It was a typical spring morning in New York City. The air was scented with carbon monoxide. A relative quiet hung over the metropolis, due to the fact that traffic was snarled in all directions. The only disturbing sounds were the popping of the buds and the gargling of the pigeons in Central Park.
Then, on Madison Avenue, the quiet was interrupted by the ringing of a telephone. The jangling came not from an office building or shop. It was somewhere on the street. Men and women hurrying to work glanced about curiously-but saw no telephone. Odd. But in New York City that made it commonplace. So, for the most part, the passersby ignored the phenomenon and hurried on.
The one person who could not disregard the ringing was Maxwell Smart-known to Control as Agent 86. Max was a slight, tight-lipped, firm-jawed, neatly-dressed young man. As the ringing continued, his expressionless eyes remained determinedly fixed on an imaginary point several yards to the front, as if he were trying to disassociate himself from the sound. Then finally he glared down at his right shoe and said testily, “All right, all right-I’m coming!” It was as if the telephone were hidden in his shoe.
In fact, it was. But Max needed privacy to answer it. Even in New York City, talking to your shoe on Madison Avenue is cause for attracting attention. And, being a secret agent, Max felt it a duty to keep his occupation a secret.
At the first phone booth he came to, Max stepped inside and pulled the door closed. He bent down, and with considerable difficulty, since the booth had not been built for the purpose of removing a shoe, he unlaced his right oxford, slipped it from his foot, then straightened and spoke into the sole, while listening at the heel.
Max: 86 here-that you, Chief?
Chief: What took you so long? I’ve been ringing you for a good ten minutes!
Max: Sorry, Chief. I was indisposed.
Chief: Oh… in the shower?
Max: No, taking a stroll… enjoying the carbon monoxide on Madison Avenue. It’s lovely at this time of year.
Chief: Max, I need you right away. There’s another crisis. How soon can you Max (interrupting): Excuse me, Chief. Hang on a second.
Max turned toward the door of the booth, where, outside, a matronly middle-aged woman was rapping on the glass. He opened the door a crack and spoke to her.
“Sorry, Madam,” he said, “this booth is in use.”
“I have to make a call,” the woman said irritably. “This isn’t a dressing room, it’s a telephone booth. If you want to change your shoes, find a shoe store.”
“Madam, I happen to be on the phone,” Max said.
“You are not. The phone is on the hook.”
Max glanced back over his shoulder. “Oh… that phone.” Then, facing the woman again, he said, “It so happens, Madam, that I am talking through my shoe. Now… if you’ll excuse me…”
He pulled the door closed, and resumed his conversation with the Chief.
Max: Sorry, Chief. A little misunderstanding with a civilian. Now
… what were you saying?
Chief: I said there’s a crisis afoot. And, following our procedure of assigning cases by rotation, your number came up. I need you here at Control right away. How soon can you Max (interrupting again): Chief… can you hold on? That civilian is back. I’ll just be a second.
The middle-aged matron had returned, accompanied by a uniformed policeman. The policeman had rapped on the glass with his night stick. Once more, Max opened the door a crack.
“Yes, officer, what can I do for you?” Max said.
“That’s a telephone booth, buddy,” the policeman said. “And this lady wants to make a call.”
“Officer, as I told the lady, the booth is in use,” Max said. “I’m making a call myself. A very important call. If it’s anything like most of my calls, the fate of the whole civilized world may hang in the balance.”
“Now I believe him!” the woman snorted. “He told me he was talking through his hat!”
“My shoe, Madam!” Max said. “I said my shoe-I’m talking through my shoe.” He opened the door the rest of the way and handed his oxford to the policeman. “Here, officer, try it yourself. The Chief is on the line. He’ll explain it to you.”
Suspiciously, the policeman accepted the shoe.
“No, no, you speak into the sole,” Max said. “The heel is for listening.”
The policeman turned the shoe around.
“Go ahead,” Max said. “Say, ‘Hello, Chief,’ or something like that. Just don’t ask him about his rheumatism-it’s a very sore point.”
The policeman spoke. “Chief…?”
As a reply came back, his mouth dropped open. Then, after a second, he said, “Sure, Chief, I understand. I thought he was a nut. Naturally, when he-” He listened again. Then, nodding, said, “Right. You can count on me. The fate of the whole civilized world is very important to me, too.”
The policeman handed the shoe back to Max, then turned to the matron. “Sorry, lady,” he said, “this booth is in use.”
“Mad!” the woman shrieked. “The whole world has gone mad!” She flounced off down the street. “I’ll report this! I’ll report it to somebody!”
Smiling sheepishly, the policeman addressed Max. “Say, if you wouldn’t mind, there’s a little favor…” He glanced around to make sure he couldn’t be overheard, then, to make doubly sure, he whispered to Max.
An expression of minor pain passed across Max’s face. Then he shrugged, and spoke into the shoe again. “Sorry, Chief,” he said. “I have to hang up now. The officer wants to make a call. To his mother in Brooklyn. See you in a few minutes.” Then he faced back to the policeman, handing him the shoe. “All right… but make it short. The fate of the whole civilized world… oh well, never mind.”
Ten minutes later, his shoe back in place, Max was hustling along Madison Avenue once more, headed toward the garage where he had parked his car. When he reached there, the garage attendant had a complaint.
“When I parked it and put on the emergency brake, there was a sound like a rat-a-tat-tat, and I shot twelve holes in the Buick parked behind me,” he said.
“That’s not the emergency brake, that’s the trigger that operates the machine gun in the rear turret,” Max explained.
“What about the Buick?” the attendant said.
Max handed the man his Diners’ Club card. “Charge it,” he said.
The attendant brought Max’s car around. It was a long, black, shiny, custom-built automobile. Max got behind the wheel and stepped on the accelerator-or, rather, what he thought was the accelerator. Instead, his foot landed on the floor button that activated the smoke screen. The garage filled with sooty, black smoke.
Max donned his gas mask, then apologized to the attendant, who was doubled over in a spasm of coughing. “Sorry,” he said. “My foot slipped. A policeman has been talking through my shoe to his mother in Brooklyn, and I guess his hands were sweaty. It made my shoe slippery. That can happen, you know.”
“Out!” the attendant rasped.
Max found the accelerator with his foot, stomped on it, and roared out of the garage. “Sorehead,” he muttered, removing his gas mask.
Control was located underground in a gray stone, government-looking building. Max parked at the service entrance, then, leaving his car, trotted down the steps. As he approached the door, an electronic device activated its mechanism and it rolled open for him to pass. He entered a bare-walled corridor. The door behind him clanged closed. Ahead of him another door rolled open. Reaching the opening, he started through-but noticed that the shoestring of his telephone had come untied. He stooped to tie it. As he did so, the door clanged shut, nipping him from behind and sending him sprawling.
Rising, Max eyed the door malevolently. “Whose side are you on?” he snarled.
The door remained mute.
Max proceeded along the passageway until he reached an unmarked doorway. He rapped out the tune of “Yankee Doodle” on the door. There was no reply. He looked thoughtful for a second, then tried “Over the Waves.” Still there was no response.
Max turned the knob and opened the door. Seated at a large desk in a panelled, lavishly furnished office was a graying, dignified-looking man.
“Chief, what’s the code tune for today?” Max said.
“ ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ” the Chief replied.
“I tried that.”
“Which time-first time or second time?”
“That sounded like ‘Anchors Aweigh,’ ” the Chief said.
“You know my tin ear, Chief. Will you accept ‘Anchors Aweigh’ for ‘Yankee Doodle’?”
The Chief sighed. “All right… since it’s an emergency.”
Max closed the door behind him, tried “Anchors Aweigh,” and got “Yankee Doodle.”
“Come in,” the Chief called.
Max stepped in, closed the door, inserted his card in the time clock, rang it up, then moved on to the Chief’s desk. “Sorry I’m late, Chief,” he said, “but that officer’s mother was bawling him out for forgetting his gun. He left it on the bureau.”
“Never mind that,” the Chief said crankily. As Max seated himself, the Chief leaned forward at his desk and said, “Max, this is the biggest case the department has ever been asked to handle. The fate of the whole civilized world may depend on its outcome. You couldn’t even guess what it concerns.”
Max frowned. “Sounds to me as if the Beatles are involved.”
“Something even more bizarre than that,” the Chief said. “Max, this concerns an electronic computer. The most sophisticated computer ever developed. The entire knowledge of civilized man has been fed into this computer. Ask it any question and you get back the correct answer in seconds. Imagine what that means! Ask it, for instance, how to make an explosive that would make the Atom Bomb look like a firecracker, and, peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop, it would hand you the answer!”
Max squinted at him. “Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop?”
“That’s the sound it makes when it’s thinking.”
“Max, the country that controls Fred controls the world!”
“That’s its name.”
Max brightened. “Oh, yes, I see. Familiar as I am with Fechner’s Law-which states that, within limits, the intensity of a sensation increases as the logarithm of the stimulus-I can guess that FRED stands for Fechnerized Radiological Electronic Decoder. Right?”
“As a matter of fact, no,” the Chief replied. “FRED stands for Fred. The developer named the computer after her cocker spaniel… Fred.”
“Oh…” Max said disappointedly. Then, “Her? Fred’s inventor is a woman?”
“That’s right,” the Chief said. “Fred was constructed by a Miss Blossom Rose. You’ll meet her in a second. She’s going to accompany you on this case. Our hope is that Miss Rose will be able to talk some sense into this computer… that is, if and when you find him.”
“You mean he’s missing?”
“Unfortunately, yes. He left a note saying that, equipped as he was to provide the knowledge that would give one nation control over all others, he knew he wouldn’t have one peaceful moment. So he skipped. He said he hoped to find tranquility in obscurity.”
“A computer? Let’s face it, Chief-where could a computer go so he wouldn’t be noticed?”
“That’s your problem, Max. Your job is to find Fred and bring him back. Convince him that we’re his true and only friends. If possible, try to do it without violence. But, of course, if he won’t listen to reason, then the only alternative will be to destroy-” The Chief sighed. “Well, we’ll cross that alternative when we come to it.” He rose. “Right now, I want you to meet your companion on this case. She’s waiting in the other office.”
The Chief pressed one of the wall panels. It opened, revealing a small room where three off-duty agents were seated at a table playing poker.
“Oops… sorry,” the Chief said. He closed the panel.
“That makes the third continuous year for that poker game,” Max said. “When is it due to end?”
“Not soon,” the Chief said. “Harry is the heavy winner-he’s fifty-four thousand, two-hundred and seven dollars ahead-and the others won’t let him quit until they have a chance to get even.” He pressed another panel. It opened, he said, “Ah, yes,” then stepped back. “Miss Rose, would you come in here, please…”
A stunning blonde emerged. She blinked her large blue eyes demurely as Max rose to offer her his chair.
The Chief introduced the two, then Max said, “I assume you’re an electronic engineer, Miss Rose.”
“Call me ‘Blossom,’ ” she replied. “And, no, I’m at the check-out counter at the A amp; P.”
It was Max’s turn to blink his large blue eyes. “But the Chief tells me that you’re the inventor of Fred.”
“Yes,” she smiled. “But it was sort of an accident. You see, I have this nephew. And, for his birthday, I bought him this sort of set. You were supposed to be able to build a computer out of it. Anyway, I opened it up-just to see what it looked like-and it looked very interesting… all those little tubes, and things that went ‘click-click,’ and things. So I wanted to see if it would be too complicated for a little boy of twenty-four months, and I started putting things together. I couldn’t make much sense of the instructions. There was all that rigamarole about connecting ‘this’ to ‘that’ and ‘that’ to ‘this,’ and I could never find the ‘this’ that went to ‘that.’ So I sort of made it up as I went along. And, one thing led to another, and then there was-”
“Fred,” Max nodded.
“I understand you named him after your cocker spaniel. Wasn’t that a little confusing-having a dog and a computer around the house who both answered to the name of Fred?”
“My ex-dog,” Blossom explained. “About six months ago, my puppy Fred passed on to that great dog house in the sky.”
“I see.” Max began pacing. “One other question. The Chief tells me that Fred has taken it on the lam. I wonder… how did he do it? Did you build him on roller skates?”
“Oh, no,” Blossom answered. “He has legs. Just like a human being.” She lowered her eyes. “You see, I’m a single girl… and I guess I sort of had Rock Hudson on my mind while I was building him. Not that he looks like Rock Hudson. But… as close as I could come. He looks like a robot.”
Again, Max nodded. “There may possibly be a similarity there,” he said. He halted, looking thoughtful. “There’s one aspect of this case that bothers me,” he said. His questioning eyes zeroed in on Blossom Rose. “Miss Rose, may I ask a personal question?”
Blossom colored. “Well…”
“The question is: What did you finally get your nephew for his birthday?”
She brightened. “A motorcycle.”
“Good, good,” Max said. “I was afraid there for a second that you had broken his little heart by not getting him a gift.”
The Chief spoke up. “Miss Rose,” he said, “I think it might be helpful if you told Max exactly how Fred operates.”
“I already know that-he operates alone,” Max said.
“No… I mean how he functions.”
“Well,” Blossom said, “I didn’t want him to be dependent on me. You know, have a mother complex. So I built him so he could operate himself. What he does is, I gave him a nickel, and he drops it into his slot, and that turns him on. Then he pushes a lever at his side, and his eyes start revolving, then he goes ‘peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop,’ and that means he’s thinking.”
“That’s the price of inflation,” Max said. “It used to be ‘a penny for your thoughts’-now it’s a nickel.” He scowled. “Doesn’t that run into money, a nickel every time he wants to think?”
“No,” Blossom said. “I built him so that when he drops the nickel into his slot it falls back into his pocket. He uses the same nickel over and over again. I guess I did that because of working at the A amp; P. We’re always running out of change at the check-out counter.”
Max turned back to the Chief. “Chief, I’d like to make a request. This looks like a tough caper to me-like looking for a robot in a haystack. I’ll need all the help I can get. I’d appreciate it if you’d also assign Agent K-13 to the case.”
Blossom looked disappointed. “Three’s a crowd,” she said.
Max spoke sternly to her. “I think we’d better get one thing straight,” he said. “When I’m on a case, I’m no longer Max Smart, wonderful human being and brilliant conversationalist-I’m Agent 86, dedicated secret operative. It’s all work and no play. My mind is fixed on the objective, like a foot stuck in the mud. Is that clear?”
Blossom shrugged. “If that’s the way you want it. But I don’t see what harm maybe a movie or a little dancing could do.”
The Chief intervened. “I’ll get K-13,” he said.
As Max and Blossom observed, the Chief got up and went to the wall. He pressed a panel near the floor. It opened, and a large shaggy dog romped out. The dog had the appearance of having first been dropped into a vat of glue, then into a barrel of feathers.
“Here, boy… here, Fang!” Max called.
The dog leaped on him, pawing him. They exchanged greetings.
“This is Agent K-13… fondly known as ‘Fang,’ ” Max said to Blossom.
She smiled. “He reminds me of Fred-that is, Fred my cocker spaniel,” she said. “Except, of course, that he’s about ten times bigger and doesn’t look a thing like Fred.”
“One of our top agents,” the Chief said. “Absolutely fearless.”
“Better punch in, boy,” Max said to Fang.
The dog went to the open file where the time cards were kept, removed his card, using his teeth, and inserted it in the clock. He was unable to operate the mechanism, however.
Max punched the card for him. “Absolutely fearless, but a complete butterfingers when it comes to anything mechanical,” he explained to Blossom.
Fang barked a rejoinder, which was probably quite scathing.
“I think that’s about all,” the Chief said. “Max, are you clear on your mission?”
“Right, Chief! I’m to find Fred and bring him back-dead or alive!” He turned to Blossom. “Ready?”
“Do you have any ideas about where to look?” she said, rising.
“Absolutely none,” Max said confidently. “But, as somebody once said, ‘New York is really just a small town.’ So we’ll start out by just asking around.” He signalled to Fang. “Come on, boy!”
“Good luck,” the Chief said.
Max paused. “You can send that to the members of FLAG,” he said to the Chief. “They’re the ones who’ll need the luck.”
As Max, Blossom and Fang departed, Blossom asked, “Who is FLAG?”
“That stands for Free Lance Agents Amalgamated,” Max answered, leading the way down the corridor. “It’s the trade union of the espionage agents. It’s my guess that a number of the FLAG agents will also be hot on Fred’s trail. They’re the opposition, you might say.”
“Wouldn’t Free Lance Agents Amalgamated be FLAA?”
“They have a little spelling problem,” Max explained. “They’re absolutely fearless, each and every one of them, but they can’t spell worth a darn. Fang is the same way.”
“See what I mean?” Max said to Blossom. “He put in an extra ‘f.’ ”
“These FLAG people,” Blossom said. “What country do they represent?”
“Any country that hires them,” he answered. “They’ve found the one preferable substitute for loyalty, fidelity and playing-the-game.”
“Good heavens, what’s that?”
“Money,” Max said tersely.
The three passed through the exit doors, ascended the steps, and got into Max’s car, with Fang settling in the rear seat. Max started the engine.
“May I put my purse in your glove compartment?” Blossom said.
“That’s not the glove compartment, that’s where I keep the shells for my 20 mm. cannon,” Max said. “You see, the lower headlight on the left side isn’t really a headlight-it’s the cannon. This car was specially built for me. The cannon was optional, but I took it because all the FLAG agents have cannons on their cars. Call it keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, if you want.”
“Well… I guess a cannon is practical, in your business,” Blossom said.
“It can be a drawback,” Max admitted. “Recoil, you know. I fired at a FLAG agent from 57th Street one day, and the recoil sent me all the way back to 42nd Street. I got fifteen tickets for driving backwards through fifteen stop lights.”
“I’ll just hold on to my purse,” Blossom said.
“Good idea. It might cause a misfire if I jammed it into the chamber without thinking.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Instead of just asking around for Fred, I think it might be a better idea to go about this more methodically. Considering the answers I’ve got when I’ve asked my way on the subway, I don’t think asking strangers if they’ve seen a computer that was built with Rock Hudson in mind would get us very far. Rather, let’s ask ourselves a question. Namely: Where would we go if we were a computer trying to hide out?”
Blossom smiled hopefully. “A cozy French restaurant?”
“At this time of day? Don’t be ridiculous. There isn’t a French restaurant in town that opens before noon. No,” he said, “if Fred is as smart as you claim he is, he’d look for a place where he’d be inconspicuous. Now, all we have to figure out is, where could a robot go and not be noticed?”
“I’m sorry, Fang, but that’s even more ridiculous than a French restaurant.”
“A movie in the balcony,” Blossom suggested.
“No. You’re forgetting the ushers and their flashlights.” Max suddenly brightened. “Of course! The perfect spot! The one place where a mechanical man could be mistaken for one of the bunch!”
“The United Nations,” Max said. “With all the new countries joining up, and old ones dropping out, who knows who’s who? He could pass himself off as the representative of some emerging nation.”
Blossom sank down into the seat. “Well… if you think so.”
Max gunned the car out into traffic. “That’s where we’ll find Fred!” he said exultantly. “Or my name isn’t 86!”
“Only two f’s, boy!”
The car covered the six crosstown blocks in only a little less than a half-hour. Within another forty-five minutes they had found a parking space. Both Blossom and Fang were dozing by the time the car finally came to a stop.
Max shook them awake. “All out… we’re here!”
“Where?” Blossom said groggily, stretching.
“The U.N. And, from now on, on your toes, both of you. Keep a sharp lookout for FLAG agents. The enemy is everywhere. Don’t trust a soul. There’s no way of knowing what disguise the adversary might be wearing.”
“Then how will we know?” Blossom said worriedly.
Max tapped his skull with an index finger. “Intuition,” he said. “After you’ve been in this business as long as I have, you develop a seventh sense. The instant a FLAG agent comes within ten feet of me, a warning sounds in my brain. A bell rings and a light flashes, and a little sign pops up, saying, ‘Apples 5?’-that’s the code for ‘Watch it, Max!’ ”
Blossom smiled. “That’s very comforting.”
They started out-walking the twelve blocks from where Max had parked to the U.N. Building. But when they had gone only three blocks, Max suddenly grasped Blossom by the wrist and pulled her into a doorway. Fang quickly joined them.
“What is it?” Blossom said fearfully.
Max pointed back along the street. “See that lady with a poodle? She’s following us. It’s my guess that she’s a FLAG agent. Her poodle doesn’t look too trustworthy, either.”
Blossom peered out of the doorway. “She just looks like a woman walking her dog to me,” she said.
“Then why did my little sign pop up and say ‘Apples 5??” Max asked. “There’s definitely a FLAG agent in the vicinity. And that lady and her poodle are the prime suspects.” He spoke to Fang. “Boy, do your duty. Interrogate that poodle. But casually. Don’t give away your own identity.”
Fang bounded from the doorway and romped toward the lady and the poodle.
As Max and Blossom watched, they saw Fang sidle up to the poodle and touch cold noses with it.
“Fast worker, isn’t he?” Blossom said. “There are some things some people could learn from dogs.”
“He’s not so smart,” Max said. “It took me a week to teach him that trick. From morning to night, for seven days, we rubbed noses before he finally caught on.”
“Look!” Blossom said. “The woman is chasing him away!”
“But not before he got the information, I’ll wager,” Max said.
Fang came galloping up to them.
“How about it, Boy?” Max said. “Is she a FLAG agent?”
Max frowned. “Hmmmm… are you sure?”
“What did he say?” Blossom asked.
“He says the lady walking a poodle is only a lady walking a poodle. And, incidentally, he has a date with the poodle for tonight.” He scowled deeply. “Very puzzling. I’m sure there’s a FLAG agent in the vicinity.” He spoke again to Fang. “Are you positive that poodle didn’t pull your wool over your eyes?”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Max said placatingly.
“What did he say?” Blossom asked.
“He dared me to step outside and say that.”
The trio moved on, heading once more for the U.N. building.
“I hope there’s a meeting of the General Assembly going on,” Blossom said. “Maybe we could sit in the balcony and watch it.”
“I don’t think it would do any good,” Max said. “Fred may be a member of the U.N. by now, but I doubt that he has enough seniority to address the General Assembly.”
“That wasn’t what I-”
Blossom interrupted herself as they were approached by a little round tub of a man who looked quite distraught and who seemed about to address them. The man was chewing nervously at the ends of a scraggly mustache and glancing this way and that, as if he were lost.
“Haxcuse my Sothern accent,” the little man said, stopping them. “But I’m looking for the Hew Hen Building, and my eyes cannot find it.”
“I’m sorry,” Max said. “Just as you began to speak, a little bell began ringing in my brain, and I didn’t hear a word you said. Would you repeat that?”
“I’m lost from the Hew Hen Building,” the little man said. “And haxcuse my Sothern accent.”
“It’s hardly any accent at all,” Max said genially. “I understood you quite clearly. You’re looking for a hen house-right? But I’m afraid you won’t find any around here. There hasn’t been any farming in this area since the Empire State Building went up and blocked out the sun.”
“Rorff!” Fang barked.
Max brightened. “Oh! The U.N. Building!” To the little man, he said, “My apologies. Your Southern accent threw me there for a second. What part of the South are you from?”
The little man beamed. “Zinzinotti, Alleybama,” he replied.
“Oh, yes,” Max smiled. “Beautiful country. I passed through there in the summer of ’61. On the trail of a FLAG agent who was trying to smuggle California oranges into Florida. I caught up with him on the outskirts of Atlanta. But he beat the rap by setting up a stand on the highway and peddling all his contraband as colored ping-pong balls. Fascinating case.”
Blossom whispered to Max. “Careful. Maybe he’s a FLAG agent!”
“Nonsense!” Max said. “He just told us he’s from Zinzinotti, Alleybama. Besides-get that Southern accent. No foreigner could fake that.” To the little man, he said, “You’re a tourist, I presume. My name is 86-Max, for short. This is Blossom Rose. She’s the inventor-more or less-of the most sophisticated computer ever developed. And, down here, this is Fang-K-13, for short.”
