Fiction

The Man Who DIDN'T Need Sleep

JOHN REESE December 1 1951
Fiction

The Man Who DIDN'T Need Sleep

JOHN REESE December 1 1951

The Man Who DIDN'T Need Sleep

Fiction

JOHN REESE

HE HAD ONCE overheard a stenographer refer to him as “that shy young engineer.” Knowing they thought him shy only made him twice as shy and three times as miserable. So Linton Wilk raced through the outer office of the Buckthorne Construction Company as though his brief case held a time bomb set for thirty seconds ago. The caroled greetings of the stenographic pool pursued him like the baying of hounds on the trail of a swamp-bound fugitive:

“Good morning, Mr. Wilk. Good morning, Mr. Wilk. Good morning, Mr. Wilk.”

One predatory little redhead especially terrified him. Pam Barrett couldn’t be a day over twenty. She was fresh out of business school, and fresh was the word. Lin’s private opinion was that the Buckthorne personnel manager had learned his trade as a casting director. He suffered horribly every time he had to dictate to one of these gorgeous creatures.

Lin’s nerve, if any, was especially weak today. He had been bothered with insomnia for —oh, for quite a while. He understood at last that windy soliloquy of Hamlet’s. Any man would start seeing things and talking to himself after a few sleepless nights. Lin averted his eyes, dark circles and all, as he flitted past Pam Barrett’s desk.

“G-good morning, girls,” he managed to stammer.

He now faced the worst ordeal of all. At the door of Olive Consola’s private office he hesitated with his hand on the knob. Olive was not merely Mr. Ramsey C. Buckthorne’s secretary, but office manager as well.

Lin’s groveling adoration of her had been an office joke for a long time.

Lin was thirty-one, and the short cut of his nondescript brown hair, the intense look in his eyes, and the starch in his collar, proclaimed him to be an engineer of the pencil-pushing, or office, variety. High boots, plaid shirt, and a week’s beard might have changed this, but it was obvious that anyone as shy as Lin would

never get a chance to get out. of the estimating department.

CJO on in, Mr. Wilk, came Pam s husky teasing voice. “She won’t, eat you ... I theenk.”

Lin leaped through the door, and Olive’s personality smote him and laid him low.

“Why Lin, you weren’t supposed to come hack to the oflice until you had that Shookey job figured,” she said.

“I’ve got it figured,” Lin said, stifling a yawn. “Is the boss in yet?”

“No. But Lin, you can’t be through, not in such an impossibly short time!” she cried.

Her blue eyes accused him of fraud.

W omen named Olive should be either tall and tawny or small and scrawny. This one was neither. Olive Consola was a blizzard blonde who would have looked right at home opening the Auto Show, being photographed in a red convertible with leopard-skin upholstery, with the Mayor grinning fatuously beside her and wondering what to do with his top hat.

Science may have contributed to the glint in her hair, but nature alone had molded her ripe young figure.

Lin tore his eyes away. “I’ve got it, all right,” he said. “Shall I wait inside for him?”

“If you like.” Her eyes followed him perplexedly as he left the room. It was some time before Continued on page 51

Continued on page 51

The Man Who Didn't Need Sleep

Continued from page 17

her typewriter resumed its rhythmic

beat.

Mr. Buckthorne’s office had been newly redecorated in the modern manner. Lin’s tastes were traditional. He particularly loathed a foot-high mahogany figurine on the desk. It was supposed to be the Dove of Peace, but it seemed to Lin that any living fowl having this grotesque angularity would surely lay square eggs and hate the world. Its square wings were folded in a half Nelson and its square bill was open. Apparently it was cooing, but to Lin it looked as though it had just choked on a square grain of wheat.

He sat down, yawning. He was scared stiff of the boss, and everybody knew it. He fidgeted. The silence of the room was oppressive. Whenever he looked up, there was that square pigeon, choking and cooing soundlessly.

“Ah, shut up!” he said.

A voice bellowed, “What’s that, Wilk? You weren’t to come back until you had our Shookey bid ready. Why do you think I send work home with you, anyway?”

Mr. Buckthorne strode in, a huge, red-faced, Perfecto-munching basso in rumpled seersuckers. He flung himself into his chair. Lin opened his brief case and took out a thick sheaf of papers, stifling another yawn.

“It’s ready, sir,” he said. “Our bid will be three million, one hundred and sixty-seven thousand, nine hundred dollars. But watch out for those new roof trusses in the millroom. They’re tricky.”

Mr. Buckthorne took the papers. He thumbed through them, shaking his head.

“You couldn’t!” he said.

