Arcadia Memorial Hospital
“It’s not your job.”
At least that was what August had already been told several times that day. She was waiting to scrub in for her next autopsy. Her friends at the hospital weren’t against her spending more time with her dad, but how could she go through with this?
August Richter was about to unwrap her father’s parietal parts with her bare hands, as if the only thing she could do without this Christmas was the key to his stilled heart.
No boxer wanted to lose a match on their back, and no mixed martial artist ever intended to make a nonagon fashionable by hugging up on a chain-link fence for three rounds of fight regulation. Certainly not “The Reaper” Angel Richter, a veteran of the eight-sided ring before a steroid scandal tarnished his poster-boy image in the national Fight Club Elite (FCE) promotion. Two years would pass before he challenged the reigning champ, “Man of Steele” Seth Steele, live on pay-per-view, and only five days would pass before he turned up dead in his beach house forty miles north of San Diego in Oceanside, California.
Members of the media had already arrived outside the hospital. The police had told them where to stand and where to park, but how were they supposed to act? Like unsupervised children at the only ice cream shop in town? Surely, there were enough hot scoops to go around for everyone. That was unless someone could finally answer this question: did the juice finally do The Reaper in, or had he suffered an intracranial blood clot like August had immediately thought after she took her Argentinean stepmother’s call three days earlier?
“I’ll get to the bottom of this, Carla.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less. And neither would he.”
August now accepted the fact that her father had abused steroids all throughout his decorated eighteen-year career. However, despite popular belief, this had no bearing on her decision to date a mixed martial artist who prided himself on staying drug-free his entire life. A life he wanted to share with August now.
She had recently made the same vow, and yet she still couldn’t say no to one more energy drink before she clocked out for the day. Not when her unplanned catnaps at the hospital began to go over as well as her next vacation request for a week-long ski trip with her friends.
August was definitely addicted to her Monster brain juice of choice, but that didn’t mean she stayed totally clean on her off-days. Not when the name of “Evil Genius” August Richter remained on the lips of about a hundred guys between La Jolla and Tijuana.
Her eyes were like two uncounted rupees left over from the Suri Empire. What stories they could tell, just like that killer tan. As a dirty blonde, she had it made. Even Sherwin-Williams had to revisit their extensive color charts, after seeing the best she had made of her hair this week. August must’ve captured every hue of popcorn yellow before the burning sense of betrayal came from brunettes everywhere. Again, she had fooled them into thinking she was one of them all along through the use of her preferred dye brand. Including Linda “Scrub”, the ER nurse who knew a day on the waves wouldn’t settle what raged inside August until she figured out what had happened to her father.
“Where are you going?”
August had requested the transport of his body to Arcadia Memorial for a final postmortem examination, furthering her “purity agenda”, according to all the experts on TV. This included sports analysts that argued on air with each other more than they did with their ex-wives while establishing child visitation rights.
August and her boyfriend, Sage “Slow Melt” McNeile, would become the new “spokescouple” for a drug-free MMA world. Following their success would inevitably come the detoxification of the muscle masses in all national league sports and in turn the restoration of The Reaper’s memory until his rightful FCE Hall of Fame induction the following year.
“I’ll be back,” August assured Linda, who bit back a sour reply. She struggled to maintain a supportive stance of the young woman she had never been before nursing school. Linda had truly been a scrub all her life, her nose stuck in so many different books throughout her childhood she could blindly call upon the name of any major printing house in the country just by page scent alone.
That was Linda. August still remained the most interesting thing in the room. Even on her darkest days, which was why Detective Lyndon Ardmore from the local precinct ushered her away from the cameras when she stepped outside the ER for some air.
“You shouldn’t be out here, August. It’s a madhouse.”
But she wanted a reason not to do this. She had wanted someone to tell her father that he really didn’t have one more good fight in him. She knew he had no business in the ring with an animal like Steele at this stage in his career. Thank goodness that someone wasn’t her.
Sage had invigorated her love of the sport with his world class grappling and striking abilities. Then there was their shared love of tattoos. And sex. If he couldn’t make her tap out in bed, no beach bunny in SoCal would ever be able to touch Evil Genius in the ring. And they couldn’t. August was 3 and 0 already, and she looked anything but defeated after her father’s autopsy was in the digital record books.
