It was excellent 'frop. The gigantic buds were covered in glistening resin and exuded that special musky aroma. Pope Sterno had sent it, hiding a huge bag of the sacred herb in a great big jar of homemade wild blackberry preserves. The big jar had come in the morning's mail, and Stang, having known Sterno for a good twenty years, hadn't stuck a knife into the jar, oh no... He'd gotten a pair of barbecue tongs out of the kitchen drawer and reached into the jar with those, feeling carefully around for the big bag of Arkansas Razorweed he knew would be hidden within. He washed the bag carefully off in the sink, dried it with a paper towel, and painstakingly inspected the zip lock baggy to make sure his sweet Mary Jane hadn't gotten wet. Finally he opened the bag and looked inside. The weed was so lovely he almost got high just looking at it. A cautious sniff revealed the scent of heaven itself. "I'll save it for later," Stang told himself, "One pipe of this stuff will turn me into an emergentile and I won't get a thing done today."
With that, he hid the 'frop in one of his desk drawers and made breakfast, spreading some peanut butter and Sterno's delicious blackberry jelly on Princess Wei's homemade bread. It was gonna be a good day.
The Sacred Scribe answered his e-mail, chatted on the phone with the lovely Princes Wei, who was at work, and took some nice sized royalty checks to the bank. When he got home he spent a couple happy hours in front of the nice new Macintosh, getting the latest online Stark Fist of Removal up and running on the SubSite. Everything about the online Fist made him happy except that he'd gotten no good original stories in the last few months and had been forced to reprint Troutwaxer's awful vomit porn. By early afternoon he had finished his work and gotten out his old, beautiful, and much beloved pipe. Like many SubGeniuses, Stang frequently smoked his 'frop out of a pipe that looked, on the surface, just like "Bob's." Now some have claimed that Stang's use of such a pipe wasn't very original, but these sad souls have forgotten that the Sacred Scribe was the originator of the custom, and had begun practicing it long before most of the currently active hierarchy had even heard of "Bob."
Stang signed happily and stuffed the biggest bud he could find into the bowl of his pipe and lit up. He expelled all the air from his lungs and... well, I'm not gonna spend a whole paragraph telling a bunch of SubGenii how someone lights up. This isn't dope porn. We've got to keep this narrative moving, get to the good stuff. Lets just say that an hour later Stang was sitting on the couch next to an empty carton of Ben and Jerry's New York Chocolate Fudge Crunch and was hard at work scarfing down a box of Twinkies. He was just reaching for the last creamy treat when suddenly there was a loud knock at the door.
The paranoia hit him hard. It might be the cops!! Oh god, it might be the DEA!! Quick as a wink Stang ran into the kitchen and tossed the pastries back in the fridge, opened a couple of windows, stuffed Sterno's lovely bud into his top desk drawer and turned on the fan. He crept up to the door and quietly put his eye up to the peephole. A smiling man in a well tailored blue suit with a nice tie stood outside the door. Stang relaxed. It was just a salesman - no, he was lifting a lit pipe to his mouth - could it be, after all this time? Was it truly - Stang opened the door.
"Hello Stang," said "Bob," who despite his big grin didn't sound happy at all, "I've come to look at the accounts."
"Oh." Stang was still pretty stoned, and the paranoia suddenly turned to stark, raving fear. What in the world was he supposed to do now? He'd uh, uh, um- "Sure "Bob," come on in."
The Messiah walked into the living room and sniffed the air. He shook his head, then looked at the TV, where a Swedish nurse was giving someone an enema. He turned off the tube and turned back to Stang, his face painted over with a disappointed frown. "Stang," he asked, "is this how you spend my time?"
Stang, who was shaking in his boots, closed the door and shook his head. "I was just taking my lunch break "Bob," he lied. "Look, I've already put together the new online Stark Fist today." He started toward the nice new Macintosh, intent on showing "Bob" the happy result of his morning's efforts.
"Never mind that," Dobbs said, his voice hard and cold. "Go down to the basement and get the files."
When the Sacred Scribe returned with the banker's boxes full of files, Dobbs was sitting at Stang's chair, his feet up on Stang's desk. He had just stuffed his pipe full of Sterno's excellent 'frop and was holding a picture of Princess Wei in one hand while stroking his chin with the other. "Good looking woman," the Messiah commented, "Is she here?"
"She's at work." Stang told him, doing the best he could to make his voice sound flat and firm. He wasn't about to say the word "no" to "Bob," but he could sure as hell imply it.
