Animal Farm to the Stars

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"Hi, my name is Trip."

A/N: In case you haven't noticed, this is a rough draft. I liked to edit on the fly as I write so when reviewing please be kind.

After the meeting broke up the three detectives set off to get the job started and a week passed before Jimmy heard anything else about the search for Dr. Dumont.

In the meantime, he continued to check in at the hospital to see how Erica’s condition was progressing. The updates were never good. Eddie Park had stayed on as her full time physician until they could find a specialist but every opinion from every expert just got progressively worse. Then on thursday night, Jimmy and Eddie sat together on a two hour conference call with a German Oncologist who explained in a thick Bavarian accent that the best thing they could do for Erica was to transfer her to a hospice and wait for her “final transition”. It was a punch to the guy everyday and with every twist of the knife, with every piece of bad news, Jimmy had to sit in that hospital room with Erica and watch as her condition deteriorated.

On Sunday, Erica complained that she head a headache as her face started to puff and swell. On Tuesday, bone spurs and growths were forming across in her rib cage, while the skin on the tips of her fingers started to crack and bleed. Then came the muscle spasms, which got so bad and so violent that she broke her own collar bone. By Saturday the doctors finally gave in and placed Erica in a medically induced coma.

That for Jimmy was the limit and once Erica anesthetized head hit the pillow, he drove home to Malibu and collapsed on the couch because putting up a brave front was exhausting.

He would have happily remained on that couch forever but around noon that day the phone rang so Jimmy mustered up the strength to wake up and to swipe the answer button on the center of his cell phone. “E, I’ve had a really rough morning, please tell me you have something.”

Jimmy could almost hear the smart ass grin that was spreading across the Big E’s face as he spoke, “Now is that any way for you to talk to the cat that just broke this whole thing wide open?”

Jimmy lifted himself into a sitting position, “Go on.”

“What if I were to tell you that Erica Brooks isn’t this guy’s only victim.”

Jimmy listened intently as the Big E laid out the new facts of the case, the story, if it were true, was astounding. By the time his friend had finally finished talking, Jimmy was scrambling to put on his shoes. “And you’re sure about this?”

“Oh absolutely,” The Big E said, “I’m at USC right now, they’re going to hold a press conference about it at 2:30. If you hurry you can beat the reporters and the tv cameras.”

In good traffic, driving at a perfectly reasonable speed, it takes 36 minutes to drive from Malibu to the University of Southern California. Jimmy absolutely did not drive at a reasonable speed.

The University of Southern California is a private school, so it was a lot nicer than most higher learning institutions. There was no graffiti, no litter, no overflowing trash cans. Most places on USC’s campus didn’t even have vending machines because the school’s endowment could afford not to. USC is such a nice place it made normal, unattractive people feel unwelcome, like they didn’t belong there. It reminded Jimmy of his own college experience.

Jimmy had attended Miskatonic University, an Ivy League college in rural Massachusetts. It was more exclusive than Harvard and more expensive than Yale and Jimmy had only managed to attend thanks to scholarship and a generous loan from his Uncle Angelo. When the big day arrived, Jimmy had packed up all of his meager possessions and pulled up to his dormitory with a big smile on his face, only to be turned away by the building’s RA. Apparently she had seen his late model Nissan pick up truck and the jeans his mother had purchased at the Asbury Park K-Mart and just assumed he was homeless. It was a painful experience but also a valuable lesson: if you want respect, look wealthy enough to belong anywhere.

When Jimmy pulled up to the security booth in front of USC’s west gate, the guy inside the booth took one look at the black Bentley and the bespoke suit and waved the lawyer through as quickly as possible. It didn’t matter that he did not have an appointment with anyone on campus or that he did not have a press pass, he looked rich. He looked like he belonged. Jimmy could have been a filthy sex pervert who wanted to kidnap the entire cheerleading squad so he could keep them in his sex dungeon, they would have waved him through every time.

The Bentley expertly navigated the narrow streets of USC’s interior campus, pulling up to the Football Operations building in under two minutes. He saw the Big E already waiting out front.

“Man, you owe me a bonus for this shit right here.” E shouted as Jimmy climbed from the car, “I mean, do you have any idea how many many favors I had to call in?”

Bionel shook his head, “Don’t try to scam expense money out of me,” he retorted, then pointed to the lipstick smeared around The Big E’s chin, “You called that girl you know at ESPN, that’s how you got access.”

“ I had to make out with her, don’t I deserve hazard pay for that?”

“I only drop hazard pay if you get shot at.”

“But she was ugly.”

Normally he and The Big E would go back and forth over the issue of hazard pay for a full thirty minutes but Jimmy just wasn’t in the mood. When he closed his eyes, he kept seeing Erica lying on her deathbed and it was starting to affect his mood. So instead of bantering, Jimmy and his friend quickly strolled into the Football Operations building as if they owned the place.

