The Demons Within
12: Medical Concerns

Copyright© 2017 by Vincent Berg

Embrace reality

even if it burns you.

Pierre Bergi

“Come on in,” the receptionist said, waving him in. “Dr. Punjab is waiting for you in his office. It’s the first door on your left.”

As Phil walked down the hall, every eye in the practice followed his every movement. Entering the office, he observed a thin, fairly short man with neatly-trimmed black hair and dark skin.

“Ah, Mr. Walker. Glad to meet you,” he said, standing and extending his hand.

“I’m happy you could fit me in, though I was surprised by the seven o’clock call telling me to drop everything and come in immediately.”

“Blame my staff. After news of your actions began to spread, someone recalled you were on our wait list. They persisted, and you’re in. Technically, since this isn’t our normal start time, it was easy to arrange. My people are so curious; they came in early, even those with the day off.”

“I hate putting anyone out on my account,” Phil said, shaking his hand. “I’m unsure there’s even any point to my being here. I haven’t had any episodes since the initial one, and I’m fine now. I almost didn’t come in, except you seemed so insistent. As for your staff, I’m sorry, but I wasn’t planning any performances.” He sat, studying the charts of people’s brains on the walls. “I only dance in the park, and occasionally sing in the shower.”

“Very droll, Mr. Walker. But seriously, your case fascinates me. Given your tendency to... ‘act out’, I didn’t think it wise to wait for an opening.”

Phil waved his hand. “It’s not so bad. In fact, I no longer believe there’s anything wrong. I saw a few spots initially, but in the weeks since, there aren’t any other symptoms.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll be the judge of that. Could you walk out the door and back again?”

Sighing, Phil did. When he sat, Rajai Punjab didn’t seem pleased. “There are no obvious signs of mental impairment, but your actions are disturbing.”

“The news reports are overblown. No one ever pressed charges, and everyone enjoys my little dances. It cheers people up.”

“Yes, I understand the claims of your curing people were invented by the press. I’m more concerned with the changes in your personality. That’s a more alarming signal something is occurring inside your brain. The fact you’re acting out in unexpected ways, at unusual times, is a serious warning.”

He started scribbling on his prescription pad. “This is for a full cranial MRI. I had the hospital move you to the top of their list since you’re considered a public safety risk.”

“I’m not—”

“It doesn’t matter whether you’ve physically injured someone or not. What does is you aren’t behaving as you normally would, which makes your future actions suspicious. If you’re acting out like this now, it’ll only grow worse if your condition persists.”

“What condition? So far, I haven’t been diagnosed with anything. We’ve only talked a couple seconds. How can you assume my entire past is meaningless in so little time?”

Rajai laid his hands on his desk, considering Phil. “I’m not passing judgment, but clearly you’ve never performed these little dances in public, before. The fact you are so soon after your initial ‘incident’ indicates there’s something impacting your behavior. We may not know what, but that’s why the scan is vital. As you say, you aren’t showing secondary symptoms, yet I want to identify what we’re dealing with quickly. Waiting until it worsens isn’t an option. Your internet fame has given you the perfect opportunity to get immediate treatment. Most people languish awaiting an appointment. Take advantage of the opportunity.” He handed Phil another paper. “We’ve scheduled you another appointment. As soon as I get the results, I’ll analyze them myself. Oh, and I also arranged for Dr. Altinon, an oncologist, to review the scan results. Since I suspect it’s cancerous, he’s the best qualified to review the results. If it’s serious, I’ll arrange a combined review appointment with us both. If not, you’ll need to make two separate appointments.”

“Great, two appointments just to hear there’s nothing to worry about. Sounds like a lot of extra worrying for nothing.”

“It’s better being prepared and not need it, than being unprepared when it’s vital. This worries me—whatever it is.”

“When you see there’s nothing wrong, will you drop this nonsense?”

