Beyond Maximum Horror, part III

by Pete Finkelstein

Well, that pretty much put Baby Vetterlein over the top. His killing power multiplied exponentially, which doesn't seem to add up until you consider that He eventually granted His disciples the authority to recruit new Initiates. Killing everywhere, frantic, panicky-eyed, zealous killing! Everyone was dying now; not just the homeless and the stupid, but the elite power brokers sitting in their Mazda Miata's with cellular telephones clutched in their pudgy, filet mignon-fattened hands. The rich and the beautiful joined their humble, sluggish, do-nothing brethren in returning to the soil from which their frames had been fashioned. Baby Vetterlein just would not let up. The West Coast fell, then the Midwest. Offshoots of the Babe's campaign of terror sprouted and bore repugnant fruit throughout the Americas and Europia. You might pick up the newspaper one day and read the startling headline, ``People Dying at Prodigious Rates in Country X'', say, or perhaps ``Everyone Not Alive in Location Y''. These are just typical examples.

And back at the White House Oval Office, all was not jollity and happy-go-lucky good-old-boy joshing. The situation wasn't looking particularly promising. Civilization was staggering around, trying to get its legs under it before it toppled over into the abyss. And President Ferd DiMarcino knew this. He could read the handwriting on the wall. All the signs were there. And so one day, in another one of those tense who's-gonna-break-the- silence-first scenes, he clutched at a final straw.

``I didn't want to do this, but... it might be time to call in Colonel Jonathan Steele and the Enforcement Squad.''

Jonathan Steele was what you might call a loose cannon... but it would be prudent to avoid doing so to his face. The Top Brass had recruited Steele straight out of the Digsford County Behavioral Reformatory for Young Gentlemen in Digsford, Colorado. At the age of 15 he had strangled his dog, stolen his old man's Busch-Winston 9000 emitter-collector pulse rifle (firing standard case-mounted, recoilless, predictor-corrector, retractable tip, armor-piercing shells), and gone on what you might call a shooting spree. Twenty-three crippled or dead victims later, and wiser to the tune of a slap on the wrist from a kindly old judge who couldn't bear to see a child's future slip headfirst down the water slide, Steele was precisely the man-fodder the military needed to jump-start its hyper-soldier training program. His progress through the Rank and File had been stellar: Top of his class in Horrible Dismemberment and Mutilation School, distinguished service in the Mercilessly Relentless Training Brigade, first-rate marksman, practically unlimited ability in the tactics of Assured Unilateral Destruction... you name the area of expertise, Steele had more or less walked all over it and taken it to a new level. But somewhere along the line, things had begun to go sour. His methods became... unsound. He began to break away from the fold. He shaved his head and studied poetry. He read aloud from Eliots's ``The Hollow Men'' and Frazer's ``The Golden Bough''. He burst into tears at inopportune and socially embarrassing moments, weeping inconsolably at the unspeakable horror of simply being alive. And finally, just as the Big Boys who call all the shots had decided that, no, Steele probably wasn't four-star general material after all and that it might be prudent to terminate his command, his career, and (while we're at it) his life, Steele had simply vanished... taking several of his most devoted followers with him.

And the Enforcement Squad was born.

Steele had gone deep underground, beyond all traditional means of communication or approach, and was now almost as much legend as he was substance. The last official communique the Holy Alliance Army had received from the renegade was a tape recorded short wave radio transmission of Steele's insane (?), profound (?), bewilderingly pompous and disjointed (?) musings: ``I dreamt of a slug crawling along the edge of a straight-razor. The slithering, mucilaginous flow of the creature's repulsive body across the glittering metallic edge'' [static, breakup of the transmission] ``...amusing sombrero. Well, who could have guessed it? The pile of little inoculated arms, hacked off and mouldering in the sunlight... the buzzing of myriad flies.... I wanted to cry, I wanted to tear my teeth out, I didn't know what I wanted to do. The multitudes of the dying, the endless misery, the untold horror....''

Tape hiss, more static. And a croaked whisper filled to overflowing with infinite dread and sorrow,

``The horror... the horror....''

Now that you have this token explanation of Col. Steele's background in hand (just barely enough detail to make the ensuing scenes comprehensible, if not enjoyable), let us return to the Oval Office. President DiMarcino picked up a convenient telephone sitting on his desk and dialed information.

``Yes, could you please give me the series of numbers required to dial the telephone and communicate with Col. Jonathan Steele and the Enforcement Squad? I would prefer to have the numbers in the proper sequence so I need not try all possible permutations thereof. Thank you, I'll hold.''

After getting the number, he called Col. Steele, who came to the White House directly. Ferd DiMarcino extended the hand of friendship.

``John, great to see you. Where's the Squad?''

``Oh, they... they had a little trouble getting a cab, I'll wager. Do you mind if I have a refreshing draught of seltzer water? Thanks awfully.'' Steele sat, crossed one fully pants-covered leg over the other, and eyed the assembled cabinet and bigwigs warmly. ``I'm guessing you've called me about the Baby Vetterlein mess. No luck thwarting his grandiose purge of all Humanity, I suppose?''

``Let's cut through the civilized veneer, Steele,'' President Ferdinand DiMarcino spat cruelly. ``Can you do Him or can't you?''

Steele sprang from his seat, grabbed the President by the throat and rammed him up against the wall. He poised a thumb over DiMarcino's eye and replied,

``Look, let's get something straight. This Kid is tough. He's a regular one-baby slaughterhouse. Dispatching Him isn't gonna be easy. You don't seem to understand the totality of the risks involved. I'd prefer a slightly more temperate discussion of the difficulties attendant upon this monumental mission you're so hot to send me on. Is that acceptable to all the assembly? And the people said...''

