The title of this blog is "Tales From the Rust Belt".I called it that because like to write, so from time to time you will get the opportunity to sample some of those stories. Most of the time I knock out short stories or crank letters to the editor of the local paper, The Vindicator. This is a story I did a few years ago. If you enjoy it, drop me a l ine. If you don't and have some constructive cirticism, let me know that too.
(c) 2003 Mike Prelee.
GREMLINS IN THE WORKS
Sergeant Jeff McKay sat in an uncomfortable straight-backed chair in a cramped interrogation room in the main booking office of the Las Vegas, Nevada police department. He was on his third cigarette in the last thirty minutes. The sweaty, overweight cop had been struggling with the fairy tale being recounted by the suspect in front of him and he was losing his patience.
“Look, Dr. Foster, I’d like you to start over one more time,” he said to the suspect in front of him. The small slightly built bespectacled man in front him squirmed in his chair and lit up a cigarette of his own. He looked around the room at the pale yellow cinder block walls and took a deep drag on his smoke. McKay could tell that the 60-year-old history professor was accustomed to more pleasant surroundings.
“Why? What could you possibly not understand? We’ve been through this twice already.”
“Well, Dr. Foster, I’d just like to make sure I have all my facts straight. When we deal with a situation like this we like to make sure we dot all the I's and cross all the T's. You understand don’t you?” McKay shot him a wide smile and hoped the old man would start to feel at ease soon. He was halfway through the eight-to-four shift and was already tired. Putting up with a loony college professor just wasn’t what he needed right now.
“I suppose so, Sergeant. I really am starting to feel quite tired, though. A good nap in the afternoon can make the day so much more pleasant, don’t you think?”
McKay hit him with the wide smile again. “Your story, Doctor?”
“This must remain in the strictest confidence, Sergeant McKay. You understand that don’t you?” A worried look crossed his face.
McKay nodded. “I do, sir. You’ve mentioned that several times.”
“Well, it’s just that I usually don’t share my theories with other people. Generally they don’t understand. I’m really only willing to trust you because I can’t afford to be put in jail right now. I mean if I was incarcerated who would do my work? Who would keep an eye on them?”
“Doctor, your story. Please?”
“Oh yes, of course. I am a history professor at a small college in Ohio where I have taught American History for the last fifteen years. A few years ago I was doing some research on propaganda during World War Two and came across something interesting. I discovered that the myth of gremlins is true. They really do exist!”
The statement excited the old man so much McKay poured him a glass of water. Foster accepted it gratefully and downed half of it in a single gulp.
“You mean like in the movies?” McKay asked.
Foster screwed his face up at the thought. “No, of course not. That was just gremlin propaganda. They would like you to think they’re very small and furry and cute but in reality they’re much different.”
McKay chewed on his lower lip in an effort to bite back a smile. “Different? How do you mean?”
“They’re much more annoying.”
“Do you mean dangerous?”
Foster shook his head. “No, I mean annoying. I honestly think they’re sole purpose for existence is to make life hard for human beings.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, for instance, have you ever driven by a store or restaurant and noticed letters missing from the sign?”
“I’m not sure what you mean Dr. Foster.”
“Well, one documented example that sticks out in my mind is a pizza shop sign I saw in Cleveland, Ohio.” Foster became very animated as he told his tale. His hands moved with a life of their own as he went on. “Instead of ‘LEON’S PIZZA AND GREEK GYROS’ the sign was altered to say ‘LEON IZZA G EEK ’ when it was lit up.”
McKay swallowed another smile. “You don’t think that could have been kids or an electrical short in the sign?”
“Don’t be naive, Sergeant,” Foster said with a knowing attitude. “That’s what they want you to think.”
“What do they want us to think?” McKay said with exasperation in his voice.
“That all of these events, these funny little things that annoy us day in and day out are just coincidences. They’re not. They are the work of gremlins.”
McKay looked him in the eye. “Do you really believe that, Doctor?”
Foster almost exploded. “Of course I believe it! Do you think I would have attacked a man with shaving cream in front of the Lucky Star casino if I didn’t?”
