Chapter 5

I was feeling a bit off center that evening, but I explained it away as mental overload, the rain, and the implied threats. That diagnosis got revised the next morning when I awoke with a mind-numbing headache, chills alternating with a mild fever, and my chest feeling like it was caught in a com­pactor. It was a so-called common cold, but there was nothing common about my misery, which was truly exceptional.

I made a cup of Echinacea tea and then washed down 2000 mg of Vitamin C with some aging orange juice from my fridge, after which I took a couple of Tylenol, put on yesterday’s jeans, and headed uptown to work. I also treated myself to a cab.

When I settled into the cluttered corner room that was my office, I told myself this was not a day to make any big decisions. Just stick to matters that required nothing more than autopilot.

The first thing I did was call Lou to check on Sarah (no change), and then I told him about my Hispanic visitor. He made concerned sounds and promised to accompany me on any further location shoots.

Next I pulled out my date book and punched in a phone number I’d scribbled in the back. I’d gotten it when I was winding up my interview with Carly Grove.

“Children of Light,” said an unctuous voice. “This is Ramala.”

I hesitated a moment before giving my name. They already knew who I was; Ramala or somebody had called Paula Marks and asked about me. Me. What would she do when she heard it was yours truly in the flesh?

I tried to take a deep breath, working around the feeling my lungs were on fire, and identified myself.

Ramala received the information as though she’d never heard of me. Maybe she hadn’t. Then I asked for an appoint­ment with Alex Goddard. As soon as it was convenient.

“He leaves his Saturdays open,” she said, more of the smiley voice, “so I could make a special appointment for you tomorrow. Would ten A.M. be all right?”

Her accent was the kind of Delhi colonial-ruling-class you associate with expensive silk saris and ruby bracelets, yet at the same time her voice had an overlay of that melodious, touchy-feely unctuousness you hear on relaxation tapes. I half expected her to next say, inhale deeply and feel the love flowing through the universe. In any case, she couldn’t have sounded more open and forthcoming.

I had to remind myself immediately that it wasn’t true. Given the inquisitive phone call to Paula Marks, Children of Light was an organization that deeply cherished its privacy. Presumably they had a reason, and that reason didn’t neces­sarily have to be sinister, but still, I had every reason to think they were upset about me and it made me paranoid. And now Alex Goddard immediately had time for a “special ap­pointment.”

“Ten o’clock will be fine,” I said, just barely croaking the words out of my chest.

She gave me directions for reaching the Riverdale clinic, called Quetzal Manor, and hung up. I felt so miserable I could barely remember afterward what she’d said, but fortu­nately I’d taken notes.

Quetzal Manor. An odd choice for a name, I’d thought.

Some kind of bird sacred to the Maya Indians of Central America. But then Paula had mentioned at one point that he was very interested in indigenous Third World herbs and remedies. So maybe it fit.

But still, one big puzzle kept coming back to haunt: How do you produce perfectly healthy siblings six months apart? (I actually called Carly and Paula back to verify the ages.) The more I thought about Kevin and Rachel, the more I realized they were so unmistakably related.

Puzzling over that, I began to wonder if maybe I was on the verge of uncovering a blockbuster documentary. Could we be talking something approaching science fiction here? Making documentaries, you’re always on the lookout for the unexpected, the fresh. So how about an organization that could obtain beautiful Caucasian babies seemingly at will, including peas-in-a-pod born a few months apart? I was al­ready framing a pitch to David in my mind.

Anyway, the rest of the day, while I was busy battling my cold with antihistamines and lots of hot soup, I mounted a major phone inquiry just to make sure all the rules on adop­tion hadn’t somehow changed when I wasn’t looking. They hadn’t. First off, to get a child in three or four months, you’d almost certainly have to go with foreign adoption. China was everybody’s flavor of the month, because they favored older parents and also because the one-child-per-family policy there had ended up producing a wide-scale abandonment of girls (who were all those precious boys going to marry? I often found myself wondering). However, the shifting poli­tics there made the process very unreliable. A few months? Don’t even think about it.

