(c)2008 by Robert E. Kennedy

A slightly different version of this story appeared in "Double Danger Tales."

Illus by Mark Fults

1991

I have never been a good patient.

Usually I get Doc Wannamaker, or Tiny the paramedic, to stitch it or splint it, or patch it, then I disappear.

If absolutely necessary I take a private cottage at Doc's clinic. There's a legend among the staff that Howard Hughes paid the start up money for the place. When I'm there I usually carry on his tradition of never being seen. This time was different.

I'd burned my hands taking down a firebug. Literally! Things weren't all that bad. First and second degree.

No grafts necessary, if I followed the the proper procedure.

They hurt like the blue blazes that had burned them. And I was not to move them at all for at least a week.

"You'll need a private duty nurse, of course," said Doc as he injected a dose of pain killer. He gave me one of those impish looks of his. I decided I was in for some surprises. When he gets that look I'll swear he's had Canaries for lunch. "I have several qualified people on staff and several others I can bring in. However, you have special needs. While the average nurse can change any dressings, and see to your personal needs, I think the Nurse's Union would draw the line at changing out your face. We both know that your base coat of makeup must be refreshed at least once before you leave and I," he almost smiled, "am far too busy."

Suddenly it hit me. James Caan, Kathy Bates, Steven King! He's going to lock me up with my number one fan!

"Dana?" I said.

"Precisely. You know that she still comes out here for some of her treatments and our support group. Every time she corners me and demands an accounting of every contact I've had with you. Besides, can anyone else in this time zone change your makeup properly?"

I hesitated a bit, then admitted, "Just you and her. Are you sure she's up to it?"

"For a chance to spend more time with you? To actually help you? To try and pay back some of what you did for her? First you saved her life, then her soul. She's told me that a dozen times. Gratitude, hero worship, love? I can't say, but this will boost her self-esteem immensely. And if it is only hero worship... Feeding, dressing and bathing you for a week should give her a very different perspective."

So that was it. Doc immobilized my hands by what looked like boxing gloves attached to bracing boards. Need I add that he had Dana waiting outside dressed in the same semi-informal pants suit that his regular nurses wear? Her face looked somber enough unless you knew her like I did. Certain little tics of her hands and her almost imperceptible body language told me she wanted to get her own private circus on the road. Since we were in the public area of the clinic she greeted me by the alias on the paperwork. She told me, just a little too sweetly, that Doctor Wanamaker had briefed her ever so thoroughly about my needs. Groaning inwardly, I told her I was in her care.

A cold wind blew across the resort like clinic grounds. She insisted on wrapping me in several blankets against the cold. And so Dana pushed my wheel chair, with the IV stuck in my arm, and all, to my cottage. On the way, I'll be darned if it didn't start to snow.

The first two days went by easily for me. Way behind on sleep as always, I hibernated with breaks for meals and when a real nurse followed the snow blower over to check my hands.

The pain killers put me into a much deeper sleep than usual. I can't remember any of it, but I must have gotten into one heck of a three alarm nightmare that second night. What I do have a chaotic memory of is being in an earthquake when the ceiling gave way. In the dark something pinned my chest and both my upper arms. More stuff fell hitting me repeatedly in the face.

Then I woke up!

Dana sat on my sternum with a knee on each of my biceps. The head of the bed tilted up about thirty degrees, so she had hold of the headboard with one hand to keep from falling backwards. With the other hand she slapped my face.

She'd fallen into a rhythm. "Dana," -slap- "Dana, you" -slap- "can stop..." The last would be slap turned into a caress, then into a death grip that threatened to split my mask.

"You scared me half to death," she breathed. "You kept trying to move your hands. I shook you and shook you, but you started thrashing even more. Another five seconds and I'd have pushed the panic button for a crash cart. What kind of nightmare did you have?"

"If you'll let go of my jaw I can answer you better," I croaked. "I'll bet you've left a dent in my chin padding."

