And so, it had come to this… nothing would ever take him from his steely promise to extract, once and for all, total redemption from his old pal and teammate, Greg Lumbada, payment of the highest order, Amontillado on the instant air. So be it.
When Danton Fuller took his first taste of Blue Glacier Beer he experienced, that very night, the first of his memorable dreams. It did not take him long to discover the beer was the instigator of his wild dream of comeuppance. This was a brew he could always count on for diversion. The quality taste grabbed him with an old-world power, bringing back memories of beer in a crock his father had kept in a back hall, “for visitors,” as the old gent had said. To himself he said, “It has deep character.”
To begin with, he acknowledged, the dread amber was a knockout color in a tall glass, the words eye shattering, staying on his tongue. The sun jumped through Blue Glacier Beer at crazy angles, made assumptions of deeper prisms and geometric shapes, sometimes loosed curves in the straightest world. Did he find things he was not initially looking for, or did they find him? He was not sure. Yet, it was like a collar had been snapped about his neck, as if all had been ordained. And in all of it, Greg Lumbada came second to none in ceremonial matters. Life had deemed revenge appropriate, though it need be covert and consume years of planning.
In the brightness of that following morning, Fuller held the empty bottle up to the sunlight, studying the label, trying to remember why he had chosen a brand of beer unknown to him until the fateful moment. The glorious, blue glacier on the label, looking as though it actually was moving toward him in its glacial speed, or summoning him into its depths. The sun, explosive behind its apparent brute force, had slowed his thought process to that same immutable movement, locking his mind on an image of Greg Lumbada gripped by eternal torment.
Fuller was not sure if the glacier’s depth was ocean-blue or sky-blue but, without a second’s hesitation, he realized schadenfreude at an nth degree held him tightly in place, froze him there with that feeling pervading his energy, his spirit, his standing as a man, upright.
Total consummation, for one man, had begun.
And on the coming nights, when Fuller reveled in Blue Glacier Beer and all the ideas it spawned, of the past, the present and the future, he leaped a long way into the future because of the capacity of his mind.
Fuller and Greg Lumbada, as history unrolled it to me from a variety of sources, some personal and true, some inflammatory, had been classmates, and teammates in Pop Warner and Little League, from their eighth year on the planet. And as make-up and happenstance comes to the fore in strange accommodation, the two boys, tight as fingers of a fist through a portion of high school, came asunder when each one claimed the same girl, Elsa Bourque, on the same night, physically and emotionally. It was only the beginning of the grand separation, for character had inserted its way into the friendship in matters and ways never dreamed of… Greg eventually thinking Fuller, rather than an athlete, was a total nerd, and Fuller sure that Greg had cheated him numberless other times besides the affair with Elsa, and thus had rotted the friendship at its core.
When Greg left Elsa that night he said, “I will love you forever,” and when Fuller left, he patted Elsa on the backside and simply said, “You’re really my kind of girl. I ought to keep you.”
The impressions were lasting.
The duo passed through high school, no longer teammates, but each excelling in their own way; Greg became the best of the good local-level athletes, and Fuller the superlative student: “The best,” Principal Harkness said of Fuller, “that we have had here in a hundred years of this school. Of that there is no doubt, his mind is so special, and at such a highly advanced level.”
Greg thereafter played college ball, in a mediocre career, content with knowing that the teammate who played ahead of him each time was better than he was; he himself was part of the team, never missing practice, getting into games often after outcomes had been decided, filling in on two momentous occasions when injuries demanded. Eventually, locked up in a down-to-earth love from the first night, he was the one to marry Elsa Bourque, have three children, and find sure content with a career as a high school coach. Life for him was not a rocky road after the rocky start.
Fuller, on the other hand, was a rising star at every effort and every interest. His mind was miles ahead of cohorts about him, often solving the most difficult problems after sudden and deep contemplation of all he knew and all he suspected might be known. His mind was ferociously active, as if he never slept without some pondering working on him. The day came when he was appointed head of the laboratory where he worked for only three years: he had shown them the way in outstanding matters.
Only his secretary, Maisie Burton, had seen a continual expression on his face. “He has such intensity it cannot be measured,” she said on a few occasions, somehow adding a mere qualification that few listened to: “I often wonder what even a minute failure might do to him.”
She never knew the failure had already occurred.
