William S. Burroughs

The Perfect Servant 


From the archive, ‘The Perfect Servant’ by William S. Burroughs was published in the December 1967 issue of The London Magazine, edited by Alan Ross. American writer and visual artist William Burroughs is widely known as a primary member of the Beat Generation, along with Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. An experimental author, Burroughs is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, pushing the boundaries of the written world through works like Naked Lunch and Junkie. 

John J. Hudson, known as Basic J. to his many friends, is making a difficult decision in the Pentagon. Word has just come through from B&C… complete, precise and permanent programming of thought, feeling and sensory data demonstrated in experimental preparation after single exposure to virus rover this information conveyed in a three-word inter-office memo . . . rover is ready.

No further need to explain, excuse, produce any arguments or facts in support of departmental directives. It will soon be neurologically impossible to oppose or even to question. The virus is hereditary, of course, a permanent chromatic formula, circuits of protest closed forever. Rover will see to that. Basic J. has the responsibility of releasing rover in the United States of America. He looks up at Old Glory hanging over his desk. American programming of course… He will see to that. He gets up and paces around the room.

‘Gotta stay ahead of the Commies…if they get there first with their programming…everybody’s kids will speak Chinese at birth’ This he decides grimly must be made unthinkable… ‘The President is right. The President is always right. The laws are right. America is right. America is always right. The American way of life is the right way of life is the best way of life is the only way of life’ – from here to eternity.

His duty is clear. He salutes Old Glory. His throat is dry.

He rings for Bently, the perfect servant, a faithful old dog, of that he is absolutely sure. The psyche department checked him out and he checked so clear they used some of his bone marrow in the rover cultures. Bently stands in the door.
‘Yes, sir?’
‘A glass of ice water please, Bently’
‘Yes, sir.’
With the speed of a conjurer Bently places a glass of ice water on a brocade napkin. ‘Good old Bently always knows what I need.’ The perfect servant, he draws the curtains. ‘Anything else, sir?’
‘No, nothing else. Good night, Bently.’
‘Good night, Mr Hudson. Good-bye, Mr Hudson.’
What was that, Bently?’ Hudson put down the half-empty glass.
‘Good-bye, Mr Hudson.’ For a moment Bently looks at him with something like emotion. He bows and leaves the room.

Hudson drains his glass. He sits for some time in silent thought. Suddenly he knows what to do. Reverently he spreads Old Glory on the desk. He picks up a pen right to hand somehow and ready by a piece of parchment paper. He writes:

Dear Mary,
I am taking the only way out. Please forgive me.
Basic J. Hudson

Spring drawer, cold .45…’It’s the right thing to do it’s the best thing to do it’s the only thing to do… good old Bently.. he knew somehow…’

‘I was on the way back to my room, sir, when I heard the shot, sir. I found him like that, sir.’ He nods to the desk. The side of Hudson’s face is stuck to Old Glory in a paste of dry blood and seared brains.
‘I saw at once he was dead, sir.’
‘You can say that again,’ said the agent.
‘It was a terrible shock for me, sir.’
There are two agents in the room, two very special agents. They both turn and look at Bently in a very special way.
‘You expect us to swallow this crap?’
Bently draws himself up. ‘I have told you the truth, sir, exactly as it happens, sir.’
‘And I say it’s crap. Do we have to bake it out of you, Bently?’
Bently takes a deep breath. A button pops from his waistcoat and explodes against the agent’s grey flannel suit.
‘Will that be all, sir?’
‘Yes, Bently. You may go.’
‘Thank you, sir.’ Bently bows and leaves the room.

(Long pause.)
‘Well, that puts him in the clear…Good old Bently.’
‘You can say that again. Old Bently has all the answers. Old Bently has all the right answers. If any body says or even thinks differently I’ll gun the bastard down if he’s my best buddy.’
‘I was on the way back to my room, sir, when I heard the shots, sir, I found the two gentlemen like that, sir!’ He nods to the floor. I saw at once they were dead, sir. Blood and internals all over the room, sir. A smell of blood and excrement, sir. If you’ll pardon the expression, sir. Quite overwhelming, sir.’
‘You may go, Bently.’
‘Thank you, sir. I’ll be in my room if you need me, sir.’

