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Break to Bind: Tape 1

Schardt, Wernher A.

A gray Sony mini-cassette is tucked inside a smoky plastic case. A hand-written gum label is affixed to the case. Subject: Schardt, Wernher A. Beneath the cassette case, a stack of bond paper, slightly brown with age. The top and bottom margins appear to have been trimmed, so that the pages are 8 ½ by something less than 11. The type is bold and distinct, IBM Selectric.

[Dr. Carol Lopez, female, hereafter ‘L’]… Please identify yourself for the record. [transcription note: L speaks with neutral American accent]

[Wernher Schardt, male, hereafter ‘S’]… I am Wernher Schardt. Do you need a date of birth? [transcription note: S speaks with slight German accent]

L… Just verify it for me if you will, is it December fifth, nineteen fourty-four?

W… That is it.

L… Thank you, Mr. Schardt.

W… You’re welcome, young lady.

L… Please call me Carol, or Dr. Lopez.

W… Very well, Carol or Dr. Lopez. [laughs]

L… [laughs] Why don’t you start by telling me when you first started thinking that you were different?

W… Have you read the papers from Dr. Sherman? Dr. Sherman has covered this many times; we have talked about it extensively.

L… I’m here to offer up a second opinion, Mr. Schardt. I understand Dr. Sherman is your friend, but a second opinion is desired. I have been given only the barest outlines of the nature of your condition. Please go on.

W… I understand. It was in nineteen eighty-two, when I was a contracting officer for Siemens in Wiesbaden. I was responsible for negotiating with subcontractors for electrical components. For re-negotiating old, standing contracts when they expired, and for new suppliers as well.

L… And how did your problems manifest?

W… I was fired.

L… They interfered with your work?

W… On the contrary, it made me too good at my work.

L… You were fired for being too good at your job?

W… Certainly. I cannot blame them, I was so good at negotiating that none of the contracts would be approved by the suppliers. Many of them went into arbitration and cost the company a lot of money.

L… I’m not sure I understand.

W… It first happened when I was talking to a supplier of wiring harnesses. I just felt certain, completely, calmly certain that if I told him he could supply the components at a lower price, then he would agree. And he did. And then I felt certain that he would go even lower, and he did. And that continued until I started to feel bad about how low the price had become, and we put the contract on paper.

L… What happened?

W… He was fired. If his company had honored the contract, they would have lost many hundreds of thousands of marks. I felt awful. He called me and cursed at me on the phone.

L… And then you were fired?

W… Oh no, I continued on for some time.

L… But you said you felt bad about doing it. You did it again anyway?

W… Oh yes.

L… Why?

W… It was quite a temptation. That feeling of certainty. A bit of the Frankenstein complex, I suppose.

L… And what do you mean by the Frankenstein complex?

W… You know, the feeling that you should do something merely because you can. Without considering why or whether you should do it, or at least without letting such considerations stop you.

L… Have you ever gained control of that temptation?

W… Oh yes! I could do terrible things if I chose, but it dehumanizes you. It is no way to really be happy.

L… What sorts of terrible things do you think about doing?

W… I never said I think about doing terrible things.

L… Yet you must. You implied that you do. It’s alright, Mr. Schardt, I’m not judging.

W… What is a second opinion if not a judgment?

L… That’s a fair question. But still, what sorts of things do you think about doing?

W… I admit that it has occurred to me that I could ask you to take off your blouse.

L… [loud] What makes you think I would comply with such a request?

W… I am certain you would. But I would not ask. It would not be polite. Nor would it be professional.

L… [laughs] I should think not, but I don’t think we need to worry about it.

W… Really?

L… Really, Mr. Schardt. I know you don’t work with many women here, and I’m not sure how it was in Germany, but I certainly don’t rip my shirt off for every man who asks.

W… Please remove your blouse now, Dr. Lopez.

L… Alright.


L… Good God.

W… I’m sorry, I just wanted to prove a point.

L… Well you certainly did, Mr. Schardt.

W… I can look away.

L… Please.


L… Alright, Mr. Schardt.

W… As I said, I am sorry.

L… No more of that please, Mr. Schardt.

W… Of course.

L… You were talking about how you were fired.

W… Yes, there were many more incidents like the first, and there were many delays, a good deal of ill will between companies, and they had to let me go from my position. I was moved to a production management job, and it was very boring. Again, I am very sorry about the-

L… [interrupts] Don’t. Just continue. You didn’t talk your way out of being fired?

W… No, they had good reason. I did have a little joke on my boss, though.

L… What did you do to him?

W… Really, I don’t do this sort of thing often. I fear you have a bad opinion of me now after the blouse incident.

L… Just don’t mention the blouse again, please, Mr. Schardt. Please continue.

W… Alright. My boss, Jerry, had a beautiful little blue-green Mercedes four-fifty ess ell [phonetic]. I asked to borrow it for a week, and he agreed. He treated the car like a child, was very protective.

L… And you actually took the car?

W… Yes. It was a beautiful little car. He called after just a couple of days to ask me to bring it back, and I did. It was kind of a boring car, anyway, and he was very upset about it.

L… So what do you call this condition of yours?

W… The practical jokes? It’s not really a condition-

L… [interrupts] No, the way you convince people to do things.

W… Oh. Suggestion. Dr. Sherman calls it suggestion. It is probably a very mild term for it.

L… Do you have any other such unusual conditions?

W… Oh my, certainly yes. How much time do you have?

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paulbhartzog's picture

The power of suggestion

I like the way that new things are revealed in this text just frequently enough to keep you reading for the next few lines. Masterful pacing.

Not too keen on the screenplay format though. If you started with a paragraph that introduced the dialogue as a transcription of a chat that happened previously (and perhaps a person who is interested in the transcription), then switch formats, that could be fun.

(Yes I see that you did this, but it took me a few reads to find it. More exposition about the person LOOKING at the transcript is needed up front).

I see where you're coming from...

...but the structure of the story is a choice I've run with. So far, readers at the original site where it's posted have liked it. After a few transcripts, it does transition into narrative and the context is made clear. For the moment, I'm shooting for a voyeuristic kind of feeling at the start (and at other points throughout). I'm trying not to flood here, but I've got about 20,000 words of this posted elsewhere, at

Thanks for the comments! I'll certainly continue to think about the format and maybe tweak it.

I agree. Off to a great

I agree. Off to a great start, and I think your dialogue is quite good. And there's already a definite sense of troubling questions about power and responsibility.


Dialogue has always been my strong suit, as much as I have a strong suit. The questions about power and responsibility are joined by other recurring moral themes. Don't worry, though. Stuff gets blown up, too. ; )

Drew me in

Hey Sean-

I enjoyed reading your work, the conversation drew me right in, and the use of the tape gave my imagination an interesting setting in which to place it.One question though, in the beginning of the conversation they verify it is 1944, then a few moments later there is talk of it being 1982, is 1944 a typo, or are we dealing with time travel as well as suggestion? Thanks for the post!


date of birth

She's verifying his date of birth in 1944, not the date of the interview. : ) Another reader saw it the same way, so maybe I should try to make that clearer!

Thanks for the comments-- the interviews at the beginning are kind of a device to introduce the characters and to introduce the 'found document' storytelling method that continues throughout.