by Mike Lawless
Merry Black Widow
by Keith Graham
The Merry Widow
by Jeffrey P. McManus
The Merry Widow
by Bill Wright
The Merry Widow
White Velvet Dress
by William Doren
The Rise and Fall of My Roommates, and its Applications to Western Society
The Merry Widow
by P.J. Wolf
The Merry Widow
The Merry Gladiator
by Colin Campbell
Name: Gandor, Dora P.
Date of Birth: No data
Address: 3423 Desert Flower Drive,
San Diego, CA 93423
Phone: (714) 555-2313
Drivers License CA N6260723
SS #: 572-56-7782
Credit profile: Impulsive spender, good payment history. Excellent risk.
Police record: Minor traffic, possession of marijuana 1967, acquitted of murder charge 1934.
Other names: Allison, Dora P. - Morris, Darnel - Corrales, Daniela
"Well, not bad for a first complete run."
"Yeah, but I'm surprised the birth-record database didn't kick in. It was working fine yesterday."
"It was working fine for California. Dora was born in Virginia. And since the index was missing her birth info, it looks like it grabbed a few of the incomplete historical records just for the heck of it. Look at that - murder arrest in 1934. Dora's only 26 this year. And I really doubt she's had three other names in 26 years."
"Never can tell, Carl. Your wife wouldn't be the first woman with a few secrets!"
They shared a laugh - A 6:00 p.m. on Friday sort of laugh, and then Andy Ortis meandered back to his own cubicle to pack it up for the week, leaving Carl Gandor to secure the network. But before he left, he couldn't resist one more crack at fixing the network protocols. He was SO close to having the whole thing operational.
Four hours later, he finally threw in the towel and decided to go at it again on Monday. Everything checked out fine. All the remote sites responded perfectly. All the simple test cases responded quickly. But still, his wife's data (he had picked her knowing her information resided in several scattered states) wouldn't connect. Damn. Another weekend with something hanging over him. It was getting to be a feeling he was well accustomed to -
When Carl pulled his Honda into his driveway at the end of the street, he expected the house to be dark. Dora was *not* a night person. But he could see the bedroom window light still on. Great, he thought. I could use a little recreation after a day like this. Take my mind off that damn distributed network.
He took a look in his dirty rear-view mirror and gave his hair an unaccustomed straightening before getting out of the car. He tried to reach for a breath mint in his pocket but couldn't find any, so he stopped in the downstairs bathroom and squeezed an inch or two of toothpaste into his mouth to squish around and swallow before proceeding ravenously up the stairs.
But the sounds from the bedroom stopped him short. There was a conversation going on, and the other voice besides Dora's was definitely male. Dora was shouting something, but he couldn't hear what from this distance.
A sudden shock hit Carl, like being propelled into a moment of monstrous unreality. There was a crack in the universe as the world of his thoughts shattered into a heap he was frantically trying to paste back together into the world as it really was.
Infidelity! The whole idea just didn't fit everything he had always felt about Dora. Sure, you always say "..it can't happen to me." but Dora was so loving, so genuine. And so apparently happy - that is, until - Now he began to realize the distance this latest project had put between he and his wife. The inevitable result of seeing her less and less every week. But it was *almost* over, for pity's sake. How long had this affair been going on ?!?
Leaving introspection for a more appropriate moment, Carl surrounded himself with an animal cunning and grim anger and crept silently up the stairs to learn more. If he was going to get hurt, then he wanted all the ammunition he could gather for later battles. Suddenly, between one step and the next, the conversation became understandable. It was his wife's voice he heard first -
"I just can't do this to him! It's immoral! He doesn't deserve it!!" (It's not a question of "deserving", my dear. It's a question of the incalculable suffering you will cause if you back down.)
- This second voice sounded oddly hollow, almost artificial.
"I ought to just turn around and walk away from you. I *could* you know." (Yes, and you remember what happened the last time you tried.)
"That wasn't my fault!!!"
(Of course it was your fault, you stupid emotional bitch. You didn't want the responsibility, and millions died.)
- Up till now, the conversation had seemed reasonable to Carl. About what his ravaged brain had expected at least. Now he was struggling again to make sense out of the situation. Millions dying? Some poetic exaggeration?
What the hell was this anyway?
"You don't know Hitler would have fallen in love with me. You *can't* know for sure! People have some control over their own lives!"
(No , my dear they don't. Hitler would have fallen for you the same way all the others fell for you, and he would have disappeared mysteriously long before he became a danger, just like all the rest. I've never been wrong before and you know it. This time you've waited too long, and some of the damage is already done.)
"But what harm can a stupid computer program be?"
(Left to himself, Carl Gandor will be instrumental in engineering the database networks that will make the coming dictatorship almost completely successful in it's efforts to track down and exterminate opposition. If you don't do your job this time, you will be contributing to a new dark age that will last centuries and cause unimaginable evil.)
"You! You're the evil one! Carl wouldn't hurt a fly and it's just plain,
well - *wrong* to hurt someone like that. And I'm almost as evil as you are - "
- This last remark was a choking sob, and for several moments Dora's sobbing could be heard under the cold, hollow response of her companion.
