12: Asset

written by Julian Mundy
produced by Mischa Stanton

[[SFX: tape recorder starts; a park; Lou and David play chess]]

LOU GAINES (LG): And that’s check! You know, strategy is supposed to be your own will projected into the real world, and from here I’m thinking your strategy is to let me win.

DAVID MARIAN (DM): Looks that way.

LG: What’s eating you today? You show up looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp, say nothing about it, and all of a sudden your play goes to pieces.

DM: I’m just not in the mood for a game today, Lou, okay?

LG: Right mood or not, son, you need all the practice you can get if you don’t want to embarrass yourself at the tournament. Not even a week left to go, and you’ve still got classes, the auto shop… If that mug of yours is because some little lady turned you down, I say “good.” You don’t need the extra distraction.

DM: It’s not–I’m not going to be in the tournament.

LG: Excuse me? David, what the hell am I doing here if not to help get you match-worthy?

DM: I went over to the community center to sign up this morning, before class. I head in and go up to the table, no problem. This happy asshole with the clipboard takes one look at me, and I see his smile slide off his face like a piece of runny egg. I tell him I want to sign up, and he tells me there are no more open spots. People are already starting to line up behind me so I know exactly what he’s doing, and I know I shouldn’t bother, but no. No, I go right ahead, insist there must be a mistake, and anyway there wasn’t any sign saying someone like me wasn’t welcome. He insists back that no, there is no mistake, and that I should stop holding up the line. I can see in his little pig eyes what he wants to say, but won’t lower himself enough to do it. And I get that weightless feeling, that I know means I should get out of there before I fold him over backwards and have to call you later on for bail money. So here I am.

LG: Well, I’m glad no blood was spilt, this time. Wouldn’t want a repeat of that white boy at Monte Cassino.

DM: Yeah, I’m so damn proud of myself.

[[SFX: David tips his king]]

DM: So can we just postpone this for a minute? There isn’t even a point now, anyway.

LG: The point is to take what I know you have, and polish it ‘til you shine. You want to succeed, you better be consistent. Besides, I’ve got an entire sabbatical to spend staring at the wall, so I’d rather not start so soon.

DM: What are you– Wait, is that what happened at that meeting you were talking about?

LG: Well… well, Dean Meadows had to do something when parents start bombarding his office with calls about their “sons and daughters being subjected to Soviet influences.”

DM: And that’s academic for what?

LG: It seems some of my students took issue with the concept of investigating the differences between the Soviet press and ours. Some students turned in very well reasoned and researched papers, and the rest had an acute attack of “patriotism” and called home to crow to mom and dad. “Compulsory sabbatical,” they’re calling it, for now. As soon as they can cobble together enough to merit a real doubt about my politics, you bet they’ll find a more permanent solution.

DM: But you’re a damn hero! And I know for a fact you’re no godforsaken pinko!

LG: David, let’s just play again, I don’t want to get into this.

DM: Did anybody even mention your honorable discharge? Do they know how this is gonna look to people?

LG: The point of a communism is that it spreads, right? It’s like a stubborn germ. Who knows what we brought back with us from that war? And now everybody–including you, my friend–is losing their minds now that the Reds are testing their own nukes. We are the only country in history to use The Bomb as an offensive weapon, so maybe the Reds have the right to be a little afraid.

DM: Are you serious? Lou, you know what Joe Stalin does to his people! We both heard from troopers who were in the middle of that whole mess. And the poor dumb bastards still worship the prick as though nothing ever happened!

LG: You worry about what you can’t control, son, and that’s your problem. You concentrate on your best course of action, and you’ll see how things fall into place. Now set this board back up, I want to see if you’ve been paying attention.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Lou lights a cigarette]]

LG: God have mercy, that boy...

HANK CORNISH (HC): They’ll learn one day, isn’t that right?

LG: [coughs, surprised] Uh, beg your pardon, sir?

HC: I assure you that’s not necessary, sir. Just wanted a word with you, if you’ve a moment to spare. I hope I have it right that you are, in fact, Captain Louis Abbot Gaines?

LG: You’ve got it right, Mister...?

HC: Beck, sir, Francis Beck. I’m here in Dover on assignment from my bosses in the State Department, as it happens, and I wanted to make sure I paid you a visit.

LG: In what capacity?

HC: May I get in the passenger’s side? I’d prefer it if we kept this quiet.

[[SFX: Hank walks around the car; enters]]

HC: I know you must be aware of at least a part of the threat our country faces these days, Captain.