Rajai chuckled. “Sure, if there’s nothing amiss, I’ll discharge you without a second thought. Plenty of people experience mid-life crises with no brain abnormalities, but I’m convinced there’s more at stake here. The sooner we identify it, the more disruptions we can avoid.”

“Look, I can prove I’m stable and not suffering from anything.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Walker, I’m not in the least concerned with your little dances. However, you’ve got to admit, you only started these actions after you suffered these...” he glanced at his forms, “blinding headaches. You also split from your wife, moved into an expensive hotel and made new friends, no longer associating with your older pals.”

Phil shuffled in his chair before nodding. “Yeah, that’s all true, but—”

“Just have the scan done. If I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it. However, if I’m not, your condition—which is stable—will only worsen.”

The conversation was at an impasse. Rajai was obviously finished, and left Phil with nothing to respond to. As the awkward silence enveloped the room, Phil mumbled “Good bye” and departed. He felt even more nervous about everyone watching him exit.

“Ah, Phil, just the person I was waiting for,” Sergeant Becker said as Phil entered the squad room. He turned, waving to someone in the other room.

“Sorry, it took me a bit longer to get out this morning.”

“I see you brought a new guest,” Gregory said, evaluating the new addition.

“Sergeant, this is my daughter, Toni. She wanted to ensure you weren’t trying to entrap me.”

Gregory chuckled. “No, we were initially skeptical, but he offered convincing evidence he’s legit.”

“Good, we were waiting for you to arrive,” the DA said, exiting one of the side offices. “We have some wonderful news.”

“Toni, this is the resident District Attorney. William, this is my daughter.”

“Pleased to meet you,” he said, smiling, “though I was anticipating your other friends.”

“She’s aware of my activities and worries about my being injured again.”

“That’s something we seem unable to protect him from, but let me catch you up. As you’ve probably guessed, a lot happened since last night.” As William began, Tina and Floyd joined them, though no one stopped to introduce them.

“We arrested Bora Berk late last night, and interviewed his family. They were concerned he was becoming radicalized, but were unaware he was involved with anything specific. As you suggested, they believed he was working full time. He and Ankur lost their jobs because of their volatile natures almost a year ago. That provided ample time and the frustration to drive them to extremes. Anca Berk told us how to find her husband’s partner. After receiving a court order, we broke into his house, arresting Ankur before he could trigger any booby traps.

“Based on the clues you drew out of Hannibal, we identified where they hid the bombs. We also leveraged the information, getting him to reveal what they were doing: including others who offered assistance or provided supplies. Everyone is under observation. By revealing a little of what we knew and antagonizing them, they volunteered enough details for us to figure out the rest.”

“Ankur is an odd case,” Gregory said. “His surname is Naik and he’s from India. He’s Muslim and faced discrimination there. He came to America seeking a better life, but was disillusioned by how he was treated here. He thinks little of anyone with handicaps, considering them expendable and actively sought them out. He selected Hannibal because he was the most delusional, while remaining focused. It was a perfect combination for him.”

“How many were involved?” Toni asked. “More importantly, does my father need to be glancing over his shoulder from now on?”

William chuckled, enjoying the exchange. “No, your father is safe. He requested we not reveal his involvement, so we won’t acknowledge him. No one else was directly involved, although several were implicated. Homeland Security is immensely pleased, though we never revealed how we uncovered the information. If you ever want the recognition, they’re eager to promote your efforts, as would we.”

“No, thanks,” Phil said. “But if you don’t mind, could I view either of the accused?”

“I was hoping you’d ask. I’m dying to hear your analysis of them.”

“Is that wise?” Toni asked. “After all, they’ll know my father was involved.”

“Possibly,” William conceded, “though they won’t know who he is or what role he played. Several people stopped by to interview or observe them, so I doubt they’ll give him much notice.” He motioned them along as he led them to the holding cells.

As they walked, Floyd leaned in, whispering to Phil.

“Thanks for what you did. My wife noticed before I could say anything. Once I said what you suggested, she assured me she supported whatever I planned and was proud I sought support. She was never convinced my previous sessions with the department psychologist were accomplishing anything.”

