And Loving It!
As Max Smart, Agent 86, neared the entrance to Control Headquarters, he observed a tall, attractive, dark-haired female approaching from the opposite direction. He calculated that they would reach the doorway at approximately the same moment.
Playing it cool, Max pretended to be unaware of the girl. When he reached the doorway he stepped quickly inside and closed the door behind him. Hurrying, he moved down the corridor toward the first set of double iron doors that stood as a barrier between the outside world and the super secret goings-on at Control.
Behind him, the outer door opened and closed. Obviously, the girl had followed him.
“Max. .!” she called.
He moved faster. The double iron doors opened for him, then clanged closed behind him. Ahead, the second set of double iron doors was in sight.
But behind him he heard a metallic clang.
Then the girl’s voice called to him again. “Max. . wait!”
She was closer and gaining fast. He heard the click of her heels as she ran after him.
Realizing now that it was useless to try to escape her, Max halted, then turned and faced her, steely-eyed and granite-jawed.
“Max, for heaven’s sake,” she said, reaching him. “Why didn’t you wait?”
“Madam, this is a clear case of mistaken identity,” Max replied coolly. “I am Ronald Fastbender, a plumber’s helper from Bent Fork, Utah, and I have never seen you before in my life.”
The girl stared at him, baffled. “Max! It’s me. Agent 99.”
Max glanced about furtively. Then convinced that the conversation was not being monitored, he replied, lowering his voice. “I know who you are, 99. But I can’t let on. I got a call from the Chief a few minutes ago and he told me to report for a top secret assignment-and furthermore he told me not to talk to anyone about it!”
“But, Max, you could have said hello without telling me about the assignment.”
“No, I couldn’t, 99. You know what a blabbermouth I am. I can’t help it. I’m proud of being a secret agent. I’m proud of knowing a lot of official secrets that not everybody knows. And I just have to tell somebody about it.”
“Well, Max,” 99 smiled, “in this case, I think it would have been all right. I got a call from the Chief to report for a top secret assignment too. And I imagine it’s the same top secret assignment.”
Max beamed. “Wonderful, 99! That solves the problem. Now, I can talk about it.”
“By the way, Max, what did the Chief tell you about the assignment?”
“Absolutely nothing. Somehow, 99, I think the Chief has got the notion that I’m a blabbermouth.”
“I see. Well. . shall we go, Max? The Chief is probably wondering what’s keeping us.”
They proceeded, passing through the series of double iron doors, then crowded into the telephone booth at the end of the corridor. Max dialed the secret number. The trapdoor beneath their feet opened and they dropped to the floor below. Getting to their feet, they continued along another corridor and soon reached the Chief’s office.
Max knocked on the door.
“Come in,” the Chief’s voice replied.
“I can’t recall, Chief-is that the password?” Max called in.
“No, Max. We don’t use a password any more. Some of our agents can’t remember it.”
Max opened the door and he and 99 entered.
“If they can’t remember the password, Chief, you ought to give them detention and make them stay after their assignments and write it one-hundred times,” Max said. “That would teach them.”
“It isn’t important, Max. Now, if you’ll take a seat-you, too, 99-I’ll brief you-”
“Say, isn’t that a new addition?” Max said, interrupting, pointing to a painting on the wall.
“Yes, Max. Now-”
“It’s a life-size painting of HIM, isn’t it, Chief?” Max broke in again. “And very life-like, too. I get the feeling that it could step right out of the frame and shake my hand.”
“Yes, Max, it’s very life-like. Now-”
“A marvelous painting,” Max enthused. “No professional artist could have caught his exact likeness like that. Did he paint it HIMself?”
“Uh. . no, Max. Max, will you forget about the painting? I’d like to fill you in on the assignment.”
“Oh. . sorry, Chief.”
Max and 99 settled in chairs facing the Chief’s desk and the Chief continued. “Have you ever seen an Indian snake charmer in action?” he said.
“No, Chief. I’ve never been in Action-wherever that is. I saw one in India once, though. He had this snake in a basket, and when he played a certain tune on his tuba, the snake came coiling up out of the basket and performed a sort of eerie dance, swaying back and forth to the oom-pah-pah oom-pah-pah.”
“A tuba, Max?” the Chief said dubiously. “Most Indian snake charmers use a pipe.”
“I think this one was a non-smoker, Chief.”
“Well, anyway,” the Chief went on, “your assignment concerns an Indian snake charmer who has moved up to charming bigger and better things.”
“Elephants?” Max guessed.
“That would have been a little hard to believe,” Max said. “It would be quite a trick getting an elephant into a basket. And getting an elephant to listen to a tuba solo. . well!”
“Max, what this Indian snake charmer is now charming is men!” the Chief said.
“Really? That’s fantastic!”
“Yes, as a matter of fact-”
“How does he get them into the basket, Chief?”
“Max, while you’re forgetting about the painting, try to forget about the basket too, will you? Actually, what Guru Optimo does is-”
“How can I forget the basket, Chief, if you keep mentioning it?”
“I didn’t mention it.”
“You just called it by name.”
“No, Max, Guru Optimo is the name of the Indian snake charmer.”
“Oh. All right, if you say so, Chief. But it sounds more like the name of a basket to me.”
“What Guru Optimo does,” the Chief went on, “is hypnotize his victim. With a quick gesture of his hand-which is always accompanied by a sudden flash of light-he can cloud men’s minds and make them think they are anything he wants them to think they are.”
Max frowned. “I don’t quite get that, Chief.”
“Well, for instance, do you remember Agent 32? Agent 32 recently tangled with Guru Optimo. And at this moment he is standing at the corner of Forty-Second Street and Fifth Avenue in New York, with a lion on each knee, convinced that he is the New York Public Library!”
“You mean Guru Optimo hypnotized him into believing that!” 99 said, appalled.
“Exactly,” the Chief nodded.
“Are you sure, Chief?” Max said doubtfully. “Are you positive that Agent 32 isn’t faking?”
“Max, why would anybody want to pretend to be the New York Public Library?”
“Maybe he’s interested in meeting some pigeons on a personal basis.”
“I hardly think so.”
“Will you let me get on with the briefing, Max?” the Chief said. “The fact is that, in spite of what he did to Agent 32, Guru Optimo is not a bad fellow. He’s a simple peasant-a kind of Indian farm boy. And, being simple, he’s easily talked into things. A few weeks ago, after I heard about his talent for instant hypnotism, I sent Agent 32 to make contact with him. My idea was to get him to use his gift in the service of the Good Guys. To make a long story short, Agent 32 found him, made the offer, and Guru Optimo agreed.”
