The Lang family circle is broken but thanks to Douglas the problem is temporary.
Chapter Description: The Lang family circle is broken but thanks to Douglas the problem is temporary.
The sleek black Mercedes raced toward the Lang family mansion, its tires squealing in protest as it came to an abrupt stop. The passenger, Jimmy Phelps, sighed audibly with relief. The driver, Douglas Lang, laughed showing two rows of perfect teeth whose pearly whiteness sometimes made Jimmy think of a hungry barracuda or shark. Physically, Douglas Lang left little to be desired from his slick black hair to his china-blue eyes and his perfectly tailored charcoal gray suit right down to his mirror-shined shoes.
Jimmy Phelps was almost a startling contrast to Douglas, dressed as he was in jeans and a tee-shirt with "Lifeguard" written on it. His footwear was equally casual being a pair of tennis shoes which had seen better days. Jimmy’s hair had been bleached by the sun and his skin was evenly tanned to a golden brown. Jimmy’s smiles were rare, but unlike Douglas’s, always genuine. His gaze was direct without being threatening. Girls had found Jimmy attractive but they got nowhere with him.
"Really, Jimmy, you’re positively green! Don’t you trust my driving?" Douglas asked, grinning.
"Yeah, sure. But only because I can’t afford my own car."
Douglas leaned over and drew Jimmy into a close embrace and kissed him full on the lips. They held the kiss for a long moment, then Douglas leaned back with a happy sigh. "Thanks for coming up here tonight, Jimbo. I couldn’t have gotten through it without you."
"That’s nice to know, Doug, but what about your mom?"
"What about her?"
"Well, every time she sees me I get the feeling she wants to sit me on her lap and cuddle me as if I was a baby. No offense, but it’s a funny feeling because she doesn’t look the maternal type. I get the idea she thinks of me as a kid who needs looking after."
"So what if she does? What’s wrong with that?"
"Well, like I said, no offense but I get the feeling she wants to protect me from you."
Douglas laughed. "You’re a brainy kid, Jimmy, but don’t worry about it. Mother always feels that way about all my boyfriends."
They got out of the Mercedes and the chauffeur met them. Douglas tossed him the Mercedes ’s keys, saying, "Put it away, Jackson, and bring our luggage up to my suite." The chauffeur nodded without a word and climbed into the Mercedes and drove away.
Jimmy watched him go, thinking the man looked like an economically-depressed undertaker. Then he turned to Douglas and, resuming their earlier conversation, asked, "Do I really look like a kid to your mom?" Jimmy was twenty-two and looked seventeen. Douglas was thirty-five and looked every year of it.
Douglas chuckled and said, "No, not really but just don’t forget your company manners or she might try and spank you!" Jimmy scowled at this response and Douglas quickly added, "Just kidding, but you still look young enough to be carded in a bar." Douglas’s explanation didn’t sound convincing to Jimmy, knowing him as he did but he decided to keep his doubts to himself.
"What’s the matter?" Douglas asked, suspecting what Jimmy was thinking. "You afraid she’ll wanna tuck you in tonight?"
"No, that’s your job," Jimmy replied, grinning.
"Don’t worry, sweet cheeks," Douglas said in the sing-song voice people sometimes use with toddlers, while reaching out to pinch one of Jimmy’s cheeks. "I will."
"Aw, now don’t you start babying me too!"
"I won’t, Jimbo, so long as you behave yourself. But if you get out of line, it’s back to diapers for you!" They entered the house laughing and gave no thought to watching eyes.
Michael Baker leaned wearily against the windowsill, cursing under his breath as he watched Douglas and Jimmy enter the house. The suite of rooms occupied by Michael and his wife was on the second floor of the mansion and the window where he stood looked down on the main drive. "I was a damn fool ever to come to this place!" Michael murmured aloud to the empty bedroom. He had never felt like a member of the Lang family. Not even after marrying, Daphne, the only daughter of the house. Only his love for her had drawn him to this mausoleum, he reflected. Even so, Michael found it hard to remember sometimes when he thought of the early days of their marriage that Daphne had grown up here. Away from the monument to their arrogance which the Lang family had built for itself, she was such a wonderful woman, so unlike all the silly girls he’d known in college. Michael had been grateful that Daphne, when living elsewhere such as their small apartment, had not been like her cold haughty parents and her arrogant twin brother Douglas, who flaunted his gay lifestyle quite as if it were normal and heterosexuality were perverted instead.
