About the Author
Lauria blogs regularly and publishes installments in his autobiographical journey through the cultural past of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
Lauria is perhaps best known for the seven volumes of the Doctor Orient series. Doctor Orient is a delver into mystery and the arcane, a knowledgeable man on all subjects occult, and a seeker of truth. His adventures take him around the world and into the depths of psychic and spiritual challenge and adventure. The books in the series are Doctor Orient (1971), Raga Six (1972), Lady Sativa (1973), Baron Orgaz (1974), The Priestess (1978), The Seth Papers (1979), and Blue Limbo (1991). An eighth Doctor Orient novel is currently in the works.
Lauria has written a number of tie-in and young adult novelizations of hit movies, including Dark City (1997), Pitch Black (1999), and End of Days (1999), as well as a series of Zorro novelizations.
Read an Excerpt
By Frank Lauria
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1970 Frank Lauria
All rights reserved.
The call reached Doctor Orient at his club.
He had just finished a light dinner and was at his meditations in the club's small reading room when a gentle, unpleasant probe at the base of his brain disturbed the deep lull of his thoughts.
Shiny with purpose, the probe cut through spider webs of a billion existences.
He didn't resist the intrusion but went receptive, letting the call light up the darkness behind his closed eyes. The tiny synapses, the fine connection points within his body, began to glow warm as the message cleared.
At first a sense of the quality of the message, its weight and consistency, then his brain tasted immediacy and he formed the picture.
Having made its intended contact the energy instantly withdrew, leaving him temporarily drained of vitality.
He pushed himself to his feet and made unsteadily for the door. Coatless and shivering he gulped deep breaths of air as he stood waiting for his car to be brought around to the entrance.
He was still feeling giddy as he ducked his long frame awkwardly into the vintage Rolls Ghost. He sat for a moment, running his palms over the smooth wood of the wheel before starting the engine.
He drove with the window open and washed his face with cold air in an effort to get his mind in gear. Moments—or was it years?—ago he had been in a lush spatial drift, leisurely exploring the universe within himself, and now he was involved in the total reality of a crosstown drive.
And the call had come from Hap.
Hap Prentice, after three months of silence.
Orient parked northeast on Eighth Avenue and waited.
The circus was in town. Outside Madison Square Garden it was comparatively quiet but inside it would be all noise, color and confusion. He snorted mildly. He wasn't fond of the old show. Too yang.
When he felt ready he stepped out into the street, crossed to the ticket booth, bought a ticket and entered. Guided as much by his sense of smell as by his highly reputed powers, he took the stairs to the menagerie.
It was deserted except for the dusty animals. The performance was in progress in the main arena. He heard the brassy music and the periodic roar of the crowd.
There was a large platform in the center of the room. It was about six feet off the ground and was divided into sections by plywood partitions. Each section was papered with garish three-color posters of some unusual or unfortunate human being. The freak show.
He walked slowly around the platform looking carefully for the right olace. A lion coughed.
Orient stopped in front of a stage where a poster done in fiery red and glossy blacks proclaimed:
MALTA ASLEEP A HUNDRED YEARS SHE WILL ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS!
The artist had depicted Malta as a raven-haired beauty sleeping on a bed of flames.
A feeling of anxiety nudged Orient, and then the probe was there, cutting through his emotions. He looked around, then climbed the tiny steps up to the stage. He went directly to the red satin curtain and pulled it aside.
Hap was waiting.
He did not look well. He was pale and lean with trouble. His blue eyes, once vivid with animal spirit, were set hollowly in his skull, looking like faded coins in their dark scoops.
"Hello, Hap," Orient said softly.
"Hello ... Doc ..." Hap tried to smile, then gave it up. He pointed to the girl lying on the couch behind him. "Can you help her, Doc ... ?" he faltered.
The girl looked still and white under the glare of the naked lightbulb hanging from the cardboard ceiling. Orient brushed past his friend and pulled away the sheet covering her. The poster hadn't exaggerated. Malta was a beauty. Her body was an elongated flow of liquid lines. Sloping breasts rising full to sharp nipples. Stomach long and flat, easing into wide hollow hips extending the narrow shape of her legs. Her skin looked opaque and cool, like the surface of a stone from the sea, its luminosity heightened by a curious absence of hair. All of her, even her pubic area, had been shaved. As he reached for her pulse he noticed an iron ring on her second finger.
Orient's examination took less than ten minutes but it spanned the young doctor's vast knowledge of the medical sciences. Being a surgeon as well as a psychiatrist, he was aware of the variations of possiblities. But the girl manifested neither physical symptoms of disorder nor any sign of catatonia, catalepsy, or brain damage. He questioned Hap as he worked over her.
"How long has she been like this?"
"You took your time, didn't you?" Orient lifted her arm. "I can't find any injury or disease. Of course, I'll have to run some tests."
"You won't need tests ..." Hap's voice was slurred.
Orient looked up. "Has she been hypnotized?"
"She's in some ... kind of trance. She never told me."
"Did you hypnotize her, Hap?" he pursued.
