The Spy Who Went Out to the Cold
Max Smart, Agent 86 for Control, leaned back in his beach chair, sighed contentedly, and addressed the attractive young woman who was seated in the other beach chair near him.
“This is the life, 99,” Max said. “No hired killers, no mad scientists, no abominable monsters. Just sand and sea and sun-and you and I alone.”
“Alone, Max?” 99 looked around. “I’d guess that there are approximately ten thousand other people here at the beach with us.”
“I’m so relaxed, I didn’t even notice,” Max said. “That shows how much I needed this vacation, 99. Back at headquarters, even when I was really alone, I thought I was surrounded by a pack of assassins. See the difference?”
99 shook her head. “Not exactly, Max.”
“The difference is, 99, when I’m on duty, I’m the potential victim of every hired killer, mad scientist and abominable monster I meet. But here, I’m Mr. Nobody. I’ll bet not one soul on this beach knows that I’m Max Smart, Control’s top secret agent. Nobody even notices me.”
“Max-are you blind? Every person who has walked by, so far, has stopped and stared at you.”
Max frowned uneasily. “I did sort of notice that, 99. Do you suppose somebody has guessed who I am and passed the word?”
“I doubt it, Max. I rather think it’s because you’re the only man on the beach who’s wearing swimming trunks and one brown-and-white oxford.”
“That’s my shoe-phone, 99. I promised the Chief I’d-”
Max’s shoe jangled, interrupting him.
“Max-we’re on vacation,” 99 said, almost tearfully. “Don’t answer it.”
“But, 99, it’s the Chief. And he knows I’m wearing my shoe. I promised him I would-in case an emergency came up. If I don’t answer, he’ll just keep ringing.”
“Let him!” 99 said angrily.
“99, I’m going to look pret-ty silly diving off the high board with my shoe ringing.” He shuddered. “And in the shower-”
“All right, Max,” 99 groaned. “Answer it.”
Max reached down and removed his shoe and put it to his ear.
Max: Agent 86 here. Is that you, Chief?
Chief: Max. . are you alone?
Max: It depends on how you look at it, Chief. If you count the other ten thousand people on the beach, the answer is no. But if you consider that, until today, I’ve been the potential victim of every hired killer, mad-
Chief: Max, nevermind. What I mean is, can we be overheard?
Max: I doubt that they can hear you, Chief. But they’re probably getting a word or two of what I say.
Chief: They? Who, Max?
Max: This crowd that’s gathered to watch me talk into my shoe.
Operator: Who’d stare at a telephone? Somebody must have guessed who you are, Maxie, and passed the word.
Max: That’s what I was telling-
Chief: Max, there’s no time for chit-chat. With that crowd around, I can’t discuss what I called you about over the phone, so I want you and 99 to return to headquarters immediately. I know you’re going to remind me that you’re on vacation. But I have a crisis on my hands, so I’m not even going to listen. I’m going to hang up now, Max. I’ll expect you and 99 to get here as soon as you possibly can.
Max: But, Chief-
(There was a click and the line went dead)
“What did he say, Max?” 99 asked, as Max hung up his shoe.
“He said ‘click.’ ” Max replied.
Forty-five minutes later, Max and 99 reached headquarters. Three minutes after that, they entered the Chief’s office. He was seated at his desk, in low-voiced conversation with a visitor, a small, dumpy, middle-aged man who looked as if he had lost something-himself.
“Oh, sorry,” Max said. “We didn’t know you had company, Chief. We’ll be back in about two weeks-with pay.”
“Max, forget about the vacation,” the Chief commanded, rising and ushering Max and 99 into his office. He introduced them to the dumpy little man who was seated beside his desk. “Max. . 99. . this is Professor Wormser von BOOM.”
“You don’t have to shout, Chief,” Max admonished.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” the Chief replied. “That’s how his last name is pronounced-BOOM!”
“You can call me Wormy,” the little man smiled. “All my friends do. Unless, of course, they’re trying to sneak up on me and scare the wits out of me. Then they call me von BOOM!”
“Can we get down to business?” the Chief said crossly.
Professor von BOOM got up and headed toward the door.
“No, no!” the Chief said, stopping him and escorting him back to the chair. “What did I say, Professor? What was the word?”
“I heard ‘business,’ ” von BOOM replied. “That’s my cue to go to Wall Street and buy some stocks.”
“All right. . just forget I said it,” the Chief pleaded. “I won’t mention that word again.”
“Chief. . I don’t understand,” 99 said puzzledly.
“It’s perfectly clear to me,” Max said. “Wormy is a little dotty.”
“That’s not it,” the Chief said gruffly. “The fact is, like all professors, Professor von BOOM is. . well, a bit absent-minded.”
“Right,” von BOOM nodded. “I was sharp as a whistle until I got promoted to professor. Then-” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that, I couldn’t remember which way was up.” He scowled. “Which way is up?”
Max raised a finger.
“Yes, what is your question?” Professor von BOOM asked.
“Professor, we’re not in class,” the Chief said. “Max was simply showing you which way is up.” He turned to Max and 99. “That gives you a general idea how absent-minded he is,” he said.
“That’s nothing,” the professor said. “You should have seen me before I got cured.”
“He took a memory-improving course,” the Chief explained.
“I did?” von BOOM said, surprised. “I don’t recall that.”
“Did it help?” 99 asked.
“I can’t remember that, either,” von BOOM replied.
“In a way, it helped,” the Chief said, speaking for the professor. “He learned to respond to key words. For instance, as you saw, when I said ‘business,’ he started out to buy stocks. If I had said ‘tip,’ he would have-Professor!”
Von BOOM was headed for the door again. The Chief caught him and led him back.
“I see,” Max said. “He was going out to turn over a canoe-right?”
“A canoe, Max?”
“That’s what the word suggests to me-tipping over in a canoe.”
“No, Max,” the Chief said. “It suggests waiter to him. He was going out to a restaurant to eat. As you can imagine, while you’re with the Professor, you’ll have to be very careful of what you say. The wrong word and. . Well, you could lose him very easily.”
“Could I get a list of the key words, Chief?” Max said.
“There is no list, Max. The Professor committed them all to memory.”
“I see. And then he-”
“-forgot them,” the Chief nodded.
“Chief, you said, ‘while you’re with the Professor,’ ” 99 said. “What did you mean by that?”
“That’s the mission, 99,” the Chief replied, seating himself at his desk again.
Max stared at him, narrow-eyed. “Chief, do you mean to say that the fate of the entire civilized world somehow depends on Wormy here?” He closed his eyes in horror. “We’re in even worse shape than I thought.”
“Not the entire civilized world this time, Max,” the Chief replied. “Only our space program.”
“Oh,” Max responded, relieved. “Well, in that case, Chief, are you sure you want to use me on the mission? Wouldn’t some agent with lower seniority be more appropriate? I sort of think of myself as an entire-civilized-world-man. Sending an entire-civilized-world-man out on a mere space-program mission is a little like sending a bull fighter into the ring to do battle with a pussy cat. You’re wasting a lot of talent.”
“I’m sorry, Max, but you and 99 are the only agents who are available. Everyone else is on vacation.”
“Oh. Well. . in that case. .”
“Now, here’s the problem,” the Chief went on. “Professor von BOOM is developing a very lightweight rocket fuel. He-”
“How lightweight?” Max asked.
“Very-almost weightless,” the Chief replied.
“That is a problem,” Max nodded. “When they try to pour it into the fuel tank, it’ll probably float away, eh? Have they tried chaining it down, Chief?”
“Max, that is not the problem. They want it to be lightweight.”
Max shrugged. “Okay. If they want rocket fuel floating around all over the place, I suppose we taxpayers will have to go along with it. But who’s going to pay for the fuel that floats away? I’ll tell you who, Chief-the taxpayers.”
The Chief put a hand over his eyes. “Max, will you forget about floating fuel and just listen?”
“Sorry, Chief. I won’t say another word. It’s the taxpayer’s lot to suffer in silence.”
“As I was saying,” the Chief continued, “Professor von BOOM has developed a lightweight rocket fuel. But, it still has some bugs in it. He-”
“Heavy bugs, Chief? Heavy enough to hold it down? We taxpayers appreciate any little break we can get.”
“Sorry again, Chief.”
“The fuel is not quite perfected,” the Chief went on. “The Professor has to add the finishing touches, and, to do that, he needs absolute privacy. You see, when he’s around people, invariably someone drops one of the key words, and Professor von BOOM wanders off, forgetting about the project he’s working on. It’s a terrible time-waster. He’s been working on the project for over a year, and it should have been completed in six months.”
“Six months overtime-and at you-know-who’s expense,” Max muttered.
“What’s the solution, Chief?” 99 asked.
“The people in charge of the space program have had a specially-equipped laboratory built for the Professor at the North Pole,” the Chief replied. “It’s completely cut off from civilization. Once he’s there, he won’t be within a hundred miles of another living human being.”
“I see,” 99 said. “That’s an excellent idea.”
“I’m not so sure,” Max said. “Who is this other living human being he won’t be within a hundred miles of, Chief? Can we trust him?”
“There is no one else, Max. The Professor will be completely alone.”
“Oh. Okay-just checking. As a taxpayer, I just want to be sure the government isn’t making a mistake. If that other living human being had turned out to be a security risk-”
Professor von BOOM was on his way toward the door again.
“Max! Get him!” the Chief shouted.
Max caught the Professor and steered him back to his chair.
“Where to, Professor?” the Chief asked.
“Did someone say ‘risk?’ ” he replied. “I was on my way to get some more life insurance.”
“Remember that,” the Chief said to Max and 99. “That’s one of the words you can’t use. Now, your mission,” he continued, “as you’ve probably guessed, is to get the Professor to that laboratory at the North Pole.”
“How will we know where it is, Chief?” 99 asked.
“99, that’s a silly question,” Max interjected. “Anybody could recognize the North Pole. It’s about six-feet high and it’s painted red and white, with stripes.”
“I mean the secret laboratory, Max.”
“It’s about ten yards past the Pole, 99,” the Chief said. “And it’s painted white, like the snow.”
“Won’t that make it difficult to find?” 99 said.
“Nothing to it,” Max broke in. “It’ll be the snow that won’t pack, 99.”
“Yes, finding the lab-once you find the Pole-should be simple enough,” the Chief said. “Unfortunately, getting the Professor to the Pole is likely to be the major problem. First, of course, you’ll have to keep an eye on him every second, to make sure he doesn’t wander off. But. . there’s something else. You’ll be contending with KAOS, too.”
Max turned to Professor von Boom. “They’re the Bad Guys,” he explained. “They never pay taxes, thereby putting a heavier burden on us Good Guys, who do.”
“I don’t understand, Chief,” 99 said. “What is KAOS’s interest in this?”
“99, apparently you don’t understand the value of this rocket fuel. The lighter the fuel, the greater distance we can get with our rockets. This fuel could be very important in the space race.”
“Is KAOS in the space race, Chief?” Max said, surprised.
“No, Max. But if KAOS had the formula for the fuel, it could sell it to a country that is, or a country that would like to be. You know what kind of people they are at KAOS-they’d sell the formula to the highest bidder.”
Max turned to Professor von BOOM again. “Not only the Bad Guys, but also plenty hip,” he said.
“We intercepted a secret communication to all KAOS agents,” the Chief went on. “They have orders to abduct Professor von BOOM and deliver him to KAOS headquarters. There, undoubtedly, they intend to torture him and get the formula from him. After that, they’d put it up for sale. We must avoid that-at all costs.”
Max winced. “At all costs, Chief? Shouldn’t the taxpayers be consulted about a matter like that?”
“Will you just do your job, Max?”
Max shrugged. “All right, Chief. . what exactly was it you had in mind?”
“Escorting Professor von BOOM to the North Pole, Max.”
“Oh. . yes.” He rose. “Well, ready, Professor? We better get going.”
“Max, do you have a plan?” the Chief asked. “Remember, KAOS intends to kidnap the Professor. Our headquarters is probably surrounded by KAOS agents right now, just waiting for you and 99 and the Professor to emerge.”
Max’s eyes narrow again. “Mmmmm. . that does call for some clever strategy, doesn’t it? Chief, I think our best bet would be to confuse the enemy.”
“Good. How, Max?”
“Well, I’m a little confused on that point right at the minute. Give me a little time to think it out. Wait a second! I think I’ve got it. Suppose we seal the Professor in a good strong box and mail him to the North Pole?”
The Chief shook his head. “Too much risk.”
Professor von BOOM got to his feet and headed for the door.
Max caught him, turned him, and guided him back to the chair. “You don’t need any more life insurance, Professor,” he assured him. “With Max Smart to look after you, you’re as safe as a one-legged pigeon on a slanted roof.”
“Max. . that isn’t very safe,” the Chief pointed out.
“Chief, these are dangerous times. You have to take your chances. Just breathing is a risk.”
The Professor rose and strolled toward the exit.
Again, Max headed him off and steered him back to the chair.
“Max, if you don’t have a plan-” the Chief began.
“I’ve got it, Chief,” Max broke in. “How about the old wild-goose-disguised-as-a-crow trick?”
The Chief frowned. “I don’t think I know that one, Max.”
“Sorry, Chief-I meant the crow-disguised-as-a-wild-goose trick.”
“Oh. . that.” The Chief nodded. “That might work.”
“I don’t think I’m familiar with it, Max,” 99 said.
“Well, you’ve heard the old saying, ‘as straight as the crow flies.’ And, if you’ve heard that one, you certainly recognize the term, ‘wild goose chase.’ The crow-disguised-as-a-wild-goose trick is a combination of the two. You make your pursuer think you’re going on a wild goose chase, but, actually, you’re zeroing-in on a predetermined destination, more or less as straight as the crow flies.”
“Of course,” 99 brightened. “I know that as the old flimflam trick.”
Max shook his head. “No, 99, they’re not at all alike. The old flimflam trick is nothing but a variation on the old button-button-who’s-got-the-button trick. The difference, you see-”
“Max, nevermind,” the Chief interrupted. “Just tell us what you have in mind.”
Max moved toward one of several maps that were on a wall. “As I see it,” he said, “we have two things going for us. One, we know where we’re going, but, unless KAOS has intercepted one of our communications, the KAOS agents don’t. That gives us the opportunity to lead our pursuers on a wild goose chase-and, by clever dodging, to lose them. Number two, we have the whole world to use as a playing field for our little game of hide-and-seek. Plus-let me add-the fact that our leader is an experienced world traveler who knows this planet like the palm of his hand.”
“Exactly, 99. Now, let me show you on this map precisely how we’ll proceed.” He touched a finger to a point on the map. “From here, we will travel by ocean liner to Africa.” He moved the finger to another point “That’s here. Then, by camel-”
“Max-” the Chief said.
“Just a second, Chief. I want to finish this while it’s clear in my mind. By camel,” he continued, moving his finger again, “we will cross the Sahara desert to. . yes, to here, the Nile river.”
“99, will you let me finish? Where was I? Oh, yes, barging up the Nile in a houseboat. Now that, in due time, will get us to Alexandria-which is, yes, right here. From there,” he continued, moving the finger once more, “we will fly to Russia. By plane, of course.”
“Max, could I-”
“Chief, don’t leave me stranded in Russia. I don’t know the language.” Again, he moved his finger on the map. “By Trans Siberian Railway to the Pacific coast of Russia,” he said. “Then by submarine to Alaska, and, from Alaska, on to the North Pole-which is-” He tapped the finger on a point at the top of the map. “-right here. How does that sound, Chief?”
“Well done, Max. Except for one minor thing.”
“Yes?” Max frowned.
“As an experienced world traveler, who knows the planet like the palm of his hand, I would think you’d realize that that map you’re using is a map of downtown Washington, D.C.” the Chief replied.
Max peered at the map. “Mmmmm. . I wondered why it didn’t look anything like the palm of my hand. Well. . no matter. That’s our itinerary, Chief, and if those KAOS agents don’t get dizzy following us and drop by the wayside in short order, then my number isn’t 86.”
“It’s a good plan,” the Chief agreed. “I just hope it isn’t so confusing that it confuses you, too, Max. But, I suppose we’ll have to risk it.”
Professor von BOOM started to rise, and Max put his hands on his shoulders and pushed him back into the chair. “No problem Chief,” he said. “The whole plan is etched clearly in my mind. From here, we’ll go directly to the pier and get aboard a camel, then. . No, let’s see-we get aboard a ship, don’t we?”
“If you have any trouble, just ask me,” Professor von BOOM said. “I made a mental note of everything you said, and I’ve got a memory like a. . a. . uh. .”
“Yes, like what?” Max prodded.
“It slipped my mind.”
“Well, Max,” the Chief said, rising, “this is going to be a tough one. But, give it all you’ve got. The space program is depending on you. Keep in touch. And, anything I can do to assist you, just let me know.”
“It might not be a bad idea to spot some of our agents around the globe, Chief,” Max said. He faced the map again. “I could use one in, say, Africa, and Russia, and Alaska, and-”
“Max, I can’t do that.”
“Chief, you said ‘anything.’ ”
“I know, Max, but I also explained that all of our people are on vacation. If I started pulling them in and sending them all over the world, we’d have a morale problem.”
“I suppose you’re right, Chief,” Max conceded. “Incidentally, where are they?”
“Well, they did something a little different this year,” the Chief replied. “Each one is visiting a different country. They’re scattered all over the world.”
“Boy, would they be sore if they got called in and sent out on assignments all over the world,” Max said. “And who’d blame them?”
Professor von BOOM got up and headed toward the door.
Max caught him and directed him back to the chair. “What was the key word that time?” he asked.
“What key word?” the Professor inquired. “I thought we were ready to go.”
“We are,” Max said. “Don’t just sit there.”
Professor von BOOM got up again, and he and Max and 99 started toward the exit. At that moment, the Chief’s phone rang.
“Max-just a second; this might be something,” the Chief called.
The three halted.
The Chief picked up the phone, identified himself, then became involved in a conversation. “No, no, he’s completely sane. I can vouch for him,” he said. He covered the mouthpiece of the phone and whispered across the room to Max. “It’s about you,” he said. “It’s the beach authorities. They’re checking on you. They say you were out there in bathing tranks and wearing one brown-and-white oxford.” He spoke into the phone again. “I assure you, he’s perfectly harmless,” he said.
Max whispered back across the room to the Chief. “How did they know it was me? I’m a secret agent.”
The Chief covered the mouthpiece again. “Somebody recognized you and passed the word,” he replied to Max. With one hand, he shooed them out. “Go on-I can handle this.”
Max, 99 and Professor von BOOM departed.
“Would you believe that the brown-and-white oxford is actually a telephone?” the Chief said into the phone.
“Now,” Max said, halting outside the Chief’s office, “which way to the pier?”
“If I ever knew, I forgot,” von BOOM replied.
“Max, shouldn’t we pack a bag?” 99 said. “If we’re going to the North Pole by way of Africa and Russia and Alaska, we’ll be gone for a few days, at the very least.”
“You’re right, 99. We’ll all go home and pack a bag, then we’ll meet back here in, say, one hour. Okay?”
“Max, should we let Professor von BOOM out of our sight?”
Max looked at her hostilely. “99, before we make another move, I think we better get one thing straight. Who is in charge of this mission-you or me? Who is making the decisions?”
99 lowered her eyes sheepishly. “I’m sorry, Max-you are.”
“I’m sorry, too,” von BOOM said. “To me, she sounds like the one with the brains.”
Max ignored the comment. “Then, as I see it,” he said, “our best chance for making this mission a success is to keep Professor von BOOM in sight at all times. First, we’ll all go to my apartment and pack a bag. Then, 99, we’ll go to your apartment and pack a bag. And, after that, we’ll go to Professor von BOOM’s apartment and pack a bag. Any objections?”
Professor von BOOM started down the corridor toward the exit.
Max and 99 caught up with him and halted him. “What did I say wrong?” Max asked.
“Did I hear ‘objections?’ When I hear that, I’m due in court.”
“Consider the objections overruled,” Max said. “Now, can we leave? At the rate we’re progressing, the North Pole will be melted before we get there.” He looked thoughtful for a second. “I imagine headquarters is surrounded by KAOS agents, just waiting for us to step out, so they can attempt to kidnap the Professor,” he said. “We better leave by the secret exit.”
“Max. .” 99 said worriedly.
“I know what you’re thinking, 99,” Max said. “You think I’ll get lost again in all those secret passageways. But you’re worrying for nothing. Since the last time, I’ve been studying a map of the secret exit. And now I know it like the palm of my hand.” He led the way down the corridor. “Just trust me,” he said.
Von BOOM whispered to 99. “Can we trust him?”
“Of course,” she replied. “Max knows exactly what he’s doing.”
The Professor nodded gloomily. “So did General Custer when he set out to beat up on that handful of Indians,” he said.
They reached an elevator and got aboard. Max punched the UP button and the car descended. After a minute or so, it stopped, the door slid open, and they got out. They were in a dark anteroom that had been hollowed out of rock. The room was lighted by brightly burning torches. A number of openings led from the room into passageways.
“Let’s see. .” Max said, looking around. He pointed. “I think we take that tunnel over there. No. . just a second.” He looked at the palm of his hand. “I was wrong,” he decided. He pointed again, in the opposite direction. “We take that tunnel over there.”
“Are you sure, Max?” 99 said.
Max held out the palm of his hand. “Look for yourself.”
“I have a question,” von BOOM said. “Did you have any Custers in your family?”
“Let’s make up our minds,” Max said irritably. “Are we going to play Twenty Questions or are we going to go out there and beat up on that handful of Indians? Uh. . scratch that. I don’t know what made me think of it. It’s something a great, great uncle of mine said a long, long time ago.” He led the way toward an opening to a tunnel. “Last one in is a KAOS agent,” he called back.
99 and von BOOM hurried after him. The passageway, too, was lighted by torches. After a few moments, they reached a fork.
“This looks familiar,” Max said. “That way is the thumb, I think, and that other way is the index finger. Or is it the other way around?” He consulted the palm of his hand again. “No, I was right the first time. Or. . wait a second-is that the same palm? Do you remember, 99? Before, was I using the palm of my right hand or my left hand?”
“Your right hand, I believe, Max.”
“Good. We’re on the right track.” He traced a path on the palm of his right hand. “We follow this line right here,” he said. “It takes us into the thumb, and then, right here at the fingernail, we reach the exit. Let’s go.”
As they continued through the passageway, Max addressed the Professor. “Just to make sure that none of our own agents get lost in here, we have guides posted along the way,” he said. “We should be reaching the first one soon. It’s Willowby, isn’t it, 99?”
“His appearance may startle you a bit,” Max said, speaking to von BOOM again. “He’s been down here for as long as anyone can recall, and naturally, in this dim light, he’s become a bit bleary-eyed. Also, his beard is a little longer than the beards you usually see. For him, though, it’s an advantage. At night, he uses it as a blanket. And at meals it comes in very handy as a bib. Although, the fact that it’s white is a minor drawback. It shows the gravy stains.”
There was no response from von BOOM.
“Max!” 99 cried. “He’s gone!”
Max halted and looked back. Von BOOM was nowhere in sight. “Don’t worry, 99,” he said. “He isn’t gone, he’s only lost. He must have taken a wrong turn back at that fork. We’ll just retrace our steps, then follow the index finger, and we’re bound to find him.”
“I hope so, Max,” 99 said, uncertainty in her tone, as they made their way back through the tunnel. “But suppose you used one of the key words, and he went off somewhere else? How would we know where to look?”
“He couldn’t possibly get out of here, 99. Unless you happen to know these passageways like the palm of your hand, there’s no escape.”
They reached the fork and this time took the lefthand tunnel. A minute or so later they came upon a tall, bleary-eyed man with a long white beard. Spotting Max and 99, the man immediately snatched up the end of the beard and placed it on top of his head.
“Willowby, you know, you’re not fooling anybody,” Max said. “And, besides, it’s no disgrace at your age to be getting bald.”
“I won’t have to do this much longer,” Willowby replied. “I put in a request for a hairpiece.”
“When was that?” Max asked.
“I can’t remember the exact date. But it was around the time when Lucky Lindy was taking off for Paris. How did he make out, anyway?”
“He made it,” Max replied.
Willowby tossed his beard into the air. “Hurrah for Lucky Lindy!” he shouted exultantly.
“Willowby, I’ll tell you something about requests,” Max said. “By the time you get that hairpiece, you won’t need it. You’ll be in your second childhood, and you’ll be starting a new full head of hair of your own. But, listen, what are you doing over here in this passageway? You’re supposed to be in the tunnel that leads to the exit.”
Willowby looked at him sadly. “You’re lost again, Max.”
“I’m lost!” Max said indignantly. “You’re lost.”
“I’ve been in this same spot for over one-hundred-and-fifty years. The only way I could get lost would be if the tunnels moved.”
“You took the thumb again,” Willowby guessed.
“All right, nevermind that,” Max said. “I have a more important problem right now. Have you seen anybody wandering around in here who looked like he needed a keeper?”
“Besides you, you mean?”
“I’m not going to dignify that question with an answer, Willowby,” Max replied. “This fellow I’m talking about is short and dumpy and-”
“-and is looking for the post office,” Willowby said. “He stopped here just a few minutes ago.”