“Couldn’t we hear the long story, Chief?” Max said. “Cutting it short like that, you leave out all the thrilling parts.”
“There isn’t time, Max. Speed is essential. The fate of the entire civilized world depends on the outcome of this mission. Now, as I was saying, Agent 32 made contact with-”
“You told us that, Chief.”
“I know. I was just-”
“I thought you were in such a hurry. If you’re in such a hurry, why are you repeating yourself?”
“Just trying to help, Chief.”
“Max, the one way to help me is not to help me. Just keep quiet and listen. Now. . as Agent 32 was escorting Guru Optimo to the air terminal, where they were to get a plane that would bring them here, a KAOS agent intervened. The KAOS agent talked Guru Optimo into joining the Bad Guys. And, for good measure, he had him use his hypnotic power to make Agent 32 think he was the New York Public Library.”
“I see. So, now, Guru Optimo is in the clutches of the Bad Guys.”
“See what happens when you make a long story short, Chief? You leave out the most important part. You forgot to tell us how we got Guru Optimo back.”
“We didn’t get him back, Max. Let me finish the story. The KAOS agent took Guru Optimo to the air terminal, where he intended to get a plane that would take them to KAOS headquarters. But he made one mistake. He let Guru Optimo out of his sight for a moment. He went to the cigar counter to get a newspaper, and when he returned he found Guru Optimo in conversation with a man who has since been identified as Lucky Bucky Buckley. Buckley is a small-time talent agent, and while the KAOS agent was gone, he talked Guru Optimo into deserting with him.”
“Chief, didn’t the KAOS agent do anything about it?” 99 said.
“He tried to. But Guru Optimo, under Lucky Bucky Buckley’s influence, hypnotized him.”
“What is he now, Chief?” Max asked.
“He’s the lions on Agent 32’s knees.”
“Chief, I have a suggestion,” Max said. “Why don’t we just let this Lucky Bucky Buckley keep Guru Optimo? He sounds dangerous to me.”
“Max! Are you mad?”
“No, Chief. Did you say something to offend me?”
“I mean, don’t you realize what could happen? Guru Optimo could hypnotize every single person in the world. Do you know what that would mean?”
“More New York Public Libraries than we could use?”
“It means, Max, that whoever controls Guru Optimo controls the fate of mankind!”
“Well. . lucky Lucky Bucky Buckley.”
“And un-lucky us, Max. That’s why speed is so important. We have to regain control of Guru Optimo before civilization, as we know it, is totally disrupted. At this point, we’re not sure how Lucky Bucky Buckley intends to use Guru Optimo. Being a talent agent, he may only want to put him into show business. But we can’t take the chance.”
“I see. So you want 99 and me to locate Guru Optimo and lure him away from-”
“Just a minute, Max,” the Chief interrupted. “There’s something more I want to tell you. This mission is going to be a little different than any mission you’ve ever been on before. You and 99 will have an associate. You see, it’s not only Control that’s in danger this time. It’s everyone and everything-and that includes KAOS. So, for this one time-and this one time only-Control and KAOS are joining forces.”
“Chief, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were telling me that we were going to have a KAOS agent working with us.”
“That’s right, Max.”
“Chief! Control and KAOS? That’s like mixing oranges and grapefruit! Do you know what the result will be? Fruit cocktail!”
The Chief looked uncomfortable. “Max. . just nevermind.”
“But, Chief, it’s preposterous! Put Bad Guys and Good Guys together, and do you know what you get? You get G-b-o-a-o-d-d Guys. And just try pronouncing that!”
“Max,” the Chief said grimly, “will you please not say any more about it. You’ll be sorry.”
Max shrugged. “Okay, Chief. Mine is not to wonder why, mine is but to go along with any goofy idea the brass cooks up.”
“Just remember that, Max. Now, the KAOS agent who will be working with you is V. T. Brattleboro. He-”
“How does he spell that, Chief?”
“A great help he’ll be,” Max said derisively. “He doesn’t even know how to spell his own name. It should be b-o-r-o-u-g-h, not b-o-r-o.”
“All right, all right, Chief. I won’t say one more word. You know what’s best. If you think a good guy and a good girl can work together with a bad guy and get anything done, then I agree-you’re out of your mind.”
“Agree with whom?”
“With 99. She’s thinking that too.”
“Max, will you let me tell you about V. T. Brattleboro?” the Chief pleaded. “He was chosen for this assignment because, like Guru Optimo, he, too, is adept at hypnotism. They practice it a little differently, though. Guru Optimo clouds men’s minds and makes them think they’re anything he wants them to think they are. While Brattleboro clouds men’s minds and makes them think he is anything he wants them to think he is. Do you see the difference?”
“Yes and no.”
“Max, it’s one or the other, either you see or you don’t see.”
“All right, if I have to make a choice, then it’s no, I don’t understand.”
“I’ll give you an example,” the Chief said. He turned toward the painting of HIM. “Max. . 99. .” he said, “I would like you to meet V. T. Brattleboro.”
The painting stepped down from the frame, extending a hand. It no longer looked like HIM. Now, it was shorter, fatter, and wore a derby hat.
Max stared, flabbergasted. Then slowly he turned to the Chief. “You mean. . you mean that, all along, HIM has been a KAOS agent?”
“No, no, Max,” the Chief replied. “V. T. Brattleboro has simply clouded your mind, making you think that he was the painting of HIM.”
“Whew! — that’s a relief!” Max said. “Those KAOS agents are-”
“Max-watch it!” the Chief warned.
“-are probably very nice fellows, down deep,” Max said.
“I resent that,” V. T. Brattleboro responded. “If we’re going to work together, Smart, you’ll have to stop calling me names.”
“I take it back,” Max said contritely. “You’re a double-dealing dirty rat. And, what’s more, your father before you and your grandfather before him were double-dealing dirty rats too. How’s that?”
“Fine-if you’re sincere,” V. T. Brattleboro replied. “I can’t stand a guy who calls me a rat to my face and then, the minute my back’s turned, tells everybody I’m a nice chap.”
“You won’t have that trouble with me,” Max assured him.
“Gentlemen, may I continue the briefing now?” the Chief said.
“There’s more?” Max said. “Aren’t you the one who’s wasting time now, Chief? Why don’t you turn us loose and let us track that nefarious Guru Optimo and his unscrupulous master Lucky Bucky Buckley, to their lair?”
“Do you have any idea where their lair is, Max?”
“Well, I was about to tell you where it is. Do you still think that would be a waste of time?”
“I’m not sure, Chief. What’s a lair?”
