The Raven Song of Dr. Wrong
by P. F. White
part 1 of 2
When I first heard of Dr. Wrong I thought it must be a joke.
“He trades science for art? Talk about your bad business,” I said to McMurty. He just shrugged his big shoulders and tried not to look so foolish in his cheap suit.
He failed as always. It was part of the reason why we were friends. He made me look sharp the way that the Kid made me look distinguished and Old Boy made me look young. I don’t claim that it’s a nice way of doing business but I do claim that “nice” is for poor people. Anyway: “Tell me again why you want me to talk to this crazy person?” I asked.
McMurty opened his mouth.
“Is it because I’m the best?”
McMurty tried to talk, his big dumb voice welling up in his big dumb chest but never quite making it out his big dumb mouth. What a loser.
“Is it because of the deals I make? The Thompson Company, the Grace account, the Sweitzer?”
He started to shrug again, slowly like a glacier moving. I slammed my hand flat across the redwood desk, my palm made the sharp sound of a pistol shot.
“Dammit McMurty, just spit it out,” I said strongly and with the proper enunciation, but McMurty only floundered with his mouth open, looking more like a big dumb carp than a man. Luckily my palm had produced reinforcements in the form of my peach-pretty secretary Ms. Gunn, Old Boy from across the hall, and the ever elusive Kid.
“Hike it, Kid,” I said, jerking my thumb at the short blond man. He stuck his tongue out at me.
“What’s all this then?” asked Old Boy. “You bullying McMurty just because he wants to set you up with an unusual business proposition? Outrageous!” He drew the word out for a full three seconds for effect. His wrinkled hands were clenched and he shook when he talked, as if he was about to hit someone. He was always like that though; I paid it no mind.
“Balls,” I said, carefully pushing the word out through my clenched pearly whites.
“What’s all this then??” said Old Boy loudly. He hated cursing, despised it even.
Ms. Gunn said, “I’ve already got the appointment in my books, Mr. Face, Mr. McMurty—”
“I’m sure he was more than happy to make the appointment, but toss it. In fact toss the whole book; no telling what else is in it. And tighten security on the new one. No slip-ups.”
“Facey—” began the Kid in his whiney yet charming tone.
“Not a word from you, Kid. Not a damn word. Last I need is a slip of yap from a slip of man.”
“What’s all this th—” began Old Boy again.
“It’s your nerve,” said McMurty, at last finding his voice after wandering in the desert for forty years of silence. It was still a dumb voice, and not worth the wait.
“What is?” I replied.
“Everything,” he said.
I leaned back in my leather chair, stretching my muscled arms back to cradle my perfect hair and stretching my rubber smile across my skeleton. I even put an extra twinkle in my eye.
“Go on,” I said. I did love compliments, I’d even consider it a weakness if I weren’t perfectly in control of it. Every inch the businessman because you never know which inch will count in the end. That’s my motto, or one of them. Mottoes are for chumps anyway.
“We have all met with him, Facey; even Old Boy! We just... that is to say... none of us—”
“Could seal the deal?” I guessed.
“Something like that,” mumbled McMurty.
“Bloody peculiar folk he is,” said Old Boy. “Outrageous.” He drew the word out even longer.
“He IS named Dr. Wrong,” I said, “or at least that’s what he calls himself. Who does he think he is: the Devil?” No one laughed. I stopped leaning back and put the serious expression across my mug: “Not exactly a normal name, is it?”
They agreed it was not, this time in perfect seriousness. Dr. Wrong had them spooked.
“Ms. Gunn, what time is the appointment?”
She told me. I nodded. “Science for art you say?”
McMurty opened his mouth.
“Shut up, all of you,” I commanded, a general to his loyal troops, maybe even a pharaoh ordering infallible commands from on high. “I’ll do it,” I said. “Now get out of my office.”
They did, wordlessly. I got the distinct feeling it wasn’t even because of me. Dr. Wrong must have been a peculiar man indeed.
* * *
The day of the appointment was a Wednesday and as cold and wet as a drowned fish. The rain came from everywhere, blowing past umbrellas and clinging to people and places, not wanting to be forgotten or ignored for a moment. The whole world was grey, and I arranged the three pencils I kept upon my office desk while Ms. Gunn got me into the spare suit I kept for first meetings and special occasions. It was beyond spotless and cost a fortune.
“Thank you, Ms. Gunn. I will take it from here, I believe I have an appointment.”
She nodded her pretty head and left. The lights flickered unsteadily.
“That is all I need,” I said to whoever was listening. Outside my window came the flutter of wings, audible over the storm. I turned to see a jet-black bird staring at me. It was watching me with the patience of the predator.
“Go away,” I told the bird outside the window. Instead it turned its head and another joined it. They both appeared to be snickering at me. Not very auspicious, I thought.
The lights failed. Not just in the office but outside as well. I heard the sound of screeching tires and crunching steel from the street below. Then the lights came on again with a flicker. They seemed to catch and linger upon the suit and tie of a short man wearing red.