After she heard her boss officially sign off on the portable audio device officially tracking the end of her father’s life processes, she caught over her shoulder, “August, where are you going?”
She told Dr. Harry Montgomery, “To Baton Rouge. I got a fight to stage.”
The hospital’s chief medical examiner puckered his quick-witted lips. His sand-blasted beard hid the beginnings of a grin that would never last as long as August Richter had in each male-dominated sport she had participated in to date. She had always been a tomboy, taking a liking to extreme athletics in her teens. Science interested her more so than medicine into her adult life, but then again so did partying until her pants dropped before 3. a.m. the next morning.
Her mother was a doctor in the hospital’s ER unit. She had gotten August a job as a medical examiner’s assistant in the hopes of scaring her straight. Now, her little girl was on a first name basis with top-ranking officials in Arcadia’s judicial system. She had already collaborated with countless forensic experts in many high profile criminal investigations since her college days, but Montgomery really didn’t know what she was up to at this point.
He told her retreating frame, “If Hollywood calls, I’ll let them know.”
Evil Genius couldn’t miss this next fight. Not for all the Human Growth Hormone in Major League Baseball.
* * *
Fight Club Elite (FCE) presents:
PPV 31: Southern Hostility
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Poor Man’s Paradise Casino
“Man of Steele”
“You killed him!”
August left her seat, after Seth won his next title defense by knockout. She approached the octagon to berate a small armored car with a seriously weaponized wingspan. Steele could have effectually grounded an entire airline for the upcoming holiday season if he wanted to, but once August was ringside he listened to her scream until her throat was as raw as pro wrestling on Monday nights.
“You’re a disgrace! Yeah! You, hothead! I’ll take you down myself!”
Steele was practically foaming at the mouth already. Blood was pouring out an open wound above his temple. When he came to meet her next to the steel mesh, he withdrew his mouth guard. The mythological Man of Steele metamorphosized into a modern day Angry Bird that just didn’t give a pluck anymore. He hocked a major lugee right into August’s open eye socket, setting it aflame with every emotion imaginable but affinity.
While she wiped her eyelid clean, August continued her verbal attack, “Same old shit, Steele! Same old f—”
The owner of FCE recognized August right away. He only directed security to apprehend her when he was certain that she would make a move for the cage. This was just what their pay-per-view audience wanted to see, but a live fatality would’ve definitely ensured this to be the FCE’s final broadcast.
August wasn’t satisfied until Seth caught her smile while she was forcefully removed from ringside. However, her appetite for social dysfunction wouldn’t really be satisfied until she held a world title of her own. The champ nabbed his out of the hands of the referee, blinding August’s palpable hate with his personal gold prism of envy.
Too bad she would see all she needed to see under a microscope, once she got back to the 626.
* * *
August’s fights in the ring typically never lasted to the end of the third round. Her study sessions in school over the years had also ended preemptively because of one teenage indiscretion or another, so neither Dr. Reading Frost nor Linda Scrub were all that surprised when she asked during her next visit to the ER, “Who is that?”
They had pulled up a video clip on an open computer in triage focusing on Steele’s next fight.
Reading answered her, “That’s his wife, Leslie.”
August watched more of the clip play out, while Dr. Frost grabbed a new patient chart and wandered off. The woman was apparently a doctor too, a fertility specialist in Michigan. She was now with child, thanks to the success of her own practice. Steele was no doubt the father, but what did August have on her mind now? Linda still wasn’t sure why she had flown all the way to Louisiana to provoke the man, nor was she aware of the blood tests August asked Reading to run on Steele’s DNA.
“August, do you think Seth killed your father?”
If he had, Angel Richter had certainly lived long enough to tell the world about it.
Five days was a long time to walk off the worse ass-whooping of his life before dropping dead in bed next to a sexy porteña from Buenos Aires who got to call him “The World’s Most Dangerous Daddy” all night long.
“No, I don’t. But I think she knows who did.”
August left it at that, before heading out into the glaring California sun.
* * *
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Lamport Fertility Center
“Do you have a pen?”
