Guy C. Deuel

Immaculate, Ivan StangTM paused before the mirror to straighten his already perfect tie. Then he picked up his expensive briefcase and went out the front door of his substantial suburban home to find the Mercedes limousine waiting (as usual) at the foot of the driveway, motor purring. As he briskly approached the big, black machine, Stang's chauffeur got out and opened the armored rear door for him. The uniformed man greeted Stang professionally with the stolidity of a private security operative. He closed the door carefully as Stang sank back into the embrace of the expensive upholstery. The car still smelled "new" and Stang inhaled the mixed odors of paint, plastics, metal and lubricants with undisguised pleasure. The smell of this car was the smell of success! Yeah, and with a driver "baaaad" enough to make even G. Gordon Gordon"Reg U.S. Pat. Off. be polite!

Stang was miffed at Gordon anyway. Recently, while doing an emerald deal with the GreenHelle TM chief executive, one of Stang's runners had come "unwound" in the lobby bar of the Maksoud Plaza Hotel in Sâo Paulo, Brazil. It had started walking around aimlessly like a zombie, making unpleasant noises and upsetting glasses, table-the police! Gordon had spent ten days in prison before his preimplanted bribes had successfully worked their way through the corrupt and inefficient Brazilian bureaucracy and he was at last freed. The bad thing was that he had spent most of that time in the infamous Agua Santa maximum-security prison on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. "A real fucking snake pit," had been Gordon's terse summation.

Pity was that he held ALL the contract points, mused Stang. That had ended up being a real "bummer," especially when Stang couldn't cover the losses with Foundation funds when Gordon insisted on calling the indemnity clauses. Well, he'd nail him next time around. Meanwhile this was a nice car, and, False Slack© or not, it was just what Ivan wanted. Stang gazed out the tinted, bulletproof window until his car was on the expressway, and only then did he open his eelskin case to peruse his schedule for the day. By the time the car entered downtown Dallas he had reviewed his agenda and was engrossed in the study of a grimy-looking personal letter. A lurid blot of lipstick the color of fresh blood obliterated the bottom right-hand corner of the page. It looked like the imprint of a squid. The handwriting was large, almost childish, and the rag of a letter reeked of cheap floral perfume. Stang was poring over it as if he held the Codex Sinaiticus. The letter said:

Dear Ivor, I loved your last nasty note...reely you are quite perverted you nasty dirty boy, but don't I just love you for it. I showed your letter to my girlfriend Sheila and she says that I should do like you ask. She says if I pack it right and send it by express they'll never know what's in there or if the panties are clean or what so keep an eye on the mail.

I don't know if I can get you a picture of me doing THAT though. Sheila cant work a camera and I dont think my dad would come over and do it for us (joke HAR HAR...) But I will try. Please Ivor, send me some more of those funny fotos you make of 'it' on the xerox. We reely liked them a to, time for my coffee break, love and XXXs...Wanda.

PS Would 'Bob" approve of what we are doing? SERIUSLY IVOR?

Almost hidden by the ugly lipstick seal was a final notation: "more luv'n stuff. . . W."

Stang brought the letter up to his thin beak of a nose with a hand that trembled ever so slightly and inhaled deeply. Ah yess, Wanda . . . in the typing pool down at circulation. Graduate of the Foundation Home for Wayward Young Women, no doubt. Well, she was certainly compliant enough. Might as well send her the pictures, maybe she'll send the panties after she . . . His reverie was broken by the snarl of the car's SkipPhone®. Stang picked up the receiver. His mouth became small and prissy. "Go ahead," he said in the clipped and bloodless tones he invariablyemployedwhen dealing withthe public. It was the detached voice of a man who ran on automatic, a man who had his shit together. He listened for a moment or two before an impatient look flitted across his vulpine features. 'Tell them to sell," he said firmly. "Sure, sell it all. It was a publicity buy anyway. It looked good for the Foundation to own stock in a securities and exchange company in Medellin, Colombia. . . . What? Fuck no! Well I don't care what you thought, I'm not paying you to think, I do that. I'm paying you to DO! So sell!" He broke the connection almost angrily. "Dumb shit," he murmured quietly to himself as he smoothed his well-oiled forelock. These Wall Street types were a lot of PinkTM , overpaid, complacent bastards. As if what they did was that hard! And they acted like they knew it all. . . .

Stang refolded the letter and slipped it into his briefcase. His eyes were already starting to bum and water despite the new filters in the car's air-conditioning system. DAMN! If this kept up, he'd have to take out his contacts and wear his glasses. Stang knew that he looked a lot more important, a lot more MANLY without his glasses. Face it, those Coke-bottle specs he wore made him look like a nerd or a sissy.

Meanwhile the car slipped silently into the underwound parking garage of the SubGenius FoundationTM World Headquarters, right in the middle of downtown Dallas-one hundred and ninety floors of upthmst, glittering building, shaped like a tetrahedron and covered with tinted quartz. Stang thought ofit as a city (or at least a large neighborhood) that had been tipped up on one end and driven halfway down into the earth. And he, Ivan StangTM, worked up there in the topmost section, there in the head of the most important "nerve center" of the Church's far-flung evangelical and commercial empire. At the wheel, so to speak, of the Dobbs© juggernaut, smashing back at the ConTM . . . fighting the good fight for "Bob" or, bettir yet, battling for BUX!! (Careful now, Ivan, remember what the Doktor© said about side effects of the PILS TM.)