“He was looking for the post office?” Max said, puzzled.
“You must have used a key word, Max,” 99 guessed. “I wonder what it was?”
“He probably wanted to mail a fan letter to Lucky Lindy,” Willowby said. “Ol’ Lindy is probably the toast of the town these days, eh?”
“There hasn’t been a lot of fuss made over it lately, Willowby,” Max said. “That happened over forty years ago.”
“Fame is fickle,” Willowby sighed sorrowfully. “They probably don’t remember Abe any more, either.”
“As a matter of fact, they do,” Max said. “Every year, almost the whole country celebrates his birthday. To a lot of people, he’s a great hero.”
Willowby looked surprised. “That’s more than I expected. All that for Abe Berkowitz?”
“He invented the buggywhip with the patented fox-skin grip.”
“I had another Abe in mind,” Max said. “This one-”
“Max,” 99 broke in. “What about Professor von BOOM?”
“99, his name isn’t Abe. It’s Wormser.”
“Max, what I mean is, shouldn’t we be looking for him?”
“Oh. . yes.” He addressed Willowby again. “Which way did he go?”
“If you’re asking about that other dumpy little man who looked like he needed a keeper. .” Willowby pointed straight up. “He went thataway.”
Max peered up at the ceiling of the tunnel. “I find that a little hard to believe,” he said.
“Would you believe that I directed him back to the elevator?” Willowby asked.
“That makes a little more sense,” Max replied. He signalled to 99, then headed back through the tunnel.
“If you see Lucky Lindy-” Willowby called after them “-tell him some of us still remember!”
Max and 99 hurried back through the passageway to the elevator. When they reached it, Max punched the UP button, then they waited for the car to descend to their level.
“I wonder if it was ‘hand?’ ” Max said, as they stood near the elevator doors.
“If what was, Max?”
“The key word.”
“I don’t understand. What’s the connection between hand and post office?”
“If you request it, 99, you can have your letters hand-stamped. That’s because sometimes when they’re machine-stamped the impression penetrates the envelope.”
“Oh, I see-and the impression is stamped on whatever’s inside the envelope.”
“Correct. For instance, if you were mailing a butterfly to someone and the envelope was machine-stamped, the butterfly might arrive with ‘Buy U.S. Savings Bonds’ stamped on its wing. That can make a butterfly look like a professional flag-waver.”
The car arrived and they got aboard and Max punched the DOWN button and the car began rising.
“Or, maybe it was ‘finger,’ ” Max mused.
“You’re missing me again, Max,” 99 said.
“After I lick a stamp, it always sticks to my finger,” he explained.
The elevator reached the main floor, and Max and 99 got out and hustled along the corridor toward the front door.
“I just hope we’re in time,” 99 fretted. “The post office is only across the street. By now, he could have mailed his letter, or whatever he had in mind, and wandered off to somewhere else.”
“Did I by any chance mention the phrase ‘Through wind and rain and dark of night?’ ” Max said, preoccupied. “As I recall, that has something to do with the post office. I think it’s the excuse they use when they don’t get the mail delivered on time.”
They had reached the front door and 99 was pointing toward the post office across the street. Professor von BOOM had just emerged and was descending the steps.
“Just in the nick of time,” 99 said, greatly relieved. “If we’d been a minute later, Max, we might have missed him.” She started out the door.
“Hold it!” Max said, putting a hand on 99’s arm, stopping her. “See those two men a few steps behind the Professor? I think they’re tailing him.”
“But, Max, look at their uniforms-they’re letter carriers.”
“Exactly what they want us to think, 99. But notice how lively they’re stepping. Doesn’t that strike you as somewhat suspicious?”
“You’re right, Max. A real letter carrier plods, doesn’t he?”
“And for good reason,” Max agreed.
“Yes-all that walking he does, day in and day out.”
“That’s not the reason, 99. The reason is that he wants to delay all the important letters as long as he can. Haven’t you ever heard the post office slogan-The mail must go through?”
“The complete slogan is: The mail must go through a long series of intentional delays in order to make sure that important letters do not get delivered until days after they’re expected, thus driving the intended recipient out of his ever lovin’ mind and making him more appreciative of his fine postal service when the letter finally is delivered.”
“I can understand why they shortened it,” 99 said. “But, Max, if those men in uniform aren’t letter carriers, what are they? Do you think-”
“KAOS agents, 99. No doubt about it. As you can see, they’re rapidly closing in on Professor von BOOM. Within seconds, they will probably grab him from behind, drag him into a waiting limousine (black), and speed away with him to their hideout.”
“Max! We have to do something!”
“Do we really, 99? Frankly, that sounds pretty exciting. I’d like to see it.”
“Max, remember. . duty!”
“Oh, yes. . that. Duty can certainly spoil some fun times, can’t it, 99.” He gestured resignedly. “Oh, well. . Let’s go, 99. You take the KAOS agent on the left, and I’ll take the KAOS agent on the right. Unless, of course, you have a preference. If you’d rather have the KAOS agent on the right, I wouldn’t mind at all taking the KAOS agent on the left.”
“I’m not particular, Max. But shouldn’t we hurry?”
“Haste makes waste, 99. First, let’s get a decision on which KAOS agent belongs to who. We’d feel pretty silly if we rushed over there and both grabbed the KAOS agent on the left, and the KAOS agent on the right, in the ensuing melee, got away. Or, vice-versa, if we rushed over there and both grabbed the KAOS agent on the right, and-”
“I’ll take the one on the left, Max,” 99 said wearily.
“I just hope, 99, that, on the way, you won’t take advantage of the woman’s prerogative to change her mind. If you did, and decided to switch to the KAOS agent on the-”
“Max! They’ve grabbed Professor von BOOM!”
“There are a lot of people who haven’t heard the old saying, ‘Haste makes waste,’ ” Max said. “Those KAOS agents, for example, probably haven’t the slightest notion that they’re bungling this.”
99 rushed through the doorway. “Max, hurry!”
Max and 99 dashed from headquarters, worked their way through the passers-by, and darted out into the street. At that same moment, they heard the ear-splitting roar of an engine. Max halted, stopping 99, too.
“Max! What is it?”
“Did you hear that? It must be some kind of a warning.”
“Warning? Warning?” 99 said frantically. “What kind of a warning?”
“You’ll notice, 99, that we’re crossing in the middle of the block. We should have gone to the corner.”
“But, Max, if we’d- Max!” She suddenly pointed. Max looked in the direction she was indicating and discovered the source of the ear-splitting sound. A huge mail truck was bearing down on them, its engine roaring.
“Uh-huh,” Max smiled knowingly. “It fits the picture very neatly. You understand, of course, what’s happening.”
“Well. . I can sort of guess,” 99 said. “I think we’re going to be run down. Is that right, Max?”
“I’m afraid you’re indulging in some very shallow thinking, 99,” Max said. “There’s a great deal more to it than that. In fact, what we’re involved in here is a typical example of the KAOS modus operandi.”
“Really, Max?” 99 said interestedly. “What does that mean?”
“Modus operandi, 99, is Latin for ‘the way they do it.’ The Roman cops, back in ancient times, used the phrase a lot. After they figured out how a crime was committed, they would refer to the method as the modus operandi. One cop, for instance, would say to another cop, ‘How did they do it?’ And the other cop would reply, ‘modus operandi.’ ”
“Max, that truck is getting much closer.”
“Of course, 99. It’s all part of the plan. When those KAOS agents spotted the Professor at the post office and decided to abduct him, they realized that the odds were that they would have to contend with you and me. So, they plotted to knock us out of the action. They sent one of their men to hijack a mail truck, and then to wait, with the engine running, until he saw us come out of headquarters. His task, at that point, would be to run us down.”
“That’s amazing, Max!”
“Elementary, 99. The fact that that truck is bearing down on us, and the fact that I recognize the man behind the wheel as a KAOS agent, makes the deduction fairly obvious.”
“Shouldn’t we step back to the curb, Max?”
“Let’s consider the consequences. If we do step back to the curb, that truck will pass by us just as the limousine arrives. Our view of the scene of the crime at that specific moment will be obscured. And, as a result, we will be unable to get the license number of the limousine.”
“But, on the other hand, Max-”
“Yes. . on the other hand. On the other hand, if we don’t step back to the curb, it seems very likely that we’ll be run down and killed. Although, without having handy the actual statistics on the results of accidents involving trucks and pedestrians, I wouldn’t want to commit myself on that. There’s a chance that we might come out of it only maimed for life.”
“Max, if we’re going to vote on this, I think I’ll cast my ballot for stepping back to the curb.”
“Haste makes waste, 99. I think I have a preferable solution.” He pulled his pistol from his shoulder holster. “What KAOS didn’t reckon on,” he said, “was my crack marksmanship. Now, watch this carefully, 99,” he said, aiming the pistol in the direction of the oncoming truck. “See that bright metal badge on the driver’s cap? I’m going to aim the bullet so that it strikes that badge at just the right angle and ricochets. The force of the impact will stun the driver and in a state of unconsciousness he will remove his foot from the accelerator.”
“I see. And that will stop the truck. But how will that help Professor von BOOM, Max?”
“After hitting the badge,” Max continued, “the bullet will veer off and strike that metal foot-scraper at the bottom of the post office steps. Once again, it will ricochet. It will then pass through the right wrist of the KAOS agent on the left, making him drop his gun, and then through the fleshy calf of the right leg of the KAOS agent on the right, forcing him to fall, and, in the tumble, drop his gun.”
“Max, that’s fabulous!” 99 enthused. “I can hardly believe it.”
“I’m not finished, 99.”
“Oh. . sorry. What then, Max?”
“The bullet will strike the cement sidewalk and ricochet once more. It will hit that lamp post, then that U.S. Army recruiting sign, then the brass knob on the door of that shop on this side of the street. Meanwhile, the limousine will arrive. And at that juncture, the bullet will ricochet off that mail box, and then crash through the windshield of the limousine and hit the driver square between the eyes, thereby eliminating the last of the kidnappers and saving the life of Professor Wormser von BOOM-not to mention, as a bonus, ensuring victory for our glorious nation in the space race.”
“Max. . you better shoot,” 99 warned. “That truck is almost on us!”
“Just a second, 99. I think the gun is jammed.”
“Max! Do something! Hurry!”
Max got down on his knees. “Maybe if I bang it on the cement,” he said. He rapped the butt of the gun against the street. There was the sound of a shot.
“Maybe we better get out of here,” Max said. “I think they’re shooting at us, 99.”
“Max, that was your gun! Look!”
The bullet from Max’s pistol hit the left front fender of the truck and ricocheted. It bounced off the post office building, returned, and smashed through a window of an antique shop, where it rang a set of Indian temple bells, then struck a tarnished tea kettle and ricocheted again. After emerging from the antique shop, the bullet hit, in rapid succession, the door handle of a passing automobile, a glass paperweight inside a box being carried by a department store delivery boy, a Coca Cola sign, Dick Tracy’s two-way radio wristwatch, a half-dollar being flipped by an old-timey motion picture actor, and the pure gold collar on a fat lady’s French poodle. Speeding merrily on its way, it then steered toward the antique shop once again.
Meanwhile, a crowd was gathering. And, fortunately, the mail truck that had been bearing down on Max and 99 had screeched to a halt. The KAOS agent at the wheel was leaning out the window, fascinated by the erratic progress of the bullet.
Max and 99 were watching, too. But they were becoming restless.
“Shouldn’t we go, Max?” 99 said. “We still have that packing to do.”
“All right, 99. I suppose there’s no real reason to stick around.”
“Oh, look, Max-there’s the limousine.”
“Mmmmm, yes. Nice looking car.”
The limousine had pulled up near where the two KAOS agents and Professor von BOOM were standing, following the antics of the bullet. The driver got out and approached them. The trio of KAOS men held a brief discussion, during which one of them pointed toward the antique shop, into which the bullet had disappeared. A moment later, the bullet emerged, and the third KAOS man joined the first two in observing it as it headed in the direction of the halted truck.
“All right, 99, let’s go.”
They crossed the street. The bullet hit the badge on the truck driver’s cap, knocking him unconscious, then ricocheted again, shooting straight upward.
Max and 99 reached the KAOS men and Professor von BOOM. They were shielding their eyes against the sun, watching the fastly disappearing bullet. Max got out a notepad and tore out three sheets of paper. On each one, he printed: “I am a KAOS agent. Take me to Control headquarters.” He then pinned the notes to the KAOS agents’ jackets.
“Done and done,” Max said, pleased. “Ready, 99?”
“Any time you are, Max.”
Max got Professor von BOOM by the arm and he and 99 escorted him away. The Professor shook his head, coming out of the daze.
“Back to normal?” Max asked.
“Yes. . fine. .” von BOOM said fuzzily.
“That was pretty close,” Max said. “We almost lost you.”
“Only Max’s quick thinking saved you,” 99 said.
Max smiled. “Thank you for the compliment, 99. I hope you learned something back there about dealing with KAOS.”
“I hope so, too, Max. But, I’m not sure-it all happened so fast.”
“Magnificent shooting,” von BOOM said. “Absolutely stupendous. How did you do it?”
“Modus operandi,” Max replied.
Later that day, with bags packed, Max, 99 and Professor Wormser von BOOM reached the pier and boarded the ship that would take them to Africa. Max and the Professor had a stateroom together, and 99 was alone. As Max and von BOOM were unpacking, Max said, “If you’ve never sailed on an ocean liner before, Professor, I can give you a few tips on some of the strange shipboard customs.” There was no reply. Looking around, Max discovered that von BOOM was gone. He thought back over what he had said, then left the stateroom and went to the mess, where he found von BOOM seated alone in the huge empty room waiting to be served dinner. Max led him back to the stateroom and the unpacking continued.
On the first day at sea, von BOOM wandered off and was eventually found a total of six times. Disgusted, Max decided that he and the Professor would remain in their cabin during the rest of the trip. But one whole day in seclusion was too much. So, on the third day, Max and von BOOM left the cabin and joined 99 on deck, where, disguised in dark glasses, they reclined in deckchairs, staring out at the ocean.
“Big deal,” Max complained. “We had the same view from the cabin porthole-only it was smaller and rounder.”
“Isn’t this sea air wonderful, though, Max?” 99 said.
Max sniffed. “It smells like the inside of a salt shaker.”
99 turned her attention to von BOOM. “Incidentally, Professor,” she said, “while we were in the secret passageways below headquarters, what was the key word that Max used that sent you out looking for the post office?”
“Line,” von BOOM replied.
“Oh, yes, I mentioned the line on my hand,” Max said. He frowned. “Line? What’s the connection with post office?”
“Whenever I’m in a hurry, there’s always a line at the stamp window,” von BOOM explained.
“That makes-” Max began.
“Look!” 99 interrupted, pointing into the sky. “Isn’t that the most interesting bird you’ve ever seen! It’s so big. And such odd wings.”
Von BOOM leaned forward, squinting. “As a scientist, I’d say that’s a phenomenon,” he said.
“It’s the wrong color for a phenomenon,” Max said. “I know a little bit about birds myself. And that is nothing more than a fat black seagull.”
“It’s getting closer,” 99 said. “It looks as if it’s flying straight toward the ship.”
“Those are not wings,” von BOOM said. “That’s a propeller.”
Max hooted. “Your memory is worse than I thought, Professor,” he said. “If you can remember ever seeing a seagull with a propeller-”
“It’s a phenomenon!” von BOOM insisted.
Max and von BOOM turned to 99. “Helicopter?” they said in unison.
“Just look!” she replied.
The helicopter was settling down to the deck only a few yards away. Two men were peering out from the glass, bubble-type cockpit.
“Or. . it could be a passenger pigeon,” Max. said limply.
The helicopter touched down. The hatch opened, and, leaving the engine running, the two men jumped down and approached Max, 99 and von BOOM.
“This looks like them,” the first man said.
The second man got a slip of paper from his pocket and studied it, then looked closely at Max, 99 and von BOOM. “Could be,” he said. “Let’s just check it out-one Agent 86, one Agent 99, and one old guy who looks like he needs a keeper. Check?”
“Check,” the first man replied.
The second man put the piece of paper away, then drew a pistol. “Agent 86 and Agent 99, you stay,” he said. “Von BOOM, you come with us.”
“KAOS!” 99 cried.
“Or. . very large baby seagulls,” Max suggested.
“With a gun, Max?”
“99, tell me, exactly what proof do you have that there are no juvenile delinquents in the seagull family?”
“Cut the chatter!” the second man commanded. He yanked von BOOM to his feet. “Let’s cut out, Pops!” he snarled.
The two men backed toward the waiting helicopter, taking von BOOM with them, holding the gun on Max and 99.
“Max! Aren’t you going to do something?” 99 urged.
“Right now, there’s nothing I can do,” Max replied. “But I certainly know what I’m going to do when we get back to land.”
“Read up on seagulls.”
The kidnappers and their prize reached the helicopter. They hustled von BOOM aboard, then closed the hatch. At that instant, Max leaped up and raced forward. As the helicopter rose from the deck, he lunged forward and got a hold on the landing gear. The helicopter soared upward-with Max dangling below.
“Max! You’ll be killed!” 99 screamed.
Max shouted back. But his answer was lost. The helicopter had already become a speck in the sky.
Summoning every ounce of his strength, Max clambered torturously up the landing gear. In time, he reached the hatch and rapped on it.
One of the KAOS agents opened it. “Yeah?” he said nastily.
“Avon calling,” Max gasped.
“Hold it,” the KAOS agent said. He turned to his companion, the KAOS agent at the controls. “Let me see that piece of paper with the description on it,” he said. “There’s an Avon lady at the hatch that I got a suspicion I seen before.”
For the KAOS agents, the delay was costly. While the first man was checking the description on the piece of paper, Max pulled himself up into the cockpit.
“How am I described?” Max asked, looking over the first man’s shoulder.
Curiosity was a mistake. For Max, the delay was costly. The KAOS agent, recognizing Max, pulled his gun and got the drop on him.
“Okay, you can go out the same way you came in,” the KAOS agent ordered.
Max looked back. It was at least a thousand-foot drop to the ocean.
Max addressed the KAOS agent who was acting as pilot. “Could you lower this thing a little?” he said. “That first step looks a teensy-weensy bit high.”
“It’s an optical illusion,” the pilot replied. “But, if you’re afraid of the fall, I’ll give you a little tip. Hold your arms out like-”
Von BOOM had risen from his seat. And, as the KAOS agents and Max watched, intrigued, he stepped through the open hatchway and plummeted downward.
“What’s he? A nut?” the first man asked.
“No,” Max replied, peering out at the falling professor, “I think he just had a sudden urge for a seafood dinner.”
“Catch him!” the KAOS agent who was holding the gun barked at the KAOS agent who was at the controls.
Instantly, the helicopter swooped into a dive, and a moment later it caught up with von BOOM. As the Professor descended, the helicopter flew next to him, falling at exactly the same rate of speed.
“Get back in here!” the first man shouted crossly at von BOOM.
The Professor tried to step back into the helicopter, but he made no progress.
“I don’t think he’s really trying,” the first man grumbled. “I guess we’ll have to go out there and get him and drag him back.”
“Yes, you go right ahead,” Max said. “I’ll wait here.”
“When I said ‘we,’ I meant ‘you,’ ” the first man advised. “He’s your responsibility, isn’t he? So, you go get him.”
The KAOS agent at the controls spoke up. “If we send him out there, we’ll lose them both,” he said. “It wouldn’t look too good on our records.”
“Sidney,” the first man replied, “is that all you ever think about is your record? What do you want? You want me to go out there? You know I could get killed? Is it worth it, Sidney? A life-a human life-just so you can look good on the records? Sidney, we’ve been working together for almost ten years-a team-but sometimes I think I don’t know you at all. On the outside, you’re such a nice guy. You’re a family man. You got sufficient insurance to cover your wife’s and kids’ needs in case of an unforeseen and unfortunate accident. On top of that, you got a savings account, in which you save for a rainy day. You like animals. Many a tree you’ve climbed to rescue a pussy cat, Sidney. And who is kinder to his mother, Sidney, than you? But, inside. . I don’t know, Sidney. There are times, when I get a glimpse into your real heart of hearts, Sidney, and I wonder. What’s the answer? What are you? Who are you?”
“I’m Rodney,” the second man replied. “Sidney didn’t come with you this time. He’s on vacation.”
“That explains it,” the first man said. “Sidney would never-never in his life-ask me to step out that hatchway and risk my life.”
“I wouldn’t either,” the second man replied. “What I had in mind was for you to push that Control agent out the hatchway and hold onto him by the feet. He can grab hold of the other guy and pull him back in, and that way we won’t lose nobody. It’ll look better on the record.”
The first man beamed. “Glad to have you aboard,” he said to the second man. “That dumbhead Sidney would’ve never thought of that. He’d’ve sent me out the hatchway to my certain death.” He then turned to Max and gave him a shove.
Max tumbled backwards out the hatchway-then suddenly halted and dangled again, as the KAOS agent caught him by the ankles.
“Okay, now do like Rodney said,” the KAOS agent shouted to Max.
Max began swinging, back and forth, back and forth, gaining momentum. Finally, he was able to reach von BOOM. He got hold of him by the wrists and hung on.
“Pull us up-like Rodney said!” Max shouted.
The first man tugged. But Max and von BOOM together were too heavy for him.
“You and your big fat ideas,” the first man said disgustedly to the second man. “I can’t pull them up. And I can’t hold onto them much longer, either. Boy-if Sidney were only here!”
“Cool it, baby,” the second man replied. “I’ll fly back to the ship and land on the deck and then everybody but that Control agent can get back in and we’ll take off again.”
“Man, I’m glad I got you this time instead of Sidney,” the first man said. “You know what Sidney would have suggested?”
“Nothing. He never had any ideas. I always had to do all the thinking for both of us. You know why Sidney has insurance and a savings account? Because I told him to. Sidney is so dumb, he couldn’t rescue a pussy cat out of a tree without directions. One thing I’ll admit, though-he’s good to his mother on his own. But what did it ever get him?”
“There’s the ship,” the second man said. “Can you hold them for another couple more minutes?”
“I can do anything,” the first man replied. “With you as my partner, I’m inspired, Rodney.”
The helicopter hovered a few feet above the deck. The first man released his hold on Max’s ankles, and Max and von BOOM dropped to the deck, then scrambled out of the way as the helicopter landed.
99 rushed up to Max and von BOOM. “You’re safe!” she cried happily.
“Not quite yet, 99,” Max said.
The KAOS agents were climbing down from the helicopter, guns in hand.
“Let’s get them, Max!” 99 said.
Max looked at her, hurt. “99, that’s my line. I say ‘Let’s get them,’ and you say, ‘With you, Max!’ Okay?”
“Just don’t be a Sidney, 99.”
“A what, Max?”
“I’ll explain later. Right now-let’s get them, 99!”
Max dived at the first KAOS agent and tackled him below the knees. Surprised, the man threw up his arms to try to keep his balance, and his gun went flying. Meanwhile, the second KAOS agent had stopped to assist his comrade. His concern was an error. For, as he. started to drag Max away, 99 caught him from behind with a karate chop. Hitting the deck, the second man lost his gun, too.
Max jumped to his feet, pulled his gun, and held it on the two KAOS agents. “Well, it looks like the tables are turned,” he said crisply.
“To me, it’s no surprise,” the first man said. “I’ve never known a Rodney yet who wasn’t a jinx. Boy, you’re just lucky that Sidney isn’t here. Would he handle you two! Wow!”
“All right, on your feet!” Max said, brandishing the pistol. “We’ll just stash you in the brig until-”
“Max. .” 99 said, pulling at Max’s sleeve. “Professor von BOOM-he’s gone!”
Max clapped a hand to his brow. “I did it again. What did I say?”
99 thought back. “Let’s see. . I said, ‘Let’s get them, Max.’ Then you said, ‘99, that’s my line.’ Then I-”
“That’s it, 99! Line! He’s headed for the ship’s post office! After him!”
Max and 99 whipped around and dashed down the deck.
“Folks!” the first KAOS agent called after them.
Max and 99 halted. “Yes?” Max called back.
“Could we get in on this?” the first man asked. “After all, you know, your loss is our loss.”
“Just get a move on!” Max replied. “If we don’t catch him in time, he’s liable to mail himself back to the mainland.”
Max and 99, joined by the two KAOS agents, rushed from the deck and down a corridor to the ship’s post office. Professor von BOOM was nowhere in sight.
“Excuse me,” Max said to the clerk, a young man with oversized glasses. “Have you seen a dumpy little man who looks as if he needs a keeper?”
“Oh, lots,” the clerk replied. “In fact, you’re my two-hundred-and-twelfth.”
The first KAOS agent poked the second KAOS agent in the ribs with his elbow. “Reminds you a lot of Sidney, doesn’t he?” he said, indicating the clerk. “Always some dumb answer.”
“I’m talking about one dumpy little man in particular,” Max said to the clerk. “He was probably here just a few minutes ago.”
