By Richard K. Lyon
About the author
That brave girl and he were united by bonds of selfless devotion to America far deeper and stronger than any wedding vow. They knew that they could not seek personal happiness as long as the United States faced total destruction every single month with no one except Operator 5 ½ to save the nation. For a long time their only hope of being able to marry had been in a distant someday, but now he thought he saw a way ... if only he could make the necessary arrangements at the Club tonight.
Yes. If he could somehow put it all together, he could go to the hospital tomorrow — Helen was recovering from a couple of minor flesh wounds. The Grinning Ghoul and his Death Dwarfs had shot at her while she was hanging over a vat of boiling acid, but the brave girl had escaped with relatively minor injuries. Such things had been commonplace in their lives together but now maybe he could tell her to get up and get packed, because they had the month off and they were going on their honeymoon!
The Club was located in the heart of Manhattan. Finding a parking space without the slightest difficulty, 5 ½ hurried into the Club. He wanted to avoid the new library section because that was where the newer Club members congregated and he had serious reservations about many of them. When knocked unconscious, they got something called a concussion. Instead of waking up and continuing the pursuit of the bad guy, they would spend days in hospital. If they were shot anywhere, even in the leg, it wasn’t a minor flesh wound, it involved damage to muscles and arteries and veins with long Latin names. They didn’t run a little slower when they chased the bad guy, they had to be rushed to hospital to keep them from bleeding to death!
Worst of all they sometimes suffered from something called "emotional exhaustion" and took time off even though murderers were still roaming free!
As he entered the old Reading Room, Operator 5 ½ felt a great deal more comfortable. The new members didn’t come here and, since it was a reading room, some of the old members, the barbarians and ape men also were never here. In this room Operator 5 ½ would find people with whom he had much in common, men who used their blazing 45s to defend America from the plots of diabolical oriental fiends, from invasion by foreign dictators and passing Martians, from master criminals armed with flesh-eating purple poison gas, from vampires, werewolves, man-eating plants, zombie armies, and from girls with flamingo pink skins who ran naked down 5th Avenue.
Much as he admired them, Operator 5 ½ also felt a touch of envy. Most of the other old members of the Club were millionaires. He had to live on a civil service salary. Since the United States had no taxes, he could never be sure from one month to the next whether or not he would be paid. Of course even if he wasn’t paid, he still saved America from total destruction out of dogged dedication to duty. Still it would be nice if he could afford to just buy bullets and not have to fill out Form 31/G EFFECTIVE USE OF AMMUNITION every time he killed someone.
Glancing around the Reading Room Operator 5 ½ didn’t see the man he sought. Was he not here or —
The sardonic laugh, loud with mockery and menace, came from everywhere and nowhere. Looking more closely Operator 5 ½ saw that one section of the Reading Room was an island of darkness. In that darkness a single tiny spot of light illuminated a magazine resting on top of a desk. From time to time the pages of that magazine were turned by the hands of a man — a man whose black cloak made him virtually invisible!
Closing the magazine this man of shadows approached Operator 5 1/2, who was silent with awe. His own achievements, he knew, paled when compared to this man. While Operator 5 ½ saved America from total destruction once a month and had the rest of the time off, this great hero defeated terrible evils twice a month and had a weekly radio show. Though Operator 5 ½ routinely faced death in a thousand hideous forms, he now wondered if he’d have the nerve to ask this awesome man for a favor.
As it turned out, asking was unnecessary. The moment the man’s piercing eyes fixed on Operator 5 1/2, he used the mental powers he’d learned in the Mysterious East. "Yes!" he said in an utterly commanding tone. "Marry your girlfriend and go on a honeymoon. All I have scheduled for the coming month are two groups of petty criminals. The Whisperer can shoot one of them and I’ll save America."
With that he swirled his black cape and disappeared into the shadows.
Stunned by his sudden good fortune Operator 5 ½ wanted to rush to the hospital to tell Ellen. Until now their marriage had been impossible because she insisted on a honeymoon and he simply couldn’t get the time off from his job. Now that problem was solved but visiting hours were over for today. Til then there was nothing he could do. Just because he saved America from total destruction every month was, of course, no excuse for not obeying The Rules. Besides that, one of the lessons he’d learned from being flogged nearly to death, running 200 miles across a blazing hot desert without water, fighting a giant tiger with a boy scout knife, and a host of other uncomfortable experiences was that when you have an opportunity to rest and relax, you take it.
