® 1998 Arthur Herzog
C O N T E N T S
A BAD HEART
In the period before torsectomy was banned, or even heard
of beyond an extremely limited circle, the President of the
United States heard whispers of Project JOHN. Aware that
certain matters were kept from his attention, and feeling
peevish one day, he demanded to know what JOHN was. Only one of
his closest aides seemed to have an inkling.
The aide frowned unaccountably. "Had to do with heads,
sir. NASA's baby. Somewhere they have a lab."
"J-O-H-N. Bound to be an acronym. Standing for?"
"I haven't been told."
"Tied up with the space program, obviously," Janus said.
"The five year probes you authorized, sir."
"Maybe I should inspect the lab."
"Maybe you shouldn't. The place can be a bit unsettling
I've been led to believe."
"Only the liberals unsettle me," the President said,
curiosity piqued. "Arrange a visit, please."
# # #
Security precautions were unusual. The President was asked
to arrive in an unmarked helicopter so as not to draw attention
and be escorted by a minimum of Secret Service with no fanfare.
Not even his wife was to be told of his destination, much less
the purpose of the jaunt. The President agreed. He enjoyed the
prospect of an unofficial day off.
In a limousine with darkened widows, Janus was escorted to
what appeared to be a small, private hospital on the outskirts
of Washington. Guards in civilian clothes grinned politely as
the small procession passed through the gates. The media were
absent. Dr. Harvey Philabaum and his staff, all sporting
medical whites, waited with expectant smiles. "So happy to have
you, sir," the director said.
"So happy to be here," the Chief Executive said. "To
"J-O-H-N," Philabaum repeated. "If you need one...."
"No seriously, what does John mean?"
"Seriously?" We're uncertain now. It might be something
like Juxtaposition of Head Nodules, but nobody quite remembers.
The powers that be might have wanted to confuse the computers,
but the real idea was simply the name John.
"John? John who?"
Philabaum said mirthfully, "Remember the dancer Salome who
served John-the-Baptist's head on a platter?"
"We pretend to be a mental hospital for rich incurables,
the reason nobody bothers us. We are into heads but in a
different way. Our patients are perfectly sane. Shall we take
# # #
The descent in a freight elevator suggested the facility
was mostly underground. Philabaum, tall and spindly, smirked as
he inserted a card into a slot. After numerous computer-voice
inquiries of a personal kind, including the doctor's precise
hour of birth, questions that probably changed regularly, a
portal opened with a mournful sigh.
"We're in," the doctor said with a chuckle. A swirling
cloud, warm, moist, that smelled of disinfectant, enveloped the
President. "The subjects require a special atmosphere, tropical
so they won't dry out, yet germ-free. They can catch diseases
all too easily. They're so excited sir. They've been up since
dawn. They're dying to see you. They'd love to shake hands,
but I wouldn't try," the doctor said gaily.
Stepping forward, the doctor halted abruptly, and, after a
beseeching glance at his aide, who glanced away, President Janus
examined his toes. He had grasped what the cheerfulness was all
about — the preservation of sanity. The heads smiled from their
tilted-back positions, disembodied craniums held by clamps on
metal stalks attached to life sustaining apparatus — bottles,
canisters, tubes, leading inside bandaged necks. Wires leading
to shaved domes.
"Well, quite a..."
The Commander-in-Chief faltered.
"Say hello, people. Their hearing is fine. They're of
various races — no discrimination here — and both males and
females, though you can't tell the difference, of course."
"Good morning," the heads replied in a pneumatic gurgle.
"The most advanced techniques," the doctor said. "After
torsectomy, when their bodies are removed, the decaps are given
blood nutrients and an air supply so they can speak. You should
hear them chatter when they're allowed but we don't want them to
tire. Their brains function normally, of course."
The President watched a tongue creep out and lick spittle
from pale lips. "They're...."
"Miracles of modern medicine. Can't run the hundred yard
dash or rock-and-roll, but they have plenty of time to think.