She blushed a bit at that. I could tell by her flaming red ears. Then she smiled that wonderful smile that barely showed through -her- makeup. Not a smile for the world, but one from her heart. Quite purposefully, she screwed up her face like a melodrama villain and over projected for the last row of the theater, "Finally, DuddleyDoRight, I have you completely in my power!"

"Not really Nell," I snorted, falling into the game a bit. "I could still kick you behind either ear and drop you like a gaffed Tuna. Now hop down before Inspector Fenwick catches us. Your father would never understand."

Dana spent the next few minutes fussing over me. Checked the restraints on my forearms. Made an herbal tea for both of us. (Believe me drinking hot tea with a straw is an art.) Finally she realized that far too much adrenaline bounced off the walls of the cottage for either of us to sleep. The wall clock indicated 3:37a.m. and seemed to be in no hurry to advance.

She got a far away look in her eyes. Again a small smile to herself flashed across her face. I started to wonder if she'd slipped something in the tea.

Finally she got up to look out the front window. I saw her shoulders shake from a silent giggle. She turned back to me and said in her normal tone, "Duddley, there's a raging blizzard out there. Six inches more since they brought dinner. We're snowed in. By the way, you've never given me anything to call you when we're alone. Therefore I just decided to keep calling you Duddley until you provide something better."

She paused for my reaction. I did my best not to give her any. I can read her eyes pretty well, they showed me more to come. "Help me get up," I asked.

In a few minutes I sat in the chair specially designed to hold the boards attached to my hands and forearms. I gazed out the triple pained glass and realized I couldn't see the neighboring cabin, much less the main buildings six hundred meters away.

She pulled a footstool next to my chair and sat down. She looked at my bandaged hands, then slid her fingertips gently from my left hand down to my bare upper arm. Looking plaintively into my eyes, she put both hands gently around my arm and asked, "Please, Uncle Duddley, tell me a story."

"A story? Just what kind of story did you have in mind," I said.

"Tell me a story about you. About you getting started in your crazy business of righting wrongs and rescuing damsels in distress, like me. You don't have to tell all the Top Secret details. Doc says you've been doing this for going on twenty years, but you don't seem old enough for that.

"You've done so much for me, and for a lot of people you don't even know. Please, please, I want to understand you better. At least a little better. Besides, Doc said to make sure you sleep." She got up and and put some small pillows around my head. 'So I'll give you a choice. Talk us both to sleep, or I can give you something to knock you flat."

More drugs I didn't need. So I thought for a minute and then began a highly edited version of my first real case.

"We'll call this story 'Seven Days In August, Sort Of.' Once upon a time a squire returned from a Crusade in far off Asia. The Crusade had not gone well and many believed it was the wrong crusade. And on that hot summer of his return the leader of his kingdom had brought great trouble on himself and seemed almost ready to give up his position..."

Even the cut down version I told the wide eyed Dana opened the floodgates of my memories of that summer of 1974, one of the all time low points in the history of the American Spirit.


2 August 1974

That last day in Saigon... In the days before I said good-by to my Asian mentors: the Chinese mimic, the three martial arts instructors, and the American surgeon who had created my vocal implant with the mimic's help. Then I became an unremarkable civilian and caught a commercial jet back to the U.S. Of A. The rumors and related intel I'd seen and heard in the weeks before I left my 'office' for the final time disturbed me deeply. I felt I had to take some action.

I should have returned to the States, 'back to the World' as many GIs put it, via chartered jet liner to the Air Base at Sacramento, California. But I couldn't. I was dead. A coded letter home to my parents weeks before warned them that my death would be faked. I would be taking up the family business after all. A Black Marketeer who had tried to kill an investigative reporter in Saigon filled in for me, and begin the long, closed coffin trip to Grand Forks, North Dakota.

