Half a mile away, a thin needle pointing toward the sky, stood the office of Pussycat magazine, and on the tenth floor Senior Editor Josh Dill was puzzling over the latest vacation memo from personnel. "This is the worst piece of idiocy I've ever seen, " he complained to his secretary. "It looks like it was written by a computer having a nervous breakdown. Listen to this gibberish:
'Half a man-day shall not be equal to half a day unless the man is actually in the office for the full day, or half of a full day, as the case may be. (This also applies to female employees. '
What the ring-tailed rambling hell does that mean?"
"Do you want me to call personnel and ask somebody to explain it?" asked the secretary, a pert little piece who could neither type nor take dictation well but held her job because she fit the Pussycatimage.
"Hell, no!" Dill exclaimed. "Don't stir up that pit of ding-dongs. Just put me down for the first three weeks in July and if they tell me I can't have it, I'll go over their heads and talk to Sput. "
Stan Sputnik was the founder of the Pussycat empire and still acted as both managing Editor and Publisher as well as embodying the Pussycat image in all his highly publicized acts and deeds.
Dill crumbled the vacation memo and threw it in the wastebasket.
"What's next?" he asked.
"Dr. Prong. About the interview. "
"Oh, yes, " Dill said, turning his chair to look out the window. "Call his secretary and see if he's in. "
While the secretary went outside to her desk to place the call, Dill looked out over Chicago thinking of his rapid rise in the Pussycat empire. Originally, he had been a movie critic, but then the newspaper he worked on had suddenly collapsed after the third typesetter's strike in two years. Out of work, he had answered an ad and found himself appointed editor of a ninth-rate imitation of
Pussycat called Tom. He was underpaid and overworked (the publisher, to save himself from paying writer's fees, demanded that Dill write the entire contents himself under a variety of pen names) and he spent the first hour every day sending out resumes in desperate search for a better job. Then, abruptly, he was called for an interview with Sput Sputnik himself.
At first, he was flattered that his copy had attracted the acknowledged king of the girlie magazines. Then he found out that he was part of a gigantic coup. Sput, annoyed and dismayed by the ever-increasing number of imitations of Pussycat, had decided to decimate the competition in one huge raid. The staff of Pussycat quadrupled overnight as every editor of every competition publication was hired away at a juicy salary increase. Pussycat suddenly had six Senior Editors, twelve Associate Editors, twenty-four Assistant Editors and thirty Junior Editors. The other publishers found themselves confronting deadlines with nobody left on their staffs. Two went bankrupt; one committed suicide; the others took a year to get back in gear again.
"Business is business, " said Sput. He liked to think of himself as a tough, hard-driving businessman, as well as the twentieth century's leading philosopher, the superstud of every girl's tender dreams, the hero of the free press, the foe of bigotry and intolerance everywhere, and the world's unacknowledged Master Psychologist. If he had known there was such a thing as pie-eating champion, he would have aimed for that title also. He considered himself a Renaissance Man.
Although Josh Dill had advanced from Junior Editor to Senior Editor in only four years at Pussycat he hardly knew Sput at all. Sput never
came to the offices, preferring to work in his mansion four blocks north, and Dill only saw him on the rare occasions when he was called to that imitation Taj Mahal for a conference.
Those conferences tended to be a bit much. Like certain movie actors who are always "on" even when nowhere near a sound stage, Sput was as determined to impress his editors as he was to startle and overwhelm the whole world. For years, he had insisted on playing chess during conferences, keeping an impoverished grandmaster on hand for a stiff competition; since the grandmaster knew which side his bread was buttered on, Sput always won. He had gotten this idea from a very inaccurate historical novel about Napolean, in which the little Corsican sociopath was portrayed as playing masterful chess while discussing military strategy with his generals and the Napoleanic legal code with his judges. More recently, Sput had read a novel about Nero. The effect was even more disconcerting than trying to talk with him while he laboriously evaded a stale Noah's Ark trap the grandmaster had set up for him to find. He was seated behind his desk receiving a blow job when Dill had been ushered into his presence the last time. It was unnerving.
"You wanted to discuss the interview subjects for the next six months?" Dill asked, taking his seat and noting that the lady kneeling before the Great Man was a recent Sex Kitten from the mag's foldout. In fact, she was the first to appear, not in an ordinary crotch shot (they ere now becoming commonplace, not only in Pussycat but in its imitators) but in a Randy low-angle crotch-shot in which her vulgar lips could clearly be seen pouting beneath the pubic hair. Dill had been curious how that effect was obtained and asked the chief photographer,
"Were you rubbing her off just before you snapped that?"
