It was late enough and the traffic was light, so it didn't take long for the improvised hearse to drive cross-town. The few people on the street didn't even notice Dexter's last ride. The nondescript grey Honda pulled up at the curb in front of a gay bar in the West Village: The Naked Owl Saloon.
Stan sat there with the engine idling, while he carefully looked up and down the street. When he was satisfied that it was deserted, he turned to the two men in the back seat."It's all clear. Get Dexter out of the trunk and dump him. I don't want to hang out here."
The men got out, opened the trunk, grabbed the body, picked it up without too much effort -- while trying not to get blood on themselves, and dumped it on a trash can next to the bar. They nervously looked around, then started to get back in the car, when Stan's strident voice halted them in their tracks.
"Make sure the note's on top," Stan ordered.
Muttering resentfully, one of the men adjusted the note, looked at Stan, who nodded approval, then they jumped into the car and Stan drove off.
"I bet it'll make Fox News," Stan chortled. "I can just see the headline. A body was found in front of a gay bar with a note pinned to it's chest: 'Death to homos. The Righteous Avengers'."
The two men laughed dutifully, but the man who had adjusted the note gave Stan the finger, hidden by the back of the seat. The other man asked innocently:
"How did Earl know where that bar was?"
"What're you trying to say?" Stan growled.
"Nothing," he mumbled.
"Then shut up. You don't want to disrespect Earl."
"I didn't mean nothing."
"Just remember to watch what you say."
A few minutes later, two men walked out of the bar. Bruce Haughton, was 5'11", 165 pounds, trim and fit, with short brown hair, intelligent brown eyes, a small nose, a sardonic smile, and a feisty expression that declared: 'I take no shit.' Kenneth Wister, inadvertently proclaiming that opposites attract, was short, plump and fussy, with long, blown-dry blond hair, a permanently worried look etched on his face and a tense posture, anticipating getting hit.
Kenneth was talking a mile a minute about a movie he wanted to see, oblivious to his surroundings. Bruce, much more alert, was looking back and forth and noticed the body,
"Look, Kenneth. That guy may have been mugged. Let's see if we can help him."
"I don't want to get involved," he replied prissily.
"He may be injured."
"You've been watching too many episodes of CSI."
"You're such a little faggot sometimes."
While Kenneth edged away, Bruce went to the body and took its pulse. He turned to Kenneth, who elaborately looked the other way.
"Let's get out of here, before the police come," Kenneth urged.
"Look at this. There's a note on his chest." He read it aloud to Kenneth. "Death to homos. The Righteous Avengers ... They must be some sick lunatics. Call 911."
"There's nothing we can do for him."
"We can make sure the police start a search for those sickos. Now call."
"All right. But then I'm going home."
"Go home, you big baby. Don't you care that this is a hate crime?"
"How do you know? The note could be from his jealous girlfriend." He reluctantly took out his cell phone and dialed 911. "Hello. I want to report a dead man ... How do I know he's dead? Because he's not breathing ..." He turned to Bruce. "Do you believe this cave man? ... He's on Hudson Street, off the corner of Christopher Street, next door to the Naked Owl Saloon ... My name is ... Jack Sprat." He hung up and glanced at Bruce. "I'll see you later." Without another word he walked off.
Bruce shrugged, looked up and asked wonderingly, "How did I ever end up with him?" He shook his head resignedly, then looked down at Dexter and talked to him. "I hope you're not the victim of a messy divorce, because I'm considering one, and I don't want to end up like you."
Bruce heard a siren in the distance and stepped away from the body. A crowd gathered, materializing almost magically, the way ghouls appear at a disaster scene, drawn to pain and suffering. One of the gapers started to question Bruce, but he just shrugged, stepped back and patiently awaited the arrival of the police.