Michael Baker was a boy who had grown up the hard way. His parents had died in an automobile accident when he was fifteen. After the death of his parents he had been brought up by a paternal uncle who was a chicken farmer. Michael had gone from living in a major city to living deep in the country. The contrast between these two worlds had driven him almost mad at first. Gradually however he had adjusted but Michael had never forgotten his life in the big city and he had vowed one day to return. The opportunity to do so had not come until Michael had graduated from high school and had gone to the university. He had done so by means of scholarships earned with a superb academic record. Michael had also worked his way through college. To almost anyone else these achievements would have been worthy of respect, Michael thought, but not from the Lang family. They, he decided, took such things for granted as they did so much else in life. This conclusion did not explain, Michael readily admitted, Daphne’s interest in him.
He had been forced to conclude that this was simply a miracle which he did not deserve. This was an opinion with which Daphne’s parents heartily agreed, particularly her father. Reginald Lang once remarked, "Any man who has less than fifty thousand dollars in his checking account on a regular basis hasn’t any backbone to speak of and his brains wouldn’t fill one of my wife’s teacups." Daphne herself felt that Michael was the best man of his generation. She considered all the men of her own generation to be lacking in ambition.
Michael and Daphne met during his senior year. They met in a local bar not far from the university. Michael had gone there to drown his troubles. He had returned from classes early one afternoon to the apartment he shared with a fellow senior to find his roommate and the girl he’d been about to ask to marry him in bed together. Michael’s roommate had grinned and tried to blow it off. He said, "Come on in, Mike, there’s room in the pool!" Michael and his now ex-girlfriend had stared silently at one another, each of them knowing without words that something good had been destroyed. For an instant murder might have been done in that room. Then Michael let his clenched fists drop to his sides. He said to his roommate, "If you were a man, I’d meet you in the parking lot but you’re just a rutting pig, and I’ve had my belly full of livestock!" Then Michael had turned and left the apartment without another word.
Michael had been sipping on his fourth double when he became aware of the woman sitting beside him at the bar. Their eyes met and she smiled. Michael tried to focus his gaze but found it difficult. He saw a woman dressed in a black silk sheath that emphasized her superb breasts and figure. The diamond necklace round her throat made his eyes water. Her black hair cascaded down her shoulders in a silken wave. Michael gaped like a fish out of water while Daphne’s china-blue gaze measured the young man beside her, finding some gold amid the straw, a mother lode she decided she must have. With this idea in mind, Daphne eventually married Michael Baker and took charge of his life. Daphne’s thought was that if Michael made her pregnant she would be extracting from him the best he had to offer.
It was during their fifth year of marriage that Daphne’s mother gave her another idea. Olivia Lang was above all a practical woman. She adored her son Douglas but had no illusions about him. He was a scientific genius but below average in many other respects. His preference was for men not women and he wouldn’t change. Her husband, Reginald, despised his son. He placed all his hopes in his daughter.
At least he did so until Daphne met Michael Baker. At their single meeting Reginald saw no virtue in "that Baker boy" as he called him. He told Daphne, "That boy of yours might make a good employee someday but never a son-in-law. And remember I said a good employee, not a great one!"
Olivia thought differently and told her daughter so. "Daphne, you must realize that all men are merely lumps of unformed clay when it comes to character and personality. It is a woman’s vocation to form their character and personality for them. The little dears can’t possibly manage it on their own. Your Michael is no exception to this rule. Now as his wife you can, if you want, spend a lifetime trying to formulate his character and personality as it should be; attempting to build on a foundation poorly laid by someone else. Or thanks to Douglas’s genetic research, you can demolish the original house and rebuild it according to your own design. The choice is yours. All you need do is make it at the right time." Daphne had thanked her mother for her suggestion and had gone off to meet Michael, her mind filled with new thoughts about him.
Reginald Lang on the other hand, had no such thoughts, his mind was made up. So long as his Daughter remained married to a nobody, she would be beyond the pale. There would be no compromising with mediocrity. Michael and Daphne had as he saw it by necessity, eloped and her father had disinherited her. However, Daphne’s disinheritance was conditional. If she came to her senses, as Reginald Lang had put it, and got a divorce then she would inherit one-half of the family business, as would have been her right under normal circumstances.
Michael was never sure exactly what the Lang family business was; he knew that their company was currently doing a lot of scientific research involving genetics but Michael had no precise idea of what this entailed. At first Michael and Daphne took her father’s displeasure in their stride then he lost his job and everything changed. Until that happened, Michael had been an up and coming junior executive in a local electronics company. But the company which employed him unexpectedly downsized and he found himself on the unemployment line. Worse, the electronic business of a sudden seemed closed to him. Michael sent resume after resume to every company looking for young executives only to have them disappear into file thirteen. Finally Michael was reduced to working in a garage as a mechanic, the trade which his uncle had originally wanted him to follow. Daphne meanwhile had taken a job as a waitress at a local diner because they didn’t want her parents to find out their situation. Michael had argued that if Daphne took a job as an administrative assistant or God Forbid a secretary her parents would soon find it out and make trouble. But trouble came anyway. Three months after he lost his job Michael learned of his father-in-law’s death in the newspapers. No word of this event so far as Michael knew came from the Lang family. Daphne behaved like a grieving daughter putting up a brave front but Michael thought she was profoundly shocked by her father’s death. Michael had done his best to sympathize but everything he said or did only seemed to make things worse.