“Well,” said Lin, “I’ve been having a little touch of insomnia lately.”

Mr. Buckthorne handed back the file. “I still say you couldn’t,” he harked, “but have Olive get the comp section busy on your figures. If they check out you’ve set some kind of a record, Wilk.”

There was a look almost like respect in his eye. Lin took the file and withdrew hurriedly.

All day the calculating machines clacked away. One by one the girls took their tapes into Mr. Buckthorne’s office. Quitting time came, and they worked on. A single error would have brought the boss out roaring, so Lin knew his neat pencil figures had met the test of the machine. It was long after dark when he heard Mr. Buckthorne leave.

I[N, MAY I talk to you a minute?” j He jumped. Olive Consola was standing beside his desk. The wall clock said ten. The last calculator had stopped clacking, and the last girl had put on fresh lipstick and gone home to rub it off again.

They were alone in the office a terrifying thought. Two scrub ladies sniffed disapproval from the open hall door, hut they didn’t count.

“Of course, Olive,” he said shakily.. She had the bulky Shookey file in her hands. She looked slightly dazed as she sat down.

“These figures, Lin “What’s wrong with them?” “Nothing!” she said, a trifle wildly. “Mr. Buckthorne can’t believe it and neither can I.”

Lin squirmed. “Well, you know how it is when you can t sleep. In the still of the night your mind becomes clear. Extraordinary concentration becomes possible.”

She frowned sternly. “Lin, how long since you’ve slept?”

“Oh, quite a while.” She still

frowned, so he went on, “Oh, about a week, I guess. Maybe ten days. Maybe more.”

“Oh, you. poor boy!”

She seized his hand. No telling what rash thing he might have done had not the two scrub ladies come into the room. He withdrew his hand hurriedly and put it behind him.

“It’s just tension, I guess. I—I

don’t seem to be getting ahead. Olive.” His melancholy thickened, and he felt more than ever like Hamlet.

“There must be something wrong with you,” she said. “I know! I’ll take you to see Dr. Jenison.”

Lin had seen Dr. Jenison in the office, calling to take Olive to dinner, to lunch—anywhere he could take her. The doctor was a large, handsome, vigorous, self-assured man —all the things that Lin Wilk wasn’t.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to bother him,” Lin said.

“Nonsense! We’ll go see him tomorrow afternoon. Now take me home and then try to get a good night’s sleep.”

She probably did not realize that no man could sleep after taking her home. Saying good night, Lin held her hand rather longer than was necessary. Afterward. pacing his room through the long night, he wondered if he should have kissed her. He had kissed one or two girls, always at the wrong time. But when he did not kiss them, it was the wrong time for that, too.

He knew there was no escape from his appointment with Dr. Jenison and there wasn’t. Olive arranged for them both to take the afternoon off. She took him to the doctor’s office, just down the street, and waited in the reception room while Lin haltingly told his story.

“No man,” the doctor announced at the end, “can go that long without sleep.”

“1 did,” Lin said.

“You didn’t. Take off your shirt. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. I’m tired of you fellows taking up a man’s time with your imaginary complaints.”

Lin had never imagined that the human body was susceptible to so many analyses. He hopped on one foot, breathed into a machine, swallowed chemicals, and yielded up reluctant drops of blood from finger tips and earlobes. The afternoon wore on. Dr. Jenison got a thoughtful look and began muttering, “H’m, h’m.” By the time he said, “You may get dressed now,” Lin was sure he was the victim of some bizarre creeping disease.

He buttoned the last button and came out into the reception room in time to hear Dr. Jenison’s booming voice say, “Your friend is abnormal. Olive.”

“What?” Lin cried.

The doctor looked queer as he turned around. For once his magnificent poise was shaken.

“You say your mind works better when you can’t sleep?”

“Yes,” said Lin. “T’m unusually alert lately. In fact, I can’t get work enough to occupy me. In addition to doing the Shookey job I’ve memorized Genesis and ten pages of logarithms. Would you like to hear them?”

“No,” said the doctor. “This is the most amazing thing I ever saw. The need for sleep varies with different people. Some require eight or ten hours nightly, others only a few.

“My tests indicate that your glands are about ten times as efficient as normal ones. Likewise your metabolism and your tissue-replacement rate. Somehow, incredible as it may seem, you seem to have reached a stage where

your body requires no sleep at all,ever.” “You mean I’ll never sleep again?” Lin shrieked.

“Apparently so,” the doctor said hollowly.

Olive cried, “Don’t you see, Lin? You’re a kind of a superior being! You’ll live ten lifetimes while we’re living one. Think of all the hours we waste in sleep! But while we’re inert and useless, your mind will be racing along at breakneck speed, lucidly and efficiently doing the work of ten normal men. Think what it means, Lin!”

