Friday, December 26, 2008

As promised...


Here is the text of the story I wrote that was published on Dec. 19 about Norman Corwin:

Author looks back on 70th anniversary
of Christmas radio holiday broadcast
By LOU ANTONELLI
Managing Editor
Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we are bombarded by broadcasts of holiday classics.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – it’s a long list.
But the grand-pappy of all Christmas shows, that beats all those above in longevity, harkens back to the Golden Age of Radio, and on Thursday celebrates its 70th anniversary.
“The Plot to Overthrow Christmas” was broadcast on Sunday, Dec. 25, 1938 by CBS radio as part of a series called Columbia Workshop. The radio play is still often performed, and various recordings find their ways onto the airwaves each year.
It’s a unique story that starts in Hell, ends at the North Pole, and is written entirely in rhyme.
It marked the debut of a man considered the most distinguished playwright of the Golden Age of Radio, Norman Corwin, whose radio productions during the Second World War are considered some of the greatest broadcasts of the 20th Century.
Amazingly enough, Corwin is with us today to note the 70th anniversary of the landmark broadcast. We interviewed the 98-year old Corwin by phone on Monday, Dec. 15, 2008, from his home in Los Angeles.
Corwin said The Mount Pleasant Tribune was the only paper so far to note the 70th anniversary of the show – or to know he was still around.
Despite his age, he seems to feel his longevity is unexceptional – he has an older brother he talks to every day, and their father lived to be 112.
Despite the years, he remembers the genesis of the famous radio play. “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas” was a great milestone for him.
“It was the first play I ever wrote for anybody,” he said. “The reception was very good. It really helped my career.”
A Boston native, Corwin worked as a newspaper reporter for Massachusetts newspapers and then began reading the news over a radio station. He moved to New York City in 1936 and created radio programming for an independent radio station.
That work brought him to the attention of the CBS Radio Network, which – in a drive to create more meaningful radio entertainment – was in the process of hiring some distinguished radio artists.
Corwin was in the same class of newcomers as Orson Welles and John Houseman. Welles’ version of the “War of the Worlds” on Halloween 1938 was notorious; Corwin’s program on Christmas Day almost two months later was not nearly as controversial – but is more fondly remembered.
The Columbia Radio Workshop was broadcast on Sunday nights, and the coincidence with Christmas hadn’t hit Corwin until – a few months beforehand – the man who handled the show’s publicity asked Corwin for his line-up.
“He said to me, “You do know that Sunday falls on Christmas. You know you have to do a Christmas show.’ I hadn’t given it any thought up to that point. He asked me if I had a problem. I told him, ‘no, that’s fine.’”
Fact was, Corwin hadn’t even an idea for the program at that point, but the publicity man had to tout the Christmas Show in advance, so he pressed Corwin for the title.
“So I just said it’s called ‘The Plot to Overthrow Christmas’. He looked at me and said ‘Really?’ I said, ‘yes’. So he said ‘fine’ and that was that.”
This led to the program having a title before it had a plot. Corwin said that proved to be a blessing in disguise, because that title gave him the beginning of the story, which he recites from memory:
“Did you hear about the plot to overthrow Christmas?
“Well, gather ye now from Maine to the isthmus
“of Panama, and listen to the story
“of the utter inglory
“of some gory goings-on in Hell.
“Now it happened in Hades,
“Ladies,
“and gentlemen.
“It happened down there that fiends held a meeting.
“The fiends held a meeting for the purpose of defeating –
“Christmas.”
Evil Mephisto (performed in the original broadcast by Will Geer, who played Grandpa Walton on the ‘70s television series) convenes the villains of history because:
“In carrying forward the work of Hell,
“We’ve left a very big job unfinished.
“After all these years there is undiminished
“Good will on Earth every late December
“Because of Christmas.”
After considering suggestions by the likes of Caligula and Simon Legree, among others, the convention of demons approved the suggestion of Lucrezia Borgia to assassinate Santa Claus. The Emperor Nero wins the luck of the draw and heads for the North Pole to do the dirty deed.
Once there, Santa’s kindliness and reasonability stalls the evil tyrant, and then Santa shows him the happiness of the holiday with the gift of a Stradivarius violin.
The play ends with the sounds of Nero playing “The First Noel” after he decides to stay at the North Pole and help in the toy workshop.
The unusual format – a radio play in verse – has attracted a lot of comment over the years. Corwin said it just occurred to him – “I had never written anything in rhyme” – but as it happened, “it came very easy to me.”
He was grateful for the public response to the broadcast, and a little taken aback. “I was as surprised as anybody.”
Despite the theme of evil underground machinations and subversion – which may seem prophetic in light of the horrible war which broke out less than a year later – Corwin said he had no such intent.
“I intended it to be a jolly piece, that’s all,” he said.
The public liked it and “the reception was really good,” he said. “It helped my career.”
But the long run, one of the best things that came out of the broadcast for him happened the next day when a CBS News correspondent knocked on his door.
“He said he listened to it, and liked it,” said Corwin. “He wanted to meet the man who wrote it.”
That was Edward R. Murrow. “We became good friends. We were friends for the rest of his life.”
Corwin’s greatest subsequent radio achievements came during the war where Murrow became so well known as a foreign correspondent. He was the master of the special radio presentation.
His production on the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, “We Hold These Truths”, was considered so important at the start of World War II it was the first program ever broadcast by all four radio networks simultaneously, and drew the largest audience in history.
During the conflict, he directed the series “This is War!” His program broadcast on the night of the German surrender in 1945, “On a Note of Triumph”, is often called by critics the greatest single radio broadcast of history.
Times change, and role of radio in American society changed, too. By 1955 he left working day-to-day in radio, and since then has kept busy as a screenwriter, author, and stage playwright.
Today he is a writer-in-residence at the University of Southern California, “where they teach good football,” he quips, and still teaches classes and lends his advice and experience to aspiring writers.
“The Plot to Overthrow Christmas” was performed perhaps four or more times before he left CBS, he notes. Hardly a year goes by when it isn’t performed live on the air again. It has also been adapted for a regular stage presentation.
Corwin says he is grateful for the chance to be able to look back on its first live performance after 70 years. “It remains one of my proudest achievements.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"The Plot to Overthrow Christmas"