All the time Maisie thought the intensity to be a mark of Fuller’s determination, and his endless searching for the solution to a current problem harassing the whole laboratory. He was, in her mind, an indomitable force ever working at solution. She had no idea, not the slightest, that schedenfraude, in its simple beginning, had become an indecent mark on her boss’s soul, never guessing for one stable minute he was possessed by anger and madness.
As part of his derangement, but in sync with his mind set, he began to send small, neat, conciliatory notes to Elsa and Greg, all part of the Machiavellian drive working on him. He’d spend hours on the simplest messages and ruses; intrigue, caprice, outright deceit often coming to the fore to make them look the other way.
“Hey, Guys,” he once wrote in his heavy-handed script, “Glad the team won the big game, Greg. Congrats,” and continued with, “The kids sound like chips off the old block, Elsa. Keep at it. Know that in this corner envy lasts forever.” He sent such notes on a regular basis, and on all anniversary occasions. Maisie, in her own motherly way, also saw to it that he never missed anything special in the way of congratulations on those special occasions, birthdays or other events. The messages after a fashion became another specialty. All of it was worth it. Time would prove him infallible yet again. Sometimes for Fuller, but not very often, there were idle moments when he could feel the claws being retracted.
Fuller’s career specialty advanced rapidly to propulsion into space, the movement of splendid and streamlined bodies into the far reaches of the universe, certainly where such bodies would languish for all eternity; that or be crushed by other spatial bodies at collision. “Such endings,” he said on numerous occasions, “are fitfully better than earthly graves, junkyards, or boot hills of any sort if you will just stretch your minds for that reach.”
He had become a specialist of the first order.
“Listen,” he said another time when addressing a large audience of college students, “there is a grace to any meteoric collision of bodies allowing the mind to grasp the beginning of Earth and, therefore, life itself, life as we now have it. We might never know what such impacts can bring again to the annals of mankind itself.” Some people fidgeted at the stressed word, feeling he always knew more than they did, like some unknown space vehicle or space rock was even then into the keenest orbit; that the “time” of man, as it was then known, had merely climbed into the foothills of humanity, that other vast mountains of mankind were to be climbed, or those of people kind or creature kind, whatever else lurked or was fashioned or came from the newest Big Bang out there on the hillsides of space.
So it was, maneuvering and fortressing his lunge at revenge, he purchased a lonely and isolated piece of property, at the far end of the state and deep in the Rockies, where he spent countless weekends and vacation weeks on his demanding project. The property was in turn supported by a few small and widely separated shops and transport centers where he collected a maze of material. Every effort, every piece of supply, had to be appropriately camouflaged, hidden from the knowledgeable. Everything he eventually and clandestinely touched came to feed the project, and his inner drive.
Time passed into years.
Never married, no other hindrances weighing on him, his progress along with his madness was electric. While he did not extend himself physically out into the hinterlands of space, he instead dug deep into the earth; and after laborious and time-consuming efforts his own space silo came into being, smooth, deep, perfect in all its properties. He called it Gregory I, tittering each time the name crossed his lips or found a whisper in his throat. A few cohorts at the laboratory might have exchanged sly glances when he excused himself from certain social functions because of his ongoing Gregory I commitment. “It may be the salvation of my soul,” he confided once or twice.
Eleven more years passed, the madness and reprisal unabated, unfulfilled. And the hole down into the earth became deeper, more secure, smoother than any aluminum gullet, streamlined for velocity and escape. In a word, perfect for redress.
The Lumbada children rushed into teenage. His teams had won one state championship and three conference titles. His job was secure. One son was a superior running back. One son was a formidable student who loved soccer. The lone girl, Alma, was the image of her mother and the belle of her school. Her mother worried about her popularity; her father never worried. And Fuller, on the sly, saw Alma often, on many occasions parking not far from her school as she walked with a bevy of friends, male and female. All action seemed to generate about her and her personality.
Fuller, on those clandestine outings, on top of all other emotions bestride him, discovered hatred. He thought her to be a “chippie,” nothing more than her mother had been at almost the same age.
The conciliatory letters and notes continued, however, and Lumbada was further drawn into a spell of admiration for his old pal. “He’s such an intellect, Elsa. He’s so far beyond anyone we know, it’s unbelievable. It’s a wonder you married me instead of him. I somehow know he’s loved you always. He’s never forgotten a single birthday or an anniversary. Not a one. Let’s face it… there is no one like him.”
