Winfred Press Presents 

<<  4 shots missing  >> 
by 
Larry Kimmel

    For Dave, For Humanity



Text & Art Work
Copyright  1994, 2004 by Larry Kimmel
 All Rights Reserved

           


It is raining in the market place and an old peasant woman is beating Felix with a limp stalk of celery. The girl in the sealskin trench coat is watching and poor Felix doesn't remember what provoked the outrage. It is his delicate dignity that is at stake for the moment, but there is more, much more at stake.


The girl turns on her heel now and tosses her head in contempt. Felix forgets the beating, momentarily, and watches after her, transfixed, but only for a second. A sickening wump and the celery stalk catches him on the side of the head. He falls to his knees, struggles, stands, staggers, and collapses to the ground. Dusk crosses both eyes.


He has a lilting dream of drowning and somewhere a violin plays "Flow Gently Sweet Afton," a capella, and then his eyelids flutter. He is conscious and his head rests in a puddle of water on the brick pavement. A little piece of celery leaf sails up to his nose and sticks there. He rises and the onlookers shrink back. He is on his feet and stares wildly about. The girl! That singular phrase lightnings across his consciousness twice. The girl! And then he shouts and bolts into the crowd. They part to let him pass.

* * *

Down along the river he walks an hour later, broken and disheveled, still, from the shameful fiasco in the market place. He thinks, "It is not good for a spy to be involved, to have memory lapses, to lose control." He thinks he must get to the root of his disability soon. Whenever he remembers the contemptuous look of the sealskin girl he quotes involuntarily, " ... the stings of outrageous fortune. Whether it be nobler of the mind to suffer ... " (Felix has captured the tragic sense.)

It occurs to him, down along the river, that two heads are better than one, and he turns back up river to Fassbenderstrasse -- that twisting lane which leads to the bohemian heart of the pulsing metropolis. There he will find his second head.

* * *

Orlando lives in a room above a bar named the Golden Glockenspiel. The noise bothers him, but he will not leave for controlling his nerves against the noise is "a discipline." When Felix enters, Orlando is bent over a little table by the window. He has a jewelers glass in his eye and is using a tool of his own invention that holds a needle in its end.

"Another ant?" Felix asks.

"No, no. Branching out." He does not look up.

"What then?"

"Just a moment and it will be finished."

Felix sits at another table in the center of the room. A light hangs above it by a wire. There is a cot in one corner. The rest of the room is unkempt. The rain can be heard on the roof. There is a gray light at the window. A partly used wine bottle sits on the table and Felix drinks a little and Orlando says, "My back, it is killing me. All day I've been standing over this stupid table."

"Why don't you sit when you work?"

"Who ever heard of sculpting and sitting at once?"

"You're right."

"Ah. Finished."

"Can I look?"

"Yes."

Orlando takes the eye piece from his eye and gives it to Felix. Felix squints down at the wooden block on the little table.

"What is it?" he asks finally.

"A tick."

"A tick?"

"Yes, a statue of a bed tick, stupid."

"I guess I don't know what a bed tick looks like close up."

"You do now, a perfect replica."

Felix straightens. Orlando says, "Take a look at some of my recent ants now."

"Where?"

"On the right hand corner."

Felix bends over the table again. "Hm, un huh, uh huh, very nice. Ah, this one seems different."

"Which? The third from the end?"

"Yes."

"I built that one."

"Built it?"

"Yes. The others I sculpted from solid lead, the third little beauty from the end, she be built. Built from dust."

"Very nice, and how is the portrait business?"

"Very bad."

"Sorry."

"I appreciate your sympathy."

Orlando also does commission portraits of a special order. Copies of famous paintings which substitute the original face with the face of the contemporary patron. (Only the faces are changed, to protect the artist.)

Felix takes off his overcoat now and hangs it over the space heater to dry a bit.

Orlando says, "Well my friend, what brings you here? Depression, I hope not."

"Not depression, an enigma."

"Ah ... that is good, something to tease the mind. Something to dispel artistic preoccupations. By the way, how is the history you are writing progressing?" (Scholarship was Felix's cover.)

He answers, "I'm in the 14th century. Knights of distressed damsels, round tables -- "

"Yes, yes. A nice period to reflect on, very nice, a good period for menstrual singers."

"Yes." Felix clears his throat.

"Well then," Orlando says, "about your enigma."

They both drink of the wine as though it were ceremonial to a business discussion. The bottle replaced on the table now, Orlando says, "Now then," and Felix leads off in a sonorous tenor voice and explains how moments are missing.

"For example," he says, "the first time I got an inkling I scratched it. It was when I received a newspaper a day in advance. It was on the train coming here. I left on a Sunday night and the next morning I buy a newspaper at a station from the train window from a boy and it is a Tuesday paper."

Orlando's eyes grew large as onions. "So ... you have the prophetic sense now. You can be rich. I've read about these things. But be careful; these things have a way of not working out. There is nothing you can do to change the future."

"Hold on, friend," Felix says.

"What? You don't get no more of them papers?"

"I never get one of them."

"Ah. It is a trick."

"No, it's not Monday, it's Tuesday."

"No Monday?"

"No Monday."

"I know you have a problem now."

"Yes, today I am in the market and wump and wump and wump with a limp celery stalk ...," he goes on to explain.

"So. What do you want of me, a simple craftsman, what you need is one of them fancy whores." (Orlando calls psychiatrists whores.