Many years ago. I heard a radio rebroadcast of a play called "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas". It was originally produced live on CBS Radio and was really something. It's about a conspiracy of the denizens of Hell to stifle holiday happiness. After deliberations, the conclave under the leadership of Mephisto agrees with the suggestion of Lucrezia Borgia to assassinate Santa Claus. Nero wins the draw to do the dastardly deed. When he arrives at the North Pole, however, Santa's kindliness stalls him, and then his logic and friendliness result in a change in heart. At the end, Santa gives him a Stradivarius and Nero stays on to help in the workshop.

Interesting, eh? Starts in Hell, ends at the North Pole. Oh, and the whole story is in rhyme.

A while back I was snooping around for an idea for a unique holiday story for my newspaper. I remembered "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas". I did a little research and realized that the 70th anniversary of its original broadcast is upon us - it was originally broadcast Dec. 25, 1938. Then I really got a surprise - the author, Norman Corwin, is still alive. He's 98 and a writer-in-residence at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. I got a hold of his email through a web site, and asked him for an interview.

He agreed, and we spent some time on the phone Dec. 14. I wrote a 1,200 word story for the paper on Sunday, Dec. 21. It was a real honor to talk to him, and have a little touch of broadcast history. I'd post the story here, but I'm away from the office right now for the holiday.

This is a video I found on YouTube of some group that staged its own production of "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas". This may give you a little taste of the story. When I get back to the office, I'll get my article and post it here.

Merry Christmas, y'all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Queen of Guilty Pleasures - Part 6 (conclusion)

It was past 10 p.m. before Tersarius was done debriefing Jervinis in Dallas. Marcel was fuming in a cell and Hitchens was back doing whatever a crooked cop does in a small town.

He drove back to Juniper Valley. The Town Square was dark and quiet as he let himself in the Journal office. He walked around the editor’s desk and slowly looked over the shelves. There were many science fiction books. He glanced over some of the titles:

Web of the City

The Man with Nine Lives

The Sound of the City

“Seems to be a pattern here,” he thought.

He noticed a memo pad on the desk. The top sheet was blank, but he could see an impression of what had been written on the sheet above. He could just make out what looked like

HE

m

an

“He-man?”

He tore the sheet from the pad and stuck it in his shirt pocket. He began going through drawers.

He found a slick trade paperback. The Real Bettie Page: The Truth About the Queen of the Pin-ups.

“He did a little research here.”

He flipped through the pages and noticed the book opened at the foreword: “The Queen of Guilty Pleasures.” Then he saw who guest-authored the foreword.

“Payoff.”

He threw the book back in the drawer.

* * *

“I’m surprised to see you back in Southern California,” said Detective Sloan. “I did think I’d get a call. But I assumed after you took off for Texas, I’d never see you again.”

“If you think about it, neither of us should be surprised the trail led back here,” said Agent Tersarius. “You know how uncommon random assaults are.”

“You said in your message you think the person who set up this possible cloning deal lives here.”

“Yes, that probably explains how he knew Bettie Page still lived in the LA area,” said Tersarius. “Plus he fits what I would call the profile in this case. Someone old and wealthy who could afford to do this, someone who would remember Bettie Page as a pinup in the ‘50s. In this case, my suspect was 21 when she was a Playboy centerfold in 1955.”

“I don’t pretend to completely understand how it’s done,” said the detective, “especially if — if you cloned someone today, wouldn’t it take years for the clone to grow up? Don’t they age like a normal human?”

“That’s the interesting twist on the case,” said Tersarius. “I have an indication this may have been done before.” He pulled out the sheet from the memo pad. “When I ran this through the bureau’s lab in Dallas, they made out the whole message. It actually says “HE make another.”

“Is HE your suspect then? I assume those are initials.”

“Yes, and that’s where I’m going next.”

“Do you need my help?”

“No actually, he lives elsewhere, so it doesn’t fall under your jurisdiction. I just wanted to make a courtesy call. I’ll let you know if it pans out.”

The detective stood up and shook Tersarius’ hand. “Well, this was probably ground breaking.”

Tersarius gave a wan smile. “It might be earth shaking, if the suspect is who I think it is. On the other hand, we probably will cut a deal. We may need this man’s help more than we need him prosecuted.”

“You would have thought the first real attempt at cloning would have been for spare organs,” said the detective as he escorted the agent to the door.

“Well, the two things that drive mankind are a desire for sex and a fear of death,” the agent said dryly. “Human nature being what it is, I’m not surprised someone would have wanted to clone a concubine.”

He turned as he walked away. “Anyway, this is the first case I’ve seen involving a sex toy.”

* * *

Agent Tersarius parked in front of a ranch house with a California stone exterior.

A diminutive well-dressed man with intelligent eyes behind rather large glasses answered the door. “Good afternoon. Agent Tersarius, isn’t it?”

“We need to talk, sir.”