LG: Now, I was discharged, Mister Beck. “Professor Gaines” will do for the moment.

HC: Professor, we in the intelligence community have reason to believe that–and I hope you’ll keep this under your hat–there have been Soviet spies stationed in this country for some years now. We have every reason the Reds will attempt to send more, which is why one of our newest programs concerns grassroots defense initiatives: homegrown counter-espionage in order to preserve the peace, if you like. We believe men like yourself–veteran servicemen, men of diverse skills–are ideal candidates for our program, and as I understand it, you might be in the market for a new job sometime soon.

LG: You don’t make it easy to start trusting you, Mister Beck. Were I some other man, I might consider rooting through my business to prepare for this meeting somewhat rude.

HC: We have our vetting process, same as anyone. We’re just more thorough.

LG: All right, I’ll hear you out. But I have one condition. I have a friend who might deserve this more than I do.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ANTHONY PARTRIDGE (AP): Blackroom report twenty-two: routine checks on all systems have turned up no mechanical issues or malfunctions anywhere down the line. Honestly, given the questionable nature of all this, I stand a decent chance of never running into a single hiccup in the system. Maybe the moving parts aren’t even moving and the whole thing has fused into a huge tuning fork for tachyonic radiation. What if it’s a perpetual motion machine? Unless someone ever lets me the hell out of here, I may never know for sure, and that’s almost the worst part. Almost. The worst part is still definitely being stuck in a pitch black room for an interminable, confusing-to-define period. It is kind of a freeing feeling, though, not having to worry about shopping, bills, having to look presentable for work, any of it. Whickman could probably use a place like this, all the plates he has to spin. One Soviet nuclear test in 1949 and he starts hiring willy-nilly. Pell-mell, even. I’ve never seen Whickman panic, but this looks like his version of not taking the news well. In the end, ODAR has a reason to operate how it’s always wanted to, spreading in the dark like mushrooms. God, look at all of them. BT50, HM48, LG49, DM50, KS49, I’m starting to sound like a bingo announcer.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

HC: Your full name for the record, please?

LG: Louis Abbot Gaines.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

DM: David Marian.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

HC: Mister Gaines, I understand you and Mister Marian served in the same unit.

LG: That’s right. Three-Eighty-Eighth Mobile Infantry.

HC: Deployed in Germany?

LG: Italy. One hundred-thirty klicks southeast of Rome at Monte Cassino.

HC: Heard ground troops went through hell out there.

LG: Never saw anything like it, before or since.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

DM: I was the engineer in the unit, so I wasn’t exactly recruited for my steady aim. But I helped make sure every jeep and tank we came across got to the garrison outside Cassino.

HC: You could shoot, though. Fight, too. Did your share of both, as I understand.

DM: I’d rather not get into that, if it’s all the same to you, sir.

HC: I’ve got to hear it, if you’re going to work for me. It’s behind you, I just need to hear the details.

DM: Fine. So we’ve been at Monte Cassino for a good month, listening to shells tear up that gorgeous Italian countryside, and Lou gets a message saying we have to get into the city to help pull some poor, witless unit out after they get cut off. So we fight hell-for-leather through those Kraut sons-of-bitches, and when we get where we need to be, that division is down below combat-effective numbers. I’m so hot from tearing through to these boys that I barely remember jumping over the rubble or dropping any more of Gerry’s boys. You can check the after-action reports for the facts. All I remember is a blur of noise and motion and recoil until we get back up on the hill overlooking the town. All of a sudden I’m hearing some Okie kid bawling about how Jimmy would still be alive if those porch-monkeys hadn’t taken so long. I must’ve still been half-crazy with adrenaline... I don’t really remember hitting him until someone pulled me back up to my feet in a full-nelson. That was Captain Gaines.

HC: And he took the heat for that, they tell me. Stood up for you when everybody else would’ve let them court-martial you.

DM: Yeah. He kind of took me under his wing, you might say. At least, he watched me close enough to stop me from knocking out any more of our boys. He was the one who suggested I enroll at Delaware State.

HC: Where Mister Gaines was a professor until recently, I understand.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

LG: That’s correct.

HC: So your sabbatical was not, in fact, voluntary? The dean over at the college mentioned something about having students research good old Uncle Joe’s propaganda industry or some such.

LG: The assignment was to analyze the effects of such strict control of the press as Stalin has imposed, and support a critical opinion on what the effects of the same might be over here. Too daunting a request for some, I can see now.

HC: So they ran you out for, what, proselytizing for the Russians? We take accusations like that very seriously, Mister Gaines. Times demand that we do so, so let’s have it. You subscribe to a Communistic view of things, all men equal in the eyes of the state, that sort of thing?

