whiff of unpleasantness
Just for the record, our yellow-haired, red-sweatshirted,
space-traveling and somewhat scruffy hero has been bouncing between
dimensions since early last
year. Heres episode 16 ...
take the hindmost!" screamed some redneck on the TV screen.
Mel had turned the set on, then back off so he could think.
He pondered his situation but was unable to make heads or tails.
So there was an Anne/Smith connection, but why? Was Smith originally
Vic Hausmann before some egghead science experiment blew up in his
face? And why was Frank Burley eliminated when he figured out that
Mel had been set up?
Hell, Mel thought, I'm starting to sound like a Tolliver
Sloan conspiracy movie.
At the bottom of all this was a strange, dark-brown feeling of
hurt. For the first time since a vacation in sunny Southeast
Asia 33 years ago, Mel had dropped all thoughts of dishonest living.
had considering returning home, with Anne in tow, to start a new
life. He entertained a mental flash of Anne sitting in a porch swing,
and smiled. Maybe he'd go to school, let himself fall in love
No, he thought, fuck that!
All daydreaming shattered when he looked down at the photo album
in his hands. There was Anne huddled over a lab bench with Mel's
own nut-job evil twin.
Yes, that same doppelganger had told Mel something critical: "You
have no idea how bad it's going to get. Welcome to Portland!"
Well, now Mel understood. He'd been set up and hardcore betrayed
in this sleepy little burg. On the surface Portland was a watered-down
copy of Bridgeton much the same as how cities in real life
seem less real than in movies. Mel sensed that underneath all this
were more traps for him than he could imagine.
So, if he were placed into a game where the rules were unknown,
there was one thing for him to do: make up rules of his own, then
cheat for good measure. But what he needed most of all was some
freedom to move, and ready cash was necessary for that.
The new game was blackmail no matter how objectionable that
might be. Mel's encyclopedic knowledge of Bridgeton's collective
indiscretions was essentially useless here. His first encounter
with Smith in Stumptown had proved that. Next came the cheating
Mel reached for the phone, then hesitated. This was going to be
humiliating and possibly dangerous, but he knew there was usually
an advantage to be had in performing unexpected actions. He grabbed
the receiver from its cradle.
There was no dial tone. Instead, a woman greeted him. Unsure of
what to say, he simply stated, "This is Mel."
In the background he heard a familiar voice bark a Slavic-sounding
something. He imagined the woman, her hand muffling the business
end of the phone.
"Is Mel!" she shrieked. A momentary pause followed some
shuffling, then Mel's work began.
"Hello, Mel, this is Vlad," the familiar voice said.
"I was waiting for your call."
Mel couldn't help but blurt "I
need some help. You
"Mel," the Impaler intoned, "I understand that this
seems humiliating and possibly dangerous to you. Don't worry. I
have you well in hand."
"If you can read my mind, then why do you use the phone? And
why weren't you on the line right away if you knew it was me?"
Mel caught a whiff of unpleasantness from Vlad Dracula's tone.
"Your questions are irritating, but I feel compelled to satisfy.
I may be the most powerful being in the worlds as we know them,
but I will tell you what I have come to rely on for preserving my
immortality: a good secretary."
"Look, I just need ..."
"Besides, if all I do is read your mind, then when do I get
a chance to do this?"
And with that, the phone in Mel's hand seemed to jump. Suddenly
he was on the floor, crushed by an amazing weight. The phone must
have weighed three or four hundred pounds, and it was all Mel could
do to keep it from caving his chest.
"We'll make a man of you yet, Mel. Now listen. Downstairs
in apartment 362 is a man named O'Neill
The Impaler gave Mel a wealth of precise, nasty detail necessary
for the operation. The bland voice was very thorough, and it seemed
to take forever while Mel's breath disappeared. At last he was left
with only a dial tone and aching muscles. Sore or not, Mel grabbed
his duffel and remaining possessions, then split.
minutes later he left the building with two grand in the front pocket
of his freshly-washed red sweatshirt.
All he had had to do to get the cash was promise O'Neill that his
review of certain pseudonymous gay pornos (co-starring O'Neill)
would never make it into the apartment building's monthly newsletter.
Simple and quick.
So now Mel was left with a quandary: where to go?
Before the morning's revelations, he had still planned to visit
Doctor Maniacal and the Shanghai Tunnels. Maybe he still would.
As dangerous a person to cross as Vlad the Impaler was, Mel was
full of piss and vinegar. Resolved to be contrary and ignore the
vampire's warnings, Mel walked a half block to the bus stop, where
he pondered his destination.
Anne's description of Chez Maniacal and the surroundings matched
somewhat with Mel's memory of Bridgeton. Maniacal's warehouse was
an abandoned hulk near a dive called the Blackhawk Inn; not too
far from the train yards, in fact.
Mel could hop the trolley and be there in no time. He lost himself
in rehearsing his next few blackmails. Strangely, all he could remember
of his conversation with Vlad were sordid details the vampire lord
had provided. He shrugged it off as the trolley rolled up. Mel boarded.
A matter of minutes, filled with the usual mass-transit nonsense,
brought the trolley to Mel's destination.
He hopped to the curb and was greeted not by the run-down dive
of his memory, but the rather cozy-looking White Eagle Tavern. Across
the street was the warehouse that must belong to the crazy old Doctor
in this world.
As Mel debated the merits of thwarting Vlad versus a cold beer,
he thought back on the bizarre turnaround of this morning. One last
glimpse of Anne brushed his mind in an unexplainable way, then was
"Hell with this," uttered Mel. "Devil take the hindmost."
He took a step.