L.Randall Charpentier, III and his wife, the former Marianne deLamade Matraille, were traveling unwontedly by car. Their personal Lear Jet had developed severe engine trouble while on the ground at a small Tennessee airport well to the southwest of Columbia and L. Randall was urgently wanted back at his New York Office. No plane was available for rent or lease - not even for sale - nor would L. Randall trust any pilot but his own James Louis, who just happened to be a native of Tennessee.
Louis had found them a strangely incongruous Lincoln Town Car with a native Tennessee driver (no Tennessean would be caught dead as a "chauffeur," so Sanford Adams had informed Mrs Charpentier, III) who said he could get them to Nashville in three or four hours, "dependin' on the weyther."
"And just what does he mean, 'depending on the weather, ' Ranny?" asked the exasperated Marianne.
"Well, Louis?" asked her puzzled husband, passing on such questions, as usual, to his assistant and pilot.
"It's possible to have a 'guster," a real gully-washer, that's to say, a real hard rain come up really quickly in these hills, this time of year, ma'am."
Louis did not like Marianne and was certain that she had little use for him. For a "no'thener," she was sure set against people of color, he knew. Luckily her husband, perhaps disguising as ingrained a prejudice, was too smart a businessman to forego the services of an ex-Air Force fighter pilot and recognized ace as his personal pilot. Occasionally, James Louis recalled bitterly, L. Randall exhibited a bit of his wife's far more obvious bias and his tones quite often were more brusque than necessary when he addressed his pilot.
James and Sanford exchanged surreptitious winks as thy loaded the baggage into the Lincoln.
"He okay to wuhk foh?" murmured the driver, Sanford Adams, parodying a "slave" accent.
"Surely. Say, you're from down near Pulaski, aren't you?"
"Howdja know thet, suh?" smiled Sanford, continuing the joke.
"I'm from near there, myself."
"Y'are?" Sanford's face lit up in a great grin. "You're Jamie Louis, aren't you? Ohio U, fighter pilot. Man, I read about... '
"You two get a move on, We haven't all day to conduct old home weeks." That was Marianne, her face almost pink under her make-up, a sign of anger...
"Yes, Mrs Charpentier," said James, looking her straight in the eyes as a distinguished ex-serviceman, albeit a servant to her husband, should. "We were just remarking that we came from the same neck of the woods."
"Well, we need to be out of this damn' neck of the woods as soon as possible," chimed in Randall, but he wore a deprecating grin as he stood back of his angry wife.
"Well, tell the 'driver' to hurry it up, then, Ranny." was Mrs Charpentier's comment on that exchange. James and Sanford could hear the "n" word in the way she emphasized "driver." She obviously knew better than to cast any slur at James, except by association.
Sanford rolled his eyes at James in a parody of the "yes massa" slave answer and then walked in a dignified manner around to the rear door of the car, which he opened and held as the beautiful but thoroughly spoiled Mrs L. Randall Charpentier, III inserted herself.
"James, would you please return to the airport and see what you can do to get the plane fixed? We're going to Nashville and get a plane there for New York. All right? Have enough money?"
"Yes, Mr Charpentier, thank you. I'll do my best to get the plane fixed and be in New York as soon as I can. I'll call you at your New York office, shall I?"
"Yes. Thanks, James." With the impatient Marianne fuming beside him in the back of the Lincoln, "Ranny" murmured politely to Sanford,
"If you please, Sanford. Let's be on our way."
"Surely, suh." Sanford, back in "po' sharecropper" mode, put the car in gear and drove carefully over the slightly bumpy gravel of the airport road to the "highway" which wound in two-lane narrowness over the adjacent hills.
About two hours later...
"My God, Ranny, can't this lousy nig... driver get us to Nashville any faster?" This from Marianne after agonizing swoops over steep and short hills, twisting roads and almost constant swaying side to side for those in the back. Marianne was convinced that Sanford was trying his best to make their ride as uncomfortable as possible.
"Marianne, Sanford is doing his best to get us to the highway.
"Sanford, what seems to be the trouble. Shouldn't we be on the Interstate by now?"
"Why, yes sir. I thought I knew these hill roads an' I was gettin' you to the Interstate as fas' as I could, sir, but I can't seem to find the right turns."
"Damn, dumb ni... oaf," muttered Marianne, once again barely concealing her distaste for dark skinned people.
"Sir, Mr Charpentier, we got a storm comin' on, too. Look at those black clouds. That's a cloudburst, for sure."
"Well, we can still drive through rain, can't we, Sanford?"
