The elevator doors hissed shut behind them, and they now stood in what looked like a hotel corridor identical to the one they had tumbled into just a few hours before (although it seemed like weeks ago): pale blue walls and ceiling, worn carpeting of a darker, dirtier blue.
“Let’s go, Frank,” said Dick. “You and Brad, lead the way.”
“This is so stupid,” said Frank, but he started walking, down to the right, and Brad walked along beside him, on Frank’s left.
Dick and Harvey stayed back a couple of paces. They held their pistols at waist level, Dick behind Frank, and Harvey behind Brad. Daphne walked along on the other side of Harvey, swinging her little .38 by her side.
“So stupid,” said Frank. “We’re gonna get to the saucer, you’re gonna see it won’t fly --”
“Let us worry about that, Frank,” said Dick.
“But y’know what gets me,” said Frank -- he was gesturing, talking to the empty corridor before him as if delivering a monologue, “what gets me is this is the thanks we get, for, for guiding you earthlings -- for helping you, through all your trials and hardships and vicissi-, vicissi-, what’s the fucking word?”
“Vicissitudes,” said Dick. “And come off it. You already said you did all that just to keep your operation running smooth.”
“Well, maybe so,” said Frank, “but still and all, irregardless and nonetheless --”
Brad’s cigar had gone out, and now he was re-lighting it with a stainless-steel butane lighter as he walked.
“Don’t believe all the shit this bird tells ya, Mr. Ridpath. Hey, what about Hitler, Frank?”
“Hitler? I don’t know what you're --”
“Tell him about Adolph Hitler. Tell him about Uncle Joe Stalin. Tell him about Mao Tse Tung and Genghis Khan. Vlad the Impaler. Torquemada.”
“I do not know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“Attila the fuckin’ Hun.”
“You want to keep your job you just shut the fuck up, Brad.”
“You already fired me, Francis.”
Frank stepped in front of Brad, faced him and poked him in the chest.
“So I hire you back,” he said. “Now shut the fuck up before I fire you again.”
“You poke me again I’m gonna break your fuckin’ finger.”
“Okay,” said Frank. He put down his hand. “No need to --”
“Tell them about Charlie Manson,” said Brad.
“Who?” asked Dick.
“Nobody,” said Frank. “Nothing. This guy’s full of --”
Dick grabbed Frank by the lapel, shoved him back against the wall, and pressed the muzzle of his Browning against Frank’s heart.
“Tell me about it, Frank,” said Dick.
Frank’s cigarette was in his mouth.
“Hey, nothin’ to tell, Dick, honest --” The cigarette fell from his lips. “Shit, I dropped my cigarette, gonna fuck up the carpet.”
“Don’t worry about the carpet, Frank,” said Dick.
“Sure, Dick. Hell, we need to replace this shit anyway.” He ground the cigarette into the carpet with his shiny and pointy black shoe. “I’m thinkin’ of layin’ a nice shag down, y’know, with these new micro-fibers they’re comin’ out with --”
“Tell him,” said Brad. “Tell him how you stuck a little voice in Hitler’s head, telling him how it was up to him to create a thousand-year Reich and bump off every Jew in the world.”
“Hey, I got lots of Jewish friends. Look at Sammy --”
“Tell him,” said Brad, “how whenever things got a little dull on earth we cooked up something just to make things a little more interesting.”
“These allegations are simply fantastic. I think you been chewing Jimson weed, my friend.”
“Tell him about the Black damn Plague, Frank.”
“The Black Plague? That was an accident,” said Frank. “We never meant for it to, to --”
“Tell him how we’ve convinced that motorcycle guy, Moloch, that he has to go on a rampage, killing and raping and destroying everything in his path, starting a world-wide epidemic of madness and murder.”
“Like this is something new?” said Frank.
Dick shoved the Browning against Frank’s throat and cocked the hammer.
“Hey, Dick,” said Frank, breaking out in a profuse sweat. “Be careful there.”
“So all that stuff,” said Dick, “about Moses and Confucius and Gandhi -- that was all bullshit.”
“It was not,” said Frank. “I swear. On my mother. On all five of my mothers. Brad, help me out --”
“Well, yeah,” said Brad, “it’s true, those guys were part of our operation too.”
Dick lowered the hammer of the Browning with his thumb, but he kept the muzzle of the pistol against Frank’s throat.
“Yin and yang, huh, Frank?”
Frank sighed, and shrugged stiffly.
“Sure, Dick. You understand. Good and evil. We need them both for good entertainment. Conflict. This is the source of all drama --”
“’As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.’”
Frank very gently pushed away the barrel of Browning with his fingers.
“Now that’s where you got us wrong, Dick. We have never personally killed nobody. We have never had to. It was you guys who did the killing. Guys like you, Dick. And Harvey there. You guys did the dirty work. All we did was -- you know -- try to make it interesting.”
“Interesting,” said Dick
“Hey, all we can do is give people ideas. We do not twist nobody’s arm. It is business, Dick. Strictly business. Okay, I will be the first to admit that sometimes things got a little out of hand. Like World War II for instance. How did we know Hitler would be so successful? I mean, true, we were looking for a ratings boost, we wanted a war, but we had no idea -- I mean, all we do is suggest -- and you humans take it from there. And let me tell ya somethin’, sometimes we don’t even got to suggest. Like with the A-bomb. Believe it or not, this was not our idea. I mean, if there’s anything gonna blow our operation down there, it’s them damn A-bombs, H-bombs, whatever. But you humans, you don’t give a shit, you like the the carnage. Even you, Dick, tell me you don’t enjoy it, tell me you didn’t get a kick that first guy you ever killed, back in Korea, poor little Chinese kid, drafted into the Red Army, poor little peasant boy with a mother who loved him, and you sneaked up behind him and cut his throat like a goddam animal, the hot blood blurting out all over your hand, and you fucking enjoyed it --”
Dick slammed the barrel of the Browning across Frank’s cheek and Frank slid down the wall, blood streaming down his face. Dick grabbed the knot of his tie, yanked him up, held the pistol to his forehead and re-cocked the hammer.
“Wai-wai-wait -- wait --” gibbered Frank.
“Sir,” said Harvey.
There was a pause.
Everyone held still. Brad stood with his cigar halfway to his mouth. Daphne held her left hand over her mouth. Harvey stood with his left hand raised, as if to grab the pistol away from Dick.
Frank stared at Dick with his eyes bulging, his toupée slipping, his face red and streaming with sweat.
“Sir,” said Harvey. “Dick.”
“Yeah,” said Dick, staring into Frank’s terrified eyes.
“Dick,” said Harvey, “you shoot him you’re gonna be provin’ him right.”
“That is right, Harvey,” babbled Frank. “You are so right. I mean, surely, Dick -- uh, how shall I put this, a wonderful, talented guy like yourself, a gentleman, a prince --”
“Besides,” said Harvey, “we may need him to get back to the Earth.”
“That is so true,” said Frank. “So true, Harvey. And believe me, I will do everything in my power, everything, to, to --”
“Shut up, Frank,” said Dick. “Just shut up for a while. Do you think you can handle that?”
Frank shut up.
Dick lowered the pistol and uncocked the hammer.
“First time I’ve seen that guy clam up in about nine hundred years.”
Everyone turned to see who had said this.
It was Daphne’s father, “Mac” MacNamara.
(Go here for our next mind-boggling chapter. To be continued for a really long time. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to many other fine episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, third-place prize winner of the Kresge’s 5 & 10 Award.)
And now a word from Miss Barbara Lewis: