Sons of the Damned, Chapter 11: The Space Pen

[Need to catch up on the story? Then cannonball into the lukewarm community swimming pool of the previous chapter.]

I lay back and watched the treetops crawl by overhead, trying not to think about how much my wrists hurt. The thought occurred to me that this was somehow my fault. Of course it was Ugly John’s fault more, and I was pretty sure it was at least a little bit Frog’s fault too. But I couldn’t claim complete innocence. I had brought Angie into this. I had known there was at least some risk in coming to Frog’s trailer, and I’d thrown caution to the wind and brought her along as if this were some kind of weird date.

I had a moment of sudden clarity, the undeniable truth that I was a pathetic, desperate, hopeless loser bearing down on me like a physical weight. It stung to see myself flayed open on the altar of my own mind, the various nasty bits of my psyche pinned down to a scrap of cardboard for all to see.

But even worse was the older thought, the original accusation. You should have been there. You could have stopped this. And with it my mind flickered back to the time that I had been there, back to the first time Frog had broken in to City Hall.

I hadn’t wanted to go that time either. It was a stupid idea. I told myself that. I told Frog that. But somehow, in spite of my better judgment, I felt myself being sucked along by that strange vortex of excitement and adventure that Frog always managed to generate around himself.

“We’re going to need some rope and a grappling hook,” he had said sitting on my couch and reading off of a list. “I think the hardware store has the right kind of rope, but we may have to order the grappling hook on Amazon.”

“You are aware that there are stairs in this building?” I commented. “A grappling hook seems a bit superfluous.”

“What if we need to make a quick escape?”

“The building is only two stories tall,” I pointed out. “Even I could survive a jump of that distance.”

“People have died falling from the bottom rung of a step ladder,” Frog retorted solemnly.

“Anyone you know? Weigh the risks and benefits Frog. If we do get in a hairy situation, dragging along fifty feet of rope with a hook at the end is only going to slow us down.”

“Yes,” he said, stroking his chin as if he had a goatee, which he didn’t. “You may be right.”

It occurred to me then that at some point I had stopped arguing about whether we should break in to City Hall and had shifted to arguing about how we should break in to City Hall. I tried to spot the place the shift had happened in my mind, but it eluded me.

When we had hashed the whole thing over for several hours, we managed to whittle the list down to flash lights, a digital camera, and a set of lock picks. (Yes, of course, Frog knew how to pick locks, what, are you kidding me?)

Frog left and told me to get some sleep. I tried, but I kept tossing and turning, fighting with myself over the shear stupidity of what we were about to do. I could have backed out. At any moment I could have called Frog up and told him that I’d changed my mind.

But I kept thinking about my father. I kept wondering what he would say if he caught us, if he caught me breaking into the most important government building in town. I could see the way the anger would lower his eyebrows and twist his lips into a snarl. I could hear him screaming at me, demanding to know how I could do such a thing.

And despite the fact that part of me was terrified by that prospect, another part of me craved it.

Because I knew that that would mean for him. He would be the guy walking into work the next day surrounded by guys who would know that his son had screwed up and big time. He’d have so much egg on his face he’d be able to make omelets for a month. And I wanted that. I wanted that more than anything. So when Fog called my cell phone at eleven-thirty that night, I was ready, with my darkest colored clothes on and my stomach full of freshly brewed coffee.

Frog picked me up in his Jeep, and we drove through the night toward City Hall. We parked a few blocks away in a parking lot behind some buildings that ran up against the river, and we walked along the dock with the water slapping at the pilings beneath our feet.

I say we walked, but Frog kept crouching behind things, dodging into shadows and generally making a fool of himself.

“Can’t you just act natural?” I hissed at him. “If anyone sees you skulking around like that they’re going to know we’re up to something. Just walk like a normal human being, and maybe they’ll think we’re out for a pleasant evening stroll.”

“I’m not sure I’d want them thinking I was out for an evening stroll with you,” Frog said.

I didn’t dignify that with a response.

“It’s not because of your size,” Frog clarified. “It’s just because I’m not gay.”

“Yes, thank you, I got that.”

“And even if I was gay, it wouldn’t be a good idea to advertize it in this town, you know?”

Okay,” I hissed. By now we were off of the dock, and crossing the road toward the court house. The area was mostly quiet, but a car passed us as we were making our way toward the rear of City Hall. It didn’t slow down, but it got me to thinking that of the two of us, I was the one any witnesses would be able to pick out of a lineup. Even in the dark, I was pretty distinctive.