“In this case, a hiding place. Lucky Bucky Buckley has taken Guru Optimo to an island that is located a few miles off the coast of lower California. The island is approximately ninety-nine per cent jungle and one per cent medieval castle.”
“A castle, Chief?” 99 said, surprised.
“Yes. It was built by a Spanish nobleman several centuries ago. The island and the castle are still owned by the nobleman’s family. They-”
“Chief,” Max said, “did you say several centuries ago? Isn’t his family a little old by now?”
“Max, these are his descendants. As I was saying, they still own the castle and the island. It’s sort of a white elephant-they can’t find anyone to take it off their hands. So they rent it out to anyone who wants to get away from it all for awhile.”
“Well, renting a white elephant is certainly a novel way of getting away from it all,” Max said. “Frankly, if I wanted to get away from it all, I’d rent the castle instead.”
The Chief sighed. “99, will you explain it to him,” he said.
“Max, the castle and the white elephant are one and the same,” 99 said. “The castle is called a white elephant because-” She interrupted herself, looking suddenly puzzled. “Why is it called a white elephant?” she said to the Chief.
“I think I can answer that,” V. T. Brattleboro offered. “It’s called a white elephant because one day when it was very hot it was looking for a bucket of cold water, intending to cool itself off with it, and, inadvertently, it stuck its trunk into a bucket of white paint instead.”
“Oh. . well, that makes sense,” Max said.
“But that isn’t right,” the Chief said to Brattleboro.
“Of course not. But it sounded like something he would believe,” Brattleboro replied, indicating Max.
The Chief put a hand to his head, groaning. “Does anybody remember what I was saying before we got sidetracked by that white elephant?”
“You were telling us that Lucky Bucky Buckley has taken Guru Optimo to the castle on the island,” 99 replied.
“Oh. . yes. Now, we have a special plane standing by at the airport, waiting to take you to the West Coast. And we have a special helicopter standing by on the West Coast, waiting to take you to the island.” He looked at his watch. “You better get going. Are there any questions?”
“Max, you must have a question,” the Chief said. “You always have a question.”
Max shook his head. “No questions, Chief.”
“Don’t you want to ask why the owners of the castle don’t try paint remover if they’re having trouble getting it off their hands?”
Max’s eyes opened wide. “Did they get the paint on their hands, too? I didn’t know that, Chief. Brattleboro didn’t mention it in his story.”
“Goodbye and good luck,” the Chief said.
“So long, Chief,” Max replied. “Don’t stick your trunk in any paint buckets.”
Max, 99 and Brattleboro headed for the door. But as they reached it, the Chief called, “Max. . just a minute. I’d like to go over the details of the case with you once more, just to be sure that it’s completely clear in your mind.”
“That won’t be necessary, Chief.”
“Nevertheless, Max, I insist,” the Chief said. “99, you and Brattleboro can wait for Max outside.”
“But, Chief, that’s a waste of precious time,” Max objected. “I understood everything you said-perfectly.”
“Chief, have a little faith, will you?”
“We’ll go out and hail a cab to take us to the airport, Max,” 99 said. “We’ll be waiting for you.”
99 and Brattleboro departed, closing the door after them.
“Chief, that was embarrassing,” Max said. “Do you want that KAOS agent to think that you don’t trust me?”
“Max, I wanted you to stay because I have something to say to you that I didn’t want Brattleboro to hear.”
“Oh. Well, why didn’t you say so, Chief?”
“I couldn’t. Brattleboro was- Oh, nevermind. Max, this is what I wanted to tell you. I suspect that Brattleboro has been ordered by his superiors at KAOS to double-cross you and recapture Guru Optimo for them.”
“But, Chief, we’re working together.”
“Max, do you really think we can trust those double-dealing dirty rats? They’re dedicated to evil! So, I’m giving you the same order that Brattleboro’s superiors gave him. Do you understand what you’re supposed to do?”
“The same as Brattleboro.”
“You want me to double-cross me and recapture Guru Optimo for KAOS.”
“Say, Chief, I have an idea. Why don’t I double-cross Brattleboro and recapture Guru Optimo for Control? After all, we had him first.”
“Great, Max. That’s even better than my idea.”
“I think so too, Chief. Frankly, turning Guru Optimo over to KAOS didn’t make a lot of sense-at least, from our point of view.”
“You’ve opened my eyes, Max.”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve opened my own eyes too, Chief. I always had great respect for you and your ideas. But that suggestion you made to turn Guru Optimo over to KAOS was a real clunker. Maybe you need a rest.”
“I think I do, Max,” the Chief agreed. “That’s why I’m sending you to an island.”
“Oh. All right, Chief. Try to enjoy yourself while I’m out there on that island, not knowing from one minute to the next whether I’m going to live or die.”
“Max, there’s a lot of truth to that,” the Chief said, suddenly grim. “Not only will you have to contend with Guru Optimo and Lucky Bucky Buckley, but you’ll also have to be on guard constantly against V. T. Brattleboro. You’ll be facing a danger more threatening than you’ve ever faced before.”
Max’s eyes narrowed. “And. .”
“Yes, Max-and what?”
“. . and loving it!” he replied.
It was late evening when the special plane landed Max, 99 and V. T. Brattleboro on the West Coast. As the Chief had promised, a helicopter was waiting. They boarded it and it immediately took off, headed for the island.
“You’ll find some survival kits there by your seats,” the helicopter pilot told them. “The kits contain everything you’ll need to survive in the jungle-theoretically, at least. Personally, if I were going to be dropped in a jungle, I’d rather have a good fast getaway car.”
“Couldn’t you drop us somewhere near the castle?” Max suggested.
“My orders are to drop you as far away from the castle as possible,” the pilot replied. “I said to them, ‘But they’ll never survive-they’ll be eaten alive by savage jungle animals, or they’ll succumb to thirst or hunger or the unbearable heat.’ But they had an answer for that.”
“What was it?” 99 inquired.
“They said I tend to exaggerate.”
“How far is it to the island?” Max said.
“About a thousand feet-straight down,” the pilot replied. “We’re over it now.”
Max looked out the window. “I don’t see a thing.”
“It’s one of those old-fashioned unlighted jungles,” the pilot explained.
A few moments later, the helicopter settled down in a small clearing. The pilot switched off the engine, then Max, 99 and V. T. Brattleboro jumped down to the ground, carrying their survival kits.
“That’s amazing,” Max said to the pilot. “You found this tiny clearing in total darkness! How did you do it?”
