The Ivy Drip was a casual dining spot on the Pandolf campus. On the Sunday evening after George arrived, he and Shelly walked there from her apartment. Outside, they saw a tall man in his late 30s.
“It’s him,” George exclaimed.
The man’s brisk strides quickly closed the distance between them.
“Hi Dr. Narayan, I’m David Campell. Thanks for meeting me. George, you’re now a foot taller than when I saw you in Chicago.”
After sitting down, Shelly asked Campbell to show her his passport and driver’s license, taking photos of them with her phone.
“Security,” she explained.
“So how do you know Dr. Garcia and George?” she asked.
“I met Manny at the NIH five years ago as a scientific consultant.”
“Whom do you consult for?”
“Many clients,” he said. “Have you heard of Soria International? It’s a chain of medical clinics based in India. Your last name is Indian.”
“Yes but it doesn’t mean that I’ve heard of Soria.”
Campbell looked at George. “I have a place for you to stay in Dr. Narayan’s building — you can’t stay at your dad’s…” His voice trailed off. “There has been some kind of misunderstanding and they’re searching inside your dad’s apartment.”
George said, “So, the men in the car with us were ICE.” He looked at Campbell expectantly.
You’ll be the first to know when I learn more,” Campbell said. “OK, let’s decide what to get for dinner.”
After the waiter took their order, Campbell looked at Shelly.
“Manny couldn’t talk to me for long,” he said, “but he said you were a friend from work.”
Garcia had also said she was in training, hard-working, independent, not tethered to a partner or conventions. That information and online research about her meant she might be perfect for his plan that was getting less vague by the minute.
Shelly coaxed George to switch from soda to the healthier selections of milk and juice. She drank a kale smoothie, neatly dabbing her mouth between sips and tidy bites of her “healthy” burger — open-faced bean patty — using a fork and knife, a surgeon.
Their meeting lasted long enough for George to down the signature steak sandwich, the enchilada special, strawberry cheesecake and several glasses of “pop.”
Campbell’s meal fit his edgy mood: a beer and some chicken wings. Over the loud music, Shelly’s voice was firm and easily heard.
“So you got a sublet in my building for you and George until his dad returns?’
“I’m glad I don’t have to go back to Chicago..,” George said with uncertainty.
“Do you want to return to Chicago?” Campbell asked.
The empty apartment below Shelly and Lucky was a “well-lit, airy 2-bedroom furnished studio,” as boasted the online ad of a Pandolf doctor away for training on the East Coast.
It’s balcony led to the wrought iron fire-escape on the side of the building. The orange tabby soon discovered a route from one apartment to the other. George rewarded him with snacks and companionship.
A week after Garcia’s detention, George and Campbell were hauling a computer into the apartment.
“ICE called me,” George said. “They said they were checking in, and I told them I was staying with Dr. Narayan. But they didn’t say anything about Dad. My aunt wants an update about us getting a lawyer?”
“I’m working on it,” Campbell replied. “Also, George, ICE isn’t your friend. Tell them only what you have to and never lie. They’ll find out. Do you know what it means to only give people information on a ‘need to know’ basis?'”
“Good. No worries about yourself, either. All your visa papers are in order, and your school and Dr. Narayan have copies.”
Later, Campbell pulled up the high school website on the newly installed computer. “Now, you’re on their network, George. Call or text me if you hear anything from ICE again…right away.”
“How’s Dad, you think? I mean, when will I be able to talk to him or see him?”
Campbell patted the boy on the back. “When I find out something, you’ll be the first to know. Your dad will be fine, and they’ll fix their mistake, I will work on it too, so don’t worry.”
He later asked Kochanski, “But who is helping Manny? Not his sister in Chicago, she has no money for a lawyer.”
Kochanski looked tense. “Soria Clinics wants me to get involved in this mess — but ICE is scary stuff. Manny’s pilot research for them must have shown some promise.”
Enrolling George at Pandolf High School was surprisingly easy. Signed by Garcia, forms mysteriously appeared on the high school fax from the federal holding facility. Of course, there were phone calls to George’s aunt and faxes to the school from a Chicago clinic with George’s vaccination record.
Campbell asked Shelly to be the local emergency contact for George.
