Crime Funny Science Fiction


By Andrew Paul Grell

You’ll have to excuse the presentation of this confessio; at 108 years of age, it’s a little difficult to write with ten fingers on each hand. And, gentle reader, I forgive you in advance for not getting all the words; perhaps you are reading this with four eyes.

Every town back then had a “The Guy,” and Runcible River was no exception. I remember that line from a TV series maybe 60 years ago, Jericho, or Jordan, something like that. They were cut off, and everyone’s cover or story line began to unravel. Runcible River’s The Guy was Carter Offenbach. His family’s home was not much better or worse, perhaps a tad or soupcon better at most, than anyone else’s split-level ranch, Tudor, Stucco, or craft house. Unlike anyone else in town, nobody knew, even approximately, what he did for a living.

He was The Guy. When the Volunteer Fire Department held a pancake breakfast fundraiser, Carter would not only buy his own table, but also tables for some of the families south of the Chessie tracks. If anyone needed a new Kidney—this was years ago, remember—He might not be able to get one, but he would be the first person someone would ask about their predicament. If Runcible High needed an electron microscope, one would show up. If the Prom Committee went over budget, it would be taken care of, even if none of the three Offenbach kids were graduating that year.  He had his own table at the rear of Illium, the town’s pasty & G-string bump & grind bar. But he would be ten times more likely to be spotted at Saint Paul and Saint Andrew Episcopal Church than at the almost topless bar.

It was in 2015, or maybe 2017, possibly even 2021, it’s hard to remember now, but everything was pretty good. It didn’t last. Runcible River needed an expansion of the grade school and a third ambulance. For the first time, The Guy failed to rush to the town’s aid; an unacceptable situation for both parties. After a brief stretch in which Carter was now ten times more likely to be in the rear of Ilium than in church, he came up with a Stone Soup solution. Although, of course, soup is a colloid and not a solution. Funny that this what many of us now eat, those who failed to accommodate having forty or more teeth at a time.

Less than a week after Carter was approached for assistance, he took out a full-page ad in the Daily Lear announcing that he was sponsoring a time capsule. Town residents could place an item of their choosing in the chamber, which was set to be openable and to send out a radio beacon in 75 years, for $100, or for $200, they could put in an item in a sealed box, the ownership of which would be determined by the participant’s Last Will and Testament. The capsule would be placed in Three Fingered Jill’s crotch, a glacier-carved feature high above the Runcible River, never penetrated by even the most diluvial of floods, and undiscoverable by those not from Runcible River.  Most people didn’t get the hint. Those who did somehow managed to be at Paul and Andrew or at Ilium when The Guy was there. I was there by accident when the match touched the fuse. I write this, if you can call it writing, from memory. I had just been made an usher at the church, and so naturally once the people were welcomed and seated, we hung around outside smoking tobacco, which was still moderately tolerated. I, of course, was too young to smoke, so I did my puffing a little farther away, possibly camouflaged by the foliage, an accidental Ubangian fuel supply, a euphemism I did not understand to be offensive at the time. Inside the Church, they were already up to the Nicaean Creed; I hoped I wouldn’t get the down low conversation cut short. My young ears had no trouble hearing Tow Truck Tommy discussing the Madeline incident with The Guy.

“I couldn’t get rid of it.”

“Why not? You couldn’t just toss it in the river?”

“No, the river could get dragged, there could be divers looking for it.”

“Melt it down?”

“What, bring a smoking gun to the Fitzsimmons shop and ask to have it taken care of? No thanks. Knowing Bill, he’d pinch it before he’d liquify it.”

“Madeline got shot two years ago. It may really have been an accidental discharge. You captured that gun from a Chinese officer in Viet Nam. You never registered it, you never showed it around, it doesn’t exist. I don’t even know where you could find 7.62 MM ammo for a Type 64. And Maddy is still alive.”

“It exists in a hollow mason block in my crawlspace. If you’re putting stuff in Jill’s snatch, that’s where I want that pistol. I want one of those sealed boxes. For $200, I could finally have some piece of mind.”