“I remember him,” the clerk nodded. “He was very upset about the long line at the stamp window. So, I said to him, ‘I’ll give you a tip, buddy. Come back in two minutes. The line always disappears after you’ve been gone for two minutes.’ Well, when I said I’d give him a tip, he started to leave. But then when I said ‘line,’ he came back. So, I said, ‘Don’t you like the tip, buddy?’ and he left again. I haven’t seen him since.”
Max nodded. “That makes sense. We’ll find him in the dining room.”
“Boy, that’s a Sidney if I ever heard one,” the first KAOS agent said to the second KAOS agent. “When a bunch of garbage makes sense, it’s a Sidney.”
Max and 99 dashed down the corridor toward the dining room. The two KAOS agents hurried after them. But, as before, when they reached the dining room, it was deserted.
“Gone!” Max groaned. “Not a soul around. Not man nor beast.”
“Only birds,” the first KAOS agent said.
The KAOS agent pointed out the porthole. “Seagulls.”
Max scowled. “I wonder. .” He went to one of the portholes. Above it was posted a small sign, saying: Please Do Not Feed the Seagulls. “This explains it,” Max said. “He read this sign. One of the words reminded him of something. We’ll find him back at the helicopter.”
“One of these words reminded him of a helicopter?” the first KAOS agent said doubtfully. “Which one?”
“Is that another Sidney?” the second KAOS agent asked the first KAOS agent.
The first KAOS agent whistled shrilly. “Not just another,” he said. “That’s a super Sidney!”
“Max, we better get back there fast,” 99 said worriedly. “The helicopter engine was left running.”
Max and 99 raced back along the corridor, and, with the two KAOS agents right behind them, soon emerged on deck. They spotted Professor von BOOM seated in the helicopter, studying the controls.
“No!” Max shouted. “No, not that!”
Max sprinted ahead. The two KAOS agents increased their speed, too, trying to keep up with him.
Reaching the helicopter, Max leaped aboard. But the heel of his shoe-phone caught on the edge of the hatchway and he stumbled forward and fell against the controls. Immediately, the helicopter shot straight up into the air.
“Now, you did it!” Max complained to von BOOM.
“Me? I was looking for a way to shut off the engine so those two KAOS agents couldn’t escape. You’re the one who got us up in the air.”
“We seem to be still rising,” Max noted. “I wonder how this thing is operated? Another thing I wonder is how high we are.” He looked out the hatchway. To his surprise, he found that the two KAOS agents were dangling from the landing gear. “We have hitchhikers,” he said to von BOOM, pointing.
Von BOOM got up and looked out the hatchway. “They’re climbing up,” he said.
Max slipped into the pilot’s seat. “This machine ought to be easy enough to handle,” he said, examining the controls. “If I just move this stick-”
The helicopter flopped over on its back, dropping Max and von BOOM in a heap on the ceiling of the bubble.
From above them came a cry of panic. “Get Sidney away from them controls!”
“They’re still with us,” von BOOM commented. He looked down. “But that’s not the worst,” he said. “We’re rising downward.”
Struggling, Max reached the stick. The helicopter rolled over on its side.
“I think I’m getting the hang of it,” Max said.
“It’s better,” von BOOM agreed. “Now, we’re rising sideways.”
“Just a lit-tle adjustment. .” Max said, moving the stick.
The helicopter righted itself, and Max scrambled back into the pilot’s seat.
“They’re climbing again,” von BOOM informed him, peering out the hatchway.
“Easy does it,” Max said. He got hold of a handle and moved it slowly in reverse. Gradually, the helicopter began to descend. “Give me another few minutes, and I’d know this machine like the palm of my hand,” he said.
“I think we’re going to crash on the deck,” von BOOM warned.
Max shoved the handle forward. The helicopter shot back into the air.
From below came a shout of rage. “It’s not an elevator, Sidney! It’s a helicopter!”
“There’s always a grouch in the crowd,” Max grumbled.
Once more, he eased the handle in reverse, and the helicopter began another slow descent. This time, when they neared the deck, instead of yanking the handle backwards, Max held it steady.
“We’re hovering,” von BOOM advised him. “What now?”
“When I say ‘jump’-jump,” Max ordered.
“I’ll hit the deck.”
“That’s where we want to be,” Max pointed out.
Von BOOM thought for a moment, then nodded. “I don’t know how you managed it, but, for once, I think you’re right.”
“Jump!” Max shouted.
Von BOOM leaped out through the hatchway. An instant later, Max followed him. They hit the deck, rolled, then got to their feet. 99 ran up to them.
“Max-they’re getting away!” 99 cried, pointing to the sky.
The helicopter was rising swiftly, with the two KAOS agents still clinging to the gear.
“They’re not getting away, 99,” Max corrected her. “That’s the way I planned it. They’re heading out to sea. Out there, I don’t think they’ll be much trouble to us.”
“Max! That’s brilliant!”
Max turned and waved goodbye to the departing helicopter.
A cry of anguish, almost inaudible, came floating down. “Sidney! Sidney! Where are you when I need you, Sidney!”
Max, 99 and von BOOM returned to the deck chairs.
“Well, we’re safe now-at least, until we reach Africa,” Max said. “Maybe I better report in to the Chief and let him know how well things are going.”
“Right-you better do it now,” von BOOM said. “I have a feeling that it can’t last.”
“Nevermind, Max,” 99 said consolingly. “There’s always a grouch in the crowd.”
Max removed his shoe and dialed.
Operator: Is that you, Maxie? How’s the ol’ disgruntled taxpayer?
Max: Operator, I’m in no mood for switchboard humor. Will you just connect me with the Chief, please.
Operator: In trouble over your head again, Maxie?
Max: It so happens, Operator, that I am calling in to report nothing, so far, but total success.
Operator: It can’t last. I’ll keep the line open for five minutes.
Max: Five minutes? Why five minutes?
Operator: If you’re running true to form, by then you’ll be over your head in trouble again.
Max: Operator, let me talk to your supervisor.
Operator: Sorry, Maxie-she’s on vacation.
Max: You’re very fortunate. Now, will you please connect me with the Chief?
Operator: No can do, Maxie. He’s out. He left a message for you, though.
Operator: He said to tell you if you called in that with everybody out of town on vacation, he’s had no work to do.
Max (impatiently): So?
Operator: So he’s gone on vacation.
Max hung up and placed his shoe back on his foot.
“What is it, Max?” 99 asked, concerned.
Sulking, Max did not reply.
“This is a unique crowd,” von BOOM said. “It has two grouches.”
As Max, 99 and Wormser von BOOM were disembarking from the ocean liner at the pier in Africa, a gigantic wooden crate, being carried by a crane, came loose, hurtled downward, and crashed only feet from them.
Max waved genially to the crane operator. “That’s all right-accidents will happen,” he called.
“Max! We could have been killed!” 99 said.
“99, anybody can make a mistake. And we have to pay particular attention to show these people that we’re nice guys. In some places, Americans aren’t too well thought of today. So we have to go out of our way to be friendly.”
“Yes, Max, but-Eeeeeeeek!”
A taxi had zoomed by, missing them by a matter of inches.
“Think nothing of it!” Max shouted after the driver. “Our fault for being on the sidewalk!”
“Max, what I was about to say was, isn’t it possible that these accidents haven’t been accidents? If KAOS-”
“Just a second, 99,” Max said, his eyes narrowing. “Something has just occurred to me. Doesn’t it seem a little strange to you that all of these near-fatal accidents are happening to us? Why not to anybody else? After all, there were other detested Americans on that ship. 99, I’m beginning to suspect that these accidents haven’t actually been accidents.”
“Right, 99. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that the local KAOS agents have been alerted to our arrival. From now on, we better make it our policy to be suspicious of everyone and anyone.”
“Good idea, Max.”
Von BOOM snorted. “A child could have figured that out.”
Max eyed him suspiciously. “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before, buster?”
“Max, that’s-” 99 began.
“I know, I know, 99. Just practicing.”
“Oh. Well. . what now, Max?”
“Well, we’ll- Oh, excuse me,” Max said to a small, dumpy Arab who had slipped a hand into Max’s pocket, “I think my pocket is caught on your fingers.”
The Arab glared at him. “I’m not surprised. You’re probably trying to bribe me. You despicable Americans think money is the answer to everything. How much were you going to offer?”
“Actually, I don’t carry my money in that pocket,” Max replied. “It’s in my wallet.”
“Details, details, let’s get on with the bribe.”
“I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong impression,” Max said. “I have no reason to bribe you. All I need is directions to the nearest trustworthy rent-a-camel agency.”
The small, dumpy Arab pointed. “Up the street about six blocks.” He held out a hand, palm up. “That will be five bucks.”
“Are you sure it’s trustworthy?” Max said. “No offense meant, but you know how undependable you foreigners are.”
“It’s trustworthy,” the Arab replied. “That’ll be ten bucks.”
“You said five bucks.”
“That was before I put my reputation on the line and assured you it was trustworthy. You see any signs hanging on me saying I toss in my reputation for free?”
Von BOOM started to wander off. Max reached out and grabbed him and held him. “When you said ‘line,’ he was reminded to go to the post office,” he explained to the puzzled-looking Arab.
“What is he-some kind of a Sidney?”
“So you know him, too,” said Max, shaking his head. He got out his wallet and handed the Arab a ten dollar bill. “Understand now, that’s not a bribe,” he said. “It’s payment for services rendered.”
The Arab winked. “I’ll never squeal.” He departed, folding the ten dollar bill, then tucking it into the folds of his burnoose.
“I think I handled that very well,” Max said, pleased. “Did you notice how antagonistic he was when we first met? But, when he left, he was a friend. It proves, I think, that the old saying is right: Money is the answer to everything.”
“Max, shouldn’t we go?” 99 said apprehensively. “If KAOS-”
“Later, 99. Right now, let’s get out of here. The local KAOS agents could be closing in on us right at this very moment.”
They hurried up the street. When they reached the sixth block, they slowed their pace, looking for the rent-a-camel agency.
“I don’t see it anywhere, Max,” 99 said.
“Do you suppose that undependable foreigner gave us a bum steer? I’d hate to lose my faith in the theory that money is the answer to-”
At that moment, a small, dumpy Arab stepped out of the doorway of what looked like an empty shop. “Linger a while,” he said to Max. “You walked too fast.” He then disappeared into the dimness of the vacant shop.
“What was that all about, Max?” 99 said, baffled.
Max shrugged. “I haven’t the vaguest. Let’s see what happens.”
A moment later, the small, dumpy Arab reappeared. He was toting a freshly-painted sign, which he mounted above the entrance to the shop. It said: Trustworthy Rent-A-Camel Agency.
“I think this is the place,” Max said to 99.
The Arab opened his arms to them. “Welcome, strangers,” he beamed. “I am your humble servant, Abdul Bim-Bam-Bom, local manager of the Trustworthy Rent-A-Camel Agency-Third Rate, But We Try Harder. What can I do for you?”
Max explained that they needed three camels to take them across the desert.
“Four camels,” Abdul corrected. “One camel for your trustworthy guide. You expect your guide to walk? The sun is terrible out in the desert. The sand is scorching. You want your trustworthy guide to burn his tootsies to a crisp?”
“All right,” Max agreed, “four camels. Now, where do we get a guide?”
“Don’t move,” Abdul replied. Once more, he disappeared into the vacant shop. A few minutes later he returned, carrying a second freshly-painted sign, which he hung over the first one. The new sign said: Trustworthy Rent-A-Guide Agency.
“Welcome strangers,” Abdul beamed. “What can I do for you?”
In short order, Max arranged for a guide, who turned out to be Abdul Bim-Bam-Bom.
“Now, just one more little thing, and we’re ready to leave,” Abdul said. “I’ll give you a boost, and you’ll climb up to the roof of the shop.”
“The roof?” Max asked.
“It’s the American way to board a rent-a-camel,” Abdul explained. “I saw it on a TV commercial. I’ll go get the camels and ride by, and you three jump on their humps.”
Max shrugged. “Well. . when in America. .”
Abdul strolled up the street, and Max, 99 and von BOOM climbed to the roof of the shop.
“Max, I wonder if we’ll ever see him again,” 99 said.
“I’m sure we will, 99. These people have a very highly developed sense of honor. And, besides, I haven’t paid him yet.”
“Oh. Well, in that-”
The shrill shriek of a police whistle suddenly pierced the quiet. An angry voice was heard shouting, “Stop! Thief!” A moment later there was the sound of camels’ hoofs. Four camels came racing into view, with Abdul Bim-Bam-Bom riding the leader.
“He certainly is hurrying,” Max said. “It’s a wonder he isn’t curious about all that commotion behind him. I suppose he just doesn’t want to get involved.”
“Jump!” Abdul cried, nearing the shop.
Max, 99 and von BOOM leaped, landing on the camels.
“Head for the dunes!” Abdul shouted.
The camels galloped through the streets, with Max, 99, von BOOM and Abdul hanging on precariously, and with the sound of the police whistle and the shout, “Stop! Thief!” becoming dimmer in the background. Finally, nearly an hour later, the town far behind, the camels slowed to a joggling walk.
“We got a good start,” Abdul said happily. “Only five-hundred-and-ninety-six billion pounds of sand to go.”
“When will we reach our destination?” 99 asked.
“Sooner or later, give or take a day,” Abdul replied. “That is, of course, if the water holds out. Which it should. I brought a ten-gallon canteen.”
“How many billion pounds of sand do you get to the gallon out here?” Max asked.
“Sometimes more, sometimes less, give or take a billion,” Abdul replied. “Anybody thirsty?” He halted his camel. “Yes, now that you mention it, I am,” he said.
The others stopped their camels, too, and the whole party got down and Abdul passed around paper cups of water.
99 pointed. “What’s that dark cloud in the distance?” she asked.
Max, von BOOM, Abdul and the camels looked in the direction in which she was pointing. The camels suddenly reared up, then galloped away, heading back toward town.
“I’m a lit-tle disappointed, Abdul,” Max said. “I’ve been using the rental system for transportation for a good many years now, and never in my life has a Chevrolet ever done that to me.”
“What does a Chevrolet know about a sand storm?” Abdul answered. “Those camels have got good sense. If they’d stayed here, they’d’ve probably got buried alive right along with us.”
“Max! It’s a sand storm!” 99 screamed.
“I gathered that, 99,” Max said. He turned back to Abdul. “All right, guide, how do we protect ourselves?”
Abdul looked wistfully back toward town. “I guess it’s a little late to jump aboard our camels and hightail it out of here,” he said. “I’m open to suggestion.”
“A fine guide you are!” Max said.
“Would you put that in writing?” Abdul asked. “I might want a job with an American again, and a good reference could tip the scales, one way or the other.”
Von BOOM headed off across the desert.
Max grabbed him and escorted him back. “Don’t use that word ‘tip,’ ” he said to Abdul. “It sends him out looking for a restaurant.”
“Tip, tip, tip!” Abdul said.
“Don’t do that!” Max snapped, holding fast to von BOOM.
“I’m trying to save our lives,” Abdul explained. “If he finds a restaurant, we can all go in and sit out this sand storm.”
“Max! The storm is almost here!” 99 wailed.
“All right. . everybody behind that big dune over there,” Max said. “Maybe it will protect us.”
Abdul raced toward the dune. “Follow your guide,” he called back. “Everybody behind the dune.”
Max, 99 and von BOOM hurried after him. Just as they reached the huge hill of sand, the storm hit. The wind whipped the sand, swirling it into their eyes, blinding them. Grains of sand bit painfully at their faces.
“Max!” 99 cried above the wild howling of the wind. “It’s getting deeper! We’ll be buried alive!”
“Even a camel knows that, 99!” Max shouted back.
“Think of something, Max!”
“I am thinking of something-my office back at headquarters. I wish I were there!”
“I mean think of something to help, Max!”
“How can I think, 99, with you shouting at me!”
“Max! Help! The sand is up to my neck!”
“Stand on tippy-toes!” Max suggested.
“Frabbersink bon sprottlepump!” von BOOM cried.
“You’re right, even that doesn’t help if you’re short and dumpy,” Max replied. “Try this-climb up on my shoulders.”
Von BOOM scrambled up Max’s body.
“Pommerdink!” Abdul shouted.
“All right, you climb up on his shoulders,” Max said.
Quickly, Abdul pulled himself upward on Max, then on von BOOM.
“Rowgerschmidt!” Max screamed.
“Max! Max! Get on Abdul’s shoulders!” 99 shouted.
Max clambered upward. “I’m all right now, 99,” he called down, after reaching Abdul’s shoulders. “How are you making out?”
“Climb, 99, climb!” Max shouted.
A few moments later, safe on Max’s shoulders, 99 said, “Max-isn’t it Professor von BOOM’s turn?”
“Okay, von BOOM,” Max called. “Up on 99’s shoulders now.”
There was no reply.
“Max. .” 99 said worriedly, “. . do you think. .”
“Let’s hope for the best, 99. Maybe he’s angry about something and just isn’t speaking to us.”
“The storm, Max-it’s letting up.”
“The Chief is going to be very unhappy about that, 99.”
“About the storm? Why?”
“Not exactly about the storm,” Max replied. “More about what we’re going to discover, I’m afraid, when the storm ends. I just stuck my hand down into the sand and found out that I’m not sitting on anybody’s shoulders.”
“But where’s Abdul?”
“That’s part of what the Chief’s going to be unhappy about. If Abdul is gone, I should be sitting on von BOOM’s shoulders-right? But I’m not. And that means-unless I’ve suddenly lost my powers of deduction-that Professor von BOOM is gone, too.”
“Max, you don’t mean-”
“Apparently so, 99. My guess is that Abdul is a KAOS agent, and that he took advantage of the storm to kidnap Professor von BOOM.”
“Max! That’s terrible!”
“It certainly is. Although, of course, it could be worse.”
“I don’t see how, Max.”
“If I’d paid him his guide fee in advance, I’d really be feeling silly about now,” Max explained.
The storm ended as suddenly as it had started. Max and 99 looked around. There was nothing but sand, sand, sand, sand as far as the eye could see. The sun blazed down on them.”
“Max, I wonder if Abdul left us any water,” 99 said.
“No. But I think he left us his share of the sand. None seems to be missing.”
“Max-what are we going to do?”
“There’s only one thing we can do, 99-try to find our way back to town. The chances are mighty slim, but, we have no other choice.”
“Which way is it, Max?”
“I’m not really sure, 99. But, in this case, we do have a choice. It’s either that way or that way or that way or that way, or somewhere in between.”
“Then, all we can do is just start walking and hope for the best.” 99 sighed woefully. “I suppose we might as well get started.”
“99, I don’t want to be the one to be the grouch in this small crowd,” Max said, “but I think I could make better headway if you’d climb down off my shoulders.”
“Oh. . yes. . sorry, Max.”
99 jumped down and they set out across the sand, hoping they were traveling in the direction of the town. The sun seemed boiling hot. They soon weakened, near collapse.
“Water. . water. .” 99 gasped.
“Ice cream soda. . ice cream soda. .” Max wheezed.
“Max. . that’s. . ridiculous. .”
“I know. . 99. . But. . if somebody answered our cries. . and I got water. . and I learned later that I could have had an ice cream soda. . I’d be pretty let-down. .”
“Max. . we’ll. . never make it. .”
“Don’t give up, 99. Where there’s a will. . there’s a way. .”
“Then. . Max. . get up off the sand. . and keep walking. .”
“I was looking. . for camel tracks. . 99.”
“Did you find any?”
“I don’t. . know. . If I did. . they were full of sand. .”
“Max!” 99 suddenly shouted. “We’re saved! Look! Coming this way! A ship, Max!”
“99. . did anyone ever tell you. . that you have a very sick sense of humor?” Max asked.
“Max, it is! It’s a ship! It’s a ship!”
“99, you have a very sick sense of humor.”
“Max, look! Look, please!”
Max raised his head and peered out across the desert. “I apologize, 99,” he said drearily. “You’re right. I see it, too. It is a ship. It’s a four-masted sailing ship. A whaler, I believe. It’s probably on a whaling expedition. Whale blubber brings a very good price, I’m told.”
99 looked at him puzzledly. “Max, you’re not very excited. I don’t understand-we’re saved!”
“99, think about it a minute. So far, how many whales have you seen out here on the desert? You could probably count them on the fingers of one elbow. Now-keeping that in mind-ask yourself: What would a whaling ship be doing out in the middle of the Sahara Desert?”
“Max, I don’t care what it’s doing out here,” 99 said. “Maybe it’s off course. The important thing is, it’s here! I see it! You see it!”
“We’re seeing a mirage, 99. A mirage is an hallucination. It’s a figment of the imagination. It doesn’t exist. It’s a trick of the mind.”
“I know what a mirage is, Max. But that ship is real.”
“A ship sails on water, 99. This is sand we’re standing on.”
“Max, that ship is on wheels.”
“You have a very sick sense of mirages, 99.”
“It’s on wheels, and there’s a whole long string of automobiles following it.”
“You have a very sick and crowded sense of mirages, 99.”
“Max! Someone’s waving to us from the deck!”
“Wave back, 99. Let’s not let the fact that we’re dying out here in the middle of the desert make us forget our manners.”
“Max, the ship is almost here! There’s a man on the deck. He’s wearing knickers and a Hawaiian shirt and sun glasses and a pith helmet.”
“Sick, sick, sick, 99.”
“Max, the whole caravan is stopping-the ship and the cars. The man is being lowered in a longboat. The longboat is resting on the sand now, Max. The man is getting out. He’s heading this way, Max!”
“Ask him how he’s fixed for ice cream sodas,” Max muttered.
“Max! He’s here!”
Max raised his eyes. Standing before him was a small, dumpy man who was wearing sandals, knickers, a Hawaiian shirt, dark glasses and a pith helmet. “99, you’re mirage is straight out of Hollywood,” Max said.
“Greetings, natives,” the man smiled. “I’m Max von Sydesheau, straight out of Hollywood. I’m shooting a picture out here. Moby Dick. I could use you two as extras. Either one of you had any experience ducking a harpoon?”
“Water!” 99 gasped.
“Now, wait a minute,” Max said, staring narrow-eyed at the man. “Are you for real? Do you expect us to believe that you’re actually a motion picture director? That you’re making a movie of Moby Dick? Where’s your whale?”
“In the trunk of one of the cars,” Max von Sydesheau replied. “It’s inflatable. That means that if you blow air into it-”
“I know what inflatable means,” Max broke in. “But it still doesn’t make sense. Why would you bring a ship-”
“Water!” 99 gasped.
“Just a second, 99,” Max said. “There’s something very fishy about this.”
“It’s in the trunk of one of the cars,” von Sydesheau said. “It’s inflatable. You-”
“Don’t change the subject,” Max snapped. “Why would you bring a ship way out here into the middle of the desert to shoot a sea picture? Why not film it on the ocean?”
“My ship leaks,” von Sydesheau replied. “I’m working on a very tight budget.”
“Water!” 99 gasped.
“Well, now it’s beginning to make a little sense,” Max said grudgingly. “But, I’m sorry, we’re not available as extras. You see, we’re a couple of secret agents, and we’re on duty.”
Von Sydesheau nodded. “Spying on the sand-I got it.”
“No, no, we got caught in a sand storm and we’re lost,” Max said. “If you could just help us get back to civilization, we’d-”
“Water!” 99 gasped.
“-appreciate it a great deal,” Max continued. “We have to report in to headquarters.”
“Of course. You can go back when we go,” von Sydesheau said.
“Uh. . about how long will that be?”
“Well, let’s see. . we start shooting in the morning. If we’re lucky, and we don’t get a blowout in the whale, in about six months, give or take a month.”
“Well. . since our mission is somewhat of a bust, I guess there’s no hurry to get back,” Max decided. “All we’ll get is a bawling out, anyway.”
“Water!” 99 gasped.
Max looked at her, then turned back to von Sydesheau. “I wonder if my friend and I could get a drink of water?” he said.
“Well. . we expect to be out here quite a while, so we’re trying to conserve our water,” von Sydesheau replied. “Would you settle for an ice cream soda?”
Von Sydesheau took Max and 99 aboard the ship. They quenched their thirst, then followed the director about as he oversaw the setting up of the scenery-large canvases on which were painted views of an ocean.
Suddenly, 99 pulled at Max’s sleeve. “Max. . over there. . look. . Doesn’t that short, dumpy man look familiar?”
Max looked. “Which one, 99?”
“Now that you mention it, both of them. Max! That’s-”
“Von BOOM and Abdul!”
Max and 99 rushed over to the two men. Abdul was still wearing his burnoose. But von BOOM was now dressed in the uniform of a ship’s captain.
“Von BOOM!” Max cried. “You’re safe!”
“I’m safe, too,” Abdul said.
Von BOOM touched a finger to his lips. “Shhh-shh-shhh!” He motioned to Max and 99 and drew them aside, behind a tent. “Don’t give me away,” he said.
“Give you away?”
“Von Sydesheau doesn’t know I’m a scientist,” von BOOM explained. “He thinks I’m a native. He gave me the starring part in his picture. He says I’m a natural. I’m playing the title role-Moby Dick.”
“Von BOOM, the leading role is the part of Captain Ahab,” Max said. “Moby Dick is the whale.”
“Shhh! Don’t tell von Sydesheau!”