“I have the eyes of a cat,” the pilot replied. “I can see for miles in absolute blackness. Once, for instance, standing in Los Angeles, in the middle of the night, I looked east and saw that the beacon on the Empire State Building in New York was out.”
“Fantastic!” Max said.
“At least, I guess it was out. I couldn’t see it, anyway.”
The pilot started the engine. “Good luck with those survival kits!” he called. “Boy, you’ll sure need it!”
The helicopter rose, then disappeared into the night.
Max looked around. “I wonder where we are on the island?” he said. He squinted. “All I can see is what looks like the shapes of a bunch of palm trees.”
“I hear something,” 99 said.
“Yes-so do I. It sounds like. . gurgle, gurgle, gurgle. There must be a stream somewhere nearby. Either that, or-Brattleboro? Are you, by any chance, strangling?”
There was no reply.
“Brattleboro!” Max called.
Again, no answer.
“99, where is Brattleboro?” Max asked.
“I don’t know, Max. The last time I saw him was when we jumped down from the plane. He must be-Max, his survival kit is missing too! I think he’s deserted us.”
“99, that’s ridiculous. We’re working together. He probably just-”
A shot rang out! A bullet zinged past Max’s ear!
“Down!” Max shouted, flattening himself against the ground.
“He’s trying to kill us!” 99 cried.
“Wouldn’t you know it? Once a KAOS man, always a KAOS man!”
Another shot rang out. A bullet hit near them.
“Shoot back, Max!”
“At what, 99? I don’t have the eyes of a cat.” He raised himself on his elbows, peering into the pitch blackness. “Although, I can see that the beacon on the Empire State Building is out again.”
“The survival kit, Max-maybe it has a flashlight.”
Max zipped open his kit. “Yes, I think. . You’re right, 99. Here’s a flashlight.”
“Shield the light, Max. Don’t let Brattleboro see it.”
Max switched on the light, but kept a hand cupped around the beam. “Let’s see, now, what I can find in this kit,” he said. “It seems to contain a number of tiny capsules. Here’s a capsule of scrambled eggs. . good. . and a capsule of parsley. . very good. . and a capsule of fresh water, thirty-seven gallons. . excellent. . and a capsule of. . ah, here’s what we want, 99-a capsule of collapsible machine gun!”
“How will that help, Max?”
“Well, it would be pointless to fire into the darkness with a pistol, when I can’t see Brattleboro. But with a machine gun I can spray the whole area with bullets and perhaps, if luck is with me, hit him by sheer accident.”
“I suppose it’s worth a try,” 99 said.
Max broke open the capsule and a full-size machine gun popped out. Gripping it tautly, he jumped to his feet. “This is it, Brattleboro!” he shouted. He began firing, turning slowly in a circle. Bullets tore into the trees and underbrush. And the trees, sliced away at the base, began falling.
“Max! Watch out! That tree!”
He dived out of the way just in time. Then, leaping to his feet again, he began firing once more. To the right, the trees fell! To the left, the trees fell!
“Max! Stop!” 99 cried. “You’ll get us killed.”
He lowered the machine gun. “99, you don’t seem to understand. I’m trying to get Brattleboro, not us.”
“But, Max, you’ve leveled all the trees already!”
Max looked around. “I guess I have, haven’t I? Well, that takes care of the man from KAOS.”
“How can you be sure, Max?”
“99, remember when we first met Brattleboro? He was posing as a painting. This time, unless I miss my guess, he was posing as a tree. And, as you just pointed out, all the trees are now lying flat on the ground. We’re safe!”
“Max. .” 99 said, looking worried. “Remember that gurgle, gurgle, gurgle? Listen-”
Max cocked an ear. “Yes, I see what you mean. It’s become a sort of brogum, brogum, brogum-and much louder.”
“Flash the light over in that direction, Max.”
He aimed the beam of the flashlight at the spot that 99 had indicated. They saw that a number of the trees had fallen across a stream.
“Max-the stream is dammed.”
“99! Watch your language, please!”
“No, Max, I mean the trees are stopping the water from flowing along the stream bed. That could be dangerous. It could cause a flood. If the dam breaks, all that water that’s building up behind the trees could-”
“99,” Max interrupted, “I think you have a tendency to exaggerate. Forget about the stream. Our problem now is to find that castle.”
“But, Max, listen-Now, the stream is going hargaber, hargaber, hargaber! I’m afraid the-”
“Forget it, 99! That’s an order!” He picked up the survival kit. “Do you suppose they included a map of the island in here? It would certainly be a help.”
“Max! Those tree trunks-they’re going skreek, skreek, skreek!”
“I think that’s what I’d do too, 99, if I were holding back a stream that was going hargaber, hargaber, hargaber.” He took a capsule from the kit. “Ah. . this is interesting, a capsule of paddles for a collapsible boat. I wonder if-”
“Max!” 99 said, shuddering, “Those tree trunks are going gramf, gramf, gramf!”
“Probably a speech impediment,” Max replied. “Yes, here it is,” he said, taking another capsule from the kit. “A capsule for-”
“Max! The dam is breaking!”
He looked up. The tree trunks had splintered, and a great wall of water was rushing toward them.
“Talk about the nick of time,” Max said. “I just found a capsule of collapsible boat to go with that capsule of paddles.”
Quickly, Max broke the two capsules. A fully-inflated rubber boat and two paddles popped out. He and 99 leaped aboard, grasping the paddles, just as the wall of water reached them. The boat was swept up by a huge wave, and moments later they found themselves bounding downstream, carried along by the irresistible force of the flood.
“Max! Do something!” 99 squealed, struggling to stay aboard the boat. “We’re going to be carried out to sea!”
“99, I am doing something-I’m paddling!”
“It isn’t helping, Max!”
“I didn’t say I was doing something constructive, I just said I was doing something.”
The boat was hit by another huge wave. With Max and 99 still clinging to it, it submerged. When it bobbed to the surface again a few seconds later, both Max and 99 were paddling furiously. Then 99 stopped.
“Max-the island, where is it?” 99 cried.
“I’m having trouble enough as it is, 99. Let the island find its own boat.”
“Max, it’s gone. We were swept out to sea!”
“Good riddance!” Max said. “It was nothing but trouble, anyway.”
“But, Max, we’re lost! Lost at sea!”
The boat had stopped pitching and tossing. Max sat up and looked around. “Well, we’re at sea, 99, I’ll go along with you that far,” he said. “But we’re hardly lost. After all, we’re intelligent beings, we can determine direction. And we know that the mainland lies to the east of us and the island lies to the west of us.”
99 sat up too. “From here, which direction is which, Max?”
