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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Five: Oppression

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.

 Episode Five: Oppression

They say the book of life hasn’t been completely written yet. I see that every day, as new decisions get put in front of me and the consequences of those decisions loom out of the darkness. It’s just one damn thing after another. And the latest one was this new dame who had come to tell me that she had a case for me and that it involved my brother.

“You gonna get up and come with me, or are you going to sit on the floor like a jerk?” the dame said. I sat there like a jerk for another minute, then I got up.

“I need a minute to get dressed,” I said. I was still wearing just my coat and was dripping slightly onto my hardwood floors. If I hadn’t lost the deposit on this place by now, this was probably going to be the clincher.

“Hurry,” she said, glancing at her watch.

“Why don’t you tell me a bit more about yourself and why you’re here while I put something on?”

“My name’s Abigail and I don’t want to distract you. From what I hear, you don’t have the greatest attention span. But I will tell you that your brother has gotten mixed up with the Masked Shadow”.

Now there was a name I hadn’t heard in a while.

A few years ago this city had been a real hellhole that had been run by a syndicate that called itself The Masked Shadow. A melodramatic name if there ever was one, but they made the trains run on time, as it were. The trouble was that they did it by ruling the city with an iron fist and suppressing any thoughts or actions that went against the grain. Of course we’d gotten there by being ruled up to that point by a delightful combination of corruption and chaos, a cocktail of ignorance and apathy that made it really  easy for the politicians to masquerade total control as total freedom.

Bread and circuses had been just the beginning. Soon enough they had created a situation with two allegedly opposing sides preaching diametrically opposite viewpoints that were really just two heads on the same dragon. Which side was in power depended entirely on which way they needed the pendulum to swing to keep the masses off balance and distracted from the fact that, when all was said and done, they were going to say and do whatever they damn well pleased. It was some of the most brilliant marketing the world had seen since New Coke.

So when the Masked Shadow stepped up, it was a breath of fresh air to a lot of folks. Instead of tricking you into thinking you wanted something, they just beat you over the head with a spiked club until you really did want it. Literally. And for some folks that was better than the alternative.

Since then things had mellowed out a little. The Masked Shadow got usurped by religion, as often happens, and people sort of went through an enlightened phase where they realized that if they could just tolerate each other a little better then they wouldn’t need protection in the form of elected officials or spiked clubs to come to terms with their neighbors.

That’s what this damn cat and his bizarro Neo Nazis were out to change. Nobody had seen anything like me before. The chances of a positive reaction were, frankly, slim. Nobody is that enlightened. The potential for complete chaos was high, and there was an excellent chance that both the politicians and the Masked Shadow were sharpening their knives. So their plan was to create a situation where everybody would get along because all the differences were erased, not just tolerated. And they’d be sure to slip in a little extra just to make sure they stayed in charge.

“And what’s this got to do with my brother?”

“I’ll tell you in the car, let’s go.”

When we got downstairs the car’s engine was running, and had some big galoot behind the wheel who looked like he must have gotten his license from a Cracker Jack box, because there was no way he was going to pass the written part of the exam. I could tell, though, that he could drive like a demon. Guys like that always could.

“I hate cars,” I said.

“Shut up,” Abigail replied turning to look out the window. I had to admit. The dame was growing on me. The car pulled away from the curb and accelerated quickly. My insides lurched. I really do hate cars. Unless it was the company that caused that lurch.

“How do you know my brother?” I asked, trying to take my mind off of it.

“I don’t,” she said curtly, whipping her head around to glare at me, her red hair flashing in the headlights of a passing car. “But I know of him through a mutual friend. That’s where we’re going now. Just as soon as we lose this damn tail.”

I glanced back through the rear window and saw a lone car about a block behind us. I didn’t question how she knew we were being followed – I could tell she knew what she was doing. Just then the galoot driving the car swerved sharply, sending me careening into her. She shoved me away roughly and said “Hit it, Gus. Cover’s blown anyway, might as well go all in.”

Gus grunted and shifted gears, accelerating again. “Where are we going, exactly?” I asked.

“Fifth and main,” she replied. “We’re meeting someone there.”

“Bad idea,” I said. “I just came from a murder scene there this morning.” My mind cast itself back to the grisly scene, the number of cops that were bound to be in the viscinity, and the unlikely coincidence that this should be our meeting place. It stank of a trap.

“You got a better idea?” she snapped?

“I know a safe house on the west side of town.”

“It’s not run by that creep Murray, is it?”

“As a matter of fact, it is. The Empire Nightclub.”

“Could you two make up your minds?” Gus asked. “I can’t go in two directions at once.”

Choice: Go to fifth and main for the meetup or go to the safehouse at the Empire Night Club?

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Four: Rebirth

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.

We’re four episodes in now, and new audiences are probably going to be a bit lost. So I’m posting them here so people can catch up. I’ll post one per week until we’re caught up, and then the next episode will go live right after the event itself. Hope you enjoy them!


Episode Four: Rebirth

In the baseball game of life, sometimes you get thrown a curve. Other times, though, it’s more of a slider. And then you have to make a choice, and that choice can be the difference between a hit and a swing and a miss. Lately I’d felt like the latter was happening a lot more than I’d like. And currently I was staring straight into the face of a fastball with my name written all over it.

The dame looked at me impatiently. She’d given me a proposition, although it wasn’t the kind I had been hoping for. She wanted me to help her create a master race. And she was right – a change was coming, the likes of which the world had never seen, and soon it was going to be time for everyone to decide whose side they were on. I’d always been on my own side, and that made the decision pretty easy for me. The murder case wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Time to get on with doing something a bit more important than just some poor slob with his throat torn out.

“I’m in,” I said finally. She smiled and looked at the old man with the cat on his lap. I still needed an answer about that, but I figured it would wait.

Looking back at me she said, “Detective, you have made my employer very happy.” She was right. I could hear him purring from here.

“What next?” I asked.

“Now you go home, detective,” the dame replied. “And you must stay there at all costs. Your safety is paramount until we can gather the necessary materials to take advantage of your unique situation. We’ll need some rather sophisticated tissue samples from you, for example.”

An hour later I was back at my apartment with instructions to wait until they got back later to pick me up.

Calling my place an apartment was an insult to the word, but the landlord objected when I called it a fleatrap and calling it an extension of the deepest, coldest pits of Hell tended to put off prospective dates. I unlocked the door, opened it, and fell through face first. I shut the door, slid out of my “wheat” coat, crawled across the floor into the bathroom, shedding the rest of my clothes along the way, and hoisted myself into the tub.  A warm bath was what I needed.  Then I could get drunk.

As the warm water caressed my skin, taking away the aches of the previous night, or most of them anyway, I heard footsteps out in the hall.  Probably the neighbors.  Except that they stopped.  I didn’t have neighbors on either side of me or across the hall.  They were all the way down at the end and I was used to the sound of them coming and going at odd hours just fading away, but these stopped.  And then I heard knocking on my door.  Fighting the urge to recite “The Raven” in my head, I sunk deeper into the water and hoped they’d go away.  Instead they knocked louder.  So loud that I could still hear it even after I dunked my ears under the surface, the water deepening the sound so that it resembled the heartbeat of an elephant, low and resonant.

Please, God, make it stop.

Surprisingly that seemed to work, as the pounding went silent.  I cautiously raised my head up, but heard nothing else. No footsteps. That meant they were still there. Patient. Patient usually means dangerous for me. I slowly got out of the bath and slid quietly across the hardwood floor. I kept it to a smooth shine at all times for just such occasions. When I reached the door I stood up and put my hand carefully on the handle. Tensing up, I yanked the door open and was confronted with a sight I hadn’t expected.

Another dame. This one was about as different from the first one as it was possible to be. A little shorter, her hair a little redder, and she’d shied away from the skintight dress look, which, based on what I could see, was a pity.

“Hello, Detective,” she said. It was at that moment that I realized I was still naked from the bath. I slammed the door, vaulted across the room, grabbed my “wheat” coat, and threw it on. When I felt decent enough to talk to a lady, I opened the door again.

“Sorry,” I began.

“Skip it,” she said, interrupting me and striding into the room without being invited. “I have a case for you and we don’t have time for this.”

A real no-nonsense girl. But I had bad news for her. “Sorry,” I said again, “but I just sort of retired.”

“To go to work for the jerks who want to create a master race, yeah, I heard,” she said, plopping herself down in my favorite chair.

“Sure,” I said. No point in denying the truth when it’s thrown in your face.

“Forget them. You’re going to want this case. It’s going to make you a new man. And we have to leave right now.”

“Why’s that?” I asked. “And I can’t go anywhere. My new employers told me to sit tight.”

“Detective,” she said impatiently, “this case…it’s about your brother.”

I fell down on the floor. That happens a lot in any case, but in this case it was because I’d forgotten I even had a brother. It had taken me a long time and a lot of booze to do it, but I’d finally managed it and here was this dame coming in here reminding me. The way she’d made herself at home told me that there was no way she was going to just take no for an answer, and she didn’t seem inclined to discuss it. I could throw her out physically and call the cops or I could go with her and find out what was going on with my brother…which meant that the master race folks were going to come looking for me, probably in an unpleasant manner. And I had to decide right now.

