Cruelty to Animals
George J. Condon
Walter Orwell was searching his desk for headache tablets when the gorilla shuffled into the room.
"Good morning, Old Fellow," said the gorilla. "Isn't this a beautiful day?"
"I wouldn't know, Eric. My head is pounding."
"You do look a bit under the weather," the gorilla said. "What have you been doing?"
"I went to a singles bar last night. I don't remember how many drinks I had, but it was one too many."
Eric scratched his head with his right paw and nodded. He was one of the most successful results of Walter's experimental program. The Kramer Institute had successfully elevated Eric's intelligence to a human level, but Eric still did not have a human larynx. He was able to talk only because computer chips in the headset he wore translated his grunts into English words. His speech was a little mannered because he had learned his vocabulary by watching old Ronald Colman movies.
"Walter, such irresponsible behavior is unlike you," Eric said. "Is something wrong?"
Walter looked into the last desk drawer and found nothing resembling a pain reliever. He looked up at Eric with despair on his face.
"My girlfriend Jennifer dumped me last week," Walter said. "She said I'm so caught up in my work that I'm boring. I guess I went to that bar last night to prove her wrong."
"That's so like females," Eric agreed. "Why, one time, I offered this pretty lowland gorilla seven bananas and she..."
Walter realized suddenly that he was discussing his love life with an ape.
"Right, Eric," he said quickly. "Have you seen my bottle of ibuprofen tablets?"
Before Eric could answer, Spike ambled into the room. He was a male chimpanzee and wore a headset similar to Eric's, except that Spike's had an extra feature. Spike had learned his English from watching rap music videos and the computer in his headset was programmed to bleep out the frequent obscenities he uttered.
Seeing Walter, Spike curled his lips in a greeting.
"Hey, Brother," he said, "whassup?" He held out his right paw. "Gimme five, Man."
Walter slapped palms with Spike, then groaned as his head began throbbing again.
"Spike, have you seen my ibuprofen tablets?"
"No, Man. I never use bleep like that. Too muthableepin' strong for me. What's wrong with y'all anyway?"
"He's been overindulging in alcohol," Eric said.
Spike broke into a hooting burst of chimpanzee laughter.
"No way, Man. Not straight arrow Walter. You actually got bleepfaced? That's cool, Brother."
"It doesn't feel cool this morning," Walter said grimly as he ran slim fingers through his dark hair. He made a silent vow to God that he would never drink again, if only a pair of headache tablets would drop miraculously from Heaven.
"It's obvious that Walter isn't in the mood for conversation," Eric said. "Spike, why don't we go into the lab and play another game of Alien Blaster on one of the computers?"
"Sure, if y'all don't mind my kickin' your bleep again."
"Really? I seem to remember winning the last ten games."
"Beginner's luck," Spike said with a scowl.
Eric and Spike left the room and Walter sat at his desk with his eyes closed. With just a little luck, he might lapse into a coma.
He heard a noise and looked up just as the door flew open and two people dressed in gray coveralls ran into the room. One of the intruders wore a rubber Ronald Reagan mask, while the other was disguised as Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan was pointing a black automatic pistol at Walter's chest.
"Don't move, fascist pig," Reagan ordered.
"I wouldn't dream of it," Walter said.
"Are you making fun of me?" Reagan asked.
"No," Walter said hastily. "I never make fun of people who point guns at me. I mean I never point at people who gun... I don't know what I mean. You're making me nervous."
"Tell him why we're here, Dwayne," Jimmy Carter said in a surprisingly soprano voice.
Ronald Reagan turned to look at his partner, then waved his pistol in a gesture of exasperation.
"Well, that's just great, Sharlene. You told him my name. Why don't you give him my address and telephone number while you're at it?"
"I don't care," Sharlene said. "You told me we're doing the right thing, so why should we hide? This stupid mask is hot and uncomfortable anyway. I'm taking it off."
She tore off the Jimmy Carter mask to reveal the face of a beautiful blond woman who appeared to be in her late twenties.
Dwayne slumped his shoulders in resignation. He pulled his own mask up to reveal a hawk nosed young man who had thinning sandy hair.
"We're from the Animal Liberation Legion," Sharlene told Walter.
"How did you get in here?" Walter asked.
Sharlene flashed a smile that made Walter's knees tremble.
"Dwayne did some electrical repair work here, about six months ago," she said. "He kept the access badge they gave him."
"You're doing it again," Dwayne said. "Telling Dr. Frankenstein here things he doesn't need to know."
Sharlene glared at Dwayne, then she turned back to Walter.