“I suppose not, Doctor. Please calm down; after all, I’m here to help you.” McKay said.
Foster seemed to calm down as he slid back in his chair and sipped some more water. “I’m sorry, Sergeant. I suppose I am just feeling the effects of all the stress I’ve been under.”
McKay smiled again. It was his job to get as many answers out of the good doctor as he could before he was transported to the mental health wing of Our Lady of Mercy later in the afternoon. To accomplish that he needed to be kept calm. “I understand, Doctor. Please continue.”
“Well the man, I mean the gremlin I attacked this afternoon was going to poison the food in the banquet room of the Lucky Star casino. All of those poor doctors in the convention would never have known what hit them. I had to stop him.”
“Why would this...gremlin want to kill a thousand proctologists?”
“He did not want to kill them, Sergeant McKay. Gremlins don’t kill, remember? They annoy, they interrupt and disrupt, but I have never known one to kill. He wanted to make them all ill.”
“Gas. He was going to spike the food with a compound that would have given them all a tremendous amount of gas.”
McKay looked at him with puzzlement and shook his head. “Did you say gas?”
The look on Foster’s face was one of absolute sincerity. “Yes, I did, and diarrhea as well. You know what I mean. Imagine you and your buddies after a cookout with some beer, hot dogs and potato salad that has been in the sun too long.”
McKay bit his lower lip to keep from laughing. “I think I can imagine that.”
“That was only half the plan, Sergeant. Call the casino and ask them if they’ve had any problems in the last hour. I’ll bet you find all the bathrooms are out of order. Just imagine; all those proctologists running for bathrooms that are out of order. It would be a practical joke of enormous proportions.”
“The man you attacked outside the casino was going to disable all of the bathrooms as well? That’s an awfully large feat for one person.” McKay said.
Foster rolled his eyes in annoyance. “He wasn’t alone, Sergeant McKay. The casino was infiltrated ahead of time by a team of gremlins posing as plumbers. It was all arranged, you see.”
“Gremlins posing as plumbers?”
“That is correct.”
“Isn’t that rather...elaborate for a practical joke, Doctor?”
“Yes,” Foster said with excitement, “you are finally getting it. They will go to any lengths, no matter how extreme, to pull off the weakest joke. They’re insane.”
McKay made a note on his pad and took a deep breath. This was turning into the most enjoyable interrogation he’d had in some time.
“Doctor Foster, you sprayed this man with shaving cream. Why was shaving cream your weapon of choice?”
“Ah, that is an interesting question, Sergeant. My research into Gremlin physiology uncovered a quirk in their genetic make up. They have extremely sensitive skin with regard to menthol. They are extremely allergic to it.” Foster smiled. He was clearly pleased with himself.
“Menthol? Like in cigarettes?” McKay held up his pack of Lungbusters 100 as an example.
“Oh, yes. They can’t abide those. In fact, the whole no-smoking campaign that has sprung up in recent years is their doing. They would like to see cigarettes banned all together. It’s really the only subject they’re quite serious about.”
“The gentleman you sprayed outside the Lucky Star, a Mr. Robert Gibano, didn’t seem to have any reaction to your attack. Why is that?”
Foster smiled. “Sergeant, he didn’t have any reaction that the arresting officers could see. None of you can see them like I do. Believe me when I say my actions were successful.”
McKay made another note on his pad. “Doctor, are you the only person who can see these gremlins?”
Foster leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms; his face was shot with indignation. “Of course not, Sergeant,” he said. “They can see each other and I can see them because I want to. Actually anyone who wants to see them, can.”
“So all I have to do is want to see them and I can?”
Foster shook his head. “Well no, you’d also have to take a shot of bourbon with your prune juice.”
“Bourbon. You have to drink bourbon with your prune juice in order to see them.”
McKay grimaced at the thought. “You drink bourbon and prune juice and you can see these gremlins?”
“I know how it sounds, Sergeant but I’m not crazy. The gremlins project some sort of illusion over their true appearance. I don’t know how but they do. The prune juice and bourbon causes some sort of chemical reaction that negates that illusion for a short time. Perhaps it affects your eyesight or causes a reaction in your brain chemistry but it works.”
