Friday, June 24, 2011

5. conspirators

by horace p sternwall

editorial consultant and executive producer: dan leo

illustrations by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here











nurse sherman pressed the little cigarette lighter type object and the car pulled off the road and headed across a dusty field. at the end of the field was an even flatter field and the car headed across that.

neither brock nor nurse sherman spoke. nurse sherman began humming a little tune.

"what's that?"

"what?"

"that you're humming."



"it's 'who put the benzedrine in mrs murphy's ovaltine'. it's an old song. probably not too many people remember it."

"oh."

"do you remember it?'

"no."

"see."

the car finally stopped beside a twisted little sagebrush.

nurse shermanpointed the cigarette lighter at it.






a rectangular slab of ground around the car dropped down below the surface like an elevator - twenty feet - forty feet - and stopped at about a hundred feet. the car rolled off it into a large garage or cavern, and stopped.
brock looked behind him and saw the slab rising back to the surface.

"pretty impressive. anybody know about this?"



"kind of old-fashioned really. but probably nobody knows i still have it operating. since you ask." nurse sherman opened the car door. "come on, let's walk from here."

they began walking across the floor of the cavern. it was dark and shadowy, and the far wall seemed to keep receding...

"not getting tired, are you?"

"no, i'm fine."

"good."

they finally reached the wall - and what looked like an elevator door, and turned out in fact to be an elevator door. they got in the elevator and nurse sherman pressed the down button. the elevator dropped like the cable had been cut.



"jeez!!"

"don't worry - it will be over in an instant."

the elevator stopped with a thump.

"whoa! how far down are we?"

"a ways."

'"you must like your privacy. are we getting off?"

"it's best to give it a minute. yeah, i like my privacy. this is where i bring all my love slaves - and my co-conspirators."

"oh? am i going to be - your love slave and your co co-whatever?"

"you're already my love slave, sugar, in case you hadn't noticed." nurse sherman pressed the cigarette lighter and the elevator door rolled open. "whether you want to be one of my co-conspirators - we shall see."

brock looked around. they were in an ordinary looking living room with a couch, a coffee table and three chairs. there was light, but he couldn't tell from where.



"make yourself at home."

"all right." brock sat down on the couch. "do i dare ask for - a drink?"

"yeah, i'll get you a drink." nurse sherman put her hand on the wall across from brock and a safe door appeared. she twirled the lock. "meanwhile i've got something even better." she turned to him. "this is a very special treat - not to be spoken of to anybody, you understand?"
"whatever you say."



she held her hand out. she had three packs of cigarettes in it. "pall malls, old golds, or herbert tareytons?"

"i don't care. old gold, i guess."

she tossed him the pack. he stared at it for a few seconds, then tore it open with trembling hands. when he got a cigarette in his mouth, nurse sherman was standing over him with a silver cigarette lighter she had taken out of the wall safe.

"ahhhhhhh!" brock took a deep drag.

"aahhhhh!" he held it in, then exhaled.

"that's better! that's much better! whew!"





he looked around. "maybe being alive again won't be so bad after all."

"i'm glad you liked it. savor the moment - it's a special treat - not an everyday thing, you understand?" she backed off and sat down on one of the chairs.

brock closed his eyes and took another drag. after he let it out, he asked, "so is there a catch? do i have to do something to deserve this special treat."

"you sure do."

"i have to be your co - co -"

"conspirator. conspirator. i guess people didn't talk so much about conspiracies in 1945?"

"no, i'm not even sure what a conspiracy is."



"huh. well, times have changed."

brock looked at the cigarette which was already almost gone. "can i have another."

"sure." she tossed him the lighter. "keep the pack. but don't take it with you when you leave here."

"oh, so i get to leave here, do i? ha ha ha!"

"yeah, you'll get to leave here." nurse sherman stood up. "wait here. i'll get us a couple of drinks."

she disappeared through a door brock hadn't noticed and he looked around the room. he still couldn't figure out where the light was coming from. the walls looked bare, but --

"i feel like i'm being watched," he said when she came back with the drinks.

"no, we're not being watched. or listened to, either." she sat down. "i would have been arrested a long time ago if we were."

"there's something behind the walls."

"there's all sorts of things behind the walls." nurse shermann took the little flat cigarette lighter type object off the coffee table and pointed it at the wall behind her. a screen appeared, covering almost the entire wall.



"wow, what's that, a television?"

"yeah."

"can i watch it?"