"Don't mind him," she said. "He's in a bad mood today. Come to think of it, he's in a bad mood evey day. We've come to rescue all those cute little rabbits and mice that you've been torturing."
"We don't work with rabbits and mice here," Walter said. "We experiment only with primates."
"Prime what?" Sharlene asked.
"Primates. You know, like gorillas, chimps, monkeys and humans."
Sharlene's eyes widened in horror.
"You experiment on humans?"
"Of course not," Walter said. "I just meant that primates include... Never mind."
"What's your name?" Sharlene asked.
"You don't look like a monster, Walter."
"Thanks," Walter said. "I haven't tortured anybody all day... That's a joke."
"Enough chit chat," Dwayne said. "Show us the animals you've been tormenting and be quick about it." He cocked his pistol for emphasis.
Before Walter could reply, the telephone on his desk began to ring.
"Don't answer that," Dwayne said.
"If I don't, then whoever is calling may think something is wrong," Walter told him.
"All right, answer it then, but be careful what you say."
Walter nodded. If this was a bad dream, he hoped that he would wake up soon. He picked up the receiver slowly and held it to his ear.
"Hello?" he said.
"Walter, Honey? It's Jennifer. I've been thinking and I realize I've been awful to you. Can we have lunch and talk things over?"
"I can't right now, Jennifer. I'm being held up."
"You mean you're too busy with your silly research."
"No, I mean I'm being held up. Really."
"You'll never change, Walter. Why did I bother?"
Walter flinched when he heard Jennifer slam her phone down.
"Just shoot me," he groaned, then he looked at Dwayne. "That's just a figure of speech," he said hastily.
"Stop fooling around," Dwayne said. "We want to see those experimental animals right now."
At that moment, Eric and Spike came back into the room.
"Cripes!" Dwayne said. "It's a gorilla and a monkey."
"Who you callin' a monkey, Fool?" Spike asked.
"Steady, Old Man," Eric said, patting Spike's shoulder. "I'm sure he meant no offense."
"I don't care. I'm a full blooded chimp. Nobody gonna diss me with that monkey jive."
Dwayne and Sharlene stared at Eric and Spike in amazement.
"They ... they talk," Dwayne managed to say.
"Course we talk, Fool," Spike said. "What you think we are? Some kind of dumb animals?" He took a step toward Dwayne.
"Stay back," Dwayne said, pointing his pistol at Spike.
"Holy bleep!" Spike said. "This mutha is packin' heat."
"Come now, My Good Man," Eric said. "There's no need for firearms."
"Dwayne, you promised," Sharlene said. "You told me that you wouldn't hurt anybody."
"I'm not going to be attacked by a hairy ape and a chimp," Dwayne said. "Can't you see that these filthy beasts are dangerous?"
While Dwayne's attention was focused on Sharlene, Eric bounded over to where the young man stood, reached out with his huge left paw and lifted Dwayne off the floor by his shirt collar. With his right paw, Eric pulled the gun from Dwayne's hand, the way an adult might take a toy from a young child.
"Are we ready to discuss things in a civilized manner?" Eric asked. He shook Dwayne like a rag doll to make his point.
"Awk!" Dwayne said. "Y-y-yes, Sir."
"Good," Eric said. He released his grip so that Dwayne was able to stand on his feet again.
"Now, why were you threatening us with this gun?" Eric asked.
"I just wanted to scare your master," Dwayne said, nodding toward Walter. "My gun isn't even loaded."
"Are you sure?" Eric asked. He pointed Dwayne's pistol at the ceiling and pulled the trigger. The sound of the shot made everyone jump and the bullet put a large hole in the ceiling tiles. Eric gave Dwayne a look that made the young man cringe into his coveralls. "Tsk. I find such mendacity in times of peril to be foolhardy rather than courageous. And your reference to Walter as our master was ... unfortunate."
"What happened?" Dwayne asked. "I made sure I took out all the bullets. How could...? Sharlene!"
"I'm sorry," Sharlene said, making a face. "I found that stupid bullet clip and I thought you left it out by mistake, so I put it back in."
"Why are you here anyway?" Eric asked.
Sharlene reached out and touched Eric's arm affectionately. "We just want to set you free and send you back to the wild, where you'll be happy," she said.
"The wild?" Spike asked with a hooting laugh. "Where I gotta hunt for food all the time and be chased by hungry big cats? The wild sucks big time, Sugar. Ain't no hip-hop or TV out there. I'm way better off here."
"I'm afraid I must concur," Eric said. "The virtues of the wilderness have been greatly exaggerated. Walter treats us very well here and I have no desire to leave."
