I think I’m gettin’ too old for my job.
Been overthinkin’ things lately, tossin’ in bed, havin’ bad dreams.
Nowadays, with my dried up ol’ immune system, even the plastic suits I
wear to work don’t ease my head like they used to. Ain’t that I gettin’ rusty or nothin’—just ask the eight hundred Lithuanians tested out my
last release. Them golf ball size tumors all testify, ol’ Eli Jones’ still
got it. And ain’t that I “feel bad” exactly, ain’t no “crisis of
conscience” or some shit. Naw, I put that all that to bed years
ago. Just old age, I think. Workin’ with death so many years, it startin’ to make me feel close to
my own. The Reaper’s my lab assistant, and
these days I catch him makin’ eyes at me behind my back.
Lot of people say to me, Eli, why you got to make deadly
diseases? How ‘bout just a few fevers, infections, a rash here n’ there?
Why all the cancers, AIDS and whatnot? Who needs an epidemic? Well, thing
about that is, it ain’t as easy as it looks. Sure, it don’t behoove a
virus to kill off its host. That way everybody loses, includin’ the
Companies. But viruses, cancer cells, germs, they ain’t that different
from you and me, truth b’told. Even the ones I design with the care ‘a God
hisself, they get antsy. They get greedy. They don’t know when to
say when. So it’s a balancin’ act, what I do. My bosses, they want
discomfort, not death, so that’s what I shoot for, swear to sweet Jesus.
But still, sometimes, when I’m done in the lab, when the bug all growed up
and outta school, trained real nice to act how it s’posed to act, once it
get out there in the real world and feel that fresh wind in its face,
well, the bug just do what the bug wanna do.
But don’t be gettin’ the wrong idea, I say it again, I ain’t lost my
touch. I been in this business over sixty years, and I got me a lot more
hits than misses. Example now, next time the pharmacies ‘a the world call
you up with an order for a hundred thousand cases ‘a them inhalers, y'all
can send up a prayer ‘a thanks for ol’ Eli Jones. Asthma, that
was my big break. Started cookin’ that one up when I was
still in highschool. Wrote equations and chemical compounds on the back ‘a
my Sociology book and published the whole thing my first year at MIT. Oh sure,
asthma been around before that, but not like this, naw. Not like it is
today. Got me noticed, that's for damn sure. Got me a job. Even back in
those days, the Companies ain’t give a shit ‘bout the color ‘a my skin.
That be one moral principle Joe American can’t fault ‘em on: Company folks
too busy to care ‘bout trivial shit like whether or not I a nigga. In them upper outer
layers ‘a the onion clock, only thing they prob’ly give a damn ‘bout is
whether or not I human. Maybe not even that. They a results-based
Didn’t shock me much when they called me up, truth b’told. No I
ain’t never heard ‘a the Companies before that, no I ain’t know there was other
folk doin’ the same work as me, other Diseasemakers, but it all seem just
kinda natural-like to me. I been doin’ this shit my whole life,
y’understand. Made my first infectious rash when I just outta eighth
grade. I know, it seem like a funny hobby for a highschool kid, sittin’ at
home with a chemistry set thinkin’ up new and better diseases while
everybody else out doin’ sports and parties, drownin’ their brains in
booze, their pricks in pussy, but I guess I had what you'd call a higher
Not that it was easy, stickin’ to what my heart was tellin’ me, hell
no. Skinny little negro boy growin’ up in dusty ol’ southland America, I
took my share ‘a shit for bein’ smarter n’ everyone else by ‘bout a
million IQ points. Sure, I got my share
‘a ass whuppins, my share ‘a nasty
names, sure, sure, and y’all can guess what the girls thought ‘a me. Got
‘em all back pretty good though. Sophomore science fair, when everybody
else makin’ bakin’ soda volcanoes and potato clocks, I be makin’ a flu
that lasts a month. After everybody in the school got it ‘cept me, and
somebody sees me walkin’ through them empty echoin’ halls with all my books,
pretendin’ to sit in classes that ain’t got no teachers in ‘em, just
sittin’ there and smilin’ my little smile, well, everybody pretty well let
me be after that. I ain’t never did care much ‘bout them anyhow, though.
God gave me a special gift, and damned if I wasn’t gonna use it.