“Like a magic potion?”
“No, not like a magic potion. This isn’t magic, it’s simply some sort of chemical reaction.”
“You said you didn’t understand how it works, Doctor. It could be magic.”
“Look, Sergeant, if you want to believe in magic that’s your right. I’m just telling you that I don’t believe any of this has to do with magic.”
There was an uncomfortable pause in the conversation. McKay lit another cigarette.
“What do they look like underneath this facade, Doctor? How different are they from human beings?”
Foster straightened up in his chair. “They are quite grotesque, I assure you. Purple skin, yellow eyes and gray hair. They are absolutely hideous.”
McKay thought about it for minute and took a deep breath. This was getting tough to listen to without laughing but he didn’t want to insult Foster. The guy obviously had some sort of mental problem and making fun of him wouldn’t make him anymore cooperative. He got back to his questions.
“Dr. Foster, if these goblins...”
“Gremlins,” Dr. Foster corrected.
McKay nodded. “Right, gremlins. If these gremlins have been around for so long, why hasn’t anyone else ever heard of them? Surely they’ve done something I would have heard of. Is there any proof of their existence other than your word?”
Foster smiled. “Of course there is, Sergeant. Evidence of their existence is all around you. It just takes an open mind to know where to look. Have you ever wondered why disco music was so popular? It was the gremlins. They sang it, promoted it and produced it. During the 1970’s the music industry was infested with them. Everyone else just listened to it because there wasn’t anything else on the radio.”
“Are you serious, Doctor? You think gremlins invented disco music? Who were they, KC and the Sunshine Band?”
“Yes, and also the Bee Gees.”
McKay smiled. “Come on, Doctor. You’re saying disco music was a conspiracy? Why? Why would anyone go to the trouble?” McKay forgot about his impatience and realized he was having a little fun with this suspect. It had been a while since he had heard a story this good.
“Think about it. With everyone listening to disco truly good rock ‘n’ rolls bands fell by the wayside and were put out of business. Our entire popular culture was one big joke to them. Through their infiltration of the promotional and management areas of popular music they helped break up all the great classic rock bands. They owned the seventies.”
“And it wasn’t just music?” McKay asked. “It was all popular culture?”
“Yes,” Foster nodded.
“TV, movies, games? That sort of thing?”
“Yes, Sergeant, now you’re getting it. How else do you explain the Brady Bunch?”
“Fantasy Island? Charlie’s Angels?”
Foster actually smiled. “Yes, you see it now don’t you? How they cater to the lowest common denominator? Why put on any kind of entertaining, educational programming when you can have girls in bikinis bounding about.”
“Doctor, do you honestly think people would have rather watched PBS than Farrah Fawcett or Suzanne Somers?”
“I’ll admit it is hard to believe but that’s what makes the whole conspiracy so successful. The gremlins have been very patient with their activities and plans. The American public is used to these things now. Gremlins in positions of power within the entertainment industry are making more money than they know what to do with. Soon their plans will become even larger and more elaborate. You can’t see it until you actually look at it from an objective point of view. You don’t want to see beyond the smiling faces on your TV. You are actually comforted by the images they show you. They own all of those cable TV shopping networks.”
“Hollywood?” McKay asked.
“A lost cause, Sergeant. They are so ingrained into the fabric of the movie industry that I fear they can never be removed.”
“Where else have they entrenched themselves?”
“The advertising industry. After all, they are naturals at lying to us,” Foster sighed. “Remember all that “As seen on TV” crap that sold for $19.95? That was them.”
McKay leaned in close and lit up another cigarette. “You mean like the Glove Box Fisherman?”
“Oh, yes, that was one of their great successes, that and all the other junk. The Inside the Peel Orange Juice Maker, fireproof wax for your car, all manner of miracle cleaners and every hand held vacuum cleaner known to man. Have you ever owned any of that stuff?”
