What if immortality were for sale?
This is a report on the confession of Bob Fond:
No! I never would have begun the adventure if I had known the denouement, but then how many of life's doorways would we leave unopened if we knew what was beyond?
My private seaplane came in from the north, circled the tiny Caribbean Island once, low, and I took some pictures, as if I were a tourist, before I told my pilot to land. I was able to survey the adjacent ship harbor where three large yachts were in view, two anchored at the pier, one just pulling out to sea. They were visitors perhaps. There were two other seaplanes in the landing basin below. The spray of the pontoons made a pretty scene in the water of the smooth inlet, all the way to the plane dock.
I had been annoyed when my own Learjet was refused permission to land here. There was no airstrip and the tiny island accepted only seaplanes. So I had to rent what amounted to an air taxi. A charter ship would have taken a full day's trip each way from Antigua.
There were two burly men waiting on the dock to greet me, looking very tough in their striped tee shirts. On the beach at the base of the cliff, a back up team of three men watched carefully. 2
"Hi, I'm Bob Fond, here for an appointment with Dr. Cutter," I told them.
My mood was not improved when the guards insisted on padding me down. There was not much room for a weapon in my tight fitting pants and gray short sleeve shirt. Maybe they were looking for a recorder, but I had none. Only after these monkeys frisked me was I allowed to use the outdoor elevator that took people up the sheer cliff from the beach. The cliffside elevator was a nice touch, but I was thinking that it was probably all a scam anyway in spite of what I had been told. It was likely an elaborate con game, but I would never know until I checked it out. Still, Steve Blazer of Argo International had recommended it. Steve was a man to be trusted.
At the top of the cliff I was led to an enormous home, something in the area of 20,000 square feet, I guessed. The walkway up to the house further up a hill twisted and passed through gardens, beside an Olympic outdoor pool. There were two tennis courts next to a walkway leading to a patio and a wrap around veranda before the main entrance.
I was ushered into a small waiting room. All doctors like waiting rooms. I sat facing a wall full of framed university degrees,
medical associations to which the doctor belonged, academic societies, hospital residencies completed, awards won, research completed.
Then a nurse showed me into the paneled reception room where Dr. Cutter was waiting for me and we finally stood face to face. I had a feeling this was all staged. But after all the phone calls with
information denied, probably from fear of taping, I at last met the great man.
What a name, I had reflected a number of times. It was a pity Dr. Cutter was not a surgeon instead of a research scientist. Joe Cutter did not look especially young, handsome, or even distinguished, considering what he was selling. I am 47 years old and I guessed the doctor was ten years younger. I'm balding just a little, working on staying slim, and nothing here would help that. I'm still tall, strong, and hoped I was in the prime of life. It would be nice to stay that way awhile. It was exactly why I was here.
Dr. Cutter was a slightly built man, with short blond hair, very tanned, and was dressed not in medical clothes, but quite casually, in an open tan shirt and shorts. Ever since I had entered the business world, a quarter of a century ago, I had habitually looked at other men I met and thought to myself: 'I could lick him.' Now I could think it again. Was that sort of thinking simply business dominance or a flaw in my own character? I wondered. Twenty years ago I had taken up karate, working up to black belt with the same determination I showed in business. Of course there are degrees of black belts. I was only a first degree.
"I call this place the Island of Dreams. And I welcome you, Mr. Fond," Dr. Cutter declared.
"Thank you. It appears the dreams have done well by you."
Dr. Cutter smiled and led the way back through some French doors onto the open veranda where we had a remarkable view of the
harbor, the palm trees below, and the lushness of the tropics. Joe Cutter waved me into a colorful deckchair.
"Would you like a drink?"
"No. Not right now. You said on the phone that you could only tell me about your operation in person."
"That is true. But before we talk, I want you to sign a waiver in which you promise to tell no one what I will reveal to you without my permission." Joe Cutter produced a sheet of paper.
"You didn't tell me, I'd need my attorney." I laughed and took the paper. I had seen enough contracts to feel I was almost a lawyer.
"It is a legal document, but it is as nearly jargon free as I can get it." Joe Cutter had a ruddy, open face, and a happy smile that he turned on now.
It was a single page, essentially stating that certain things were going to be revealed and I was to promise never to tell anyone. If I did talk, I might be sued and damages obtained. If I wished to tell someone about this conversation, I must obtain Dr. Cutter's permission each separate time in advance. How binding the document was, that I did not know. But it was obvious since I had traveled four thousand miles from California to learn some things, that unless I signed this paper I might as well go home. Besides, I am not in the news business. There seemed to be no harm as long as I did not talk. I signed and dated the document, returning it to Dr. Cutter.
"Thank you. It is just a formality, but I do ask for strict confidentiality. I do not want the multitude, the great unwashed out
there, knocking on my door and begging. Now tell me exactly what brings you here?"
"I hear you have the fountain of youth."
"No, rather a product designed to arrest the further ravages of time and freeze you where you are now. Why do you want it?"
"That should be obvious. Because there is so little time. Sometimes I have thought I would like the words: 'There was not enough time' on my tombstone."