"You sadistic fiend," Dwayne shouted at Walter. "What have you done to warp their attitudes like this?"
"Well, it's complicated to explain," Walter said. "We've been using drugs and electrical therapies to enhance the synapses in their frontal lobes, so that..."
"Playing God, you mean, just to increase profits for some faceless corporation."
"We don't get any corporate funding. I really wish we did. No, we're hoping to find a way to improve the brain function of people who have Alzheimer's Disease."
"So you sacrifice these two brutes on the altar of your twisted research," Dwayne said.
"Who you callin' a brute?" Spike asked. "And stop pickin' on Walter. Maybe he is so square it's painful, but he all right. Besides, you the one who broke in here. Call the pigs, Walter. Throw this muthableeper into jail."
Walter picked up the telephone.
"Please don't get us arrested," Sharlene said in a pleading voice. "We didn't mean any harm."
"Well, I might be persuaded to overlook this incident," Walter said solemnly, "if you'll agree to have dinner with me tonight, that is."
Sharlene looked startled, then she gave Walter another of her melting smiles.
"I guess that would be all right," she said. "You know, I've always thought smart men like you scientists are so sexy."
"You have? I mean, yes, I suppose we are. Shall I pick you up at eight?"
"That would be nice, Walter."
"Wait a minute," Dwayne said. "What's going on here? You're my girl, Sharlene. Remember?"
"Not any more, Dwayne. I'm tired of you telling me what to do and making me feel stupid all the time. We're through."
"Why, you little..."
"Hey, Man," Spike said to Dwayne. "Chill out. Walter here is really cuttin' you some slack by not havin' you tossed into the slammer. You keep actin' so ugly and he just might change his mind."
Dwayne's shoulders slumped in defeat and he looked as though he was going to cry.
"I went to all of those animal rights protest marches for this?" he asked. "At least give me back my gun."
"How much money you got on you, Dwayne?" Spike asked.
"It's a simple question, Man. How much money?"
"I don't know. About a hundred dollars, I guess. Why?"
Spike ambled over to a desk in one corner of the room, opened a drawer and returned, carrying a deck of cards in one paw.
"Tell you what," Spike said. "We gonna play one hand of poker. If I win, you give me all your cash. If you win, you get the gun. Minus the bullets, that is."
"What? But it's my gun anyway," Dwayne said.
"What's wrong, Man?" Spike asked. "Are you chicken? Afraid you can't beat a poor little chimpanzee like me at poker?"
"That's ridiculous. I'm smarter than any chimp."
"Well then, what you got to lose?"
"All right, Mr. Smart Mouth" Dwayne said. "You're on. This should be easy."
"Sure it will," Spike said. "There's a table in the lab we can use to lay out the cards. First door on your right. You go on in there and I'll be along in a second."
Spike waited until Dwayne had left the room, then he turned to Walter and fanned the deck of cards as smoothly as any Las Vegas casino dealer might. He gave Walter a wide chimpanzee grin.
"Oh, Man!" Spike said. "This is gonna be sweeeet."
The chimp turned and shuffled out of the room, chuckling to himself.
"I hope that you'll both excuse me," Eric said to Walter and Sharlene. "I see by that clock on Walter's desk that it's almost time for Movie Matinee on Channel 29. Today, they will be running Random Harvest, my favorite Ronald Colman film. I've seen it ten times now and the ending still reduces me to tears. It has been a pleasure meeting you, Miss Sharlene. I hope to see you again."
Eric shook hands gravely with Sharlene, handed Dwayne's gun to Walter, then left the room.
"Gosh!" Sharlene said. "He's so nice. I'm sorry about what happened today, Walter. I'd leave you to your work, but I don't know how I'll get home. Now that I've broken up with Dwayne, I know he won't let me ride in his car."
"My car is right outside," Walter said. "I'll be happy to give you a lift."
"You're so sweet," Sharlene said. "I don't know how I'll ever repay you."
"Oh, I'll think of something," Walter said with a smile.
As he and Sharlene walked to the parking lot, Walter realized suddenly that his headache was gone.
© 2006 by George J. Condon
George J. Condon has been a rolling stone. At different times, he has served in the Canadian Armed Forces, worked in the electronics industry, designed computer software and specialized in information security. Now retired, George lives in Toronto, Canada with his Belizean born wife. In addition to having several short stories published in Planet Magazine and in Aphelion Science Fiction (most recently No Good Deed, June 2005), George has recently completed a mystery novel.
E-mail: George J. Condon
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