As anyone who's made the jet age trek home from the Far East can tell you, you basically write off one whole day. During that day I dozed and reflected on the year I'd spent as a gofer for an Army Intelligence Team in and around Saigon. From my point of view I could not have picked a better immediate supervisor. On his fifth tour in Viet Nam dating back almost to Dien Bien Phu his actions contradicted his attitude. Nearly totally burned out, his conscience drove him to complete his missions fully and quickly while some of the younger 'old hands' went through the motions. He spent most of his free time drinking, but was never drunk when it counted. When he came to fully trust me he gladly let me take over more and more of his work. That was my real education in intelligence gathering and use. He introduced me to the martial arts masters who would give private, no, secret lessons. The old mimic knew him from his second tour. I spent so much of my time with him soaking up eighty-five years of wisdom and skills along with his weak Jasmine tea.

I saw so much corruption there that my mind baulked at believing. And for some mission related reasons, but mostly for 'political' concerns we were not allowed to put that intel to any use. I got restless and extended many of the bugging operations we did. I started making private portfolios of corruption data that had no possible connection to the military and political situation. Finally I saw one too many atrocities swept under the carpet. Using one of the disguises I'd been testing I passed an inch thick file to Erwin Roberts of the Heavens Wire Service. He independently verified enough material to make major headlines at home and to put his life in danger from our own allies. I had to take personal action to get him out of the country alive.

That's when I picked my basic method of operation. Gather information for the people who needed it to do their jobs better. Don't get involved any more than necessary.


3 August 1974

My flight made a stopover in Hawaii. I'd made sure I'd have several hours around mid-day local time. I caught a cab the the section of Honolulu sometimes referred to as Punchbowl Hill. I paid a formal call on an old friend of the family. Retired from HPD for many years, Chang Apanna still saw many visitors. I left grateful to have met the detective used as the model for Charlie Chan.

Back at the airport I picked up a paper and saw a brief squib that stated "Officer Doyle A. Popovich of the Sacramento Police Department died while apprehending a Grand Theft Auto suspect." No details. Made me think of what I planned to do in the future. Made me more sure I was right.

Of course the paper was full of Watergate related stories. There were few new facts, but much speculation.


4 August 1974

The airport in my family's old home town seemed an air conditioned island in a sea of heat. Heat a touch drier than Saigon. I rented a car and found the local express office without too much problem. I'd visited often enough with Mom and Dad over the years to have the general layout in hand. That is except for a couple of monster multi-lane Intestates carved through the city in the last couple of years!

I claimed a couple of packages I'd shipped out of Saigon via 'pigeon,' meaning off the record. Then, relying on some old memories, I went hunting. My Dad left lots of caches of gear spread around town from when he'd been the terror of the city. Some he still kept up to date. I remembered four locations. One had been bulldozed. One had a Seven-11 against the old entry, but two were intact. I mostly cleaned them out.

At my hotel room I spread everything out on the spare bed. I spent the rest of the day rigging out clothing and special equipment. I lingered over the choices. I wanted effective, but not deadly. I checked out the several pieces of Dad's wilder gear. Everything worked. I tested the chemicals. All reacted properly.

I listened to the radio as I worked. Enough Watergate material to sink the Titanic all over again. Back in Southeast Asia, the war ground on. On a more cheerful note, the Phud Hong Foundation in Thailand had received enough donations to keep its charges from starving to death anytime soon. The report used the term Hansen's Disease in place of the inflammatory Leprosy. One per cent of the drug money out of the Golden Triangle would keep every Leper in Asia in luxury. What's wrong with this picture?

At the last minute I decided not to include any of the set of twenty beautiful throwing knives I'd commissioned through the mimic. Too deadly, and I was not yet good enough with them. I substituted several martial arts items coated with a very powerful knockout compound. Unlike the old bad joke, after my potential foes were down, I, not God, would have to sort them out. I also packed several ordinary looking pens, key rings, and personal items that fired needles coated with the same stuff.

Then I changed my appearance, called a cab and took two boxes back to the express office. I shipped them with proper labels and such I'd brought from Saigon. Their final destination, a super sensitive will call storage area of the Pentagon.


5 August 1974

My day of semi-rest. A slow day to fight the jet lag. To do the final prep before heading for the Puzzle Palace On The Potomac tomorrow. I lazed in bed till about the start of business hours. Over and over I reviewed the materials I'd seen move through our intel section. Nothing stood out like a red flag.