The abyss yawned at his feet.

“But that’s awful!” he exclaimed. “What happens when I know the last logarithm by heart, as well as Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy? Think what I might do, in the long lonely hours of the night! Why, I might become dictator of the world, out of sheer boredom.”

Olive jumped to her feet, in the grip of that evangelistic altruism which seizes a woman when she sees a chance to redeem some man from the liquor habit, or bachelorhood, or the vanity of dictatorship, or any of the other futile vices.

“You mustn’t! You must do only worth-while things with your power. Oh, let me help you!”

“Would you?” he cried.

She swayed toward him. Dr. Jenison’s voice brought them back to earth just in time.

“This has taken up most of my afternoon,” he said crossly. “I’m going to have to charge you a hundred dollars, Mr. Wilk.”

“But Alvin, that’s as much as he makes in a week,” said Olive, in dismay.

Lin snapped his fingers in Alvin’s

face. A sense of overwhelming power surged through him.

“Not any more!” he said. “Send me a bill, doctor. Come, Olive. We have a lot to talk about.”

He walked home with her and neither noticed the distance, so intoxicated were they by the vistas of accomplishment newly opened to him. He thought with disdain of those terrifying girls in the stenographic pool, with the mocking smiles on their red young lips.

“The first thing I’m going to do,” he said recklessly, “is demand a pxdvate secretary. Pam Barrett, for instance.” “Pam?” said Olive. “Really, I don’t think she could be spared. Anyway, her spelling isn’t very good.”

“Who cares?” said Lin. “Then I’m going to make Mr. Buckthorne send me out on the job somewhere.”

“Well, if you really want to,” said Olive. “But we’d better not say anything to him about your—your abnormality.”

THE showdown came sooner than they expected. Mr. Buckthorne called Lin into his office early the next morning. On his desk was a bulky sheaf of blueprints.

“Here’s the call for bids on the city incinerator,” he said. “When can you have an estimate ready?”

Lin ruffled the blueprints nonchalantly. “Oh, about seven-thirty tomorrow morning.”

Mr. Buckthorne stared at Lin, as though half sensing the vast transformation that had come over the office drudge.

“No man,” he snapped, “can do it that quickly.”

“I can.”

“What’s come over you, Wilk?” Mr. Buckthorne pleaded. “I just saw the Shookey figures. Your estimate checks. This is almost . . . supernatural.” “Quite,” said Lin, coolly. “By the way, after I get this bid figured I’d like to spend a few months in the field. That Panama job, for instance.”

Mr. Buckthorne gurgled. “If you can get that incinerator estimate in here tomorrow morning,” he finally got out, “you can leave for Panama tomorrow night . . . only you can’t.”

“I can,” said Lin.

“What’s got into you, Wilk? You were always such a nasty little whimpering thing, you used to make me sick!”

“I made myself sick, too,” said Lin. He went out, and in Olive’s office remembered something. He stuck his head in the door again. Behind his mahogany pigeon Mr. Buckthorne jumped slightly.

“Another thing. I think I should go on a monthly basis, don’t you? Say, about fifteen hundred dollars.”

“I’ll tell Miss Consola to put it through,” Mr. Buckthorne mumbled. His cigar trembled between his teeth.

Lin closed the door. He was seeing himself suddenly in high boots, plaid shirt, and a week’s growth of beard, walking a teetering beam and pointing with the stem of a stubby pipe to where he wanted something placed. No more pencil-pushing! No more frayed white collars! He seized Olive’s hands.

“1 win! I leave for Panama tomorrow night.”

“But Lin, you can’t even speak Spanish!” she wailed.

“I will by tomorrow,” he said confidently.

.She withdrew her hands as Pam Barrett came in with the morning mail. “Hi, Mr. Wilk,” Pam said.

“Hi, cutie,” said Lin. “New dress?” She winked at him. “Just an old rag, and cutie yourself,” she said, going out.

Olive looked rnoughtfully out of the window.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea, Lin,” she said. “Going to Panama,

I mean. What’s going to happen down there if your perpetual-motion mind runs out of work?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said blithely.

“But I do worry, Lin. I can’t help it. You said you were going to let me help you. How can I, with you down there and me up here?”

“That’s right, how can you?” He fought against the coils he felt tightening around him. In his mind the man in the plaid shirt almost fell off the beam. “But all my life I’ve wanted to run a job! T can’t give up this chance.”

Olive absently tore a page out of her dictionary—sonneteer to soricine —and folded it into squares.

