Ferman’s Devils (Part One of Pembroke Hall)



"I had had the idea for Ferman’s Devils for years… a man puts a real street gang into a commercial and they become as big as the Beatles… only the Beatles didn’t leave a trail of corpses in their wake. I started writing it right after The Essence of Evil, and when I got halfway through and got sidetracked by another project.

"In the meantime a number of interesting things happened. A whole rash of celebrity criminals including Rob Lowe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and of course, O.J. Simpson. I was starting to think the time for the book had passed… but then my agent, who had the first half, placed the book with Bantam. Who knows? Maybe they helped sell the book."



“A superior entertainment… [FERMAN'S DEVILS] may well turn out to be one of the funniest SF satires of recent years, as well as one of the most intelligently plotted and convincingly detailed.”


“Diabolically delightful. A struggling Everyman with a Chandleresque wit, Boddekker makes a winning protagonist… fiendishly good.”


“A hilarious journey into the advertising world of the not-too-distant future.”


“The seventh chapter of FERMAN was originally cut from the manuscript and then restored when Bantam decided to issue the book in two volumes giving me the luxury of doing a director’s cut. Thanks, Anne.”

Excerpted from Ferman’s Devils by Joe Clifford Faust.

Copyright © 1996 by Joe Clifford Faust.


The Woodstock Memorial Alternate Lifestyle Extended Care Facility’s Advanced Care Dormitory is not what you expect. You read back into literature about places that care for the elderly and get descriptions of aisles full of gurneys with people strapped in them, wheelchairs semi-circled around vid sets tuned to a channel of mental anesthesia, oldsters reaching out and grabbing at your clothes so you’d stop and talk about anything. And there were always references to a smell which created its own miasma of gloom. I don’t know if there are any places like that still around. What I do know is that this place was the farthest from those that a person could get. True, Mom and Uncle Kent were each paying in a bundle to keep Grandma Missy here, so maybe their guiltat having her packed away explained the reason for putting her somewhere that was so state of the art.

On the other hand, the Woodstock folks know how to take care of people like Missy.

The lobby of the building was bright and cheerful, with an opaque white cover on the ceiling to let filtered sunlight through. Music filled the air, light and bouncy and familiar enough to be maddening when I couldn’t name the tune. There were plenty of couches, overstuffed chairs, and terminals for reading magazines; at least two gigantic, well-stocked aquariums; and enough plants to stock a small jungle. It all combined to give the place a fresh, life-affirming atmosphere.<

Bainbridge followed me to the main desk, where I reported my intent to visit with Melissa Mercheson. After signing in and stylusing our names across a waiver form (“We run a tight ship, but you never know – you just never, never know.”), we took a series of criss-crossing elevators to Grandma Missy’s floor. The bouncy music was louder here, and some of the residents who were being wheeled about were humming or mumbling lyrics in time to the string serenade.

“What’s a ‘radar lover?’” Bainbridge asked as we walked.

“A what?”

"An old man was singing something about a radar lover being go

I shrugged. “That music they used to listen to. It was just noise.”

The song gave way to another chugging anthem as we stopped outside of Grandma’s room. I rapped on the door frame and called her name. The lights were down inside, but I could see movement from her bed. As I got closer, I could see the odd movements she was making; her right hand was poised above her belly and was scratching at it with something invisible held between her thumb and middle finger. Her left arm was stretched out, bent at the elbow, and her fingers were wiggling.

Bainbridge looked at me. I shrugged again and continued inside.

“Grandma Missy?”

She stopped her motions and looked at me. Her face was one of those that was aging gracefully in spite of the chemical abuse she had put herself through decades earlier. The eyes had an ersatz sparkle that made you think she had more remaining brain apacity than what was actually left. Her smile was of straight, perfect teeth – she still had all of her natural ones, and they had been molded into shape by her post- World War II parents. Her face was framed by long, white hair that fell into perfect place with a few passes from a brush. The room itself was colored in earth tones and smelled of natural pine from the cloned boughs growing out of pots mounted along the wall. The curtains were closed and the vid screen was dark, but the omnipresent music lilted in from speakers mounted in the ceiling.

Grandma’s lips turned up into that billion dollar smile of hers. “Well, hello. Come on in and let me get a look at you.”

I looked at Bainbridge. “Looks like she’s having a good day,” I whispered. I walked to the bed and took her hand. “How you doing, Grammy?

“Why don’t you ever write?” she asked.