Take one from column 'A', and one from column 'B'. Add two each of columns 'C',"D', and 'F'. Stir well. Draw all the inferences you can. Eliminate the impossible, the first master once said. Then what remains no matter how improbable must be true. Some say the first master is still alive and living in Tibet. Others claim he's the oldest beekeeper in the United Kingdom somewhere. I still remembered the shock of seeing his signature on correspondence he'd exchanged with my Great-Grandfather. And reading those monographs. I'd applied his methods to much of the stuff I saw in Viet Nam. In this case the results seemed impossible. And yet...

And yet... The lingering doubt. My reasons for these actions.

On that glum note I hopped out of bed got down to business. The day before I'd found a furniture rental place that offered same day delivery. I bounced in there right after opening and rented a modest sized apartment full of furniture. I paid the extra for expedited delivery when I found a place.

The Brady Street area bustled with life. Part bad side of town. Part refuge for the Flower Children and war protesters. Where a lot of the action was. And a whole lot of the information. This seemed the place to start mining once I'd finished with the Pentagon. Assuming I happened to be alive and free.

I found a small place at the edge of the hottest area on the top floor of a not quite dump. I paid the rent and deposit and called for my furniture. While waiting I explored the rooms for hiding places for the more unusual stuff I'd leave behind. By mid-afternoon I'd tipped the movers and had the place all to my self. I had diner at a coffee house and organic eatery called 'The Haf'a Cup.' I decided I'd found a hangout for both off duty and on.

I picked up a copy of the local underground newspaper, 'The Upheaval.' I read it in the apartment as I listened to the street noises. The thing was flamingly anti-war and well intentioned, but the copy read like nobody on staff had ever talked to anyone who'd been to The 'Nam.

Those same street noises mixed with Top Ten music like 'Annie's Song,' "Feel Like Makin' Love,' and 'Rock and Roll Heaven,' served for a strident lullaby as I drifted off. I had a home. Sort of.


6 August 1974

Got up early and fixed myself a decent breakfast. Decent considering I'd forgotten about cookware until most stores were closed. I threw eggs plus a bunch of stuff in a well greased baking pan and hoped it would be done when I got finished with the bathroom and putting on a new face. I remember thinking, don't they call this stuff quiche?

I caught a cab to the airport and rented a car. Then I hit the highway for Washington, D.C. No way I'm taking some of this gear on a commercial flight. I need my luggage.

As the day got longer and longer I quickly grew to hate the new fifty-five mile an hour speed limit. The car only had a so-so AM radio. All I seemed to be able to pickup were news stations. Watergate. Watergate. Watergate. While I drove through Ohio some local commentator made a big deal about quoting an Arkansas Congressional candidate, "There is nothing left to say. There's no point putting this country through an impeachment since [Nixon] isn't making any pretense of innocence now... This country has suffered too long." What ever happened to Bill Clinton, anyway?

The other news wasn't much better. The Greeks and Turks on Cyprus assaulted each other with commandos, tanks and even Naval gunfire. Wherever the villages of Karavas and Lapithos lay seemed to be a good place to avoid.

Some lunatic in a tried to fly the Atlantic in a balloon. He told reporters, "What got me into ballooning was the challenge and the glory and I felt there might be some fame and fortune in it for me. I'm not without fear. It's more of an anxiety. I've been given an opportunity to get off my duff and do something exciting." Twenty minutes after launch the balloon popped and he died in the crash. Several hours later Paul Harvey reported that the authorities did not know that he had no previous ballooning experience until he was standing in his gondola ready to take-off from the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst. I suddenly decided I wasn't the only idiot at large that day.

I pulled into the D.C. area hours after I expected. I found a decent meal and a half decent motel and sacked out.


7 August 1974

Everything packed and ready, except me. The mimic, the martial arts masters, and back when even some of my honorary uncles taught me how to relax and prepare. Prepare for life. Prepare for a mission. So why am I so nervous? Maybe because I'm about to assault one of the inner bastions of one of the most sensitive buildings in the world. How many thousand people work there and I'm on a solo assault?