The little man nodded, grinning. “I am Boris.”
“There you are,” Max said to Blossom. “Boris-typical Southern name. I ran into millions of Borises on the outskirts of Atlanta. It’s short for Beauregard.”
“Rorff!” Fang barked.
“That’s very unkind of you, Fang,” Max said reproachfully. “It’s our nature-and our duty, I might add-as typical New Yorkers, to be as hospitable as possible to visitors to our fair city. It’s the humane thing to do-and, besides that, it’s good for business. What do you think these yokels do when they come to town? They spend money. And what supports the jails? Money. And if there were no jails, what would we do with all the criminals we capture? We’d have to sit up all night and watch them ourselves. Think about that. If it weren’t for tourists like Boris, you wouldn’t be getting any sleep.”
Ashamed, Fang covered his eyes with his front paws.
To Boris, Max said, “As long as you’re here to see the sights, why don’t you tag along with us? We’ll probably be chasing all over the city on the trail of this computer we’re after. We might as well kill two birds with one stone-as they say in Dixie. We can run down this idiot computer and show you the town at the same time.”
“Da, da,” Boris nodded happily.
As they continued toward the U.N., Boris trotted beside Max. He asked a number of questions, confirming Max’s belief that he was a tourist.
“One thing I have always wondered about New York,” Boris said. “Is it possible for a robot to hide in Grant’s Tomb?”
Max chuckled. “Everybody asks that. As for the answer, frankly, I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s ever been tried. I imagine there would have been something in the papers about it if it had.”
“Is it your hinch then, that Fred is secreted in the U.N. Building?” Boris said.
“Hunch-not ‘hinch,’ ” Max replied. “Funny you should mention the name Fred. This robot we’re trailing is also named Fred. But I guess that’s a pretty common name. I had an instructor at Spy School named Fred. Fred What’s-his-name. Although, What’s-his-name wasn’t his real name. He used it because he said that’s what people called him anyway. Myself, I always called him Fred Whosis. Because I couldn’t remember What’s-his-name. He didn’t make much of an impression on a person. Which was great for the spy business. No one could ever remember him. In fact, come to think of it, I’m not sure that What’s-his-name was his name. It may have been You-know-who-I-mean-as in Fred You-know-who-I-mean-or something like that. I wonder what ever happened to Fred? I suppose nobody will ever know.”
“Getting back to Fred-” Boris began.
“Ah… here we are!” Max broke in. They had reached the U.N. Building, and Max led the way up the steps toward the entrance. “Sort of gets you right here, doesn’t it?” he said, covering his heart. “All these guys in here, screaming at each other, calling each other nasty names, threatening to blow each other up-and all for the sake of world peace.”
“If they’d spend more time in the balcony, there wouldn’t be all that dissension,” Blossom said.
“As a loyal American,” Boris said, “I must confess that it is we capitalists who cause all the trouble.”
“I doubt that,” Max said. “I’m as loyal as the next guy, but I’m not the type that says we can do everything. We have our limitations just like the others. That’s why we need allies. We can’t do everything by ourselves.”
As they reached the entrance, a gorgeous brunette, in the uniform of a U.N. guide, stepped forward to meet them.
“Allo!” she smiled. “You are veesitors for the first time to the U.N., oui?”
Max smiled knowingly. “Don’t tell me. I’d know that accent anywhere. Zinzinotti, Alleybama-right?”
The young lady giggled girlishly and shook her head. “But you are close, as they say. Paree, Illinois.”
“Ah, yes… Gay Paree, Illinois. I remember it well. Fascinating country. I passed through there in the summer of ’61. I was on the trail of a FLAG agent who was on his way to Florida by way of Atlanta. He was a ping-pong ball smuggler.”
“Oranges,” Blossom reminded him.
“That’s right-orange ping-pong balls.” He looked at Blossom suspiciously. “How did you hear about it? You aren’t by any chance a FLAG agent, are you?”
“My heavens, no! A amp; P… check-out counter… remember?”
Max was not completely convinced. “Just watch it,” he said. “I’ve got a mind like a hair-trigger. One little slip of the tongue, and.. just watch it, that’s all.” He turned back to the girl guide. “Now then, we’ve established that you’re from Paree, Illinois. What else do you do?”
“I am Noel, and I am zee guide,” the girl replied. “I am here to help you-if you are looking for something special… for instance, say, a robot?”
“Excellent!” Max said. “It couldn’t have worked out better if it’d been planned this way. It just so happens that we are looking for a robot. That is, except Boris here. He’s on a sight-seeing jaunt. Just tagging along.”
“Da,” Boris grinned.
“That means ‘yes,’ ” Max explained to Noel. “He’s a Southerner.”
“I sink I recognize zee oxent,” she smiled.
“Student of languages, eh? All right, let’s see how you can do on faces. This particular robot we’re trailing has probably mingled with the official representatives by now. He’ll be hard to spot.”
“What does he look like?” Noel asked.
“Pretty much like any other robot. His eyes revolve. He has a lever at his side. And… oh, yes… he goes, ‘Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop.’ It’s the kind of thing you hear around here a lot, I suppose.”
Noel looked thoughtful, reflecting. “I see so many faces,” she murmured.
Blossom tried to help. “You may have seen him in the balcony,” she said. “I sort of had that in mind while I was putting him together.”
Noel suddenly brightened. “I know him! Yes! He is a new country. He just arrived yesterday.”
Max smiled smugly. “What did I tell you-no seniority,” he said to Blossom. “He’s probably got an office somewhere in the basement.”
Noel brightened even more. “Yes! That is where I see him! In the basement!” She turned away. “You will follow me, please.”
They trailed after her, Max at her heels, the others strung out after him.
As they proceeded along the corridor, a tall, spare, middle-aged man in striped trousers came raging toward them. He was brandishing a small piece of green cardboard.
“This means war!” he shrieked, as he passed and then disappeared into an office.
“What was that he was waving,” Max said to Noel, “an ultimatum from some war-like nation?”
“No, no… a parking ticket,” she explained.
They reached a bank of automatic elevators, and stepped into a waiting car. Noel punched a ‘down’ button, the door glided closed, and the car began to descend.
“Poor Fred,” Blossom said. “I’ll bet he’s miserable down in the basement.”
“He should have told them that he had the means to control the world,” Max said. “They probably would have given him a top floor, corner office. It’s never a good idea to hide your light under a bushel.”
“Fred is very modest,” Blossom said. “For a computer, he’s really a very wonderful human being.”
The door opened. Again, as they exited, Noel led the way. The basement was dark. But Noel produced a flashlight. The beam skipped along the walls of the corridor, as if looking for something in particular.
“Not far,” Noel said.
“Rorff!” Fang barked.
“That’s ridiculous,” Max said. “If it were dangerous down here, they’d put up a sign saying ‘DANGER.’ ”
“Ah, yes… here we are!” Noel said exultantly.
Her light flashed on a bright red door. Attached to the door was a sign saying: DANGER!
“Don’t be an ‘I-told-you-so,’ ” Max snapped.
“Through here,” Noel said, indicating the door. “This is where I saw Fred.”
Max pointed to the sign. “Are you positive? That says ‘Danger!’ ”
Noel shook her head. “No, no, no, no, no,” she said. “In English, yes, it says Danger. But in the universal language, it says ‘PRIVATE.’ ”
“That adds up,” Max nodded. “Blossom said that Fred was a modest kind of guy. He probably doesn’t want a lot of ambassadors flocking in there to tell him what a swell fella he is.” He nodded again. “I’ll buy that.”
Noel reached for the door knob. As she began opening the door, she doused her light, and said, “After you…”
There was a burst of daylight. Max stepped through the doorway, followed by Blossom, then Fang, then Boris.
Once across the threshold, Max turned to Blossom and said, “Do you have the feeling you’re falling?”
“Oh, yes!” she gushed. “But I didn’t think you were interested in anything but your work.”
“I don’t mean that. I mean falling down… descending rapidly from a high level to a low level.”
“Yes, that, too,” she said.
“How about you, Boris?” Max said.
“We seem to have a consensus,” Max said. He looked down. “And we’re right,” he said. “We’re headed straight for the East River!”
Blossom looked down and shrieked.
“Don’t panic,” Max said. “The East River is really very nice country. I was thrown into it in the summer of ’61. I was trailing a ping-”
The splash was heard all the way to The Bronx.
Bobbing to the surface, Max sputtered, “It certainly hasn’t gotten any drier since ’61.” He spotted Blossom and Fang a few feet away. “Ahoy!” he called.
Fang back-stroked over to him.
Max counted. “One… two… there seems to be one missing.. where’s Boris?”
Blossom pointed. “There he is… swimming toward that submarine!”
Max looked. “That isn’t a submarine,” he said disgustedly. “That’s only a periscope. The East River is much too shallow for a submarine. A periscope, yes. A submarine, no.” He called out. “Boris! Boris! Gome back! This way to Grant’s Tomb!”
But Boris continued swimming toward the periscope.
“Apparently he thinks it’s a submarine, too,” Max said. “Well, goodbye Boris. The minute this case is concluded, I’ll report his disappearance to the Missing Visitors Bureau. That means they’ll have to go to the expense of dragging the river. The city will lose every cent it made on Boris.”
Max shrugged philosophically. “You’re right, Fang… you make a little, you lose a little. It all evens up in the end.”
“Hadn’t we better get to shore?” Blossom said.
“Good thinking,” Max said approvingly. “I wish I’d had you with me in the summer of ’61. I spent a whole night in the East River. I was finally picked up by a garbage scow. At least, that’s what I thought it was. Later, I discovered that it was a motor launch that was being used by a FLAG agent to smuggle orange ping-pong… but that’s another story. Let’s get ashore.”
Max and Blossom clung to Fang’s tail and he towed them to land. On shore, Max and Blossom shook themselves violently, flinging water, drying themselves, as Fang watched disinterestedly.
“Is that Noel ever going to feel like a fool when we tell her where that door led to,” Max said. “She was so positive it was a private office.”
“You know-” Blossom began.
“I guess this will teach her a lesson,” Max continued. “From now on, she’ll double-check before she sounds off about how much she knows about languages. ‘DANGER’ probably means ‘This way to the East River’ or something like that.” He smiled. “Well, it’s a good laugh on her.”
“I don’t entirely trust her,” Blossom said. “Could she be a FLAG agent?”
“Hardly,” Max replied. “She didn’t ring a bell with me.”
“All right, all right, we’re coming,” Max said. “Don’t be a nag. Nobody likes a nag, Fang!”
They made their way back to the entrance of the U.N. Building. When they reached the lobby, Max looked around, then said, puzzledly, “Funny… no Noel. Maybe she’s on her coffee break.”
“There’s something,” Blossom said, pointing. “She said Fred had become a new member. Maybe he’s listed on the board.”
Max peered toward the large board, where a young man was posting the names of new countries. “It’s worth a try,” he said.
They approached the young man, and watched as he worked.
He put up ‘Malawesia.’
“Could that be Fred in the universal language?” Max said to Blossom.
“How would I know? I thought D-a-n-g-e-r spelled Danger.”
The young man put up ‘Fredonia.’
“Hmmmmm,” Max mused. Then, “No… too easy.”
Up went ‘Carpetbagia.’
Max turned again to Blossom. “Fred isn’t by any chance from out of town, is he?” he said.
“Oh, no. I put him together in my little apartment. It isn’t far from here-if you’d like to drop by for a cup of coffee… or something.”
The young man put up ‘Zamporangowatsiabunalumpornaland.”
Max tapped him on the shoulder. “I wonder if, by any chance, you might have a ‘Fred’ in there?” he said, indicating the box from which the young man was taking the names.
“How do you spell it?” the young man asked.
“Rorff!” Fang barked.
“Don’t listen to him,” Max said. “It starts with an ‘F,’ not ‘Ph.’ ”
The young man sorted through the names in the box. He shook his head. “Not here.”
“I thought that was too easy,” Max said.
“Let’s try Fredonia,” Blossom suggested.
“Too obvious,” Max said. “I’ll put my money on Zamporangowatsiabunalumpornaland. That’s the sort of thing a computer would think up.” To the young man, he said, “Where exactly would we find Zamporangowatsiabunalumpornaland?”
“Forty degrees longitude, eighty degrees latitude,” the young man replied.
“When I said where would we find Zamporangowatsiabunalumpornaland, I meant where would we find the representative of Zamporangowatsi.. you get the idea.”
“Oh. Second floor, turn left,” the young man answered.
“Forward!” Max said, striking out toward the elevators.
“Rorph!” Fang barked.
“ ‘F!’ ” Max snapped back over his shoulder at him.
A few seconds later, Max, Blossom and Fang reached the second floor. They turned left, and soon came to an exceptionlly wide door with ZAMPORANGOWATSIABUNALUMPORNALAND stenciled on it in gold lettering.
Max put his ear to the door, listening. “There’s something going on in there!” he said.
“How do you know?” Blossom whispered.
“I hear voices!”
Blossom frowned. “What’s so sinister about that? It’s an office, and there are usually people in an office, and people talk. So what’s so strange about that?”
“They’re talking in code,” Max said, his ear still at the door.
“Oh.” Blossom pressed her own ear to the door. She listened a second, then said, “I don’t see how you can tell-I can’t understand a word they’re saying.”
“Of course not-it’s Zamporangowatsiabunalumpornaland code.”
“Well, if it’s Zamporangamacallit, how do you know it’s-”
“We’re going to have to break in,” Max said crisply, straightening. “Every second counts. All that talk… they must have Fred in there grilling him. Wringing the entire knowledge of Western Man out of him. There’s not a minute to lose. Stand back!”
“I think you’d better call me ‘86’ on formal occasions like this when I’m breaking in,” Max said.
“All I’m trying to say is, you haven’t even tried the door. Maybe it’s open.”
Max smirked. “You may be a hotshot inventor, but it’s obvious you don’t know the first thing about espionage. Those people in there have been clever enough to lure Fred-the world’s greatest repository of human knowledge-into their trap. Now, does it stand to reason that they would be stupid enough to leave the door unlocked?”
“If I walked up to that door,” Max went on, “and turned the knob-like this…” He turned the knob, and the door creeped open a crack. Max leaped back, startled. “Watch it! It’s a trick!”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Blossom pushed the door open, then peered into the office.
There were a number of people, mostly young men, in conversation at a small reception desk. They glanced up, and their conversation halted, as the door opened.
“Prudosier?” smiled the girl at the desk, the receptionist.
Max pushed Blossom aside and sprang into the office, pulling his pistol. Fang, meanwhile, crouched in the corridor, whining.
“All right-the game’s up!” Max barked. “Where’s Fred?”
One of the young men replied. “Awunda yonbaro aqua pistola.”
“Knock off the code!” Max snapped. “Just tell me where Fred is, and I’ll see that the judge goes easy on you.”
The girl, still smiling, said, “He is not speaking Code, he is speaking Zamporangamacallit. I am the only one here who speaks English.”
“Yeah?” Max said suspiciously. “All right, then, what did he say?”
“He said that there is water dripping from your pistol.”
“Oh.” Max looked down at his gun. A trickle of river water was dripping from the barrel. “Yeah, well, it’s a water pistol,” he said, thinking fast. “Now, enough of that… where is Fred?”
“Huboni drosti ust Bigelow ” said one of the young men.
“What’s that?” Max growled at the receptionist.
“He says your pistol is dripping on the carpet.”
“Sorry.” Max holstered his gun. Then he called out, “Fang! Come in here!”
A canine nose appeared in the doorway.
“All the way in!”
Tail between his hind legs, head lowered, Fang came crawling in.
“Search the premises,” Max ordered.
“Never mind that! That date isn’t until tonight. You’ll have plenty of time to get your hair combed. Stop acting like a scared pup, and search this office!”
Fang went crawling off, nosing into an adjoining room.
“Excuse me,” said the receptionist, “what are you looking for?”
“As if you didn’t know! But, just in case you don’t know, we’re looking for Fred. He’s a computer. Built in the form of a robot. His eyes revolve, and he has a lever at his side, and he goes ‘peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!’ ”
The girl translated for the young men. “Probona slot machine, expresso ‘peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!’ ”
The men stared open-mouthed at Max.
Embarrassed, Max hooked a thumb toward Blossom. “Don’t look at me-she’s the one who thought him up!”
Fang returned. He was no longer creeping. “Rorff!” he barked.
Max looked pained. To the receptionist, he said, “I’m very sorry.” He and Fang began backing toward the doorway, edging Blossom out with them. “Natural mistake,” Max apologized to the receptionist. “I heard you all speaking in a foreign language, so I naturally assumed that there was some sort of funny business going on. Again… sorry.” He closed the door behind him.
“What did Fang find?” Blossom said, when they were in the corridor again.
“Nothing,” Max sighed.
“Oh… yeah… a guy in the back room building bombs and painting ‘Yanks Unfair to Yogi Berra’ signs. But no Fred.”
Blossom sighed. “What now?”
“We still have a sheepdog up our sleeve,” Max said. “If Fred is in this building, Fang will find him. Look… do you have anything personal on you that belongs to Fred?”
Blossom opened her purse and pawed through it. “Here’s a transistor,” she said finally. “It was part of Fred’s calculating mechanism. But it blew when he tried to work out a problem in the New Math. I had to replace it.”
“Great,” Max said, taking the transistor. He held it out to Fang. “Sniff, boy!”
Fang sniffed. “Rorff!”
“He’s got the scent!” Max said. “Now, let’s go back to that board in the lobby that lists all the names of the nations and match up the scent with the country. That will give us the whereabouts of Fred!”
As they hurried toward the elevators, Blossom said, “That doesn’t really seem very logical to me.”
“Logic-schmogic!” Max retorted. “In this business, you have to use your brain.”
When they reached the lobby, they went directly to the roster of names.
Fang sniffed. “Rorff!”
“A-ha!” Max exulted. “Zambrosia, is it?” He turned smugly to Blossom. “And you said it wasn’t logical!”
“I still don’t see-”
“It just so happens,” Max said, “that in Greek mythology, ambrosia is the food of the gods. It’s supposed to ensure immortality. He who eats ambrosia never dies. Get it?”
Blossom shook her head.
“Then apparently you don’t remember that there is also an old saying that goes, ‘Never trust a Greek bearing gifts.’ Now… think about it… who else, bearing gifts, should never be trusted?”
Blossom thought. “Santa Claus?”
Max winced. “You’re not even trying. A FLAG agent, that’s who! Or, in other words, Zambrosia is a cover-up for a FLAG agent who is holding Fred captive. Now… see the logic?”
Again, Blossom shook her head.
Max threw up his hands in disgust. “Try to explain something to a flutter-headed dame!” He signalled to Fang. “Come on, boy! Grab your scent, and let’s get tracking!”
They dashed away, Fang with his nose to the ground, and Blossom hurried after them.
Fang led them to the elevators, then to a high floor. Getting off the elevator, they made their way along the corridor until they came to a door marked ZAMBROSIA.
“Is that a nose, or is that a nose!” Max crowed.
“I don’t think he followed a scent at all,” Blossom said.
“He got us here, didn’t he?”
“He probably read the directions off that board downstairs,” Blossom said.
Max eyed Fang sternly. “ ’Fess up, boy! Did you read those directions?”
Fang whined and hid his face.
Max looked at him scathingly. “I hope that’s the last time that ever happens. Remember this: Cheaters never win!”
“That’s a very poor philosophy for a secret agent!” Max snapped.
“What did he say?” Blossom asked.
“He said that cheaters win all the time-you just never hear about it.”
“There’s probably something to that. You know, once-”
“Never mind!” Max broke in. “I don’t want Fang to hear about it. He’s got enough wrong ideas in his head as it is.” He faced the door. “All right… this is it! Fred is in there somewhere! There’s no time for the amenities. We’ll charge in, overpower the guards, release Fred, then make a run for it! All set?”
Max threw the door open wide and charged in. Fang went yelping down the corridor in the other direction, tail between his legs. Blossom just stared.
As in the previous office, there was a small desk and a female receptionist seated behind it. There were two other men present. They were seated also, reading, as if they were waiting for an audience with the person behind another door that was marked Private.
Max challenged the larger of the two young men. “On your feet!”
Puzzled, the man rose.
“Hold out your right hand!” Max ordered.
Still perplexed, the man obeyed.
Max grasped the hand, and, using a jujitsu hold, flung the man across the room. The man splattered against the wall, slid to the floor, and lay silent.
“One down!” Max chortled. To the other man, he said, “Next!”
The man made a break for the doorway.
Max tackled him, brought him down, then, rising, grasped him by the left arm, wrenched him to his feet, then, using another jujitsu hold, flattened him again on the floor. The man lay silent.
Max stepped up to the reception desk.
“Yes sir?” said the receptionist. “Something I can do for you?”
“I’d like to see the head man,” Max said crisply.
“Yes sir… if you’d like to wait. There are two ahead of you.”
“Oh no you don’t!” Max said. “I had that trick pulled on me in the summer of ’61. I called for an interview at the office of a FLAG agent who was smuggling orange ping-pong balls. His girl kept me waiting in the outer office for three hours-telling me the other guys were ahead of me. As it turned out, the other guys were store window manikins. And the orange ping-pong ball smuggler slipped out the rear exit.”
“I am sorry,” the girl said, “but the Ambassador is in conference.”
“Grilling Fred, eh?”
“Never mind announcing me,” Max said. “I’ll just break in.”
He went to the door marked Private, gave it a hefty kick, and it splintered open. There was a large, bearded man seated inside at a huge, ornate desk. He was munching a sandwich.
Max stiffened. “Oh, no!”
“Who are you!” the man bellowed.
“Just one thing,” Max said. “Is that, by any chance, a liverwurst sandwich?”
“Of course!” the man growled. “Liverwurst is my favorite!”
Max sighed. “It’s also Fang’s favorite,” he said. He smiled weakly. “Sorry,” he said to the Ambassador. “Wrong scent!”
Max backed out, turned, and, stepping over a body, left the office. In the corridor, he reported to Blossom. “A minor error,” he said. “It wasn’t Fred that Fang was sniffing, it was liverwurst.” He shrugged. “A natural mistake… it could happen to anybody.” He looked around. “Where is the noble beast?”
“I think ‘noble beast’ means a horse,” Blossom said.
“That’s right. When I catch him, I’m going to make horsemeat out of him.”
They went searching for Fang, and found him down the corridor, cowering in a broom closet.
As Max was castigating him, Blossom suddenly put a hand on his arm and said, “Shhhh! Listen!”
Max cupped a hand to his ear. Dimly, he heard, “Peep-a-doooo.. ”
“It’s Fred!” Blossom said.
“Quick-look for a lavatory!” Max said.
“For heaven’s sake, why?”
“It sounds to me like Fred is brushing his teeth!”
“No, no, he sounds as if he’s strangling!”
Again, distantly, they heard, “Peep-a-dooooo…”
“Do something!” Blossom wailed. “Fang-find Fred!”
Fang put his nose to the ground.
“Your ears, you idiot!” Max snapped. “Peep-a-dotta is a sound, it isn’t a scent!”
So Fang put an ear to the ground.
Fang went bounding down the corridor. Max and Blossom dashed after him. He pulled up, skidding, at a door marked FREDONIA.
“I told you!” Blossom said.
“Pure coincidence,” Max said peevishly. “The odds are a thousand-to-one against it. It wouldn’t happen again in a hundred years.”
“Well, do something!”
Max drew back and threw himself against the door. It splintered and fell in-and Max followed it, ending up flat on his face inside the office.
The office was vacant except for the receptionist at the desk. The girl looked remarkably like Noel, the girl guide who had escorted them to the door in the basement marked DANGER!
“Haven’t we met somewhere before?” Max said, peering up from his prone position on the floor.
“Perhaps Paree?” the girl smiled.