"Good for a quick mental discharge," is how he puts it.)

"Perhaps," Felix answers.

"Perhaps indeed. Sounds like a sketch-of-Freneia."

"How true."

They shake hands now and Felix leaves Orlando to his tasks and goes to the Bibliothek, a library whose portals bear the inscription "Boris Lives," chiseled there by school boys of the 17th century, as a shrewd political comment, and there he reads a book on schizophrenia.

"It is not so bad," he thinks, "to be both schizophrenic and spy at once, for it is merely a matter of matching wits with an equal intellect. L'intrigue. In other words, he knows what he is up against and he laughs a mocking laugh and then catches himself. He is in the library after all and does not want a fight.

* * *

That night alone on the streets knocking from cafe to dim lit cafe, drinking aperitif after aperitif the enigma haunts him. It is not fair, he who weaned himself at six months and trained on goat's milk and wheat germ in his adolescence; everything, everything he had ever done was designed toward this career. Had he not read the classics, James Bond and the like, before he was twelve, etc., etc. and now to be struck with a disability. It was crushing.

He has now a plan. A plan so ingenious he does not believe it possible. Tomorrow then. But tonight -- from the corner of his eye he sees, reflected in the corner of the bartender's eye, reflected from the lip of his aperitif glass, lucky it was half drunk, he sees, yes, the "sealskin girl" as he has affectionately come to think of her. His mind grows cunning as a do-do, and he prepares. Then with a mighty motion he flings his head in her direction. So mighty is the fling that he flangs directly from the bar stool and lands fwap on the floor.

"Flub," he says and peels his lip from the floor. When he becomes reassembled she is gone. He flambles out the door in hot perchance she might still be on the street, and she is.

"Hey you hey you there," he calls, and she coyly ducks around the corner. He runs. She runs. They run madly about the night labyrinth that is the city, lit by lonely lights, and in dark corners catch their breaths, until finally they both collapse by the Kinetic Fountain in Plaza Garcia, exhausted.

Panting, she says, "You have a piece of celery stuck to your nose, stupid."

"She calls me `stupid,'" he says to himself in ecstasy.

"That's right, ignorant, and what are you going to do about that?" she sneers.

"Fantastic woman," he thinks, and rallies to the challenge. He says,

"First, I am going to duck you in the water, and then I shall carry you to my quarters much as a cave man might, my little peculator."

"Ha!" she laughs. "How are you going to do the first if you can't even spell it and in the water yet. The water is cold, stupid, `tis not the season."

"I shall, I shall, my pet."

"They struggle tiredly to their feet. Felix advances upon her. At the last instant, just as he is to feel the reality of his desire, she brings her knee up with a sharp pow! right in the groan.

"Ahie!" and dusk crosses both eyes for Felix the second time that day.

Consciousness returns, and he looks at the spot from which he has risen, and there glittering in the moonlight is a gold and silver bracelet. He picks it up. "Good, good thinking, girl," he says aloud. For he knows full well what to do now. He must return it to her.

Felix returns to his quarter after that, jubilant and shaken at once. Quarters being a room so small he can heat it with a cigarette, and he does.

* * *

In the morning it is time to put his plan into action. There are hard winds outside. He looks out his little window across the roofs to the river. It is a grey day and the roofs and bricks of the city are archaic and the color of dust, and the river is grey glass and the sky is low and turbulent.

He sighs and makes a drink and then puts his plan together. He uses three microphones and bugs the telephone, too. A switch he makes for the apartment's outside door. Wires through the wall connect the switch to a tiny, teensy-weensy tape recorder -- taken from a dead spy who had fallen mysteriously at Felix's feet one fair afternoon in Piccadilly Square -- in the closet. When the door opened and closed once, the recorder was shut off, when the door opened and shut, again, the recorder was switched on. The work done, Felix locks the closet door and puts the only key into an envelope and addresses the envelope to himself. He can get in the closet, sure, but it will show.

It is late morning now and he goes out. It is a freakish and a vindictive wind. It picks dirt from the sidewalks and stings his face. He ducks his head forward and marches relentlessly into its fury until finally he stops at a corner and mails the key. At the next corner he goes into a small cafe.

The Continental is a grubby little restaurant. He orders a sandwich and beer and then goes apparently to the rest room. There is another customer there. Felix whistles and washes his hands and washes his hands and washes ... finally the other man leaves and Felix agilely bounds into the single stall and locks the door, takes off his shoes and places them toes outward from the commode, takes the bottom half of a pair of trousers from out of his jacket, unrolls them and drapes them from the seat of the toilet to his shoes; then he tosses a silver capsule into the commode and flushes it dead away. The wall slides back and he steps through and down a flight of steps to the foreign headquarters of O. U. (Operation Undermine).

Through another iron door is the whole underground organization and above the door is a sign that reads, "Busy Ants Are Happy Ants, Are You Happy?" Felix is a Worker and he now displays a badge to this effect. He goes directly to the M. D. (Message Dispatch).

His message says, "Go in training," and Felix knows that means to stop drinking. But why? What kind of assignment could possibly by rendered more effectively without the influence of the drink?
The iron door closes behind him now and he comes back up the stairs, through the sliding wall, puts on his shoes, roles up the fake trouser bottoms, flushes the commode, again, and the wall slides back.