I brewed myself a cup of Jasmine tea. I'd actually got to like the stuff. Then I picked the method most likely to work and began to bring my nerves in check. I walled off a corner in the back of my head and told my internal switchboard to route all nonproductive emotions there for later processing. Then I said a couple of prayers that what I'd just done would actually work.

I put on the uniform of a Major in the Army Transportation Corps. Picked up a briefcase and a thick zipper notebook, and caught a cab to the Pentagon.

My Department of Defense form 2 (ID Card) matched the face I had on. I had plenty of mimeographed copies of orders showing my face as a new TDY (Temporary Duty) in a real backwater office in the middle ring of the massive building. I headed for that general area until I found a latrine that saw little traffic. (What's a latrine, Duddley? The Head. A Head?? The bathroom! Oh.)

I hung my gear on the stall's doorstop and redid my uniform and face. I'd even made a checklist to get the details of the rank, badges, service stripes, and fruit salad correct. (What's fruit... Ribbons. Thank you Duddley.) I tore up the checklist and flushed it.

I left the latrine as the very real CW4 George J.L. Calwell. (That's Chief Warrant Officer level 4, Dana. Nobody in their right mind messes with a senior Warrant Officer. If you do, it'll turn out he's got the Army Chief of Staff's private number on his speed dial.) I headed for the will call area I'd shipped my packages to.

Chief Calwell, the real one, actually was under deep cover in the Far East. His popping up at the Pentagon couldn't be confirmed or denied anytime soon. I had the right papers. I had the right codes and passwords. I borrowed one of their break rooms, did some load swapping and put mostly the stuff I'd carried into the Pentagon back into storage. I lugged two large briefcases down to the huge cafeteria to eat and kill some time.

I could have killed a week just wondering if the Cabal I'd traced here from Saigon could really exist. The whole point seemed to be that if/when President Nixon resigned this nameless group would grab power. The stories hinted at rounding up war protesters, carpet bombing all of North Viet Nam, and generally acting like Tailgunner Joe McCarthy had all the right ideas. At first I didn't believe the thing remotely existed. The sources must have been seeing Pink Elephants. But more and more bits and pieces passed through my hands. I started piecing together a phantom table of organization that really couldn't be checked. They appeared to be building a roster of people who wanted to join. Sign up now, we'll check you out when we have control. Express your feeling, off the record at various places. Then buried in the pile of intel tidbits I found a link to the group's Command & Control.

As much as I didn't want to believe it, finding that C & C location scared me. Then I took down that Black Market group gunning for Erwin Roberts. With a handy body about my size and so forth I began my expedited exit of the Far East. All that led up to what I'd do next. The C & C collected daily reports at 1800 hours Zulu time. (That's Greenwich Mean Time, six hours ahead of here, Dana.) Soon after I'd make my move.

I spent most of my remaining time visiting various latrines on the floor above the C & C. I left heavy duty smoke bombs with both time and radio triggers taped behind the stools. Emergency backup and diversion. Finally I put what was left in the first briefcase in my many uniform pockets, folded up the case and threw it away. I headed downstairs.

Several C & C facilities existed in the sub-basement of this wedge of the Pentagon. On paper all were empty except one doing training exercises. Once in the sub-basement I'd run out of passwords. It was all bluff from here.

I met a Spec Four at the entrance of the sub-basement. He was trying hard to stay awake. On paper his real duty was to make sure nobody "borrowed" any of the six Ops Centers' property. Whenever the one exercise running pulled the plug he'd lock up the complex and leave. Anything important going on here, he thought, and there'd be a whole squad of security.

That made him an easy bluff. I commiserated with him about the dull duty. I told him I had a personal message for the Warrant Officer running the simulation. He passed me through. As I left I dropped an "empty' hard pack of Marlboro's in his wastebasket. As soon as I let go Dad's knockout gas began seeping out. The Spec Four would not hear any ruckus for some time.

Right outside my target door I paused to tie my shoe. This served two purposes. First I knew I'd be on camera. They'd have plenty of time to hide anything. And since I wasn't rushing in, maybe they'd relax a bit. Second and most important, I initiated the release of part one of Dad's gas from pressure containers strapped to my legs.

