THE MIND-BODY EXCHANGE

This story uses the premise of a mind  / body exchange as used in my last post.

For over thirty years I, at present a very wealthy man, was a lowly security guard serving the once billionaire, George X. I remember that I hired on the same day in June 2020 that Oxford University announced their breakthrough development of a mind-reading machine which could facilitate memory downloads similar to the Vulcan mind reads made by Dr. Spock on Star Trek. I hoped that a position on George’s staff, would enable me to read George’s mind and find and imitate the means of his success. I envied him as a strapping thirty-year-old self-made man who had just turned his first billion. I thought how good it would be if I could do likewise. However, over the years, the closest that I came to mind reading was what I heard as I stood at the back of his lavish office. I was the suited. silent one, ever alert, ever watching, witnessing his many suspect dealings. They were always astute, always unyielding, and always to his betterment. Regrettably, all my attempts to mimic George’s transactions back fired. My only consolation was to observe the inverse relationship between George’s personal life and the size of his fortune. Year after year, the richer he became, the more his personal life suffered until, over time, he degenerated into a very wealthy, lonely recluse.

I couldn’t understand George’s one odd, seemingly out of character, business transaction. It was the way that he poured cash into the Oxford University research. Following a scary bout with prostate cancer he increased his funding and took to calling Oxford every Friday morning. At last, almost thirty years to the day I had to admit that George had the Midas touch for Oxford announced, with a few reservations and caveats, that they had constructed a machine which could accomplish  the complete exchange of bodies between two willing persons. It was one of those “ah ha” moments for me – I was sure that my sixty-year-old employer, now cancer free, but forever complaining about his physical aches and pains, wanted a new body. I was right and watched him set aside funding and begin his search for the ‘perfect’ match.

It didn’t take long for Nations around the world to respond to Oxford’s discovery by declaring all mind / body exchanges as illegal and defining the individual as a sacred, inviolate combination, of mind and body. George was, as usual, unphased by legalities. He called in his representatives, increased their remuneration and bound them to secrecy. The search was to continue. I am proud to tell you that it was I, the silent security guard, who found their man. I had Nathaniel, or Nate, the son of one of my drinking buddies, to introduce himself to the search committee. George’s specification called for a healthy thirty-year-old so that he could pass off the exchange as his prolonged youth. I must say that Nate looked remarkably like the George I met when I was hired. Nate said that he was willing to undergo the exchange for the hefty fee of one million per year differential, or thirty million. He said that he intended to use the money to pay off his debts and establish leisured affluence for himself and his relatives.

I stood, silent as ever, as I listened to George making his plans. He arranged for the clandestine exchange to take place in Oxford. Immediately thereafter, he planned to go to Switzerland to spend a month in a Sanitorium so that he could return to his life with an explanation for his renewed vigor and youthful looks. The thirty million was transferred to a Swiss Bank account set up in Nate’s name. When asked about his plans, Nate said that he intended to go to Nepal to join an Everest expedition so that he could answer inquiries about his rapid aging by blaming the conditions of the climb.

Before the exchange took place, I was dismissed back to George’s New York penthouse. I was instructed to await his return. Imagine my surprise when, less than a week after the exchange, who should I see but George entering the granite and glass lobby. I was perplexed; if the exchange had been aborted or gone wrong, this was, indeed, George in his own body. However, if it had gone ahead, this couldn’t be George in Nate’s body, it would have to be Nate in George’s body. I stood transfixed wondering how I ought to respond to this unexpected anomaly. The man I saw came up to me and shook my hand. He inquired about my family and invited me to dine with him. This confirmed my suspicions as over all our years together George had never asked about my well-being, or invited me to dine with him.