Outside, in the booth his sandwich and beer are waiting; he slips his message quickly into the sandwich and commences to munch. When no one is looking, he pours his beer into a crack between the floor and wall. It does not go well to drink on an order from Cavern Headquarters. He orders milk, but to prove he's tough he has it put in a dirty glass. He still has his image to preserve. After lunch he goes to his quarters to think and wait.

He plays solitaire until it is his bed time, and then he goes beddie-bye, and pulls his comforter up to his chin. He stares, childlike and wondering, into the dark until sleep takes him.

* * *

It is the telephone that wakes him and he arises in the dark. Outside, he hears the ferocious breathing of the wind and, inside, the telephone strikes again. He feels for it and finds it in the dark.

"Hello," he says.

"Felix?"

"Yes."

"This is your chief, Queen-Ant."

"Oh, hi chief."

"Serious up."

"Sure thing, Queen-Ant."

"Is there anyone with you?"

"No sir-re-dee, Queen-Ant."

Now the chief's voice takes on a haunting, phantom-like quality, and he says, "You will do what I tell you, you will do what I tell you."

"Sure thing, Queen-Ant."

"Good."

Felix's eyes swell in the dark until they are saucer-like and ache with tension.

"Now listen," says the Queen-Ant, "you know the green bench on the pier on the river, you will take your own .38, repeat, your own .38 revolver, and you will go to this bench, the green bench, and a man will be waiting there. You will know him by his furtive look. You will kill him and push the body into the river. No one must see you, make sure. Have you understood?"

"Sure, Queen-Ant."

"Good, Felix, good, now repeat to me your assignment like a good little Ant."

Felix repeats the exact phrases of the Queen-Ant. The Queen-Ant continues, "After you complete the assignment you will return to your quarters, put away the gun and lie on your bed. Upon your head touching the pillow you will forget the whole episode, beginning the moment before the telephone rang. Have you understood?"

"Sure, Queen-Ant. Sounds neat, I might add, sir."

"Shape up, Felix, or you'll not get a promotion. You're hypnotized, you understand, when I say, `You will do what I tell you,' twice."

"Sure, Queen-Ant, whatever you say when you say that thing you say twice."

The Queen-Ant hangs up, and Felix rises from his bed, finds his clothes on the chair and floor, and dresses in the dark.

* * *

Outside the wind is near gale force. There is no one on the streets and a newspaper blows by and from somewhere a few leaves have come here. Felix leans into the wind until he is walking at a forty-five degree angle. The wind whips his hair about, and he looks like a mop moving through the night with saucer eyes. Through the narrow maze of streets he moves until at last he hears the river's gush distorted in the wind.

Finally, in the marshmallow night, the little shack on the pier looms like a toll house to a black void. Felix leans against the shanty a moment and collects himself. He passes it and moves into the darkness and sound of the water. The river is vicious in its force and is shiny black.

Felix finds the railing on the edge of the pier and feels his way toward the green bench. Here the wind is stronger, and he clings to the rail and a fine mist is blown in his face from the river beyond. When he reaches the ninth section of railing he drops to his hands and knees. The wind is very strong.

He draws his gun now and crawls forward waving his gun hand ahead of him, like a feeler, and finds a bench. From the slimy wet feel he knows that it is green. From the back he peers through the slats into the blackness. He can see no one. He sticks his hand through the slats and feels the length of the green bench. There is no one sitting on the bench.

He stands up now and feels light headed as he does so. He holds onto the bench to prevent drifting, that is blowing away. From lights on the opposite shore there is a green and orange shimmering, mutilated by the rapid black waters, and between the reflection and himself, Felix perceives a form leaning on the rail. He makes his way to the perpendicular rail and then works his way to the form.

Bango! He shoots the man through the head. The figure jerks over the rail. The shot's sound is carried away in the wind, up river, no doubt, where it will drop like lead to the water and float away, lost evidence. Felix puts his gun away and crawls all the way home.

* * *

Next morning, Felix awakes hungry. He gets out of bed tired and puzzled by the soreness of his hands and knees. He gets goes to the bathroom and puts Huskie Hand lotion on his sore spots and then, attired in his chenille lounging robe, he prepares his breakfast. Acorn ends and snail entrails with milk. As he drinks a seventh glass of milk with healthy satisfaction, he enjoys the view through the one unfrosted pane. The atmosphere has cleared enough that the violent river is visible.

He is downing the third quart of milk when the mail comes slipping through his door and falls clink! to the floor. He picks it up. It is the key. He blushes crimson red. "A stupid idea," he thinks, "my word do I feel sheepish." He blushes vermillion red this time, and a drop of blood trickles down the back of his neck and disappears snake like beneath his collar. "Still there is the mud on my shoes and the holes in the knees of my pants for which I am not able to account," he thinks, and goes to the closet.

After the tape is rewound, he runs it at high speed and returns to the view across the roofs, clean and pale from last night's sweep, and the river, angry still. There is a humming static behind him now and he forgets the tape. He is musing on the sealskin girl when he is brought home by a twittering not unlike birds. "But out of season birds," he thinks, and then is conscious of the tape and stops the machine and resets the speed.

Silence. Only the smug hum of the machine digesting the static of a blank tape and then the tingling of a telephone. Felix frowns and then hears his own voice answer, "Hello."

"Felix?"

"Yes." He hears his answer, and his frown deepens into puzzlement, and he crouches closer to the machine. A few more words and then, "You will do what I tell you, you will do what I tell you."

