Here's the story:
A guy named Harry Stephen Keeler wrote many books and they're so interesting a society of Keelerites was formed and for the past decade or so has encouraged its members to write short pastiches of Harry's style. Apparently I recorded an audio version of one of mine back in 2001.
I heartily recommend googling "Harry Stephen Keeler" and reading one of his books.
A Disturbing Telegram
Philo vunPtaffholster leaned back in the specially-designed car seat of his brand-new 1960 Metropolitan convertible and once more regarded the telegram that had just arrived from Mora Bora, informing him that like it or not, he was not the only man on the planet with a plastic skull!
He was on his way to spend an hour or so with the most beautiful woman in the world—bar none!—and now, as he pulled out of his driveway into the slow-moving 5 p.m. traffic, he began to read the message from the far off Pacific that threatened to strip him of his fame, his fortune, and more importantly, the most beautiful woman in the world—nuff sed!
MORA BORA 5:13 a.m. JULY 5, 1960
FROM: DWIL SPROCKET
TO: PHILO VUNPTAFFHOLSTER
PHI, OLD FRIEND, I’VE GOT BAD NEWS. A NATIVE OF MORA BORA, ONE MANUEL AMANO, IS GOING TO REVEAL TOMORROW AT HIGH NOON THAT HE TOO HAS A PLASTIC SKULL LIKE YOURS.
Philo swerved around an 18-wheeler that was making a wide right turn, then drove on.
NOW, AS YOU KNOW, YOU’VE MADE QUITE A NAME FOR YOURSELF IN PAST YEARS AS “THE MAN WITH THE PLASTIC SKULL”, EXHIBITING YOURSELF IN TRAVELLING MOTORCADE CIRCUSES, ALLOWING PEOPLE TO FEEL AND MANIPULATE YOUR NON-RIGID SKULL.
A car in the right lane cut Philo off and he had to slam on the brakes, sending the car into a tight, well-controlled spin. Straightening out, Philo once again turned to the telegram and drove on.
I’VE MANAGED TO FIND OUT THAT THE OPERATION ON AMANO WAS PERFORMED BY A DOCTOR WESLEY TOOTHWELL, WHO PRACTICES AT PEPPERDUKE UNIVERSITY, JUST DOWN THE ROAD FROM WHERE YOU LIVE IN NORTHEAST CHICAGO. HE’S A, WHAT DO YOU CALL IT, BONE SURGEON.
Philo pulled into a service station and told the attendent to fill’erup. The attendant gave a toothy grin and shuckled, “Gawsh, Mr. vunPtaffholster, anytime!”
“How did you know my nam—” Philo shot back, but immediately realized his mistake—he was one of the most well-known and beloved circus performers in the Tri-State area.
“Wa-all, Mr. vunPtaffholster, it’s writ’ raght thar on th’ sida yer car!”
“That’s right,” Philo thought, “I forgot that I had a sign painter come over and paint:
on both sides of my car.” He paid for the gas, got back in the convertible, and picked up the telegram as he started the car, and drove on.
THERE IS MORE TO TELL YOU BUT THESE TELEGRAMS ARE, WELL, EXPENSIVE. I’LL WRITE YOU A LETTER AND SEND IT TO YOU VIA THE U.S. MAIL.
A policecar pulled up alongside the Metropolitan, which was going about fifty, and the policeman who was not driving held his billy club up and, through the closed window, thumped it against his gloved left hand once, twice, three times, all the while gazing at Philo with a sleepy grin on his face. Philo winced, and felt the skin on his hump loosen. He knew what those three thumps meant—the third degree! Then he saw the cop’s eyes drift down to the sign on the side of the car, and the cop’s face went ashen. He yelled at his partner to speed up and to Philo’s astonishment, the policecar sped on ahead and was soon out of sight.
Philo breathed a sigh of relief and resumed his telegram-reading. Once again he drove on.
I GUESS THAT’S ABOUT IT, PARTNER.