He’d have dinner at the Club, spend the evening sitting around the fire chatting with the other old members and get a good night’s sleep. Between now and dinner he could read the magazine his shadowy friend had left behind. It was, he discovered, a copy of the latest issue of Incredible Bizarre Stories. As a professional, Operator 5 ½ knew how utterly absurd these stories were, but it was still amusing to read about people with fantastic utterly unreal problems and troubles.
There was another installment of Clifford Irving’s latest novel, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF HOWARD HUGHS. Irving’s Hughs was obviously based on Doc Savagery, but the fictional Hughs was a greatly exaggerated version of Savagery. Savagery had built the world’s largest airplane, an airplane which held that record for several months — a great achievement considering the speed with which aviation technology progressed.
In Irving’s novel Hughs built the world’s largest airplane and six decades later it remained the largest! In addition to being a great sportsman, scientist/inventor/technological innovator, Hughs was an astounding sexual athlete, having an endless series of passionate affairs with famous beauties, had produced numerous smash hit movies, invented revolutionary devices from diamond drilling equipment for the oil industry to the cantilevered brassiere. When underground nuclear tests threatened to cause earthquakes that would destroy Las Vegas, Hughs stopped them with brilliant legal maneuvers. Hughs’ many cloak and dagger adventures included the recovery of an enemy submarine sunk in the deepest part of the ocean. Hughs also — but it was just too much. The real Doc Savagery was the world’s greatest athlete and scientist, but aside from this Operator 51/2 knew him to be a man of modest talents and achievements, painfully shy with women, without any knowledge of the arts, law, finance, business, or politics, a complete stranger to intrigue.
Skipping the Irving serial Operator 5 1/2 went to the historical adventure, "5th Avenue Brigade". At the start of the Spanish American War a group of young New York City millionaires, led by Teddy Roosevelt, joined the army as a brigade. Their mothers, however, were horrified to learn that the rifles the army was issuing their sons were deliberately chosen for their slow rate of fire, the belief being that this would encourage marksmanship. To correct this dangerous mistake the mothers bought their sons Gatling guns and, protected by maternal devotion and streams of hot lead from these furious engines of destruction, the 5th Avenue Brigade swept up San Juan hill to victory. While Operator 5 1/2 couldn’t imagine the U. S. Army doing anything that silly, he still enjoyed the story.
The SciFi thriller this month was "Gasoline at $2.50 a gallon". Marking that for later reading, he moved on to the political intrigue thriller, another story in the White House series.
The first story in the series, "Burglar in the White House" had caused quite a stir but he’d never shared the excitement. As far as Operator 5 ½ was concerned, a third rate amateur burglary was just a third rate amateur burglary no matter what the window dressing.
The story three issues ago, "Alzheimer’s Patient in the White House", had been more to his liking. For decades the United States had fought a twilight struggle against the Evil Empire. As the climatic battle of this dark conflict approached, the Evil Empire gained a new leader, a man of keen intellect while the U.S. elected a president who was elderly and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. A battle of wits followed between a crafty genius and a man slipping slowly into senility. In this seemingly hopeless struggle the old man’s goodness and morality proved wiser that the genius’ guile. His plots defeated by his opponent’s goodness, the Leader of the Evil Empire was forced to spend vast sums of money he simply didn’t have. Without a single shot being fired in anger, the Evil Empire fell in Chapter 11, their armed forces, the greatest array of might the world had ever seen, disintegrating, vanishing like mist before the rising sun. As they had for many decades, the Evil Empire’s Olympic team won numerous gold medals but these medals were awarded without their nation’s flag being flown or their anthem played for both of these things no longer existed.
Though the American President had won one of the greatest victories in history, the progress of his disease kept him from knowing it or even remembering that he had been President. Summoning all his mental strength for one last effort he wrote a great letter, proclaiming that, though the Sun was setting for him, it was rising on a new brighter day for America. His last service to his Nation done he retired to the loving care of his wife.
When he first read this story Operator 5 ½ had been utterly thrilled. Later the total lack of realism bothered him.
This month’s issue offered "Perjurer in the White House", which looked promising. Scanning through the magazine to check the illustrations, he was struck by a drawing of a Buddhist temple. DEAR GOD! THERE WAS THE VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES — THE MAN WHO WOULD LATER ALMOST BECOME PRESIDENT! — HAVING IMPROPER RELATIONS WITH A BUNCH OF BUDDHIST NUNS!
HOW DID THESE WRITERS COME UP WITH THESE INSANE IDEAS?
Operator 5 ½ pondered this question. Part of the answer, the thing which made the White House series so fascinating, was that every story left you with the feeling that something worse was coming in the next story.
Table of Contents
The Club is copyright Richard K. Lyon. It may not be copied or used for
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