So now that I look at the second half of chapter 11 it’s obvious to me…this has to be its own chapter. I have no idea why I ever thought otherwise.
Anyway, it is in this chapter of CHAOS , DESIRE & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE that Jason readers are re-introduced to Jason. I created Jason for my first Sophie novel, SEX, MURDER AND A DOUBLE LATTE. He’s Dena’s on-again-off again boyfriend. At the time of his creation it occurred to me that he might be a one-book character. He was funny but I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep him around. But the interesting (maybe disturbing?) thing about Jason is he’s become more relevant and contemporary with time. Back when readers first met him in 2005 he seemed soooo out there with his outrageous conspiracy theories, his deep suspicion of government and corporate America and his willingness to believe truly outrageous stories about vampires and whatnot. But now? Everyone seems to believe in one conspiracy theory or another. Be it the people on the extreme right who are freaking out over the “New World Order” or the people on the let’s-all-be-natural-left who won’t inoculate their kids against the measles because they think the vaccines cause autism.
And the thing is, over the last few years a lot of the crazy conspiracy theories have been proven to have some merit. That makes people even more prone to believing crazy stuff. There’s even a growing number of people who believe the earth is flat. Compared to that, how crazy is it to think vampires might exist, as Jason once speculated? My craziest character has a place in 2017.
What’s weird is that, as I write this character now…well, I don’t agree with him on anything but I think I understand him better than I did at his conception. He’s not completely crazy. He examines the evidence, looks at the facts and draws conclusions. They’re not the right conclusions but they’re not entirely illogical either. Think about it: only a few years ago we were taught that fat in food was bad…maybe even evil. Then we’re told fat is fine. And then we learn that the sugar industry paid scientists to shift blame for heart disease from sugar (the real culprit) to saturated fat. Now if you know that, are you stupid to be distrustful of scientific studies? Obviously good science, real science, has a lot to teach us. But as I force myself to inhabit Jason’s mind I can see why he is so distrustful of scientifically proven facts and why he is sure industries are conspiring against the public’s best interests. Which means I can also see why so many others share his distrust. It’s not exactly comfortable for me. I know the value of science and it really bothers me how the scientific community has been increasingly vilified and seen so many of its findings dismissed by both private citizens and public officials alike. But I created Jason…so I can’t pretend that I don’t understand anymore. I can’t blame people for being skeptical after they’ve been lied to again and again by politicians, industry and a handful of scientists who have sold out to serve them.
I don’t want to get it. But Jason won’t let me pretend otherwise.
And with that, here is what is now chapter 12 in CHAOS, DESIRE & A KICK-ASS CUPCAKE. If you haven’t been keeping up, you can read the earlier chapters here!
“Yesterday’s insanities are today’s prophesies.”
–Dying To Laugh
Dena was not thrilled when I told her what I wanted but Jason leaped at the opportunity to explain his conspiracy theories to a captive audience. At his request we were to meet in Sutro Heights Park at 5:30pm and since Marcus didn’t have any more clients and Ms. Dogz needed a walk I decided to take both of them along.
“Why are we meeting in a park again?” Marcus asked as I struggled to fit my Audi into a parallel spot relatively near our destination. Ms. Dogz was skidding from one side of the backseat to the other as she tried unsuccessfully to squeeze her muzzle through the cracked windows.
“Not enough privacy in a café,” I said, reciting what Jason had told me.
“We could have met at your place,” he said.
“You remember that time when someone bugged my house?” I asked as I finally got my car correctly positioned.
“That was eons ago,” Marcus complained.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Jason just thought the park was better.”
“The wind is picking up and I just did your hair!” He snapped as I turned off the ignition.
I swiveled in my seat so I could face him. “Marcus, this meeting is about life and death.” I paused a beat before adding, “and the blow out looks so cool when it’s flowing in the breeze.”
Marcus grunted his disapproval as he got out of the car. I leashed up Ms. Dogz and we trekked over to the main entrance of the park. Jason was already there, standing between the two stone lions. The looks carved into the feline faces had always struck me as both bemused and sort of judgey, expressions that seemed out of place here, in this seaside park built on the grounds of the ruined Sutro Mansion. But Jason, with his blonde goatee, camouflage pants, red flannel shirt and black printed t-shirt gave their bemused judgment a needed bit of context.
