Make Trouble, Watch Things Happen
The phone rang from halfway around the world. It was 2AM. Kochanski was already awake and hungover. Chicago Caller IDs painfully flashed: Trisha, his lawyer and 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 be drunk. It would fit their profile of him.
“I’ve been traveling the last few months for work,” Kochanski explained. “Oh my God — really — I said to Trisha when she told me.”
Or should he let the police think he was another eccentric rich man who lost his artwork, “shocked, shocked, that such things could happen.”
“We’re investigating the thief,” Dodd said in an official voice. “Do you know Oscar Sanchez?”
Trisha chimed in, “The news about Sanchez’s death has been upsetting to —”
“It’s a murder, Talwar,” Dodd cut her off.
“Oscar lived and worked in my building as a security guard,” Kochanski replied, “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?” Kochanski fumbled the words.
“We’ll talk more when you return to Chicago soon.”
Trisha would need to earn her retainer. He hung up and turned on the lights. After tapping his finger on the scanner for the door, he entered his walk-in closet. Neatly ironed clothes hung on each side with racks of gleaming shoes.
From the refrigerator, he opened a jug of orange juice to drink. After popping Tylenol, he peeled slices of cold roast beef. Nervously stuffing food into 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. With Elise’s online tutoring, Kochanski vaguely understood that Garcia had programmed genetic modification into the Drukker’s tissue-processing hardware. 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 6AM, 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 to rapidly heat the cold air.
By the time it was a convection oven outside, he was indoors cold showering. The new morning waiter 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.”
Elise 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,” Elise 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.
“When large amounts of tumor are destroyed, 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 said when she had finished.
“Your turn,” Elise told Campbell, “tell us about what the Drukker can do?”
No makeup, owlish eyes behind stylish glasses, she looked like a different person today. When he had finished, she had questions.
“Once upon a time,” she told Campbell, “I also earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry so I really appreciate when you explain the science in-depth.”
In the scientific world, degrees, titles and publications define authority. She reminded Campbell of her other credentials. By 9:30 AM, they were ready to go to the Drukker area. Kochanski called for the minder to return.
Leaving, she added, “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 from the doorway and smiled. “Agree. Thank you Elise.”
Campbell and Elise followed the uniformed Saburian 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 smart 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.”
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 chopped red pepper, coriander and tamarind chutneys, mango pickle and a yogurt condiment lay next to the sink. The Indians discussed 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 an elegant Saburian receptionist, chatting with the Egyptian woman from the airplane. Campbell smiled at them and they looked happy to see 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.”
Pressing a button, she pulled open heavy gold and purple tapestry drapes, 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 cringed. 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. “So, here’s the dispensary. Syringes, needles, drugs, refrigerated medicines, blood pressure cuffs, thermometers and more, Dr. Sheraton.”
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 it yet.”
“Oh my,” Campbell said. Terminal cancer patients could be desperate. Was he involved in work that took advantage of them for financial gain? Even if the treatments worked, they were only available to a privileged few? This didn’t feel like a victory.
He and Garcia shared journeys of rebellion, disillusionment with publicly funded research and its chieftains, crooks and cronies with bottomless support, from taxpayers to mercenary pharmaceutical, hospital and insurance companies. They laughed over FDA and NIH appointees and decisions.
Elise 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, it may be good to be more careful about what you say to the local people.”
“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. I’d be rockin’ that jewelry and paint and traditional costumes — very cool!”
“That’s one way to look at it,” he said dubiously. She had said that she had never traveled outside the medical world of the United States or Western Europe before. Hopefully, in Saburia, she wouldn’t turn into 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.
“You have to refresh it. Want some?”
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.
“Well, I wasn’t planning on going outside. Next time, I’ll bring my own things.”
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 medical 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. After a few more drinks, he followed.
“David, 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 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. Lecture over, she sat on the couch of the anteroom with the minder. Saying nothing, he sat down on a separate chair with a wooden carved table between them
A short Indian waiter served tinned biscuits and sweet chai in doll-sized 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. It’s not?” and “Maine. Never heard of it. It’s one of the States, you say?” Soon Elise and the 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 little man stiffened, smiled, nodded and promptly left. Soon, a tall, golden-tanned man entered the anteroom. Dr. Arjun Bhattacharya was dressed in a suit, with a crisp shirt and purple and gold tie. Smiling broadly, he profusely apologized for their wait and dismissed their minder.
“My man enjoyed getting to know both of you,” Dr. B. said. “He lost track of time, time’s relative, the East knew that before the West. Dr. David Campbell, so nice to finally meet you. Call me AJ.”
Elise 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?”
Elise shook her head. “I have to return to the airport soon and get our patient. You forget that?”
“I’m still nauseous from the heat,” Campbell said. “Just more water please.”
The assistant returned with colorful bottles of juices on ice. Dr. B. poured a sparkling apple drink for Elise.
