Aphelion Issue 250, Volume 24
May 2020
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by McCamy Taylor

Call me Jerry. Or call me Jake or Jason. Just don't call me John Henry Henderson III----John Henry Henderson III has a warrant out for failure to pay child support. I can't remember the name of the kid I fathered, but his mother won't forget mine. Since all my shirts, luggage cufflinks, and tiepins bear my initials, JHH III, I am limited in my choices of aliases.

At the moment, all I have in the world are the accoutrements of a successful businessman, a full head of black hair, a natural tan thanks to my Cherokee grandmother, a square jaw that has not yet begun to sag, the brains with which God endowed me and Ster, short for Sterling, my partner in crime. Sterling is a war hero. Bona fide war hero--he has the medals to prove it. Sterling also has a full head of prematurely white hair, blue eyes that sparkle with wisdom and compassion as he is feeding you a load of lies and a spotless arrest record---as in expunged. Sterling's last name is Yarborough, and no, he is no relation to those Yarboroughs, but a name is a name is a name.

As I gaze into the refrigerator at a lump of moldy cheese, a bag of wilted lettuce and the tail ends of a loaf of Rainbow bread, I take mental stock of my assets. Three bucks in change in my pocket. Shirts, luggage, cufflinks, tiepins all but worthless except to some other man with the initials JHH III. And Sterling. There must be some way I can make some money off those medals.

Ten years ago, Sterling stood on a bouncing betty land mine in Syria for twenty minutes so that his platoon and a school bus full of kindergarteners could get to safety. Twenty minutes without so much as twitching a muscle. By the time the bomb finally detonated, he was too numb to feel the explosion that cut him in half from the waist down.

Thanks to the miracle of modern science and the generosity of the Pentagon, the doctors at Langley made him as good as new. Better than new. He has a mechanical heart that will never get clogged no matter how much fat he eats, and his lungs can filter out oxygen from water. A transplant made him whole again. Another casualty of war, a Syrian who lost his head to a sniper, provided legs, pelvis, a spinal cord, internal organs and a penis that would make a donkey jealous.

Briefly, I consider going into the porn business. Someone somewhere must be willing to pay good money to see that Sterling Yarborough's junk still works, even after he got blown to pieces on a foreign battlefield fighting to defend who knows what American value. But the live action porn industry is all but dead, killed by the Japanese software that allows anyone to create any combination of characters doing all manner of sick and perverted things to each other in the setting of your choice filmed at the angle of your choice with a full menu of moans, groans, "Yes, Jesus!" and squelching sounds to choose from. I get hard just thinking about it---about all the money some Japanese businessmen made out of their product, before it was pirated by the Chinese.

My stomach growls. From the other room, I hear the sound of Ster switching channels. "Hey, John Boy. They're showing The Producers."

And just like that, it hits me.

You don't just run for office, even with a name like Sterling Yarborough. First, you have to capture the public eye. In a city like Houston, which floods every other day, that's not hard to do. Push a wino into the Bayou during a rainstorm. Sterling jumps in after him, drags said wino from the water. Pay a "bystander" to capture it in his cellphone. Reporters do a quick search and discover that Sterling is a decorated war hero with a bionic heart and lungs. Viola! Fifteen minutes of fame, a window of opportunity ready to be exploited.

The Party comes to him, as if the idea of a Sterling Yarborough candidacy was their idea, not mine. They need someone with a spotless record and a full head of hair to run for a Congressional district that is vacant, now that the old Congressman is slated to be the ambassador to France as a favor to his wife who gave the President six million during his last campaign. The previous U.S. Ambassador to France only paid two million for his job. The new French Ambassador belongs to the Other Party, and his district is considered a safe Other Party pick up. But the entrance of a decorated war hero with a full head of white hair and bionic heart and lungs throws a monkey wrench into the race, and all of a sudden political donors are lining up to pour money into the coffers of the two Big Party candidates and the two Third Party spoilers. That's what Sterling is---a Third Party spoiler. Easy money, right? Promise the sun and the moon to anyone who shows up with a checkbook, deposit the check---you don't even have to launder the money, it's all 100 percent legal thanks to the Supreme Court---into your bank account. Siphon votes from the Other Party candidate. Allow the Party to pick up a seat in a special election---

That's how it was supposed to work. But then the Other Party candidate got caught with a Doberman and an under aged girl from Guatemala, and suddenly, on the eve of the election, Sterling's numbers shot up like a rocket. By the time the polls were closed, it was clear that the Party's Third Party spoiler had won, which was cause for (muted) celebration in Party headquarters.

"This is good, right?" Sterling asks, his usually smooth brow slightly puckered. He can see from my face that it isn't good. Not good at all.