“He’s more even tempered,” Tina observed. “He’s also more thoughtful, observant and patient. Hell, he even bought me coffee this morning.”

“Sergeant Becker noticed and asked me about it. Before I could admit anything, he guessed your involvement. He’d like to discuss the issue with you. He thinks you could improve morale for the entire department. He even proposed paying you using the savings from our current in-house counseling sessions. By treating you as a ‘confidential informant’, they’d save so much, few will question the transfers.”

“We need to discuss it privately,” Phil said, shaking his head. “At the moment, I’m fairly busy and my emergency visits are likely to draw attention themselves.”

“Just keep it in mind. I’m sure he’ll corner you about it before long.”

The two suspects were in separate cells, under the careful watch of a single guard. Both stood as the crowd entered the room.

“You can all go to hell!” Ankur shouted, shaking his bars and snarling, though his wrath seemed reserved for William. He looked nothing like a typical Indian. He was bald, short stubble announcing he regularly shaved his head, but otherwise his features were clearly middle-eastern. “I’d do it again and I’ll never renounce my heritage. You may have caught me, but you’ll never silence me. Take me to court. I want a public trial so I can publicize how corrupt western culture is!”

Instead of answering, William turned to Phil. “So, what do you think?”

Phil shrugged. “Want me to treat him?”

He waved his hands. “No, no. Don’t take our star criminal away. We worked too hard to corner the creep.” Once he dropped his hands, he turned, reevaluating Ankur. “Do you really think you could?”

“Absolutely. He suffers from the same thing many of your cops do. So far, I haven’t observed it outside of the police, but it motivates both. While the messages they espouse differs, the root cause is identical. What’s more, they’re easier to deal with.”

“There ain’t nothin’ wrong wit’ me, you racist bigot! If I get loose, I’ll kill every American I can!”

William dropped his voice. “Damn, I wish you hadn’t told me. With no one coming forward claiming an official diagnosis, it’s an easy choice. Now that I know he’s suffering from a definite mental illness, I feel guilty moving on this.”

“It don’t matter,” Ankur bellowed, guessing what he’d said. “You’ll never change me.” He raised his fist as Toni clutched Phil’s side. “الله أكبر!” Soon Bora took up the call, both yelling it at the top of their lungs. “Allahu Akbar!”

William guided them out. “Do me a favor, once they’re convicted and heading to a Supermax prison, cure him then so he’ll realize what he’s done.”

“That’s the definition of ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. Still, I’ll consider it. It would provide an excellent counter to the usual terrorist claims. If you gave him credit for future outreach, everyone would benefit.”

As they closed the door behind them, William stopped, turning to Phil. “Oh, there is one more little thing. It seems Commissioner Beckley and Mayor Winford want to meet and thank you for your efforts.”

Phil slapped his forehead. “Jeez. You’re killing me. I told you I didn’t—”

“Yes, you made it clear you don’t want any publicity,” William said. “Although your name was left off the department’s paperwork, given the unusual nature of the case, our superiors kept asking for explanations. Listing you as an informant wouldn’t work, since we’d have to explain what you did. Once Commissioner Beckley learned you were the primary break in the case, he pushed the issue with the mayor. They’ve agreed to keep it under wraps, but want to thank you personally. Frankly, I think they’re just curious about you.”

“I don’t know. My job is hard enough as it is. People stop me in the street, requesting my assistance with neighbors and friends. I’ve got no privacy anymore. Everyone is watching my every move. The more people who know what I do, the more dangerous it is.”

Toni clutched his arm. “Dad, I know this is rough on you, but could you do it for me? It would mean the world, not only to me, but to Mom too. I realize the two of you aren’t getting along, but keeping her in the dark while doing God knows what, doesn’t help. Her seeing you receive this recognition will make amends and make her feel better about you.”