“You mean he’s shooting the picture and he doesn’t- This is ridiculous! Professor, you’re not an actor. And, besides, you have a duty to your country. You’re supposed to be getting the bugs out of your lightweight rocket fuel.”
“I say, leave it alone, maybe they’ll drown,” von BOOM said.
“But you’re a scientist!”
“That was yesterday,” von BOOM replied. “Today, I’m a Star.”
Max sighed gloomily. “How did you get here, anyway?” he said.
“I was looking for 99’s shoulders, and I guess I got lost,” von BOOM replied. “Then, when the storm died down, we-”
“I was on his shoulders,” Abdul said. “But I’m safe now.”
“We saw this ship sailing toward us,” von BOOM went on. “I waved my arms and yelled Help! Help! Help!”
“I just sat there,” Abdul said. “I thought it was a mirage.”
“To make a long story short, the ship sailed up to us,” von BOOM continued, “and von Sydesheau offered me the part in his picture. He liked the way I yelled. In the picture, my big line is: ‘Thar she Blows!’ ” He started to wander away.
Max grabbed him and led him back. “Try not to use that word ‘line,’ ” he said.
Von BOOM started to wander away again.
Once more, Max retrieved him. “And I won’t use it, either,” he said. “Now, look, Professor-think what you’re doing. You studied for years to become a scientist. You worked hard to reach the top in your profession. All that work and study must have meant something to you. Why did you do it?”
“Because nobody ever offered to make me a Star before,” von BOOM replied.
“Let me talk to him,” Abdul said.
“I would appreciate that,” Max replied gratefully.
Abdul addressed von BOOM. “Don’t listen to this bum,” he said, indicating Max. “You don’t have to. You’re a Star. Say the word, and I’ll have him tossed off the set.”
“Thanks just oodles,” Max said grimly. “I’ll remember this when you come around to collect your guide fee.”
“Who needs it?” Abdul shrugged. “As of today, I’m out of the rent-a-guide business. I’m the agent to a Star.”
Max turned to von BOOM. “He is your agent?” he said incredulously.
“I gave him the job when we were lost out there on the desert,” the Professor replied. “As long as I was carrying him around on my back, anyway, I figured he might as well be my agent.”
“Don’t bother my Star with any more questions,” Abdul said to Max and 99. “He has to rehearse his line.”
Von BOOM wandered off.
This time, Max let von BOOM’s agent chase after him.
“Max, what are we going to do?” 99 fretted.
“We have no choice, 99,” Max replied. “I hate to be the one to destroy a career, but- Duty first. We have to get von BOOM back on the track. I’m going to snitch. I’m going to tell von Sydesheau that von BOOM is really a scientist.”
“Max, I’m not sure that will work. He found him out in the middle of the desert. Will he believe that he’s a scientist?”
“He found us out in the middle of the desert, too, 99, and he believed that we’re secret agents.”
“You’re right, Max.”
Max and 99 found von Sydesheau and informed him that, in fact, von BOOM was a scientist. Von Sydesheau threw back his head and roared with laughter.
“You don’t believe it?” Max said.
“As much as I believed that ridiculous story about you two being secret agents,” von Sydesheau replied. He winked at Max. “Spying on the sand, eh?”
Max and 99 retreated.
That night, when the camp was silent, Max and 99, by prearrangement, slipped out of their separate tents and met near the stern of the ship.
“So far, so good, 99,” Max whispered. “Everybody’s asleep, and, luckily, von Sydesheau didn’t think to post any guards.”
“It probably didn’t occur to him that we would try to kidnap his Star, Max.”
“I don’t know why not. That’s the way it would happen in a movie.” He motioned, then set out through the darkness, with 99 following close behind. “Von BOOM’s tent is just a short distance from here.”
“How will we know it, Max? In the dark, all these tents look alike.”
“There’ll be no mistaking it, 99. It-” he pointed. “There, shining in the moonlight. . see?”
“Oh. . yes. Isn’t that interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. . a star on the flap.”
“All right, 99, from this moment on, let’s maintain absolute silence. If we create a commotion and rouse the camp, we may never get another chance to get von BOOM out of here.”
“Suppose he cries out, Max?”
“I’m going to gag him.”
“Please be gentle, Max. Remember, down deep, he’s on our side-he’s one of the Good Guys.”
“99, I don’t like doing this any more than you do. But our space program depends on it.”
“Max. . couldn’t we talk to him about it again? It wouldn’t hurt to try, would it?”
“Absolutely pointless, 99. We wouldn’t even know what he answered.”
“Because he’ll be gagged. Now, come on, 99.”
Silently, they moved forward through the darkness. A few moments later they reached the entrance to von BOOM’s tent. Quietly, Max opened the flap. He crept into the tent, with 99 right behind him.
“Can you see him, Max?”
Max moved on alone. A few seconds later, there was a sudden sound of scuffling, and a muffled outcry.
“Max-are you all right?”
“Not so loud, 99!”
“Sorry, Max. But are you all right? Do you have him?”
“Plus what, Max?”
“Plus my left foot.”
“Max. . could you explain that?”
“First, 99, I gagged him, then I threw a blanket over him and gathered the blanket at the top to make a kind of sack out of it. But. . Well, after all, 99, I am working in the dark.”
“You have your foot in the bag?”
“If you want the whole story-my foot and my ankle.”
“Can’t you just take your foot out, Max?”
“To do that, 99, I’ll have to open the sack. And if I open the sack, he might escape. Frankly, 99, he isn’t too happy about this. He’s- Ouch! He’s twisting my ankle.”
“Wait, Max, I’ll try to help you. If I can just-”
There was a loud crash. Then silence again.
“Thank you, 99,” Max said. “That worked very well.”
“All I did, Max, was bump into something.”
“I know. But it helped. What ever you bumped into must have been fairly solid. It hit von BOOM. He’s unconscious-and I have my foot back.”
“Max! Is he hurt?”
“He’s fine. He has a good pulse and he’s breathing deeply and evenly. Now, for Heaven’s sake, let’s get out of here!”
Between them, Max and 99 lifted the sack. They left the tent, then the camp, and headed out into the desert.
“This is a snap,” Max said enthusiastically. “The weather is cool, the baggage is light, the moon is out, your daddy’s rich, and your mammy’s good-lookin’.”
“Sorry, 99-I got a little carried away.”
“But what about in the morning, Max, when the sun comes out, and the moon goes in? The weather will be hot, and the baggage will seem heavy.”
“What about daddy and mammy?”
“We’ll just have to rely on gumption and fortitude, 99. It will be tough, I know. But if we grit our teeth, keep our chins up high, and grin, nothing can stop us.”
“We have no water, Max.”
“We couldn’t drink it, anyway.”
“Why not, Max?”
“99, have you ever tried to drink while gritting your teeth, keeping your chin up, and grinning? It’s impossible.”
Through the rest of the night, they pushed on. By sunrise, they had left the camp far behind, out of sight. Gradually, the sun became hotter. Their pace slowed. Soon, they were scarcely able to drag themselves forward.
“Max. .” 99 gasped “. . couldn’t we put our burden down?”
“We can’t leave von BOOM here, 99. Not after carrying him all this distance.”
“Max. . I meant. . can’t he walk? Why do we have to carry him?”
“Oh. As a matter of fact, I was just going to suggest that.”
They lowered the sack to the sand, then Max opened it. From the blanket, Abdul Bim-Bam-Bom peered up at them.
“Talk about your mirages, 99,” Max said. “I’ll bet you can’t guess who the Professor looks like to me this morning.”
“Max! It isn’t von BOOM!” 99 wailed.
“I was afraid of that,” Max said glumly. He addressed Abdul Bim-Bam-Bom. “All right, fella, I think you owe us an explanation,” he said crossly. “What’s the idea of trying to pass yourself off as Professor von BOOM. You’ll never get away with it, you know. You don’t know a thing about rocket fuels.”
“Grgmpphblt!” Abdul replied.
“I think you better un-gag him, Max,” 99 said.
Max removed the gag.
“I’m an innocent bystander,” Abdul protested. “I was sound asleep when suddenly somebody gagged me and rolled me up in a blanket. I fought like a wildcat. I had him by the foot. But then I was hit by a truck.”
“Abdul, what were you doing in von BOOM’s tent?” 99 asked.
“That was my agent’s fee,” Abdul replied. “Instead of paying cash, he told me I could sleep one night in the Star’s tent. What a story to tell my grandchildren. Now, of course, it’s even a better story. There I was, sound asleep in the Star’s tent, when suddenly a gang of desert bandits fell upon me, gagged me, and rolled me up in a pure silk sheet stolen from the Shah’s palace. I fought like two-dozen wildcats. I had about nine of them by the leg-up to the kneecap. But then I was hit by a low-flying super-sonic jet. Well, I was stunned for a second. But I was a strong, healthy lad in those days-about six-foot-seven, enormous muscles-”
“Enough!” Max broke in.
“Don’t you want to hear the part where, when I was a boy, I had to walk a mile to school every day through twelve feet of snow?” Abdul said.
“What I want to hear is the part where you guide us back to the camp so we can make another try at kidnapping von BOOM,” Max replied.
Abdul looked around. “I’m your prisoner-I have no choice, I guess. Which way is it?”
“You’re the guide,” Max reminded him.
“I’m a talent agent,” Abdul reminded him. “No wonder you’re lost-you don’t even know a talent agent from a tourist guide.”
“Oh, Max. .” 99 wept. “What can we do?”
“Let’s wait for him to come to us,” Abdul suggested. “As soon as he finishes this picture, he’ll be looking for another job. And who will he come crying to on hands and knees? His agent.”
“That won’t be for six months,” Max said. “Without water, I don’t think we’ll make it.”
Abdul nodded, agreeing. “I don’t even think we could make it without ice cream sodas,” he said. “All we can do is hope for another sand storm.”
“How will that help?” 99 asked.
“Well, the last one brought us a ship,” Abdul replied. “If it can do it once, it can do it again.”
“I hardly think we can count on that,” Max said. “That’s the kind of luck that-”
“Max!” 99 suddenly cried. “Look! That dark cloud! Another sand storm!”
“99, that’s very nice, but it isn’t a sand storm we need. What we need is-”
“Max! Look! Sailing in front of the storm! The ship!”
Max squinted into the distance. “Yes. . and isn’t that. . there in the rigging. . isn’t that Professor von BOOM?”
From across the desert came a shout: “Thar She Blows!”
“He’s got his line down perfect,” Abdul cackled. “Is that a Star or is that a Star!”
“All right, get ready everybody,” Max said. “When the ship gets here, we’ll all grab a rope and climb aboard.”
“Not me,” Abdul said. “I stay here.”
“But you’ll die out here in the desert,” 99 said.
“Better than getting aboard a ship,” Abdul replied. “For you, it’s all right. But for me, it would be very dangerous. That ship has a hole in the bottom, you know.”
“What does that have to do with it?” 99 asked.
“I can’t swim,” Abdul explained.
“Now!” Max shouted.
The ship had reached them. Max and 99 ran alongside, then caught hold of ropes that were dangling down from the deck and, hand over hand, pulled themselves aboard. The wind whipped at them, swirling sand in their faces.
“Get below!” Max shouted to 99. “I’ll get von BOOM!”
“Max. . you don’t have to. . he’s coming down. .”
A few seconds later, von BOOM appeared, struggling against the wind to keep his balance. “I quit!” he shouted. “Get yourself another Moby Dick, von Sydesheau!”
“I’m Smart!” Max shouted back.
“I’m not as dumb as I used to be, either!” von BOOM shrieked. “You’ll never get me up in that rigging in a sand storm again!” He grabbed hold of Max, enraged. “ I could have been killed! I could have been blown overboard! And I can’t swim!”
“All right! All right!” Max shrieked back. “If it makes you happy-you’re fired!”
“Lucky I’ve got the scientist racket to fall back on,” von BOOM said.
Fighting the wind and sand, the three grappled their way along the deck, looking for a hatchway. When they finally found one, they climbed down into the hold, out of the storm.
Von BOOM was surprised to see Max and 99. “Somebody better go back on deck and get von Sydesheau,” he said.
Max explained that the director was not on board.
“Then that firing doesn’t count,” von BOOM groaned. “I’m still a Star.”
“When we get back to civilization, you can resign by telegram,” Max suggested.
“Forget it,” von BOOM shrugged. “Let him get the bad news from my agent.”
They made themselves comfortable in the hold. Outside, the storm raged. And it continued that way for several days. Fortunately, there was food and water on the ship. Max was concerned, however, about where the wind was blowing them.
“The way it’s blowing,” he said, “it could blow this ship right off the desert and into the ocean. We’d sink like a rock.”
The following morning when Max awakened it looked as if his worst fear had come true. There was nearly a foot of water in the hold, and it was rising rapidly.
He shook 99 and von BOOM. “Abandon ship!” he shouted. “We’re sinking like a rock!”
They rushed up onto the deck. The storm had passed. Most of the ship was resting on a beach, but its prow was protruding into a river.
“Max! We’re saved!” 99 squealed happily.
“We may be safe, 99, but we’re still lost.”
“No, Max-look! There comes help. A houseboat. And it’s coming this way.”
“Oh. . yes. Isn’t that a woman at the helm? It’s a little hard to tell.”
As the houseboat neared the ship, the skipper, a large, beefy woman in a captain’s uniform, waved to them. “Ho, there!” she bellowed. “Cap’n O’Patterer, Queen o’ the Nile, at yur service, mates!”
“Max! It’s the Nile!” 99 said. “We found it!”
“Dumb luck,” von BOOM muttered.
“Not exactly,” Max said testily. “Dumb modus operandi would be more like it.”
Max, 99 and von BOOM climbed down to the beach, then waited for Cap’n O’Patterer to dock her houseboat.
“If we can hitch a ride to Alexandria, all our problems are solved,” Max said. “From Alexandria, we can catch a plane to Russia. That’s where we’ll get the Trans Siberian Railway, which will take us to the Pacific, where we’ll take a submarine to Alaska. And, from Alaska, on to the Pole. It’s a cinch from here on out.”
“She may not be going our way, Max,” 99 said.
“In that case, we’ll rent her houseboat,” Max replied. “Money is the answer to everything, 99.”
The boat ploughed into the beach and stopped and the big, beefy woman dropped an anchor over the side. “Looks like ya got yurself a peck o’ dum-doo-dee-doo-doo trouble there, Spike,” she said, addressing Max and indicating the ship.
Max shook his head, “The ship isn’t ours,” he replied. “Our problem is getting to Alexandria. Are you by any chance going that way?”
“Wouldn’t set foot in that town for a million beans and a pack o’ dum-doo-dee-doo-doo salty pork bacon!” Cap’n O’Patterer replied. “Last time I did, I near got runned down by a crosstown bus. That don’t never happen on the river, you can bet yur two-toed boots.”
“Suppose I offered you a great deal of money?” Max suggested.
“What’d I do with it? Buy me a million beans and a pack o’ dum-doo-dee-doo-doo salty pork bacon, that’s all. No gain there. Say, that’s a ding-dong beauty of four-master ya got there,” she continued, pointing to the ship again. “First one I ever seen that rolled on wheels. Got any idea of partin’ with it, Oscar?”
“As I said, it isn’t ours,” Max replied. “Now-”
“Don’t see nobody else around,” Cap’n O’Patterer said. “If she ain’t yur’n, who’s she?”
“He’s out there on the desert. Now-”
“Comin’ fur ’er, is he?”
“I doubt it,” Max answered. “It blew away from him and we found it. Now-”
“Then it’s yurs,” Cap’n O’Patterer said. “That’s the law o’ the sea, Jackson. Flotsam and jetsam. Or, to put it the way you landlubbers maul it-finders keepers, losers weepers. Tell you what I’ll do. You got the itch to get to o’ Alex and get runned down by a crosstown bus, eh? I’ll trade you-far and squar-my houseboat for your four-master.”
“That wouldn’t be fair,” Max replied. “It has a hole in it.”
“Don’t no more. I patched it up a couple days ago, Johnny.”
“I mean the ship has a hole in it.”
Cap’n O’Patterer shrugged. “Don’t make no nevermind to me, Willie,” she said. “Don’t ’tend to sail her. Gonna let her sit. I’m retirin’, ya see. Gonna perch up there in the riggin’ and watch the boats go by.”
“Oh. Well, in that case,” Max said, “it’s a deal.”
Max and Cap’n O’Patterer shook hands to seal the bargain, then the captain climbed the rigging of the four-master, and Max, 99 and von BOOM got aboard the houseboat.
“Max, are you sure you can sail this?” 99 said.
“Nothing to it, 99. We’ll just push off, then drift with the current.”
“I don’t know, Max. It seems so simple. . There must be more to it than that. Shouldn’t you ask Cap’n O’Patterer?”
“Have a little faith, 99. Get hold of one of those poles and help me get the boat off the beach.”
Using the poles, Max and 99 freed the houseboat from the sand, while von BOOM looked on.
“There we are,” Max smiled victoriously. “We’re floating-free as a bird.”
“We’re not moving,” von BOOM said.
“Nonsense. We’re in the water, aren’t we?”
“We’re not moving,” von BOOM repeated.
Max looked over the side. The boat was not moving. He shouted up to Cap’n O’Patterer. “One thing-” he began.
“Pull up yur dum-doo-dee-doo-doo anchor, Marvin!” she shouted back.
Max hoisted the anchor and a moment later the houseboat began drifting along with the current, headed in the direction of Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile.
“One word o’ caution, Reggie!” Cap’n O’Patterer bellowed after them. “Always pull ’er over to shore when it comes up a heavy rain!”
“Why?” Max bellowed back.
“She gets water in the basement!” Cap’n O’Patterer replied.
“Basement, Max?” 99 said puzzledly.
“She means the hold, 99. On a houseboat, it’s called the basement.”
The day passed quietly. Von BOOM sat on deck, reading a book he had found in the cabin. Max and 99 took turns steering. When they were not at the helm, they lounged in deck chairs.
“I think we’ve given KAOS the slip, 99,” Max said. “From now on, it looks like clear sailing.”
“Doesn’t that seem a little odd to you, Max?” 99 replied. “We’ve never been able to outwit KAOS so easily before.”
“Practice makes perfect, 99.”
That night they anchored the houseboat near the bank of the river. Max and 99, who were weary from steering, stretched out on bunks to get some sleep. Von BOOM was still wide-awake, however. So he stayed up, reading by lamplight.
Abruptly, in the middle of the night, Max was roused by a sound. He sat up. The cabin was completely dark.
“Von BOOM?” he called.
“You don’t have to shout,” a rough voice that he did not recognize replied.
“Who is that?” Max demanded.
“Ain’t nobody here but us river pirates,” the voice replied.
At the same moment, a beam of light flashed in Max’s face.
“Cut that out!” Max complained. “I can’t see!”
“You don’t want to see a river pirate, anyway-it’s scary,” the voice said.
A different voice spoke up. “The lights won’t go on,” it said. “They must’ve blown a fuse.”
“Max!” 99 cried out. “What’s happening?”
The beam of light moved from Max to 99. “Don’t worry, lady,” the rough voice said. “You’re being kidnapped by river pirates, that’s all. If you’re rich, or if you have rich friends, and they’re willing to pay a king’s ransom to get you back, you have no problems.”
“We’re not rich,” Max said gruffly. “And we don’t have any rich friends.”
“Oy! — do you have problems!” the voice groaned.
The second voice spoke up again. “On the contrary, Chief,” it said. “If they’re not rich, then that’s our problem. We can’t get a ransom for them. Let’s just raid the ice box and leave it at that.”
“Yeah, box,” a third voice said.
“But can we trust them?” the first voice asked. “Under normal conditions, they might be honest as the day is long. But this is an extreme circumstance. They could be lying, saying they’re not rich.”
“Chief, look at it logically,” the second voice said. “If they were rich, what would they be doing on this ratty old houseboat, floating idly up the Nile? Only rich Americans do that.”
“And that’s another thing,” Max said. “We’re American citizens!”
“Bring ’em along,” the first voice said.
“Yeah, bring,” the third voice said.
The pirates hustled Max and 99 off the houseboat and took them through the darkness to their hideout, which, from the outside, looked like a huge pile of rocks, and, from the inside, looked like the interior of a tomb. In the beam of light, Max caught a glimpse of a number of mummy cases.
“It’s not your conventional hideout,” the first voice said. “But, in our business, it saves time. After we rub out our victims, we don’t have the bother of carting the bodies out to the cemetery. We just stuff them into these mummy cases. Then, in time, an archeologist comes along and discovers them and ships them off to a museum in New York or London or Paris or somewhere.”
“You mean they think they’re mummies?” Max said incredulously.
“You know the mummy of King Akim-Tut-Amen at the Metropolitan in New York?” the first voice replied. “Actually, that’s a Mr. Hiram Overholt, late of Omaha, Nebraska.”
“That’s terrible!” Max said.
“As a matter of fact, it was a break for old Overholt,” the voice replied. “He and his wife didn’t get along too well. And now she’s in London.”
“I doubt it,” the voice replied. “At least, she was childless when she left here. But now,” he said, “let’s talk about you. To whom shall we send the ransom telegram? Your bank? Your stock broker? Your lawyer? The Diners Club?”
“Yeah, Club?” the third voice said.
“You’re wasting your time,” 99 said. “We’re not-”
“Uh. . 99, just a minute,” Max interrupted. “I think we would be wise to cooperate with these gentlemen.” He addressed the bandits. “You can send the telegram to The Chief at Control in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll take immediate action.”
“Doesn’t he have a name?” the first voice said. “Isn’t that a little odd?”
“What’s so odd about that?” 99 asked.
“Yes, Chief, what’s so odd about that?” the second voice asked.
“Yeah, what’s?” the third voice asked.
“Sorry I brought it up,” the first voice said. “Tie these two up with tape and stuff them into a couple of mummy cases,” he commanded his followers. “Then we’ll get that telegram off to what’s-his-name.”
Max and 99 were bound hand and foot with tape and then placed in a pair of empty cases. After that, the lids were closed.
“We’ll be back to rub you out as soon as we get an answer to the telegram,” the bandit leader advised them. “In the meantime, try to relax.”
“You fiends!” 99 cried.
“What kind of gratitude is that?” the second voice said, hurt. “Your body will probably get a free trip to New York, Paris or London out of this.”
“Let’s get going,” the leader said. “That telegram to the Chief won’t send itself.”
“With our luck, he’ll probably be away on vacation,” the second voice said.
The bandits could be heard departing. Then the tomb became quiet.
“Max. .” 99 whimpered.
“I know, 99, we’re in a very tough spot. I can’t see any possible way out of this. Unless, of course, the Chief has returned from vacation and he sends someone to rescue us when he gets that telegram. But how would our rescuer know where to look? The bandits probably won’t mention the location of their hideout in that telegram.”
“The mission is a total failure, Max.”
“I know. Von BOOM is probably wandering around out there in the desert again. If KAOS doesn’t find him first, he’ll undoubtedly die of thirst or hunger or exposure-or all three.”
“I wonder what happened to him, Max?”
“Didn’t I make that clear? He wandered off. Apparently, I said the wrong thing again.”
“But, Max, he was there when we went to sleep.”
“99, just forget it.”
“But, Max, I don’t understand. How could you have said the wrong thing? You weren’t awake.”
“99, please-it’s very embarrassing.”
“Max. . you mean. .”
“All right, now you know-I talk in my sleep, 99. I’ve been trying to cure myself of the habit for years. But nothing works.” He was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “I guess I’ll be cured of it now, though. I’ve never heard of a corpse talking in its sleep.”
“That’s what I like about you, Max. You always see the bright side.”
“Thank you, 99. I hope we both get sent to the same museum.”
“Max-I think I heard something! The bandits must be coming back!”
“That was quick. There must be a telegraph office right here in the tomb.”
“Maybe they phoned it in.”
“Oh. Yes, I suppose that could explain it.”
A few seconds later, they heard voices-but not the voices of the bandits. The speakers had British accents.
“Desmond, we’ve been in here before,” the first voice said. “I recognize the surroundings. There-those mummy cases-they’re all vacant, remember?”
“I’d be the last chap in the world to dispute your word, Archie,” a second voice replied. “But the surroundings are totally unfamiliar to me. And how do you know that those cases are empty? They’re all closed.”
“Shall I prove it to you, dear boy?”
“I’d be much obliged, Archie.”
The lid of Max’s mummy case was lifted. Max found himself peering up into the faces of two middle-aged men who were dressed in khaki and wearing pith helmets. One had a drooping handle-bar mustache: The other did not.
“There you are, chap-vacant as dear old Mother Hubbard’s jam closet.”
“Archie, old boy, I’d be the last person in the world to dispute your word,” Desmond responded. “But isn’t that foreign-looking blighter in there a mummy? He has all the characteristics. The tape, you know. And that unhealthy complexion. I do believe he’s crumbling to dust.”
“For your information,” Max said, “I have a very healthy complexion. And I am not a mummy. At least, I hope I’m not. I was childless when I was put in here.”
Archie and Desmond exchanged looks.