“Offhand, I don’t know. But we can find out easily enough. We know that the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. So all we-”
“Max, it’s the other way around.”
“Oh. All right, then, we know that the sun sets in the east and rises in the west. So-”
“No, Max, when I said the other way around, I meant to transpose east and west, not rises and sets.”
“Skip it, 99. It’s the middle of the night and the sun isn’t out, anyway.” He looked up into the sky. “Maybe we can use the stars to guide us.”
99 peered up too. “Wliat are we looking for, Max?”
“A group of stars in the shape of an arrow that blink on and off and spell out ‘To the Mainland.’ ”
“To the mainland, Max? We want to get back to the island, don’t we?”
“99, we wouldn’t survive an hour on that island. We lost our survival kits. Our only chance is to reach the mainland, get new kits, then have that helicopter pilot fly us to the island again.”
“All right, Max, if you say so. But if the stars won’t point the way, how are we going to find the mainland?”
“Instinct, 99. How do the birds find the north after they’ve been down south all winter? Instinct, that’s how.” He pointed. “And my instinct tells me that the mainland is thataway.”
Max and 99 began paddling, steering in the direction that Max’s instinct told him would take them to the mainland. They paddled throughout the rest of the night, and then at the break of dawn they spied a shape on the horizon.
“The mainland!” Max said exultantly. “Score another victory for instinct!”
“Max. . it looks awfully small to be the west coast of the United States.”
“That’s because we’re still a long distance away, 99.”
“Then how come our boat is bumping on the beach?”
Max looked over the side and saw sand. The boat had beached on an island. “Well, at least I’ve learned something today, 99,” he said. “It isn’t instinct that guides those birds back from the South. I think they must follow the railroad tracks.”
They got out of the boat and pulled it up on dry land.
“Do you have any idea where we are, Max?” 99 said.
“On an island-that’s about as far out on a limb as I’m willing to go at this point. Let’s look around.”
“But, Max, it looks just like that other island we were on-it’s nothing but jungle. We’re really doomed this time, Max. No one will know where to look for us.”
“There’s a stream over there,” Max said. “Let’s follow it. We may be doomed, as you say, 99, but as long as we keep to the stream, at least we’ll have fresh water.”
They plunged into the jungle, staying close to the stream. Their clothing snagged on brambles. They had to fight their way past thick, low-hanging vines. But then soon, almost miraculously, they emerged into a small clearing.
“Look at those trees, 99!” Max said, appalled. “They must have been hit by some terrible disease.”
“Max. . I know where we are,” 99 said.
“Oh? Do you read sick trees, 99? That’s quite a talent.”
“Max, those trees aren’t sick. They were mowed down by a machine gun.”
“That’s terrible,” Max said sympathetically. “You can sometimes recover from an illness, but from getting mowed down by a machine gun, never. I wonder who- Oh. I think I’m beginning to see what you mean, 99. What you’re trying to say is that we’re back on the same island that we were washed off of last night.”
“I’m afraid so, Max,” 99 said gloomily. “All we managed to accomplish during the night was to lose our survival kit and everything that went with it.”
“Well, at least we weren’t idle,” Max said.
“What do you have in mind for today?” 99 inquired.
“I think that’s pretty obvious. First, we’ll find the castle. Then we’ll recapture Guru Optimo. Then we’ll contact the mainland and have them send the helicopter for us. Then we’ll take Guru Optimo back to headquarters and turn him over to the Chief.”
“Max, I’m hungry. I’m hungry and I’m tired.”
“But first we’ll have breakfast,” Max said. “Since we no longer have the survival kit, though, of course, we’ll have to depend on our wits to scare up some food. You look for some berries, 99. And, meanwhile, I’ll build a few traps and snare some small animals.”
“For what, Max?”
“To eat. This is a desperate situation, 99. We have to think of our tum-tums. By the time you collect a few berries, I’ll have a squirrel or a hedgehog roasting over the grill.”
“What grill, Max?”
“First things first. Go collect your berries and let me get at my trap-building.”
99 headed toward the bushes, and Max began gathering fallen branches. After he had collected a good number, he began stripping the bark from a few. “In times of crisis like this, the thing to do is keep your head,” he called out to 99. “As long as we don’t panic, we’re all right.”
“Max, what are you doing?” 99 asked, looking over.
“I’ll strip these strips into smaller strips and use them as cord,” he replied. “I’ll use the cord to tie together the parts of the trap.”
“Max, that’s brilliant!”
“Simply keeping my head,” Max said modestly.
He broke the branches into lengths of approximately equal size, then, using the strips of bark as binding, he began constructing the first trap. “This reminds me of last Christmas Eve,” he called over to 99.
She looked up into the sky.
“No, I don’t mean that it’s snowing. Last Christmas Eve, I was doing this same thing.”
“Building a trap to catch a squirrel?”
“No, no, putting something together. It was a tricycle.”
“Oh, yes, I remember. Your car was in the garage, wasn’t it?”
“99, it wasn’t a tricycle for me,” Max said. “It was supposed to be a gift for my nephew. But you know how you get things these days, all in parts, and you have to put them together yourself. Well, I was assembling this tricycle-just as I’m assembling this trap, now. Except that this is child’s play compared to that. Have you ever seen the instructions for assembling a tricycle, 99? It’s very complicated. They tell you to connect Part A to Part B, but then, in a very sneaky way, they tell you that Part A won’t connect to Part B until after you’ve connected Part F to Part M, which first have to be linked to Part Z.”
“That doesn’t sound so difficult, Max.”
“Part M looked exactly like Part Y.”
“Oh. Well, I can see how that-”
“What happened, Max?”
“Nothing. I just gouged myself in the hand with Part Z.”
“Putting that tricycle together taught me a good lesson, 99. After I lost my temper and threw Parts A through L into the incinerator and Parts M through Z into the garbage disposal, I realized that there’s never much to be gained by losing your head.”
“What made you decide that, Max?”
“Well, I had to go out and buy another tricycle and try to put it together. And a few minutes later I was back at the incinerator and the garbage disposal with the second set of Parts A through L and M through Z.”
“How’s the trap coming, Max?”
“Fine. Yes, 99, that experience taught me- Oh-oh.”
“What now, Max?”
“I tied my thumb to Part B.”
“Max, forget about the trap. We’ll eat berries.”
“99, I am not going to let a simple thing like a trap defeat me. I learned my lesson last Christmas Eve. If you keep your head-”
“Max? What is it?”
“I think it would be better for all concerned, 99, if you didn’t babble at me while I’m trying to construct a very complicated- Drat!”
“Max-don’t lose your head!”
“I can’t find Part D!”