"Write?” I blurted.

“Oh, that’s right. You do everything on those little screens now, don’t you? Well, I couldn’t expect you to write anyway, now co
uld I?”


Her voice became low and gravelly. “But the least you could do is stop by once in a while!”

“Grandma, I was here two weeks ago-”

Quick as lightning, her hand slipped from mine and locked onto my wrist. Her nails sunk into my skin and I yelped.

“Don’t lie to me!”

“I didn’t! Remember, I sat right here and you told me how you and your friends set fire to the -”

Her wrist twisted, pulling the skin of my arm until it burned. “Kent State Mercheson! How many times have I told you not to lie to your mother!”

I turned to Bainbridge. “She thinks I’m her son-”

Grandma followed my gaze and her face lit up. “Sunny! Is that really you? Come here and give your mother a kiss!”

“Don’t do it,” I whispered, and she jerked my arm so hard that I thought for a moment that she’d dislocated it.

“Don’t listen to this miserable wretch,” she told Bainbridge. “He told me the other day that he was planning to vote for George Bush!”

Bainbridge took a step forward. I tried to wave her off.

“Mrs. Mercheson, this isn’t your son. It’s your grandson-”

Grandma’s hand dropped my wrist and shot up to grab my ear. “Listen to her! Listen to your sister talk like that!” She yanked until the entire side of my face started to burn and I yelped in pain. “You bad, bad children! Have you been in mommy’s stash again? I TOLD YOU NOT TO LICK THOSE STAMPS!” She pulled my head down to bring my ear to her lips. “I TOLD YOU IF YOU WANT SOME OF THAT YOU HAD TO BUY YOUR OWN!”

From the corner of my eye I saw Bainbridge backing toward the door, then she turned and ran.


“Grandma!” I shouted, trying to get her to quit screaming in my ear. “It’s me-”

Suddenly Grandma howled and began to double up. The hand holding my ear slid down to her belly, and one of her knees caught me in the temple. Stars exploded in the center of my vision.


“Grammy, what’s-”

“I CAN’T REMEMBER!” she bellowed. And then, in almost a whine, “I can’t remember, can’t remember, can’t remember…”

“What can’t you remember?”

She pulled my head up to face her. “A Day In The Life,” she said.

“A day in the life?”

“I can’t remember, Kent. Is it on Abbey Road? Or is it on the white album?” Her free hand came up and she began punching herself in the head. “Abbey Road? The white album? Abbey Road? The white album? Abbey Road? The white album-”

There was a clatter from the hall, and a stocky woman came rushing into the room, Bainbridge at her heels.

“What’s the problem?”

“She’s about to rip my ear-”

The woman stepped around me and looked into my Grandmother’s eyes. “Melissa, what’s the problem?”

“Olivia,” Grandma smiled. “Is it Abbey Road? Or is it on the white album?”

The woman stroked Grandma’s hair with one hand and pulled a fat silver tube from the pocket of her scrub jacket.”What’s that, honey?”

“A Day In The Life,” Grandma said. “Is it on Abbey Road or the white album?”

“My ear-” I said.

“It’s on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Olivia said. “I’m going to give you something to help you remember.”

“Okay,” Grandma whimpered. “Thank you, Olivia.”

She pressed the silver tube against Grandma’s neck. There was a click and a hiss. The pressure on my ear eased.

“You can let go of your son’s ear, now.”

Suddenly free, I pulled away from the bed fast and ended up sprawled on the floor. Bainbridge knelt beside me as I rubbed the feeling back into my face. “I’m her grandson,” I complained.

Olivia shook her head, still playing with Grandma’s hair. “She’s not the only one. This happens to some of the residents every time a Jimi Hendrix song comes up in the music rotation. I’ve complained to management about it before.”

Bainbridge looked up at Olivia. “Isn’t there something you can do about this?”

“She’s just having a bad day,” I said.

Bainbridge, still looking at Olivia: “I mean, he came all the way from Manhattan to see her-”

Olivia said, “Manhattan’s not that far. We have plenty of residents whose-”

“Can’t you give her some GoodDay or something?”

“It’s all right, Bainbridge,” I said. “She deserves a bad day like anyone else.”

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2 Responses

  1. With the latest batch of news of The kids of the Fab Four wanting to start a band, I can’t stop saying “Those SOBs are at it again!”

    1. You, sir, just earned your “I didn’t clean my plate!” button!

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