CHOICE: Sit tight and wait on the dame to continue creating a master race? Follow the new dame to investigate his brother?

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Three: Hate

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.

We’re four episodes in now, and new audiences are probably going to be a bit lost. So I’m posting them here so people can catch up. I’ll post one per week until we’re caught up, and then the next episode will go live right after the event itself. Hope you enjoy them!


Episode Three: Hate

Sometimes you just never know where you’re going to end up. Sometimes choices can be a real bitch. And sometimes you make the wrong one. Currently I was faced with a choice where both options were suboptimal in the extreme. On the one hand I could head down to the train yard, following a free lead from a known selfish prick who never gave away anything for free. On the other hand I could follow the mug in the doorway who was frantically motioning for me to come over there. The flames from the recent explosion down at the train yard were billowing up into the air like Marilyn Monroe’s dress over the grate, except a lot less attractive. I could already see the guards scurrying around like heavily armed ants over a mound that had recently met the business end of a sturdy boot. And I could see the mug in the doorway being impatient, his long trench coat and hat obscuring most of his features.

I glanced at my watch. It was a heavy pocket watch, engraved with some poor schmoe’s retirement message. I’d picked it up from a pawn shop. I guess retirement hadn’t gone all that well for this guy. The watch face read 11:59pm, one minute until I was supposed to meet this supposed informant that Gek had sent me to meet. Or had he? All he’d said was that I had a train to catch. Maybe he meant for me to go up in flames, roasted like a cheap scallop dredged from the ocean floor so it could become dinner for a species that only considered itself dominant because it acted like it hadn’t heard of insects.

I glared at the shadow in the doorway. Its motions were becoming more insistent, more frantic. Clearly he wanted to be out of there before the guards started their inevitable canvass of the surrounding area. I inwardly rolled my eyes and began the laborious process of getting up off the street and flinging myself into the doorway to see what the mug wanted. Once he saw me moving in his direction, he darted off and ducked through a doorway. I followed, knowing in my gut that I would regret it.

On the other side of the door was an extremely large room that was mostly empty except for a man sitting in a plain wooden chair with something furry on his lap. The mug was shedding her trench coat and hat to reveal a woman in a brilliant red dress so tight it looked like someone had bled on her. She had hair as black as der fuhrur’s soul, eyes as green as the envy in a man’s heart, and legs that went on and on and on…like a PBS pledge drive. A dame. This was about to get a lot more complicated.

The man looked up at me, his rheumy eyes clearly bloodshot even from across the room. The bundle of fur in his lap opened its eyes and stretched a long orange tabby paw, its claws raking the air. And that’s when it got a LOT more complicated.

“Good evening, detective,” the woman said. She had only the slightest trace of a German accent in that soft, lilting voice of hers. I made no reply.

“You’re probably wondering why you’re here,” she continued.

“Yeah,” I said, my eyes not leaving the cat on the old man’s lap. I wasn’t afraid. What I was was curious.

“I will come straight to business,” the woman said. “We want you.”

“Get in line,” I replied.

“You jest, but you have something my employer needs desperately.” She took a cigarette from a small table nearby and lit it, the smoke encircling her head like a halo. I couldn’t help but think that that was an accessory she would never be able to wear effectively.

“That him there?” I asked, indicating the old man.

“Of course,” she said.

“Tell him to get rid of the cat and we can talk about it.”

The woman looked puzzled for a moment, and then burst into laughter. “Detective, the cat is my employer. The man with him is just for warmth and companionship.”

“I hate those things,” I said, deciding not to mince words.

“The fact that you are not surprised tells me that you are exactly the person we need,” she purred.

“What do you need me for?” I asked, knowing I would hate the answer.

“My employer and I are of a similar mindset. We feel that, given certain technological advances recently, that humanity is on the verge of a new age. But it will be an age of bigotry and hatred, repression and segregation. We think we are so enlightened because we have integrated all races, religions, and creeds into a universal tolerance where everyone gets along. But people are inherently distrustful and are always looking for the next group to oppress to make themselves feel superior.”

“What’s this got to do with me?”

“You know perfectly well,” she snapped. “You are only the first member of the next group to be shunned and feared. You already experience it daily.”

“And what do you and your…employer intend to do about it?”

The cat yawned. The dame continued talking “We intend to follow in the footsteps of one who knew all about hatred and oppression, but got the details wrong. There isn’t a master race…but there could be. And we will create it together, the three of us. What do you say, detective? Will you join us in creating the next step in the evolutionary cycle and prevent another hundred years of violence and hatred in the process?”

I thought it over. She had a point. It was tempting. If I joined them I could forget about the poor jerk murdered in his car. Clearing my name wouldn’t matter anymore because in this scenario I’d be in charge. But could they do it? Could I do it? I had to decide – continue with the case and worry about these two stabbing me in the back, or join with them and worry about what would happen if they failed…or if they succeeded.

CHOICE: Continue with the case? Help the dame and her feline employer create a new master race?


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Noir in the Naked City – Episode Two: Progress

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.

We’re four episodes in now, and new audiences are probably going to be a bit lost. So I’m posting them here so people can catch up. I’ll post one per week until we’re caught up, and then the next episode will go live right after the event itself. Hope you enjoy them!


Episode Two: Progress

Choices. Life’s full of ‘em. You make one, it leads to another, which leads to another, an endless string of consequences flowing through everyone’s life like a river downstream from a major city. The question is whether the river is filled with honey…or blood. Currently my choices had me shambling down the street through a rainstorm that would give a respectable monsoon a run for its money without my hat.

I’d been going like this for about an hour. I don’t drive a car, don’t trust ‘em, and I can’t work the pedals in any case because of my special circumstances. My special circumstances also mean that I fall down a lot, but it’s ok. I’m used to it. I turned a corner and made it as far as a local movie theatre before falling down, which I considered the moral equivalent of winning a biathalon and the Boston Marathon on the same day.

The marquee threw its harsh neon message at me like a shotput, burning my eyes out with its brilliant intensity, announcing to the world that something part fifty was having its 30th anniversary.  I briefly wondered if the last original idea that left Hollywood had turned off the iron before it went out, but then I decided I could ponder the artistic integrity of the average moviegoer better from the comfort of my own apartment. I wouldn’t be making it there tonight, I suspected, but the thought gave me the motivation I needed to get going again. I staggered up, shifted my weight, did a forward roll, used the momentum to get my feet under me, and moved on.

I was nervous. Gek had told me that I should be at the train yard at midnight. There were all kinds of things wrong with this. First, the trains didn’t run that late. Second, he told me this at just after 10:00pm and he knew it would be a push for me to make it there in time from his place. And third, while it’s true that he knows a ton about what goes on in this burg, Gek doesn’t give away information for free. This was going to cost me and it was only a matter of time before the bill came due.

I nearly didn’t go at all. But I didn’t have a lot of other options available. At this time of night all my usual informants were going to be asleep, in jail, or otherwise occupied with each other. Not to mention hard to find. At least the train yard didn’t move around.

After another forty five minutes of staggering, stumbling, falling, and getting back up, the yard finally came into view. I stopped to catch my breath. Normally this kind of trip wouldn’t take that much out of me. I’m pretty tough, but the sustained breakneck pace had put an ache in my body that made me think my muscles were staging a revolt. Plus, I couldn’t get warm with the rain pelting down. I gotta move to Venice some day so I can just swim everywhere I need to go. A part of me wished I had my leg braces with me, but I rejected the idea. I needed the flexibility when I was on the job.

The train yard, visible now at the bottom of a hill about two hundred yards away from me, was a glittering vista of shiny metal and polished plastic. There’s a kind of romance about trains and locomotives that’s ingrained into the collective unconcious, and this place had about as much of it as a single man’s apartment the day after Valentine’s Day.

People think about trains and they think of  locomotives hauling lumber, coal, and hobos across the great expanse of the American midwest, connecting the great cities and bringing goods and culture to the masses through steam, grease, and a plaintive whistle that echoes forlornly through mountain passes. There’s an element of danger, where desperate men gather to seek out new lives and fortunes and risk death by misadventure for the thrill of exploration and dreamed-of riches.

That’s just because they haven’t ridden one lately and get all their news from picture books. These trains were maglev bullet trains designed to hurtle along tracks at nearly 200 miles per hour. They shone when the sunlight hit them and glittered in the moonlight. There were no desperate men here, unless they were desperate to get away from the guards that patrolled the area like ants invading the picnic of life. Trains had been big business once and were becoming so again thanks to modern technology and people’s insatiable need to be somewhere besides where they were.