The old man gestured expansively for the agent to enter. “I got word from Texas to be expecting you.”

Tersarius knitted his legs as he sat down on a large leather couch. “I guess Tim Marcel called you as soon as he posted bail.”

A pretty dark-haired teenage girl came into the living room. “Hello. Daddy, you didn’t tell me we had a guest?”

Tersarius smiled at the girl. “I just arrived.”

“Bettie, dearest, could you get us some coffee, please?”

“Sure.” She smiled at the agent. “I’ll be right back.”

The author turned to Tersarius. “As you can see, there’s nothing romantic going on here, agent.”

“Was that the original plan?”

The old man sighed. “You’re very perspicacious, sir.”

He sat back in his chair. “Yes, I planned to use her as a paramour — but as she quickly matured, my heart wasn’t in it.”

“Quickly, eh? How old is she?”

The author looked at his with resignation. “Seven. She’s seven years old.”

“She looks like a 16-year old.”

“And her rate of aging is accelerating. She’ll probably die of old age by the time she’s 30.”

“Things didn’t work out the way you planned, then. Couldn’t bear to become attached to her?”

“You make it sound so crass.”

Irritation crept into Tersarius’ voice. “Crass? Damn, man, you were going to start making a series of then? So you’d have a fresh one when the previous one got too old?”

The author’s blue eyes flashed as he leaned forward violently. “No, dammit. I just wanted to see whether this first case was an aberration. I wanted new work done.”

Tersarius nodded in the direction of the kitchen. “So she wasn’t a product of the Texas lab?”

“No, I had a fellow in Nevada do that work. Marcel was a fan who happened to broach the subject of cloning in a letter. I used him to set up the second attempt.”

He sighed. “I just learned two days ago it wouldn’t have worked. I was going to tell Marcel to destroy the tissue sample. Then you showed up.”

“What did you learn?”

The author leaned back in his armchair and rubbed his hands in a very obvious way. “Now, are we going to talk about leniency?”

“If you happen to have something substantial to offer, yes.”

The old man smiled. “My man in Nevada isolated a genome that seems to determine the rate of aging once maturity is achieved. Apparently, it must have some kind of environmental trigger — which explains why, in an artificial situation such as this, the aging proceeds geometrically after infancy.”

“How has he been able to confirm this?”

“This genome in Bettie duplicates that which has already been found in victims of Progeria — except it’s not the same gene. Since we know what the gene looks like initially, a little splicing and we’ll have a cure for fetuses diagnosed as possessing the Progeria defect.”

“A cure for Progeria.” Tersarius lowered his voice as Bettie returned with a tray and a carafe of coffee.

“Thank you dear. I know you have school work to do. Please leave us two old fellows, we’re talking business.”

“Of course, daddy.” Her blue eyes sparkled. “Please say good-bye before you leave, Mr....”

“Tersarius.”

Her bangs swayed as she giggled. “I’m sorry, did you say Terry Serious?”

“Close enough.” They both laughed.

The author nodded after she left. “She’s my responsibility in every way. Now I have to watch her grow old so quickly. The least I can do is make some good come out of this — a rich, old man’s foolish fantasy.”

“She was cloned before the law went in to effect,” said Tersarius. “And you were stopped before the next attempt. The most I would have is a conspiracy charge.”

He sipped his coffee. “I think we can deal. The NIH will appreciate the information you turn over to them.”

* * *

“You could have flown in tomorrow morning.”

Tersarius was pulling off his tie. “After spending all that time in Texas and California, I wanted to get back home.”

He kissed his wife.

“Where’s the little one?”

“Asleep in her bed, like a little angel.”

They both looked at their daughter through a partially cracked doorway.

He smiled and turned away as he quietly closed the door.

She held his hand. “Wasn’t this job about illegal cloning?”

“Yes, but they didn’t succeed.”

“Well, did you learn anything?”

He looked at her thoughtfully. “Yes. Bringing life into the world is a big responsibility — also a big risk.”

She had hardly ever heard him say anything so touching. She hugged him, and he hugged her back even tighter.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Queen of Guilty Pleasures - Part 5

Marcel led them to a small shed behind the building where old bound volumes of newspapers lined the shelves. He pulled a box from behind some of the large books.

“Damn, you put the stuff out here?” said Hitchens, “with no air conditioning?”

“This sophisticated kind of package is totally insulated,” said Tersarius, as he carried the old software box into the building.

“I wouldn’t open it if I were you,” said Marcel. “It’s in there pretty tight.”

Tersarius cracked the box just enough to see the zero-energy container inside.

“How did you notice the box?” asked Marcel.

“Well, even though I don’t use the software much, I know Pagemaker is an Adobe product now. And this box says Aldus, so I knew it was pretty old. I mean, why would a newspaper be using desktop publishing software ten years old? And then I realized the name.”

“I tried to be too clever, huh?”

“I don’t get it,” said Hitchens, “What about the name?”

“This tissue sample is from a woman named Bettie Page. She was a top pinup in the 1950s and the Playboy Playmate for Christmas 1955. She became a Christian in 1959 and has been pretty much living a private life in anonymity since then.”

“I get it. The software is named Pagemaker.” Hitchens rolled his eyes. “Page-maker. Sheeyit.”

Tersarius pointed a thumb towards the door. “Time to visit Cloverleaf Farms.”

* * *

Despite it being the middle of a Texas summer, the grounds of Cloverleaf Farms were bright green. It was gated and a voice squawked from a box after they pulled up.

“I’d like to see Mr. Jervinis.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“I don’t need one. I’m Agent Tersarius of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

There was a pause. “May I see your badge?”