LG: No, sir, I subscribe to the view “know thine enemy.”

HC: Ah, you sound like a man who’s read his “Art of War.”

LG: At risk of sounding melodramatic, Mr. Beck, life itself is a battle for men like me. I’ve killed men. Not very nice men, certainly, but men. They had different skin color, different language, different, even repulsive, motivations, but they were still men. Sometimes you hear people ask each other what they’d give to keep their country safe. They never think about what we sometimes have to take for it.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

HC: Would you do anything for your country, David?

DM: Yes sir, I would. Lou set the bar pretty high in that way, when we were in Italy. I’d give my all. Mr. Beck, I love my country.

HC: Thank you David. We–

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

HC: Thank you, Mister Gaines. We’ll be in touch.

[[SFX: radio tuning; chess in the park]]

DM: I got a letter from Beck today, just like he said. I’m in. They want to ship me over to some place in Colorado for training.

LG: You’re going to do it, then? Fight the good fight, like he was saying?

DM: Well, it makes sense, right? I make enough to get by at Calvin’s, but you talk about getting my legs under me on that salary, and then there’s tuition... Besides, it would look good to have some government work under my belt, right?

LG: Depends on whom you’re asking, I’d imagine.

DM: You think it’s the wrong move?

LG: Well, they never tell you more than they think you need to know, do they? Otherwise they wouldn’t get so many volunteers. It’s about the right thing, not the wrong move. Check.

DM: Lou... I know they treated us like dogs over there, no matter what we did. But I got to see the world, and had to face what a man can really do to another man. We did the right thing over there whether they thanked us for it or not. If I have to put my own life on hold for a while to save a few, I think I could sleep okay at night, you know?

LG: Heh. You know, you’re starting to make sense.

DM: No...

LG: Yeah, sure does look like checkmate, doesn’t it? Come on, I think I just saw Pete drop off the mail.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Lou opens his mailbox]]

DM: Is it in there? Wait, I think that’s it!

LG: Sure enough.

DM: Well, go on!

LG: You want to open it? And stop hovering, I need to find my key.

DM: Ha-ha! For he’s a jolly good fellow...

[[SFX: radio tuning; on a bus]]

LG: David. David, wake up, we’re here.

DM: (waking up) Hmm? Oh, okay, good, that’s good, I... Oh God, it’s even worse than the brochure made it sound.

LG: I was right about the mountains, though.

DM: Stop, please?

LG: That diner looks pretty good.

DM: I think I changed my mind about all this, Captain.

LG: Didn’t work before, son, won’t work now. No Krauts trying to blow your ass to Kingdom Come this time, and you’ve got a nicer view.

DM: I’ll tell you this for free: your pep talks haven’t been getting any better since then.

[[SFX: radio tuning; murmur of recruits]]

RAY VICO (RV): Gentlemen, good day to you. My name is Raymond Vico. I will be in charge of shaping you into worthwhile ODAR agents, of trimming the fat from you, body and soul. Take this not for God-bothering. What we do, we do out of sight of our fellow man, so that he may go about his day without fear. If you do your duty the right way, the best hope is that no one ever hears about it, not even your fellow agents. If you find a life in the spotlight is more to your taste, you are free to go at any time and pursue the life of a showgirl, it makes no difference to me. Gab to anyone in your dressing room about this place, about us, and see if they believe a word of it. That is because we do things the way we do them, and this country is the stronger for it. The nature of our existence is the proof of our power, and if any speak of us, they speak of shadows they cannot touch. Say goodbye to your old lives, gentlemen, and welcome to perhaps the greatest task ever faced by free men. Let’s begin.

[[SFX: radio tuning; recruits grapple]]

RV: Get your heel planted, Hollis. That’s it! Come on, Sugimura, Gaines gets better leg extension with his damn limp! Swift, get under his shoulder or he’ll make you pay for it, you bet your ass. Marian, get up here. Everyone observe, this hold depends on leg strength. You get behind him, you have the easy means for a quick incapacitation, even if he’s got your height. Ready? Go.

[[SFX: Ray drops David]]

RV: Good! Next time shift to your right foot.

DM: Never seen anyone move like that, sir.

RV: Learned this one from my CO in Laos, only he put my lights out for real.

DM: We had troops deployed in Laos?