Frog had scouted out the area a few days before and had found a door at the bottom of a short flight of stairs, mostly hidden from view.

As he got to work with his lock picks I kept watch. Time crawled by minute by agonizing minute as Frog worried away at the lock. Finally I got impatient and asked, “Are you getting anywhere with that thing?”

“Don’t rush me, okay? This thing is old and sticky. It’s not always as easy as the movies make it look.”

“It’s not always as easy as the movies make it look,” I though to myself. Now those are words to live by.

Finally after what seemed like an hour of him fiddling with the lock I heard Frog utter an exultant, “YES!” and the door opened.

Once through, we found ourselves standing in a dark hallway filled with cleaning supplies and derelict file cabinets. Frog clicked on his flashlight and pointed it down the hall. “Man this place is a dump,” he said. His voice seemed far too loud in the darkness, and I winced. “You wanna keep it down?” I hissed.

“Why?” he asked, still talking at what seemed to be a slightly elevated volume. “If there’s anyone here to hear us, we’re pretty much screwed no matter how quiet we talk.”

“You know, that argument doesn’t make me feel much better about all of this.”

We crept forward through the hall, stepping over mops and bottles of industrial detergent along the way. It seemed apparent that this place hadn’t been used as an actual thruway for some time, and had instead devolved into a kind of janitor’s closet and general catch all. I got out my own flashlight and pointed the beam at the cobwebs that hung along the ceiling. At the end of the hallway was a door that made a terrifying creak when Frog pushed it open. “This can’t be good for my heart.”

Frog didn’t answer, but instead turned to the left apparently at random, striding forward down another hallway. This one was clean and free of debris, but now the sounds of our footsteps clicking against the tile floor echoed like gunshots in the stillness.

“What are we looking for?” I hissed as Frog passed on door and then another, stopping only briefly to peer in through the narrow windows.

“Proof,” Frog answered simply.

There were a lot of things I could have said at that point. I could have pointed out that in the extremely unlikely case that there really was something going on, if there was some proof that aliens were snatching the bodies of top governmental officials and almost-homeless bums alike, would it really be just sitting out in the open where we could find it?

Or maybe I could have said, “Proof of what? That some email you got from some practical joker is right about the stated of the world?” But in the end I didn’t say anything. Because I knew Frog wouldn’t listen. He had his way of seeing the world and no one could talk him out of it. He believed the stories he was told, not because they made any kind of sense, but because he wanted to believe them.

It’s really not so strange. You’re the same way. Yes, really. Normal, boring, level-headed old you. Don’t believe me? Well then, let me tell you a story. It’s a story you’ve probably heard before. It goes something like this:

Back in the glory days of space travel when the United States and Russia were duking it out to be first wherever they could, first in space, first in orbit, first on the moon, the scientists at NASA stumbled on problem. The ballpoint pens they were sending up with the astronauts, didn’t work without gravity to pull the ink down to the tip of the pen. Naturally, this wouldn’t do at all. So NASA threw millions of dollars into research and development, until finally they developed a pen with revolutionary new characteristics that would write in the emptiness of space.

Meanwhile, the Russians used a pencil.

Like I said, you’ve probably heard this story before. And you probably believed it. Why? Because it fit with how you viewed the world. Government bureaucracies are big and stupid spending taxpayers money willy nilly on projects anyone with a little common sense could solve in about five minutes.

You didn’t think about how stupid it would be to have graphite and wood shavings floating around loose in zero gravity gunking up your machinery and shorting out sensitive electronic equipment. And you certainly didn’t fact-check the story and find out for yourself that while a special space pen was developed, it wasn’t the government that spent millions of dollars inventing it, but rather a businessman who knew he could make a killing selling, “The Pen the Astronauts Use” in stores around the country. You fell for a poorly fabricated lie; because you wanted to believe.

Anyway, point is, I wasn’t going to talk Frog out of this. I could only try to limit the amount of havoc he wreaked.

There was something strange in his movements, and now it was something more than an overdeveloped sense of theatricality. He would pass by some offices without glancing twice at them, but then, sometimes he would stand very still in front of a door, not really looking at anything, just standing there, as if he were smelling the air. Several times he came to splits and turns in the hallway and chose a direction without the slightest hesitation.