“How are you?” I asked as Jason stepped in to give me a hug. Ms. Dogz eagerly sniffed his pant leg.
“I’m as well anyone living in a corrupt Capitalist dystopia can expect to be,” he answered cheerily. He gave Marcus a quick bro hug before turning back to me. “Like the hair.”
“Thank you,” Marcus and I said simultaneously. I reached up to run my fingers through it but Marcus slapped my hand away. “Mess with it and I cut you,” he growled.
Jason crouched down so he was eye-level with the dog. “So this is Sophie?”
“Wait, what?” Marcus asked, surprised. “Her name’s–”
“Ms. Dogz,” I snapped. “That’s what we’re calling her.”
“Got it, sorry,” Jason smiled. He started to stand again but then suddenly stopped short. “Is that my leash?”
“Wait, what?” Marcus said again.
I felt my face heating up to about a thousand degrees. “Oh, yeah,” I stammered. “Um, Dena lent it to me. I’d give it back now but, well,” I gestured to the dog who clearly needed to be leashed.
“No, no it’s okay,” Jason said, a little uncertainly. “We have more.”
“You’re serious?” Marcus asked. “This is serious?”
“I did like that one though,” Jason noted, taking no mind of Marcus. “It’s a good length.”
It was possible this was the worst conversation these lions had ever been cursed to overhear. “In all the chaos of last night I forgot this was the leash Dena used on you,” I explained. “Only a death and a stolen dog could distract me from something like that but there it is. So now we’re both just going to have to pretend that you have never ever been attached to this thing. It is very important to me that we both go into immediate states of denial. Can you do that?”
Jason rolled his eyes and scratched at the back of his neck. “You don’t have to get puritanical about it. Dena and I just have a different way of expressing sexual affection–”
“That is not denial!” I shouted. “I swear to God, Jason I will walk out of here–”
“Okay, okay,” He laughed holding up his hands in surrender. “Come on, let’s walk and talk…” he hesitated and then lowered his voice, “about what we came here to talk about.”
Marcus and I gave each other looks. There was no need to speak in code or whispers. We were entering magic hour. The picnickers had all packed up. The few tourists still here were busy trying to rub away goosebumps as they made their way back to their cars. That left us and a handful of locals, identifiable by their pragmatic layered clothing and shaggy eternity scarves, milling about, sneaking in a few moments of solitude in this sanctuary that was allowed to grow over the cracked foundation of a fallen estate.
We followed Jason as he led us down the dirt path that had once been a curving driveway. “Dena filled me in on everything as soon as she got home from your break in last night,” Jason explained, kicking a small stone out of the way with his Doc Martins.
“It was not a break-in,” I protested. Ms. Dogz was zig-zagging all over the place. First there was something she had to smell to her left, then her right. It took both attention and skill to keep from tripping on the notorious leash. “I had a key,” I went on. “The neighbor let me into the building.”
“Yeah, but the neighbor let you in after you lied to him, right?” Jason asked, with a small smile. “Not judging. You did what needed to be done. Tell me what London was afraid of. Who or what did he think was after him?”
“Everything?” I laughed then caught myself. It was bad luck to make fun of the dead. “He was going on about the New World Order, our government and institutionalized racism or something like that. And then he was ranting about the pharmaceutical industry, I remember he mentioned Rispolex and oh what was the other one…Thilodeen? Thiophene? I can’t be sure.”
“Thalidomide,” Jason said, in a slightly hushed voice.
I blinked in surprise. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“It is?” Marcus asked, then stopped briefly to disentangle himself from the leash. “How’d you know the name of the drug, Jason?”
“There have been class action lawsuits against both the makers of Rispolex and Thalidomide,” Jason explained. We passed a cluster of evergreens and the marble stones that once formed a pillar. “Both drugs caused the users to alter their bodies in really bad ways. Rispolex caused heart murmurs and sometimes caused serious damage to the heart valves of people taking the drug. And Thalidomide caused deformities in the babies of the mothers who took the drug. Rispolex was such a fuck-up the company that developed it went under.”