“Fantastic,” Desmond said. “Perfect preservation. He must be thousands of years old, and yet he functions as well as the day he was placed in this case. Too bad we don’t savvy his tongue, eh, chap? What a story he must have to tell!”
“You idiots!” Max raged. “I’m not a mummy. I’m Agent 86. I’m a Control agent. Now, get me out of here!”
Again, Desmond and Archie exchanged looks.
“What do you make of it?” Desmond asked.
“Quite unbelievable, old boy. He claims to be a Control agent. Yet, Control is an American organization. And, thousands of years ago, America did not even exist.”
“Do you suppose he’s putting us on, Archie?”
“Wouldn’t be surprised, Des. He does have that foreign look, you know.”
“Max! Convince them!” 99 cried.
Desmond’s eyebrows shot up. “Jove! Did you hear that? It came from this other mummy case, didn’t it?”
“Wouldn’t that be a bit of too much, chap-two mummies in one day?” Archie replied. “No, I rather suspect that the truth of the matter is that this one-” He indicated Max. “-is a ventriloquist.”
“Throwing his voice?”
“Let’s just open up this other case,” Archie said, “and I think we’ll find that it’s- Well, well, what have we here?” He smiled. “And I suppose, my dear, that you’re a Control agent, too, eh?”
“99,” 99 nodded.
“Looks like we’re going to have a busy day on our hands, Des,” Archie said.
“Really? How so?”
“Well, that first one identified himself as 86, and this one claims to be 99. Obviously, that means that these other cases contain 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97 and 98. Rather a haul, I’d say.”
“Deuce!” Desmond grumbled. “We’ll be tied up ’way past tea time.”
“Will you muttonheads listen!” Max said angrily. “We’re American secret agents. We were kidnapped by river pirates. They’re on their way to send a ransom telegram now. And if you two don’t get us-and yourselves-out of here, we’ll all soon be in the same kettle of fish!”
Desmond and Archie looked at each other once more.
“He could be telling the truth, Des,” Archie said. “Unlikely, of course, but possible.”
“Terrible thing if we made a mistake,” Desmond nodded.
“Very British of us, though-and therefore forgivable.”
“I rather think I have the solution to the matter, chap,” Desmond said. “Let’s transport them back to Alexandria, shall we? There, we can show them to the authorities and get an expert opinion on their story.”
“Brilliant-so un-British of you, Desmond. Although, we may have a bit of a time, carrying them back, cases and all, on our motorbike.”
“Wasn’t that a houseboat we saw down by the river?” Desmond said. “Perhaps we could commandeer it.”
“Pardon, old boy?”
“Now then, that’s the Desmond I know,” Archie beamed.
The two archeologists removed Max and 99 from the cases, then unwrapped their legs so that they could walk, leaving them bound above the waist. They then picked up the cases, and the four set out for the river.
“I say, Des, why are we bringing the cases?” Archie inquired.
“For identification purposes, old boy. As I understand it, it’s very difficult to tell a mummy without its case.”
“Jove! What one learns in the course of- I say! There’s the houseboat. And that must be the captain there on deck.”
“Max!” 99 said. “It’s von BOOM!”
“No need to shout,” Desmond said disapprovingly.
As they neared the houseboat, Professor von BOOM called out to them. “There you are!” he said crossly. “Where’ve you been?”
“Just over yonder in the tomb, old fellow,” Desmond replied. “Terribly decent of you to worry. I didn’t even think you saw us when we passed this way before.”
Baffled, von BOOM looked at Max.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” Max said glumly. “They think we’re mummies.”
“As a matter of fact, the case is still in court,” Archie said. “The evidence seems to indicate that they’re mummies. We discovered them in these cases, swathed in tape. That certainly has a mummy ring to it. However-”
“They’ve cooked up a bit of a story,” Desmond said, taking over. “Outlandish. Claim to have been American secret agents at a time when America hadn’t even been discovered yet. Consequently, we’re transporting them to Alexandria to have them authenticated.” He smiled broadly. “That’s why we’re commandeering your boat, old fellow.”
“Pardon?” von BOOM said, still puzzled.
“Say-are you two British?”
“Let’s the cat out of the bag every time, doesn’t it, Des,” Archie mused.
“If you two will just listen for a minute,” Max began.
“Later, chap,” Desmond interrupted. “Work to be done, you know.” He turned to Archie. “Shall we shove off?”
“Charming thought, old boy!”
Archie and Desmond set about getting the houseboat back out onto the river.
“What the devil is going on?” von BOOM said to Max.
“You’re a fine one to ask that,” Max replied. “Where were you when those river pirates kidnapped us?”
“Pirates? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was reading and the light suddenly went out. I went down the basement to change the fuse, and when I came back, you were both gone.”
“That isn’t important now,” 99 said. “Get us out of this tape.”
As quickly as he could, von BOOM unwrapped the lengths of tape that were binding Max and 99. Just as he finished the job, Archie and Desmond reappeared, having successfully launched the houseboat.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to take offense at that, old fellow,” Desmond said to von BOOM. “Diddling with another person’s property is. . well, it’s-”
“Very British,” Archie said.
“Even so, we can’t allow it,” Desmond continued. “Very important, you know, to have these two authenticated. And, loose like this, they might take advantage of the freedom and trot off to. . to Heaven knows where. Under the circumstances, I rather believe we’ll have to hold you all prisoner.” He turned to Archie. “Do you have the firearm, old chap?” he asked.
“Now, look-” Max said.
“Terribly sorry, Des. I believe I left it on the motorbike,” Archie broke in.
Desmond chuckled. “Oh, Archie, you are your father’s son, aren’t you?”
“Yes. . afraid so. You see, I had it here in my rear pocket, and the motorbike was jouncing around- What, ho! Here it is, Des. I didn’t leave it on the motorbike, after all. There’s a good bit of mother in me, too, apparently.” He handed a pistol to Desmond.
Desmond, in turn, pointed it in the general direction of Max, 99 and von BOOM. “Since we seem to hold all the cards, and since it’s such a beastly hot day, shall we all just sit down, and, as the Americans say, refrigerate it?” he smiled.
“Cool it,” Max corrected.
“Ah, yes-slang terms haven’t changed much in thousands and thousands of years, eh?”
They all settled into deck chairs.
“Too bad we can’t phone ahead to the papers, Des,” Archie said. “This will raise quite a flap, I imagine-two mummies, thousands and thousands of years old, and still living. It’s the sort of thing the press makes a large to-do about.”
“Would be rather nice,” Desmond agreed. “But, of course, there’s no way to signal.”
“Far be it from me to be a sorehead,” Max said. “If you want to, you can use my shoe.”
“How very accommodating.”
Max removed his shoe and handed it to Desmond who got up and began waving it about.
“That won’t work,” Max said.
“I’m perfectly aware of that, chap. But, since you were so nice to offer it, I thought I’d at least go through the motions.”
“It’s a telephone,” Max explained. “Remove the heel and dial.”
Doubtfully, Desmond detached the heel. Finding the dial, he brightened. “By Harry! I’ve heard that you chaps back in ancient times were centuries ahead of us in some matters, but this- Fantastic!”
He dialed the Information Operator in Alexandria and got the numbers of the various newspapers, then telephoned each one and talked to a reporter. After he had finished spreading the news, he handed Max’s shoe back to him.
“They’ll all be at the dock to meet us,” Desmond advised Archie. “I suspect, old chap, that we’re in for a round of world-wide acclaim. Famous, and all that rot.”
“You’ll look like a couple of hoods, carrying that gun,” Max said.
Desmond sat up, startled. “Good gracious! You’re absolutely right. A pistol would look frightful in the newspaper pictures.”
“Chuck it overboard, Des,” Archie said.
“I hesitate to, old boy. It’s not mine, it’s yours.”
“Oh, yes-forgot about that. And it’s been in the family for such a terribly long time. It’s the one daddy always misplaced just before he went into battle in World War I.”
“Maybe I could help,” Max suggested. “I wouldn’t mind holding it for you-until after all the fuss and the picture-taking and all is over.”
“You know,” Desmond said, handing over the pistol, “you’re not really a bad sort at all-for a mummy.”
Max pointed the gun at them. “Hands up, and don’t move.”
“I rather think I’ll withdraw that last compliment,” Desmond said.
“Serves him right, too, Des,” Archie said grumpily.
“But, Max, what will we do with them?” 99 said.
“For starters, kick them off our boat,” Max replied.
“Max, those reporters are expecting them in Alexandria. If they’re not aboard, there’ll be an investigation. We’ll lose so much time.”
Max thought for a moment. He looked from Archie to Desmond, then from Desmond to Archie, then stared for a few seconds at the mummy cases.
“The problem is solved, 99,” Max said.
Two days later, the houseboat reached Alexandria. The dock was swarming with newspaper reporters. “Where are they?” the reporters called, scrambling aboard as the boat tied up at the pier.
“You’ll find what you’re looking for in the basement,” Max replied.
The reporters pushed past him and disappeared below. Max, 99 and von BOOM hurried ashore and rushed away. A few minutes later, they got into a taxi and ordered the driver to take them to the airport.
“Max. . Desmond and Archie are going to be very angry,” 99 said.
“I doubt it, 99. That would be un-British.”
Max, 99 and von BOOM entered the crowded airport terminal and started toward the ticket desk. But Max suddenly stopped.
“Let’s not forget, 99,” he said, “we’re back in civilization now. So watch out for KAOS agents. Don’t trust anyone. Remember Rule No. 26: Suspect First, Think Later!”
“That’s Rule No. 24, Max. No. 26 is: Don’t Hold Your Marshmallow Too Close to the Hot Coals.”
Max looked at her doubtfully. “I’ve never heard that, 99. Isn’t that a little silly to be a rule for a secret agent?”
“Not if you’re on a cook-out and you have reason to think a KAOS agent has slipped you a booby-trapped marshmallow, Max.”
“I suppose not,” Max nodded.
“Is anybody going to get the tickets?” von BOOM asked.
“Will you let me direct this operation, Professor?” Max said. “I happen to have a lit-tle bit more experience at fleeing from KAOS than you do. You just stick to your science.”
“All right, then, what next?” von BOOM said.
“I’ll go get the tickets. You two wait right here.”
Max made his way through the crowd to the ticket counter. He addressed the clerk. “Three one-way tickets to Vladivostok,” he said. “That’s in Russia.”
“I know where it is,” the clerk, a young man, responded coolly. “I majored in Vladivostok in ticket school.”
“Sorry about that,” Max said. “I just wanted to be very specific. I didn’t want to end up with tickets to Vladivostok, Spain or Vladivostok, Nebraska. I find that if I’m very specific, I avoid making a lot of stupid mistakes.”
“One-way tickets, eh?” the clerk said. “You must be a secret agent. Planning to stay in Russia and spy a while?”
“No, just passing through,” Max replied. “And I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention that secret agent business to anybody. It’s supposed to be a secret.”
“It’s all right,” the clerk replied, “I’m a secret agent, too. I’m the secret agent in charge of spotting secret agents entering Russia.”
“Oh. . nice to meet you,” Max nodded. “Now. . may I have those tickets?”
The young man detached three tickets from a roll, stamped them, then handed them to Max. “Keep one foot on the ground,” he said.
“I said, ‘Keep one foot on the ground.’ That’s the safest way to fly.”
“Oh. One more thing-where do we get the plane?”
“You go out to the end of the main runway and flap your arms and then fly straight north.”
“Ah. . could you explain that?” Max said.
“The plane took off two hours ago,” the young man replied. “There’s only one flight a day to Vladivostok. The next one isn’t until tomorrow. You better hurry if you want to catch up with today’s flight. It’s a jet. And they’re speedy as the dickens.”
Max handed the tickets back to him. “Nevermind.”
He returned to where 99 and von BOOM were waiting and explained that the next flight to Vladivostok would not be leaving until the following day.
“Max, that means we’ll have to stay here almost twenty-four hours,” 99 said. “And every minute of delay gives KAOS that much more time to try to kidnap Professor von BOOM.”
“I know, 99. But what can we do? There’s no possible- Wait a minute. I have an idea.”
Max made another trip to the ticket desk. When he returned he was carrying a thick folder. “This is the international airlines schedule,” he explained. “It lists the departure and arrival times of every flight in the world. It’s just possible that we can get to Vladivostok by way of somewhere else.” He opened the schedule and studied it for a few moments, then suddenly brightened. “There’s a plane leaving here for Paris in a few minutes,” he said. “And, with a little luck, we can connect with a plane that flies from Paris to Vladivostok.”
“Why don’t we just get a plane straight to the North Pole?” von BOOM suggested.
Max consulted the schedule again. “Because there’s only one flight a year to the Pole,” he said, after a second. “And we missed it by six months. Besides, it only flies over the Pole. It doesn’t stop.”
“At the rate we’re going, and all the trouble we’re having, I still think that would be the quickest and easiest,” von BOOM said.
Max let the comment pass and returned to the ticket counter and purchased three one-way tickets to Paris. Then he and 99 and von BOOM boarded the plane, which was ready to depart. A few minutes later, the plane took off.
Max looked around at the other passengers. “Did you happen to see anyone who looks like a KAOS agent, 99?” he said.
He faced front. “Just keep alert for anything suspicious,” he said. “KAOS is probably getting desperate by now. They’re liable to try anything.”
The stewardess appeared. “Coffee, tea or coke?” she smiled.
“Doped or un-doped?” Max shot back.
“Oh, you must be that crazy secret agent,” the stewardess said. “The ticket clerk told me you’d be aboard.”
“He promised he wouldn’t blab it around,” Max said, disappointed.
“It’s all right,” the stewardess replied. “I’m a secret agent, too. I’m the secret agent in charge of observing secret agents entering France. Now. . what will it be? Coffee, tea or coke-doped or un-doped?”
“We’ll pass,” Max said.
Several hours later, the airliner landed in Paris. Max, 99 and von BOOM hurried into the terminal and rushed to the ticket counter.
“Three one-way tickets to Vladivostok-and snap to it!” Max ordered.
“Yes, sir!” the clerk replied. Quickly, he tore three tickets from a roll, stamped them, and handed them to Max. “There you are. Fast enough?”
“Very good,” Max said. “Now, where do we get the plane?”
“In Berlin, Germany,” the clerk replied. “That’s its next stop. It left here about a quarter of an hour ago.”
Max sighed gloomily. “And the next flight to Vladivostok doesn’t leave until tomorrow, I suppose,” he said.
“Say, you know the schedule pretty well,” the clerk said. “Try this one: If you were an American businessman and you had an appointment for lunch at the Cafe Le Pousse Cat, which flight would you take? The one that goes by way of London, Rotterdam and Dusseldorf? Or the one that goes by way of Glasgow, Stockholm and Madrid?”
“That’s a toughy,” Max scowled, opening his international schedule.
“Just a minute, 99. The answer should be. . Yes, this is it.” He faced the ticket clerk again. “By way of London, Rotterdam and Dusseldorf,” he said.
“Wrong. You’d go outside and get a taxi and take it into town. The Cafe Le Pousse Cat is only about a half-hour drive from here. You’re already in Paris.”
Max glared at him. “Nobody likes a smart ticket clerk,” he said. “Just exchange these three one-way tickets to Vladivostok for three one-way tickets to Madrid.”
“Madrid, Max?” 99 said.
“While I was looking up that answer, 99, I happened to notice that there’s a daily flight from Madrid to Vladivostok. We can make the connection, I think, if we can get on the plane that’s leaving here for Madrid in exactly-” He looked at his watch. “-four minutes.”
“If you’re going to Madrid,” the clerk said, “ I can give you a tip. Don’t-”
Von BOOM started to wander away. Max grabbed him and escorted him back to the counter.
“We don’t need a you-know-what,” Max said to the clerk. “Just give us the tickets.”
“All right,” the clerk said, handing Max the tickets. “But when you get to Madrid, watch out for what you Americans call the policemen.”
“The what?” 99 asked.
“Nevermind, 99,” Max said, urging her away. “We’ll miss the plane.”
They rushed from the terminal and got aboard the airliner only moments before it started to taxi out to the runway. They had been settled in their seats for only a few seconds when it took off.
“What do we Americans call policemen, Max?” 99 said puzzledly.
“Why are we supposed to watch out for fuzz in Madrid?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because it tickles. That ticket clerk probably doesn’t want us to enjoy ourselves.”
In time, the plane landed in Madrid. Max, 99 and von BOOM hurried into the terminal. But there was a long line at the ticket desk.
“Oh, Max, this would happen now,” 99 groaned.
“I’ll see if we can get some rush service,” Max said, leading the way to the head of the line. “Excuse me,” he said to the clerk, “but could we-”
“End of the line,” the clerk said.
“End of the line.”
Max shrugged, then led the way back to the end of the line. “It’s moving quickly,” he said to 99. “And there’s still a half-hour before that plane is scheduled to leave for Vladivostok. So we’ll probably make it.”
“I hope so, Max. We’ve missed so many- Max! Professor von BOOM! He’s gone!”
“Drat! What did I say?”
“It wasn’t you, Max. It was that clerk. He said ‘end of the line.’ Line! Von BOOM must be looking for the post office.”
Max and 99 rushed to the exit and looked out. Von BOOM was nowhere in sight.
“Quick-where is the post office?” Max said to a porter who was standing nearby.
“If you’re in that big a hurry, why don’t you just drop it in a mailbox?” the porter replied. He pointed. “There’s one over there.”
“No, no, I’m looking for a dumpy little fellow who looks like he needs a keeper,” Max replied.
“You’d have better luck dropping it into a mailbox,” the porter told him. “They don’t make pickups at dumpy little men who look like they need keepers.”
“I’m not trying to mail a letter,” Max said. “I’m looking for a lost scientist.”
“I see. And you think somebody found him and will probably mail him back to you. I don’t think they’d take him all the way into town to the post office, though. Not with that mailbox so handy. Have you looked in the mailbox?”
“Forget it,” Max said.
Max and 99 dashed from the terminal and got into the back seat of a cab that was parked at the curb.
“Quick! To the post office!” Max commanded.
The driver turned in the seat and looked at them. “You’re from out of town, eh?” he said.
“Yes, yes-hurry,” Max said.
“I can’t do it,” the driver said. “It’s the code of the Spanish taxi drivers never to take undue advantage of a tourist. I can’t cheat you. There’s no need to go all the way into town to the post office. There’s a mailbox right inside the terminal.”
“Look-” Max began wearily.
“Max, let me try,” 99 said. She addressed the driver. “It’s very simple,” she said. “We don’t want to mail a letter. We’re looking for someone-a small, dumpy man who looks as if he needs a keeper. We think we may find him at the post office.”
The driver peered at her, scowling, then looked at Max. “A small, dumpy guy that looks like he needs a keeper, eh, lady? What do you want with two of them? Trying to make up a set?”
“I am not dumpy,” Max said.
“Could you just take us to the post office?” 99 said. “And let us worry about the reason?”
The driver shrugged and faced front. “Why not?” he said. “The code of the Spanish cab driver is: If some tourist nut insists on getting took-be of service.”
A half-hour later, they reached the post office, located in the center of Madrid. Max and 99 jumped out and headed up the steps-just as von BOOM came out the door and headed down the steps.
“Professor!” Max called.
But at that same instant, from behind them, came the sound of thundering hoofs, which drowned-out Max’s shout. Whipping around, Max and 99 saw a solid wall of fierce-looking bulls pounding toward them through the street.
“Well, now we know what that ticket clerk meant, 99,” Max said.
“When he said to watch out for what we Americans call policemen? You mean he meant-”
“Bulls,” Max nodded.
“Max! We’ll be trampled!”
“But, Max! The Professor!”
“99, the Professor is already a block ahead of us. Now, run!”
Max and 99 raced up the street, with the bulls thundering behind them, getting closer. Ahead of them, Professor von BOOM drew farther and farther away.
“He sprints very nicely for a small, dumpy man,” Max commented.
“Max, run faster! If we don’t, we’ll not only lose von BOOM, but the bulls will get us.”
“You know, actually, this is the sort of thing we ought to relax and enjoy, 99,” Max said. “This is not just a simple stampede. It’s a ceremony.”
“Oh, yes. This is the way the bull-fighting season starts. The bulls are chased through the streets to the bull ring. It’s a very interesting and colorful sight. That is, it is if you happen to be behind the bulls.”
“Max, we’re gaining on von BOOM.”
“I knew he’d slow up sooner or later, carrying all that dump with him.”
“But. . Max. . the bulls are gaining on us!”
“See that corner up ahead, 99? According to my calculations, the three of us, you and I and von BOOM, will reach it at the same moment. You get the Professor by the right hand, and I’ll get him by the left hand, and we’ll steer him around the corner.”
“Good thinking, Max!”
A few moments later, they reached the corner. 99 got von BOOM by the right hand. Max got him by the left hand. Then they turned. Unfortunately, 99 turned left, and Max turned right. They collided, bumped heads, and dropped to the street, unconscious. Professor von BOOM had just enough time to drag them both to safety before the bulls went thundering past.
After a while, Max and 99 regained consciousness. Professor von BOOM helped them to their feet.
“It worked, 99,” Max said. “We saved him. Look, he doesn’t have a scratch on him. But, let’s not waste a lot of time congratulating ourselves,” he said, getting out the international flight schedule. “We still have to get to Vladivostok. Now here. . here’s a flight to Athens from Madrid. And, with any luck at all, it will get us there in time to connect with the flight from Athens to Vladivostok.”
“My hunch is we won’t even make it back to the airport,” von BOOM said.
“That’s not a very nice thing for a man to say who’s just been rescued from a stampede of bulls,” Max replied peevishly.
They returned to the street that had recently been the stomping ground for the herd of bulls, then signalled a cab and rode back to the airport.
“Found him, I see,” the porter said, as they entered the terminal. “I didn’t think he’d get very far without a stamp on him.”
Max did not try again to explain.
They moved on to the ticket desk. Max got three oneway tickets to Athens, and a while later they boarded the plane.
As the airliner took off, 99 relaxed in her seat and closed her eyes.
“Better stay awake, 99,” Max said. “The whole plane could be infested with KAOS agents for all we know.”
“Max. .” she replied wearily, “. . I’ve been awake for so many hours, I’ve stopped counting. We’ve been chasing all over Europe and half of Asia, hopping on planes, hopping off planes, running from bulls, arguing with taxi drivers. . Max, I’m exhausted.”
“But somebody has to keep an eye on von BOOM, 99.”
“Can’t you do it, Max?”
“99, I’ve been chasing all over Europe and half of Asia, hopping on planes, hopping off planes, running from bulls, arguing with taxi drivers. . I think I deserve a little nap.”
“Sorry, Max. . selfish of me. Nighty-night, Max.”
Max soon dozed off. But his nap was short-lived. He was suddenly aroused by the voice of the pilot over the loud-speaker.
“Tenshun, yawl!” the voice said. “This hyar’s yur pilot, ol’ Migale Orteeze from the Southa Spain. Now, Ah don’ want none of yawl fine folks to panic-but we got ourselves a specka trouble.”
“We lost a wing!” Max said, sitting up, panicking.
“Now, don’ get nothin’ fancy in yur heads-like this ol’ flappin’ chicken lost a wing nur nothin’,” the voice continued. “ ’Cause it ain’t nothin’ like that a-tall. Why, I wouldn’ hardly bother to mention it, ’cept I get such a ding-dongy kick outa talkin’ to ya over this hyar squawky-box. What it is, ya see, they’s all fogged-in there at that Athens place. Wheweeee! They say the fog’s so thick on the ground there, you could cut it up in li’l ol’ sqars and sell it for tattletale gray ice cubes. That’s a little humor there to keep up yur spirits.”
“I’ll bet he’s going to tell us we have to turn back,” Max said.
“No, as a fact, I ain’t,” the voice said. “What we’re gonna do is, see, we’re gonna go to our alternate. That’s the place where ya go when you cain’t get in to the place where yur goin’. Now, our alternate, accordin’ to this slippy little piecea paper they give me, is some li’l ol’ town in Egypt. It’s called Alexandria. Anybody ever been there? Well, no bother. It’ll be a nice little surprise for all of us. So, let’s jus’ settle back, folks, an’ think about that raggety-tag ol’ rip-roarin’ time we’re gonna have when we get to Alexandria-that is, if ah can find it.”
The loudspeaker became silent.
“A fine can of beans,” Max grumbled. “Back to Alexandria. We just left there.”
“Max, that was yesterday,” 99 pointed out.
“About this same time yesterday,” von BOOM said.
“That’s right,” Max nodded. “In fact, with any luck, we ought to be able to catch the flight to Vladivostok that we missed yesterday.”
When the plane landed at Alexandria, Max, 99 and von BOOM rushed into the terminal and up to the ticket desk.
“Three one-way tickets to Vladivostok!” Max said. “And snap to it!”
“Oh. . there you are,” the ticket clerk said. “I hope you enjoyed your stay in Alexandria. Did you see the sights?”
“What we saw was Paris and Madrid,” Max replied.
The clerk nodded knowingly. “Some of these guided tours do get a bit off the beaten track,” he said.
“Just give us our tickets,” Max said impatiently.
The clerk opened a drawer and got out three prestamped tickets. “I saved these for you from yesterday,” he said.
“Are they still good?”