It seemed like he looked like he knew what he was doing, but knowing Frog, I had a suspicion that that was how he wanted it to look that his odd movements were the result of nothing more than random whimsy. That’s what I told myself anyway.

Until finally Frog stopped at a door and didn’t move on. He stood there still for a long time, listening, smelling, thinking, who knows? And then reached forward and tried the latch.

It was locked.

Of course it was. But even worse, there didn’t appear to be a key hole. Instead there was a number pad on the outside of the door, that I assumed required some kind of code. I was about to ask him what his plan was when he turned to me and said, “Vincent, it’s your time to shine.”

For a second I looked at him in incomprehension. Then I figured out what he wanted, and I said, “You have got to be kidding me.”

“Are you backing out?” Frog asked. “Are you seriously backing out now?”

“Look I’m fine with a little breaking and entering, but when it comes to actual breaking and entering, I’m slightly less enthusiastic.”

“This wouldn’t even be an issue if you hadn’t made me cross the wrecking bar off my list,” Frog hissed

“You just chose this door at random,” I hissed back. “Don’t act like I’m the one who’s to blame here.”

“Not at random,” Frog said.

“Oh really?”

“Yes. Really. Look, the email said that this entity was interested in someone involved with the local politics here. Now if I was trying to pull something like that off, I’d go for someone in middle management. Not too high up the ladder because then you don’t have a feel for the workings of the day to day, and not too far down, because then you wouldn’t have any influence. And there’s something else too.”

“What?”

“That lock. It’s been newly installed.”

I looked at the door where he was pointing and saw that he was right. In the light of my flashlight, I could see that the door hadn’t been worn around the metal plate of the lock mechanism like it would have if the lock had been there for a long time.

I opened my mouth to argue and then shut it again. There were two options here. I could walk away and leave Frog to his own devices, or I could keep going and see where Frog’s wild scheme took me. And when you thought about it like that, there really wasn’t much of a choice at all. I turned and took a few steps away from the door.

“Just for the record,” I said, “It’s kind of offensive that you’re using me as a human battering ram.”

“Duly noted.”

And with that I put my shoulder down and charged at the door.