Pressing on, I satisfied myself that the country-specific organizations that found babies in the emerging parts of the world all still worked the same. Cradle of Hope specialized in orphaned Russian kids. Children and Families, Inc., provided adoptions for Equadorian children. International Adoption Assistance, Inc., handled Brazilian orphans. But they all were still fussy, and they could take ages. How about a brand-new healthy baby in just a few months? I’d ask. Some kind of new fast track? The question was always taken as a joke. . . .

I would be driving up to Quetzal Manor in my old Toyota, and I dearly wished Steve could somehow materialize and be with me. In his absence, however, I convinced Lou to come along. I figured the change of scene would do him good, and I also wanted the security of having him with me, after the threatening phone call to Paula and the Hispanic thug who’d accosted me outside her apartment building. Be­sides, it’d just be a couple of hours.

The next morning, as we trekked up Riverside Drive, then the Henry Hudson Parkway, the sky was a flawless blue and the wide Hudson seemed like an ardent highway leading into the heart of America. Still in elevated spirits over Sarah’s momentary brush with consciousness, Lou had noticeably less of a hangover than was usual most mornings. Maybe he was looking forward to a little mental R&R. For my own part, I felt my curiosity growing. I’d gone to a lot of appoint­ments over the years, but rarely did I suspect the person I was going to see already knew more about me than I knew about them.

After we crossed the Henry Hudson Bridge, we left the highway and headed down a service road that led toward the river. Then there was an imposing gate, open, and a tree- shrouded driveway. Finally the place loomed in front of us.

The physical appearance of Quetzal Manor was a study in European grandeur, translated with a few extra frills from the New World. Carly had told me it had once been a Car­melite convent, dating from sometime in the middle of the last century, and it was a monument to Church authority, with endless arches of cut stone, turrets, gargoyles. As we were motoring to the end of the long cobblestone drive, I felt as if I was approaching some Gothic movie set. Given its hovering sense of regal authority, the place could easily have been a castle, but it seemed more like a brooding hom­age to medieval torture. Let me just say it was truly magis­terial, yet also more than a little creepy.

As we parked under a huge oak tree in front, I surveyed the facade, trying to marshal my strength. Enough of my cold still lingered that I didn’t feel as if my mind was working on all cylinders, and for a moment I merely sat looking, trying to breathe.

“Want me to go in with you?” Lou asked finally. He was examining the building suspiciously, like a detective survey­ing a crime scene.

I wanted him with me and then again I didn’t. I longed for the company, a protector, but I didn’t want the compli­cations, more things to explain inside. Finally I made a snap decision.

“Why don’t you take a stroll around the grounds?” I suggested. “Commune with nature. The fresh air will do you good. This can’t take long. Mainly I just want to get some literature and try to gain a feeling for the place.”

That wasn’t entirely, or even partly, true. What I really wanted to find out was threefold: How did they manage to get beautiful healthy Caucasian babies for two single women in just a few months; how could those babies be only six months apart in age and still obviously be siblings; and (this was where my feelings got complicated) could they get a baby for me the same way, never mind how they did it. It was the third thing that actually bothered me the most, since I was far from sure I wanted to be a part of whatever was going on.

Lou just shrugged and leaned back in his seat. “Take as

long as you like. I’ll just wait here in the car. I’m not the nature type.”

That was certainly the case.

I walked across the cobblestones to an arched entryway that had no door. I wondered at this—most convents are like a fortress—and then I realized the front door had been re­moved, leaving only its ancient hinges still bolted into the stones. Perhaps it was intended to be a symbol of openness, inviting you in.

There was no sign of anybody—the saccharine-voiced Ramala was not on hand to greet me—so I just headed on down a wide hallway, past a table of brochures. The place had been decorated with expensive good taste: tapestries all over the stone walls, perfect Persian rugs, classic church statuary—all of it calling forth powerful feelings from deep in the psyche.

Then I entered a vast interior courtyard, where a central fountain splashed cheerily in the midday light. The courtyard was circled with a picturesque gallery of cells, all with mas­sive wooden doors, most likely rooms once inhabited by chaste sisters.

