“What are we doing with this one?” asked Janine, Bernard’s uncertified surgical assistant.
The Sculpting Clinic was world known, at least in certain, whispering circles. Clients were mostly women, but men came in too—not that the clinic’s services came cheap for any body. Patients submitted willing flesh and blank checks to Bernard, The Body Sculptor, agreeing to a carte blanche plastic surgery makeover. Perfectly legal, at least in this country. Bernard was an artist, after all. If people wanted basic nips and tucks, they could stay in the U.S. and pull over at any suburban L.A. stripmall.
Janine circled that afternoon’s client, the woman’s naked, unconscious form laid out on the operating table like a spring picnic. Janine was more than an assistant, really—she was an apprentice. At least that’s how she thought of herself, here to learn from the master. Ever faithful, she’d followed him from state to state and then country to country, outrunning laws and lawsuits and license revocations until they’d found this blessed safe harbor where they could work in peace and impunity.
But with freedom to practice came a certain boredom for Bernard. Janine heard it lately in his sighs and caught him, often, staring out his office window at the back alley’s brick wall.
She saw it again now. “Doctor?” she said. She only called him Bernard in her head.
He spoke without looking at her, his eyes assessing the corpse-like figure on the steel table. “I’m sick of breast augmentations and removals. Ass injections. Facial rearrangements.”
“You’re evolving,” said Janine, liking the way the word wrapped around her tongue.
Then, “I’m evolving,” he repeated. And again. “I’m evolving.”
And just like that it was back—the fevered, glorious look of an artist inspired by a blank canvas and his own simmering genius. The look that gave Janine’s life direction and purpose so long ago. She felt a throb low in her sea-green scrubs. But she told herself it was mostly professional admiration she felt for him, the awe of a rapt student. Mostly. She swallowed and gave her capped head a little shake. Focus, she told herself, on the art. The process. She pressed play on the stereo in the corner; barely perceptible acid jazz seeped into the room.
Then Bernard grabbed the purple surgical marker Janine held out to him like a baton. He drew in a frenzy, long slashes across the woman’s chest, dotted lines on her thighs, squares on her sagging stomach. Something like a spiral on her neck. Then he stood back and looked to Janine, waiting.
She hesitated. The heart rate monitor beeped once, twice, three times.
“Wow,” she said finally, because that’s what she always said, and why rock the boat now? The woman would stand out in a crowd. That’s what all Bernard’s clients wanted, anyway—not to fade into the background. “So… Avant-garde,” she continued. “Almost… Cubism? Expressionism?” She bit her lip. Her turn to wait.
But it was the right thing.
Bernard grinned and pulled up his face mask. Janine let out the breath she’d held trapped in her chest and got ready to suction.