Nate was miserable. He told me that he had come to the building because this is where his body wanted to come. His explanation seemed odd, but I am a good listener and let him talk about his issues. His unhappiness was on three scores. First, George’s body was far more decrepit than he had been told. He said that he was finding it difficult to adjust to the reality of a sixty-plus year-old body. Second, George’s body had a mind of its own; keeping doing things that it wanted, such as returning to George’s penthouse, rather than doing as Nate wanted. He said, even over the short span of less than a week the body’s desires were becoming increasingly persuasive. Nate’s saddest woe was that when he went to withdraw from his newly set up Swiss bank account, he found that it had been emptied of all but thirty thousand. We went to George’s penthouse and called Switzerland and received confirmation. “Yes,” they said, “Nate himself came in and drained the account.” So, the thief was George who now looked like Nate. I didn’t put it past George to  do this as I  knew him to be a despicable, greedy, double crosser! Over our dinner wine we commiserated together and thought about George’s meanness. We asked ourselves how could George, one of the richest men in the world, steal like that? We speculated on the lost thirty million. We went on to commiserate on all the philanthropic things that George could be doing with his fortune if only he were a better person. In fact, we spoke as though the fortune was ours, and we were sharing it for the good of others. Out of pity for Nate I paid for the meal.

As I went home, I pondered on our talk with the Swiss bank. That is when, it hit me, if George, in Nate’s body could pass as Nate and be able to transfer money out of the account into another account under George X’s name then why couldn’t Nate, in George’s body, claim to be George, and move it anywhere he wanted? I found Nate early the next morning. I shared my thoughts with him. He laughed so hard that I feared that his old heart might give up. But no, laughter proved therapeutic. We began with the millions stolen from Nate’s account. The transfer went so smoothly that we decided to reach deeper into George’s horde. We knew that we only had a month. We worked hard combining Nate’s computer and interpersonal skills with my knowledge of the intricacies of George’s business gained during my decades of silently standing on guard in the back of that sumptuous room. By the time that we expected George to leave the sanitarium we had everything wrapped up. There was so much money that we split it 50/50. In the span of a month we had both become billionaires.

We wished that we could have seen the face of George, in Nate’s body, when he left the sanitorium, and discovered that he could no longer access his property. We speculated on how long it would take for him to realize, that the world now saw him as Nate, with two assets; his young body and the thirty thousand that he had, so “generously,” left in Nate’s account. We gave each other hi fives and placed bets on how long it would be before George, in Nate’s body came crawling back with an offer of a reverse exchange accompanied by a payment. My friend,Nate in George’s body, said, when the time came, he’d gladly do it for twenty-nine million, nine-hundred and seventy-thousand. I told him that he was being unnecessarily generous.

The Return – a short story

Last week I wrote a story about a hitch-hiker in which the driver was a beautiful woman in a luxurious car and the hiker dirty and messy. I enjoyed the juxtaposition and so I kept the formula but attempted to turn the tables, with messy driver and more-or-less elegant rider; however, as I wrote, the story took on a life of its own.

After the bride and groom departed, the bride’s parents, her only family present, announced that they were also leaving but that they had mislaid their bag containing their Nikon camera, lenses and movie equipment. All responded to this revelation by speaking at once and scrambling around searching under tables and chairs. After a few minutes, when they had failed to find even a missing lens cap, the general consensus was that someone, maybe a member of the kitchen staff, must have made off with the bag. No-one used the word theft because the groom’s family and friends didn’t want to have their bride’s parents think poorly of them. They had pride, these East-End Londoners and most were reluctant to face the thought that someone had ripped off their rich American guests; visitors, who had traveled so far.

Mary, the only bridesmaid, had intended to catch a ride with the bride’s parents, but somehow the commotion, due to the lost bag, separated her from them, and they left without her. After their departure the party in that pub upper room, which had begun as a sober enough wedding reception, quickly degenerated into a noisy melee with free drinking, dancing and a good deal of smooching. Mary was as out-of-place as the Americans had been, and knew that she had to escape; so she went into the tiny women’s cloakroom, put on her coat and slipped down the dark stairs and opened the exterior door.

