The opening to a novel which is a spoof of the film ‘Apocalypse Now’.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, to be a pig
Sometime in the future
Two feet splash through dirty shallow water as a young man in his twenties flees for his life. He struggles to stay upright as his feet slide on stones beneath the water. Soon he is out of the river and onto the safety of the bank. He tries to keep on running but eventually loses his grip in a marshy field. He stumbles to the ground, breathless.
The sound of the helicopters are louder, closer. He looks around to see if he can see them. With all his strength he struggles to his feet and tries to keep himself upright and moving.
The helicopters approach over a distant hill he has recently scrambled over. If he is to get away from them he needs somewhere to hide. He looks around; to his left a pine forest offered what might be his best chance of survival. It was a fifty yards away, his heart sinks, it seems miles away. He takes a deep breath and yanks himself into action and heads for the security of the forest. After a few yards he falls over, picks himself up but is soon on the floor again. He attempts to get a foothold but slips back into a pool of mud.
The helicopters close in on him. In the distance he can hear dogs bark; they approach from the opposite side of the field.
He picks himself up, crawls over a wire fence. He staggers toward the comfort of the trees and slumps against a giant pine. The ground is wet but he is too tired to stand or crouch. He slumps to the floor and prays they do not find him. To his left the dogs bark louder, to his right the sound of a helicopter which hovers above the fence where he entered the forest.
A line is thrown out of a side door of the helicopter and four armed men in red jumpsuits drop to the ground. They immediately see their prey and close in.
The young man is too weak to put up any meaningful fight and is grabbed by two men. Within minutes they drag him along the floor and throw him into the back of the helicopter. The side door is quickly closed as the helicopter takes off.
After thirty minutes in the air the helicopter makes a low level approach toward an eighteenth century country house. It flies over a high metal perimeter fence and then over armed guards who control access to the house. As the helicopter comes into land in the middle of a court yard men and women in medical uniform rush toward it. The young man, now unconscious and strapped down to a stretcher, is off loaded and taken into the house. One of the female medical staff inserts an intravenous drip into his arm.
Once inside the building the unconscious body of the young man is moved to an operating trolley and pushed quickly down a corridor; on both sides are rooms which hold pigs in aluminum pens, only one pig to a pen. The rooms are bathed in white light, clinical, spotless. The staff who work in these rooms can often be heard muttering, ‘you can eat your dinner off the floor.’ There is not a single piece of dust, dirt or blood on any of the surfaces.
The young man on the trolley is quickly wheeled into Theatre One where a team of surgeons and nurses wait for him.
The leather straps which bind him are undone and in a single move he is moved from the trolley onto the operating table.
A tall unshaven medical assistant looks at the young man’s medical notes, ‘the kid works as a lawyer’ he says, then flicks through a couple of pages of the medical notes.
‘A lawyer doesn’t need a heart,’ says the surgeon, who then makes a few hasty cuts into young man’s chest. His hands move with the speed of a butcher in a shop. His bedside manner would not have been out of place in the days of Roman Britain. No one in the room is under any illusion that the health and safety of the patient is important.
There is the sound of cutting and then a long squelch; finally the surgeon’s blood smeared hands pull out the young man’s heart. The surgeon smiles as he turns to the nurse with the beating bleeding heart firmly in his hand.
‘Get this on ice immediately.’
She moves confidently toward him but suddenly trips and falls into the back of the surgeon. The heart flies out of his hands and spins through the air like an American football. It seems to fly in slow motion; spins, turns and unfortunately loses height.
In his haste to regain a grip on the heart the surgeon knocks over the bag of ice which is there to keep it at a regular temperature. Other members of the medical team also slip on ice cubes.
‘Catch it,’ screams the nurse.
The surgeon pushes one of the male nurses out of the way so that he can get to the heart.
‘Leave it to me!’, he yells to his subordinates.
The heart flies for a few more yards before it lands with a soft squelchy noise on the floor. In his haste the surgeon slips on a stray ice cube and falls on top the heart squashing it completely. The male medical assistant lets out a cry of despair, a nurse screams.
‘Oh no, oh no, oh no…’ whispers the surgeon as blood trickles from his cut mouth.
Washington DC, USA
Three thousand air miles away the Stars and Stripes flutter in a warm breeze. The White House, a strong emblem of a great nation, stands proud and defiant since the day it was built in seventeen hundred and ninety-two. A symbol of absolute power which has been ready for anything which the cruel world can throw at it.
Inside is a conscientious President who serves his country well, who meets Triumph and Disaster and treats those two impostors just the same; though during the last few months he is not quite as fit as the American people have been led to believe. His future, his life, now firmly rests with the efforts and medical help from a friendly nation. He is a man in need of a new heart …
An ill looking President Rush in bed. He looks older than his fifty years of age. He is know as man who thinks like a forty year old but moves like an eighty year old. Two nurses help the President sit up. One of the nurses straightens his pajama jacket, he doesn’t like her fussing and gently pushes her away.
A Black American, Tina Johnson, mid forties, runs into the bedroom clutching a piece of paper. She has been close to the President since the first day of the Primaries. She looks worried. In her haste one of the heels on her shoes breaks. With great difficulty she tries to prevent herself from falling onto the President’s bed but fails. The President and his two nurses wince as Tina hits the foot of the bed and slumps to the floor.
‘Mr. President, we have a problem,’ she says, as she pulls herself off the carpet.
‘Tina,’ barks the President, ’the whole world has a problem.’
He grabs at the television remote control by the side of his bed and presses a button. The widescreen on the wall flashes into life.
‘You’re going to watch the news?’ Tina asks, ‘when did you last have a briefing?’
‘This morning but I didn’t like what I heard.’
A newsreader, with a Texan accent and a grim expression, brings the American public up to date: “Today the World is in panic as the Human Heart Virus spreads” booms out from the television set.