I glanced at my watch. 11:55pm. I gathered myself for one last plunge down the hill, fully expecting to have to roll most of the way there, when suddenly there was a massive explosion at the far end of the yard. A plume of orange fire and thick, dark smoke billowed up into the night sky, casting garish shadows on everything in the general viscinity. I hit the dirt and swore, a long and lurid string of expletives that rivaled the explosion for heat and intensity. This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it meant that all the guards were going to head for the explosion – a better distraction would be hard to find. On the other hand it meant that everyone was going to be on high alert. Besides, what fool runs TOWARDS an explosion when he’s already a suspect for murder?


It was barely audible over the sounds of the fire raging and the alarms that had started down at the train yard, but still distinct.


About twenty feet away I could see a shadow detaching itself from a brick wall, motioning for me to come over. I looked at my watch again. 11:58pm. If I hurried I could still get to the train yard before midnight. Could the person I was supposed to meet have set the explosion as a distraction? If so, they weren’t going to linger. I could rush to the yard and try to find them in time or I could see what the mug in the doorway wanted. But I couldn’t do both.

CHOICE: Continue to the train yard? Follow the mug in the doorway?

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Noir in the Naked City – Episode One: Obsession

Naked City Atlanta logoNaked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!

Naked City’s website
Naked City’s Facebook page

Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.

We’re four episodes in now, and new audiences are probably going to be a bit lost. So I’m posting them here so people can catch up. I’ll post one per week until we’re caught up, and then the next episode will go live right after the event itself. Hope you enjoy them!

Episode One: Obsession

Life is full of choices, choices that determine where you end up in life. Currently my choices had me in an office, leaning against a wall, while a man who had to be at least 300 pounds of pure muscle loomed over me. I felt instinctively that I had made a few wrong choices somewhere along the line. Like going into the PI business to start with.

It all started yesterday when I woke up in a gutter, the rain backing up behind me as if I were the Hoover Dam. I ached. If my bones could break, they’d be good for toothpicks about now. Someone had worked me over pretty good, and I had a briny taste in my mouth as if someone had been trying to give me a message at the bottom of a saltwater dunk tank. Which was weird, because how’d they know I like salt in my water?

I pushed myself up and wondered when my head was going to stop hurting, when I realized that part of the problem was that some damn fool was blowing the horn on his car. I groped around for my hat, but it looked like someone had stolen it. At least I still had my coat. It was beige, but the label it had when I bought it said “wheat”. The sound of the horn wrapped itself around my brain and squeezed.

Lurching to my feet, I staggered over to the car to see what this guy thought he was going to accomplish with his dissonant New Age concert imitation. Blowing your horn in traffic around here was like building a signal fire in a volcano. And then I saw the guy and realized that he would never be accomplishing anything unless his goal in life was to help the grass grow.

He was slumped over the steering wheel, blood running down into the seat in a river that rivaled the river of rainwater I’d woken up in. His eyes gaped open, his jaw sagged, and he had bite marks on his neck. Ragged, flesh-tearing bite marks, leaving a grotesque, deep hole.

Great. Just great.

I ran away as fast as I could. I needed answers and I knew several places I could start, but I could only pick one. Starting with Betty was always pleasant, but usually time consuming. Huck often had good information, but you had to find him first. That left Gek.

Gek was one of those funny kids who always seemed to know everything. He pretty much did only two things: read and exercise. He’d decided at an early age that improving your mind and body were the only two activities in life worth doing, and he’d done them both to an extreme that made Jekyll and Hyde look like identical twins.

He didn’t want money or favors, he wanted information. Obscure, useless trivia was his favorite. You could tell him what time it was and he’d tell you the date, but tell him that Simon Bolivar triumphed over Spain in the Battle of Boyaca on August 7, 1819 and he’d tell you your secret admirer’s name, address, phone number, and your choice of a list of turn-ons or escape routes. I wondered what I’d have to tell him to get what I needed and I suddenly realized I knew too much already.

I pulled the collar of my “wheat” coat up a little higher to ward off the rain, which helped about as much as putting up an umbrella under Niagara Falls. I was going to get the bastard that stole my hat if it was the last thing I ever did.

When I arrived at Gek’s place about twenty minutes later, he was sitting behind a large mahogany desk that had been polished to a brilliant finish reading a book. He didn’t bother to look up at me. I cleared my throat.

“I know you’re here,” Gek said in a smooth, deep voice. Despite that acknowledgement he still didn’t look up and continued poring over his book. After about fifteen minutes he opened a drawer in the desk, took out a leather bookmark, placed it carefully in the book and closed it.

He regarded me impassively. “Now,” he said, finally, “what can you do for me?”

I licked my lips nervously. “I’m here about a guy in a car,” I eventually managed.

“He’s dead,” Gek said, “But you already knew that, so you can just tell me what time it is now.”

“It’s ten minutes after 10:00PM.” I said, checking my watch and cursing my luck. I was hoping he hadn’t heard yet. Someday I was going to figure out how he did it.

“I’m glad you’re here, actually,” he said, unexpectedly cutting to the chase. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. A little detail I’ve had some trouble unearthing.” He got up from his desk. And that was how I ended up with this behemoth hovering over me like the goddamned Hindenburg.

“I know what you want to know, Gek,” I said. “But I can’t tell you. I can’t tell anybody.”

“Then we have a problem.”

I considered my options. The future loomed over me just as Gek was looming over me now. Considering where I suspected this case was going to go, I’d be able to spill the beans on the whole thing very soon. But I needed to know something about the guy in the car right now. Gek stopped moving towards me and looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he turned, went back to his desk, sat down, and opened his book.

“You have a train to catch,” he said. “It’s pulling into the yard at midnight. I suggest you be there.”

Nice. Nice and vague. And suspicious. Gek never gave away good information for free.

CHOICE: go to the train yard? Try another informant?


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Writing “The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story”

The following was contributed by ARTC writer Ron N. Butler regarding his experience writing “The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story”. Beware: Here be spoilers.

Hear The War of the Worlds: The Untold Story for yourself LIVE on October 20 at the Marcus Jewish Community Center at 2:30pm and 7:30pm.

By Ron N. Butler

Somewhere in my library (I intend to alphabetize my books after I retire) I have a slim, fragile paperback titled Sherlock Holmes’s War of the Worlds, by Wade Wellman and Manley W. Wellman.  It is a briefer story even than the slenderness of the book indicates; halfway through, it becomes Professor Geo. E. Challenger vs. Mars, following the adventures of another of Conan Doyle’s creations through the Great Martian Invasion.

I’ve read it much more than once and enjoyed it every time. Still —  When you get down to it, neither Sherlock Holmes nor Professor Challenger actually does much to thwart the Martian invaders, to prevent humanity being pushed down a notch on the food chain.  That’s inherent, I think, in the approach the Wellmans took to the material, but still somewhat unsatisfying.

The Wellmans’ stories take their cue, too , from Wells’ original story.  Wells was making a point (something to do with the barbarous way “civilized” imperialists treated the “lesser breeds” in those days, I think), but to do it he made his countrymen rather, well — pushovers.  The British military forces are routed by one or two encounters with the Heat-Ray and the Black Smoke, and civilization disintegrates inside a week with the entire population fleeing pell-mall for Scotland or France.

Between that young writer and us however lies the Twentieth Century, the history of which  makes us skeptical of the simplicity of Wells’ narrative.  Less than twenty years after the serialization of The War of the Worlds, the armies of the First World War faced the Earthly version of “Black Smoke.” Contrary to the promises of its inventors, it did not sweep all before it and end the stalemate on the Western Front (though it did add to the slaughter).  The Second World War showed that almost nothing could drive a city’s inhabitants out of their digs, even if their “digs” were literally “dug” — basements and cellars under piles of rubble.  The web of civil society proved surprisingly tough, first in London and Coventry, eventually in Berlin and Tokyo.

Similarly, the Century of Technological Warfare abounds with Wonder-Weapons that did not live up to their billing: Poison gas (see above).  Bombing airplanes that did not “always get through,” and had a persistently hard time delivering explosive ordinance within miles of a target when they did.  “Land ironclads” that succumbed to a spiraling competition between the thickness (and weight) of their armor vs. the shaped-charge anti-tank weapon.  The seemingly simple process of moving troops from ships to shore took years and many millions of dollars to reduce to a routine.

These were the two notions in the back of my mind a couple of years ago when I considered writing a radio script along the lines of the Wellmans’ pastiche.  What with other projects, though, it just never happened.

After DragonCon 2012, however, Bill Ritch asked me if I would consider writing a War of the Worlds script for our 2013 show.  For one thing, 2013 would be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Orson Welles Mercury Theatre panic broadcast.  We also had a possibility that one or more DragonCon guest-actors would like to perform with us.

“A new, straight-up adaptation of the Wells novel?” I asked.  (We don’t do re-creations, so a simple production of the Howard Koch script was not what Bill had in mind, I knew.)

“Whatever you want,” he answered.

Oh!  In that case, I have this idea…

Let’s get back to the “two notions.”

