Copyright 2015 by Donal Buchanan
Danny died hard.
back arched against the restraints, every muscle twisted. His face
contorted as he wept and shrieked his way to oblivion.
sat through it all, then stood and pried his dead young son's fingers
from his right hand.
nurse looked at Steve, expecting grief and offering pity, but was
repelled by the stony mask his face had become—and by the
terrible purpose she could see growing in his eyes.
send someone for the body, Nurse,” his voice grated harshly,
“Thank you. You've been very kind."
the room, Steve all but collided with Detective Lieutenant Park. He
made a move to pass, but Park grabbed his arm.
growled Steve. “Don't be afraid of the word, Lieutenant. Yes,
he's dead—and it was a mercy to him! What's going to happen
the bastards responsible? Tell me that! What's going to happen to
Keller,” the Lieutenant's face reflected his frustrations.
“We're doing all we can. Those two have a cast-iron alibi so
far. But don't worry, we'll get them eventually. Did Danny say
said a lot,” Steve replied, “but nothing made
must have pumped him full of LSD or something before they cut his
stomach open. He was higher than a kite and on a real trip.”
we're left with only your word that Danny planned to brace those mugs
for hooking his girlfriend. Not much of a case, I'm afraid, unless we
come up with some witnesses! But we'll get 'em —if not for
job, for something else!”
Lieutenant,” Steve's voice was bitter. “You'll get
But when” How many other kids will have to die before you do?
Everyone knows they're pushing junk all over the neighborhood.
They've ruined half the kids around here!”
'everyone knows' isn't proof, Keller,” the Lieutenant said
patiently. Right now I think you'd better go home and get some
hated the pity he saw stark in the other man's eyes. He knew that
further speech was useless and felt a renewal of the purpose that had
formed in the death room. It was up to him and to him alone; no one
could help. He made a short barking sound that was strangely between
a sob and a laugh and, with a queer shrug of his shoulders as if
settling a burden more easily on his back, walked away from Park.
the hospital, Steve drew in great gasps of fresh air. His body
shuddered. Still there were no tears, though his eyes felt swollen
and numb and his heart was a constricted lump. All his tears for
Danny were frozen by an icy hatred for his son's murderers. He
decided to walk home. The cooling breeze might cleanse away some of
the evil miasma that still clung from Danny's death.
he walked, Steve reviewed his information about the two men he knew
were responsible: Rocco, a dark-haired, yellow-complected, small-time
hood. A buyer and a pusher, but not a user. Vicious—known to
carry a knife.
Pug, a straw-topped follower-type. Not as intelligent as Rocco, but
just as vicious. Ex-golden gloves, it was said that he usually went
unarmed because he liked to use his fists on people. Both a pusher
and a user, he worked the fringes of the local high school for Rocco.
knew that Rocco had other cronies, but Pug was the one who counted.
He could feel the anger building up again. Sure, this was a
democracy, but to let those —those walking cancers—
continue to infect society was a travesty of justice! He had to do
something! He wanted to attack them physically. He could feel the
desire coiled like a spring within him and cursed his size. They both
topped him by several inches.
remembered his father's instructions when he was a child:
you are small and always will be. You've got to use your brain to
save your back. Never fight if you can possibly avoid it; but if you
have to fight, get in your licks first, fast and furious. And don't
let up, because if you give the other guy any chance to catch his
breath, he'll murder you!”
first time Steve had put the “brains over brawn”
into action, he'd been in intermediate school. A local bully used to
lay for him and beat him every day. Steve made certain preparations.
One day. When he saw the bully after school, he ran from him and hid
behind a large oak. As the hulking clod came lumbering up, Steve
stepped out and swung a baseball bat towards his tormentor's skull.
The bully partially blocked it, but went down anyway, out cold.
Fortunately he wasn't dead, but he never gave Steve any trouble
again. In fact, nobody did.