Tersarius held it up in front of the lens. The gate swung open.

They drove up to a large and long building, where a chunky man with sandy hair came out. “Gentlemen, I’m Mark Ginn, the manager here at Cloverleaf. How may I help you?”

“We’d like to see Mr. Jervinis.” Tersarius looked around the expansive estate.

“Mr. Jervinis isn’t here right now. Is here something I can help you gentlemen with?” He obviously recognized Marcel but didn’t give Hitchens a second glance.

“I want to see your embryology lab.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible. It’s secure and sterile and I don’t have the authority. Mr. Jervinis is the general manager, I’m just the manager of the boarding facility. Besides, do you have a warrant?”

“I believe there’s a crime in progress. Your lab is being used for illegal cloning.”

“Agent Tersarius, cloning livestock is hardly illegal.”

“Cloning humans is.”

Tersarius could tell from his reaction this was the first he’d heard of this.

“Are you going to cooperate, or do I need call the Dallas office for backup, and do a thorough search?”

Ginn let them in and the four men slowly made their way through the lab. Ginn seemed unfamiliar with the facilities, but Tersarius recognized the standard lab setup — refrigeration equipment, sterile hoods, incubators and such.

He looked around and rubbed his chin. “The right stuff isn’t quite here.” He looked at Ginn, who just shrugged.

He noticed a locked door off to the side. “What’s in there?”

“From my having visited in here before, I think that’s a personal office for Mr. Jervinis.”

Tersarius twisted the knob and shook the door. “Do you have a key?”

Tersarius let go of the knob, but it continued to twist. The door opened and a dark-haired man with a neat beard looked out. “What’s going on here?”

“Mr. Jervinis, I’m sorry.” Ginn spoke up. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“That OK, Mark. Tim, what’s going on?”

“This is an FBI agent Tersarius. He’s investigating a suspected case of human cloning.”

“There’s been no law violated, Agent Tersarius.” Jervinis was the image of reasonability. “I’ve only been involved in some personal embryological research, related, of course, to our reproductive services division here at the ranch.”

“Well, then, you don’t mind if I take a look inside.”

“Not at all.”

Tersarius went inside the small room, which also had a sterile hood and incubator, along with a small refrigerator and a microscope, all on one large table. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a tray with vials.

He looked over the containers. He gestured towards the other men. “Gentlemen, step forward here. I want to show you how to clone a human being.”

“First, you examine the human cells under this high power microscope, to insure there’s no contamination. If you’re unsure, you can always use a small centrifuge to isolate them.”

He looked at Jervinis, who was beginning to look worried. “I assume you have one someplace?”

Jervinis nodded very slowly.

“Then you put them in this specialized culture media,” he said holding up a vial, “where the cells grow and divide. You need to grow a good supply of clean cells.”

“This stuff here,” he said, “holding up another tube, “is called minimal media. It’s formulated so that the cells stop dividing and become quiescent.”

He pulled out a sealed petri dish. “You then take an unfertilized human egg, not terribly difficult to obtain, and under the sterile hood, you use a microscopically thin pipette to puncture the cell wall and then suck out the egg’s nucleus.”

He opened the door to the hood and slid in the dish. “Then you take one of the cells and slide it into the egg’s cell membrane.”

He looked at the trio. “A normal human cell is much smaller than an egg, so you can implant it in the egg’s cell wall quite easily. Isn’t that true?”

Jervinis nodded again.

“Then you either use chemicals or electroshock to jolt the cells so they fuse. The nucleus of the clone cell merges with the egg and takes the place of the nucleus you earlier removed. The egg will develop with the genetic material of the clone cell rather than what it started with. Then it’s just a simple matter of artificial insemination with some willing host.”

He turned to Jervinis. “I assume from the caps on some of these vials you use the electroshock method?”

Jervinis reached into a drawer and pulled out a small box with some wires and clamps.

“Very simple, but it would do the job,” said Tersarius. “I commend your expertise. You’ve managed to put a neat cloning operation on a desktop. You obviously know your stuff.”

“You obviously do, too. Have you ever done this yourself?”

Tersarius gave a little laugh. “No, but remember I’m the one asking questions here. And the next one is, who you have been working for?”

Before Jervinis opened his mouth, Marcel turned to run but Hitchens quickly grabbed him and then shoved him back in the door.

“That’s OK, Mr. Editor, it isn’t hard to see you’re the linchpin of this project,” said Tersarius. “You thought implicating over the Frames would throw me off you, and that when I ran into the lieutenant, he’d do his job.”

“I thought he would do at least what he was damn well paid to do.”

“Well, it was obvious you’re at the center of this. I can see Jervinis recognized you but not the lieutenant. The Frames knew the lieutenant but not you. You and the lieutenant are at the center of this conspiracy — and you’re obviously working for the client. Why would you get the tissue sample instead of Jervinis here? You can’t do a thing with it.”

He turned to Jervinis. “By the way, do you have an idea of the name of the clone subject?”

The doctor looked at him warily.

“Oh, I’m sorry, now that I’m sure, I need your testimony and expertise for this case,” said Tersarius. “We’ll give you immunity. It’s obvious Marcel here is our connection to the client.”

“Actually, Agent Tersarius, I don’t know and I never asked. I thought it was better that way.”

“Which means our editor friend here was the only person who knew her name. Page-maker, huh?” He snorted. “Desktop publishing software. Desktop cloning. All sorts of in-jokes.”

Marcel glared at him. “I want an attorney.”

Tersarius cocked an eyebrow at Hitchens. “You want to do the honors?”