“London didn’t have any deformities,” I said as I thought back to the waif of a man I had met only a day ago. “And from what I saw, I don’t think London had a heart attack. Were either of those drugs made by Nolan Volz?”
“Never heard of Nolan-Volz. Why?” Jason asked.
“It’s a pharmaceutical development company. Aaron London used to be an executive there. V.P. of R&D.”
Jason stopped in his tracks. “A dude who worked for a money-hungry, industrial, blood-sucking drug pusher claims he’s being poisoned, then keels over in the street and you’re confused about what’s going on?”
“Ooh, I see where you’re going with this,” Marcus chimed in. “Maybe somebody at Nolan Volz was skimming off the top or, oh, I know! Maybe they were stealing the company drugs and dealing them to addicts! Profiting off the opioid epidemic!”
“No,” Jason said sullenly. “That’s not what happened.”
“It could have,” Marcus said, a bit defensively.
“You’re not thinking big enough,” Jason insisted. “It wasn’t an individual at the corporation who offed him. It was the corporation itself! I bet you anything this guy’s death was a corporate decision.”
“You mean like they discussed it at the board meeting?” Marcus asked, dryly. “Agenda item number one, How to increase market share, item two, how to assassinate former employees, item three research and development–”
“These companies are evil! They make poison!” Jason sputtered. “They convince parents to medicate their kids in order to fit them into a broken educational system! They push their speed on college kids using the guise of treating their supposed ADHD!”
“Speed treats ADHD?” Marcus asked, but Jason was on a roll.
“They give us heart medication that destroys our livers, liver medication that destroys our hearts, they literally inject cancer patients with artificial toxins and call it treatment. They try to squash news and research proving the benefits of homeopathic medicine, like Gaba, Ox bile and medical marijuana! What this country needs is homeopathic weed, not pharmaceutical speed!”
“Ox bile?” I asked weakly. “People take, like, actual ox bile?”
“And speaking of weed,” Marcus chimed in, “have you been smoking, honey? Because you’re sounding a little paranoid.”
“There’s a difference between being paranoid and being clear eyed,” Jason replied, almost petulantly. “That’s why you asked to pick my brain. I’m clear eyed. And ox bile is fucking awesome. Does great things for your digestion. But you wouldn’t know that because Big Pharma won’t let you know that!”
I sent up a silent message of thanks to Big Pharma for protecting me from ox bile propaganda. Ms. Dogz was pulling me toward a different trail and I gestured for the guys to come along as I let her take the lead. The small victory seemed to cheer her and she trotted in front of us, ears flapping joyfully in the air. “London also said something about a medical ethics professor at NYU exposing some issues with pharmaceutical testing,” I said, as I tried to replay my whole conversation with London in my head.
“Several years back a that professor he was talking about found that there were a lot of companies who weren’t disclosing the results of their trial studies before getting FDA approval to put new drugs on the market,” Jason explained. “She went public about it, talking to anyone who would interview her and sending her study out to as many publications as possible. She became a real hero to those of us who are trying to stand up to Big Pharma. But did the FDA listen to her? Do they care that they’re being deceived? No. They don’t give two fucks. They did nothing to address the problems she brought to light. The guys in the FDA are just putting in their time until one of the pharmaceutical companies their supposed to be regulating offers them a big-pay-check job at their firm.”
“How do you know all this stuff?” Marcus asked, articulating what I as thinking.
“Because I’m woke.”
“The thing is,” I jumped in, before Marcus had a chance to comment on how totally awkward it was to hear a thirty-something year old white man who spends his nights on a leash use the word woke, “a lot of what London said really was pretty out there, even by…er…clear eyed standards.”
“I doubt that,” Jason sniffed.
“It wasn’t all about pharmaceuticals,” I continued. “He was freaking out about the entire medical establishment. He thought hospitals were doing unnecessary procedures on homeless people. I mean even you’d have to agree, that’s nuts.”
