Ray Bradbury. The Murderer

                Ray Bradbury

                The Murderer

     Music  moved  with  him  in the white halls. He passed an office door: "The
Merry  Widow  Waltz."  Another  door:  "Afternoon  of a Faun." A third: "Kiss Me
Again."  He  turned  into  a  cross  corridor:  "The  Sword Dance" buried him in
cymbals,  drums,  pots,  pans,  knives,  forks,  thunder, and tin lightning. All
washed  away  as  he  hurried  through  an anteroom where a secretary sat nicely
stunned  by Beethoven's Fifth. He moved himself before her eyes like a hand, she
didn't see him.
     His wrist radio buzzed.
     "This is Lee, Dad. Don't forget about my allowance."
     "Yes, son, yes. I'm busy."
     "Just  didn't want you to forget, Dad," said the wrist radio. Tchaikovsky's
"Romeo anil Juliet" swarmed about the voice and flushed into the long halls.
     The  psychiatrist moved in the beehive of offices, in the cross-pollination
of   themes,   Stravinsky  mating  with  Bach,  Haydn  unsuccessfully  repulsing
Rachmaninoff,  Schubert  slain  by  Duke  Ellington.  He  nodded  to the humming
secretaries  and  the  whistling  doctors,  fresh  to their morning work. At his
office he checked a few papers with his stenographer, who sang under her breath,
then phoned the police captain upstairs. A few minutes later a red light hunked,
a voice said from the ceiling:
     "Prisoner delivered to Interview Chamber Nine."
     He unlocked the chamber door, stepped in, heard the door lock behind him.
     "Go away," said the prisoner, smiling.
     The  psychiatrist  was  shocked  by that smile. A very sunny, pleasant warm
thing,  a thing that shed bright light upon the room. Dawn among the dark hills.
High  noon  at  midnight, that smile. The blue eyes sparkled serenely above that
display of self-assured dentistry.
     "I'm  here  to  help  you,"  said the psychiatrist, frowning. Something was
wrong  with the room. He had hesitated the moment he entered. He glanced around.
The  prisoner  laughed.  "If  you're wondering why it's so quiet in here, I just
kicked the radio to death."
     Violent, thought the doctor.
     The prisoner read this thought, smiled, put out a gentle hand. "No, only to
machines that yak-yak-yak."
     Bits  of  the  wall  radio's  tubes  and  wires  lay on the gray carpeting.
Ignoring  these,  feeling that smile upon him like a heat lamp, the psychiatrist
sat  across from his patient in the unusual silence which was like the gathering
of a storm.
     "You're Mr. Albert Brock, who calls himself The Murderer?"
     Brock nodded pleasantly. "Before we start...." He moved quietly and quickly
to  detach the wrist radio from the doctor's arm. He tucked it in his teeth like
a  walnut,  gritted  and  heard  it  crack,  banded  it  back  to  the  appalled
psychiatrist as if he had done them both a favor. "That's better."
     The  psychiatrist  stared at the ruined machine. "You're running up quite a
damage bill."
     "I don't care," smiled the patient. "As the old song goes: "Don't Care What
Happens to Me!" He hummed it.
     The psychiatrist said: "Shall we start?"
     "Fine. The first victim, or one of the first, was my telephone. Murder most
foul.  I  shoved  it  in  the kitchen Insinkerator! Stopped the disposal unit in
mid-swallow.  Poor  thing  strangled  to death. After that I shot the television
     The psychiatrist said, "Mmm."
     "Fired  six  shots  right  through  the  cathode. Made a beautiful tinkling
crash, like a dropped chandelier."
     "Nice imagery."
     "Thanks, I always dreamt of being a writer."
     "Suppose you tell me when you first began to hate the telephone."
     "It  frightened  me  as a child. Uncle of mine called it the Ghost Machine.