What a blessing to be rid of natural functions! Once in a
while, I suppose, they'd like to be more active and curse the
absence of sex, but chemicals placed in their bloodstream soon
make them forget."
"What do they feel about themselves? I was hoping you'd
ask, sir. Surprisingly good. You might think that being
without a torso and utterly helpless — it's we, not they, who
decide on TV shows and when the lights go out — would be hard on
one's self-confidence, but that was considered in advance.
Electrodes placed deep inside the brain stimulate the
hypothalamus with the result that not only have they pride but
consider themselves superior because they're in the vanguard of
The President watched eyes roll in dark sockets. "Why...."
"An excellent question. Shall we move along?"
The director waved to his subjects and stepped briskly as
the President, one of whose legs had gone numb, was assisted by
his aide who wouldn't or couldn't glance at him. "I didn't want
to discuss it in front of them," Philabaum continued as he led
the way down a steamy corridor, "but the 'whys' are
severalfold. Let's begin with space travel. For great
distances unmanned ships won't suffice. Human presence is
vital. Weight being a significant factor, some genius in
Washington had the idea to send only living heads. The cryonauts
— I don't mean cry-babies, far from it, it's just that they were
kept cold — could operate controls by means of implanted
electrodes and breath-sensitive devices inside their helmets."
The director paused to open a door and the President
witnessed, under red lights, numerous heads, eyes closed,
floating in jars. "Discards," Philabaum explained with a smile.
He resumed: "The advantages were obvious. The requirements of
the human body would be virtually eliminated. Four heads would
take up only a square yard or so. They'd need minimum oxygen
and nutrients. You wouldn't have to worry about wasted
disposal. If one died en route a metal arm would merely have to
bathe it in sulfuric acid....An ideal solution all around."
"You're right. The candidates had to agree. We offered
them inducements. Ten million each in numbered Swiss accounts,
tax-free and collectible when the experiment was over.
Meantime, of course, they had to disappear, hence the five-year
space probes you announced. We needed a certain latitude as
"The probes were manned," the President murmured uneasily.
"Well, not really, sir. These are...were..supposed to be
"Were they willing to lose their...."
"You might infer that when the volunteers signed the forms
they had the impression we could put them back together just
like that." Philabaum soundlessly snapped his fingers.
"More deception," the President noted.
"I wouldn't call it that," the director said, unruffled.
"We had every reason to believe the breakthrough lay at hand and
when we had to push on to learn how to save those that had
already been severed, technicalities had developed that we
couldn't anticipate. The reject problem....You saw them."
"Their bodies rejected their heads."
The aide said for the speechless Chief Executive, "Has any
subject been successfully rejoined?"
"Well, no, not yet, but we preserve the torsos and we're
optimistic that before the rockets are due to return we'll have
them back in one piece. Right now, of course, their families
think they're halfway to Mars.
"And if you can't put them back together?" the President
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, in about three
years. The space probes may have to meet with accidents."
"If the decaps are....permanent?"
"If I believed that...." The director's smile dissolved
into a frown. "We'll have them back on their feet, never fear.
Meantime, we keep them as happy as we can."
Another portal opened that the President found himself
behind a glass window. He noticed small wagons bearing what
resembled bowling balls. "What...."
"Decaps in headgear and face masks. The wagons contain
their life-support equipment—the little devils are mounted into
them for recreation. You've been to amusement parks which have
these electric carts you can smash into somebody else with?
It's the same game, only the subjects guide the vehicles with
their brain electrodes. Hit him, boy!"
The President watched a wagon with rubber skirts wheel
suddenly and crash into another, moving on swiftly. "Aren't
"They're protected by their clamps and thick foam rubber.
Not even a toothache. Oh, I have no doubt there have been
mutual suicide pacts, but they come to nothing. What they
accomplish is to purge themselves of hate—hatred of me, no
doubt." Philabaum laughed.