Things did in fact get worse. Michael had come downstairs one morning to find their car gone from its usual parking space in front of their apartment complex. It had been repossessed despite the fact that the payments were up to date. On that same morning Douglas Lang had arrived with an invitation for Daphne to visit their mother. Daphne had accepted, Michael felt, with embarrassing relief. Douglas had added after a noticeable pause that Michael would, as his sister’s husband, be suitably welcomed. The remark had struck Michael as odd and he had mentioned it to Daphne but she would hear no criticism of her brother open or implied. It was the first of many puzzling remarks which Douglas would make to him which he could not fathom. For the moment, Michael had forgotten it in the bustle of their departure. The family limo had arrived on the appointed day and their neighbors, who’d been feeling sympathy for their plight, duly revised their opinions.
Reginald Lang was dead but his wife Olivia was as determined, Michael thought, to destroy her daughter’s marriage as her husband had been. From the first moment of their visit he’d felt that something was going on between his mother-in-law and her son. Michael was sure that it was something to do with himself and Daphne. So far he’d been unable to find out precisely what it was.
Michael turned from the window and walked angrily to the dresser. Once there he snatched up his tie and flung it around his neck and did his best to adjust it properly before tying the knot. He was sure he’d got it wrong but was tired of trying to get it right. Then Michael stepped back from the dresser mirror to observe his reflection. The mirror showed the face of a young man who did not look his age of twenty-eight. Like Jimmy Phelps, Michael Baker still had an air of adolescence about him, even though he was not dressed casually. He picked up a comb from the dresser and ran it quickly through his thick brown hair, his green eyes flashing with irritation in the mirror as memories of recent events flitted through his mind.
Michael blushed at the memory of his first night at the Lang dinner table. He had sat down feeling like a character out of an old movie and felt inclined to laugh. The feeling did not last for long.
Mrs. Lang said bluntly, "Michael, I’m afraid your tie won’t do."
Douglas had spoken up then. "Really, Momma, there’s nothing wrong with Miky’s tie, millions of people wear clip-on ties."
"No doubt, Douglas, but not at my dinner table. Take Michael up to your room and lend him one of yours."
Michael opened his mouth to say that if he and his clip-on tie were that objectionable, he and his wife would leave. But Daphne had given him a look which told him that she expected him to submit to her mother’s requirements, no matter what they were. He had never seen such a look on her face before in their married life but on that night it had appeared beyond doubt. To him at that moment, Daphne looked exactly like a younger, haughty version of her mother. Michael had wanted to refuse what he considered an outrageous demand. However, looking from the face of his mother-in-law to that of his wife and seeing that a refusal might precipitate a fatal crisis in his marriage, in order to avoid it, he had submitted. Michael had grudgingly followed Douglas upstairs to his room, fuming all the way.
Once there Douglas had, without asking, removed the offending tie from Michael’s neck, then tied one of his own in its place without offering to show him how to do it. Michael had felt like a nephew who was being made ready for dinner with the grownups by a less than favorite uncle. Douglas’s childish treatment of him had left Michael with the impression his brother-in-law considered him a kid who was too stupid to learn. This impression was heightened when Douglas curtly told him not to sulk.
"Momma treated Jimmy the same way his first night here. I must say he took it far better than you are, Miky."
Michael had felt for an instant like the sort of child who was always getting into trouble without a clue as to why. Having knotted the tie perfectly, Douglas said brightly, "There we are, Miky, come along. Momma don’t like to be kept waiting."
Michael had responded, "You can call me Michael or Mike, I don’t care, but not Miky; I’m not a toddler advertising oatmeal!"
Douglas had simply looked at him as if he’d said something very odd and replied, "My dear boy, of course you’re not a toddler! I’m sure your underwear is quite mature and fully deserved. Now come along, our dinner is getting cold." Michael had perforce to follow Douglas downstairs again, fuming even more.
Later that night he and Daphne had quarreled and it was the worst they’d had in all their marriage. The next morning they were barely on speaking terms. The situation made Michael miserable and his mother-in-law very happy. After a last look in the mirror to check his appearance, Michael trudged downstairs for dinner. He was the last to arrive and slid into his seat feeling like the youngest kid in the family.