When she stepped outside onto the East End London street a cold blast of 1965 December night-air bit into her face and she realized that it had started to rain. For a moment the cold and wet caused her to pause to re-evaluate her options. She could hear the noise in the upstairs room and thought that it was getting louder. With no telephone available and no-one sober enough to give her a ride it offered little incentive to her to return. Indeed the noise confirmed her belief that the sooner she put it behind her the better. ‘Yes,’ she thought, ‘staying is worse than walking home in the rain and cold. I’ve made the right choice.’

She glanced up and down the empty wet street and started to walk. The red brick houses were unlit and the street lights barely illuminated the pavement. It looked dark, wet and Dickensian sinister. It was a daunting beginning of a long, seven-or-more mile hike, to her flat in Earl’s Court. She knew that, at this late hour past midnight, the tube had already closed and taxis few and far between. She had no umbrella or raincoat and her dyed pumps were unsuitable for walking. The improbability of it all crossed her mind. Who would have thought that she, a London University, art history student, from an upper middle class English Family, would be attending the wedding of, Cliff, an East-End London high-school drop-out whose family had never seen education beyond middle school?

She walked with a brisk tread, wondering if one could move fast enough to avoid some of the raindrops. As she turned this over in her mind she realized the stupidity of such an assumption even though the realization didn’t slow down her pace. Again she reviewed the improbability of her situation, for; of course her contact was Clara, the bride, not Cliff, the groom. But Clara’s background was as different from Cliff’s as Mary’s. Clara, a Californian girl, had met Mary the previous year at a one week Art history conference. During her visit to London she had also met Cliff when he bagged her groceries at a Sainsbury’s store. Upon her return to California she had taken up a brisk correspondence with Cliff, and, the next year, defying her PhD parents, returned to London to scope him out. Their courtship was quick, and now they were married.

The magnitude of her proposed trek had truly sunk in when Mary heard a car behind her and turned to see a beat-up old Ford. Her heart began to race; and she tried to walk faster without appearing to run. Her fear intensified when the car slowed down to match her pace. It was then that she was able to see the driver, quickly recognizing him as George, the best man, from the wedding party. He opened his window, and lent over, “Want a ride?”

Logic and experience warned her that she shouldn’t accept, but the cold and wet trumped caution and she said, “Yes, please.”

He hastily cleared papers, Coke cans and beer bottles off the passenger seat exposing dirty upholstery. She stepped in and he pulled off, a little too fast she thought. She already knew that she shouldn’t be there, the car smelt of beer, and rotten eggs. Mary deduced that it was his breath which carried the rotten egg odor and shuddered. The rain seemed to have intensified and now she watched his windshield wiper flicking back and forth scraping his windshield. The cone of light from his headlights cast eerie shadows on the buildings as they passed. Now he slowed down and drove as a man who knows that he has had too much drives in an attempt to avoid detection. She wondered how she was going to get out and decided that she might as well stay inside as long as possible.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“I’m going to take you wherever you need to go.” Mary hadn’t expected such chivalry and attempted to re-evaluate his intentions.

“I live in Earl’s Court – that’ll be way out of your way. But, it’d be great if you dropped me off at a station or a large hotel; somewhere where I can get a cab.”

George put his hand on Mary’s knee, which confirmed her fears, but she lifted it off and gently placed it on the steering wheel. She spoke in a matter-of-fact tone while trying to disguise her fear, “George, don’t you need to concentrate on your driving?” He nodded and for several blocks concentrated on the road. Then he hiccupped and turned toward her and commented, “I was looking for you.”

‘You were looking for me?”

“Well yes, after the Americans left we needed to wrap things up and then I saw you sneaking off. Of course I knew that you would need a ride – perhaps more.” He wheezed a little. They passed Liverpool Street station and he didn’t stop. ‘He really is going to take me home,’ thought Mary. ‘So perhaps I should be polite, and make some conversation.’

“Known Cliff long?”