"I hope so, sir, do my best." Sanford was a good driver, careful on these roads, a demon on the Interstate. He'd dearly have loved to reach that superhighway long ago, nor could he understand why the hill roads with which he was familiar had suddenly gone all strange and twisty. His tanned face showed puzzlement and burgeoning anger, whether the latter was directed at the roads or Mrs Charpentier was nor even clear in his own mind...
As the Lincoln ascended yet another steep hill, the heavens burst above them and within four or five seconds the visibility was hardly more than the length of the hood before the streaming windshield. Sanford slowed and carefully navigated the next bend in the road, this one bringing the car, its driver and passengers under a sheer bluff of what looked like rock to Randall in the short glimpse he had of it before there was a tearing roar and the bluff's unstable conglomerate of loam and medium-sized rocks descended upon the car.
The weight of the bluff came down upon one side of the car and although Sanford managed at the very last second to floor the accelerator, the car was swept sideways and forward, breasting the next slight rise and slowly, almost reluctantly, leaving th road and sliding gracefully into the rapidly flooding stream at the bottom of the gully beside the road.
"Come out, folks," yelled Sanford, his forehead bleeding where he had hit the mirror. He was pulling at the back door of the Lincoln, now totaled as far as he could tell in the pouring rain. Luckily the rear doors worked, although Sanford had had to crawl hastily out of the flooding front seat through the right side window.
Randall was somehow stuck in the back seat, but he managed to hand Marianne over himself into Sanford's waiting grasp. Marianne was for once so shaken that she didn't even think to resent Sanford's hands on her body. The car gave a lurch downward and Marianne screamed, barely heard over the pounding of the water descending in a real gully-washer.
Sanford quickly deposited the struggling woman on the bank well up from the stream and turned back to see what was still holding Charpentier in the car. Randall was struggling with one leg, caught on or impaled by a piece of steel which protruded from the floor of car.
"What the hell is that?" muttered Sanford as he tried to lift Charpentier's leg off the steel spur which seemed to have barbs.
"That's impossible," Sanford muttered as he finally got a heavily bleeding leg unhooked for what looked now like a bloody fish-hook.
"Oh, God, that hurts," said Randall quietly, apparently trying not to upset his unseen wife, ten feet above him but completely invisible in the pouring rain.
"Randall," screamed Marianne suddenly, making both men jump and hurting Randall sufficiently to make him slump to the sopping ground, unconscious.
"Please be easy, Mrs Charpentier, I'm tending to your husband, he'll be all right."
"What the hell do you know about helping anyone?"
"Ma'am, I was a corpsman in 'Nam. Put together a lotta Marines, ma'am. I got the bleeding stopped, I think. But we gotta get to higher ground, ma'am. Scooch on up the hill, if you can, an' I'll bring Mr Charpentier."
Sanford could hear Marianne's barely repressed mutter about "uppity blacks", but he paid it no attention as he lifted Randall and with extreme effort made it up the hill. He had gotten some purchase against the slippery turf and did not - could not - stop to help Marianne as he plunged with her husband in his arms to the flat surface which he thought was the road. Laying Randall down easily, he turned to help Marianne. Unfortunately, as he reached for her hand, his foot slipped on the greasy grass and he slid into her, his feet knocking her down on top of him. He could feel her breasts and her sopping dress molded itself to het body so closely that her outflung legs presented her mound to his crotch as they slammed into each other.
"Get away from me, you black bastard!" yelled Marianne, and Sanford tried his best to get out from under her, his face as impassive as he could keep it, his mind raging in anger at her slur. What a bitch!
Sanford managed to stand up and as Marianne struggled to regain her feet he raised a hand to help her, but her mud-smeared, furious gaze deterred any further thought of help. The woman struggled to the flat road, or what was left of the road, and lay down beside her husband.
"Make it stop, make it stop," she moaned, as though the man she had just insulted and whom she detested could, or, had she thought a little, would, stop the storm.
At that moment, although the rain slackened a bit, the scene seemed to darken even more. Through the darkness came a gleam of light, a strong beam which played over the three soaked travelers.
"Hoo, dawggie! Yo're in raht bayad shape, ain't ye? Car wrecked? Yep, gotta ton or so dirt an' awl on it. Kin thet man walk? No? Aw right, gotta wheely heah. You, whut's yore name? Sanford? Okay, Sanford, take 'im by the shoulders, real easy like, an' we'll jus' poot 'im soft like on the wheely. Thet's raht. Tie 'im down snug. Kin the woman walk? Good, you hol' onta the side an' me 'n' Sanford'll wheel this thingy along. Easy does it, now, kinda rough. Thank the Lord the rain's lettin' up some."