Our First Citizen set up a platform in Lear Square. The Colonel Bogeys, the high school’s marching band, led the column of donors, the VIP $200 folks up front, handing their sealed treasures to be interred first, Hoi Polloi behind, but making a show of each non-secret item: today’s paper—and the crowd got a good laugh at the publisher having to pay $100 for his own paper, Coach Goldstein depositing the trophy for the Riparian’s one and only All-State baseball championship, the tintype of the discoverers of the Jill formation, saved from the maelstrom  by the steady helming of Hans Offenbach allowing Giuseppe DeFormaggio to get a rope around the hangnail on Jill’s pinky.

I was an honorary Reliquary Bearer, part of the dangerous procession to properly position the time capsule. My High School competition for pretty much anything from chess team to hoops to romance, William DeFormaggio, the Mayor’s son, on the other side of the payload, kept trying to throw me off balance. We had to climb up and over the second phalanx of the middle digit, lower the time capsule to Henrietta, the spotter, who would find the hood and shine a flashlight on it so the other Bearer Crew could place the sarcophagus precisely. 

We completed our mission with only two wounded; myself, a scrape from the jagged and dangerous hood, attended to by Sophie, the town’s police dog, who antiseptically licked the wound clean, and Willy’s sprained ankle, a lesson in the science of balancing awkward things.

The Guy handed a check for $147,000 to Mayor Joe, back now on the podium, and ready to speechify. 

“Thanks to the out-of-the-box thinking of Carter Offenbach in turning an actual box into a successful fundraiser, and the support of the citizenry, Runcible River education and emergency services will continue in new and improved ways. A lesson in what can happen when a snowball of thought rolls down the mountain, becoming an avalanche of action…” He droned on. I tried not to laugh; his donation to the capsule was sealed.

            I went off to Princeton, double major in Biophysics and Poli Sci, winding up as a lawyer specializing in criminal defense. Looking back, I should have stayed in the sciences; Biology, Phrenology, Tasseomancy, anything that could get an objective result. I should have been someone who might have stopped the telomere-helper disaster in its tracks, even if tracks had already become frequently quadrupedal or even stranger.

Willy Boy had to settle for Yale; neither school would want too many people from one high school to be admitted. A blow to him, to be followed by more blows. The Mayor’s son also chose the law, but on the prosecutorial side. In over forty years, he never managed to get a conviction or even an indictment for the Telomere Terror. As a local DA, he did manage to get assault and battery convictions when the Ponce de Leon demonstrators—those who wanted their fountain of youth juice right now— clashed with the 120’ers, those who thought that the Biblical age limit of 120 years should be respected. Like Rogaine and Viagra, the designer RNA that would keep cells reproducing, rather than stopping when the base pairs between genes ran out. T-168 did a far better job than anyone, except, of course for the 120ers, could have imagined. The old joke about the guy with five penises—his pants fit him like a glove—was no longer funny. Which gets us to the purpose of this document. Yesterday was the day the Shipstone batteries woke up and the Runcible River Time Capsule radio locator signal clicked on. Two of the original bearers were scoping out Jill’s crotch when I showed up at the fingers. Looking down from the heights, I saw some of the more or less ambulatory Riparians, truth be told, more less than more, were gathered inside what used to be Runcible Roundabout. It was an opportunity for me to reflect, and you as well, gentle reader, upon our surreal new world that has such people in it. In the two and a half generations since T-168, after the people with fatal additions—three livers or nine pancreases, for example—left the gene pool, happiness was the order of the day. As it was 30,000 years ago, when Cro Magnons easily had twelve square kilometers of land per person, we now had enough space that we could pick our breakfasts off a tree or scoop up a tortoise for lunch. Most of us enjoyed an idyllic existence in this new Eden. That was the first crack in what passed for society and civilization these days. Another set of folks were dedicated to undoing the negative effects of Telomere Helper while preserving life extension. This meant, of course, restarting industry. That implied, naturally, work, pooled risk, and people telling other people what to do. As I write this, and keep in mind that I am fast approaching the age at which Joseph died in Egypt, there is plenty of room for everyone. As I write this. As in right now. But.