I lay back and watched the treetops crawl by overhead, trying not to think about how much my wrists hurt. The thought occurred to me that this was somehow my fault. Of course it was Ugly John's fault more, and I was pretty sure it was at least a little bit Frog's fault too. But I couldn't claim complete innocence. I had brought Angie into this. I had known there was at least some risk in coming to Frog's trailer, and I'd thrown caution to the wind and brought her along as if this were some kind of weird date.
I had a moment of sudden clarity, the undeniable truth that I was a pathetic, desperate, hopeless loser bearing down on me like a physical weight. It stung to see myself flayed open on the altar of my own mind, the various nasty bits of my psyche pinned down to a scrap of cardboard for all to see. 
But even worse was the older thought, the original accusation. You should have been there. You could have stopped this. And with it my mind flickered back to the time that I HAD been there, back to the first time Frog had broken in to City Hall.
I hadn't wanted to go that time either. It was a stupid idea. I told myself that. I told FROG that. But somehow, in spite of my better judgment, I felt myself being sucked along by that strange vortex of excitement and adventure that Frog always managed to generate around himself.We're going to need some rope and a grappling hook,” he had said sitting on my couch and reading off of a list. “I think the hardware store has the right kind of rope, but we may have to order the grappling hook on Amazon.”You are aware that there are stairs in this building?” I commented. “A grappling hook seems a bit superfluous.”What if we need to make a quick escape?”The building is ONLY two stories tall,” I pointed out. “Even I could survive a jump of that distance.”People have died falling from the bottom rung of a step ladder,” Frog retorted solmenly.Anyone you know? Weigh the risks and benefits Frog. If we do get in a hairy situation, dragging along fifty feet of rope with a hook at the end is only going to slow us down.”Yes,” he said, stroking his chin as if he had a goatee, which he didn't. “You may be right.”
It occurred to me then that at some point I had stopped arguing about WHETHER we should break in to City Hall and had shifted to arguing about HOW we should break in to City Hall. I tried to spot the place the shift had happened in my mind, but it eluded me.
When we had hashed the whole thing over for several hours, we managed to whittle the list down to flash lights, a digital camera, and a set of lock picks. (Yes, of COURSE, Frog knew how to pick locks, what, are you kidding me?)
Frog left and told me to get some sleep. I tried, but I kept tossing and turning, fighting with myself over the shear stupidity of what we were about to do. I could have backed out. At any moment I could have called Frog up and told him that I'd changed my mind. 
But I kept thinking about my father. I kept wondering what he would say if he caught us, if he caught ME breaking into the most important government building in town. I could see the way the anger would lower his eyebrows and twist his lips into a snarl. I could hear him screaming at me, demanding to know how I could do such a thing. 
And despite the fact that part of me was terrified by that prospect, another part of me craved it. 
Because I knew that that would mean for HIM. He would be the guy walking into work the next day surrounded by guys who would know that his SON had screwed up and big time. He'd have so much egg on his face he'd be able to make omelets for a month. And I WANTED that. I wanted that more than anything. So when Fog called my cell phone at eleven-thirty that night, I was ready, with my darkest colored clothes on and my stomach full of freshly brewed coffee. 
Frog picked me up in his Jeep, and we drove through the night toward City Hall. We parked a few blocks away in a parking lot behind some buildings that ran up against the river, and we walked along the dock with the water slapping at the pilings beneath our feet.
I say we walked, but Frog kept crouching behind things, dodging into shadows and generally making a fool of himself.Can't you just act natural?” I hissed at him. “If anyone sees you skulking around like that they're going to KNOW we're up to something. Just walk like a normal human being, and maybe they'll think we're out for a pleasant evening stroll.”I'm not sure I'd want them thinking I was out for an evening stroll with you,” Frog said.
I didn't dignify this with a response.It's not because of your size,” Frog clarified. “It's just because I'm not gay.”Yes, thank you, I got that.”And even if I was gay, it wouldn't be a good idea to advertize it in this town, you know?”OKAY,” I hissed. By now we were off of the dock, and crossing the road toward the court house. The area was mostly quiet, but a car passed us as we were making our way toward the rear of City Hall. It didn't slow down, but it got me to thinking that of the two of us, I was the one any witnesses would be able to pick out of a lineup. Even in the dark, I was pretty distinctive.
Frog had scouted out the area a few days before and had found a door at the bottom of a short flight of stairs, mostly hidden from view.
As he got to work with his lock picks I kept watch. Time crawled by minute by agonizing minute as Frog worried away at the lock. Finally I got impatient and asked, “Are you getting anywhere with that thing?”Don't rush me, okay? This thing is old and sticky. It's not always as easy as the movies make it look.”It's not always as easy as the movies make it look,” I though to myself. Now THOSE are words to live by.
Finally after what seemed like an hour of him fiddling with the lock I heard Frog utter an exultant, “YES!” and the door opened.
Once through, we found ourselves standing in a dark hallway filled with cleaning supplies and derelict file cabinets. Frog clicked on his flashlight and pointed it down the hall. “Man this place is a dump,” he said. His voice seemed far too loud in the darkness, and I winced. “You wanna keep it down?” I hissed.Why?” he asked, still talking at what seemed to be a slightly elevated volume. “If there's anyone here to hear us, we're pretty much screwed no matter how quiet we talk.”You know, that argument doesn't make me feel much better about all of this.”