"later. it's really pretty boring. right now we have other things to discuss." she clicked the screen back off.

"this drink - " brock sipped it. "it's o k, i guess."

"just o k? you haven't had one for thirty-two years and you're hard to please?"

"it's supposed to be scotch?"

"it's as scotch as you are going to get - for now."



"hey, i don't mean to complain. but what do you mean - for now?"

she leaned forward. "i mean if you do what i tell you, and give me some good loving, and help me advance what i am trying to do - "

"whatever that is?"

" - then maybe i will find you some real scotch. or real champagne - "

"i'm not a champagne guy."

"or real whatever you want. " she leaned back, and waved her glass at him. "o k, listen up."

"i'm listening."

"you've been awake for a few hours now. what you've seen - what you've been told - about the modern world - probably doesn't surprise you too much."
"i don't know about that."



she ignored this. "trips to mars and jupiter, domed cities, world government, television, moving sidewalks, world peace, no money, cars that drive themselves - pretty much what you would expect, right?"

"um - maybe some of those things."

"well, let's say that a lot of people wouldn't be too surprised by any of them."

"all right, i'll say that."

"but there is something else. something much worse, something nobody ever suspected."

"no booze or cigarettes or steaks."

she laughed. "no. something nobody ever even imagined."

"all right. what?"

"the big mush."







chapter 6: the big mush


Thursday, June 23, 2011

4. peril

by horace p sternwall

editorial consultant and executive producer: dan leo

illustrations by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here



4) peril





"hi, jerry, it's jake."

"yes, jake."

"i want to talk to bill."

"jake, how did you get through? i just told dorothy not to let you through."

"i told her i wanted to talk about something else - not get through to bill."

"but now you're telling me you want to talk to bill."



"yes."

"so you lied."

'yes - i feel it's that important that i lied."

"you lied to dorothy - to dorothy, the gatekeeper to bill."

"yes - i just admitted it."

"jake, that's almost as bad as lying to bill. it's almost as bad as lying to me."

"can we cut the crap, jerry, and get this over with. just let me talk to bill, please."



"we've just been over all that. tell me what you want to talk to bill about, and i will decide whether he needs to hear it. that's my job. it's what i'm here for. it's what i do. i'm here to serve. let me serve you, jake, and tell me what is so important that you've been wasting my time all morning with it - and then, then i - i , whose job it is to do so, will decide whether bill needs to hear it. am i getting through to you?"

"i need to talk to bill. its very important."

"jake - "

"i'm willing to take the consequences, if any, of failing to go through proper channels."



"oh, really? and what about me? what are you going to do for me, if i get fired for not observing proper procedure? eh? eh?'"

"i'll buy you a drink."

"a drink ? did i hear you say a drink? i am sitting here fifty feet from bill's office and you offered me a drink? what year is this, eh? am i hallucinating here?"

"i meant a drink of pure spring water."

"oh."



"what did you think i meant?"

"let's get back on track here. are you, or are you not, going to tell me what you want to talk to bill about?"

"i think bill should hear it directly from me."

"no."

"but the universe is in peril."

"the universe is always in peril. that's what it's there for. if it wasn't in peril, it wouldn't be the universe."

"i want to talk to bill. something has come up that he should hear about. directly."

"jake, this conversation is over."

"it shouldn't be."



"but it is."

"you are making a terrible mistake."

" jake, i have had enough of you. do you know what i am going to do when i get off the phone?"

"no, what?"

"i am going to find the biggest ugliest agent under my command and i am going to tell him to get the biggest ugliest stick he can find and he is going to track you down like a wounded animal and beat you with it."



"i really have to talk to bill."

"goodbye, jake."

jerry clicked off. he picked up a pint bottle of water - the only thing on his desk - unscrewed the cap and took a few thoughtful sips. then he got up, opened the door of his office and went to the reception area outside.

dorothy looked up at him.

"that was jake . he was lying when he said - "

"i know, i listened to the whole conversation."




"oh."

"i hope you don't mind."

"of course not." jerry smiled. "it's what you are here for, isn't it?

"i hope you are not really going to have somebody beat jake with a stick."

"oh no. i was just kidding - just venting."

"violence never solved anything."

"i know that. thank you for reminding me."



"jake may be lacking in certain desirable qualities, but he shouldn't be beaten with a stick."

"point well taken." jerry looked up. "who is this?"

a man with a cloth cap shading his face was slouched in a chair along the wall. he looked up when jerry spoke.