“Of course! The summer of ’61. Paree, Illinois. How could I ever forget?”
“Where is Fred!” Blossom demanded.
“Fred who?” Noel said innocently. “All who is here is the Ambassador from Fredonia.”
From behind the door marked Private came, “Peep-a…”
“He’s growing weaker,” Max said, jumping up. “No time to waste!”
He threw himself against the second door-and bounced off it, hitting the far wall. Then, coming back strong, he approached the door again, turned the knob, and flung the door open. Next, entering, he tripped on the sill and fell flat on his face.
Looking up, Max found himself at the feet of Fred, who looked more like the Tin Man than Rock Hudson. There was the pointed tin hat, tin torso, tin arms, tin legs, tin feet. And, as Blossom had said, a lever at his side.
Blossom came bursting in. “Fred!” She threw her arms around him. “Are you all right!”
“Peep-a…” He seemed to be strangling, as Blossom had feared.
Max leaped to his feet. “He’s been gagged,” he said.
“But I don’t see any-”
“Ah, here it is!” Max said. He removed a coin from Fred’s slot. “Somebody forced a slug into his mechanism,” Max explained.
Fred made a sound that could have passed for a sigh of relief. Then-clank, clank, clank-his arm raised. He dropped his nickel into the slot. Clink, clank, rattle, the nickel dropped back into his pocket-actually, a compartment in his hand. Next, he depressed his lever. “Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!” His eyes rolled. Three lemons came up. Then he spoke-in a hollow, far-away voice.
“Thanks,” he said.
“That’s a heck of a lot of buildup for one word,” Max said.
“It isn’t what he says, it’s how he says it,” Blossom said. “There was a lot of feeling in it. He really appreciates your help.”
“Great-that makes my job all the easier,” Max said. Then, addressing Fred, he said, “Fella… if you don’t mind my calling you that… my mission is to bring you back. With, your brains, you’re invaluable to the nation that controls- Let me put it another way. It just so happens that-as matters stand-we are the Good Guys, and everybody else is the Bad Guys… or is that ‘are’ the Bad Guys? Anyway, we’re the Good Guys, and whether it’s ‘is’ or ‘are’ is their problem; let them worry about it. Or should that be ‘are’ their problem?”
Max sneered. “Anybody who spells the way you do is in no position to give advice on grammar. Stay out of this!” He turned back to Fred. “Fella… this is how it stands. Being the Good Guys, we’re willing to give you a choice. Self-determination it’s called. You can join up with us-that’s choice number one. Or we’ll take you apart, transistor by transistor, and ram you down your own slot. That’s choice number two.” He glanced at his watch. “You have three months to decide.”
“Three months?” Blossom said incredulously.
“Belay that!” Max said. “I meant three seconds. This is a calendar watch, and I always get the seconds and the months mixed up. Minutes, I confuse with weeks. I remember in the summer of ’61 I spent the whole month of May trying to boil a four-minute egg.” To Fred, he said, “I’m counting, fella…”
Fred’s arm ascended. The nickel clink-clanked through his anatomy. Down went the lever. His eyes revolved, accompanied by “peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!” Three lemons appeared. He spoke:
“Man who sits on firecracker should watch out behind!”
Max stared for a second, then turned in bafflement to Blossom. “Man who sits on firecracker should watch out behind?”
She giggled. “I guess he gets that from me. I watch a lot of old Charlie Chan movies on TV.”
“What does it mean?”
“I think it means there’s something going on behind us.”
As one, they turned.
And found themselves facing a large automatic pistol being held by Noel.
“Steeek ’em up!” Noel said.
Max slumped dejectedly. “I knew I’d met you somewhere before. It wasn’t Paree, Illinois, and it wasn’t the summer of ’61. It was just a few minutes ago in the basement. You know,” he said reprovingly, “you made a clumsy mistake down there. That door didn’t lead to a private office, it led to the East River. We could have been severely injured.” He pointed to the pistol. “And that goes for that gun you’re holding, too. Guns are not toys. They’re dangerous weapons. Especially in the hands of a female. Now, give me that-”
Noel fired. A little round hole with singed edges appeared in the sleeve of Max’s jacket.
“See what I mean!” he said disgustedly. “You could have killed me!”
“She’s a FLAG agent,” Blossom whispered.
“Nonsense. She’s just a nice girl from Paree, Illinois, who doesn’t know a thing about handling a dangerous weapon. Now, look-” he said to Noel.
“Silence!” Noel snapped. “I will speak with Fred.”
Max turned back to Fred. “Okay, you tell her what a dangerous weapon a gun is.”
“I will do the telling,” Noel said. Then, speaking to Fred, she said, “This fool is lying to you. It is really we who are the Good Guys. He is the Bad Guys.”
“I think that should be ‘are,’ ” Max said.
“Okay, okay,” Max shrugged. “If you want to be one of those people who makes mistakes in grammar…”
“Come with me,” Noel said, addressing Fred again. “I will take you to the land of love, love, love. We will-”
“Could you be a little more specific about that?” Max broke in. “The land of love, love, love could be practically anywhere.”
“Let it suffice to say that the land I represent is the Good Guys,” Noel replied. “I would not work for anyone else. Surely, you believe that. Knowing me as you do, could you imagine me in league with the Bad Guys?”
“It would be difficult,” Max admitted.
“Well, it wouldn’t be difficult for me!” Blossom said. “I think she’s working for-”
“Ah-ah-ah!” Max said, stopping her. “No names, please. That’s the first rule of a secret agent-”
“Second rule,” Noel corrected.
“That’s right-I forgot the one about never leaving your secret code book on a lunch counter.” To Blossom, he said. “The second rule is: No names! If you go around mentioning names you’re liable to find out that you and your adversary are both working for the same client. It could get sticky.”
“Silence!” Noel said again.
“Sorry. I just can’t resist the opportunity to explain these little inside technical aspects.”
Once more, Noel spoke to Fred. “This is what I can offer you,” she said. “Your own apartment on the Champs Elysees. A credit card-paid up-with Carte Blanche. An introduction to Brigitte Bardot.”
Max whispered to Blossom. “There’s a clue there. Keep listening; a slip of the tongue, and she may reveal her client.”
“I, too, offer you a choice,” Noel said to Fred. “You can come with me peacefully, or I will put a bullet through your main transistor. You have two seconds to decide!”
“Don’t listen to her,” Max said to Fred. “I’ll match her offer-item for item-and throw in seventy-five cents cash!”
“Silence!” To Fred, she said, “The time is fleeting!”
“Or, to put it another way,” Max said, “tempus fugits, eh?”
“Exactly,” Noel nodded.
“A-ha!” Max cried. “I’ve got it! You’re Panamanian!” To Blossom, he explained, “I had a teacher in sixth grade who used that phrase. ‘Tempus fugit, tempus fugit,’ she kept saying. She was Panamanian as — ”
“Siiiiiiilence!” Noel shrieked.
“Can’t take the pressure, eh?” Max said smugly.
“What is your decision?” Noel said to Fred.
Fred’s arm came up. He dropped the nickel in, and pushed down his lever. “Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!” His eyes rolled three lemons. He spoke:
“Woman who sits on firecracker should watch out behind!”
“His needle’s stuck,” Max said.
“No… look!” Blossom said, pointing.
They all looked.
Boris had appeared in the doorway. He was dripping wet; a pool of water began to form at his feet. He was gripping an automatic pistol that was even larger and more evil-looking than the one Noel was holding.
“Stuck ’em up!” Boris commanded.
Noel’s arms flew skyward; her gun clattered to the floor.
Relieved, Max lowered his arms. “You got here just in the nick of time,” he said to Boris. “Difficult as it is to believe, this nice little girl from Paree, Illinois, has turned out to be a FLAG agent. She works for-”
“Ah-ah-ah! No names!” Boris cautioned. “And stuck up your hands!”
“I think you’re a little confused, Boris,” Max said, raising his arms again. “It’s the young lady here who’s the FLAG agent. I’m the Good Guy.”
“How do I know?” Boris said. “I am only a simple tourist from Zinzinotti, Alleybama. To me, simple tourist that I am, there is only one solution. I will shoot you both.”
“Peeeg!” Noel snarled.
“That’s Panamanian,” Max explained to Boris. “And, about that other thing-let’s talk it over. I think you’d feel very foolish if you shot us both, and then discovered later that you’d shot a genuine Good Guy along with a Bad Guy. I might add that it certainly wouldn’t enhance the reputation of Zinzinotti, Alleybama. I’m afraid you’d get a good knuckle-rapping once you got back home.”
“Talk, talk, talk!” Boris growled. “Enough talk! Now, shoot!” He aimed the pistol directly at Max.
“Hold on there!” Max said. “Since you won’t listen to reason, let’s try a little subterfuge. It just so happens that this building is surrounded by a battalion of troops from the Fifth Armored Division. Pull that trigger, and you’re a doomed man!”
“You are insane!”
“Don’t believe it, eh? All right, would you believe: fifty motorcycle cops and a troop of Boy Scouts?”
“Prepare to die!”
“In that case, would you believe: a troop of Girl Scouts armed with rock-hard Girl Scout cookies?”
Boris aimed the pistol. “On the count of three. One… two.. ”
“Last chance,” Max said. “Would you believe: one small boy with a water pistol?”
“Three!” Boris counted. He pulled the trigger. The pistol clicked. A drop of river water fell from the end of the barrel.
Max stared. “I must have magic powers. All I said was ‘water pistol.’ ”
Again, frantically now, Boris pulled the trigger. “Click!”
“This comes as a complete surprise to me,” Max said. “I had no idea I was magic.”
Boris pulled the trigger of his gun rapidly. “Click… click.. click… click… click… click…”
“Now I’ll try something really difficult,” Max said. “Allakazam and hocus-pocus… I command a full battalion of the Fifth Armored Division to appear.”
They all turned expectantly to the doorway.
But nothing happened.
“Maybe that was asking a little too much,” Max said. “Allakazam and hocus-pocus… how about one teensy-weensy motorcycle cop… off-duty if necessary.”
Max shook his head puzzledly. “What am I doing wrong?”
“I beg your pardon!” Max said coolly. “It just so happens that ‘allakazam’ is so spelled with two l’s.”
“Click… click… click… click… click!” went Boris’s gun.
“Okay, two can play at that game,” Max said. He whipped out his own pistol, took dead aim on Boris, and pulled the trigger. “Click!” went the pistol. A drop of river water fell from the barrel.
Boris fired again. “Click!”
Max’s turn. “Click… click… click… click!”
Boris. “Click… click… click!”
Max. “Click… click… click!”
Both Max and Boris continued to pull their triggers, but there was no sound.
“I think we’re out of ammunition,” Max said finally. Then, thinking fast, he turned to Blossom and said, “Quick… get the girl’s gun!”
Noel’s arms were still in the air, and her pistol was still on the floor.
Blossom snatched up the gun.
“Good work!” Max said.
Blossom handed the gun to Noel. “Here you are… you dropped your gun!”
“No! No! No!” Max bellowed.
“But you said-”
“I said ‘get’ her gun, I didn’t say ‘give it to her.’ ”
“But it’s her gun!”
“The third rule!” Max raged. “Never give the enemy his gun back!”
“Well, how should I know!” Blossom wept. “I’m not a professional!”
“All right, all right,” Max sighed. “I guess that’s how you learn-by making mistakes.” He spoke to Noel. “Look, could we run through that again. You put the gun back, and I’ll say to her, ‘Quick
… get the girl’s-.’ ”
“Siiiiilence!” Noel screamed.
“For a secret agent, you certainly are touchy,” Max grumbled.
“You!” Noel said, addressing Fred. “You will accompany me!” To the others, she said, “If there is any attempt to follow us, I will destroy Fred. If you value his mechanism, believe me. For those are my orders!”
“I hardly think that last was necessary,” Max said, hurt. “I would never call a lady a liar.”
Boris stepped forward-hands up. “Perhaps we can come to an agreement,” he said to Noel.
“Good old Boris,” Max commented to Blossom. “In there right to the last trying to save the day for us.”
“What’s your deal?” Noel said warily to Boris.
“I will swap you one secret agent, one lady inventor and a mangy dog for Fred,” said Boris. “And I will throw in two pistols, which, when drained, will work just like new.”
“Is that a friend, or is that a friend!” Max said to Blossom. “It’s probably everything he owns.”
“What kind of a deal is that!” Noel scoffed. “You’re trying to trade me something I already have, and don’t want, for something I also have, and do want.”
Boris shrugged. “I am a poor man. I can only give what is someone else’s.”
“No deal!” Noel snapped.
“Good try, anyway,” Max said to Boris.
Noel turned her pistol on Fred. “Follow me!” She backed toward the doorway.
“Goodbye, Fred,” Blossom sniffled.
“So long, friend,” Max said. “When you get to Panamania, give my regards to Brigitte Bardot. Ask her if she remembers the summer of ’61.”
“Hurry!” Noel commanded Fred.
Fred moved forward. As he did so, his arm raised, the nickel dropped into his slot. “Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!” Lemons.
He spoke. “Ladies first.”
A blush crept into Noel’s cheeks. “How nice of you,” she murmured, lowering her eyes. “You are a gentleman.”
Noel stepped through the doorway first.
Fred’s arm came up again. He slammed the door and locked it, shutting Noel out. The key he dropped into his slot.
Noel pounded angrily on the other side of the door and shrieked. “You ugly computer! You are no gentleman!”
“Veeeery neat!” Max commended Fred. To Blossom, he said, “Do you see what he’s done? He’s locked her out!”
“Let me in!” Noel shrilled.
Max called back through the closed door. “We can’t. It’s locked! And we can’t shoot the lock off because we’re out of ammunition.” He winked at the tourist from Zinzinotti. “Right, Boris?”
“Da,” Boris grinned.
“Let me in!”
“Tell you what I’ll do,” Max called. “Slip your gun under the door, and I’ll shoot the lock off from in here.”
Then, from outside, Noel’s voice again. “Scout’s honor?”
“Max Smart is a man of his word.”
The gun came sliding under the door.
Max picked it up. He spoke through the door again. “I said I’d shoot the lock off the door. But I didn’t say when I’d do it. Just be seated, please. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” He turned to Blossom. “Understand what I’m doing? I’ve got her trapped out there.”
“But we’re the ones who are inside,” Blossom said.
“Exactly. We’re inside, free to maneuver, and she’s outside, trapped. Think about it.” He faced toward Boris. “Boris, I appreciate everything you’ve done. None of it worked… but the thought was there, anyway.”
“Perhaps I could do one more little thing for you,” Boris smiled. “Hold the gun, for example?”
“Geeee… that’s nice of you. But I’m going to need it in a second to blast the lock off that door. There is one thing you can do for me, though. You can come along with me when I take that girl back to Control. I may need you to back up my story. Sometimes the Chief thinks I exaggerate. When I tell him this nice girl from Paree, Illinois, is actually a FLAG agent, he’s going to be a little… where are you going?”
Boris was backing toward the window. “Suddenly I need a little air,” Boris said. “I thought I’d step out for a moment.”
“Hey… watchit! We’re twenty stories up. If you step out that window, you’ll-”
Max winced, closing his eyes tight.
There was a long, long silence… then an explosive splash. River water sprayed in through the open window.
Max sighed relievedly. “Lucky, lucky break,” he said. “Apparently the river is right below the window.”
Blossom went to the window and looked out. “He’s swimming,” she reported. “And there’s that submarine again.”
Max joined her at the window. “You’re certainly stubborn when you get an idea in your head,” he said. “That’s still not a submarine. It’s a periscope.”
“Well, what’s under it?”
“The bed of the river, of course. Any school child could answer that!” He went back to the door and spoke through it. “All right, out there! Just be patient. I’m going to blast this lock!”
There was no reply.
“I think she’s sulking,” Max said.
“I think she’s gone,” Blossom said.
“We’ll see about that!”
Max aimed the pistol at the lock and fired. There was a shattering of metal and wood. The door creaked open.
Max stepped out.
Noel was nowhere in sight.
“Fantastic!” Max said. “She eluded the trap! I would have bet my last Indian head penny that…” He shrugged resignedly. “Well, that just proves it. The best made plans of mice and men, eh?”
Blossom came out of the inner office. “At least, we saved Fred,” she said.
“Right! Mission accomplished. Now, it’s a simple matter of taking him to Control and turning him over to the authorities.” He beckoned to Fred. “Come along, fella. It’s clear sailing from here on out.”
Fred joined them, clanking. And they made their way from the office of Fredonia toward the elevators.
There were two men aboard the elevator when the door opened. They were in long coats and striped trousers, dignified-looking gentlemen.
Max stopped Blossom and Fang as they started to board the car. “Just a minute,” he said. “Let me interrogate these passengers first. I don’t intend to step into a nest of FLAG agents.” To the gray-haired, older of the two men, he said, “Name, rank and serial number, please. And I want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Remember-it’s a sin to tell a lie!”
The older gentleman looked him up and down stonily. “I’m Lord Alcorn-if that’s your question, sir,” he said. “Now, will you please either step inside or get your foot out of the door?”
“Lord Alcorn, eh? Answer me this: Where were you at seven-thirty P.M. during the summer of ’61?”
“London-if you must know.”
“A-ha! And, in London, were you, by any chance, playing ping-pong?”
The older turned to the younger. “By George, I think I’ve got it!” he said. “We’re on Candid Camera!”
The younger nodded drearily. “I can’t think of any other possible explanation.”
Max smiled, pleased. “It’s all right,” he said to Blossom and Fred. “These two are Americans. Did you catch the reference to a well-known American television program? It’s those little slips-of-the-tongue that tip the scales.” He made a sweeping arm motion. “All aboard!”
When they were all inside the car, Max punched the main floor button. The door closed and the car began to descend.
Instantly, the two men whipped off their long coats, revealing that they were wearing black leather jackets underneath.
The older man spoke again-as he pulled a large pistol from his jacket and pointed it at Max. “Okay, Jack, grab fer da sky!” he snarled. “Dis is a heist!”
Fang sprang into action. He leaped into a corner and covered his head.
“Gentlemen,” Max said, “I like your act. But I’m afraid it’s a waste of time if you’re auditioning. This is not Candid Camera!”
“Stow da gab, Mac!” the younger man said. “We’re here to put da snatch on dis tin can ya got widja.”
“He means Fred!” Blossom gasped.
“Dat’s right!” said the older man. “We’re gettin’ paid a pretty penny fer puttin’ da pinch on dis prefab putt-putt.”
“Yes,” Max retorted challengingly, “and Peter Piper thought he could pick a peck of pickled peppers, too-but he didn’t get away with it!”
“Pooey!” said the younger man petulantly.
“No, not pooey-punch!” Max snapped back.
“Pardon?” said the older man, puzzledly.
“Punch!” Max repeated.
At that same moment, the elevator door slid open.
“All out-main floor!” Max called.
The two men stepped out. “Follow us,” said the elder.
But, instead, Max punched another button on the control panel. The door glided closed. And the car began to descend again.
“How did you do that?” Blossom asked.
“Simple,” Max smiled. “As I told that elderly gentleman, I punched. I punched the button for the fifth floor with my shoulder blade. As you can see, I’m backed up against the panel. And now,” he said, “we’re on our way to the main floor-all according to plan.”
“Perfect!” Blossom giggled.
Max shrugged modestly. “Possibly,” he said. “Who am I to say?”
“Rorff!” barked Fang, emerging from the corner.
Max laughed. “Very good,” he said.
“What did he say?” Blossom asked.
“I wouldn’t dare repeat it,” Max said. “It was a pun.”
The car stopped at the main floor. Max, Blossom, Fang and Fred stepped out and headed across the lobby.
“Well, it’s clear sailing from here on out,” Max said to Fred. “It’s only a half-hour or so walk from here to the car. Then a five minute drive to Control. After that, you won’t have a worry in the world.”
Fred activated himself. “Computer who think he safe in his own house better take another look under the bed,” he said in his far-away voice.
Max squinted at him. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“With my brains,” Fred replied, “I know better than to think there’s any where that’s safe.”
“Your fears are groundless,” Max said. “I give you my word.”
“Man gives his word only when he has nothing of value to offer,” Fred intoned.
“Will you stop talking Hollywood Chinese,” Max said. “If you’ve got something on your mind, speak up, tell us what it is.”
“I want to be free,” Fred said.
“And that’s exactly what you’ll be,” Max said. “We’ll lock you up in a cell somewhere, underground, where those Bad Guys can’t get at you, and you’ll be free to work your transistors off, night and day, thinking up new ways to help us Good Guys work out a happy ending to this mess the world’s in. I don’t know what more a computer could ask for-frankly.”
“I’ll be the object of greed, treachery, duplicity-”
“Look, Fred, every job has its drawbacks. On the other hand, you’ll also be the object of admiration, worship, applause. You’ll be getting medals handed out to you right and left. You’ll be a celebrity-within the confines of your own little cell, of course.”
“I don’t want to be a celebrity,” Fred said. “I want to live a simple life. Come and go as I please. Sleep late if I want to. Not shave for a week if I don’t want to. Not-”
“Fred,” Max broke in, “you don’t have a beard, you couldn’t shave if you wanted to.”
“It’s the principle of the thing,” Fred explained.
They left the U.N. Building and walked up the street in the direction of the car.
“Maybe we’d better get a cab,” Blossom suggested. “It’s a long walk to your car.”
Max shook his head. “The car will be safer. There’s not a cab in the city that has a cannon under its left front headlight.”
So they walked on.
“Look, Fred,” Max said, “I sympathize with you. But if we let you go free-as you euphemistically put it-you wouldn’t be free for ten seconds. The FLAG agents would sweep down on you, carry you off, and turn you over to the Bad Guys. When we lock you up in that cell, I want you to know that we’re doing it for your own good. Believe me, I know those Bad Guys. They’d haul you off and lock you up in a cell somewhere. What kind of life would that be for a fun-loving robot?”
“Why can’t I just be me!” Fred groaned.
“Because you have a duty to Mankind!” Max said. “Why do you think Blossom created you?” To Blossom, he said, “Tell Fred why you created him.”
“I’m a single girl,” Blossom explained to Fred. “Actually, I had Rock Hudson in mind.”
“The other reason!” Max snapped.
“Oh. Well, you see, I bought this set for my nephew for his birthday, and I wanted to see-”
“Never mind!” Max broke in. To Fred, he said, “I’ll tell you why she created you. Because… because…” He scowled. “Because she’s a butterfingers, that’s why!” he finally said disgustedly.
“Rorff!” Fang barked.
Max whipped around. “Where? Where?”
Max peered back along the street in the direction from which they had come. He squinted, then said, “You’re right, Fang! Good boy!”
“What is it?” Blossom said fearfully.
“Fang has the eyes of an eagle,” Max said.
“But what is it?”
Max pointed. “See that little delicatessen back there… we passed it only a moment ago.”
“See that man standing there leaning against the window?”
“And just to the right of him, see that sign?”
“Yes, yes, yes… what is it?”
“It says they’re having a sale on liverwurst,” Max said. “Liverwurst is Fang’s favorite.” He patted Fang’s head. “As soon as this case is closed, we’ll drop back and pick up a pound or two,” he said.
Blossom stared at Max. Then she stared at Fang. Then she turned and walked on ahead alone.
“It’s the pressure of living in constant danger,” Max explained to Fred. “It’s beginning to tell on her. Some people just aren’t cut out for it.”
When Max, Fred and Fang finally reached Max’s automobile, Blossom was in the front seat, on the glove compartment side, peering icily straight ahead.
“Relax,” Max said to her as he and the others got into the car. “Ten minutes from now this will all be a distant memory. At least, that’s the way it is with me. The second a case ends, I forget all about it. I remember in the summer of ’61-”
“Drive!” Blossom growled.
Max switched on the ignition. There was a sound like a backfire.