"It would be even better if there were no tombstone necessary," Dr. Cutter interjected. "Go on."
"I am a businessman and yet there is too little time to make money. I suppose I enjoy the power that I have acquired and would like to hold on to it. If that makes me a bad guy, so be it. I have a younger brother who is a physicist. He has less time than I do, he says."
"He will have to come out here himself. If you wish to tell him about the program, you will need permission even for a brother. But it is true the most brilliant men may get a Ph.D. at twenty-five and then they have till they are forty to do their best work. But the problem is universal for all short-lived humans, movie starlets, prizefighters, football stars, and many others have even less time to achieve success."
"Life is short, nasty, and brutish."
"Now you are a philosopher too," Dr. Cutter asserted. "That is a quote from Hobbes. You asked me to come to the point, and I will. The cause of aging is to be found right in the DNA. We each have in our own cells what amounts to a computer tape that dictates how we age, at what rate, and ultimately when we will die. Some people die of accidents before their tape runs out. Some people die of diseases that can't be controlled by the technology available at the time they are living. Some drink or eat to excess. But the rest of the people all eventually die anyway. People age at differing rates, but eventually they all die. So far. I have a product, some pill and a treatment which stops the aging process."
"An anti-aging pill," I suggested.
"You could call it that. After the American laws of 2010 everyone has heard of telomerase. Life extension is illegal on the mainland of all the developed countries now. The population explosion, and all that. The facts are easy. In 1650 A.D. there were a half billion people on the entire earth. In 1850 populations doubled to one billion people. Only in the 20th century did the numbers go up to two, three, four, five, and now over six billion. Thomas Malthus warned of excess population in the 18th century. Now there are many new Malthusians."
"When news about immortality leaked out in the media there was consternation," I agreed.
Dr. Cutter laughed. "Yes Bob Fond, if everyone became immortal and had one extra child, the population could double again at once. The ultimate Malthusian dilemma." He paused. "That is why I bought my own island, obtained independent status and . . .”
"Go on," I urged.
"Why do we age at all? Leonard Hayflick, who wrote How and Why we Age explained the problem better than anyone else. He studied replication of cells. As early as 1961 he found that after dividing 50 times, human cells would simply stop or die. This final entropy was called the 'Hayflick limit.' The cells had gotten old or a signal had been given. The older the human being the cells were taken from, the fewer times the cells divided before they stopped. But there have been laboratory treatments that caused human cells to continue to replicate."
"Then in the 1990's it was discovered that telomeres, small bits at the end of DNA sequences which cap the chromosomes, are shortened with each cell division. The telomere is a molecular clock, programming the cell, telling it when to stop dividing. The next step was telomere stimulators and enhancers, which allowed cells to continue dividing and thus prolong middle age. The ends of the cells could be enhanced so they provided more telomeres and hence divided longer."
I smiled. "I read the magazines and newspapers. The answer for immortality was discovered, but not for the masses." "Besides," Dr. Cutter continued, "the process is expensive.
Should we deny people who do not have the money? And then the religious organizations got into the act. We were playing God, they said. Pressure was applied to all governments. In the end it was outlawed for all. I feel sure that certain members of Congress, entrepreneurs, stars of the media with enough money, have found ways.
I believe there are other clinics out there. In any case I have such a program. Perhaps I am one of many, but we do not communicate with each other since it is internationally illegal."
"Who would invade your island? The United Nations?" I scoffed, chuckling. "This is the inverse of genocide. The whole effort to prevent the advancement of science amuses me."
Dr. Cutter paused and then went on: "My program acts upon the DNA, the cellular structure of the body itself. Diseases and accidents will still kill you, but you will not age appreciably under my supervision. You will not become older. You can still get sick, catch a cold, get the flu, and even die of other diseases if you don't seek medical attention. And that is up to you. But you will remain as healthy and youthful as you are now. You will in effect freeze at this age, as it were."
"How long have you had this?" I asked.
"Five years. I experimented three years before developing this formula. By 2007 I was sure I had the process."
"But then it became illegal," I interjected.
"True. But for the last five years I have been selling my wares to a slowly growing group of customers. The price is high;
however you are a very rich man." And again Joe Cutter gave his most engaging smile.
"Is five years long enough to be sure?" I asked directly. "A lot of people in their middle years don't seem to age at all in that length of time. People are a long-lived species to test upon."
"That is true. It is why fruit flies and mice have been used in certain experiments. But I have examined the cells, including my own. The proof will be in the pudding a bit later. But this does come with a money back guarantee."
"And what is your price."
"There is an initial charge of ten million dollars. You must return here for the pills each three months afterwards, and there is a charge of one million dollars a year after that."
I starred in disbelief. This was a bit thicker than I expected. My net worth is probably around five hundred million, and raising ten million was not a problem. But if this were a con game, then what? It was a lot of money to lose. I had expected a price somewhere in the hundred thousands.
"The money back guarantee is simple," Joe Cutter continued.
"If at any time, and that means any time, you wish to quit, permanently and forever, you will receive a full refund of all the money you put in."
