Sunday, February 19, 2012


Matthew "Crash" Buckner. Fastest pen on the net. Yeah, right. At the moment, he had one eye glued to the pillow case and the other squinting away from the glare of the sun coming through the window. A hazy image of 11 AM on the clock surfaced to his brain. Trying to think why he should get up. Oh, yeah, today was the Speed Writers Grand Competition..

Matt plowed his way through the mess on the floor, moodily kicking an empty beer can into the kitchen. Why couldn't a writer of sixty-five retire in peace? Didn't he write enough stories for a lifetime? Social Security would pay for the basics, but he wanted to spend them on the coast of California, not in a hick town in Pennsylvania where he was. Matt blasted himself with the hot water in the shower. Maybe a shave and a quick breakfast would wake him up enough to face the challenge.

One hundred thousand dollars went to the winner of the Speed Writers Grand Competition. The rules were simple: write a 2000 word short story in thirty minutes. Millions of readers all over the net would log in, their pulses connected to the comparative heart rate meter. As they read the emerging story, the meter would indicate their interest and give Matt a boost in the ratings. The money would go to the writer with the highest point total. Matt would go head to head with the previous day's winner, "Garbage" Johnson. This was the final match-up; one last effort to win all the marbles. Please God let them pick a Title he knew something about.


An old classmate, "Garbage" Johnson got his nickname from his dad, who was also a writer. Unlike his dad who wrote fourteen novels, two of which fostered movies, "Garbage" made his money in the fifties writing for the pulp magazines. Sleazy police rags and low end sex magazines was more his style. Four cents a word hardly paid for the rent unless he cranked out three stories per day. Like "Garbage" Johnson, Matt didn't get paid much more. His venues were the romantic monthlies, True Story clones and fillers for the daily rags. But he was still a hack writer.

The aspirin seemed to work, but Matt was still foggy from the party last night. A fast two mile run should shape him up. The competition log in started at one PM.. plenty of time for a run. There was no use trying to bone up for the challenge, since he wouldn't know the subject until one minute before the bell. He'd just have to rely on his experience and natural talent. Half way through the run, a passing shower viciously belted his face, plastering down his hair and tracking down his neck. The cooling effect, though was welcome as Matt powered up the final hill. Panting fiercely, he leaned on his gate to get his breath. His leg muscles tingled from the effort, letting him know that he wasn't a kid anymore.

Just in time, Matt changed into dry sweats. He booted up the computer and cued in the DSL. Logging onto the website, Matt lined up four glasses of water and a spare laptop as backup. Its modem set at the same website and a thesaurus opened and ready. As he waited, he propped his feet up on the tattered collection of notes for the novel he never had time to write. He gazed around him at the walls lined with bookshelves. Not too many books filled the shelves, but every magazine he wrote for and wanted to write for competed for space. Matt never read them, but enjoyed their very presence as proof of his industry. If he won this competition, they would stay behind with the second hand furniture and the out-of-date clothes in the closet. All he would need was his laptop and the novel inside his head. A new life waited just on the other side of that mountain of a website, beckoning with impossible promises and tons of money. It took some luck, but he got this far, didn't he? Not bad for an old hack writer.

His kitchen timer chimed once. He set it in case he got distracted and missed the start up. Not wanting any interruptions he took the telephone receiver off the hook to his second line. False sounding applause and whistles signaled the start of the contest. A large double faced meter took up most of the screen, needles set at zero. Over each was a caricature of his and his opponents faces. His looked slightly drunk with wild-looking hair and eyes at half mast. "Garbage" Johnson appeared bloated and a little disgusted. The announcer recapped the competition so far, alternating with promos for their latest "Best Seller" and extolling the virtues of their book club.

Finally, the Title was announced as ..ta da.. "Hitler's Gold". Matt's instant response was. "Wasn't this done a hundred times already?" Oh, well, here goes. At the chime, Matt started to write. The clackety clack of the wheels wound down, signaling an unscheduled stop. Major McCauley looked at his civilian watch, noting the time. In these days of dusk before the war was officially declared over, anything could happen to jeopardize his mission.

At the word 'mission', the adrenaline meter by his name jumped up one division. His opponent's hadn't moved. Then just as he gathered his thoughts for the next sentence, Matt saw the meter on the right side of the screen take a double hit. Damn, he'd better get moving. Mentally vowing not to look at the enemy meter, Matt went to work. The next sentence flew across the screen.

Just the thought of twenty million dollars of raw gold made his heart pound. A cheap shot, but that ought to get their hearts going. Hitler didn't own it any more than he did. The report of its whereabouts burned a hole near his heart. Somewhere in a coal mine in Poland was stashed the bars of gold that would have allowed the Reich to live on. The location was inadvertently revealed in a news report on the last page of the Berliner Zietung. Unfortunately, Major McCauley's opposite number in intelligence undoubtedly also saw the report. He was probably heading there right now from somewhere deep in Germany. Air travel was impossible and a car would take too long what with all the check zones in place. So he probably used the rails just as he himself did.