The clerk sniffed the tickets. “Oh, a bit musty from being in the drawer,” he said. “But they’ll air out by the time you get to the plane.”
Max snatched the tickets and he and 99 and von BOOM rushed from the terminal and boarded the plane. They were just in time. As soon as they were in their seats, the doors closed and the airliner taxied out for a take-off.
“Max, the past twenty-four hours have been a total loss,” 99 said. “If we’d just stayed here, at least we could have got some sleep.”
“Don’t be a cranky secret agent, 99. Nobody likes a cranky secret agent.”
“Besides, it wasn’t a total total loss,” von BOOM said. “I had a small adventure. How many small adventures does a scientist have in a lifetime?”
“What small adventure is that, Professor?” 99 asked.
“Being chased down the street in Spain by hundreds and hundreds of fierce bulls. What a story to tell the folks back home!”
“I don’t think I’d mention it if I were you, Professor,” Max advised.
“Really? Why not?”
“Because of the comment. If I know anything about the folks back home, somebody is bound to say, ‘That’s a lot of bulls.’ ”
Von BOOM looked thoughtful, then nodded. “You’re right-I’ll forget it.” he said.
When the airliner reached Vladivostok, Max, 99 and von BOOM got off as quickly as possible, hurried in one door of the terminal and out the other door, got into a taxi, and ordered the driver to take them to the railroad station.
“Max, aren’t we doing more rushing than is necessary,” 99 complained. “We haven’t seen a KAOS agent since we were aboard that ship.”
“That doesn’t mean that they’re not all around us, 99. We’re not supposed to see them. KAOS is a secret organization, you know.”
“But, Max, if they’re all around us, why haven’t they tried to abduct Professor von BOOM?”
“I told you, 99, they’re a secret organization. That’s their secret.”
“Max, I think we’ve lost them-completely.”
Max looked mildly troubled. “I wish I could confer with the Chief,” he said. “He certainly picked an inconvenient time to go on vacation.”
“Max, I’m sure you can contact him by shoe-phone. He wouldn’t leave on vacation without telling someone where he was going. Suppose HIM wanted to get in touch with him?”
“You may be right, 99. I’ll try.”
Max removed his shoe and dialed.
Operator: Maxie, did you get permission to take the Telephone Company’s shoe to Russia?
Max: I have the Chief’s permission, Operator. And speaking-
Operator: Oh sure, he’d give you his permission. It isn’t his shoe. Why should he care? Nobody cares about our telephone but us.
Max: That’s not true, Operator. I care about it. Now-
Operator: If you care about it, Max, how is it that you can walk all over it?
Max: I’m not going to get involved in a silly argument with you, Operator. Connect me with the Chief. And don’t tell me he’s on vacation. I know that. But I also know that you know where he is. So, just get him on the phone, and don’t give me a lot of guff.
Operator (timidly): Did you get up on the wrong side of the world this morning, Max?
Operator: All right, all right.
(clicks and buzzes)
Chief: Aloha! Chief here. .
Max: Aloha, Chief? You mean while I’m chasing around the world, fighting off sand storms, river pirates and bulls, you’re basking in the sun in Hawaii? Is that fair, Chief? After all-
Chief: Max, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. This isn’t exactly a vacation I’m on. It’s more of a working vacation. I’m- Just a moment, Max. I want to turn over. I’m getting a little too brown on that side. All right. . now, why did you call, Max? Trouble?
Max: No, Chief. That’s the trouble.
Chief: Could you give me that again, Max? We must have a bad connection.
Max: I said our trouble is that we’re not getting any trouble. We haven’t encountered a KAOS agent in days, Chief. Doesn’t that strike you as a little suspicious?
Chief: Mmmmm. . you’re right, Max. It might mean, of course, that you’ve been so clever that you’ve eluded them completely. But-
Operator: Aw, come on, Chief!
Chief: As I was about to say, but that hardly seems likely. It must be some kind of a maneuver, Max. They must be planning something. Maybe they’re waiting for just the right moment to strike. You better stay on your toes.
Operator: Don’t you dare, Max! You might bend our shoe!
Chief: The only thing I can suggest, Max, is that you play it by ear. If you’re suddenly attacked by a horde of KAOS agents, you’ll know that, until now, they’ve been playing cat and mouse. And your trouble-that is, your lack of trouble-will be over-one way or the other. But, on the other hand, if you reach the North Pole without seeing any more KAOS agents, you’ll know that you’ve out-foxed them. It could happen, Max. It’s a crazy world.
Operator: Not that crazy, Chief. You’d better get in out of that sun.
Max: All right, Chief. Thanks for the advice-I think. And. . aloha, Chief. .
By then, the cab had reached the railroad station. Max, 99 and von BOOM got out and entered the terminal. Max bought tickets for two compartments-one for 99 and one for himself and von BOOM-on the Trans Siberian Railway, and soon after that they boarded the train. Max and von BOOM left 99 at her compartment, then entered their own compartment, which was next door. A few minutes later, the train whistle blew, then the train began moving slowly out of the station.
“Very odd,” Max muttered, settling in a seat. “I took a very close look at every person we met from the time we left that taxi to the time we reached this compartment and not one of them looked anything like a KAOS agent.”
“What does a KAOS agent look like?” von BOOM asked.
“Oh. . I don’t know. Nothing special. . like anybody else.”
Von BOOM looked out the window. “We’re picking up speed,” he said. “We’re almost out of the city.”
“You don’t happen to see anybody suspicious-looking running alongside the train, do you, Professor? I know those KAOS agents are somewhere around.”
“Nobody out there but chickens,” von BOOM replied.
“We’ve reached the countryside,” von BOOM explained.
“Oh.” Max looked thoughtful for a second, then said, “Are any of them, by any chance, wearing shoulder holsters?”
“I can’t tell. They all have their wings down.”
“Mmmmmm. . I wonder why? KAOS agents are very clever at disguise, you know. I better look for myself.” He got up and peered out the window, then shook his head. “Nope. But I wouldn’t be surprised-”
There was a sudden scream. It sounded as if it were coming from 99’s compartment. Max rushed to the door, yanked it open, and dashed out into the aisle. A sinister-looking man wearing a blue suit with brass buttons was standing at 99’s doorway. The door was open, and 99 was just inside. She looked pale and startled.
“Agent. .” 99 gasped, seeing Max.
“KAOS! Finally!” Max shouted. He lunged at the man.
The man took off up the aisle-and Max landed flat on his face on the floor.
“I’ll get him, 99!” Max said, scrambling to his feet. “Keep an eye on von BOOM!”
As the man passed through the doorway at the end of the car, Max raced up the aisle after him. They ran through one car after another, with the fleeing man maintaining a slight lead. Other passengers dived to the right and left to keep from being run down. The man and Max reached the dining car. The man sought protection behind a table. Max lunged at him. The man ducked under the table. Max landed on top of it, flat, and skidded across it-and three other tables-pulling tablecloths with him and sending dishes, silverware and glassware flying in all directions.
As Max struggled to his feet, he caught a glimpse of the man running from the car, heading in the direction from which they had come. He gave chase. Back through the cars, one after another, the two raced. Other passengers dived to the right and left to keep from being ran down. Ahead, Max saw 99 and von BOOM standing in the aisle.
“Inside!” he shouted.
The man ducked into a compartment.
“Not you! Them!” Max shouted after him.
99 called to him. “Max-”
“Later, 99. I’m busy right now!”
Max thrust open the compartment door and ran in-just as the man disappeared out the window. Max rushed to the opening and looked out and up. He saw the man’s legs dangling down from above-he had climbed to the roof of the train. Quickly, Max scrambled after him.
Reaching the roof, Max spotted the man making his way precariously toward the rear of the train. Gingerly, slowly, being careful of his footing, Max followed. The man was getting away. Max moved faster. His foot slipped. He fell and went rolling toward the edge of the roof. Just in time, he caught hold of a ridge, ending the fall. Slowly, gripping the ridge with the tips of his fingers, calling on an extra strength, he dragged himself back to the center of the roof, then struggled to his feet and resumed the chase.
The man had reached the rear of the train and was climbing down. Thinking quickly, Max jumped down between two cars, landed on the platform, then entered the train and ran toward the rear, hoping to intercept the man. But he reached the last car-the observation car-without meeting him.
Stopping, Max looked around, puzzled. A number of passengers were seated in the lounge car with papers. All except one had lowered their papers to stare at Max. Warily, he approached the one man who was still hidden, and then, with a sudden movement, yanked the paper from in front of his face. It was the man in the blue suit with the brass buttons.
Max lunged at him.
The man ducked, dived between Max’s legs, then escaped up the aisle toward the front of the train. Max landed in the lounge chair-but in the wrong position for sitting.
With considerable difficulty, Max disengaged himself from the chair and took out after the man again. They raced through one car after another. Passengers dived to the left and right to avoid being run down.
Ahead, Max saw 99 and von BOOM.
“Clear the track!” he shouted. “Runaway KAOS agent!”
“Max!” 99 called. “Stop!”
The man in the blue suit with the brass buttons halted. Gasping for breath, he hid behind 99 and peeked out, watching Max frightenedly.
“You just made your first mistake,” Max said to the man. “That happens to be a Control agent you’re hiding behind-as if you didn’t know it.”
“I surrender,” the man panted. “I confess. Whatever it was, I did it.”
“That’s better,” Max said. “Now, see? Isn’t that a lot less trouble than running?”
“Max, what is going on? What are you doing?” 99 said.
He looked at her baffledly. “99, I just captured a KAOS agent. You heard him confess.”
“He’s just frightened, Max. And no wonder! Why were you chasing him all over the train?”
“He-99, let’s start back at the beginning. You screamed. I rushed out into the aisle. You pointed out this man as a KAOS agent. I-”
99 was shaking her head. “I said ‘agent,’ Max. Not KAOS agent-just ‘agent.’ He’s a ticket agent. He was trying to collect my ticket.”
“But, you screamed, 99.”
“He surprised me. He opened the door without knocking.”
“Why should I knock?” the man said. “I called in to you. I said, ‘tickets, please.’ ”
“I didn’t hear you,” 99 explained. “So, when I saw you, I was startled.” She turned back to Max. “And I screamed. But, Max, couldn’t you guess that he was a ticket agent? Didn’t you notice his uniform?”
“I thought it was a mod suit,” Max explained. He shrugged. “Well, no harm done,” he said. He handed the man his and von BOOM’s tickets. “This will save you the trouble of stopping at our compartment,” he said.
The man punched the tickets, then moved on down the aisle, calling in at one compartment door after another.
“I’m famished after that run,” Max said. “Shall we go to dinner?”
“If you promise to stop seeing KAOS agents everywhere,” 99 said.
“99, I don’t see any KAOS agents at all. That’s why I keep seeing them everywhere.”
Max led the way through the train toward the dining car. Seeing him coming, other passengers dived to the right and left to avoid getting run down.
“It’s all right. . relax,” Max told them. “It was a false alarm.”
When they reached the dining room and the waiters spotted Max they rushed to the tables to protect them.
“Easy does it. It was a false alarm,” Max repeated.
“People certainly get to know you quickly,” von BOOM said.
“Yes. It’s my friendly manner,” Max nodded.
They selected a table and ordered and very quickly their food was served to them.
“Marvelous service,” Max commented.
“Self-defense,” von BOOM guessed. “They want to get you out of here as quickly as they can.”
“And the food is marvelous, too,” 99 said, eating. “This goulash is simply out of this world.”
“These French fries are terrible,” von BOOM grumbled. “The Russians just can’t make French fries the way the Americans can.”
“How is your salad?” Max asked.
“Worse. The Russians don’t know the first thing about making a Russian dressing.”
“That hamburger looks good, though,” 99 said.
“Horrible,” von BOOM growled. “The idiots made it with ham.”
The rest of the meal was eaten in silence. When it was finished, the waiter left the check at the table.
“Does anybody know how much to tip a Russian waiter?” Max asked.
Von BOOM got up and headed toward the far end of the dining car.
“Max! Get him!” 99 said.
“It’s all right, 99. He’s going to the kitchen. He wants to complain to the chef.”
“But, Max, you said ‘tip.’ ”
“I’m aware of that, 99,” Max replied. “I still contend that he’s going to the kitchen, though. Think, 99. Where are we? We’re in a dining car. A dining car is a restaurant on wheels. Would it make any sense to leave a restaurant to go to a restaurant? I knew when I said it that, as long as we were in a restaurant, anyway, it was perfectly safe to say ‘tip.’ ”
“Max, I’m just- Max! The train is stopping! Something has happened to Professor von BOOM!”
“Nonsense, 99. You’re a worry-wort. Look out the window. This is a regular stop, that’s all. See the little village?”
“Oh. Oh. . yes. You’re right, Max, I was foolish to worry.”
“Of course, 99. See? The train is starting up again. It probably stopped to let off a passenger-somebody who lives in that little village. Now, it will- There-look, 99. See that dumpy little man on the platform? He’s probably the one who got off. There was absolutely-”
“Max!” 99 screeched. “That dumpy little man! That’s Professor von BOOM!”
Max peered out the window. “He is dumpy, 99. But I don’t-”
“Max, I know it’s him!”
“Follow me, 99. We’ll check it out.”
They got up and walked to the end of the car. “Did you see a dumpy-” Max started to say to a waiter who was standing there.
“He got off at the last stop,” the waiter broke in.
“Quick, Max! After him!” 99 cried.
With Max in the lead, they rushed out to the platform. The train had picked up a good bit of speed.
Together, they leaped from the platform, and together they hit the ground and then rolled, ending up in a tangle in a ditch. The train sped on, leaving them.
“It’s a good thing Control gives its agents parachute training,” Max said, rising and helping 99 to her feet. “Otherwise, we might have been killed.”
“Max, I don’t see him.”
“Of course not, 99. We must be at least a mile from the station. Hurry.”
Running as fast as they could, they rushed back to the village, then began going from restaurant to restaurant asking about von BOOM. Since there were only two restaurants, the task did not take long. At the first restaurant they were advised that the last little dumpy man who had been there was a Frenchman named Napoleon who had stopped for a sandwich on his way to Moscow. The proprietor of the second restaurant was more helpful, however.
“Dumpy?” he said. “How dumpy? About like you?”
“Much dumpier,” Max replied crisply.
“I saw him,” the proprietor replied. “He passed the restaurant only a few minutes ago.”
“Passed?” Max said, surprised.
“He went thataway,” the proprietor nodded, pointing up the street.
Max and 99 hurried in the direction the man had pointed. They soon reached the end of the business district.
“Gone, Max!” 99 wailed.
“He must be in one of these houses, 99.”
“But he should be in a restaurant.”
“Maybe he smelled home-cooking. Come on. We’ll just have to go from door to door until we find him.”
At the first house, there was no answer to their knock. At the second house, the woman who answered said that she hadn’t seen a dumpy little man since her neighbor, the man next door, had left for Leningrad two weeks earlier. At the third house, the door was opened by a dumpy little man.
“No, I haven’t seen anybody in town lately,” he replied to Max’s question. “I just got off the Trans Siberian Railway. I’ve been in Leningrad for the past two weeks.”
Max clapped a hand to his brow. “Von BOOM!”
“No need to shout,” the dumpy little man said.
“We’re sorry,” 99 told him. “We thought you were somebody else.”
“Two weeks in Leningrad changes a person,” the dumpy little man said. He closed the door.
“Max, do you realize what this means?” 99 said. “Professor von BOOM is still on the train! We’ve lost him!”
“Not yet, 99. Let’s get to the airport, hire a plane, and catch the train at the next stop.”
They rushed back to the second restaurant.
“Quick!” Max said to the proprietor. “Where’s the airport?”
The proprietor frowned thoughtfully. “Behind the bag of onions?” he guessed.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Max asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never even played this game before.”
“It isn’t a game,” Max said. “We have to get to the airport. We need a fast plane-and fast!”
“You’re asking directions from the wrong person,” the proprietor said. “I didn’t even know we had an airport until you mentioned it.”
“No airport, Max!” 99 groaned.
“All right, we’ll just have to settle for a fast car,” Max said. “Is there a fast car in town?” he asked the proprietor.
“You know it, buddy!” the proprietor beamed. “We got an American car. Zoom! It’s the same kind of car all you Americans drive on your super highways. Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! It’s what you Americans call a bestseller. Everybody in the United States who is anybody has a car like this. Zoom!”
“A Ford!” Max said. “Great. Now-”
The proprietor was shaking his head.
“A Chevy?” Max said.
“You don’t know much about America,” the proprietor said. “This is the most popular car on the road. Ready? An Edsel!”
“We’ll give it a try,” Max said gloomily.
The proprietor telephoned his brother-in-law, the owner of the Edsel, and a few minutes later he drove up to the restaurant. Max and 99 got in and the car sped off, headed for the town at which the train was scheduled to stop next.
“Will we make it?” Max asked the driver.
“In a breeze,” he replied. “I wound the key as tight as it would go.”
“This is a wind-up car!” Max said, appalled.
“My own invention,” the driver replied. “It saves on gas.”
They reached the town just as the train, which had stopped, was pulling out again. Max and 99 jumped from the car, raced along the platform, and leaped aboard the train, catching it at the very moment that it started to pick up speed.
“By a whisker!” Max breathed. “Now-let’s find von BOOM!”
They ran along the aisle toward the front of the train. Other passengers dived to the left and right to avoid getting run down. A few moments later, they reached the dining car. Max spotted the waiter who had served them.
“A dumpy little man-did you see him?” he panted.
“I hope I never see him again,” the waiter replied irritably. “First, he spent about an hour in the kitchen, complaining about the food. Then he committed an unpardonable sin.”
“Von BOOM?” Max said doubtfully.
“You don’t have to shout,” the waiter said.
“What did he do?”
“Well, when he came back from the kitchen, I handed him the check, and he paid it. Then I said, ‘What about my tip?’ and he turned on his heel and walked up the aisle and then got off the train.”
“Oh, no!” 99 wept.
“Yep,” the waiter nodded. “Got off the train. At that last stop there.”
“You shouldn’t have mentioned ‘tip!’ ” Max scolded. “Come on,” he said to 99. “It’s Geronimo time again!”
Max and 99 ran toward the end of the car.
“What do you mean, shouldn’t have mentioned tip?” the waiter shouted after them. “Don’t you bums know anything about American customs!”
Max and 99 reached the platform.
“Geronimo!” Max cried.
They jumped, hit the ground, rolled, and ended up in a tangle.
“Max, we’re miles from the station,” 99 said, struggling up.
“I can’t even see the Professor,” Max said.
“Max. . didn’t we get those lines mixed up?”
“I believe so, 99. Let’s try it again. You first.”
“Max, I can’t even see the Professor.”
“We’re miles from the station, 99.”
Running as fast as they could, Max and 99 hurried back to the village they had just left. Reaching there, they asked the station master if he had seen von BOOM.
“Dumpy little fellow? Sure,” the man replied. “He asked me where he could find the nearest restaurant. I told him we don’t have a restaurant. So he decided to move on. There was some fellow here with one of those big, sleek American cars, so this other fellow hired him to take him to the next stop so he could catch the train again. They just left. Zoom! — that ol’ key unwindin’ like a madman!”
“Quick-is there another fast car in town?” Max asked.
“Fellow, this town hasn’t even got a restaurant.”
“Sunk!” Max groaned. “We’ll never catch him now.”
“If you want to catch that train, why don’t you just hike out to the airport and hire yourself a fast plane?” the station master suggested.
“You don’t have a restaurant, yet you have an airport?”
“You’re in a country where all the decisions are made in Moscow,” the man replied. “With a system like that, one town gets a restaurant and another gets an airport-but neither get both.”
Running as fast as they could, Max and 99 rushed to the airfield. After a few minutes of bargaining with a pilot who did not speak English they were finally able to make themselves understood. And seconds later they took off. It was a short flight to the next train stop. When they landed, they leaped from the plane and rushed into town to the station. They reached it just as the train was pulling out.
Max and 99 jumped aboard, then raced down the aisle toward the front of the train. The other passengers, tired of diving to the left and right, ignored them-and a number of them got run down.
Max and 99 rushed into the compartment that Max shared with von BOOM. The Professor was seated by the window, reading a newspaper.
“Safe!” 99 cried joyfully.
“Has somebody been chasing you?” von BOOM inquired.
“Not exactly,” Max replied, dropping into the seat that faced him. “We’ve been chasing you, Professor-all over Russia. We lost you, but then we found you-almost-and then we lost you, and then. . well, here we are. Saved again!”
“Again?” von BOOM asked.
“Remember that experience with those hundreds and hundreds of bulls?” Max replied. “That was the first time. So, this makes the second time.”
“That’s a lot of bulls,” von BOOM said, retreating behind the newspaper.
The following afternoon when Max, 99 and von BOOM were relaxing in the observation car, the train halted at a small town-then remained sitting. Curious, Max motioned to a conductor.
“Why aren’t we moving?” he asked.
“We’re picking up a special car,” the conductor replied. “In a few minutes, you’ll feel a bump. Then, if you look at the rear window, you’ll see another car attached to the train.”
Max’s eyes narrowed. “Russian secret police?” he asked.
The conductor shook his head. “We Russian secret police go around disguised as ordinary citizens,” he replied. “Like waiters and traveling salesmen and. . uh. .”
“Right-train conductors. It’d be stupid for us to ride around in special cars and get attached to regular trains in the middle of the day in little out-of-the-way villages. When the special car was being hitched-on and the passengers felt the bump, they’d say, ‘There’re the secret police again.’ ”
“Then who is in the special car?” Max asked.
“Who knows? I’m like everybody else. Since I know it isn’t the secret police, I don’t pay any attention.”
The conductor moved on.
“Very strange,” Max mused.
“The conductor doesn’t think it’s strange, Max,” 99 pointed out. “So it must happen quite often.”
“99, for all I know, that conductor is not a member of the Russian secret police, but a KAOS agent, who slipped aboard, did away with the real conductor, who was not a real conductor, but a member of the Russian secret police, then took his place, so that when I asked why the train was sitting in the station, he could allay my suspicions by pretending to be the conductor who was a member of the Russian secret police and telling me that picking up a special car is an everyday occurence, when, in fact, he knows that the special car is carrying KAOS agents who are bent on kidnapping Professor von BOOM.”
“Max, you mean-”
“Whatever I said, that’s what I mean, 99. Don’t make me say it again.”
There was a sudden bump. Max and 99 jumped up and ran to the rear window and looked out. Another car had been attached to the end of the train.
“It’s probably a beehive of KAOS agents,” Max said.
“I don’t think so, Max. I think it’s empty.”
“99, I happen to know a beehive when-”
“But, Max, look-” 99 pointed.
A large number of stony-faced men were approaching the special car, marching in single line along the platform. They were dressed in dark suits, and each one was carrying an instrument case.
“I still say it’s a beehive,” Max said. “The bees just haven’t arrived yet.”
“Max, they’re musicians, they’re not KAOS agents.”
“Ha! I’ll bet there’s not one man in that whole outfit who can even play the kazoo. They’re carrying machine guns in those cases, 99, not instruments. Look at those faces. Those are the faces of killers. I know exactly what they intend to do, 99. They-”
“Watch out, Max-they’ll see you!”
Max and 99 pulled back so that the men, who were entering the special car, could not see them. A few minutes later, they heard the door of the car slam. They looked out again. Not one of the mysterious strangers was still in sight.
“Max. . you may be right,” 99 said fearfully.
“Of course I’m right. The minute this train reaches some deserted area-like a desert or something-those men will pour out of that car-machine guns at the ready-and gun down every living human being aboard-except one. That way, there will be no witnesses to their crime.”
“Max, that’s terrible!”
“Who is the one?” von BOOM asked, having joined Max and 99.
“You,” Max replied.
“That’s not so terrible,” von BOOM said.
The train began moving again.
“Max! What can we do?”
“Get off this train-and fast!” Max said.
“Not me,” von BOOM said. “I think you’re wrong, Smart. Those aren’t KAOS agents. They’re probably members of a Russian orchestra.”
“Max. . he might be right,” 99 said.
“I say they’re not even Russian,” Max replied. “And I’ll prove it.” He got a Russian-American dictionary from his pocket. “I’ll go question them. That ought to settle the matter for once and all.”
“Max-wouldn’t that be dangerous?”
“So would staying here and getting gunned down, 99.”
Max left the car and, with 99 and von BOOM watching from hiding, went to the door of the rear car and knocked. A moment later, the door opened and one of the stony-faced men appeared.
Consulting his Russian-American dictionary, Max said, “Novotny kropotkin don pilsudski?”
The man stared at him blankly for a moment. Then he got out a Russian-American dictionary of his own, thumbed through it, then replied, “Barnonski don kropotkin?”
“Da,” Max nodded.
Max headed back toward his own car. Behind him, he heard the door of the special car close.
“There you are,” Max said triumphantly, returning to where 99 and von BOOM were waiting.
“What did he say, Max?”
“I haven’t the faintest, 99. I don’t understand Russian.”
“Then what did that prove?” von BOOM asked.
“It proved that they’re not members of a Russian orchestra,” Max replied. “If that fellow had been Russian, would he have had to use a Russian-American dictionary?”