First, Earth is not Mars, even Wells-ian Mars.  England in June looks idyllic to us, but it would be an alien environment to a Martian.  All that water, for one thing.  Wells has his Martian fighting-machines wading confidently across rivers and into the sea.  But what do Martians know of muddy, boggy river bottoms vs. stony channels as footing for huge machine feet?  And what does saltwater do to the joints of a walking machine designed by engineers used to near-zero humidity and water confined to canals?  And I assure you that saltwater and aluminum (or “aluminium,” the principal structural material of the tripods, per Wells) do not play well together.

Ah, aluminum.  Wells describes at least one summer thunderstorm in the course of his tale.  Contemplate the surprises in store for the pilot of a hundred-foot-tall aluminum fighting machine standing taller than the trees in the middle of a thunderstorm…

Second, I wanted to write about someone who fought back.  By preference, someone from A. Conan Doyle’s universe.  It would have to be a man (or woman) of action.  Highly intelligent.  Broadly educated.  Possessed of accomplices, a support network and resources that would not run away at the approach of the Martians.  And, because the situation is truly desperate and the stakes are literally global, ruthless.

I think one name presents itself above all others.

I didn’t say he had to be a nice guy.

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A Guide for Writers for Rory Rammer, Space Marshal

by Ron Butler
“Rory Rammer, Space Marshal” is the radio equivalent of “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” or “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.” It is post-Buck Rogers, but pre-Star Trek, produced sometime between the end of the Second World War but before the beginning of the actual Space Age. As a boys’ afternoon radio serial of the Eisenhower Era, we find it a little conformist in mindset (at least on the surface), pro-military, and stereotypical. This should not be played for obvious camp; any irony should seem to be the natural result of the passage of forty years and changes in public attitudes. (In reality, I’m well aware that we’re writing in the ’00s for a ’00s audience. This is just my way of telling prospective writers to avoid the cheapest laughs.)

“1985.” Like the year “1964” in On the Beach (Don’t you remember — when World War 3 killed everybody on Earth?) this is 1985 as imagined from 1952. It is postulated that travel into space is common and that the Moon is well-settled; Mars, Venus, and the Asteroid Belt have been colonized but only thinly; and Jupiter and Saturn are the sites of scientific outposts.

Anywhere in the Solar System, especially the inner Solar System. I have avoided writing anything set below Low Earth Orbit because I don’t want to specify very closely what Earth is like in “1985.” (Classic Trek did the same for similar reasons.) At this stage of the exploration of space, Jupiter and Saturn are at the outer edges of things (though Pluto can be considered if you have a specific story in mind that needs it). Interstellar travel is out for technology reasons. This leaves you with “only”: Space between the Earth and Moon, the Moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, Jupiter, Saturn, and various comets, etc. Oh, yeah — the Sun, too.


  • Earth:

The Soviet Union having fallen, the United States is the premier power on Earth, possesses the most colonies on the other planets, essentially owns the Moon, and throws its weight around pretty much as it pleases everywhere else. Nonetheless, there are British, French, German, Japanese and Brazilian colonies on various planets, moons, and asteroids. The space between the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and the orbit of the Moon has become thick with space stations, observation platforms, radio / TV relay satellites, and specialty manufacturing facilities. Due to the economics of moving from the Earth’s surface into Earth orbit (see “Technology” below) the U.S. Space Marshals are headquartered at “Space Station J. Edgar Hoover,” in a geostationary orbit over the equator at a point due south of Washington, D.C.

  • Moon:

Main source of materials and metals for the burgeoning orbital industrial zone around Earth, the Moon is getting a tad crowded and civilized but still has lots of holdovers from its days as a roughneck company mining town. (See episode “Luna Shall Be Dry!”)

  • Mars:

Mars has natives (see “The Green Man’s Burden) analogous to the North American Indians. Militarily and technologically, the “Green Indians” are overshadowed by the earthly newcomers, but a match for them (at the least) in intelligence, determined to defend their culture — while glomming onto anything interesting human civilization offers and adept at making a buck on the side, too.
The human settlements on Mars are the oldest (after those on the Moon) and tend to be heavily bureaucratic, stuffy, even puritanical since government authorities in charge of the colonization were determined to “do it right this time,” after letting capitalists, prospectors, saloon-keepers, madams, and all sorts of other ‘unsuitable’ people overrun the Moon. (See “The Martian Mafia”) The existence of the Martian natives gave the bureaucrats the excuse they needed to do things their way, so as to ‘protect’ the indigenees. The indigenees put up with it.
Environmentwise, this is a late-1940’s Mars, with thin but breathable air, savagely cold nights, and abundant flora / fauna.

  • Venus:

The other life-bearing planet, is the home of a really decadent alien civilization. Not specified to this point, think of it as the ultimate banana republic. The Venusians are eight feet tall, languidly elongated, yellow-skinned and stylish. (Think: elves. Snotty ones.) A government bureaucracy exists here, too, to protect the natives. The natives view it mainly as an impediment to smuggling exotic drugs off-planet, and selling their neighbors’ lands, mineral rights, and nubile young females to gullible humans.
Environmentwise, this is also a late-1940’s Venus — permanent cloud cover, hot and humid, jungles and swamps, but survivable by humans.

  • Asteroid Belt:

Where all those ‘unsuitable’ people went when the Moon got too crowded for them and the authorities wouldn’t let them settle on Mars. Abounds in two types of folks: Miners and social / political / religious utopians. Hard to tell which sort is crazier.

  • Jupiter & Saturn:

Gas giants, they cannot be landed on because there’s no ‘land’ (i.e., solid surface) there. There is a balloon-supported scientific research base in Jupiter’s atmosphere, and the various world-sized moons around the two planets offer plenty of playing room. None of the moons have been colonized yet but various nations sporadically engage in attempts to ‘claim’ them.


  • Space Travel:

The toughest trip to make in the Civilized Solar System (Say that three times fast without spitting!) is that between the surface of the Earth and Low Earth Orbit. Earth’s gravity well is deep and environmental restrictions do not allow the use of atomic power within Earth’s atmosphere. So any journey to or from Earth has two parts: 1) From the surface to one of three Orbital Transfer Stations (“Hartsfield,” “O’Hare,” or “Lacks”) on a chemical-fueled Orbit Freighter, then 2) on to anywhere else.
Large spacecraft which do not operate to Earth’s surface are generally atomic-powered, using water or ammonia as “working fluid,” to be heated by the atomic reactor and exhausted out the rear.
Small spacecraft — ‘runabouts’ — are powered by any of a variety of chemical fuels.
Unmanned freighters may use ion drives, which are extremely economical but have such low thrust that trip times may be weeks or months, even between Earth Orbit and Moon.
Typical trip times for passenger and military vessels are as given below:

Earth surface – Earth orbit
1.5 hrs.
Earth orbit – Moon
2.5 days
Earth orbit – Mars or Venus
3 weeks
Earth orbit – Asteroid Belt
5 weeks
Earth orbit – Jupiter
3 months
Earth orbit – Saturn
6 months

I have tried to keep at least a superficial gloss of plausibility on space flight in the “Rory Rammer” scripts. Just keep in mind: 1) It takes time to get anywhere in space, and 2) You *can* run out of fuel.

  • The ‘Silver Star’:

Marshal Rammer’s usual spacecraft, the ‘Silver Star’ is atomic-powered, but streamlined and with wings, to be used for glide-landings on Mars or Venus. Approximately 120 feet long and weighing about 1.5 million pounds fully fueled. Blazoned across the body is “Rocket Ship ‘Silver Star’ — U.S. Space Marshals — Homeport: Space Station ‘J. Edgar Hoover’ — R. Rammer, Commanding.” (See “Rory Rammer and the Martian Mafia”)

  • Weapons:

Standard energy weapon is the ‘blaster,’ from a sidearm to something the size of a battleship’s 16-inch artillery piece. Blasters fire ‘pulses’ of energy instead of a steady beam.
Projectile weapons persist, however, especially in situations where it is not desirable to melt a hole in the hull with a missed shot. Space Marine weapons include carbines (firing flechette rounds) and shotguns.
Not encouraged: Lasers. (Not invented in 1952.) “Phasers.” (This is not Star Trek.) “Light sabers.” (Nor Star Wars.)

  • Science and not:

I’ve been trying to stick to what was known / supposed about science, space travel, and the planets around 1950 – 1955. Please avoid doubletalk, inventions that would change the assumptions of the series radically, psychic powers (in general), and gratuitous one-time-only aliens. (Unless the script is really funny and then we’ll talk about it.)


  • U.S. Space Marshals:

Extraterrestrial branch of U.S. Dept. of Justice — meaning they’re run by the same people who gave you the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The U.S. Space Marshals are headquartered at “Space Station J. Edgar Hoover,” in a geostationary orbit over the equator at a point due south of Washington, D.C.