“I am frequently traveling for work,” he said.
“Let me think about it.” The next day, she called. “OK, only if you or Dr. Garcia’s sister in Chicago are not available, and then only until Dr. Garcia returns.”
On his phone, George showed Campbell a picture of his aunt and uncle: a suited older man next to a pensive young wife. “My uncle’s an artist.”
George nodded. “He has a son in New York City with his first wife.”
The Pandolf school counselor appeared unfazed by Campbell’s uncertainty about Garcia’s whereabouts or return.
“Many of our families are complicated here,” she said. “We’ll make sure George gets all the support he needs as we do for all our children. ”
The school served many international and transient children. Perhaps she gave the same bland assurance frequently.
Campbell and Shelly were now on a first name basis.
“Is Pandolf not working on Manny’s detention?” he asked her. “They may be able to get him released.”
“I called Dr. Nepski — our lab head — that very morning George appeared,” she replied. “But now, he won’t discuss it with me.
“Honestly, David, I think Dr. Garcia may have been fired because they are interviewing scientists to take his place.”
Looking puzzled, she added, “Also, Dr. Garcia was fixing something under the printer the last time I saw him at the lab. When I told Dr. Nepski, wondering if it still needed repairs, he was surprised.”
“Why was he surprised?” Campbell asked, pretending ignorance. “Isn’t Manny the Medical Center expert — trained to do minor fixes on that Drukker computer?”
“Well, that’s all I know.”
“Please don’t tell George any of this,” he cautioned.
“George doesn’t seem as upset as I would expect about his father’s detention,” he said.
“He hasn’t lived with Dr. Garcia for a few years now,” Shelly said. “It probably doesn’t feel much different for him. I can’t imagine growing up without my parents. It’s sad.”
At his new school, George’s teachers loved him. Courteous, speaking four languages, he still said, “Sir” and “ma’am” and opened doors for the women. His advanced mastery of math and science was unusual even in a school that taught the scholarly children of Pandolf’s doctors and scientists. Although George had arrived in the spring trimester, he had no trouble keeping up.
George also soon found a housemate in Charlie, Lucky’s younger brother, who was again in trouble at his private school. Lucky’s parents were fighting still. Charlie came for another “visit” and refused to go back.
“He’s mad at Dad and thinks Mom is crazy! ” Lucky told Shelly.
Borrowing Lucky’s sleeping bag, Charlie settled into George’s apartment and insisted on being transferred to Pandolf High. His appalled parents had a grim picture of public schools, wild parties, police visits, the absence of social connections with other prominent families along with weak academic preparation for college.
But that only made Charlie more stubborn. Finally, Campbell had a video chat with Charlie’s parents. He described his own affluent background, having attended StarHall, the elite boarding school, followed by his academic career ending with a degree from MIT. Like Shelly, an impressed Dr. Malone still asked to see Campbell’s passport and driver’s license.
“Nice zip code. You have a ranch there?”
“Yes and I do scientific consulting,” Campbell said. He mentioned Drukker.
Mr. Malone nodded his head. “I saw Zoser just bought them out.”
“Indeed.” Campbell said, “Pandolf High School is ranked as one of the top public schools in the country. I’ll email you the links. Charlie will be there with the kids of doctors and scientists at the Medical Center. Technology resources here are probably better than at Charlie’s old school.
“Pandolf High has diversity too, with all its international students. Charlie will develop skills in dealing with other backgrounds and cultures. George speaks four languages. The school offers eight including Mandarin.”
“You’ll keep an eye out for my boy, huh Dr. Campbell?”
Soon, an extra bed and new computer arrived at George’s sublet. Charlie also received the latest Genie smart device — “The One” — that his parents had withheld as punishment.
Campbell then fielded another call from Charlie’s parents.
“OK,” his mother said, “Charlie can stay with his sister — well I mean in the apartment below hers — until the end of the school year. We can cover all the expenses.”
The father was not to be outdone. “Yes, that will help the other boy, too, poor guy, sad story. Even then, that will be less money than Charlie’s private school tuition here.”
“I wish you wouldn’t interrupt me when I’m talking,” the mother grumbled.
“Well, you were perseverating again.”
The couple’s brief argument reverted to a polite silence. Charlie’s parents couldn’t agree on something even when they did. No wonder their children were confused.
