By David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)
A Short Story, Satire, & Humor with a little bit of a science fiction overtone
It all started with a bad clam. By lunch time the Humped Fisherman had run out of oysters so when Marlon Stump, playboy, aspiring fashion model, and Tri-State tiddlywinks champion bet his Princeton roommate, Elmer “Chip” Penobscott, that he could eat two dozen oysters in under two minutes, they had to settle for Littleneck clams.
Things were going well for Stump, slurping and sloshing his way through the tray, until he got to unlucky clam number seventeen. The restaurant’s regular clam wrangler, Raul, had gone home sick that day and the dishwasher, Earl Cronic, had been recruited to step into Raul’s shoes.
“Can you handle it, Earl?” manager Ernesto Neroni asked when Stump’s order went up on the board.
Twenty-four, Earl thought. I can count to twenty-four. Hell that’s just all my fingers and toes and then everything on my right hand except my thumb.
“Sure, boss,” Earl told him confidently. “No problem.”
But unbeknownst to Earl, being able to count correctly to twenty-four would not be enough. What Raul knew that Earl did not was that if a clam was slightly open and did not close its shell when tapped with the secret knock, that clam was dead, perhaps long dead, decayed and toxic.
And so it was that Marlon Stump positioning unlucky clam number seventeen over his pursed, fleshy lips was at that moment not unlike Cleopatra holding an asp within striking distance of her pendulous breast.
A moment later, with a muted slurp, the die was cast.
Stump, of course, won the bet and collected his one-hundred dollars and the picture of Chip’s girl friend’s naked behind, but five hours later Marlon had lost all interest in behinds and in fronts too, instead now wishing only for the sweet relief of a speedy death. But he did not get a speedy death. No, for Marlon Stump death was slow, painful and inconclusive.
At first Marlon was rushed to the University Medical Center at Plainsboro, but he only remained there long enough for his Uncle, Adolf Stump, to be advised of the seriousness of young Marlon’s condition.
“He’s ingested a massive amount of ciguatera toxin,” Dr. Wendell Goodkind told Uncle Adolf at eight o’clock that evening.
“Is that serious?”
“In your nephew’s case it’s led to neuromuscular complications and incipient respiratory paralysis,” Goodkind told him.
“What the hell does all that gobblegook mean?” Adolf screamed into the phone. “Is the boy going to be all right or isn’t he?”
“May I be candid, Mr. Stump?” Goodkind asked in a breathy voice.
“You damn son of a bitch, just tell me if my nephew is going live or not!”
Goodkind paused for a moment, carefully choosing his words.
“Well, Mr. Stump, to use non-medical terminology, he’s a goner.”
“A goner?” Adolf whispered, his voice catching in his throat.
“On borrowed time. Headed for the last round-up. Circling the drain. At death’s–”
“Holy shit!” Adolf shouted. “No, no, no!”
What a caring asshole, Goodkind thought, but he was wrong.
Adolf Stump was not upset about losing a treasured family member, at least not treasured in the emotional sense. No, for him Marlon’s impending demise was like learning that the hard disk that contained the passwords to all your secret Swiss bank accounts had just dissolved into goo.
It had taken five attorneys, two from Harvard, two from Yale and one who had somehow slipped into the mix from Stanford, to craft the interlocking network of trusts, shell corporations, and theoretically charitable foundations that guaranteed that the Stump family fortune would be immune from taxes for the next forty years, God and the Republican Party willing.
It was a brilliant achievement that the weirdo Stanford lawyer described as the legal equivalent of building a tesseract that extended into both the fourth and fifth dimensions. There was only one problem.
The viability of the project depended on the Stump Intervivos Irrecovable Trust receiving a positive private-letter ruling from the IRS, something that Adolf had been assured was “in the bag.”
“When I fix someone, they stay fixed,” the lead lawyer from Harvard, Morgan Glee, assured Adolf in a muted whisper.
But the fixed bureaucrat’s wife had foolishly stopped her minivan at a red light that a pill-popping big-rig driver mistook for the Walmart loading dock. Long story short, the double-indemnity insurance payoff unfixed the minion, and Morgan Glee had to start all over.
The revised private-letter ruling blessing the transaction was now at least six months away, and Marlon’s signature was required on all the crucial transfer documents and those had to be executed after the ruling was obtained.
Somehow, some way, as far as the law was concerned, Marlon Stump had to still be hanging around planet earth to toot his little horn on New Year’s Eve.
“You have to do something,” Adolf shouted into the phone. “Isn’t there some way you can put him into suspended animation? Freeze him, what about freezing him? You can do that, can’t you?”
“I can freeze his body after he’s dead if you like,” Goodkind said, trying to avoid further upsetting the old man.
For five seconds the line was silent while Adolf’s mind raced from one solution to the next. Time, I need more time!
“Fly him up here!” Adolf finally ordered.
“Get him into a helicopter. Now! We’ll bring him home. Our compound has its own medical facilities. We’ll treat him here.”
“But Mr. Stump — ”
“Now!” Adolf screamed and hung up the phone.
And so it was done.
Through heroic measures, several full blood replacements, direct brain stimulation, experimental intravenous medications, and the non-stop prayers of not less than three shamans, Marlon Stump’s heart continued to beat for another six and a half days. It was not much, but it was enough.