"That's just fine," said Dobbs, though his voice made it clear that the lack of a good looking woman at Stang's house on the day "Bob" had unexpectedly returned after twenty years would definitely be held against him. "Lets get started on these records."
"I'm sure you'll find they're in perfect order." Stang said.
The Messiah grunted and opened the box labeled "1980." A few seconds later he reached into his briefcase for a pocket calculator. "Lets start with this receipt for the first printing of Pamphlet Number One. I notice that you didn't put it up for competitive bidding, so I'm afraid I can't allow this expense," said Dobbs, "That's $142.50 that will come out of your pocket."
"But "Bob," Stang complained, "How was I supposed to get a competitive bid when I was working full time myself? I made a few phone calls. I did the best I could."
"Don't shit me Stang," Dobbs said, "you dropped it off at a place that was on your way to work."
"But it would have cost us something no matter who did it," Stang argued, "How can you disallow the entire expense?"
"Bob" rooted around in Stang's desk and found an old Dallas phone book, which the Sacred Scribe had brought to Cleveland. He flipped through the pages for awhile and finally tapped an entry with his pipe. "There it is." Dobbs said, his pipe resting beside an ad which read Bob's Printing and Graphics. "He would have done that job for half what you paid. I'll tell you what, why don't we say you owe me $71.25 plus compound interest for the intervening time."
Stang, who understood interest all too well, shuddered and said, "$142.50 will be just fine, sir." How many times had he had something printed? The sense or horror was growing. What about all those times he and Philo had gone out for something to eat and called it a business lunch? What about the tens of thousands of tapes he'd had duplicated? Was there a Bob's Tape Duplication out there somewhere?
"Next," said the Messiah, "What about this forty six dollar bill for the membership cards?"
"Membership cards? But everyone loved those membership cards." said Stang, "Maybe I paid a little more for them, but they're beautiful." The horror went on and on. Each minuscule expense from twenty years back had to be looked at and argued over. Where Stang had paid for something, "Bob" always insisted that Stang could have gotten it for less. When something had been sold, "Bob" insisted that Stang could have sold it for more. Frequently, there had been a Bob's franchise that could have done it cheaper, in which case Dobbs disallowed the entire expense. Then there was the Messiah's insistence that the Church would have made more money from the Book of the Subgenius if only Stang had paid for the printing and hired Bob's Literary Distributors to make sure it got into bookstores. When "Bob" gave him the figure Stang owed him for the money he'd "lost" by selling all the books to a publisher, Stang fainted dead away.
Later "Bob" would say, "I disallowed the amount you weren't awake to discuss. That's an additional $1879.32." While they were arguing over a receipt from 1990 Stang looked at the clock. The second hand wasn't even moving. It was still two o'clock!! Dobbs had been using time control to prolong the horror!! Stang's head hurt, he desperately needed to shit, and he was getting thirsty, but he couldn't leave while "Bob" was discussing the expenses they'd incurred in filming Arise! There was just too much money at stake.
"Uh... "Bob," would you like to take a break, maybe have some lunch?" Stang asked.
"No, not really," said Dobbs, "but thanks for asking. Now why did you publish your own story in Three Fisted Tales? I thought that manuscript the kid from Duluth sent you was much more commercial. Where's your business case for including that whole Li Li Peng thing?"
"I tried to get a hold of you all through the late eighties," said Stang, who was starting to panic, "but Connie kept telling me you were out!!"
"She always says that when she's expecting a call," The Messiah answered calmly, "you know that." "Bob" reached for his calculator again. "That story was about a fifth of the book, right?" Finally, after what felt like days, they reached the end of the current fiscal year. "Bob" had been carefully putting the royalty statements from the books aside. "Now lets go through these," he said in a brisk, businesslike fashion. "You paid Janor, Philo, Sterno, Buck Naked... G. Gordon Gordon turned down his share... good man!! How come I'm not listed here? What is this shit!? You give royalties to each of the apostles but I don't get anything? You dickshit!! You guys are a bunch of sea slug felching, rabid dog mouth fucking, rat vomit sucking-" "Bob" went on to spit out two minutes of invective that made Harlan Ellison's worst rants sound positively sensitive. "When I'm done with you and all your friends, none of you will even have a pot to piss in!!" Stang just stood there trembling. Per Dobbs' orders, Stang had referred all the Church's copyright issues to the Dobbs family law firm, Piranha, Moray, Shrew & Wolverine. Going to court as one of their friendly witnesses had been bad enough. To have them persecuting him and all his friends - Stang's chest was starting to hurt. "Bob" whipped out his calculator again. "It looks like you owe me..." "Bob's" voice was coming from further and further away, and Stang saw the world beginning to go black. The last thing he saw before he passed out completely was the total, unforgiving hate in "Bob's" cold, angry eyes.