“Best friends, all our lives. I’ll miss him now that he is married and he’ll be going to America.”

“It was a nice wedding,” Mary lied “but I felt sorry for Clara’s parents they were so uncomfortable the whole time.”

“Yes, they didn’t seem too happy. It was their first time to London, wasn’t it?”

“I think so but, of course, the final straw was when her dad realized that someone had stolen his bag of cameras and stuff.”

“Yeah, all real fancy, but they can afford to replace it – rich Americans! Besides, I’ll bet you that it was well insured.”

“Perhaps, but that isn’t the point.”

“What ‘ya mean?”

“I mean that all the wedding photographs were in that bag. There is so much emotional record there –something that money can’t replace. There is something called sentimental value which far exceeds monetary worth. No insurance in the world can replace it.”

“That’s all right for you to say when you have always had everything that you need but for some real cash trumps sentiment!”

George turned and looked at Mary, his face a dead-pan gaze. She thought that he looked longing, almost needy, and was glad when he turned his eyes back to the road. They were coming up Moorgate and the wet streets were still deserted. She caught a glimpse of St Paul’s Cathedral shrouded in rain. Its familiarity reminded her of her concern about how this ride was going to end. She tried to distract herself by taking up their discussion, anything to avoid getting too personal.

“Well, I wish that we could find out who did it. It’s a bit like a ‘Who done it mystery’, isn’t it?”

“Well it had to be someone in the wedding party.”

“What about the kitchen staff?”

“No, didn’t you notice, they left right when the cake was brought out? He filmed the cake cutting and was snapping away while we were eating it.”

“Yep, you are right.” George again gave Mary one of his dead-pan looks. When he turned back to the road he hastily swerved to avoid jay-walkers in the otherwise empty Strand.

“I also think that it couldn’t have been taken from the room as the bag he kept everything in was quite bulky. That just about rules out all the female guests; it’s not like you could slip that bag into your purse.”

“You are a regular little Sherlock Holmes aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not, I’m just being logical.

For a while they were both silent, the only sounds; the engine, the rain on the roof and the swish-swish of the windshield wipers. A stream of drips began to come in over Mary’s door. She tried to move away to avoid them without appearing to get closer to George. He noticed her movement and reached and touched her knee, again she put his hand back on the steering wheel.

“I’m just moving away from the leak. Why don’t you drop me off at one of the West End hotels? You have done so much already and I am very grateful. Really, you have done enough.”

“Sorry about the leak. It is an old car worth less than those fancy cameras, but much more useful. Don’t worry; I’m going to take you home, right to Earl’s Court.” He paused, “So, Miss Holmes, what do you think?”

“Think?”

“Think about the missing bag of cameras and stuff?”

“I think that it was removed from the men’s cloak-room perhaps hidden in someone’s coat.

‘You have got to be joking – right?”

“Actually, no I’m dead serious. Perhaps you saw something and can now put two and two together?”

“NO I saw nothing.” George’s voice was raised and his response so quick that it took Mary by surprise.

She waited while she thought about his reaction. They were heading towards Hyde Park corner with more traffic on the road and the rain had stopped. She decided that his response could only be explained by the fact that he did know something. It reminded her of Hamlet’s comment ‘The lady doth protest too much.’

“So you DO know something?’ She noticed his hands clench on the steering wheel, “Yes, you do don’t you?”

“NO.”

Again George’s rapid denial was too quick, too emphatic, and too glib. Mary felt sure that he knew something. “But it’s yes isn’t it? Who? It would be great if we could at least retrieve the film – just the precious irreplaceable images. Maybe you could talk to them tell them to anonymously return the film – the sentimental value, the irreplaceable images.”

“What do you know? Did you see something Mary?”

“No George but I’m sure that you did. Don’t you want to exonerate Cliff’s family? Don’t you want to help retrieve his record of his wedding day? After all you were best man and he, your best friend.”

“It’s not that important.”