Once again, Jason came to an abrupt stop. Marcus followed suit, I tried to follow suit but it took a little tugging on Ms. Dogz before she agreed to let me stand still.
“Jason?” Marcus asked. “Is everything okay?”
But Jason was busy with his phone, his fingers tapping away at the screen until he found what he was looking for. He held up the phone so we could all see the archived L.A. Times article. The headline read: 3 Hospitals Accused Of Using Homeless For Fraud.
I grabbed the phone out of his hand and started reading.
“Three hospitals were exposed for literally searching for homeless people on the street,” Jason summarized even as I read the words for myself. “They offered them a couple of bucks to come stay at their facilities for a few days, gave them a false medical diagnosis and then did tests and procedures on them so they could bill Medicare.”
“Wait a minute, what?” Marcus put his hand against his chest as if grasping at his heart. “That can’t be true.”
“It was on MSNBC,” Jason continued. “Just your typical predatory, corporate, Machiavellian behavior. They managed to bilk the system for something like sixteen mil. One more reason to hate L.A., right?”
Marcus was turning a little green. “Did they…hurt anyone?”
“They didn’t kill anyone but they fucked a few people up, yeah.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Marcus muttered.
“Then you should be getting sick every day,” Jason said, enthusiastically. “If we were all paying better attention it would be a non-stop vomit fest! Come on, my brother, you gotta get yourself woke!”
Marcus held up his hand in a Stop-In-The-Name-Of-Love like gesture. “Try not to get all Rachel Dolezal on me.” He studied Jason for a second before adding, “I will admit, you’re quite a fountain of knowledge when it comes to bizarre news stories. You never even met the man and yet you seem to be a regular Aaron London cryptographer.”
“This happened,” I said softly, still staring at the article. “He wasn’t just making things up.”
“What else did he talk about?” Jason asked eagerly.
“Um, the New World Order?” I offered. “LSD…something about Nazis. He was definitely upset about Nazis which…now that I think about it, might not be so unreasonable these days.”
I looked at him blankly as he took the phone back from me and started walking again, as if too amped to stand still. Marcus, Ms. Dogz and I dutifully followed.
“What’s MkUltra?” I asked.
“The American government hired Nazi doctors,” he explained, “some of whom were accused of war crimes, to help them develop chemical weapons and design ways the drugs could be tested on unsuspecting civilians. New moms who went in for post partum depression, unsuspecting military personnel, individuals who were considered undesirable, those are the people that were considered fair game by our government. They dropped acid in people’s drinks and fucked with their heads. And they got Nazis to help them do that. Nazis. You don’t believe me? Google that shit. MkUltra.”
“But…London was crazy,” I said weakly as Ms. Dogz yanked me toward a spot of grass with an apparently interesting smell. “He was a mess. He was manic. He was—“
“Being poisoned,” Jason said, finishing the sentence for me. “Look, you may not believe all the so-called conspiracy theories you hear about Big Pharma or the government, or corporations and modern-day robber barons plotting for world domination but there’s a reason so many of us do. Years ago, if someone told you the government was monitoring your emails and phone calls you’d assume they had a tinfoil hat in their closet. Now you’d just assume they read the latest New York Times article about the NSA.”
“Okay, I get it.” I stopped at a dry well house, resting my weight against the only in-tact structure of the crumbled estate. My head was beginning to pound. “What about Zip Cars? Or the practice of putting invisible tracking devices on cars? Can you make sense out of all that too?”
Jason crossed his arms across his chest and stared down at the grass, his forehead scrunched up like he was pondering a particularly difficult math equation. “Maybe…maybe not. What we really need to do is break into the apartment again,” he finally said.
“Um, no. Nuh-uh!” I raised my hands in protest. “I had an excuse last time. I had to rescue this girl.” I gestured to Ms. Dogz who had begun grazing on long blades of grass. “I have no valid reason to go into there again and if I’m caught it could be bad.”
“Then let’s not get caught!” Marcus suggested.
I looked over at him, stunned. “You can’t possibly think this is a good idea.”
“Well like you said, you have the key,” Marcus leaned up against the well with me and offered his most encouraging smile. “It does seem like a good place to start.”
