Tom had a stack of neatly-bound files waiting for me when we got back, but Em took my arm.
“Not now. We have had good times, let’s not spoil a memory by diving straight into that again. I’ll sort out a weekend when the kids can stay with my parents, and then we can have some privacy. OK love?”
That made sense in a lot of ways. I had a presentiment that there would be more than a few emotional moments, and I couldn’t see how it could ever be explained to the children. Tom had passed the originals on to the police, as we had agreed, and I had tried to pay him back for the money he had shelled out to the shopfitter. He had refused point blank.
“Give my three a break at your grandmother’s, that’ll do me. They love it there, Steve, and this has been part of my life for so long I want it over as much as you. So just take a present from a friend”
The weekend came, and we had guests. My step-parents, Sid and Tom were there to help, after Em had dropped the twins off, and I sat in our dining room with my supporters staring at seven full ring-binders of photocopied documents. Tom put a hand on my shoulder.
“Something you should know, my friend. You are not the only person in these records. Take it slow, we have all weekend and you have people here who love you”
I was shaking, and Sid came forward to take my hand, and that made me laugh. All those years ago, that had been the accusation, ‘holding hands with an old puff’, and here we were, doing exactly that. My life had filled with gay men, a transsexual woman and more love than anyone could hope for, and none of it had ‘infected’ me. I looked up, and all I saw around me was that love, that concern. Mitchell, the Cunninghams, all of them, they had lost and I had come out the winner.
Fuck them all. “Right, let’s get at it”
Tom and Sally had broken the documents down into seven bundles. One was of correspondence, one of a number of legal documents, one a journal, and the other four were medical records and associated documents. Four. There were, somewhere, three other victims, and in my profound atheism I still said a little prayer for them, that they had escaped the Cunninghams and any of their ilk. I started at the letters, which went back into the Sixties, and there was a steady stream of letters from somebody called Money. I remembered Val’s comment about him, and had a glimpse of where this might lead.
Mitchell had been obsessive, keeping copies of his own letters, originally carbon, and it was thus possible to follow it almost as one would a conversation. That was how it came across, too, as the letters moved from respectful queries about Money’s published work to chatty exchanges about social matters. Money referred often to John/Joan, clearly not a real name, and how it was working out exactly as predicted. He referred to the child as various things: proof, verification, experimental evidence. He never, ever spoke about it as a person or anything other than what could have been a piece of laboratory equipment. Part way through, John/Joan became Bruce/Brenda.
Then came that first letter about me.
I have had the most wonderful stroke of good fortune, as a subject has been presented to me that will serve marvellously for our purposes. He is a stunted child, and I suspect some pituitary deficiencies are behind that, but he has been butchered by some terribly done surgery to cure an infantile inguinal hernia. Both testicles have adhered to the inguinal canals as a consequence, but that gives us the opportunity I have sought.
“I spent some considerable time interviewing the mother, and all evidence points to the child being a passive effeminate homosexual. Clear focus on clothing, colours and styles, and he showed a morbid interest in the old April Ashley scandal. I do believe I have my subject. The testicles may be saved, they aren’t too far gone, but in this case removal will make her---for that is what she clearly will become—development far easier and better for her future presenting as female. We live in exciting times, John!
Yours, as ever, Harold”
There it was, the key to everything he had done, in one flippant letter. A subject. Passive, effeminate homosexual. If I ever found him, was my thought, he would find out how passive I was.
I realised I had been weeping for a minute or two, Em’s hand stroking the back of my neck, and I took a minute to walk out into the back garden and just breathe as she held my hand. She had been so right, there was no way we could safely explain this to two children. I wound myself back up, kissed my wife and went back to it.
The letters continued in similar vein, detailing what were treated as opportunities in an offhand way, opportunities such as my father’s death, and my mother’s descent into alcoholism, and then her simple, cold assignment of Mitchell as my legal guardian “in case of…”
No next of kin, no Nana, just the ‘family doctor’. Bastard.
We worked through the rest of the letters as they switched from banality to cold and dispassionate descriptions of what he was doing to me, the hormone injections he had suggested were to make me grow, the clinical description of puffy nipples and skeletal changes, and then there was a letter with some actual emotion showing, but only for himself, as he detailed my mother’s final collapse and my assignment to the seventh circle of hell. Then…
The subject has been placed into a care home run by some acquaintances of mine upon the final incapacity of her surviving parent. I have decided that when I publish she will be referred to as Adam/Annie, as she is the first of my subjects to actually present clear opportunities for verification of your hypothesis. Obviously, when I do publish, it will be as ‘Experimental Verification of the Money Hypothesis in Gender Assignment’. We do live in exciting times!