His mother-in-law was seated at the head of the table dressed as usual in her habitual black satin. To Michael she looked like a particularly severe grandmother. Olivia gave her son-in-law the glad eye and said, "Michael, the dinner hour in this house is six o’clock and members of the family are expected to be punctual. If you were still a child you would, of course, dine appropriately in the nursery but you are still an adult so you must endeavor to be punctual."
Michael looked from Olivia’s stern face to that of his wife and was astonished to see her nodding in agreement with her mother’s rebuke. He thought, My God, now Daphne’s treating me like a kid too! It was too much for Michael. He stood up and said angrily, "Well, if my punctuality doesn’t suit this family, I’ll leave."
"Where are you going, Michael?" Daphne asked in an icy voice.
"To the nearest McDonald’s. They don’t care if you’re punctual or not, they just want your money!" and he stalked out. The trouble was he’d forgotten he didn’t have a car anymore and was too far from town to get there easily on foot. So Michael simply walked for what seemed like miles through the Lang estate trying to calm down. During this walk his mother-in-law’s words "still an adult" came back to Michael. They made him wonder if she were going senile.
Back at the house, dinner proceeded mostly in silence. Jimmy felt very uncomfortable. He did not particularly like Michael but he couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for him. It seemed to Jimmy that the Lang family was ganging up on Michael and now his wife had joined in the fun. Jimmy sighed inwardly thinking that people sure liked to complicate their lives unnecessarily. Having lost his appetite, Jimmy excused himself, saying he would go for a swim then early to bed.
Mrs. Lang seconded the idea, adding, "Daphne and Douglas, I want to see you in the study after dinner so that we can discuss our special project. I think it’s time to begin."
Something about this announcement struck Jimmy as ominous and he decided to skip the pool in favor of a good listening post on the terrace outside Mrs. Lang’s study. To cover himself, Jimmy dressed for his swim and took one quick dip in the pool, then he hurried to the terrace. He arrived to find Douglas and his mother and sister already ensconced in the study and discussing their project.
Douglas was saying, "Before we make any further plans, I have one very important question for Daphne. Dou you think we are being fair to Michael?"
"That question is not important. We’veÖ."
"Yes, it is, Momma!" Douglas snapped, interrupting his mother for the first time since Jimmy had known him.
"How dare you speak to your mother like that, Douglas, I expectÖ."
"Mother, please, Doug is right," Daphne said quickly. "It’s a fair question and deserves an answer. Yes, I think we’re being fair to Michael. Mother is right, Doug, he has potential but it has to be properly developed."
"Yes, that’s right, from the ground up and now we have the means to accomplish that goal. It would be criminal not to use it."
"There are those, Momma, who if they knew would argue that it would be criminal to do so."
"What, that boy of yours? Nonsense, if he gives us trouble, I say give him the same treatment."
"No, Momma. I will say if and when Jimmy goes back to diapers, not you. Equally, it is for Daphne to say whether Michael is to be regressed, not us."
Outside on the terrace, Jimmy stood in the shadows with his mouth open in astonishment. At first while he’d stood there the night air had felt cool on his damp skin but now it felt chill. "Back to diapers," was that really what they had said? But nobody could do something like that! Yet that very day Doug had joked about sending him back to diapers! Jimmy shook his head in disbelief. "Doug wouldn’t do anything like that to me, even if he could," Jimmy told himself and saw in his mind’s eye Douglas’s gleaming teeth and was reminded once again of a hungry barracuda.
Inside the study, Daphne was saying, "Yes, it’s fair, Doug, because Michael has strength of character but it needs to be properly developed. And Mother is right, that can only be done from the ground up. It’s obvious he can’t cope as he is now, Michael must be remolded. Only consider how and where we met. His girlfriend turns out to be a slut and instead of kicking the bitch into the street and forgetting her, Michael tries to drown himself in a whiskey glass." Daphne’s disgust was painful for Jimmy to hear. She had, Jimmy thought, no better understanding of human relationships than did her mother.
Daphne continued. "Just think of it, a former advertising executive ending up working in a garage as a mechanic, the very idea!"
Mrs. Lang broke in. "My sentiments exactly, darling. Don’t forget his idea that my daughter, a Lang by birth mind you, should work as a waitress!" Jimmy heard Mrs. Lang give a snort of disgust.
Daphne went on relentlessly. "And besides, Doug, you’ve said yourself that Michael is the best potential test subject you’ve seen so far. And I think you’re right; remember his childish behavior tonight? So as far as I’m concerned, Michael’s future is settled."
"That’s true, Daphne," Mrs. Lang said, not troubling to hide her scorn at the idea of her son-in-law’s masculinity. She added bluntly, "Besides, when all is said and done, he’ll make a far better grandson than a son-in-law. And when Michael becomes my grandson, our family circle will be whole again."