More good news, Soria Clinics agreed to reimburse Kochanski for his legal expenses to help Garcia. Kochanski next asked for access to the wireless network in the boys’ apartment.
“George is young,” he told Campbell. “We should keep an eye on things, especially any communication from ICE.”
A package from Chicago arrived a few days later: a webcam disguised a framed Vermeer print.
Campbell declined to install it in the boys’ apartment.
“I don’t see a problem,” Kochanski shouted on a video-call, his Polish accent getting stronger. “But I must respect your local American customs.
“Fine, send it back.” Shoulders relaxed in defeat.
They compromised on limited access to the teens’ computers.
“I’ll let George and Charlie know about the monitoring we are doing,” Campbell told Kochanski. “They have a right to know. This is America.”
An hour later, Kochanski called again. “David, when are you going to find Manny’s work laptop and discs? We need those files.
“Mary and all the rest of those Biblical names, you’ll need to bring them to Saburia…and the Purple project file too.”
“Michael, I don’t know even where to begin to find where Manny hid those things.”
He stepped to the open window of his Pandolf Hotel room, drawing apart the curtains, letting in the noise and lights of the vast medical center.
Kochanski’s voice grew louder on the speakers behind him, “What if he tells ICE…and then they find it? All that hard work and our valuable client, Soria’s, money wasted. You went to MIT. Get to work. Call me with an update tomorrow morning.
“Also, David, at the Board meeting, I learned that the Pandolf people contacted Drukker …, and so has ICE. They want to know what Manny was doing under the printer at the lab.”
A few expletives later, Kochanski added, “You were right about getting Manny a lawyer. But someone had to pay for it, not me.”
Like Kochanski, Garcia’s accented efforts to use American idioms were often — as George put it: “awk.”
Garcia had been excited about their first patient, Mary, telling Campbell, “That brave lady wrote to me. Can you imagine, she’s dying. Still, she’s planning to go to Saburia.
“I guess they make ’em like that in New York City.”
Garcia had drawn a map for Campbell. Afraid that whoever was watching him was also electronically eavesdropping, he then insisted that Campbell fly in immediately to physically retrieve the paper map and pick up the laptop and drives from a hospital location.
“On my way!” Campbell had responded. The Soria phone showed that Garcia had read his answer.
Campbell drove from SFO to Pandolf in a hurry. He already had one disc, the Purple project file, in a case of that color. Garcia had given it to him in his last trip to Pandolf a month ago.
“This is the only file I have ready yet for you to take to Saburia,” Garcia had told him.
“You don’t want to tell me what it is?”
“So it’s not related to Soria’s cancer vaccine development.”
But except for their recent brief conversation with ICE present, Campbell had not heard from Garcia since his detention.
Why would ICE even care about Garcia working on his personal research ideas at Pandolf? Who had tipped them off? Kochanski for a thrill? No, he would not make a move like that even if he had been drinking?
Now there was no map, no laptop, and no cancer patient files. Could ICE have them? Was there someone else who was spying on Garcia’s work and stole his computer and discs? Why?
All the medical data was de-identified as to who the patients were.That information was worthless to anyone outside the Soria medical clinic chain.
Garcia had given Campbell a duplicate set of keys to his home and a badge to the lab some time ago.
“It’s an administrator’s badge,” Garcia had said contemptuously, “She had a nice title, good money and moved on to a better job, leaving this in a drawer. It still works.”
By the time Campbell had arrived at Garcia’s apartment, it was clear from the disorder that the government agents had already come and gone. He visited the lab next. After giving his drivers license for scanning, Campbell gave the security guard his excuse: “I’m a friend of Dr. Shelly Narayan and she asked me to pick up something for her.”
Hopefully, Shelly wouldn’t find out about his deception — the gruff security officer he had buddied up with was unlikely to be the kind of person Shelly would ever make conversation with anyway.
Having not found the map, early the next Sunday afternoon, Campbell joined George and Charlie at their go-to place for teenage appetites, the Golden Griddle. Sleep-tousled hair, still in pajamas, the teens late brunch was a feast: towers of pancakes with syrup, jugs of orange juice, and plates of scrambled eggs paraded before them.