Dr. Eckert, man who introduced me to the Companies after they picked
up my Asthma thesis through MIT, he says to me—soundin’ smart as hell with
that East London accent and all—he says to me, “Mr. Jones, what God has
given you is not merely a talent. He has given you permission to be His
regent on Earth. You and your colleagues serve as His surrogates, His
agents and angels in an age too fiercely modern for the feather-winged
variety. In this flawed creation, this flawed system here on Earth, you
will help keep the balances of power aligned in the most stable of all
possible configurations. You will keep the resources flowing ever
clockwise, the people safely bound and coiled like springs, and while the
hour and minute hands tie it all together in their unquestionable dark
immensity, the world will simply tick, and simply keep ticking,
I liked that. Liked the sound of it. I whipped up Type 3 Diabetes a
few days later. Slapped the canister down on Eckert’s desk all wrapped
in Santa Claus paper, with a card that just said, “Tick”.
Got a damn good Christmas bonus that year.
Course now that I’m up here in my late seventies, with the white hair
and the bad hip, the money don’t mean much no more. Hell, I ain’t even top
man in my department and I make more scratch than the President ‘a the
United States. Don’t matter for shit. Got nothin’ left to do with it all.
Even when I was in my prime, once I made my first billion I quit carin’.
Shit, what’s any one fella really gonna do with a billion dollars?
So for the last thirty years or so, I been mainly doin’ it on principle.
It’s what I’m good at. What else I gonna do?
But in case I paintin’ the wrong picture here, I ain’t want you
thinkin’ the work is boring. Hell no, we got a lively office in this
department. Got a few jokers, no doubt ‘bout that. Eckert, now he a pretty
cold son of a bitch, but even Eckert give us a surprise or two. I ‘member
the time, damn he gave us a trip—he come in one day sayin’
that Friday gonna be Hawaiian shirt day. We all lookin’ at each other
like, say what now? We just shook our heads and kept workin’. But then
sure ‘nuff, Friday come ‘round and in walks Eckert. Where that ol’ bastard
come up with a Hawaiian print biosuit nobody ever gonna know. Bet it
cost him a thousand dollars. I s’pose that’s a real particular sense ‘a
Everybody here got a competitive streak a mile wide, too, so we do get
to goin’ sometimes, let me tell you that. One week me and Hodgeman had
ourselves a race. Five o’clock Friday rolls around, I got thirty new mutations ‘a
the common cold, Hodgeman got fifteen. Won myself a seaside villa in Italy
off that one. So, sure, we be playin’ like that, but
really we just testin’ ourselves, tryin’ to get better. We got the framed
portraits of three Company legends starin’ down at us from the breakroom
wall. Between the three ‘a them, they come up with AIDS, cancer, and sixty
percent of all heart diseases. Sure, sure, all three ‘a them diseases got
away from their makers, turned deadly, but hell, who gonna hold that
against ‘em? These are the big ones. Trillion dollar industries. Hell,
cancer alone pays the salaries of the whole Disease department, and then it
spill over into Psychological, Religious, even a little bit into Tech
Suppression and War. Shit, even when it take somebody’s mama, ain’t nobody
gonna argue against power like that.
You probably already figured, but I ain’t got many friends outside
Company circles. Your average sidewalk slappin’ Joe, he just don’t get it.
Can’t get it, even if I told ‘im thirty times. Even the big fish
‘a the world,
the CEOs and presidents, the foreign kings and dictators, the OPEC
warlords, they just don’t follow me. And besides, I get tired ‘a
explainin’ myself. There really only one person from the “normal world” I
ever just kick back with, and I s’pose “normal” ain’t the most right
‘a the world this fella live in. He an arms dealer, and you
know I ain’t mean Lockheed Martin, I mean the other kind. He doin’
his work so far under the table, he don’t even know there is a
table. Doin’ it right there on the border between world circles and
Company circles, between “their” reality and “ours”. I figure that’s why I ain’t feel too bad talkin’ to this guy, tellin’ him a few things he ain’t
never gonna hear nowhere else. Might get m’self in some shit for it, sure.
Couple ‘a powders slipped into my brandy, forced retirement, ha ha,
sure, sure. Hell with it, though. I be too old to care much any which way.
Yup, told Kozlov a few things. We in some fancy club in Reykjavik,
hell if I remember why, and we’d had a few cognacs, and I s’pose I just
got sick ‘a that smug look on his pasty Slav face. Boy probably all ‘a
thirty-five, sold some guns, made some money, fucked some women, thought
he knew this world like the backside ‘a his dick. Don’t even rightly
recall how I met him, but I’d been comin’ to him a few years for
ingredients. The kind you ain’t gonna buy at the grocery store,
y’understand, the kind that ‘might’ have come from human beings. A
heart, a liver, a few fetuses, it all just look like meat when it’s piled
in an icebox.