* — — — — * — — — — *
Two years before, while on a surfing vacation in Santa Cruz, California, Marlon had met Dr. Randolf Roy Weatherup at the Full Tide Bar & Grill. After four or five Vodka Mists and a really good joint of home-grown weed Weatherup let it slip that he had finally made the breakthrough of the ages, the one that he had spent his entire life and fortune pursuing. He had finally discovered the secret to creating an honest-to-God working android.
“I don’t believe it,” Marlon told him.
“I can prove it,” Randy said and shakily drove them up the two-lane road to his mountain laboratory. Once inside he flipped on the lights and pointed at what looked like a mannequin stolen from a Macy’s display window.
“There he is.”
Marlon peered at the thing and took a couple of steps forward.
“I call him Wesley,” Weatherup said proudly.
Suddenly the machine’s eyes popped open. It turned its head and took a step forward.
“Shit!” Marlon shouted and jumped back against the wall.
“Wesley, come over and meet my friend, Marlon,” Weatherup ordered.
With stiff, quick steps the robot advanced across the room.
“Marlon, meet mankind’s first, real android. I named him after Wesley Crusher on Star Trek,” Randy said, turning back toward Stump.
“Can he talk?” Marlon asked nervously after studying the android’s blank-faced form.
“Soon, soon,” Randy said. “I just need a little more money to continue my work, but that won’t be a problem. When Apple gets a look at Wesley here they’ll be begging me to let them invest. The bastards.”
“What’s wrong with Apple?”
“Have you ever shared a lunch with Steve Jobs?”
“Then don’t ask me what’s wrong with Apple,” Randy replied, clenching and unclenching his fists.
Marlon heard a series of clicks and turned to see Wesley juggling a trio of soldering irons.
“How much do you need?” Marlon asked, a crafty look covering his face.
“Oh, not much,” Weatherup replied in a carefree voice. “Only fifteen million. A pittance really considering what Wesley can do. He makes the Mac look like a hand-cranked adding machine. . . . I just wish it didn’t have to be Apple,” Weatherup sighed.
Twenty-four hours later Marlon’s trust fund was fifteen million dollars poorer and Dr. Randolf Roy Weatherup was on a one-way flight to the South of France.
“Randy?” Marlon called, banging on the laboratory door. From inside he heard a thump. “Dr. Weatherup? Are you in there?”
“GGGt m ottttt!” a muffled voice pleaded.
At six feet five and over two-hundred pounds, the flimsy door was no match for Marlon’s size 13 shoe and he quickly crashed his way inside. Wesley lay sprawled in the middle of the floor, his arms futilely slapping at this chest.
“Get me out,” a weak voice pleaded. “Help!”
Marlon crouched down and noticed a tiny hole where Wesley’s belly button ought to be. Grabbing a paperclip from Weatherup’s cluttered desk he pushed one end into the hole and felt a faint click. The chest split apart like the twin doors on a cuckoo clock. An instant later a nine-year-old boy crawled from the chest cavity and sprawled to the floor.
“Thanks, mister,” he said, looking up at Marlon. “I though I was gonna to die in there for sure.”
Frightened and confused Marlon peered into the empty compartment where pedals, levers and gears stood ready to control the mannequin’s arms and legs.
In a flash all became clear to him. The science breakthrough, the amazing android, was no more than a human-sized puppet operated from within. A scam. A folly. A dead loss, until the Day Of The Bad Clam.
* — — — — * — — — — *
During those six days while Marlon oscillated between life and death, Uncle Adolf had the contents of Weatherup’s so-called laboratory moved to the company’s research division while a momentous idea began to take shape.
If they couldn’t have the real Marlon Stump, could they create an ersatz one to take his place, a creature not made of flesh and bone but rather levers and gears? Many challenges would need to be overcome.
A lifelike skin would have to be created, a face with computer controlled muscles, highly autonomous arms and legs. But the contraption would only need to work well enough to establish that Marlon was alive as of the crucial date.
After that, well, an incendiary car crash, a cabin cruiser disappearing into the deep, a plane trip as mysterious and as terminal as the last flight of Amelia Earhart. There were many roads to the same destination.
The crash program cost the family forty-seven-million dollars and the most fearsome nondisclosure agreements ever created by the mind of man, but five days before the deadline all was in readiness, except for one vital element.
The inhuman device still needed a human operator, what, in his twisted vernacular, Dr. Weatherup’s notes called a “Handler.”
Luckily, Marlon’s large frame and barrel chest provided substantially more interior space than Dr. Weatherup’s original prototype. This iteration would not require a young boy.
With hollowed out legs and a massive neck, the new and improved Marlon Stump, (improved when compared to the alternative of dead) would host a small adult, someone that in an earlier age would have been called a dwarf or a midget but in today’s more enlightened times was known as a Little Person. It now lacked only The Little Man Inside.
Scouts scoured the country. Initially, it was thought that with the collapse of the Ringling Brothers Circus, Little People would be in plentiful supply, but that proved not to be the case.
One by one, candidates were found and eliminated. Some were too big, a few too small. Others were too old or too married or emotionally unsuited to spending hours on end trapped inside a titanium body wrapped in a latex skin.
Eventually, the list of candidates was reduced to one — Simon McFee.