“He’s right, Professor,” 99 said. “We better get off the train.”
“I’m not convinced,” von BOOM replied. “You didn’t-”
“Hold it!” Max said suddenly.
The door of the special car had opened again. The mysterious men began emerging.
“Back-out of the way!” Max warned.
The door of the observation car opened. The mysterious men entered and marched by. As each one passed, he peered hard at Max, then 99, then von BOOM. But nothing was said. And finally the last of the men passed by.
“Follow them!” Max said. “This may be it!”
Max was already on his way up the aisle, tracking the mysterious men. 99 and von BOOM trailed after him. They caught up a few cars later. Max was standing in a doorway, looking. straight ahead. 99 and von BOOM looked past him-and saw the mysterious men seated in the dining car, perusing menus.
“That was close,” Max said. “I thought they were going to start the shooting.”
“Max, they don’t have machine guns.”
“I explained that, 99. The machine guns are in their instrument- Oh, yes, I see. They didn’t bring the instrument cases, did they?”
“They’re having dinner, that’s all,” von BOOM said. “What’s suspicious about that?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Max replied. “They’re having dinner to keep us from getting suspicious. That’s what’s suspicious about it.”
Max faced him. “Did you see the way they looked at us when they passed us?” he said to von BOOM. “If you need proof that they’re KAOS agents, that should have been it.”
“They did look at us very strangely, Professor,” 99 said.
Von BOOM frowned. “They did stare at us,” he admitted. “But, still. .”
“There’s no doubt about it,” Max insisted. “Quick-let’s jump off the train.”
“Max-it’s going at least ninety-miles-an-hour. We’d be killed.”
“Isn’t that better than staying here and getting killed, 99?”
Von BOOM shook his head. “I need more proof.”
“All right, you’ll have it,” Max said. “They left their instrument cases in the car. We’ll sneak in there and open the cases, and I’ll show you that they’re carrying machine guns.” He headed toward the rear of the train. “Let’s go.”
99 and von BOOM trailed after him.
“Max, suppose they left somebody to guard the instrument cases?” 99 said.
“I think two Control agents can handle a little thing like a guard, 99.”
“Suppose the instrument cases are booby-trapped,” von BOOM said.
“Professor, a Control agent has no trouble handling a little thing like a booby trap,” Max answered.
They reached the special car. Max tried to open the door-but it was locked. “Drat-stopped!” he said.
“By a locked door?” von BOOM said, puzzled.
“Yes,” Max nodded. “Too bad it isn’t something we can handle-a guard or a booby trap. Well, that leaves us no choice. We’ll just have to jump.”
“I refuse,” von BOOM said.
“You go ahead and jump, 99,” Max said. “I’ll push von BOOM, then I’ll be along right after him.”
“Max, there must be another way,” 99 said.
“99, I’ve thought this through,” Max said. “And the only other possible way would be to detach this last car from the train and leave it stranded out here in the middle of nowhere.”
“Max! That’s a brilliant idea!”
“It’s a terrible idea, 99,” Max corrected. “What good would it do us? Those KAOS agents are all up in the dining car.”
“We could wait until they come back, Max. And then, when they’re all in the car again, we could release it.”
“Jumping would be much faster, 99.”
“I won’t jump, and I won’t be pushed,” von BOOM said.
Max sighed, resigned. “All right,” he said, “we’ll do it the hard way. But, just remember, when I make out my report on this mission, I’m going to make sure that the record shows that I wanted to jump.”
Max, 99 and von BOOM returned to their compartments and waited until night. Then, a little after midnight, when everyone else on the train was asleep, they quietly returned to the platform of the observation car.
“How are the cars connected, Max?” 99 whispered. “Do you know how to detach them?”
“I’m sure it’s very simple, 99. All mechanical things are simple. I once took a Swiss watch apart-and after I’d looked at it for only a few minutes.”
“Did you get it back together?” von BOOM asked.
“That isn’t important, Professor,” Max replied. “I don’t intend to put these two cars back together after I disconnect them. We’re going to leave the special car stranded-remember?” He got down on his hands and knees and looked closely at the mechanism that linked the two cars. “There’s a handle here,” he said. “All I’ll have to do is pull it, I imagine.”
“Then pull it, Max. Hurry-before someone in that other car hears us.”
“I can’t reach it,” Max replied. “It’s- Oh, I see.” He got to his feet.
“What are you going to do, Max?”
“It’s closer to that other car,” he explained. He stepped to the platform of the special car. “From over here-”
“Quiet, 99. You’re liable to wake those KAOS agents.”
“Shh-shh-shh!” Max got down on his hands and knees again. “I can reach it from here,” he reported. “All I have to do is- There!”
Max had pulled the lever.
“Max! Oh, Max!” 99 cried.
The train was speeding off into the night, leaving the special car stranded-with Max standing on the platform.
“Max-we can’t stop!” She turned tearfully to von BOOM. “Do something!” she wept.
The Professor raised an arm and waved goodbye to Max. “How’s that?” he said to 99.
As the train disappeared into the darkness, Max waved limply in response to von BOOM’s farewell. The special car was losing momentum. After a few moments, it stopped dead.
The door opened. One of the mysterious strangers looked out. “What the-”
“I hope you fellows have a sense of humor,” Max smiled. “Because, if you don’t, you’re going to be a little bit put out about what’s happened.”
The whole car of mysterious strangers began crowding into the doorway, looking baffled.
“Let me put it this way,” Max said, backing off the platform. “Let’s just say that Control has triumphed again, and let it go at that. No hard feelings-okay? Actually, I’m the one who ought to be upset. I was supposed to be on that other platform.”
The mysterious stranger who appeared to be the leader pointed in the direction in which the train had disappeared. “You do dot!” he said angrily to Max.
“Well, yes. But, you see-”
“Dumbhead!” the leader raged.
“Exactly what I was afraid of-no sense of humor,” Max said. He jumped to the ground, whipped around, and raced into the darkness, with no idea at all where he was heading.
“Get dot dumbhead!” the leader of the mysterious strangers screamed.
The ground beneath Max’s feet suddenly disappeared. He performed a rolling, head-over-heels summersault, and then touched ground again. He was at the bottom of a deep ditch.
“Find me dot dumbhead!” the voice screeched.
Max scrambled to his feet. Following the ditch, he raced forward. The voice followed him. He scampered up the side of the ditch, then, on level ground once more, plunged into the darkness-and bounced off a wire fence.
“Oooooooo! — do I vant dot dumbhead!”
Max dragged himself to his feet. He struggled to the top of the fence, tumbled over it-and dangled, with one shoe caught in the wire.
“Soch a dumbhead!”
Max slipped his foot out of the shoe-and crashed to the ground. He staggered to his feet, retrieved the shoe, put it back on, then plunged forward once more-but, unfortunately, in the wrong direction, right back into the fence.
“Dere he is! Get him! Dot dumbhead!”
Again, Max lunged into the darkness. He found himself running across a plowed field, falling on his face after every third step. Behind him, the voice of rage was raised over and over again. But Max kept on. And his determination was soon rewarded. Ahead, he saw a dim light-and then the outline of a house.
“A peasant farmhouse!” he gasped. “Maybe they’ll hide me!”
With renewed strength, he plunged forward again-straight into a wooden fence, over the top of it, and down into a pig pen.
“Oink!” the pig complained.
“Sorry about that,” Max replied, climbing out.
He rushed on, and, moments later, reached the porch of the farmhouse. Collapsing against the door, he beat on it frantically. In the near distance, he heard the voice again, getting closer.
“I think you’re going to have some more company,” he called back to the pig.
At that instant, the door opened-and Max fell into the house, landing flat on his face.
“Da?” a voice said.
Max raised his head. Standing over him were a Russian man and his Russian wife. They were dressed in night clothes. Apparently Max had awakened them.
“KAOS!” Max panted. “I’m being. . pursued. . by. . by KAOS agents. Save. . me.”
The man smiled broadly. “Da!” he said. But he made no effort to help Max.
Max got to his feet. “You don’t understand! Hide! Hide! Conceal! Stash!” He remembered his Russian-American dictionary and quickly got it out.
But at that same instant there was a loud rap on the door.
“Vere is dot dumbhead!” a voice shouted from outside.
The peasant and his wife exchanged baffled looks.
Max raced from the main room into the bedroom and dived under the bed. Soon after that he heard the peasant open the door.
“Greetings!” Max heard the leader of the mysterious strangers say. “Vee are looking for a dumbhead. Maybe you haff seen him. He is a little dumpy fellow that looks like he needs a keeper. And, oh, boy, does he need a keeper! Such a dumbhead!”
“Da?” the peasant replied.
“Who’s got the Russian-American dictionary?” the leader of the mysterious strangers demanded.
Apparently one of his followers quickly handed it over to him. For, a minute or so later, he began addressing the peasant in his native tongue. Max recognized only one word-dumbhead. Evidently the peasant did not understand much more than that, either. He kept responding with one word-da, da, da, da, da.
“Is very clear!” the leader of the mysterious strangers said finally. “He is saying, yes, he does not know vere the dumbhead is. Let’s go! Vee find him!”
The door closed.
Max crawled out from under the bed and returned to the main room. “I want to thank you,” he said to the peasant and his wife. “That was very clever. You made him think you couldn’t understand a word he was saying.”
The peasant brightened. He pointed to Max. “Dumbhead!” he beamed.
“Yes, yes, I’m the dumbhead,” Max nodded. “Now then, can you help me get away?”
The peasant tapped Max’s chest with a forefinger, his grin growing broader. “Dumbhead!” he repeated.
“We’re not accomplishing anything,” Max muttered. Once more, he got out his Russian-English dictionary. “Let’s see now. .” he said, paging through it. “I want to get to the ocean. . water. . but I want to get there without being seen. . that is, to stay hidden. . hide. .”
“Hold it a second,” Max said. “I’m working this out. I need the word for- Ah, here it is!” He closed the dictionary and addressed the peasant. “Droski hobbit. Bibnik. Ish Kabibble. Da?”
The peasant’s eyes opened wide. He turned to his wife. “Droski hobbit?” he said incredulously.
She giggled. “Bibnik,” she replied.
“It may sound a little silly to you,” Max said. “But, you see, those men who were looking for me were KAOS agents. They’re angry because I unhooked their special car. That made them lose Professor von BOOM. If you can provide me with transportation to the ocean, though, I’ll be safe. I’ll call the Chief on my shoe and have him send a submarine for me. Is that clear?”
The peasant smiled and pointed at Max again. “Dumbhead!” he said.
“You’re right on the verge of running that into the ground,” Max warned. “Now, how about my transportation?”
“Yes, I would appreciate it,” Max nodded.
The peasant led the way from the house. He, Max and his wife went to the barn, where the peasant gestured toward a cow that was standing docilely in a stall.
“Am I supposed to ride it?” Max asked. “Don’t you have something with a motor?”
The peasant led the cow from the stall. Max climbed up on its back. “I hope I’m not going to get a lot of stares,” he said. “I’m a secret agent, you know.”
The peasant’s wife tossed a rope over Max. “Bibnik,” she giggled, beginning to tie Max to the cow.
“No, no, ish kabibble!” Max protested.
The peasant yelped delightedly. “Ish kabibble?” he asked, as if he could hardly believe.
“Da!” Max cried. “Ish kabibble!”
Following directions, the peasant walloped the cow on the left flank. Stung, the animal bounded forward. Off it raced, past the pig pen, across the field, with Max clinging to its back.
At the barn, the peasant and his wife looked at each other. The wife raised her eyes, signifying complete bafflement.
“Dumbhead,” the peasant explained.
The cow galloped on, with Max hanging onto its neck and protesting loudly-but ineffectively, since he did not know the word to stop a Russian cow from ish kabibbling.
Then suddenly Max spotted the men from the train. They were tramping back across the field toward the tracks.
“Back!” Max shouted at the cow, trying to turn it.
The cow, knowing no English, paid no attention. Unfortunately, the mysterious strangers heard and understood.
“It’s him-the dumbhead!” the leader shouted, as the cow and Max approached.
“Who’s he got on his back?” a second voice asked.
“He’s the one on top! Get him!”
The cow reached the mysterious strangers. The mysterious strangers snatched Max from the back of the cow. The cow galloped on into the night. Max rested in the grip of the mysterious strangers.
“You dumbhead!” the leader roared.
“Frankly, I’ll admit, it hasn’t been my best day,” Max said. “I haven’t lost a train and a cow, both on the same day, in a long time.”
“Will you get it over with?” one of the mysterious strangers who was holding Max said to the leader. “I’d like to get back to bed.”
“Right-get it over with,” Max said. “I took my chance, and I muffed it. Now, I’m ready to die like the good Control agent I am.”
“Vot he say?” the leader asked.
“He’s out of his head,” one of the men replied. “Riding a cow bareback will do it every time.”
Max yawned. “I could use some sleep, too,” he said. “So, if you KAOS people are going to kill me. .”
The leader backed away from him, appalled. “Don’t say dot!”
Max peered at him. “You are a KAOS agent, aren’t you?”
The leader hesitated. “I’m not sure,” he replied. “Vot is it?”
“If you don’t know, you’re not,” Max answered. “Okay, I’ll take your word for it-you’re not. But, if you’re not-why were you chasing me?”
One of the other mysterious strangers indicated the leader. “He has something to tell you,” he said.
Max faced the leader. “Yes?” he asked, interested.
The leader drew himself up, then shouted, “You are a dumbhead!”
Max nodded. “Oh.” He looked around at the faces of the men. “If you’re not KAOS agents, who are you?” he asked.
“We’re members of the Peoria, Illinois, Symphony Orchestra,” one of the mysterious strangers replied. “We’re on a cultural exchange visit. We’re giving concerts all over Russia.”
“You mean you’re carrying musical instruments in those musical instrument cases?” Max said.
“Vot else?” the leader asked.
Max eyed him narrowly. “If you’re from Peoria, Illinois, how come you have an accent?” he asked.
“He’s our conductor,” one of the other men explained. “He’s from Germany. All American symphony conductors are from Germany. It’s kind of a rule.”
“Now, wait a minute,” Max said. “When we were on that train, and you passed me and my friends on your way to the dining car, you stared at us in a very mysterious way. If you’re not KAOS agents, why did you do that?”
“You looked like Americans,” one of the men replied. “We wondered what you were doing on the Trans Siberian Railroad.”
“Would you believe that I’m a secret agent, and that I’m escorting a very important scientist to the North Pole?” Max asked.
“Good,” Max said. “Because it’s a secret, and I wouldn’t want it blabbed around.”
The whole group returned to the stranded car. As they were discussing the problem of getting to their destination, they heard a train whistle.
“Is the train coming back?” one of the men asked.
“If it is, it circled us and it’s sneaking up on us from the rear,” Max replied.
“That’s tomorrow’s train,” one of the men said. “It’s early.”
“Isn’t it liable to hit us?” Max asked.
An instant later, the train plowed into the car, hooked on, and kept right on going. Two days later, it reached the end of the line, right behind the last car of the train of the day before.
99 and von BOOM were waiting for Max at the station. They stood by, perplexed, as Max said goodby to the mysterious strangers, shaking hands with each one. Then, when the men left, they rushed up to Max.
“Max. What? Who?” 99 asked.
He explained that the men were not KAOS agents, but members of the Peoria Symphony.
“Max. . one other thing,” 99 said. “Didn’t you tell them your real name?”
“Of course, 99.”
“Then why did they all call you by that other name?”
“That’s a term of affection, 99.”
“Don’t push it, 99,” Max warned. “Nobody likes a pushy secret agent.”
Max looked around the station. “Where can I find some privacy?” he said.
“What for, Max?”
“I want to telephone the Chief and arrange for a submarine to meet us when we reach the coast. We can’t wade to Alaska, you know, 99.”
99 and von BOOM looked around, too. “There are people everywhere,” 99 said. “I don’t think you’ll find any privacy here at the railroad station, Max.”
“Why don’t you call from the car on the way to the coast?” von BOOM suggested.
“Because we’re going to walk,” Max replied. “This is a secret mission. If we hired a car, we could be traced. Don’t forget, KAOS is still hot on our trail. So, we have to slip out of town without being seen. We can’t leave any leads that KAOS might follow.”
“You’re right, Max,” 99 said.
“Of course I am. Now, let’s get going. I’ll telephone the Chief as soon as we get on the road.”
With Max in the lead, they started toward the exit. But on the way he stopped at the ticket desk.
“Excuse me,” Max said to the clerk, “but could you tell me the way to the coast?”
“East coast or west coast?”
“The closest one to Alaska.”
“That’s the east coast,” the clerk replied. “It’s just east of here.”
Max started out again, then turned back.
“Ah. . which way is east?” he asked.
The clerk pointed.
“Thank you again,” Max said.
As they left the station, 99 said, “Max, won’t the KAOS agents be able to trace us by talking to that ticket clerk?”
Max halted. He thought a moment, then replied, “You might be right, 99. Just a second.”
He returned to the ticket desk, spoke to the clerk again, then rejoined 99 and von BOOM.
“It’s all taken care of, 99,” Max said. “This time, I asked for directions to the west coast. So, any information he gives the KAOS agents will only confuse them.”
Max, 99 and von BOOM made their way through the town. When they reached the countryside, they stopped again, and Max took off his shoe and dialed.
Chief: Chief here. .
Max: Aloha, Chief. Wicky-wacky and all that.
Chief: Nevermind the aloha, Max. I’m back in Washington. I had to cut my vacation short. I got an urgent call from HIM. A crisis is afoot.
Max (surprised): Is that what it is! I always thought a crisis was an emergency. Well, live and learn. Right foot or left foot, Chief?
Chief: Max, what I meant was- Nevermind. A crisis is an emergency. Now, why are you calling? Have you lost von BOOM?
Max: I’d rather hear about the crisis, Chief. Is it anything important?
Chief: Max, I don’t know what it is. All I know is, I got a call from HIM. He ordered me to return to Washington immediately and to stand by. That’s what I’m doing.
Max: Oh, Chief. . why don’t you call him and ask him what the crisis is? I’d think the suspense-
Chief: Max! Forget it! Just tell me why you called.
Max: I’m on my way to the coast, Chief, and I want a submarine to meet us and transport us to Alaska. We can’t wade to Alaska, you know, Chief.
Chief: I’m aware of that, Max. Where do you want the sub to meet you?
Max: On the beach.
Chief: But where, Max?
Max: Straight east from the railroad station.
Chief: All right. I’ll get in touch with the Navy and have them send the sub. Is that all, Max?
Max: Chief, how’s this for an idea? Suppose I call HIM and tell him how anxious you are to know what the crisis is? He probably doesn’t realize how worried you are.
Chief: I’m not worried, Max.
Max: Not worried? Chief, don’t you realize there’s a crisis afoot?
(The line went dead.)
“What crisis, Max?” 99 asked, as Max hung up.
“Nobody knows, 99. Not even HIM HIMself.” He looked up the road. “We better get a move on,” he said. “We don’t want to keep that submarine waiting.”
Max, 99 and von BOOM walked all day, and then all evening. Then, shortly after dark, Max called them to a halt. He cupped an ear.
“What is it, Max?” 99 whispered.
“Either the bathtub is running over or we’re near the ocean,” Max replied.
99 and von BOOM listened.
“It is the ocean, Max, ” 99 said. “We’ve reached the coast.”
Slowly, cautiously, Max, 99 and von BOOM proceeded. Soon they felt sand underfoot. A while later, they heard a sound.
“It must be the sub, Max,” 99 whispered.
“I doubt it, 99. A submarine could never get this close to the shore. If it’s anything, it’s an inflatable rubber raft.”
Suddenly they heard a low whistle.
“I was right,” Max said. “It’s an inflatable rubber raft-and it’s leaking air.”
“Maybe that was a signal, Max.”
“We’ll see. Hello, there!” he called. “Is that you?”
A voice came back through the darkness. “This is me. Is that you?”
“You were right, 99-it was a signal,” Max said. “Come on, let’s get aboard the raft.”
They moved silently across the beach in the direction from which the voice had come. Then, in the dimness, they saw the figure of a man.
“I wasn’t sure it was you,” the man said. “I had a tip that the secret police might be waiting for me.”
Max halted. “You mean KAOS?” he said.
“Yeah, man, like chaos and then some. If they caught me smuggling in these rock ’n’ roll records, they’d put the smash on me.”
There was silence for a second. Then Max said, “I think there’s been a little mistake. When I asked you if you were you, why did you let me think you were?”
“I’m me, man,” the voice replied. “What’re you trying to tell me? You mean you’re not you?”
“Of course I’m me,” Max answered sharply. “You’re the one who’s not you.”
“What happened to me, then?” the man asked. “I was me when I left Alaska. Man! I didn’t know it was going to be that kind of trip!”
“Max, could I try?” 99 said.
“Be my guest.”
“You see,” 99 said to the man, “you’re you, but you’re not the you we were expecting. We’re looking for a submarine that-”
“Yeah, I know that sub,” the man broke in. “They got a dock for it about a mile up the coast. It makes regular trips, picking up all the secret agents that it’s their vacation time. They used to park out there in the briny deep and send a rubber raft ashore. But it was a ricky-tick nuisance. So they got themselves some money from Congress and had a harbor dug out and a dock put in. Money’s the answer to everything.”
“That must be where the sub is supposed to meet us, Max,” 99 said.
“You secret agents going on vacation?” the smuggler asked.
“Secret agents only,” Max replied. “I’m Agent 86, this is Agent 99, and this is- Von BOOM? Von BOOM-where are you?”
“You mean that dumpy little fella that looks like he needs a keeper?” the smuggler asked. “He took off. It was right after you got here. I said I’d had a tip about the secret police, and-”
“Tip!” Max cried.
“After him, Max!”
Max and 99 plunged into the darkness.
“Von BOOM!” Max called.
“You don’t have to shout!” the smuggler shouted after them.
Hurrying, Max and 99 followed the shoreline. They raced on and on, calling out to the Professor every few minutes, but getting no reply.
“Oh, Max, he’s lost!” 99 wailed.
“Then he must be somewhere in this vicinity,” Max replied, “because we’re lost, too.” He shouted again. “Von BOOM!”
“It’s no use, Max.”
“I think I see our mistake, 99,” Max said. “When he heard the word tip, he headed for a restaurant. And all the restaurants are probably back in town. That’s where we should be.”
“Which way is it, Max?”
“According to my calculations, 99, it should be directly to the. . yes, to the left. Hurry-we’ve lost a lot of time.”
Again, Max and 99 plunged into the darkness.
A few moments later, 99 said, “Max. . I’m getting water in my shoes.”
“So am I, 99.”
“Water in my shoes up to my knees, Max.”
“Yes, well, apparently we should have gone to the right, 99. This way, I think we’re going to reach Alaska before we ever reach that Russian town. Let’s try the other direction.”
They waded ashore, then plunged into the darkness again.
“Max. . I hear something.”
“That’s my shoes squishing, 99.”
“No, Max, this is-”
“Yes, I hear it, too, 99. Shh!” Max listened for a second. Then he called out. “Hello, there! Is that you?”
A voice answered from the darkness. “No. He’s about a mile back. Are you looking for some smuggled rock ’n’ roll records?”
“We’re looking for a dumpy little man who looks like he needs a keeper,” Max replied.
“What label is it on?”
“Not a record-a real man!” 99 said.
“Hey-that’s good!” How do you change your voice like that?”
“Max,” 99 said, “this may be the submarine.”
“You’re right, 99.” Again, he called out. “Where is the dock?”
“If you’re from a Congressional Investigating Committee, what dock?” the voice replied. “If not, it’s a little bit to the left.”
Max and 99 steered to the left and proceeded.
“Max. . I’m getting water in my shoes again. .”
“Sorry about that,” the voice from the darkness said. “I meant my left, not your left.”
Max and 99 backed up, then, steering to the right, moved forward again. After a moment, they felt metal underfoot.
“We’re on the sub, Max,” 99 said.
“Where are you?” Max called out.
“Part of me is right beneath you,” the voice replied. It seemed to be no more than an inch or so away.
“You mean you went below?”
“No, you’re standing on my foot.”
“Oh. Sorry. I’m 86,” he said. “And this young lady with me is 99.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” the voice replied. “But neither one of you sounds to me like you’re a day over thirty-five. Voices sound younger in the dark, I guess.”
“Agent 86 and Agent 99,” Max explained.
“Oh. Good. I’ve been expecting you. I’m Captain Jinx. I’m sorry I didn’t identify myself right away. But there are a lot of Russian spies wandering around out here tonight, and I didn’t want to take any chances.”
“Really? Russian spies?” 99 said.
“I caught one,” Captain Jinx replied. “He claimed to be looking for a restaurant. Likely story, eh?”
“Is he a little dumpy fellow who looks as if he needs a keeper?” Max asked.
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen him. We’re keeping the lights off so we won’t be spotted by Russian spies.”
“Could you bring him upstairs?” Max said. “I’d like to get a look at him in the moonlight. He may be Professor von BOOM.”
“Shh! Don’t shout! The whole area is crawling with Russian spies.”
