Copyright 1985, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel
I knew that something was up the moment that the phone rang. Usually I never got any calls until noon, at least. But I answered without question, and was stunned. The President was calling.
"Get down here, and fast. We have a problem.
I felt a strange twisting in the stomach. What could have happened that the President himself would be calling me? Normally, if I was needed in the Oval Office, one of the aides would call me. Something big must have happened, probably something horrible.
I tried not to think about all that might be wrong as I hurried to the Oval Office. There were just too many things that could happen. If I let them bother me, it would surely have destroyed me.
"Good morning, Mr. President," I said as I entered.
"Good morning to you as well, Sasha," the President said. "Sit down and have some jelly beans."
"As I sat down, I noticed the three aides standing in a nearby doorway, holding armloads of newspapers. What now? Upon the President's signal they entered and set the newspapers on his desk.
"Have you been reading the papers lately?" the President asked.
"Yes, sir," I said. "It's part of my duty to keep up with the latest news."
"And what is your analysis of the news reported in the last several weeks?" the President asked, holding out the ever-present jar of jellybeans for me to have some.
"The news has been growing progressively better over the last three weeks, sir," I answered, taking a few jelly beans out of sheer courtesy. "For the last two days there has been no bad news whatsoever. It's so much better than all those stories..."
I stopped when the President smiled and nodded in his "that's enough" look. "That's exactly our problem," he said. "No bad news. Someone has stolen all the bad news around the world."
"Why don't you just let them have it, Mr. President? one of the aides suggested. "We can do quite well without it."
"That's what they want us to do," the President answered. "They stole our bad news for a reason. Probably they are planning to use it for something dastardly." Then he turned to me and said gravely, "Sasha, I want you to find that bad news before anyone has a chance to do something terrible with it."
"Mr. President," I answered, "I can assure you that I will do all that is in my capability to find the thief of the bad news."
All the way back to my office, I tried to think of possible suspects, but without success. Obviously I needed help.
The first thing I did upon arriving in my office was to call my counterpart in the Kremlin. Perhaps he would have some answeres, or at least a few suggestions to spur my thinking.
"What is it, Sahsa?" he asked when he answered.
"George, we seem to have a problem."
"Someone has stolen all the bad news."
"Bet it feels like home then. I've missed bad news since I got here. Pravda doesn't print bad news."
"This isn't funny. The President wants the bad news found. He thinks someone is planning to do something nasty with it."
There was a pause which seemed to last forever, then George said, "I've got it! The Bad News Baron. It's got to be!"
"Who?" I asked, trying to imagine who this Bad News Baron could be.
"Maudir von Gloom, the Bad News Baron. He's the master of Gloomville, where all the news is bad. Bad news makes him powerful, and the more the better. No wonder the President wants that bad news recovered."
"Where is this Gloomville? I need a way to get there."
"In the gloomiest, most miserable place in the world." And then he gave me the flight co-ordinates.
Moments later I was in a White House staff helicopter, hurrying to the place identified as the location of Gloomville and the home of the mysterious Bad News Baron. I hoped that my sources were right, and I would be able to get this done as quickly as possible.
When the helicopter landed, I only had to look around me to know that I was in Gloomville. The dismal landscape seemed to close in around me, trying to stifle my thoughts, to smother me. Everywhere the misery seemed to close in on me like I had never known.
This has to be it, I thought. Where else could anyone want bad news so intensely that they would resort to stealing it?
Now, where did the Baron live? He was the one I needed to see. There was no use in dealing with the ordinary folk -- they knew little or nothing about the matter. The Baron had done this, and the Baron I would see.
The castle seemed carved out of solidified gloom, so dismal did it look. Any other time, I would have fled, but I knew this was the Baron's home and I had to confront him.
As I aproached the looming castle, the misery of the entire area lowered itself like a millstone on my back. My training certainly hadn't covered this sort of thing. Now if I could just get in without falling into a depression first.
The gatekeeper was sitting at the gatehouse and complaining in a loud, whining voice.
"I would like to see the Baron," I told him.Although he complained, he called a glum servant. I was taken to a huge hall crammed with cardboard boxes. At its head sat a man with an open box before him.
"So you are the Bad News Baron," I said.
