Larry Winchester (author of this third-place prize-winner of the Fredric Brown Award for Most Unjustly Obscure American Novel) now leaves us in suspense as to the fate of Enid and Hope and switches scene again to the swingin’ Samba Room, where Dick, Daphne and Harvey have found themselves hosted by Frank and the Rat Pack...
(Click here for our previous episode; go here for the barely-remembered first chapter.)
The room had gotten smokier, more crowded, more drunken. Tony Anthony had been replaced by a stripper (“Helen Bedd”, a blond Russ Meyer type), backed up by a jazz combo, four seen-it-all-done-it-all pros in smokestained old tuxedos.
The waiters had cleared away the dinner plates and brought on a fresh round of cocktails.
“Okay,” said Frank, “I’m sure our new friends are wondering, just what the hell is the deal here? Am I right?”
He turned to Dick.
“Well,” said Dick, “I was rather wondering just where the hell we are.”
“An enormous space station,” said Frank, “slowly circling through space between your very lovely green and thriving planet and your almost equally lovely albeit barren and lifeless moon. But, I might add, quite invisible to the human eye, and in fact, immaterial according to your own quaint concept of what is and what is not material.”
“Oh,” said Dick. “Immaterial.”
He didn’t look entirely convinced.
“Ya, see, Mr. Ridpath,” said Frank, “we are in a whatcha might call a different state of reality, a, uh --”
“Another dimension?” said Harvey. He was the only one drinking beer, a Falstaff.
“Right!” said Frank. “Another dimension. It’s kinda like your whatchamacallit dream-state, a universe that co-exists with your universe but cannot be seen from your universe -- although, oddly enough, one can in fact see your dimension from this dimension.”
“So we’re kinda like ghosts up in here,” said Harvey.
“Uh --” Frank hesitated.
“Or angels,” said Daphne.
“Well, yyyeah --” said Frank, seeming to concede some faint but dubious value to the above suppositions.
“And the only way you can get into this, uh, dimension,” said Dick, “is in one of those, those --”
“Flying saucers,” said Frank, “right.”
He clicked open his gold cigarette case, took out a cigarette, tapped its end on the table.
“So,” said Dick, “you -- people -- are from -- this, this other dimension?”
“Oh, no,” said Frank, lighting his cigarette with his thin gold lighter, “we’re from a planet much like yours, ‘cept it’s like a billion trillion whatever light-years away.”
“I knew it!” said Daphne. “What’s the name of your planet?”
“Well --” said Frank, “you won’t laugh, right? Humans always laugh.”
“I won’t laugh,” said Daphne.
“You promise,” said Frank.
“Scout’s honor,” said Daphne, raising her right hand in the Girl Scout salute.
“Swampoodle,” said Frank.
“Swampoodle?” said Daphne.
“Swampoodle,” Frank said again.
Daphne laughed, but put her hand over her mouth.
“See?” said Frank, addressing the rest of the Pack, “they always laugh.”
Dean, Sammy, Joey, Peter, and Richard Conte all murmured in assent, or nodded, or both.
“Sorry,” said Daphne, and then immediately put her knuckle against her lovely lips again.
“So --” said Dick, to the rescue as usual, “uh, if you’re from -- Swampoodle?” Daphne tried but could not suppress another peal of laughter. “Um, why -- “ Dick hesitated, trying to think it out, “why this, this other dimension?”
“Well, ya see,” said Frank, “back on Swamp--” Again Daphne couldn’t hold it in, and now she held both hands over her mouth. Frank sighed and went on: “back on our ‘home planet’ -- about a million years ago, we invented a device which enables us to travel the vast reaches of interstellar space in quite reasonable amounts of time. Now this device, which we call the Reality Woofer --”
“The what?” asked Daphne.
“The Reality Woofer.”
“Oh, my God, Frank, I’m sorry,” she said, speaking through her fingers, her shoulders hunched.
Dick and Harvey just managed to control the urge to laugh, while all the Rat Pack remained stonily impassive, most notably Frank:
“Perhaps I should continue some other time,” he said.
“Oh, no, Frank,” said Daphne, “please. Do go on. I promise I’ll behave.”
“Okay,” said Frank, taking a sip of his Four Roses Manhattan, “so -- we invented this, uh, this ‘device’, which, when installed into one of our flying saucers, enables us to travel through the uh -- the --” Daphne still chuckled from behind her hand, but Frank sighed and went on -- “the, uh, whaddyacallit, the --”
“Vast reaches of space?” suggested Dick.
“Right,” said Frank, “the vast reaches of whatever, by enabling us to enter into this different, uh, dimension in which we can travel these, uh, these --”
“Vast reaches,” said Dick.
“Right,” said Frank. “At the speed of thought. On accounta the normal rules of physics don’t apply here.”
“Like in dreams,” offered Daphne, getting a grip.
“Kinda --” said Frank, as in, Well, no, not really.
“And how quick exactly is the speed of thought?” asked Dick.
“Oh, it’s very quick,” said Frank. “All you gotta do is get out on the road so to speak, build up a little speed, engage the, uh --”
“The Woofer!” cried Daphne. “The Reality Woofer!”
“Right,” said Frank, frowning but going on. “Then you burst through the wall between dimensions and, like, boom -- you’re on your way. One of our top of the line Reality Woofer ships can make it from here to Swamp -- to our world in like two hours, two hours and change. And we’re talking about sixty-nine trillion billion miles, light-years, whatever.”
“Far,” said Joey.
“Right,” said Frank. “Far.”
“So,” said Dick, “it’s like: you use this Woofer thing to go from your world into this other dimension to get to here, and then I guess when you want to go to the earth you have to use the Woofer thing again to get out of this, uh --”
“Twilight zone,” said Harvey.
“Well, we don’t call this dimension the Twilight Zone, Harvey,” said Frank. “It’s called Fishtown.” He turned to Daphne. “You can laugh now, Mrs. Ridpath.”
“I’m not laughing,” she said.
She took a cigarette from the platinum case which had been supplied to her. Sammy reached all the way across the table to give her a light with his lighter which was identical to Frank’s.
“Thank you,” she said.
She exhaled a great cloud of smoke and then burst into uncontrollable laughter.
(Continued here; soon to be a 37-part mini-series from The Pennzoil Hall of Fame on the Dumont Network, starring Dane Clark, Martha Vickers, Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, Thomas Gomez, Priscilla Lane, and Akim Tamiroff; written, directed and produced by Larry Winchester.)