In midtown San Mateo there is a building that rises five stories above the street. To all outward appearances it is an insurance company. But to those who work within its steel and concrete confines it is the headquarters of a super-secret organization, [quoteright'/>responsible for the security of the free world. This is the command post of SATIRE (Secret Agency To Institute Reform Everywhere).
Any policyholder seeking reimbursement for a claim or pedestrian who blunders inside is quickly taken care of. He leaves bewildered, confused, and slightly nauseated, but completely unaware of the company's true purpose.
Tuesday began as any other day. Secret agent John Clerk sat at his desk reviewing documents and memorizing important information. Absentmindedly he fingered the staple gun resting in his shoulder holster. Suddenly the phone rang and he grabbed the receiver.
"Correction, may I help you?" he said briskly into the mouthpiece.
"I received a cancellation notice this morning," an unfamiliar voice replied.
"Hold the phone a moment, please," Clerk answered.
He checked his code book. That week's response was "What's the policy number?" When he said it, the voice asked for a file. John wrote down the man's telephone number and promised to return his call. He hung up the phone, filled out a file request card, dropped it into a cylinder and stuffed the cylinder into a pneumatic tube. An hour later the card was returned to his desk. It bore the cryptic comment "NO FILE."
"This is the 86th card that has been returned to me this way, and it's only Tuesday," Clerk muttered. Something's very odd. I'll have to investigate."
He wrote out another request card. But this one was for a special file. He had prepared it many months earlier and sent it to the file room. He reasoned that because no one else knew the number, no one else could request it, so the file would always be available.
Three hours later the request card was returned to him. It bore the notation that the file had recently been requested — by someone who had left the department five years earlier. There was only one explanation: STATIC (Special Tactical Activities To Impede Change). Somehow they had infiltrated SATIRE and taken control of the records section.
Now as he thought about it, John realized that others things had occurred that he should have noticed sooner. System's directives no longer made much sense, and their new programs were creating more difficult conditions. Soon STATIC would make SATIRE totally ineffective. Clerk realized that they would have to be stopped quickly. But whom could he trust? He would have to do it on his own.
He slipped extra ammunition into his pocket and headed for Systems. Maybe he could warn them before it was too late. He saw immediately that nothing could be done. The entire group sat staring at their computer terminals, entering data as if they were robots. STATIC had already been there.
I don't understand it, thought Clerk. Who is creating the memos if no one here is able to think? Then he knew. It explained why he was able to walk into every department except one. Why that department had an armed guard at the entrance. The file department had become the real brains of the organization. Clerk was up against a dangerous enemy that had to be destroyed at all costs. His first problem was how to get into the File Room undetected. He decided to hide inside a transfile.
The carton was dark and stuffy. There were only ten folders in it but the accumulated dust was a foot and a half thick. Finally the transfile was removed from the cart and placed into a corner. He squatted in the musty blackness, dimly aware of a pounding noise.
...THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP...
Over and over it was repeated. He cautiously pried the end of the box open. The sight that greeted his eyes made him shudder. In front of him stood a large table and around it sat seven STATIC operatives, each with a stamp and an ink pad. Other STATIC agents brought them file request cards which they stamped either "NO FILE" or "OUT TO YOU" and the current date, then returned to the originator.
He slowly lowered the box flap, but the slight air current disturbed the dust. He sneezed. The next moment he was surrounded. He was pulled out and dragged in front of the STATIC supervisor.
"It's all over, Clerk," the supervisor said. "I have a way of getting rid of you so that no one will ever find you. You're going to be placed on one of the shelves and covered with files. You'll disappear without a trace. Take away his gun."
"Fiendishly clever," mumbled Clerk. He tried to stall for time. "You won't get away with it. I slipped a note into the employee's suggestion box."
The supervisor laughed. "That box is opened only once a year, and the suggestions are submitted to the Reader's Digest as humorous anecdotes. You're finished."
"Double-C3 will replace me." The Double-C section gives their agents license to cancel.
"You don't fool me, Clerk. There's no stopping me now. Today SATIRE, tomorrow the world. Okay, take him away."
Minutes later John Clerk was bound, gagged, and stuffed onto a high shelf behind a solid row of files. His air was quickly running out. Then he felt something tugging at his ropes. The knots loosened. He tore himself free, pulled the gag from his mouth, pushed the files aside, and jumped to the floor. Standing there was one of the seven operatives he had seen sitting around the table.
"My name's Honey Bunch. I was supposed to be an Administrative Assistant," she gasped as he kissed her cruelly on the lips. "They promised me more money if I worked here."
"There's no time to talk about that now," Clerk replied. "Stay on the lookout. I'm going to contact the Government Audit Service." He grabbed the nearest phone and relayed his message. "They'll be here as soon as they can," he told Honey. "Meanwhile we have to keep STATIC busy."
Even as he said it, a missile whizzed by his head and ricocheted off a stack of folders. He and Honey pulled a few transfiles around themselves. Another round embedded itself in the wall behind them. Clerk returned fire. He wounded two STATIC agents, but more were advancing on his and Honey's position. Fifteen minutes later Clerk was out of ammunition. The situation was desperate.
Suddenly the firing stopped. The men of the Service had arrived. When the hand-to-hand fighting had subsided, the STATIC agents were beaten. But the head of STATIC was escaping. Clerk raced after him. The STATIC supervisor turned a corner at the end of the aisle and realized that it was a dead end. As he spun around to face Clerk, he pulled out a gun. Clerk thought fast. He pushed a huge stack of files. For a moment they were suspended in midair. And then they fell, burying the head of STATIC. He was crushed under a thousand life insurance policy folders.
On Wednesday, Clerk was back at his desk. For his heroism he was given a 14K gold-plated paper clip. Honey Bunch was hired as his associate. The phone rang. Honey reached for the receiver, but John stopped her. "We've done enough for one week," he said, pulling her tightly against him.
MICHAEL STERN submitted "The Man from SATIRE" in response to a local contributors' contest that we ran in SF Mensa. We were happy to award him a complete set of ECPHORIZER back issues with which to clutter up his coffee table.
|E-mail Print Blog|