The lieutenant smiled. “My pleasure.”

“Oh, you son of a bitch! I’ll be damned if you’re going arrest me!”

Hitchens already had the handcuffs on behind his back. “Just tell the man what he wants to know.”

“I can’t.”

“Yeah, I know.” Tersarius said. “Let’s go.”

He turned to Jervinis. “I’d like to debrief you. I think I’ll learn more if you and I cooperate. I think we can chalk this up to research for future cases.”

Jervinis smiled and nodded. “Mark, please turn off all the lights and lock up behind us.”

(to be continued)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Queen of Guilty Pleasures - Part 4

The temperature was already past 100 and the sun beat down in sheets of glare. Although the Juniper Valley Antique Furniture Emporium was across the square, Agent Tersarius drove out to the highway.

AirFlo Gases was in a medium-sized industrial park. He could see a large vacant building with the faint outlines of “Superconducting Super Collider Facility” still visible on the fa├žade.

“We only sell direct to industries,” said the office manager. “You just can’t walk in and buy liquid nitrogen.”

“Really?” Tersarius was still holding out his badge. “This place is rather out of the way. How do we know if a terrorist came by and slipped someone in the plant some cash for a carry-out deal?”

The woman cringed. “Please, I had nothing to do with it.”

“Who did?”

The head of the shop where the tankers were loaded blubbered away immediately.

“Just tell me who wanted the nitrogen and I’ll be happy,” he said. "I'm not INS."

“I don’t know his name, he was a old white man. He had a real lab flask, though, so I figured he knew what he was doing.”

“Well, what he look like?”

The man hesitated. “If hope he’s not going to tell me we all look alike,” thought Tersarius.

“He was an old man, tall, bald in the middle with curly hair on the sides. He had a checked shirt on.”

“Anything else?”

“He had a funny hammer in his belt, with a small square head.”

“Relax, amigo, you’re a small fish. Gracias.”

Tersarius headed back up the highway and into town again.

* * *

He walked into the furniture store and saw a lanky man hammering away at the back of an old Victorian Era sofa.

The man’s eyes twinkled behind his wire rim glasses. He unfolded his tall frame as his tucked the upholsterer’s hammer in his belt.

“How may I help you?”

Tersarius pulled out his badge. “I understand you once worked for the government, Dr. Frame.”

The retired scientist stiffened.

“And if you are retired, why would you still need liquid nitrogen?”

“Am I under some kind of investigation?" He spoke very precisely.

“Yes. Liquid nitrogen is a very hazardous material, and you had no right to purchase it. The agency is very concerned about any possible terroristic threats against..."

The older man straightened. “There’s no terrorist threat!”

“Then what about The Prohibition of Human Cloning Act? You’re a little old to go to prison, Dr. Frame.”

An older woman with stark white hair pulled back in a ponytail came from a back room. “Who is it, Jim?”

“Someone who wants to know how we paid for the Sebring convertible.”

She stopped dead in her tracks and looked over Tersarius’ thin frame and dark suit. “Oh, dear god.”

Frame gestured to large couch against a wall. “Can we sit down and talk?”

* * *

Their story was simple and straightforward. Someone who knew about the retired couple’s background had paid them a large sum to prepare a kit for the transport of a tissue sample. Yes, it could have been used for a human sample, noted Frame. They never knew who paid them. An intermediary arranged the deal.

Lieutenant Hitchens.

When he was back in his car, Tersarius realized someone sitting in an unmarked car across the square was looking at him. They made eye contact.

They both got out and met at the gazebo in the center of the square. Tersarius sat down and spread his arms on the back of the bench. Hitchens stood with his arms crossed on his chest just below his badge.

“I really don’t care whatever else you have going,” said the agent. "I know this couldn’t have been your idea.”

The lieutenant had watery blue eyes and a droopy cowboy mustache. “I don’t know if it’s any y’all’s business.” He spat tobacco juice over the railing and onto the geraniums.

“The boys in Washington want to nip this new crime in the bud,” said the agent. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want to lose your money from Matamoros. Nobody’s going to care about protecting you because you got involved in some science project.”

Hitchens glared at him. “You drive a hard bargain.”

“Hard, but simple.”

Spit.

“We’re all divided up, like cells. Mah part was to handle the liquid nitrogen. After Frame got the kit ready, I turned it over to someone else, who’s the real middle man.”

“Yes, someone I imagine in the middle of things, who everyone trusts, and nobody would suspect. Certainly not you. Let’s go."

Tersarius took off at a fast pace across the small park towards the newspaper office.

* * *

Marcel shot a quick glance down the hall as Tersarius and Hitchens walked in.

“I wouldn’t bolt, if I were you,” said Tersarius.

“He knows,” said Hitchens.

Tersarius looked towards the credenza with a shelf lined with software packages. “I see you’ve already removed the box.”

Marcel looked angry. “I needed the money!” he snarled. "I can't make a living from this pissant newspaper."

Tersarius gave him a dubious look.

"I needed the money,” Marcel repeated. “Why else do you think I’d work with this crooked bastard?”

Hitchens snorted.

“Well, you’re not any better than him now, are you?”

“Can’t we make some kind of deal? Like for immunity?”

“You’ve been watching too much television. You tell me where you were taking the tissue sample, and maybe, maybe we can talk.”

“I had to wait until I was told to make the drop-off. This whole deal was set up with firewalls,” said Marcel.

“The guy at Cloverleaf, Jim Jervinis, contacted me. I passed along the information on what was needed to him,” he said, gesturing to Hitchens, “he got the stuff from Frame, and then I passed it along.”