"Have any of them attempted to escape?" the President
"Frankly, yes. One or two have tried, in their carts, but
they didn't get far. And even if they succeeded, which they
couldn't — they don't know the computer codes — no matter how
they delude themselves, what would they do in the outside world
except shock people? Nobody would accept them after the novelty
wore off. They're freaks, to put it mildly, but aren't we all?"
The doctor smiled. The aide smiled. Even Janus smiled, looking
in the other direction.
Gurus come and go but Rugu will be remembered.
The claim that he was Hungarian rested on confusion with
"ragoût." A racial ragoût he certainly was, with light brown
skin, red hair, green eyes with Asian folds, but the name coined
for him, who did not call himself anything, may well have been a
play on "rueful guru," for Rugu was above all rueful, yes,
Rugu's age, like everything else about him, was
indeterminate, and he could have been described, in the phrase
beloved by modern novelists, as "old-young" or "young-old" for
that matter. Probably though, he was merely middle-aged but
seemed to have greater years because, with the weight of the
world on his narrow shoulders, Rugu stooped; deep lines had been
etched on his cheeks by runnels of countless tears as though
they had dribbled for decades on the side of a porcelain bathtub.
As a guru, if the term is appropriate, Rugu was a maverick.
He had no teachings, dogma, creed; no literature, limousine,
fundraising; no (in any conventional sense) followers, devotees,
adepts, converts. He was not a threat to established faiths or
to parents, for Rugu never attempted to indoctrinate the young
or anyone else, having nothing to indoctrinate. He could hardly
have been described as inspirational nor — he spoke seldom and
then in monosyllables — as a communicator since he had nothing
to communicate, he must have believed. While his profound
humility may have aided him, the truth was that Rugu's passivity
extended to his thought processes. I, who covered him for a
newspaper, concluded that his mind was blank, more or less.
Rugu appeared to totally lack ego. Egowise, he was an open
wound. He wasn't a case of low self-esteem but of no self-
esteem, and he couldn't have had confidence, even an idea of its
necessity and usefulness. He was the antithesis of what our
psychologists, political leaders and good-advice writers try to
teach us about the virtues of positivism. He had no sense of
identity, no barriers against pain. He was without defenses,
not immunological ones such as AIDS victims lack, but defenses
the normal soul creates to ward off suffering in order to avoid
drowning in the ocean of human unhappiness.
It was, I think, his ability, like a meta sponge, to absorb
the pain and anxieties of others — his empathic quality, if you
will — that brought crowds, the buses from the hinterlands, the
police barricades when Rugu chose to meander aimlessly in
Central Park from the West Side, city-supported hotel for
indigents, paupers, misfits and so forth, where he lived.
People knew, if he did not, that he was a one-man Lourdes, that
if they could but gain his proximity, gaze upon the face
mirroring the wretchedness of human existence, that they could
throw away their psychic misery, that he, master masochist of
them all, would, in some magical way, take the loads off their
backs. He would suffer, and worry, for them.
In an interview, one young woman told me, "Well, it was
like...like you could sort of send the guy your troubles, you
know, your jealousy about your boyfriend's girlfriends, your
job, your concern about all that stuff, and you'd have this
release. 'Why worry?' you told yourself. You felt this surge
of relief. You were free, like a beautiful balloon. Whatta guy!
"He did your crying for you, in a way? He suffered by
"He sure as hell used a lot of Kleenex."
"How did you feel about that?"
"Well, that Rugu was even more miserable than before
because he had to add your woes to his own and that of all those
others he carried. Did you have guilt?"
"For making him even sadder. He was pretty sad already."
"One more question. Does Rugu's emotional novocaine wear
"No." She grinned evilly.