"But maybe if he had a little more time to mature, Daphne, then Michael could give you everything you want," Douglas murmured, adding, "After all, he is twenty-eight maybe in another two yearsÖ."
"But two years is a long time, Doug, and I haven’t got that much time to waste. Don’t forget, we’re thirty-five and anything can happen in two years. If you don’t want to do it, Doug," Daphne finally snapped, "just say so and Mother and I will do it alone!"
"Okay, sis, don’t get upset with me; I’m on your side, believe me."
"Good, then there’s nothing more to say. So I’m going to bed. You can start when Michael gets back. I’ll make up some excuse and send him down to the basement. Just be ready when he gets there."
"I will," Douglas replied.
Jimmy stayed to hear no more. He ran back to the dressing room beside the pool and practically leapt into his clothes. Then he ran around to the front of the house and hid in the shrubbery near the main entrance to wait for Michael. Jimmy was feeling a little silly, not unlike an unwilling adult caught up in a game of Hide and Seek. He tried to exercise patience but couldn’t help wondering what Michael would say when Jimmy told him what he’d overheard. Would he believe him? Jimmy believed in it because Douglas Lang and his mother and sister had spoken so calmly about what they proposed to do. In fact, they had spoken as if it were something they’d done many times before. Suddenly Jimmy wondered if this were true. The thought made him shiver.
He knew that Douglas maintained a laboratory in the mansion basement. He had kidded Douglas about creating some kind of monster down there. Jimmy had asked to see the lab but Douglas had always refused Jimmy’s request. Jimmy had not minded this refusal until tonight. He remembered with another shiver that Douglas had mentioned his mother’s attitude toward his former boyfriends. He had indicated that she had wanted to baby them. Just as, Jimmy felt, she did himself. How many of Douglas’s old boyfriends had been thrust back into infancy whenever he’d grown tired of them? Had Douglas simply seen them one and all, including himself, as convenient test subjects for his genetic research? Considering this, Jimmy wondered if he should wait for Michael’s return before fleeing the trap the Lang mansion had become.
Jimmy glanced down at his watch and saw that it was nearly eleven o’clock. How long would Douglas wait in the basement before coming in search of Michael? The sound of crickets filled Jimmy’s ears and a full moon rode overhead; its soft light made him feel isolated and lonely and a little afraid too. Surely the outside lights should have come on by now? "No, Douglas has turned them off. He wants to catch Michael outside, but why?" Then Jimmy remembered there was an outside entrance to the basement.
Finally, Jimmy sighed with relief because he heard footsteps coming along the road to the main entrance of the Lang estate. He stepped into the drive and Michael came into view looking weary and a little bedraggled.
Jimmy hurried up to him saying, "Hey, man, wait a minute before ya go up to the house. There’s somethin’ ya need to know."
Michael gave him a disgusted look and asked sarcastically, "What might that be? Oh, let me guess, you’ve got the hots for me and you just wanted me to know in case I ever change my sexual preference!"
"What?" Jimmy said.
"Oh, come on, Phelps! You don’t really expect me to believe you’re in love with Douglas Lang, do you?" Michael’s use of the word love in this context made it an epithet.
For an instant Jimmy froze, unable to speak or move. Then he said quietly, "This has nothing to do with sex, homo or otherwise. It has to do withÖ." Jimmy got no further because Michael pushed roughly past him and continued up the drive, as if he were no more than a momentary obstruction in traffic.
Jimmy took one step after him, then froze again as Douglas’s voice came out of the dark. "Here you are, Miky, Daphne was getting worried."
"Well, she doesn’t have to worry anymore," Michael snarled, "because Miky is back!"
Jimmy clearly heard Douglas’s smile as he replied, "I’m glad you’re back too because Momma doesn’t like her kids to play outside after dark."
Michael started to yell his response to this but was cut off by a popping sound. "I’m not some damnÖ!"
Jimmy heard the sound of a falling body and it galvanized him into action. He ran down the drive and found Douglas bending over Michael, who lay sprawled on the ground like a gigantic puppet whose strings have been cut.
"What the hell did ya do to him?"
"Nothing life-threatening, dear boy, I assure you. Help me carry him to the lab."
Jimmy stared down at Michael, noting that he was conscious but unable to speak or move. His eyes fixed on Jimmy’s face and pleaded for help. "Listen to me, Douglas, I can’t help you do this! I know what you’ve got in mind."
"I’m sure you do, Jimbo. Like I said, you’re a smart kid. And you know I don’t suffer fools gladly."
"But you can’t really do what you said earlier tonight, can you?"
"That’s a stupid question, Jimbo, since you’ve already decided that I can. That’s why you came out here, to warn Miky."
"You know me too well."