“I suppose not,” she said, in a low voice. “But Panama’s such a small defenseless country! It isn’t fair. Of course, I could go with you —”

“But you couldn’t!” he said, deeply shocked.

“I suppose not,” she murmured. “Unless—” Llis heart leaped. “Unless we were married. Oh, Olive, would you go that far?”

Her lashes fluttered. “How far?” “Marry me?”

“If you really want me,” she whispered. “But we’d have to be married, tomorrow, if we’re leaving tomorrow night. I’ll have to shop for a few things. And I suppose we’ll want to keep my apartment, so we’ll have a home to come back to. It’s all so—so sudden, Lin. It takes my breath away!”

“Mine, too.” He stared at her blissfully. How had he ever gotten up the nerve? He was actually engaged to Olive! They were actually flying to Panama together! They would actually have a heavenly tropical honeymoon, with him doing the work he loved, and Olive at his side to keep him out of mischief.

“I’ve always liked you,” she was saying. “You’ve always been so decent and good. I hope you never change.” “I won’t. Oh, Olive!”

“Oh, Lin!”

After a moment she pushed him away and gave him a tissue and he wiped off the lipstick.

“Now, take your blueprints and go home,” she said firmly. “You’d better let me break the news to Mr. Buckthorne. We’ll get the license tomorrow afternoon and be married tomorrow evening. The ging will want to give us a present, of course.”

“An electric toaster,” said Lin ecstatically.

He had chipped in for dozens of electric toasters. The head bookkeeper bought them at a discount from the jobber on the eleventh floor. Someone was always getting married in a big office. Somehow it was never quite legal, until the head bookkeeper’s little manila envelope had done the rounds of the office.

He walked home, carrying the blueprints. As he turned the first corner, he patted the firm granite shoulder of the towering First National Bank affectionately.

‘ I could own you in a few weeks, if I set my mind to it,” he said.

A newspaper headline caught his eye. The State Department had sent off another angry note, without waiting for an answer to the last one. What could a man like himself do as secretary of state? He laughed grimly. All the diplomats who could crowd around a horseshoe tablecouldn’tstand up to him in one of those fateful marathon conferences.

“That reminds me,” he said to himself. “Spanish.”

He stopped in at a store, bought a Spanish text, and went home. In his exhilarated state the incinerator was quickly disposed of, and he spent the rest of the night mastering Spanish. He was not sure of his pronunciation in some cases, but by eight o’clock in the morning he could read and write it fluently. To prove it, he bought a Cuban newspaper and read it on the bus on his way to work. Flven the descriptions of the women’s gowns in the society section were clear to him, which was more than he could say for his own language.

WHEN he got to the office he found that Olive had gone shopping, and Pam Barrett was already ensconced in her place. Even the old married men thumped Lin’s back and called him a lucky stiff. Lin swam in a sea of happiness.

This time it was Pam who put the comp section to work, checking Lin’s figures. All day the calculating machines clacked busily. One by one the girls took their tapes into Mr. Buckthorne’s office. Long before noon Lin knew he had won the Panama job. Not a sound from Mr. Buckthorne.

Lin was cleaning out his desk in th«¡ estimating department when he heart' Olive’s voice in the hall. His hear* leaped. Then it fell sickeningly as lu heard another, deeper voice pleading passionately. His brave new world tottered.

Alvin!

He had forgotten all about Olive’s earlier lover. He rushed out into the hall, flaming with jealousy. What were all his triumphs without Olive?

Dr. Jenison had her cornered in the lobby and was talking earnestly. Olive’s arms were full of packages and her face

was full of doubt. The doctor was a convincing man and there was no : questioning his sincerity.

“You can’t, dear,” he was saying. “The man’s a monster, a freak, as much so as if he had two heads, or two left feet. Think of your future with this madman! Think of your children.” “Olive!” Lin said. “Don’t listen to him.”

“Now’s the time to listen,” said the doctor.

She wavered between them.

Then Pam Barrett came out of the I office and smiled at Lin.

“Hi, eutie,” she said.

She disappeared around the corner, and Olive pushed the doctor gently aside with a hatbox.

“Please, Alvin,” she said. “Lin and j 1 have to go get our license. I didn’t ! think you’d be such a bad sport.”

The doctor sighed. He turned and offered Lin his hand. “Well, good luck, then,” he said. “I wish you happiness, but if I ever hear of you abusing this girl I’ll kill you if I have to go to Panama to do it.”

“Thanks, old man,” Lin said feelingly. “1 hope you do.”

