Friday, February 19, 2016

The Last Drop - Part 4 - Probably More Than One Drop

Crow the Convenient Cabbie and O’Brien the Diapered Man-Baby drive up to the McGraw-Hill building, and come across quite a sight.  A huge crowd has gathered, complete with police and searchlights and an ambulance crew, around the gigantic form of Henry McLeod, whose fingers are gripping the 21st-floor of the building in an attempt to take some of the weight off his beleaguered legs.  And it just goes to show that television sets were new when this story was written, or else O’Brien and the others could’ve discovered McLeod’s location just by flipping on the bar’s TV instead of mucking about with phone-

Wait, he’s McLeod now.  Even though during his first appearance on the first page or so of the story, he was only ever called “Mac” by the narration.  O’Brien calls him Mac in the dialogue, but the narrator is now being formal.  Huh.

Naturally, McLeod had a wardrobe malfunction as he changed size, but unlike our hero he hasn’t fashioned a “diaper” out of anything, rather Mac looped some rope around his waist and shoved an uprooted tree down its front, sort of like a fig leaf.  Which only solves a part of his problem, of course, meaning that not only is the poor guy’s body trying to collapse under its own weight, but he’s got a audience of people staring at his gargantuan naked ass the whole time-

Wait, why hasn’t McLeod tried to communicate with anyone?  Why hasn’t he been shouting for someone to go get O’Brien so the bartender can fix whatever was in that cocktail?  Why did O’Brien have to go looking for him instead of a police officer showing up at the bar demanding that O’Brien come along?

Bah, we might as well wonder what exactly the emergency respondents’ plan is here.  Crow drives up but is stopped by a cop - not a John Law - who orders him to “Gawan” out of there.  O’Brien tells his driver to meet him at the building’s south side, then hops out to proceed on tiny little feet.  His foot-high size means that O’Brien is able to scurry through the crowd mostly unseen, and the few who spot him don’t do much since they assume that “they had suffered a brief illusion.”  Think Hubbard means delusion.

Nothing about the difficulties posed by O’Brien’s small stature, though, no constant danger of being trampled by oblivious giants, nothing about how much further he has to run and how much effort it takes.  His only real obstacle comes when he makes it inside the building and tries to climb the stairs, which are waist-high to him and hard to climb up while carrying a thermos as large as he is.

Remember when O’Brien could bounce around like a cricket?  Guess the author doesn’t.

So ultimately O’Brien decides on the elevator, even though this poses “all the risks of delay and exposure to Guanella’s friends,” because of course gangsters love to make moves against enemies in buildings surrounded by cops.  This story was written back when elevator operators were a thing, so O’Brien theoretically has someone to push the buttons for him, but while the bartender tries to be polite and reassuring, the operator first recoils “as from an angry rattlesnake,” then bolts from the elevator with the assurance that “I’m off the stuff for life, I swear!”  So O’Brien has to push the button with the thermos bottle.

He reaches the right floor, spends some time scurrying about trying to figure out which side of the building he’s on, and the author belatedly acknowledges that a tiny man running what would be normal distances is going to get tired.  But then O’Brien hears and follows a strange rhythmic roaring.

Euclid O’Brien soon found what was causing the racket.  It was the tornado of breath going in and out of McLeod’s nose, a part of which could be seen directly in front of the window at the end of the corridor.  The nose was a really alarming spectacle.  It was lit up with a crisscross of lights from the street lamps and searchlights outside, and by the corridor lights inside.  The pores were big enough for O’Brien to stick his thumb into.  Sweat ran down it in rippling sheets.

Eww, it’s like watching a movie in IMAX.  Also, try not to think about how McLeod is getting enough oxygen, or avoiding dehydration and all that.  Or what will happen if he has to go to the bathroom in his current condition.

