It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. — James Thurber
Haydn Hughes, though named after a composer, had no interest in music. His obsession was conspiracy. He longed to know the answers since that fateful day in Dallas when JFK’s head exploded.
Five years old at the time, Haydn had been as shocked and saddened as the rest of the nation. That night, he asked his father why someone would do something like that, and his father said, “No one really knows.”
Haydn hated the phrase “No one really knows.”
It had burned his butt since his Sunday school teacher used it to explain why Haydn’s baby sister had died in her sleep.
As Haydn sat with his father that November night, mourning the loss of the president, he decided that, no matter what, he would get answers when he had questions.
Forty-odd years later, Haydn Hughes, greying, balding, softer, and more tired, ran his own publishing empire. This empire consisted of the conspiracy magazine Haydn Seeks and a weekly newsletter called, “Questions and Answers,” as well as their online versions.
Haydn also wrote books and operated a catalog business that sold those books. In addition, he also sold the works of other authors whose ideas were censored by the man.
Despite his best efforts, Haydn’s empire was considered slightly better than that of a supermarket tabloid company. And that was only after he had added occasional photo contests and a recipe section with dishes like ‘Roswell Rollups’ or ‘MEN IN BLACKened Salmon.’
This particular spring morning, Haydn sat in the cluttered headquarters of the Q&A empire, a storefront in an area of the city that had resisted ‘urban renewal.’ He shuffled through the stack of photos he’d received in response to his ‘Alien Contact’ contest, saddened by the response.
Several of the photos were clearly still-frame captures from one of those TV alien autopsy shows. Another featured a man wearing a mask Haydn knew could be had for $49.99 at any costume shop.
“The contest only wins you fifty bucks, bub,” Haydn mumbled. “Hope you didn’t buy that mask special for this.”
Haydn sifted through the stack again, and found one that belonged in an entirely different sort of publication.
Sighing, he threw the photos into the circular file and picked up his mail.
Reminder from landlord that Haydn was a late payment away from leg fractures.
A tidy cream-colored envelope bearing a university logo!
Haydn sat up, searching through the detritus on his desk. Finding a seven-inch long replica of Excalibur that he’d gotten from an ex-girlfriend who’d later tried to stab him with it, he slit the envelope open and dumped out the letter.
He sagged when he found a note scribbled in a child’s handwriting.
Haydn glanced over the letter, then pitched it into the circular file atop the photos. He wandered back to his ‘apartment’ at the back of the shop, and crashed onto his couch.
A few moments away from dead sleep, Haydn blurted out “Ken Krause,” jumped up, ran back to his office, and started digging around for the letter.
He pulled it from the trash, and read it.
“He did it,” Haydn said, then started tapping keys on his computer.
Soon he’d printed a stack of articles about Kendall Krause, a local university professor with a small alphabet after his name.
Among other things, Krause had written a book on lightspeed travel and its relation to time manipulation. Krause had also written a fiction novel, Criminal History, featuring a protagonist who uses time travel as a method of solving crimes. At one point the hero even travels to Dallas shortly before JFK’s death.
Haydn also found a couple of tabloid headlines featuring the professor.
One read “Prof. Questioned About Missing Lab Ass.” It featured quotes purportedly from faculty who felt that Kendall had done away with his lab assistant after an experiment went awry.
Another article claimed that the fatal experiment had lost the assistant somewhere in time. Still another ‘suggested’ that Krause had killed the assistant himself, and simply disposed of her body via time travel.
The chief ‘evidence’ for these bizarre accusations seemed to be Criminal History combined with the disappearance of the lab assistant and a leaked confidential evaluation of Krause. Unfortunately for the professor, the evaluation featured words like “obsessive,” “outside the mainstream,” and “questionable results.”
Eventually, the straight press had carried it in their ‘weird news’ sections, and Leno had made a few jokes one night before it all blew over.
Haydn probably wouldn’t have paid attention, but one of Leno’s guests that night was Louis Fontaine who hosted a radio show dealing with conspiracies. Leno had commented that Krause and Fontaine should get together and soothe the minds of millions of conspiracy geeks by getting the answers to JFK, Area 51, and Elvis.
If the kid’s letter was accurate, Haydn might be able to do just that.
Using an online campus directory, Haydn got the professor’s numbers and addresses. Remembering that it was Saturday, he called Krause’s home.
After a few rings, he heard a baritone voice say, “Krause residence.”