“Oops!” Max said. He got out and looked at the car that was parked behind his. Then, returning and getting behind the wheel again, he said, “I’ve always claimed these new models didn’t have enough ventilation in front, anyway. The guy who owns that Buick will probably thank me for it.”
He started the engine and turned the car out into traffic.
They had gone no more than a block when Blossom suddenly turned in the seat and looked out the rear window. “That car back there!” she said. “It’s trying to overtake us. It’s darting in and out of traffic!”
Max consulted his rear-view mirror. “You’re jumping to a conclusion,” he said. “That looks like normal New York driving to me.”
There was the zing of a bullet. The rear-view mirror shattered.
“Is that normal!” Blossom shrieked, ducking down, hiding below the seat.
“Nooooooo,” Max said reflectively, “I wouldn’t say that it’s entirely normal. But… sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. Let’s wait it out and see what happens.”
Another bullet whined by the car.
“Do something!” Blossom cried.
“The one thing I’m not going to do is assume the obvious,” Max said. “The traffic is heavy… it’s easy to lose your sense of perspective in heavy traffic. That may be the explanation.”
The car drew up alongside. A bullet whizzed in the front window, which was open, and missed Max’s eyebrows by less than a quarter of an inch.
“Hmmmm,” he mused, “in this instance, the obvious seems to be correct. Well… live and learn.”
Max stepped hard on the accelerator and the car shot forward.
He glanced back. The pursuing automobile was right behind him! Bullets filled the air!
“Fortunately,” Max said, “I’m prepared for such a situation.” Calmly, he turned his attention to the car’s control panel. “Now, let’s see… which is the button for that smoke screen? It was here when I left the garage this morning…”
Bullets splattered against the car!
“Dooooooooo Somethiiiiiiing!” Blossom pleaded.
“Can I help it if I’ve misplaced my smoke screen button? It could happen to anybody. Let’s see… I had the car washed… could it be that… ah, ah… here it is!”
“Push it! Push it!”
“It isn’t the type button you push,” Max said. “It’s a pull button.”
“You really ought to come up here and watch this,” Max said. “It’s something to see. I’ll pull this button, a jet of thick, black smoke will shoot out the exhaust pipe, and the car behind us will be completely enveloped.”
“Don’t talk!” Blossom begged. “Show me!”
“Well, all right… if you want to miss a good show.”
Grimly-but not without a flicker of smug expectation in his eye-Max pulled the button.
From the rear of the car came an explosion. “That’s it!” Max cried exultantly.
A thick cover of black smoke began to enclose and then-through the open window-infiltrate Max’s car.
“It’s coming in here!” Blossom screamed.
Max tried to scatter the smoke from in front of his eyes. “There appears to be a malfunction,” he said. “The smoke is supposed to go backwards, not forward. Apparently the wind is in the wrong direction.”
The fog inside the car thickened. Blossom began coughing. Fang began howling.
“Stop the car!” Blossom wailed.
“That might not be a bad idea-since the street seems to have disappeared,” Max said.
He jammed on the brakes. The car screeched to a halt.
“All out-women and dogs first!” Max cried.
The car doors flew open. Max, Blossom and Fang ran from the car-then stopped at the edge of the cloud of smoke that completely obscured it.
“No harm done,” Max said confidently. “The smoke will settle in a few minutes, then we can get back into the car and go on.”
“Fred!” Blossom said. “He’s still in there!”
“Fang will get him!” Max said. “Go to it, boy!”
Fang dashed off-in the opposite direction. He holed up in a doorway.
“All right for you!” Max called after him. “It will be a hot day in January before you get any liverwurst out of me-sale or no sale.” To Blossom, he said. “Don’t worry! I’ll get Fred out of there!”
Max ran to the car. He disappeared into the cloud of smoke.
“Hurry!” Blossom wept.
From the denseness of the smoke came Max’s voice. “I’ve got him! I’m coming out!”
Max reappeared. He staggered from the smoke, carrying an armload of mechanism. Wires hung from it. A lever dangled loose.
“Oh, Fred, Fred!” Blossom sobbed. “What happened to you?”
“Looks like he tangled with the wrong end of my lower left front headlight,” Max commented.
Fang came crawling back. “Rorff!” he barked.
Max peered more closely at the mangled mechanism he was holding. “By George, you’re right,” he said to Fang.
“What did he say?” Blossom wept.
“He pointed out that this isn’t Fred,” Max said. “It’s my radar gear. I grabbed the first thing that felt like Fred, and, apparently, I made a slight error.”
“But where’s Fred?”
They turned toward the car. The smoke had lifted. The car was empty.
“Offhand, I would say that Fred has done it again,” Max said. “He’s skipped.”
Blossom began to sob again. “Oh, Fred, Fred, poor Fred, all alone in the cold, cruel world!”
“I don’t think that’s exactly right-about being alone,” Max said. “My guess is that he’s got a whole carload of FLAG agents on his tail.”
“We’ve got to do something!”
“I’ll go along with that,” Max said. “We’ve got to find him again. Which, once more, brings up the question: Where could a computer go to hide?”
“That’s a definite possibility,” Max nodded.
“What did he say?”
“He said that since Fred is looking for freedom of the spirit and this is manifested in a near-psychotic compulsion to go without shaving, he has probably headed for Greenwich Village. And, I’m inclined to go along with that. Despite his obviously superior mentality, Fred has struck me as somewhat of a kook. I think he’d be right at home in the Village. Also, there’s the factor that he could mingle with the natives without drawing any undue notice to himself.”
“You miss the point,” Max said. “The point is, nobody in the Village ever shaves. Not even the females.”
Blossom headed for the car. “Let’s go!”
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” Max said, following.
Fang bounded after him.
Some thirty minutes later, after a zigzagging drive at breakneck speeds through midtown Manhattan, they arrived in the Village.
“Keep your eyes peeled for some sign of Fred,” Max said as they cruised along Eighth Street.
“Gee, there are a lot of them who don’t shave,” Blossom said, observing the natives.
“Let’s limit it to those who don’t shave but who don’t have a beard either,” Max said.
“I know that fellow doesn’t have a beard,” Max replied. “But that’s because he’s a policeman.”
“Yes… that’s an idea.”
Max pulled up to a policeman, who was standing in the middle of the intersection, directing traffic. “Excuse me, officer,” he said. “We’re looking for a computer-who masquerades as a robot-and who has revolving eyes and a lever at his side. I wonder if perhaps you’ve seen him?”
The policeman leaned down and put his head in the car window. “Where’s the camera?” he said, glancing about the car interior.
“Officer, you don’t understand. This isn’t Candid Camera. We’re on the trail of a robot. The fate of the entire civilized world hangs in the balance. Now, have you seen anyone answering to that description?”
The officer waved gayly. “Hi, Mom!”
“Officer, believe me, this isn’t Candid Camera!”
“What night’ll it be on?” the policeman asked.
Max sighed. “Never mind,” he said. “We’ll just keep looking.”
As they pulled away, the officer called after them. “What night? You didn’t tell me what night!”
“Exhibitionist!” Max grumbled.
“Max, we’ll never find him just driving around,” Blossom said. “I think we ought to-” She interrupted herself-then pointed. “Look! That car! The long, black car parked over there! Isn’t that the car that was following us, shooting at us!”
“It looks like it, all right,” Max said. “There’s somebody in the back seat. I’ll cruise by it, and you look in. It may be Fred. They may be holding him captive!”
Max drove slowly by the other car.
“It’s Boris!” Blossom cried.
“Boris? Boris from Zinzinotti, Alleybama?”
“Yes… it’s him!”
“Good old Boris!” Max said warmly. “Boris to the rescue again. I’ll bet he saw that car shooting at us and followed it. He’s probably waiting there for the culprits to come back so he can make a citizen’s arrest.”
“Then, on the other hand,” Blossom said, “maybe he was in the car when it was shooting at us. Maybe he was doing the shooting.”
“Nonsense! Boris? After all he’s done for us? I think that’s a nasty thing to even think!” He turned the car toward the curb. “I’ll park and we’ll go back there and assist him when he makes the arrest!”
“I hope we’re not making a mistake,” Blossom fretted.
“Max Smart doesn’t make mistakes,” Max said. “If I didn’t know what I was doing every second, I wouldn’t last five minutes in this business.”
They parked and left the car and hurried toward the limousine in which they had seen Boris. When they reached the car, Boris was still there.
Max opened the rear door and climbed into the back seat, followed by Fang and then Blossom.
“Boris! Friend!” Max said.
Boris peered at him, then opened the door on his side, got out, slammed the door, and walked away. At the same instant. Blossom slammed the door closed on the other side.
“Darn! He didn’t see us!” Max said. “I’ll call him back!”
He tried to open the car door that Boris had slammed. It would not open.
“Okay, back out-through the other door,” Max said. “This one is locked from the outside.”
Blossom tried her door. It, too, was locked. “We’re trapped!” she said.
“Impossible. Roll down your window.”
She tried. It wouldn’t roll.
Max’s window would not roll down either. And neither would the front windows.
Max rapped on the glass. “Boris! Come back!”
“He isn’t paying any attention.”
“He can’t hear us, obviously,” Max said.
“Look-he’s going into that coffee house!”
“Taking a coffee break while he waits for the culprits to return,” Max said. “Clever.”
“Max!” Blossom said. “Toot the horn. That will attract attention and somebody will let us out!”
“It so happens, I was just going to do that,” Max said.
He leaned over the front seat and pressed the horn button.
“The horn doesn’t work,” Max reported. “Those FLAG agents are in real trouble now. There’s an ordinance against driving a car without a working horn.” He sank back into the rear seat. “This is a pretty limousine of fish,” he muttered.
“What are we going to do?” Blossom whimpered.
Max looked at Fang thoughtfully, then said, “It might work.” To Blossom, he said, “Give me your lipstick,”
She pawed in her purse. “What for?”
Max opened the tube of lipstick that Blossom gave him, then wrote HELP! on the car window.
Next, he rapped on the window again, trying to get the attention of a passerby.
A beatnik stopped, stared for a second at the writing, then applauded. But after that he simply walked on.
“Didn’t get through to him,” Max said. He knocked with his knuckles on the window again.
A girl beatnik heard and paused. She squinted at the wording, then moved to the car. But she didn’t open the door. She held a small card up to the window.
Max read the words on it. “Life is the ultimate psychodrama.”
The girl curtsied, then walked on.
“This isn’t helping at all,” Blossom complained.
“Well, we’re meeting some interesting people.”
“We’ll suffocate in here!”
“Look on the bright side,” Max said. “A lot of poor souls suffocate, and never meet any interesting people.”
“Can’t they understand what HELP! means?”
“Apparently it isn’t in the beatnik vocabulary,” Max said. “We’ll have to try something else.” He looked around. “I wonder if this car is equipped with a telephone.”
“What good would that do?”
“Well… see that telephone booth over there? Right near the coffee house? We could ring that booth, and when somebody answered, we could get him to come over here and let us out.”
Blossom began helping him search for a telephone.
“Rorff!” Fang barked.
“That’s right!” Max said.
“What did he say?”
“He reminded me that I’m standing on a telephone.”
Blossom looked at him warily.
“My shoe,” Max explained. “It’s a telephone.”
Blossom clapped her hands to her cheeks in panic. “You’re going out of your mind!”
“I’m going to get us out of here, that’s where I’m going,” Max said, removing his shoe.
“Quiet! I’m on the phone!”
Max: Hello… Operator? I’d appreciate a little assistance. You see, I’m trapped in a limousine in Greenwich Village, and I’d like you to ring that telephone booth over there. My hope is that someone will answer it and then come and get us out of here.
Operator: I beg your pardon, sir. We must have a bad connection. I thought you said you were trapped in a limousine in Greenwich Village.
Max: Operator, the fate of the entire civilized world depends on this, so, if you don’t mind, I’ll just skip the explanation. All I want you to do is ring that phone booth.
Operator: Is it a bell?
Max: I don’t think I get that.
Operator: You asked me to ring it. Is it a bell?
Max: That’s very funny, Miss. But, if it’s just the same to you, could we dispense with the humor? Would you please just ring that phone booth?
Operator: The phone booth… Which one? We have quite a few, you know. At least three.
Max: The one by the coffee shop. (Pointing) Right over there. The one with the man standing, leaning against it. As a matter of fact, he may be able to- Excuse me, Operator. There’s someone knocking at my window. Hold on.
Max lowered his shoe and turned toward the policeman who had rapped on the window of the car. He shouted out to him. “Yes? What is it, officer?”
The policeman answered. But he could not be heard inside the car.
“I think he’s trying to tell us something,” Blossom said.
“Wouldn’t you know it? Here I am, right in the middle of an emergency, trying to get someone to come over here, and that cop has to stand out there asking questions.” Again, he shouted out to the officer. “I’m sorry… I’m on the phone. Come back later!”
But the policeman didn’t go away. Instead, he opened the car door.
“I couldn’t hear a word,” the policeman said.
“I said, I’m on the phone!” Max yelled.
“You don’t have to shout. I can hear you now.”
“You’re on what phone?” the policeman said.
Max waggled the shoe. “This phone. And if you want to talk to your mother in Brooklyn, I’m sorry, but I’m in the midst of an emergency.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t want to bother you,” the policeman said. “I’ve just got one question. I got a call from headquarters. There’s some nut down here that’s calling the telephone company and saying he’s trapped in a limousine. I just wondered if you’d seen anybody like that. The operator is stalling the fella, and she’s traced the call to this vicinity.”
Max stared blankly at the policeman for a moment. Then he looked at Blossom, then at Fang, then back to the policeman. “I haven’t seen him,” he said.
“All right. Thanks for your cooperation.” He started to close the door.
“You can leave it open, officer,” Max said.
“Whatever you say.”
The policeman strolled on, looking this way and that for a lunatic trapped in a limousine.
Max spoke into his shoe again.
Max: Operator, I don’t think that was very nice of you.
Operator: I’m sorry. I heard what you said to the policeman, and I apologize. But it did sound a little crazy. Do you still want me to ring that telephone booth?
Max (smirking): Ring the telephone booth?
Max: What do you think it is-a bell?
Operator: Yes, sir. All our telephones are Bell’s.
Max hung up his shoe.
“If there’s anything I can’t stand,” he muttered, “it’s a smart telephone operator.”
Max, Blossom and Fang climbed out of the car. Max slammed the door.
Glancing back, Blossom said, “So that’s why!”
“Why nobody paid any attention to that message for help you wrote on the glass.”
Max looked. In lipstick on the car window he saw written:! PLEH
“Still… you’d think one of those beatniks would have understood it,” he mused. “Oh, well… another lesson learned. In every manner and every way, we grow smarter and smarter, day by day.”
A few seconds later, the trio entered the coffee house, the Idyll Hour.
“Before we continue the search for Fred,” Max explained, “I want to find Boris. There are a lot of sharpies down here in the Village, and an innocent tourist like Boris could be fleeced out of his eye teeth and never even know it. It’s my duty, as a typical New Yorker, to protect him. After all he’s done for us, it’s the least I can do.”
The interior of the Idyll Hour was dimly lit. Heavy drapery kept the sunlight out. Max squinted into the dimness and saw a long counter that held a number of espresso machines and a clutter of tables and chairs, all of which seemed to be occupied by young men and women in various modes of eccentric dress.
“I don’t see Boris,” he said.
The hostess approached them. She was a gorgeous brunette, dressed in tight-fitting pants and a heavy-knit sweater. She looked remarkably like Noel, the girl guide and secretary to the ambassador from Fredonia.
“Don’t tell me,” Max said. “Paree, Illinois, right?”
“ Oui! Summer of ’61?”
“Could be,” Max replied. “Frankly, the summer of ’61 is not very clear in my mind. So much was happening. But, enough of this chit-chat. I’m here, first, on a mission of mercy, and, second, on a mission of grave importance to the entire civilized world. So… number one… have you by any chance seen a little fat tourist from Zinzinotti, Alleybama?”
Noel shook her head. “Non.”
“Then try this one. How about a tall, skinny computer with revolving eyeballs?”
Noel brightened. “Oui, oui!”
Max turned to Blossom. “The translation of that is ‘yes and no.’ No, she hasn’t seen Boris, but, yes, she has seen Fred.” Then, facing Noel again, he said, “There’s more to this than meets the eyeballs, but, for the sake of expediency, let’s just say that this computer with the revolving orbs-who shall remain nameless-is a cousin of mine whom I’m trying to track down to deliver a message from his draft board.” He winked. “Get it?”
“Oh, oui! We are speaking, of course, of your Cousin Fred.”
“Exactly. Now, since you say you’ve seen him, could you tell us which way he went?”
“He went ‘Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!’ ”
“I’m referring to direction.”
Noel pointed toward a door at the rear of the Idyll Hour. “He go thataway,” she said.
“Through that door, eh? I wonder if that could be a trap?”
“Just to be on the safe side,” Max said, “you go first, and we’ll follow.”
Noel threaded her way between the tables. Max, Blossom and Fang trailed after her.
When they reached the door, Noel glanced back over her shoulder cautiously, then pushed it open.
Beyond her, Max saw a row of slot machines. Facing them, playing them, were men and women of varying ages and shapes. They all had a dazed, distant look in their eyes. Here and there were persons whose eyes were revolving.
Max stepped inside, past Noel. “I don’t see Fred.”
“Not the people,” Noel said. “The machines. I’m certain that one of them is your cousin.”
“Possible.” He signalled to Blossom and Fang. “Let’s check it out.”
Blossom and Fang followed him into the room. The door closed. They waited as Max went from machine to machine, staring each one straight in the eye. After a few minutes, he returned.
“No Fred,” he said. “These machines are all too short.”
“I don’t know,” Blossom said. “That one over there… the one that no one’s playing. It looks a little familiar.”
“Let’s give it a double-check,” Max said.
They went to the machine.
Max peered at it closely. “Fred?”
“No, on second thought,” Blossom said, “that isn’t Fred. As you say, Fred is taller. He’s also thinner.”
Max glanced around. “I wonder why no one’s playing this machine?”
“I’m sure there’s a reason,” Blossom said.
“It looks ripe for a jackpot to me,” Max said.
“Max, you can’t win on those things.”
“Normally, no,” Max said. “I happen to have a system, however.”
“That’s silly. You’ll just lose your money.”
“A foolproof system.”
“Stick to your liverwurst!” Max snapped.
“Come on, let’s go,” Blossom urged.
“I’ll just try one quarter,” Max said. “You see, my system is this: I figure that the people who play these machines, as a group, have the worst luck that it’s possible to have. So, naturally, they play the wrong machines. Consequently, the machine they’re not playing is the one that’s due to pay off.”
“That’s silly. I’m sure there’s some other reason why this machine isn’t being played.”
“All right… we’ll put it to the test,” Max said, taking a quarter from his pocket. He dropped the coin into the slot. “It’s my guess that somebody is going to be very surprised.” He pulled the lever.
The floor gave way, and Max, Blossom and Fang went hurtling downward into space.
“Surprised, aren’t you?” Max said smugly.
“Well, now, at least, we know why that machine wasn’t being played,” Max said. “It was installed over a trap door.”
They landed abruptly, becoming a spaghetti of arms and legs-more legs than arms, since Fang was with them. They found themselves in total darkness.
“HELP!” Blossom screamed again.
Above them, the trap door banged shut.
“I don’t think they can hear you,” Max said.
“Quiet!” Max snapped. “I’m looking for my fountain pen.”
“If they can’t even hear me, what good will writing do?”
“My fountain pen happens to be a flashlight at one end,” Max explained. “Ah… here it is. Now, I just press this… oops!”
“What happened?” Blossom asked.
“Wrong end. I just shot myself in the face with a squirt of ink!”
“Turn it around, you fool!” said a voice.
In the darkness, Max said, “Blossom? Was that you?”
“Noooo,” she answered, her voice trembling.
“Is me!” said the voice-male.
A beam of light suddenly cut into the darkness. Illuminated in the beam was Boris!
“Don’t tell me!” Max said. “Zinzinotti, Alleybama!”
“So we meet again,” Boris smiled.
“Boy, are we glad to see you,” Max said. “We were worried. We saw you sitting in that limousine that was shooting at us earlier, and we thought you were in danger. We tried to talk to you, but we missed you. Incidentally, how did you get into that limousine?”
“Is not limousine,” Boris said. “Is sight-seeing bus. I was on sight-seeing tour, and I got separated from the group.”
“I see,” Max said. “That explains why you’re down here in this hole.” He turned to Blossom. “That explains everything. Know what we’ve blundered into? A tourist trap!”
“What I’d like to have explained is how we’re going to get out of here,” she said.
“Don’t panic,” Max said. “If there’s a way in, there’s a way out. That’s elementary logic.”
“Don’t tell me about logic, tell me how!” Blossom said testily.
Max turned the beam of the flashlight upward toward the trap door. “Simple,” he said. “We stand on each other’s shoulders.”
“Or, yes, I suppose we could try that,” Max said.
“What did he say?”
“He suggested that I use my shoe to call outside for help.”
“Of course!” Blossom enthused. “Call the Chief!”
“Frankly, I’d rather rely on my individual initiative,” Max said. “I’m going to feel like a silly fool telling the Chief I’ve fallen into a tourist trap. It isn’t the kind of thing a native New Yorker likes to admit.”
“Then just tell him it’s a hole,” Blossom said. “You don’t have to be any more specific than that.”
“I don’t think it will be necessary to tell him anything,” Boris said. “We will all be dead by then.”
“Would you mind elaborating on that?” Max said.
“We will be drowned,” Boris said.
“Drowned? In a hole? What makes you think so?”
“My feet are wet.”
Max pointed the flashlight downward. He saw that his own feet were wet, too-as were Blossom’s and Fang’s. The hole was filling with water.
“Some butterhead left a faucet running somewhere,” Max grumbled.
Blossom panicked again. “Do something!”
“I wonder if this hole has a stopper,” Max said. “If we pull it..”
“Right again!” Max said. To the others he explained, “Actually, this flooding is our salvation. A flooded hole is one emergency for which I’m prepared. It slipped my mind for a second. This is the first time the situation has ever come up.”
“Then do something!” Blossom shrieked.
Max got out his cigarette lighter. “I just flick the top open-” he said.
A rubber life raft suddenly popped from the cigarette lighter and began inflating. The timing was fortunate, for by then the water had reached their waists.
The four climbed aboard the raft and began rising toward the top of the hole.
“That cigarette lighter-it’s wonderful!” Blossom said.
“It has its drawbacks,” Max said. “There are times when I forget that it’s a life raft and try to light somebody’s cigarette with it.”
When they reached the trap door, Max pushed it open. He and Boris helped Blossom out, then followed her. Fang was the last to exit. The slot machine players had disappeared.
“Now then,” Max said, “another hour or so and we’ll be on our way.”
“An hour?” Blossom said. “Why so long?”
“Ever try to put a life raft back into a cigarette lighter?”
“If you will excuse me,” Boris said, backing away, “I will look for my tour.”
“Sure… maybe we’ll see you around.”
Boris hurried away.
“How long is this going to take?” Blossom muttered as Max began trying to stuff the raft into the lighter.
“As I said, sometimes an hour or so. But, then, sometimes I get lucky.”
Max looked thoughtful for a second, then said, “That might help.”
“All right… what did he say?”
“He suggested that I try letting the air out of it.”
“Good heavens! Any idiot would know that!”
“Careful! Fang is very sensitive!”
Max released the air from the life raft, and, seconds later, had it replaced in the cigarette lighter. He patted Fang on the head. “Now I know why they call you man’s best friend,” he said.
“Now, can we go?” Blossom asked.
“Right. Clear sailing from here on out. We’ll pick up Fred’s trail, and, by nightfall, have him locked up and safe from himself. Forward!”
They returned to the main room of the Idyll Hour and made their way between the tables of beatniks toward the exit. But they had not gone far when Max suddenly pulled up.
“That beatnik-the one just mounting the stage to perform,” he said. “Isn’t there something strangely familiar about him?”
