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Vice Admiral Hackington, second-in-command of Q Section under Admiral Quigley, had been an early advocate of military drug experimentation, but he had never been quite the same after that long weekend spent at Harvard University with Dick Ridpath and Dr. Timothy Leary.
Since then he rarely left his office, and on the rare occasions when Pym passed him in the corridor the Vice Admiral did not so much as acknowledge Pym’s baleful presence with a nod.
All the more surprising then when one day he came into Pym’s office and informed him that Dick Ridpath was a demon.
He then asked Pym if he, Pym, were a demon.
Pym replied that to the best of his knowledge he was not.
The Vice Admiral then asked Pym if he thought that he, Vice Admiral Hackington, was a demon.
Pym replied that he did not think so.
The Vice Admiral then said, “Good. We must stick together. There are many demons in this place.”
Pym decided right then that he would indeed stick with the Vice Admiral.
After all, at least the Vice Admiral had actually deigned to talk to him for once.
And oh, how he talked.
Sometimes Vice Admiral Hackington would ask Pym to drive him home. (The Vice Admiral never drove his own car any more, fearing he would be blown up by a planted bomb.) They would often go for long drives through the Virginia countryside, the Vice Admiral talking all the while about “the demons". He explained quite calmly that he had looked into Dick’s eyes during that weekend at Dr. Leary’s and he had seen in those eyes a vast pullulating race of nonhuman beings, and he knew that Dick was in the vanguard of this race whose goal was to take over the planet. He said he had first suspected this when Dick, on the plane ride up to Cambridge, had confessed a complete indifference to college football, and even to the Annapolis team of which he had once been a stellar running back.
Pym’s narrow ferretlike stomach would start to grumble on these long drives, but usually the Vice Admiral would finally order him to pull into some obscure roadside place where he would order fried chicken and hush puppies and iced tea. Pym would order the same. The Vice Admiral would always smile nervously and ask Pym if he would like to taste his, the Vice Admiral’s, iced tea and hush puppies and fried chicken, and always before he, the Vice Admiral had tasted anything. And Pym would do it. What the hell, if it were poisoned at least he would die in the service. In the service of what he was not quite sure. It was true, these greasy spoon dinners were a long way from Dick’s sumptuous meals of Lobster Thermidor and Beef Wellington with Admiral Quigley at Harvey’s or the Shoreham (washed down with many exquisitely chilled and bone-dry Bombay Martinis), but they were a damn sight better than nothing.
And then came that other fateful long weekend when Vice Admiral Hackington and Admiral Quigley went sailing together and, according to Vice Admiral Hackington, Admiral Quigley suddenly slipped and fell to his briny death several miles off the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey.
Ridpath was away in Tibet, so if ever the time was ripe for Pym to make his move it was now. Hackington had come back from that sailing weekend a gibbering wreck. Pym found him in his office fondling his World War II-vintage Victory Model revolver, sobbing and mumbling that the demons had done it, the demons had done it.
This now was Pym’s moment and he seized it in both hands.
He loaded Vice Admiral Hackington up with tranquilizers and scotch and spoke to him, calmly but firmly, of the Vice Admiral’s mission. When Hackington started to gibber again Pym slapped him, once, twice, hard. The Vice Admiral must not crack now. He must fight, he must not give in, that’s what the demons wanted, for him to capitulate, to do something stupid and self-destructive. Pym would help him. Pym was his loyal subordinate. Together they would fight, and they would defeat the demons. Gradually Hackington’s forehead cleared, his eyes grew calm, his panting subsided. Pym flipped a Kleenex out of the box on the Vice Admiral’s desk and handed it to him. Hackington wiped his tumid and wet red face. He still held the revolver in his right hand.
“Can I trust you, Mr. Pym?” he asked, in a voice that seemed to come from very far away.
“Give me your sidearm, sir, please.”
The Vice Admiral handed it over. Pym cocked the hammer and then said, “If you give me the order, sir, I will blow my brains out this second.”
Pym put the muzzle of the gun into his mouth, and staring along its barrel he saw the deliberation going on in Hackington’s eyes. Actually, he thought, if he tells me to shoot I will ram this pistol up against his fat head, pull the trigger and make it look like a suicide, the batty old annoying fart (did he think he was the only one in this damned section ever to suffer a bad trip on LSD?)
However, Hackington said, “Please, take that thing out of your mouth; I trust you, Pym.”
Pym slid the gun barrel out of his mouth, lowered the hammer, and then wiped his drool off the weapon with a fresh Kleenex before placing it on the Vice Admiral’s desk.
“Please, call me Alexis, sir.”
(Please return next Thursday for another thrilling episode of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™. A Q-M Production.)