"No ... she went in by herself ... always. And I would get her out. But ..."
"You can't bring her out, is that it?" Orient pulled back an eyelid and studied the pupil.
"That's it ... I feel her ... Then something happens to her, something awful ..." Hap's hands opened and closed. "She can't take anything like that, Doc."
Orient straightened up and moved closer to Hap.
"Listen to me, Hap, can you rouse this girl in any way?"
"No more, Doc ... it's horrible for her."
Orient's fingers tightened on his friend's arm. "It's important that I see the symptoms."
Happleton Prentice nodded.
Doctor Orient stood aside as Hap bent low over the girl. He watched as his former pupil went through the preliminary tuning procedures; breathing, concentration, breathing, then lowering his energy field to negative so it would draw the energies of the girl.
Orient saw that it was taking more effort than normal for Hap to maintain concentration. He began to call her name. He was at maximum negative polarity.
The girl's lips twitched.
"Malta ..." he repeated softly.
The girl's mouth opened. She began to speak, her voice a surprising masculine growl.
"Oh say ... oh say verna ... vernat kio ... oh say ..."
Orient was on terms with most of the kev languages but the sounds coming from the girl's mouth didn't register anywhere.
As he came nearer to catch the rhythms he glanced at her face and froze. The girl's features, calm before, were now contorted into a rigid grimace of raw terror.
As he watched, her face began to wither with age.
"Oh say ... virto oh say ... kio kio ... Oh say ..."
His stomach pulled tight as the sounds rumbled stronger, filling the cramped space behind the curtain, surrounding him.
Hap was shaking with effort, his chest heaving.
"Send her back, man, stop it." Orient's voice scraped through his dry throat.
Hap covered his face with his hands and began to deactivate.
The rumbling began to diminish, departing, it seemed, into the girl's slim body. Abruptly, it stopped.
The muscles in Malta's face relaxed. She looked as calm and young as before. She was still unconscious.
Hap was slumped over on the floor.
It was quiet again in the small room. The music from the arena filtered through the silence like a light cologne.
Doctor Orient took a cigarette case from bis pocket and extracted a hand-wrapped cigarette. He snapped the case shut and hefted it in his hand. Absently he examined the oval design engraved in the silver.
The case was his peculiar staff of the adept, given to him by his last master, the venerable Ku. It was the symbol of power and a function of the power. Orient understood on the day he was invested with the case that he would go down from the mountain where he had discovered the serene knowledge and take his place once more in the cities of men.
He lit the cigarette, sharply scenting the little space.
"Can you talk, Hap?" His voice seemed unnaturally loud.
Hap stood up and stretched.
"I'm okay." He yawned. "Just temporary."
Outside a group of people drifted by, laughing. A child began to cry somewhere.
"We'd better get the girl out of here."
Hap smiled sleepily. "Anything you say, Doc." He wrapped the sheet around Malta and tried to lift her from the couch. He couldn't make it.
"Too tired," he grunted finally.
Doctor Orient pulled the curtain aside. It was just intermission and the floor was beginning to fill up with people.
Orient located a Garden policeman and produced his credentials. He explained that Malta was a patient and had to be moved. The special officer nodded and withdrew, returning in a few minutes with a wheeled stretcher and another officer. The four men moved the stretcher swiftly out of the building and across the street and placed the girl in the spacious back seat of Orient's limousine.
Doctor Orient drove slowly to Fifty-Seventh Street and made a left turn.
"Thanks for coming out to help, Doc." Hap shifted uneasily.
"Your friend is in a serious bind."
"You can swing it, can't you?"
"I'll try." Orient swerved to avoid hitting a cab. "You'd better tell me what you've been doing since you left us."
"I hope you don't hold it against me. My leaving like that, I mean."
"No blame, pilgrim. You're a free agent."
Hap leaned his head back against the cool leather seat. "As you well know, Doc, I never wanted to be a telepath. When you approached me and told me about your little team I thought you were the original mad scientist. No, don't interrupt, Doc ... Even after you showed me proof of telepathy and proved that I had extrasensory talent, I still didn't like it—I was one year away from major-league ball and that's the way I wanted it—well, anyway, I just couldn't stand it anymore around your house and all that telepathy was messing up my mind, so I jumped."
Orient smiled. "I can understand how ..."
"Let me get all of this out, Doc. So anyway I decided to go down to Florida for some fishing. Well, fishing didn't help so I started doing a little drinking ... the booze didn't help either but it was easier than thinking ... and then the telepathy business happened again ... One night in Yuba City I was blind drunk and I somehow contacted Malta ..."
Malta. The word rippled in Orient's mind.
"How did that come about?"
"I guess I was sending telepathically while I was clobbered, and she heard me."
Orient sensed an imbalance. Telepathy as he knew it was not a chance factor.
"That's not clear to me."
"If you find it hard, think how hard it was for me to swallow. 1 wouldn't either, but she proved it."
Hap's face reflected a stubborn fight with his sense of belief.
"She went into this trance and received thoughts from me. She repeated everything I was thinking."
