Sunday, March 17, 2013

101. "Mack is back"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo* 

illustrations by danny delcroix and eddie el greco

*Assistant Professor of Cyber-Culture, Associate Checkers Club Coach, Olney Community College; editor of Highway to Eternity: 7 Previously Uncollected Short Novels of Speculative Fiction, by Horace P. Sternwall, with a Foreword by Fred Flynn; Olney Community College Press.

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click here for synopsis of all chapters so far

Mack Treacher woke up in a dark alleyway, in a large trashcan. It had to be a large trashcan, because Mack Treacher was a large man. He struggled to climb out of it, the can fell over, and Mack crawled out, onto the slimy cobblestones.

If the Professor had calculated right, Mack should be in New York City, sometime in late September of 1950.

Mack felt shaky, and, as usual after one of these trips, a little sick to his stomach.

He always felt this way after a trip through the Professor’s Temp-O-Rizor™. The last time he had made a trip he had to go all the way back to late-Victorian London, to straighten out that Jack the Ripper case. Time before that it was Berlin, April 1945, a mission to keep that bastard Hitler from setting off a giant “biological” bomb that would have wiped out all of humanity from the face of the earth, which would have meant that he, Mack Treacher, would never have been born. Of course that also would have meant that his bitch ex-wife would never have been born either, not to mention Mack’s ungrateful slattern of a teenage daughter.

Sometimes you had to take the bad with the good.

That last job was supposed to have been his last one ever.

The President had been grateful, very grateful. The tall slim politician had made some phone calls to his old Ivy League buddies, and had gotten Mack’s viper-tongued trollop of a daughter into Harvard, full scholarship.

Then the President handed Mack a certified check for one million dollars, tax free.

“Thanks, Mr. President,” Mack said, and he slipped the check into the back pocket of his acid-washed 501s.

“Now that business is out of the way, may I offer you a beer, Mack? I’ve got the good stuff: Heineken.”

“Sorry, Mr. President, I guess you didn’t know, but I’m a recovering alcoholic. Too many bad memories I guess. Too many people I’ve seen die. Too many people I’ve had to kill.”

“Maybe a nice single malt scotch then? People give me this stuff all the time. You like Glenlivet?”

“Mr. President, if I can’t drink beer, I’m sure as hell not going to drink scotch.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m very sure.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you, Mack, anything at all?”

“Yes, there is, Mr. President.”

“Name it. If it’s within my power, it’s yours. And, Mack, there is very little that’s not within my power.”

“Can you put out a hit on my bitch ex-wife?”

“Consider it done. I’ll get Seal Team 7 on it right away.”

“I was kidding, Mr. President.”

“Oh, sorry, Mack.”

“Here’s what you can do for me, Mr. President. Next time you got some little crisis that’s got to be dealt with, anything at all —”

“Like that vampire zombie apocalypse?” said the president, with a wry chuckle.

“Right,” said Mack. 

“Or hordes of subterranean demons?”

“Right,” said Mack. “Anything at all. Do me a favor.”

“Like I said, Mack, name it.”

“Don’t call me. Because this was my last job."

“You said that the last time.”

“This time I mean it.”

“You said it the time before the last time, and the time before that.”

“Well, this time I really mean it. Don’t call me. Get someone else.”

“Sure, Mack, whatever you say. But can I give you a buzz now and then? Just to say hello, just to chat.”

“You have my cell phone number. And my e-mail. And you can always PM me on Facebook.”


“But just to chat, Mr. President. Because this time I really, really mean it. This was my last job.”

Last job.

What a laugh.

Yesterday the President had called Mack on his cell. Mack had been puttering around his shack up in the Sierras, trying to put together a home entertainment center he had bought from Ikea when the phone rang.

“Mack, it’s me, the President.”

“Is this just a chat call, Mr. President? Because I’m a little busy right now.”

“No, Mack, it’s not a chat call. I have a job for you.”

“Mr. President, what did I tell you the last time we spoke?”

“I know, I know, last job, bla bla bla. But you always say that, Mack.”

“This time I mean it. I’m out. I’m out for good.”

“I hear you’ve been having financial difficulties, Mack.”

This was an understatement. Mack had taken that check for a million dollars and invested it in his dream project, a raw meat bar in Frisco, selling only the finest raw game and organic beef and pork. The health department had closed him down within six weeks. A million bucks down the drain. And here he was in his shack in the hills, trying to put together a home entertainment center that he didn’t even know how he was going to pay for.

“Mack,” said the President. “Are you still there?”

“Yeah, I’m still here, Mr. President.”

“How does two million sound to you, tax free?”

Mack sighed, took out his Camels. These things were going to kill him someday.

“Who do I have to kill?” he said.

“Possibly no one, Mack. But I need you to meet with the Professor again.”

“Oh, no, not again.”

“I’m sorry, Mack.”

“Do you know how nauseated I get after a trip in the Professor’s machine?”

“We can give you all the latest anti-nausea pills, Mack.”

“Even the kind with codeine in them?”

“Of course, Mack. And lots of them. And absolutely free of charge.”

“I just don’t know, Mr. President. Why don’t you call one of these younger guys?”

“Because you’re the best, Mack. Tell you what, we’ll make it two-five.”

“Two and a half million?”

“Certified government check.”

“Make it three and we’ve got a deal.”

“Two point seven five,” said the president.

Mack lit up his Camel with his Zippo, took a good drag, and looked at the unassembled home entertainment center and its sheet of incomprehensible instructions lying there on the dirty floor.

“Okay,” he said. “It’s a deal. Where am I going this time?”

“Back to 1950, New York City.”

“And why?”

“We need you to track down two aliens who landed on top of some old hotel and are passing as human beings. We need you to track them down and stop them.”

“Aliens, huh? From outer space?”

“We’re not talking about wetbacks sneaking in to work in the blueberry fields, Mack.”

“When do I leave?”

“A chopper is five minutes away from your place now.”

Mack sighed.

He was back in. But for two point seven five mil? Maybe this really would be his last job.


Mack dusted himself off, took a deep breath of garbagey air, felt even more nauseated. He reached into the inside pocket of his powder-blue suit jacket, took out the little plastic bottle, opened it, shook out a handful of pills and swallowed them dry. The pills would help, but he wouldn’t really feel better until he had a few cups of strong black coffee inside him. 

He walked out of the alley and came to the sidewalk. He looked to the right, saw a hotel marquee and entrance. If the Professor’s calculations were right, and they usually were, more or less, this should be the place.

He walked down to the entrance.

There was a sign there.


This was the place all right.

Mack went up the steps, and a very old, very tall doorman opened the door for him.

“Welcome to the Hotel St Crispian, sir.”

(To be continued, inexorably.)

102. in the arena

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