I had to grin myself one evening when, during a non-
interview Rugu granted (he didn't understand my simple queries
or the reasons I asked them) in his room that crawled with
roaches he didn't seem to notice, punctuated with screams from
nearby lodgers and, once or twice, a gunshot, a knock sounded at
the door. A guy — Rugu didn't have a phone and wouldn't have
opened mail — came to offer him a TV show sponsored by over-the-
counter tranks and sleeping pills. I didn't get it at first
since Rugu could more or less guarantee the same results, and
then I realized that the pharmaceutical outfit wanted his
endorsement for the products. Rugu had hit the bigtime! But
that wasn't why I grinned. I grinned because the producer
failed to grasp that Rugu didn't operated by remote control.
For him to absorb your tsoris, he had to see you, even if at a
I must confess I wasn't able to benefit from Rugu
particularly. In his presence, I felt a little emotionally
shriveled, sure, but I didn't experience the calm, the reprieve
from tension, others talked about with such glee. That may have
been because I was a journalist and attempted to observe, but
not participate. Maybe we journalists are a hardened lot. And
maybe, being young, detached and uncomplex, I didn't need the
sort of peace Rugu could waft. What I wouldn't give for a Rugu
In city after city, coast to coast, Rugu appeared. I doubt
he had a clue promoters were in the picture, arranging it all.
He wandered on stage to the sound of zithers, squatted and wept.
This was the whole performance, a man sobbing for the condition
of humanity for three hours without a break before paying
audiences that must have numbered in the millions, bawling too,
bawling for their sadness which, transferred to him, became his,
so that they didn't have it. They didn't have to worry any more
about crime, the deficit, cancer, old age, famine in Africa,
whether the world would survive global warming, the mortgage,
who was President and so on. From then on, Rugu would worry for
them, and they were euphoric, laughing through his tears.
Rugu's tremendous popularity brought him to the attention
of the Center for Sinarquism, the supersecret organization
lavishly funded by conscience-stricken zillionaires, whose
purpose, as we have since learned, was the preservation of peace
by whatever means necessary, including the assassination of
political leaders the group considered unstable or
destabilizing. It was Porj, the then-director who raised the
issue of Rugu.
"'The Worrier', as they call him, worries me. Look at
today's Times. The story claims that most of California is
worriless, and the movement spreads. One of those 'Let Rugu Do
Your Worrying For You' rallies is planned for here in
Washington. What happens if the fellow infects the government?
Governments are paid to have anxieties. A Defense Department
which doesn't worry about attacks might not defend us. A
National Security Council that isn't concerned about security
wouldn't be of much use either. More and more I think Rugu is a
very dangerous fellow, especially since he's going on the
internet," Porj is said to have said.
"How do we handle him — break up the rallies?" his deputy
"That's one way," Porj said uneasily, running a hand over
his crew-cut white hair. "The trouble is, even without the
rallies people will seek him out. He could produce a generation
without a care in the world. They'd be worse than drug addicts
"I've decided Rugu must be subchaptered."
The deputy whistled. "That bad?"
"I'm afraid so."
But Porj hadn't reckoned on a detail. Exposed to Rugu, the
professional assassins ceased to worry about him and went off to
the nearest bar.
"A bomb?" asked the deputy.
"Others might be killed. The charter forbids slaughtering
"Export him? To Russia, say?"
"The Russians are no fools. They wouldn't let him in.
Nobody else will either."
"How about Bosnia."
"The Serbs neither."
"I had him investigated. He rarely eats."
"A rather difficult problem," the deputy mused. "He
doesn't drive a car, I suppose."
"Of course not. How could he see with all those tears in
"Could we cry him to death?"
"I don't follow," Porj said, interest in his gritty voice.
"Where does he live?"
"In a welfare hotel in New York."
"Perfect. So much insecticide is sprayed in the halls of
those places that you probably can't smell anything else. No
one would be the wiser. Listen, there must be al limit on how
much tears a person can shed."
"Well, I don't know how he survives as it is. After one of
his crying concerts, he sits in a puddle of his own sop. What
have you in mind?"
"Tear gas," the deputy said.
"Tear gas?" said Porj with anticipatory excitement.