Nonetheless, cynical stang actually felt very proud of himself as the limousine paused at the eldvators for him to get out. He slipped a card into a wall slot as his chauffeur drove away. The elevator doors opened with a soft hiss. stang stepped inside, reinserted his card and punched in the tone code for the upper-level complex. The door slid shut like a horizontal guillotine, making stang shiver. What if you were to sharpen the leading edge of that door somehow? And then maybe figure a way to get the door to shut ahead of the safety signal . . . not all the time, just now and then. A sort of random factor . . . you'd never know. . . . His fancy broke o? as the elevator ascended with increasing velocity, lifting stang high into the bowels of the corporate beast.

Ivan stangTM activated his WristPager" and a moment later his secretary's slightly husky voice cut in over the Churchmuzic© that had been percolating throughout the confined space. "Yes, Mr. Stang?"

"I'm on my way up,, Miss Tyler," stang said formally. "Are all the papers for the st. Louis Accords ready to be signed?"

"All the material is on your desk," was her polite rejoinder. "Do you want coffee, Mr. Stang?"

"Does a wild Pope shit in the woods?" he sniggered and broke the connection. His knees were beginning to quiver from the prolonged acceleration when the elevator whooshed to a stomach-churning stop. The switchblade door opened and stang stepped directly into a dimly lit I-Dento-CelTM. For a few seconds soft microwave Contour-SkanPat. Pend. radar examined him minutely. Another beam system gave the contents of his briefcase a quick electronic riffle. After a moment or two the lights brightened and Stang placed his hand on the glowing imprint in the middle of the door. The door instantly swung outwards with a muffled thud of hydraulics. It was composed mostly of steel and was a trifle over seven inches thick. On the other side was a brightly lit and beautifully carpeted corridor. There were quite a few people about, moving from room to room. several of them greeted stang as he hurried down the hall, stang really hated the fact that he had to come in through the MediaDrone© section. since he had moved upstairs (at last!) these types were always ... well, fawning on him. "Kissing corporate ass, that's what it's called, buddy," stang told himself, giving a voluptuous, red- headed E-Girl TM sec-Clone the eye, she looks good, he thought. Ought to see if I can get her transferred up to Alpha Level. Yeah, it's time to give the old genes a swim in the secretarial pool, he thought jauntily as she passed him, eyes averted. Her expression was totally neutral, she was hoping he hadn't noticed her. It was supposed to be bad news if that Stang guy took a liking to you. Better and safer down here in the MediaDrone© pool. The people here had pretty good drugs, at least, but those upperlevel people with their pipes . . . she withheld the urge to shudder.

Slang opened his office door and was greeted by his secretary's smile. Miss Tylerwas incredibly svelte and taller than he by several inches. Her shod, honey-colored hair was cut modishly and her enormous violet eyes were deep pits ofrepressed magmatic libido (or so Stang believed). Every moming when he walked in and she smiled at him like that, he wanted so badly to tear o?her expensively tailored clothes and bend her over her PBX terminal. But, as always, Ivan repressed his more extreme desires and smiled back, wishing his teeth weren't quite so stained. He paused to collect his big mug of espresso before heading for his inner sanctum. He closed the door and sat down at his very large, expensive desk.

As he sipped his scalding coffee Ivan tried to regain that flash he'd had when he first walked in . . . what he was going to do to Miss Tyler this time. "She's naked and spread-eagled on MY desk. . . ." His sketchy beginning was erased by the bleep of the blue telephone. It was Will o' Dobbs4 , Stang's houseboy. "Hi chief," he said with easy familiarity. "Just wanted to check in and see if you had thought of any more 'specialities' for the party."

Stang frowned at that familiarity when he heard it. That was the problem nowadays, treat an employee like a real person and he gets pushy. "Sure was good last night," Will o' Dobbs4 pressed.

"I told you never to call me on this phone unless it's really important," Stang told his body servant crisply. "I don't care about the goddamned party. Talk to Miz Stang about it. Just don't bother me with that sort of crap."

"Sor-ry!" said Will bitchily and hung up. Stang shook his head as he replaced the phone. He went through the Accords very carefully. Almost ALL church business passed over Stanis desk sooner or later. Technically he and Philo were equal, both number-two men in the organization. But for some reason "Bob" had made Ivan work his way up. Philo, of course, had started out with a key to the executive washroom.

Stang initialed the Accords and put them in his out basket. He opened another folder and read for a moment. What he saw triggered a phone call. He used the gray telephone this time, a direct link to Drummond ClinicsPty. Ltd. Ltd. in St. Louis.

"What's the scoop on this here arms deal?" Stang asked Drummond in his best "good ole boy" Texican accent.

"What about?" asked Philo Drummond, Ø.1 degTM , trying to light a cigar at his end and making loud sucking noises in Stang's ear.

"Well . . . I mean, Peru and Nicaragua? Isn't that G-G-G-'s territory?" Stang wanted to know.

"Oh, certainly, but no sweat, Ivan. I personally cleared it with him," Philo assured Stang. "He's in Dobbstown© getting his neurowiring redone in the Blank Tanks©." The puffing noises stopped.

"Waaal, ain't that nice fer us." Stang lifted a skinny buttock and faded discreetly. Miss Tyler had good ears. "It's gonna be nice and quiet for us for a while, isn't it?" He scratched behind one ear. "I guess he's okay ... isn't he?" Did Gordon owe him money on that Paraguayan resort scam they had cooked up? He envisioned Gordon, spread-eagled like a starfish and floating in a glowing glass tank of krypton green, his nervous system traced on his body with lines of fire.

