It is simply in the natural order of things that a few loose ends be tied up. Just because the time-traveling Eliot Rosewater is facing a metaphysical puzzle, it’s not like the universe has stopped operating while he works through these things. Back on the island known as Haiti (before the RAMJAC Corporation bought it), in a centuries’ old dungeon, there’s a doctor and he’s slapping the face of an exhausted-looking Lieutenant Colonel Juan F. Menendez. Menendez has been hoisted up and put in his own office’s comfortable swivel chair. His arms are reflexively fighting off Hugo J. Valdez, M.D., but his brain isn’t awake yet.
As his brain comes back to life, he feels the sting of getting slapped, and he hears the voice of Dr. Valdez. Valdezis saying, “You stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.” Menendez swallows the hand of Valdez in his own. He squeezes that hand until the doctor is on his knees, whining.
“Don’t you ever touch me, you swine,” said Colonel Menendez. He takes both of the doctor’s forearms in his giant hands and pushes him away. Since the doctor was already on his knees, it isn’t much of a dramatic gesture. It’s not as if the doctor could go flying across the room. Doctor Valdez has the decency to hit his head against the warden’s desk, though, and that makes a pleasant, thudding sound.
Menendez has to be satisfied with that. His awakening consciousness reminds him that things in the prison aren’t what they are supposed to be, and he decides to wait until someone fills him in on what has happened and what his appropriate reaction should be. He only knows that the chemicals in his brain want him to shoot the doctor.
“Ai, caramba! Ai, caramba,” sobs Dr. Valdez.
Menendez remembers that Norbert Dustbin Cauliflower 14 Norquist, the Prince of Washington, D.C., is scheduled to arrive at theRonald Reagan Memorial Airport at Port-au-Prince in thirty minutes. With him, will be his lovely bride, Brunhilda Daisycutter Sunbeam 3 Cheney, the Queen of Maryland. The royal couple had wed just two weeks earlier and their combined armies were busily wiping out a peaceful, bearded tribe of simple farmers inPennsylvania. It was a messy business, and, even though the RAMJAC Corporation owned all the world’s television stations and were careful never to mention the war, the newlyweds went on their honeymoon and figured they would sit out the war in a tropical climate.
Dr. Valdez, chief medical officer at the San Lorenzo prison, is not a native ofHaiti. He came fromCuba. Colonel Menendez is not a native of Haiti, either. He was born in Panama. His immediate supervisor, General Heinrich Schultz, came from Argentina. There are no native Haitians because a Neutron Bomb blasted them to atoms a week after a similar weapon destroyed Midland City,Ohio. Some believed that Haiti was bombed in retaliation. Some believed both bombs were dropped by theUSA. Some believed both bombs were set off by Iranian agents.
Haitiwas under martial law, again, and Norbert and Brunhilda’s airplane was looping in to the airport, preparing to land. Norbert Norquist was planning on surprising his honey-pie with a super surprise: he was going to show her the site for the new Winter Palace he planned to have built.
Here’s the problem, though. The Palace was going to be a combination bomb shelter and trillionaire’s love-nest. Half of it was going to be built far underground and it was supposed to incorporate a naturally-formed grotto where the mysterious underground river, the mythical Money River, dropped in a twenty-foot waterfall and exploded into a shining, echoing wonderland. Legend had it that whoever lived near theMoneyRiverwould be financially successful beyond imagination.
Not only that. The river was fed by hot mineral springs, too, and that made bathing in the grotto an invigorating and healthy treat. The problem was that someone, allegedly Eliot Rosewater, had blasted the Money River to God-knows what spot inside the planet. The beautiful grotto, festooned with crystals and lovely beyond compare, was now just a prehistoric hole in the ground that stunk of wet mold. The air, fifty feet underground in a natural granite and quartz and amethyst mine, holds your body odor, your sweat, your bad breath, your dirty shoes, and it holds them, forever.
Even now, General Schultz was being reminded that the motorcade to take the arriving dignitaries to the proposed building site could not be delayed by the use of a circuitous route. There was only one road connecting Port au Prince with Miragoane, the proposed site of the super-happy newlywed political big-shots’SummerPalace. It would take Three hours and twenty minutes, at the very least. A specially-programmed ring-tone, a bass electronic chime, came from inside his telephone and he terminated his first call. He sighed before taking the call from Prince Norquist’s Chief of Staff. A curious listener, standing next to Schultz, would hear him recite the following monologue:
“I assure you, it is only a small problem.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Yes, I know, sir.”
“Yes, but we.”
The general closed his eyes while he closed the phone. “Yes, sir. Goodbye sir. Give my regards.”
No particular emotion moved him when he realized that he’d been hung up on. Silence flooded over him and he slid his telephone into the inner breast pocket of his dress uniform.
He marched, straight as a matchstick, up the broken asphalt road that surrounded the prison. He used a wooden cane to steady himself on the stray cobblestone, brick, or chunk of cement that might get in his way. Six guards snapped to attention with military precision as he rounded the corner and approached the main entrance. As one, they snapped off crisp salutes. He returned the military greeting in precisely the style offered. Schultz was born into a military family. His father and his grandfather had both risen to the rank of general in the Argentinian Air Force. He had opted for the Army because he thought it would be more physically demanding than the Air Force.
He had dreamed of leading regiments and battalions, whole armies of fighting men into wild, deafening battles. He was the keeper of humans who lived like dogs in a cage, instead; and today, one of those dogs had escaped. It was not a good day for General Heinrich Schultz.
More salutes were exchanged as he strode down the wide, tiled hallway towards the warden’s office.
He approached the door, clasped his hands behind his back, and stopped. One of the two guards who had followed in his wake, quickly ran two steps ahead of the general and twisted the doorknob. The guard pushed the door open as he called out, “Attention. General Schultz has arrived.”
Colonel Menendez, flushed, sweating, flew up from his desk and fluttered to greet his commander. “So good you are here, General,” said Menendez.
The long scar that traced the general’s right jaw-line: it shined white as bone in the fluorescent light. He had earned it twenty-three years earlier in a light-saber duel at New Heidelberg Universityi n Croix des Bouquet. Chicks dug it.
“Details,” he said.
“May I get you some coffee, sir? Espresso?” said Menendez.
“Details,” said General Schultz. “Give me every detail.”
“Bring the general some coffee,” Menendez called out over his shoulder. Black, one sugar?” He turned to the general and was happy to see that he was nodding his head and smiling. It was clear to see that his face was tightened up with tension.
“Now,” said General Schultz, slamming his cane on the Colonel’s desk, “Get everyone out of here and talk.”