"With interest," I asked.
Cutter smiled. "No. I'm afraid not. If you leave the program and the program has not failed, you get back only what you put in.
There is one exception. If the program fails, you will, under the contract, be entitled to receive your money back in full with ten per cent annual interest, compounded. I don't expect the program to fail. If, for instance, you have a heart attack or stroke, your heirs will receive the money and interest.”
"But I am not allowed to tell my heirs!"
"Without permission, you may tell no one. You have permission to tell one
attorney that you have what amounts to a life insurance program stored in your bank vault. You will be given a document, which states that in effect. It is guaranteed. The document can go in your safe or anywhere you choose. The policy does not apply to accidents, suicide, or preventable diseases."
"The compounded interest on such sums alone, over a five or ten year period would be tremendous."
"True. However, that is the deal and you can take it or leave it. And I do not expect to have to pay out."
"Tell me about the health guarantees."
"If I accept you into this program, you may go to your private doctor on the outside and be checked. You must not tell him about the program you are in. You can get the usual base-line medical tests showing your over-all health. If there is aging proven in the future, in one year, five years, ten years, or forever, you are entitled to your money back with interest. If you attempt to climb Mount Everest and are killed, you get nothing. If you pick up some disease and do not seek medical attention, you get nothing."
"I belong to a 'life extension' clinic right now. Can I continue to go to them?"
"Certainly. They do not offer what I do, but they are a good idea. Prevention is always better than trying to cure."
"What side effects do these pills have? Do they make you sick?"
"No. The initial reaction to the first pill is usually a feeling of tranquility and well-being. This feeling intensifies sometimes as you take more pills. If you pay your deposit, you will be put through a series of tests that will take two or three days. Then you will receive the first pill. You will be expected to return each three months forever, for an hour of tests and your pill. If you don't return, you lose your money and everything."
"Why can't I take the pills along, a year's supply at a time?" I knew the answer to that, but I had to ask.
"For the same reason that you will swallow the pill in front of me each time. I do not want a pill to leave here and be analyzed. This again is one reason I have set up on a private island, independent as a little nation. I do not intend to submit to the tests of any government. Nor do I intend to share this formula with the multitude. There are far too many people in the world now."
"I agree with you on that. This is for the classes, not the masses or the asses. So we're both elitists. How many people do you have in your program now?"
"About thirty. I intend to expand to no more than fifty."
I smiled. That would be quite a bit of money. Thirty people at ten million each initially, would be three hundred million. Then at a million a year each thereafter, that would be thirty million each year. Joe Cutter could afford his island and his mansion atop the cliff. The money Dr. Cutter received would all be tax free out here, unless the doctor had to pay one of the neighboring island nations for protection, which was quite possible.
"Why is the number of your patients increasing so slowly when you offer immortality?" I inquired.
"The high price and, well . . . I can't advertise. This is illegal. Word of mouth among the elite is slow."
"How many have begun and then dropped out of the program?"
"None. One person has been killed in an accident."
"No refunds on that."
"I'm afraid not." Joe Cutter smiled again, his disarming open grin.
"Have you considered that perhaps the greatest men of our age should be given immortality rather than the richest? Some men might be invited to partake of immortality?"
"That is a question I have never been asked before. You are an unusual person. But I am not in the philanthropy business. On the other hand you could finance such a person yourself. You have the money to do it. You mentioned a brother you had who was a physicist. What is greatness, Bob Fond? Define a great man for me. How would you have me choose?"
I did not reply. Instead I asked another question: "What is the longest anyone has been on your pills?"
"Six years. That would be myself."
"How old are you?" I asked Dr. Cutter. We are all more aware of our own age than any other fact. Perhaps that will stop in the future.
"I'm forty-three, now," the Doctor replied. "I started taking the pills when I was thirty-seven. I was quite lucky. I think thirty-five is the optimum age for people. I intend to try to stay close to that age forever."
Joe Cutter did not look forty-three. How do you tell? Now the question was, should I buy in? The money was not a problem, if the treatment really worked. But I had grown up poor and made my money in the software end of the Internet businesses, which was not as easy as it sounded. I respected money. Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, had given away two hundred million dollars, but Carnegie never gave to beggars. Carnegie believed everything in life was educational. You taught beggars to continue begging by giving to them. I never gave to beggars either.
"How long do I have to think it over?"
"As long as you like. Have lunch. Have a swim down there. I have suits available in the cabanas. If you want longer than today, I will ask you to leave and return when you have decided."
"Do you give group rates?" I was stalling now.
"You mean a wife or . . . "
"I am currently long divorced. This is one place where I think the radicals have it right. I do not intend to marry again and get taken. But I do have a young lady friend whom I might be interested in preserving the youth of, if this seemed to work for me. I also have a son who is twenty and a daughter eighteen, both in college."
Dr. Cutter sighed. "And your lady friend's age?"
"Cynthia is twenty-four." I did not call her by her nickname, 'Sin'.
"Let them all age a little," Dr. Cutter advised. "Then it will be worth more to them. Until people are about twenty-five, there is still a growth cycle, which we must not interfere with."
