Knight Watchmen

So I took the job with Laverty’s Detective Agency.  I was issued a uniform, but no gun; and a round gadget on a strap with a key.  This key fit various check points on the rounds and recorded the time inside the gadget.  It was proof you did your job, and kept the security people back at the office informed.

The first week I drove up and down the Turnpike, checking small factories, mostly electronics stuff – printed circuits and the like.  Sounds like you’re in the chips, my wife said.

Then the guy who had landed me the work quit Laverty’s to get some experience in journalism.  He was collecting experience to become a writer.  I got his choice spot in the next county, a small private college.

The college was a French chateau some millionaire had purchased in the twenties, having it transported stone by stone to Long Island.  Even the gardens had been dug up and shipped in coffin-like boxes.  Had Dracula needed to stowaway, this would have been a perfect spot to land up.

At that time, I was writing a crazy story about a cop chasing a dealer of a drug called Kronus.  On this drug you traveled in time.  Our hero, the cop, reads minds, and so keeps up with the fugitive, in the process stumbling upon the planet where the illegal substance abounds.

I had recently sold five stories, and was convinced I was on a roll.  This story, however, became more and more complex, and though the detail was good, I kept losing my place in the story.  Never mind the potential reader, even I could not figure out what was going on.

Nevertheless, I was determined to finish the novelette and get it in the mail and start the next one, about designer drugs (this in 1972) that lifted you into one of the simultaneous universes, the alternative worlds only a glance away from this our earth.

I got the clocking-in down to a fifteen minute run round the campus.  As long as all points were touched once an hour, you were doing your job.  The rest of the time you were supposed to keep your eyes open.

With your eyes open what you normally saw between midnight and eight a.m. was a lot of trees lit up from underneath by your headlights as you cruised, or the occasional red eyed rabbit, or if you were lucky a white owl flying under the trees like a stunt flyer.

After the first few nights, I settled on the Dean’s office as the best place to spend the forty-five minutes between rounds.  There was an electric typewriter, a red leather couch where you could stretch out and read what you had written.  Even a telephone if you wanted to make a call home and wake your wife up in the middle of the night.

The story was so tangled I groaned as I worked on it.  I should have shoved it into the waste basket, but the stack of pages represented hours at the keyboard trying to think with my fingers, and I couldn’t quit.  To write was the whole point of having taking the job.

The cop who was peeping into the mind of Altman had an assignment peculiar to the time of the story; convicted murderers were given a space of time to repent and of the crime and show signs of self rehabilitation.  If they succeeded in rehabilitation , they were not executed, and allowed to go free.  But Altman was leaping time zones, including back to the point in time shortly before he had killed his wife, and, far from repenting his crime, he exulted in repeating it.  But each time the cop was duty-bound to try to prevent the murder.  Over and over again he failed in zapping the runaway.  Gradually it became clear that Altman also could feel the cop reading his mind, thereby evading capture or execution.

I wrestled with the contradictions inherent in such a plot, repeatedly frustrated by the intricacies and complications, but after three agonizing weeks, I typed The End and ripped the sheet from the typewriter and turned it off.  The story had run to 15,000 words, and I stacked the pages in the box, put the dean’s desk in order, and made a run with the time clock.

It was only three twenty a.m. when I returned to the office, and I couldn’t resist stretching out on the leather sofa.  I was exhausted and slightly disgusted by the effort I had put into a story I was now certain I would never be able to sell.  The plot revolved in my brain as I dozed off.  I resolved to edit out the section where the cop falls for the murdered woman and desperately wants to save her so when he returns to his own time he can find a way to approach her.

A hand on my shoulder shook me up from deep dreaming.  It was my employer from Laverty.  I had slept through two rounds of clock punching and the alarms had sounded in the office of the security watch back at the office.

I was ordered to turn in my uniform and badge the next day.  I received pay for the time coming to me, minus the three hours I had not reported in. 

I never sold the story.

Note from JP: This is the newest of three versions that I found in Patrick’s files, dated 26 Sep ‘5. It was titled “Knight Watchmen,” a pun and play on plurality, with “unfinished” included in the file name.