“Maybe that’s what you think but you are not married. One day when you have children I’m sure that you will want to show them pictures from your wedding. And,” Mary was on a roll, “then there’ll be grandchildren to impress. The thief deprives Cliff’s future family of his heritage from a 1965 East End London wedding. It is important.”

George didn’t respond, he seemed wrapped up in his own thoughts. Now they passed Hyde Park, most of Knightsbridge and Holland Park and were driving down Earl’s Court Road.

“Where do I go?”

“It is just past the tube station. There, that building opposite WH Smith.”

George pulled up and Mary looked at him, he returned her gaze with his lugubrious dead-pan  look. Instead of leaning over and grabbing her, as she fully expected, he held out his hand. His voice quavered with emotion. “I’ve got to go, have things to do.”

Mary shook his hand and got out of the car. As she left she thanked him profusely, adding one final appeal, “George, you are a nice guy, If you are able help your best friend, Cliff. At least help him get some pictures to show future offspring.

Several weeks later after Clara and Cliff had settled down into married life they invited Mary over to see their wedding pictures.

“But weren’t your Dad’s cameras and film lost?”

“We thought so, but the black bag with everything in it miraculously turned up at the front desk of their hotel. Apparently a young man delivered it in the wee hours of Sunday morning. There was a note with their name and the words, ‘Pictures to show future offspring.’”

© Copyright, August 2014, Jane Stansfeld

Whisky – a short story

George was a staid English gentleman and creature of enduring well-established routine. Every day at precisely at six-o-clock he made himself, and anyone with him, an evening cocktail, then after dinner he would serve a glass of premium Laphroaig Scotch whisky. His before dinner cocktail was a special concoction which he called a “Trinity”. Daily he lovingly mixed it to the same unchanging recipe. George was not an alcoholic and never over imbibed he was merely happy with his routine, and enjoyed his tried and true evening pick-me-ups which he often referred to as his medicine. He bought his liquor wholesale by mail and parsimoniously stored it in a converted air-raid shelter under his home.

It was behavior like this which gave his family and friends the impression that George was a man of unchangeable demeanor. Some even extended their belief in his permanence to thinking that he, frankly, didn’t care where he lived as long as it afforded elegance and permanence. The deduction about his living arrangements derived from the fact that he lived in the same house for forty years, and had watching it gently morph to accommodate the whims of his three wives. He had never imposed his will on their demands except to insist that they not move and that the garden and wine cellar remain his private domains unsullied by female presence. But suddenly, after his retirement and his third wife had divorced him, he surprised everyone and sold his solid residence to buy an historic converted school house adjacent to a church-yard. Even his dogs were surprised by his move. When asked why he chose to uproot at this stage in his life he explained that the change was to give him a new garden to design.

County Durham is a gently undulating place and the site of George’s new home was no exception. It was perched on a hill so that you entered at the main level from the front garden but exited at the rear one level above the back garden. The site enabled the inclusion of a lower level basement under the house. The only access to this lower level was from a driveway which ran parallel to house on its west side. As is so common in England the drive was also a public right-of-way and provided a short cut to an adjacent row of homes and to the street on the north side of the church yard. With little hesitation George made this undercroft his cellar and stored his liquor here in the unchanging climate of a basement cave.

George quickly settled into his new home and as soon as he had the interior arranged to his liking he began to work on the gardens. He dug flower beds and vegetable beds, excavated ponds, constructed a greenhouse, and built stone walls. As time went on the garden began to take on his personality and he enjoyed the results. He re-established his regime, made his evening Trinities and drank his after dinner Laphroaig. Life was good he thought. But then a minor inconvenience assailed his calm, when he noticed that his whiskey cellar seemed to be decreasing faster than he was drinking.