"So in essence, the people you want most are those in that broad middle ground of life, from twenty-five to fifty-five, where we notice aging the least and therefore could be most easily fooled the longest."
"That is true on the age parameters. Fooled, no. The choice is yours, however. This does work. If at any time, one month, one year, five years from now you feel . . . "
"I get my money back without interest." I waved my arm to cut him off. "How long has my friend Steve Blazier been in the program?"
"He had my permission to tell you about the program, after I checked on your background . . . "
"And you checked my ability to pay."
"That is true. If you want to ask him that question and he wishes to answer, he may."
"Can I be put in touch with others who believe this has worked for them?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Suppose, Dr. Cutter, you yourself die, in an accident or of old age, what happens?"
The doctor came right back with an answer: "My assistant, Dr. Mel Greer will carry on for me if I have an accident. He is on the island and you will meet him."
"I think I'll borrow a suit and take that swim. I would like a little while to think."
I swam and thought. It had all gone well, maybe too well. 'We're all in sales' had been one of my early mottoes. The first thing we sell is ourselves. Did I want to live forever? Maybe this wasn't forever. I could quit anytime. And lose the big chunk of money I put in. Would people get suspicious in five years or ten if I didn't age? No it would take longer than that. This was illegal. But only Dr. Cutter was liable for breaking the law, not the patients. I had done some research of my own. And in ten years or twenty, times could change. Well suppose the laws became even more stringent? If there was DNA testing for instance to discover people who had taken the 'forever pill' then I could always pack my money and buy my own island.
What would it be like to live for eons? One could take it one day at a time. Oddly, the only times I remembered being bored was as a young child.
I thought of Cynthia, my current 'Sin.'
I had married foolishly, rapidly in college and it had not lasted. My life with Helen, Hell I thought of it now, had seemed splendid at first. She was beautiful and we did well for several years. We had two children whom I loved dearly and still see every other weekend. Then one day Helen announced that we needed separate bedrooms and no more sex. She declared she was fulfilled, had served her purpose as a woman, had two children, one of each gender, and she wished now to spend the next twenty years raising them. Perhaps after that we could try sex again.
I could scarcely believe what I heard from Helen. We talked, we argued to no avail. I termed this result "the Black Widow spider" complex. After the female black widow had sex, she ate the male. The male was no longer needed. I felt I had children enough, but did not feel sexually fulfilled for a lifetime. I suggested counseling or therapy. No. Helen said she knew what she wanted and did not need any advice from therapists or psychiatrists. Someone said once you really did not know a woman till you met her in divorce court. Yet I was still friends with Helen.
I moved out, gave her the house, and supported her. Fortunately my business had begun to take off and I could afford it. I next lived with a series of women. Cynthia (Sin) was not after my
money. She had finished college and had a good job in the advertising business. She was interested in psychology and philosophy. She was young, but perhaps, if my own aging slowed down we could be even closer in the future. Right now I sometimes I felt as if I were dating a daughter. Someday something beyond living together might happen between Sin and myself, but not now.
Dr. Cutter had said that especially I must promise not to tell my children or Cynthia. That was an easy promise to make. I would feel foolish telling them that I was seeking immortality.
For immortals how many affairs might there be? Would a person eventually understand their own life and themselves? The Greek philosophers demanded above all: 'Know thyself.' Why was I driven to make more money when I had enough? Did I want to be a billionaire? No. It was probably just power. Making money had become a way of life. For better or worse, there it was.
I finished the swim. Yes, I would enter the program. I had done twenty laps of the huge Olympic pool easily. The swim test could be taken annually as well to see if my health was holding up.
* * *
There were medical forms to be filled out, tests to be taken, questions asked. Did I smoke? No. Had I taken hard drugs that might have done things to my chromosomes? No. How much did I drink? I lied a little.
Dr. Cutter’s clinic had equipment that rivaled the world's best hospitals. There was twilight sleep during some tests and injections. Then I was told I had been accepted into the program. The program would work in my case.
Now it was my turn, a matter of selling stock fund options, at not necessarily the best time, and transferring ten million dollars electronically to a neutral Swiss bank. Then there were further injections and not one pill but a series. I was in the program.
Dr. Mel Greer, whom I met during the testing, was tall, stoop shouldered, and shadowy, certainly an assistant, staying in the background. The nurse, Betty Hines, was young, quiet, and could not be opened up for conversation. She may have been more than a nurse to Dr. Cutter.
I returned three times to the island clinic, after three, six, and nine months, right on schedule. Schedules were apparently timed so that I saw no other guests at the clinic.
I asked permission to tell my brother George. "Bob, how will your brother George come up with the required fee as an Associate Professor?" Dr. Cutter inquired of me.
"I would finance him," I replied simply, though George was proud and this was not a simple matter. Still it could mean a choice between life and death. Dr. Cutter had agreed George could be told.
But George, who was 39 years old, said he would think about it and I heard no more on the matter from my brother. George thought about things for years. George promised to tell no one. 19
* * *
And then it happened. The frightening events began. Steve Blazier, who had invited me into the program, saw me at a business dinner and while we were talking casually afterwards Steve said: "It's important I meet with you, Bob. I don't want to say more now. I'd like to arrange lunch at the outside terrace of the Raven." Why outdoors, I wondered, but I agreed.