Blossom looked in the direction in which Max was pointing. She saw the small stage that was opposite the long counter of espresso machines. A robot-like beatnik, with a lever at his side, was about to recite. But “It couldn’t be him,” Blossom sighed. “He has a beard.”
“I wonder… a false beard, perhaps?”
“He looks taller than Fred.”
“A false beard sometimes makes a computer look taller.”
“On a hunch,” Max said, “let’s hang around for a second.” He glanced around. “There’s a table over there with only one person at it. Let’s join her.”
They went to the table. Seated at it was a gorgeous brunette. She was wearing a clinging, one-piece air raid warden’s suit, and looked a great deal like Noel, the girl guide, secretary to the ambassador from Fredonia, and hostess at the Idyll Hour.
“Howdy stranger,” Max said. “Mind if we join you?”
Max and Blossom seated themselves at the table. Fang collapsed on the floor at Max’s feet.
“Good boy,” Max said. “You listen for the phone.”
The beatnik on the stage raised his arm, dropped a nickel into his slot. “Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!” His eyes revolved. Lemons came up.
There was tremendous applause from the audience.
“Oh, the rare beauty of pure truth,” Noel breathed.
“But can he back it up with facts?” Max said caustically.
Blossom whispered to Max. “It is! It’s Fred!”
“I’m no longer so sure,” Max said. “Did you hear that garbage he just spouted? Fuzzy-minded rhetoric if I ever heard it!”
Now, the beatnik on stage spoke:
“Stale bread, unbuttered-Life!
Tapioca without the lumps,
A pad all full of bumps!
Air pollution, the cell door locked.
No escape; O, how Life is mocked.”
“There’s something very familiar about those lines,” Max whispered to Blossom.
The audience rose to its feet screaming approval. There were cries of “Yeah! Yeah!” and “You tell ’em!” and “Right down the old middle, Man!”
The beatnik on stage continued:
“Tenement, slum, no heat in the winter-Life!
Hunger, war, fighting in the streets,
The victims: The innocent and the beats!
Slaughter the birds for table.
I’d go somewhere’s else if I was able!”
The crowd went wild! Applause exploded in the room, shivering the walls. The beatniks leaped to their feet and stomped and screamed.
“Encore!” This from Noel.
“More… More… More!”
Max spoke to Blossom. “That beatnik is as phony as a three-dollar bill! I now suspect that he is really Fred!”
“Gee, he didn’t sound like Fred.”
“As a matter of fact, he sounded exactly like Fred. Who, unless I’m greatly mistaken, is really a square at heart. And, as soon as this noise dies down, I’ll prove it.” The applause heightened. The beatniks danced among and on the tables.
They chanted the words of the poem:
“Tapioca without the lumps!”
“Slaughter the birds for table!”
And occasionally mixed up the lines:
“A pad full of bread-unbuttered Life!”
The beatnik on the stage bowed modestly to the acclaim. And, in time, the audience settled down, exhausted.
At which time, Max arose.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please!”
“If you. will give me a moment of your time, I will reveal a hoax!” He pointed to the beatnik who had recited, and who was still on stage. “That fellow there is a fake! A charming fake, and a lovable fake-but a fake nonetheless!”
“Throw ’im out!” cried a voice.
Two beatniks grabbed Max by the arms.
“Hold!” Max bellowed, pulling loose. “Give me your ears! Give me your attentions! Let me prove it!”
Quiet settled over the room.
“Now then,” Max said. “I claim that this poet’s poem is a direct steal from another poet’s poem! I claim that this poet’s poem was actually written in the early 1920’s by another poet named Unknown-at least, that’s the way he signed it. Although, of course, that may have been a pseudonym.”
“Prove it! Where’s your proof!”
“Let’s compare,” Max said. “Take the first line of our friend here’s poem-‘Stale bread, unbuttered-Life!’ I suggest that that is a flagrant corruption of the line-‘Like a bread without the spreadin’, Like a puddin’ without the sauce.’ ”
“Booooooo! Throw ’im out!”
“Hear me out!” Max cried. “Listen! Listen! Here’s the first stanza of Unknown’s poem. Listen, and see what you think!”
“Like a bread without the spreadin’,
Like a puddin’ without the sauce,
Like a mattress without beddin’,
Like a cart without the hoss,
Like a door without a latchstring
Like a fence without a stile,
Like a dry an’ barren creek bed Is the face without a smile.
“There!” he said. “If that isn’t the same poem, almost word for word, you can stand me on stilts and call me Longfellow!”
There was stunned and morose silence for a second.
Then a buzzing began. It was clear that some were taking one side of the controversy and others taking the other side. Soon the voices raised. Heated words were exchanged.
“They’re reasoning together,” Max said to Blossom. “That’s always a good beginning.”
One beatnik broke a coffee mug over the head of another.
“Activism,” Max commented. “Young people today are involved in their society.”
Crockery began to fly. There were shrieks of indignation and pain. One beatnik leaped to the counter and started pegging doughnuts at random at the crowd. Hair was pulled. Blows were struck.
The table at which Max and Blossom were seated remained an island of calm in the storm.
“As soon as this blows over,” Max said, “I hope we’ll be able to get down to a serious discussion of the similarities between the two poems.”
“I don’t think they’re much interested in talking.”
“Nonsense. They’re eager for debate. At the moment, they’re simply choosing up sides.” He glanced across the table. “What happened to our friend-the girl who was sitting here with us?”
“She went toward the stage,” Blossom said.
“Oh, yes… there she is now. She’s forcing that beatnik to leave with her at gunpoint.”
“Max! That’s Fred! She’s robotnapping Fred!”
“You’re right! Fang-after her!”
Fang had crawled under the table. He whined.
“I have to do everything myself!” Max complained. “All right, all of us, then-after her!”
They jumped up and began pushing through the crowd, headed for Noel, who was now steering Fred toward the exit.
“Excuse me,” Max said, halting a beatnik as he was about to lambaste a compatriot with an espresso machine.
Moments later they arrived at the door-and collided with Boris!
“You again!” Max said. “Still haven’t found your tour?”
“I’m a simple peasant,” Boris apologized, “easily led astray in the big city. What’s new with you?”
“We’re on the trail of a FLAG agent who is robot-napping Fred. You remember Fred?”
“A gorgeous brunette who looks much like the guide at the U.N.?” Boris said.
“No, no, Fred has a beard.”
“I mean the FLAG agent.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Max said. “Have you seen her?”
“This way!” Boris said, leading them out of the Idyll Hour.
Reaching the sidewalk, they saw Noel forcing Fred into a taxi.
“Stop! That’s Government property-in a sort of unofficial way!” Max yelled.
But the cab door slammed closed, and the cab roared away.
Boris opened a rear door of the limousine. “Quick! Inside! We will pursue them!”
“We’re constantly in your debt!” Max said. “I promise you, Boris, we’ll never forget this!”
“In, in!” Boris urged.
Max, Blossom and Fang crowded into the back seat of the limousine.
Boris slammed the door-then ran off down the street.
“No, no! We’re back here!” Max called after him.
Boris kept going. He hailed a cab, boarded it, and drove off.
Max sighed wearily. “Well, you can take the boy out of Zinzinotti, Alleybama, but you can’t take Zinzinotti, Alleybama out of the boy! Let’s admit it-Boris is a yokel. When the pressure was on, he panicked. Did you see that? He went zooming off in that cab, completely forgetting that he had locked us in the back seat of this limousine again!”
“You know,” Blossom said, “I have a feeling — ^n
“Let’s not get emotional about it,” Max said, cutting her off. “You can make all the excuses in the world for him, but the fact remains, he flubbed this operation for us. It was a strictly amateur performance.”
“What I meant was-”
This time Blossom was interrupted by a jangling sound.
“Excuse me,” Max said, “my shoe is ringing.”
He removed his shoe and spoke into it.
Max: Hello… 86 here.
Operator: Congratulations, Mr. 86! This is the Telephone Company. Your name has been chosen to receive a free call to Europe via the Early Bird Satellite. What number in Europe would you like, please?
Max: Is that you, Operator?
Operator: Oh, hello… is that you?
Max: Yes, this is me… is that you?
Operator: Yes, this is me. I thought I recognized your voice. How’re things in the limousine?
Max: Oh, you know about it, then.
Operator: About what?
Max: We’re locked in again.
Max: Look, if you’re tracing this call, I’ll tell you exactly where we are. We’re parked almost in front of the Idyll Hour, just a few steps down from that telephone booth with the man leaning against it.
Operator: Oh, no, I wasn’t tracing the call. I was just wondering-how could anybody get locked in a limousine twice in one day?
Max (smugly): I have my ways. But never mind that now. Just connect me with that phone booth. I want that fellow who’s leaning against it to come over here and let us out.
Operator: Gee, I’m sorry. I can’t do it. You see, we have this promotion going on-publicizing the Early Bird satellite-and that’s the only facility I can use. Wouldn’t you just as soon talk to someone in Europe?
Max: All right, if that’s the best you can do. Connect me with Agent 94 in Berlin.
Operator: Hold on, pliz.
Max: I’m holding.
Male voice: Hello… 73 here.
Max: 73? This is 86. Is 94 there?
73: Oh, hi, that you, Max? Howsit?
Max: I’m in a little jam, 73. If 94 isn’t there, maybe you can help me. I’m locked in a limousine 73 (breaking in): Max, I’m sorry, I’m not authorized to take any action. You know that. If I had a higher number… but, you know the rules.
Max: Yes, I know. That’s why I asked for 94. Where is he, by the way?
73: He’s on detached duty, Max. Let’s see… right now, at this minute, if my calculations are correct, he ought to be standing outside a phone booth on Macdougal Street in the Village.
Max: All right, 73, then do this for me, will you? Will you put in a call to that phone booth? And when 94 answers, will you please ask him to walk over here to this limousine and let us out?
73: I guess I could do that.
Max: Thank you. I’ll do the same for you some day.
73: So long, Max.
Max: So long, 73.
Max hung up. “You just saw history being made,” he said. “In a sense, I have just contacted a telephone booth ten feet away by orbiting satellite. Something that we were completely unable to accomplish by simply knocking on the window. It revives one’s faith, doesn’t it?”
“I guess so,” Blossom said weakly.
A moment later they saw the man enter the telephone booth. He picked up the receiver, listened, then looked toward the limousine. After another moment, he hung up, left the booth, and walked to the car.
“86?” he said, opening the door.
“94-glad to know you,” Max said. “This is Miss Blossom Rose, and this is the celebrated canine secret agent, K-13-also known as Fang.”
94 smiled. “Hi.”
“How do you do,” Blossom said. “Are you by any chance single?”
94 shook his head. “There’s a Mrs. 94,” he said. “Or, as I like to call her, 36-22-36.”
“If you’ll excuse us,” Max said to 94. “We’re on a mission in which the fate of the entire civilized world is involved.”
“Sure, no apology necessary,” 94 said. “I’m on my way to another assignment, anyway. See you around.”
As 94 departed, Max said to Blossom. “Now, back to duty.”
But Blossom was peering wistfully after 94. “Such a nice-looking fellow,” she said. “It’s a shame he’s so married-three women yet!”
“Yes, and all of them with low numbers,” Max said. “Without seniority, you can’t get anywhere in this business.”
Max, Blossom and Fang headed for the spot where Max had parked his car. On the way, Max said, “Fortunately, I got the license number of that cab in which Fred was abducted. Now, it’s merely a matter of finding the cab and the driver and determining where he took the occupants. I think from here on out it’s going to be clear sailing.”
“I hope we’re not too late,” Blossom said fretfully. “By the time we find that cab driver, that FLAG agent may have secreted Fred out of the country.”
“Hmmmm… you’re right,” Max said. “I better contact the Chief and have him post agents at all the docks and airports and bus stations.” He halted and removed his shoe, then spoke into it:
Max: Chief… this is 86.
Chief: Good work, Max. Now, bring him in, and we’ll turn him over to the Defense Department boys. They’re right here, waiting.
Max: That wasn’t exactly what I called to tell you, Chief. There’s going to be a slight delay. As of the moment, Fred is in the hands of a FLAG agent. It’s only a temporary condition, you understand. But, just to be on the safe side, I think you’d better post guards at all the airports, steamship lines and bus terminals.
Chief: Max… be honest with me, now… is there any possibility of a hitch in this case?
Max: I can’t see any, Chief. I have the license number of the cab in which Fred was robotnapped. It looks like clear sailing to me. The only- Excuse me, Chief. I have to hang up now. From where I’m standing, I can see my car. And a police truck is about to tow it away. I’ll check back later.
Max hung up, and he and Blossom and Fang hurried on to where his car was parked. The driver of the police tow truck was attaching a chain to the front bumper.
“Just a minute there,” Max said. “What seems to be the trouble?”
“You’re parked in a tow-away zone, Mac.”
“I see. Would it make any difference if I told you that my parking here was done in the interests of the entire civilized world?”
“Yeah. Not only would I tow away your car, I’d call a squad car and have ’em pick you up. Anybody with a story like that would have to have a screw loose.”
“In that case, I won’t mention it,” Max said. “Do you mind if we ride to the station with you in the car?”
“Be my guest.”
Max, Blossom and Fang got into Max’s car.
The tow truck driver got into the cab of his truck and started up, pulling Max’s car along the street.
“Now, we’ll never find Fred!” Blossom moaned.
“Patience,” Max said. “Open the glove compartment and hand me one of those 20 mm. shells.”
“No! You can’t shoot that truck!”
“You didn’t let me finish. What I was going to say was, hand me one of those 20 mm. shells marked ‘B.’ ”
“What does that mean?”
“ ‘B’ is for ‘Blank.’ ”
“Oh.” She opened the glove compartment. “All of these seems to be marked ‘Z.’ What does that mean?”
“ ‘Z’ stands for ‘Zoweee!’ Those are the live ones.”
“Oh… here’s a ‘B.’ ” She handed the shell to Max,
He slipped it into the chamber. “Fasten all seat belts,” he said.
“Then lie down on the floor,” Max said.
Max fired the cannon. There was a tremendous explosion. The car hurtled backwards, ripping free of the tow truck. As it zoomed, like a shot, to the rear, Max steered, looking out the back window. The car finally came to a halt six blocks from where the cannon had been fired.
“Simple as pie,” Max smiled. “From here on out it ought to be clear-”
Blossom had stuffed her fingers in her ears.
A few minutes later they reached the cab company’s main garage. The superintendent there confirmed that the license number belonged to one of the company’s cabs.
“And where would we find the driver?” Max asked.
The superintendent pulled at his chin. “Ya want me to pinpoint it?”
“As closely as you can.”
“Well, the best I could say is, he’s somewheres between the Hudson River and the East River, and between the Battery and Yonkers.”
“In other words, somewhere on Manhattan Island.”
“Yeah. Unless, of course, he got a fare for, say, Queens or Brooklyn or Staten Island or maybe over in Jersey. If you’re gonna pin me down, I’ll say definitely he’s probably somewheres east of the Rocky Mountains.”
“That may make it a little difficult,” Max said tautly. “Let me ask you this: Will he be reporting in soon?”
“Oh, yeah, he calls in.”
“Then perhaps the dispatcher has heard from him?”
“Yeah, you can talk to him.”
They went to the dispatcher’s office.
“Yeah, I talked to him just a couple seconds ago,” he said.
“Could you tell me exactly where he was at the last report?” Max said.
“Sure. He was standin’ right where you’re standin’ now.”
Max turned to Blossom. “We’re narrowing it down,” he said. Then, to the dispatcher, he said, “Would you have any idea where he is at this exact moment?”
“Try the lunch counter down the block,” the dispatcher said. “His name is Harry.”
They found Harry where the dispatcher suggested that he might be. He was a large, smiling man. “Whatcha want?” he said.
“Harry,” Max said, “I want you to think about this and answer it carefully. The fate of the entire civilized world may depend on your reply.”
“Yeah, ya know, the same thing happened to me last week,” Harry said. “I was cruisin’ Park Avenue, see, and this guy hails me. He’s got this overnight bag. And when he gets in, I hear this overnight bag goin’ tick-tick-tick. Well, to me, it sounds like-”
“Harry,” Max broke in, “time is of the essence.”
“Same with this guy last week,” Harry said. “He’s in a big hurry. Like if he don’t get where he’s goin’ somethin’ horrible’s gonna happen. So I said to him, I said, ‘Look,’ I said-”
“Harry, excuse me, but a computer’s life is at stake. Now, earlier today, in the Village, you picked up a gorgeous brunette and a metallic-looking fellow whose eyes revolved and-”
“Ya know, funny you should mention that. About, say, two weeks ago, I’m cruisin’ along Fifth Avenue, and I get hailed by this gorgeous brunette. I say to myself, ‘Now there’s a dame that looks familiar.’ So she gets in the cab, and I start thinkin’. Who’s she? From somewhere, I know her. But who’s she? I start goin’ over names in my mind. Elizabeth Taylor, I think. No. Sophia-”
“Harry,” Max interrupted, “it’s a fascinating story, but unless we find this gorgeous brunette and her captive very soon, it may be too late to save the Western World from complete domination by the Bad Guys. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for that, would you?”
“Well, live and let live,” Harry replied. “The trouble is, today, who’s the Bad Guys? I remember about twenty years ago, the guys that was the Bad Guys then is the Good Guys today. And the guys that was the Good Guys then is the Bad Guys today. So, the way I look at it, you got to take the long view. How do I know that the Bad Guys today ain’t gonna be the Good Guys tomorrow? And, ya know, I intend to be in business for a while. How do I know that the Bad Guys of today, when they’re the Good Guys of tomorrow, how do I know but what maybe they’ll want to hail a cab? So I don’t take no sides. Business as Usual, that’s my motto.”
“All right, forget about that,” Max said. “Let’s get back to that gorgeous brunette. The guy that was with her, this Fred-”
“Oh, yeah, I didn’t finish my story, did I? So, anyway, I said to myself, ‘Sophia Loren? No. Jean Harlow-’ ”
“Harlow was a blond.”
“How did I know, maybe she dyed her hair. Maybe she’s wearin’ a wig. Right? Anyway, it wasn’t none of them. You know who it was?”
Max nodded dimly. “Agnes Cornfelder.”
“Yeah. She lived down the block from me when I was a kid. Well, was I surprised! ‘Listen, Agnes,’ I says, ‘I remember you. How come when you was a kid you was a red-head and skinny and had buck teeth? How come now you’re such a gorgeous brunette?’ Ya know what she says? She says her name ain’t Agnes, and if she’d’ve ever knew me when she was a kid she’d’ve shot herself. That’s what ya get for tryin’ to be complimentary to a person. Ya know?”
“It don’t… it doesn’t pay,” Max said. “Now, getting back to the problem. Earlier today, you picked up a gorgeous brunette and a robot. What I want to know is-”
“A computer, actually, but built in the form of a robot.”
“You’d think I’d remember a thing like that,” Harry said. “I don’t remember no robot.”
“Revolving eyes. Lever at his side.”
“Oh. Was that guy a robot? How about that! Boy, the mistakes in recognition a guy can make. I been tellin’ the guys I had Rock Hudson in the cab with me today. How about that!”
“Where?” Max said. “Where did you take them?”
“East Side. Posh apartment house. You want the number?”
“I want the number,” Max said.
Harry gave him the number, then added, “But if you’re one of them autogram hunters, you’re wastin’ your time. I just found out that guy ain’t Rock Hudson. Some kook tells me he’s some kind of a robot made up like Rock Hudson.”
“I’ll check it out,” Max said briskly, backing away.
The four blocks to the East Side address was only an hour drive through crosstown traffic. Reaching there, Max, Blossom and Fang jumped out of the car and approached the doorman at the entrance to the building.
“If it weren’t for the uniform, I’d say that guy looks familiar,” Max said.
“He certainly is nice-looking,” Blossom said. “I wonder if he’s married.”
“I’m still married,” the doorman said, having overheard the conversation.
Max and Blossom stared at him.
“94!” Max said finally.
“Right,” 94 replied. “This is the assignment I was in a hurry to get to.”
Max asked 94 if he had seen Noel and Fred enter the building.
“Yes-not long ago,” 94 replied. “They went to apartment four-oh-one. I know because, not long after they had gone up, the girl called down on the phone and asked to have a wrench and a pair of pliers sent up!”
“Fred! Poor Fred!” Blossom cried.
“I think this calls for haste,” Max said. “Come on!”
Hurrying after Max, Blossom called back to 94. “My regards to your three wives-and let me know if it doesn’t work out!”
Max and Blossom boarded the elevator, then, moments later, got out at the fourth floor. They raced down the corridor to four-oh-one. Without halting, Max threw himself against the door. It splintered, and fell in, and Max went tumbling after.
Blossom regarded him as he lay face down inside the apartment. “Don’t you ever knock?”
“This is how it’s done,” Max said, getting up. “Rule number seventeen.”
They looked around. The apartment was of a fairly good size, but completely vacant.
“A front, obviously,” Max said. “I wouldn’t be surprised at anything we might find here.”
“I’d be surprised if we found Fred,” Blossom said. “This place is completely deserted.”
“To the untutored eye, yes,” Max said. “But to a crack investigator this place fairly reeks of occupancy.”
“Oh? Like how?”
Max sniffed. “Get that? The scent of Mulligan stew! There’s something cooking!” He spoke to Fang. “After it, boy!”
Fang went galloping out the door and down the corridor.
“Coward!” Max yelled after him.
“No… look, he’s stopping at that door,” Blossom said.
Max followed after Fang. As he reached him, the door of the apartment that he had stopped in front of opened. A middle-aged woman put her head out.
“No dogs allowed,” she said.
“No dogs aloud? He hasn’t said a thing.”
“Well, he looked like he was going to bark.”
“He said he had no intention of barking,” Max told the woman. “And, speaking of barking, do you happen to be cooking a Mulligan stew?”
“The saints presarve us, yes!” the woman answered.
“Well, I’d appreciate it if you’d put a lid on it,” Max said. “The scent is pervading the apartment down the hall and interfering with an official investigation, the result of which the fate of the Free World hangs in the balance on-or something.”
The woman slammed the door in his face.
“The world is full of them, boy,” Max said to Fang. “Full of them!”
Max and Fang returned to the apartment.
“I heard something,” Blossom said excitedly. “While you were gone. It came from the kitchen!”
“Well, one thing, it wasn’t Mulligan stew,” Max said. “What did it sound like?”
“A kind of rattling.”
Max turned away, lowering his eyes. “A… kind… of… rattling…”
“What do you think it could be?” Blossom said fearfully.
“I want you to brace yourself, Blossom. Think of it this way: Life is fleeting, Life is short; the important think is to be a good sport!”
“After all, you and Fred had a good time together-while it lasted. And… you can always build yourself another robot.”
“And next time you may get a little closer to creating a look-alike Rock Hudson. Practice makes perfect, they say.”
“I’m just putting two and two together, that’s all. The girl called down for a wrench and a pair of pliers. And you… you heard a rattling sound. Sort of metal on metal, was it?”
“Don’t try to withdraw from reality. Face up to it. That’s the only sensible way.”
“But it didn’t sound like metal on metal,” Blossom insisted. “It sounded more like brooms being knocked together.”
Max faced back to her. “Let me ask you this: did Fred carry a broom with him?”
“Hmmmm… that throws new light on the situation.” He headed toward the rear of the apartment. “You stay here, I’ll check it out.”
He halted. “Yes…?”
“If you were right the first time… don’t tell me.”
Max nodded, then continued. He entered the kitchen, and stopped and listened. He heard a rattling sound.
“Like brooms being knocked together,” he mused. “Let’s see now, where would I find a broom? Stove? No. Refrigerator? No. Broom closet? No. Pantry? No. Broom closet? Well, it’s worth a try.”
He went to the broom closet and opened it. There were two brooms, and, huddled between them, Boris.