Back in high school, after I learned Dad's secrets, I'd do parallel projects with his stuff as I did assigned ones for science classes. I discovered one aspect of the binary gas that he didn't know. If you breathed part one before being exposed to part two, you went to sleep a lot faster.

I stepped inside the first of the two doors to the center. My feet felt as if being tickled as the hissing of the gas was subdued by running through thick foam insoles. I flashed Calwell's ID at the camera in the vestibule. A Master Sergeant opened the door, looked at my ID and my face, then led me down a short corridor. The ceiling was low and steel ladders gave access to technical areas above.

When we emerged into the main room I flashed back to a boyhood trip to a NORAD Air Defense Filter Center. Ahead stretched a two story floor to ceiling clear plastic map. Behind that a few technicians monitored headphones. Several risers with banks of radar scopes, computer terminals, and phone systems rose from the bottom of the map to my level fifteen feet above. Behind me a couple of more risers and the windows of the tech areas. Most of the stations weren't manned, but all seemed to be powered up.

The Sergeant brought me past a couple of empty desks. I laid the thick briefcase on the first one. We stopped in front of another desk with a full Colonel behind it. A Captain stood beside him, going through what I took to be the daily reports just gathered.

"Hello Mr. Calwell," began the Colonel. "What can we do for you?"

As the Colonel said my name, I noticed the Captain stop and back up a couple of pages in the reports. He looked at the page, then at me, and said one word: "Argus."

Before I could blink the Colonel had an automatic pointed at me. "Don't move Chief, while I check this out. Captain?"

The Captain put a sheet of paper in his other hand and said, "A CW4 Calwell was taken into custody in Saigon four hours ago."

"Mr. Calwell, very slowly raise your hands. We'll sort this out on our terms."

The Sergeant calmly moved away from the line of fire. Slowly I raised my hands... AND ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE!

Raising my arms above a certain level closed some electronic circuits. The briefcase flipped open as a recorder began to play "The Stars & Stripes Forever" as loud as the horribly over driven speakers in the case could handle. He didn't want to, but the Colonel looked away, just enough. Knockout gas sprayed from under my arms right into his face. I pivot kicked the automatic towards the map and dived aside. I rolled upright and slapped the crystal of my watch. It spat a needle into the charging Sergeant's thigh.

I rose up barely in time to meet the Captain's almost blind rush. I pulled myself to the side just enough to put an Aikido based move on him. He sailed over the first tier of terminals and crashed against the second. His impact exactly matched the beginning of the briefcase's second act.

The case fired the first salvo of several dozen tiny gas grenades. Some burst in the air, some on impact, others when they stopped. Gas now flowed out my sleeves where ever I pointed them. The music reached a certain measure. On the beat the case made a slightly different chugging sound. I covered my eyes. The room filled with the light of a hundred flashbulbs. Every sixth major beat another would come.

I pulled one of the fountain pens out of my jacket and fired its two sleep needles into people coming at me from above. I yanked off the cap and threw the perfectly balanced thing at another man above. The pen nib sank into his palm and he collapsed.

After the next flash bomb I took stock. The electromagnetic generator in the briefcase reduced all the display screens to static. Clouds of gas roiled everywhere. More than I could account for. Most people should have been sound asleep, but a bunch of them were working their way towards me. They moved well, but not like the mostly young military. They moved older. But nobody was passing out!

I grabbed my second pen and a key-chain and moved to fend off those coming up on my left. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone had almost reached the briefcase. He had a big shock coming when he touched it By now the lid had welded itself open and the bottom would be firmly glued to the table. Not to mention the electric shock.

I missed the first man to reach my level. This did not look good. Covered my eyes. Flash! He hadn't. I've got him.

From over by the case I thought I heard someone say, "Its mine!"

Suddenly a human whistle drowned out the music. Then followed a stentorian bellow: "J.D. Freeze!"

I froze. A few seconds later the music stopped. "Everybody freeze! Right now! This is a misunderstanding ...believe it or not."