“Professor Krause,” Haydn said. “This is Haydn Hughes, I-”
The joyous whoop made Haydn pull the receiver away from his ear. As he regained his hearing, he heard a woman’s voice in the background.
“Kenny, how many times have I told you not to scream into the phone?”
“Sorry,” came the baleful reply, “but I was excited.”
“I understand that, Kenny, but you need to apologize to the- Who is it, sweetie?”
“Haydn Hughes, the famous writer!”
Haydn heard the sounds of the phone being wrestled away.
“Mr. Hughes,” said a firm female voice, “I do not appreciate you calling here to interrogate us for one of your ridiculous magazines. We’ve had enough of-”
“Just a minute, ma’am. Your boy sent me a letter. I just-”
“He sent you a letter?”
She said ‘you’ like some people say ‘snake’, or ‘spider’, or ‘telemarketer.’
“Yes, ma’am. He did. Is this Mrs. Professor Krause?”
A long pause, then the woman said, “Mrs. Krause passed away some time ago. I’m June Foreman, Professor Krause’s housekeeper.”
Haydn flipped through his notes and found an obituary for Joanna Krause, killed in a car accident ten years ago. He also found a clipping detailing the crash, and realized that Kenny had been nine at the time, which made him-
“Jesus, I’m sorry, Ms. Foreman. I thought from the letter that- I didn’t realize that Kenny’s nineteen years old.”
June Foreman sighed. “Kenny suffered brain damage in the accident, Mr. Hughes. He doesn’t understand that you write garbage. He reads it, and believes every word of it.”
“Now, just a-”
“No, Mr. Hughes, don’t act offended. You were the one calling a retarded boy to-”
“Hey! I only called the house because it was the weekend, and didn’t figure Professor K. would be at the school.”
“Well, he is,” June Foreman snapped. “And, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bother him.”
She slammed down the phone, and Haydn clicked his off.
He spun around in his swivel chair a few times, flipped through the papers he had on Krause, then said, “What the hell,” and left for the campus.
An hour later, Haydn had reached the university, been spotted by security, and stopped. Haydn claimed to have an appointment with Krause, and the security guard called to verify.
Several unsuccessful attempts to reach Krause later, security sent a patrol officer to the professor’s office, then to a lab that Krause frequented.
Then the security guards started speaking in code numbers, and Haydn found himself on the ground with a guard shouting, “Stay right where you are!”
Since he had pinned Haydn to the ground with a flashlight between the shoulder blades, Haydn thought the order seemed redundant. But while the guard leaned over him, Haydn had the opportunity to hear the radio traffic.
Krause was dead in one of his labs, shot twice in the back of the head.
“Guess that rules out suicide,” Haydn said.
This got him another poke with the flashlight.
Hours later, after a long discussion with a pair of detectives that involved a lot of shouting and disparaging remarks about Haydn’s life’s work, Haydn was kicked free.
Sitting in his apartment later, Haydn sipped a beer and considered his day. By the second beer, he’d considered how he might spend his night. By the third beer, he was on his way back to the campus.
When Haydn arrived at the McCallum Building of Science and Technology, the first thing he discovered was the lack of security. Praising his good fortune, he slipped into the building, read the directory and located Lumly Hall, the wing containing the crime scene.
He made his way through the building, getting lost only once. Haydn considered this an excellent omen, since he’d forgotten to bring a flashlight.
When he found the lab, he wondered what to do about the crime scene tape stretched across the doorway.
Then one end of the tape fluttered to the floor.
“Yes!” Haydn whispered, “more good fortune.”
He pulled his shirtsleeve over his hand, grasped the doorknob, and pulled.
Then he stepped into the lab, saw the man in the dark suit, and realized why the door wasn’t properly sealed.
Haydn turned to run, heard a ‘pop’ behind him, and fell to the floor in a loose heap.
The man in the dark suit dragged Haydn back into the lab, then shut the door.
Haydn couldn’t move. He didn’t feel anything holding him down. He just couldn’t move.
“You can talk,” the man in the dark suit said. “Which I’m sure you’re keen to do. But please do it quietly.”
“What?” Haydn said, then added, “I can talk.”
“I believe I said that,” said the man in the dark suit.
He turned his back on Haydn and began to rummage around in the desks and file cabinets.
“Who are you?” Haydn asked. “A cop?”
“No,” the man said, continuing his search.
“If I were,” the man said. “You’d be dead, and I’d probably have what I came for.”
“Why am I paralyzed?”
