Authors: John Swartzwelder
Tags: #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Humorous
How I Conquered Your
Frank Burly 2
First of all, it’s not true that I led the Martian attack on
Earth. I was in Battle Cruiser Number Four. So let’s get that straight. I don’t
know how these things get started. Secondly, I can explain.
It all began innocently enough about a year and a half ago. I
was chasing a criminal through the streets of Central City, honking at him to
give himself up. I had spotted him breaking into the National Guard Armory and
had taken off after him. He was on foot. I was driving a city bus.
It’s pretty tough trying to run down a criminal at night, but
it’s even tougher when all of your passengers are screaming so loud you can’t
hear yourself think.
Hey, stop all that praying back there!” I told them. “Can’t you
see I’m trying to drive? You! Sit down and quit trying to squirm through that
I’ve got to get out!” He wailed frantically. “I’ve got to get
Sit down when the bus is in motion,” I told him, pointing to
the sign that said that. He reluctantly sat down. I frowned at him. “You better
learn how to ride a bus, buddy.”
I finally cornered the criminal, and about forty innocent
bystanders, in the lobby of the Midtown Hotel. I was trying to decide whether
to get out and handcuff him or just run over him with the bus, when he suddenly
rolled up into a ball and disappeared in a puff of confetti. I hadn’t expected
that. He had fooled me. I picked up the biggest piece of confetti, which had
his mocking smile on it, and put it in my pocket. I figured if there was a
reward for this guy, maybe I could get part of it. His smile had to be worth
I turned the bus around in the lobby as best I could, gave the
hotel people a false bus company name, told my passengers to quit throwing up
or I would give them something to throw up about, and headed back out onto the
street to continue my route.
I probably shouldn’t have taken the time to go after that
criminal. I had a schedule to keep. But I needed any extra money I could get.
And I figured 9:40 pm is pretty much the same as 5:05 pm. It isn’t, I guess,
but what the hell is everybody yelling about? That’s what I wanted to know.
What you probably want to know is: why is Frank Burly, the
famous detective you’ve heard so much about, driving a city bus? The reason is,
I had to take a second job to bring in some extra money, because my detective
business hadn’t been doing so well lately. After four years of serving the
detective-hiring public, the detective-hiring public had caught on to me to a
certain extent. Maybe Lincoln could fool everybody all the time, but I
Unfortunately, my bus driving job hadn’t been going too well
either. Hey, can’t I do anything right?
Once I got the bus out of the lobby and back on the road, all
my passengers started criticizing the way I had been driving. Everybody’s an
expert. The kids in the back gave me the worst time. There’s something about
being in the back that brings out the worst in people. They were really making
fun of me, and getting some pretty good laughs at my expense.
I hollered over my shoulder, with growing anger, that if they
didn’t quit being so funny at my expense, if they didn’t start making their
humor more generic, I was going to pull over to the side of the road, make
everybody walk home, call everybody’s parents, blow the damn bus up, and set
fire to the world.
This chilly prospect didn’t bother the kids, who thought it was
a lot more interesting evening than they had planned, but it greatly alarmed
some of the older passengers, who started trying to get off the bus again, even
though we were going over 50 mph. I had to tilt the bus up on its side wheels
to get them to slide back more or less into their seats. Then I had to deal
with all the fake injuries, and spend ten or fifteen minutes saying soothing
things like “snap out of it” and “you’re not hurt” and “please, God, don’t let
him die” until everybody on the bus had calmed down again. These are the kinds
of things bus drivers have to deal with.
Things quieted down after that, and nothing much more happened,
except for a few wrecks, until I pulled into the last – and strangest - stop on
my route; that new bus stop out by the crop circles. It hadn’t been there a
couple of weeks before, and there was this weird green glow around it all the
time. But it was a bus stop and I was a bus, so I stopped. No one ever got off
at this stop but there was always a small group of passengers waiting to board
there, all asking to be taken to “nearest Earth city”. “That would be Central
City,” I would tell them.
They all paid their fares with what looked like crops at first,
but after they had handed them to me I could see they were dollar bills. After
we got going again I would notice that the fare box was all gummed up with
crops now, but by then I couldn’t remember whose fare was whose, so I had to
just forget it and turn the crops in with the other money. Let the bookkeeping
guys at the depot figure it out. They’re paid to do it. I’ve got a bus to
On this particular night, one of the passengers waiting at the
Crop Circle Stop had forgotten to bring his fare and was taking a lot of
ribbing from his friends about it. Mounting the steps into the bus he said
“Hubbit hubbit hah!” and pulled a dollar out of my ass and paid his fare with
that. For the rest of the trip I had to yell at the passengers to leave my rear
end alone. There wasn’t any more money in there. And if there was, it was mine.
Back at the depot, after my shift was over, I found that the
guys had filled my locker with paste again and were behind a pile of boxes
laughing as I tried to open the door, then quickly tried to close it again.
They loved their little practical jokes, damn them. So I was in an extra bad
mood when Mr. Thorson called me into his office.
I entered Mr. Thorson’s office with my pants filled with paste
and my hat smoking from another joke.