Mr. Buckthorn«; called them into his office that afternoon, after they j returned with their license. He was I a changed man, gentle of voice and strangely respectful.

“The incinerator checks out,” he said. “I’m filing the bid and you start for Panama tonight. The kids in the office have bought you a little gift—a toaster, I believe . . .”

“Oh, they shouldn’t have!” Lin said hypocritically.

“I’d like to give you something you can take to Panama with you,” Mr. Buckthorne went on. “Can you think of something you’d like?”

“If you don’t mind too awfully,” said Olive, “we’d love that dove figur| ine on your desk. It’s been our good! luck charm, and it will remind us of home while we’re down there. And it will be lovely for our mantel when we get back. We’re going to have all modern things, you know.”

This was news to Lin, but he nodded loyally. If she liked square pigeons it was all right with him.

Mr. Buckthorne handed it over j rather too quickly, as though he might j be giving them the bird.

“It’s yours,” he said. “Your plane j leaves at eight o’clock. I’ve got you a j compartment all the way through to I Panama. Straighten that joh out down j there, Wilk. You’ve got a great future j with us, now that you’ve come alive.” Then for an instant he was his old ¡ terrible self. His face reddened. His I cigar shot up to a forty-five degree j angle. He hit the desk a mighty blow j with his fist.

“But I still wish I knew what came ! over you!” he roared.

Lin smiled thinly. “I’ll bet you do,” he said.

He still had to get his own things I together. He went home and packed them, backelor-style, f«>r the last time, throwing things in any old way, right where he could lay his hands on them. After this, whatever he wanted would always be in the other bag. Suitcases in hand, he looked around the room for the last time, without regret.

This was the chrysalis of the office i drudge, the shy man who thought he i suffered from insomnia. From it had emerged the victorious locust who was just now spreading his wings for Panama. And that was only a start, j There was no telling where a man like h.'mælf might end.

“Quién sabe?” he sighed. “Es muy increíble!”

AN HOUR later he was standing with Olive Consola before an

altar. A stranger in a white surplice was making them man and wife. Lin’s high ecstasy changed key. It became for the moment a sort of reverential humbleness. Superior being or no, he did not deserve this beautiful, recklessly romantic creature who was now —even as he had this thought—his wife. No man did! His terrible secret power only magnified his responsibility to this sweet girl with the shining hair, the shining eyes.

A good thing she had remembered to buy the ring! All their lives she’d remember things while, like a voracious locust, his own mind endlessly, sleep lessly, soared and devoured. A little fumblingly he slid the ring on her finger. The man in the surplice was smiling. Olive turned to him.

“Oh, Lin!”

She shivered in his arms and he hoped she was not remembering Alvin and his morbid medical warnings.

“Oh, Lin!” she said again.

“My wife!” he whispered, and she grew calm.

Then the hectic race to the airport -—for, of course, A//' they got started

late, There the lights, the noise, the planes roaring in and out. The good - byes and greetings all around them. The other bride and groom, who looked so much like a bride and groom. The smiles at the embarrassed search for tickets, and Olive’s piercing, lastminute shriek.

“Oh, Lin, I’ve got them!

Olive had never flown before. Her eyes were bigger, bluer than ever as the plane took off. She clung to his arm, unwilling to believe that anything as frail as those four thundering motors could get them to Panama. Lin, who had been up once before, knew the feeling. As a matter of fact, he had it himself, right now.

They were air-borne at last. In the privacy of their compartment Olive unpacked their bags. The squarejawed dove came out first. She kissed it and set it up on the window ledge

“Our good luck charm,” she said.

A kind of a holy peace stole over Lin, as he watched her. Humbly, he felt that perhaps he deserved a little of this happiness. All his life he had worked hard, done the right thing. All his life he had been put upon and ignored, and he had never complained. Then things seemed to come to a head, and suddenly his future had a scope and depth and beauty undreamed-of.

He lay back, smiling, and looked out the porthole at the pellucid sea. .

Olive finished unpacking. “Lin, darling,” she said.

There was no answer. His head rolled gently with the dip and sway of the plane.

“Lin!” she screamed, in sudden

terror.

She shook him, her heart failing. Perhaps these superior beings burned themselves out overnight. Perhaps . . .

The motors droned on, but suddenly louder than this throbbing travel-song was Lin’s light snore.

He was not dead, but only asleep! He was not a superior being, after all. He was just a frail human being with insomnia. The tension had snapped. Lin was now catching up on two whole weeks of lost sleep.

She’d be lucky if she got him awake in time to disembark at Panama!

On the window ledge the mahogany dove rocked gently as it cooed its silent, mocking song.

“Ah, shut up!” she said.