A gong sounded from the computer signaling that one quarter of the allotted time had passed. Matt stole a look at the adrenaline meters. His meter showed him ahead by a nose, its steady but slow rise wavering at the half way point. The only thing that counted was the surge at the end. If he could hold their attention until near the end, he could hit them with a socko ending. But what? Closing his eyes in concentration, Matt drank some water. It tasted bitter, echoing his fears of losing. Concentrate! he told himself.

The door to his cabin burst open after a brief knock. McCauley tried not to show any expression that would give away the pounding of his heart. It was just the conductor asking for his ticket. A too long scrutiny metamorphosed into a sharp demand for his "Ausweise" papers. Prepared for the worst, McCauley had, besides his German passport, a letter from a high official in the Bundeswehr, a bogus letter of introduction and carte blanc for any mode of travel. Though written on official stationary stolen from a German general's hotel room, it provoked a silent, suspicious stare from the conductor. Faced with such powerful permissions, he left abruptly. Sagging back in the seat and touching the hardness of the gun secreted near his ankle, McCauley dared to plan his next step.

Matt suddenly went blank. Nothing. Not a glimmer of an idea would pop into his brain. The irresistible meters grabbed at his eyes, confirming his worst fears. He was dropping behind! Frantically, Matt rummaged through the top drawer of the computer desk. There! He knew he had a few bennies left from college finals. He'd better take two. He could work them off later. No, he'd better take only one -- he might get sick and blow the whole thing. He wondered if his opponent was having the same doubts. No. Just write the damn thing!

Dawn finally smudged the horizon. They were coming into the last stop before entering Poland. McCauley watched as boarders fussed with their luggage, one well-dressed civilian even arguing with a guard, berating him with large gestures. There must have been something important in the trunks to cause that much commotion. They must have been heavy, too, because two burly porters were struggling to lift one of the trunks onto the train. Curious as to their contents, McCauley made a mental note to check them out. Now the owner of the trunks was heading this way. Damn! He'd have to share his cabin with this guy. Suppose he got nosy and discovered that he wasn't a German citizen. The train hadn't moved yet. The conductor reappeared, asking for the new occupant's papers. MacCauley noticed that his point of origin was the same as his destination. It appeared coincidental or were they both after the same fortune in gold? He also saw the hagenkreutz and eagle of the SS on one of the papers. Then why was he in civilian clothes?

The dreaded gong startled Matt. Three quarters of the time had passed. What happened to the half mark? He must have missed it. He'd better start winding down. His climax must coincide with the allotted time or his adrenaline meter would suffer. Speaking of which -- how was he doing? Sparing a glance, Matt did a double take. He was slightly ahead, but as he watched, his opponent's meter gave a lurch forward. Frantically, Matt addressed himself to the keyboard. The sweaty keys sounded loud in his ears, the space bar jumping under his thumb.

Later, his traveling companion fell asleep, his open mouth making wet noises. McCauley quietly stood up and left the cabin. Just in case, he took his only carry-all with him. Two cars down rumbled the dining car. He sat down at a table near the end and ordered a sandwich and coffee. A sign over the door to the next car showed the symbol for the toilet and a sign declaring the baggage car off limits except to authorized personnel. He had to get in there. When the waiter came back, he asked the waiter if there was any way he could check on his little dog in the baggage car. Informed that the door was open, he assumed there would be no problem accessing the car. McCauley forced himself to take his time with the sandwich and coffee, refusing seconds. The noise between cars was deafening as he skinned his knuckles getting into the baggage car. Luckily, the trunk he was looking for stood on its side in the middle of the car. A quick search found a piece of metal he could use as a crow bar. Lining the open trunk were rows of what looked like stockings. MacCauley hefted one and found it quite heavy for its size. Unwrapped, the bar inside looked a dull gray, but was stamped with official looking marks on one side. Gouging the surface proved his suspicions that it was really gold! It was the very same gold stolen from the Polish government needed by the Nazis for the purpose of extending the war.

Sweat was now dripping down the sides of Matt's face, the water almost gone, and the time running out. Matt figured he had a few minutes left to cap off the story before the final gong sounded. He had to know how his enemy was doing. The meters stood near the highest mark, neck to neck and moving. This was going to be close. A mere thousand dollars went to second place. Pound those keys, make the deadline or die! That was Matt's credo his whole life as a writer. Write or don't eat. Write or walk the streets.

Deep in a secret pocket, MacCauley dug out a syringe prepared with a powerful sleeping potion. A gun wasn't the only weapon at his disposal. His sleeping visitor now snored softly, not waking upon Matt's entrance. The drug would wear off in twelve hours, leaving him dizzy and disoriented. McCauley had replaced the labels on the trunk of gold bars with the labels prepared for the gold's shipment out of Poland. The train finally started to move but in the wrong direction! The change in direction shocked him at first, then he realized that it solved all his problems. The train was heading back into Germany. His expected two week mission was over before it started and one phone call would secure the gold for the Americans. A grim smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he turned back to the compartment to take care of his prisoner. The End.

Matt stared at his frozen meter. It stuttered then jumped to the top of the scale. He won! He did it! California here I come! Matt went to the closet and started to pack. Into the empty suitcase he lovingly placed the notes for his novel. His dreams went in with them.


Thogh not primarily a fiction writer, that vehicle presents a viable face for exploring the future.


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