O’Brien yells to Mac but doesn’t get a response, so he has to ponder for a bit before realizing that, since normal-sized voices sound deeper to him, his own hearing has gone up in pitch like his voice has, and therefore McLeod’s hearing has gone down in pitch like his voice has.  It makes a sort of sense, I guess.  So by speaking at a “deep bass” and telling McLeod to talk falsetto, O’Brien is able to communicate with his friend and reassure him that he’s here to fix things.

So our hero smashes the window with the thermos bottle (and has no trouble doing this despite his tiny, tiny muscles) and has McLeod to pinch his finger and thumb around the end without crushing it so he can twist and open the thing, and then...

“Stick your mouth up here!”

O’Brien never realized what a repulsive thing a human mouth can be until MacLeod’s vast red lips came moistly pouting up at him.

There we go, an efficient and effective sentence that conveys how gross things are when they’re blown out of proportion.  Pat yourself on the back, Hubbard.  Also, reader, stop wondering about body weight and proper dosages, or think how unlikely it is that enough shrinko cocktail was left in the thermos to get MacLeod back to the proper size after those gangsters force-fed O’Brien a drink from it.

It’s at this moment that those gangsters show up and shout “There he is!” from behind O’Brien.  Police cordon, lol.  The excitement proves short-lived - the bad guys scatter when MacLeod swipes at them like King Kong, then O’Brien hops on Mac’s shoulder and rides him down as the guy shrinks back to normal size, yelling an explanation into his ear as they go.

He also saw an ambulance on the edge of the crowd.  He figured the ambulance guys must have felt pretty damn silly when they saw the size of their patient.

Also, where’s the Hollywood Scientist rushed in by the military to figure out what’s up with the patient and how to weaponize it?  Or was that mainly an Atomic Era thing, so we're a bit too early for it?

MacLeod explains how he’d love to help little O’Brien fight against Guanella’s crew, except he needs to go to the hospital to see to his ruined arches.  It’s fine, though, O’Brien has a back-up plan - cheese it.  He drives off with Crow's cab, stopping only to buy a set of doll’s clothes from a drug store (and a banana, O’Brien is starving), then they hurry to the harbor to find a boat headed to the Far East.

Guanella’s goons follow, and there’s that always-exciting moment where a bullet shatters a window... though it's not really clear whether it's the cab's rear window, the window of a store along the street, or what.  Since it's a miss, O’Brien is able to reach the docks and scurry aboard a departing freighter.  Guanella, screaming “in excess of homicidal rage,” completely flips his lid when O’Brien sings a taunting song (“On the road to Mandalay-ay, there the flying fishes play-ay-ay!”) as he sails off, and so... wow.  The bad guy, literally foaming at the mouth, jumps off the pier and starts swimming after the departing boat.

Then a triangular fin - not over a couple of inches high, but still revealing its kinship to its relatives, the sharks - cut the water.  The dogfish swirled past Frankie, and there was no more midget swimmer.  There was only the moonlight, and the black hull of the freighter swinging around to start on her way to Hong Kong and Singapore.

I mean, that would've been stupid if Guanella had been normal-sized - even if there wasn't a handy shark, it's a good way to drown or catch hypothermia and so forth.  Guess this is yet another of Hubbard's self-disposing, too-stupid-to-live bad guys.

And that's the story.  We didn't learn any lessons or anything, and there wasn't any character development.  But there were one or two paragraphs dwelling on the challenges life would pose to someone who found themselves much smaller or larger than expected, so... it's not your average tale about an Irish bartender in trouble with a gang.  Seventy or eighty years ago, this could have been a real interesting, exciting piece of fiction or something.  If you couldn't get a hold of Gulliver's Travels or didn't like satire, anyway.

I can't help but wonder: how long does that shrinko stuff stay active?  Like is the dogfish that ate Guanella with it in his system going to shrink, causing it to get snapped up by an I dunno, catfish, and onward down the food chain until a bacteria is getting eaten by a virus or something?  A dizzying prospect.

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