He glanced at everyone trying to appear to not be listening. “Honey, she threw me out of the house and told me never to return. I doubt she wants anything to do with me.”

“You’re wrong about that. Even if you can’t explain what you’re doing, hearing of your accomplishments, even indirectly, will reassure her you aren’t losing touch with reality. All she wants is to know you’re alright.”

“You mean that I won’t embarrass her?”

“You’ve got to admit, she’s taken a lot of flak for your actions lately. Until you intervened for her friend, she had no clue you weren’t unhinged. This would reassure her immensely, which makes your life much easier, if nothing else.”

Phil sighed, before turning back to William.

“All right, I’ll relent. Just ensure they don’t leak anything about me. The fewer people who know about this, the better.”

“Not just for you,” he added. “Can you imagine how the press would respond if someone asked why they’re meeting with you? You don’t make it easy to support you. Now let’s get you back upstairs.”

Mayor Trevor Winford stepped forward, extending his hand as Phil entered the large office. Toni and Jane held back, remaining by the door, not wanting to take the attention away from Phil, but both beamed at the unofficial recognition Phil was receiving.

“Mr. Walker. I’m so pleased to meet you. Apparently we’re in your debt, yet you refuse any public recognition. We aren’t used to such selfless generosity.”

Phil shook his hand. “I didn’t do much, I only talked some sense into one lost individual.”

“That’s not what Homeland Security says,” Commissioner Chet Beckley exclaimed, slapping Phil’s back. “This is a big win for everyone. You’re stepping back allows more light to shine on us. However, your explanation isn’t as simple as you make it out to be.

“Someone who wasn’t able to make a single sensible statement is now willing to testify against the two men who spearheaded the entire plot. No one thought there was any chance of getting any information out of him. His testimony, delivered in clear, honest and sympathetic language, will seal this case for us. It’ll also cast the city’s disabled in a more positive light.”

“I did what I could,” Phil said, “but any credit goes to Hannibal himself. He’s the one who turned his life around. Aside from connecting with him, there wasn’t much else I did.”

“That’s not what the rumors swirling around you say,” Mayor Winford said.

Phil chuckled. “And how much credence should I give to your political opponents’ accusations during the next election?”

“Ah, point taken. As we all know, things are often said which don’t translate into reality. Still, I’m not sure how to interpret the veracity of the claims about your abilities. In either case, I’m glad of what you’ve done for the city.” Reaching behind him, he removed an object, handing it to him.

“For what it’s worth, here is the proverbial key to the city. Though this traditionally works better in public, I trust you’ll take it as evidence Philadelphia credits you for your efforts.”

“Thank you, I appreciate it.”

Toni spoke up from near the door, where they’d remained. “Can we get a photograph to remember this with?”

“Not only can we do that, but we have our own professional photographer.” Trevor waved her and her mother forward, responding to Phil. “If you wouldn’t mind, why don’t we include your lovely wife and daughter?”

Toni squeezed in beside her father as he wrapped his arm around her. Jane sidled up on the other, wrapping her arm around him, smiling proudly for the camera.

“I’d appreciate it if you sent those to my dear wife,” Phil said after the photographer took several shots. “You might as well give her the key too. If I take it, it’ll only shatter the next time I’m attacked.”

“Please, that’s hardly an appropriate thing to say,” Jane countered, playfully slapping his shoulder. “But you’re right; I know the perfect spot where it will remain safe, over the mantelpiece.”

“I know you don’t want any recognition, but is there anything we could help you with?” The mayor asked, shaking his hand again.

“Actually, there is one minor point, though it’s a request for your esteemed commissioner. Since the public fascination draws increased attention to me, I’m increasingly forced to defend myself. If it’s possible, I’d appreciate an allowance to carry a knife for my personal defense. I swear I won’t harm anyone with it. If I do, I won’t object to you charging me, but I’d rather not be stopped for carrying it. Since I never know when I’ll be attacked, I need to keep it with me. Also, because of circumstances I can’t explain, I have to handle it as often as I do my old walking aid. I tried crafting an older cane into a blade, which only attracted more attention. A medium sized knife would be less obvious while easier to use.”