At first this ordered man thought that he had made a mistake in his records. He calmly rechecked his accounts and made a new inventory. He checked the lock to his store-room cellar. Everything was in order, he returned to his garden and plants. But about a fortnight later when he went down for another bottle of whisky he found his supply to again be short one bottle. The storeroom was otherwise untouched and had the same musty smell and damp air. He deduced that someone was helping themselves to his supply probably doing so as they passed by on the right-of-way. He called out a locksmith and changed the lock and went on with his life in the belief that his problem was solved.

But his problem was not solved and when he went down to pick up another bottle for himself he found his supply to again be short by one bottle. This brought him to two ordered conclusions. First, that his visitor was undeterred by locks and second, that he drank at about the same rate as he did.

It is interesting to note that George never, for a moment, thought that his thefts were perpetrated by a woman. He always saw him as a man, a middle-aged man such as himself, one who had a refined taste and enjoyed a good Scotch, one who was restrained and resourceful one who could pick a lock with ease. A man George could admire. He never considered the occult and never wondered whether this unknown person might have so much in common with him and that, perhaps, they might become friends, No, true to his ordered personality George’s overriding concern was to protect his liquor and to stop the attrition. He evaluated his options. A new heavier duty lock might solve the problem but he thought that it was obvious that his visitor had already proved himself undeterred by locks and so he discounted this option.

George decided to test a new theory that his visitor was not a whisky drinker but merely fenced the stolen bottles for a little extra cash. He innately disliked this theory since his Scotch as exclusive brand of Laphroaig from the island of Islay. This whisky has a distinctive smoky character combined with notes of iodine, seaweed and salt. The distinctive flavor is derived from peat which is ascribed to the water from which the whiskey is made and to the peating levels of the barley. It is an acquired taste and is, to the uninitiated, almost medicinal in flavor, but to the connoisseur a precious elixir. He went to the village off-license liquor store to check their supply of Scotch. He wandered down the aisles looking at the store’s display. He talked to the salesman at the counter where he learnt that they didn’t carry Laphroaig or, indeed, any Whiskies from Islay – never had. To save face George bought a couple of less expensive popular blended whiskies.

When George got home he placed the inexpensive whiskies on the shelf from which his attrition was occurring. He wasn’t sure if he wanted his visitor to settle for what he considered an inferior product but he needed to know. He was almost happy when he next went down for a bottle to see the two bottles still standing where he had put them but then he started for the nearest bottle of Laphroaig had disappeared. George’s thief was a Scotch connoisseur.

George went to the local police station and made a report. He suggested to the desk sergeant that an analysis of the people who used the right-of-way ought to assist in solving the mystery. The houses to the south were fairly affluent and those to the north less so. He suggested that the thief had to be someone who travelled the right-of-way on a regular basis, perhaps every day. The desk sergeant grunted and told George to stick to the facts which he meticulously transcribed into a report.

George went away disappointed and decided to do some of his own sleuthing. Over the next three weeks he reworked all his garden beds along the right-of-way and scrutinized everyone who passed by. They all smiled at him, some paused to gossip about the weather while others merely responded to his greeting with similar greetings. When the gardens were completed George was no further along in his quest and when he went down to replenish his upstairs supply he again found that one bottle had gone. So, he thought, the perpetrator is doing it at night when I am in bed or on the mornings that I do my charity work.

Finally George smiled in glee for he thought that he knew the perfect solution. He hurried to his dust-bin and retrieved his last empty Laphroaig bottle. He carefully washed it and fitted it with a funnel from his kitchen drawer. Then he placed the assembly on the floor next to the toilet. Over the next few days he gleefully watched the bottle fill with a liquid which looked like whisky. When it was full to his satisfaction he screwed on a cap and patched the top to resemble an unopened bottle.

He went down to his cellar and was happy to find that the thief had not yet returned. He placed his prepared bottle on the shelf closest to the door in the place from which the pervious bottles had disappeared. George had tremendous self-control and did not inspect his cellar for over a week, but when he did so he was delighted to find that the prepared bottle had disappeared. He called his children to share in his macabre celebration. His pleasure was so great that he afforded himself two drams of whisky that evening.