"Hell no, it ain't good!" I revert to my roots when I get angry. We are in the dressing room at Third Party headquarters in Houston, getting Ster ready for his televised acceptance speech. The makeup boy is done. The white hair gleams. The blue eyes sparkle. The American flag pin is placed just so, right beside the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Valor. The press is already starting to talk about a 2024 presidential run. "Do you have any idea how much the Mexican weed guys paid you to make their product illegal again? And how much the Medical Marijuana folks paid you to keep the law the way it is? You owe nuclear a new cap and trade bill. Oil wants you to quash cap and trade." And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Under the table, I have collected close to ten million dollars from various special interests, some American, most foreign. And several of these special interests, like the Bangladeshi donor organs cartel are not good with the word No.

Something has to be done, and done quickly, before Sterling gets sworn in. Before his donors start demanding a return on their investments.

Ster is looking at me in the mirror, lines of worry etched deeply on his brow. "Now, John Boy, don't do anything rash."

"I'm not gonna kill you," I promise. Assassination was the first thing I thought of. But me and Ster go way back. And a phony assassination is too hard to pull off. Where would we find a ringer with an artificial heart and lungs?

"We could give back the money," he suggests.

"Dude, if a bookie offered to refund your bet after you won a 200 to one long shot, what would you do?"

We are silent, considering the carnage that would ensue if a professional bookmaker tried something like that. And politics is the biggest betting racket around, nowadays. Campaign spending in the U.S. has surpassed the health care budget if you count foreign donations. Everyone wants something. An exclusive contract with the government. Rights to water, oil, gold. Environmental protections exemptions. An ambassadorship. A piece of the moon. A piece of Mars. A pardon.

The door opens. A bright young thing dressed in navy blue chirps "Two minutes to airtime!"

Automatically, Ster graces her with his vote winning smile. "I'll be right there, honey." Blue eyes twinkle mischievously.

The bright young thing bobs her head to hide her blush. Her blonde pageboy catches the light. Over her shoulder, I glimpse the Third Party's political control room and its wall of monitors. Most of the local news feeds are covering the election results. A camera pans over a crowd of supporters and protesters. A grim faced woman carries a hand lettered sign that reads America For Americins.

Inspiration is a funny thing. You can be walking along minding your own business---and then it hits you like a ton of bricks. They say that the right parietal lobe of the brain is where we get our eureka moments. The right anterior-superior temporal gyrus to be precise. Maybe they are correct. I know that after I have a brainstorm, I often get a headache on the right side of my head. They also say that using hallucinogenic drugs can build up certain parts of the brain that govern creativity. If so, I should be a fucking genius, considering all the peyote and acid I have dropped over the years.

Anyway, I am staring at the monitor when the words America For Americins set off a chain reaction that goes something like: Americins, lol, just proves why we needs a steady stream of immigrants to keep the collective IQ up, I wonder what kind of immigrant cost her husband his job, probably Mexican, if she looked at me, she'd think I was Mexican even though my Cherokee ancestors were here long before hers, but the immigrant might be Syrian, the local refineries are hiring lots of Syrian refugees right now, Sterling is part Syrian, at least from the chest down, that's where his skin turns from pale pink to light brown, if the white supremacists out there could see Ster's legs, they might have second thoughts about their candidate, physically, Ster is more Syrian than American, you have to be American to run for public office…

The actual eureka moment lasts a fraction of second. And when it is over, I know. The knowledge is bright and clear and clean like the light that God made on the first day of creation, and like light, it is good. Good enough that I don't mind the headache that follows.

Ster delivers a great acceptance speech. "This isn't just my victory. This is a victory for the American democratic system. Tonight, we proved that this nation is big enough for more than two parties." The Third Party supporters in the crowd cheer loudly. The Party folks nod their heads knowingly. "Tonight, we've put Washington on notice." More cheers. His blue eyes glitter like twin sapphires. Give him a white beard, and he could be Santa Claus. Or Jehovah. "No more business as usual in the halls of Congress…"

Meanwhile, I am on my iBrain, calling in some favors. No details, not over open lines. You never know who is listening besides every world government.

Next day, the first Sterling Yarborough in 2024 Super Pacs are formed. Three of them. A few weeks later, as interest in the election is beginning to die down, one of the "alternative" news sites, the one that was started by the old hippy but is now owned by Disney runs a story about the grieving family of Syrians who lost their son to a sniper--the Syrian whose body is now attached to the head and chest of the newest Congressman from Houston. Thank God I never had time to take a meeting with the representatives of the Mouse. They don't own a piece of Sher, so they have nothing to lose by taking him down.

Four days later, the family members of the dead Syrian are in New York, demanding the return of their dead son's remains.

"Here it comes!" I tell Ster gleefully as we watch the news on the screen that covers an entire wall of our suite in the Hilton.

He grimaces. "Here comes what?" He takes a sip from his gin and tonic. He isn't supposed to drink. Something about the anti-rejection drugs, but it has been a hard week. "I'm not giving them back my body."