The uniformed officers first on the scene questioned Bruce after he identified himself as the man who found the body. When it became clear to the policemen that Bruce couldn't tell them anything more than his discovery of the body, they took his name, address and phone number and thanked him for reporting the incident to the authorities. Is that what they call a dead guy these days, an incident? he wondered to himself as he headed for home.
After a lengthy conversation that seemed casual, but was really a careful examination of Jim as a possible candidate to assist them, Marlene and Jacob agreed with a discreet communication that he was acceptable. Marlene took Jim on a tour of the laboratory, followed by Jacob, who, without seeming to, watched his every move. Jim, who didn't have a scientific background, was surprised at the Hollywood-like image of a research facility. Its antiseptic white walls and ceilings were ultra-modern and the floors in sterile areas were designed to keep dirt from floating in the air. Access to sterile areas was restricted to only those wearing total clean-suits, or biohazard gear. Marlene led them through an observation corridor, with sealed windows permitting a look inside some of the labs. The personnel, surrounded by hi-tech equipment, were engaged in various activities, none of which were comprehended by Jim.
Marlene was used to laymen not understanding what was going on in the work in progress, so she gave the standard explanation and answered questions as simply as possible. Marlene was pleasantly surprised at Jim's quick grasp of the problems that she described. She didn't dwell much on technical details, and focused on an overview, with the goal of a cure for AIDS.
When they came to the end of the tour, Marlene gave the standard wrap-up.
"As you saw, this is a state of the art facility, with the latest equipment, and the best research and development staff that can be recruited. All our projects are completely funded by the Foundation. This means since we don't receive government funds, no one can interfere with our work."
"What do you mean?"
She smiled appreciatively at his interest.
"Most scientific research in America takes place in universities and corporations, with a variety of goals, depending on government funds, or the profit motive. What they attempt and accomplish is in direct proportion to their funding. Whoever pays for the project either determines or influences the ultimate goals. It's really basic, Jim. Whoever pays your expenses, can tell you what to do."
"Isn't that how everyone works?"
She nodded. "For the most part. But that's not how we work."
"I don't understand."
"By providing the funding ourselves, we insure that no one can manipulate our work process."
"How? Give me an example."
"Well, certain social scientists have suggested the lack of progress in developing a cure for AIDS may be deliberate."
This was obviously the first time Jim had heard this theory and he was shocked. "Why do they think that?"
"They claim the reason there are no results so far is to help eliminate the gay and needle-using drug addict population."
"That's crazy. I don't believe in those kinds of conspiracies."
"I could tell you about stranger things," she murmured provocatively.
"Like what?" he replied, not realizing that she was manipulating him.
She casually dismissed his question. "Another time. Look at this." They stopped in front of another lab and she pointed through the window. "They're working on an instant AIDS detection test, that if successful, can be sold in supermarkets."
"You mean like those pregnancy tests?"
"Sort of. A bit more complicated, but I think you get the idea."
"That's great. Wait'll I tell the council at the Gay Health Alliance. They'll go wild."
"That won't be possible."
"I told you that everything I'd show you would be top secret. You gave me your word that you could keep things confidential."
"But this can benefit the entire world."
"Of course it can. But until it's tried and proven, we'd just be raising false hopes. If it works, we'll license someone else to produce it, so the Foundation can maintain its privacy."
"You really are secretive ... You mentioned using your own funds. Where does the Foundation get its money?"
"From carefully selected donors who believe in the same values we do."
"Would I have heard of them?"
"Possibly. But we are obliged to conceal their identities."
"I get the picture. Your organization has a lot of integrity."
"It's necessary in this all too human world ... Let me show you the health club. We've got great equipment. Do you work out?"
As they started walking she felt his arm and other parts of his body, and he watched her in fascination.
"Not as much as I should," he mumbled self-consciously.
Marlene looked at her watch. "I have a few minutes. Do you want to try the machines?"
"Sure. I love it when you get pumped up and you feel your blood running faster."
"So do I," she whispered softly and gazed at him intently.