The place did seem to be a clinic-commune now, just as Paula had said. Not nuns this time around, but rather New Age acolytes whose tastes ran more to secular music than to religious chants, as witness the cacophony of sounds that wafted out from several of the cells. Only it wasn’t any kind of conventional music; it seemed a mixture of Japanese flute, North Indian ragas, African drumming. I liked the ragas, even recognized my favorite, “Bhairavi.”

Then I spotted something that riveted my attention. At the back of the courtyard, just past a final wooden door, stood a huge South Indian bronze statue, about five feet high, of the Dancing Shiva. It appeared to be presiding over the arch­ way that led out into a dense natural garden behind the build­ing.

I walked across the cobblestones to examine and admire it. It seemed an odd item to find here in the courtyard of a once-cloistered convent. I was so enthralled I failed to hear the door behind me open.

“Do you find my Shiva interesting, Ms. James?” said a soothing voice, just barely audible above the chirps of birds. I think I caught a breath in my phlegm-locked chest, but then I turned to see a tall man dressed in casual chinos and a dark sweater. He was trim, looked to be in his early sixties, with a mane of salt-and-pepper hair and lean features more craggy than handsome. But his eyes were everything, telling you he owned the space around him, owned in fact, the air he breathed. It had to be Alex Goddard.

“Yes,” I answered almost before I thought. “It just seems to be a little out of place here.”

I wondered if he was going to introduce himself. Then I realized that when you’re used to being the master of a pri­vate domain, you probably never think to bother with such trivial formalities. Everybody knows who you are.

“Well,” he said, his voice disarmingly benign, “I suppose I must beg to differ. May I suggest you consider this Shiva for a moment and try to imagine he’s a real god?”

“He is a real god” I said immediately feeling patronized. Nothing makes me angry faster. “In India, he’s—”

“Yes,” he said “I know you did a film about India—which I found quite extraordinary, by the way—but why wouldn’t the Shiva fit right in here? You see, he’s a very modern, universal figure. He incorporates everything that exists in the contemporary world. Space, time, matter, and energy. As well as all of human psychology and wisdom.”

“I’m aware of that,” I said sensing my pique increase. We were not getting off to a great start.

“Yes, well.” He seemed not to hear me. Instead he started putting on the leather jacket he’d had slung over his shoulder. “Notice that Shiva has four arms, and he’s dancing with one foot raised. He’s also standing inside that great circle of flame, a sort of halo encompassing his whole body. That circle stands for the great, all-embracing material universe, all of it. Dark and light, good and evil. He knows and controls everything.”

Hey, I realized, this guy’s got some kind of identity thing going with this ancient Indian god.

He continued as he zipped up the jacket. “Shiva has four arms because—”

“Let me tell you,” I said, interrupting him. He looked star­tled, clearly not accustomed to a woman meeting him on his own ground. “He has four hands because he has a lot to do. That little drum in his upper right summons things into exis­tence. And there in his upper left he holds a fire that de­stroys.”

Goddard was examining me curiously, but I just stared back and continued.

“His lower right hand is held up in a kind of benediction, as if to say, ‘Find your peace within,’ and the lower left points down at his feet, where one foot is planted on the back of that repulsive little dwarf there, the human ego. Crush the ego and be free. The other foot is lifted to signify spiritual freedom.”

“You seem to know the Shiva well.” He broke into a grudging smile, as though we’d just met. Chalk up round one as a draw. “I’m glad you came, Ms. James. I’m a great admirer of your work and I especially wanted to provide your orientation personally. It’s a genuine pleasure to meet you at last.”

At last? I took his proffered hand and stared. All the ques­tions I’d been brooding over for the past week sort of disap­peared into a memory file somewhere. Instead all I could do was focus in on him.