(You're not evil. And I'm not evil either. I only provide information, nothing more. I have no arms, no legs. I only tell you the truth. Just the truth. And you save millions of lives by acting on that truth. And if your aging process is rendered inoperative by my close proximity -well, no one's going to begrudge you your youth considering the enormous value of the service you provide.)
"Service!?! I'm worse than a whore! I'm like some kind of filthy retched vampire - "
(Oh settle down. You always get so irrational when you fall in love with your targets. You would think that in 4,000 years you would have learned better. You can always walk away from me, you know. You didn't have to open me in the first place, Pandora. Go ahead. Walk away from this one, and have another holocaust on your conscience.)
"How can you do this to me? You don't care about anything or anyone, do you?"
(Of course I care. I care about the survival of the species. And you obviously care too, or you would have left me in the gutter centuries ago.)
- During this last interval, Carl had stuttered between rage, disbelief and even amusement. Dozens of impossible scenarios danced across his mind.
Was Dora rehearsing a play with someone? Was the whole thing an absurd show on TV with an actress that only *sounded* a lot like Dora? Had Dora gone completely psychotic and were multiple personalities now talking to each other? Was the door he now listened behind some abysmal crack into the twilight zone?
It was his body, more than his mind, that made the first move. His mind was still wondering what the hell he was doing when he burst into the room and found Dora looking at him terrified, clutching a small box that he had never seen before. Scarcely loosing momentum, he bounded over to her kneeling form and snatched the ornate box out of her hands. Her scream could have shattered his heart. He almost stopped. He almost gave her the box as she begged him. But he didn't. He opened it. He opened it as a thousand men before him had opened it. Some when Dora had given it to them as a gift. Those had been the ones Dora had most clearly seen the evil in. Others had found it in a conspicuous place and opened it out of curiosity. Those had been the ones where Dora couldn't bring herself to actively participate in the necessary act. A few had even opened it as he was opening it tonight - after catching Dora in a pleading argument with - something.
Carl screamed, of course, as they all did, as his body was ripped apart and absorbed by the horror he encountered in the box. And each scream was the stab of a thousand burning swords in Dora's heart, as she lay there in stunned agony, knowing from experience it was worse than useless to interfere.
Finally, it was over. Carl Gandor had disappeared from the face of the earth. The body would never, *could* never be found - a fact that had saved Dora on those several occasions when suspicion had turned to her. Nothing remained but an closed box, and Dora, inert from the emotional overload.
Sometime later, on a cruse ship bound for Ireland, anyone passing down a certain passageway and listening ever so closely at a certain door would have heard a woman in conversation with a strange, hollow voice - (You haven't opened me for 2 months now. What's the matter, Dora, getting soft? There's work to be done, you know. Let me tell you about your next target. There's a man in Israel, a rising star in politics there, who needs your attentions.)
- Dora just smiled an odd, vacant smile.
(My, we really were upset by this one, weren't we?)
"I didn't open you till now because I wanted to be sure I had the strength to say what had to be said."
(Oh, and what has to be said?)
(Oh, another one of these episodes? Really Dora, you should try to be more professional about this. You know you can't walk away from knowledge that can save millions.)
"Oh but I can. I can indeed."
"I'm not responsible for Hitler. I'm not responsible for anyone but me. And from now on, there will be no fresh blood on my hands."
(But there will be. Enough to fill a large lake. Take this situation I'm having you deal with in the Middle East-)
"No, that's not my actions. Those are other people's actions. Whatever powers that be will ask them to account for the blood they shed. I'll have enough to explain without meddling in other people's eternal record books."
- Dora's voice was firm, but stiff, as if reciting a speech long practiced. Which was exactly the case.
(You know I'm never wrong Dora. I know what you're going to do. It's not like you have a choice in the matter. You have the knowledge, Dora. You have truth. Can you live with yourself for throwing away truth?)
- Dora sat silently for a moment, seemed to weigh the question against 4000 years of experience, and finally seemed to settle on an answer - "Only God can handle ALL the truth."
And before the box could reply, she snapped it shut. She paused for an endless moment, about to open the box, about to leave it alone. At last, she had decided she would open it. She made up her mind to open it, she began to make the motions with her hands to open it - and then instead, she suddenly grabbed a paper shopping bag laying on the vanity and thrust the box inside it, then ferociously shut the bag.
She had the oddest sensation then. She knew that she was *supposed* to have opened the box. She had wanted to. But she didn't. It was as if she had suddenly turned the wrong corner in the universe and found the stage hands hadn't put up the set yet, unadvised by the script of her arrival.
Suddenly, she felt powerful. Something had changed forever and she was on the crest of a wave of her own making. Taking the paper bag firmly in her hands, she stood up. Then, holding the bag carefully, she walked, almost as in a ritual, out of her cabin, down the passageway, onto the deck -and threw the bag into the dark, misty ocean.
And then she laughed. Long, and more profoundly than any human being has ever laughed before. From the depths of an unnaturally profound well of being she laughed. Dora - 4000 years old, married a thousand times and newly a widow again. And happy for the first time in her unusually long life.
Happy, ignorant - she turned and walked forward to the bow - laughed as she watched the ship plunge headlong into a dark, misty, unknown sea. And she laughed for joy -