"Sure thing, Queen-Ant," he answers in unison with the tape. He becomes attentive and stares intimately into the twitter-woofer.
When the recorded conversation is concluded, Felix goes to his desk and takes out the .38 revolver from far back in the desk drawer, ignoring the other official spy gun at the front. He shoves the .38 into his belt on the side. He picks up his tweed jacket and puts it on, buttons it over the gun, puts on his overcoat, and goes out.

On the street he hurries among the pedestrians, a mindless Worker on an errand. The wind whips his overcoat around him and blows his hair down over his eyes. He bumps into things. He bumps his way along the maze of streets, through empty squares and busy market streets, until he reaches the river and heads downstream toward the pier. The sky is blotchy: blue-grey, white-gray.
He passes by the little shanty. The ferry is mid-stream and the pier is left unmanned, but for one figure, which is crouched down inspecting the railing in front of the green bench. Felix glances side to side, there is no one else about. He moves quickly now to the bench, graceful as a ballet dancer; the wind and the river are a deafening noise. The man is bending through the railing now, looking down into the water that sometimes splashes over the pier's edge and leaves a damp stain lacing along the edge of the pier.

Felix opens one button of his overcoat and takes the gun from his belt. He shoots the leaning figure three times in the back. The shots are distorted in the hateful wind. The man's body hangs over the second rail, his hat has fallen into the river and is being carried away, looking like a man walking, stumbling along the river's bottom.

Felix bounds over the green bench, sticks the gun back in his belt, grabs the dead man's ankles and slides him into the hoary waters below. He turns `round to run and a damp page of newspaper blows wap across his face like a dead fish and sticks there. He tears eye holes in his torment and runs from the pier.

* * *

When Felix wakes, again, it is because of the telephone. The wind is penetrating the building were he lives. He can hear it howl in the elevator shafts and in the empty rooms upstairs.

"Hello," he answers.

"Ant 3 ... 33 ... 33?

"Comprehending."

"A special message, a special message, please stand by for a special message."

"Sure. Delighted, in fact." "This is it," he thinks, "what I've been training for. The big job."

"Buzz, buzz, buzz," goes the message, which decodes as, "ALL WORKERS TO CAVERN, QUEEN-ANT DEFUNCT."

Felix goes into high speed and just as he is about to leave his quarters, he notices the tape recorder running. "No time for private investigation," he thinks, and turns off the machine and barges out his door.

* * *

In the Ant-House, as it is sometimes called, Felix wends his way through its chambers beneath the city. In the main chamber the lighting comes wavering from the ceiling. A cool green light, like the green of water, lights the walls chiseled from solid rock. The sky light is, in fact, a fountain in one of the city's multitude of squares. The bottom of the fountain is a vast two-way mirror. Little fishes swim above them. Many meetings take place around fountains and O. U.has electric goldfish in all the fountains which are all ears. Ears on a goldfish are ridiculous. An even more ridiculous idea of O. U. is electrical algae. It is easier to service, but not as clean.

It is the first time Felix has been to a mass meeting of Ants and he sits in the back. Looking over the crowd he notices that his heart stops every time he looks to his far left. He tries it several more times, a glance to the far left and his heart stops. He is about to decide it is a muscle syndrome that cramps his heart each time he turns his heard and eyes in a certain combination (he is a brilliant hypochondriac) when he realizes it is the sealskin girl. "The sealskin girl," he thinks nonchalantly and passes out in a dead faint.

Colleagues assist him back into his bench and the mass collection begins for flowers, after which there is an organ interlude, and then down to business. An ectomorph Drone Ant climbs to the pulpit and delivers the philippic.

"Fellow Ants of Operation Undermine, it gives my ventricles murmurs to inform you that the Queen-Ant, his own self, is defunct, also, Andie-Firdie, Worker-Ant, deceased in like manner preceding Queenie by half the big clock's cycle ... "

It goes on in this fashion for some time, and Felix gleans that a Worker-Ant sent to the green bench to make an important contribution to humanity had been killed, and that the Queen-Ant, himself, had personally ventured from the Caverns to investigate undercover, and that the O. U. being what it is can only investigate undercover, and that the police of the city are doing their own investigation unbeknowing of the deceased Ants secret affiliations.
Each Worker is now given a dossier, or rather printed matter to be thrown out as is the order of the day, and as an enticement it is promised that whosoever of all the Ants in that room might solve this case and give the deceased Ants back their honor would himself be honored by being dressed Queen-Ant in this Cavern. Their dossier contains pertinent information, i.e., one shot for the Worker, three shots for the Queen-Ant.

They file out of the main chamber, first row first, and Felix tries to catch the eye of the sealskin girl, but she is oblivious of his gesticulations. Even when he sticks the coin to the end of his nose, bulges his eyes, and touches the tip of his tongue to the coin, and, ant-eater fashion, whips it into his mouth and swallows it.

"If I become Queen-Ant," he thinks, "she will not be so impervious, and I shall not eat coins anymore." It is with this thought we find him hours later in his room. He has done nothing but dream on this up until now. At this point he takes action. Action takes the form of disobedience to a memory. Disobedience of a dead man's wish. (Can this end well, bring happiness ...?)

* * *

The Queen-Ant had designed the official spy gun for all Ants in that city and was much grieved when he learned that Felix had been using a gilt trimmed, platinum revolver, and the Queen-Ant, tears in eyes, had extracted a promise from Felix not to use it again for official work. After Felix had promised, the Queen-Ant had clasped him affectionately on the shoulder and called him his own SOA, son-of-an-ant.