A gasp rumbles around the President’s bedroom.
‘Damn it!’ The President shrugs, then throws a book at the TV.
A fast paced montage of images from around the world are shown on the news programme accompanied by stern matter of fact reporters from various locations.
A young female reporter dressed in a bear skin suit struggles to keep her balance in a snow storm and shouts into her microphone,”in Alaska today it was reported that an Eskimo who was fishing by a hole in the ice cap had a heart attack and fell through the ice.”
A male fresh faced reporter in a smart suit stands by the London Eye and delivers his piece to camera, ‘many dealers are going down with heart problems and the stock market is crashing……’
‘Not much change there…’ mumbles the President.’
The news programme cuts back to the studio presenter, “The heart virus is believed to be caused by the wheat in bread, millions of people could be affected.”
People burning bread in India appear on the screen.
The President cries out, ‘Enough, enough …’ he turns to Tina, ‘call a meeting in the Situation Room.’
The oval shaped desk which dominates the Situation Room is surrounded by men and a few women. A couple of the men remove their jackets, they look like they have only had a few hours of sleep between them; one or two of the women, all heels and skirts, stagger into the room as if they just got out of bed. A White House photographer works the room grabbing all the public relation shots he can get. Most of the men have discarded their ties, many of them have furrowed brows, worry lines are in sharp focus. One of the women thinks about adding a touch more make up but decides it can wait. Briefing papers litter the desk, glasses with water are scattered around files marked ‘Top Secret.’ The TV screens which adorn the walls are all black save one. On the wall opposite the President’s seat a large screen shows a twenty-four hour news feed from World News Channel. On the screen a news anchor reads news no one wants to hear; the TV sound is off.
The President drums a fast beat on the table with his fingers, a slight exasperated look on his face. A Doctor enters the room, slightly embarrassed that he is late. He gives a childish smile to everyone in the room before making his way to the head of the table.
‘Late again, Henry,’ the President smirks, ‘you’ll be late for your own honeymoon.’
The doctor quickly opens his medical bag and takes out a stethoscope. The President opens his pajama jacket and the doctor listens to his heart. You could hear a pin drop then the silence is broken by a crash as one of the men knocks over his glass of water. The President gives the offender a stern look. The doctor continues to listen.
‘Sir, you’re all right for a while but try to take it easy.’
Tina enters the room. She has changed her clothes and looks a million dollars. All the other women hate her. She carries a large folder and has several documents in her hands. One of the men gives her a certain look. She knows what he wants but is not prepared to sacrifice a single kiss for a mere West Wing speech writer.
Tina approaches the President.
‘Sir, the heart which had been reserved for you has…met with an accident.’
‘What the hell happened?’
‘They gave it…’ Tina puts on a brave face, ‘to a young British guy by mistake.’
The President looks exasperated, ‘So, get it back….’
‘They tried that…’
Tina shuffles on her feet and prepares herself for a critical blast from the President then thinks it might be better to withhold the truth.
‘You don’t want to know the rest.’
The doctor steps forward with a sense of urgency.
‘Sir, a better option would be a transplant of a pig’s heart.’
At that moment an overweight man clutching an extra large salad sandwich breezes into the room. He looks deeply harassed, no tie, shirt sleeves rolled up, a cigar tucked behind his ear.
“Robert!’, the President smiles as the tie-less man grabs a seat, ‘Thank God you’re here. Give me all you’ve got.’
Robert breathes deeply, he slowly gets his breath back then hesitates.
‘Sir, the supply of pig’s hearts….’ Robert clears his throat and takes another breath, ‘the pig’s hearts for transplants has run dry. All the pigs in the USA have been affected by a clinical malfunction …’
The President slams his right hand hard down onto the table. All the White Staff jump as the President’s hand hits the desk.
‘So, fix it!’
‘Sir, they’re working on it.’ Robert shuffles the documents in his hand and passes a piece of paper to the President, ‘my guys have located a good source of pigs hearts and heart stem cells. They’re held by a Dr. Zeno …..’
The President glances at the paper, looks up at his staff, ‘where the hell is West Riding?’
‘England,’ replies Tina.
The President passes the paper to the doctor who then hands it back to Robert.
‘Robert,’ the President stands and paces up and down, ‘is this the best the CIA can come up with?’ He turns on the doctor.
‘What about Gorilla’s hearts you were playing around with? You did the first transplant two years ago…what happened to him?’
‘Well, it didn’t quite …’ stutters the doctor.
The President holds up both his hands, ‘Stop! ‘I’m tired of hearing about failure.’
The President looks at his CIA Chief.
‘Robert, you had a lab in Argentina messing about with Kangaroo hearts …’
‘Don’t ask Mr. President…..’
The sound of a door slammed shut somewhere in the West Wing highlights the intense silence of the Situation Room.
Robert moves close to the President and whispers, ‘Sir, we should ask the British for help.’
The President looks Robert in the eye and hopes for a sign of reassurance which isn’t forthcoming. He then beckons Tina to come close.
‘Tina, politely ask the Brits for their pigs and don’t mention the Revolutionary War.’
The President slumps back into his chair. A silence. No one wants to speak.
Tina breaks the silence, ‘let’s assume …they won’t play ball.’
Robert stands up, ‘that’s right, we won’t be able to just walk in and get them.’
‘Then we do it our way! The American way!’
With a single look Robert hints that he needs to be elsewhere and clears up his documents. The President waves him away.
As Robert reaches the door he receives an order from the President.
‘Robert, get a guy over there quick. A top man. Delta Force, a Navy Seal, someone who will get a result.’
‘What do we call the mission?’
Everyone in the room looks at the President apart from a few of the men who look at Tina.
The President thinks for a moment then …