‘Better check that guy out.’
‘You can say that again. Hey, here’s something.’ He picks up the pen with forceps and reads: ‘For James Bently in recognition of ten years’ faithful service to John J. Hudson.’
He removes the cap from the pen. There is a slight explosion followed by a long reverent silence.
‘If J. thought that much of him be must be all right,’ the agent burst out in a voice hoarse with emotion. He turns away to hide the tears, in his eyes. Another agent chokes and buries his face in a curtain wracked with sobs.
‘Oh what the Hell’ screams the CIA man. ‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Let’s cry our decent American hearts out, and for Christ sake let’s all get fried.’ He rushes the liquor cabinet and tosses bottles out to his colleagues.

‘I was on the way back to my room, sir, when I heard the noise, sir. Quite indescribable, sir. I felt it my duty to return, sir. I found them reeling about, sir. Screaming “good old Bently”, sir. That gentleman,’ he points to the CIA man who is slumped in a chair between min guards sobbing out Auld Lang Syne, ‘threw himself on me in a most offensive way, sir. If you’ll pardon the expression, sir, and said nearly as I can recall, sir, would I be his “crying cousin”, sir. Old southern custom he said it was, sir. I could see he’d been drinking, sir’
‘Bently, doesn’t it strike you a bit odd that thirty of the most trusted and responsible officials in this country should, for no discernible reason, become maudlin drunk over a period of two minutes?’
‘That is not for me to say, sir.’
‘You have testified that the men were quite normal when you left the room.’
‘Yes, sir. Whatever happened, sir, happened after I had left the room, sir.’
‘Things always seem to happen after you leave rooms, Bently.’
‘Not always, sir.’
The new department head looks at Bently and his jaw drops. ‘Why the man is smiling or snarling rather in a strange animal way. What the Hell?’
Let’s all go ACHOO ACHOO out into the BLESS YOU BLESS YOU beautiful America ACHOO ACHOO streets and BLESS YOU BLESS YOU bless all our fellow ACHOO ACHOO Americans BLESS YOU ACHOOOOOOO.’
Sneezing and blessing they rush into the street. Alone in the room Bently wipes off the grey features of a perfect servant to reveal himself as the Insidious Doctor Fu Manchu. He steps to the window.
‘ACHOO ACHOO.’ The cities and towns of America echo back.
‘ACHOO ACHOO’ back from the farms, across roads and lonely sidings ‘BLESS YOU BLESS YOU’.
‘ACHOO ACHOO’ on the winds of Panhandle idiot honky tonks yodel back ‘BLESS YOU BLESS YOU ALLAYIHOO’
From car and plane ‘ACHOO ACHOO’. Hell’s Angels roaring back BLESS YOU BLESS YOU’.
America America ‘ACHOO ACHOO ACHOO’ from purple mountain’s majesty ‘BLESS YOU BLESS YOU BLESS YOU’.
The doctor stands at the window waiting.
“Achoo achoo’ with wind and dust ‘bless you bless you’ ‘achoo achoo’ a hoarse whisper echoes back ‘bless you bless you’.
‘Achoo achoo’ spitting blood ‘bless you bless you’.
Old record running down ‘achoo achoo achoo’.
Dying dying dying ‘bless you bless you bless you’.
The doctor’s silent blessing falls on silent cities from sea to shining sea.


To discover more content exclusive to our print and digital editions, subscribe here to receive a copy of The London Magazine to your door every two months, while also enjoying full access to our extensive digital archive of essays, literary journalism, fiction and poetry.

Dearest reader! Our newsletter!

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest content, freebies, news and competition updates, right to your inbox. From the oldest literary periodical in the UK.

You can unsubscribe any time by clicking the link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or directly on info@thelondonmagazine.org. Find our privacy policies and terms of use at the bottom of our website.