Is He or Isn’t He?
John Meiners, Jr.
Neville Dugat opens his eyes, looks at the ceiling; nothing is recognizable. His surroundings are totally unfamiliar, and in his total disorientation, the one thing he is sure of is, he is not at home. Two windows adorn his less than luxurious room, and he squints, believing he sees a wild flower, but then remembers it’s snow. The truth eludes him... vague memories of snow and spring wild flowers all swirling together. Recent snow… Louisiana is not known for a snowfall… and the cold. Swimming in the Belle Rive… He shivers at the thought, but it’s more than that. Fear and dread accompany the weather. He lies in bed just as he did yesterday and the day before, but for longer, and the puzzle pieces fit better than before…
A woman comes in and smiles but offers no conversation with the exception of, “I brought you some eggs.”
“Thanks,… where am I?”
The woman turns at the door and says, “The Doctor will be in shortly.”
Quite the conversationalist… Left and right he sees hospital equipment, but the room… the pictures or the usual aquarium to promote tranquility you see in doctors’ and dentists’ offices are painfully absent, and the wall paint is drab and dismal. Definitely a bunker feel or worse. He becomes anxious and claustrophobic. He is in captivity.
Jesse and Samantha, Bob and Pamela, and Monroe travel down a dirt road. The trees are turning green. Many deer are seen, and Monroe lets them know many of them are from the Finding, keeping an eye on the surroundings. Secrecy is the watchword, and as they round the corner, they arrive at what looks like unkept army barracks. They are the select few on the ‘guest list’ to enter. This will be the first opportunity to talk to Neville Dugat.
Doctor Johan Van Hildenburger walks in, sees Pamela Lawton and though he knew she was coming, smiles with surprise and delight. He admires Pamela Lawton, and though they have had discussions on the phone about Neville Dugat, this is the first time in over ten years he has seen her. Doctor Van Hildenburger learned much from her as an intern a good twenty-five years ago. The others nod politely and introduce themselves while Doctor Hildenburger politely acknowledges them. They have all spoken before but never really met one another.
Pamela Lawton smiles, “Doctor Van Hildenburger, it’s so good to see you. You’ve done very well.”
“I had a good teacher.”
“And I had a good intern.” Pamela realizes Doctor Van Hildenburger doesn’t know Bob and quickly introduces him. “Bob, this is Doctor Van Hildenburger… Doctor… Bob Wallace.”
“Pleased to meet you,” says, Bob.
“Likewise,” responds Doctor Van Hildenburger.
Jesse notices Monroe fidgets and appears restless. Monroe has been chomping at the bit to talk, really to interrogate, Neville Dugat.
Monroe, not known for being patient jumps in, “What is Dugat’s condition?”
“Our Mr. Dugat is finishing breakfast. He seems alert. As you know, Neville began to stir around a week ago.” Doctor Van Hildenburger turns to Pamela as if reporting to her, “He wasn’t really in a coma, but he thrashed around after his surgery, and even though he had moments of lucidity, it was obvious his trauma was great so we had to ease him into his conscious state. It hasn’t been easy. Last week when he became more conscious, I eased off of the sedation, and now he’s lucid, but his memory is another problem. I believe it’s returning, but what he perceives as truth or delusion is troubling.”
Pamela says, “Doctor, you’ve handled the situation very well.”
Monroe is hopeful, the patting on the back ceremony is over, and finally they can question Neville, but his ship is dashed upon the rocks, when the doctor tells them, “You won’t be able to talk to Mr. Dugat at any length, just now, due to his trauma.” He addresses Pamela, “We don’t want a recurrence of an already traumatic situation.”
Pamela nods in agreement.
Monroe’s eyes are those of a child who didn’t get what he longed for, for Christmas.
The Doctor says, “I question his mental state, and while he may sound rational, I don’t know if what he tells you will be worthwhile.”
Jesse tells the doctor, “What we know of this Neville Dugat makes us take anything he says with a grain of salt or worse. It’s probably a lie.”
Samantha adds, “It may be a blessing, he’s not quick enough to make up answers as he goes.”
“I thought of that, and truthfully I want you to talk to him. I want to know what you think. Maybe you can help discern what is reality and what is delusion, even what is a purposeful lie. You would be the ones to know. Let me fill you in. About five days ago he was incoherent, and with every day, he has gained cognitive ability, and his speech has improved. He has been hostile at times, demanding to be let go, inquiring where he was. There is fear which I feel is very real, and he doesn’t know where he is... His memory is one of many concerns. Yesterday I asked him as I have for the last five days, ‘What is your name?’ and he said Justin Covell.