Steve Blazier was about fifty, of medium height, but solidly built. He had a flattened nose from a youthful altercation. There was a third man who joined us for the lunch at the Raven, Jerry Walters, CEO of Conrath and on the board of directors of a dozen companies. I did not know Jerry Walters well. He was sixty, perhaps. Jerry always wore gray suits, a nervous, thin man with a hatchet face and a beak nose. Jerry looked ashen now, the color of his suit.
Steve came to the point as soon as we were served our food. "I'm sorry to have to lay this on you, Bob. But I invited you into the program. Jerry, here, invited me in. He was my contact. It's like a chain letter, only with just one link we each know about."
Jerry looked about anxiously, then opened up: "Really, we have promised and even signed a paper to the effect that we would not do what we are doing now." His voice seemed to rasp.
"That's true," I agreed, "but I sure won't give you away. You seem worried."
"Really," Jerry went on, "I've been in the program five years. I'll he sixty-five this year. At sixty, Dr. Cutter said I was entering the program late, but I was in good health and he finally accepted me. I am not about to retire. I own so much of my company; the Board of Directors can't and won't dump me. But really that's not why we're here. I got Steve in and he got you in. Harold Flowers in London got me in. You've heard of him?"
I nodded. "Only from the newspapers and TV stations he owns. I never met him. Go on."
"Auto accident. Harold was killed."
"Your only contact. It could be unnerving," I suggested, trying to be soothing, trying to relieve the obvious tension I felt at the table.
"Harold told me last week when he was in L.A. that his contact was Brett Ryan. Really."
I knew Ryan well. He had inexplicably jumped to his death from his penthouse in New York a few weeks ago. Ryan's business seemed solid. There was no suicide note. But there was apparently no one else in the penthouse at the time. It was still under investigation. I nodded again. "I knew Ryan and his family," I divulged.
"Harold told me that if anything happened to him, I really better watch out for myself." Jerry Walters spit out all the words at once, anxious to get this over.
I felt a cold chill. "Is Dr. Cutter rolling up his network because the program doesn't work?" I asked. "There will be no refunds to any of the murdered men."
"We all only know one person, the one we recommended into the link," Steve Blazier suggested, "yet I feel good. I felt the program was working."
"Are they all men? Can't women keep a secret?" I asked.
"I really recommended someone else," Jerry Walters offered. "Henry Winslow."
I starred in disbelief. "Killed two weeks ago in a hunting accident. So the chain can have more than one link. But, if they cut the links to the chain, how do we know how many before us died?" I wondered out loud.
"Have you recommended anyone?" Steve asked of me.
"My brother George. He'll think it over for years. He isn't in. I received permission to ask him, but he's very indecisive."
"Maybe he's safe," Steve concluded.
I shifted uncomfortably, toying with my salad. Suddenly I wasn't hungry. Then I had some other thoughts. "I also felt like the program was working," I related.
"We all did," Jerry declared. "Really, my medical tests have been so much the same each year that my doctors are surprised. It may be really just a placebo effect, where you feel good because you have been told you will feel good. But no, I think the program is really a
success. Only there is the money. Maybe Dr. Cutter has enough money and wants to get out."
Jerry Walters thought for a while and then let the rest of what he was feeling out: "Really, Bob touched on another element we should examine also. My wife died before I could get her into the program. She was only fifty-four. It was a sudden stroke. She died before I found out about the program. Really, I am sure my wife's death had nothing to do with these recent deaths, all in the last month. Now none of the men we have mentioned are or were currently married. That way wives were not told of the program. You can swear people to secrecy, but how far does that go? Sometimes secrets get out because one person is told, who really only tells one other person and so on. Casey who ran the CIA during the Reagan years defined secrecy. He said 'a secret is something you know and tell no one else.' I am telling you what I know. And I'm really scared."
I reviewed in my mind all the names mentioned. None were currently married. Then I suggested: "Where do we start? Some of these men may have asked others into the program that we don't even know of. These deaths go beyond coincidence. We could get a private agency to investigate if other men of great wealth have died in the last month. We would not have to mention Dr. Cutter, the program, or his island. We could discretely inquire of relatives of those who have died if they had heard anything from the deceased before their deaths. The attorneys of the dead men would have investigated their wills and safe deposit boxes. They will have found
Dr. Cutter's documents of an insurance policy. Questions will be asked."
"But," Steve interrupted, "the guarantee we received, which looks a lot like an innocuous insurance policy, declares there is no payoff at all in the case of accident or suicide."
"Yes," I agreed, "only the sum of money is such that lawyers would certainly investigate. I wonder what they may have discovered?"
"We really know little of this chain of men," Jerry observed. "Really, Dr. Cutter said he had thirty-five participants when I was in for my annual checkup last month."
"We do have some places to start," Steve indicated. "I will look into the detective agency approach. Jerry, maybe you can contact some of Harold's relatives. This is Tuesday. Maybe we can meet back here at noon Friday?"