Felix had kept his promise, but now with the Queen-Ant out of the way (he means defunct, or shall we say grandly indisposed) well, after all, a gilt and platinum revolver is a star in any spy's vest.
He goes to the cupboard, gets down his condiments and mixes a concoction to ward off evil, then goes to the desk drawer and from far back in the drawer he reaches the platinum .38.

He spins the chambers and smiles. "No playing Russian roulette with this gun," he thinks, "it is loaded and never been fired." He sniffs the barrel end to smell the precision rifling and is disconcerted by the smell of powder. He spins the chamber again. There are four shots missing.

Puzzlement grips his abdomen, and he sits down in greib. He had forgotten his affliction and here it is again more blatant than before. He is stunned into thoughtlessness, until across the abyss of his consciousness floats a singular phrase, one for the Worker, three for the Queen-Ant. "That's four," he says aloud, and answers,

"Yes, that's right, four."

He is still pondering this fact when he hears the evening paper fall kerplunk in the hallway outside his door. He fetches it and reads of the double murder the police are baffled by. He smiles smugly because of his extra knowledge. He reads two interesting things: one, that the murder weapon is a .38 and that ballistics show both murders to have been committed by the same.38; two, so far there is no motive and the police are working on the theory that it was enacted by a professional killer.

Felix looks at the revolver in his hand with four shots missing and instinctively and professionally suspects a frame-up. He must know, but how? It does not take his crafty mind long to reach a plan. He read it in a comic book as a child in Wales and has contained it in the colored files of his memory all these years waiting to be put to instant use now.

A moment's hesitation and then a thought of relief. The hesitation is because it is his own pride and joy of a .38 platinum revolver; the relief is not to have to break his promise after all.

He, in short, wraps up the platinum .38 in the softest of tissues, from that little roll down the hallway, and readies himself to send his pride and joy revolver to the police. He sticks the official spy gun under his arm, very smartly like, and goes out to mail his packet and to take the evening air. The wind has calmed a bit.

* * *

Next day he is up early and buys a paper on the street. His assumption is correct. The paper reports that the murder weapon has been anonymously sent to the police. Pleased with himself, he wanders along the cobble streets pondering his next move.

It is raining a little and it is a very dim morning. He thinks, "For my next move I need suspects." He tries to think of suspects: someone who knew of his platinum .38. No one knew except the Queen-Ant and the Queen-Ant is defunct. So he must suspect everyone: Orlando, the sealskin girl, the doctor, the lawyer, Indian chiefs, and the man on the street. "No one is my friend," he thinks, "I am alone."

Pigeons fly overhead in a V formation, but he doesn't notice. An hour of walking the rain slick streets brings him to the Golden Glockenspiel. He mounts the outside staircase to visit Orlando.
Orlando is sleeping on the cot, a kitten is walking over him. He throws it on the floor on top of a second kitten. The two kittens fight, then there is quiet.

"Orlando, I say, Orlando," Felix calls musically.

Orlando arises and cleans the sleep from his eyes.

"My good friend, Felix," he says, and then collapses.

Felix gets him roused and set up, and Orlando regains full consciousness only to discover he is having an attack of the gout.

"It is the lead in my drink," he says.

Felix gets him properly propped up on the cot and then draws up a chair to talk. On the roof, they can hear the rain fall.

Orlando makes a long list of complaints, and then asks, "And how is your little problem?"

"Which one -- " Felix catches himself, "oh yes, my problem."

"What have you done about it."

"Well nothing, I've been busy with the history."

"Impossible."

"It's gone away," Felix tries.

"Too soon to tell and if all is smooth, why have you come? You never come without a problem."

"Yes, true, I came because I don't know what to do about it."

"Much better."

"I did bug my room."

"And?"

"Well, it was strange now that you ask. You see I was playing the tape and next thing I know I am waking from my bed and the tape is completely run through and flapping on the spool."

"Hm. Very grave."

"Yes, I agree. Again a memory lapse." Felix's face falls indepression.

"Aw, cheer up, my friend, perhaps you were only hypnotized by the silence of the tape."

"Quite right," thinks Felix, and nods his head.

He leaves Orlando to his gout after a handshake, and he is thinking as he leaves the bohemian quarter of the city, "More, much more than a simple frame-up. The perfect frame-up where the framee is also the criminal. A mere puppet I have been in the hands of master criminals."

* * *

After a long walk that afternoon, he returns to his own quarters to have another go at it. He decides to play the tape again, but no fool is he; if his hypothesis is correct and the tape does hold the voice of his hypnotist, then he can be only rehypnotized and wake on his bed again, with the tape flippy-flapping on the spool. He has a method.

He puts on the tape, but plays it at a higher speed. While it is humming staticly, he takes a Chianti bottle down from where it hangs in the corner of the room and has a small drink. "No wonder I had orders not to drink, and those orders came from headquarters. Then it is someone at the Cavern, or the central headquarters."
Soon comes the twittering as of small birds, but birds that speak his language. He hears the opening speech and thinks, "Funny, that big bird sounds like the late Queen-Ant and the little bird like myself." Then comes the chirping, "You will do as I tell you, you will do as I tell you," and Felix twitters back in his best bird voice along with the tape, "Sure thing, Queen-Ant."

