|FATTY UNFOLDING by EW Farnsworth|
The few who knew about Fatty Millstone’s clandestine work to stock his favourite Cracked Bell Pub with liquor for gold coins had no way of knowing how a single amateur criminal could do the work of two or three professionals. The job required one man to waylay the vehicle transporting the alcoholic beverages and another one or two strong individuals who could carry the heavy boxes and barrels from the stolen vehicle to the cellar of the pub on Picklock Lane. An additional man had to drive the lorry to the appointed place in the warehouse area around the docks, leaving the original driver trussed but able to breathe until the authorities arrived to free him the next morning.
Fatty’s secret was his ability to multiply himself—within limits—to become a gang of many parts whose composition was himself. For Fatty was a genuine alien creature, deposited as an advance agent on Earth to serve as a spy with deep cover whose purpose in the coming invasion would be known shortly before his fellows came in their spaceships to conquer and pillage. The same secretive nature that allowed him to fade into the shadows of his pub made his dark purpose invisible to earthlings whose everyday woes kept them unconcerned about everything outside their own narrow lives.
Fatty’s abode in the city therefore was a lodging for as many as a half dozen replicants of his general description. The aliens wore different clothes to differentiate themselves, but they shared one purpose with a single though variously manifested mind. What made Fatty the natural leader of this group was his innate ability at fission. As for fusion, or the recombination of parts to form a single body, he had no immediate concern. The rules of the game required only one set of identity papers since only Fatty needed identity papers, his description and data being sufficient for all of his offspring. Further, the limit to his progeny was not specific; Fatty had to be sure that no one in the city suspected the truth about his alien origin.
Among the alien family, the comings and goings from Fatty’s domicile were orchestrated by their single mind. The remuneration from their illicit liquor trade was sufficient for the needs of six or seven able bodied creatures. Fatty relied on his gentleman benefactor to help them out of any jam they encountered. From Fatty’s point of view, his operation was sufficiently remunerative to have significant value to warrant its preservation under most circumstances.
Fatty was occasionally alarmed by feature articles in the Times or the tabloids about the possibility that aliens dwelled among the populace of major cities. Sometimes those imaginative pieces came close to the truth that would endanger everything Fatty and his associates were meant to do. In the event that things should become untenable, of course, the alien had been given doomsday instructions. Those seemed no more destructive than the work of terrorist suicide bombers, but the explosives by which they would be atomized were atomic. The unintended sacrifices would raise suspicions among the authorities, but the destructive elimination or erasure of the alien signatures would be complete, or so Fatty had been informed.
Millstone’s good fortune meeting the gentleman who had formerly sponsored the toymaker and his crew was an unforeseen windfall event. His benefactor’s desire to keep his distance from his hires was a boon to all of them. Intrusive questions were never asked about how Fatty did his jobs. The advantages of not knowing also included an inevitable expansion of the alien’s portfolio.
The extension of the liquor delivery trade was the first extrapolation, and it was not long before the gentleman was funding—in gold coins—a dozen heists a week. Fatty’s brilliance at managing his expanding line was a marvel not only to the gentleman but to the chief of police, who was beside himself trying to discover ways to interdict the illegal trade. Fatty seemed to be aware of what the police were thinking, so he devised a way of thieving from the wholesalers first and then from the producers of the liquor. So the chief and his detectives were late pulling at the noose they had constructed to capture the harvesters of the lorries, for the aliens had shifted to steal the contents of warehouses and distillery yards.
By Fatty’s accounting, the amount stolen was an insignificant portion of the liquor actually produced. The scotch alone equalled the amount lost to spoilage among tuns and kegs, for example. At his table at his favourite pub, he listened carefully to the rumours about liquor thefts. He knew the chief’s plain-clothes men by sight. When those earnest officers came visiting, Fatty made himself invisible, like the proverbial fly on the wall. He was astounded how much a criminal could learn about the devices and self-deception of law officers. Arrests had been made at his very table, but no lawman touched him or his men.
As the alien operations grew, so the police activities strove to address the threat. The most brilliant humans were devoted to “the liquor trafficking problem.” Fatty realized that he had to become part of the hunting party before he was himself hunted down. So when the brightest detective from Scotland Yard was assigned to the case, Fatty bought him a pint at his pub to sound him out. The man was intelligent but not very street wise. He warmed to Fatty’s innocent-seeming questions about progress with the liquor thefts.
“Well, Sir, we are very close to making arrests. We only need more actionable intelligence on the criminal gang behind the operation. We don’t want to capture the underlings. We want to cast our nets to bring in the big bosses as well.”