Campbell could not follow their conversation due to parallel exchanges on their devices and words he did not understand.
“I guess you still haven’t heard from your father, George?”
Not looking up from his screen, George shook his head.
Charlie said, “Before they dropped you off at Shelly’s, didn’t your dad tell you he would call?”
“Yes, maybe, I mean, the ICE men were in the car with him the whole time.”
They next discussed a movie they planned to see: a sequel in a superhero adventure series. George extolled the trailer they had watched online while Charlie interrupted him often. They shared video clips of the film on their phones.
“This is where the robot blows up the skyscraper.”
“But I thought the colored smoke looked fake. And there was too much CGI in this scene too. Uh huh I can tell.”
The group returned to the apartment. Charlie’s new girlfriend was waiting for them, also going to the movie. Seeing them, she sat up, nonchalantly tossed the cat on her lap to the floor and yawned.
“Michaela, could you please put Stone down more carefully next time?” George scolded.
The cat had already stalked off.
“Sorry, kitty,” she said.
”David,” she asked, “do you want to come to the movie too? They just renovated the DreamSix theatre. It’s really nice. They have reclining couches and a machine that mixes the best drinks. They even have a real bar where you can get yourself a beer.”
She had changed since he first met him just a short time ago. No longer shy, her style of dress had matured and her nails were painted.
Teenage relationships had not even been on his radar.
“If I can catch up to you at the theatre,” he said, “I will, but don’t wait for me. I’m going to stay here and update the network.”
After the group left, he stepped over clutter to enter George’s room, where papers, wrappers and clothes covered the floor. Stone popped out from under the bed and then disappeared again.
Searching the room, his hands now gloved, he pulled a suitcase out from under the bed. In the side flap, there was a folded map of the hospital with a long Indian name at the bottom.
“Hello, Dr. Arjun Jagdishwar Bhattacharya! I’m impressed, Manny, you slipped this into the suitcase right under the noses of those agents.”
Next, he went upstairs to look for Shelly. Perhaps she would explain the hospital’s layout to him.
Also, he was hoping to see Lucky.
The two women had trusted him with a spare key. But no one was home. Waiting on the sagging couch in the living room, he sighed about the orange and white cat hairs on his clothes these days.
Lucky arrived before Shelly.
“So why are you here, can’t find a better place for an afternoon nap?”
“I was hoping to talk to Shelly about the boys.”
“Well, Charlie’s my brother, so what is it?”
“Of course!” Campbell said. “You are the right person. You know that Charlie has a girlfriend so I just want to make sure someone has talked to him…”
There was an awkward silence.
“Yes, I talk to my brother,” Lucky said. “Shelly would turn into a pretzel trying to talk to those boys about that. Still, she sends them links for articles to read. I doubt Charlie looks at them. Maybe George does….”
“OK, Dr. Malone, I am relieved to hear that.” He laughed nervously. “This is not scientific, but teenagers seem to just have to put their laundry in the same washer to get pregnant.”
“No, Dr. Campbell, not scientific at all.”
“Are you free for dinner?” he asked.
“I’m post-call and exhausted, and if that’s OK, I would love to.”
He heard himself suggesting the Provencale, thinking that would be a memorable first date and that even if she had a boyfriend, so what, they weren’t married yet.
“You look confused.”
He shook his head. “I just realized I may have forgotten my wallet. Oh, here it is…!”
“Now go change into something nice,” she told him, “and be back about 6 PM. I’ll take a nap and then be ready in no time.”
He returned that evening and bounded up the stairs, suited up and shoes gleaming. Then he slowed his breathing and knocked.
Lucky opened the door. From the mascara and smoky eyeshadow to the silver dress and heels that made her almost as tall as him, his quick visual tour — top to toe — left him speechless. He had never seen her not wearing scrubs. She even had eyelashes.
In the entry hall mirror, she hurriedly brushed her hair and looped it into a quick bun. The nights were still chilly. She pulled a rose jacket off the coat hook. He followed her out, trailing its lavender scent.
At the bottom of the stairs, he opened the heavy main door. The rain had washed the spring blossoms off the trees. Their footsteps were soft on the petals littering the sidewalk, flowery fragrance adding to the romance. He opened the passenger door of the car. He had worked hard to clean it.
