Early the next morning a janitor found Deelon's body in the back stairwell of the ward, crumpled grotesquely in the aftermath of a drug overdose. I almost stopped breathing when I heard.

"We all knew it was coming," confessed Nancy, the obese white-trash day orderly who brought me the news. I detested her brutish inability to comprehend that civilized behavior could exist even on an uncivilized hospital ward. "He was addicted to drugs! He was addicted to Black Orchid!" And her eyes bugged like a dumb cow's.

"But I talked to Deelon last night only a few hours before they found him," I puzzled out loud. "Everyone knew he was a drug user, maybe he was even on Black Orchid. Everyone knew how he detested the watered down government marijuana distributed by the DEA's Hawaiian Gold reefer monopoly. But Deelon didn't seem like someone who'd be stupid enough to O. D. for a cheap high."

Nancy's response was to dullwittedly poke a safety pin into the air cushion I was lying on, deflating it in a hiss.

Black Orchid is a rightly feared but a rare designer drug most people haven't heard of. Rumor was that it had been designed by the CIA as a brain control drug that creates a remarkable high unlike even the best opiates. Fear of brainwashing and a new breed of “brain warfare” had terrified Americans throughout the 1950s, spurred both by the words of the CIA and the stories of “brainwashed” G.I.’s returning from China, Korea, and the Soviet Union.

Newspaper headlines like “New Evils Seen in Brainwashing” and “Brainwashing vs. Western Psychiatry” offered sensational accounts of new mind-control techniques and technologies that no man could fully resist. The paranoia began to drift into American culture, with books like The Manchurian Candidate and The Naked Lunch playing on themes of unhinged scientists and vast political conspiracies.

All day the ward buzzed with stories about Deelon the Jamaican, conflicting stories about everything from his electric sex life (purportedly AC-DC) to whether he had family in Jamaica that should be contacted. The mesomorph geeks from hospital security were having a field day playing Dick Tracy. The most excitement they usually got was issuing citations to Good Samaritans who'd double-parked uninsured heart attack victims at the hospital's front entrance. Now the house Dicks scampered about like apes with their security guns unbuckled, following every useless lead.

It was late that next night that Alice, my favorite nurse from intensive care came in to talk.

"Are you awake, Steve?" Alice whispered, groping her way across the hot dark room. The hospital was suffocating with its smell of human misery and the stale perfume of dying flowers left for the oblivious.

"You know I don't sleep." I answered, recognizing Alice's voice and her matronly figure etched against a beam of light from the hall. "I'm afraid I'll die if I go to sleep."

"So you're not taking your pills?" Alice asked, putting her hand on mine when she reached bedside. She already knew the answer.

"Hell no. The pills slow my breathing, put me in a deep sleep. Those damn things would kill me!."

"Like they killed Deelon?"

"What the hell are you getting at Alice?" I asked slowly. "I don't take painkillers or Valium because they make me hallucinate, they dull my wits and they have a nasty habit of slowing my breathing - to a stop! I certainly wouldn't be the one to push them on a friend like Deelon."

"I didn't think so," Alice pondered for a moment. "Deelon must have been stealing the pills from your prescription."

"I thought you stopped the prescription!?" I responded in shock.

"No," Alice admitted. "Dr. Freeman insisted you would need them and the order was never pulled. Deelon probably thought no one would notice."

"So he was stealing my pills and was stupid enough to O.D. on them?"

"That's the problem, Steve. The inside word from Sam down in the pathology lab is Deelon was on a painkiller, but that wasn't what killed him. His blood was spiked with incredibly high levels of the narcotic called Black Orchid. Sam wouldn't have picked it up if Deelon hadn't been a friend, it is hard to test for."

"Oh, I see." I replied quietly, fixing my stare on the ceiling. "Someone meant to poison me by spiking my pain meds. They tried to kill me again!"

"That sounds paranoid," Alice reponded slowly. "I don't think anyone would want to harm you, though the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. has an obligation to cut costs."