See here now, it all be connected. Folks who sell tanks and jets got
no shortage ‘a dead bodies at they feet. Might as well turn a profit off
‘em, he figured, and I ain’t one to argue. He sell ‘em to me, and next
month maybe his wife get a golf ball brain tumor. Just layers and cogs in
the onion clock. round
‘n round ‘n round.
Course, Kozlov ain’t know what I was doin’ with the stuff he sellin’
me. Thought I was I was a pretty nice old fella, thought I must be into
somethin’ innocent like organ traffickin’. So while he sipped his Louis
XIII and watched the bored teenage strippers shakin’ they skinny titties
in the blue club light, I smiled my little smile at him and just started
Told him things Eckert told me and things I figured for myself, and
damned if I didn’t even start talkin’ a little like Eckert after a while,
even though I mixin’ metaphors like the DJ mixin’ records. Sipped my
cognac and told Kozlov damn near everything, and I mean capital
Everything, the Everything that sidewalk-slappin’ Joe be too far away from
to fathom. Figured maybe Kozlov, workin’ so close to the borders, could
catch a glimpse.
Told him I was a Diseasemaker. Told him I invented modern Asthma,
Herpes, Chron’s ( Jones’ ) Disease, and two thousand varieties of
the common cold. Told him me and my department colleagues were part of the
guard rails that keep the slippery World-Train on its tracks. Told him I
get paid more than every member of Congress combined, and my managers’
salaries surpass the GNPs of some mid-sized countries. Saw the confusion
in his booze-blurred eyes and explained to him where the money goes and
comes from. Told him about the layers. How the world governments he knew
about were all just low-level branch offices, just a tender inner layer of
an ever-expanding onion. How even nations involved in the most bitter of
wars were part of the same layer, just competing departments in a larger
Company, which may be in rivalry with another Company like it, but which
were both just branches of another even larger Company in the next layer
of the onion, encompassing and enclosing all the layers beneath it. Told
him how I sometimes theorize about how far out it goes, where all these
currencies and resources and energies are going to and coming from, and
how me and some of my colleagues have started to assume that at some
point, these layers must reach to other planets entirely, planets unknown
and unrevealed, at least to us, incorporating their
resources and their economies, because surely this pitiful blue
Earth is too small to contain this vast, bitter onion and all the raging
drooling grasping of the human spirit.
That’s the type ‘a shit I said to that slick son of a bitch, sittin’
there in that noisy club in Reykjavik. See now, told y’all I been
overthinkin’ lately. Kozlov just looked at me for a good while, then he go
and drain the last hundred-dollar drop ‘a his Louis XIII, and as smooth as
that shit s’posed to be, looked like it went down hard.
I just smiled my little smile again. Now it lookin’ like maybe he was
close enough to that border afterall, seein’ as he ain’t laughin’ and callin’ me a crazy old nigga yet. S’pose I’ll put in a word for him with
Eckert. Guessin’ somebody in War got a place for Kozlov now, or if not
now, real soon.
I be visitin’ that Italian villa I won from Hodgeman this weekend.
Damn nice place. Spent most of today just layin’ out in that hot sand and
starin’ up at the sky like a crusty ol’ fart tryin’ to be young again. One
‘a the perks ‘a this job, we get immunity DNA for every disease our
department come up with. That means I ain’t never gettin’ cancer, heart
disease, diabetes, lymphoma, hell, the whole list’d be a peanut butter
mouthful. None ‘a my kids’d get nothin’ either if I had any, though
‘course I don’t and won’t. Truth is, seein’ as how most ‘a the old-time
diseases been replaced with ours, it’s a pretty clean world for me,
and I might just live to be a hundred and fifty. Still got to wonder,
though, when the hour hand finally strikes twelve and I get cuckood out
the clock, am I just goin’ to another one ‘a the layers? Is Heaven and
Hell just two more Companies, with they own policies and economies? Is God
just the branch manager? Anyone really windin’ that onion clock, or we all
just doin’ it ourselves? Sidewalk slappin’ Joe, windin’ the crank a lil’
more with every scared, distracted step?
Hell, I’ll say it again, I’m getting’ too old for this job. Need
myself a real vacation, someplace remote and lifeless, where I
ain’t got to see all them microbes floatin’ around my head all day,
remindin’ me ‘a work. Think I’ll make another bet with Hodgeman and bust
out another few dozen flu viruses. He got a nice cabin in the Arctic I’d
like to snatch from ‘im.