I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll three pages back until you get to the bottom.
“What?” CJ Hastings exclaimed, lunging forward.
Mr. Bates said, “Christopher, stop!”
The giant man lifted his arm, palm out and grabbed CJ’s head, holding it like an NBA star holds a basketball. CJ squirmed then froze as hard fingers dug into his skull. “You can calm down, young man. I’ll be happy to pass on Mai Li’s words.” He paused. “When you relax, son.”
CJ bit the inside of his cheek tasting blood then took a deep breath and stood up slowly. He lifted his head slowly until he met the tall man’s gaze and said, “I’m all right now.” The fingers opened up and he stepped back. “What did Mai say?”
The tall man took a deep breath and his face seemed to blank. When he spoke again, his voice was strange. “Mai Li Hastings has instructed me to say to you,” CJ’s eyes grew wide, amazed. The voice was eerily like Mai Li’s, an octave lower, but the cadence, the timbre and the inflection was the same. He said, “Hey idiot brother, this is your sister. Do NOT get all hyper, I still cannot stand you guys. I am glad I am free of Mom’s hovering, clinging attentions and away from your solicitous, pandering, simpering affections…” CJ’s face flushed scarlet, but the tall man didn’t seem to notice and Mr. Bates turned away, facing the wall of the tiny office. The tall man continued, “However, there are things I need from you both – not your love, but things. Tell Mom I need cash. Lots of it. And from you little brother, I need you to help me execute my plan to take over the world.” The tall man laughed maniacally, startling Mr. Bates to turn around. Mai Li’s voice added, “I will be in touch again. Count on it, idiot brother. Just make sure you keep an eye out for my little friend here. By the way, do not tell anyone else what was said. Otherwise he will have to kill both of you.”
The tall man paused then said in his original gravel voice, “That’s it, Kid. You’ll see me around again soon, I think.”
CJ tried to grab him, but latching on to the massive forearm was like grabbing a tree trunk. The tall man looked down at him and said, “I don’t think you want to keep on doing that.” CJ let go as if he’d been burned. The tall man opened the office door and walked out, cutting through the crowd that had gathered outside the door. The crowd parted like water before an aircraft carrier. CJ and Mr. Bates peeked out around the corner to see him disappear through a far door.
The crowd watched the tall man as the door closed behind him then swung around as one group.
Job pushed his way to CJ, grabbed him by the shoulders and shouted, “We have to get you to the classroom! It’s time for the second part of the competition!”
“What?” CJ and Mr. Bates said. “We were only in there a few minutes!”
Job frowned and stepped back. “A few minutes? You guys have been in there almost two hours.”
CJ looked at Mr. Bates, who looked at CJ and then both looked at Job. CJ said, “Are you crazy? We went in there, the tall man…” he paused. What if she’d been serious? What if the tall man was also a hit man? The Tall Man – CJ suddenly thought of him with capital letters – was scary. Strong. Who knew what power Mai Li had over him, because she obviously had something over him? He was suddenly scary.
So why did he feel more afraid for Mai Li than he did for himself and his mom?