Voices  without  bodies.  Scared  the living hell out of me. Later in life I was
never  comfortable.  Seemed  to  me  a phone was an impersonal instrument. If it
_felt_  like  it,  it  let  your  personality go through its wires. If it didn't
_want_  to,  it just drained your personality away until what slipped through at
the  other  end  was  some  cold  fish of a voice all steel, copper, plastic, no
warmth,  no  reality.  It's  easy  to  say  the  wrong  thing on telephones; the
telephone  changes  your  meaning  on  you. First thing you know, you've made an
enemy.  Then, of course, the telephone's such a _convenient_ thing; it just sits
there and _demands_ you call someone who doesn't want to be called. Friends were
always  calling, calling, calling me. Hell, I hadn't any time of my own. When it
wasn't  the  telephone it was the television, the radio, the phonograph. When it
wasn't  the  television or radio or the phonograph it was motion pictures at the
corner theater, motion pictures projected, with commercials on low-lying cumulus
clouds.  It  doesn't  rain  rain  any  more,  it  rains soapsuds. When it wasn't
High-Fly Cloud advertisements, it was music by Mozzek in every restaurant; music
and  commercials  on  the  busses  I  rode to work. When it wasn't music, it was
inter-office  communications,  and  my horror chambers of a radio wrist watch on
which my friends and my wife phoned every five minutes. What is there about such
'conveniences'  that  makes  them  so  _temptingly_  convenient? The average man
thinks? Here I am, time on my hands, and there on my wrist is a wrist telephone,
so why not just buzz old Joe up, eh? "Hello, hello!" I love my friends, my wife,
humanity,  very  much,  but when one minute my wife calls to say, 'Where are you
_now_  dear?'  and a friend calls and says, 'Got the best off-color joke to tell
you.  Seems  there was a guy -' And a stranger calls and cries out, 'This is the
Find-Fax Poll. What gum are you chewing at this very _instant_!' Well!"
     "How did you feel during the week?"
     "The  fuse  lit. On the edge of the cliff. That same afternoon I did what I
did at the office."
     "Which was?"
     "I poured a paper cup of water into the intercommunications system."
     The psychiatrist wrote on his pad.
     "And the system shorted?"
     "Beautifully!  The  Fourth  of  July  on  wheels! My God, stenographers ran
around looking _lost_! What an uproar!"
     "Felt better temporarily, eh?"
     "Fine!  Then  I  got  the  idea  at  noon of stamping my wrist radio on the
sidewalk.  A  shrill  voice  was just yelling out of it at me, 'This is People's
Poll  Number  Nine.  What did you eat for lunch?' when I kicked the Jesus out of
the wrist radio!"
     "Felt even _better_, eh?"
     "It  _grew_  on me!" Brock rubbed his hands together. "Why didn't I start a
solitary  revolution,  deliver  man from certain 'conveniences'? 'Convenient for
whom?'  I cried. Convenient for friends: 'Hey, Al, thought I'd call you from the
locker room out here at Green Hills. Just made a sockdolager hole in one! A hole
in  one, Al! A _beautiful_ day. Having a shot of whiskey now. Thought you'd want
to  know,  Al!' Convenient for my office, so when I'm in the field with my radio
car  there's  no  moment  when  I'm  not in touch. In _touch_! _There's_ a slimy
phrase.  Touch,  hell. _Gripped!_ Pawed, rather. Mauled and massaged and pounded
by  FM  voices.  You  can't leave your car without checking in: 'Have stopped to
visit  gas-station  men's  room.' 'Okay, Brock, step on it!' 'Brock, what _took_
you  so long?' 'Sorry, sir.' 'Watch it next time, Brock.' 'Yes, sir!' So, do you
know  what  I  did,  Doctor?  I bought a quart of French chocolate ice cream and
spooned it into the car radio transmitter."
     "Was there any _special_ reason for selecting French chocolate ice cream to
spoon into the broadcasting unit?"
     Brock thought about it and smiled. "It's my favorite flavor."
     "Oh," said the doctor.
     "I  figured,  hell, what's good enough, for me is good enough for the radio
     "What made you think of spooning _ice cream_ into the radio?"
     "It was a hot day."
     The doctor paused.
     "And what happened next?"
     "Silence  happened  next.  God, it was _beautiful_. That car radio cackling
all  day.  Brock  go here. Brock go there. Brock check in. Brock check out, okay
Brock,  hour  lunch,  Brock, lunch over, Brock, Brock, Brock. Well, that silence
was like putting ice cream in my ears."
     "You seem to like ice cream a lot."
     "I  just rode around feeling of the silence. It's a big bolt of the nicest,
softest  flannel  ever  made. Silence. A whole hour of it. I just sat in my car,
smiling, feeling of that flannel with my ears. I felt _drunk_ with Freedom!"
     "Go on."