"jerry, it's roy, roy cohn. you remember me, don't you?"

"roy - of course!'" jerry opened the little railing in front of dorothy's desk and held out his hand. "great to see you. what can i do for you?"

"i got something real important i think the big guy, the inspector, should hear about."



"i see." jerry glanced back at dorothy. "you wouldn't happen to be in touch with that rascal jake mccarthy, would you?"

"jake mccarthy? no, no i don't have nothing to do with that rat. i wouldn't walk across the street to pour a glass of water on him - if he was - if he was - something- i can't remember."

"that's o k."

"i don't remember everything. i'm not what i used to be."

"who among us is?"

"yeah."

"do you remember what you wanted to talk to bill about?"

"sure. that's what i'm here for."



"would you mind telling me first what you want to see him about?" jerry smiled. "that's what i'm here for."

"no, no, i don't mind. i may not be one hundred percent, but i know how the game is played."

"well, that's great. i'm glad somebody does."

"it's about brock, sergeant brock. you remember the brock case, don't you?"

"um - maybe you can refresh my memory. but we don't have to stand out here, come on into my office." jerry stepped back and motioned roy through the opening in the railing. "is there something we can get you? dorothy could get you something or have somebody get you something. something? anything?"



"anything, huh? how about a burger? or even better, a roast beef sandwich with horseradish?"

"uh - those things might present a challenge, even for us."

"i can get you some water," said dorothy, " or an orange or some grapes. how about yogurt - we have strawberry, blueberry, boysenberry - "

"strawberry is good. i'm a strawberry guy."

"that's settled then - we'll get you some strawberry yogurt and some water. come on in."




jerry closed the door behind him and motioned roy to the one chair in front of his desk.

"jeez, i'm glad you could see me. what i am about to tell you was going to blow a hole in my gasket - or my brain."

jerry sat down behind his desk. "well, blow roy, blow."








chapter 5



3. changes

by horace p sternwall

editorial consultant and executive producer: dan leo

illustrations by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here





3) changes





"well, i just wish you had told me this before."

"the billing cycle doesn't come up for another week, i was going to notify you then."

"thanks."

"do you think he will give you any trouble?"

"i don't know. probably not."

"i can send somebody over. to be there when you tell him. i'm really sorry about this."

"no, don't bother. i can handle it. nurse johnson and i can handle it."

"you sure?"

"yes, i'm sure."

"if you change your mind, let me know."

"thanks."

"later."



doctor fenway put the phone back in his pocket. he took it out again, began punching in another number, then shrugged and stopped.

he took a flat pill container out of his pocket, opened it and took out a small blue pill, which he quickly swallowed.

then, with a sigh, he opened the door to the front sitting room.




brock was back in his stuffed chair, breathing a little heavily, and nurse sherman was back on her sofa. both were straightening out their clothes.

"i hope nurse sherman didn't tire you too badly, sergeant."

"he'll be all right."

"yes, i'm sure. um, listen , mister brock , i just got off the phone with the representatve of your sponsor -"

"sponsor? what's this sponsor? what am i , a race car?"

"the gentleman who has been paying me for twenty-five years to maintain you in comfort."



"gentleman? how about good old uncle sam? i mean, i am a sergeant in the u s army rangers, am i not? or not?"

"do you mind if i sit down?" the doctor edged toward a stuffed chair close to the sofa nurse sherman was sitting on.

brock looked at him curiously. "it's your place, isn't it? sit wherever you want."

"thank you."

the doctor tried to lean back in his chair but quickly hunched forward again.



"you have been unconscious for over thirty years. you understand that, don't you?"

brock thought for a few seconds. "i understand the idea. and so far i am taking your word for it that is the way it is."

"why? why are you taking my word for it?"

"why not? i will find out quick enough if you are telling the truth."

"really? how?"

"i don't know - look at a newspaper, see what the date is."



nurse sherman interrupted. "there are no more newspapers. they became obsolete years ago."

"how about radio?" brock asked. "hey, i know - how about television? that was the next big thing thirty years ago - i bet everybody has a television now."

the doctor shook his head. "ancient history. come and gone. remember, this is 1977."

"yeah. yeah."

"look, he doesn't to need to know all this stuff right now. what's this about je- about the sponsor?" nurse sherman stared at the doctor.



"the sponsor is dead. according to harris." the doctor turned to brock. "harris is his representative."

"and we are just hearing about it? when did this happen?"