Three feet, nine inches tall, hair like a molting, black scouring pad, with a mustache to match, a wide slash of a mouth and the eyes of a madman, McFee sauntered into the laboratory at the company’s Weehawken factory like he owned the place.
“Is this the gizmo?” McFee asked, staring up at Stump’s empty shell.
“We call it–”
“Let’s try it out!” McFee shouted then clapped his hands. “Come on, chop, chop!”
A tech hurried over with a step-stool and McFee awkwardly maneuvered himself inside.
“It smells like shit in here! Somebody better fucking clean this up if you expect me to take this job. Mmmmm, let’s see how this Mother works.” A moment later the chest plates whined closed and the skin stitched itself together with an invisible seam.
For a moment nothing happened then Stump lurched forward, first the left foot then the right. Thump, thump, thump, it pounded around the room gaining speed with each step. Like a soldier on parade, the arms began to move in time. Near the end of the third circuit Stump broke into a trot, pounding across the floor.
“Yeehah!” Marlon Stump’s electronically reconstituted voice screamed from the mannequin’s open mouth. Within the hour Stump’s animated body was galloping around the room, grabbing tools off shelves, and in the end he even did a little dance, awkward and clumsy to be sure, but a dance nevertheless.
“Bring me a mirror,” McFee ordered. The technicians momentarily froze but at a nod from Adolf three of them scurried out the door.
“Mmmmm,” the machine muttered in Marlon’s voice as digital F 1.8 eyes tracked his features in the glass. Life-like hands flattened tiny wrinkles in one of Marlon’s surplus shirts. “Not bad,” McFee said in Marlon’s voice. “Not bad at all.” A smile split the simulacrum’s face, then it’s gaze turned downward. Hands unspooled the zipper. Beneath was only a patch of sexless, pseudo skin.
“Where’s my dick!” Marlon shouted.
Adolf looked at the head researcher, Professor Wendell Wirewheel.
“Well, uhhh, it, that is, we didn’t see the need, since, naturally, it would be totally nonfunctional.”
“You expect me to walk around without a cock like some fucking eunuch?” McFee shouted. “You can shove that idea up your ass. No dick, no deal.” Marlon crossed his massive arms and glared at Wirewheel.
“Professor?” Adolf asked.
“Well, I, uhhh–”
“It’s got to work,” McFee insisted.
“Work? I don’t–”
“Suppose I’m at some fancy cocktail party, sucking up booze all night. Don’t you think it’ll look funny if I never have to take a piss?”
“I suppose we could make up something, some tubing or whatever,” Wirewheel muttered looking over at Adolf Stump.
“And make sure it’s big. Real big. Wilt Chamberlain big. But not black. I ain’t no nig–”
“Fine, fine!” Stump interrupted before McFee could say anymore. “Dr. Wirewheel, see to it.”
“Yes sir. It will be . . . big and, umm, appropriately colored.”
“And it’s got to work.”
“Yes, yes, we’ll put a reservoir above the left hip and connect it to the unit with a plastic tube and a small aquarium pump. When we get done,” Wirewheel said with a little smile, “you’ll be able to pee with the best of them.”
“Peeing is fine, but it’s got to work,” McFee insisted.
“Work?” Wirewheel asked, confused, but from his sour expression Adolf Stump understood McFee’s demand.
“Geez, what are you, some faggot pussy?” McFee snarled. “Get hard. Stick out. A boner! Jesus, moron, what good is it if I can’t fuck women with it?”
“But, ahhh, it won’t, can’t. . . It won’t have any feeling.”
“The broad will feel it. You can bet your life on that. Ha Ha Ha,” McFee cackled in a voice like shattering glass.
Agast, Wirewheel turned to his boss.
“Mr. McFee, I think we’re getting off track here. You’re being hired to play a role in public. You will not be required to prove that Marlon is still actually alive in any, shall we say, private venues.”
“You never know,” Ersatz Marlon said with an evil leer. “I might just have to fuck some bitch from the IRS or the National Enquirer or something to seal the deal. Ha, Ha, Ha.”
Adolf paused a moment, then shook his head.
“I think that’s an unlikely possibility, Mr. McFee.”
“Hey, it could happen.”
“No, it certainly will not happen.”
Marlon leaned forward and crossed his bulging arms.
“I get a working dick or I’m out of here. And you don’t want that.”
“Let me remind you that you signed a nondisclosure agreement, Mr. McFee.”
“Pffft,” McFee hissed. “Like I give a fuck.”
“Screw your contract.”
“If you attempt to divulge one word about our little project the Stump Corporation will sue you into the next century.”
“Can you do that from prison, because when the feds hear what I have to say they’re going to throw your ass in the slammer for sure.”
“No dick, no deal.”
Adolf Stump and the puppet that would be Marlon Stump glared at each other for five seconds, then Adolf looked away.
“Professor can you do something . . . pneumatic to give Mr. McFee what he wants?”
“Pneumatic? Well, I suppose, well not exactly. You see, air is . . . but I suppose an hydraulic system of some sort. Maybe the same pump that expels the pseudo urine could power the inflation system. I suppose a valve might divert the liquid from the exhaust line into a series of internal chambers.”
Marlon’s almost human face broke into a carnivorous smile.