"Precisely, Jimbo. Now help me carry Miky into the lab. I can’t let him regress out here on the driveway. Somebody might see something they shouldn’t and Momma would be very displeased about that. Take it from me, it’s best not to anger my mother."
"Yeah, but why do you let your mom boss you around, Douglas?"
"I should have thought that was obvious. She holds the purse strings and I’ve never lived without money and I don’t intend to start now."
"Why does your sister want to turn her husband into a baby?"
"I guess that’s a reasonable question. Daphne, like a lot of women, wants a baby but ordinarily to get one you must have a spouse. Unfortunately, husbands, or boyfriends for that matter, are a good deal of trouble in one way or another. I suppose you could say by regressing her husband, Daphne is simply eliminating the middleman. Mind you, I don’t pretend to understand why women want babies because wet diapers and sour bottles hold no charms for me. But apparently they do for a lot of women."
"Come off it, Douglas, little kids are nice. I used to babysit a lot in high school."
"Of course, you don’t really think we met on that beach by accident, do you? My dear Jimbo, I haven’t done anything by accident since leaving diapers myself."
"You mean you had me checked out before we met?"
At Jimmy’s feet Michael moaned and made a gurgling sound in his throat like an oversized baby. Douglas squatted on his heels and rubbed Michael’s stomach and spoke soothingly to him as if he were already a baby.
"There, there, Miky, we’ll get you inside in a minute." Then he stood up and faced Jimmy squarely. Seeing the serious look on Douglas’s face, Jimmy involuntarily stepped back from him. Douglas said, "To answer your question, Jimbo, yes, I had you checked out. I did after I saw you on the beach one Saturday afternoon. I know everything about you that could be learned through good detective work. And now that we’ve met, I know even more."
"Such as what?" Jimmy asked angrily, but shook his head negatively and started to turn away.
But Douglas reached out and pulled him back around to face him. "I know that you tried to warn little Miky what the Lang family has in mind for him. I went up to my suite and found you gone and checked the pool. Since you weren’t there I guessed where you were and what you intended to do. So I came down and hid in the shadows. I heard everything that passed between you. You tried to warn him and Miky treated you like a two dollar whore!"
Jimmy swallowed convulsively. "I’m not a whore and I’ve never been one!"
"I know," Douglas said gently. "Like I said, I’ve had you thoroughly checked out.
"Oh, yeah? How much did I weigh at birth?"
"Nine pounds and seven ounces," Douglas replied, grinning.
Jimmy laughed in spite of himself and said in an impressed tone, "You’re right. But what you’re planning to do is wrong, Douglas, and I can’t help you."
"Aw, I hoped you’d say that. It proves you want me for myself not my money. With all your predecessors it always came down to money, never love of me or even of themselves."
"I still can’t do what you want, Douglas."
"I understand, Jimbo, but you should know that as far as the regression of Michael Baker is concerned, what needed to be done has already been done and your consent or refusal will make no difference to its outcome."
These words caused Michael to give a high-pitched moan and Jimmy looked down at him. He saw two big tears rolling down his cheeks into his ears. His mouth was open and Michael was breathing heavily through it. Jimmy watched a string of saliva run out of Michael’s mouth and down his chin. Jimmy wondered if his eyes were playing tricks on him. Did Michael’s face look rounder? There was no doubt Michael looked very young and vulnerable lying there.
Douglas squatted down beside him again and Jimmy watched in horrified fascination as he took one of Michael’s hands and curled the fingers into a fist with the thumb uppermost. Then he thrust it into Michael’s open mouth. For a second, Michael’s body stiffened from head to foot and Jimmy knew he was trying to resist an infantile urge to suck his thumb.
Douglas smiled down at him and patted his stomach. "You just lie quiet, Miky, like a good baby and suck your thumb while Uncle Jimmy and I finish our conversation." Michael’s body went limp at Douglas’s words and the sound of sucking could be heard even above the crickets.
"How did you do it?" Jimmy asked, feeling sick.
For answer, Douglas lifted from a nearby flower bed where he’d dropped it a hypodermic gun and waved it at Jimmy. He stared at the gun, thinking it looked like a kid’s space toy, something you might see in Lost in Space or Star Wars. "This is not the first time you’ve done this, is it?" Jimmy asked, his mouth feeling dry with fear.
"No, Jimbo, it isn’t. But it will be the last time."
"How do I know that?"
"You know it because I need you and you won’t be a party to any more unwilling regressions. So from this night on there will be none." Jimmy realized with a shock that Douglas knew exactly what he was feeling at this moment. In the symposium, Socrates had referred to soul mates and now Jimmy knew that Douglas Lang was his. He could not do without him.
Jimmy looked down at Michael Baker in mute apology, then said, "I’ll carry him. You lead the way."