"We throw a canister into the room and lock the door. He's
really so sorry for those who perpetrated the scheme that he
blubbers, extra heavily because of the gas. The body's mostly
fluid and Rugu drains himself. He's nothing but moisture
flowing into the hall. People might slip, but under the
charter, we can take a few risks.
"A river of Rugu," dryly said the director. "We specialize
in horror, and that idea fills the bill. I approve. Commission
I learned of the murder, which wasn't even suspected, from
Porj himself. He was completely proud. And I suppose there's a
moral. Don't cry too much.
Aka The Human Bloodhound, the private investigator had a
number of clients including the FBI and the DEA who used her at
airports to detect shipments of drugs. Her nose was phenomenal,
far better than dogs'. It could detect even small amounts of
narcotics. She also used her olfactory skills to solve murders.
She hadn't always been an expert sniffer. The talent had
appeared after she'd lost her nose because of an accident.
Before, she had been a fine looking woman with a delicate
nose and nostrils that ever so slightly flared, set in ivory
skin between flashing black eyes above a bow mouth. Then, the
She'd been a well-known model with a devoted boyfriend who
owned a plane. Flying across Alaska the plane had crashed,
killing the lover and leaving her exposed on a mountainside.
She was rescued just in time and while they saved her hands and
feet, circulation in her nose had vanished.
, the famous nose had been removed. The doctors urged
The operation had been unusual. A new nose had been grown
on her forehead, with blood supplied from her carotid arteries.
Though she'd signed a paper absolving the hospital of
responsibility, the surgeon had been reluctant to give her a
mirror. When she saw the results, she fainted.
Her new nose might have been made of silly putty. It was
long and cylindrical, and wide at the nostrils. A Frankenstein
nose! Who would dare to kiss the mouth beneath?
She felt she'd been castrated. She was distinctly
unattractive. As her senses gradually cleared, she found she'd
developed a new ability.
She knew when coffee was being brewed at the other end of
the ward, when an antiseptic had been spilled, when somebody had
used a bedpan.
"How do you account for my remarkable sense of smell?" she
asked the surgeon.
"I can't. Blood from the brain brings compounds that
govern all sorts of things like sensory ability. Maybe your
nose had been sharpened."
"That's the trouble. It has." She grimaced, and looked
like an old gnome.
Word got around about the young woman with the 40/20 smell
(her sense of smell was triple the normal).
The bill for plastic surgery came to $25,000, while the
hospital and extra nursing costs were $170,000. She didn't have
that kind of money or even a job. Who'd ever heard of a model
with an ugly nose?
She went to the employment agency that specialized in hard
to hire people. Maybe her stunning figure would help. The man
frowned and asked her what abilities she had.
"A real good sniffer," she said. "I can tell you what you
had for lunch."
"Two martinis and a steak tartare. I can smell the
mustard and viegar. Plus a glass of wine."
The agency man smiled cagily. "The color?"
"But I smelled!"
She decided to be assertive despite her disfigurement.
Besides, he annoyed her.
"I'll contact someone," he said. "Mind you, no promises."
The call from the DEA came the same day. They'd learned of
the human bloodhand and wanted to give her a test at the
airport. "No, no," she protested. "I don't need a leash."
She did make a discovery that a supposedly pregnant woman's
stomach was completely stuffed with marijuana.
They tried her at the docks, where she sniffed out cocaine
disguised as ??
Then the FBI wanted her services. They had a case they
couldn't solve. It involved shooting into a body, a poison with
a sharp smell.
Crime involving a serial killer breakfast food
. She sniffed a victim -- "Cereal," she said.
"Yes. A serial killer, how'd you guess?"
"He stuffed breakfast food in her mouth and choked her, she
probably died before .
What is the breakfast food?"
"Yes, he shreds the corpses. You guessed."
"Shredded? I can't decide."
"what kind of serial killer?
"I can't decide on label."
"There are dozens of them. Deadly, when stuffed in your
"The cereal killer," she said.