Elsa’s eyes would lift in judgment at husband’s words of praise. She’d nod her head once or twice, look off as if into the distant skies or into the distant past, and say, “We’ve done well, Greg. We’re happy. There’s no alternative. Nothing could make it any better than this.” Her hand circled in a slow arc, in the graceful way she had of expressing herself. And now he saw she was, as he’d expected, a little rounder, with a motherly fullness, yet still beautiful. He melted each time she accepted her place in life with him. She’d always told the truth, since that first night, and he knew it would always be so.
And at the other end of this spectrum of lives, Fuller’s prowess and intensity had finally reached an apex. It had demanded every minute of spare time away from the laboratory, in truth, his life and all it could summons.
Inroads had been made. On his mind, of course, but also on his body. He had become bald as a mountain top, his eyesight poor, his glasses thicker, strange tingles coming now and then from some unknown source. Minor arthritis in one hand stunned him on one mad weekend he had trouble forgetting. His sole company all the time at the lonely site was a series of Labrador Retrievers, the most trustworthy creatures he’d ever come across. Two of the dogs had disappeared in the wilderness, both chasing after some kind of animal. Another was electrocuted by accident deep in the hole. A sweet Golden bitch named Rusty had died trying to give birth to a litter of other Goldens.
He buried all their remains, and never looked back at the side of the hill where he had dropped them into a hole. Five utility vans had fallen to the wayside in his journeys back and forth, though parts from the vehicles were often salvaged for use. The whole system he had created eventually sat under the roof of a haphazardly constructed but weather-beaten shack, which with the simplest provocation could be torn asunder.
A small pit near the shack was filled with empty Blue Glacier Beer bottles, hundreds and hundreds of them. Some days, at noon, the sun drove deep into their midst, penetrated glass, made sounds, popped loose caps that had been randomly replaced. In time such orchestration became sweet music to him, vitalized him.
And the deep, smooth silo now bore a vertical vehicle that with sufficient power could be launched into space. It was a one-man vehicle right out of a Buck Rogers Saturday serial. It was gray. It was neuter. But it was deadly looking.
He had built it for one purpose. And its time was coming close. He was ready.
He took the day off from work. He’d done a lot of that lately. The first thing in the morning, after checking all the input data from a hundred sources, some of it all the way from a pal in Australia, Danton Fuller knew he was ready. All was ready. He called Lumbada at the school. It was 12:45 and the sun boiled overhead. From the pit of waste, he heard bottle caps popping free from their grip; it was music to him. He tried to find a song in it. No lyrics came to him. He cursed instead.
“Coach Lumbada here.” Greg’s voice was cool but solicitous and the tone angered Fuller, just as it had for such a long time.
“Hi, Greg, old buddy Fuller here. I have something special here for you, out at my place in Mesquita. It’s really special. Has your name and Elsa’s name right up front on it. You’re going to be famous, old bud. Real famous.”
“Oh, Danton pal, have you forgotten it’s football season. I couldn’t get away if I tried. A big game for us tomorrow. I’m deep with the kids tonight. A late walk-through at the field. A rally at the school gym tonight. You ought to come in here. Elsa’d be glad to see you.”
Damn. He had forgotten all about football. It had never entered his mind. “You can’t tell Elsa, Greg. It’s a big surprise. Promise you won’t say a word.”
“Okay, I promise. But if you want her to see something, then call her. She loves all those cards and notes you send on special days. Shoot, man, you’ve never missed a one. Call her. I won’t say a word until you tell me it’s okay. I have to run now.”
When the phone rang, Elsa was just finishing her ironing. Tea was puffing away on the back of the stove. The sun was dropping rays across the table and glinting in her china cabinet. The individual shine played tricks on her eyes.
“Elsa, your old pal Danton here. I’m trying to keep my mouth shut about this, but you know how I am, never letting an opportunity go by to do a little favor.”
“What’s on your mind, Danton?” She knew she was never as enthusiastic about him as Greg was. It shook out something more than notes and cards. It was deeper than that.
“Out at my place at Mesquita, I’ve got a surprise that will make you and Greg famous. It’s out of this world if I must say so myself, and you know how far my mind can travel these days.”
“Oh, I couldn’t go all the way out there, Danton. A big rally tonight. One of the boys making a speech, Greg right in his limelight. He’s got another grand team. No, I couldn’t leave here for any length of time, and that’s a pretty fair drive out there, isn’t it?”
“Oh, okay, Elsa. I’ll save it for another time. I had forgotten all about the football. Didn’t dawn on me for a minute.” The lies kept coming. He paused, measured a few breaths, and said, “I’ll get back to you.” Damn football, he muttered to himself.