In America, College Football is a billion dollar business and at the University of Southern California business was very good. Trojan football earned more than a hundred million dollars a year, raking in cash from merchandising, tv rights, clothing sales, and donations from wealthy boosters who just wanted to recapture the glory of their college years. But these were just numbers, you didn’t really understand the amount of money sitting in USC’s bank accounts until you saw it’s facilities. Despite the fact that Jimmy was himself a millionaire, the Football Operations Center at USC was more luxurious than literally any other building he had ever been in. Ever. The floor was so clean that if you dropped a hot dog on it’s surface, that could legitimately be considered 5 star dining. In fact it was possible that hot dog would then get good reviews on Yelp because of the swanky atmosphere. It was a nice place.

Jimmy tried to keep that in mind as he prepared to trespass inside it’s walls under false pretenses.

There was a young student worker sitting behind the reception desk, he was a tall blond sports management major who looked like he had the critical thinking skills of a radish. He looked like he was named something short and stupid like Tim or Tod or…

“Hi my name’s Trip, how can I help you?”

Bingo, thought Jimmy as he stepped up to the receptionist’s desk and flexed the muscles in his brain where he kept his gift of gab. In conversation, the use of psychological deception was known as “social engineering”, it was a way for gifted con artists to hack the human components of organizations.

“Hi Trip, my name is James Bionel and this is my associate Mr. Rosaya, we’re here for an emergency meeting with Mr. Ramos and Dr. Thompson.”

Trip paged through his appointment book with a confused look on his face, “I don’t have anything scheduled…”

Jimmy’s response was fast and smooth, “It wouldn’t be, this a confidential meeting. My associate and I work for Nike and, well, I’ll be honest Trip there’s a serious problem with some of the shoes we supplied your organization this year.”

Trip suddenly looked worried and he had every right to be, he was a kind person and a loyal member of the Trojan organization. That was the beauty of Social Engineering: the better the employee, the more loyal they were, the more helpful they were, the easier they were to fool. “Oh, geez, w-what the heck is wrong?”

Jimmy stepped aside so that The Big E could lean in to Trip’s eyeline. Right on cue, the amateur body builder hit a homerun, “It’s the glue, Trip, the adhesive that connects the rubber to the upper part of the shoe.” E kept his voice soft but serious. Because If dishonesty had been a sport, the Big E would’ve been Bo Jackson.

Turning back to the kid behind the desk, Jimmy mimicked his partners fake urgency “Now we’ve got 150 pairs of cleats that might fall apart at any minute,” He gave a helpless sigh and shrugged his shoulders, ”This is what we get for outsourcing to Mexico.”

When attempting to manipulate someone, you always wanted your mark to help your lie. So it was important to leave out at least a small part of your deception and let the mark do the lying for. In this case, Jimmy had already planted the seeds and now he just needed Trip to get over the finish line on his own.

“Oh man...but we’ve got a practice game!” Trip shouted, “Everybody’ll be in uniform and in the stadium, the media’ll be there…”

The Big E reached over and gave the young man a good pat on the shoulder, “Don’t worry, bro. We on this.” Trip buzzed them in as fast as he could, he even pointed out where the equipment rooms were.

But as soon as the Security Room door closed, Jimmy and the Big E immediately turned left and followed the hallway to a door marked “Exam Room”.

They had come prepared. Jimmy placed a lanyard around his neck that looked just close enough to be the real thing, while The Big E turned his windbreaker inside out, revealing the words “Security” in big yellow letters. Then Jimmy stepped through the door while the Big E planted himself in the hallway like an immovable wall.

And now Jimmy was alone with Dr Dumont’s second victim: Lamont Watson. The kid was still only half dressed, sitting on the exam table. It was clear to Jimmy that the team doctor had only just stepped out of the room. If he was going to do this, he had only minutes to spare.

The sight of Lamont Watson would’ve intimidated most people: big muscular black kid, pierced ear, tattoos. This was the kind of guy who gets shot by neighborhood watch because he looks scary in a hoodie. But Jimmy could look past that stuff to the core of what Lamont really was deep inside. This was just a scared kid who just heard some very bad news from his doctor.

Without saying a word, Jimmy walked in, sat down and waited for Lamont to notice him. He didn't have to wait very long. “If you’re waiting for Dr. Ransom, he said he’d be right back.”

“I’m not waiting for the doctor,” Jimmy said as he folded his hands behind his head, “I’m here to see you.”

Lamont’s eyes raked across Jimmy’s body and then returned to his face, “You ain’t a reporter.” It was a statement not a question and Jimmy could appreciate the lifetime of instincts that went into that sentence. Lamont Watson was no fool.

