In this story, I stole the basic concept from Daniel Keyes and the title structure from Larry Niven. Hey, if I’m going to steal ideas, why not steal from the best in the business?
Anyway, What Do You Do With A Talking Monkey? was another fun story to write.
I hope you enjoy reading it, too.
What Do You Do With A Talking Monkey?
Bob wasn’t a smart man. He never was a smart man and spent most of his thirty-five years doing odd jobs like hauling away trash and general cleanup duties. That was until he’d found work five years ago at the Army base in Fort Leonard Wood. Daddy, God rest his soul, told him something about that. “Go on, boy! You git you a gubbermint job and you’s set fer life!”
So Bob had gone to the base, applied, and after what seemed like a hundred interviews, he had a civilian worker ID badge. Robert Daley, Janitorial Services is what it said. The preacher read it to him one time. For the first time in his life, Bob had steady work and made good money.
Bob was a little nervous sometimes, because he knew the Army must have some A-bombs around the base someplace, but he never saw one. Then again, Bob thought he wouldn’t know an A-bomb if it jumped up and bit him on the nose.
One of his duties was to empty the trash and clean the floors in a room with a bunch of cages with animals in them. There were mice and rats and monkeys and even a few small dogs and cats. Usually, the animals stayed quiet, but sometimes a monkey or dog would start making a ruckus and the others would all join in. Usually, Bob just ignored them and finished his chores.
Most times, Bob worked the night shift, and he liked that just fine. There weren’t many folks around to talk to, and Bob knew that was OK. He knew he wasn’t smart, and he got shy around people. Bob graduated from the second grade and made it more than halfway in the third before he just couldn’t learn any more. The other kids would call him ‘dummy’ and ‘stupid’, and then Bob had to wallop them. His last day at school, he’d already thumped the heads of three boys and was getting after a fourth one, Tommy Hill. The principal, Mr. Hallorin, drug him off to the office by his ear and made Daddy come get him. Daddy gave him a good licking over that.
At night, Bob would see the MPs, and they were all nice to him. Once in a while, the man who ran the place with all the animals, Dr. Reyes, would work late, and he always gave Bob a cup of coffee and a powdered donut. One time, Bob got to watch some men working on a tank, doing something to the motor, and he watched as they drove it around the base. That tank could sure go places his Chevy truck wouldn’t go!
Mostly, Bob spent his nights alone and, in the morning, he went back to the old home place. Bob was the only child and now that Mamma and Daddy were gone, he had no one there. Sometimes, on Sunday, Preacher Jack would drop by with his wife and little girl and would sit a spell with Bob. They’d try to get Bob to come to Sunday school and church, but Bob didn’t care to go. All the talk about damnation and the fires in hell got Bob spooked and he’d have trouble sleeping. The preacher would pray a little with him. Then Bob would be alone again.
The only people Bob could call friends were Dave and Pete down at the gas station and mini-mart. It used to be a Texaco with a real garage, and Dave used to hire kids to pump gas and wash windows. Now the pumps were all self-service and the garage was where the beer coolers were. Dave and his boy Pete always treated Bob OK. They’d liked his Daddy, too, and sometimes, when times were tough, Dave even gave Daddy credit to get gas.
Bob would stop by on his way to work in the evening and he’d get some Mountain Dew, a bag of chips, one of them sandwiches all wrapped in plastic, and a pack of Twinkies for his lunch, and then he’d talk with Dave and Pete for a while.
As Bob pulled up to the main gate at the base, the MP waved him through and shouted his hello. Bob tooted his horn and waved back as he headed for the parking lot. He got his lunch bucket together and went inside to get to work.
Tonight, he was supposed to strip and wax the floors in some of the offices and hallways and in the room with the animals. He got the power buffer out of the storage cage and got his supplies on his cart and headed off to do his job.
He finished stripping the hallway and the animal room and was almost done with the office next door when the MPs on patrol came by and said hello. Bob told them to mind the hall cause it might have some wet spots. They waved and Bob finished the office. He changed the pad on the buffer and waxed the hallway and went into animal room and started working there when a monkey started raising hell. Pretty soon, he had all the other monkeys screaming and the dogs barking. They were so loud tonight that he decided to let them calm down a tad and went next door to finish the office first.
When he was done, the monkeys were quiet, so he went in and started waxing. The monkeys stayed quiet this time, just watching him as he worked, and soon he was all done. Bob wrapped up the cord on the buffer when he heard a voice.
Bob looked around, but there was nobody there. He went back to winding up the cord.
“Bob, come here!”