"I am going to New York tomorrow," I told them, "but I can be back Friday. I would like to talk to Brett Ryan's sister Peg about her brother's death. I know Peg fairly well. She's married to Hollister Aimes."
Steve gulped. "You haven't heard. Aimes was killed just yesterday in a boating accident."
We looked at each other. It must be that Aimes had been in the program. But here was a married man. The theory of only unmarried men being in the program did not hold up completely.
We all agreed to meet for lunch at the same place Friday. I walked away feeling a bit dazed.
It was absurd in a way. Three middle aged rich men seeking immortality and meeting to discuss murder. Perhaps their own murder.
* * *
In New York I arrived just after the funeral. Peg was a willowy woman, distraught over losing her brother and then her husband. Her face was red and puffy and she had not bothered to hide the tears with make-up. Her pent-house over Central Park was plush, lavish, right out of "House Beautiful." There were several people in the place. There were introductions. I had been here before. I offered the usual condolences and was introduced to some others. Then I found a way to get Peg to a quiet corner and ask her if she knew of a program her husband had been in.
Yes, she knew. Her husband and brother both had been in the program. They had told her to say nothing. She was scheduled to go into the program herself next month. Now she was afraid. Peg said that I should talk to General Jackson Turner. He was against the program and had warned her husband.
"Warned him how?" I asked.
"Oh, Jack is all right," Peg insisted. "He's an old friend."
"Yes, but what was his warning?"
"Jack is a member of the 'Right to Death Society' and a little peculiar on this subject, so you won't want to get him started. But he is not involved in this. He would do nothing to hurt me so."
I thought about this statement. Nothing to hurt her? What of her husband and her brother? Would he hurt them? And then right on cue the doorbell rang and the General was announced.
General Jackson Turner, retired, was tall, gray haired, but very tanned and carried himself severely erect. He was wearing a dark business suit. General Turner seemed startled when Peg introduced me: "This is an old friend, Bob Fond." It was as if the general knew my name, but could not quite place me. He gave Peg a hug that could pass for sorrow over the recent twin funerals, or something else. There was body chemistry here, at least on the General's part. I suddenly felt like an outsider with these two.
In a moment the General opened the conversational gambit further when he declared: "I'm so glad Peg that you did not become a part of this illegal conspiracy." So the General knew of the program.
The General's comment seemed designed to draw me into the net and I accepted the bait. "People have always yearned for longer lives, General," I declared. "That seems natural enough to me. Five years from now or ten further questions may be asked about life extension, but we seem to be dealing with murder here." There! I put the situation as mildly as I could, but I wanted a response.
The General gritted his large teeth: "I took retirement three years ago at 52. There were no further promotions in store for me because the whole country has gone lax again after the Terrorist Wars. The military has been cut. People who have not earned it want to live
forever, not just five or ten years longer. Congress, the majority at least, has passed laws. It is illegal."
"But you got your star," Peg interrupted.
"Yes, one-star. A retirement gift after five years of being passed up for promotion by lesser men. They were glad to get rid of me. I was a nuisance."
I felt the general wanted more stars, but it went beyond that. Even at his pay scale, he could not afford ten million dollars for Dr. Cutter's clinic. I had talked of murder and the word had been ignored.
"How do you earn immortality, General?" I asked, reverting back to the earlier conversational thread.
"Actually there is no way. No one but God deserves that. The Bible says three score and ten. It is all a matter of allotted time."
"There are many men in all ages that have lived to be a hundred," I informed him. "They were the minority, of course. Perhaps we should change the allotment of time by a lot."
"You make fun of me, sir," the General flushed.
I wanted to say how easy that would be, but instead I raised the pressure: "Are you planning on suicide at seventy, General?"
Jackson Turner's face went livid. "Have you ever been in the military? Have you served your country? Why should you be chosen for immortality only because you have plenty of money? A missile up your ass would solve the question of immortality pills."
"Now Jack, really, please." Peg remonstrated, but she also squeezed the general's arm. How did the General know I was in the program?
"General, if my country was under attack, I would join, if I could, even at my age."
"Maybe. Man is the dominant creature on this planet because he did not fear endangering species. Man domesticated animals, not the other way around. Man attained supremacy not by standing around like cows waiting to be milked."
I had heard enough. Peg continued to hold the General's arm, for support or . . . "I had better go," I declared. "I have a late night flight back to California and I better get ready." Actually I had decided to move the flight ahead, get out of New York right away and return to an environment I knew where I might feel more secure.
Paying extra always helps especially on first class and I got out of New York quickly.
Back at my own home, it was time to tell my live-in long-term girl friend, Cynthia, all that had happened. We stood in the oversized kitchen, sipping a light wine. Cynthia stared, her big blue eyes wide in astonishment, twisting, playing with her long blonde hair as always.
"What will you do?" she inquired simply.
"I don't know. Tomorrow is Friday. I'll go back to the Raven Restaurant at noon and meet Steve Blazier and Jerry Walters and see
what they have found. If they haven't hired a detective agency and started to investigate then I intend to."
