly. “ There are other academic centers where they actually value diversity. Instead he came here, to the cutting edge.”
“Pays well too.” Dr. B. brooded into his glass as he swirled it around. “Yes, I would have toiled in the Pandolf mines and then hit the race ceiling.”
“Sorry,” Campbell said. “Can I ask who’s taking care of all those people in the waiting area?”
“Our highly-trained nurses,” Dr. B answered. “Until I came, they ran all the healthcare on this base. But we’re gearing up to be a fully operational world-class medical center, a galactic flagship for Soria. I’m a big Star Wars guy.
“David, before you go today, I do want you to meet little Ali. He’s ten years old, naughty like we were at his age. One night, he got through our gate. The watch dogs mauled him before the guards could get them away. But Michael has taken the kid under his wing — as well as his widowed mother and all six siblings.”
Sheraton laughed. “That’s a lot of brothers and sisters. But first take us for a quick tour. We can talk shop more — MD to MD — tomorrow.”
“And I need to return to the Drukker,” Campbell said, “doing — here he recited technical terms and acronyms they didn’t know — I didn’t get much time to go-live with the “Mary” Drukker plate.”
Drukker’s AI search-and-kill algorithms created updated cancer vaccines as a patient’s tumor evolved, changing and hiding, and even recommended updated chemotherapy and radiation approaches. Would it work on Mary’s newly metastatic disease?
After touring the mini-hospital, they met Ali, a boy with one eye covered and scarring on his face and neck. He pressed against his mother. After some coaxing from Dr. B. in Saburian, he shyly said something.
“Ali says you’re very tall,” Dr. B. said to Campbell, “more than me, the biggest man he’s ever seen, Gulliver.”
They went next to Dr. B.’s office, a spacious room with a brag wall of awards and diplomas. Two large windows overlooked an irrigated garden.
“Mary’s schedule today,” Sheraton said, “is her favorite French dinner followed by a good night’s rest. No one asked me because honestly, I doubt she’ll feel like eating much after her long trip.”
“She gets one day to rest,” Dr. B. said, “and then we will harvest more samples of her cancer. Soria sent a radiology technician to help me. A local anesthetic should work nicely for the deeper biopsies. They’ll wait in the freezer for Manny. He should be here in two weeks.”
“That’s a change in plan!” Sheraton looked stunned.
“Oh yes, Elise, we can still do Mary’s first treatment as planned,” Dr. B. continued. “But now that Manny’s coming here to Saburia, why not? We can process the biopsies and update Mary’s vaccine.”
She looked skeptical.
“OK, a second treatment may be too ambitious,” Dr. B. said. “Elise, the sedation cocktail for Mary, let’s discuss that first thing tomorrow. David, that’s for the treatment’s side-effects.”
“Pressure’s on, David!” Sheraton said happily, “time to get that serum ready.”
“Pedal to the metal ma’am,” he said cheerily, “an army of millions: T-for-Terminator cells coming your way.”
“Lunch first,” said Dr. B.
Over Western-style egg sandwiches with tall glasses of iced soda, their conversation took a personal turn.
“Elise knows I was in a relationship at Pandolf,” Dr. B. said. “When she left me, I was a wreck.Then she called the police to say I was ‘stalking’ her.”
“Uggh!” Sheraton said. “I don’t get some women.”
She got up and put her arm around him. “Someday soon, but not today AJ, because you and I have more work to do, we need to talk over drinks, have our Happy Hour somewhere in the world.”
He slumped. “It gets lonely here. I have a bottle of Loire on hand for you so we can really dish about my personal life.”
“Oh my gosh,” she said, “so you were the one who told Michael I like that wine. You know that the Loire was the region in France where kings kept their mistresses, women with lots of patience for cranky, old autocrats.”
Dr. B. was gazing out the window, his attention elsewhere, “Elise, after all that, Lauren and I are talking again. I sent her a bouquet for her birthday last month, her favorites: stargazer lilies, red roses and baby’s breath. I need to ask you about the email she just sent me.”
