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"To Invade New York...."   By:

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It would be foolish to do a thing a hard way, when there is such an easy way. In a technically dependent culture, people become quite helpless, really....



He was a tall, learned looking man, about fifty, slightly stooped, with a bulging midriff, tortoise shell glasses, graying hair, and a strange look in his eyes. I'd noticed him standing outside Shannon's Bar for about ten minutes, pacing back and forth. Then he came in and sat down next to me. It was late afternoon, before the rush hour, and we were the only customers in the place.

Jimmy, the bartender, put down the towel with which he'd been idly wiping glasses, and came over. "What'll it be?"

The stranger jumped nervously and looked blank for a moment. "Uh ... er ... a glass of beer, please. Root beer."

Jimmy snorted. "Try the candy store down the block."

"Oh," said the stranger, obviously upset. "Then let me have a glass of regular beer mild, please."

I smiled at Jimmy as he filled a glass. All sorts came into Shannon's. Outside, the traffic on Third Avenue was only a faint hum.

The stranger licked the foam tentatively and wrinkled his nose in distaste. He put the glass back on the bar and shook his head.

" Pro superi! quantum mortalia pectora caecae, Noctis habent. "

"Huh?" said Jimmy.

The stranger smiled briefly. "That is Latin. It means, Oh, ye gods, what darkness of night there is in mortal minds."

Jimmy shrugged and went back to wiping glasses. The stranger nodded to me. "Ovid said that. He was a wise man."

"Friend of yours?" I asked, just to be polite.

"He died nearly two thousand years ago." He tasted the beer again and pushed it away. "Permit me to introduce myself. I am Horace Howard Clarke, associate professor of Roman History at one of the universities in the city."

I introduced myself and we shook hands. "Tell me," he said, "do you believe New York can be conquered?"

One of those kind, I thought. And here I was with an hour to kill before meeting my date. "Lots of people have taken it in," I started.

"I don't mean that kind. I mean physically invaded."

"Pretty big job, I'd think."

"Very simple." He dropped a small metal disk on the bar. "This could do it or at least help."

I picked up the metal disk. "Why, it's a subway token."

" Almost a subway token," he said. "And therein lies the key to conquest. That and the green lights." I edged away from him. This I didn't need! He leaned towards me. "If only I could convince someone," he said, his lips tight. "Perhaps you will believe me."

I got to my feet. "Sorry. But I've got a date."

"Please!" The voice was firm, all of a sudden. "It is vital!" I hesitated and Jimmy came over, in case there was trouble.

"Well," I said, deciding to humor him, "if it won't take long."

" Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio. "


"If I labor to be brief, I become obscure."

I sighed. A long winded one. And in Latin, yet!

He motioned to Jimmy. "Let this gentleman have another drink, bartender." He moved closer to me. "I will tell you what I know," he said. "If you believe, perhaps you will be able to do something about it. This much is certain. Very little time remains before disaster strikes!"

It all began (he said) prosaically enough on the Tuesday of last week, on the third floor of the Public Library at 42nd Street, in Room 315. There, as you probably know, one may obtain books on most subjects by filling out a slip, receiving an odd or even number, and retiring to either the odd or even Reading Room, where your number will eventually flash on a lighted board. At the time I was engrossed in a study of the early life of Publilius Syrus and, I must admit, glanced only casually at the card given me by the young man at the desk. I saw that it was 18 and proceeded into the Even room on the right for what I knew from past experience would be a tedious wait... Continue reading book >>

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