"Mister, I don' know who you are, but I thank the Lord you found us. I think we mighta drowned from the stream or the rain if you hadn' come along," said Sanford, pushing easily on the kind of stretcher he recognized, a collapsible, wheeled stretcher like some of those he'd seen used in 'Nam.
"Oh, ah run these hyer hills, mos'ly. Had a feelin' there was trouble at the branch when ah heerd the suckin' noise a landslide meks. Sound's lahk a plumber's helper, it does. Mah house is raht hyer."
The rain had slackened sufficiently that Sanford, Marianne and the now conscious Randall could appreciate the extent of what looked to be a mansion, half-buried in the hillside. Sanford gulped a great breath of relief as he saw lights come on and other figures hurrying to help.
What is this? Some kind of hospital... I never knew of a hospital in these hills? Sanford was puzzled. Then he thought Well, hell, I'm not from here, anyway, but I sure thought I knew these hills.
Within minutes the three bedraggled travelers were warmer, dryer and thankfully ingesting a cup apiece of well-laced tea.
"Thet hits the spot, eh?" queried their rescuer.
"Sure does," grinned Sanford. "Say, what hospital is this, anyway?"
"Hospital? Oh, yeah, does look like one. It's a research station," commented a man who was dressed in a white coat, had a stethoscope around his neck, and acted and looked like a doctor. He had just risen from inspecting Randall's leg. Marianne and Randall had remained speechless since the loud-spoken man with the "wheely" had arrived on the scene of their smash-up.
"You're a doctor, then?" asked Randall, weakly; he had lost a quantity of blood.
"Yes. Doctor Emile Charrette, at your service."
"And what do you research here, then, doctor?"
"That is a long and involved story, but I think you will be staying with us for awhile, sir, and I can explain better as you recover. I fear that leg will not be much better for some time - but then, we may have a way of facilitating your ability to move, after all."
"I would be grateful for anything you can do, doctor. I am well able to recompense you for our services."
"Ah, sir. Your name?"
"Randall Charpentier. I have offices in New York."
"Ah, hum. Charpentier Consortia, are you connected with that, by any chance?"
"Yes, I am the CEO of the Consortia."
"And the lady..."
"My wife, Marianne. Marianne, this is Doctor Charrette... at our service, so he has said."
"Ah, yes. I already know that this is Sanford Adams, he introduced himself after we got you inside."
Marianne grunted. She was really in shock, but she need not have been quite so unpleasant to everyone as she continued to be in the days that followed.
Several weeks of idleness ensued, Randall's leg not seeming to benefit from the care which Doctor Charrette appeared to lavish upon it. At the same time, Marianne noticed that Sanford had "faded" and was no longer at their meals nor present during their idle times in the large lounge of this "research facility." She made no mention of this to Randall, who seemed not to notice Sanford's absence. He, too, had begun to be grumpy. For various, more and more obviously evasive, reasons, he was unable to contact his offices in New York. The telephone service, he was told, was very chancy and there were no radios nor online computers available. Randall did ask, desultorily, where Sanford, his "chauffeur" might be, but received no answer and subsequently put all thoughts of Sanford our of his mind.
Sanford Adams had been a little too nosy. He discovered that the man who had rescued them from the gully was a 'Nam veteran, too, and by coincidence had been an Army medic. It came to Sanford as a flash of inspiration that two medics should have something enough in common that Sanford could discover just what this place actually was doing.
"We-yull, naow, I kin see thet you're the silent type, eh? 'F'you'll come along o' me, ah'll show you some o' what we do hyer."
The large man led Sanford down a dark corridor and as they entered a dark room, he whirled and slammed a short, stout needle into Sanford's arm, so shocking the recipient that he could make no sound for the crucial several seconds it took the injection to work. Then he slumped to the floor.
When Sanford awoke, he was lying supine on an inclined plane, a padded table which was tilted at about thirty degrees. He felt no desire to move, only his eyes following the movements of the man he had come to know as Charrette
Charrette turned and grinned at him. "Awake and s-o-o limp, eh? That's all right, you will not need to worry too long... ,
"You ask Brandy Turner what we do here, eh? Not wise, but I will tell you, anyway, as you will not be able to tell anyone else.
"Have you ever heard, read maybe, a fairy story?"
Sanford found he could move his head, but nothing else. He nodded.
"So. Have you perhaps read about what is called 'transference?' Some stories call it 'borrowing, ' but we do more than borrow, yes indeed.