"Yeah, he's fine." Philo sounded bored. "He just needed some new chips and pieces after that little dustup we had with that gang at my old clinic, you know."

"Oh yeah, I heard about that!" Stang hadn't the faintest idea of what Philo was talking about. . . . (Silver insects swim in the tank with Gordon. They crawl over his inert body, inserting with surgical precision microscopic chips which they connect to specialized implants. Crystals are forming on his exposed spinal column.)

"Yeah, it was pretty hairy for a while there, ole son . . . but look, I gotta go, man. The authorizations for those contracts are in the mail. I don't know why those arms contracts got there first. The other papers were mailed at the same time."

"Okay, well, thanks a lot, Philo . . ." Stang stopped when he realized Philo had punctuated his last sentence by breaking the connection.

"Fucking evil PUD," Stang muttered to himself, pawing through his desk drawer for a rubber stamp. He found it and printed "SO WHAT" in purple on the routing folder for the arms contracts and then flipped them into his out basket. His coffee was cold before he finished it, but that was okay. Stang secretly relished the tepid, syrupy dregs.

Miss Tyler entered with a sensuous rustling sound, handed Ivan two more folders and collected the contents of his out basket.

"I'm going down to the Xerox center," she said brightly. "Got anything you want me to copy, Mr. Stang?" Stang thought about Wanda's most recent request but just shook his head slowly. His secretary had a brother on the Dallas Police Department SWAT team or something. "No thanks, I'm fine," he said absently, looking at the folders he was holding. One had the bright red borders that classified it as "VERY IMPORTANT." Probably another memo from "Bob." Great, I can hardly wait, Stang thought. He put the folders down and regarded the breathtaking spectacle of Miss Tyler walking away from him. She WANTED it, he KNEW she did! She was ready for anything . . . same eye makeup as Nefertiti. Stang sighed soulfully and looked down at the desk.

Things just weren't the same around here lately. Shit, they hadn't been the same since "Bob" got shot in'84. Fine publicity stunt that turned out to be, sure glad it wasn't my idea. Of course, the real trouble was that the Foundation medical staT weren't a hundred percent successful with the Re-ErectionTM, were they? Another phone bleated, this time the hot line from Tokyo. Tokyo? What the hell was going on them? It was already evening there, wasn't it? He picked up the yellow phone.

"Hey there, Stang ole buddy, this here is Janor©," said the phone in thick hick tones. "Me an' Smith&JonesTM are stranded in Japan. I lost m' wallet with all our money and tickets in it. I still got our passports though, we hadda leave them at the massage parlor fer security. Can you advance me some mmmoney, mmman?" Sounded like Janor© Hypercleats" was on acid again. If Stang hadn't owned a third of Janor© he could have cared less. But you gotta protect your investment. It took a while, but he finally got the psychedelic Arkansan to "mellow out" and arranged the transfer of money from Janor©'s royalty fund to Tokyo. He also promised to arrange for new airline tickets. Janor© was starting to babble about what sounded like "nine-inch worm comics" when Stang cut him of. Now he felt unaccountably nervous. He unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out several packets of Marlboro cigarettes. He glanced at his watch. Pretty early really, lot earlier than yesterday. I should wait a little while longer. You don't really NEED a cigarette, Ivan. Too right, man, but I definitely WANT one, really badly! He clawed open a pack and lit up with a cheap, plastic lighteri filling his lungs with smoke. He pushed the red file to one side; memos came later, money business came first!

Stang reread and then initialed approval of a STERNOCORP® proposal to buy metals. "Platinum, osmium, chromium, refined beryllium and the actinide rare-earth series," he said audibly to himself. "Well, that should cover it."

His intercom buzzed softly and Miss Tyler informed him she was back. Stang asked her to see if the checks from NIXCORP TM and Maxxon" had cleared. He reinitialed the last page of the metals proposal rather absentmindedly and dropped it in the basket. He checked a date on his calendar and was lighting his second cigarette when the green phone purred at his elbow. Stang looked at it with distaste but picked it up.

"Ivan . . . oh, Ivan darling," whispered "Connie" Dobbs© ". "I want you and your hot meat, Ivan baby, and I want it now .., oh Ivan, I NEED it. Tell me Ivan is it true that they called you 'Horsecock' back in high school?" Her breathy voice sounded like one of the recordings you got at the Foundation Dial-a-Porn" number.

"Uh-"Connie," I'm kinda busy right now." Stang felt his groin begin to smolder. "Connie's" voice always had an amazing effect on him.

"Busy?" She pouted. "Too busy to tell me if it's tme that you and Philo used to go around making bar bets about how much you swung between the two of you? Tell me, is that true?"

"Uh-r-well, I guess it sort of. . ." To his relief he was cut off by another phone ringing loudly. Stang grabbed for it. "Just a minute, babe," he hissed at "Connie." He looked at the receiver in his other hand-it was red. That meant only . . .

"Hello "Bob," " he said a little weakly, placing the other phone close to his shoulder. He hoped "Connie" wouldn't get too upset; sometimes she got pissed if you cut her off or put her on hold.

"Bob" wanted to know if Stang was still going to take "Don," "Eddie" and "George" to lunch so they could all sign something or other. ("Bob" got pretty vague sometimes.) As if using only first names made this any less transparent, thought Stang disgustedly as "Bob" droned on and on. He assured his chief and savior that it was still "on" and reminded "Bob" that "Jerry" was attending too. Shit, thought Stang. Why not "Muammar," "Idi," "Yasir" and "Carlos" as well?