Meeting Carly and Paula’s miracle worker in the flesh made me recall something Aldous Huxley once observed. He declared that the kind of man, and they are almost always men, who can control others with his mind needs to have certain qualities the rest of us can only envy. Of course he has to be intelligent and have a range of knowledge that can be used to impress people, but most of all, he has to have a will of iron, an unswerving tenacity of purpose, and an un­compromising self-confidence about who he is, what he wants. This means a slightly remote manner, a glittering eye, and a sympathetic gaze that bores in deeply on you one min­ute, then seems off in another realm, focused on infinity, the next. Perhaps most importantly of all, his voice must be that of a Pied Piper, a soft yet penetrating instrument that acts directly on the unconscious of his listeners.

Even though he was doing a casual number with me, my first impression of Alex Goddard was that he perfectly em­bodied all those qualities. I also sensed a false note. What was it? Maybe he was being just a little too casual.

“If you’re here about doing a film,” he began, “please be aware we do not encourage publicity. If you’ve come because of your infertility, as Ramala said you mentioned in your call, then I welcome you with open arms.”

Well, he knew how to cut to the chase. And after his phone call to try to intimidate Paula Marks, I was well aware he didn’t “encourage publicity.” But now I also realized he wouldn’t be overly interested in my new idea of someday doing a documentary on this place. But then a lot of people say no at first and then come around.

“I was actually interested in neither,” I said, feeling my sinuses about to close down permanently. “I was actually hoping to find out about your adoption service, how it works.”

“Ah,” he said, his eyes shifting from intense scrutiny to somewhere lost in the ozone, “that’s not something I handle personally. In any case, you first must come and participate in our program. Then, if we fail to achieve your objectives, we can take the adoption matter under consideration.”

“I think I’d like to hear about it anyway.” I took a deep breath, again groping for air. “For instance, where and how you get the children you place.”

“I see,” he said calmly, as though my question were about the weather. Then he secured his coat tighter. “I’m thinking, how would you like to take a short walk? Down to the river. We could get to know each other better.”

I just nodded, not looking forward to the harsh wind that would assault my inflamed sinuses. But maybe I was getting somewhere.

As we started out through the stone archway and into the rear garden, which seemed to extend for acres, he continued.

“You seem to have a lot of questions about what I’m doing here. So let me try and put my efforts into perspective. As I like to point out to women when they first come here, we in the West are making do with only half the world’s medical knowledge. We ignore all of the East. There’s also the wis­dom of the indigenous peoples here in the Western Hemi­sphere, the Native Americans. Who are we to say they don’t have a lot to teach?” He smiled, as though embarrassed to be passing along such a commonplace. “For example, West­ern medical practice, virtually until this century, consisted mainly of using leeches to drain away ‘humors’ in the blood. At the same time, the indigenous peoples of this continent knew more about the curative powers of plants, even drugs, than Europe ever dreamed of. Yet they were deemed savages.”

I wasn’t sure where he was leading, but the supreme self- confidence with which he spoke had the effect of sweeping me along. The engaging eyes, the voice, the well-used de­signer jacket, it all worked. He was good, very good.

“So you see,” he went on, “what I’ve tried to achieve here at Quetzal Manor is to integrate the knowledge of East and West, ancient and modern.”

“So what, exactly, do you—?”

“Well, first let me explain that I studied in the Far East for over a decade, until I understood how to control the en­ergy flows in the body, your Chi. Then I moved to Central America, where I learned all that is currently known about Native American practices and medicines. I still have a spe­cial place there, where I carry out pharmacological research on the rare plants of that area, studying their effects on hu­man fertility, on the origins of life. I have no time to waste on disease and degeneration.”

We were well into his Eden-like rear garden now, which had lots of herbs and was also part orchard. There were apple trees and other fruit trees I couldn’t readily identify, all just starting to show their first buds. When we came to the end, there was a cobblestone path leading west. In what seemed only a few moments, we’d reached a line of bluffs overlook­ing the Hudson. The early spring wind was cutting into my face, causing my nostrils to feel on fire.

As we stood gazing down at the rippling waters of the Hudson below, where a lone sailboat was caught in the breeze, the moment took on a timelessness, feeling as though it could have been any place, any century.

“Incidentally,” he went on, turning slightly to me, “are you familiar with the name Asklepios?”