Cynthia nodded. "Come to bed. Tomorrow will be a better day. But I worry about you. If you are doing this because of our age difference, you shouldn’t."
“No. When you are a bit older, I can involve you as well. But right now . . . Well, tomorrow better be a better day.”
* * *
I arrived early on purpose and walked through the Raven restaurant to the wide outside patio overlooking the city. Had I been followed? Was I being watched? Would scanning and listening equipment even now be trained on me? Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you! I found a table where I could survey the entire area. It was nearly noon now.
Time dragged its feet. Somehow the minutes passed. I ordered just a coke and waited and waited. No one showed. Steve Blazier was always punctual. Jerry Walters would not be a half-hour late. There were no messages of calls when I asked the headwaiter. Then it was half past twelve. No one was coming. I was alone!
I ate alone and left the restaurant walking quickly, sending for my car. I decided to go up to Steve Blazier's home and see what was going on there. I would not call ahead, just drive out and see what was happening.
There are many coastal roads in California along the high cliffs. I had never really thought much before about the four-mile stretch of unpaved road leading finally to Steve Blazier's home, a mansion Steve called "Mountain View". Only as I entered this lonely side road was I aware of being followed. There was a big black van on my tail and it was not even pretending or hanging back. What to do? I had one advantage. I had been to Steve's parties and driven this road several times. But here I was in an open sport car, with a huge van closing fast now. It attempted to ram my bumper from behind.
Then, when I sped up, taking the turns a bit too fast, the van swung to the left lane and there was contact. They were attempting to push me off the road. To my right there was this vast drop. Then for a moment both vehicles passed between rocky cliffs on each edge of the road and both sides of my car showered with sparks. I was being crushed between the van and the smooth rocks. In a moment the rocky cliff would end on the right and then the van could push me off the precipice. I hit the brakes hard, nosing into the rocks on the right just before the wall on my right ended and the sheer drop began again. The van swung wide ahead and then in the open space went off the road and over the cliff. It all happened in seconds.
In the movies there is always an explosion and fire. Here there was just roll over and over for the van. The occupants should be killed or badly injured. My right fenders, both front and rear, were gone, torn to shreds. and my right front tire had blown. The wheel felt loose. I walked the final mile to Steve Blazier's house.
His house was deserted. The front door was strangely unlocked, but there were no servants, no secretary, no one to question. It was a fool's errand, a wild people chase in the worst sense.
I have never considered myself to be especially brave or daring. Maybe the general's words had aroused me. Certainly the attempt to kill me was real. I felt totally angry now. I called a taxi and took it back to the nearest town that had a rental car agency. Then I called Cynthia at work. I told her about the events of the morning.
"Cynthia, I want you to leave work. Get a hotel room under another name. Stay out of sight. Tell no one where you are going. From time to time use a public phone and call our home phone and listen for my message on the answering machine. I'm going out to the island clinic and confront Dr. Cutter. I want some answers. If you haven't heard from me in two days, you have to assume they got to me too. Then you should pull the money you can from our joint account and leave town. Wait a month or more. I don't think they are after you, but they may assume I told you and try to get you too. I want you to be safe."
"Go to the police," Cynthia pleaded. "This is interstate. The FBI could intervene."
"What I did to try for immortality was also mildly illegal. I feel like I am on my own. I have to do this." We talked further, but I was adamant.
I flew to Miami and then rented a seaplane. It was already late and the plane would not leave till Saturday morning. I stayed overnight at a hotel under an assumed name and paid cash so there was no way to trace me.
Now I was returning to the island of dreams, but under very different circumstances. The pilot, well paid, noticed my tension. There were no other planes at the island this time and only one yacht in the inlet harbor. I was not met at the dock at all, but three men in their striped shirts waited for me to come to them.
"You have no appointment here," one of the men called to me.
"Get back in your plane and get out of here."
"I am a patient of Dr. Cutter. I want to see him."
The men waited till I reached the dock shed and then swarmed all over me. "You were told, now go back."
In the movies the hero knows karate and defeats them all.
I landed one good kick, but this was soon over.
Then Dr. Cutter appeared. "Stop," he ordered. "Frisk him and then let him in."
They padded me all over, even more carefully and intrusively than before. "He's clean," one of the men announced.
Again I was alone with Dr. Joe Cutter on the veranda.
"What brings you here?" he inquired his voice not quite normal. "Your next appointment is in a month."
"I think you owe me ten million dollars and an explanation."
Dr. Cutter was pale. "It wasn't you then. My assistant, Dr. Mel Greer, took his yacht and went to Miami for supplies a month ago. He disappeared in Miami."
"Maybe he sold out," I suggested. "Or maybe he is behind a whole series of murders."
"Hardly. They found his body yesterday. He had been tortured and dumped in the ocean some time ago. He probably did talk and told all he knew. Two of my bodyguard assistants were shot by long range snipers yesterday while they waited on the dock. My employees are afraid to go far out on the dock now. My patients are being wiped out one by one. I follow on the internet. Some patients did not come in for scheduled appointments. When something happens to high profile people it is easy to follow. I don't know who is killing my patients or why." Dr. Cutter's words came in short bursts, not necessarily following rationally. "I am packing and going to close down. I did my part of the bargain. I owe no one anything. My patients are all being targeted."