He woke with a scream as the cold water covered his balls, sure that Dobbs had bought him a pair of cement shoes, but no, "Bob" was just pouring a pitcher of ice water on his crotch. Stang got up in a hurry and wiped at the freezing water. Dobbs laughed cruelly and tossed him a towel. When the Sacred Scribe was dry, Dobbs handed him the Stang family checkbook. "Ivan, why don't you just sign here and I'll be on my way?"
Stang steadied himself on the corner of the desk. ""Bob" you know I don't have that kind of money. Why are you doing this to me? You vanish for twenty years and maybe I didn't run the business the way you would have, but we haven't done too badly and I-"
"Shut up!" Dobbs bellowed. "I don't want to hear it! I don't fucking care about your sniveling. Just get me my money so I can get out of here! I don't care what form it comes in, just pay up!"
Nothing else had worked, so Stang very deliberately started to cry, thinking sad thoughts and letting huge tears run down his face as he took the check book out of "Bob's" hands and turned it over. He showed Dobbs the total amount in his account, including the day's deposits, and pretended to swallow dryly. "That's all there is." He acted like he was trying to hold his voice steady, and for a second he thought he saw just a tiny relaxation of the anger in "Bob's" face.
"Well then," Dobbs said coldly, suddenly looking madder than ever, "I guess I'll have to take it in trade." And with that he reached out and picked up the nice new Macintosh with one hand and slipped it into his briefcase. Next he grabbed the desk. Somehow that fit in the briefcase too. So did Stang's comfy desk chair. Dobbs got up and walked down stairs to the sub-basement. Several thousand dollars worth of bondage gear went into the briefcase, along with all the boxed up stuff Stang and Wei hadn't wanted in the main house, including Stang's precious comic book collection. Once back in the house, "Bob" put the fridge, the silverware and the toaster into his briefcase. "Connie's been telling me we need a new microwave for weeks," Dobbs commented, grabbing the brand new Kenmore. Stang followed "Bob" around the house, his eyes bugged out like he was some kind of terrified insect. He pleaded, begged, groveled, and even gibbered. He'd never quite known what Lovecraft had meant by the word gibber, but when his voice turned into a high pitched whine at the sight of the living room set going into the briefcase and he started talking too fast and crying and cussing and stuttering, he understood gibbering all too well!! Meanwhile, "Bob" calmly walked up the stairs, repossessing everything he could find, even the pictures of Stang's kids and Princess Wei's space helmet. Finally, just after "Bob" put the king sized bed into his briefcase and rolled up the last bit of carpet in the master bedroom, Stang heard the front door open.
"Oh my god!!" Princess Wei shouted, "Ivan! What happened to all our stuff?" Stang and Dobbs came downstairs just in time to watch the shocked expression on Wei's face turn into one of pure disbelief and horror.
"Hey baby," Dobbs said, "how are you today?"
Stang was trying to explain what had happened, but Wei wasn't listening. At the mere sight of Dobbs she forgot about her trashed house, forgot about Stang's tear stained face and went for the Messiah like a greased eel. "Wow!!" She gasped, grabbing the Messianic waist and pulling "Bob's" crotch against hers, "He's much better looking than the pictures. Why didn't you tell me!?"
"Is this your girlfriend?" Dobbs asked, his voice sounding very dangerous indeed.
"Uhm... We have an open relationshiop," Stang said, cussing wildly in what he hoped was the privacy of his mind. Much to his regret, he knew better than to come between "Bob" and any female, "I've never seen her before in my life."
"Never mind him," Wei told Dobbs, running her exquisite fingers down the length of his blue and red power tie, "why don't you and I go somewhere private?"
"That's a great idea." "Bob" said, "Go wait for me in the Rolls." He handed her his keys and patted her lovely butt as she slithered out the door. Then he turned to Stang, his eyes filled with malice. "Did I mention to you that some Federal guys with radios and guns and stuff have been following me around all day? I think there's one more thing I'm gonna take from you. Watch this." As Stang watched, "Bob" took Stang's appearance. Dobbs now had the long gray hair and the beard, was wearing the T-shirt and jeans. Oh, he still grinned maniacally, and still smoked the pipe, but he looked just like Stang! The Messiah reached out, pulled the glasses off Stang's stunned face and put them on. "Go look in the bathroom mirror," Dobbs chortled. Stang just stood there, lost in shock. Dobbs gave the Sacred Scribe a little push.