The commissioner chuckled. “From your medical expenses the department is covering and the testimony of my officers, who were unable to defend you in their own station house, I understand your concern. I’ll have someone draft a personal-use exemption. If anyone stops and questions you for carrying it, show it to them. You may still be questioned for possessing it, but when they call for confirmation our switchboard will confirm you’re authorized to carry it.”

“Thank you, sirs. That, more than anything else, will ease my mind.”

“And mine,” Toni added. “You don’t realize how much I worry about this big galoot!”

“The galoot with the key to the city in his pocket, no interest in recognition, one less cane and the ability to defend himself against unseen attackers,” the mayor reminded her.

“As pleasant as spending the day with you is, it’s disconcerting transitioning from receiving a key to the city to purchasing a switchblade.”

“Sorry, Toni, but as you’ve noticed, my life isn’t ordinary anymore. The knife is necessary, as I’m hoping for better odds the next time I end up in the hospital getting stitches.”

“Still, it was wonderful you included Mom in the ceremony today. Even though she didn’t quite understand what it was all about, she was pleased as punch over it.”

“Yeah, I noticed that, but don’t get your hopes up. There’s a lot of water under that particular bridge. We’re far apart on either side of it.”

Toni and her father slowed as they approached the front of his private hotel, not ready for their day together to end. “I understand, but I’m hoping you’ll both be more civil, so it’s not such a strain on me. Keeping your secrets and trying to assure her you’ll be safe, when I don’t feel secure about it myself, is difficult.” She hesitated, glancing at the front of his hotel. “How’d the appointment with your neurologist go?”

“Not well,” Phil admitted. “He’s convinced I’m going to die any day now. I tried telling him I’m not showing any symptoms, but he insists my ‘uncharacteristic behavior’ is an indication of a brain abnormality.”

She stopped, confronting him. “What are you going to do about it? I’d hate to risk something serious because you’re fighting a moral crusade. I mentioned before, your switching states is likely taking a toll, whether you’re aware of it or not. If it’s tied to when this first started or not, you need to get it checked.”

“Don’t worry, I’m getting a detailed brain scan first thing in the morning.”

“So soon? How’d you ever manag—”

“Mr. Walker? Is that you?”

They both turned to see a middle-aged woman, shepherding a young man with his head held low.

“Pardon me,” Phil said seeing her. “Don’t I know you? Do you work for the Center City office of the Philadelphia police?”

“Yes, I’m a clerk. I keep track of their records, checking past cases for them. I couldn’t help but observe you in action, today, and I was wondering—”

“If I might be able to assist your friend?” he asked, arching his eyebrow. Toni stepped back, wanting to give him as much room as he needed to evaluate the situation.

The woman blushed, glancing down, even as she propelled the man with her forward.

“My name is Rose Bloom and this is my son, Summer. Say hello to the man, Summer. It’s rude to be so impolite.”

He could barely meet his eyes, looking down, his lids half closed.

“He suffers from severe depression, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, how’d you—never mind, it’s immaterial. Can you help him? He’s suffered for years, having trouble climbing out of bed each morning. He’s already attempted suicide three times, and I can’t trust I’ll be able to stop him the next time.”

Phil walked around Summer, leaning on his cane and sticking his hand in his left pocket and playing with something. “He isn’t in terrific shape. These are normally tough cases. As you can see, I’ve suffered a lot of injuries handling similar situations the past several days. I’m not eager to dive into this one just yet. However, you’re right to worry. While I’d prefer holding off until we can find a more ... private location, I’m not sure we can wait.”

“Dad, you mentioned this is a ‘difficult case’. Does that mean tough for him, or dangerous for you?”

“Unfortunately, it means both. I’ve had trouble with these, before,” he said, rubbing the barely healed scabs across the top and back of his head.

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