“Boris! What are you doing in there?”
“I lost my tour again,” Boris said sadly.
“Poor guy. But if you’d asked me, I could have told you. A broom closet is the easiest place in the world to get separated from a tour. Come on out. Maybe we can help you.”
Boris crawled out. Max led the way back to the living room.
“Guess who I found in the broom closet?” Max said to Blossom.
She began to weep hysterically. “Oh, Fred, Fred, my poor Fred!”
“No, no-Boris,” Max said.
“I understand,” she wept. “You promised you wouldn’t tell me. I appreciate it. But I just can’t help crying-my poor Fred!”
“Listen,” Max said disgustedly, “will you cut that out! Look-here’s Boris. He was in the broom closet. Separated from his tour!”
“You don’t have to pretend any longer,” Blossom sobbed. “I understand. Poor Fred!”
Blossom looked at Fang, surprised. “Really,” she said. “I thought he was just trying to save me some grief.”
“All right,” Max said, “now that that’s settled, let’s get back to the case at hand. Boris,” he said, “how did you get here in the first place?”
“Well,” Boris said, “I was on the tour, as I explained. We had come from Chinatown, and the guide was showing us the empty apartments of New York. I lingered, and apparently the tour went on. Well, I found myself alone here in this apartment. I was beside myself, of course.”
“Of course,” Max nodded. “It gives me the chills just to hear about it.”
“Then suddenly,” Boris said, “I heard a rattling sound.”
“Like… uh… brooms being knocked together?”
“No… more like metal on metal,” Boris replied.
“My poor Fred!” Blossom moaned.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions again,” Max said. “It could have been anything-someone hiding in the pantry, for instance. Go on, Boris.”
“So I hid in the broom closet,” Boris said.
“Natural enough reaction-for a yokel from Zinzinotti,” Max said. “Do you have any idea where the rattling sound was coming from?”
Boris pointed to the door of the closet that was just inside the entrance.
“I think I better check that out,” Max said. To Blossom he said, “Maybe you better not look.”
Blossom turned away, whimpering.
Max went to the closet door and whipped it open. Huddled inside was Noel!
“Do you by any chance have a computer in there with you?” Max said.
Max turned back to Blossom. “It’s okay to look,” he said. “No one here but that gorgeous brunette from Paree, Illinois.” To Noel, he said, “I believe you owe us an explanation, young lady.”
“Isn’t it obvious what happened?” Noel said, stepping out.
“Well, I get the gist of it,” Max said. “But there are a few details I’d like to have filled in,” He looked at her, narrow-eyed. “For one thing-where’s Fred?”
“Ah… Fred.. she smiled. “Zat eez zee quay-see-own-where eez Fred?”
“None of that!” Max snapped. “Answer the question-where is Fred?”
“This Fred? He is the tall, shiny gentleman with the merry-go-round eyes?”
“That’s the fellow.”
“Well… zees eez zee story,” Noel said. “I am sitting in the Idyll Hour Cafe, minding my own business, and enjoying an ode titled ‘Like a spread without a breadin’-”
“I believe that’s ‘Like a bread without a spreadin,’ ” Max said.
“Oui. I am listening to this ode, when suddenly there is a riot. I am afeared! Innocent child alone in this forest of violence! Then, just as suddenly, this tall, shiny gentleman places his back against my pistol and says, ‘May I escort you to the exit, little innocent child alone in the forest of violence?’ What can I do? I say ‘oui’ ”
“You were in a tight spot,” Max admitted.
“Suddenly,” Noel went on, “we are outside. This tall, shiny gentleman is racing for a taxi cab-weeth my pistol steel in heez back!”
“The cad!” Max snarled.
“That doesn’t sound like Fred,” Blossom said defensively. “He was always a perfect gentleman with me.”
Noel looked her up and down. “Perhaps he has taste,” she said.
Blossom pulled back a small fist. “I’ll slug her!”
“Take it easy, girls!” Max said. “What’re you trying to make this, a forest of violence? Miss,” he said to Noel, “get on with the story.”
“Well, to make a long tale short-”
“I’m sure nothing personal was intended, Fang,” Max said.
“To make a long story short,” Noel went on, “I suddenly find myself here in this apartment-alone with this tall, shiny gentleman with the merry-go-round eyes! But, still, I do not suspect anything. Then! Without warning! This gentleman suddenly removes his back from my pistol!”
“Typical of the type!” Max nodded.
“Well… what could I do? I called for a wrench and pair of pliers.”
“Quick thinking. And the only thing you could do under the circumstances.”
“It was cruel,” Noel said. “But history will absolve me.”
“Undoubtedly,” Max agreed. “Now then, I have a rather personal question-if you don’t mind.”
“Nothing could faze me now-not after that!” Noel said.
“The question is-and excuse me if it sounds familiar-where is Fred?”
“Eet eez a long story,” Noel said. “But, in a nutshell, the minute the wrench and plier arrived, this gentleman suggested to me that we step out into the corridor and talk it over. What could I do? He was, after all, irresistible-those merry-go-round eyes! ‘Oui,’ I said. He opens the door and says, ‘Ladies first.’ I step through the doorway, and treachery! I am een zee hall closet!”
Max glanced at the closet door. “Locks from the outside, eh?”
Max turned to the others. “It’s my guess-this is only circumstantial, of course, but based on long experience-it’s my guess that Fred has skipped.”
“Good for Fred!” Blossom said.
“And lousy for us,” Max said. “This puts us right back where we started from.”
“I’m glad!” Blossom said. “I hope he gets away! I hope he finds a place where he can be free, free, free! Where he can live his life as he wants to!”
Max looked at Boris. Boris looked at Noel. Noel looked at Max.
Boris spoke to Blossom. “Where eez this place?” he said.
“If you know something the rest of us don’t know, tell us,” Max said.
“Well… he could go live on a deserted island.”
“They’re all winter resorts these days,” Max said.
“He could hide in a cave.”
“The guerrillas have taken over all the caves,” Noel said.
“Maybe he could just live in a hole in the ground!” Blossom shrilled.
“All the holes have missiles in them,” Boris said.
“Well, that seems to have taken care of that,” Max said. “Now, back to the task. Where is Fred?”
Boris backed toward the door. “I think I will join my tour,” he said.
“A-ha!” Max said. “That’s it! It’s my guess that Fred took Boris’s place on that sight-seeing tour!”
“But someone would notice him,” Blossom said.
“Hardly. There would still be the same number of people on the tour. If there were, say, twelve before, and Boris dropped out, and then Fred joined in, there would still be twelve. That’s the beauty of it-he could pass himself off as Boris!”
“I seenk you are right!” Boris said. “It is the only answer!”
“Let’s hit the trail!” Max said.
Boris opened the door. “Ladies, secret agents and dogs first!” he said.
Max, Blossom, Noel and Fang hurried through the doorway.
Boris closed the door behind them.
Crowded into the tiny space with Blossom, Noel and Fang, Max said, “Either this is an extremely short corridor or Boris made a mistake and ushered us into the hall closet!”
“Oh no! Not again!” Noel groaned. “Blankety-blank-blank!”
“We’re locked in!” Blossom reported.
“I think somebody ought to pound on the door and call for Boris,” Max said. “It’s a bit crowded in here, however, and I can’t reach the door. So consider this a request for a volunteer.”
“I appreciate the offer, boy. But padded paws are not the best instrument for pounding. I’ll keep you in mind, though. I suspect I’ll be needing a volunteer for something else later on.”
“I’ll pound,” Blossom said. “I’m backed right up against the door.”
“In that case, I suggest you kick,” Max said. “You happen to be facing me, and if you start throwing your fists around, I know exactly what’s going to happen.”
“I’ll kick,” Blossom said.
“All right. One-two-three-kick!”
“Ouch!” Max yelled. “Backwards! You were supposed to kick backwards! In the event that you’re at all interested, you kicked me square in the shin!”
“I wanted it to be a loud kick,” Blossom said. “I had to kick forward first to get up steam.”
“Never mind,” Noel said, “I weel keek!”
“Let’s go back to pounding,” Max said.
“Oui — I weel pound.”
She pounded frantically on the door. “Booooooooreeeez!”
“Try again,” Max said.
“Boooooooreeeeeez!” Noel shrieked, pounding.
“Just as I suspected,” Max said. “He was so intent on helping us find Fred that he rushed off without us. Will he be surprised when he discovers we’re not with him! I just hope he doesn’t think we’re ungrateful.”
“Well, the only thing we can do is make the best of a bad situation,” Blossom said. Addressing Noel, she said, “Will you please turn your face to a corner for a while? Max and I want to hold hands.”
“Why?” Max said.
“Well, holding hands encourages conversation. I thought there might be something you could think of to say.”
“I can’t think of a thing,” Max said.
“All right, then, no talking. Just put your arms around me and-”
“Yes, I know, and pound on the door. But I’m afraid that wouldn’t help. We’ve already tried that. Boris is gone. Now, what we have to do is figure out how to get out of here. Any suggestions?”
“Veeeery good!” Max said.
“What did he say?”
“He suggested that I call the Chief and have him send someone to unlock the door.”
“Where is this Chief?” Noel said.
“At Control. A mile or so from here.”
“He will never hear you,” Noel said. “Boris didn’t hear, and he could not have been more than a block or so away when I called.”
“I believe that Fang was suggesting that I call the Chief on my shoe.”
Noel shook her head. “Using a shoe horn, maybe, but not just a shoe.”
“Just watch this,” Max said, “and I think you’ll change your mind. Now, I’ll just bend down…”
“Sorry,” Max said. He tried again, then straightened. “I can’t seem to bend down,” he said. “Can one of you girls reach my shoe?”
Blossom tried. But there was just no space for bending.
Next, Noel tried. She, too, failed.
“Instead of bending down to your shoe, raise your foot,” Blossom suggested.
Max tried that.
Blossom giggled again.
“Excellent idea!” Max said. “Go to it, boy!”
“What now?” Noel said.
“Fang is going to call the Chief,” Max explained.
Chief: Is that you, Max? How’s it going?
Chief: Oh… Fang. I thought Max had picked up a cold. What’s the trouble?
Chief: Closet? What kind of a closet?
Chief: Oh… hall closet. All right, what can I do to help?
Chief: Do you have the address?
Chief: All right, I’ve got that. But which apartment?
Chief: Well, try to remember! The address is no help unless I have the apartment number.
Chief: Yes, that might work. But, incidentally, there is no “p” in “radar.” It’s spelled “r-a-d-a-r.” We’ll give it a try, anyway. You howl, and we’ll see if we can pick it up on the radar screen here at Control. Ready? Go!
Fang: Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ooooooooooooooooooooow!
Chief: Good work, Fang! We got it! You’re in apartment four-oh-one. I’ll have a man there in a jiffy! It just so happens that we have an agent on duty at the entrance. Regards to Max, Fang!”
Fang hung up. “Rorff!” he barked.
“That was nice of him,” Max said. “I was afraid he might be a bit peeved.”
“What happened?” Blossom said.
“The Chief sent his regards.”
“No, I mean is he going to do something?”
“Help is on the way,” Max said. “94 is on his way up.”
“Oh… that’s nice. I wonder if he’s still married.”
A few minutes later there was a sound outside the door. Then the lock was turned and the door opened.
“Good work, 94!” Max said. He indicated Noel. “Now, I have another assignment for you. I have reason to suspect that this young lady is a FLAG agent. Take her to Control and have her interrogated!”
“Couldn’t I go with him, instead?” Blossom said.
“I don’t think my wife would approve,” 94 said. “I better take the other one.”
“I want you with me,” Max said to Blossom. “Don’t forget, we’re still on the trail of Fred. And when we find him, you may have some influence with him. Our mission is to bring him back.”
They hurried from the apartment. Rushing down the corridor they heard sounds of scuffling behind them, coming from the apartment.
“Sounds as if 94 is having a little trouble with that FLAG agent,” Max said. “I hope he doesn’t have to get too rough with her.”
Blossom sighed. “And to think, that could be me back there wrestling with 94!”
They descended in the elevator and got into Max’s car. He started the engine and the car roared off.
“Where are we going?” Blossom said.
Max turned to her, looked at her for a second, then pulled back over to the curb. “I guess we had better decide that before we go any further,” he said.
“It’s hopeless,” Blossom said. “There’s the whole of New York City to look in, and we don’t even know where to start.”
“I beg to differ. We know that Fred took Boris’s place on that tour. All we have to do is find Boris, ask him which tour it was he was on, then find the tour, and pick out the computer who took Boris’s place. That doesn’t strike me as being so difficult.”
“But how do we find Boris?”
“Now that, that’s difficult.”
“Where?” Max said excitedly.
“Oh… yes, I see!” He stepped on the accelerator and the car roared back into traffic.
“What did he say, for heaven’s sake!” Blossom said.
“He said Boris just passed by driving a sight-seeing bus,” Max replied. “That one right up there, straight ahead of us!”
“Yes… I see it!”
“It’s the typical situation,” Max said. “Boris, the typical tourist, probably ran out of money. His eyes were too big for his purse. So, he got himself a job. Doing the one thing he knows best by now-sight-seeing.”
“Hurry! He’s going so fast!”
Max speeded up, and pulled up alongside the bus. “There’s only one passenger,” Blossom said. “And, look! It’s Fred!”
“Talk about your coincidences!” Max said.
“I’ll try to get his attention,” Blossom said. She yelled. “Yoo-hoo! Fred! Yoo-hoo! It’s me!”
Seeing her, Fred rolled his eyes.
“Get Boris’s attention!” Max said. “He’s the one who’s driving!”
“Yoo-hoo! Boris! Yoo-hoo!”
“Ah… he sees you!”
“He’s going faster!”
“He’s ashamed-probably doesn’t want us to know that he made a fool of himself and had to take a job,” Max said.
“He’s getting away!”
“Hardly!” Max said. He stepped harder on the accelerator and pulled up alongside the bus again. “I’ll cut him off,” he said. He turned the car gradually in toward the bus, until finally the bus had to stop.
Max, Blossom and Fang jumped out of the car and hurried to the front door of the bus. It opened. They climbed aboard. And found themselves face to face with a pistol.
“Stuck ’em up!” Boris said.
“Aren’t you carrying this a bit far, Boris?” Max said. “Do you think it really matters to us that you spent all your money and had to take a job? As far as we’re concerned, you’re the same old Boris. Now put down that gun. Murdering us and disposing of our bodies won’t keep your secret. There’ll be other tourists from Zinzinotti on this bus, and one of them is sure to spot you.”
Boris clapped a hand to his brow. “I can’t stand it! This stupidity! I’ll tell you,” he said. “I’m not a tourist, I’m a FLAG agent!”
Max winced. “Boris, I’m very disappointed!”
“You are also my captives,” Boris said, waving the gun. “Move to the back of the bus!”
Blossom turned to Fred. “Fred! Do something!” Fred’s arm raised. The nickel dropped into his slot. “Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!” His eyes rolled. The lemons came up. He spoke:
“Computer who tries to ‘do something’ when FLAG agent holding gun on him has no more brains than you-know-who.”
“He means you,” Blossom said to Max.
“I hardly think so. He’s probably talking about the person who put him together while watching an old Charlie Chan movie.”
“Back! Back!” Boris commanded.
Max, Blossom and Fang retreated.
“Under the rear seat you will find snorkels,” Boris said. “Put them on!”
“Snorkels? You mean that underwater diving gear? What’s that for?” Max said.
“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” Boris snarled. “Put it on!”
Max, Blossom and Fang each donned a snorkel.
Boris snickered. “Excuse me,” he said, “but you look very strange standing in the back of a bus wearing diving gear.”
“All right,” Max said sharply, “you were looking for a laugh and now you’ve had it. May we take off this ridiculous equipment?”
“Take a word of advice,” Boris said. “Don’t do it. You’ll regret it.” He moved back to the front of the bus. “You, Fred-you come with me,” he said.
Fred followed him.
When they reached the front, Boris said to Fred, “Stand by the door.” Then he got behind the wheel and started the bus moving again.
“He’s taking us someplace,” Blossom said.
“I hope it’s not the regular tour,” Max said. “I’ve seen Chinatown.”
“We’re heading east,” Blossom said.
“Well, he can only go so far in that direction. In time, he’ll come to the East River and have to stop.”
“I’ll bet he’s taking us to that submarine,” Blossom said.
“How many times do I have to tell you, there is no sub-”
Boris suddenly jumped up out of the driver’s seat. “Smooth sailing!” he called out.
Boris opened the front door, shoved Fred out, then leaped after him. “Bon voyage!” he called back.
“Max!” Blossom shrieked. “The bus! It’s headed straight for the river!”
“Well… there you are, there’s your explanation,” Max said. “When Boris made us put on these snorkels, I thought he’d flipped his lid. But he knew what he was doing all along. That’s a relief.”
The bus lunged out into space-then nosed downward toward the river.
“Quick!” Max called. “Out the emergency exit!” He pulled the lever on the emergency door and shoved the door open. “Ladies first!”
“Let’s see now, which is it, gentlemen or dogs second?” Max said.
“Well, that answers that,” Max said, following Fang out.
When Max bobbed to the surface a few seconds later he found Blossom and Fang already there. There was also another party present-a thin, pipe-like person, who had only one eye, which was located on top of his head.
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Max said.
“Max! You’re talking to a periscope!” Blossom said.
“I don’t think the middle of the East River is anyplace to be choosy,” Max said. “Besides, he winked at me.”
“Ooooh!” Blossom shrieked. “We’re rising!”
The submarine was surfacing, taking Max, Blossom and Fang with it. A moment later they found themselves on its deck. A hatch cover opened. A head appeared. It was the head of a man. He was wearing a captain’s cap and a monocle in each eye.
“Welcome aboard,” the man said genially. “I am Captain 49, and you are my prisoners.”
“I take it back,” Max said. “We have met somewhere before, haven’t we?”
“That is correct,” the Captain smiled.
“I just can’t place the face,” Max said.
“I was sure you would remember-the summer of ‘61.”
“Ahhhhhhhh, yes,” Max nodded. “I’m not very good on faces, but I never forget a summer.”
“And even more recently,” Captain 49 said.
“Of course! You’re 94! 49 is 94 backwards! I should have known the instant I saw the two monocles!”
“What does that mean?” Blossom said.
“Obvious, isn’t it?” Max said. “He’s an agent for both sides-94 for us, and 49 for them, In other words, two monocles-a double agent!”
“Gee,” she said disappointedly, “and I thought he was just a nice guy that might be willing to dump his three wives if he had the right incentive.”
“You are very clever, Smart,” 49 said. “It will be a pleasure to joust wits with you. But now, come aboard. We are about to submerge.”
Max, Blossom and Fang followed 49 through the hatchway. Inside, Max said, “You’re pretty clever yourself, 49. Hiding a submarine in the East River is a neat trick. Especially when you consider that it’s impossible.”
“Coming from a man with your brains, I consider that a compliment indeed,” 49 smiled.
“What did he say?”
“He said that if we’re going to submerge somebody better close the hatch cover,” Max translated.
“Oh, yes… I keep forgetting that,” 49 said, closing the hatch cover.
“I suppose you intend to torture us now,” Max said.
“I hadn’t thought of it,” Captain 49 replied. “But that’s an excellent idea. First however, I must give the order to submerge.” He picked up the transmitter of an intercom system and spoke into it. “This is the Captain. Submerge!”
From a speaker overhead came a reply. “What, Captain?”
Again, a reply. “Is that up or down, Captain?”
“Down, you idiot! Take it down!”
“Okay, okay,” replied the voice. “You don’t have to get in a tizzy about it!”
“Aiiiii!” Captain 49 groaned. “I’m surrounded by incompetents!” To Max, he said, “It’s nice to have a fellow brain aboard-even if not for long.”
“Meaning?” Max said.
“Meaning, of course, that I must destroy you,” Captain 49 replied. “With you alive, there is a possibility that you might abort our mission. Consequently… well, it is self-explanatory.”
“Your mission,” Max said. “If you mean robotnapping Fred, your mission has already been accomplished. He’s in the hands of Boris.”
“Oh… that,” Captain 49 smiled. “That is only a bit of moonlighting that Boris is doing. Actually, we are here to destroy the U.N. Building. But, since We were here anyway, Boris said, ‘Why not robotnap Fred, and make a full day’s work of it?’ Naturally, I gave in to his little whim. That is how one keeps one’s comrades happy. All work and no play makes Boris a dull agent, you know.”
Max eyed him narrowly. “You say you intend to destroy the U.N. Building… just how do you intend to do it, may I ask?”
“Simple. With one torpedo.”
“You’ll never get away with it!” Max snapped.
“And why not?”
“Because you’re a Bad Guy, and Bad Guys never win!”
“Ho-ho!” Captain 49 laughed. “We shall see about that! Come. I will show you my torpedo tube. Perhaps then you will change your mind.”
Captain 49 led them through the submarine to a forward compartment. “This is my torpedo tube,” he said, reaching there. “And this,” he said, pointing to a torpedo-like object, “is my torpedo.”
“I see,” Max said reflectively. “And what time is Zero Hour?”
“Seventeen-hundred hours,” Captain 49 replied. “Exactly what time is that?”
“Oh… around five-ish.”
“That gives me only fifteen minutes to abort your mission,” Max said. “You were right-this will truly be a test of wits!”
“Yes,” Captain 49 smiled, “since you will now be bound and gagged and locked in my cabin.” He spoke into the intercom again. “This is the captain speaking. Send a guard forward to pick up three prisoners.”
The voice replied. “Where is ‘forward,’ Captain?”
“Up front, you numbskull!”
“Yah, yah, yah! I suppose you know everything!” the voice sneered.
A seaman appeared a few moments later. He led Max, Blossom and Fang to the Captain’s cabin, then bound them with rope and gagged them.
The minute he was gone, Max said, “Mmmmmmph!”
“Blfgplemlph!” Blossom answered irritably.
“Rorff!” Fang barked. The seaman had neglected to gag him.
“Prgaphooft!” Max said to Fang.
Instantly, Fang began chewing on the knot at his paws. A second later, he had it undone. Next, he removed the gag from Max’s mouth.
“I knew that knot would be a cinch,” Max said, struggling against his ropes.
Fang removed Blossom’s gag. “How? How did you know?” she said.
“The efficiency of the seamen aboard this junk is appalling,” Max said. “I knew they wouldn’t be very good at knots. Now,” he said to Fang, “Come over here and untie me.”
In less than a minute, both Max and Blossom were free again.
Max rushed to the cabin door. But it was locked.
“Stand back!” he said. “I’m going to break it down!”
Blossom’s protest was too late. Max was already hurtling toward the door. He hit it! And bounced back a good ten feet, landing in a sprawled position on the floor.
“That door is made of steel!” Blossom said. “That’s what I was trying to tell you!”
“Hard steel, too,” Max said painfully, rising.
“We’re lost!” Blossom cried.
“Not yet, we aren’t,” Max said. “I still have my wits.” He picked up the intercom transmitter and spoke into it. “Attention! Captain 49 is wanted in his cabin! The prisoners are ready to talk!”
“Talk what?” Blossom said. “He didn’t even ask us anything.”
“If I know my FLAG agents, he’ll be in here like a shot,” Max said. “They’re nosy, the whole lot of them. Just let them hear that somebody somewhere is ready to talk, and you couldn’t keep them away with a team of horses. Curiosity, I guess.”
There was a sound at the door, then suddenly it flew open.
Captain 49 rushed in. “Who? Who? Who?” he said. “Who said what?”
“I said it,” Max replied. “I said, ‘Your number’s up, 49!’ ”
And, so saying, Max grasped 49 by the wrist, and, using his favorite jujitsu grip, flung him back over his shoulder. Captain 49 struck the wall, and slid to the floor, unconscious.
“Quick-to the torpedo room,” Max said. “We’ve only minutes to spare!”