I had to shake my head no. It sounded vaguely familiar, but …

“He was the ancient Greek god of medicine. The physi­cians who revered him held that sickness could be cured using drugs and potions that came from outside the body, since they believed that’s where disease originated. Now, of course, billion-dollar industries thrive by enhancing our ar­senal of antibiotics.”

I listened to this, wondering where he was headed. Then he told me.

“There was, however, another school of healing at that time, those who honored the daughter of Asklepios. She was Hygeia, their goddess of health. The Hygeians believed that wellness originated from properly governing your own body. For them, the greatest service of the physician was to learn how we can work with our bodies. Their ideal was healing from within rather than intervention from without.”

Again he was studying me, as though trying to determine whether I was going along with what he was saying.

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “the Hygeian school more or less died out in the West. However, it lives on in other places. For example, primitive peoples have no manufac­tured, synthetic drugs, so they use natural herbs to enhance their own immune system and stay healthy.”

He turned to study the river, dropping into silence.

“Maybe I’m missing something,” I declared finally. His hypnotic voice had drawn me in, in spite of myself. “How does this relate to infertility?”

He turned back and caught me with his shining eyes. They seemed to be giving off heat of their own. “Just as the body is intended to heal itself, so is a woman’s womb meant to create life. If she’s childless, the reason more often than not is that her body is out of harmony with itself. What I do here is seek out each woman’s unique energy flows and attempt to restore them, using Eastern practices and Hygeian herbal therapies.”

“Does it always succeed?” I abruptly wondered if his techniques might work for me. Face it, Western medicine had completely struck out. The problem was, the guy was just a little too smooth.

“Not always. Some women’s bodies are naturally unresponsive, just as all organisms are subject to random . . . irregularities. In those cases, I try to provide her a child by other means.”

“You mean adoption,” I suggested.

“By whatever means seems appropriate,” he replied cryptically

“Well, there’s something I’d like to understand. Last week I met a woman who had adopted a baby boy through Children of Light. She got him in three months. Such a thing is, ac­cording to what I can find out, totally unheard of. So how did you manage that?”

He stared down at the river. “I thought I’d explained that adoptions are not what we primarily do here. They’re pro­vided only as a last resort, in the few cases where my regimen of Hygeian therapies fails.”

“But in those cases, where do you find—?”

“As I’ve said before we talk about adoption, first we need to satisfy ourselves that no other options are possible.” Then his eyes clicked into me. “If you could come back next Sat­urday to begin your tests and receive an orientation, I could give you an opinion about your chances of bearing a child. It will require a thorough examination, but I can usually tell with a good degree of certainty whether my program can help someone or not. It’s really important, though, that you stay at least . . .” He was staring at me. “Mind if I do some­thing that might relieve some of the symptoms of that cold?”

He reached out and touched my temples with his long, lean fingers. Then he placed his thumbs just above my eye­brows and pressed very hard. After a long moment, he slowly moved the pressure down to the bridge of my nose, then across under my eyes. Finally he put the heel of his hands just above my ears and pressed again. After a couple of sec­onds he stepped away and continued talking as though noth­ing had happened.

“After I give you a full examination, we can discuss our next step.” With that he turned, ready to head back. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a lot of research data to organ­ize.”

I guess he assumed his juggernaut of arcane medical the­ory had rolled over me sufficiently that he could move on to other matters. I sensed he really wanted me to come back, but he was careful to wind down our mutual interview with a take-it-or-leave-it air. All the same, I felt intrigued as we moved back through the gardens and then into the courtyard. A baby. Maybe he could make it happen for Steve and me. In spite of myself, I felt a moment of hope.

“Thank you for coming,” he said by way of farewell, just brushing my hand, then turned and disappeared through one of the ancient wooden doors along the veranda, leaving me alone.

Well, I thought, the calm voice and casual outfit are prob­ably just part of his bedside manner, but you can’t be near Alex Goddard and not feel a definite sense of carefully con­trolled power. But is his power being used for good?