He promised "Bob" that everything was in order. "Bob" began rambling on about something; Stang tuned him out and put the green phone to his opposite ear.

". . . and after I've done ALL that to you Ivan baby, I'm going to bend you over darlin' and lick..." At this point the phone slipped from Stan/s suddenly sweaty ear as he lit another cigarette. He captured it with his forearm, pinning it to his body before it could fall any further. Stang rolled his eyes upwards and gave thanks, then looked down and saw that the earpiece of the green telephone was less than an inch from the mouthpiece of the red one. Holy shitl Stang quickly disengaged the two instruments and checked up on his boss. "Connie" was off and running on automatic, you only had to grunt once in a while to keep her going, auto-oral-erotic.

" '. . . and when I see a white bird flying over the mountains I call the child "White Bird Flying," ' the chief says to the warrior. . . ." Shit! now "Bob" was telling another one of his fucking lame Indian jokes. Stang tuned "Connie" back in. ". . . and after I've got you all taped up tight except for those SPECIAL places, I'll put on the dildo, that one that looks and feels so real," "Connie" burbled. "The one with the red straps..." Stang switched back to "Bob." "'... why I call the child "Wind on the Lake," but tell me, "Two Dogs Fucking," why are you so interested?' Pretty good, hey, Ivan?"

Stang rolled his eyes further upwards this time, looking up through his transparent ceiling at the glittering, hundred-meter-tall communications tower that capped the Foundation building. He yukked politely.

"Well anyway," "Bob" went on, "see that things go smoothly at lunch. Sorry I can't be there but I have a luncheon date with 'Barbara' and 'Peggy Sue.' " He cut the connection abruptly, leaving Stang with "Connie," who was saying, ". . . pull the nozzle out ver-ry slowly, leaving you so full and warm, Ivan." She stopped for a deep, shuddery breath. "Are you there, Ivan?" she husked.

"Hanging on to your every word, babe," said Stang, chewing a cuticle with detachment. "I can't tell you how good it all sound-but I've kinda got a meeting right now. . . ."

"After lunch, then, in the Executive Chapel," said "Connie" in a more normal voice. " "Bob" will be asleep. He and 'Peggy Sue' get to drinking those Bloody Marys at lunch time and he ends up limp as a log." "Connie" was having more and more trouble with her similes lately, Stang noticed, and wondered if it was a sign of senility. Nah, it was probably just that evil shit that "Connie" packed up her pretty nose nowadays. He made a noncommital statement about what could happen after lunch and finally got rid of her.

New York called and he spent too much valuable time sorting out the details of the seventieth printing of The Book of the SubGenius© with the latest publisher. He made a note to get Will o' Dobbs3 to rewrite the prophecies again and also to throw another coke party for the MediaDrones©, Foundation books were selling very well all of a sudden, he noted. Maybe the planetary literacy level was on the rise again? No, scratch that. He lit another Marlboro and then realized he already had two going in the ashtray. He extinguished them and puffed happily on the freshest one. Stang had tried to stop smoking many times, but to no avail. The Tobacco Demons® HAD him. Trouble was when Stang smoked, he SMOKED. Miss Tyler had once entered his office wearing a respirator mask. He could understand where she was coming from, but sent her back to the E-GirlTM pool for a week anyway. Smartass!- what's wrong with a little smoke anyhow? At least he didn't just aimlessly 'Frop© all day like those upwardly mobile po'buckers TM and "Bobbies"TM on the floors below him.

Still smoking, Stang worked away. He had a long, confidential chat on the "scrambler" with Herr Willem de Ritter in Geneva. As he conferred with the art banker, Stang switched on his new terminal and idly punched keys. He scanned endless sets of numbers and consulted many charts and graphs, at one point getting an amazing erection.

Just outside his office the delectable Miss Tyler got to her feet and swayed sinuously down the hall to the Xerox center to see if her materials were ready yet. There she encountered Maka DudiTM , the executive in charge of the SubGenius Foundation Intemational Missionary Program®. He was copying something written in Russian. She instinctively smoothed her hair, hips suddenly more fluid as she walked up giving him a friendly smile. Miss Tyler rather liked Maka; he wasn't here at the headquarters a lot, but he was always so pleasant and healthy-looking, not like that assoul© "Ivan the Terrible" (as she had dubbed her runty boss).

Meanwhile Stang shut off his computer, hung up the "scrambler," and lit another Marlboro, in that order. He moved his ashtray (Hermks, Paris, forty-five hundred francs. But you only emptied it once a month and it never smelled) a little closer and then doodled a moment on a notepad. Sitting up straight, he crumpled an empty cigarette pack and lobbed it across the room at the wastebasket, which was a two-thousand-year-old funerary urn from Iraq. He missed by at least two feet and grumpily went back to his paperwork. After you'd figured out how much you were worth that day, everything else seemed anticlimactic. He buzzed Miss Tyler, who had returned and was stacking copies of the rough draft of Pamphlet16 neatly on her credenza. "Miss Tyler, there's a flight to Los Angeles late Friday or early Saturday. Book me a seat in first class and bring me some more coffee please, babe?"

"Will that be the usual billing?"

"How's that?" Stang was unfolding another soiled and rumpled letter he had fished from his briefcase.

"I mean, is the Foundation paying for this? You are going on Church business, right?"