RV: Shut up and hit the mat.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

RV: This device is known as the Timepiece Field Kit. You have been briefed on the theory behind its operation, as it is what allows us to operate as we do. It is our most potent tool, and its use is a matter of the most severe need. By setting this to the desired date–see here–and activating it like so, you will arrive in the same geographical position, on the date entered. As you should have drummed into your heads like a bedtime prayer, you may travel no further than? Sugimura?

KENZO SUGIMURA (KS): October 28th, 1943.

RV: Good man. Reason being, Gaines?

LG: An anomaly in time and space brought about by a US military experiment. The Timepiece uses the energies focused in that location as an anchor point.

RV: Correct, and that is precisely all you are authorized to know on the subject.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

DM: –couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn! He swings away at every pitch that comes his way, like he’s batting by the law of averages.

KS: I think he’s still–Um, good morning, Agent Vico!

RV: Beg pardon?

KS: I was just, uh, just wishing you a good morning, sir.

RV: And to you, Sugimura. Hope you rested well, you happy assholes start sleep deprivation training today. And who knows? Maybe we’ll find a way to make it a little more exciting.

KS: Ah. Can hardly wait, sir.

RV: Enjoy your oatmeal, gentlemen.

DM: Good try. And for the record, the Cubs still have no shot without Cavaretta.

KS: Go to hell.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

RV: Well, Mister Sugimura, how are you feeling? It’s been three days since you slept, give me a rundown of your physical symptoms.

KS: (sleep-deprived, slurring) I feel like... My head is all cotton-y. Some stuff blurred ‘round the edges. Kinda... Kinda queasy.

RV: Now I want to test your memory. Three days ago, you wished me a good morning, and before I left, I said four words. Can you tell me what those were?

KS: Oh god... “Have a...” No. “Can hardly wait, sir?”

RV: No, that was you that said that. What were the four words I–

KS: I don’t know, goddammit, I don’t know! I can’t remember, I can’t think...

[[SFX: Ken falls; the recruits laugh]]

RV: You may have to stay active for long periods, gentlemen. Fulfill an objective within a tight window that won’t allow for sleep. Remember our friend Sugimura when you hit day three, and slow the hell down. Take care in your movements. Control your emotions. Now would someone get him in a chair so I can continue?

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

RV: Gentlemen, today is the day. As of this moment, the six of you are members of our little circle. Your bravery and service to this country may never be known to the wider world, but we few will. We, who understand the significance of our task will know, and hold you dear above all others. As it should be. When I read your name, please step forward to receive the last real piece of identification you will ever own. You will notice it is imprinted with today’s date, October 30th, 1949, and by these signs, the ODAR of any era will know you. When you travel backward to perform your task, I know the world you return to will be better for it. God bless America, and god bless all of you. Agent Ethan Avery.

[[SFX: applause]]

RV: Agent Brian Edmonds. Agent Louis Gaines. Agent Frank Hollis. Agent David Marian. Agent Kenzo Sugimura. Welcome, all of you. If you’ll follow me, we’ll be joining your fellow agents of the fairer sex for a little reception. I’d say you all earned a drink after six weeks of monkhood.

[[SFX: cheer; radio tuning]]

AP: –sound like a bingo announcer.

[[SFX: alert beep; typing]]

AP: Okeydoke, here we go. Oh. Oh. Oh no. Oh sweet Jesus on a pogo stick. This can’t be right. There’s no way Cornish could have screwed up so completely. And yet... This is the point, right? Straight from the horse’s, stripped of all doubt or question of validity. Sit in silence, in the dark, to receive and transmit revelations, like an anchorite with a ham radio. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, one of our agents, one Louis Abbot Gaines, had gone rogue, and obtained and provided the Soviets with photographs of the Timepiece Field Kit, because apparently our vetting process is handled by the interns. Now I have to save the G-man-shaped suit that contains Cornish’s inept ass. We need a rival agency like I need a kick to the family jewels.

[[SFX: radio tuning; a party]]

DM: You know, I’m actually kind of surprised that you stuck it out all this time.

LG: Meaning what, exactly?

DM: Just thought you’d miss, I don’t know, the academic thing.

KS: You were a teacher?

LG: Professor of journalism, for all the good it did me. The school didn’t have the constitution for the more… challenging sort of curriculum.

KS: Yeah, well, the truth can be a scary thing.

HC: You work in intelligence now, son, best dispense with all that “truth” talk. It’s unseemly and I won’t have it in my house.

LG: Evening, Mister Beck. I didn’t expect you to make it down here.

KS: Pour you one, sir?

DM: You should, Mister Beck, although I’m still not sure what “shochu” actually is.