“Do it!” Adolf snapped and strode from the room.
Later that afternoon papers were laid out on the oak table in the small conference room next to the CEO’s office. McFee insisted on wearing what Adolf Stump had come to think of as the “Marlon Suit.”
Immediately, there was a problem. McFee tried to sign the documents with the puppet’s hand.
“Mr. McFee you need to personally sign the agreement,” the head Harvard lawyer, Morgan Glee, told him.
“I am personally signing the contract,” McFee said in Marlon’s voice as he raised the Paper Mate gel roller in pseudo Marlon’s surprisingly small right hand.
“You need to come out, Mr. McFee,” Glee insisted.
“I’m fine where I am.”
“Your signature will not be legally binding if it is affixed via the device.”
“Yes, Mr. McFee. Since I’m the only person here who is a lawyer, says me. Please come out.”
“I don’t want to,” McFee said, screwing Marlon’s puppet face into the image of a sullen child.
“No signature, no money, no deal,” Adolf told him. “And if there’s no deal I’m going to have to have Professor Wirewheel open up that machine and extract you by force.”
“I’d like to see him try,” Marlon said, curling his small, chubby fingers in a “come and get it” mime.
Adolf Stump pulled out his cell phone and hit speed-dial number 4.
“Hanson, I’m going to need you to send the three biggest guys from the steel pipe foundry up to the executive conference room. I’ve got a little something that I need removed from the building.”
Marlon glared at Adolf Stump for three full seconds then with a popping sound the puppet’s chest split open and McFee’s hand began undoing the shirt buttons from the inside.
“On second thought, Hanson, I don’t think I’ll need those men after all.”
A few moments later McFee angrily snatched the pen from the simulacrum’s lifeless fingers. Glee leaned forward to make sure that the ugly scrawl read “Simon McFee” and not “Marlon Stump.”
Nodding his approval, Adolf Stump stepped forward and executed the documents on behalf of the corporation.
The die was cast.
McFee immediately moved to re-enter the device but Glee and Adolf Stump barred his way.
“Professor Wirewheel has some final alterations to make. You do want your working dick, don’t you Mr. McFee?”
With a scowl Simon threw the pen across the room, then held out his empty hand.
“My money!” he demanded.
Glee nodded and Adolf Stump handed over the check.
Two days later, Simon McFee took permanent delivery of the Marlon Suit.
* — — — — * — — — — *
At first all seemed well. Ersatz Marlon returned to Princeton to pick up his belongings, explaining that he was still suffering from the after effects of the bad clam and that he would have to drop out of school until he was fully recovered.
Chip Penobscott offered appropriate commiseration and then asked, if under the circumstances, he could have back the picture of Mimsy’s naked butt as she had dumped him before he had the chance to take a replacement snap.
“Not fucking likely,” Marlon said in an almost snarl then, whistling a jaunty tune, left the room. Glee had sent one of the investigators from his litigation department to babysit McFee and together they made their way across the campus.
“Fuck, this place is pussy heaven,” McFee told the retired Boston PD detective.
“You’re not here for any of that,” Kevin O’Rourke reminded him.
“Maybe you’re not,” Marlon said, then took a sharp left turn and headed for a small crowd gathered in front of the Cell Biology department. When he finally caught up O’Rourke saw that some kind of a protest was being staged for the benefit of a camera crew from a local TV station.
Before O’Rourke should stop him, Marlon pushed his way to the front of the crowd and stared into the unblinking lens. A young woman with large breasts and a sincere expression approached Stump with a microphone held in front of her like a sword.
“Are you a student here?” she asked hopefully.
“I most certainly am. Marlon Stump. And you are?”
“Katy Constant, Channel 29 News. What do you think of this protest, Mr. Stump?”
“What is it they’re protesting again?”
“Professor Heilman’s project to delete the hemophilia gene from the human race.”
“Those swine!” Marlon exclaimed. “How dare they try to stop the march of science.”
“So, you’re in favor of Professor Heilman’s work?”
“In favor of it?” Marlon said, ignoring Kevin O’Rourke’s frantically waving arms. “Why I intend to see to it that my family’s foundation donates a million dollars to help Professor Heilman in his excellent cause.”
A few moments later when the TV lights had faded to a dim glow and Katy Constant’s microphone was back in its carrying case, Marlon leaned forward and whispered, “You know that you’re ravishingly beautiful, don’t you?”
“Well, uhh, thank you Mr. Stump,” Katy said, a blush starting to color her cheeks.
“And I think we should get better acquainted. I’m sure that my family owns a few TV stations here and there. I think you could do a lot better than Channel 29. Perhaps 21 or even 16. If you play your cards right, I may even be able to get you all the way down to single digits.”
“Oh, Mr. Stump, I don’t know what to say.”
“Did I mention that I’ve got king snake in my pants?”
“Good Golly, Mr. Stump.”
“Good’s got nothing to do with it, Katy. And call me Marlon.”
An hour later Marlon/McFee left Katy Constant in the back of the news van, exhausted and panting. Whistling a happy tune he found Kevin O’Rourke pacing back and forth next to the Mercedes.
“What do you think–”
“Pussy heaven,” Marlon said with a wink then climbed into the back seat. “Don’t just stand there, moron. Let’s find a bar. I need a drink.”