“No, I’m a lawyer.”

“You work for the University?” Jimmy shook his head, “Then who the hell are you?”

Jimmy stood up for dramatic effect and then stepped carefully across the room until he was within arms length of Lamont. Most people when you walk in front of them instinctively back away but the younger man held his ground. “I work for Erica Brooks, do you know who that is?”

“She a movie star.” There was an edge of careful curiosity in Lamont’s voice, Jimmy could tell he at least had the kid’s attention, “She was in that movie...Death Hunt, right?”

Jimmy nodded, “And Eliminator and that fantasy movie from last year...Ice World I think it was called.” He paused, “She’s also a client of Dr. Dumont.”

Lamont’s face went limp, Jimmy watched as the kid turned a very specific shade of pale. “I never heard a him, I ain’t his-.”

A raised hand was more than enough to cut the kid off, “Actually you are. I saw your test results, the skin cancer that you just got diagnosed with has the same set of genetic markers as the disease that’s killing my client.”

It was the words “killing her” that caught Lamont’s attention, the kid leapt off the exam room table and got right in Jimmy’s face, “Man I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t know who you are, go the fuck away! No comment!” Lamont opened the door and stuck his head into the hallway, “Yo, security? Get this mother fucker-”

The Big E didn’t even turn around, “Go back inside and listen to the man.”

The change in Lamont was abrupt but quiet. He stopped shouting because no one could hear him and he stopped pacing because there was nowhere to go, he had no choice but to face the music. He closed the door and walked back to the exam table then his body dropped like a puppet with it’s strings cut. Jimmy was impressed, he took it like a champ. “I’m glad you’ve decided to return to the conversation Lamont.”

“Who are you?”

“I already told you, my name is James Bionel and I’m a lawyer.” Jimmy paused and then waited for Lamont to make a comment but the kid stayed silent and he continued, “And in response to your query, I actually do know you Lamont. I know a lot about you.”

“I know you were recruited out of Alabama, I know you were the top wide receiver in the nation last year and I know that right now your doctor and your head coach are calling a press conference to declare that due to a mysterious skin condition, you’ll have to miss the first half of next season.” Jimmy leaned forward so that Lamont could fully appreciate the gravity of the situation, “What I don’t know is: when did you meet Charles Dumont and when did your start to show symptoms?”

Lamont bit his lip and shook his head, “I can’t.”

Jimmy’s voice was nearly at a growl, he had spent a week doing nothing but sit in a hospital room and watch a woman die, he was no longer interested in anything but results, “You can.”

“I could lose my scholarship, man!”

“Son, that is literally the least of your problems, trust me.” Jimmy snapped

The younger man took a deep breath and let it out slowly, suddenly the floodgates opened, “I’ve been playing ball since I was 8 years old and every field I’ve ever set foot on I like fucking dominated, you know?”

Jimmy tried to understand where Lamont was going with this, he looked at the boy through a raised eyebrow. “Except this one?”

Lamont nodded, “Freshman year I wasn’t posting numbers like everybody expected I would and I started to get worried I was gonna get cut so my agent, Tom, he gave me this guy’s phone number.”

That piece of information made Jimmy’s stomach twist into knots, this Dumont person was getting a referral from sports agents, maybe from other people. The case was officially getting interesting, “And that’s when you met Dumont?” He asked.


“And then what?”

“I went to this house in Ventura and he gave me these injections.” Lamont pointed to the skin on his shoulder, “Three a week for a month, same shoulder every time, that was important for some reason, he insisted it was the same shoulder every time.”

“And it worked?”

“Worked great. For a whole year I was stronger, I was faster, I could get knocked down and stand back up.” Lamont sighed, his eyes fixed on the floor in front of him, “Then last week I had this rash and the rash got worse...and here we are.”

Jimmy listened intently as his brain started to take all of Lamont’s story into himself and then break that down into little bits and bites of information. Pneumonic chewing was what Jimmy called it, taking a big story and making it small. When he was done digesting, Jimmy had a single request: “I want to see it.”

“See what?”

“The rash, show it to me.”

The kid was reluctant at first but eventually he complied, yanking down the top of his gym shorts to show Jimmy the top of his right thigh. Instead of dark brown skin, the thigh had turned an ugly gray color. Instead of smooth skin, the dermis was rough and wrinkled with ugly protrusions like goose pimples criss crossing it’s surface. Jimmy was almost positive he had seen this kind of texture before at a zoo, covering an animal with horn jutting upward into the sky.

Jimmy reached over to the table and pulled a single latex glove out of a box. He put the glove on and moved to get a closer look Lamont’s infection. He ran a single finger over it’s surface, it was hard and thick.

He stepped back and looked Lamont in the eye, “Tell me about this house.”

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