"Shouldn't they all have been warned? How many are left?"
”I don't know. A fellow in Bombay I talked to on the phone last night is still O.K."
"They will probably trace the call and get him too," I ventured.
"Something may happen to me," Dr. Cutter exclaimed his voice rising. "I suppose I owe you something. You thought this was me doing this, and you had the guts to come out here. Here, take this
computer disk. These are my copies of my notes. I have made several comouter file copies of the formula. They may get to me. I would like you to have one copy as insurance." The disk was in a little plastic case enclosed by a plastic zip-lock bag. I took it and put it in my pocket. It could contain something or nothing.
I nodded. Suddenly I believed Dr. Cutter. "When are you leaving?” I asked him. And then I added: "No refunds on any of the murdered people."
"I didn't murder anybody," he replied, angry.
"You are the one pulling out. The program stops and I get nothing. Is that the way it ends?"
"I can transfer ten million to your bank today," Dr. Cutter replied. He shook his head again. "It takes a while to pack things up. I was never good at that. I have so much research. Will you stay here tonight?"
He wanted company. Maybe he was afraid or wanted a chance to kill me. "No," I countered. "It's still early afternoon. I do believe you. But I see no reason to stay. Do you know a General Jackson Turner?"
"Yes, he has made threats. Tell me what you know."
"No. You tell me more first," I demanded.
"I am in the middle of some computer things," Joe Cutter asserted. "Take a swim in the pool and relax a little. Sorry my guards roughed you up. Perhaps I can pack and get out today too."
The guards could shoot me anytime. But if that were Dr. Cutter's intention, it would be all over already. Why give me a computer disk unless it was real? "I want to know more," I told him. "An hour then?"
"All right," Cutter agreed.
I went down to the pool area and changed to one of the swimsuits hanging on hooks in the cabanas. Then luckily, as it turned out, I laid my clothes out at the pool edge with the zip disk in my pants pocket. I was thinking of my wallet inside by suit coat at the time. I swam my twenty laps. It felt good.
Cynthia was right, I decided. I should go to the FBI. I had broken the law trying for immortality, but murder was a bit worse. If I told what I knew, I ought to be able to make a deal. I probably needed to sell some stocks anyway and then leave the country for a while afterwards. I could change my name and identity if necessary. My assistants could manage my corporations. And there were plenty of places to visit in the world. In a few years the governmental policies against immortality could all change.
I was right at the side of the pool beside my clothes when I saw the plane coming in slowly. Then the missile was fired low, heading for Dr. Cutter's house of dreams. "A missile up your ass," General Turner had said.
I grabbed for my clothes and the computer disk and dived under water. The explosion took out the house and the firestorm rolled right over the pool for an instant. The water felt warmer as I surfaced.
The house was in flames. My pilot in the rented seaplane down at the landing dock made an effort to take off and then there was the rattle of a gun from the attacking plane in the air. My seaplane started to climb and then nosed over, dead in the water.
There was more gunfire beyond my view now. Then the invading plane circled and left. I watched till it was a dot on the horizon. I climbed out of the water and checked that the zip disk was still safe in its plastic bag. Next I wrung out my wet clothes. The house was still burning brightly. I would not have any more conversations with Dr. Cutter. His aides, nurse, and guards were all finished I was sure. I climbed a ridge and looked at the boat harbor. Dr. Cutter's yacht had been shattered by gunfire and sunk. There was still a small speedboat tied to a dock at the other end of the shore. The speedboat was under the trees and hard to see from the air no doubt.
I Looked around a little and then took the anchored speedboat in toward Miami. On the boat I spread out my wet clothes to dry in the sun. There was a compass but I was not sure I was headed in the right direction. The water began to get choppy for the small boat. Then I was stopped by a coast guard ship looking for smugglers.
It was time to tell all and let the coast guard investigate. I was returned to Miami to await special agents. I turned the zip disk over to the Justice Department. How many connections General Jackson Turner has, I do not know. General Turner and his organization were going to need them all.
* * *
This concludes the confession and statement of Bob Fond. He will be a witness in the case against General Jackson Turner. The illegal immortality formula on the zip disk has been turned over to the investigating authorities.
* * *
The Justice Department wanted to close down the "Right to Death Movement" and here was an opportunity.
Bob Fond made a copy of the computer disk for himself before he turned it in. Someday there would be a new house of dreams and a fresh start to immortality.
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Science Fiction and Fantasy Science fiction is stories of the future or past. It is H.G. Wells The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds. It is Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. though we have now achieved this feat. It is Star Trek and space travel. Fantasy is Harry Potter, witches and goblins, dragons and magic. This blog deals with science fiction only, in its many aspects. I will add a new story every two weeks or so and they all will be different. The first group of stories will be from The World of If. Your comments are welcome.
Roger Lee Vernon
Roger Lee Vernon