“Where is the incinerator around here!” Max shouted, jumping up.
“Max, remember the lesson you learned!”
“I remember!” he raged. “This is it!”
He threw the trap to the ground and stomped on it, smashing the lengths of branches to twigs.
“Max, you lost your head,” 99 said sadly.
“Maybe so, 99. But I kept my sanity. In a world that expects a man to assemble a tricycle by himself, if he has any brains, he’ll lose his head.”
“Could you phrase that another way, Max?”
“Yes. Pass the berries.”
Nothing was said while Max and 99 munched on the berries. Max fumed silently, and 99 watched him hopefully. Finally, when the last berry was gone, he spoke again.
“I’m still hungry,” he said.
“Shall I gather some more berries, Max?”
“I think I’d rather starve than eat another berry, 99. Our only chance, as I see it, is to find that castle. There will be food there.”
99 looked around. “It would be like finding a needle in a haystack.”
“If you sit down in a haystack often enough the law of averages will find the needle for you eventually. But sitting in this jungle won’t help us a bit.”
“Should we just strike out and hope for the best, Max?”
“We’ve already struck out, 99. Let’s try walking.”
They plunged into the jungle again, following the stream as before. Hours passed, but they found nothing that resembled a castle. The jungle was steamy hot. The vines lashed at their faces and the thickets tore at their clothes. Weak from hunger, they stumbled on.
“Max. . I can’t go on. .” 99 whimpered.
“Courage, 99. Remember, it’s always darkest just before the dawn.”
“Max, it’s the middle of the day and the sun is burning down on us.”
“99, don’t blame me if that old saying doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t make it up.”
“Max. . I have to rest. .”
He stopped. “All right. We’ll stay here until it gets dark. It will be easier to travel when the sun goes down.”
They collapsed on the ground. And seconds later they were both sound asleep.
Max was the first one to awaken. He shook 99. “99, we can go on, now.”
She opened her eyes. “Max!” she cried. “Where are you? I’ve gone blind from hunger!”
“You can’t go blind from hunger, 99.”
“I can’t see you!”
“Can you walk, 99?”
“I think so.” She got to her feet. “Yes, that rest helped me a lot. Let’s go, Max.”
Once more, they proceeded. Then Max suddenly halted. He pushed aside a vine and peered into the darkness ahead. “99!” he said. “We’ve found- Oh, no, that’s not it.”
“I thought there for a second that we’d found the castle.”
“I can’t see-what is it?”
“Well, it certainly looks like the castle. But it couldn’t be.”
“Why not, Max?”
“Well, it isn’t white, and it doesn’t have a trunk.”
“Oh. . Max. .” 99 groaned weakly.
99 pushed the vine aside and peered into the dimness. “Max, it is the castle,” she said. “See the towers? And, look, there’s a light in a window. This is it, Max! This is the castle we’ve been looking for!”
“All right, 99, I’ll take your word for it. You know more about white elephants than I do. If you say they have towers and lights in the window, then- 99! Down!”
They sank into the underbrush. A moment later, a man in uniform marched past their hiding place. He was staring straight ahead, a vacant expression on his face.
“Max, did you see that?” 99 said, puzzled, raising up. “What a strange look.”
“It was almost no look at all,” Max said.
“He seemed to be under some kind of spell.”
“Maybe he just came from a movie,” Max suggested. “I sometimes look like that myself right after I step out of a dark movie theater into the light.”
“Max, it’s dark out here.”
“It was only a theory, 99. Not every theory- 99! Down!”
Again, they ducked down into the thickets. Another man in uniform strode past. This one had the same empty look on his face.
They moved back into the jungle where they could talk without being overheard.
“Max, those are guards,” 99 said. “They seem to be patrolling the grounds. How will we ever get into the castle?”
“I don’t think that’s going to be any problem at all, 99. Remember what you said about them looking as if they’re under a spell?”
“Well, 99, this may come as a surprise to you, but I think those guards are under a spell. I think Guru Optimo has hypnotized them. Unless I miss my guess, we could march a brass band up to that castle and the guards would pay absolutely no attention to it.”
“But, Max, what good are they, then?”
“They’re for show, 99. Who would guess that they’re hypnotized? Only someone like myself with a very keen instinct for what is right and wrong. The instant you mentioned that those guards looked like they were under a spell, I said to myself, ‘Max-those guards are under a spell!’ But not many would notice that. And they’d stay away from the castle, thinking it was heavily guarded.”
“Max. . I don’t know. .”
“Believe me, 99. I can sense these things. All we have to do is wait for one guard to pass, then walk right up to the castle before the next guard arrives.”
“Then why aren’t we doing it, Max? Why are we still hiding?”
“Because we can’t just walk into that castle anywhere. We have to pick exactly the right doorway.”
“The doorway that will take us straight to Guru Optimo and Lucky Bucky Buckley, you mean? How can-”
“No, 99, the doorway that will take us straight to the kitchen. I’m starved.”
They crept back to the edge of the clearing. As they crouched in the underbrush again, a guard passed. Max looked at his watch. Then another guard passed.
“Three minutes between guards,” Max reported. “That will give us plenty of time.”
Another guard passed.
Max looked at his watch once more, then, a few seconds later, he said, “Now!”
They scrambled from the thickets and started quietly across the grounds toward the castle.
“Halt!” a voice shouted.
“99, was that you?” Max asked.
“And it wasn’t me,” he said. “So apparently-”
At that instant they were smothered under a pile-up of guards.
“Do you still think you could march a brass band up to the castle, Max?” 99 asked.
“99, if you were any kind of a pal, you’d pretend that I’d planned this this way and you’d be congratulating me.”
One by one, the guards peeled themselves from the pile. Then two of the guards pulled Max and 99 to their feet.
The head guard, his expression as vacant as ever, addressed them in a mechanical-sounding voice. “I-am-a-guard. You-are-intruders. See-the-guards-capture-the-intruders.”
“Yes, well, that’s very interesting,” Max said. “But-”
“The-guards-have-guns,” the head guard continued. “Do-the-intruders-have-guns?”
One of the other guards frisked Max, then took his pistol from him. Another guard took 99’s gun from her purse.
“The-intruders-do-not-have-guns,” the head guard said. “Oh-oh-what-will-they-do? Will-they-march-to-the-castle-as-the-guards-tell-them-to? Or-will-they-try-to-escape-and-get-clobbered?”
“Ah. . I think we’ll march to the castle,” Max replied.
“See-the-intruders-march-to-the-castle,” the guard said. “One-of-the-intruders-is-pigeon-toed.”