And as far as the Stump family was concerned that was as good as it got. From there on, it was all downhill.
* — — — — * — — — — *
McFee refused to come out of the Stump machine for days on end. He forced Wirewheel to redesign the head so that the food that Marlon “ate” could be diverted down a tube into his own mouth. McFee also insisted that he be equipped with a catheter so that Marlon’s rubber penis could assume a functional purpose after all.
For a short while O’Rourke and his team tried to keep Marlon/McFee locked into his penthouse, but when he became testy items flew off the balcony to the street below. Complaints were made. Police were called, and the attempts at sequestration all ended in failure edging toward disaster. Finally, the family just let McFee go and prayed for the best.
Finally, the private letter ruling from the newly fixed replacement bureaucrat was received and at long last the Stump empire was immure from paying the taxes need to support the very country that succored it and gave it life. Now it only remained to pay off Simon McFee and sink the puppet to the bottom of the deep blue sea.
Unfortunately, McFee refused to cooperate.
* — — — — * — — — — *
“He won’t go,” Glee told his client once they were behind closed doors.
“You offered him the whole ten million?”
“Fifteen,” Glee said, shaking his head. “He just laughed at me.”
“What about Plan B,” Adolf asked in a voice barely above a whisper. “Surely, a tropical island staffed with a dozen beautiful women and enough liquor to float a destroyer–”
Glee again shook his head. “He refused out of hand. He’s not leaving the country, especially since he’s figured out how to access Marlon’s trust fund. He’s living out his every fantasy. Did you know that the bought The World’s Most Beautiful Girl beauty pageant?
“Dear God, what’s he going to do with that?”
“Why does a hunter buy a game preserve?” Glee answered.
Both men stared out the window, idly watching the packed ferry heading for the Statue of Liberty.
“Maybe we should take a step back,” Glee said finally. “Eventually, he’ll get tired of this nonsense. At least we’re in no danger of him getting anyone pregnant.”
* — — — — * — — — — *
Two years later, McFee proved them wrong again.
He had heard that Iceland was the home of some of the world’s most beautiful women, and he organized a junket to check out the rumors in person. At a Reykjavík nightclub he spotted a five-foot eleven-inch beauty with breasts like cantaloupes and immediately began pursuing her. Three days later, after a quick trip to Paris in his private jet, she agreed to marry him.
Five days after that Marlon Junior was conceived.
* — — — — * — — — — *
“My God, Morgan, how could this have happened?” a shaken Adolf Stump asked his attorney and co-conspirator.
“O’Rourke called in his report last night. Apparently, Marlon tracked down Dr. Wirewheel and paid him some ungodly amount of money to add an extra syringe-like container to the line leading to the puppet’s penis. Once McFee filled it with his previously collected sperm, a simple squeeze at the appropriate moment would deliver his seed to the intended target. And apparently he found that target.”
“Oh my God. Do you know what this means?”
“It means that eventually his children are going to inherit everything.”
“His children? His children! They’re cuckoo bird chicks in an eagle’s nest! Mc . . . He’s stolen everything!” Adolf shouted.
Fearing a slip of the tongue in front of witnesses, Stump and Glee had long ago agreed never again to speak McFee’s name aloud.
Nine months later the child arrived, a boy. Marlon insisted they name him “Simon.”
Adolf ground his teeth in frustration and took an extra blood-pressure pill. Simon’s mother was quickly divorced and sent back to Iceland with several million dollars in her pocket. Glee suspected that that had been part of the arrangement all along, that Alina had been more hired than wooed.
In any event Marlon seemed to dote on the child who inherited his mother’s clear skin and regular features and his father’s curly, black hair and wild eyes.
Over the next ten years two more children followed from two more short-term wives — a boy, Grant, and a girl, Elena. They were all clearly siblings, and if one had to pick a word describing a common characteristic of the three it might be “exotic” — dark hair and eyes, strong cheekbones, and an aura of mysterious intensity that seemed to cling to them like an invisible glow.
As for Marlon himself, if Adolf had thought that fatherhood might mellow his own, personal Frankenstein the elder Stump was sadly mistaken. In fact, the passing years seemed to only exacerbate the extremes of McFee’s personality.
The womanizing, showboating, headline grabbing, ostentation — all of that Adolf Stump could tolerate, but the Stump family wealth seemed to only intensify the bitter rage that had always simmered in Simon McFee’s heart.
As the years slipped by, Simon’s anger inflated in equal measure with his ego. Semi-public insult battles with anyone who was whispered to have criticized or, even worse, ridiculed him became common. “Fat”, “stupid”, “weak”, “ugly”, and “loser” became some of the most-used words in Marlon’s vocabulary.
Quickly becoming bored with vacations, parties, and sex, Marlon moved into the business world, buying and selling various commodities. He became famous and infamous in certain circles for broken contracts, short shipments, shoddy materials and unpaid debts. It was rumored that the largest expense in any of his companies was the phalanx of lawyers who were kept busy twenty-four hours a day suing and being sued.
Marlon soon refined his emotional inclinations into a business model that always began with grand promises propped up with high-interest loans, shoddy performance, lies, accusations, litigation and eventually bankruptcy, all of which inevitably left his customers, business partners and lenders holding an empty bag while he somehow managed to drain away all the loose cash as management fees and consulting contracts paid to dozens of shell corporations that were created and died with a life cycle matching that of a swarm of fruit flies.