Tersarius shook his head. “What’s Cloverleaf?”

“That’s a fancy horse hotel on the edge of the city, right on the county line,” said Hitchens. “So that’s where this was going.”

“I assume there’s a lab set up at Cloverleaf,” said Marcel. “They host a stud service, and have been big into AI for years.” He paused. “Of course, in this case, AI stands for artificial insemination.”

“Have you already called Cloverleaf?”

“No, I called Scott.”

“Did you call Cloverleaf?”

“I didn’t know they were in on this. My connection was to him.”

“Good, then we’re going to this Cloverleaf place and you’re both coming with me.” He turned to the editor. “Would you like to retrieve the box?

(to be continued)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Queen of Guilty Pleasures - Part 3



Agent Tersarius picked up a car at the Dallas FBI office and drove 30 miles to Juniper Valley, a small suburb on the southern edge of the county. He drove around the Town Square.

Catty-corner from the City Hall he saw a rather dilapidated office building with a sign, “The Juniper Valley Journal — Your Hometown Newspaper.”

No one was inside except a dark-haired middle-aged man behind a large desk. Tersarius smiled as the man stood up. "Can I help you?"

Agent Tersarius flashed his badge. He noticed the man flinched slightly

“I’m Agent Edward Tersarius, and I’m looking for information about Juniper Valley. I thought the local newspaper would be a good place to start."

The man relaxed slightly and smiled nervously. “You’ve come to the right place.”

They shook hands.

"I’m a microbiology forensics specialist with the FBI out of Washington, D.C.,” he said evenly. “I’m investigating a suspected attempt of illegal human cloning, and I have a lead that’s brought me here.”

Tersarius could tell the man actually understood him. “How can I help you, Mr. Tersarius. Is that a Lithuanian name?”

“Yes, it is, my grandparents came through Ellis Island. A phone call trace has led us to Juniper Valley,” he said. “How much do you know about law enforcement in this town?”

The man turned around and sat back in his seat. “We run the police log every week. Like everyone else.”

“Who’s the Coordinator in this town? You know, the guy you need to go to get permission to do stuff?”

The man glared at him. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“I assume whoever your local Coordinator is might be involved — for protection.”

"Coordinator" was the term used in law enforcement for the person in any law enforcement agency who worked for the drug dealers.

“I can speak plainly," said Tersarius. "We know Texas law enforcement is on the other side of the drug war. We’ve known it for years. All Texas police and sheriff’s departments have been compromised by the drug cartels.'

He leaned forward for emphasis. "It’s like during the ’20s and Prohibition. I don’t really care. I’m not here on a drug investigation, Mr....”

“Marcel, Tim Marcel.”

“A former Playboy Playmate and pin-up star from the 1950s was attacked in Los Angeles,” he continued. “The nature of the wound indicates the assailant may have collected a tissue sample.”

He let the statement sink in. “Perhaps whoever's involved in this cloning project has arranged for protection from your local Coordinator. These people make all kinds of side deals for extra money — easy enough, considering they control local law enforcement."

"We have a partial phone number that led me to Juniper Valley," he continued. "The question is, why would the trail lead to Juniper Valley?”

The editor looked wary. “What kind of businesses might be involved?”

“Reproductive services, artificial insemination, livestock cloning, perhaps? Microtechnology, cryogenics...”

“Whoa, stop right there. What’s cryogenics got to do with cloning?”

“If you transport tissue samples, they have to be cryogenically frozen."

Marcel walked over to a window and beckoned the agent. “You see that furniture store across the square?”

“Yes?”

“You remember the Superconducting Super Collider?”

“Yes.”

“The Collider was being built next door in Ellis County, at least until the assholes in Congress cancelled the project 12 years ago. The project’s headquarters were in an industrial park here in Juniper Valley while the tunnel was being built.”

Marcel turned to Tersarius. “The first people who came here were in cryogenics, because of the magnets they were going to install. When the funding was yanked, a number of people took retirement and gave up on government science work, including..."

He pointed. “Jim and Jill Frame, who opened up that antique furniture shop.”

“Thanks, that’s interesting.”

“Yes, and AirFlo Gases is still in the industrial park.”

“What’s AirFlo Gases?”

“An outfit that started up the same time as the Collider. They liquefy gases they pull out of the clean Texas air. Like liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen.”

“You’ve been very helpful, Mr. Marcel. I may stop by and visit with you later. By the way, do you own the paper?”

“Yep, I do everything pretty much. Owner, publisher, janitor-in-chief. This is a small outfit.”

“Well, I know small newspapers don’t make lots of money. You hang in there.”

Marcel showed him to the door. Agent Tersarius turned before he walked out. “By the way, you never told me.”

“Told you what?”

“Who I was asking for?”

“Oh, yes.” Marcel shuffled his feet. “Lt. Scott Hitchens. He’s the guy.”

(to be continued)

We interrupt this serial...

Enchanted Rock

...for a bulletin. Apehelion has published my story "Video Killed the Radio Star" in its December issue, which went live Sunday, Dec. 14. Believe it or not, this is only my second story published in 2008, after "The Witch of Waxahachie" in April. I spent half the year working on my book.

Here's how the 'zine blurbs the story:

A recent graduate who desperately needs a job finds something other than gold in them there hills. A sci-fi tale about Enchanted Rock, the Republic of Texas and a secret long buried.