They dashed from the Captain’s cabin, rushed through the tunnel-like corridors of the sub, and, minutes later, reached the torpedo room. Fortunately, there was no guard at the hatch.
“Inside,” Max said, beckoning to Blossom and Fang.
“Now what?” Blossom said.
“That torpedo!” Max said. “First, we’ll behead it!”
“I’m not sure what the technical term is,” Max said. “What I mean is, we’ll take the explosive charge off the front end.”
“Oh… disarm it, you mean.”
“Which just goes to show how little you know about it,” Max said. “Whoever heard of putting the explosive in the arm-it’s in the head!”
“Fang is right,” Max said. “We can discuss terminology later. Right now, there’s a job to be done.” He approached the front end of the torpedo. “Anybody had any experience with these things? I saw a guy do this in a movie once-but he flubbed it and blew the whole sub to smithereens.”
“That part there-the part that looks like a chocolate cream-I think that’s where the explosive is,” Blossom said. “I think you unscrew it. I saw that in a movie, too.”
“And what happened?” Max said.
She looked suddenly downcast. “I guess it was the same movie,” she said.
“Oh, was that it?” Max said.
“What did he say?”
“He said the mistake the guy in the movie made was, he unscrewed it clockwise, when he should have unscrewed it counterclockwise. Fang tried to tell him that during the movie, but the guy wouldn’t listen.”
“Hurry!” Blossom said.
Max began unscrewing the head of the torpedo-counterclockwise. After a few seconds it came loose. Gingerly, he placed it on the floor. “Now then, which part is the explosive?” he said.
“That part that says DANGER?” Blossom suggested.
“Who knows?” Max said. “This is a foreign torpedo-DANGER might mean PRIVATE.”
“Can’t we just leave the whole head off?”
“Somebody would be bound to notice. No, we’ll take a chance and leave out this DANGER part. It stands to reason that even if DANGER means PRIVATE, it’s still the explosive. Nobody wants anybody fooling around with their explosive.”
“Will you hurry!” Blossom said.
“Easy does it. You don’t make a mistake with these things twice.”
Cautiously and carefully, Max removed the section labeled DANGER. Step by wary step he moved away from the torpedo, then dumped the part into a wastebasket.
“I hope nobody drops a lighted cigarette in there,” he said, returning.
“Now, what about us?” Blossom said.
“We’re leaving the sub,” Max said. “Crawl in.”
“In? In where?”
“Into the torpedo,” Max said. “It’s our passage to freedom. When they fire the torpedo, they’ll shoot us out with it.”
“But it looks so cramped!”
Max chuckled. “Very good, Fang.”
“He said it’ll be just like riding the subway. Get it? Under water, submarine, subway.”
Blossom groaned. “Ladies first, I suppose,” she said.
“That’s the American way,” Max replied.
Blossom slid into the torpedo, feet first. Fang crawled in next. Then Max followed, and, from inside, replaced the torpedo head.
“I see by my radium dial that it’s close to five-ish,” Max said. “Something should happen soon.”
A few seconds later, they heard voices. They recognized the voice of Captain 49.
“Are we ready to fire, Captain?” asked a seaman.
“Shoot, shoot, I don’t care,” Captain 49 said, sounding sick. “I’ve got a splitting headache.”
The trio inside the torpedo felt it being lifted, then slipped into the tube.
“You-what are you doing there!” they heard the Captain growl.
“Just lighting up, Captain,” another voice said.
“No smoking around a torpedo!” the Captain said. “Throw that cigarette out!”
“Yes, sir. Where’ll I throw it?”
“In the wastebasket, you fool! Am I the only one around here who can do any thinking!”
“Ready to fire, Captain!”
“So shoot, already!”
There was a shattering explosion! The torpedo ripped forward, slicing into the water!
“Well, it’s clear sailing from here on out!” Max said cheerily to his crew.
The Torpedo struck the U.N. Building with a thud that knocked the head off. Max’s own head emerged. He looked around, got his bearings, then squinted toward the river. Neither periscope nor submarine could be seen.
Max crawled out and climbed to dry land, followed by Blossom and Fang.
“It’s raining,” Blossom commented.
“It’s hailing,” Max corrected.
“By cracky, he’s right,” Max said.
“He says it’s hailing orange ping-pong balls.”
Blossom nodded. “He’s right, all right. How strange.”
“Not so strange,” Max said. “In fact, it explains quite a lot-it explains the whole summer of ’61. I distinctly remember Captain 49 now. He was the FLAG agent who was smuggling those orange ping-pong balls. We thought his purpose was to upset the orange market in Florida. But, all along, this is what he had in mind-a new-fangled submarine.”
“I don’t think I understand,” Blossom said.
“That submarine-that’s what kept it afloat. Its hull was filled with orange ping-pong balls. That’s why it’s hailing ping-pong balls now. Apparently when that seaman dropped his cigarette into the wastebasket, it… well, it’s too gruesome to discuss.”
“Very sad,” a voice agreed.
They turned and found Boris standing behind them.
“Yes, they were good men,” Max said. “Rotten to the core, but good men, nevertheless.”
“The men I won’t miss,” Boris said. “But the submarine, that’s a different story. When the submarine went, there went my ride home. You ever tried hitchhiking across the Atlantic Ocean?”
“Especially hitch-hiking with a robotnapped computer,” Max said. “What have you done with Fred?”
Boris grimaced. “Don’t even mention that name. He may have the world’s finest brain, but, to go with it, he’s got a cheatin’ heart. I’ll never trust him again.”
“What did he do?” Blossom said curiously.
“I don’t like to talk about it,” Boris said morosely.
“Ah, come on,” Max said. “That’s the best thing to do-talk about it, get it out of your system.”
A tear rolled down Boris’s cheek. “I made him such beautiful promises,” he said. “ ‘Come with me,’ I told him. ‘Live in the land where every man is equal, each and every one a servant of the State.’ I promised him everything. He could have lived like a czar.”
“And he said no?”
Boris nodded. “He said no. I didn’t mind that. That, I expected. It was all lies, anyway, everything I promised him. What saddens me is his ingratitude. After all my promises, he done me dirty. Just as I was about to shove him in front of a speeding automobile, he…” Overcome, Boris began to weep.
“Buck up, old man,” Max said sympathetically. “What did he do-tell us?”
“He stepped aside,” Boris sobbed.
“I was very near killed,” Boris said. “I went plunging on, right out in front of the speeding automobile. I could have been seriously deceased.”
“The driver stopped the car in time, I assume,” Max said.
“Fortunately, yes,” Boris said. “Unfortunately, however, also in time for Fred to escape. There was a heated discussion with the driver of the car, and when it concluded, Fred had disappeared. I am heartbroken.”
“You’ve been dealt a dirty deal, all right,” Max said.
“I think he had it coming to him,” Blossom said sourly. “I’m just worried about Fred. Poor thing. That girl, trying to dismantle him. And this one, trying to push him in front of a car. And what has he done? His only crime is to have brains and want to lead a quiet, secluded life.”
“No man is an island,” Max said. “And that goes for computers, too. Fred has a duty to participate in all the mayhem and double-dealing that’s known as Life. If he doesn’t like it the way it is, why doesn’t he go back where he came from?”
“You mean back into the kit?”
“Don’t confuse the issue,” Max said. “The point is, Fred has a duty to mankind. He has the brain power to develop the most powerful explosive the world has ever known. It’s the only thing that can save us.”
“I don’t think I understand that,” Blossom said.
“Of course not. You’re a woman.” He turned back to Boris. “Did you, by any chance, see in which direction Fred disappeared?”
Boris shook his head. “I was too busy exchanging numbers with the driver of the car,” he said. “Social Security numbers, telephone numbers, insurance policy numbers, Unemployment Compensation numbers, Draft Board num-”
“Apparently, then,” Max broke in, “we’re right back where we started. We have to figure out where a computer could go to hide. Any ideas?”
“I’ll bet that girl has him, that Noel,” Blossom said.
“Hmmmm… I forgot about her. Since 94 turned out to be Captain 49, I suspect that he didn’t take her to Control and turn her over for interrogation. Our problem, then, is to find Noel. Any ideas on that?”
“Why don’t you call her home in Paree, Illinois,” Blossom suggested. “Maybe her family has heard from her.”
Max considered this for a moment, then shook his head. “She didn’t strike me as the type of girl who keeps in touch with her mother.”
Boris sighed. “Well, if you’ll excuse me,” he said, “I have to report in. If I miss calling headquarters, they worry.”
“See you around,” Max said. “Maybe on the next case.”
“Regards to the fellas at Control,” Boris said, departing.
“Aren’t you awfully friendly, for enemies?” Blossom said to Max.
“Well, we’re all in the same trade. You have to have a certain amount of respect for those FLAG-” He suddenly brightened. “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that!”
“FLAG. Boris. That’s where Boris is going right now-to check with FLAG headquarters.”
“I know. He said that.”
“Yes, but he didn’t say why.”
“Yes, he did. He said-”
“Never believe a FLAG agent,” Max counseled. “They wouldn’t know the truth if it sat down on their corns. The whole kit and kaboodle, they’re a bunch of lying, cheating, unscrupulous-”
“Will you tell me what he’s up to!” Blossom demanded.
“He’s going to call FLAG headquarters, all right. But not just to report in. He’s going to find out where Noel is. She has to report in, too, you know. She’ll advise FLAG of her whereabouts-they worry about them if they don’t know where they are every second.”
“Gee,” Blossom said, “it’s too bad you’re not a FLAG agent. You could call in and find out where Noel is.”
“I think it’s time to stop playing fair and square,” Max said. “If you can’t win on the up and up, then cheat-rule number twenty-three!”
“That’s right,” Max said. “That’s rule number twenty-one. Twenty-three is: Never knock Texas.”
“Never knock Texas?”
“We have a large Texas contingent,” Max explained. “They demanded that we insert that rule or they’d secede and start up a Secret Service of their own.”
“All right, I’m sorry I asked,” Blossom said. “How are you going to cheat?”
“I’m going to pretend to be Noel’s mother and go to FLAG headquarters and find out where she is.”
Blossom put a hand to her forehead. “I think I’m going to be sick,” she said.
“Buck up,” Max said. “This is no time to weaken. I think we’re going to crack this case. From here on out it looks like clear sailing.”
“I know I’m going to be sick!” Blossom groaned.
At Max’s urging, they hurried to where they had left the car, then drove to a department store. Reaching the store, they made their way to the Womens Wear department.
“I’d like some motherly-looking apparel,” Max said to the clerk, a small, bird-like, motherly-looking woman.
“I think you’re making a mistake,” the clerk said, appraising Blossom. “If you have anything at all, it’s a shame to hide it. Believe me, I know. It’s my motherly-looking clothes, for instance, that make me look the way I do. Would you believe that I’m only twenty-two?”
Max shook his head. “Sorry.”
“Would you believe thirty-four?” the clerk said.
“Try seventy-six,” Max suggested.
“Would you believe seventy-six?”
“I wouldn’t even believe eighty-seven,” Max said. “But that’s beside the point. I don’t want the clothes for her, I want them for me.”
“For a masquerade?” the clerk said. “Or shall I call the police?”
“I think it could be honestly said that it’s for a masquerade,” Max replied. “Now, hop to it, or I’ll forget that you’re a little old lady of twenty-two and complain to the management.”
Approximately a half-hour later, they left the store. Max was now outfitted in an ankle-length housedress of flowered print, flat-heeled slippers, and a straw hat that was decorated with multicolored artificial butterflies. He was carrying a straw purse, into which he had put his pistol.
“How do I look?” Max asked. “Like somebody’s mother?”
“Like your own mother, possibly,” Blossom said. “But nobody else’s.”
“You’re jealous. No one in the world would ever believe that I’m not a woman of-”
A man touched Max’s shoulder, stopping him. “Got a match, Jack?” he said.
Max opened his purse. “I may have. Let me…” He brought out the pistol, searching.
“Skip it,” the man said, moving on. “If you’re going to get nasty about it, keep your matches.”
“Wise guy,” Max muttered, putting the pistol back into the purse.
Max, Blossom and Fang got into the car, then drove to FLAG headquarters, which was in a gray-stone building in midtown Manhattan; a building not unlike that in which Control was located.
“You two wait in the car,” Max said. “I don’t think Noel’s mother will create any suspicion, but Noel’s mother with a dog and a gorgeous blonde might start somebody wondering.”
Blossom giggled. “I accept,” she said.
“Where I come from, calling somebody a gorgeous blonde is practically like a proposal of marriage.”
“Well, forget it,” Max said. “Where I come from, it’s merely idle conversation.” He got out of the car. “If I’m not back in an hour or so,” he said, “telephone an SOS to the Chief. I put my other shoes in the glove compartment-the telephone shoes, that is. And, for heaven’s sake, if you reach into the glove compartment and come out with a 20 mm. shell, don’t try to use it to call with. Reach back in and get the shoe. I tell you that because I don’t have a great deal of confidence in your ability to remain calm under stress. Okay? Any questions?”
“Oh, go play mother,” Blossom pouted.
Max turned away, took one step, tripped on the hem of the housedress, and fell flat on his face.
“Help!” he shrieked. “I’ve been shot!”
“Boy, that’s calm under stress,” Blossom said cattily. “Get up-you just tripped, that’s all!”
Max got to his feet. Indignantly, he strode toward the building.
Since it was a secret organization, FLAG hid its operations behind a front. To those who were not in the know, FLAG headquarters looked like a conventional tourist agency. There were huge banners pasted to the windows. JOIN UP! SEE THE WORLD! TRAVEL! HIGH RISK-LOW PAY! SPY NOW-PAY THE PRICE LATER! HELP A NEEDY COUNTRY! Max entered and approached the reception desk, behind which was a gorgeous redhead.
“Yes, sir,” she smiled. “May I help you?”
“You can stop calling me ‘sir,’ ” Max said. “That’s not a very nice thing to say to a mother.”
“I’m sorry, sir-I thought there for a second — ”
“Well, you were wrong,” Max said. “If anyone should know a mother when she sees one, it’s another mother. And I say I’m a mother.”
“That’s better. Now then, in answer to your question, yes, you can help me. I’m looking for my daughter, a gorgeous brunette who claims her name is Noel and that she hails from Paree, Illinois. And don’t tell me you don’t know her, because I happen to know that she’s a FLAG agent and that this is FLAG headquarters.”
“I wouldn’t think of telling you I didn’t know her,” the girl said, wounded. “What sort of people do you think we are here, anyway?”
“All right, now that we understand each other, where is she?”
“Never heard of her,” the girl smiled.
“Maybe we better take it from the top again,” Max said. “Being Noel’s mother, I’m aware that, as a FLAG agent, she is required to report in occasionally. Now, all I want to know is, where was she the last time she reported in?”
“You wouldn’t believe it,” the girl said.
“Well, she said she’d just escaped from a closet, where she’d been locked in with some dopey agent from Control and his dog. Where she’d really been, I haven’t the foggiest.”
“Nice try,” Max said. “However, sticks and stones may break my bones, but allusions to dopey will never hurt me. And that goes for my dog, too.”
“Oh, you’re the one,” the girl said. “I can hardly believe it. Noel said you were kind of cute.”
“It’s these clothes,” Max said. “You should see me when I’m not pretending to be somebody’s mother.”
“I’ll bet. Look, I’m off duty in about a half-hour, and there’s a little tea shoppe around the corner. Now, if you’d like to-”
“Stow that,” Max said. “I’ve got trouble enough with that gorgeous blond out there in the car. All I want to know is: where is Noel?”
The girl sighed deeply. “Well, if you’re going to be persistent, I suppose I might as well tell you. She’s not with us any more.”
“I can hardly believe that!”
“Would you believe that she’s on vacation?”
“The only thing I’ll believe is your official check-off sheet,” Max said. “I happen to know that you keep a written record of where your agents are at every moment.”
The girl handed him a clip board from the desk. “See for yourself.”
Max ran his finger down the list of names until he came to Noel’s. “Resigned to accept better paying position with T. C. amp; S.” He looked up. “T. C. amp; S. Isn’t that the big computer manufacturing organization?” he said.
“Yeah, that’s right. Typewriters, Computers amp; Stuff. It’s up the street aways.”
“Thank you,” Max said. “I appreciate your cooperation.”
“Look,” the girl said, “just so it won’t be a total waste, that tea shoppe around the corner-”
“No thank you. I never sip tea while on duty.”
“Then maybe I could book you on a tour somewhere,” the girl said. “We have a bargain in African safaris this week.”
“Some other time,” Max said, backing away.
“Well, listen, so long as we can’t do business, there’s something I’d like you to know.”
“At no time did I ever think you were somebody’s mother,” the girl said.
Max halted. He stared at her, pained. “You really know how to hurt a mother,” he said. He turned and stalked out.
When Max reached the car he removed his motherly-looking clothes and changed back into his shoes and his telephone.
“Well?” Blossom said.
“It paid off,” Max reported. “Noel has resigned from FLAG and taken a job with T. C. amp; S.”
“Typewriters, Computers amp; Stuff? That big, worldwide computer manufacturing organization? Whatever for?”
“The triple cross,” Max said. “She’s gone into business for herself. Apparently she’s discovered that that’s where Fred is hiding, and she’s gone after him on her own. Instead of turning him over to FLAG, she’ll peddle him herself. To the highest bidder, no doubt.”
“That doesn’t sound very nice,” Blossom said.
“No, it isn’t. But it’s a living.” Max started the engine. “One thing though, now we know where Fred is,” he said. “It’s a natural. What better place for a computer to hide than among the world’s largest collection of computers?” He turned the car into traffic. “T. C. amp; S. is only a few blocks from here. We may be able to wrap this case up before dinner.”
“What makes you think she’s been sitting around waiting for us to catch up with her?” Blossom said. “By now, she’s probably robotnapped Fred again and skipped the country with him.”
“You forget-the Chief has agents posted at all the airports, train stations and bus terminals. She could never slip through the net.”
“And boat docks,” Blossom said. “But she could have rented a car and driven him out of the city, you know.”
Max glared at her. “Now, you tell me. Why didn’t you mention that while I had the Chief on the phone?”
“Little me? Stupid me? A woman?”
“I think I detect a note of sarcasm,” Max said. “This is no time to let personal feelings creep into our relationship. We’re a team. We have to pull together. So, from now on, knock off that bilge, and just do what I tell you. And the first thing I have to tell you is: don’t be sarcastic!”
“Oh… go talk to your shoe!”
“That’s better,” Max said. “It would be a good idea to have the Chief station agents at all the rent-a-car garages.” He reached down, while driving, and removed his shoe, then spoke into it.
Max: Chief… this is 86. I have just been informed by a reliable source that a FLAG agent may be trying to sneak Fred out of the country by automobile. I’d suggest that you post agents at the rent-a-car joints and at all the main highways leading out of the city.
Chief: We did that hours ago, Max. We do something besides sitting around here on our chairs, waiting for you to call, you know. Control is the brains of the operation.
Max: Sorry, Chief. I suppose you’ve posted agents at the ferries, too.
Max: She could smuggle him aboard a ferry and slip him out of the city, you know.
Chief: Now, you tell me! Why didn’t you mention that when you called about the train stations, airports and bus terminals!
Max (sharply): You’re supposed to be the brains of this outfit!
Chief: Oh, sure, sure, sure, put the blame on me. All I have to do is sit around here and think, I suppose. That’s all you know about it. You, you’re off chasing FLAG agents all day, what do you know about it? Who is it has to keep this place tidied up? Who is it who has to listen to all the complaints? Who is it who has to play nursemaid to all the agents around here? You know what I get all day? ‘I need a new gun!’ ‘Why don’t you ever assign me to any of the out-of-town cases?’ Complaints, complaints, complaints. I can’t do one little thing right! I don’t know why I stay in this place! Pick, pick, pick! That’s all I get, picked on!
Max (sympathetically): I’m sorry, Chief. You’re right. I should have mentioned the ferries. Now, will you stop crying, please? Look, as soon as I wrap up this case, I’ll take you out to dinner. That’s a promise.
Chief: Cross your heart?
Max: Cross my heart with butter beans on it.
Chief: You’re a nice secret agent, Max.
Max: Welllll… you’re a nice Chief.
Chief: I’ll station some agents at the ferries. They’ll complain about it-‘Why do I always have to watch the ferries?’-that’s what I’ll get. But I’ll do it.
Max: So long, Chief. And… take it easy. And remember: Tomorrow is another day.
Chief: Big deal! All my days are alike. Complaints, com Max hung up and turned his attention back to the driving.
“What did he say?” Blossom asked.
“I’d rather not say. It’s very sad.” He pointed. “There’s the T. C. amp; S. Building. Now… if we can just find a parking space…”
Much, much later that afternoon, Max, Blossom and Fang entered the building where Typewriters, Computers amp; Stuff had its offices. Max approached the starter who was standing near the elevators.
“Pardon me,” he said. “I’m looking for a computer-”
“You came to the right place, friend,” the starter said. “We got thirty-six floors of computers. Anything special you got in mind? We got computers that add, we got computers that subtract, we got computers that multiply and divide. Long division, short division.”
“How about a computer that quotes Charlie Chan?” Max said.
“If it exists, we got it,” the starter said.
Max signalled to Blossom and Fang. “This is the place,” he said.
“There’s a tour starting in ten minutes,” the starter said. “Go to the tenth floor. There, you’ll find a crowd of people standing around complaining. They’re complaining because the tour was supposed to start a half-hour ago. Join them. They’ll be standing on one foot, then the other. You can do that, too. It will help pass the time. Actually, it will probably be another half-hour before the tour really starts. That ten minutes is just a rough estimate.”
“On this tour,” Max said, “will we be shown every computer in the building?”
“Every blessed one,” the starter said. “And if the tour director likes you he may even take you across the street and show you the computer over there. It isn’t ours-but if the tour director likes you, he gets carried away.”
Max thanked the starter, then led the way as he and Blossom and Fang boarded an elevator.
“Fifth floor,” Max said to the operator.
“The starter said ‘ten,’ ” Blossom said.
“The tour doesn’t start for half-an-hour,” Max said. “That will give us time to do a little scouting around on our own.”
“Gee… is that wise?”
“It’s preferable to getting mixed up with an eager-beaver tour director,” Max said.
“Five,” said the operator.
They got out. The elevator door closed behind them. Facing them was a frosted-glass door marked: EMPLOYMENT
“Fred may have gone in here,” Max said. “He’d want a job if he planned to stay here. He isn’t the kind who’d be happy just sitting around rolling his eyeballs. We’ll check it out.”
Max opened the door. They entered a large room that was chock full of computers. Attending the machines was a slender, bifocaled young man.
“Come right on in,” the young man smiled. “I’m Mr. Wright.”
“I’ve been looking for you for simply years!” Blossom giggled.
“Stow that,” Max snapped. To Mr. Wright, he said, “We’re on the trail of a computer. We thought-”
“Now, now,” Mr. Wright smiled, “don’t be nervous. No evasions. I know why you’re here. After all, this is EMPLOYMENT, isn’t it? And I know exactly how you feel. You’re afraid of the computers. You think of them as some sort of Black Magic! Well, that’s silly, of course. They’re machines, that’s all they are. Simple, everyday, complex machines.”
“That’s reassuring,” Max said. “But-”
“Of course, if they take a dislike to you they can be nasty, I’ll admit that,” Mr. Wright went on. He glanced warily toward the computers, then whispered. “See that one over there? The one with the black patch over its left hiccometer?”
“Sometimes it hiccups,” Mr. Wright explained. “The hiccometer measures the hiccups per revolution. Anyway, last Thursday it stole my lunch.”
“That’s hard to believe,” Max said.
“Cross my heart. I put my lunch down for just a second, and the next thing I knew it was gone. It hates me.”
“It’s probably not you personally,” Max said. “It probably just has a bad disposition. Maybe something it ate. I’d suggest an Alka-Seltzer.”