Marlon Stump, in fact, was so adept at profiting from failure that he became a minor celebrity which led to a wildly successful a book he had ghost-written by a junior majoring in creative writing a Columbia University.
He called it, Why I Never Lose. It sold fourteen million copies for which Marlon received $4 each. Other than the initial $5,000 advance, he never paid the actual author, Lawrence Snerp, a penny. When Snerp threatened to sue Marlon invited him out to lunch to discuss the situation.
Over a magnificent surf and turf Marlon pointed out that any litigation would be a breach of their nondisclosure agreement and that the resulting lawsuits would leave Snerp bankrupt for life. Then Marlon excused himself to take a phone call and stuck the kid with the check.
Marlon whistled happily all the way to his limo.
* — — — — * — — — — *
As the years slipped by Adolf Stump did his best to avoid hearing any news of his so-called nephew’s antics while he silently prayed that a meteor the size of a Winnebago would find Marlon’s LearJet someplace over the Caribbean and erase his existence from the face of the earth.
For these thoughts Adolf felt vaguely guilty, but only because he considered the plane’s crew to be innocent bystanders,
And then things got worse.
Marlon began to take an interest in politics. Giving vent to a lifetime of bile, insecurity and rage, Simon McFee in the guise of Marlon Stump said things that other politicians foolishly thought were unforgivable. They had miscalculated the depth of the fear, greed, bigotry and downright meanness that lives in the souls of at least thirty percent of the American population. Marlon had not.
Inside the Marlon Stump suit Simon McFee raged against the immigrants whose lives had turned out better than that of an uneducated, mean-spirited, vicious dwarf rejected by all and loved by none.
How dare those brown-skinned foreigners be happier and more loved than a white man who was actually born in this country? He would fix them.
“Deport them all,” he demanded. “We don’t need their kind here when so many white people are out of work.” And then there were the Muslims. They were obviously a bad sort and they had brown skin to boot.
“We’ve got to get them out of here before they kill us all in our sleep,” Marlon/McFee insisted.
And people listened.
“If only businessmen were allowed to be richer,” he told his growing rallies, “then all of you would be richer too.”
And that sounded like a brilliant idea because who doesn’t want to be rich?
“Those silly laws are keeping you poor,” he told the unemployed whose jobs had been shipped to other countries so that the great corporations could make even greater profits.
“Our air is plenty clean enough already. Why, if we just let our wonderful corporations release a little, tiny bit more carbon monoxide they could make tens of billions of dollars more money and that money has to go someplace, right? Of course, it’s inevitable that some how, some way, some of it is going to find its way into your pockets. They can’t keep all of it, can they?”
And, oh boy, did that sound like a great idea to all those people who couldn’t afford to replace the bald tires on their cars or feed their kids anything beyond macaroni casseroles and peanut butter sandwiches.
Then Marlon/McFee came up with the plan to cancel all government subsidies for medical insurance. Once that expense was out of the way, he promised that the country would really see some big tax cuts and when that happened the rich people would be so happy that they would shower everybody else with great jobs that paid high salaries and bonuses, lots of bonuses.
“The giant corporations just need a few hundreds of billions of dollars more in order to be able to afford to up their workers pay from eight and a quarter per hour all the way to a whopping nine dollars and sixty cents an hour,” he assured them.
Gee, that sounded terrific to the guy whose job had just gone to somebody in Mexico who was only getting three dollars an hour for the same work.
* — — — — * — — — — *
Morgan Glee knocked lightly on Adolf Stump’s office door. For the last few weeks Glee had essentially been living in Stump Tower only a few blocks north of Manhattan’s Battery Park.
As he was taking his seat, Stump’s phone rang. He listened for a moment then his face went slack and pale. Wordlessly, Adolf dropped the receiver into its cradle.
“What?” Glee demanded.
“He just announced that he’s going to run for President of the United States,” Adolf said in a voice as cold as death.
“President? He can’t. There have to be medical checks, x-ray scanners. Surely he must know that someone will find him out.”
“Clever and devious are not the same thing as smart.”
“But if anyone discovers that he’s a . . .”
“Fraud? A monster?” Stump replied. “Yes, I know. If he’s exposed we’re all cooked.” Adolf turned back to the window. “He was just supposed to make a few public appearances and then take the money and disappear.”
“Well, that ship has unfortunately sailed,” Glee replied. “We can’t let him run for President, you know. The risk that he’ll be found out is just too great.”
“That’s not the worst thing that could happen,” Adolf said. “What if he won?”
“Surely, a man like that — mean, crass, bigoted, ego maniacal, dishonest, deceitful, greedy — he could never get elected.”
“But what if he did?”
“Our country, run by someone like him? Do you think that’s even possible?” Glee asked.
“A lot of people are stupid,” Adolf replied. “And a good percentage of the ones who aren’t are mean, angry and bigoted. And a good number of the ones who’re left are at least half crazy. Then after you weed out the ones who don’t vote, I have to wonder if we have enough decent ones left to keep that vicious sack of shit out of the White House.”