How’d the shift go tonight, Burly?”
Fine, Mr. Thorson.”
How many accidents this time?”
Better. But not good enough.”
He started chewing me out, reminding me of all the things I had
done wrong since I joined the firm. The fiery crashes, the speeding tickets,
those missing busses I couldn’t account for. All the usual stuff.
I nodded off during part of this recitation, which didn’t
improve his humor.
Are you asleep, Burly?”
He had to ask this several times before I answered.
No, of course not,” I said sleepily, rubbing my eyes and
yawning. “What kind of an employee do you think I am?”
That is precisely what we are discussing.”
Good. It’s about time.”
And now there’s this ‘money’ you’ve been collecting for fares.
Money that is nothing more than garbage.” He held up a money bag with a dollar
sign on it and ears of corn sticking out of it. “Explain this, Burly.”
Well sir, I have a theory about that.”
I’d like to hear it.”
Yes sir. First of all, I think we’re going about this in the
wrong way blaming me for it. I think we can rule me out right from the start.
It’s those guys out at that new bus stop by the crop circles. The passengers
who get on there. They’re to blame.”
At this, Mr. Thorson’s chief accountant, a small gremlin-like
man, whose name, appropriately enough, was Arthur Gremlin, looked up from his
work and stared at me. Gremlin had been the driving force behind putting in the
new bus stop out by the crop circles. At first the company had felt it was a
waste of good bus stop sign material, but Gremlin had been proven right by the
constant flow of passengers who boarded busses there. He was immediately given
a raise, and, to show that bus companies can be as progressive and forward
thinking as the next form of transportation, stops were put in in all the
cornfields in the state. The Crop Circle Stop was Arthur Gremlin’s baby, so
when he went back to his work he kept one eye and both ears on the conversation
that was going on.
How are our passengers to blame?” asked Mr. Thorson.
The people who get on the bus at that stop are magicians or
wizards or something, Mr. Thorson,” I said. “They can turn corn into money. At
least for awhile. And that’s not all that’s weird about them. They also have
Yes sir. Mr. Thorson. Alien feelers. Under their hats. Which
brings me to my theory. I think the Earth is being invaded by Magicians From
The Moon. They’re invading us and riding our busses.”
Or maybe the Van Allen Radiation Belts. I’m not completely sure
what part of space they’re from at this point. Check back with me later on
He looked at me like I was nuts. “I’m looking at you like
you’re nuts”, he said.
Arthur Gremlin was looking at me funny too. I looked back at
him even funnier, and that stopped that. I guess we know who can look the
funniest now. He looked away.
Now that I’d come out with my theory, actually put it into so
many words, I was starting to wonder if there was anything to it. It made sense
to me, I was willing to stake my reputation, if any, on it, but I was well
aware that throughout the course of my life I’d almost never been right about
anything. You’ve got to take stats like that into account. You can’t ignore
inside information like that. So suddenly I wasn’t so sure of myself.
Mr. Thorson was looking at me with that mixture of contempt and
pity I know so well. “I understand making mistakes on the job and trying to
cover them up, Burly. I’m not always perfect at my job either…”
You can say that again!” I agreed enthusiastically. It always
pays to butter up the boss. “Of all the bumbling, half-witted…”
But there’s one part of my job I am good at. And that’s firing
people. You’re fired!” he said powerfully.
For a moment I was too stunned to speak. Then I started going
to sleep again. Then I got mad. “Hey, if I’d known you were going to fire me I
wouldn’t have stood here and let you chew me out like this. I would have shown
Yes, well, you didn’t. So get out!”
Yes, Mr. Thorson. Wait a minute, I mean, screw you, Mr.
I went down to payroll to collect my final paycheck. They gave
me a plastic bag full of garbage. They said it was my share of what I’d been
bringing in for the company. Was it all there? I looked at the ears of corn and
thumbed through some of them.
Yeah, I guess it’s all here.”
I cleaned out my locker, at least as much as I was going to
clean it – screw ‘em, screw everybody around here – then I said goodbye to my
bus company friends.
What’s your name again? Eugene? Goodbye forever, Eugene. I will
miss you horribly. The time we had together… hey, come back when I’m talking to
I waved to the others as I walked through the depot for the
last time. “See ya Stretch, Curly, Pimple Face, Cross-Eye, Dribble-Mouth.”
I went out, pausing at the door to take one last look at the
old place. Not to fix it in my memory, just to see if I could erase it
completely from my mind. As I was looking at it, I saw my giggling “friends” peeking
out from behind a half-closed door and realized I was about to be the victim of
one last practical joke. Sure enough, when I got to the parking lot, I saw that
they had blown up my car.
Frank Burly Investigations. No, Mr. Burly isn’t here right now.
Probably sleeping it off somewhere... uh huh… but you don’t want him anyway.
He’s a lousy detective… no, worse than them… I know it doesn’t seem possible,
but…. Hey, listen mister, I used to work for the Three Stooges, and I’m telling
you this guy is worse… You want my advice? Hire a good detective. The good ones
don’t cost any more.” She hung up the phone and looked at me.
I shook my head. “I’m afraid you won’t do.”