  • Bureau of Martian Affairs / Bureau of Venusian Affairs:
    • Like “Bureau of Indian Affairs,” but “looking after” the natives of Mars and Venus.
  • U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Marines:
    • Relevant U.S. military forces. No other nations are allowed military forces in space. Space Marines can be called on for extra ‘muscle,’ like the U.S. Cavalry in an old “Lone Ranger” episode.
    • Space Force is ultimate Big Stick, when someone just has to be threatened with nuclear annihilation. It is USSF doctrine to shoot first and let the radioisotopes sort themselves out later. Space Force cruisers are large, fast, and named after archangels (“Michael,” and “Gabriel.”)
  • Dept. of Health Education, Enhancement, and Enforcement Proctors — Federal Mars Colony (The “Dee-Hees”)
  • De facto police force of the human colonies on Mars. Essentially unlimited powers, as they administer not laws but regulations. Enforce the draconian regs against tobacco, alcohol, high-cholesterol foods, fragrances and other harmful substances forbidden in the Federal colonies.


  • Rory Rammer:

From “Who’s Who Above the Tropopause [1997 ed.]”: Rammer, Alan Roarke. b. 8-16-52, Hope, Arkansas. Education: BS, Ga. Inst. of Technology, 1974. MS, Reno U. (U.S. Fed gov’t.), 1976. Brevet U.S. Space Marshal Div., 1976. First posting: Luna City SM Office. [See “Luna Shall Be Dry!”]
(Daniel Kiernan asked me at one point if Rory Rammer was like Roger Ramjet. No. RR is usually quite competent, even steely. Humor arises from his stuffy over-devotion to duty. If you *want* him to act like a buffoon, put Miss Feynman nearby [see below].)

  • ‘Skip’ Sagan:

Obligatory sidekick, Skip seems to be about seventeen years old. (Now if his voice would just change.) Hugely enthusiastic, his intelligence is matched only by his naivete. Described as a “Space Marshal Cadet,” he seems to be attached to R. Rammer so Rammer will have someone to explain things to.

  • Prof. Irwin Feynman:

Director of “Science Station Galileo,” a science research laboratory in Earth orbit Resident know-it-all scientist, good guy variety, mostly seems to be there to explain things to R. Rammer. (If you want a Mad Scientist, make up one of your own.) Widower, one daughter (see below).

  • Kryssa Feynman:

Prof. Feynman’s daughter, 25 years old. No, she doesn’t have a PhD in astrophysics, but she could probably keep up in a graduate seminar, just from listening to her father talk over the dinner table. Basically a nice, normal young woman — with a slight tendency to scream. Not as taken with Rory Rammer as he is with her, and sometimes downright unimpressed with him (See “Runaway Rockets”) and not above manipulating the marshal / her father / any other males in line of sight to get what she wants.

  • ‘Rex’ Gorbachev:

Former General Secretary of the local Communist Party at Severomorsk before the Presto War and the Collapse, currently a ‘foreign-currency entrepreneur’–which means about the same thing to the Ministry of External Affairs of the Russian Republic that ‘privateer’ did to Queen Elizabeth I when speaking of Sir Francis Drake. Often apprehended by Marshal Rammer and extradited back to the Russian Republic — which slaps his wrist and sends him out into the world again. So far, Rammer has resisted the urge to just shoot Gorbachev and get it over with.

  • Chief Two Moons:

“Green Indian” chief in the Solis Lacus [“Lake of the Sun” — lots of schoolboy-Latin place names on Mars] region of Mars. Regularly runs mental rings around local Bureau of Martian Affairs agents. President / CEO / Chairman of the Board of “Barsoom Corp. (Pty.),” the legal entity of his “tribe.” Addicted to the BBC Interplanetary Service, but somewhat naive about certain aspects of life on Earth. (Thinks the British royal family are sitcom characters.) Speaks perfect English with a posh British accent. Appearance: E.R. Burroughs four-armed Martian.

  • Sinead O’Chronos

Brilliant but unbalanced Irish physicist. Invented and attempted to test an experimental time machine in “Set Loose the Dogs of Time!” but was thwarted by an omnipotent superbeing that guards the integrity of the time stream. Last seen headed for her lab carrying a consolation prize from the superbeing: a live Archeopteryx.

  • Renee Marceau

Unbalanced but brilliant French geneticist. Was hounded off Earth to Venus after her genetically-engineered squid-snail hybrid grew to enormous size and wrecked the city of Marseilles, France before being destroyed. Hatched a plot to cover the swampy surface of Venus with a living carpet of mutant squid / snail / grass but was thwarted by R. Rammer. Probably dead; last seen being gulped down by the carnivorous “lawn” of her island while attempting to escape.

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Bumpers Crossroads Writer’s Guide

created, researched and composed
by Daniel Taylor
from a title by Thomas E Fuller
Correct as of 04/12/94
Subject to change
Authors should feel free to modify or contradict anything herein defined for the sake of a good story.

“BUMPERS CROSSROADS: two old fart vaudevillians sitting around telling jokes that Grover Cleveland used to laugh at, as a child.”
–Thomas E Fuller’s original concept, in its entirety


BUMPERS CROSSROADS was conceived for the fictional Wolf radio network, as presented in the proposed daily radio serial DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL, created by Thomas E Fuller. It would be referred to, but probably never heard.

Wolf’s BUMPERS CROSSROADS was the show where talent went to die — the place from which no one, performer, writer, or producer, EVER made a comeback. You knew your show business career was over when they sent you to work on BUMPERS CROSSROADS.
I didn’t want to write that show, but I saw some Lake Wobegonian potential in the premise. As I write it, it is about equal parts Garrison Keillor and “Lum & Abner”, with a dash of “Northern Exposure” for flavor.

It is NOT about country bumpkins or “hicks”, and it does not make fun of rural life. It is about simpler life, and simpler times. It’s a community of good-hearted people, a community where everybody who lives there likes it the way it is. (If they didn’t, it would probably be a shopping mall by now.)


Every episode begins with the crow of our familiar rooster, the opening strains of theme music and the following introduction:

“It’s time once again to take a little trip just a ways down the road, to America’s favorite little town, BUMPERS CROSSROADS, brought to you as always by Collins’ Best Coffee. When you need a pick-me-up, you need Collins’ Best. We’ll join our friends at BUMPERS CROSSROADS in just a moment.”

In a real sense, BUMPERS CROSSROADS retains the original concept of a “show within a show”. That is, the characters often step out of continuity to appear in the sponsor’s commercial messages, and in general seem to know that they are characters in a radio play. Some of the jokes they’re called upon to tell are SO bad that the only way to pull it off is with self-awareness. In fact, in one episode, one of the characters decides the jokes are TOO stupid and excuses himself from the exchange.
BUMPERS CROSSROADS is an easygoing little community where Nothing Much Ever Happens. (No, Jerry Seinfeld did not invent the concept of a Show About Nothing.) They don’t have big-city-1993-type problems there. They have the kind of problems that can be realistically wrapped up in a five-to-seven minute script.

Okay, that’s not quite true, that bit about Nothing Ever Happens. But it is the kind of show that lends itself to episodes in which Nothing Much Happens. It is very much character-driven. The question to ask when plotting an episode is not “what can happen to these guys?”, but “how would they react to…?” The characters have distinct personalities, and the best stories are those in which it’s not possible to swap anybody’s lines for anybody else’s.


BUMPERS CROSSROADS started circa 1965 as a traditional family-based situation comedy, feauring Fred and Sharon Bumper, their children, and storekeeper “Woody” Woodrow as one of several supporting characters.[1] At the time, “Bumper’s” still had the apostrophe it should correctly have, and “Crossroads” wasn’t meant literally, but as a synonym for “turning point” (or, occasionally, “crisis”).[2] It was a not-so-subtle knock-off of “Fibber McGee and Molly”, all the way down to the overcrowded hall closet. Sharon’s diary was a recurring storytelling device from the beginning. (Although the Bumpers’ street address has never been used, it might be nice if it were 72 Wistful Vista, the McGees’ old address.) (That is, 72 Wistful Vista, Autumn Falls.)

Woody essentially stole the show over the course of the first few years. Woody and Helen were married on-stage in the second season. As Sharon Bumper grew older and weaker, the other characters — and especially Woody — were given more to do. The show came to be less “Fibber McGee” and more “Lum & Abner”. By the time Sharon died in 1987, Woody had become the second lead. As Grandpa has gotten older and less active, Woody has assumed a central role in the show. (Sort of like a show called “Amos and Andy” came to be ABOUT a character named “Kingfish”.) But the show has such a following that nobody wants to bother renaming it. Today, the action (if that’s the right word) rarely wanders far from the front porch of the local general store.

There is a substantial, deliberate blurring of the lines between “show continuity” and “off-stage reality”. Either these people have little-to-no offstage life, or they REALLY ARE the people we meet on the air every week.


Our Regulars

A reminder: Most of these characters are older people. I am striving to include younger characters, but the existing regulars are so rich that I’m having trouble finding much reason for more. Still, remember a few key points:

They are old, but not decrepit. Rural life is hard work, and tends to help one live a long and healthy life. Helen Woodrow, in particular, the youngest person in her generation at 49, is still a vibrant, sensual woman. And Woody is not too old to respond to it. Do not make the mistake of thinking of ANY of these people as Just Old Farts.