Glee was quiet for a long time. Finally, he asked, “What are you proposing, Mr. Stump?”
“We need a new plan.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“A final solution?” Glee asked with a heavy heart.
“The sooner the better.”
Glee thought a little longer then gave his client a solemn nod.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he promised.
* — — — — * — — — — *
After a little discreet research Glee soon realized that a permanent solution to the Marlon Stump problem wasn’t going to be easy.
Firstly, except when he was ensconced in his penthouse on the thirty-fourth floor of the Stump Tower, Marlon was never alone. He was always accompanied by a coterie of hangers on, sycophants, lawyers, bodyguards, children and his girlfriend du jour.
And if that wasn’t enough, the “event” as Glee called it (murder was such an ugly and unlawyerly word) had to completely destroy the body.
A simple car crash or a fall from his balcony would never do. If Simon McFee’s mashed corpse was ever discovered pureed inside a Marlon Stump-like puppet there would be no place on earth where Glee and Adolf Stump would be able to hide.
Glee briefly considered sabotaging Marlon’s jet, but he couldn’t stomach the thought of taking innocent lives, even if the reward was the extermination of the malevolent tumor that was Simon McFee.
If only the beast would take up sky diving, over a volcano, Glee fantasized.
So, the lawyer thought, and thought, and thought. And as time slipped by, Marlon’s star continued to rise.
In one sense, Glee admitted that McFee was a sort of genius, copying Hitler and Slobodan Miloševic’s talent for using demagoguery to channel fear, hatred and bigotry through the turbines of the electoral system, pumping out increasingly large spikes of political power.
He had even come up with a call to arms, promising to “Take Back Our Country” which, like all great slogans, had several unspoken meanings, the most obvious and powerful of which was “Make America White Again.”
The crowds loved it in a measure equal to their hatred for minorities, poor people (other than themselves), immigrants, and anyone whose book of prayer didn’t have the words “Jesus Christ” in it.
Glee saw the polls and unlike the imbecilic talking heads, the lawyer in him knew the depths of fear and hatred that roiled just beneath the surface of many people’s souls. Something had to be done, and soon. But what?
Since convincing Marlon to go skydiving over a volcano seemed unlikely, Glee decided that for maximum potential obliteration it would have to be something at sea. Very, very far out at sea.
Plans were made and abandoned and the days slipped by. When it was announced that within weeks Marlon’s star would have risen enough to merit Secret Service protection, Morgan Glee was seized with despair.
The following day Marlon Stump’s campaign plane landed at Detroit, Michigan. Marlon set out on a series of triumphal rallies where he again promised to “. . . send the bad guys back to where they came from, and then do you know what we’re going to do?” He shouted before answering himself, slowly enunciating each word, “Then We’re-Going-To-Take-Back-Our-Country!”
The cheers and rebel yells swelled louder on each word until “country” was obliterated by cries and screams.
After the rally, Stump’s limousine headed to the Great Lakes Steel Works at Encorse along the Detroit River for what his staff promised would be a super-fantastic photo op.
“Explain this to me again,” Marlon demanded as the limo pulled up to the huge facility.
“Have you ever seen those pictures of molten steel being poured from a huge bucket with a million sparks blazing all around, Mr. Stump?”
“Sure. Like the Fourth of July on steroids. So?”
“Picture this, sir: You’re up on a platform with the blast furnace behind you. You reach out and shake the hand of a foundry worker wearing a huge “Jump With Stump” button pinned to his grimy overalls. Just as your hands touch, the blast furnace opens and a billion sparks flare up behind you. We’ll make the front page of every paper in the country.”
The aide stared at Stump expectantly, his hopeful smile frozen on his face.
“Every paper in the country,” Stump mused. “I like it! About the guy whose hand I’ll be shaking, have you made sure he’s not going to be all greasy?”
“Uhhhh, absolutely, sir. We’ll give his hands a good going over with baby wipes before he ever gets near you.”
“You’d better. This is a nine-hundred-dollar shirt and I don’t want any fucking grease monkey stains on it.”
“No grease monkey stains, yes sir.”
Two minutes later Strump, his advance man, Jerry “Slick” Feldhoffer, and the photographer whose name Strump neither knew nor cared to know, met the Designated Worker at the bottom of a set of stained and pitted metal stairs.”
“Mr. Stump, this is one of your biggest supporters, Gary Glick,” Felfhoffer said. Glick smiled and stuck out his hand. Stump gave Feldhoffer a brief questioning gaze, got a nod in return, and accepted the offered digits.
“What kind of name’s ‘Glick’?” Stump asked as the two men, followed by Feldhoffer and the photographer, made their way up the stairs.
“German,” Glick answered, shouting over the roar of the furnace.
“German, OK. I thought it might be Jewish, Glickstein or something. Lots of Jews did that, changed their names so that people wouldn’t know. So, that wasn’t you?”
“No, Mr. Stump. My grandfather told me that back in the Old Country it used to be Gluck.”
“Gluck, huh?” Stump said, with a little sneer, then stomped faster up the stairs. There was only enough room for the two of them and the photographer when they reached the little platform. Stump motioned Feldhoffer back down the steps then at him, “Hey, let’s get this show on the road!”
“Two minutes, Mr. Stump. We just need to wait for the pour.”