All Elsa could remember were his words from long ago, words she had never forgotten, not for a day; “You’re my kind of girl.” She even felt his hand on her backside. She’d never forgotten what it did to her, how her head had hung down for days.
Fuller pulled up beside Alma as she turned down her street. He had easily spotted her confident saunter, the way her hips swung ends of a rope, the sun walking in her blond hair, so much like her mother had been.
“Alma, it’s me, Danton Fuller,” he said through the van window. “I’ve got a great surprise for your mom and dad, but I have to get a family blessing on it before I cut it loose. I swear, it’s going to make them famous. Has their names right up front on it. Real special, but it’s out in Mesquita, at my special laboratory. I know there’s a big rally tonight and I can get you back here in time for it. But I really have to know, from you of all people, if it’s right for your folks. Believe me, I think it’s real special, but I need another opinion. You know how we scientists are, all brain and no feelings.” He let go of a smile that hurt all the way back.
“Oh, we talk a lot about all the good feelings you have. Practically every night. Dad thinks you’re the world’s number one genius, and mom does too,” she quickly added, as if she had made some simple decision on her own.
“You can call your mom and say you’re staying over with some friends.” He smiled at her again.
At Mesquita he showed Alma the vertical ship with the names prominently painted on the front: Gregory I and Elsa, too. She loved his subtle humor with the names. It gave her a deep feeling of satisfaction.
Fuller, on a last few moments of inspection said, in the confines of his small laboratory, “I have to make a few checks down there in the missile chamber. I’ll be right back. I am just going to check and make sure everything is a go and then you can get a closer look at ‘Gregory I, Elsa, too.’” He chuckled happily, and added, “Make yourself at home in my quaint home. I’ve practically lived here half my life” His smile again was as authentic as he could make it, even though it made his face feel cold. Then he disappeared behind a wall.
Alma checked out the one room of the building that sat, housed, over the vertical vehicle, like an unborn creature, sitting in the pit in the middle of the room. Awe piled atop her as she saw what one man had done. It was incredulous and so plain in one quick view. In the far corner stood a simple cot and a burnt-black stove alongside a simple coffee table with a coffee pot, plain as a dent, sitting on its center. A cord was plugged into a wall socket. The contrasts wowed her so much that she had trouble framing any complimentary words.
Sparse living,” she said in a muffled voice, “the dedicated scientist, probably living on bread and water.” She hesitated, reassessed and added, “Or most likely living on coffee and crackers.” Not the slightest odor of food crawled on the air. No sweetness. No chocolate. No quick sustenance for the driven man. In truth, she felt, a kind of barrenness existed.
The late sun in a wide angle ran in through one window and lit up her blond head. The warmth teased her as she reached for measurements of one kind or another. Doubt, in its edgy matter, began to seep its presence.
Wandering around the edge of the pit she was amazed to see a television set on a small bench in another corner. Within easy reach was the prevalent shape of a remote control for the set. It produced an immediate smile. “He’s human, after all,” Alma said half aloud, and picked up the familiar black remote control. The numbers and letters were worn down with use. “I wonder what kind of stuff he watches.” I bet it’s like Star Wars or something out of this world.” Looking back over her shoulder at the panel where Fuller had disappeared, she clicked the “on” button.
Five full seconds passed. The screen was a sudden jumble of numbers, figures and symbols, a black chalkboard’s mad hieroglyphics.
Deep below, at that exact same moment, there was a slam, a bang, a thrust of noise. Under her feet the whole earth shook. The thought of an earthquake ran up her backside. Then came a huge ungodly sound that frightened her.
She leaped to the door and raced downhill toward Fuller’s van. Her breath came heavy and gasping and fear pulled at her backside. The noise was building behind her. Louder. Heavier. Terror riding in its breath. She ran harder and harder, trying to get as far away as possible. Then, behind her, with an extraordinary boom and an accompanying roar, the whole frame of Fuller’s laboratory shack came into naught but smithereens as the roof blew away, the sides blew outward, just missing her in her flight, and “Gregory I and Elsa, too” shot into the sky.
When Alma got to the van, the entire shack gone, the noises now way over her head following behind an almost lazy trail of vapor and smoke twisting across the sky, she realized the TV remote control was still clutched in her hand, the remote which had ignited the lift-off of an occupied missile now rushing into space.