I said to myself, "Dad?"

-=-=-=

A few minutes later my Dad was giving every sleeper counter agent. My honorary uncle, Dr. Fairchild, tended to the Captain, remarking that I had slam dunked the only other medical person and the only one in the complex without extensive martial arts training. Mr. Jones would be sore for some time.

Now I understood why they'd moved as they did. They were mostly my father's age, or even older. Now that I had the context, I began to identify a number of them as other honorary uncles.

And we'd both been using the same gas. Everyone had taken the same antidote. No wonder they didn't fall over.

-=-=-=

"Duddley, you mean they were all like you?"

"Not all of them, Dana, but that has to be the biggest class reunion of Independent Operators in history. Most of them hadn't been active in the business for over twenty years. My Uncles Dan and Richard dreamed up the operation. They were a couple of former civilian federal agents. They'd had a falling out with J. Edgar Hoover and the McCarthy witch hunters. They moved over to an all branches military group called JANIG in the mid-1950's. They called in a lot of old markers and set up a sting operation to see if anyone happened to be crazy enough to want to try a power grab. Everyone who's health permitted jumped at the chance. On paper some still had wants out on them, but the two masterminds knew where their hearts were.

"They set up 'Recruiting Stations' in D.C., San Francisco, Hawaii & Saigon. The premise ran that if there really happened to be plotters out there, they'd either try to wipe out Dad's group or get them to join up. When the situation with Nixon seemed about to reach critical mass Dan and Richard decided to start using Dad's gas to grab suspicious people until the mess ended.

"Once everybody agreed that I was on their side, I spent the next two days watching and helping. We had TV cameras all over D.C. I even saw that White House staffer throw a pen at Dan Rather. Good throw, too. Hit his shirt point on.

"Then on the morning of August tenth someone told President Ford about our operation. I remember his call on the C & C speaker like it was yesterday."

-=-=-=

"Yes, Mr. President," answered Uncle Dan, "we're wrapping the operation up now. Everybody should be cut free in the next few hours. "

"How many are you holding?"

"Thirty-four people, sir."

"Even in these troubled times that's many more people than I thought possible." He sounded very weary.

"Let me break that down for you, sir. We got one honest to gosh Fascist who believed takeover the only way to keep America strong. We have two field grades whose careers are in the toilet. They're just amoral enough to rebuild their careers that way. Then we snared thirty assorted people including Military CID, Federal, State, and local agents or officers, some investigative reporters and a couple of private eyes. Every last one of them trying to get enough dope on us to call in a strike force."

The President broke out laughing. I thought he was going to choke. Finally he spoke again, with more energy. "You mean... you mean you got ten times as many trying to shut you down as sign up? Wait a minute, you said thirty-four, that's only thirty-three."

"Yes Mr. President, we also have one very young..." He turned and shoved me into a bunch of my uncles who lightly pummeled me. "...brand new Independent Operator who nearly DID shut us down. We'll forward the list of thirty-three over to you. The Constitution worked perfectly, Mr. President. We are all very glad to be an unread footnote to the transfer of authority."

-=-=-=

"You wouldn't believe some of the people who heard the rumors and investigated. Steve McGarrett and Chang's grandson Roland Appana got nabbed in Hawaii along with a Naval officer named Magnum. Robert Ironside started turning San Francisco upside down when some of his team got interned. The folks in the Saigon recruiting office snagged Mr. Calwell, plus Dan Briggs, Jim Phelps, and King Farriday, some of the best undercover contractors in the business. D.C. acquired a few bruises grabbing Napoleon Solo, John Keith, Amos Burke, plus Alexander Scott and Kelley Robinson. You may not know all those names, Dana, but that's a an amazing list. They even pulled in one of JANIG's own, Steve Ames, who wasn't in on the scheme."

"And that was the end of it?" asked Dana.

"As far as the operation was concerned, sure. Just clean up, pack and shred. And one whale of a party at a converted airplane hanger at Washington Airport."