"a couple of weeks ago. harris was going to tell us when the next payment was due."

brock yawned. then he yawned again.

"hey, you just woke up!" nurse sherman laughed.

the doctor didn't laugh. he looked intently at brock. "you know what this means, don't you?"

"no doctor, what does it mean?"

"it means - it means - you have no visible means of support."



"you mean, except the three hots and a cot the u s army gives me. i'll be all right."

"no - you don't understand. there is no u s army any more. there is no u s any more. do you begin to understand?"

brock scratched his head. "not really."

the doctor laughed nervously. "you seem to be taking it like a philosopher, anyway."

"yeah"

"it hasn't had time to sink in."

"you are right, doctor," nurse sherman put in, " it hasn't had time to sink in. so why not leave him alone."

"leave him alone? but who - who is going to take care of him?"

"me. i will take care of him."
"someone appointed you his caretaker?"
"i appointed myself."
"well - you have always been a take charge type of person, but this is above and beyond the call of duty. thank you."



"you are welcome." she stared at him. "since i am being so helpful, maybe i can have the rest of the day off - i will take our friend here home with me, explain a few things to him - gradually, the way it should be done."

"you want to leave early? what about the report on mrs miller?

"you can't do it yourself?"

"oh, i guess so." the doctor exhaled and leaned back in the stuffed chair.

nobody moved. the doctor and the nurse looked at each other and brock looked at the floor.

"i sure could use a smoke," he announced after a while.

"sorry," nurse sherman told him. "that is as unlikely as anything in this world - or any world."



brock sighed. "how about that steak?"

"maybe. i will see what i can do. it will take time. i can't make any promises."

"you can get him a steak?"

"you heard what i said. i said i could try."

"you never told me you could get me a steak."

"did you ever ask?"

"no, i guess not." the doctor leaned back and shook his head. "it never crossed my mind. i knew you were resourceful. i didn't know you were that resourceful."

"you know," said brock, "i thought the modern world and science and stuff was about progress. what kind of progress is it when there is less stuff, not more?"

the doctor forced himself up out of the chair. "an excellent question. i am afraid it is one i can't answer."



nurse johnson also stood up. "come on, big guy. let's move out. we will leave the doctor here to his busy afternoon."




the doctor stood at the window, watching brock and the nurse move around the side of the building to the nurse's parked car.

"jeez, that's a small car."

"you think so? it's bigger than most - i had it made special."

"yeah?"

"get in." she opened the door on the left side.

"it's not locked?"

"no. get in."

brock got in, careful not to bump his head.



"pretty good neighborhood, huh, nobody steals cars."

"no."

"no money in it?"

"no money in anything. no money."

"now you've gone too far." brock settled himself in the right front seat, and gazed out the window. "i know you are kidding me now." he turned to face her. "hey! what the - where's the steering wheel?"




"don't need it." nurse sherman took a little metal object like a cigarette lighter out of her big purse and pressed it. the car started up - brock could barely hear it - and rolled out to the street by itself.

"what fun is this? could you drive it yourself if you wanted?"

"there's places you can go to drive cars around by yourself."

"well that's something. any around here?"

"no, they are on mars and jupiter."



"oh."

"but they are not that hard to get to."

"i guess not."

the car picked up speed on the straight empty street. soon they were moving through flat desert.



"what's this about no money? if there's no money, what makes the world go round?"

"love."

"love, huh?"
"i'll tell you all about it when we get to my place. relax and enjoy the view."











chapter 4: peril






2. new age

by horace p sternwall

editorial consultant and executive producer: dan leo

illustrations by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq

to begin at the beginning, click here





2) new age



"today's world? what's that supposed to mean?"

"oh, you'll find out, sergeant."

"maybe you should stop calling him sergeant?"

"oh, what's the harm? my great-great grandfather was in the spanish-american war and he called himself colonel to the end of his long days. we can humor the sergeant here." nurse sherman smiled a little less maliciously at brock. "i think he'll find little enough to humor him - in the new world."

"oh, i don't know." the doctor stared meditatively at brock. "i am sure he will prove very adaptable. i don't think his patron would have paid for his upkeep all this time if he didn't think so."



"maybe you should notify mister g that he is awake."

"yes, yes, of course. i should have thought of that first thing." the doctor looked up at brock for a few more seconds and turned and left the room.
brock looked at nurse sherman again. "about that drink?"