The twittering stops, at length, and Felix rises rapidly, flapping his arms and moving jerkily as in an old time movie and shuffles through his drawer for the platinum .38. Of course he does not find it. His hypnotized mind asks, "Where is it?" and is answered by, "The police have it," and answers back, "Oh yes, of course, I sent it to them because I was framed."

His mind is working jerky fast, too, and jumps to the conclusion. He knows now that the Queen-Ant hypnotized him to kill a Worker, and he was rehypnotized by the tape and killed the Queen-Ant, who was investigating the first killing. Well and good, but the compulsion of the hypnosis is still upon him. What can he do? The gun is gone. What can he do?

The next best thing. He throws on his overcoat, dashes from his quarters and runs madly about the streets in the jerky, fevered fashion of the ancient movies, until wam-bam-wowlly he is at the river passing the little shack on the pier and now he is upon the green bench.

Children playing about the bench are snot-nosed in their innocence. Felix jaggers up to them, picks out a particularly fat little ***** that is sitting on the bench and goes pow! pow! with his gun finger. The fat boy goes "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyan," with his tongue extended. Felix flaps his arms and gallops home amid the echoing taunts and laughter of the children. "Children's laughter," he thinks and gives an insane whiny.

* * *

He awakes on his bed and groggily moves about feeling that his motion is dream slow and water smooth, and then he spies the tape still turning on the uptake spool and fitfully, frighteningly, the nightmare he has two seconds dreamt converges on his conscious mind and becomes a reality. The plan has worked. He remembers. He knows.

* * *

Through the long lonesome night, he scribbles and then sleeps, and in the morning he types his report and mails it along with the tape to Ant-Headquarters.

It is a windy day, once more, and leaves, pitched in handfuls, flaunt him mercilessly. After depositing his mail, he relaxes to a good lunch of fried oysters, salmon, trout, and lobster, topped off with a salad of tuna fish and moist seaweed, and a touch of cod-liver oil in his beer. He is pleased with himself. He thinks ahead of his surprise package and the consternation it will create in the busy, busy Cavern. He thinks, "They will read it, the tape will back my story, and tomorrow I will be Queen-Ant." He has the eye of an octopus for dessert and goes to a movie.

(Pride goeth before destruction.)

* * *

At the movie Felix is sitting two-thirds up, munching his popcorn and diluting its crunch with caramels. The movie is very old. It is about a man who returns from the Crusades and has lost the key to his maiden wife's feudal girdle and so remains childless in his middle ages, due to youthful folly.

It is the second showing now and an attractive figure in a trench coat saunters down the aisle. She is past, when Felix notices, and he wonders, "Is it my girl, my wonderful sealskin girl?" All he can see is the straight black hair tucked into the upturned collar. "Cherie, cherie," he thinks, and rises like a man lured on by an enchanting scent.

She sits on an end seat, and Felix, good man, stumbles across her, lands like a pancake on her, slips like a juicy boiled egg gut to the floor, bounces acrobatically, and plops exhausted and disheveled into the seat beside her.

Shame makes slanted lines across his face, but it is dark and he does not bleed. Dare he? Dare he not? His hand creeps the crawl of an insidious centipede, until its pincers touch the edge of her sleeve. The claw recoils, hesitates, quivers, and then like a panther upon its prey seizes her hand.

Nothing happens. He dare not look sideways. Perhaps he has not a hand at all, but the cold carved knuckles of an arm rest. He moves his hand back and runs it down over something molded round and not covered by sealskin at all. There is a scream.

"I beg your pardon, miss."

"Arugh," the woman faints. There is commotion. Felix stands. The house lights come up. Felix is holding the woman's wilted hand. An ugly fat ***** screeches, "Seize him, seize him. I saw him do it and do it and do it to her."

Felix leaps seven rows of seats with aplomb and lands in the orchestra pit. There are whistles blowing and sirens, too. Policeman in lavender uniforms, like long johns, are coming down all aisles.

Felix leaps, again, his famous kangaroo leap, and like a frightened cricket lands amidst the curtains which fall about him like mosquito netting.

Muffled incantations are heard from the puff of curtain that gesticulates like a Mexican jumping bean. The audience backs away; the lavender suited police strike the distressed lump mightily amidst he-man grunts of pleasure and then the terrible fetus kicks no more.

It takes some time to pull back the maroon dust-billowing curtain to find nothing. Nothing, but an open trap door where the blob had been struck.

* * *

A successful evasion of the misinformed and heartily misshapened lavender police was always exhilarating to Felix. It showed the top-notch training he had, for the lavender police were among the best flat-footers in the world although their standing was no secret.
In a small cafe by the riverside, he has a cognac and espresso to calm by and a cigarette. A nifty looking working girl approaches him and snuffs out his match.

"What's you relaxing from, big buoy?" she asks.

Felix, unsure of her drift, answers, "I'd rather not divulge."

"Rather indulge, eh, lover?" Her massive body, sweat beaded flesh, and beehived blond hair, seem to engulf him, as she leans forward to give him a good view of her cleavage. A shadow of timelessness, as of pyramids, seem to lap over him. The primal quality of her trade -- he is sinking, sinking into a vortex old as -- but no, a searing light burns into the black enchantment, and Felix chokes. Nothing special, just a simple choke, as Adam must have on the forbidden fruit.

I'm sorry," he says mildly and with candor, "but I am promised to a sealskin coat."