She is showing great progress in her development, but it is going to be difficult to arrange a penectomy and/or vaginoplasty just now, for various silly legal reasons. She has responded exactly as I—we-predicted, and has become an enthusiastic practitioner of anal intercourse, so much so that I have had to perform a number of small procedures. Whether she will move on to more conventional heterosexual congress at a later date is, of course, moot if I am unable to allow her the opportunity.
I have a second subject now, which I shall refer to as Betty/Bill, for the father is desperate for a son, and after explaining your theories to him I have received consent for an infantile hysterectomy and associated procedures. This child is relocating to Spain, so I should have a lot less bureaucracy to contend with. There are two more in the pipeline. Exciting times!
I do not understand why I have received no replies to my last three letters. I would be grateful for the courtesy I thought our friendship entailed
The letters dried up, and I understood that even an old bastard like Money had to draw a line somewhere, and as Mitchell had moved on to more and more extreme ‘experimental verification’ the American had done his best to cut any ties with my friendly lunatic. That first file was hard, but the second, the one about ‘Betty/Bill’ was just as bad. Dry, clinical notes, fancy words, and a Spanish death certificate copied into the file as the little girl had died under the knife. I knew Spain had had its problems, under that old Fascist Franco, but surely even in such a place there would have been a doctor with the honesty and humanity to ask why, or even to say no? Even in a country where they officially strangled prisoners to death?
I came close to breaking point at that one. “Tom, I don’t want to see the other cases. Let the police deal with that, this is just about as far as I can take this”
“You want me to clear this away, Steve?”
“No, not yet. I still have to read my own”
It was exactly as the letters had said, but in the same style as the little girl’s. My life rendered into a series of technical terms, prescription records, medical notes, all so banal. It was like the records from Mengele and the rest of that exercise in industrial processing of human beings; the literally clinical phrases detailing cruelty and abomination. Somehow, the complete lack of passion made everything so much worse. ‘Subject’. ‘Experimental verification’. ‘Post-operative demise’.
There was more horror in those words than I could cope with, and I realised that the old cliché about it being better not to know was spot on. The nightmares came back that night, and stayed with me for a month until Em’s patience and the laughter of my children chased them away.
Life. It had been there for the taking, in both senses. Mitchell and the Cunninghams had done exactly that, in one way, and I had done the other. Mitchell had got one thing, though, and that was his experiment. Here I was, a walking, talking rebuff to him and his Yank mentor, the proof that, in Val’s words, Money was talking out of his arse. I had found my answers, too, but they gave me no peace. Life isn’t a novel, things don’t just tie up in neat little scenes of resolution. Life doesn’t stop at the last page, you can’t end-read it. It just has to be lived.
The police spoke to us all, of course, and the Spanish authorities melodramatically issued an arrest warrant for my doctor, and very quietly jailed a particular surgeon for life. They had their own Castle Keeps, too, and as the stories came out about priests and cover-up the press went through a series of feeding frenzies that left me being doorstepped regularly. I was the survivor, I was the authentic Eurydice that hadn’t been lost at the exit.
Then, in 1997, Milton Diamond revealed exactly how far up his own arse Money had had his head, and the whole edifice of his pompous bullshit came crashing down as the world heard of how poor Bruce, now David, had been warped by the old bastard. It was clear his only saving grace was his abandonment of Mitchell, but I rather suspected that that was more out of self-interest than human decency. You can never polish a turd.
Then it came. We were a large and happy family, now, and in the new century, on August the fifth, we celebrated our twins’ sixteenth birthday. Everybody was there, every fellow human that we loved, Nana still with us even though she was finally slowing down as her joints stiffened. The twins had their own friends, of course, and we had a little swarm of Norse invaders from Akranes, and where else could we celebrate it but in Boot? Arthur was gone, now, but Young Arthur and his mother kept shop in the same old way, with one small change.
They had put together a photo wall, where clippings and pictures of happy or notable times were there for all to see, from newspaper reports of our run to the crag to party photos. We were far from the only people up there, of course, but we made quite a large proportion of them. It was one more gift of happiness, one more chip away at the nightmares and pain of my past.
We sat out in the sun, Nana in pride of place as the matriarch of our clan, as the band played and the kids boogied, and lovers sat with a drink, and a smile, and each other.
Young Arthur came out of the pub in a hurry. “Steve, you’ve got to see this!”
We ran into the kitchens, where a TV was showing the BBC news channel, and I watched as it all finally ended.
“The demolition of the flyover was interrupted when human remains began to emerge from one of the pillars. A police spokesman said that it was too early to say for certain, but the death is being treated as suspicious. Identification documents have been found, but the name of the deceased is being withheld until next of kin can be informed”
There it was, and as the inquest proceeded over the next few days we finally had an answer.
It was, of course, Mitchell, who had finally understood the wisdom of choosing your friends with care, his head smashed in with what the pathologist said was probably a ball-peen hammer.
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