August agreed to sign in, although she didn’t have an appointment. She did, however, finagle her way past the flake behind the counter with a winning .wristlock that made life with carpal tunnel syndrome seem as desirable as quick hand job from his dear Evil Genius.
“I would like to see the doctor. Now.”
Online visitor registration would become the norm after August’s first visit to this particular clinic. The male diva modeling tendon angst from his plush seat pointed towards the correct door with his good arm, before giving birth to his inner bitch upon her exit. At least he hadn’t taken that job in Lansing his life partner had suggested.
Who wants to guard a twenty-four hour sperm bank?
* * *
Office of Dr. Leslie Nicholas-Steele
“Can I help you?”
Leslie was already seeing a patient, when August replied in kind, “I think the question is how much are you helping out your husband?”
“Oh, August. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
The formal doctor began to approach, before finding August out of line when she told her, “Save it.”
Leslie excused the other woman from the room, but August didn’t wait for the door to shut behind her before demanding to know, “Tell me how you did it.”
“Make Seth more of a monster than he already is. He killed my father. With your help. Help he didn’t need.”
A mutation of some kind was conspiring against Steele’s genetic code on a microbiological level, which was information that hadn’t come easy for August. Once she began calling in favors outside her hospital’s laboratory system, Detective Ardmore, aka “The Big Kahuna”, was none too pleased.
“You’re going to get yourself into a lot of trouble, if you keep this up, August.”
“Whoever’s behind this is going to be in a lot more, Big K. I can assure you that.”
Leslie’s stoic demeanor only served to heighten August’s sense of agitation, as she did so. This woman knew something. She had done something for her husband, but August didn’t really blame her. Look how far she had gone already for a man that had inevitably failed her as a father. And how far would she go for Sage? Would she serve time for him too? August was sure she’d rather break bones than laws up until the past couple of days. She hadn’t had a rush like this off the Pacific surf in ages.
“Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI).”
August waited for more, but this was all Leslie had to say for herself apparently.
She didn’t get an answer. Instead, the doctor went on, “They gave him eighteen months. I had to do something.”
The exotic woman described the rare genetic disease Seth had inherited from his mother. August hadn’t done much digging into Leslie’s past to place her own upbringings. She was obviously foreign, despite her perfect American accent. Her glamour face was indeed runway-ready, especially the fashionable eyelashes that would only move in flashes of supermodel smite. August could still make out the woman’s swelling figure underneath her white lab coat.
Maybe the perks of starving for infamy just didn’t suit the good doctor.
“He has a 50% chance of passing it on to our kids.”
Leslie tried everything to cure Seth, once he started showing symptoms of FFI after his second title defense in Reno. Hypnosis. Narcoleptics. Other sleeping meditation, which in turn worsened his condition. August shared the particulars of her own findings from the blood sample she had taken from her clothes after meeting up with Steele in Baton Rouge.
Leslie affirmed, “It is a mutation. A codon mutation on chromosome 20 at p13. That’s where the prion protein forms.”
Once the doctor located these misshapen molecules responsible for cell degradation, she went to work on a redundant agent that could be introduced into another host for testing. She then determined which amino acids needed to be combined to reverse the effects of FFI, which meant her work was almost complete.
August figured right away, “It didn’t work.”
“Not right away. Remember, the problem here is in Seth’s brain, and I’m no brain surgeon—”
“You certainly didn’t marry one either.”
Leslie sighed, before going on, “The only way I could think to effectually re-sequence his DNA was through electro-stimulation.”
“Is that the only way he can procreate too?”
“He’s a wonderful man, August. What you see on TV—”
“He spit in my face!”
“Please tell me you did all your testing on monkeys.”
“Three hundred-pound gorillas?”
“Unborn babies if you must know. That’s the only way I keep my license.”
August mirrored the medical scientist’s self-deprecating smile as best she could, before letting her continue.
“Anyway, like I said. I’m not qualified for all that. I did however give him hormones.”
Leslie smiled again.
“A cocktail of cytokines actually, but the difference between the two is not great. And while we waited until his scheduled surgery date, suddenly he got better.”