Stump looked over the railing and traced the channel that ran from an elevated bowl forty feet away down a foot-wide channel to a twenty-foot in diameter cauldron thirty feet below them where workers scurried like oversized insects.
“Jesus H. Christ, is that a woman?” Stump exclaimed, pointing at a bulky figure swaddled in heavy overalls.
“That’s Rhonda. She’s–”
“She’s huge,” Stump shouted. “Shit, imagine the cunt on her. I like to grab pussies but, Jesus, I bet hers would be like a hairy baseball. Ha Ha.” Stump interpreted the blank expression on Glick’s face as comradely approval. Well, these worker types are real men, Stump thought. No namby-pambies here.
Stump leaned forward and shouted into Glick’s ear: “I’ve got a ten-inch dick but you’ve got to wonder if even it would be big enough to satisfy that bitch.”
Marlon took a step back, giving Glick a manly leer, but got only a tight-lipped glare in return. Behind them a huge bucket began to tip and the photographer took a step forward and shouted, “Get ready!”
Stump grabbed Glick’s hand as in the background a torrent of sparks lit the foundry floor.
“Smile,” the photographer shouted, but Glick didn’t seem to hear.
Stump leaned close to the steel-worker’s ear and screamed. “Smile!”
“Rhonda’s my daughter, you fucking son-of-a-bitch” Glick shouted, then angrily backed away. By now the molten steel was halfway down the channel and its glow illuminated the foundry like the dawning of a new day.
The photographer lowered his camera and hurried up to Marlon.
“It’s all right, Mr. Stump,” he told him. “We can still salvage something out of this. I’ll just take a couple of shots of you with the molten steel in the background. They’ll be great.”
Stump paused, then glanced behind him at the river of fire that was now beginning to pour into the cauldron beneath them.
“All right. Make it quick before I sweat through my suit.”
“Yes sir. Just step back against the railing.” Stump dutifully obeyed. The camera’s clicks were lost in the hiss and roar of the glowing steel.
The photographer stepped forward once more and leaned close, apparently to shout one more instruction into Stump’s ear. But instead of “stand here” or “look presidential” he hissed, “My father lost his life’s savings and all our medical insurance in your phony real-estate scam. He killed himself when the cancer ate my mother alive, you fucking son-of-a-bitch!” and then he hooked one foot behind Stumps’ heel and simultaneously pulled his right toe forward while pushing Stump’s right shoulder back, and, just like that, Stump was gone.
An instant later several gallons of molten steel splashed upward in a lazy arc then settled back in flames and smoke.
Glick looked down at the glowing metal then turned back to the photographer.
“Oh, look, he tripped!” Glick shouted, his face showing a mixture of anger and revenge.
Suddenly Feldhoffer appeared at the top of the stairs. “Where’s Mr. Stump?” he shouted, looking wildly around.
“He tripped,” the photographer said in a breathy voice.
“Tripped?” Feldhoffer repeated, already slipping into a state of shock.
“He fell. Over the railing. Caught his foot. Gone.” The photographer waved vaguely at the pool of fire on the foundry floor.
Feldhoffer ran to the railing, but all he saw was smoke and flame floating on a pond of molten steel. Wild-eyed, he turned to Gary Glick.
“Yeah,” Glick said in an almost happy voice, “The son of a bitch leaned back against the railing and . . .” he held his palms two feet apart, “poof,” he finished, a satisfied smile creasing his lips.
* — — — — * — — — — *
Of course, Adolf saw to it that Marlon had a suitably massive funeral, well, as suitable as possible when the body has been melted down into its constituent atoms. As a tribute a symbolic iron ingot was placed on the dias just before the eulogy.
Simon, Grant and Elena, all looking appropriately bereaved, bid what they thought was their father a tearful farewell. Adolf studied their fresh, adolescent faces and both wondered and feared what kind of people they would grow up to become. Only time would tell.
Outside the little chapel he ran into Morgan Glee. The two men nodded to each other and with unspoken agreement wandered into the old cemetery that filled the meadow behind the church.
“Did you . . . ?” Adolf asked then turned his head away.
“No, it was . . . I don’t know what it was. Luck? Fate? Destiny?”
“Karma,” Adolf said after a moment’s thought.
“I’m not so sure,” Glee replied. “I don’t believe people necessarily get what they deserve. I think that maybe it was something else.”
“Do you believe in God, an after life, spirits?”
“I don’t know,” Adolf said a bit hesitantly. “I would like to. What does that have to do with it?”
“Maybe it just the lawyer in me, but I can’t help but hope that maybe Washington or Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt or Harry Truman were looking down on us and somehow intervened to protect America from a menace like Simon McFee.”
“I wish I could believe that,” Adolf said after glancing around to make sure no one could have overheard the bastard’s true name. “I will say this: God help the United States of America if a dishonest, mean, untrustworthy, bigoted, deceitful, dishonorable, egomaniac like him ever becomes our President.”
“I guess we have to trust to the basic decency of the American people that something like that never happens,” Glee said as they turned and made their way back, past the silent graves.
— David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story was inspired by two classic short stories: The Handler by Damon Knight and The Greatest Man In The World by James Thurber. The Handler appears in the Damon Knight short story collections In Deep and Turning On.
I highly recommend both of them to you.