The Captain disappeared-below presumably-then returned a few minutes later. He was accompanied by a small dumpy man who, in the moonlight, looked as if he needed a keeper.
“Professor!” 99 cried happily.
“Can’t you two leave well enough alone?” von BOOM grumbled. “I was having mess. The first good American French fries I’ve had in weeks.”
“Well, Captain, I guess we can set sail,” Max said. “We’re all aboard, it seems.”
“Good, good,” the Captain replied. He shouted into the darkness. “Cast off that line!”
“What?” a different voice replied.
“Untie the rope, you landlubber!” the Captain yelled. Then he explained to Max. “I use the local peasants to act as my shore crew,” he said. “It makes for good relations. I pay them union rates.”
“And they let you dock here to pick up spies?”
“Money can do anything,” Captain Jinx replied.
The Captain led the way and they climbed down through a hatch. When they were below and the hatch-cover was in place, the Captain switched on a light.
“Well, here we are, all cozy and-”
“Max!” 99 cried. “Von BOOM! He’s gone!”
“Line!” Max groaned. “The Captain mentioned ‘line!’ He’s on his way to the post office!”
Captain Jinx laughed loudly. “There’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “Relax!”
“But von BOOM is gone.”
“I know, I know. But it’s all right. He’ll never get into the post office. It closed about an hour ago.”
“You don’t understand,” Max began. “He-”
“Max! There isn’t time!”
“You’re right, 99. After him!”
Max scrambled up the ladder. 99 scrambled up right behind him. Max threw open the hatchcover and climbed out on deck. 99 climbed out right behind him.
Max jumped for the dock.
“How deep is it down there, Max?” 99 called from the deck.
“Only up to my chin, 99.”
99 jumped after him.
They swam to the shore, climbed out, then plunged into the darkness, racing along the beach.
“Max. .” 99 panted “. . we should be heading for town. That’s where the post office is. .”
Max stopped. “You’re right, 99. Now, let’s see, the last time, we turned left-and ended up in the water. But then, we were heading in the other direction. Which means that this time we would be right to head left.”
“I said left is right.”
“That’s what I was afraid you said.”
“But even if it works out that left is right, 99, you and I know it will turn out to be wrong. So, actually, right is right. Right?”
“Whatever you say, Max.”
“This way, 99.”
They turned right and plunged into the darkness again.
“It could happen to anybody, 99. All we have to do is turn around and go in the other direction.”
They waded back to shore, then, once more, plunged into the darkness.
“Von BOOM!” Max shouted.
There was no reply.
“Oh, Max. . he’s lost!” 99 wailed.
“Nonsense, 99. We know he’s in Russia. It’s just a matter of narrowing it down a bit.”
Tiring, Max and 99 trudged on. The first light of dawn appeared in the sky. And then suddenly they heard a voice. It seemed somehow familiar.
“I’ll sell you one, man,” the voice said. “But, I’ll tell you this: it won’t do you no good. It won’t fit in a mail slot.”
“Von BOOM!” 99 cried.
They rushed ahead and found the Professor standing in the prow of a row boat that was stacked high with phonograph records. Facing him was a young man who was dressed as a sailor.
“Professor, come along,” 99 urged. “We have to get back to the submarine.”
“No, 99, it’s too late for that,” Max said. “That sub is already at sea. We’ll have to take this row boat.”
“I think you’re right, Max.”
“You couldn’t be no wronger, Max,” the young man broke in. “I got to wait here for my contact. If I’m not here with these rock ’n’ roll records when he shows up, he won’t trust me no more. In the smuggling business, you got to protect your reputation.”
“There happens to be a crisis afoot,” Max said.
The smuggler scowled. “Which foot is that, right or left? I never did know.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Max said. “It’s an emergency. The future of the whole U.S. space program depends on getting Professor von BOOM to the North Pole by way of Alaska.”
The smuggler looked at von BOOM. “Man, if it depends on that, it’s too sick to make it, anyway,” he replied.
“In that case, I’ll have to use my authority,” Max said. “In the name of the government, I hereby commandeer this row boat.”
“Man, you can’t do that!” the young man said. “Where do you think you are-in Russia?”
“It’s done,” Max said. “Shove off!”
Grumbling, the young man got out of the boat, gave it a push, sending it out into the water, then jumped back aboard. He and Max began rowing toward Alaska.
When they had passed out of sight of land, Max said, “I’m sorry that this is necessary, but you understand, I’m sure.”
“I don’t understand it a-tall, man,” the young man replied. “I was doing myself some free-enterprise smuggling, and all of a sudden the government come along and took over. It’s un-American.”
“Actually, it’s only a slight inconvenience,” Max argued. “As soon as we reach Alaska, you can drop us off, then you can row back to Russia with your smuggled records. Very simple.”
“When we reach Alaska, the Coast Guard will be waiting for us,” the young man said. “And when they see these smuggled records, they’ll get nasty, man.”
“He’s right, Max,” 99 said. “If we get caught, there’ll be a lot of explaining to do.”
“Mmmmm. . and we don’t have time for that,” Max mused.
“Let’s turn back,” the young man said.
“I have a better idea,” Max replied. “We’ll dump the records overboard.”
The young man shook his head sadly. “Man, you sure work for the government, all right.”
“You keep rowing,” Max said, rising. “I’ll get rid of the records.” He bent down, picked up a stack of records, then headed toward the stern of the boat with it.
Unfortunately, he tripped over his own oar. The stack of records fell from his hands-and crashed through the bottom of the boat.
“Max. . I’m getting water in my shoes,” 99 said.
“About two seconds and you’re going to have water in your ears,” the young man said. “This row boat is going to sink like a row boat full of records.”
“Max! We’re going down!”
“Everybody overboard!” Max shouted. “Abandon boat!”
“Anybody notice anything funny?” the young man said.
“I do,” 99 replied. “Max-look! The boat is rising!”
“It’s got a submarine under it!” the young man said, surprised. “Now, isn’t that one for the books. I’ve had this ol’ nitty-gritty boat for almost five years, and I never noticed that submarine down there before.”
“It’s a Navy sub,” Max informed him.
“Then somebody hide those records. The Navy and the Coast Guard are in cahoots!”
“Max! We’re saved!” 99 cried ecstatically. “The submarine will take us to Alaska!”
“That’s very nice, 99,” Max said gruffly. “But it isn’t all that nice, you know.”
“Why not, Max?”
“I’m going to have a dickens of a time when I begin making out my report on this mission,” Max replied. “How will I say we got to Alaska-by submarine or row boat?”
It was mid-day when the submarine reached the coast of Alaska. In the meantime, the evidence-the row boat and the rock ’n’ roll records-had been lost at sea.
“Are you sure that’s Alaska?” Max said to Captain Jinx as they stood on the deck viewing the shore. “From here, it looks green.”
“It’s always that color from here,” Captain Jinx replied.
“Very strange. On my map, it’s yellow.”
“I’ve been making this trip for years-Alaska to Russia, Russia to Alaska, Alaska to Russia, Russia to Alaska-and Alaska has always been in this very spot,” Captain Jinx insisted. “If you were standing on the shore, you could see that I’m right.”
“You could see this submarine out here. And right now this submarine is scheduled to be arriving in Alaska.”
“I guess I can’t argue with that,” Max said.
Max called 99, von BOOM and the smuggler up on deck. Then a rubber raft was lowered for them.
As they climbed into it, Max called back to the Captain, “Shall we leave this raft on the beach for you?”
“Take it with you,” Captain Jinx replied. “There’s plenty more where that one came from.”
“It would just be a nuisance,” Max replied.
“You won’t think so when you start getting ice water in your shoes.”
“There’s a good stretch of Arctic Ocean between Alaska and the North Pole,” Captain Jinx explained.
“Oh. In that case, we’ll keep it.”
“Why not? There’s plenty more where that one came from.”
Max pushed off and he and the smuggler rowed and the raft soon reached the shore. When they were all safely on land, Max deflated the rubber raft and tucked it into his back pocket. Then, after goodbyes were said, the smuggler turned south, and Max, 99 and von BOOM headed north.
In the early evening, Max, 99 and von BOOM reached a highway. They began thumbing and were soon picked up by a truck driver, who advised them that he was on his way to Barrow, Alaska’s northernmost city.
“Is that on the way to the North Pole?” Max asked.
“If that’s were you’re going, it is,” the driver replied. “But then, if you’re heading for Florida, it’s on the way to Florida, too. Is that where you’re going-the Pole?”
“I don’t think I’d better say,” Max replied. “We’re on a secret mission.”
When they reached Barrow, Max, 99 and von BOOM proceeded on foot again. It was only a short distance to the shore. There, Max reinflated the rubber raft and they set out across the Arctic Ocean.
“Things are going too smoothly, Max,” 99 said. “I’m worried.”
“Worried? 99, we’re out in the middle of the Arctic Ocean in a rubber raft-how could we be any safer?”
“Has anybody else noticed the chill in the air?” von BOOM said.
“I’m too cold to notice anything,” 99 shivered.
“Then grab a paddle,” Max advised. “Not only will paddling keep you warm, but it will get us there faster.”
After a number of near collisions with icebergs, they finally reached land again.
“Now, this is more like it,” Max said, leading the party ashore. “It’s the same color here as it is on my map.”
“I think snow is always white, Max, no matter where it is.”
“It’s wetter here than on my map, though,” Max said. “I wonder if that’s be-” He suddenly peered into the distance. “Is that smoke?”
“Max! It must be a town or a settlement or something.”
“Maybe so, 99. But it certainly looks like smoke.”
“I mean, if there’s smoke, there must be people. And if there are people, it must be civilized. And if it’s civilized, we can get some warm clothes.”
“99, your theory just won’t stand up. It isn’t always true that where there are people there are also clothes. For all we know, that might be a nudist colony.”
“In this snow, Max?”
“Come along, Professor,” Max said. “I think we’ll find warm clothes up ahead.”
Max, 99 and von BOOM trudged through the snow and soon reached an Eskimo village. It consisted of a general store, built of sheets of tin, and a number of igloos. They hurried into the store and then huddled around the wood stove, thawing out. The proprietor, an old man with a walrus mustache, watched them curiously.
“We’re strangers in town,” Max called out to the man.
“Do tell! I figured you was Admiral Byrd.”
“I think Admiral Byrd specialized in the South Pole,” Max said.
“Well, I figured-the skimpy way you’re dressed-you was lost, Admiral.”
“I’m not an admiral, I’m a secret agent,” Max said.
“Your secret’s safe with me, son. I sure ain’t dumb enough to admit to nobody that I ever even saw you.”
“Could we buy some warm clothes?” 99 said. “We’re on our way to the Pole.”
“Want to see if it’s really red-and-white striped, eh?” the old man chuckled. “We get a lot of you college kids through here-all with the same idea in mind. Well, I can save you the trouble. That’s the color it is, all right. At least, on my map, anyways.”
“That doesn’t happen to be our reason,” Max said.
“Looking for Santy Claus Land?”
“Could you just get us the clothes?” Max said grumpily.
The proprietor supplied them with heavy, fur-lined parkas, then said, “You’ll need some snowshoes, too. What size?”
“Size isn’t really important,” Max replied. “But my left one has to be a telephone.”
“No got,” the old man replied. “But how about a right boot that sends up smoke signals?”
“That’s interesting,” Max said. “How does it work?”
“You set it on fire, then wave a blanket over it.”
“No thanks,” Max replied. “Regular snowshoes will have to do, I guess. Will we need anything else?”
“I’m all out of what you really need,” the old man said. “I didn’t get my shipment in from the brain factory this week.”
“Max, maybe we ought to have a dog sled,” 99 said.
“I can fix you up with a dog sled,” the old man nodded.
“And dogs?” Max asked.
“I can fix you up with some dogs, too. And what size whip would you like?”
“You don’t think any dog with any sense would go out there in that snow and cold unless he was drove to it, do you?”
“Nevermind the whip,” Max said. “I’ll just explain to them that their country’s space program is depending on them.”
An hour later, dressed snuggly in parkas, fitted with snowshoes, and following a sled that was packed with supplies and pulled by a team of dogs, Max, 99 and von BOOM set out across the snow headed in the direction of the Pole.
“It’s hard to believe, Max, but we’re actually on the last lap,” 99 said. “I think we’re really going to make it.”
“This is no time to let down our guard, 99,” Max warned. “For all we know, there may be a KAOS agent behind every sand dune.”
“Oh. . yes. Behind every snow dune, then.”
“But, Max, there aren’t any dunes. It’s all level. And you can see for miles and miles and there’s nothing in sight.”
“Even so, 99, I still say we better stay on our toes. Who knows what might happen before we- Isn’t the wind getting stronger?”
“Looks like we’re in for a sand storm,” von BOOM said.
“Snow storm, Professor,” 99 corrected.
“What is it, then?” Max asked.
“The Professor said he thought a storm was blowing up. And you said it’s no storm. So, I asked you what it is if it isn’t a storm.”
“I didn’t say no storm, Max, I said snow storm.”
Max cupped a hand to his ear. “I can’t hear you, 99! The wind is too loud.”
“I said snow storm!” 99 shouted.
“It’s certainly behaving like a storm,” Max insisted. “I can hardly see! 99, where are you? The snow is blinding me! Professor von BOOM! Are you there?”
“Here, Max!” 99 answered. “Take my hand!”
“I’ve got it, 99! Incidentally, this may not be the right time to mention it, but your fingernails need clipping!”
“Max! That isn’t my hand!”
“Oh. Sorry, doggy.”
“Max! Where is the Professor?”
“I’m here!” von BOOM answered. “Behind the sled!”
“Where is the sled!” Max shouted. “I can’t- Nevermind-I found it! I’ll pile some of these supplies in a circle and make a shelter!”
“Let go of my head!” von BOOM shouted.
“Max! I can’t find you!” 99 cried.
“Just stay where you are!” Max called. “I’ll build this shelter, then I’ll look for you.”
“Max!” 99 screamed. “Let go of my head!”
“I think it will be safer if we all pitch in and pile the supplies in a circle,” Max said.
“Good idea, Max. I’ll help!”
“99!” Max shouted. “Let go of my head!”
Eventually, Max, 99 and von BOOM managed to get the supplies piled in a circle. Then they and the dogs huddled inside, sheltered from the howling wind and blowing snow.
“Is it necessary to have the dogs in here, Max?” 99 said. “Aren’t they used to this kind of weather?”
“In the Arctic, 99, the dog is man’s best friend,” Max replied. “The wisest thing we could do would be to save these dogs, even if it cost us our lives.”
“Because these dogs might save our lives, 99. If we got lost, they could lead us back to that general store. They’re like homing pigeons.”
“Not this breed,” von BOOM said. “Those are bird dogs you’re talking about.”
“That’s very funny,” Max said sourly. “But the fact remains that, in the Arctic, a man takes care of his dogs before he takes care of himself.”
“All right, Max,” 99 said. “I’m hungry. Will you open up one of the packages, please?”
Max untied one of the packs. “This proves it,” he said. He opened up another pack. “I knew I knew what I was talking about,” he commented. He opened another pack. “This is proof positive.”
“Max. . what are you muttering about?”
“These packs are proof that a man takes care of his dogs no matter what,” Max explained. “They’re all full of dog food.”
“I think we’re going to be all right,” von BOOM said. “The storm seems to be letting up a bit.”
Max raised up and looked out over the rim of the shelter. “I think you’re right, Professor,” he said. “I’m beginning to be able to see now. The snow isn’t blowing as fiercely as it was.”
“What do you see, Max?”
“A number of figures. They appear to be men in white suits.”
“I knew they’d come to get you in time,” said von BOOM. “But I didn’t think they’d come all this distance.”
“Max. . you must be seeing things.”
“I certainly am, 99. They’re all around us. We’re trapped.”
“Max. .” 99 raised up and peered over the rim of the shelter, too. “Max! You’re right! I see them!”
Max ducked down. “KAOS agents!” he announced.
“Out here, Max?” 99 said doubtfully. “How did they get here?”
“Simple, 99. They’re a crack squad of assassins, especially trained to operate in the Arctic. Those white suits they’re wearing are camouflage. Against the snow, they’re practically invisible.”
“Max, I still don’t understand. How did they get here?”
“Simple, 99. They were parachuted in.”
“I suppose that’s possible, Max. But, as big as the whole Arctic region is, how did they track us to this exact spot?”
“Simple, 99. The proprietor of that general store was really a KAOS agent. He planted a homing device in one of those cans of dog food. The KAOS parachuters merely zeroed in on it.”
“Max-what are we going to do?”
“We’re going to fight them off, 99.”
“But how, Max? We lost our weapons days ago.”
“Remember when we took survival training, 99? We were taught to use whatever was at hand. For instance, if we were stranded in the jungle without weapons, we were told to build bows and arrows out of tree branches and vines.”
“But, Max, the only thing that’s available here is snow.”
Von BOOM snorted. “We’re going to fight them off with snowballs, I suppose,” he said.
99 looked at him crossly. “Don’t be ridiculous, Professor,” she said. “I’m sure Max has some sensible plan in mind.” She turned back to Max. “What are we going to do, Max?”
“We’re going to fight them off with snowballs, 99,” Max replied.
“Oh. . Max. .”
“But not just plain ordinary everyday snowballs,” Max continued. “These snowballs are going to be loaded.”
“With what, Max?” 99 asked gloomily.
“With cans of dog food.”
“Max! That might work!”
Quickly, Max, 99 and von BOOM began making dog-food-can-loaded-snowballs. As soon as they had a high pile of them they began firing them at the dim white figures that were circling the shelter.
“Oh, Max. . it isn’t working,” 99 said.
“And we’re out of dog food cans,” von BOOM added.
“Well, at least we tried,” Max said. “I suppose now all we can do is-”
“Max! Look! They’re going away!”
“By jingo, they are!” von BOOM said.
“All except one,” Max pointed out. “He’s coming this way. He probably wants to ask for surrender terms.”
“Max,” 99 said, “that one isn’t wearing a white suit.”
“Because he’s the leader, I imagine,” Max said. “The leader always wears a different uniform. Otherwise, no one would recognize that he was a leader.”
The man reached the shelter and raised a hand as a sign of peaceful intentions. He was brown skinned and wearing a parka made of animal hides.
“Welcome, tourists!” the man smiled.
“Max,” 99 said, surprised. “He’s an Eskimo!”
“Nanook is the name. Blubber is the game,” the Eskimo said. “I saw you tourists feeding the polar bears, so I figured you were lost, and I thought I’d stop by and give you directions. Where’re you bound?”
“Polar bears?” Max said suspiciously.
“Those animals that, in a snow storm, look a little like men running around in white suits,” the Eskimo explained.
“But they had us surrounded!” Max protested.
“That’s a little trick they play,” the Eskimo smiled. “When they spot a bunch of tourists in a snow storm, they make out like they’re attacking. I think they saw it in a cowboys and Indians movie.”
“But why?” 99 asked.
“The tourists always panic and start throwing cans of dog food at them,” the Eskimo explained. “It’s the only civilized food these bears get. Mostly, they live on fish. Ever try living on fish? Try it sometime. After about a week of it, you’ll do anything for a can of dog food.”
“Sneaky bears,” Max muttered. “It’s a very poor policy. Nobody likes a sneaky bear.”
“What’re you folks up to?” the Eskimo asked. “Don’t tell me you’re another bunch of college kids looking for Santy Claus Land.”
“Hardly,” Max replied.
“I thought that little dumpy one looked a mite elderly to be a college kid.”
“What we’re looking for is the Pole,” Max said. “Is it far from here?”
“Just beyond the secret government laboratory where they’re going to develop that lightweight rocket fuel,” the Eskimo replied. He pointed. “Keep straight ahead until you come to a low brick building-that’s the secret lab. The Pole is just on the other side of the next sand dune.”
“Snow dune,” Max corrected.
“That just never sounded right to me,” the Eskimo explained. He then wished Max, 99 and von BOOM luck and went on his way.
“Shall we move out?” Max said. “It looks like the mission can’t possibly fail now. We’re only minutes from the secret laboratory.”
“Max, the wind is getting stronger again,” 99 said.
“Hurry!” Max urged.
They scrambled out of the shelter, harnessed the dogs to the sled, and set out once more, racing across the snow in the direction the Eskimo had pointed. The wind howled about their heads. Snow piled high in drifts.
“Max. . we’ll never make it. .” 99 cried.
“Mush!” Max shouted.
“Max, you don’t have to be nasty!”
“I was shouting at the dogs, 99!”
“Max! Up ahead! It’s- It’s a low brick building, Max!”
“The lab! Courage, 99! Only a few more steps!”
Battling the wind, they struggled on. Step by step they neared the low brick building. Then, finally, almost exhausted, they reached it. Max threw open the door. They staggered through the opening. 99 collapsed on the floor. Fighting the storm, Max closed the door, then, totally spent, he, too, dropped to the floor.
“Max. .” 99 gasped “. . we did it. .”
“Just. . just listen to that. . that wind. . 99. . No human being. . could live for more. . than a few minutes. . in a storm like that. .”
“But we’re safe, Max. Safe!”
“Yes, 99. . our mission is finally a complete. . success. .”
“Max, I feel terrible, having to mention this, but. . Max, it isn’t your fault. It could happen to anybody.”
“What, 99? What are you trying to tell me?”
“Max. . we lost Professor von BOOM.”
“That’s ridiculous, 99. He’s- 99-he’s gone!”
“Oh, Max. . he’s out there in that storm!” 99 wept. “That poor, poor dumpy little man who looks like he needs a keeper!”
“His trouble is, he does need a keeper!” Max grumbled.
“He had one, Max-you.”
“Remember what you said before, 99. It could happen to anybody. Don’t be the one to cast the first stone.”
“Max! What are we going to do?”
“I have no choice, 99. I’m going back out there.”
“No, Max! You’ll be facing certain death!”
Max’s eyes narrowed. “And. . loving it, 99,” he said staunchly. Then, thoughtfully, he said, “Well, actually, maybe ‘liking it’ is closer to the truth. It’s too cold out there to ‘love’ anything.” He faced the doorway. “Open the door, 99,” he commanded. “Then get out of the way. I’m going out!”
99 got a hold on the doorknob. “Ready, Max?”
Max ducked his head and aimed himself. “At the count of three, 99. One. . two. .”
There was a ringing sound.
Max looked around. “Is there a telephone in here, or is that somebody at the door?”
“Max, it’s your shoe.”
“Oh. . yes. Excuse me, 99. Hold the door.”
Max removed his shoe and put it to his ear.
Max: Agent 86 here. Could you call back a little later? I’m just about to-
Chief: Max, it’s me. Where are you?
Max: We reached the secret laboratory at the Pole, Chief. In a manner of speaking, you might say that the mission has been a complete success-almost.
Chief: What’s the ‘almost,’ Max?
Max: If I tell you, Chief, promise you won’t cast the first stone?
Chief: Max, what is it?
Max: What would you say, Chief, if I told you that I’ve lost Professor von BOOM?
Operator: Don’t you dare use words like that, Chief. The telephone company doesn’t allow it.
Chief: It’s all right, Max. Just forget it. You and 99 can return to headquarters now.
Max: Operator, I think we have a bad connection.
Operator: The connection’s all right. Have you checked your ears?
Chief: Max, you heard me correctly. Something has happened that you don’t know about. Remember that crisis I mentioned the last time I talked to you? It seems, Max, that the Professor von BOOM who has been with you is not the real Professor von BOOM. He’s a KAOS agent-only pretending to be Professor von BOOM.
Max: Could you hold the line a minute, Chief? I’d like to check my ears.
Operator: Just to be on the safe side, I’ll check the connection, too, Maxie.
Chief: No, no-it’s all right. You’re hearing me correctly, Max. The real von BOOM was abducted by a KAOS agent while you were carting him around the world. Then another KAOS agent, disguised as von BOOM, took his place. While you’ve been escorting the bogus von BOOM to the Pole, KAOS has been getting the rocket fuel formula from the real von BOOM.
Max: Chief, that’s terrible!
Chief: No, it’s all right, Max. KAOS put the formula on the open market.
Max: Chief, that’s terrible!
Chief: No, Max, it’s all right. We bought the formula back. We were the only one who could afford it.
Max: Oh. Well, I’m glad to hear that money can still do anything.
Chief: So, I want you and 99 to return to headquarters as soon as you can, Max.
Max: What about our vacation, Chief? You know, we were-
Chief: I’m sorry, Max, but your vacation will have to wait. I have a mission for you. Professor von BOOM and the formula will have to be escorted to the secret laboratory at the North Pole. And we’re afraid that KAOS will attempt to kidnap the Professor again. They might try to hold him for ransom.
Chief: This mission will be a snap, Max. HIM has come up with a brilliant idea. He suggests that you use the old crow-disguised-as-a-wild-goose trick. Instead of heading straight for the Pole, you’ll take an ocean liner to Africa, then a camel caravan across the Sahara, then-
Max had hung up.
“What did he say, Max?” 99 asked.
“It wasn’t important, 99. Now. . will you open that door, please?”
“Max, no, don’t do it,” 99 begged. “You won’t last five minutes out there. It will be certain death!”
“I know, 99,” Max replied. “I’ve decided to take the easy way out.”