“As a matter of fact, I have. When I was a kid my grandpa bought me a Glove Box Fisherman. I caught quite a few fish with it.”
“I’m not saying these products don’t work, Sergeant. I’m saying they were overpriced and worked as well as anything that cost half as much that could be found in stores. It was commercials like those that gave rise to phrases such as “batteries not included” and introduced us to that most annoying bit of backpedaling known as small print. Have you seen that? It’s in every commercial now. They flash about eight pages of small print during the last ten seconds of a commercial and we’re supposed to read and abide by those terms. Who can do that? What am I supposed to do, tape the commercial for replay and get a magnifying glass out? It’s asinine.”
“How about recently doctor?”
Foster leaned toward McKay. “Have you called any large company for help lately, Sergeant? Say, the phone company? You don’t get a person anymore you get a computer and a list of options. Punch number one for this and number two for that. Why would any sane human being create such a thing? When we have a problem we want to speak with someone who can help us. Why would you make a frustrated customer even more frustrated by making them jump through all those hoops? By the time you get to speak with a human you are so wired that you lose your temper with them. You know what happens then?”
“Sure, you’re all hyped up so you take it out on the poor schmuck on the other end of the phone.”
“Right and if you are abusive enough they hang up on you and you get to start the whole process over. It’s insane.”
Foster finished his coffee and leaned back in his chair. “After disco they got into the elevator music business. It was their idea we should be trapped in a small space with some soft electronic version of your favorite song playing. They’ve also gotten into politics.”
“Really? They like monkeying around with public policy?”
“Oh yes. That gives them as much of a thrill as anything else. They usually stick to the local level though. The amusement of inflicting alternate side parking and ludicrous zoning rules is more fun than stuffy meetings about Social Security funding. However, they did manage to get one of their own elected to the vice-presidency of the United States in 1988. That was a frightening four years.”
“I remember the jokes,” Mckay said. “I have to admit Doctor, that’s the most believable thing you’ve said today.”
“Are you a big baseball fan, Sergeant?”
“Yeah, I like it.”
“They have been involved in every collective bargaining session since 1972. Strikes, walkouts, lockouts, it’s all been them. They negotiate on both sides. How much more do you want to hear, Sergeant?”
McKay just stared at Foster for a minute. This guy had an answer for everything. Could he be schizophrenic?
Foster looked at him and seemed to sense the doubt in him. “They invented the phrase “some assembly required”. Why do you think your VCR clock just blinks 12:00? Why would anyone invent something that was meant to be used by so many people yet be so hard to operate?”
“There’s also one more business they’ve been very successful with,” Foster said.
“Telemarketing. Once they discovered they could hire people to make twenty calls a day to your house selling everything from rain gutters to long distance service they ran with it. In my opinion it’s one of their biggest successes.”
McKay looked into the Doctor’s eyes. They were slate blue and very clear. It was obvious he believed every word he said. “Doctor, I’m going to get some more coffee. Would you like some?”
“No, thank you.”
McKay stood up and opened the door. A man stood outside the interrogation room in another smaller observation room.
“Hello, Captain.” McKay said. The supervisor looked in at Foster. McKay looked back at the doctor and saw his eyes narrow and then he quickly looked away. McKay closed the door.
“That’s quite a headcase you’ve got in there, Sergeant.”
“Yes, sir. He’ll be gone within the hour. Were you watching through the two-way mirror?”
“Yes. Tell me, Sergeant, have you called back to Ohio to check him out?”
“No, sir. I thought I’d take care of it after the hospital picked him up.”
The captain continued to stare at Foster through the mirror. “Do it now, Sergeant. I would like to know what his story is.”
“Captain Dean I have a lot of other cases to attend to. Surely this guy can wait.”
Dean looked at him. “Do it now, Sergeant. Please.” His gaze returned to Foster in the interrogation room.
McKay thought there was an awful lot of push behind that “please”. “Sure, Captain. No problem.”