The concierge at The Provencal put them at their showcase table in the front of the restaurant. David acknowledged this flattery and noticed that Lucky seemed to be used to it.
“You’ve sat here before?” he asked.
“Yes, when Harry and I come here, they usually put us at this table. Shelly calls it ‘white privilege.'”
Taken aback by her casual double reference — to her boyfriend and their race — he reflected on how she was living with Shelly, then there was Charlie downstairs with George, and was also working in a hospital environment that exposed her to different tribes of people.
Kochanski once said that the world economy had reverted to a Middle Eastern bazaar — now electronic — at the end of the Silk Road from China. For him, working with Kochanski and Garcia also required him to process ethnic and cultural differences.
OK, so he and Lucky made a handsome couple of their tribe, seen from the sidewalk through the large window next to the restaurant’s grand entryway. Harry and Lucky probably made a great looking pair, too.
He remembered an old picture of the couple on social media, laughing together at a ski run. Yes, he had been stalking Lucky on the Internet for a while telling himself it was just part of the job.
The restaurant’s main floor topped a grassy slope with the patio below. The sidewalk wound around and down to the lake, now edged by darkness on its far side. Lucky made a toast to the view, the clear sky, its twinkling eternal stars reflecting in the rippling brilliance of the water below.
He tried to memorize this fleeting moment, perhaps powerful someday for its memory.
Lucky told him stories about the antics of her patients and fellow residents.
“Hope the gory medical details don’t spoil your appetite,” she said.
“I spent summers on a cattle ranch.”
He shook his head. “Meaning — don’t worry.”
But he felt physical pain when she mentioned her boyfriend’s upcoming visit, then reminded himself that he was actually working right now, wining and dining this attractive woman, thanks to his client, Soria.
After all, just like Shelly, she could show him around the hospital too.
His mother had told him, “Life is a winding road, and time changes everything.”
Lucky’s boyfriend lived far away and hopefully the competition would not make it around the next bend of her life’s journey.
“Thanks for listening to me talk about work,” she said. “By the way, Shelly did check you out. She told me about journal articles that you published on Pubmed…Dr. Campbell.”
The waiter bought two checks. Lucky took hers and waved away his protests.
“David, I insist on paying my share.”
She agreed to show him around the Pandolf complex. “A tour of my Queendom.”
On their way out of the Provencale, she said, “Oh another story, so this woman sees me for her recurring rash, awful blisters, and tells me why she switched to our clinic.
“Given the disease site here,” Lucky said, nodding vaguely downward, “she asked for a woman, then told me that she was upset about ‘this kid doctor from outer space in the Women’s Clinic.’
“She described Shelly. You know, I love Shelly, but it’s a good thing she’s going into research and surgery.”
They drove into the brightly lit, never sleeping hospital campus. Lucky handed him the card to enter the doctor’s parking lot. When they got out, he removed a laptop bag from the trunk.
“Why do you need that, David?”
“I don’t feel safe leaving my computer in the car.”
“Security is very tight here at Pandolf but whatever…” she said.
Joining a parade of people of many ages and sizes, on foot, crutches, wheelchairs and in Pandolf mobile units, they walked across marble floors, past fountains and the always-open gift shop.
At first, he merely followed her through the hospital while she greeted staff at various stations, and introduced “Dr. Campbell, a visiting scientist.”
He admired the view from the top floor picture windows of Pandolf’s tallest building and the vast halls where hospital parties often happened.
“Lucky,” he finally said, “I read an article in the hospital newsletter about the $100 million donated for renovations. I enjoy construction. Can we go there?”
“It’s not interesting to me,” Lucky said, frowning. Still, she led him down a different corridor. The crowd now thinned, and the passageways grew narrow and dimmer. Carpeted floors became cement.
Campbell steered her down the paths on Garcia’s hand-drawn map. “What’s down this hall?” he asked, pointing to a narrow passageway with bare bulbs hanging in cages.
“Oh, all right, we’ll go look…” She yawned. “Sorry I’m tired, so let’s turn around soon.”
They were now in the older part of the hospital with construction signs, orange tape and flimsy barriers to hard hat areas. Down another long corridor, past the doors of many abandoned closed and open old patient rooms, they turned into yet another gray hallway.