Leslie had soon realized the head trauma Seth suffered in his following title defense triggered the necessary chemical reaction to disable the amino acids in his brain responsible for FFI. Instead of sharing their discovery with the world, Seth swore his wife to secrecy. He ordered her to infect him with the very disease that nearly cost him his life so that he could in turn infect each fighter he faced. This would certainly guarantee him an endless round of immoral victories.
He did so by spitting in his opponent’s face at every press conference he held after his inaugural title reign. The owner of the FCE loved his new stick. He eventually stopped sending fines Seth’s way, even threatening to import more European fighters to the states had Seth refused to build on this new bad ass persona of his. The Man of Steele gladly obliged.
Leslie admitted to August, “He doesn’t want to fight anymore. He just wants to win.”
The impact-triggering mechanism responsible for curing Seth had the opposite effect on all the fighters he faced in the ring. They’d contract terminal insomnia weeks before the fight, and once he landed a quick punch after the first bell they were indeed off to la-la land. August’s father had a genetic disorder of his own that caused the disease to spread more rapidly. Angel Richter had simply fallen asleep and forgotten how to wake up. August realized she would soon suffer the same fate.
Leslie told her, “Well, I can help.”
“I don’t want your help. I want you to stop this. Now.”
“Seth wants to fight. Let him fight. He’s funding my research.”
“He’s fighting guys who literally can’t stay on their feet long enough to defend themselves properly. Somebody else is bound to get hurt.”
The doctor had seemed so remorseful, up until this point. Before August could determine what she meant by this, the door opened.
The receptionist slowly entered the room, and once August was sure he hadn’t brought the police with him she turned around to meet the pregnant woman’s right cross with her jaw. That was okay. August hadn’t always touched gloves first before landing her first sucker punch either.
* * *
McKinley Town Centre Complex
When she awoke, August felt a weightless sensation that didn’t alarm her until the lights at street level below her began to come into focus. Leslie held her with both hands by the roof’s edge, her voice seemingly appearing in the night air behind August’s ear without preamble nor misplaced passivity.
She warned her menacingly, “You tell anybody about this, any of this, and you will die, August. I’ll make sure your boyfriend knows just how much you like to party without him. It will be like nothing has ever crossed your mind except cheating to win. Like when your mother got you that job at the hospital. Or when you became an ultimate fighter just to stay relevant in your father’s life. Or how you hooked up with Slow Melt just to keep your career alive when your father’s finally ended.”
Leslie had done her homework, unlike August.
She still replied, “Go to hell. Or Wimbledon. Whatever works for you. You are British, aren’t you?”
“I’m your guardian angel. I saved your life, August. I cured you back at my office. And here we are.”
“And where’s that exactly?”
“Google. I have some friends here. But you. You are about to make the biggest mistake of your life.”
August looked down at her chest and read the banner she now donned:
I searched for inner peace on Google and found 0 results.
“Which is understandable. You’re upset about your father’s death. The pressure’s gotten to you. All this media attention—”
“You should have taken me to see Bing.”
“So I could tell you to go fuck your mother.”
August quickly dipped her head down, flipping Leslie down with a textbook judo arm throw. The woman appeared to only be in her first trimester, so August softened her fall a bit before taking off towards the south side of the building at a brisk pace. Once there, she removed the banner that hung off her neck and expertly surfed the cardboard sign down a line of solar panels onto the restaurant deck below.
“I am sorry about your father, August!”
Leslie caught both August’s eye and ear, before the second generation ultimate fighter bailed for the underlying bushes below.
* * *
They wouldn’t meet again, but August would be diagnosed with menopause at age twenty-nine. This was a result of contracting FFI from Seth, twenty-nine the earliest recorded age of menopause for a woman born with working ovaries not suffering from Premature Ovarian Failure (POF).
She would break more records, as her MMA career continued to flourish. Steele became a submission specialist to combat new up-and-comers like August’s future husband. That was until a series of concussions prematurely ended the Man of Steele’s career.
Despite being cured of insomnia, three more years would pass before he could finally rest easy. Seth only had the woes of fatherhood to blame for that. He moved his family to Delta Junction, Alaska, once he laid down for his first eight hour stretch of sleep in five years.
The darkness welcomed him. And so did his new chosen life of solitude. That was until he wrestled his first bison to the ground.
Everybody bet on the sleeper now.