“A unique neurotoxin. Unfortunately ensuring that your autonomic nervous system continues working properly has the unintended side effect of not paralyzing your mouth.”
He then added, “I cannot tell you how often I regret that.”
The man walked back toward him, bent down, and pulled something from Haydn’s back. He brought the object before Haydn’s eyes.
“The charge in this dart should keep you in that state for at least an hour, so I hope you didn’t need to go to the bathroom.”
“I’m good,” Haydn mumbled, as the man dropped the dart into a jacket pocket.
The man said nothing in response. He simply stood, and pulled a small handheld device from a different jacket pocket.
“That one of those PDA thingies?”
“No,” the man replied, waving the device in ever widening arcs before him. “It is not one of those PDA thingies.”
Haydn considered the man’s behavior, manner of dress, and equipment. “You’re a MIB aren’t you?”
“If your kind had proper color perception, you wouldn’t confuse this color,” he gestured toward his suit, “with black. Besides,” the man added, “do you really think there is an army of men in black suits running around concealing evidence of alien visitation and the like?”
Haydn would have shrugged, but he remained paralyzed. “Something’s going on.”
“Something is always going on, Mr. Hughes. But it is rarely what anyone thinks.”
“How’d you know my name?”
“We’ve met. Three times, I believe,” the man replied, then keyed something into his device. “This is the fourth.”
Haydn searched his memory. “I’d remember meeting you.”
“We erased your memory.”
The man smiled. “Just playing into your natural paranoia and persecution complex.”
“That’s not funny,” Haydn snapped.
The man knelt before Haydn. “I rarely find things funny, Mr. Hughes. I especially do not find stray time devices funny.”
“What are you?” Haydn repeated. “Some sort of time cop? A time lord? Are you Doctor Who?”
The man sighed. “No, Mr. Hughes. Nor am I half of Sapphire and Steel, from the Twilight Zone, escaped from the X-Files, or part of the Quantum Leap Project. I am not something from a cult TV show, Mr. Hughes. I don’t think you have the vocabulary to fully understand what I am.”
“I bet I have one word,” Haydn said. “Frustrated.”
“Touché, Mr. Hughes,” the man replied. “As you can see, I have not found what I’m looking for.”
“Kendall’s time machine,” Haydn said. “He actually built it?”
The man nodded. “Indeed. And, unfortunately, it works.”
“Imagine what a guy could do with a time machine,” Haydn said. “All the answers he could-”
“I don’t have to imagine, Mr. Hughes,” the man interrupted. “I’ve seen it, and it always turns out badly.”
“But JFK, UFO’s...”
“Mr. Hughes, you’ve built your life on a search for answers, for the unknown. What would you do if you found them?”
Haydn attempted and failed another shrug. “I’d have the answers. I’d finally know the truth.”
“One thing I’ve learned in the time I’ve spent with your kind-”
“Humans, Mr. Hughes, humans,” the man replied. “One thing I’ve learned is that human nature requires mystery. Human beings with no cause for wonder stagnate or wither away.”
The man withdrew a pocket watch and glanced at it. “I’m afraid this lecture must conclude.”
“It’s your quest for knowledge,” the man said, as he rose to stand, “that makes you tamper with things you don’t understand.
“It is your greatest strength,” the man added as he walked away, “and the source of some of our greatest frustration.”
“Hey,” Haydn called after the man, who ignored him.
Haydn tried again. “Hey, MIB man. I got an idea. I maybe know who killed Krause. That might get you the machine.”
The man paused, but did not turn around. “Yes?”
“In the time travel stories, the guy with the time machine usually tries to fix something, right? He struck out in the big game, or he wants to keep his sister from marrying a butthead, or his brother gets killed...”
“Or his wife,” the man finished. “You think Doctor Krause planned to save his wife from death by car accident.”
“Right,” Haydn said, “but what if someone didn’t want him to succeed?”
“Interesting, Mr. Hughes,” the man said, and reached inside his jacket.
He withdrew a small pistol-like device, and Haydn wished his eyelids would close.
Then the man in the dark suit squeezed the trigger, Haydn heard a ‘pop,’ and he felt his body burst into flame.
He screamed until darkness enveloped him.
* * *
“I do wish you’d stop screaming,” the man in the dark suit said.
Haydn blinked his eyes, rolled his head to the side and realized simultaneously that he was alive, unparalyzed, and lying in some grass.
The man in the dark suit leaned over him. “Another dart, Mr. Hughes. It releases you from effects of the previous dose.”