The BBW (big, blond whore) has a look as if a hot pepper ball is stuck and melting in her esophagus. She backs away, and when Felix waves her a toot-a-lu she falls backward so pale and stiff that Felix fears, perhaps, she is a pillar of salt. A crowd gathers round her fanning, shouting, pointing, and the good women turn noses up, purse lips, and are pleased as prunes. Felix slips away.

* * *

His next move is to call headquarters and ascertain the ascertainments of his assessments only to learn they don't believe him. They are, in fact, outraged and out to get him.

"But Bernie-Ant," Felix is saying over the telephone, and Bernie-Ant is answering over the telephone, " ... and what motive would the Queen--Ant have for doing such a preposterous, unmentionable, unthinkable, monstrously incredible, unimaginable, unreasonably unfounded, stinking thing, huh, Felix-Ant baby, huh?"

"Perhaps he was a counterspy."

"Not good enough, Felix-ant baby, tut tut. We have nominated and elected you unanimously to be shot on sight.

"Glup!"

"By-the-by, Felix-Worker-Ant, where are you now?"

"Ha ha, that's a rich one. You think I would divulge my whereabouts?"

"A long shot, but never mind then, why not just come to the Cavern and be executed now, better yet get hit by an automobile. Nothing personal, Felix-Ant, it's just that these searches are so taxing on the budget here at O. U., you understand."

"Just a minute, Bernie-Ant, perhaps you jest, the tape will substantiate my report and prove my innocence."

"Not so, not so. Nothing on the tape, no proofies."

"Nothing on the tape?"

"Nothing on the tape."

Felix hangs up and looks warily about.

"Dang-dingles," he says, and snaps his fingers, "I'll bet I sent the wrong tape." He heads back for his quarters.

* * *

The wind is quieting and dusk is settling on the city, like black cotton, and there are little twinklings of light, like jewels on the velvet cloth of night. The evening is soothing.

"It can be only a simple mistake," he thinks, and begins to whistle a tune of his youth. Nonetheless, he sticks to the side streets and alleys where he feels most familiar. He must exercise care now that he is a hunted man. He remembers his first primer, the beloved green textbook of his spy-school days, where it read, " ... the Ants are everywhere."

"Even in the cracks of the sidewalk," he thinks, and feels a thousand feelers upon him and he shivers.

As he approaches the slender edifice wherein is contained his quarters, he looks heavenward and sees a falling star streak toward his building and burn out before his own and very window, and what he sees makes him giddy with trepidation.

For a moment, he believes he sees a black death cloth beneath his window, but it is the deepened shadow caused by the light from his window.

The light from his window?

He falls directly over without bending any joints save those of his fingers that grip at his throat. He lands, thud! on his side, and his eyes open wide, and his tongue slides out. He knows that he never leaves the light on. He reasons with himself now, calls himself a good little Ant, and finally the paralysis leaves him. He crawls worm fashion (again a part of his special training to be able to simulate any living thing of the animal world and including a few of the more common vegetables; he does a perfectly wonderful sweet potato at the Cavern XMas party each year) and now worms his way up the side of a building until he is standing erect again.
He looks at the window and sure enough it is lit and there is no doubt now, for a shadow, silhouetted by the light behind it, moves therein. That's enough for Felix, man of action that he is. He bolts, in other words, runs scared as a statue is immobile.

He is running mindless through the streets. The enormity of it, a fellow Ant out to get him. Ant against Ant. He cannot think of it. The running is not so much fear, but a means of stopping the agonizing consciousness of his world collapsing about him. It is the suffocation of the curtain falling on him magnified a hundred-thousand times. He must run. There is only running now. To stop would be to hear the cruel laughter of an ugly joke. A lifetime of servitude to O. U. and ...

Some time later, on the Boulevard of Quincy, he becomes aware of a lavender uniformed man waving him down.

"Haltz! Halten sie!" The lavender policeman is calling. "Why are you running so? Haltz."

Frightened and alone, Felix does not heed the avuncular, "Halten sie," and the policeman begins to chase him, blowing the while his whistle. Soon other lavender uniformed men join the original and the chase is on. Up, down, over and under, it is a regular fox hunt.
Felix is thinking again. The numbness of the original shock is leaving him, and he is thinking, "The Cavern is the only chance to shake these frightful lavender avengers."

He is back-stroking beautifully now as he passes through the neighborhood of his earlier escape at the theater, and he hears to his right, "There he is!" It is a policeman who had been in the theater earlier.

"What's he done, mate?" another calls.

"`e's a masher `e is, Charlie."

The word spreads ahead of the rampant wave of humanity that sweeps the streets like a comet, and mothers, naturally and tiresomely, snatch their children from the streets and shutters slam.

"A fellow could get a bad name this way," Felix idly thinks.

* * *

Finally, the Continental is in sight (front for O. U., Operation Undermine). Lobbing by now, Felix makes his way into the grubby little restaurant and dashes for the lavatory, throwing to one side an undecided transvestite. Off with his shoes, the bit of trouser unfurled, a capsule in the churning muddy depths, flush, and the wall slides back and swallows him. Inside, before he descends the stairs to the second iron door, he feels a moment of comparative safety and then indecision. Dare he risk it? It is his only slim chance.