He looked around again and didn’t see anybody, and then it hit him. The two MPs, Ben and Jerry, would play tricks on him at night sometimes because Bob would get spooked easy. “OK you two! I know it’s y’all pullin’ my leg! Come on outta there!”
There was no answer. Bob looked in the hall and around the room, but he didn’t see anybody. He was getting spooked as he went back to the buffer.
“Bob, get your ass over here!”
When Bob looked toward the cages where the voice came from, he saw one of the monkeys looking at him and waving for him to come closer. Wide-eyed and more than a little scared, Bob pointed at himself. The monkey seemed to sigh. “Yeah! You, Bob! Come here cause I got something I need to tell you.” Bob walked slowly to the cage. “Come on, Bob, don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.”
Bob blinked. “You’re a dad gum talkin’ monkey!”
The monkey rolled his eyes. “No, Bob, I’m John Kennedy. When that cross-dressing bastard J. Edgar Hoover had me shot in Dallas, they put my brain in this monkey.”
Bob took a deep breath. He never believed that story about the magic bullet. The preacher said there ain’t no magic. “No kiddin’?”
“Yeah, and that’s the Amazing Bat Boy in the next cage over.” The next cage held a pair of white rats. “Jesus you’re dumb, Bob.”
“I ain’t no dummy!”
“I know Bob, and I’m sorry, but sometimes being in this cage all the time makes me grumpy.”
Bob nodded his head. “That’s OK, monkey. I know how it is bein’ all cooped up.”
“Yeah, whatever. Listen Bob, we like you. The last guy used to come in here and piss on us. You just do your job and leave us alone, and we like that. So, here’s a little tip for you. Talk to Reyes and he can make you smart, just like we are.”
One of the rats that the monkey said were the Amazing Bat Boys rattled the cage. “Sure, Bob. You’d be even smarter than we are.”
“Stop shuckin’ me, now! Y’all talk lots better than me now, so how would I ever be as smart as y’all?”
The monkey laughed. “How you talk has nothing to do with how smart you are. Look at the people who run for President. They all speak well and sound nice, but the whole bunch of them together are dumber than a bag of hammers.”
Bob’s eyes narrowed. “Hey! Y’all ain’t no Republicans, are ya?”
The rat giggled. “Bob, we can’t vote.”
The monkey shot a glare at the rat. “Bob, just talk to Reyes. He can help you! He can make you like us!”
Just then, Ben and Jerry came walking by again. Ben stuck his head in the door. “Best stay away from those critters. If they get loose, Reyes will have a fit!”
The monkey whispered. “Remember, Bob, remember…”
Bob stood and looked at Ben. “I was just getting done.” He gathered up his supplies and headed off to the next section to strip and wax.
Over the next week, Bob tried but the monkey and the Bat Boy rats wouldn’t talk to him again. He started to tell Dave about it, but decided Dave would just think he was touched in the head or something. No way was Bob going to talk to Preacher Jack about it! Talking to animals was probably a sin, and he’d just tell Bob he was going to burn in hell!
Friday night, while Bob parked his truck at work, he saw Dr. Reyes’ car in the lot. Bob made sure to make the animal room his first stop to empty trash.
Dr. Reyes was there, writing something on his computer machine. “Evening, Bob. It’s been a while. Have some coffee and a donut?”
Bob smiled his best smile. “Thanks, doc.” He poured a cup of coffee and grabbed a powdered donut. The man never had anything but powdered donuts.
“By the way, the floor in here looks great. Nice job.”
“Thanks, doc. I like my job, but I wish I was smarter so I could do something else.”
“All a man can ask for is to have a job he can do with the skills God gave him.” He turned from his TV thing and said, “I wish sometimes I was as good at my job as you are at yours.”
Bob smiled and decided that the doc was in a good mood. “What you do in here with these critters, doc?”
Reyes thought for a moment. “That’s a little complicated. The short story is I’m trying to make the animals smarter.”
Bob noticed the monkey and the Bat Boy rat watched them. “Wow! That’s neat, Doc! Could you make me smart like them?”
Reyes turned and looked at the cages. The Rat Boy ran to his wheel and started running for all he was worth. The monkey picked at something on his butt. Reyes turned back to look at him. “I don’t know. Maybe we could, but there’s a lot involved.”
“All kinds of papers need to be signed and then we’d give you a bunch of shots.”
“I don’t like them shots, doc. They hurt.”
Reyes smiled. “Yeah, sometimes.”
Bob had a fit of insight. “But wouldn’t making me smart be a good thing, doc? I’d be like them critters and I could talk good and know stuff. I bet y’all would learn as much as me, too.”