"Well that makes me feel better, not," I replied sarcastically. If I wasn't at risk from some crazed killer, maybe the medical system would just pull my plug.

Black Orchid wasn't something that was generally available beyond professional medical community addicts. In fact, it is a designer drug, an invention of the pharmaceutical companies for DARPA - it was meant to create compliant super soldiers. The word was that it was a far better high than Fentanyl. It left the user with a profound sense of euphoria, and lack of will.

Morality evaporated with Black Orchid, as did control of free will. This left users susceptible to manipulation, which didn't seem to fit Jamie's personality that I had known.

That following morning, I had another interview with Sergeant Dillon. My mother and father were there to listen, they visited every day around 11 o'clock after the doctors' rounds. Ada was sure the hospital wasn't feeding her little boy properly, and she was right. Burt squirmed around and found a place to prop himself by the window when Dillon came in.

"Whooee, it smells in here. I hate hospitals." Dillon grinned as he entered my section of the ward, pulling back the slime green curtain that divided the room. "Looks like you're turning into a bit of a Jonah Jinx, Mr. Heller."

"Doctor Heller to you," I responded with irritation. I detested that PhD title myself, but I was determined to keep this burly clod from running over me. Besides, I'd earned my Ph.D. fair and square. Dillon's cheap suit oozed the smell of Marlboros, beer and the perfume of a ditsy blonde.

"Okay, Dr. Heller," he acknowledged, emphasizing the Dr. with evident distaste. "I got word you think there's some tie between the death of a lowlife doper named Deelon Cliff and the attempt on your life. Don't you think you're stretching things a little?"

"Listen, Deelon may have been a doper, as you put it, but I don't want to hear him called a low life, especially coming from a SFDHS stooge like you!"

Big words for a quadriplegic, I thought to myself. Talking smack to DHS agents wasn't the brightest move.

"Suits you, not me." Dillon huffed.

"The connection between Deelon's death and the attempt on my life at the Palladium is pretty damn clear." I continued out of sorts. "Deelon was stealing drugs from my prescription and he ended up dead. No one knew I wasn't taking the drugs prescribed for me except a few nurses. And then there's the fact that a strange narcotic poison was found in his blood!"

"Bullshit," Dillon responded. "There's no mention of poisoning in the police report. After you've been on the beat for as long as I have, you can tell when a doper just OD'd on bad drugs. It happens all the time to orderlies around town. Why the hell do you think they take these crummy bedpan jobs anyway?"

"To get away from dipshits like you?" I asked and Dillon turned beet red, I thought he was ready to throttle me.

"My son is still a little out of it, Sergeant Dillon." My father tried to cover for me while giving me a stare that could have crumbled concrete. "You'll have to pardon his rudeness."

"Its okay," Dillon responded. "I have to deal with stuff shirts all the time. White-collar tax cheats and business executives who've just axe murdered their wives. I guess I can handle a crack from a stuff-shirt college professor who's a little hysterical."

"Look, I'm sorry I was rude," I apologized to Dillon, ignoring his cheap cut. "But the fact is someone's trying to kill me and they've almost succeeded the two times they've tried. I need protection!"

"Of course there's another interpretation possible," Dillon replied. "Let's just suppose you've been crippled for life by some crazy bitch, who you may or may not know in a Biblical sense. Hell, crazier things happen all the time, they're gunning little kids down in the ghetto every day for not a dimes worth of reason. So there's another death close at hand. You know, even I might get a little paranoid if I'd gone through the shock you've been through."

"Sergeant Dillon, I don't think we're making any progress here," I shut him off. Was he so dense he couldn't connect Deelon's death and an attempt on my life? Or maybe this slab of beef was right, and I was just a paranoid frightened rabbit?

"Besides, its out of my jurisdiction," Dillon ventured cheerfully. "Talk to S.F.P.D.D.H.S. Captain, maybe she will put up with your crap."

It was then I realized I was on my own. By the time the police bureaucracy figured out its ass from a hole in the ground, I'd be dead and buried.