Max and 99, with the guards tramping behind them, reached the castle and entered. It had high, ornamented ceilings. The stone walls were hung with battle gear, swords and shields and lances, and portraits of noblemen in medieval dress.
“Isn’t it magnificent, Max!” 99 said breathlessly.
“Isn’t what magnificent, 99?”
“Oh. I hadn’t noticed. I was watching how you walk. That guard is wrong, 99-you’re not pigeon-toed.”
“I don’t think he was referring to me, Max.”
“See-the-intruders-march-straight-ahead-to-the-great-hall,” the head guard said. “See-the-pigeon-toed-intruder-turn-red-in-the-face.”
“Yes, and see the head guard get a fistful of knuckles right in the mush if he doesn’t knock off the cracks!” Max snapped.
They reached a pair of huge, hand-carved double doors and one of the guards pushed them open. A large chamber was revealed. Gigantic crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Here, too, on the walls, were medieval weapons. And in the center of the hall was a long dining table. Seated at the table were a short, fat man, wearing a checkered suit, a pink-and-white striped shirt, and brown-and-white shoes, and a younger man, who was tall and thin and who was dressed in a loin cloth and a turban.
The guards marched Max and 99 to the table.
“See-the-intruders,” the head guard announced. “The-guards-have-captured-the-intruders. The-guards-are-good-guards.”
The young man in the loin cloth made a gesture and the guards backed away.
The older man looked at Max and 99 curiously, then broke into a smile. “Hiya, boobies!” he said. “What’s the deal?”
“We refuse to answer,” Max replied. “All we have to tell you is our name and our number. I’m Max Smart and my number is 86. That’s all you’ll get from me.” He leaned forward, peering at the meat on the platter in the center of the table. “Is that roast beef cooked in a vinegar wine, by any chance?”
“Ain’t you gonna introduce me to the skirt?” the fat man asked.
“He means me, Max,” 99 explained. She addressed the fat man. “I’m 99 and my number is 99,” she said. “That’s all you’ll get from me too.”
“Gladdaknowya,” he replied. “Me, I’m Lucky Bucky Buckley.”
“Aren’t you going to introduce us to the loin cloth?” Max said.
“Oh. . yeah. This squirrel over here in the hip hanky and bath towel is Guru Optimo. He’s my act. I’m his agent. Now, to repeat the previous question-what’s the deal? What’re you two boobies doin’ on the island? This is private property, which I rented for the duration.”
“Is that asparagus in that dish?” Max pointed.
“I ain’t fingerin’ no vegetable ’til I get some answers,” Lucky Bucky replied. “But, after I get some answers, who’s to say maybe I wouldn’t invite a couple wayfarin’ strangers to sup and dine with me?”
Max’s eyes narrowed. “Are you trying to tempt me with a stalk of asparagus? If you are, you’re wasting your time. You could offer me a full meal and I still wouldn’t tell you that we’re secret agents, working out of Control.”
“Max!” 99 said admonishingly. “You told him!”
“It ain’t no surprise to me,” Lucky Bucky said. “I been expectin’ somebody from your outfit. Guru Baby told me about you guys. He told me about them other guys, that KAOS outfit, too. That’s how come I posted the guards.”
“Well, since you wormed the secret out of me,” Max said, “maybe I will let you tempt me with some of that asparagus.”
“Be my guests,” Lucky Bucky said expansively. “Park the bodies. Dig in.”
Max and 99 scrambled for chairs, then, seated, filled their plates and began eating ravenously.
“This is delicious!” Max said. “It certainly is broadminded of you to feed us like this when you consider that we’re here to take your act away from you.”
“It’s traditional in my family,” Lucky Bucky replied. “We always see that the condemned man gets to eat good. What kind of people would we be if we sent an enemy to his death on an empty stomach?”
Max stopped eating. “Are you hinting at something?”
“I’ll tell you later,” Lucky Bucky said. “I don’t want to spoil your dinner.” He passed the platter of roast beef to Max. “Have another helping. Enjoy. I’ll tell you the truth, I’m glad you finally got here. I needed somebody intelligent to talk to. Guru Baby is a great talent, but, like all talent-he should be seen and not heard. I’ll give you an example.” He turned to Guru Optimo. “Well, Guru Baby, what do you think of the international situation these days?” he said.
Guru Optimo grinned foolishly. “What happened in that hotel in Boston, Willy?” he answered.
“See?” Lucky Bucky sighed. “That’s all the American language he knows-some lines he picked up from some movies. He understands it, but he don’t talk it.”
“That’s very interesting,” Max said. “Do you mind if I try it?”
Lucky Bucky shrugged. “Why not?”
Max spoke to Guru Optimo. “How do you like living in a castle?” he said. “I suppose it’s quite different from what you’re used to.”
Guru Optimo beamed. “We got to get these critters to Abilene ’fore they freeze to death in this blizzard,” he replied.
“Well, ask a silly question, get a silly answer,” Max said.
“I’ve been listening to silly answers like that for weeks,” Lucky Bucky said.
“I think I can help you,” Max offered. “Turn Guru Optimo over to me, and I promise I’ll take him somewhere where you won’t ever have to listen to him again.”
Lucky Bucky laughed. “I should be such a dumb-head? I’ve got the greatest act in the history of show business.” He winked at Guru Optimo. “Right, Guru Baby?”
Guru Optimo smiled. “Good dog, Lassie!” he replied.
“I’ll tell you the truth,” Lucky Bucky continued, “For the past couple of years, I should’ve been called by my real name, which is Unlucky Bucky Buckley. What-”
“Your real name is Unlucky Bucky Buckley?” Max said.
“It’s what I was born,” Lucky Bucky replied. “But when I was seven years old I won a bunny rabbit in a raffle. After that, everybody called me Lucky. Everybody, that is, except my old man. He couldn’t get used to the idea. So he kept calling me the same thing he’d always called me.”
“Like I was saying though, from now on, it’s nothing but roses. With Guru Baby as my act, I’m gonna make a comeback like nobody has never seen before. What an act!”
“It will be a little unusual,” Max agreed.
“Unusual? It’ll be smash! Who ever seen a tap dancer in a loin cloth and a towel before?”
“That’s his act?” 99 said. “A tap dancer?”
“Yeah. I’m teachin’ him. ’Course, that’s not the whole act. He’s got a little bit that he does at the end, when they call him back for an encore.”
“What’s that?” Max asked.
“He hypnotizes the audience and turns everybody into slaves.” He glowed. “Is that a smash finish or is that a smash finish?”
“Well. . it’s, uh. . novel,” Max conceded. “But suppose he doesn’t get called back for an encore?”