* * *

Inside the Cavern, he runs to the main recreation chamber.
"I'm saved. I'm saved," he cries, as he hits the floor in exhaustion.
A group of Ants draw silently around him. Among the group are the girl of sealskin fame and Bernie-Ant, acting Queenie.
"Mad, utterly mad," Bernie-Ant pronounces of the writhing, muscle-twitching wreck before them. "Take him away," orders Bernie-Ant, and a sob bursts bubble-like from Felix. He is carried to the death chamber, a room not too large, carved from solid jade with a natural spring running eternally from a crevice in the wall.
"Last words, last request, and a choice of death device," barks Bernie-Ant.

"As a last request, I ask that my room be checked, perhaps I have delivered the wrong tape."

"Negative, your room has already been ransacked by a good Ant and none of the tapes found there are of any consequence, other than your own personal and, I might add, insipid entertainment."

It was a cruel moment for it was finished now, and also he spots the contemptuous look of "her" as she looks on contemptuously, as she had in the market place.

"Fate, cruel fate," he is thinking, but wait! The old mind is germinating another brilliant plan of action. When asked who he wishes to say his last words to, he motions the girl in the sealskin coat to him.

"This will count as your last words, you understand," Bernie-Ant is saying.

How he hated Bernie-Ant, his lips curl and fang-like qualities exist. The girl approaches sneeringly and Felix leans into her ear, "buzz, buzz, buzzie, buzz."

"Hmm." she says, and shows surprise. She leaves the chamber and Bernie-Ant says, "And now, choice of death device."

"I leave that to your ingenious imagination," Felix answers, and bows quite low to Bernie-Ant.

"Then it shall be death by, by ... hmm ... let me see ... why do you do that to me, you know I am no good without the rule book. Aaa .. death by ... by ... "

This goes on as Felix knew it would, and the little group of on looking Ants are on tenterhooks when the girl bursts back into the jaded chamber.

"It's true, it's true, it's so true," she breathes, admiration bursting out all over her like hives and rash combined.

"What? What?" snaps Bernie-Ant, annoyed.

"It is as he said, the tape hadn't been rewound, we were playing it backwards, or something like that, and I played it the other way, just now, and he is right. His report is truthful."

"We'll have to check that," says Bernie-Ant, and they did.
While it is being made official, the girl in the sealskin coat is left to guard Felix, and she says, "You'll be Queen-Ant."

Felix smiles, swaggers his head a bit, and asks her name. Hearts are bursting all around her bosom and over her head, and she is about to divulge, when Bernie-Ant returns, grinning.

"A little bad new for you, Felix-Ant baby," Bernie-Ant announces, his grin turning to a leer.

Felix is again, and finally, crestfallen, and with fewer cavities than the spies from the other side, too. Simply said, it is thusly: He is cleared of the crime, but he cannot become Queen-Ant because: one, he committed a carnal Ant sin by leading surface people to the lavatory above, where at this very moment there swarm a swarm of lavendered uniformed policeman; and two, a clean outside record is needed to even be an ordinary Ant let alone a Queen-Ant, and now, it seems, Felix has a morals charge against him. Word of the fiasco at the theater has reached Cavern Headquarters.

His capsules for entering the Cavern are confiscated, and after a final, regretful, heartbreaking eye caress of the girl in the sealskin coat, who returns him her contemptuous look, he is led away to the escape hatch, as he cannot return through the Continental and give away the Cavern entrance.

The escape hatch is a long, dank tunnel that exits beneath the water into the river. He takes off his outer clothing at the water line and swims out until he feels the river's current carrying him along, and then he floats upward in his BVD's, into the dark and starry night above.

* * *

The next day's paper has headlines reading: MASHER SUSPECT FLUSHES SELF, BOBS UP DOWN STREAM. The story tells of the mad chase, the shoes and pants legs found at the commode's edge, and how he was fished out of the river in his undies, a few miles below the city, by a simple fisherman, whose daughter wants to marry him.

And there is the talk of the political stir it is making, now, in the City Hall, and the subsequent investigation of the city's drainage system that is to be carried out at the mayor's request. Also, there is the part about his being cleared as a masher. In the clear light of day, the accusing woman says he couldn't possible have been the one. "Nothing aggressive about that one," she is quoted as saying, and Felix is allowed to go free.

Later, the same day, Felix is ensconced in the quarters of Orlando, and they are drinking wine. Felix has showed the newspaper account to Orlando, and has confessed his whole sordid career with O. U., his cover, his love of the girl in the sealskin coat.

Orlando leans back and sighs, joining his thumbs and tapping the tips of his fingers together in a contemplative manner.

"And what became of the gold and silver bracelet dropped at the fountain by the "girl?" he asks.

Felix brightens. "Yes, yes. The bracelet," he says, rummaging his pockets. "I must return the bracelet, mustn't I," he says, with a sly smile and a wink. "Must return the bracelet," he says, patting his vest pocket, his pants pockets, front and back, winking and blinking, and blinking and winking, and patting himself all over trying to locate the bracelet.

And so we leave him, Felix, once uncover agent for O. U., hamboning himself to death, as his sculptor friend, Orlando, looks on, sipping his wine, wondering if it isn't time he turned his attention to kinetic art, visualizing this rare moment captured as a moving portrayal of dis-eased disturbulance, in turn capturing the imagination of the art world.

"Can one man's misfortune truly be another man's fortune?" Orlando wonders. "Hmm?"

He sips and ponders.

Felix is on the floor, now, a slapping, tick-ridden blur of the man he once was.

So it goes.


THE END