Friday, February 12, 2016

The Last Drop - Part 1 - The First Drop

With all the mafia crap in Mission Earth, I guess it was inevitable that we'd dig up an old Hubbard pulp about a bunch of gangsters.  But it's not just a story about gangsters, of course, our good buddy Hubbard was a legendary sci-fi pioneer and all that nonsense.  So much like how "If I Were You" was a groundbreaking fusion of circus midgets and black magic, "The Last Drop" is a long-overdue merger between crime drama and weird science.

Euclid O'Brian's assistant, Harry McLeod, looked at the bottle on the bar with the air of a man who has just received a dare.

Gotta wonder what the thought process is behind a name like "Euclid O'Brian."  Guess the kid's parents had high expectations and didn't mind having him stand out thanks to a Greek-Irish moniker.  We might think that the author chose the name to signify that O'Brian is a pioneer and inventor, except 

Mac was no ordinary bartender - at least in his own eyes if not in those of the saloon's customers - and it had been his private dream for years to invent a cocktail which would burn itself upon the pages of history.  So far his concoctions only burned gastronomically. 

Yeah, MacLeod, not O'Brian, is the experimental brewer, so there's no meaning behind our main character's odd name choice.  Not that an Irish character would really need to be named after a Greek mathematician in order to impress upon the reader his inventiveness, particularly when it comes to experimental brews.

Anyway, Euclid has a brother named Aristotle... Hubbard, why?  Anyway, Aristotle's down in Borneo, where Euclid would like to be, but sent him a mysterious "syrup."  As Euclid watches, McLeod takes this syrup, throws in random ingredients - whiskey, egg yolks, some lemon - shakes the concoction, and downs it.  Then Euclid asks "Whatcha doin'?", as if it wasn't blatantly obvious.

Mac declares his latest creation "a real cocktail" and offers it to the bar's customers, but they politely decline.  Euclid warns that the syrup his brother sent him "did funny things," and "the native name, translated, means swello."  Mac agrees that "it's swell all right," but the bar's patrons are less enthusiastic, and watch Mac for a bit in case he explodes or something.

After a moment in which the barkeep fails to spontaneously combust, Mac declares that even if his latest drink does kill him, "I ain't giving you the satisfaction of a free show," and leaves.  And since the bartender just walked out of a bar filled with customers, it must be a shift change, right?  Otherwise Euclid may want to look for a new "assistant."

Euclid's not mad as his employee for walking out on him, but worried that he might get sick.  But then a patron named Guckenheimer gasps and cries out for everyone to look at something.

A fly had lighted upon the rim of the glass and had imbibed.  And now, before their eyes, the fly expanded, doubled in size, trebled, quadrupled...

Euclid stared in horror at this monster, now the size of a small dog, which feebly fluttered and flopped about on shaking legs.  It was getting bigger!

Gross.  The horrified people in the bar have the only appropriate reaction in such a situation - they rush the monstrosity, beat it with chairs, and dump the corpse in the garbage.  No details are given, so the reader is left to imagine the cracking carapace and spurting bug-goo for him- or herself.

But in the process of disposing of the body, which hopefully the garbage guy won't ask any questions about, Euclid remembers that "M-Mac drank some of that stuff!"  Guckenheimer more or less shrugs and concludes "Probably dead by now then."  Guess he thinks a bunch of people ran up and beat Mac to death with chairs when they noticed him growing.

Euclid's more proactive, though, and has a good panic while trying to figure out what to do.  He gets Guckenheimer to start calling people, and the police, to see if anyone's seen MacLeod.  While waiting for a response, and after a suggestion from a "learned" customer named Chivvis, Euclid mixes up another experimental drink.  See, if using lemon, an acid, in a "swello" drink makes things grow, perhaps substituting limewater, which is basic, would produce an alkalinic reaction with the opposite effect.  Sure enough, a lemon swello cocktail is used to grow another fly, which is then shrunk back to size with a limewater swello drink "Like a plane fading into the distance."

And maybe from this you've learned a little bit about chemistry from an L. Ron Hubbard story.  See, he's an educator and an entertainer.

So Euclid has figured out the solution to Mac's presumed problem, except Guckenheimer reports that nobody's seen the guy.  Seriously.  We've got two options here: either the lemon swello's effect hasn't kicked in yet, even though the fly started growing the instant it had some, or else nobody's noticed a rapidly-growing fellow stumbling along the streets of New York.

Euclid's concerned that the police will for whatever reason pin Mac's death on him as an act of murder, but suddenly a hush falls over the bar's patrons as someone steps inside, an evil-faced fellow in a Panama hat and a fashionable suit.  It's Frankie Guanella, "absolute monarch of the local corner gang," who reminds O'Brian that it's the first of the month and time to pay up.

So in case you were wondering where the gangsters came into the story, here you go.  Tune in next time as we introduce this local hoodlum to magical size-altering beer.

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