     "Then  I got the idea of the portable diathermy machine. I rented one, took
it  on  the  bus  going  home that night. There sat all the tired commuters with
their wrist radios, talking to their wives, saying, 'Now I'm at Forty-third, now
I am at Forty-fourth, here I am at Forty-ninth, now turning at Sixty-first.' One
husband  cursing,  'Well,  get  _out_ of that bar, damn it, and get home and get
dinner  started,  I'm at Seventieth!' And the transitsystem radio playing 'Tales
from  the Vienna Woods,' a canary singing words about a first-rate wheat cereal.
Then  I  switched  on my diathermy! Static! Interference! All wives cut off from
husbands  grousing  about  a  hard  day at the office. All husbands cut off from
wives  who  had  just  seen  their  children  break a window! The 'Vienna Woods'
chopped down, the canary mangled! _Silence!_ A terrible, unexpected silence. The
bus  inhabitants  faced  with  having to converse with each other. Panic! Sheer,
animal panic!"
     "The police seized you?"
     "The  bus  _had_  to  stop.  After  all,  the  music _was_ being scrambled,
husbands  and  wives  _were_  out  of touch with reality. Pandemonium, riot, and
chaos. Squirrels chattering in cages! A trouble unit arrived, triangulated on me
instantly,  had  me reprimanded, fined, and home, minus my diathermy machine, in
jig time."
     "Mr.  Brock,  may  I  suggest  that  so  far your whole pattern here is not
very-practical?  If  you  didn't  like  transit  radios  or office radios or car
business  radios,  why  didn't  you  join  a  fraternity  of radio haters, start
petitions,  get  legal  and  constitutional  rulings?  After  all,  this  _is_ a
     "And  I,"  said  Brock,  "am  that  thing  called  a minority. I _did_ join
fraternities,  picket,  pass  petitions,  take  it  to  court. Year after year I
protested.  Everyone  laughed. Everyone else _loved_ bus radios and commercials.
_I_ was out of step."
     "Then  you  should  have taken it like a good soldier, don't you think? The
majority rules."
     "But  they  went  too  far.  If  a  little music and 'keeping in touch' was
charming,  they  figured  a lot would be ten times as charming. I went _wild!_ I
got  home to find my wife hysterical. _Why?_ Because she had been completely out
of  touch  with  me  for  half a day. Remember, I did a dance on my wrist radio?
Well, that night I laid plans to murder my house."
     "Are you _sure_ that's how you want me to write it down?"
     "That's  semantically  accurate.  Kill  it dead. It's one of those talking,
singing,    humming,    weather-reporting,    poetry-reading,    novel-reciting,
jingle-jangling,   rockaby-crooning-when-you-go-to-bed   houses.  A  house  that
screams opera to you in the shower and teaches you Spanish in your sleep. One of
those  blathering  caves  where  all kinds of electronic Oracles make you feel a
trifle  larger  than  a thimble, with stoves that say, "I'm apricot pie, and I'm
_done_.'  or  'I'm prime roast beef, so _haste_ me!' and other nursery gibberish
like  that. With beds that rock you to sleep and _shake_ you awake. A house that
_barely_  tolerates  humans, I tell you. A front door that barks: 'You've mud on
your  feet,  sir!' And an electronic vacuum hound that snuffles around after you
from  room  to  room,  inhaling every fingernail or ash you drop. Jesus God, _I_
say, Jesus God!"
     "Quietly," suggested the psychiatrist.
     "Remember  that  Gilbert  and  Sullivan  song - _I've Got It on My List, It
Never  Will  Be  Missed_?  all  night  I listed grievances. Next morning early I
bought  a  pistol. I _purposely_ muddied my feet. I stood at our front door. The
front door shrilled, 'Dirty feet, muddy feet! Wipe your feet! Please be _neat_!'
I  shot the damn thing in its keyhole. I ran to the kitchen, where the stove was
just  whining,  'Turn me _over_!' In the middle of a mechanical omelet I did the
stove  to  death.  Oh,  how  it  sizzled and screamed, 'I'm _shorted_!' Then the
telephone  rang  like  a spoiled brat. I shoved it down the Insinkerator. I must
state here and now I have _nothing_ whatever against the Insinkerator; it was an
innocent  bystander.  I  feel sorry for it now, a practical device indeed, which
never  said a word, purred like a sleepy lion most of the time, and digested our
leftovers.  I'll  have  it restored. Then I went in and shot the televisor, that
insidious  beast,  that  Medusa,  which  freezes a billion people to stone every
night,  staring  fixedly,  that Siren which called and sang and promised so much
and gave, after all, so little, but myself always going back, going back, hoping
and  waiting  until-bang!  Like a headless turkey, gobbling, my wife whooped out
the front door. The police came. Here I _am_!"