"No, you're gonna do better than that. You're gonna give them back their son."

His blue eyes widen. "How am I going to do that? I'm not Jesus."

"Shhh!" Close up of the mother, a woman who is probably about forty, but she looks seventy, what you can see of her behind her veil. Big tears in her dark brown puppy dog eyes. Abdul Aziz was her only son, a medical student in the wrong place at the wrong time. The U.S. stole her only son, his spine, his legs, his organs and gave them to one of its own.

Every third world resident who ever sold a kidney on the black market gnashed his or her teeth. Every American who ever bought a third world kidney on the black market felt a little pang of remorse. The Pentagon produced papers showing that Abdul Aziz's family agreed to the organ donation. The family insisted that no one knew what they were signing, since the document was written in English---

Three days before he was scheduled to be sworn into office, Ster met with the grieving family of his Syrian organ donor. The meeting itself was private. Just the Congressman elect and his closest adviser, me, and Abdul Aziz's mother and sister and an Arab interpreter and one carefully selected cameraman. Sterling was at his best. He had studied hard in the last two days, and though his Arab vocabulary was limited, his accent was perfect.

Abdul Aziz's mother, Asmat was swathed from head to toe in black. The dead man's sister, Saleeha wore more modern clothes, a long grey skirt and a white blouse with a simple black head scarf.

"I am so sorry for your loss," Sterling began. And then, in Arabic he added "Ummi." Mother. The Sterling Yarborough charm was turned up to ten. His work shirt complemented the blue of his eyes. The sleeves were rolled up to expose a few inches of pale forearm, but the legs that were visible below his khaki shorts were brown. Abdul Aziz had a birth mark, a mole in the shape of a crescent moon on his left calf. When Asmat saw it, she burst into tears and threw her arms around Ster.

"My son! My son!" she exclaimed in broken English. The camera caught it all. The tears, the smiles.

Never doubt the power of motherly love to work miracles.

Sterling was not able to attend his own swearing in ceremony. He was in Houston, officially changing his name to Abdul Aziz Yarborough. Under nationality, he wrote in the word "Syrian." "As a Syrian citizen, I'm not qualified to hold elected office in this country," he told Simone Perez of CNN in a private interview later that day.

"What convinced you that you are really Abdul Aziz and not Sterling Yarborough," asked Perez.

"When I looked into my mother's eyes, I felt a bond that only a mother and child can feel. Not so surprising considering that over 60 percent of my body belongs to her son."

Perez leaned forward. Her voice was solemn. "Would you call what you had a spiritual revelation?"

Words like "spiritual" did not scare Ster. Nothing scared him, that's what made him so good in our line of work. "God--Allah--works in mysterious ways. But one thing I know---only Allah can make a man. People who think they can mimic God's work are fooling themselves."

Perez smiled, the satisfied smile of a journalist who knows she has recorded a classic interview, one that will still be up on YouTube when we are all dust in the grave. "What are your plans for the future? Are you going to apply for U.S. citizenship? Will you go back into politics?"

"Eventually. But first I want to spend some time getting to know my mother and sister again. My mother has always wanted a doctor in the family. Maybe I'll go to med school."

That "eventually" was what saved us. None of the donors wanted to demand their money back from a man who might well be in Congress in a few years. All those millions in under the table campaign contributions stored in offshore banks---all ours with no strings attached. Life did not get any better than that. I bought a car. And a house. Sterling hired a tutor to help him study for the MCAT. Asmat and Saleeha moved into the guest house out back. No, life just didn't get any better than that. But it could get a lot worse.

I tried to keep my back to the camera as much as possible when Sterling was being interviewed, but his meeting with Asmat and Saleeha went viral. The cameraman caught a brief glimpse of me in profile. The light was bad, and my hair was in my eyes---hell, even my own mother would not have recognized me if she was still alive, bless her soul, but facial recognition software has gotten scary good in the last decade.

And so, one bright, sunny June morning as I was letting the cat out of my new house in River Oaks, the last person in the world I wanted to see showed up at the front door. It was my ex-wife, Sandy and our son, whose name I couldn't remember, though I recognized that square jaw and the straight black hair that I got from my Cherokee grandmother. Behind them, wearing a big grin was a Eurasian man dressed in a dark blue suit. The Eurasian was an attorney. A divorce attorney. He opened his brief case and took out a document which he handed to me.

"John Henry Henderson the Third, you owe my client back child support."

I glanced down at the crisp sheet of paper, then did a double take. So many zeros after the seven. Who knew it cost so much to raise a child in the United States?

I guess Ster will have to cut short his vacation from politics.


2013 McCamy Taylor

Bio: McCamy Taylor is the long fiction editor for Aphelion Webzine.

E-mail: McCamy Taylor

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