Monroe asks, “What?”
“He said his name was Justin Covell.”
“The old ‘It was my evil twin that did it’ story,” Jesse says.
The doctor agrees, “Something like that, yes, but not his twin…his brother.” That is when I decided it was time for you to talk with him.”
“Who did he say he was today?” Monroe asks.
“I didn’t ask,” the doctor answers.
Monroe quickly asks, “When can we talk to him?”
“Let me look in on him then he’s all yours.”
“Good, we gotta get some answers Doc,” Monroe tells him.
A loud piercing voice is heard in Neville’s room. Neville yells, “Where the hell am I, dammit. You can’t ignore me forever. I want to talk to someone now. I told you I’m not Neville Dugat… I was trying to save that woman. Is she all right?”
The door suddenly crashes opens as the disheveled woman stumbles out and drops Neville’s breakfast tray spreading remnants of his breakfast across the floor. “Shit.” Surprised by her outburst, everyone stares at the woman who is really a nurse in plain clothes. The authorities, namely Monroe and Officer Jones, have a desire to keep Neville in the dark. The woman longs for the dark and sleep because she hasn’t gotten any in almost two days. In their quest for security and secrecy, she is the only nurse.
Doctor Van Hildenburger with raised eye brows, says, “I think this is a good time to talk to him. Be my guest.” He gestures right this way, and Monroe goes in.
The nurse quickly gathers up the spilled breakfast plates and utensils then walks away.
Pamela asks the doctor, “Has she had any sleep?”
“No. We’re it. Monroe said no one else.”
Pamela says, “I’ll stay tonight.”
“Could we also?” asks Samantha.
Jesse and Bob look at one another. Will they decide to stay too? Jesse knows he will.
Doctor Van Hildenburger tells them, “Can always use the help. Are you ready?”
In the room, Neville Dugat does a double take as people keep coming in, and when they finally stop filing in, instead of yelling at the woman, he is silent and wears a puzzled look. The others appear to be in a silent movie. Doctor Van Hildenburger and Pamela come in close to take his pulse, while the others look on.
The doctor tells him, “Mr. Dugat, I’d like to show Doctor Lawton your shoulder.”
“That’s fine, but my name is Mr. Covell, but you can call me Justin since we’re friends.”
Doctor Van Hildenburger shows Pamela the shoulder incision. “The operation was very successful, and he has recovered 90 percent of his movement in this area. I believe heavy sedation was needed when he insisted on thrashing around.”
Monroe puts his hand on his face and thinks, ‘Here we go again. Pat ourselves on the back is back in session.’
Neville or whoever he is, addresses those standing patiently in the background, “I know all of you are not voyeurs excited by seeing scars. I trust you are all aliens otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Since I’ve introduced myself, maybe you’d show me the courtesy of telling me who I’m talking to.”
Samantha and Jesse turn to one another with a ‘Hmmm look.’
“Oh, I know Monroe Cane, Mayor of Community, and Officer Jones, but the rest of you… Well, I’m afraid I haven’t had the pleasure.”
Samantha remembers being in law school, and she feels she is back in the classroom. Everyone introduces themselves, but Pamela Lawton is the person who is honored with a reaction. Justin or Neville or whoever he happens to be, does not know her, but he has heard of her. Jesse and Bob keep their identities to themselves. Samantha has a sense Neville or Justin is a professional, and if he is not who he says he is, he’s a fine actor.
Monroe asks sarcastically, “Now that we all are members of polite society would you like to tell us your story?”
“I hoped you’d ask. First of all, thank you for putting my mind at ease. I thought I was a dead man, but the good doctor is fixing me up, and when I saw Officer Jones and Major Cane then I knew I was in good hands.”
Impatiently Monroe asks, “Your story?”
“Of course, first of all this is clearly a case of mistaken identity. I learned I had a brother a year ago. I saw a picture of Thomas Neville, and his son, Neville Dugat. His son looked just like me. Not kind of like me, but my doppelganger. He could be my twin, but I did find out he is my brother. I did the research. He’s a year older than me. My name is Justin Covell. Like I said”
Justin’s demeaner abruptly changes. Suddenly he is calmer and deep in thought.
Whatever Justin was about to say, Samantha has seen it on the witness stand. Emotional issues can strike without warning and render a person on the stand speechless. This man could be an actor, but if so, he’s an extremely good one. As a lawyer, it is her job to discern the truth, but it can be difficult.
Justin decides to go on with his story. “My mother… had me when she was only fifteen, really a child herself. I never knew my father. She fell on hard times, no wait, she was already there. The priority in her life was not me but her habit. My ‘so-called father’ split when he found out she was pregnant. Eventually I learned who he was, and that I had a brother. My mother finally gave me up with I was six. I guess I should be happy she didn’t let me starve to death.”