McKay walked over to his desk and settled into his worn chair. It creaked under his ever increasing weight and threatened to tip over if he leaned back too far. He unlocked one of his desk drawers and took out Doctor Foster’s wallet. As he flipped through the contents he saw that it was full of the usual items a normal man kept in his wallet. There were credit cards, some cash, and photos of his family. It also contained several business cards that had a home and a work number printed on them. He decided to try the work number first. After several rings a pleasant female voice answered the phone.
“Good Morning, Ohio Valley University History Department. How may I direct your call?”
“Good morning. This is Sergeant McKay with the Las Vegas, Nevada police department and I need to speak with Dr. William Foster’s supervisor.”
“That would be Dr. Simpson. Please hold.”
A few seconds later a man’s voice greeted him. “Hello, this is Dr. Simpson. May I help you?”
“Hello, Doctor, this is Sergeant McKay with the Las Vegas police department. I need to speak with you concerning Dr. William Foster. Does he work for you?”
“Yes, he does.”
“Well, Dr, Simpson, we have him in custody. He assaulted someone outside a casino here in Las Vegas.”
“Was it Dr. Gibano?”
McKay was taken back. What the hell was going on here? “Do you know Dr. Gibano, sir?”
“I am aware of him, yes. Did Bill stop him?”
McKay heard a sigh from the other end of the phone. “Yes, Sergeant, did he stop the gremlin?”
Oh my God, McKay thought as he held the phone away from his ear. There’s a whole bunch of them. He could imagine them now. They probably had a lodge where they all got together on Friday nights to talk about gremlins. They probably had goofy hats too, pointy little gremlin hats with stars and moons on them. There were probably ceremonies and candles and the whole nine yards.
“Did he?” He heard a voice say.
McKay stopped daydreaming. “Um, yes, sir, he did attack Dr. Gibano. Sir, what do you mean exactly by gremlins?”
“Haven’t you checked out Bill’s story yet, Sergeant? We agreed that if he were arrested he would divulge the entire story to the police,” he explained. “You see, you just have to take a shot of bourbon with your prune juice.”
McKay sighed. “Is that all, Dr Simspson?”
There was a friendly laugh on the other end of the phone. “Well, just that and opening your eyes. Trust me, you will see them.”
McKay had had enough. “Look Dr. Simpson, your friend is in an awful lot of trouble. If you want to help him you’ll stop talking about gremlins and start telling me something that makes sense.”
“Like what, Sergeant?”
“Well, does he have a history of mental illness?”
“Oh no, Sergeant. In fact Bill is one of the sanest people in our group. In fact, he’s also probably the bravest among us.” Simpson’s voice sounded sincere.
This was getting to be too much. “Dr. Simpson, your friend is going to be held at a hospital here in Las Vegas pending a full psychiatric evaluation. When I know exactly which one it is I’ll be sure to call you back and let you know so you can join him.” McKay hung up the phone.
He poured himself a cup of coffee and walked back to the interrogation room. If he were lucky the people from the hospital would be here soon. As soon as he opened the door Dr. Foster spoke.
“They own a lot of construction companies too.”
“What?” McKay asked as he sat down.
“Construction companies. They like doing highway repair work. It gives them great satisfaction to line miles and miles of highway with orange barrels. Haven’t you ever noticed that they always do road repairs during the busiest times of the season? It gives them great satisfaction to back up traffic for miles.”
“Look Dr. Foster, I don’t know what game you and your pal back in Ohio are playing but I don’t want to hear anymore. Life is full of inconveniences and coincidences.”
Dr. Foster opened his mouth to object but McKay kept going.
“That’s just the way things are, Doctor. Telemarketers call during dinner, road construction slows everybody down and people sell worthless gadgets to an unsuspecting public on television. None of it is illegal, it’s just annoying, and it’s certainly no reason to attack a man on a busy street with shaving cream. I’m done playing into your delusion, Doctor. I’m going to take you downstairs to a holding cell for a while and then you are going to take a little ride. Until then I don’t want to hear one more word about goblins.”
“Gremlins,” Foster corrected.
“Whatever! All I know is that you and your buddy are two of the looniest tunes I’ve ever met. Now be quiet and come with me.”