They are adults. They have children. That means they have sex lives, and are not shocked at the very mention of the subject. They are rural, not anal-retentive. The subject will not often arise, though, because it’s the kind of thing they only talk about with their most intimate friends. Helen and Grandpa talk about it in “Grandma’s Diary”, for example, because Sharon and Helen were extremely close friends, despite the disparity in their ages — which means Helen is Grandpa’s last link to Sharon AS AN ADULT. (Their kids remember their mother, of course, but it’s not the same thing.)


The general store is WOODROW’S MERCANTILE, run by “WOODY” WOODROW. (We’ve never heard Woody’s real first name. It’s not a running gag — It’s just never come up.) Woody is the lead character, if there is one. His is the strongest presence, and generally if anything really gets done, it’s because it was Woody’s idea to do it. He is a cantankerous older man, given to saying what he thinks.
His trademark line is “I reckon…”. It can be used as “I reckon so.”, or anywhere you might otherwise use “I think”. In addition, he usually (but not always) gets to prompt Grandpa’s trademark line by saying, “Nice day.”

Woody has a wife, HELEN (see below), and two children, both girls. They are of college age, and usually gone.


We usually find Woody spending the day sitting on the front porch of the Mercantile, in the company of GRANDPA. (Grandpa’s real name is FRED BUMPER, but only Woody calls him by name. Most folks just call him Grandpa, whether or not they are related to him, or in what way.) Grandpa is sensible, but sedentary. He rarely initiates any action. He and Woody have known each other most of their lives, which may explain why two such disparate personalities get along so well.
Grandpa is THE Bumper whose Crossroads these are. He owns most of the undeveloped land in the area, mostly to the South side of town, and the hills are probably crawling with his relatives. There is still an active Bumper farm, somewhere, worked by one or more of Grandpa’s children, but Grandpa is well enough off that it is almost a hobby. GrandMA is long enough gone that she is but infrequently mentioned. Fred and Sharon were married in 1950, and had 37 happy years together before Sharon died in 1987.

Grandpa is ALWAYS the person who delivers the line “(Sure) could use some (or “a little”) rain, though.” No one else ever says it unless Grandpa is unable to deliver the line.[3] The show usually either opens or closes, and sometimes both, with the exchange “Nice day” “Yep. Could use a little rain, though.” (Rain should be an extremely rare event onstage. But Grandpa is a retired gentleman farmer, and as such is never really satisfied with the weather. If it isn’t raining, it should be. If it IS raining, he’s afraid they may get too much.)


LUKE is Grandpa’s grandson, but NOT Rose’s son. His is an odd perspective, for he is the only one of the three lead characters with any real curiosity about what life is like away from Bumpers Crossroads. He is the only recurring character who calls Woody “Mr Woodrow”, though there is no good reason why he should. He is capable of drawing Woody and Grandpa into dream sequences, although the characters are almost always aware that they ARE dream sequences. He is not as stupid as he sometimes seems, but he lives in a world all his own. He is all there, but his “there” is not our “here”. His signature line is the delayed “Oh” of recognition or understanding, states of mind that usually come late for Luke.

We have not yet met Luke’s parents, or established his last name — that is, we don’t know if his mother or his father was Grandpa’s child, or indeed where his parents are or what they do. I’ve been assuming they’re on the Bumper family farm. Luke lives in a house with a badly-kept yard full of old cars in varying states of repair.

On those infrequent occasions when neither Woody nor Helen are in the store, Luke minds the store.


Woody’s wife, HELEN, often helps cover the store while Woody is sitting out front with Grandpa — or out fishing. Helen is capable of giving as good as she gets from Woody, but rarely sees reason to. She is Woody’s female half — it’s easy to see they’re a good match. She’s one of the few characters capable of shutting Woody up.

Helen looks younger than her age — so much so that Woody is occasionally jokingly accused of “cradle-robbing”. But Helen is in fine shape for a woman her age in more than one sense — she throws a mean left hook. We don’t often have reason to see this, but when she gets riled, look out.


The Diner across the parking lot is owned and run by MARY TURNER. She and Grandpa are sweet on each other, and a good match, though possibly neither she nor Grandpa realize that last. She does not normally draw attention to herself, but she’s not above speaking out if she feels the need. In one episode, she plays a prank on Woody to pay him back for his playful griping about her food.
Mary feels a rivalry with ANNETTE’S, a restaurant down the road in Red Whistle. There is really very little difference in the actual menu. However, “Annette’s” styles itself rather more pretentious and sophisticated (it serves “brunch”, while Mary closes between breakfast and lunch). (Annette’s is run by Annie Crawford, an old “friend” of Mary’s.)


When the series began, Grandpa’s daughter ROSE was, as they say, not yet a gleam in her father’s eye. Born three years into the series, today she works for Mary, waiting tables and other duties as needed. Like many parents, Grandpa has trouble remembering his children’s names. Grandpa’s forgetting Rose’s name IS a running gag. However, Grandpa does this mostly because it gets a rise out of Rose. He pretends to forget it more often than he genuinely does forget. Rose is named after her mother, about whom more later.


DICK CROON is the patriarch of the Croon family, the first family of nearby Autumn Falls. (As featured in the hitherto-unseen companion radio series “Croon’s Mountain”.) He is as like Grandpa as two peas in a pod. The Bumper and Croon families have been feuding for so long that nobody but Grandpa and Dick Croon remember why. Grandpa and Dick get together periodically, in secret, to discuss the sad state of affairs and talk over old times like the old friends they are — THEY get along fine, it’s the REST of their families that insist on perpetuating this feud. (Croon should be treated like a “guest star” when he appears, as he is the “Grandpa” of a different radio series making a rare crossover appearance. The Bumper-Croon feud is actually a device to keep crossovers rare.)

GEORGE MASON is the senior mechanic at the local service station, Arrow Oil. He knows more about cars than the people who build ’em. Unfortunately, George is getting on up there (he’s about Grandpa’s age), and he can’t see well enough to do much of the work any more. But, wouldn’t you know, he finally convinced himself to take an assistant/apprentice, and who should apply but the lissome ANDREA “RAY” CARPENTER. Yes, George was uncomfortable with a woman mechanic in the repair bay, but when she managed to breathe life into an engine he’d thought was dead, he learned to respect her native talent. Since Ray wears the traditional baggy mechanic’s coveralls with “Ray” on the pocket while on duty, many transients never know. (It’d be hard to mistake her for a man in what she wears OFF duty, though. She’s businesslike enough about her work, but coquettish enough to enjoy the reaction she gets in street clothes, and take it as a compliment.) But darned if the cars hereabouts don’t run good. (Luke becomes a regular customer, what with all those “classic automobiles” in his yard. He could fix ’em himself, but it’s more fun to watch Ray work. And Luke may be good, but Ray is better.)


  • MAN (TOM), a real estate developer.
  • WOMAN, Tom’s wife.
  • A VISITOR with a bit of car trouble.
  • BERT, a local resident.
  • DAVE, a local resident.
  • A BUS DRIVER from St Meridian.
  • A JAPANESE TOURIST who speaks excellent English.


In the conclusion of Blues For Johnny Raven, Miss GLORIA KINSOLVING is told to find another track of programming and bury herself deep. There is no better place to hide than offstage at Bumpers Crossroads. She is a reclusive woman “recently” moved into a home with a sizable yard out on Red Whistle Road. (She’s been there for as long as the series has been on: However, this being a small community with long memories, no matter how long she’s been there, she’ll be thought of as having “recently” moved in.) She has been mentioned twice, and I hope to have her spoken of from time to time, but I have no plans to include her as a speaking character. She’s more a mechanism to tie the “Don’t Touch That Dial” universe together than a necessary character. She can do anything the plot demands of her except actually appear on-mike.

Others include:

THE GIRLS, who go on a day shopping trip with Helen. It’s not specifically stated in the script, but they are Woody’s and Helen’s college-age daughters. (What the heck, let’s name ’em. JANET is 21 (b 1972), and ELIZABETH “LIBBY” is 19 (b 1974).) They return to Bumpers Crossroads infrequently. Luke might have a crush on Libby, to Woody’s horror. (I was hoping for a sentimental “packing the youngest daughter off to college” story, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.)

THAT LOOMIS GIRL, who got married and moved to Autumly to open a yogurt stand. Loomis is undoubtedly her maiden name. I think she may have married one of those dad-ratted Croons.

JACK KELLY, who enters the local “Lawn Of The Month Club” contest by having his lawn re-turfed.

RUTH, the primary cook at Mary’s Diner.

ROSE OF SHARON WILKES BUMPER, b 1933, m 1952, d 1987; It may seem macabre to include her, but now that her diary has resurfaced, she can return as a voiceover or flashback character whenever convenient, by the simple expedient of reading from the diary. (By the way, “Rose Of Sharon” was not an uncommon girls’ name in the early part of the century. Most people just called her “Sharon”.)