Monroe asks, “Where did you live after that?”
“All over, I was six when she gave me up. A couple in St. Francisville took me in.”
“What about adoption records?”
“I didn’t say I was adopted, I said they took me in. They would verify what I’m telling you if they were alive, but they died in a car accident years ago.”
“How can you prove who you are?” Monroe asks.
“My birth certificate and driver’s license are at home. How long have I been here?”
Monroe shows Justin a picture of Neville and quickly asks, “Is this you?”
“No, it’s my brother, Neville. I’m the handsome one.”
Samantha asks Monroe, “May I?”… Mr. Covell, would you tell us what you do for a living, and what is your, I believe, sudden interest in your brother’s activities? Do you remember why you were in the Belle Rive that day, and what brought you to that cottage? We are trying to find the truth here.”
“Is that woman okay? Is she alive?
Samantha answers, “She is alive. Her name is Sharon Kelson.”
Justin Covell is visibly moved… He takes a deep breath and tells Samantha, “Thanks… I’m a counselor, and I’ve also done some acting and writing. Saint Francisville was my home for most of my life, but for the last ten years I’ve lived in Natchez. My so-called ‘sudden interest’ as you called it, in my brother’s activities is not quite correct. The interest was there when I saw the picture, but it took me almost three years to investigate and find the answers I’ve searched for. I have no family, Mrs. Slade… none. When I found Neville, it wasn’t like I expected or hoped it might be. To say we didn’t share the same exuberance at finding one another is an understatement. I tried, but after… three or four months being put off, I gave up.” Sadly he adds, “I thought, ‘He’s hiding something.’ Then I began second guessing myself. I thought I’m making up reasons for our lack of a connection, but I wanted to believe there was a reason. I gave in sometime later and decided to find out all I could about this mysterious brother of mine. I was determined. I started following him. At first it was uneventful, and then about a week later, he went to the Belle Rive. He came back, got in his car and drove off. He did it the next day and the next, and it was then I followed him.”
“In the Belle Rive?” Jesse asks.
“Yes, and it was so cold. I remember Neville left the Belle Rive and went to the cottage. Being winter, the trees were bare. There was no place to hide. I kept my distance, and finally at dusk, Neville left. I waited for night and luckily with no moon, I was able to sneak up to a window. I saw a woman with a couple of tubes stuck in her arms. The light was so low, I couldn’t see well at all, but I knew whatever was going on, was no good. I wanted to go inside and went around to the other window, but I couldn’t see where I was going and tripped. Two men came charging out the front door. I ran to the tree line just as they came around the house and stayed prone on the ground. Luckily I blended in with the shadows, and they didn’t find me. I made my way to the Belle Rive and swam back. I knew somehow I had to go back and get her out of that house. I remember going the next day, but my memory is vague after leaving the cottage.”
Samantha says, “Tell us the best you can.”
Justin nods, “I lay awake much of the night planning. I was counting on there being no more than those two men there. The woman was alone in her room before, and I hoped she would be again then I’d go in through the window.”
Jesse interrupts, “Were you in the army?”
“Yes, and I’ve learned to take care of myself. Anyway, I went in through that window, grabbed the woman, and did what I had to do.”
“And what did you do?”
“Everything after that is a blur. I know I ran out with the woman and fought, but had to leave her. I almost escaped, but I was attacked again in the Belle Rive then woke up here. I don’t know where I am. Now if I may ask a question, you sound suspiciously like a lawyer. I know I need to be read my Miranda rights and charged with something or let go.”
Jesse tells Justin, “Consider yourself fortunate you are here and protected. The bad guys are probably looking for you now to kill you, no matter who you are.”
“I can take care of myself. You need to release me.”
“If you insist,” Samantha tells him.
Justin sports an ‘I won’ smile, which quickly turns into an ‘Other team won scoring a point in the last second’ frown when Samantha says, “We’ll charge you tomorrow.”
“Charge me with what?”
“You know the two men at the cottage? They’re dead.”
“I saved that woman’s life.”
Monroe tells him, “We don’t know if you killed those two men so they couldn’t talk, or even if you were trying to kill that woman.”
“Why would I kill…”
Jesse jumps in, “That’s their MO. They leave no one behind. Of course, you know that already if you’re lying, and if you’re not, you’d better learn it fast, if you want to stay alive.”
“We’ll check you out, and if you are who you say you are, you’ll be safer here.”
Later in the next room, Bob asks, “When do we tell him he’s dead?”