He took out his monocle in long, straight fingers, breathed a steaming breath upon it and shined it on his breast-pocket fabric. He said nothing. His other eye was empty and dark like a tunnel. His nose was like a twisted root, long and bulbous.
When he opened his mouth I saw straight white teeth in greater numbers than were strictly human. I decided to treat it as a smile and gave one of my own. At least we had good dental hygiene in common. At one point, maybe a million years ago, he had probably been handsome.
“Dr. Wrong, I presume?” I asked, extending my hand.
“Not until the deal is struck,” replied the short man. It was one of my own principles in fact; strange, that. He was sitting, but I did not see him move. His hands rested now upon an umbrella with the handle of a bird skull. I had not noticed it before, but it was an awfully strange thing to bring to a business meeting. It was also dry.
I felt this object was in poor taste considering our audience on the other side of the window. They agreed loudly and vocally from their perch.
“We should drink tea,” said Dr. Wrong as he sipped from a bone-white china cup. I sat down and picked up my own cup. The tea had not been there before; in fact I didn’t even have a tea set in the office. At home yes but... Oh sod it, I thought. His other hand had a strange habit of moving about on the umbrella head, but I paid it no mind. I was starting to make guesses at this man, and that is always bad business.
“I think I know—” I began.
“How to make a bad first impression,” said Dr. Wrong, “and this would be it.”
I closed my mouth and laughed. It ruffled his feathers, literally. His red suit just then revealed itself to be made of feathers and they ruffled at his displeasure.
“Do not do that,” said Dr. Wrong as he sipped his tea. “Or our business will be over unsatisfactorily.”
“My apologies, it’s just that I never expected to meet—”
“Humbug,” said Dr. Wrong.
I tried not to laugh. “Balls,” I said clearly.
This brought a smile from his thin lips.
“I can see what the others had to say about you now,” I said.
He crooked his head to the side like a bird. “And I you,” said Dr. Wrong.
“Business it is then.”
Thunder decided to boom outside just then and the chorus of birds gave it a solid backing of harsh voices. Whether this was fear, encouragement, or surprise I do not know.
“My offer is a simple one,” said Dr. Wrong as he blew gently across his beverage. “I offer unparalleled knowledge of science and the principles of wondrous inventions far beyond the scope of your pathetic years... for the simple and non-negotiable price of bulk art.”
“Heavens no,” responded Dr. Wrong, “I am no judge of such things. I’m just a businessman. And I just as simply need a bulk supply of art.”
“When you say art—”
“Paintings, drawings, film, photographs, music and literature. Perhaps also sculpture, poems, dramatic scripts and various crafts as well... but I’m really not particular about the style or substance of the thing, just the bulk.”
“And you would like this because...”
“Because my own affairs are my own,” said Dr. Wrong authoritatively. “And I will have them met one way or another in this world or the next.”
I nodded. I did not exactly understand the particulars of the statement but I was familiar with the intent: “You are a man after my own heart then.”
“I hardly think heart factors into it.”
I tried not to laugh. This was another of my principles, the glib bastard. “And how do I know—”
“That I have the sciences I speak of? A gesture is needed.” He inflated his chest and its feathers fluttered as he did so. His left hand worked worriedly upon his cane. I did not stare, but it was difficult.
“A search of your records will give you the very marketable cure to the common cold,” said Dr. Wrong, “It is simple, easy to produce and one hundred percent effective.”
“We are not a pharmaceutical company.”
“You are not much of anything,” he replied, “but you are in the position to make a fortune from the gift I just bestowed upon you... As many have before.”
I shrugged; he had me there. “But what makes you think I am in the position to give you what YOU want?”
He was standing then, and the lights were flickering once more. The message was simple and not easily misunderstood: power.
“Mr. Face, I know you better than any creature alive. Do not ask me stupid questions and instead schedule me for an appointment next month.”
I offered to shake his hand but he was gone. I called in Ms. Gunn and she shared a glass of the office bourbon with me as we watched a flock of dark birds fly off into the rain. I even retrieved my secret office spectacles to get a better look at them. Ms. Gunn told me they made me look distinguished but I didn’t fire her for the insolence.
* * *
The cure worked wonders. We got a patent and a percentage within record time. The money came in waves. We were swamped in it, but we did not drown. The papers featured my picture and gave words like hero and captain of industry to me. We ate steak every night and Old Boy even celebrated with a heart attack. He was all right though. Nearly unkillable, that man...
After the festivities we got to work on the art.
I hit the company first: a call to arms for anyone who fancied themselves an artist. I set the Kid on quality control and within a week I had to set McMurty on it as well. They didn’t know a thing on the subject but couldn’t do too much harm either way. They worked hard, which is as important in underlings as not working hard is for the boss.
The doctor and I hadn’t talked numbers and I was hoping to use that to my advantage. I had a pile of art to be sure, but in terms of actual worth it didn’t even compare to the cure. I went to bed every night looking at numbers and hoping that they would be enough.
* * *
Copyright © 2013 by P. F. White