Steve matured into mild-mannered manhood with the knowledge that,
just below his calm, studious exterior there bubbled a molten vat of
violence—that, should a need arise, he was perfectly capable
drastic action. Caught between wars, he never had the outlet of
condoned killing so useful to others. After his early retirement from
a minor government post, he suffered the loss of his wife to a
vagrant and exotic virus and wrapped himself up in his personal
linguistic researches. He tried to raise Danny properly, but the boy
grew away from him and refused to share the dreams of his solitary
father. They had lived together, in a quiet, laissez-faire existence.
Steve could see that, while Danny wasn't taking the road he would
have chosen, nevertheless he was reaching out to life with strong,
that was over.
struck Steve hardest as he let himself into the silent apartment. He
knew that he would have to move soon. The place was going to get on
his nerves now.
he prepared the first of what promised to be many lonely meals, Steve
stared distractedly out his kitchen window at the passersby two
stories below. Although it was early in the evening by the clocks,
the summer sun was still high. Old Amos was staggering home from the
corner bar to his flat in the five-story tenement next door. It was
said that Amos from time to time was a user, but only when the pain
of his old war injury grew unbearable. Mostly he stuck to liquor and
the cop on the beat kept a neighborly eye on him to see that he made
it home alright. So far as Steve knew, Amos didn't use a pusher. It
was believed that he had a private deal with a local druggist for a
little extra morphine now and then.
it struck him. A way to halve his opposition and to hit the weakest
link first. His hand shook as he poured his soup. He considered his
plan of action as he hurried through the meal. It looked good. Just
an improved version of the trick he'd used before, but it ought to
work. Everyone in the neighborhood knew about Amos.
decided to act. He put in a call to the Ace Pool and Snooker Parlor
where Pug was known to hang out. Pug was there and came to the phone.
hurry it up,” snapped Pug in a surly voice. “I'm in
middle of a game!”
this is Amos,” quavered Steve in as close an approximation of
Amos's voice as he could manage. “I got lots of pain... You
gotta help me out!”
old wino, I ain't your connection!” growled Pug.
man's outa town, Pug. I'll make a big buy, honest I will. I'll lay
bread on you, don't worry; but I gotta have it now!” Steve's
voice verged on tears. “Not my flat. Too damn many nosy
parkers. How about the roof of my building in half an hour?”
it forty minutes. I wanna finish this game,” said Pug.
it'll cost ya a C-note. And bum,” he added menacingly,
anything is queer about this deal— you'll never have to worry
about getting drunk again!” He hung up. Steve mopped the
perspiration from his face. The die was cast. He had to follow
through now and do it right, or Amos was going to suffer.
called Amos and invited him over for a drink. Amos accepted readily.
By the time he and Amos were well settled down with a full bottle and
two glasses, almost twenty minutes had gone by. Remarking that what
they needed were some snacks to go with the liquid refreshment, Steve
excused himself to make a trip to the grocery, leaving Amos in happy
possession of the bottle. Amos didn't notice that Steve picked up a
heavy walking stick before he left. If he had, he wouldn't have
commented, for he'd seen Steve use it before (it was a relic of
recovery from a broken leg).
made it to the rendezvous ten minutes early, his main problem,
getting Amos out of the way in case Pug checked his flat anyway,
solved. He placed himself beside the door to the roof and waited.
time of assignation arrived. No Pug.
began to worry. He hoped Amos wouldn't take it into his head to
return home and spoil everything. He was getting tired of standing
and his legs were threatening to cramp. The light was dimming and
this worried him too,for he might miss his aim in the dark.
minutes later he heard a sound on the stairs and braced himself. The
door creaked open and Pug stepped through.
Pug whispered hoarsely, “Where are ya, Amos?”
stepped forward and swung the heavy cane with all of his might
against Pug's temple. There was a double crack as
snapped in two and Pug's skull fractured. Pug fell like a tree. There
was no doubt that he was dead.
Steve bent to check the body, he heard a gasp behind him and whirled,
the useless stump of cane raised. Rocco stood in the doorway, his
knife in his hand. Steve felt terror swoop through his bones like an
a second he couldn't move.
crumb!” screamed Rocco, “Oh, I'm gonna slice you
had the effect of unfreezing Steve and he backed instinctively away.