She suddenly looked alarmed. “Oh no, AJ, we’ll talk more later. It’s time to get Mary. Please call that minder.”
“I better go too,” said Campbell, gulping down the remains of his sandwich.
End of May, 2025
About two weeks later in a Chicago studio apartment, Jim Sichet met with Ben Dodd. On a corner easel stood the Vermeer painting.
Sichet poured whiskey in tumblers. The detective opened his briefcase and pulled out large photos. “I don’t have these on my laptop. Don’t trust our department security.”
Putting on reading glasses, Sichet examined photos of a corpse. “Wow!”
“His name is Oscar Sanchez,” Dodd said, “not legally here so we aren’t wasting time on this. I guess we’ll never know who killed him.”
Sichet sipped his drink and opened a cigar box. “Sad.”
Both men smoked quietly. In the mournful haze, they discussed local news.
Then Dodd’s phone buzzed. “It’s one of the men to pick up the painting. Say, why borrow it for one day?”
“To impress a woman.”
“Just a little fun,” Sichet said. “But she’s more impressed with me now. No worries. There’s no Chicago-size scandal here.”
“Well, really appreciate your help with recovering this painting, Jim,” Dodd said. “It may get me that promotion I’ve been wanting. I owe you a favor. But why was the painting delivered to your house?”
Sichet shrugged. “But I’ll tell you one thing,” he said, “I don’t think that Michael Kochanski appreciates my help. Did you know that Kochanski has a chapel in the Pierre Building? Crazy! What a waste of prime rental space? We’ll talk again when I decide what to do with this Polish bishop on my chessboard.”
Both men laughed. Faint strains of music from the nearby jazz bar announced the festive beginnings to the local nightlife. After an unmarked police car arrived to pick up the art, Sichet offered to call Dodd a ride home.
“I’ll take the subway,” Dodd said. “Unlike your Frances, my wife’s not so understanding. She’ll want to know why I was out late.”
He sighed. “I tell her it’s work. Then she doesn’t ask more questions. For my family’s own safety, they shouldn’t know much about my job.”
“Well,” Sichet explained, “Frances is ‘compliant’ only because divorce would be expensive for her.
“Prenups are the best marriage security, Ben,” Sichet advised the younger man. “Mistresses are more practical than divorce — if one chooses carefully — avoids the troublemakers.
“Frances’ parents split when she was a kid so the poor thing’s been down the broken-family road already. I don’t think she wants that for our kids. At least I’m a good father. She also enjoys being Mrs. Sichet, maybe becoming a political wife someday.
“Ben, here’s something for you,” Sichet added, “for your young daughter and her friends, four tickets to the Shebubu concert, seats right up front with no ID scanning to get in either.”
With the streetlights shadowing his face, Dodd put the envelope in his pocket.
“Thank you,” he said. Without the identification requirement, the paper tickets could not be traced back to the person who used them.
After Dodd left, Sichet puttered around his art studio, tidying up brushes, tubes of paint and oil crayons, analyzing all the compartments in his own life. Callie fitted into one comfortably.
Breaking the law, not for the first or last time. bending the rules was a win-win for both Dodd and him. At StarHall, the boarding school where he had spent most of his youth, he learned to excel at these games.
With money and power, rules were just lines. Smart people knew the power grid and which wires were live and which could be snipped, rewired or ignored. The fuse boxes were in the palaces of the powerful.
Boundaries were artificial, between those who enforced the law like Dodd, those who practiced it like him — and those who transgressed live lines like poor dead Sanchez.
He was a leader —enemies called him a bully — that people feared, loved or both. By sending their children to his old boarding school, even Frances understood.
He logged into his online class in computer graphic art. How much did Dodd know about him? If the detective checked police files, it would be a clean record even as far back as StarHall. The school’s documents regarding his leave of absence were confidential.
Would it catch Dodd’s notice that there had been a strangulation death at the school when he had attended? A pretty young teacher, a brutal assault…the handyman received a life sentence and then died; the dead famously stopped talking. The Tiber River in Rome had seen many murdered bodies, that teacher had once told her class. As many as the Chicago River?