"Maybe he killed his mother for making him eat breakfast
food all the time. He got in a towering rage."
"She made him eat cereal for dinner when he wanted steak."
"It fits," said the FBI. "We should stake out
supermarkets, look for a fat man and he gorges."
"Yes, more revenge on his mother."
"She was probably thin."
"Not hard to find a fat son and thin mother who
"Close to Kings County - beef."
"How do we lure him out?"
"I'll do it."
Special agent goes in with her
The serial killer murders her -- or she murders the cereal
killer -- how?
Yanks at her nose with a pair of pliers.
"I'm a murderer, too," she thinks.
"How is your mom?"
"I can smell the milk."
He woke with a start and saw it on the floor. His watch
read nearly noon.
He reached behind to touch her for reassurance, but his
companion must have left. Alone on the edge of the bed he
closed his eyes, intending to keep them shut until his mind
wearied of the fantasy. Yet how would he know the apparition
had disappeared? He took a quick peek, but it was still there.
He hadn't realized he'd drunk that much but alcoholics
typically engage in denial and they'd sniffed cocaine as well
and gotten completely stoned. He thought — stop thinking for
God's sake! — he remembered harsh words and, yes, a blow; his
cheek was tender. And then...he must have passed out.
He'd learned he had a streak of violence which normally he
kept under tight control, but what if what if — what if — high
on booze and coke, he'd committed a terrible crime? Wishing to
hide, he made a pillow sandwich of his head, but inescapably
visualized pieces of bread containing sliced...
The object on the floor had to be a tongue. A human tongue
from the size of it.
Slowly, gingerly, he opened his mouth and ran a finger over
his upper palate, lips, wisdom teeth and, ohyesohyes, his
tongue. He stuck the organ out in defiance — the tongue was an
organ, wasn't it? Well he still had all of his.
But what if he'd mutilated his companion in a fit of rage?
He'd find blood, a lot of blood, but saw none on the floor
so he raised the top pillow to inspect his hands. They were
spotless except for dirty fingernails. His friend had
complained about that.
But suppose he'd washed his hands to rinse off guilt like a
murderer? He gazed sullenly at the thing on the floor and
groaned. What had led to this?
Unable to stop her from bitching, he must have grabbed a
sharp knife from the kitchen, killed her and cut off the tongue
at the roots. But where was the body? His mind was blank.
Perhaps he'd dumped her in the tub to let the blood drain. How
would he dispose of the corpse?
He still believed — hoped? — he lacked the capacity for
homicide but his eyes were again shut to avoid the evidence on
the floor. He steeled himself and stared.
The tongue was alive! At least it wiggled.
He'd watched too many horror films — the culture was filled with
The image projected by his busy brain in living color
placed the tip forward, arched laboriously and dragged the root,
progress slow but determined. Evidently navigating by feel, it
avoided a throw rug, seeming to prefer the hard wood surface.
It encountered a chair leg, stopped, quivered. The tip licked,
exploring like an antenna, and the tongue went around the leg,
humping along like a garden slug. What's the hurry? he
wondered. He wasn't going anywhere and the tongue was his, so
to speak, since it existed only in his bizarre perceptions.
It was a guilt-tongue, guilt for overdrinking and drugs,
for mouthing inanities, for (oh God!) telling her he had another
If he'd expected the tongue to vanish after he'd confessed
to himself his sins he was mistaken. Instead, the organ
appeared to demonstrate a will of its own. Below an open window
the tongue reared, tip against plaster as if for traction,
attempted to climb, fell.
The tongue wriggled, upside down, unable to right itself,
tip flailing helplessly. He could see blood vessels pounding
and a stem that would have connected it with a soft palate had
there been one. A tongue without a body had to be a
hallucination, could not be real, but he feared to test in case
He couldn't resist. He rose from bed. Stooping, he put
out a forefinger, recoiled, forced himself to try again. The
tongue cringed at contact, pushing itself against the wall as if
to hide from what, eyeless, it could not see, just as earless,