``Amen,'' came the throaty, reverent reply from the fat cats and power brokers, the movers and shakers.

``Good.'' He caressed the bulging eyeball underneath DiMarcino's quivering lid, then allowed the pink, mewling shell of a man to slump in abject submission before his gonad-laden virility. ``Look, I'll take out your trash for you. I'll do your dirty work. I'll clean up the little messes that are so inconvenient for you to parade before the public's scrutiny. But I'm going to need total, unquestioning support from this Administration. That means you must be willing to commit yourselves unreservedly to a policy of no-holds-barred terror. We've got to work on the Kid's level. From a practical standpoint, I will of course demand carte blanche and full legal immunity for myself and for the men of the Enforcement Squad, who will represent an integral part of this operation. As far as equipment is concerned, here's what I'll require to dispatch Baby Vetterlein: One (1) family-sized station wagon. One (1) U-Haul trailer. Three hundred and fifty (350) gallons of pasteurized cow's milk. Two (2) 8-foot sections of aluminum unistrut or roof rain-gutter material.''

He paused, his jaw setting in a rigid line of gritty determination.

``I'll need the address of Mommie Profundis.

``And one (1) atom bomb.''

I wish I could have wrapped the story up in the last section, because this really has gone on long enough. Any ``oomph'' this tale had petered out somewhere between the first and second of Mommie Profundis' press conferences. Well, look, that number-in-parentheses humor/comedy thing didn't work. And you don't have to be Newgate Callendar at the New York Times Book Review to tell that the ripoff of Col. Kurtz from ``Apocalypse Now'' has been (to this point, and don't hold your breath for the future) an awkward, artless hodge-podge. But you know how an author will fall in love with his characters and his plot. Mr. Author Boy just has to keep writing to show everybody how he can use those Big Words and be really creative and imaginative and everything. Well, I'm sorry Kid Hemingway, but the junior high school Gifted Class writing projects were due last week.

Ooooh, breaking the Fourth Wall and winking at the reader in self-deprecating humor.

Stuck-up, prissy little momma's-boy writers who think their fecal logs stack up neatly one atop the other and smell like a mixture of rose petals and lilac water.

Ooooh, writing.

Col. Jonathan Steele sped across the Nevada desert, the tires of his '67 Ford Impala station wagon lapping up the miles on Commonwealth Highway 535. Behind the station wagon a U-Haul trailer bucked and bounced across potholes and washboard irregularities, Atom Bomb #7456H-K (mounted in an Atom Bomb Convenience Carrier support carriage) riding within. Steele was on his way to meet a certain painted lady of dark soul and questionable character, whose identity will become all too apparent to you as this gripping story unfolds (like it's that big a secret to begin with). The Colonel's steel-belted fingers gripped the steering wheel with icy, gritty determination; his icy, gritty eyes scanned the unfolding road before him, missing nothing, capturing and instantly assimilating details you and I would have either whiffed on completely or misinterpreted so badly that we might as well have kept our eyes shut. The station wagon's AM radio blared defiantly against the night's oppressive silence: Puffy Hollander and the Enforcement Squad were playing a rousing version of ``Kill the Fatted Calf'' to the tune of the Young Gods' ``L'Amourir''. Col. Steele found himself tapping his toes in time with the bouncy, vibrant music. He began to whistle cheerfully, his eyes dancing with impish merriment. But with an abrupt and violent shake of his head, he rammed a meaty fist into the radio; the old Delco shattered and died with a crackling, hissing belch of electrical sparks and pops.

How dangerous to lose sight of your mission, he thought.

Grimacing, he steeped himself afresh in the sheer horror of Man's little problem.

At length he pulled up outside a cabin sitting alone on a windswept mesa. Pulling himself from the station wagon with a grunt, he walked cautiously up to the cabin's gracefully textured hardwood door, pressed his ear to the richly-detailed Baroque panel, and listened carefully. Hearing nothing, he tried the doorknob. The burnished brass rotated slowly in his hand, the gentle pressure of metal on flesh delighting his senses and granting him covert access to the dimly lit gloom within. A lone figure stood in the cabin's spartan living room, which was humbly furnished with a card table, several folding chairs, and a simple cot layered with golden straw. Col. Steele withdrew a Browning pistol from his shoulder holster and quietly approached the manifestly feminine silhouette.

Mommy Profundis turned her head and speared him with a burning glance, a gesture which was, unfortunately, lost to Steele's vision because the room's sole lamp stood behind her; rather than illuminating her features, the light merely spawned a protective retinue of shadows which clung to the woman's body. The Dark Mother was standing on a common bathroom scale, her feet deliciously comfy and toasty warm in a pair of fuzzy pink slippers. Two metal handles depended from the ceiling, allowing her to support a fraction of her weight with her arms rather than placing it all on the scale. In this manner she could trick the scale into reading whatever weight tickled her fancy. Col. Jonathan Steele covered the remaining distance between them with feral agility, then placed the pistol's barrel against the pallid, cool skin of the Dame of Doom's forehead. Mommie Profundis scanned Jonathan Steele's eyes and sought the essence of the man's outlawed, turbulent heart. Her gleaner's search uncovering, not the juicy, heavily spiced meat of strength and courage, but only the soggy breakfast cereal of the mercenary's ambiguous loyalties, she rapidly lost interest in the situation. And really, who wouldn't turn first to the Mother of the Annihilator for a reliable character evaluation?

The scale read a deceptive 105 pounds, and Mommie Profundis rejoiced.

``Goodnight, Mommie,'' Steele said, and pulled the trigger.

to be continued...