"you've got your drink in your hand, sergeant . it's the only one you are going to get - at least for now."

"all right." he looked at the glass of water, put it to his lips and took a sip. "at least it's cold." he drained it in one gulp and handed it back.
"that wasn't so bad, was it?"



"not for water." brock nodded toward the half open door. "i thought he was making a phone call."

"of course he's making a phone call. what else would he be doing?"

"i got pretty good ears. i can usually hear a phone being dialed - even in the middle of an air raid."

nurse sherman smiled. "really? how impressive."

"not to mention that i don't hear him talking to anybody."

"he's on the phone. things are a little different from the last time you were in an air raid."

"all right, how long have i been out? six months? a year even?"

"over thirty years."

"what? what year is it?"

"1977."

"no! let me look." he started for the door and she stepped aside to let him pass.

he entered into a "front parlor" with heavy stuffed chairs and sofas and a large picture window. outside the window was a narrow paved street - and beyond that a flat empty plain under a cloudless blue sky.



"1977 huh? where's the dome?" brock walked right up to the window and put his hands and face against it. he looked up and down the street in both directions. it seemed deserted, with no cars or pedestrians. white two story frame buildings stood about a hundred yards on each side of the building the doctor's office was in. there were no buildings on the other side of the street, just the flat plain.

nurse sherman followed him into the room and lowered herself onto one of the sofas.



"don't worry about the domes," she told him. "most of the world is very well domed. we happen to be in one of the remaining open spaces."

"yeah?" brock walked over to a side door and opened it on to a small porch dominated by a long swing. "and where is that exactly?"

"we are just outside abilene, kansas."

"huh. a long way from berlin."

"not so long. distance is measured differently these days."

"if you say so." brock sat down on a stuffed chair and tested his weight on it. "you wouldn't happen to have a cigarette, would you?"

"i would not happen to have a cigarette. would you like another glass of water?i can make it extra cold."

"if that's the best you can do." he watched her as she got up and left the room.



"1977 huh?" he called after her. "so there must be men on mars and jupiter and all that, right?"

"oh, a lot further than that." she came back with another icy glass of water, gave it to him and went back to her sofa. "humans reached the stars years ago."

"damn." brock took a sip of the water and looked down at his feet. "there must have been a lot of great wars out there." he shook his head. "and you're telling me i missed them?"

"i don't know where to begin." she looked at him pityingly. "you have a lot of catching up to do."

"yeah. hey, i'm hungry. we're in kansas, right? i should be able to get a pretty good steak."

"i'm afraid that might be a problem too. not an absolutely insoluble one, but a problem."



"what! what is this - i can't get a drink, can't get a cigarette, can't get a steak! what did we do, lose the war or something? i thought i had it just about won."

"don't excite yourself. everything will be explained."

"yeah."

"drink your water."

brock looked around. "where's the doctor?"

she shrugged. "probably doing some explaining himself." she looked right at him. "is there anything else you'd like?'

"well... yeah, there is, now that you mention it." he laughed. "but i don't know that you can help me out there."

"you might be surprised."



"oh?" brock looked around the room, at the window and doors.

"looking for something?"

he shrugged, and laughed again. "you're telling me you got a babe for me behind a door somewhere? upstairs maybe?"

"i think you're being the babe, sergeant. you know exactly what i'm talking about." she stood up, and walked over and stood over him.

"but..."



"but what? it's not 1945? this is the new age, women who don't meet traditional standards of body imagery are no longer afraid to explore and assert their sexuality."

"what! speak english, why don't you? we are in america, aren't we?"

"come on, you've been asleep for thirty-two years. you should have a little energy stored up." she put one hand on his shoulder and began unbuttoning her blouse with the other.

"but...but..." he looked at the picture window. "it's broad daylight. anybody can just look in and see us. and the doctor..."

"welcome to the new world, sergeant. welcome to 1977."





chapter 3




"First published in paperback -- 'an original complete novel, never printed anywhere before!' by Monarch Books in 1954, Sternwall's The Penultimate Hit apparently received zero reviews. Two years later the book appeared in soft covers again, with a new cover painting (by Ed Emswhiller) and a new title (Brock's Last Battle), a different publisher (Del Rey), and with a new by-line ('Harry P. Wells'). This edition also was greeted with the sounds of utter critical silence, and the book has remained out-of-print ever since. It remains, however, perhaps Sternwall's most mind-fucking novel." -- Harold Bloom, in The Ladies' Home Journal