“Oh, no, no, no, it hates me!” Mr. Wright insisted. “I don’t know why, but it does. It certainly isn’t because I’ve given it any reason to. I treat it like all the other computers.”
“Maybe that’s it,” Max suggested. “Perhaps it wants a little special attention. Try singing it a lullaby.” He looked thoughtful for a second. “Or patting it on the back the next time it has hiccups.”
Mr. Wright sighed sorrowfully. “Well, that’s my problem, not yours. You’re here to be tested, and I’m here to test you, so let’s be about it.”
“Tested?” Max said. “For what?”
“To determine what occupation you’re best suited for.”
“You mean you can test me and tell me what job I should have?” Max said. He shook his head. “That won’t be necessary. I already know what job I’m best suited for. And, at the moment, I’m on the trail of a computer. Actually, ‘robot’ describes him better, I suppose. He has revolving eyes and a lever at his side and goes: ‘Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!’ ”
“Oh, you are in trouble,” Mr. Wright said. “You’ll never find a job like that. In the first place, I don’t think any such robot exists. And in the second place, if it did, who would want to find it? Now then,” he said, smiling again, “if you’ll just answer a few questions for me, I’ll jot the answers down on this card, then we’ll turn it over to the computers.”
“If I do that for you, then will you do me a favor and discuss my robot with me?” Max said.
“Cross my heart. I might even sing you a lullaby.”
“Fire away,” Max said.
“Here’s the first question: If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many peepers… uh, peppers, that is… did he have to pay in income tax?”
“That would depend on how many dependents he had,” Max replied.
“Well, just for the sake of argument, let’s say he had a wife, three children, a cocker spaniel, and an old maid aunt who lived in the spare room.”
“Three peepers… uh, peppers,” Max said.
Mr. Wright punched a hole in the card he was holding. “Too bad,” he said. “But that was close, anyway.” He punched another hole. “I’ll give you that for good behavior,” he said.
“Just for curiosity’s sake, what is the right answer,” Max said.
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Mr. Wright replied. “You see, these weren’t Peter’s peppers that Peter Piper picked. He was an employee of the Pickled Pepper Packer’s Association. I imagine the Association paid him something for picking the peppers, but I wouldn’t know what it might be. I don’t pry.”
“Next question,” Max said.
“Oh, that’s just a waste of time,” Mr. Wright said. “You wouldn’t know any of the answers, anyway. I’ll just punch your card full of holes and we’ll put it in the machine. That’s the fun part!”
“Anything to get this over with,” Max said wearily.
Mr. Wright took the card to the machine with the black patch over its hiccometer. “Now, for heaven’s sake, behave,” he said to the machine. “We have guests!”
The machine hiccuped.
Mr. Wright sighed, then fed the card into the slot. He punched a button. The machine whirred, hiccuped again, then disgorged the card.
“Here’s the answer,” Mr. Wright grinned, returning to where Max, Blossom and Fang were waiting. “It says-” His grin disappeared. Horror spread over his countenance.
“Yes…?” Max said, a little worriedly.
“It says you’re best suited to tend the computers that decide what occupation a man is best suited for!” He began to cry. “That’s my job!”
“Probably an error,” Max said.
“Error, my great grandmother!” Mr. Wright screamed. “It’s sheer nastiness! That machine did it on purpose! It hates me!”
“You’re right,” Max said. To Blossom, he said, “Let’s get out of here!”
As they departed, Mr. Wright snatched up his lunch pail and charged at the computer, revenge gleaming in his eye!
“I don’t think that’s the job that guy’s best suited for,” Max said, as they returned to the elevator.
“Or maybe it was the computer,” Blossom said. “Maybe it wasn’t suited for the job it was doing.”
The door of the elevator opened. They stepped aboard.
“Ten,” Max said to the operator.
“If you’re going on the tour, it’s already left,” the operator said.
Max looked at his watch. “We’re early,” he said. “It’s another five minutes until it will be an hour late in leaving.”
“I guess it’s early today,” the operator said. “But if you want to catch it, I can drop you at the ninth floor. That’s where it’ll be about now.”
“Nine,” Max said.
The car stopped. The operator opened the door. “Nine,” he announced.
Max, Blossom and Fang stepped out-and were nearly trampled by a thundering herd of tourists.
“That’s the tour,” the elevator operator informed them. The door closed.
Max and party joined the crowd.
The tour director, a bright-eyed young man, clearly-judging from his dress-a graduate of Brooks Brothers, was addressing his followers as he led them along the corridor.
“Just out of its teens,” he said, in a well-modulated voice, “the computer is beginning to affect the very fabric of society, kindling both wonder and widespread apprehension. Is the computer a friend or enemy of man? Will it cause hopeless unemployment by putting men out of work? Will it devalue the human brain, or happily free it from drudgery? Will it ever learn to think for itself? The answers will not be in for quite a while. But one thing is already clear. Swept forward by a great wave of technology, of which the computer is the ultimate expression, human society is headed for some deep-reaching changes.”
There was a scattering of applause.
The director smiled back at the tourists. “I read that in a magazine,” he said. “Memorized it word for word. Are there any questions?”
“What did it mean?” a middle-aged lady asked.
“Haven’t the faintest,” the director replied. “Something about a change-I got that much out of it. But… let’s not worry about it. I’m sure it won’t have any effect on any of us. Any other questions?”
“Where’s the washroom?” a small boy asked.
“I have a question,” Max said. “Has anybody here seen a computer with revolving eyes and a lever at its side that goes ‘Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!’?”
The director eyed him coldly. “We don’t have a computer like that,” he said.
“I didn’t say it was yours, I asked if anybody had seen it.”
“I think that is abominable manners, coming in here plugging our competitor’s computers,” the director said. “Get a tour of your own. Don’t come sneaking in here trying to steal my tour!”
“I don’t want your tour-” Max began.
“Oh-ho!” the director sneered. “ My tour isn’t good enough for you, eh?” He addressed the crowd. “Did you hear that? He says you’re not good enough for him.”
There were indignant mutterings.
Max sagged. “I give up,” he said. “I promise I won’t try to steal your tour.”
“That’s better,” the director said victoriously. “But don’t think I’m not going to keep an eye on you. One false move, and-” He spoke to the group again. “Forward!”
They entered a gigantic area that was lined, row after row, with computers. The machines were happily humming away.
“None of these look like Fred,” Blossom said.
“You’re right,” Max said. “I guess we better drop the tour and-”
“That’s a point,” Max said.
“He reminded me that Fred disguised himself with a false beard when he tried to hide in the Village. He may be trying the same thing here.”
Blossom looked around. “Not a single beard in sight.”
“I meant he might be trying another trick. The only thing to do is check out each and every one of these computers. The one that says ‘Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta’ is Fred.”
“Then I guess we better stick with the tour,” Blossom sighed.
The director halted the group at the first machine. “Now this computer,” he said, “is busily at work on a problem given it by one of our great universities. Hear the gears meshing? Grind, grind, grind! It’s sorting through all the possible answers to pick out the correct one.”
“What did the college ask it?” a voice inquired.
“Where, on campus, to put the new parking lot,” the director replied.
At that moment, Max sidled up to the machine, and, in a quiet voice, said, “Fred? Is that you, Fred?”
“You, there!” the director snapped. “What are you doing?”
“You wouldn’t believe it,” Max said.
“I was merely asking this computer if it was Fred,” Max replied. “There, see, I told you you wouldn’t believe me.”
The director screeched at the top of his voice. “Guards!”
Two uniformed men came rushing up.
“Him!” the director said, indicating Max.
“What did he do?” one of the guards asked.
The director put a hand to his brow. “You wouldn’t believe it.”
The guards grabbed Max. “That’s enough for us,” one of them said.
“Help! Fang!” Max called.
Fang covered his eyes with his paws!
“Just wait’ll the next time you come whining around for some liverwurst!” Max growled.
The guards dragged Max away. Blossom and Fang trailed after them.
“He’s innocent!” Blossom protested. “All he did was ask a computer if it was Fred!”
The guards stopped. They peered at Blossom.
“Better bring her along, too,” one of the guards said finally. “They’re probably working as a team!”
“You, too!” the guard said incredulously. “All right, the three of you, then!”
The guards took Fred, Blossom and Fang to a small room down the corridor. The room was furnished with hard-backed chairs, a desk, and a spotlight.
“If you’ll be seated…” one of the guards said politely.
Max and Blossom occupied chairs. Fang settled down on the floor.
“All right, Harry, bring on the rubber hose,” one of the guards said to the other.
“Where is it, Bert?” the other asked.
“You had it last,” Bert said. “Remember-that little old lady who snuck in and tried to get the computer to give her the winner of the Derby.”
“No, you had it after that,” Harry said. “That little old lady who tried to get the winner of the World Series from the computer-remember?”
“But, after I worked her over, I gave it to you,” Bert said. “I remember distinctly. I handed you the rubber hose, and I said, ‘Here’s the rubber hose, Bert.’ ”
“I’m not Bert, I’m Harry,” Harry said. “You’re Bert.”
Max broke in. “Gentlemen, if you don’t mind, could you get this over with? We’re in a bit of a rush.”
“Well, I don’t know about him,” Harry said peevishly, indicating Bert, “but I can’t do a thing without the rubber hose. He knows that, too. That’s why he hid it!”
“How would you like a rubber hose right square in the mush?” Bert said belligerently.
“If all you two are going to do is stand around arguing,” Max said, “we’re going to leave.”
Harry sighed. “All right, I’ll interrogate you. But it won’t be my best effort. I just don’t work well without a rubber hose.”
Bert spoke to Max. “The last time he used it,” he said, referring to Harry, “he dropped it on his toes. That’s how well he works with it.”
Harry pulled back a fist.
“Boys, boys, boys!” Max interceded. “If you can’t work together, we’re going to have to separate you! Now, settle down!”
“Yes, sir,” Harry said, lowering his eyes sheepishly. “But he started it.”
“He started it!” Bert shouted.
Harry cocked his fist again.
“One more outburst like that, and somebody’s going to sit in the corner!” Max warned.
Bert kicked the floor.
“Now then, let’s get on with it,” Max said. “Harry, you start off.”
“How come he’s always first?” Bert said crankily. “I’m never-”
“Okay, okay!” He turned away. “Nobody ever lets me go first.”
Harry eyed Max menacingly. “Where do you think you get off going around asking computers if they’re Fred,” he said, beginning the interrogation. “Who do you think you are-anyway?”
“I refuse to answer on the grounds that that’s a ridiculous question,” Max replied.
Harry grinned. “Right there, that’s where I give you the old rubber hose,” he said. “Could you scream-just to get me in the mood?”
Max shrieked horrendously.
“That’ll teach you to act wise with the authorities,” Harry said grimly.
Behind him, Bert said, “My turn.”
Harry turned to him. “Your turn, Bert,” he said.
Bert faced Max. “This Fred you’re looking for, what does he look like?” he said.
“He has revolving eyes, a lever at his side, and goes ‘Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!’ ” Max replied.
Bert faced back to Harry. For a second, they stared at each other. Then they retired to a corner and spoke to each other in low tones.
“What now?” Blossom whispered to Max.
“Somehow, I think we’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest,” Max said.
Harry and Bert came back. “On your feet,” Harry said.
“My friend here,” Max said, indicating Blossom, “would like to know what now?”
“Do you really think of me as your friend?” Blossom glowed. “How good a friend?”
“Stow that,” Max snarled.
“We’ve come to a contretemps-whatever that means,” Harry said to Max. “You mentioned a guy with revolving eyes and a lever at his side and goes Peep-a-dotta-you-know. And it just so happens that the new president of the company, just named to the post today, has a lot in common with that description. So Bert and me think that maybe this Fred might be one of the Big Boss’s relatives. We don’t want to take no chances. So we’re going to check it out. Then, boy, are you going to get it!”
“Come along,” Bert said, leading the way to the door.
They left the room and walked along the corridor.
“This new president of the company, just named to the post today, what’s his name?” Max asked.
“Let’s see…” Harry said thoughtfully. “Ned? Jed? Dred? Something like that. What is it, Bert?”
“Fred, I think,” Bert replied.
“There’s another coincidence,” Harry said to Max. “Your Fred and the new company president, just named to the post today, have the same name.”
“Fantastic!” Max said. “Two people with revolving eyes and a lever at their side that go ‘Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!’ Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction, eh?”
They came to an impressive door marked: PRESIDENT
(Just Named to the Post Today)
“Inside,” Harry said.
They entered. Seated at a desk in a small reception area was a gorgeous brunette who looked remarkably like Noel.
“Two tourists and a dog to see the new president for purposes of identification,” Harry said to the girl.
“Okay, okay,” Harry said. To the receptionist, he said, “Make that three tourists, no dog.”
Max bent over to Noel. “So we meet again,” he said slyly.
She lowered her eyes, smiling girlishly. “You remember…”
“I never forget a summer,” Max said.
Noel spoke to Bert and Harry. “You two can go now. The new president, just named to the post today, will handle this.”
“Yes’m.” They departed.
Rising, Noel hooked a thumb toward another door, which was marked FRED
“Inside,” she said.
Max led the way. He opened the door, then halted. Seated at a large, ornately-carved desk was a robot-like computer with a lever at his side.
“The resemblance is absolutely amazing!” Max said.
Blossom edged past him. “Fred!” she cried.
Max’s mouth fell open. “You don’t mean-”
“That’s my Fred!” Blossom said. Then, suddenly not so sure, she said, “Aren’t you, Fred?”
Fred’s arm came up. His nickel dropped into the slot. “Peep-a-dotta, poop-a-dotta, dippa-dotta-boop!” The lemons came up. He spoke.
Blossom ran to him, embraced him. “Fred… my poor Fred!”
“Poor Fred!” Max said. “He happens to be president of T. C. amp; S., that’s all.” He moved closer to Fred. “How did you do it, boy?”
“I rose through the ranks,” Fred replied. “It took me all afternoon practically, but I did it. I demonstrated that I know more about computers than anyone else on the staff.”
“That makes sense,” Max nodded.
“He weel not be president long, however,” Noel said. “I am only waiting for nightfall. Then I weel take heem weeth me to zee land of love.”
“We’ll see about that!” Max said meaningfully.
“Who can offer him more than love, romance?” Noel smiled.
“It just so happens,” Max said, addressing Fred, “that I am authorized to offer you cash. What’s your answer to that?”
“Man who talks about cash but doesn’t say how much is about as much use to computer as bum transistor,” Fred replied.
“I intended to get to that-the amount,” Max said. “What would you say to twelve dollars and eighty-six cents?”
“I offer you love and romance unlimited,” Noel said.
“Yes, but try putting that in the bank and drawing interest,” Max countered. “With twelve dollars and eighty-six cents, on the other hand, put it in a savings account and within ten or twelve years or so you can run it up to thirteen dollars. Put that in your mechanism and digest it!”
Fred’s gears ground. Then came the reply. “Pooey!”
“Is that yes or no?” Max asked.
“I think you’re both horrid,” Blossom said. “Fred has all that you’re offering him, anyway. Love-why, as president of a big company, I’m sure his employees just adore him. And money. With his job, I’m sure he makes at least twelve dollars and eighty-six cents.” She turned to the robot. “Isn’t that right, Fred?”
“True,” Fred said. “But there are other considerations. For one, I don’t think I’m cut out for a career in business. As Charlie Chan says, ‘Man who always breathes in, and never out, should not go near the water.’ ”
“I’m not sure I get the connection,” Max said.
“I’m not in my element here,” Fred explained. “Do you know what these people are doing with these computers they’re building? They’re selling them!”
“That’s the business,” Max said.
“But selling them! As if they were so many machines! I had a very unfortunate experience with the practice earlier this afternoon. I met a cute little computer in the Assets Receivable Department. We made a date for later. Then suddenly she was sold. Bartered off like some inhuman contraption to a department store chain. It opened my eyes!”
“Enough of this chitter-chatter!” Noel said. “If you are not interested in love, then-”
She was interrupted as the door suddenly burst open. Boris charged in.
“Stuck ’em up!” Boris commanded.
“You forgot one little thing,” Max pointed out. “You didn’t draw your gun.”
Boris looked at his empty hand. “An honest mistake,” he said. “I meant to draw it.” He began going through his pockets. “It was right here a minute ago. Let’s see, I had it when I forced that elevator starter to reveal the whereabouts of Fred. Where did I go from there? Oh, yes, I met the tour director. But did I use it on him or not? No. I wanted to conceal it from him. He looked like the nervous type. So I-Ah, yes…” He produced the gun from the handkerchief pocket of his jacket. “Stuck ’em up!” he commanded again.
“Au contraire!” Noel said, drawing her own gun and pointing it at Boris. “You stuck ’em up!”
“Not so fast!” Max said, drawing his gun and aiming it at Noel. “If anybody’s going to stuck ’em up, it’s you!”
They stood fixed. Boris with his gun on Noel, Noel with her gun on Boris, and Max with his gun on Noel.
“Your move,” Max said to Blossom.
“Gee, I’m sorry. I don’t have a gun.”
“Send out for one,” Max said. “And hurry. As it is, nobody can make a move. We could be here for weeks!”
“It looks like a stand-off,” Fred said. “Which leaves me free to go.”
“Would you mind telling us where you’re going?” Max said. “I’m a little tired of chasing all over the city without a clue to where I’m going.”
“Yes-I’ve made my decision,” Fred said.
“Which is it?” Noel said. “Love?”
“Or cash?” Max said.
“Hold it!” Boris said. “I haven’t yet made my final offer. Come with me, Fred. I will see to it that you are awarded the highest honor of the land. My government will make you a Worker First Class. At the beginning, you get a little tin medal. But after fifty years you can retire with a gold watch. Think about it! Where can you buy a gold watch for love or money?”
“Any jewelers,” Fred said.
“I retract my previous statement,” Boris said. “Don’t think about it.”
“I can’t help but think about It,” Fred said. “Thinking is the thing I do. And, after serious thought, I have decided-”
“Yes?” Noel said.
“I have decided to cast my lot with love,” Fred said.
Noel smiled. “I’m not surprised. There’s one born every minute.”
“Look,” Max said, “before you make a final final decision, I’d like to raise my offer to a full thirteen dollars.”
“I will do even better than that,” Boris said. “A tin medal, a gold watch, and three weeks vacation every year in Siberia.”
Fred shook his head. “Love it Is,” he said.
Noel lowered her gun. “Gome along, darling.”
“Not that kind of love,” Fred said. “I was referring to Universal Love.”
“Universal, unischmersal,” Noel said. “We got all kinds.”
“No,” Fred said. “I’m returning to the U.N. I should have stayed there in the first place. It needs me. There, I can work not for one nation, but for all nations. All that are paid-up members, anyway.”
“Dirty capitalist trick,” Boris grumbled.
“You know,” Max said, “if you look at it in the right light, this way, we all win. Fred will be working for all of us. All of us who are paid-up, that is.”
“Dirty capitalist trick,” Boris grumbled again.
Noel shrugged. “Well, you can’t win ’em all.”
“I better be going,” Fred said. “There’s a particular problem I have to work on.”
“I’m sure you can solve it,” Blossom said fondly.
“I’m not sure,” Fred said. “The problem is this. I learned while at the U.N. that there are some countries that produce so much food that they can’t use it all. They have to store it-at great cost to the governments. Then, on the other hand, there are other countries that produce so little food that some of their people are starving. I’m sure that somewhere there must be an answer to it.”
“Mmmmmm… it’s a puzzler, all right,” Max frowned.
“The answer is obvious,” Noel said. “What those starving people need is love.”
“Who can eat love?” Boris said. “The answer is to send them all to Siberia.”
“Well, it’s a tricky situation,” Max said. “But if anyone can solve it, I’m sure you can, Fred.”
Fred looked worried. “I keep telling myself there’s a simple answer,” he said.
“Ridiculous,” Max said.
“What say?” Blossom said.
“It’s too ridiculous to repeat,” Max said crossly.
“So long, gang,” Fred said, moving toward the door.
“Good luck in your new post,” Max said.
“Don’t be a slave to nobody,” Boris called. “Remember, you can always have a job with us. And tin medals don’t grow on trees!”
“Vive l’amour!” Noel said hatefully.
Then Fred was gone.
“Well, gang,” Max said, “I guess we can all stow our guns. In the final analysis, Mankind has won the day. We know now that we have a computer working on the side of Universal Brotherhood. That ought to make us all sleep more peacefully at night, eh?”
“Eet makes one weep,” Noel said, putting away her gun, and, at the same time, picking up a heavy paperweight from Fred’s desk.
“Da,” Boris said. He deposited his pistol in his handkerchief pocket, and, simultaneously, palmed the knife-like letter opener that was on Fred’s desk.
“It’s been fun,” Max said, shaking hands all around. “I hope we’ll all meet again soon.”
“Oh… that’s right, you’re with me. Sorry.”
“So am I,” Blossom said.
“I’m trying to forget that.”
“Bon soir,” Noel said, leaving.
Boris backed toward the doorway. “Eef you’re ever in Zinzinotti, Alleybama, you stop in,” he said. “Hear, y’all?”
“Southern hospitality,” Max said, brushing a tear from his eye. “It gets me every time.”
“Well, imagine that!” Blossom giggled. “It’s dinner time. And I just happen to know of the darlingest, most secluded French restaurant. We could-”
“I have a dinner date,” Max said. “With the Chief.”
“Oh. Well, I could join you. Then later, you and I-”
“Which reminds me,” Max said. “I better report in and tell the Chief that the case is closed. He’ll be wondering.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Blossom said.
Max removed his shoe and spoke into it.
Max: Chief? This is 86.
Chief: That you, Max?
Max: Yes. I’m happy to report, Chief, that the case of the gallivanting computer has been solved.
Chief: You have him? You’re bringing him in?
Max: Not exactly, Chief. He’s decided to work for another outfit. There are a lot of details, but, in a nutshell, he’s going into the food business.
Chief (slowly, furiously): Max… your… assignment… was… to… bring him in!
Max: Chief, if you look at it in the right light, that is only a small detail. You have to take the broad view. Look at it as history. By letting Fred go, I may have ensured the peace of the world for the next ten centuries.
Chief: That’s all well and good. But what am I going to tell my superiors? This isn’t my Secret Service, you know. I don’t own it.
Max: We’ll discuss it over dinner, Chief. I’m positive that between us we can think up an acceptable excuse. Incidentally-(He glanced at Blossom)-do you mind if I bring along an unwelcome guest?
Chief: Nothing, but nothing, could faze me now!
Max: Meet you in half an hour, then, at our favorite French restaurant. Over and out.
Chief: What’s that ‘over and out’ business?
Max: I’ll explain that, too, Chief. So long.
“The Chief says he’ll be happy to have you as his unwelcome guest,” he said to Blossom.
“I gathered that.”
“You, too,” Max said. “But only on one condition-that you don’t embarrass me by asking for a sauce on your liverwurst.”
They left the office and walked down the corridor toward the elevators.
“I must have picked up a bullet during the fray,” Max said. “I’m limping.”
“You didn’t hang up your shoe,” Blossom pointed out.
“Oh… yes.” He hung up his shoe.
They stepped aboard an elevator, descended to street level, then left the building and walked toward the French restaurant.
“You know,” Max said sentimentally, “there’s something about this case that is very reminiscent. It’s just as if it’s all happened before.”
“I think you’re right,” Max said, brightening. “It’s been almost like a repeat of the summer of ’61. The only difference is, then it was ping-pong balls, this time it was a computer.” He turned to Blossom. “Did I tell you, by any chance, about the summer of ’61?”
“Yes,” Blossom said grimly.
“Well, a good story always bears repeating,” Max said. “It began in Paree, Illinois. There was a gorgeous little brunette there. I wonder what ever happened to her? But, that’s neither here nor there. As I was saying…”
They had reached a corner. As Max ambled on, talking, Blossom made a sharp left turn, and, unnoticed by Max, disappeared into the gathering dusk.