Michael woke from what seemed to be a whole series of nightmares. He lay still in his bed, eyes closed for the moment, simply reveling in the comfort of it. And in the thought of being fully awake after such a terrible night. Somewhere above him soft music was playing and the melody sounded very familiar but he could not remember its name. Michael was finding it hard to think clearly. He vaguely remembered leaving the house after a quarrel but he could not recall the details. It had something to do with time but exactly what Michael could not remember.
The face of a severe-looking older woman floated into his mind and he felt his toes curl up in alarm. Her voice echoed in his head. "You’ve been a very naughty little boy, Michael, going out after dark. Grandmamma is most displeased with you."
Within his head Michael heard himself say, "I’s sowwy, Ganny." A picture flashed through Michael’s mind of himself standing before the severe woman on wobbly legs. She had been dressed all in black and seemed to tower over him.
The worst part of this picture for Michael was the realization that he’d been naked but for a pair of thick white underpants. He remembered protesting his state of undress but in words that were hardly appropriate to a twenty-eight year old man. "I’s big boy, no baby!" Something was all wrong about those underpants. They looked too thick to be normal. Michael squeezed his eyes shut tighter and tried to think why they were wrong.
Another picture flashed into his mind and it was worse than the first. The woman who’d called herself his grandmamma had been beckoning to him to come to her and Michael had not wanted to at all. She had wanted him to come and sit on her lap. "Come and sit with Grandmamma," calling to him as if he were a dog, not a human being.
The memory filled Michael’s mind so that he could feel the thick rug beneath the soles of his bare feet and his knees trembled with the weight of his fear. His knees had given way and Michael had sat down with a bump. It was a bump of revelation. In his fear, Michael with horror realized he’d lost control of his bowels and his kidneys simultaneously. His underpants were filthy. At that same moment a man strode into the picture whom Michael recognized as his Uncle Dougie. Michael remembered saying, "Doggie, I’s sowwy, me wet."
Uncle Dougie had laughed. "You certainly are, Miky, but never mind, Uncle Jimbo will take you upstairs and change your didee!"
The memory of the word didee caused Michael’s eyes to fly open and he lay staring up at the mobile slowly turning above him. Soft music was coming from it mingled with words which he could only hear through his subconscious. They told him he was a baby and had always been one. With an effort Michael tore his eyes away from the mobile and looked down at himself. He saw with panic that he was lying in a crib, covered with a soft blue blanket. His arms lay outside the blanket, his fists clenched with both thumbs tucked tightly inside the palms, quite as if he were afraid of losing them. This thought made him want to giggle.
Then with frightening clarity, he remembered another room, one with gray walls and a floor to match. There was a stainless steel table standing in the center of this room. The table had straps attached to it that he hadn’t liked. Michael saw a boy considerably older than himself strapped to the table. He was naked and looked vaguely familiar. With frightening suddenness, Michael found himself lying on the table looking up at two men who stood beside it. He recognized them both. One was his uncle Dougie and the other was his uncle Jimbo.
Miky heard Uncle Jimbo ask, "How old do you think he is now?"
"Oh, about thirteen, I should say. The formula is working according to schedule. The physical regression doesn’t really take that long in most cases. It is the mental phase of it that takes longest. Of course, some individuals can take longer in both phases of the regression. I think it depends on how strong their self-esteem is. In the case of your immediate predecessor, it took more than one session with Momma to break him down. There’s nobody like my mother for destroying a man’s self-esteem. As for Mr. Baker, you saw how he began sucking his thumb only minutes after the regression process had begun."
Michael shuddered at these words and the mysterious room vanished and he was back in his comfortable bed again. Only it was comfortable no longer. He knew it now to be a cage and himself to be a prisoner. How was he to escape? Michael heard familiar footsteps then, they were those of his wife. She entered the room wearing the black silk sheath he’d first seen her in that day at the bar so long ago. There was the same diamond necklace which had caught his eye. It was so pretty, like the woman who wore it. Daphne had seemed like his savior then but not now.
She beamed at him. "Good morning, pumpkin, is Mommy’s wittle man ready to go see his grandmother? First, let’s change your didee." Michael’s diaper change at the hands of his wife was the most humiliating experience of his life. Daphne hummed to herself as she worked. This made it worse for Michael because he realized she thought of him as a baby in every sense of that word. Though he tried he could not keep from his mind the thought that she had always done so. It was a crippling blow to his image of himself as a man.
Michael lay on the changing table trying hard to picture himself as a man. For a fleeting instant he saw himself standing in front of the bathroom mirror applying lather to his face for a shave. But the sight and smell of talcum powder and baby lotion and the feel of Daphne’s fingers as she applied them to his diaper area interfered with this image, eventually blotting it out.