KAREN MILLER (name subject to change) is a lovely young college student from New Albion State College. (Before you ask: No, it didn’t exist in 1938. I figure it was built on the ruins of what used to be the Upstate Girls Academy, which did not survive Mary Margaret’s leaving. Wait a minute — wrong bible.) She is canvassing the area attempting to confirm reports of UFO sightings. Much to Woody’s and Grandpa’s surprise, Luke confesses that he is an abductee. (It develops that, in the interests of keeping the young lady’s attention for as long as possible, Luke is not telling the entire truth about this situation. That is, he didn’t tell her he KNEW he was dreaming at the time.)

The only policeman they regularly see is CAPTAIN DALE PARMENTIER (that’s Par-men-TIAY) of the State Patrol, stationed in Red Whistle, who lives on Autumnly Road just the other side of the Crossroads. (Since Luke watches Nick at Nite, he invariably addresses him as “Captain Parmenter” [that’s PAR-men-ter]. Parmentier takes it in good humor, but clearly is tired of it.)


BUMPERS CROSSROADS is a little community far off the beaten path. It consists — so far as we have seen to date — of a general store and a diner. There is a gas station as well.

As with Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Wobegon, if you can’t find it at WOODROW’S MERCANTILE, you can probably get along without it. The Mercantile is the kind of old-fashioned general store that Cracker Barrel restaurants are intended to resemble. It is a large woodframe building with a covered front porch, on which sit several rocking chairs. (In which we usually find Woody and Grandpa.) There is an old, yet functional soft drink cooler on the porch, of the chest type that used to be common. One side of the building also bears a painted advertisement for the same soft drink. There is a single antique Pure Oil gas pump out front — it does not work, but the town has grown attached to it and they won’t let Woody remove it.

MARY’S DINER shares a gravel parking lot with the Mercantile. Both buildings are set back from the main road at an angle. The neon sign in front of the diner is broken — the R and Y in Mary’s name are missing. At night, then, the sign says MA’S DINER. Since the diner is rarely open after dark, this hasn’t been a problem. Occasionally somebody thinks it might be funny to call Mary “Ma Turner”. Mary doesn’t think so. There is no finer food between Red Whistle and St Meridian.

The ARROW GAS STATION is across Autumly Road from the Diner and Mercantile. Because of the angle of the road and the placement of the buildings, it’s not visible from the Mercantile’s front porch. The mechanics, GEORGE MASON and ANDREA “RAY” CARPENTER (unmentioned so far) works six days a week.


BUMPERS CROSSROADS is not a town per se. It has no city limits, nor Mayor (though Woody is sometimes referred to as the Mayor, usually when something needs fixing), nor city council (though if Woody is the Mayor, Grandpa is the city council) nor chamber of commerce (unless you count Mary and George).

It is, as the name implies, a crossroads, and the actual roads that cross are State Route 42 and Croons Ferry Road/Red Whistle Road. Route 42 runs approximately North-South, and is also known as Autumnly Road, since that’s where the road goes. The Bumper family lives mostly to the South, where Grandpa owns most of the nearby undeveloped woodland. The Mercantile and Diner face approximately south. The East-West cross road is known as Croons Ferry to the East, and Red Whistle Road to the West.

Its only legal existence is as a neighborhood of nearby AUTUMN FALLS, which IS a town, though “downtown” is no bigger than Bumpers Crossroads. Residents of Bumpers Crossroads do not consider themselves living in Autumn Falls, due to an age-old feud between the Bumpers and Autumn Falls’ first family, the Croons. The city of Autumn Falls is on Autumnly Road, between the Crossroads and Autumnly.

The actual falls themselves are in the hills to the south of Bumpers Crossroads, as are numerous other streams and creeks, among them IVY CREEK and CUDDY’S CREEK, two of Woody’s and Grandpa’s favorite fishing spots.

A fair number of people who live in the area work in AUTUMNLY, the county seat. (I haven’t named the county yet.) Autumnly is a little town of about 6,000, with the county courthouse on the town square, ringed by shops. The nearest dentist, for instance, is the one in Autumly. There is an Autumnly exit off Interstate Highway 45 at Route 42, but it hasn’t done much to bring traffic in: If anything, traffic that otherwise would have gone through town on Route 42 now travels I-45 instead. (This interstate number is subject to change: I don’t want to imply anything about where this place is supposed to be.)

The nearest town of any real size is RED WHISTLE, in the neighboring county. It is around 30-40,000, large enough to support a small mall. The Crossroads/Falls area has thus far avoided unpleasant commercial development by diverting it to Red Whistle, which does want it. Doubtless they are trying to live down their name.

About an hour to an hour-and-a-half away to the East-North-East is the major city of ST MERIDIAN, amply documented in the “bible” for THE CRIMSON HAWK. Except that THAT is 1939, and THIS is now. It doesn’t matter — we’ll never go there. Heck, we’ll probably never get out of sight of the Merchantile’s front porch.

(Logically, this also means that the upstate city of NEW ALBION, home of the Vixen’s private school, can’t be more than two or three hours away at most. It could be as close as Red Whistle, if there is any need for it.)


Bumpers Crossroads’ original and only sponsor, throughout the years, has been COLLINS’ BEST COFFEE. (The pronunciation is intentionally incorrect. There should be a possessive in there somewhere, but there isn’t.)

Collins’ Best always includes the following boilerplate copy, or as much of it as possible, in each commercial:

“That special concentrated blend gives you more of what you drink coffee for. It’s so full and rich that it virtually picks you up and throws you out the door!”; “When you need a pick-me-up, you need Collins’ Best.”; “That’s Collins Best Coffee: It perks you…UP!”

Commercials bear more than a passing resemblance to a pusher selling drugs. When a character asks “Try some?” I’m hoping the only sensible response is “hell, no”.

If it helps, try to imagine what coffee commercials sound like to someone who does not drink coffee. (Or, perhaps a better example, what beer commercials sound like to someone who does not drink beer.) If you don’t already consume the product, some of the things they tout as positive selling points look negative. The feel I’m hoping for is that, even if it DOES have negative effects, the ad agency obviously feels they are minor, unimportant, or worth putting up with for the positive benefits of the product.

The Collins Best product line has expanded to include: an industrial strength coffee pot; tea; hot cocoa; instant coffee (in the form of an effervescent tablet); laundry detergent (leaves your clothes sparkling white — no matter what color they were when you put them in the wash). However, the primary emphasis should always be the coffee. Expand the product line juduciously, only when a sterling opportunity arises.

The commercials do not necessarily present the Collins products in the most positive possible light. To put it mildly. This distressed the Collins people at first, but as the audiences grew fonder of the self-depreciating style of the Collins Best commercials, the Collins management put aside its misgivings. (This was not uncommon in radio programs of the time.) Every now and then, though, they decide some other advertising agency might be able to present their product in the wholly positive light they’d really like to see. This is how Uncle Jimmie Piper came to be their sometime spokesman (see below).


Ezekiel Collins is the founder and president emeritus of the Collins Coffee Company. He is the man who developed their signature coffee and its “special blend”, a carefully kept trade secret.

Collins is over ninety years old. The only thing that keeps him going is the jolt of energy he gets from his daily cup of Collins’ Best. If he hadn’t been drinking it all along, it would probably kill him. As is, I figure he needs it to stay alive.
He likes to go on the air occasionally and do his own commercials, but he never gets through the spot without losing his place or going off on some tangent. He rarely gets the name of the show right: “Bumstead’s Crosswinds” or “Bungler’s Crossbow”, or something like that.
His doddering delivery leaves one with the feeling that he could expire at any time — sometimes, with the feeling that he HAS expired in mid-pitch. Thomas Collins is the current CEO of CCC, but Ezekiel is always popping up and making decisions behind his back.


Recently, Jerry Page has made an important new contribution to the Bumpers Crossroads saga: The show that BUMPERS CROSSROADS replaced when it premiered in 1971.
In those days, sponsors essentially programmed the broadcast networks. They bought time in quarter-hour, half-hour or hour blocks, and decided what show would air under their name. For twenty-one years, 1950-1971, the show that Collins’ Best Coffee sponsored was UNCLE JIMMIE PIPER AND ALL THE HAPPY LITTLE PIPERS (“Happy Pipers” for short). For unspecified reasons, the Collins people became disenchanted with the Happy Pipers and developed the BUMPERS show as a sometime feature within the Happy Pipers show starting in 1965. In 1971, Uncle Jimmie Piper signed off for the last time, and BUMPERS CROSSROADS began.

Lately, Collins’ new advertising agency has brought back Uncle Jimmie Piper to do commercial endorsements. This was done at Collins Sr’s request, having forgotten that he fired Piper in the first place for having paid undue attention to Collins’ then-wife.

Details regarding Uncle Jimmie Piper are subject to negotiation with Mr Page. In general, Jimmie Piper can be thought of as his generation’s Arthur Godfrey. He is a man with no discernable performing talent, but with two special gifts: He sounds friendly and folksy on the radio; and he is a flatterer par excellence. His voice is timeless — he sounds no older now than he did thirty years ago. He is a master of ceremonies by trade.