Campbell surreptitiously referred to Garcia’s map again as he walked behind her. Happily, despite the wine, she still could work her way around.
Next, at his request, she swiped her badge and they opened an unmarked door into an ample storage space for medical supplies. But the shelves were empty.
“This looks like a dead-end,” she said, “unless there’s something in the back. Pandolf dates back to over a hundred years ago. It’s like some medieval castle with its maze of halls, passages, rooms and additions built on. It even has a network of underground tunnels from the 1950s.”
Turning on his phone-light, he walked into the storage room and found another door inside with a battered sign: “Men Only.”
“I hope the plumbing works. This is just what I need.”
But the door was locked. Lucky left and after some time, returned with a petite woman in Pandolf’s housekeeping uniform. In broken Spanish and English, showing her ID, Lucky reassured the rushed woman that she was a doctor at the hospital.
“This is my husband. Can you let him in?”
The housekeeper gave them a skeptical look but unlocked the door with a heavy key on a ring and hurried off. Campbell, fluent in Spanish, said nothing.
“I wonder if she knows English quite well?” he wondered aloud.
“Why would you think that?” She frowned.
“They aren’t very vigilant about security around here,” he said.
“She’s in a hurry. Poor thing, I can’t imagine how much cleaning she has to do to make her quota. So she let us in instead of arguing with us, what’s wrong with that?
“David, it looks like residents used to sleep in there,” Lucky continued, turning on a light switch and peeking in. “Back in the good old days, doctors in training were mostly men who practically lived in the hospital and slept in dorms like this. My dad has told me about those days.
“But now they’ve limited our working hours, and we don’t spend as much time in the hospital anymore. When we do, we have unisex private locked rooms.
“It’ll be gross in there; but I hope the bathroom is working. I’ll wait out here.”
Campbell turned on his phone flashlight to disperse the long shadows and walked into an old locker room with a disused shower area.
There were urinals and the air still had the characteristic strong odor. Why? The violent, graphic graffiti hinted.
Then he passed bed frames in a dormitory with stained, cracked floors. There were no mattresses or curtains anymore, just the old rods for dividers.
He spied a line of steel lockers and on one, a peeling label: Dr. Arjun Jagdishwar Bhattacharya. He put on nitrile gloves and turned the dial on the combination lock according to the numbers also written on his map. The bolt slid open. Inside, there they were: Garcia’s laptop and the case of computer discs.
“Feeling better now?” Lucky asked when he returned.
He smiled. “Disgusting bathroom but yes. Glad to see they’re tearing this section down.”
With his now heavy laptop bag in the trunk of his car, Campbell and Lucky headed back to her apartment building.
At the entryway, she said she was “exhausted” and dashed his hopes of returning to her apartment. Still, he went up the stairs part of the way “to check on the boys.”
Entering the dark main room, alive with music and sounds of explosions, he found the boys — no Michaela — at their game stations, the massive 3-D screen playing Apocalypse 2050 and their avatars dodging gunfire.
Entertained, he sat on the chair, then disappointed when the teens found a good stopping point in their game. They regaled him with fervent descriptions of the superhero movie, re-enacting some of the fight scenes.
Remembering the previous iterations of these movies, Campbell recalled StarHall boyhood days and summers on the ranch, content among a family he gratefully considered his adoptive. Still, in real life, there were no superheroes or their essential antithesis — immortal villains.
How many more movies would come out, about a “pre-sexual damaged manchild on a destructive arc,” as a critic once described the Joker, bankrolling the movie industry, endless sequels for each new generation?
Eventually, he had graduated from adolescence, and Charlie and George would grow up too.
“People,” he told the teens, “have always found chaos gloriously entertaining. This new end-of-the-world game and Joker film are chaos’s newest avatars. Think about the monkey that duped the cat in the Aesop’s fable or the monkey that made mischief in Chinese folk tales a thousand years ago. Nothing new under the sun — we love to worry about the unpredictable in our ordered world.”
George and Charlie gave him blank looks and returned to their game. Campbell slipped into George’s room, put on his gloves and replaced the map into the side of the old suitcase. No one would ever know it had been gone.
After hearing about his success with the paper map, Kochanski laughed on the video screen.