Philo put down the telegram and thought about the implications of another person having a plastic skull like his. And how? Philo had always been told that it was ol’ Doc Winkerdoll that had saved his life by removing his heavily radar-active skull back in 1954, replacing it with a skull prosthesis made from Plastene, a new form of plastic the doctor had invented, a form that was actually more like a soft rubber with incredible tensile strength. It wasn’t the whole skull, but just the bowl-shaped top part, from the tops of the eye orbitals up.
But ol’ Doc Winkerdoll was killed not long after performing the operation, and never revealed the secret formula for Plastene. He left a note saying it was hidden in a 2-inch Plastene sphere, but the four government agents who killed Winkerdoll searched every inch of his office and home and never found it.
At this point in his ruminations Philo pulled into the posh driveway of the Smith-Smythes, where dwelt the most beautiful woman in the world, Confessa Smith-Smythe.
Confessa met him at the door as she always did, giving him a warm kiss while rubbing his hump for luck. But she had a look of worry on her pretty face.
“Oh, Phi, oh Phi, oh Phi,” she bewailed, “I’ve just had the most dreadful news!”
“Me too! You first,” Philo countered.
“Well, you know that Daddy has had some bad luck in the market lately, and he just found out that unless he pulls a big score with Plastene, Inc. the company that you and he started in anticipation of the day when the formula is found, he’s dead broke! And you know we can’t get married until he can afford to pay for the lavish wedding ceremony!”
“Gosh, Confessa, that is bad news. My news isn’t quite so bad, but it’s sort of in the same category. I just found out that there is another person who now has a plastic skull, and that may put a damper on my circus career. As the only man on earth with a plastic skull, I was quite a draw, but with this Amano guy—”
“Oh Phi! What are we to do? You’ve always been so resourceful. In fact, it was because of your hump that Daddy was happy for us to become, well, an item. He always said, ‘If a man can grow up with a handicap like a huge hump on his right shoulderblade, and still not be bitter with the world, that man is good enough for my daughter!’ Of course I've come to love you in spite of your hump—although it does get in the way of our lovemaking sometimes and I do wish it could be removed—but that’s not to mention your brave experience with your radar-active skull.”
“We-ell, Confessa, I feel the same way about your father. As for my skull, you remember how I discovered back in 1954, quite by accident one day when I wandered too near an army air force installation, that my original osseous skull was hyper-sensitive to those new-fangled radar waves used by the military since WWII. I got an excruciating headache that knocked me out and it was only through the good luck of being found by Ol’ Doc Winkerdoll that I survived. Apparently, the radar waves caused my skull to contract, giving me the horrible headache. So he removed the top of my skull and replaced it with a Plastene facsimile. I was in a coma for a month afterwards but came out of it in good condition.”
“Oh, Phi, if only he had told you what he did with your old skull, we might be able to help Daddy. I've heard that the military and the police are very interested in any material that can detect radar-waves. Of course it’s obvious why the air force wants it, but—”
“—Why would the cops want it? I know what you mean, Confessa, it’s a real mystery.”
He pulled her close to him for another kiss, then snapped his fingers. “Hold it! I just had an idea. Can I use your ’phone?" He reached for the telephone and dialed 0. “Operator, connect me with Professor Wesley Toothwell at Pepperduke University!”
A few minutes later a voice answered. “Toothwell here.”
“Doctor Toothwell, my name is Philo vunPtaffholster. Did you just perform surgery on a Mora Boran native, giving him a plastic skull?”
“Why, yes, I did. Did you say, ‘vunPtaffholster?’ ”
“Yes I did. I’m the original Man with the Plastic Skull. Er—ah—did you use Plastene for your skull?”
“No I didn’t, Mr. vunPtaff—”
“Just call me Philo, please.”
“Thank you, Philo. No I didn’t use Plastene. As you know, the formula is still unknown and the Plastene in your head is the only bit of it known to be in existence.”
“That’s right, Doctor. May I ask two questions? One, is the man you operated on planning on travelling around, exhibiting his skull in circuses? And two, was the operation difficult? I mean, would it have been easier if you had had some Plastene to work with?”