     He sat back happily and lit a cigarette.
     "And did you realize, in committing these crimes, that the wrist radio, the
broadcasting  transmitter,  the  phone, the bus radio, the office intercoms, all
were rented or were someone else's property?"
     "I would do it all over again, so help me God."
     The psychiatrist sat there in the sunshine of that beatific smile.
     "You  don't  want any further help from the Office of Mental Health? You're
ready to take the consequences?"
     "This  is  only  the  beginning,"  said Mr. Brock. "I'm the vanguard of the
small  public  which  is  tired of noise and being taken advantage of and pushed
around  and yelled at, every moment music, every moment in touch with some voice
somewhere,  do this, do that, quick, quick, now here, now there. You'll see. The
revolt begins. My name will go down in history!"
     "Mmm." The psychiatrist seemed to be thinking.
     "It'll  take  time,  of course. It was all so enchanting at first. The very
_idea_  of  these  things,  the  practical uses, was wonderful. They were almost
toys,  to be played with, but the people got too involved, went too far, and got
wrapped  up in a pattern of social behavior and couldn't get out, couldn't admit
they  were _in_, even. So they rationalized their nerves as something else. 'Our
modern  age,'  they  said. 'Conditions,' they said. 'Highstrung,' they said. But
mark  my  words, the seed has been sown. I got world-wide coverage on TV, radio,
films, _there's_ an irony for you. That was five days ago. A billion people know
about  me.  Check  your financial columns. Any day now. Maybe today. Watch for a
sudden spurt, a rise in sales for French chocolate ice cream!"
     "I see," said the psychiatrist.
     "Can  I go back to my nice private cell now, where I can be alone and quiet
for six months?"
     "Yes," said the psychiatrist quietly.
     "Don't  worry  about  me,"  said  Mr. Brock, rising. "I'm just going to sit
around  for  a  long time stuffing that nice soft bolt of quiet material in both
     "Mmm," said the psychiatrist, going to the door.
     "Cheers," said Mr. Brock.
     "Yes," said the psychiatrist.
     He  pressed  a  code signal on a hidden button, the door opened, he stepped
out, the door shut and locked. Alone, he moved in the offices and corridors. The
first twenty yards of his walk were accompanied by _Tambourine Chinois_. Then it
was  _Tzigane_,  Bach's  _Passacaglia_ and Fugue in something Minor, _Tiger Rag,
Love Is Like a Cigarette_. He took his broken wrist radio from his pocket like a
dead  praying  mantis.  He turned in at his office. A bell sounded, a voice came
out of the ceiling, "Doctor?"
     "Just finished with Brock," said the psychiatrist.
     "Seems  completely  disorientated,  but  convivial.  Refuses  to accept the
simplest realities of his environment and work _with_ them."
     "Indefinite. Left him enjoying a piece of invisible material."
     Three phones rang. A duplicate wrist radio in his desk drawer buzzed like a
wounded  grasshopper. The intercom flashed a pink light and click-clicked. Three
phones  rang.  The  drawer  buzzed.  Music  blew  in  through the open door. The
psychiatrist,  humming quietly, fitted the new wrist radio to his wrist, flipped
the  intercom,  talked  a  moment,  picked  up  one telephone, talked, picked up
another  telephone,  talked,  picked up the third telephone, talked, touched the
wrist-radio  button, talked calmly and quietly, his face cool and serene, in the
middle  of  the music and the lights flashing, the two phones ringing again, and
his  hands  moving,  and his wrist radio buzzing, and the intercoms talking, and
voices  speaking  from  the ceiling. And he went on quietly this way through the
remainder  of  a  cool,  air-conditioned,  and  long afternoon, telephone, wrist
radio,  intercom,  telephone,  wrist  radio,  intercom,  telephone, wrist radio,
intercom,  telephone,  wrist  radio, intercom, telephone, wirst radio, intercom,
telephone, wrist radio...