HC: I’m not so busy I can’t spare a moment to congratulate our freshly minted agents, but I have to decline the drink. I actually hoped I could have a word with Agent Marian for a moment.

DM: UH–of course, sir. Lead the way.

HC: Won’t keep him long, fellas, I promise.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

HC: I’m sorry to pull you away like this, David, but this can’t wait. Time is, shall we say, a definite factor.

DM: What’s going on, Mister Beck?

HC: David, I’m afraid I received intelligence from one of our agents that Louis Gaines will pass on highly sensitive and classified documents to our “esteemed colleagues” in Moscow. David, I–

DM: No, sir. I don’t believe that could be capable of something like that. And what do you mean “will?” How could you be so sure he’s even thinking of–

HC: Because I know, David. We. Know. Ours is not to question “why” a man does a thing, David, only “how.”

DM: Mister Beck, what am I here for? Why are you telling me this?

HC: Because you’re going to stop him, son. This is going to be your first mission.

DM: I graduated an hour ago, sir! Why would you choose me for this?

HC: You’re the only one who knows the movements and whereabouts of both yourself and Louis Gaines on the day in question.

DM: What day?

HC: The day you both got your acceptance to ODAR.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Lou and David play chess]]

LG: You’re being awfully quiet.

DM: Well, I like to think I’m learning. Listening when others speak is a sign of intelligence, right?

LG: Are those chessmen talking to you? Check.

DM: More than they used to, anyway.

LG: You’ve gotten better.

DM: That, or you’re getting worse.

LG: Well, I suppose we’ll never know. You’re the only one I ever play. That’s checkmate. One more?

DM: Can’t. It’s about that time.

LG: You be sure to let me know when you get tired of cracking those jokes.

DM: Yeah. Goodbye, Lou.

LG: Best of luck, David. You know, you make me very proud.

[[SFX: radio tuning; bus terminal]]

HC: See you in the funny papers, Mister Marian. Use kid gloves and things will be just fine, you’ll see.

DM: I couldn’t ask for a simpler mission brief, sir.

HC: There never was anything simple about this life, son. You’ll do just fine.

DM: Just one thing before I go, Mister Beck.

HC: Go ahead.

DM: You damn well better be right about this.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Timepiece activates; static distortion]]

DM: Oh... Oh god–

[[SFX: David vomits; radio tuning; David watches as the mailman leaves;approaches the mailbox; removes a letter; radio tuning; a fire; David crumples the letter and tosses it in]]

DM: Goodbye, Lou.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: We need a rival agency like I need a kick to the family jewels.

[[SFX: alert]]

AP: Oh. “DM49 reports Gaines ‘assignment complete,’ no irregularities, no additional tangents designated for reconciliation. DM49 returned to flock for recycling. Gaines mission successful, repeat, no additional adjustment required.” The system works. Mother of God, it works! It works.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

HC: Well, Mister Marian, what can I say? You’ve done very well, very clean work, I’m told. Agent Vico seemed very pleased… but I was never very good at reading him.

DM: I couldn’t have asked for an easier mission brief, sir. Whatever burrower you got to put together that sequence of events, they sure know what they’re doing.

HC: I’ll be sure to pass your compliments on to the Blackroom. Now, if there’s nothing else, I shouldn’t keep Miss Roberts waiting–

DM: Mister Beck, I have something to add, if I may.

HC: By all means, son, you may.

DM: I would recommend a meeting with Mr. McCarthy’s group in Un-American Activities, as soon as possible.

HC: Is that so? What for?

DM: ...To point them in the direction of Louis Abbot Gaines.

HC: I don’t follow. The events triggering the Gaines assignment have been reconciled, and I can’t help but be surprised that you’d throw your surrogate daddy to those wolves McCarthy has in his kennel.

DM: I don’t know your Louis Gaines, sir. I never did. I reconciled one possible future for him, but you know as well as I do that this isn’t the end of it. I would advise watching him for the time being, just in case.

HC: Very well,  Agent Marian, very well. Welcome to your new life.

[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]

ars PARADOXICA is created by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton.
Episode 12: Asset features – 

L. Jeffrey Moore (Lou Gaines)
Alexander Cole (David Marian)

Dan Anderson (Hank Cornish)
Rabin Gabrielli (Anthony Partridge)

Richard Malmos (Ray Vico)
AC Slamet (Kenzo Sugimura)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson

Production help from Julian Mundy. This episode features the song "Man at the Clock" by Paolo Pavan Pasqualino Ubaldini via the Free Music Archive, as well as original music by Mischa Stanton and Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

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