“Well, Mr. vunPtaff—er, Philo, the answer to your first question is, absolutely not. Mr. Amano has an abject fear of circuses, especially clowns, and wouldn’t get near a circus. In fact, he leaves his village in Mora Bora whenever a circus comes to town, and lives on another island until the carnies leave town for good. As for the second question, the answer is yes, yes, yes, and double yes, yes! The qualities of Plastene, as exhibited by the hundreds, if not thousands of circus-goers who have seen and manipulated your Plastene skull, show that it is a much better material for skull-fabrication than the hard bakelite I used. The formula for Plastene, when it is finally found, will make mill—”
“That’s what I wanted to hear, Doctor! I think you’ll be hearing from me again—sooner than you think. Thanks for everything!” With that Philo hung up the phone and turned to his Confessa. “Darlin’, I think I've got the answer to all of our problems!”
All Strings Tied Up
Bong Hai, leader of the tong, the Fat Black Lemurs, leaned back in his papa-san chair and tamped down another bowlful of his tong’s best brand of opium. He lit the pipe and took a long, slow pull, gazing at the wall as if it were ten miles away. He set the pipe down and settled deeper in the chair, then reached up and rubbed his skull vigorously, with both hands. He pushed with both hands, squeezing the sides of his head until they receded about an inch. Then he pushed the top down, squeezing the sides out. He had a plastic skull!
The sensations Bong Hai felt as the inner side of his Plastene skull rubbed against his brain, even moving it a bit, were exquisite. He simply could not describe the pleasures to anyone who did not have some good opium and a Plastene skull.
He thought about how he got his new skull. His photographic memory had it all down in detail and the opium was making it seem especially real. His lips mumbled soft words as he drifted into the warm, rolling clouds of nepenthe.
“It began wi’ that ’Melican fella, vunPtaffholstel. He velly smalt. He have filst plas’ic skull. He got skull in fi’ty-fo’ because he fin’ his skull contlac’, get smallel, w’en he get neal ladal.”
Bong Hai chuckled to himself at his pitiful attempt to say “near radar”. And drove on.
“But he luckily foun’ a bone sulgeon docta’—fella name’ Winkeldoll—who lemove skull an’ leplace it wi’ Plastene. Docta’ also hid folmula fo’ Plastene at ’loun’ same time. Folmula not foun’ until day six yeals latel, w’en vunPtaffholstel get blight idea w’ele it be. He kill two bilds wi’ one lock! He fin’ folmula fo’ Plastene an’ fin’ his ol’ skull w’ich contlac’ w’en neal ladal. All in same place!”
The wizened old tong leader smiled to himself as he continued to manipulate his Plastene skull with much pleasure. His softly spoken ruminations continued.
“He get bone docta’ name’ Toothwell to op’late on his hump and he fin’ that oliginal docta’ name’ Winkeldoll, aftel lemovin’ skull an’ leplacin’ it wi’ Plastene skull, also lemove hump an’ leplace it wi’ oliginal skull! T’en he hide folmula ball inside skull-hump! Why? Because he know govelnment agents wan’ to kill him fo’ bot’ seclets an’ will sealch offices flom A to Izzald.”
He took another pull on the opium pipe and continued to manipulate his Plastene skull, which he got at the Chicago Center for Frivolous Elective Surgery, or CCFES. Once the formula was released by Plastene, Inc. to much public hooplah and unheard of investment by the stock market class, Bong Hai, thanks to his huge fortune amassed from opium sales, was one of the first to receive a new skull.
“So much pleasule I get. Make me glad vunPtaffholstel get lich flom Plastene, get lid of hump an’ mally sweethealt, an’ sell impoltant ladal-sens’tive skull to militaly so they can tell if ladal bein’ used ’gainst them.”
Bong Hai’s eyes glazed over with extreme joy as he mumbled one last question.
“Nevel did figule out w’y cops wan’ed ladal-sens’tive matelial. Cops nevel use ladal ’gainst own cit’zens, would they? Aftel all, ’tis ’Melica, lan’ of flee, light?”