"Oh, sure." Stang mentally crossed his fingers as he cut her off. Well it is, sort of, he thought. If I tie up this deal I'll be selling it to the Church . . . that's Church businessl He lit another cigarette as Miss Tyler swept in with his coffee, three copies of Pamphlet16 and two more folders. Stang guiltily hid the letter in the recesses ofhis desktop drawer and accepted the paperwork and mug with a smile. He skimmed and initialed the materials in the new folders, sipped his coffee and finally got around to looking at "Bob's" latest memo. He found he could make no sense of it whatsoever. Either the High Epopt's word processor was totally glitched or the Church was in serious trouble!

The morning ground on. Stang smoked cigarettes and drank coffee. He communicated with his Church counterpart in the Soviet Union, a shadowy entity whom Stang had never met. The dissident Church leader's image was always electronically altered. His code name was "Ivan" (of course). As they swapped data Stang realized that it could be anyone on the other end. Hell, for all he knew, "Ivan" could be a committeel As Stang's mood became more manic he became even busier. He called up printers in New Jersey, stockbrokers in Hong Kong, tailors in London and car dealers in Bavaria. He authorized the Foundation purchase of a newly denationalized alcohol fuel plant in Brazil, paying three cents for each dollar of value received.

His agent called him from Chicago. She said they had a package of four of his best "self-help" primers all set to go with the biggest religious printing house in the world. Immediate distribution in sixteen languages! (We're talking six figures here, Ivan!)

Before eleven he had the satellite relays a-humming. SubGenius funds coded into tiny electronic impulses coursed through the global banking grid. Stang bought, sold, traded, financed and even (occasionally) bestowed. Enormous sums of money went leapfrogging around the world, following the exchanges and markets. The money moved faster than the dawn as that line oflight raced around the surface ofthe planet, the funds growing, ever growing . . . (easy there Ivan, slow down for a minute).

He lit another coffin nail and tumed ta his computer again. Stang got same interesting indications from Taiwan, a nice hint from Brisbane and bad news from London. He found a couple of likely impossibilities in Central America and an unconvincing probability in the Philippines.

Somebody from the White House called to confirm that Stang was "on" for dinner on Labor Day. He finished the morning up by rolling over all the Foundation CDS in Panama. He cashed them in on a promissory note from the Cayman Islands account. He converted park-belly futures ta soybeans and then sold soybeans shod. During this time he smoked twelve more cigarettes. He opened his third fresh pack before it was time for lunch.

Lunch was awful, of course-Stang had known it would be. "George," "Don," "Eddie" and "Jerry" were all a first-class pain in the ass. Ivan could not understand why they all acted like such complete juveniles. And these guys were supposed to be running a large part of the Con'"? But he managed to keep them all sober long enough to sign the St. Louis Accords, thus making them the St. Louis Accords©. Then Stang made his excuses and left them there knocking back the club's expensive cognac. His eyes were beginning ta really bother him, and his lunch had consisted mostly of red meat. On his way out he stopped and told the club secretary to put all of this on his account as well as their bills at Dobbsspa®, where the four stooges were staying.

"They were asking about-uh-'girls.'" The secretary lowered his voice discreetly on the last word.

Stang winced. "No, not here. Tell them it's all arranged for them back at the Dobbsspa® and then fix them up, will you Louis? You know, the usual channels, call Dodasex'" or Lobo Freelance'". You've done it before." He handed Louis two large bills and then scribbled his initials on the voucher the secretary was holding out for him. "And for "Bob's" sake keep security advised. We can't have another'accident' like the one when 'Henry' was here." He went out the door mbbing the bridge of his nose. His lower back was beginning ta hurt.

On his retum to the office Stang's headache got worse. He was convinced that just being in the presence of those four disgusting old barracudas had done it to him. He wondered if maybe he shouldn't go and meet "Connie" in the chapel after all. She was always "kinkier" when they messed around up there. But face it, Stang, wasn't "Connie" beginning to pall just a little? Wasn't she starting to show her age a bit? She definitely wasn't as firm and pneumatic as she had been just a few short years ago when she and Stang had begun "fooling around." His headache stabbed and Ivan decided not to keep the tryst, even if he really did need to unwind.

He stopped at the'executive bathroom and took out his contact lenses. His eyes felt better immediately. He put on his thick glasses, regarded his reflection and instantly hated himself. He grabbed two headache PILSTM from the dispenser and washed them down with another cup of coffee back at his desk. In a few minutes his headache eased up slightly and he almost called "Connie" to tell her that he just couldn't make it, but then decided no-"Connie" could be just a little too persuasive, even on the telephone.

Anyway, he decided, she'll start without me if I don't show. "Connie" can take care of herself; she just needs someone to talk to once in a while . . . a conversation piece . . . har! He could always say that he'd been detained by those four bozos he had lunched with. If she even asked. "connie" would have no way of knowing what time he had returned. Even if she had access to that particular computer, Stang doubted she would know how to operate it. "Connie" stayed pretty much spaced out nowadays. Soon she'd have the brain of a Prairie Squid© and be about as much fun. Although when I was a lad, he thought, there were real, wild prairie squid, and THEY were fun!

The blue telephone chirruped like a metallic cricket. Ah yes . . . the New York hot line, probably Pope MeyerTM with the figures for the Madison Square Garden Mission. He's outdrawing Billy Graham and The Bakkers® at the Three Mile Island Dome. Bastard can't wait to gloat!

