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Fiction: Recovery

by Jack Simons on May 31, 2017

in Featured, Fiction, Spring 2017

Editor’s Note: The following is a chapter from an unreleased novel by Jack H. Simons. It follows the exploits of David Skevo, a man of remarkable skills and talents, whose career as an “invisible man” started with a mission gone sideways in the jungles of Laos during the Vietnam War.

by Jack H. Simons

A piece of Skevo’s mind replayed fleeting dreams – blood – struggle – conversations involving Mother that had no content. They ceased for a time, and were replaced by a glowing green clock face without hands or numerals hanging in a black void. The clock clicked at regular intervals accompanied by intense global pain as though he were cut to the brains.

Then a foggy universe and outside noise. He blinked his eyes open, and saw the face of a Eurasian nurse all in white leaning over him – a gray-eyed Athena – he could smell her breath – he thought of something pleasant.

“Are you with us?” she said.

“Not dreaming?” he said.

“I am Anna.”

But Skevo drifted off, and didn’t hear. Now he dreamed of a Eurasian nurse. Later he stirred again. He thought it was the same day, but it was night. He didn’t know how much time had passed. A hawk-faced man with a Roman nose and a strong chin sat on a folding chair next to his bed.

“They told me you were awake,” the man said.

“Who are you?”

“I am Hamilton Strong.” He said this like he might say “I am Boris Karloff,” or Bertrand Russell – and he distantly resembled both men. Skevo must have looked blank.

“I temporarily have responsibility for you.”

“I’m in the army.”

“You were, but you effectively resigned from the army in Laos.”

The remark confused Skevo.

“Where am I?”

“Hong Kong.”

Skevo took in the four walls, the bustle in the hallway.

He turned his attention back to Strong. “Who did you say you were?”

“Hamilton Strong. I want you to work for me.”

Skevo’s eyes fluttered closed and then opened again.

“I’m still here.” Skevo rolled back and forth in his bed, flexing his muscles –feeling numb because of the drugs. “Where did we meet?” he said.

“We never met. Mother recruited you.”


“Found you in Laos. Saved your life.”

“How did he find me?”

“No one knows. ‘Witchcraft’ Major Hendricks says.”

Skevo was attached to a heart monitor, and the mention of Hendricks’ name spiked the jagged lines on the readout monitor for a few beats. Bandages wrapped his right shoulder, and more bandages his pelvis. IV needles were stuck in both arms.

“And Minh,” Skevo said.

“At Walter Reed – more serious than you.”

To Skevo’s drugged eyes, Strong appeared as a brooding spirit with the power of damnation.

“What happens to us?”

“You heal, get well. We will take care of you.”

“Who is we?”

“My people.”


“People who are giving you help. You’re too hot for the army to handle. The Russians want revenge for Kaznikov.”

In the jungle Skevo and Minh had decided that if ‘who’ was on first, and ‘what’ on second, they lived in the wrong world to own up to Kaznikov.

“What happened to Kaznikov?” Skevo asked.

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t remember anything,” Skevo said.

“You killed Kaznikov. And you had better start remembering what he told you, because I want to know.”

But Skevo had ceased being an audience, having allowed himself to slip into a welcome unconsciousness. Strong remained silent, listening as Skevo’s breathing became deep and regular. The kid knew everything but the extent of his troubles, because the Russians would never let Kaznikov’s death go unpunished.

When Skevo again opened his eyes, he was alone. The folding chair had been removed. He tried to sit up and groaned, falling back to his pillow.

The same nurse appeared next to his bed. Skevo remembered her from what he had thought were dreams.

“Are you awake?” she asked.

Skevo liked her pleasant voice.

“Have I been a bad patient?”

“Sometimes affectionate.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Perhaps you loved someone once.”


He struggled to sit up. She came to his aid.

“How long have I been here?”

“Two weeks.”

“I don’t remember much.”

“We kept you unconscious much of the time.

He scanned the apparatus surrounding his bed: monitors, IV bags, discharge tubes, and intravenous feeding apparatus.

“Can I eat?”