"How did she go into this trance?"
"She says something funny, some funny kind of doubletalk, almost like the words you heard her say back there."
Orient remained silent, brooding as he drove.
"So Malta and I stayed together after that. It wasn't much of a thing, we didn't have much to say to each other, I was still drinking every day ... but she stayed with me and kind of looked after me ..."
"How did you wind up with the circus outfit?"
"Well, we ran out of money pretty soon, so we started working a local carnival ... you know, mind reading?"
"I know." Orient frowned. He had explained how he felt about commercialism to Hap at the beginning of his instruction.
"It was a good act. She would go into a trance and I would feed her the stuff ... in a couple of weeks we were booked into a top spot."
"And you had decided to go into mind reading?"
"No, no, we were gonna stay with the show until Philly. Then we were gonna split up. Malta wanted to go someplace in Europe and I was going to play ball in Venezuela under another name till I got back in shape."
"So what happened to Malta?"
"I don't know. The first night we got here, Malta went into her trance but she didn't answer any of the questions. That was yesterday; and when I tried to bring her out of trance she ... well you saw what she went through. Doc, do you have any idea what's happened to her?"
Doctor Orient shook his head. "I don't know," he said slowly, "not yet." He reached for a leather-covered microphone dangling from the dash. He pressed the signal button a few times. A scratchy voice responded from the speaker set between the seats.
"Sordi, meet me in the garage with a stretcher," Orient said. "And you'd better prepare a couple of guest rooms."
Orient replaced the mike.
Doctor Orient swung the car off Riverside Drive and into the driveway of a narrow four-story building. As they approached, a large aluminum door slid silently up, revealing a spacious garage. Sordi was waiting just inside the door.
"What happened?" the dapper secretary called out, pulling the stretcher toward the Rolls. "Is somebody hurt?" Without speaking, Orient and Hap transferred Malta carefully from the car to the stretcher. "Who is she, Doctor?" Sordi continued, bobbing around them. He greeted Hap in the same breath. "How are you, Prentice? Where've you been?"
"Later, Sordi," Orient said. "Take Malta to the meditation room and then see to it that we're not disturbed tonight."
"Malta?" Sordi whistled softly through his teeth and cracked a wide grin. "That's some patient, Doctor." Then he saw the grave manner of both men, and quickly became very busy with wheeling the stretcher over to the elevator. He waited for Hap and Orient to enter before pushing the third-floor button.
As the elevator started up Orient pushed the second-floor button. "We'll get out here," he told Sordi. "Make her as comfortable as you can."
The doors opened onto a long, wide, high room which served as Orient's living room, study and library. After a backward glance at Malta, Hap shuffled hesitantly out of the elevator after Orient.
Most visitors found the house magnificent. Orient preferred fine, dark wood, rough stone and glass as dominant themes and had combined these elements skillfully and simply, from the terraced master bedroom to the basement surgery room. But Hap was uneasy in the atmosphere of Orient's home. It was too big, too imposing, with its stone-faced walls and floor-to-ceiling windows. But then he was uneasy with the circumstances that had brought him there. He still regarded his own telepathic powers with the same affection he reserved for bad checks. And he saw his experience as Orient's pupil as some surreal form of choir practice.
He braved the doctor's disapproval of alcohol and poured himself a brandy. Then he settled his tired body into a deep armchair and watched the doctor pace the floor as he consulted a thick volume.
His mind went back to the night he had met Orient ...
He was playing a night game in Jacksonville. The air was still and moist, and he was already running sweat when he took his first turn at batting practice. Then it happened.
The second ball came in low and curving outside. Hap lunged and smashed it foul off the end of the bat. The ball spun straight and fast directly toward a man in a white suit sitting behind first base. The man didn't move. Apparently he didn't see it coming.
But just before the ball smacked into the man's face it caromed down and away from him as if it had bounced off something solid in midair.
The man sat there calmly, as if nothing unusual had occurred.
Hap looked around to see if anyone else had noticed the ball's strange pattern but everyone on the field was intent on their pre-game warm up. When he dropped the bat and trotted out to shortstop he was still wondering about the foul ball's erratic pattern. He glanced over at the stands and had a strong, uncomfortable feeling that he knew the man from somewhere.
All during the game Hap continued to feel the presence of the man behind first base. Then came the eighth inning. His team was down a run, and he was the second man at bat. The first batter dribbled a slow ground ball to third and beat out the throw. As Hap stepped up to the box, he looked at the third base coach for a sign. The bunt was on.
Hap's eyes flickered over to first base and the man in the white suit. Suddenly he had a crazy feeling that the man didn't want him to bunt. But he shook the thought and concentrated on the pitch. It came in perfectly and he slid his hand to the end of the bat and set himself to push the ball between the charging third baseman and the pitcher. But at the instant of contact his concentration was joggled by a quick picture of the man behind first base, his white suit gleaming like chrome in Hap's mind. The ball went into the dirt foul.
Excerpted from Doctor Orient by Frank Lauria. Copyright © 1970 Frank Lauria. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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