Pulp Friction

Paul Gray

Inspector Sting sat on his guitar case, pouting sexily. In the clearing before him, stumps, stumps, and more stumps were all that could be seen as far as the eye could range. For the first time in living memory, an unimpeded view of the Amazon could be obtained, and the mighty river wended on its way yonder like a great denuded thing.

Why, it’s like … walking on the moon, thought the Inspector grimly.

Suddenly rising in wrath, he swung round to face the deputation of Brazilian Police Officials who stood sheepishly awaiting his attention.

“You say they were definitely there yesterday?” snapped the Inspector.

“Oh yes,” peeped the Chief, “hundreds of them ….”

“And they were there when you went to bed?”

“Yes.”

“But they were gone when you got up?!”

There came a guilty shuffling of feet and the exchanging of culpable looks.

“If I were you,” lectured the Inspector, primly, “I would knock off the Ayahuasca sleeping draughts before bedtime! I’ve taken the stuff myself—as I recount so vividly in my autobiography—and I know how complete are its soporific effects. So complete, in fact, that one is unable to hear things: low-flying aircraft, for instance, or minor explosions—or hundreds of trees being cut down with chain-saws! Furthermore—hello, what’s this!”

He made a dart at a nearby stump and, scooping an object from the soil, proceeded to examine it eagerly through his magnifier. It was only a pencil, but to the awed onlookers, it seemed to represent a universe of fascination for the great detective, for he not only sniffed the pencil but licked it, flicked it, and finally waggled it beneath one ear.

“Hmmm,” he mused. The Police-chief spoke up timidly and approached.

“The pencil … is it—”

“Please,” admonished the Inspector fastidiously, stepping back. “Don’t stand so close to me. Yes, the pencil is significant. I can deduce much from it. For instance, the man you’re looking for is a popular American novelist. He wears thick spectacles, talks in an unpleasant nasal whine, plays amateur guitar on weekends, and drives a reconditioned cherry red Thunderbird. Furthermore …”

He sniffed again at the pencil and ran it through his hair for good measure. “… you could call him a workaholic.”

“All thees … from a pencil?!”

“Oh, this is just nuts to me,” said the Inspector blithely. “In fact, peanuts! Well, gentlemen, we progress. You may expect an arrest within the next few days. Until then – goodbye!”

As the meeting broke up, he gazed wistfully around the barren Rainforest bed, thinking how nice it would look were it to be replanted with his favorite English tree.

Yes, he sighed; the bed’s too big without Yew.

***

Adjusting his thick spectacles, the famous American writer stepped from his cherry-red reconditioned Thunderbird and stalked hurriedly up the drive towards the great gleaming mansion. Keying himself into the hallway, he automatically patted the blue Rickenbacker guitar that seemed to stand guard over his wellington boots and umbrellas.

He had very little time. Indeed, if his spies were correct and the net was closing in, he had to get more than a shuffle on.

He swept into his recording studio, where he occupied himself for an hour or so until, at last, there came an ominous ringing at the doorbell.

He went at once, grinning and rubbing his hands. It was OK. He was quite prepared.

“Ah, good evening,” he greeted nasally. “Do you know – I’ve been expecting you! Do come in. Shall I take your guitar case? No? Ah well … it’s this way. This room here. It’s where I do my … entertaining. Do come through!”

Inspector Sting stepped suspiciously through. Hmmm. As recording studios went, it wasn’t bad. Not quite as lavish as the ones he was used to, of course, but passable; the type of thing that might satisfy Paul Weller, he thought, though hardly me.

He was conscious of his host hovering creepily yet cordially at his elbow. “May I get you anything?” inquired the writer. “Some drums? A bass guitar?”

“I have one, thank you, sir,” said the Inspector, raising the case.  “I have come about some missing trees.”

“Trees?”

“Yes, sir – great tall things with--”

“I know what a tree is!” spat the writer, and his sudden livid rage took the Inspector by surprise. “I do live here on the East coast where there are quite of few of them! You may have noticed them every time you flew to perform in Boston with that former band of yours!”

The Inspector raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you like them, sir?”

“Like them?!” The writer buried his face in his hands. “Oh, God!”

“These trees,” pursued the Inspector doggedly, “were in Brazil.”

“What happened to them?”

“Somebody took them.”

“About how many?”

The Inspector considered. “About … 150,000.”

“Gracious!” gasped the other. “All at once?”

“Over the last 15 years, sir, but there came a sudden spurt recently.”

“And whom do you suspect of this … theft?”

“Ah,” mused the Inspector, glancing keenly about. “Now that is a question, isn’t it? I couldn’t help noticing, sir, on the way up, that your wood-yard seems almost preternaturally well-stocked. In fact, I could go as far as to say --”

“Isn’t that one – over there?”