Fatty nodded at the wisdom of this approach. “Tell me, just how high up do you want to reach to eliminate this dastardly theft ring.”
The detective’s brow furrowed. “If I were the only police officer making the decisions, I’d want to take them all, even if the Lord Chancellor was in on the action.”
Fatty said, “Hmm. So some of your colleagues are in with the swine who are doing the thieving?”
“I didn’t say that, did I?” the detective said in alarm.
“No. Of course, you did not. No harm intended.”
“No offense taken. You wouldn’t have some special knowledge to contribute to our case, would you?”
Fatty noticed the lawman’s glass was almost empty. He raised his head and signalled to the tapster.
“Bring my friend another pint with bitters—and bring another for me as well.”
While they were being served, Fatty leaned towards the detective and said, “Do you think there is any truth to the news about aliens infesting this city? Could it be that they are the reason for the acceleration of our urban criminality?”
The detective took this question seriously. He sipped his new drink and squinted his left eye at Fatty. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that were so. What do you know about aliens?”
“I know what I read in the newspapers, that’s all.”
“Rubbish! That’s what you’ll learn from the yellow press. Hard evidence is what I like. You can take your conjectures and rumours and stuff them where the sun does not shine.”
“How’s a bloke to know what’s what?”
“Confidential police files, that’s how. Why, I was the detective behind the apprehension of the man called the toymaker and his two associates, all of whom are spending time in the tollbooth.”
“So you were the one who put them away? Good for you! I once saw the toymaker seated in the chair you’re using now.”
The detective looked to the right and left, suspiciously. “Were you aware he was the mastermind of a theft ring?”
“He seemed unassuming to me. I only knew that the man bought a round once in a while. I’ll accept a round from any man, same as you, I suspect.”
“I don’t drink with devils.” The detective’s eyes blazed with indignity.
Fatty nodded and held up his hands defensively. “I’m sure you don’t. Closing Time is coming right up. Shall I buy you another before it’s too late?”
“I don’t mind if I do. You’re a man who keeps his eyes open. Maybe you could provide me information from time to time—as you discover it, mind you. I don’t want to interrupt your daily routine. And I can’t pay you for your efforts.”
“I would be proud to serve. We all benefit from catching criminals, don’t we?”
“That’s the spirit I like. So let’s meet here on Tuesday nights an hour before Closing Time, like tonight. You can give me information. I’ll stand the drinks.”
Fatty seemed to brood on this proposition. “Not that I’m a snitch, but I’ll help as I can as a civic duty.”
The two shook hands. Then, each with his own thoughts, they drank their last glasses and departed.
Fatty was aware that he had competitors throughout the city. In fact, he did not know a single pub that was provisioned with liquor by any but illicit means. He devised ways of informing on all his competitors to the detective, who consequently became famous for his investigative techniques. As their partnership continued, the alien picked up the action where his informing had blown the corrupt business behind it. The pubs continued to get their liquor, only the supply chain was now handled by the alien crew.
The detective was fooled for a long time. Gradually, he suspected that a new gang substituted for every gang he put in prison. Further, he wondered whether the aggregation of business benefitted one huge enterprise rather than a random set of small entrepreneurs. That was his greatest fear—an abiding nightmare. He was so fearful of what might be happening, he divulged his apprehensions to Fatty, who had become his closest confidant.
“You aren’t telling me that you suspect a conspiracy?”
“I can’t make a conclusion at this stage. The only thing I do know is that the influence of aliens is highly unlikely.”
“That’s a sentiment we should drink to.” Fatty raised his pint and said loudly, “Here’s to crime without alien involvement!”
The entire company of the pub echoed his sentiment. The detective shook his head but drank to the toast. A woman of the night approached their table.
“I liked your toast, young man.”
“It seemed like the right sentiment at the time, Ma’am.” The detective examined the woman closely. He was clearly suspicious why the woman had come forward.
The woman had an empty glass in her hand. She was reeling from what she had already consumed. As the detective pulled out a chair for her, she slouched into the seat. Fatty caught the tapster’s eye and signed for another pint for the woman. Quietly, he rose and left her in the company of the plain-clothes policeman. He snuck out the back door and made his way home.
The next Tuesday the detective was moody. He kept looking around the pub for someone.
“Whom are you expecting?” Fatty asked.
The detective said, “It’s that infernal woman who importuned us at the end of our last meeting. I never thought about the alien presence until that night.”
