Halloween 1959: Twilight Zone begins and Rod Serling hires Stan Wade LAPI to investigate a mysterious (dis)appearance. Here’s the opening and you can read the rest of the story in “Tales of the Otherverse” from Rough Edges Press in November.
My head is killing me, for some reason. Probably the results of last night’s poker game.
“I’ve been watching The Twilight Zone on Channel 9.” Norman sounds excited. “There’s a new one, called the ‘Darker Drink’ on tomorrow night.”
There’s a sharp pounding in the back of my head and I can see the glowing veins pulse when I close my eyes.
Norm has a tendency to go on. He talks with his hands a lot. “It’s the fifth show of the 1959 season. Something spooky and jokey for Halloween.”
I’m feeling so miserable that I seriously consider falling off the wagon… again. Might even set fire to the damn thing. “So that’s it?”
“I think good old Mr. Karloff’s in it.” He waves. “Stan, you look awful.”
I wash down a couple of Darvons with what’s left of a cup of black coffee and listen.
“Serling wants to meet you. Says he needs a good detective. Can you take the case?”
Sometimes an investigation goes nowhere and you’re left wondering. This usually happens when Norman Weirick asks me for a favor. I’m hung up on another case at the moment; a big one, but Norm has always come through for me when I need his help, so….
Fortified with medication, I wait on a cool stone bench in the Palisades Park where Montana meets Ocean Boulevard. There are tiny white sails on the water out beyond the Santa Monica Pier. Somewhere in that direction, an old neighbor of mine, Tod Browning, is sipping beer with his feet up. I’d have to remember to stop in and let him complain and reminisce.
It’s windy. I sit and watch the sun struggle through the thick tapioca clouds as the TV writer approaches from the paved path.
“Thanks for meeting me, Mr. Wade.” Serling winces slightly and stares out at the shrugging ocean below the bluff. Three fat ladies stroll by in short-shorts and floppy hats. One loses her orange skimmer in the breeze and has to waddle and ripple after it.
“My pleasure.” I offer my hand. Serling shakes it, standing there. Then he lights a fresh cigarette from the stub of the one he’d been smoking. He looks out into a grey infinity beyond the bay. “I come here often to think and compose myself.”
I wonder what that really means and pick an invisible piece of lint from my trouser knee. “How can I help you?”
“There was a guy I knew in the military back in 1947. Like me, he was wounded in Manila during the war and that gave us something in common.”
The Pacific Coast Highway buzzes beneath the cliff’s edge. Pain in my head hums along.
“Then he followed me into college on the G.I. Bill at Antioch, near Dayton, back in Ohio. We were casual buddies, but after graduation, I lost contact with him.”
I watch a gull swoop in and perch on a nearby trashcan. It eyes me.
“I thought I saw him a couple of times in the last week. I want you to find him.”
“I figured as much.” The grey bird plucks at a catsup-covered French fry. “What’s his name?”
“Sloan. Martin Sloan. He’s about my height and build. In his mid-thirties with dark thinning hair. I heard once that he was a vice president at an ad agency, but I don’t know which one.”
“Where was it that you saw him?”
Serling doesn’t sit down. Seems to want to dominate the conversation. “Last Sunday in Griffith Park, which was sort of funny. I was scouting a location for an episode of my TV series. You’ve heard of it?”
I nod and the pain flares behind my temples.
“He was near the merry-go-round there, but when I looked again, he was gone. Then, yesterday again on Lot 2 at MGM, where we’re shooting an astronaut episode. We were struggling through a hospital scene and when I looked up again, he’d gone off.”
The last time my body had felt like this was a couple of weeks ago in Frisco, when I’d been doped. Maybe I’ve been hit on the head too often. Supposedly, that’ll kill you or leave you in a coma. “You say he was injured during WWII? I could do some checking for you with the local VA hospital. See if they have a line on his location. It might not pan out, however. Are you sure you want that?”
He takes a deep drag and rubs the back of his neck. “I guess, I could be mistaken. But I’d like to know for sure. Set my mind at ease.” He flicks his cigarette away and the wind catches it, almost bringing it back to us. “It looked like him and I’d like to talk with him again, for old time’s sake.”
I rub the back of my neck, too. It feels good. Must remember to do it more often. I get up and step on the butt to make sure it’s dead.
Something about this case fills me with dread.
Other authors in this alternate worlds anthology include Lou Antonelli, Robert E. Vardeman, Scott A. Cupp, and more.