Campbell quaffed more ice water from the large carafe and picked out a little, dry chocolate chip cookie from a tin of twelve. Like a gourmet delicacy, it came on a lace doily. An Impressionist pastel print on its lid, this tin would barely hold three of Lucky’s big fresh-baked, melting chocolate-chip cookies.
While Elise and AJ talked animatedly about treatment protocols, acronyms and numbers making their conversation incomprehensible, his mind drifted to Dr. Julia 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 set in.
“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 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 asked, feeling better.
“I had grander ambitions.”
“AJ didn’t need to stay at Pandolf,” Elise said. “ There are other academic centers where they actually value diversity. But the work here is more cutting-edge. Pays better 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.”
Feeling tension, Campbell asked. “So 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 flagship for Soria.
“I do want you to meet little Ali before you go, 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 to him. But Michael has taken Ali under his wing, as well as his widowed mother and all six siblings.”
“That’s a lot of brothers and sisters,” Elise said, laughing. “But first take us for a quick tour. We can talk shop more — MD to MD — tomorrow.”
“And I need to return to the computer room and lab,” Campbell said, “doing — here he recited technical terms and acronyms they didn’t know — there isn’t much time.”
Garcia had stored files in the “Mary” Drukker plate, artificial intelligence programming that created a serum to attack her newly metastatic tumor. As a patient’s cancer cells were evolving, changing and hiding, the Drukker’s search-and-kill algorithms planned an updated vaccine every three months and recommended new chemotherapy and radiation approaches.
After walking around the mini-hospital, they met Ali, a small boy with one eye covered and scarring on his face and neck. Shy, he pressed against his mother. After some coaxing from Dr. B. in Saburian, he 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 decorated with awards and diplomas. Two large windows overlooked an irrigated garden.
“Mary’s schedule today,” Elise said, “is her favorite French dinner followed by a good night’s rest. No one asked me because honestly, she won’t 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!” Elise looked stunned.
“We still do Mary’s first treatment as planned,” Dr. B. continued. “But now that Manny’s coming here to Saburia, well before, we had the algorithms for processing more tissue but none of us knew how to work the computer.
“But a second treatment that soon may be too ambitious anyway,” Dr. B. said. “David, as soon as your team gets that first infusion ready — the sooner the better — Elise and I can prepare it for administration.
“Elise, the sedation cocktail for Mary, we need to discuss that tomorrow. David, that’s for the treatment’s side-effects.”
“Pressure’s on, David!” Elise said happily, “time to get Mary’s Drukker plate operational.”
“Pedal to the metal ma’am,” he said cheerily, “an army of a few million T-for-Terminator cells are coming your way.”
Lunch trays arrived. Over Western-style egg sandwiches with tall glasses of iced soda, their conversation turned personal.
“Elise knows I was in a relationship at Pandolf,” Dr. B. said. “She left me. I couldn’t offer her a future — not even knowing what I wanted. I became an emotional wreck. Then she called the police saying I was ‘stalking’ her.
“Elise, she just sent me an e-mail. The subject line was: Riddle me that Batman.”
“You do like Batman.” Elise got up to 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. We can say it’s Happy Hour somewhere in the world.”
“That’s why I have a bottle of Loire on hand for you so we can really dish about my personal life.”
“So you were the one who told Michael I like that wine,” Elise said. “The Loire was the region in France where the French kings kept their mistresses. Now I would never have had the patience for cranky, old autocrats.”
Dr. B. went on, “I sent Lauren a bouquet for her birthday last month, her favorites: stargazer lilies, red roses and baby’s breath.”
“That figures,” Elise said. “Then you got the email.”
She suddenly looked alarmed. “Oh no, AJ, we’ll talk more later. It’s time to get Mary. Please call that minder.”
End of May, 2025
About two weeks later, Ben Dodd met with Jim Sichet in Chicago in a studio apartment. On a corner easel stood an old oil painting.
Sichet poured drinks. 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 can’t waste time on this. I guess we’ll never know who killed him.”
Sichet scooped more ice into 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. 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 owe you a favor. But why was the painting delivered to your house?”
Sichet shrugged. He changed the subject to the detective’s plans for after his promotion that the grateful policeman was eager to discuss.
“But I’ll tell you one thing,” Sichet added, “I don’t think that Michael Kochanski appreciates my help. Did you know that Kochanski has a chapel in the Pierre Building? 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 demurred. “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. “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 and thanked the other man. Without the identification requirement, the paper tickets could not be traced back to the person who used them.
Breaking the law, not for the first or last time. bending the rules was a win-win for both of them. Sichet had first played these games at StarHall, the boarding school where he had spent most of his youth.
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 boundaries like poor dead Sanchez. He had always been 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.
So 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.
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 Sichet had attended? A pretty young teacher, a brutal assault…the handyman received a life sentence and always claimed innocence before he died; the dead famously stopped talking. The Tiber River in Rome had seen many murdered bodies, she had once told the class. As many as the Chicago River?