"Speak to me!" Stang told the Pope of All New York, Idaho and the Pacific NorthwestTM.

"Great news indeed dear friends, and another great day for the Pope of All New York! Eleven days' gross receipts at nine million and some chump change! Now really, Ivan, how about that?" The Pope of All New York sounded positively ebullient.

And why not? thought Stang sourly. His lunch was a great, leaden lump in his belly and his cigarettes were already tasting shitty with the day barely half over. Considering the size of the gate cut that assoul© Meyer was getting, the bastard had every reason to be happy. Stang had cut the Pope a great deal because he'd figured that Meyer was going to fall flat on his ass at the Garden. Well, he had certainly called that one wrong, and even though he had never delivered all the promised publicity, Meyer was still knocking them in the aisles. He pitted his little yellow teeth. "Sounds terrific, Dave, I hear you may be held over for another week."

"Well, let's say I'm considering it, Ivan. But I'll want a hike in my cut of the gate if I do."

"Not my dog, you'll have to get someone else to walk that one for you," Stang said with sour satisfaction. Philo was the contract negotiator for this month. "By the way, don't forget you're meeting me in Frisco next Sunday. I've got that Eyetalian guy, the one who does all the Vatican documentaries, meeting us at the St. Francis."

"No problem, I'll be there," Meyer promised.

"Listen," Stang was suddenly tired of this conversation. "I think my other phone . . ."

"Cotta go, Ivan, my telexis tinkling," Meyer interrupted, and instantly cut Stang off before he could finish his excuse for hanging up on Meyer. The aftemoon was all downhill from there. A few minutes later Miss Tyler buzzed him and reminded him that she had a doctor's appointment at the Foundation Clinic. She was leaving now, okay? By the way, the NIXCORPTM check hadn't cleared yet, something to do with exchange rates.

"Oh, peat!" Stang muttered sarcastically after she'd left. He switched on his computer and perused the worldwide stock transactions. Not much of anything exciting going on, looked like stagnation was setting in.

Stagnant Stang's thoughts tumed again to "Connie." Was she still up there in the chapel, or had she retired to the "playroom" in her apartment down below? He started to pick up the green phone, but changed his mind and just slumped behind his desk apathetically. You shouldn't have to come back to the office after lunch, he decided. Afternoons were a drag, mornings were what was happening. Slang knew it was just postlunch depression, a slight dip in his circadian rhythm, but that didn't ease his sense of depression or make his stomach feel any better. What was wrong with him? Was he just getting-gulp-old?

He sat upright and stared off into space. Jesus, he thought. I'll be forty next month. That means I'm "middle-aged." Shit, I'm over halfway there, or assuming I get lucky and last for eighty instead of three score and ten then I'm exactly halfway there. And iii do live to be eighty, or even older, what sort of loathsome disease will finally carry me away? AIDS? Arteriosclerosis? Renal failure? The big C? He looked at his ashtray and felt a msh of fear mixed with guilt and shame. He really ought to stop smoking these things . . . but . . . nab! Too late for that now; if I'm gonna get it, fuck it, I'm gonna get it. Shit, what diTerence does it make? It's all downhill from here anyway. NOW THAT WAS A REALLY DEPRESSING FUCKING THOUGHT!!!

His stomach contracted and piped him. Gripe, he thought. From grip, I suppose. Probably gryppe . . . old Scandahoovian for "to grasp painfully." In the gryppe of Boeuf Wellandone old Stang, yclept Ivan, suffered sorely!

But the PinksTM (okay, the well-heeled PinksTM) thrive on this sort of food. This is their kind of chow. But it's just too damned rich for the likes of a po'buckerTM boy like me, Stang thought. He briefly envisioned a big, hot, steamin' bowl of Wolf Brand chili and salivated reflexively before his stomach griped him again. ''Oh, I'm just having so much fun!" Stang stopped pawing through his medication drawer momentarily. He'd just said that out loud, hadn't he? He shook his head as he found the Maalox® and this time he remembered to shake the bottle well before he gulped it straight from the plastic.

Gaaaaah! he thought disgustedly. This stuff has a really foul texture, tastes like a mouthful of chalk. Forty years old-supposed to be in my fucking Alpha-primer man . . . and here I am choogling aluminum silicate or whatever the fuck this stuff is . . . grrr, grumble grumble.

He regarded his away oftelevision monitors with glassy eyes. He was just . . . well-yes, BORED! He contemplated dialing in the porno channels, but what the hell, if that was the sort of thing he wanted he could get it live up in the chapel or down at "Connie's" condo. No, that wasn't it.

King Stang surveyed his domain and all that he saw didn't really displease him; it was just that he could really give a shit right now, you know? He turned off all the screens and rested his pbinty little chin on his fist in a classic pose as he pondered mankind's destiny.

Suddenly he snapped out of his lethargy, put his bottle of ulcer goop away, readjusted his hated glasses and unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk. He took out his FRAPPYHOUR KITTM® and opened it furtively.

Stang stuffed the pipe then remote-locked the door and opaqued the ceiling. He was about to sit on the floor beneath his desk when he remembered that this was habafropzipulops TM © that he was about to smoke, not marijuana!

Sheepish Stang sat down, unlocked the door and made the ceiling transparent again. He hardly ever 'Fropped anymore; it tended to make his contact lenses uncomfortable. Another sign of aging, he concluded dully as he lit up.

He was puffing away merrily when his intercom suddenly buzzed. Who was that? He put the pipe down and answered with a hoarse and wimpy "Ye-es?"

