Story by: William Clark (with apologies to Avram Davidson)

     "All he had to do was sit down at the mill and grind out out ten pieces at $400 each. Or twenty at $200 each. Or some combination or permutation thereof. He had the editorial okays. He knew the style and craft, the market. Love-starved Arabs Raped Me Often. Communist Crocodiles Raped My Wife. Man-Eaters of the Malayan Peninsula. Man-Hating Women Pirates of Polynesia. Woman-Eating Arabs of the Crocodile Coast... He had written such pieces a hundred times before... [for the] editors of the Magazines... [he] contemptuously named to himself as Brute, Rut, and Gonad...."

from Avram Davidson, Masters of the Maze

Chapter One: You Are The Guy
Are you the guy who didn't marry the bosses daughter?... I was a slave in Stalin's Uranium Mines... I call it a bad day if I don't make $25.00 before noon. This chair alone brought $4.50 with twenty-five minutes work and 32 cents in cleaning materials... You don't have to be a "genius" to be a writer of Stories, Articles, TV scripts... Meat Cutting offers you success and security. The best-established business in the world. People must eat!... Free Muscle Building Information... Catch More Fish Automatically... Learn Air Conditioning... Weld Your Way to the Future... Tremendous profits with Hagen's Tear Gas Pencil... Grow Miniature Trees... Send for my free book now...

     I was sitting in my dingy office reading the get-rich-quick ads in a cheap men's magazine. I was so desperate that the tear gas pencil sounded good. After all, I was supposed to be a detective, maybe I could make some dough on it. I knew better than to send for the miniature tree. The miniature tree was out. The way my luck had been running, if I bought a miniature tree, it would grow.

     I owed three months back rent on the office and the rent situation was suggesting a very profound metaphysical question. If I didn't have an office, how could I sit around and worry about paying the rent on it?

     The door swung open and a gorilla the size of a cross-town bus walked in followed by a nasty-looking little character named Antonio Bongiovonni. Bongiovonni looked around my office. He seemed highly amused.

     "Ho ho, I thought I'd seen everything. Boots, you ever see anything this small-time? A place like this gives small-time a bad name. In my book a place like this has to work its way up for a few years to even get to small-time. I've seen more action inside a peanut. You got that, cheapie? You're small-time. You're beneath small, you're microscopic. I can barely see you. Hand me the thesaurus, Boots. You're a nobody, an insignificancy, a mediocrity, a cipher, a little fellow, a non-entity..."

     "Come to the point," I said.

     "I'll come to the point when I'm ready to come to the point, cheapie. You're a quidnunc, you're Mr. Nobody from Nowhere, you're an angstrom unit, a micron. You know who I am, cheapie?"

     "You're a hoodlum. You operate near the waterfront. They call you Tony Bongo."

     "Very good. Now, why am I here?"

     "Since you seem to consider everything you do to be of vast importance to the world, and of undying interest to everyone in it, I naturally assumed you'd tell me why you're here."

     "Go ahead, crack wise. Tell him why we're here, Boots."

     "We're here to talk to you, pally," said the gorilla.

     I rose from my chair and walked up to the gorilla, who watched me contemptuously. I hit him once very hard in the solar plexus. It was like hitting a large sandbag filled with some powdered element that was much denser than ordinary matter. I tried not to show pain but my eyes were moist as I staggered back to my chair. My hand began to swell immediately.

     "In a few minutes a dame is going to walk through the door," said Tony Bongo. "She's going to offer you a job. How much do you charge, Cheapie?"

     "Forty dollars a day, plus expenses."

     "Forty dollars a day, plus expenses. You operate in a two-bit town like this, and you charge almost twice as much as Phillip Marlowe? Hit him, Boots."

     "Wait a minute," I said, watching the gorilla walk towards me. "Marlowe operated in the 1940's. This is 1958. With inflation and the annual price index figured in, I cost at least five bucks less than Marlowe."

     "You want I should still hit him?"

     "I don't know," said Tony Bongo. "You might kill him, and that wouldn't be so good. He has to see the dame, we got no choice there. Nah, it's not worth it. This is your lucky day, cheapie. Boots O'Banion is not going to hit you. And when somebody gets hit by Boots O'Banion, they don't feel so good afterwards. So long, cheapie."

     "Wait a minute," I said. "You didn't tell me if I should take the case or not take the case."

     Tony Bongo just looked over his shoulder with a disgusted look on his face. Strangely, for a moment I thought I saw a look of confusion. He made a dismissive little wave with his hand. A wave that could have meant just about anything.

Next Chapter