I looked down once more, higher now, perched on the hood over Three Fingered Jill’s crotch, huddled there with a few more original bearers. The opening of the Time Capsule was the nearest thing to news that the populace would get. People who had never heard of Runcible River or read a single issue of the Lear stampeded toward our dimorphous riverbank, as it was said the buffalo used to do not far west from our town. The second crack snapped into focus for me, after these many years. T-168 duplications were passed down to subsequent generations. That hadn’t raised eyebrows—two, four, or six at a time—among the Elysian set. Yet from the commanding eyrie, I saw that the people were clustering in groups of similar morphologies, which somehow was never researched in Eden or Wall Street. Dear reader, I have taken this task upon myself. The Scroobious were fairly capable of efficient locomotion. The Mumbians, to the extent I could hear and see them from up here, had advanced—yes, I’ll say it—evolved advanced speech and semiotic adaptations undreamt by Noam Chomsky. I’ve classified the remainder, with finer points of categorization, in a file labeled the Jumblies. My reverie was broken by the sound of three throats being cleared. The Guy had come back to town.

“Hi, Dad. Return of the Prodigal Father?”

“C.J. Good to see you. Lucky I only have two eyes. I’m here to see what I have wrought. There’s twelve of us, just like last time. Think we can get that box out of her in one piece, and down to the Roundabout? I see you already have an engineering crew making a plan. Optimizing the combinations of arms, legs, and eyes. Good boy. That’s leadership.”

“I’m not leading anything, Dad. This is just happening. We brought the box up and shoved it into its safe place, and now we’re pulling it out. I think we’ve had enough to do with leaders.”

“Even better, my son. If nobody knows you’re he leader, there’s less chance of you getting shot.”

Carter was hopeless. But as I thought of the situation, I realized the old bastard was finally good for something: giving me the idea for what must be done, writing this memoir. Which I will start after the frumferall of the Time Capsule. While helping bring the precious piece of pre-telomere helper existence out of Jill’s sanctuary and down to earth, I saw Willy Boy drive up to the Roundabout. In an automobile. Fancy that. It was a Crown Vic; I recognized it from the old days doing duty as RRPD’s unmarked car. Possibly the only such car that absolutely everyone knew was a cop car. Behind Willy there were two panel trucks. Willy’s crew started unloading and then assembling an outdoor courtroom. Somehow my competition managed to find a judge, a bench, and a stack of subpoena and search warrant forms, which he started waving around.

“Everyone halt. Under the authority of and as District Attorney for Scrufferden County, I am executing a search warrant on this box.” Will was only minimally affected by the gene debacle—six earlobes and three chins.

“You idiot, Willy. That’s what we’re doing. It’s going to open itself up in about five minutes and we’re all going to see what’s in it. You’ve got yourself your own judge; she’ll be responsible for anything not claimed by an owner or going into probate. Nobody really thought at the time that any of us would be alive to see this.    What is it that you’re looking for anyway, Will?”

“The gun that shot my Aunt Madeline. Justice must be served, no matter how long it takes.”

William could be forgiven for not recognizing his Aunt. Her face had become a field of eyelids and eyelashes. The Runciblians finally got to the sealed, secretive boxes, and then the sought-after prize: the gun that shot Madeline.

“My little slow-learning nephew is a big man now, coming to solve the big crime. It was your fault, you cretin. It was my own gun; I had just bought it, filled out the paperwork and everything. Tommy was showing how to load it, clean it, use the safety, stuff like that, before he was going to take me the next day to the range. But you were driving drunk and you plowed into a fire hydrant the bang made Tommy pull the trigger. Dimwit.”

The good thing about T-168 is that you can look into the face of someone robbed of the chance to solve a decades-old mystery and just not notice any hints of what the person was feeling. Which nose would be growing longer?

Mayor Deformaggio and The Guy bid on the picture of the first residents of Runcible River. I outbid them both.

“Creations of a new world! Look at this picture! No two people looked less like each other than them. Yet, they managed, together, to build a city; a city that survives to this day, such as it is. Don’t make the mistakes of the past. Don’t judge by appearances. Judge by how well you can cooperate. Who know what remains of the effects of T-168? Who would bet against us needing each other, Eden and City, Bumphry and Gronister together. Don’t make our mistakes all over again, allow yourselves to make fresh, new mistakes and see where it leads. Good luck, and you all know where the original document of this screed will lie in safety.

October 09, 2020 03:03

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