Reyes mumbled something about needing human subjects. “Bob, if you’d really like to do this, it would help me in my work.”
“I sure would, doc!”
Reyes studied him for a moment. “Alright. You come see me at nine Monday morning and we’ll talk. Don’t tell anyone about this, though.”
“I sure will, doc, and you can set your watch by me!”
Bob went on with his duties and went home, never saying a word to anybody.
Bob kept his mouth shut all weekend. Even when him and Pete went to the Daugherty bowling alley, he didn’t say nothing.
When Preacher Jack came by Sunday, it was hard. It’s hard to lie to a preacher and Bob felt like not telling him was the same as lying.
It was hard, but Bob kept his mouth shut the entire weekend.
Monday morning, Bob was at the animal room at nine sharp, and the doc took him to his office in the back. “Everything is set, but I have some permission forms you’ll need to sign.” He sat a large stack of forms in front of Bob.
“Doc, I can’t read too good, you know, so maybe y’all could just tell me what’s in them papers.”
Reyes hesitated. “Can you write?”
“Lord yes, doc! I can sign my name!”
“That’s good, Bob. All these papers say is you’re doing this because you want to do it, and no one is forcing you.”
“Sure doc. That’s the truth.”
Reyes went through the forms and had Bob sign in about twenty places. “OK, Bob, let’s get started, shall we?” He took Bob out to the animal room and sat him in front of a TV set. “Bob, there are going to be pictures and words on this screen. You can make them go faster or slower by turning this knob. I’ll be coming over once in a while to give you a shot. It’s important for you to watch the screen and to let the screen change as fast as you can when you understand what’s there. Do you understand?”
Bob smiled broadly. “Yeah, doc. Make the pictures and stuff go as fast I can while I look at them.” He frowned for a moment. “Doc, will the shots hurt?”
Reyes smiled at him. “I’ll do my best so they won’t hurt.”
Reyes gave Bob a shot and it didn’t hurt at all. The stuff on the screen was easy, even for Bob. They were just pictures, like an apple, with the name of the thing underneath the picture. Bob turned up the speed a little. More and more pictures and words kept coming at him, and he thought this was a lot like the flash cards his first grade teacher, Mrs. Herman, had used. After about thirty minutes of this, the doc came and gave him another shot.
Bob saw the stuff on the TV was getting harder, like when he was in second grade, but he was still able to get it pretty fast because he already knew this stuff, so he kept turning the knob. Soon, Bob saw stuff he remembered from third grade, what little he was there, but it was still like he knew it.
Dr. Reyes came with another shot and Bob saw things he knew he’d never seen before, but it flashed past on the screen like he was already familiar with the material. He turned up the speed. Soon, there was information being presented to Bob he’d seen in some of the books the high school students who worked for Dave’s service station carried from class. Dr. Reyes gave him another injection, and Bob turned up the speed again.
Bob saw entire pages of text about advanced mathematics and other sciences in well less than a second. He absorbed the material like he himself had written the book. The data came from the monitor at faster and faster rates, and Bob still felt like he waited an eternity between pages. He increased the speed still more.
After the last injection, most of the information he saw concerned philosophy, about the complex relationship between man and God, if such an entity existed. Bob felt engrossed by the myriad and convoluted structure of the universe and man’s place within the labyrinth when, suddenly, the monitor went blank.
Bob stared at the monitor for a few moments and Dr. Reyes came up beside him. “How are you feeling?”
“I feel fine, but there seems to be something wrong with the computer.”
Reyes laughed a little. “No, Bob, the computer is just fine. You’ve simply reached the end of the knowledge we have available here in this lab.”
Bob frowned. “So what is next, doctor?”
“Just one more injection, Bob.”
Reyes gave Bob the injection in his arm and it burned terribly. It hurt so badly that Bob fell from the chair to the floor and he writhed in pain. He could hear the screams of the monkeys even above his own agony. Bob’s body twisted and turned.
The pain subsided, and he managed to open his eyes. A thick furry blur above his eyes was his protruding brow. Furry hands responded to Bob’s attempt to touch his face. Bob saw he was a monkey.
Reyes picked him up and put him in a cage next to the monkey who had spoken to him. Reyes slipped on his coat to leave the laboratory. “You see Bob, the best way to have a smart animal is to make your own.” He turned off the lights and locked the door.
The monkey in the next cage twittered. “So, how you doing, Bob?”
“You bastard! You knew this would happen! Why did you do this to me!”
“Jesus you’re dumb, Bob.”
“I am not stupid!”
The monkey smiled, as much as his face would allow. “Yeah, you’re dumb, and I’m Tommy Hill.”