Rocco moved towards him and slightly sideways, away from Pug's body,
to gain room for action. As he moved, he continued to mouth
obscenities, never taking his eyes from Steve. Steve could see beyond
Rocco the low parapet of the roof.
was nowhere to run to. No one to help.
he knew what he had to do. And it felt right.
threw away the broken cane and rushed at Rocco, embracing him. He
felt the knife slide into his body, then he and Rocco were both over
the parapet and falling five stories to the ground.
he fell, Steve wept.
the tears were not for Danny, but for himself, for all that he had
there would be no tears for Danny —ever.
Mortimer Peeples awoke grumpy
side up. He
sat on the
edge of his bed finger-combing his thinning gray hair out of his
eyes, and tried not to listen to the carping voice of his wife.
was when the inter-dimensional
entangled in one of the follicular hairs of his left nostril.
commander of the tiny alien vessel
called his chief engineer. “Farfax! What in squag
happened? You know we have a schedule to keep!”
suffered a temporary loss of
power in one of
the zil-tubes, Highness,” replied Farfax,
use his politest lower octaves, “stranding us in the
macro-universe. We seem to be inside the body of a giant living
for the sake of Yiggle,
keep up our
force-fields! Broaden them if you have to —and get us out of
here!” Farfax had seldom heard the Commander so upset. His
almost ultra-sonic screeching pained the engineer's ears.
Highness, but we don't know
these psionic fields might have on the organism trapping us,”
said Farfax. “If its brain is within the radius of their
Commander waved all but his ambulatory
turned an angry blue. “I care not for some ogreish monster! I
care only for the safety of my ship and my schedule. Get those
screens up and repairs underway — NOW!”
obeyed. Mortimer noticed a very
slight tickle in
his nose and his head began to feel a bit warm.
you do something about the
heat in this
place?” he snapped pettishly. “You know I don't
over 65 degrees.” By now he was into his favorite bathrobe
stumbling sleepily into the breakfast nook.
wife interrupted her morning diatribe
long enough to
peer at the thermometer on the wall. She announced triumphantly:
“It's only 62 in here now. You ought to get your own
adjusted. Now, sit down and eat or you're going to be late for work.
And for God's sake don't forget to stop by the shoe store today. I
told you yesterday ...”
closed his ears to the rest. Maybe
going through her change-of-life. All she seemed to do lately was
carp, criticize, complain, or cry. He realized that he was no jewel
of a husband, but he fervently wished that if she couldn't say
something pleasant, she would just keep quiet.
silence was deafening. After a minute
or two even
Mortimer noticed it. He looked up from his porridge. His wife's mouth
was opening and closing like a fish, but no words came out. She was a
picture of distress. Immediately, Mortimer was solicitous for,
despite their occasional acrimonies, he loved her very much.
must be laryngitis like you
eyes fell on the frayed cuffs of his robe. “Why do you wear
that old thing! You know you've got better …!” Her
died, although her mouth kept moving.
dear,” said Mortimer.
“Save your voice.”
17-year old son chose that moment to
sleepily in from his room. Lurching into his chair, he wrapped a
loutish hand around a spoon and began to slurp porridge into his
the matter with
Mom?” he mumbled as
he fished a greasy strand of hair out of his bowl.”
not sure, son, but I expect
she'll get over
it,” Mortimer answered. “What are you doing
I'll go over to Tom's and
work on that old
chevy. Maybe I can get it running. Say, can I borrow five bucks for
parts? I'll pay you back on Saturday out of my last check.”
looked at his son with distaste. A
drop-out, recently fired from his job—all his son seemed to
want to do was work on cars. What he needed was discipline
Mortimer and his wife had never been able to manage. A good stint in
the service wold do. The Navy for instance— they'd make
a man of him!
he handed over a five-dollar
son had a peculiar look on his
face—as if an
idea were struggling to be born. When he spoke, he stuttered a bit.