"Mr. Stang?" The voice was strong and the accent was Northern Nobullshit. "This is Audrey Beamish from Ms. Dobbs' office."

Oh shit, one of "Connie's" personal assistants. What did she want? Stang pulled himself together a bit. Why did 'Fropping make him feel so guilty?

"Aaah yess, Miss Beamish." Stang had put on his Devival voice with the deep and MANLY tone. He picked up his pipe and sipped at the aromatic smoke. This is still the jungle, Ivan, you gotta stay on top. "What can I do for you?" he finished obsequiously. He'd only had a couple of "tokes" and here he was, a mumbling, paranoid sack of jelly. Man, that'Frop© was really strong. Where did he get it?

"Miss Tyler asked me to run your calls until three thirty. I'm sort of doing her a favor," the voice said threateningly.

Beamish, Stang recalled, was tall, pale and a bit bony with a really cute moustache. His mental image of her was fuzzy but he seemed to recall that she wore leather all the time and had a really nice ass. She looked as depraved as any of "Connie's" other assistants, which was pretty scary. Butchy, but probably swings both ways, he concluded. "Uh-thanks a lot, Miss Beamish. Listen, I'm not really expecting much traffic and I'm doing some important research right now, so hold my calls, will ya? Tell everyone I'm in conference."

"Sure thing, Mr. Stang," she sneered and broke the connection.

Stang put all his phones on "standby" and then got down to some serious 'Fropping. This had to be the stuff that Maka had brought back from Tibet. Sort of sticky and hard to keep lit, but man oh man it was . . . "really good shit!" (He finished up the thought out loud,) Realizing what he had just done, Stang was appalled at the condition he suddenly found his condition was in. He thrust the still-smoldering pipe back into the FRAPPYHOUR TM® box and locked it away in the desk.

Stang's mouth was dry, although his stomach felt a lot better. He wished he had a minibar in his office. Philo had one, that evil PUD. And "Bob" and "Connie" had fully stocked wet bars in their offices. But then, THIIY all had condominium apartments in this very building, didn't they? And Philo had never even used his! Slang had a small place in DobbsTowers® like the mere upper-echelon personnel. (Sorry, Ivan, we had to sell yours to "Bob's" uncle Jake . . , sure!) And there was the real problem. Now that the BIG money was jumping onto the SubGenius bandwagon, there was all this double-Dokstok© ass-kissing going on. There were so many "Bobbies" " in the management levels now. Bunch of computerized "gimmeBobs"©. And how about all those new androgynous sycophants that staffed "Bob's" new place out in Califomia, where the hell did they come from? They all looked like H. R. Giger drawings, and Stang_ wanted to gag just thinking about them. He wished for the good old "shoestring" days when the Church limped along like a three-legged dinosaur with piles, and everyone actually talked to one another, instead of just doing business like they did now. Sure, the money and the perks were nice, but were the "bad ale days" really that bad? Stang pondered and then decided that maybe they were. He was still mulling over this when he looked up over the tops of his glasses just in time to see his office door open on its own accord and "Bob" lurch across the threshold. Shit, Stang thought. He only ever shows up here when I'm 'Fropped to the gills!

As usual, "Bob" was puffing on that godawful Pipe of his. Who knew what he smoked in that thing? It sure as hell wasn't just 'Frop©.

Stang rose and greeted his boss with a smile that he hoped didn't look as forced as it was. Ever since the Re-ErectionTM "Bob" had smelled strange and Stang now found himself wishing the High Epopt used an even stronger Pipe mixture.

It wasn't that "Bob" smelled really nastyi but there was a strong odor about him now of.. . of what? Mold? No . . . ashes? Decay? Yess, that was it, decay. A cold and impersonal smell ... like leaves rotting in sandy soil. Like an old grave.

"Shit down, Ivan." "Bob" slurred his speech a lot more since the assassination, but what the hell, so had Reagan. "Bob" was still hanging in there, though, you had to give the old duler that much. But lately there was something about "Bob" that was just plain creepy. Maybe it was that mortician's makeup that he insisted on wearing to olset his now unnatural pallor.

Slowly and a bit unsteadily, "Bob" lowered his spare frame into the chair on the other side of Ivan's desk. The leg brace made it difficult. He was supposed to use a cane, but "Bob" usually forgot it somewhere or other, or he carried a five-iron golf club instead. Maybe he was just a little bit embarrassed by it. "Connie" had recently confided to Stang that "Bob" had been extremely upset because the revivification process had not been entirely successful. Stang could definitely understand his boss's point of view on that particular issue.

"Ya know Ivan"-"Bob" paused to relight his Pipe, which bubbled like a tree frog as he drew on it-"I've been looking at the book shales and, you know, White Thigh Trilogy hash done really well fer ush"-he puled for a moment-"and I think we need a new one like it, a new blockbushter of a Hardcorps® erotic novel." He smiled at Stang, who experienced a sudden sinking feeling. Ever since the founding of the Church, back in the fifties, "Bob" had assigned certain tasks to his key personnel. Stang had been merely the Sacred Scribe© back then. Technically speaking, according to his contract, he still was, despite any other functions he might perform.

"Doing the reshearch for thish one should be a lot of fun." "Bob's" voice was suddenly very oily. "Remember the lasht time Ivan, thoshe 'friends' who helped us sho much? Well, I've got a couple more 'friends' 'who'd jusht love to do the reshearch with you!"