Stang stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the light. The man he saw in the mirror was a really handsome kind of guy, in a totally straight, nineteen fifties Sears catalog advertisement kind of way. He wore a nice suit and goddamn it, he even had dots!! Stang looked just like Dobbs!! What would he do now?
"I hope the feds get here soon." "Bob" called. "Good luck!!" Stang stumbled to the toilet, sat down, and began to sob, "Bob's" suit bunching up around his shoulders. What was he gonna do? The Feds were coming, Dobbs had abandoned him and taken Princess Wei and all their stuff. He got up and lurched out into the living room looking around him with total incomprehension. The walls and floor were totally bare, even the ceiling fixtures and carpet were gone. Dobbs had taken literally everything. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Not knowing what else to do, Stang stumbled over to open it.
"Hiya Stang," said "Bob," a big, happy grin on his face.
"But you, uh... why? What? Ughm... I don't have anything else to take!"
"I wouldn't take anything from you," said Dobbs, "You're one of my favorite people."
"But but but but."
"Stang, relax, don't you know what today is?"
"Uh, uh. Uh... no."
"Its April 1st ya fool." Stang blinked a couple of times, his shocked brain trying to let the information in. Finally, Dobbs spun him around and he saw that his house was again full of stuff. "I'm really sorry if I scared you," Dobbs said, "but that 'frop you had was so good I just got carried away."
"Oh." Stang took a few long, slow, deeply relieved breaths. Things were looking up. "But what about Princess Wei?"
"She's still at work, pal. Look at the clock, its only three fifteen."
"Yeah," said Stang, wiping his brow, "right. She's still at work."
"Actually," said "Bob," "the reason I came by was just to borrow the Rudy Rucker books. Do you still have them?"
"The Rudy Rucker books?" Stang asked, unsure about what to do about "Bob's" total non-sequiter.
"Yeah, remember, you traded him a membership for some autographed copies of his books? I've got a long saucer trip tonight and I thought I'd bring 'em along for reading material. Do you mind?
One of the books was sitting on the kitchen table. They found several more in the den. "Thanks Stang," Dobbs said, "I really appreciate this."
"Yeah, whatever," the Sacred Scribe answered. In his own exhausted and confused way, Stang really wanted to kill the Messiah, but he just didn't have the strength left to feel the emotion very stongly. Tomorrow he'd be doubtless be pissed as hell, but right now he was just too damn tired.
"Listen Stang," Dobbs said, "you've been doing a great job, but there's something I'd like you to do." "Bob" pulled a wad of twenties out of his pocket and put them into Stang's hand. The Sacred Scribe numbly put the money in his wallet. "Find a couple high school kids and see if you can pay 'em to walk around with broomsticks up their asses over the weekend. We need to show the Xists that we're making some progress on the whole Dateline for Dominance thing or there's no way they'll ever show up. Listen, I'll be late to the saucer port if I don't get going. Say "Hi" to Wei for me." With that the Messiah shook Stang's sweaty hand and hurried out the door.
Stang stumbled into the bathroom and looked at the mirror, breathing in great gasps of relief as he saw his own face looking back at him. He put both hands on the bathroom counter to support himself and was happy to see his very own toothbrush and toothpaste lying next to the sink. "Oh my God," he gasped "what did Sterno put in that 'frop? That was the worst trip I've ever had." Shaking his head he sat down on the toilet and tried to take it all in. He'd been thinking about the Church's tax picture a couple days ago, so it must have been a bad audit trip, he decided, with "Bob" as the IRS agent. He'd just sit here on the john (definitely the john, not the pot) and try to let it go.
After awhile, he started to feel like his old self, and went in to lay down on the couch. He reached for the remote and turned on the VCR so he could watch the rest of his porn flick. A few minutes later, he heard the front door opening.
"Home," Princess Wei said, making their old joke about the terminally stoned, "I'm honey!!"
"Hi love," he said, and raised his head from the couch for a kiss.
"Hi yourself," Wei said. "Enema movies again? Well how 'bout you let me have some lunch and you can give me a flesh enema."
"That sounds great." said Stang. A mischievous thought took him. "Wei," he exclaimed, "you gotta try this 'frop Sterno sent us. It's incredible!!"
"In a minute." she replied. A few seconds later her puzzled voice came from the kitchen. "Honey? Have you seen that Rudy Rucker book I was reading? I know I left it right here."