“I already started there!” I protested. “I’m not going in there again! It’s illegal and more importantly, I don’t own a hazmat suit! Seriously, the air inside that place was…was crunchy.”
Marcus wrinkled up his nose in disgust. “Crunchy?”
“Yes,” I said stubbornly. “The air in there felt crunchy. Like it was so stale it had texture. I’m not going back.”
“Dena said there were papers in there,” Jason said, authoritatively. “She thought they might be print outs of articles? Maybe blogs? We need to read what he was reading. We need to know what he was researching. Whatever it was, he was killed for it.”
“Not necessarily!” I shot back.
“Yeah, it could have been the wife,” Marcus said with a nod. “It’s always the wife, or the husband, or the butler in the library with a candle stick. Always one of those three”
“This is serious, Marcus!” Jason said, plaintively. “This really could be the work of The New World Order. You can’t be joking about butlers.”
I sighed and let them continue to argue about who the most likely suspect was as my eyes scanned the park. It was one of my favorite places in San Francisco and yet I hadn’t been here in years. Why was that? What keeps us from doing the easy things that brighten our lives? I couldn’t claim to be too busy. I wasn’t. And are you ever really to busy to just take a half hour every week or so and…
My thoughts floated away as my eyes rested on the very outskirt of the park where there was a man, standing very still, looking in my direction.
He was wearing a black baseball cap.
Slowly, I pushed myself off the well. Marcus and Jason were too busy debating useless things to pay any attention to me. I took a step forward, in the direction of the man. Ms. Dogz looked up at me curiously and then followed my gaze as I watched him. I took another step. Then another.
The man in the hat turned and started walking away.
“Come back here,” I said under my breath. Ms. Dogz looked up at me, the only one of my companions who had actually heard me.
“Come back here!” I yelled.
“What?” Marcus said and Jason added something along the lines of “Are you talking to me?”
There was too much distance between me and the man in the black hat for him to have possibly heard me.
And yet he broke into a jog, toward the street.
He was running away from me.
And then I broke into a run too. Dragging Ms. Dogz at first before she quickly overtook me and started dragging me. The man was moving faster now but so was I…too fast. Ms. Dogz was going too fast.
“Whoa!” I cried out, grasping at the first animal command that popped into my head to absolutely no effect. And the man was still running.
I tried to increase my pace to better match Ms. Dogz as I watched the man leave the park and turned onto the sidewalk. He was not going to get away.
And that’s when it happened.
A friggin’ squirrel ran across our path toward a tree and Ms. Dogz completely Lost. Her. Mind.
With a bark, she did a ninety degree turn to chase her new furry target. “Stop!” I cried half a second before I fell face first into the grass as Ms. Dogz yanked away from me, running to the tree trunk where the squirrel had scampered up, barking at her like a she was a police dog cornering a drug dealer.
There was grass in my mouth. Dirt in my nose. My knee was stinging
“What the hell was that about?”
I looked up to see Jason, out of breath, standing over me. I turned my head to the street where the man had been. He was gone.
“What did you see?” Jason pressed
I scanned the street to the left and right. Nothing.
In my peripheral vision I could see that Marcus had managed to get the dog back and was dragging her my way “I saw a man.” I put my hand up to my hair, wondering how badly I had managed to mess up Marcus’ work. “A man in a black hat.”
“As in a cowboy hat?” Marcus asked. He had caught up with us just in time to hear my last remark. “Was he riding a horse?”
I shook my head and got to my feet, pulling a few blades of grass off my face. My jeans were torn and I could see drops of blood on my kneecap, but other than that I was fine. Ms. Dogz was wagging her tail stub, cocking her head to the side, looking deceptively innocent.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Marcus asked. I could tell the question was meant to pertain to both my physical and mental state.
I blinked at him and then looked back out at the street. “Yeah, I’m okay.” I brushed some dirt off of my clothes. “When will you be available to help me go through London’s apartment?”
Jason’s eyebrows jumped up into his hairline and then he gave me a slow, Cheshire-cat grin. “Hell yeah!”