Nausea exploded in Stang's belly and tried to crawl up into his mouth. Oh, Sweet Fightin'Jesus©, no . . . please . . . Stang prayed inwardly. He noticed that "Bob" was looking at him very intently. There was a flickering in those light-blue eyes and Stang could see little flames dancing behind "Bob's" pupils. Stang took a deep breath in an effort to steady himself; now he could smell a ghastly, sweet charnel odor, the scent ofthe PIT, as "Bob's" sexual pheromones wafted across the desk to him.

"Bob" licked his lips voluptuouslyi repulsively, and fluttered his eyelashes at Stang; his rouged and powdered cheeks dimpled as he smiled. He looked truly horrible in that thick layer of undertaker's cosmetics. The Pipe, still gripped between "Bob's" always pearly teeth, flexed and writhed obscenely, then it OPENED A YELLOW EYE AND LOOKED DIRECTLY AT STANG.

Ivan's stomach felt as if it flipped over completely, and his bowels knotted up painfully. Then his crotch grew hot and wet as he sat there and pissed his pants with terror.

Ivan StangT" sat riven by his master's gaze for a hellish, eternal three seconds. Every single nerve ending in his body seemed to be standing on tiptoe and screaming at his brain for attention, for action!

Then all of a sudden "Bob" was "normal" again, leaving Stang feeling shattered, abused, drained and somehow unspeakably defiled.

"But I guess they will all be coming to Palm Shprings for the resht of the week," "Bob" went on, as if nothing had happened. "And I know you're jusht too busy, aren't you, Ivan?"

Stang could only nod slowly.

"Sho, whip me up a good proposhal and outline for this new Hardcorps® novel, will you, Ivan?" "Bob" attempted to relight his Pipe again. "Take the resht of the week off and get going on it. You know what shells. I don't have to tell my Shamed Shcribe how to write, now do I? Heh heh. Let me have a five-thousand-word outline by . . . oh . . . shay, Friday?"

"But that's tomorrow, "Bob," " Stang said weakly. His mouth tasted awful and he became aware that he was sitting in a puddle of his own urine.

"Ah? . . . well, sho it ish. By Monday, then. I'll shtill be in California, so you can shoot it over by modem." "Bob" smiled coldly. "Thish wash "Connie's" idea, actually. She shuggested it to me a little while ago. She really likesh that other shtuffyou wrote. You know, Ivan, I think you kind of 'turn her on,' heh heh. I want you to shtay home while you write thish epic. Remember, it meansh a lot to "Connie" too! Send the car back when you get home today . . . better yet, leave it and take a cab home. Oh yesh . . . Philo will be down to help you shometime tonight," he added.

"Philo?" echoed Stang a little foolishly, watching "Bob" use the desk as leverage to get to his feet. Philo . . . oh great, just what I need! PUD boy down here to collaborate! I got lucky when I stole that trilogy from Smith2 (Smithsquare) ... now "Bob" wants another one. It's all that bitch "Connie." I can hardly wait!

Stang loathed working with Dr. Drummond because the Overman® was a Rewardian© and Stang was an Emergentile©. That meant Ivan would do all the work while Philo smoked all the 'Frop©, drank all the booze, puttied on those stinky little cigars all day, goosed Miz Stang, told the Stangettes rude jokes, dominated the teevee, played Stang's tapes (and never put them back in their boxes) and left the sacred COMIC COLLECTION scattered throughout all the bathrooms in the Stang household.

"Philo has been a bit 'overslack' lately," "Bob's" voice cut through Ivan's train ofthought. "Let's say he simply exceeded his authority. And your computer'on-line'bill is simply exorbitant. After all, Ivan, you may be working up here on the top level now, but you and that darned Drummond boy have got to be realistic! Oh, Miz Stang and the Stangettes have already left for Europe. I sent them over for a tour of the 'Estates of the Rich and Powenl' with that awfJl English fellow we signed recently. She'll meet him and the film crew over there, we ought to get some nice footage for our new series. That way they'll all be out from underfoot and just you and Philo will be working on this project undisturbed." Stang noted that "Bob's" articulation was suddenly perfect.

"Oh yes, "Connie" said she'd be happy to keep an eye on you two for me . . . she's not coming out to the ranch. I'm having your house sealed as soon as Philo arrives, and you'll stay there until our new best-seller is finished. You get electricity, teevee, all that sort of thing, but you are both 'confined to barracks,' heh heh. No computer time allowed either." He tumed to go.

"But . . ." Stang had a horribly upset stomach, a ringing in his ears, a violent headache, and the seat cushions were apparently totally non- absorbent. At least "Bob" was leaving!

"Or . . ." "Bob" turned and smiled THAT smile again. "Or perhaps you would like to come out to Palm Springs after all?" Stang just whimpered softly as "Bob" limped away. He sat unmoving for several minutes. The air almost smelled normal by the time he found the strength to buzz Miss Beamish and ask her to bring him a couple of towels from the executive washroom.

Audrey Beamish snickered to herself. So, "Bob" had dropped in to see Stang again, had he? She hummed a lilting tune to herself as she went for the towels while a thoroughly bummed-out Ivan Stang TM sat alone, waiting to dry.

"I have to write a book, a porno book," he said to himself with growing horror. "Bob" is so goddamned senile he really thinks that I used to write all that crap. And now I have to collaborate with Philo and "Connie!" Bile rose bitter in his gorge, and Stang knew in his miserable, shriveled soul, that the worst was yet to come!