The Inspector swung round to follow the pointing finger – and received a shove in the back that sent him sprawling. By the time he’d scrambled to his feet, the door had been slammed and locked shut!

He glared angrily about. A movement behind a glass screen caught his eye. He saw the writer merrily ease himself into a chair behind a console and don a pair of earphones.

He began to twiddle some knobs. At once, there came a sound from nearby – a muted piano introduction. Then the whining voice came piping in.

“Quadro-seismic speakers placed high up out of even your reach, tall guy! Enjoy the noise, sucker! It’s the last thing you’ll ever hear!”

The volume control received a vicious wrench as the vocals began. As the hideous banshee screech tore with appalling violence into his tone-sensitive neurons, Inspector Sting slammed both hands over his ears. He recognized it at once. It was Kate Bush singing ‘Wuthering Heights’!

The fiend! The awful fiend!

Waves of dreadful racket engulfed his senses, buffeting him this way, that way. He knew he must act quickly: he couldn’t risk that … chorus! Desperately he craned his neck upwards. Yes – there were the speakers, but nestling behind thick tinted glass and quite unreachable.

And then, louder than a ‘Who’ concert, it was upon him – the chorus!

“HEATHCLIFF, IT’S MEEEE, I’M CATHEEEE, I’VE COME HOOOOME—"

He screamed and collapsed onto all fours, knees drawn up, helpless as the discordant horror had its play with him. Now he was rolling over and over like a sea-battered ping-pong ball, from one side of the room to the other! And then … the chorus was over!

How he survived that sonic pounding, he would never know, but one thing was certain – another round of it would mean the end.

Already his ears were starting to bleed.

He had to act! And then the idea flashed into his mind. Yes – of course! God knew it was dangerous, but what choice did he have? None at all!

With trembling hands, he wrenched open the guitar case and seized the great Fender bass from within. Battling against the shrieking wall of sound, ears fully exposed now, he sought frantically for a socket, found one – and rammed the plug home. At once, the great glittering instrument began to hum. Quickly – she was already at the pre-chorus!

Staggering beneath the onslaught, he rippled up the neck and locked on to The Note – the Note that Jung himself had identified – and which his own Experiments in Sound had confirmed -- like the Super Note, the Note to which the universe itself vibrated.

Bb sus4!

The chorus – the terrible chorus was imminent! He tripped the volume to max and, gripping the guitar by the peg-end, thrust it high above his head, slamming the body string-side down against those devastating speakers.

Teeth gritted, he held the shuddering instrument in place, trusting its wonderful sustain to do battle with the baleful outpouring of sound and set up a feedback loop which, he hoped would, one way or the other, prove utterly devastating.

Here it came –

“HEATHCLIFF, IT’S MEEEE, I’M—”

The explosion decimated speakers and guitar alike and flung him clear across the room. Before blacking out, he saw the writer suddenly jack-knife screaming from his chair, hair ablaze.

***

“…And he’s on his knees at this moment, replanting all those trees under police supervision.”

Inspector Sting sipped his drink. The Hollywood party was swinging along nicely, and he was standing at the bar with his friend Bruce Springsteen. “And the bass guitar?” enquired The Boss.

“He’ll find the bill when he gets home,” replied Inspector Sting. “If he ever DOES get home. That’s quite a space for him to fill!”

“But to take all those trees,” tutted Bruce, and the Inspector shrugged.

“Some 15 years ago, this man announced his retirement from the literary world. Since then, he must have written 50 books, all 800 pages long. Some retirement!” He sighed. “It’s the same old story: he couldn’t give it up for ego reasons. Think of McCartney. He had his next 48 books planned, but he needed the pulp, you see ….”

“So that’s where all the trees were going!”

The Inspector nodded. “HG Wells, yes, Herman Hesse of course – but that kind of tommyrot? No! Anyway, I gave him the ultimatum – replant the lot – or I reform the Police. He came across right away!”

“I imagine he would,” muttered Bruce, shuddering. “Now tell me: how did you deduce all that information from a pencil?”

“Elementary, my Dear Springsteen,” laughed the Inspector. “Pencils are far more than mere writing implements. Looked at in a certain light and by a discerning eye, they can become positive founts of info! Anyway …” he lowered his voice and winked. “He puts his name on them! Ah, our hostess approaches!”

The smiling blonde came across, glass in hand. Gallant as ever, Inspector Sting opened the fridge and took out the ice cubes.

“Rocks, Anne?”


About the Author

Paul Gray lives in Leics, UK. Hobbies: many and varied—outdoor pursuits, sports, Buddhism. High point in writing: getting a movie script accepted though not, in the end, produced. He regards money as a terrible mistake and would be prepared to write short stories for food if anyone’s interested.