We crept forward through the hall, stepping over mops and bottles of industrial detergent along the way. It seemed apparent that this place hadn't been used as an actual thruway for some time, and had instead devolved into a kind of janitor's closet and general catch all. I got out my own flashlight and pointed the beam at the cobwebs that hung along the ceiling. At the end of the hallway was a door that made a terrifying creak when Frog pushed it open. “This can NOT be good for my heart.”
Frog didn't answer, but instead turned to the left apparently at random, striding forward down another hallway. This one was clean and free of debris, but now the sounds of our footsteps clicking against the tile floor echoed like gunshots in the stillness.What are we looking for?” I hissed as Frog passed on door and then another, stopping only briefly to peer in through the narrow windows.Proof,” Frog answered simply.
There were a lot of things I could have said at that point. I could have pointed out that in the extremely unlikely case that there really was something going on, if there was some proof that aliens were snatching the bodies of top governmental officials and almost-homeless bums alike, would it really be just sitting out in the open where we could find it? Or maybe I could have said, “Proof of what? That some email you got from some practical joker is right about the stated of the world?” But in the end I didn't say anything. Because I knew Frog wouldn't listen. He had his way of seeing the world and no one could talk him out of it. He believed the stories he was told, not because they made any kind of sense, but because he WANTED to believe them.
It's really not so strange. You're the same way. Yes, really. Normal, boring, level-headed old you. Don't believe me? Well then, let me tell you a story. It's a story you've probably heard before. It goes something like this:
Back in the glory days of space travel when the United States and Russia were duking it out to be first wherever they could, first in space, first in orbit, first on the moon, the scientists at NASA stumbled on problem. The ballpoint pens they were sending up with the astronauts, didn't work without gravity to pull the ink down to the tip of the pen. Naturally this wouldn't do at all. So NASA threw millions of dollars into research and development, until finally they developed a pen with revolutionary new characteristics that would write in the emptiness of space. 
Meanwhile, the Russians used a pencil.
Like I said, you've probably heard this story before. And you probably believed it. Why? Because it fit with how you viewed the world. Government bureaucracies are big and stupid spending taxpayers money willy nilly on projects anyone with a little common sense could solve in about five minutes.
You DIDN'T think about how stupid it would be to have graphite and wood shavings floating around loose in zero gravity gunking up your machinery and shorting out sensitive electronic equipment. And you certainly didn't fact-check the story only to find out that while a special space pen WAS developed, it wasn't the government that spent millions of dollars inventing it, but rather a businessman who knew he could make a killing selling, “The Pen the Astronauts Use” in stores around the country. You fell for a poorly fabricated lie; because you wanted to believe.
Anyway, point is, I wasn't going to talk Frog out of this. I could only try to limit the amount of havoc he wreaked.
There was something strange in his movements, and now it was something more than an overdeveloped sense of theatricality. He would pass by some offices without glancing twice at them, but then, sometimes he would stand very still in front of a door, not really looking at anything, just standing there, as if he were smelling the air. Several times he came to splits and turns in the hallway and chose a direction without the slightest hesitation. 
It seemed like he looked like he knew what he was doing, but knowing Frog, I had a suspicion that that was how he wanted it to look that his odd movements were the result of nothing more than random whimsy. That's what I told myself anyway. 
Until finally Frog stopped at a door and didn't move on. He stood there still for a long time, listening, smelling, thinking, who knows? And then reached forward and tried the latch. 
It was locked. 
Of course it was. But even worse, there didn't appear to be a key hole. Instead there was a number pad on the outside of the door, that I assumed required some kind of code. I was about to ask him what his plan was when he turned to me and said, “Vincent, it's your time to shine.”
For a second I looked at him in incomprehension. Then I figured out what he wanted, and I said, “You have GOT to be kidding me.”Are you backing out?” Frog asked. “Are you seriously backing out NOW?”Look I'm fine with a little breaking and entering, but when it comes to ACTUAL BREAKING AND ENTERING, I'm slightly less enthusiastic.”This wouldn't even be an issue if you hadn't made me cross the wrecking bar off my list,” Frog hissedYou just chose this door at random,” I hissed back. “Don't act like I'm the one who's to blame here.”Not at random,” Frog said.Oh REALLY?”Yes. Really. Look, the email said that this entity was interested in someone involved with the local politics here. Now if I was trying to pull something like that off, I'd go for someone in middle management. Not too high up the ladder because then you don't have a feel for the workings of the day to day, and not too far down, because then you wouldn't have any influence. And there's something else too.”What?”That lock. It's been newly installed.”
I looked at the door where he was pointing and saw that he was right. In the light of my flashlight, I could see that the door hadn't been worn around the metal plate of the lock mechanism like it would have if the lock had been there for a long time.
I opened my mouth to argue and then shut it again. There were two options here. I could walk away and leave Frog to his own devices, or I could keep going and see where Frog's wild scheme took me. And when you put it like that, there really wasn't much of a choice at all. I turned and took a few steps away from the door.Just for the record,” I said, “Its kind of offensive that you're using me as a human battering ram.”Duly noted.”
And with that I put my shoulder down and charged at the door.
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2 responses to “Sons of the Damned, Chapter 11: The Space Pen

  1. Pingback: This Is A Very Common Encounter. Please Read Carefully « The Ladyboy Mirror

  2. Pingback: Sons of the Damned, Chapter 12: Fat Man’s Folly | Albert Berg's Unsanity Files

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