Dad. If you don't mind,
I've changed my
plans. I'd like to use the five to go downtown and see the Navy
recruiter. Would you give me a parental permission slip?”
could hardly believe his ears. In
flat he had the permission slip filled out and passed it on to his
son. “Great, George!” he exclaimed as his son got
leave, good luck!”
just a brief moment, Mortimer was a
happy man. His
wife, apparently resigned to her affliction, was eating quietly. He
picked up the morning paper and settled back to read. God! The news
was even worse than usual. People were making an absolute mess of the
world. Sometimes he wished he could spit in everyone's eyes.”
billions of Mortimers
to every other human in existence—and spat. At the same
Mortimer sneezed, dislodging the alien vessel which disappeared into
a universe next door.
in the next second all the Mortimers
kicked, bitten, shot, stabbed and otherwise given their just
desserts. Even the babies managed to soak him one.
world never recovered from the deluge
The instant doubling of its population caused breakdowns in every
facility. Only the final holocaust as nations fought for a dwindling
food supply solved the problem by sterilizing the planet.
for the aliens, you'll be glad to know that the Commander met his
Manor Part Literary Society met informally in extraordinary session
in the ground-floor apartment of its late member and leading figure,
Lloyd George Atlee. Detective Lieutenant Homer Jacobs of Homicide was
Graham, unquestionably one of the best writers in the group,
presided. She waited until the half-dozen persons in the room had
settled down then turned to Jacobs.
she said, I would appreciate it if you would set the scene.”
well, Miss Graham,” said Jacobs. “As you all know,
was found two days ago seated at his desk in this study, shot in the
right temple, his own revolver by his hand. The doors and windows
were locked from the inside and an unsigned note implying despondency
over a long writing slump was in his typewriter. Atlee died sometime
in the small hours of the previous night shortly after hosting a
meeting of this society which all of you attended. Our tentative
hypothesis at this moment is suicide, but we'd like to have a little
information from you folks on just what went on that night and what
Atlee's state of mind seemed to be.”
Hobbit, whose forte was man-about-town descriptive bits, spoke up.
“It was a normal meeting, Lieutenant. We had a bite to eat
then settled down for a few readings. Atlee seemed his usual
mean his usual carpingly critical self!” interrupted Jerry
Hammer. Jerry claimed to be working on a sex novel, but everyone
suspected he was really only interested in the research involved.
ripped us apart. He always did!”
pawed the air as if pushing away an unpleasantness.
“You shouldn't speak ill. . .”
come off it, Dink!” said Marty McCammon, a listener, not a
writer. “He tore into you the other night. You were so mad
said Jody Baker, who was poetically inclined. “We all felt
claws from time to time. He called my last effort 'insipid drivel. I
cried all night.”
you can see, Lieutenant,” Jemmy Butler chuckled,
a normal meeting. He slammed Dink's article, Jody's poem, Georgia's
play and my mystery. He claimed Georgia's writing lacked
'decisiveness'—whatever that is—and he said that I
cliche-ridden; that all my gimmicks had been used before by Doyle,
Carr, Sayers, and Christie. But we really didn't mind, you know.
After all, that's what we meet for: constructive criticism . .
cried Marty. “We minded alright. I saw your face the other
night too, Jem. It made Dink's look pale!”
asked for attention. “I-I think I'd better say something
She got up nervously and walked to the casement window and stood
staring out, fiddling with the catch, obviously distressed.
wasn't suicide, Lieutenant”
shot out of his chair, “What do you mean? What's that you're
initial hubbub died to silence and all eyes were on Georgia. She
wrung her hands, then straightened up, turned, and swept the room
with one comprehensive glance—finally resting her gaze on one
was murder, Lieutenant,” she said quietly. “I knew
better than most of us. He's always been left-handed. And the
murderer is here with us now—aren't you, Jemmy!”
was a cry of rage and a brief struggle. After Jemmy had been subdued
and removed from the room, Jacobs turned to Georgia.
did you know?” he asked.
was simple,” Georgia replied. “The whole business
cliche-ridden—just like his writing: the locked room
(incidentally, that window-catch is loose—if you slam the
window just right it locks itself. The wrong hand, the phony note,
and, of course, he managed the biggest cliché of
Butler did it.”
you type the
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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