After Dr. Foster was secured in a holding cell, McKay informed the desk officer he was going to lunch and would return in half an hour. He stepped out of the station into the blistering Nevada afternoon sun. He looked up the street and saw the beginning of the world famous Las Vegas strip. Even with the sun up you could see neon and blinking lights up and down the street. In McKay’s mind there was no finer place to live. He loved Vegas.
He crossed the street to Lucky Louie’s Diner. It was his favorite place to eat when he was on duty. The cheeseburgers were big and the french fries were still shoestring. He walked through the door and took a seat at the counter. A small wiry man with a handlebar mustache sauntered over.
“What’ll it be today, Jeff?” He asked.
“Cheeseburger, fries and a Coke, Lou.”
“Sure.” The small man gave the order to a short order cook in the kitchen, drew a Coke from the fountain and walked back over to McKay.
“Did you here about the Silver Nugget?” He asked.
McKay looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “No, did they get robbed or something?”
The small man laughed. “Sort of. Around 12:30 every slot machine in the place hit at the same time.”
“That’s not all. They kept hitting for the next ten minutes. Every one armed bandit in the place just kept right on paying out. The really strange part is they were trying to evacuate the place at the same time because a fire alarm went off. Of course, with the slots paying off like they were no one would leave. It was sheer pandemonium.”
McKay just looked at him. “Chaos, huh?”
Lou laughed. “Yeah, pure chaos. The fire department was trying to get in but the place was jammed with retired folks and tourists filling their pockets with quarters. I can just imagine what it looked like.”
“Do they know what happened?” McKay asked.
Lou shrugged his shoulders and threw him a wink. “It was a false alarm. Must have been gremlins, huh?”
McKay thought about it for all of one second and then dismissed it. There was no way he was going to start thinking that way. Still, it was strange. A waitress dropped his lunch in front of him and he ate in silence. When he was finished he motioned Lou over.
“Give me a prune juice, Lou.”
“Feeling backed up, Jeff?”
“Just let me have it. Give me a shot of bourbon with it too.”
Lou set a glass in front of him. “This ain’t no bar, Jeff.”
“I know there’s a bottle under the counter, Lou. Give me a shot.”
Lou looked around and poured him a shot in a water glass. “What the hell do you want to drink that for?”
“Just give it to me, all right? I’ve got to get back to work.” He also had to do this before he lost his nerve and came to his senses. First it had been that look between Captain Dean and Foster and then the Captain’s insistence that he call Ohio about the doctor. Finally, there was the incident at the Silver Nugget. It all just seemed damn peculiar.
He raised a glass to Lou. “Bottom’s up.”
He downed both glasses quickly and grimaced. That was something he never wanted to do again.
“See ya, Lou.” He got off his stool and dropped a ten on the counter. He walked back across the street and into the station. He stopped in the bathroom before going back to his desk.
In the bathroom he stood before a urinal and stared at the tile. Just as he was about to begin Captain Dean came out of a stall to his right.
At least, whatever came out of the stall had Captain Dean’s clothes on.
“Hi, Jeff,” the thing with purple skin said. “Did you call Ohio about that guy?”
McKay responded by leaving a puddle on the floor in front of him.
“I see you did,” the thing with yellow eyes said as it looked at the floor and sidestepped the on-rushing puddle of urine. “Listen, Jeff, we don’t want to hurt anyone. We just like to have a little fun. So, if you keep quiet about this, I won’t have to transfer you out into the desert somewhere, okay?”
McKay just nodded.
“Get yourself cleaned up, Jeff. You have a reputation to uphold.” Captain Dean smiled and walked out.
McKay zipped up and ran down to the cell he had left Dr. Foster in. It was empty. The hospital had already come for him.
McKay swallowed hard. On the way back to his desk he thought about Dr. Foster’s business card. He thought about the phone number on the card and he thought about hats. He wondered if little gremlin lodge hats came in his size.
It's winter again in Northeast Ohio. We got off lucky in December but January knows no mercy. The sound of plows scraping the street and the numbness in my toes tells me that warm summer days are far, far away.