Certainly sounds like a Lou Antonelli story. Although because of length it is listed as a serial in the TOC, the story is published in its entirety.
Click here to have a read

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Queen of Guilty Pleasures - Part Two


Agent Tersarius alighted into the office like a crane on a branch. He perfunctorily flashed his badge. “I’m glad to meet you, Detective Sloan, and I appreciate your contacting us.”

The LAPD detective sat back. “I hope this isn’t a false alarm.”

“We evaluated your message. That’s why I’m here.”

“You think there may be something to this?"

“Ever since the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act of 2003 was passed, we’ve had a protocol enforcement.”

The detective sat up straight. “I guess you have a serious forensics background. It must be interesting.”

“Actually, I’ve been mostly stuck in a lab, and it gets boring as crap.”

He smiled. “I enjoy getting out of the lab. There are only a handful of FBI agents who can do forensic microbiology."

The detective’s eyes began to glaze. He shrugged and pushed a sheaf of papers towards Agent Tersarius. “Here’s the full report from the attending physician who treated the subject.”

Tersarius flipped though the papers as the detective spoke. “As an assault, it’s fairly atypical,” Sloan continued. “There was no prior contact, no communication during the assault, no attempt to take any valuables, and there was no attempt on the woman’s life. For now, it’s still only an assault. The bells went off because of the comments the attending physician added.”

“Yes, I see. Wound indicates attacker used specialized tool normally used for taking tissue sample from cadavers.”

Tersarius looked up. “That’s the operative term, tissue sample.”

“When I came to where you first mentioned the victim’s name, I thought it sounded familiar,” he continued. “Googled up a storm.”

“She’s lived in LA for many years. She was pretty famous in her day — they say she had 20,000 pin-up photos made in the ‘50s.”

Tersarius looked up. “Maybe some rich old man wants to re-live a teenage fantasy?”

“Is that possible?”

“I doubt it, but someone may be running an elaborate scam. Anyhow, it’s the thought that counts," he said with a thin smile. “I’ll take the case from here.”

“No problem, I wouldn’t know where to start, if this is what you think it is,” said the detective. “Now I have the good news and the bad news.”

“Give me the good news first.”

“A few minutes before the attack, while he was stalking the victim in the store, the perp stopped to make a cell phone call, and as he held the phone, a surveillance camera could see the key pad. We got the area code and exchange.”

Detective Sloan handed him a slip of paper. “Outside Dallas,” he said. “A town called Juniper Valley.”

“Texas A&M has been in the forefront of cloning technology for years,” said Tersarius. “What’s the bad news?”

“The plate is untraceable.”

“I guess that's not surprising.”

They both knew that with the corruption in Texas law enforcement caused by the Mexican drug cartels, more and more organized crime protection rackets were being run out of the state. "Somebody in law enforcement probably procured the plate," thought Tersarius.

Detective Sloan showed him to the door. “You think someone is finally trying to clone a person?”

“You know the saying. I’m not paid to think. But if someone is trying to violate the law, it’s my deal.”

He squared the papers. “By the way, how is the victim?”

“She’s fine, but still shook up. I’m sure she would have been happier if someone asked for her autograph.”

“Ouch.” The agent dropped the papers in his briefcase. “I’ll let you know what I find.”

(to be continued)

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Queen of Guilty Pleasures (Part 1)


Just as the development of the internet ended up being utilized the most efficiently for pornography, I would suppose the same will apply when cloning becomes common and relatively simple.

This conjecture led me to whip up a story back in 2005 about what would happen if someone stole DNA from an old woman who had once been a pinup to make a pretty little sex toy. The death yesterday of Bettie Page leads me to revisit my story.

It was originally published in Bewildering Stories in two parts in 2005. I'll take a little time this week to post the story here, just for your enjoyment, scene by scene.

#

THE QUEEN OF GUILTY PLEASURES
By Lou Antonelli

Bob the Stockman was absent-mindedly loading a shelf with dollar pasta when something caught the corner of his eye.

Bob used to be a telecommunications specialist — but the gigantic corporation went bust, and now he felt himself lucky to get a minimum-wage job at a Bargain Bucks store.

He turned and realized why his peripheral vision had tugged subliminally at his consciousness.

“How special,” he thought. “The Trash Perfecta. Cheap Trash, Old Trash, Euro-Trash.”

The astoundingly-dressed hooker was just picking up her yellow plastic bag full of junk food. An old overweight woman standing behind her stepped up.

Euro-Trash was behind her. Even in LA, this guy stood out — wraparound mirrored sunglasses, slicked back hair, olive complexion, a narrow white tie on a silver lame’ shirt and navy blue chinos. All under a heavy dark long overcoat.

“This dope is a slave to fashion,” thought Bob to himself. “Wearing a coat like that in LA in July.”

The elderly woman's pretty blue eyes sparkled as she made small talk with the clerk, who took her cash and turned to the cash drawer.

Before the old woman had a chance to pull back her arm, Euro-Trash reached into a deep coat pocket and pulled out the god-damnedest big syringe Bob had ever seen. In one smooth gesture he raised it and pulled the cap off the large needle. Leaning around the old woman, he plunged it deep into the fleshy part of her upper arm.

It took a moment for the pain to register. As she turned and started the scream, Euro-Trash raised his forearm to block her head, and then pushed her away, letting the needle pull out at the same time.

With his free hand, he pulled a narrow black container out of the opposite pocket and he dropped the syringe inside as he ran out the door.

Blood ran down the old woman’s arm and onto the counter as she sobbed. The clerk pulled a roll of paper towels out from under the counter.

Bob saw the whole business, which probably took all of ten seconds. He ran down the aisle and for a second thought to help the old woman, but instead sprinted to the door and into the parking lot.