"Nah, " was the laconic answer. "We tried that, but the lips still weren't visible enough. We ended up stuffing her snatch full of my hashish stash. "
"My God!" Dill was astonished.
"That's why she had that far-gone look in her eyes. Stoned out of her head by the time we got it all out of her again. Bet you didn't know it was possible to get high that way. "
"Wonder what it would be like to ball her right
after the hash came out, " Dill said thoughtfully.
"Wouldn't know, " the photographer sighed. "Sput put an exclusive on her soon as he saw the test shots. "
Now she kneeled, nude and covered with some kind of oil that Sput had read about in the Nero book, and carefully licked his whang up and down while he, imitating supercool, went over the interview list.
"Don't want Spiro Agnew, " he said. "He's too controversial. "
"But, damn it, Sput, our interviews aresupposed to be controversial. " Dill seemed to recall saying that at each of these conferences.
"Not that controversial, " Sput said. "Now, here, Jane Fonda and Terry Southern, they're good. But, my God, Ezra Pound, for Christ's sake—he's a
fucking poet. *'
"We interviewed Allen Ginsberg, " Dill said, watching the girl's head bobbing up and down.
"Yeah, but his poems are full of dirty words. That's different. "
"Pound used fucking in a poem once, " Dill said patiently. "And the war he was against is so long ago that it's not controversial anymore. "
"Nah, nah, one poet in five years is enough. (Gently, doll, gently!) I see you don't have the Attorney General on the list yet. "
"It's the same as ever, " Dill explained, noting that the girl's hand was sneaking down her belly into her crotch. "He just won't give us an interview. He still says we're a dirty magazine. "
"Damn it, we never go beyond contemporary community standards, " Sput protested, hurt. "That old bastard is a bigot. "
"Well, bigot or not, he won't give us an interview. "
"Fascist reactionary bastard, " Sput fumed. "Someday I'll-" Then he brightened. "Listen, doll, " he said to the girl at his feet. "You're the Attorney General— now really go to it, like a fucking vacuum cleaner!"
The girl's head began bobbing faster, and Sput slouched back a bit,
"Reactionary WASP son of a bitch, " he muttered. "That's right, take it, take it all, you foe of the First Amendment!"
"Er—Roger Prong, " Dill prompted.
"Very good,very good. " Sput was whispering, as if toking a marijuana cigarette. "You Gestapo pig, " he added to the girl at his feet.
"How about Jackie Kennedy Onassis?"
"Yeah, yeah, class, " Sput said vaguely. He was beginning to tremble a bit. "Who else you got?" he whispered, trembling more.
"Doctor Spock. "
"Spock?" Sput asked; then he repeated, shrilly, "Spock? Spock! SPOCK!???!" He was coming, Dill realized with an embarrassed twinge. "Swallow it, " Sput was roaring. "Swallow it, you wire tapper!"
It was a distracting conference all around, Dill thought, remembering.
His secretary was at his door.
"I finally located Dr. Prong, " she said, "at his home. He's on the
Dill picked up his phone, saying, "Ah, good afternoon, Dr. Prong. It's a great pleasure to speak to you. "
"Is this on the level?" came a tense voice.
"You're not involved with that Poop or Foof place, are you?"
Dill was dumbfounded. Could the head of the best-known sex research organization in America be a paranoid nut?
"I am speaking to Dr. Roger Prong?" he asked carefully.
"Yes, yes—but how can I be sure who I'm speaking to?"
"Well, " Dill said, "if you have your doubts, call me back. Go through information, to check the number, and then have the Pussycat switchboard put you on my line. That should convince you. "
"I'll do just that, " the doctor said. "A lot of damned peculiar things are happening today. I want to be sure you're not some cohort of that Ezra Pound character. " He hung up abruptly.
Ezra Pound, Dill thought bemused. The doctor thinks an aged, 87-year-old poet living in Italy is plotting against him. An absolute nut of the first water. A real f******n-karat mad scientist. Obviously, this would require great care. Prong couldn't just be discarded as an interview subject for being batty; he was too big a name. The interview would go ahead, but Prong would be handled with k** gloves. The phone buzzed, and he picked it up.
"Dr. Prong is back on the line, " his secretary said.
"Put him through. " He waited, then said, "Dr. Prong?"
"Well I guess it really is you, " the voice said. "Please excuse me. A man in my sensitive field—cranks and schizophrenics wandering around loose... "
"Yes, yes, I quite understand, " Dill said, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "Poets always have harbored nasty grudges. " He had no doubt that the doctor was as goofy as a waltzing mouse. Markoff Chaney's strategy was already working.