-=-=-=

I didn't tell Dana the final kicker. Before pulling the plug Uncle Richard set up a conference call with all parties including most of the thirty and Chang Appana. I could only make out a few words of the fast Chinese between him and Richard, but the old detective switched to English and thanked us for our efforts.

With the business part of the call over, a voice spoke up from Saigon. I wasn't really surprised to recognize my former supervisor.

"I had an assistant who disappeared just when things went into high gear." He then described me far too well. "I figured he'd show up at one of the recruiting stations. He saw all the stuff that came through my hands. I don't see him on the list."

My Dad put his arm on my shoulders and told him: "You let him see a little too much, Cowboy. He turned up here at C & C. Nearly put us out of business."

My code name in Saigon started as a joke by the station commander. But my boss understood my connection to Native Americans. I never felt more proud as he broke off the call with, "Way to go, Tonto."

-=-=-=

"That was a heck of a story, Duddley" yawned Dana. During the telling she'd rolled my chair next to the end of the bed and curled up on it catlike. "Are you comfy?"

I agreed that I was through half closed eyes. She pushed a button on the chair's remote control. The chair eased into a nice sleeping position.

"Night Duddley," she whispered. "Dream about the story you'll tell me tonight."

Suddenly I was wide awake.


The Voice

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VOICE Background

Erwin K. Roberts began kicking around the idea of a second generation hero in the late 1960's. The story in this issue is The Voice's first case. His last known action happened in December 1999. However, the series was not written in time order.

Erwin wrote the 47,000 word "Plutonium Nightmare" in 1979 as an attempt to crack the second wave of the Clone-Mack-Bolan-Market. When that didn't work out he only wrote an additional short story detailing how The Voice met the young man who acts as his 'Burbank' in the novel.

Shortly after that Erwin became heavily involved in access/community cable TV production. This sucked up most of his free time through the late 1990's.

In 2001 he discovered Fading Shadows Press, Tom and Ginger Johnson's pulp reprint and original stories publications. He decided to start putting down some of the stories of The Voice that had been kicking around in his head. First he dusted off that old short story, giving it minor revisions.

Then something happened that Erwin had heard of, but never expected to experience. In his own words:

"I'd been mulling over how someone like The Voice would react when a case ends tragically. One evening the wife and adult kids went to one of the casino boats. I sat down at the computer and the story titled "Voice Of Pain" wrote itself while I watched. Incredible!"

He emailed the to stories to Tom and Ginger. Both were accepted. That is when he wrote the story here called Stateside Debut. The full title of the thing originally was: "Snowy Night's Tales of The Voice, Story the First: Stateside Debut" The idea being that The Voice would tell Dana a story every night that might, or might not, be true.

Just before Fading Shadows folded its magazine line the novel "Plutonium Nightmare" was serialized in Double Danger Tales.

Then there's "A Voice For Justice," a seven eights complete screenplay. In early 1990's Kansas City a fellow named Todd Sheets made near zero budget horror movies. In fact, Erwin and his daughter appeared in one film. And Todd worked on Entertainment Spectrum, Erwin's cable show. Erwin tried to convince Todd to try a mystery man film or two. So he wrote that screenplay and a treatment for another character before it became clear Todd was not interested.

To complete a companion volume to "Plutonium Nightmare" Erwin is writing a multi-part story arc of how The Voice met Dana. The finished screenplay will also be included. And the treatment for that other character has evolved into a crossover story featuring The Voice.

Like any hero who works mainly in disguise, illustrating The Voice is a problem. The Voice's real face is never seen. Erwin modified clip art to make character portraits for the members of the cast for the serialization of the novel. The Voice does have a signature combat rig with a sniper's veil for a mask. So far he has only worn it once.

And that's the status of The Voice. In the last year an a half Erwin has written 70,000 words of about public domain pulp heroes. His next project is the last story or two for the first book in his new series "The Journey of Freedom's Spirit & Samuel."

If you liked what you read about The Voice, "Plutonium Nightmare" is available here. Plutonium Nightmare
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Erwin K. Roberts can be reached at erwin.k.robertsATgmailDOTcom