Despite the heavily tinted windows, he could see Euro-Trash wildly turning the steering wheel as he sped into the street. In the split second the Porsche slowed as it entered traffic, he read and memorized the license plate. It was from Texas.

Bob went back into the store, where the cashier was hugging the old woman.

“There, there, Miss Bettie, the ambulance is on its way.”

The old woman pounded the counter with the fist of her uninjured arm, and clenched her teeth in pain. “A kook, another damn kook! Jesus help me!”

* * *

(to be continued)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not much shaking

Returned proofs to Shelby Vick at Planetary Stories for "Acroscaphe". Waiting for publication, along with the stories at Raygun Revival and Apehelion.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ed of an era

Forrest Ackerman died Friday. I think it's wonderful that - despite the fact his health was failing - he came home from the hospital and lived for a number of weeks while fans and friends from across the world sent him greetings. Apparently it helped buoyed his spirits.

Here is a link to the memorial on the SFWA web site:

http://www.sfwa.org/news/2008/fackerman.htm

I don't recall if I mentioned it in an earlier post, but like so many others, I sent him a birthday greeting when he turned 92 on Nov. 24. I wrote a little limerick, ran it off, and dropped it in the mail.

To Forrest Ackerman:

There was a great genius named Forry,
Whose life was one big sci-fi story.
When word one day spread,
He was quite nearly dead,
He growled, “I’m still here boys, dontcha worry!”


Happy 92nd birthday!
Lou Antonelli
Mount Pleasant, Tx.

#

Got the online proof of the story "Acroscaphe" ready to be published by the e-zine Planetary Stories. It's another Antonelli/Morris collaboration. It's been a year since our fantasy "Off the Hook" was published by Dark Recesses.

"Off the Hook" was a story that Ed started and I jumped into. "Acroscaphe" is the reverse, I did the first draft and then Ed came in.

I have three other stories lined up to be published soon, "The Silver Dollar Saucer" by Raygun Revival, "Video Killed the Radio Star" by Apehelion, and "Professor Malakoff's Amazing Ethereal Telegraph" by the annual Science Fiction Trails.

Not much money, but a lot of fun. Just call me the Last Prince of the Pulps.

#

Rich Horton, on his blog The Elephant Forgets, has published his rundown of the best of Jim Baen's Universe for 2008. He has included "The Witch of Waxahachie" as one of his favorites stories.

http://ecbatan.livejournal.com/2008/12/05/

Thanks, Rich! Glad you liked it.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Not again!

The Writer of the Future has posted on its blog the Honorable Mentions for the 4th quarter of 2008.

This is the FIFTH honorable mention I've gotten from them.

Jeez.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Another sale

Received word this evening that David Riley would like to include "Professor Malakoff's Amazing Ethereal Telegraph" in issue No. 4 of Science Fiction Trails.

"Science Fiction Trails is the magazine where science fiction meets the Wild West--Head on." says their web site.

Science Fiction Trails is a print magazine. Riley notes on the web page, "We always remind folks, these ain't your pappy's western stories."

This will be my 41st publication since June 2003. "Professor Malakoff" is now next in line after "The Silver Dollar Saucer" which is being published this month by Raygun Revival, and the "Video Killed the Radio Star" which is being published by Apehelion.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Good bluegrass

Not much doing on this end - I've been running at half speed recently. People at work keep giving the flu to each other, and I've been battling it for two weeks, in the sense of not getting really sick. But my sinues are irritated.

OK, finding that video of "Handsome Hank and the Lonesome Boys" doing the bluegrass version of "Video Killed the Radio Star" led me to look up more bluegrass. This group, Highway 76, does the best version of "Fox on the Run" I've ever heard.

Latest reviews

In a spare, swift, convincing narrative style, conveying in a deadpan voice a wide array of sometimes Paranoid suppositions about the world, Antonelli juxtaposes realities with very considerable skill, creating a variety of Alternate Worlds, some of them somewhat resembling the constructions of Howard Waldrop, and making some sharp points about American history, race relations, dreams, and occasional nightmares in which the twentieth century goes wrong. [JC]

---From the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

A better path develops for a distraught man in “Double Exposure” by Lou Antonelli (debut 6/11 and reviewed by Frank D). Jake is about to end it all. He has been trying to keep his high maintenance wife happy for decades and has needed to embezzle to satisfy her spending habits. Now, on the verge of indictment and abandoned by his spouse, he buys a gun. Before he pulls the trigger, he spies a Kodak one-day photo hut. Curious, he pulls up to the window. They are holding pictures of him and his last girlfriend from 30 years before. The package is a lot thicker than it should be.

Double Exposure” is listed as an Alternative History story but I would classify it as a Magical Realism tale. It is set as a second chance tale, a look into a life that should have been. The author is inspired by his memories of the old photo huts (I remember them) and of their disappearance. A cool idea (photos of another life), one that I could imagine would make for a great anthology.

- Frank Dutkiewicz, Diabolical Plots

Great White Ship”: A traveler stuck waiting for a flight strikes up a conversation with an old airline employee. The Old Timer tells him a story of a Great White Airship that arrives from a most unusual destination. The story of a craft from an alternate reality and how it got there is only the precursor to the final act.

This is one of my favorite stories from this site. I have a great passion for lighter-than-air craft and their potential as a future means of transport, which opens the story. The author uses this speculation to launch into an engaging tale. As fascinating as the main story line is, the alternate history premise that accompanies it is just as worthwhile. This story was well written and very well thought out. It is well worth the read.

Recommended.

- James Hanzelka, Diabolical Plots

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