Piper is angling to take over the ANNOUNCER’s job, and is using his considerable skill at ingratiation to this end. Although most of the cast — the MALE cast — thinks fondly of him, Helen Woodrow is immune to his charms; she remembers “Three Hands” Piper from way back. The ANNOUNCER considers him a harmless eccentric who can’t read scripts as written; he does not realize Piper is after his job.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE (with original, traditional casting)


  • “WOODY” WOODROW, owner of Woodrow’s Merchantile [Thomas Fuller]
  • FRED “GRANDPA” BUMPER, retired gentleman farmer [Daniel Kiernan]
  • LUKE, Grandpa’s grandson [Al Leonard]

Recurring characters:

  • HELEN WOODROW, Woody’s wife [Fiona Leonard]
  • ROSE, Grandpa’s daughter [Clair Whitworth]
  • MARY TURNER, owner-manager of the Diner [Joyce Leigh / Trudy Leonard]

Featured players:

  • DICK CROON, patriarch of the Croon family [Doug Kaye]
  • GEORGE MASON, owner of Arrow Oil Station [Bill Jackson]
  • ANDREA “RAE” CARPENTER, apprentice mechanic [Trudy Leonard]


  • WOMAN from out of town, developer’s wife [Wendy Webb]
  • MAN from out of town, “Tom”, the Developer [Daniel Kiernan]
  • “GEORGE JETSON” [Ron Butler]
  • a VISITOR with a bit of car trouble [Trudy Leonard]
  • BERT, local resident [Jerry Page]
  • DAVE, local resident [Ron Butler]
  • BUS DRIVER from St Meridian [Vic Lambert]
  • JAPANESE TOURIST who speaks excellent English [Clair Whitworth]

Mentioned but not seen:

  • “THE GIRLS”, probably Woody’s daughters
  • “The LOOMIS GIRL”, who got married and moved to Autumly
  • MISS (GLORIA) KINSOLVING, refugee from another audio track
  • JACK KELLY, who likes to resod his lawn to enter the Lawn Of The Month contest
  • RUTH, Mary’s chief cook
  • SHARON BUMPER, Grandpa’s wife (deceased)


  • EZEKIEL COLLINS, founder of the Collins Coffee Company [Doug Kaye]
  • UNCLE JIMMIE PIPER, of the Happy Little Pipers [Jerry Page]
  • The Collins’ Best HUSBAND [Ron Butler]
  • The Collins’ Best WIFE [Caran Wilbanks, Fiona Leonard]
  • The Collins’ Best BOSS [Bill Jackson, Daniel Kiernan]
  • The Collins’ Best Supervisor, CRATCHIT [Jerry Page]
  • The Collins’ Best Secretary, MARIA [Joyce Leigh]
  • “FIONA” [Fiona Leonard]
  • THOMAS COLLINS, Chairman/CEO, Collins Coffee Company [Tom Fuller]
  • DWEEBISH, the everyman [Daniel Kiernan]

And, of course, defying categorization is the all-knowing, ubiquitous ANNOUNCER, who transcends the arbitrary bounds of “on-stage” and “off-stage”, interacting freely with BUMPERS and COLLINS people alike. [William Brown]


1901 Ezekiel Collins born
1925 Jimmie Piper born
1928 AMOS N ANDY premieres
1931 Fred Bumper born
1933 Sharon Bumper born
1933 Ezekiel Collins discovers formula for Collins’ Best Coffee
1935 Woody Woodrow born
1937 Helen Woodrow born
1939 Mary Turner born
1950 UNCLE JIMMIE PIPER AND ALL THE HAPPY LITTLE PIPERS premieres on Wolf Broadcasting Network, sponsored by Collins’ Best Coffee
1952 Fred & Sharon Bumper married
1954 The first Bumper child is born
1965 “Bumper’s Crossroads”, a situation comedy featuring the Bumper family, premieres as an occasional feature of the HAPPY PIPERS show
1966 Woody & Helen Woodrow married on the air to attract attention to the show and boost ratings (What the hell. It worked for Tiny Tim.)
1968 Rose Bumper born
1971 THE HAPPY PIPERS signs off when Collins withdraws sponsorship; the next week…
1971 BUMPER’S CROSSROADS, a situation comedy featuring the Bumper family, premieres on Wolf Broadcasting Network, sponsored by Collins’ Best Coffee. Later that year…
1971 Fred’s first grandchild, Luke, is born (It worked for Lucille Ball.)
1972 The first Woodrow daughter is born
1974 The second Woodrow daughter is born
1985 BUMPERS CROSSROADS as we know it today — the central focus moves permanently from the Bumper home to the front porch of Woodrow’s Mercantile
1987 Sharon Bumper died
1993 today: Sixtieth anniversary of Collins’ Best Coffee
1995 Thirtieth anniversary of BUMPERS CROSSROADS
[1]This is, I guess, in an alternate reality where radio entertainment programming was not decimated by the arrival of television. This is the same presumption that most of the current ARTC program makes.
[2]If we’ve got a good enough idea, we can always do a “flashback” episode to those halcyon days, or “re-present a Classic Episode from The Past”.
[3]All rules were meant to be broken, though. In episode two, Woody gets to say it, for probably the only time.

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Unresolved Mysteries Episode Guide

The Loch Ness Monster
Daniel Kiernan and Clair Whitworth Kiernan journey to Scotland to solve the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster once and for all — by draining Loch Ness!

Past Lives Regression
With arch-skeptic Randy Zwinge keeping an eye on things, Daniel and Clair are regressed to their past lives together as — Rhett and Scarlett?

Daniel finds that the latest developments in phrenology can be a real kick in the head…

UFO Abductions
Daniel and Clair disrupt eastern Kansas to hitch a ride on a UFO. (Parental warning: Contains nudity.)

Terror on the Prairie!
Randy Zwinge goes to Black Helicopter Country to investigate the latest in UFO abductions.

The Great White Hunter
He wants to put a stuffed Yeti head on his den wall — and that’s only the beginning of his plans!

Daniel and Clair infiltrate Area 51 to see the latest in aeronautical technology. Or maybe not…

Collins’ Best “Unresolved Mysteries” Commercial
Daniel and Clair investigate the origins of the “kick” in Collins’ Best.

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The 3,000-Year Old Radio SF Writer [Less 2,915 Years]

LG:  Good evening, I’m Lisa Getto, and we are very happy to have a special guest this evening: Norman Winstock, one of the original writers for “Rory Rammer, Space Marshal”!
NW:  Thank you, thank you. Very happy to be here. Happy to be anywhere, to tell the truth.

LG:  And how about giving us that famous tag-line?
NW:  Hmm? Oh — yeah. “Up, up, and away!”

LG:  Uh — no. Not that one.
NW:  “Quick, old chum, to the Batmobile?”

LG:  No.
NW:  Oh! I’ve got it: “Ow! I’ve been bitten by a radioactive spider!”

LG:  Nope.
NW:  “Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy Unite?”

LG:  I’ve always found that one a little — suspect. No, I mean the tag-line for “Rory Rammer.”
NW:  Oh, that one! Ahem… “From the skies of Earth, to the orbit of the Moon!” (Coughing fit)

LG:  Easy, Norman. Can you go on?
NW:  I think so. I’ll give ya’ a sign if I can’t.

LG:  And that will be?
NW:  I’ll fall down and stop breathing.

LG:  I’ll watch for that. Now — “Rory Rammer” had a remarkable string of predictions about the world of 1985 A.D. Space travel, of course. Telescopes in orbit. The fall of the Soviet Union. Don’t you feel a certain pride, when you reflect back on your status as a prophet of the future?
NW:  Actually, I am haunted by two particular predictions I made. One successful, the other completely off the mark. And they were both in that one episode, “Luna Shall Be Dry!”

LG:  And those were — ?
NW:  The first was the prediction of disco music.

LG:  Certainly a major cultural trend —
NW:  More like a crime against humanity! All through the later 1970’s, I had nightmares about being hauled up in front of a war crimes tribunal for that ‘un!

LG:  And the prediction that didn’t work out?
NW:  Heh! I actually predicted that — one day — the State of Massachusetts would have a senior United States Senator who didn’t drink like a fish! (Cackles) What was I thinking of?

LG:  I can’t imagine. Now, if we could talk a moment about Mary-Jane Talbot, who played “Kryssa Feynman” during the second season —
NW:  Lovely, sweet girl.

LG:  Yes, she was.
NW:  Liked that costume she wore.

LG:  Yes, the skirts were very short, especially for 1949.
NW:  Devil between the sheets.

LG:  I — uh, wouldn’t know.
NW:  I would. Not too bright, though.

LG:  And why do you say that?
NW:  Silly girl! Tried to get ahead by sleeping with the writer! (Cackles wildly, then goes into Cheyne-Stokes breathing)

LG:  Is this that “sign” you were telling me about?
NW:  (Gasping) Oh,yeah.

LG:  Harry? Could we get some oxygen up here?