“So what do you plan to do?”
“First, I’m going to give her back her teeth.”
“You heard me. After you left, she dropped her false teeth in her pint. Without her dentures, she looked like an alien. What if the rumours about an alien invasion are true?”
“You’ve lost me, Detective.”
“Sorry. All the toasting and talk about aliens convinced me that I should take that seriously. Mum’s the word—she’s here!”
“So there you are, you handsome man. Have you been hiding back here in the dark?”
“Ma’am, I am merely drinking with a friend. If you’d like to join us, feel free to do so.”
“I don’t mind if I do.” She backed into the seat that Fatty courteously drew back for her.
“I don’t mean to pry, Ma’am, but are you an alien creature?”
The woman’s open hand hit the side of Fatty’s face, leaving a pink imprint on his cheek. She turned to the policeman and said, “The audacity of some folks these days. I’ve never felt so insulted in my life.”
“Madam, please permit me to give you your upper teeth,” the policeman said.
“Thank you, Sir. You are a veritable gentleman, unlike your companion here.” She reinserted her dentures.
Fatty used this opportunity to bow and retire through the back door. The last thing he saw was the dour face of the detective, who winked at him in thanks for broaching the critical question of her alien identity.
On the way home, Fatty Millhouse had an inspiration. From this point forward, he was not only going to upset the plans of all his competitors but also to cast suspicion on anyone in the city who had a deformity suggesting he or she was an alien.
In the weeks and months ahead, Millhouse spotted at least three persons who could arguably be described as aliens. Those he spotted during that first week were examples. One had a face hideously deformed by some natural disaster. Another had a juddering limp that made him seem an enormous insect on the sidewalk. The third was a female whose pre-cancer surgery had led to her face becoming a mask over an alien visage with no nose or chin. The detective wasted no time investigating those unfortunates. After many weeks of such intelligence work, he became increasingly convinced of the ugliness and inhumanity that daily walked his city’s streets.
One Tuesday evening in their ritual cups, the detective admitted defeat: “I’m afraid there are so many candidate aliens in our midst, we’ll be sorely-pressed to shadow them all. Further, I have had to redirect critical assets from my alcohol task and caseload. The chief has endorsed my quest for an alien presence behind the thefts, so he thinks I’ll plumb both mysteries by focusing on the alien presence.”
Fatty was upset, but he kept his demeanour cool. He ordered another pint for himself and the detective. By trying to avoid the alien angle in the detective’s approach, he had stimulated the very kind of investigation that he most wanted to avoid. In the event, though, he realized that the ordinary citizens of the city had plenty of alien characteristics. Many of the gangs who ran the illicit liquor into the pubs had goons with alien characteristics. So Fatty decided to continue diverting the detective’s attention to his competitors while he assimilated their businesses into his own. In this way, the true alien enterprise grew like Topsy while the seemingly alien gangs were systematically rolled up.
The yellow press used the photographs of apprehended criminals to bolster their rumours about an alien infestation. The city was in an uproar. Orson Wells would have been proud to foster such terror among the populace.
While his notoriety and celebrity burgeoned, the detective seemed to do no wrong in the eyes of his superiors. He had single-handedly championed an impossible cause—aliens—and racked up dozens of convictions under the guise of putting down an invasion.
While the police cleaned up the liquor thefts around the city, Fatty Millhouse and his aliens picked up the illicit business until they had reached the limit of their capacity. He had meanwhile encouraged the detective to follow the advice of the woman whose teeth had landed in her pint. She was rabid in identifying aliens of the city for the policeman. She had even decided that Fatty might be one of the invaders.
“Now you’ll have to let me draw the line there, Ma’am. A more upright and true citizen does not exist than Fatty Millstone. I’d bet my life on him. Keep your good instincts working on others, for if you direct criticism on my good friend Millstone, I’ll sic my men on you and your associates. I could think of no more nefarious strategy of the aliens than to cast aspersions on the good men and women of our city. While you’re at it, watch where your teeth fly while you are in your cups.”
The woman looked chastened by this last remark. “I withdraw my statement about Mr. Millstone. Does that earn me another pint?”
The detective nodded and raised his hand for the tapster to fetch her another pint. He loathed the idea of having to fish her teeth from the bottom of her glass, but it would have been worse, by far, it he had to harbour the suspicion that she, like so many others, was an alien invader and criminal. That’s the way it seemed to Fatty as he made his way out of his pub and back onto Picklock Lane where he was immediately absorbed by the pea-soup fog.