“That’s the plan.” She approached close enough that Skevo could again smell the spring forest. “I had better tell you – this is British Military Hospital King’s Park in New Territories, Hong Kong. I am Anna – your private nurse.”

“A private nurse?”

“You have rich friends.”

Skevo fell into a sleep without the ability to struggle or protest.

Anna thought of the body’s tax on itself when trying to mend. She adjusted Skevo’s head against the pillow so that he would have clear breathing. Days without food – the mind pitched to kill or be killed – his immobile face resembled the angled surfaces of a death mask.

The next morning he became conscious that he was no longer burdened with a catheter. He opened his eyes and saw only one IV in his forearm. Anna bounced into the room cheerful and smiling.

“Ready to walk?”

“Real cheery, aren’t you?”

“Not in my nature to be gloomy, but I can see how it would be in yours.

“What do you mean?”

“I counted wounds.”

“Most are shrapnel.”

“And the long scar on your side?”


“The difference?”

“Drunk in Panama. Not a happy moment.”

“You’ve been carved up like a Christmas goose. Not much room left for re-decorating.”

“I’m thinking of making a career change.”

She looked at him with a smile on her face: “I don’t think so.”

“How do you know?”

“You try to kill people in your sleep.”

“That’s the drugs.” Then he didn’t want to talk anymore.

But whether he talked or not, it didn’t seem to interfere with Anna’s cheery manner. Before the walk she helped him to the bathroom, where he found he could manage for himself, though his knees trembled and threatened to buckle.

Anna guided him to the hallway. With one hand he held himself up by the IV pole; with the other he took Anna’s arm. One turn past the nurses’ station and back was all he could do.

Medical people smiled and went by without greeting.

After several days of this, Skevo asked why.

“I thought the English were friendlier,” Skevo said.

“Oh they are,” Anna said. “The staff doesn’t know how to respond to you.”

“What’s so strange?”

“They think you are a U.S. secret agent – though everyone on the staff has had a jab or a poke at you – they want to keep their distance – it makes you the genuine invisible man.”

“Do they know my name?”

“You are on the records as Mr. Kilroy.”

“Someone trying to be funny.”

“No one thinks you are funny.”

Skevo smiled at that. “I’m sure.”

In the room, Anna helped him return to bed.

“Tell my handlers I am ready for counsel,” Skevo said.

“Your handlers don’t remind me of the counseling type.” She smiled what Skevo had come to recognize as the Anna smile, and turned out the light as she left the room.

In the morning an orderly brought in a breakfast tray. Skevo looked it over: a large cup of beef broth, a pot of strong tea, and a quivering square of lime Jell-O.

“Is this it?” Skevo said.

“You eat,” he said and smiled and bobbed his head in three quick bows as he backed out of the room door.

Skevo punched his nurse-call button to draw in Anna. A strange nurse came to the room. “Yes.”

“Where is Anna?”

“She was called home.”

“I had a question concerning my breakfast.”

“Light meals for the first week. Doctor’s orders.

“Can I see my doctor?”

“He returned to the United States after your surgery.”

“I have no doctor?”

“You do. He is in the United States. Houston, Texas.”

Skevo had to laugh.

“Don’t laugh,” she said. “The staff thinks it is scandalous.” She left.

Skevo ate his meal with some efficiency, and then walked in the hallway. He did two laps.

He pushed his IV pole into his room. A man wearing a gray shark-skin suit and carrying a dispatch case paced up and down. He brightened at the sight of Skevo.

“My name is Poole,” he said. He walked behind Skevo and shut the room door.

“You . . . ?” Skevo stumbled because he couldn’t remember Strong’s name who had visited earlier. “Who are you?” He sat down on the side of the bed.

“I am from Langley,” Poole said.

“Is Langley an airport?” Skevo said.

“I know you are joking,” Poole said. “I am in finance. I work for the CIA. And the firm needs your signature on a couple of documents.”

“Identification?” Skevo said. He reached out his hand.

Poole offered Skevo his identification card.

“What documents?” Skevo said as he passed back the I.D.

“It’s just organizational tidiness. We need to get you legitimately on our books.”