Miky gurgled with pleasure as his mommy drew the clean diaper up between his legs and fastened it tight across his tummy on both sides. Then she dressed him in a pair of blue shortalls and a yellow tee-shirt with a big teddy bear on the front. This done, Daphne finished off Miky’s costume for his visit with his grandmother with a pair of white socks which came almost up to his knees and a pair of matching shoes that fastened with Velcro. Then she carried him downstairs to the drawing room. As they went down the stairs Miky played with Daphne’s necklace fascinated by the pretty stones.
Daphne paused in the doorway and lowered Miky to the floor. She smiled knowingly at her mother and slipped quietly away. According to their plan, Olivia must be left a clear field to finish the work the Lang family had begun.
Miky stood for an instant looking around. Then he ran into the middle of the room and stopped abruptly. The Lang drawing room was furnished and carpeted in blue. It was Olivia’s favorite color. She had told Michael this during his first visit to the house. This otherwise unimportant fact floated into Miky’s empty little head and suddenly Michael, the twenty-eight year old man was standing there. Dressed in baby clothes from head to toe, Michael, former advertising executive and garage mechanic stood looking around until he caught sight of Olivia standing beside the fireplace. She was dressed as usual in black satin. Michael turned to run but his superb coordination, like so much else, was gone. He tripped and fell to his hands and knees. Desperate to escape, Michael began to crawl, his eyes fixed on the blue carpeting. Baby blue, he thought frantically, I gotta get away from baby blue! I’s gots to cause I’m big boy.
A soft and insinuating voice came from the fireplace. "Come to Grandmamma, Miky."
Michael stopped, confused as to where the hated voice was coming from? It seemed all around him. "Come along, Miky. Grandmamma wants to give you your good morning kiss. Then I’ll give you your ba-ba with chocolate in it."
Michael looked up from the carpet and the furnishings of the room seemed to tower around him, adding immeasurably to his confusion. Surely no furniture could be that big? It looks gigantic! The number twenty-eight appeared in Michael’s mind and he knew it to be important but it was swept away by a vision of himself sitting in a woman’s lap. He looked so small. She was holding a bottle in her hand directly in front of his open mouth. Michael cringed because it was a baby bottle. The voice came again. "You remember how good the chocolate tasted last night, Miky? You made it all gone for Grandmamma, remember?"
Michael did remember and he began to crawl rapidly across the floor until his head struck something soft but firm. He looked up quickly and saw a throne-like chair directly in front of him. The blow to his head was not hard but Michael had to fight the urge to cry. He sank to his stomach and clutched at the carpet fighting for self-control. Tears came and he kicked his feet in frustration. From somewhere far away he heard a baby whimpering and was horrified to think it might be himself. Worse than all this, he was no longer sure who exactly he was.
The insinuating voice spoke directly above him. "Come to Grandmamma, Miky. It’s time for your ba-ba."
Michael scrambled to his hands and knees again. Then he got shakily to his feet. Olivia Lang was sitting in the chair. How long had she been there? Michael wondered despairingly and he began to back slowly away.
Olivia laughed deep in her throat. " Does Miky wanna play Hide and Seek with his grandmamma?"
Michael stopped and said in a squeaky voice, "Nah me ganny."
Olivia laughed indulgently. "Okay, Miky, we won’t fuss about who I am. But you’d better come get your ba-ba before some other little boy does. There is a very bad little boy Michael who likes chocolate milk too. You don’t want him to get your chocolate, do you?"
Michael shook his head, trying to clear it of the memory of chocolate milk. Against his will he remembered that he’d always loved the stuff as a kid. When he’d been small, his mother had rewarded him for good behavior with chocolate milk. Now his very identity was in danger of being lost in a wave of chocolate milk.
Olivia leaned forward in her chair and made a guess and it was right. She said deliberately, "Michael, if you’re a good little boy and come and sit with Grandmamma, you’ll get some chocolate milk." As she spoke, Olivia held out a baby bottle filled with the chosen bait.
Long years before Michael and his parents had been visiting the beach when he’d unexpectedly been engulfed by a wave. The world the toddler had known had vanished in a wall of saltwater. On that long ago day, Michael’s mother had been there to rescue him, but not on this morning.
The world Michael had known as a young man was swept away on a tidal waive of infantile memories involving chocolate. He took two quick steps toward Olivia, then sank to his hands and knees again. Michael crawled rapidly toward the proffered baby bottle. As he came, he wet his diaper and did not know it. Having reached Olivia’s feet, he tried to stand but couldn’t.
Olivia smiled in triumph and scooped Michael up from the floor. She settled him in her lap and the sounds of a happy baby sucking his bottle filled the room. The family circle was once more complete.