"I am called that, he said. "In full my name is Maudir d'Bumn, Baron von Gloom, Lord of Gloomville."
He looked his name. Dressed entirely in black, he seemed to radiate misery. His face was lined in an expression of perpetual pessimism.
"And who are you?" he asked.
I told himmy name and displayed my White House ID card.
"Are you really the Exchange Official?" he asked.
To quell his doubts, I showed him my red card.
"Did you know that you and your friend in the Kremlin ruined my original plans?" he said quietly.
"What do you mean?" I asked, startled.
"Bad news gives me power," he said, "and rumors of war give the most. When your two countries were on the road to nuclear war, I had so much wonderful bad news, I was almost strong enough to take over the world and plunge it into eternal gloom. But then your countries hatch this plan to send a bureaucrat from each government to the other, and you make peace."
Then he reached into the box and pulled out fistfuls of paper. Suddenly I was showered with newspaper articles, all telling of some human misery.
"I was desperate," the Baron screamed at me. "I had to recover my power. Then I hit upon this ingenious scheme. I would steal all the world's bad news and put it into my Misery Machine. And it woudl give me so much wonderful power, I could rule the world and all the news would then be bad." He paused for a moment, looking at the boxful of articles. Then, in a strangely subdued voice, he added, "And you shall be present at my moment of triumph."
Before I could respond, I found myself being hauled away by many rough hands. Before I could resist, I was dragged into a huge room filled with machinery of every sort. Helplessly I stared as I found myself being lashed to a huge post. What was going on?
Calmly, the Baron strode in, followed by servants carrying the huge crates of bad news. Suddenly I felt a terrible fear growing inside me. They were ready to do it then!
"Ah, Sasha," he said to me, "you shall witness this monmentous occasion." Then he laughed wildly like a madman.
With a dramatic motion he grasped the ON switch and threw it. At once the huge machine began to purr deep within its vitals.
The servants began dumping the cratefulls of bad news into an enormous hopper as quickly as the machine could take it on. With the bad news to work on, the machine began to move. Gears turned, pistons pumped, every sort of movement came from thousands of parts. STrange noises rumbled from inside it.
This thing was going to make life miserable for generations to come. I couldn't just stand there and watch the Bad News Baron plunge the world into endless gloom.
Straining with all my might, I lunged forward. If I could just hit that switch....
"St. Basil's shall not be tarnished!"
Suddenly the sounds changed. Wahtever I had kicked in my desperation must have been important, for strange things were happening throughout that horrible contraption. Strange bulges formed everywhere throughout the pipes, bellows and fittings. hen they burst, and out pourred a mass of.......
Mounds and mounds of jellybeans poured from every opening. All the bad news had been turned into jellybeans. Showers of them fired out the windows, flooding all of Gloomville with candy. Wonderful sweet jellybeans, such a glorious treat and so good to eat! The perfect thing to chase gloom away.
Buried up to his neck in multicolored jellybeans stood the Baron, screaming hopelessly for someone to dig him out. Only minutes ago so proud, he now looked totally ridiculous.
To my astonishment, I discovered that amidst my struggles to stop the Misery Machine, my bonds had broken. Now I needed to get out. Throwing aside the pieces of rope, I climbed over the mounds of jellybeans to an open window and slid down the side of another heap of jellybeans.
The ground was covered everywhere with a blanket of multicolored jellybeans. children and adults alike were out collecting the jellybeans and laughing, perhaps for the very first time.
"Sahsa! You're safe!"
Who was this? Startled, I turned to come face to face with General Borlins, Army Chief of Staff.
"What are you doing here?"
"We were afraid you might be getting yourself into more than you realized. After all, if anything happened to you, the Kremlin would never get over it. When we heard where you were headed, I commandered five choppers from Fort Bragg and hurried here."
"Sorry to disappoint you, but all that's left is the mopping up. The Baron's still in the castle, buried up to his neck in jellybeans. Get him at your leisure; he isn't going to be running off very soon."
Several hours later, back at the White House, I was escorted into the Oval Office. "Good afternoon, Mr. President. I tracked down the stolen bad news and nothing nasty will be done with it."
"Wonderful, Sasha." he said. "Sit down and have some jellybeans."
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