“I’m in the army.”

“The CIA is keeping you at considerable expense.” He hesitated before going on. “And as I understand it, you aren’t in the army any more. I don’t even know if you are officially alive.”

“You see me. How official does it need to be?”

Poole responded like a man who might have gone too far: “Look, I just shove papers, but if someone has written it in bureaucratese that you are dead, you have difficulties.”

“Then what do you want?”

Poole seated himself in a large wicker chair nearest the window and opened a slim dispatch case.

“I am allowed to give an explanation for these documents.” He chose two documents from the case. He handed the top document to Skevo. “This one allows us to continue medical treatment beyond this initial incident.”

“My wounds are what you call an initial incident?”

“A colorless phrase – it allows us to function.”

He handed the second document to Skevo. “Here, read this. The second document permits the firm to take you on as a temporary hire with the rank equivalent of a sergeant.”

“I am a sergeant in the U.S. army.”

Poole looked at him in a meditative manner, pursing his lips. “In a real way you are not a sergeant in the army. The army is carrying you as missing-in-action, and will continue to do so.”

“I show up. They take my fingerprints. I’m alive.”

Poole remained unmoved. “The Russians are making big deal out of a body they have dug up in Laos.”

“There are lots of bodies buried in Laos.”

“The Russians took pictures.”

“Pictures! What? – of a dead body?”

“Of the Russian agriculture advisor to Laos named Kaznikov, who was accredited to the USSR Embassy in Vientiane.

“Then why was he on the Ho Chi Minh Trail?”

Poole paid no attention.

“It is necessary for you to disappear into a new identity.”

“You mean live in a government-protection program?”

“It’s a sensible solution.”

“I am not sensible, and I won’t hide in a CIA-run alternate universe.”

“They won’t like it.” He placed the contracts before Skevo, who signed the document that facilitated medical care, but refused to sign the temporary hire document.

“The best thing for me would be to go home.”

“You don’t seem to understand that you can’t go home. You’re part of an international fuzz ball, and you have to disappear.”

Skevo looked at him with skepticism. Poole stood up and produced a small camera. “Try to look decent.”

“In a hospital robe?”

The camera clicked.

“I took a head shot. What name do you want on your temporary identification?”

“I need a temporary identity?”

“Just to travel on. So the Russians can’t track you.”

“Okay – S.J. Martin. I’ll go by S.J.”

“Who is S.J. Martin?”

“A long-dead Texas cowboy.”

“Let’s hope you get some use out of it.”

“Poole, you make staying alive the measure of all things. It’s not.”

Poole snorted. “In your case you should let those who have a better than fifty percent chance of living till next Christmas decide.”

“You act like I don’t have a chance.”

“The Russians will make you a priority.”

“That’s not the point.”

“Whatever the point, your death report will process through finance.”

“Won’t I be better off dead?”

“Not if it means extra paper work for me.”

Poole collected the papers to his dispatch case, and left. He returned the next day with a new hire contract offering more money and more freedom that Skevo signed without discussion, but Anna didn’t return and he missed her. He walked the hallway without the IV pole. When he returned to the room, he sat on the side of the bed feeling his body knitting back together. The substitute nurse caught him doing pushups.

“Here, you shouldn’t be doing that.”

Skevo didn’t stop. “Doctor’s orders,” she said – Skevo laughed from the floor.

“You know better than the doctor?”

“I don’t have a doctor,” Skevo said.

The nurse left the room, and Skevo finished his exercise. He took a seat in the wicker chair, telling himself that he was restless, angry at his core, and therefore dangerous – mostly to himself. He couldn’t help it. He wanted action, whether he died or not – that’s why the thought of Russian assassins felt like a relief from tedium

He considered the probability of one more murder as an efficient, and private way to solve a problem. No one need be embarrassed by the failure to detect a long-term traitor. Hendrickson must have given himself away time and again throughout his career. Those who saw it had ignored the evidence, concealed their knowledge, and passed on. The agency could devote its energies to tracking the killer, as it buried the traitor along with the evidence of his betrayal.

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