This was the man whose staff was trying to deny me in­terviews with mothers who’d adopted through Children of Light. And what about the Hispanic hood with the gun? Did Alex Goddard send him? If not, his appearance at Paula’s building was one hell of a coincidence. So why should I trust . . .

That was when I noticed it. My lingering cold had mi­raculously vanished, inflamed sinuses and all. I was breath­ing normally, and even my chest felt cleared.

My God, I thought, what did he do? Hypnotize me? It was as though a week’s healing had passed through my body.

I had an epiphany, a moment that galvanizes your resolve. I had to do a documentary about this man, to find out what he was really up to. He’d mentioned he had a place in Central America. Was that the source of his special techniques, some kind of ancient Meso-American medical practices he’d dis­covered?

He claimed he didn’t want any publicity, but that’s always just an opening move. When somebody says that, what they really mean is they don’t want any bad publicity; they just want to have final say about what you produce. There’re ways to handle the problem.

I liberated a brochure from the hall table on my way out, thinking I would study it soon. Very closely. I had a nose for a good story, and this one felt right.

When I got back to the car, Lou was nowhere to be seen. He’d given me the impression he intended merely to sit there and doze while I went inside, but now he was gone.

Then he appeared emerging from the forest of trees. Ac­tually, there was another building opposite the stone drive that I hadn’t noticed at first. Hmmm, I thought, I wonder what that’s all about. For some reason Alex Goddard hadn’t offered me a tour; he’d taken me for a stroll in the opposite direction. . . .

“That was fast,” Lou said settling into the car. “You get what you came for?”

The answer to that was both yes and no. In a sense I’d gotten considerably more than I bargained for.

“He wants me to come back,” I said. “And I think I might do it. There’s a lot more going on with Alex Goddard than you’d know from just looking at this place. The trick is to stay in control when you’re around him.”

I tossed the brochure into Lou’s lap as I started the engine. He took it and immediately began looking through it.

Lou, I knew, was a man always interested in facts and figures. As we headed toward the Parkway he was pouring through the brochure with intense interest, even as I tried to give him a brief reprise of Alex Goddard’s medical philoso­phy.

“It says here his patients come from all over the United States and Europe,” he noted, finally interrupting me.

I found nothing odd in that, and went back to rambling on about Quetzal Manor. Give the place its due, it was placid and tranquil and smacked of the benign spirituality Goddard claimed to put so much stock in. Still, I found it unsettling.

However, Lou, as usual, chose to see matters his own way. He’d been studying the fine print at the back of the brochure, mumbling to himself, and then he emitted a grunt of discov­ery.

“Ah, here’s what I was looking for,” he declared. “You know, as a registered New York State adoption agency, this outfit has got to divulge the number of babies they placed during their last yearly reporting period.”

“According to him, he only resorts to adoption if he can’t cure your infertility with his special mind-body regimen,” I reminded him. “Your energy flows—”

“No shit,” Lou observed, then went on. “Well, then I guess his mind-body, energy flows, whatever, bullshit must fail a lot. Because last year the number was just under two hun­dred. So at sixty thou a pop, like it says here, we’re talking about twelve million smackeroos gross in a year. Not a bad way to fail, huh?”

I caught myself emitting a soft whistle as he read out the number. There was definitely a lot more going on with Alex Goddard than met the eye.

“So what’s he do with all that dough?” Lou mused. “Bet­ter question still, where in the hell did he find two hundred fresh, orphaned babies, all listed here as Caucasian? And get this: The ages reported at final processing are all just a couple of months, give or take.”

Good questions, I thought. Maybe that’s the reason he doesn’t want publicity; it sounds a little too commercial for a mind-body guru.

My other thought was, with so many babies somehow available, why was Alex Goddard so reluctant to even discuss adoption with me?

The answer, I was sure, lay in the fact he already knew more about me than I knew about him. He knew I was mak­ing a film about adoption (how did he come by that knowl­edge? I kept wondering) and he was concerned he might be mentioned in it. I kept asking myself, why?

On our drive back down the Henry Hudson Parkway, I decided I was definitely looking at a documentary in the making. I just had to decide whether to do it with or without his cooperation.

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