“See Mr. MIT, Manny listened to me, I warned Manny to never trust the electronic storage of sensitive information.
Tapping his head, Kochanski added, “Information is like gold. You hide it in your photographic memory, paper, safes, remote locations that are only known in a trusted man’s brain like that Pandolf locker. There’s safety in anonymity — being lost in a crowd or in the alternate Internet universe.
“A pretty woman too, Mr. Bond, that’s why we hired you.” Kochanski chuckled. “I never doubted you would succeed. Now jump on that plane. If I had known about these delays, I could have stayed in Chicago longer instead of boiling here on an African coast. Soria’s clinic is built and my construction gig here is over.”
Kochanski looked away. “But it can be dangerous to keep anyone’s real identity off the grid.”
“What do you mean, Michael?”
“Oh, something happened, made me think it’s good to have an avatar on-the-grid. Never mind. Are you ready to come to Saburia now?”
Campbell said goodbye.
Someday after global adventures, he wanted to go home. He might not be the King of Saburia, but he still planned on his own dynasty, to return to his ranch with …Lucky and twinkles in his eye for their children?
But first, he had to talk to Shelly. He waited with trepidation after arriving early at the Ivy Drip.
Over breakfast, he told her, ” I have to leave next week for my consulting job, then I can be back again after a month. Things are settled for George now, and there is nothing more I can do for Manny.”
“Well, David,” Shelly was frowning, “I’ve really thought about this, and it’s not right about those teenage boys in the apartment, no adult supervision and the Internet. It’s been a month now, and Dr. Garcia has not returned. Don’t even get me started about Michaela.”
“Manny does have a lawyer now…,” Campbell said.
“That doesn’t mean he’s coming back soon,” Shelly said. “You’re doing some monitoring of those kids, the Internet firewall and restrictions on their games. But is it enough? Their brains are not biologically ready for predators, bullies, the adult world. There’s content on the Internet that’s not suitable for their age … and you don’t agree with me?”
Campbell sensed her awkwardness to be more explicit with him, a man, about this “content.”
He couldn’t tell her that a Polish-American businessman in Chicago — whom the boys had never met — wanted to monitor every byte of electronic activity, even install a secret webcam in the boy’s apartment. Was it a cultural thing?
“Social Services doesn’t do much to keep an eye on them either,” Shelly grumbled.
“That’s because Charlie and George do well academically,” Campbell pointed out. After the social worker had discovered that his name was on their sublet, she had told Campbell she was “monitoring the situation in anticipation of Dr. Garcia’s return…soon?”
He had nodded. “Soon.”
Next, Shelly scolded, “So you’re just going to leave them in the apartment minimally supervised like that? George says he even has a bank account and credit card. You do monitor that?”
“Shelly,” Campbell soothed her, “The Internet is just electronic images and words, not physically there, not engaging your brain at all levels…”
“David. Don’t. Mansplain. Me.”
“OK, Shelly, yes, I do watch George’s bank and charge accounts. When Manny is released, I’ll give him that information.”
She got up to leave. “Well, you know I’ll miss you too.”
Campbell now sat alone at the Ivy Drip, guzzling more coffee. He had done a lot more than George and Charlie by their age, back in the sunny youth of the Internet. At the time, StarHall was the closest to his international exposure.
As for their computers and their phones, Garcia had once told him that he wanted George to be up-to-date with all the latest technology. Now that was the American way. Garcia was from this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Even if it’s behind an online game station, David,” Garcia had said. “I want my son to learn. I’m not the hovering parent.”
He had added, “Shelly, a doctor I work with, wished she had played more video games as a kid. They now use some of the same tech in the Operating Rooms for surgeons guiding their robot avatars. She told me that the residents in Orthopedic Surgery now have exoskeletons that do some of the work that requires ‘manly muscle,’ like a hip replacement on someone weighing 200 kilograms. That can now be done by a woman weighing 50.”
Campbell’s coffee grew cold. Despite his generous tip, the waiter was no longer refilling his mug. The breakfast crowd was pouring in, there was a line, and other customers needed his table.
He reluctantly got up. There was a lot more to do before he could leave next week to meet Kochanski in Saburia and deliver the laptop and drives.