Haydn gasped, “Why?”
“Because I didn’t want to carry you all the way here from the university.”
“No,” Haydn wheezed. “Why painful?”
The man in the dark suit shrugged. “Unfortunate side effect.”
Haydn rolled over and looked around. “Professor’s house?”
“How? Don’t remember any-”
“A fortunate side effect,” the man replied.
Haydn glanced at his watch. “Missing time, too.”
“Let’s not start that again, Mr. Hughes. Ready to stand?”
Haydn shook his head, but took the man’s hand, and felt himself pulled upright.
“You’re not warm,” Haydn said.
“No, I’m quite comfortable,” the man replied, and knocked on the door.
The sound of an approaching animal herd came from within. The noise halted at the door, which flew open revealing a large man wearing a Buzz Lightyear T-shirt. He stood nearly six feet tall with a thick body, soft features and dark curly hair.
Haydn thought briefly of the Pillsbury Doughboy with a wig, then said “Kenny Krause?”
The boy reached out, snared Haydn, and began hugging him, while repeating, “HaydnHughes HaydnHughes HaydnHughes.”
Kenny paused long enough to turn and yell back into the house, “JuneJuneJune! Haydn Hughes is here! Haydn Hughes is here. Haydn Hughes is here.”
As Kenny looked back toward Haydn, he spotted the man in the dark suit. Kenny cocked his head, and said, “I know you.”
The man in the dark suit nodded. “Yes, Kenny. We’ve met before. A long time-”
“Kenny, what’s all the noise about?” June Foreman strode to the door. Tears had ruined any makeup, and she wiped at her reddened nose.
When she saw the two men, she froze. “Who are you?”
“This is Haydn Hughes, June,” Kenny said pointing at Haydn. “And the other guy is-”
“Get out!” June Foreman shrieked at the men. “You vultures! You sick sons of-”
“Whoa, there, Ms. Foreman,” Haydn said. “There’s no call f-”
“Professor Krause just died this morning. What the hell can you be thinking, coming here?”
June Foreman grabbed Kenny’s arm. “Come inside, Kenny.”
Kenny stood still. “No!”
June Foreman’s jaw dropped. “Kenny!”
Kenny pointed at Haydn again. “He has questions, and he gets answers.”
Haydn said. “Yes, Ms. Foreman. I have some questions.”
Then the man in the dark suit drew his pistol and shot her.
Kenny looked at June Foreman, who lay sprawled on the floor.
He looked back at the man in the dark suit, and said, “She did something bad, didn’t she?”
The man in the dark suit nodded. “I think so, Kenny.”
* * *
The man in the dark suit sat at a café table with a man in a grey suit.
“So the woman had the device?” said the man in the grey suit.
The man in the dark suit nodded. “It was small and portable, so she had an accomplice steal it. Unfortunately for her, the accomplice also killed Dr. Krause, which was not part of her original plan.”
“What was her intent?”
The man in the dark suit shrugged. “Mr. Hughes suggested that she had taken the device to prevent Dr. Krause from saving his wife in the past.”
“Eliminating a need for the housekeeper?”
The man in the dark suit nodded.
“Mr. Hughes,” said the man in the grey suit, “is only human.”
“True,” replied the man in the dark suit, “but he is also correct. Ms. Foreman responded very well to the dart loads. She revealed extreme romantic love for Professor Krause and a motherly love for Kenny. She also suffered guilt over causing the professor’s death.”
“Ultimately,” the man in the grey suit replied, “her motivation is secondary. Our primary concern was the device, which you have collected and eliminated.”
The man in the dark suit nodded. “All of Dr. Krause’s work has been dealt with.”
“And his son?”
“He will be raised by an aunt and uncle in a state in the American southwest,” said the man in the dark suit, “which puts things back on track.”
“What of Mr. Hughes?”
The man in the dark suit replied, “As far as anyone else knows, he single-handedly solved the crime and revealed Ms. Foreman’s plot and accomplice. He also discovered that the ‘missing assistant’ had actually run off to get married without telling anyone.”
After a moment, the man in the dark suit added, “He also continues his search for answers, as he is supposed to.”
“On that subject,” said the man in the grey suit. “Was it really necessary to tell him the truth about that Kennedy business?”
“We both know that no one will take him seriously,” said the man in the dark suit. He rose, buttoned his suit jacket, and added, “At least I didn’t tell him about Elvis or Area 51.”
Copyright © 2006 by Bewildering Stories
on behalf of the author