“Then he goes out and turns them into slaves anyway,” Lucky Bucky replied. “He’s a trouper.”
“I see. . the show must go on,” Max nodded. “I have one other question: What’s the point of turning everybody in the audience into slaves?”
“Well, I figure that with good weather and some luck with the train schedules we can play every theater in the world in about fifteen years. By then, we’ll be ready to retire. And what’ll we have to fall back on? We’ll have the whole world under our control.”
“Plus Social Security,” Max pointed out.
“Right. Nobody can’t say that Lucky Bucky Buckley don’t look out for his talent.” He turned to Guru Optimo again. “Right, Guru Baby?”
Guru Optimo beamed. “But, Mother, I don’t care if Thomas is a crazy inventor who plays around with little wires that light up, I love him,” he replied.
“Lucky Bucky Buckley, you’re mad!” 99 said fiercely.
“Why should I be mad?” he replied, surprised. “With a future like mine? I’m not mad at anybody. I’m not even mad at you. To prove it, I’ll have Guru Baby do his act for you.”
“No, thank you,” Max said. “I really don’t care much for tap dancing.”
“Then I’ll have him do his encore,” Lucky Bucky said. “It’s the best part, anyway. I’ll tell you the truth, the tap dancing is just to get the audience’s attention. To do his hypnotizing, he’s got to be looking you straight in the eye.”
“Frankly, I care less for being hypnotized than I do for tap dancing,” Max said.
“Not you-a guard.”
He faced Guru Optimo once more. “How about puttin’ a spell on one of the guards, Baby?” he said.
“Good dog, Rin Tin Tin,” Guru Optimo replied, grinning.
Lucky Bucky summoned one of the guards to the table. Then, addressing Max, he said, “What would you like him to be? Anything-you just name it.”
“He don’t have the seniority. Anyway, that’s too easy.”
“A potato peeler?”
“Still too easy.”
“Then you decide,” Max said.
Lucky Bucky spoke to Guru Optimo. “Make him think he’s the 8:57 commuter train that runs between Milwaukee and Chicago,” he commanded.
Guru Optimo raised a hand. There was a sudden flash of light.
The guard raised his arms, then began skimming around the hall, roaring like a jet engine.
“That’s a commuter train?” Max said.
Lucky Bucky scowled. He called to the guard.
The guard settled in for a landing.
“What do you think you are?” Lucky Bucky said to him.
“Think?” the guard replied indignantly. “I know what I am. I’m the noon jet to London.”
Lucky Bucky sighed. “You goofed it again, kid,” he said to Guru Optimo. “Give it another try-okay?”
Once more, Guru Optimo raised his hand. Again there was a flash of light.
The guard raced to the doorway and looked out. Then he ran to a chair and peeked under it.
“Hooooldit!” Lucky Bucky bellowed. “Come back here!” he called to the guard.
The guard returned to the table.
“What are you this time?” Lucky Bucky asked.
“Not what-who,” the guard replied. “I’m Little Bo Peep.”
“I think he was looking for his sheep,” Max said.
Lucky Bucky spoke to Guru Optimo. “Make him a guard again,” he said. “I’ll tell you the truth, Guru Baby, you’re lousy on commuter trains.”
Guru’s hand went up. There was a flash of light, then the guard, a guard again, stepped back from the table.
“Now, I guess you know why I brung him to the castle,” Lucky Bucky said to Max and 99. “The act’s got a couple bugs in it.”
“Oh? I didn’t notice,” Max said. “What seems to be the trouble?”
“It don’t always work out the way it’s supposed to.”
“Well, I don’t see why that should bother you,” Max said. “As long as he can turn somebody into something else, what difference does it make what it is?”
“Yes, a jet is just as good as a commuter train,” 99 said.
“But suppose he tried to turn an audience into slaves and the people turned out to be revolutionists?” Lucky Bucky replied. “There I’d be, in control of the world, and a bunch of trouble-makin’ revolutionists tryin’ to get it away from me! Bother, bother, bother. I wouldn’t be able to sleep nights.”
“How do you plan to correct the little, uh, defect?” Max asked.
“Practice. He spends six hours a day turning people into other people-or things. We use the guards. They don’t mind. They’re actors.”
Max looked over at the guards. “Actors? They certainly act like guards.”
“They think they are,” Lucky Bucky replied. “They’re all hypnotized. I got them out here by putting an ad in the paper saying I had a job open for an actor to play the part of an actor playing the part of a guard. When they got here to apply for the job, I had Guru Baby zop ’em with his magic eye.”
“Are you sure they’re hypnotized?” 99 said. “Maybe they’re just acting.”
“No, they’re zopped, all right.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“If they were acting, they’d want their names up in lights out front.”
Max leaned back in his chair. “Well, that was a fine meal,” he said. “But-” He glanced at his watch. “-I think we better be going now. Our Chief is probably wondering where we are.”
“Max Baby,” Lucky Bucky protested. “It’s still early. You can’t go yet. I had some more entertainment planned.”
“Oh? What did you have in mind?”
“I figured I’d execute you and your friend here.”
Max’s eyes became slits. “You’re hinting again, aren’t you?”
“Then let me put it another way-a way you can understand. You’ve had your last meal, now you get your just desserts-death a la mode.”
“But that’s murder!” 99 said. She turned to Guru Optimo. “Are you going to just sit there and let him do this!”
He grinned broadly. “Good dog, Black Beauty,” he replied.
“Ah. . Black Beauty is a horse,” Max informed him.
Guru Optimo turned his smile on Max. “But, daughter, Thomas’s inventions are so impractical. Why would anybody even want a light bulb in an ice box?” he said.
“Somehow, I don’t think I’m getting through to him,” Max mused.
Lucky Bucky rose. “Everybody up,” he said. “Time for the guests to get it in the neck.”
But Max and 99 remained seated. “Just a minute,” Max said. “I have an alternate suggestion. Why go to all the bother of killing us? Why not have Guru Optimo make us think we’re something else? Frankly, I think I’d look much better as, say, the Lexington Avenue Subway, than I’d look as a corpse.”
“Me, too,” 99 said.
Max turned to her. “99, there can’t be two Lexington Avenue Subways. We’d bump. Why don’t you become the Canarsie Line? They cross near Union Square, and that way we’d still get to see each other occasionally.”
“All right, Max.”
“All wrong, Max Baby,” Lucky Bucky said. “I can’t take a chance on hypnotizing you. You’re too dangerous. I’ll tell you the truth, once, one of Guru Baby’s zop victims recovered from the zop. Suppose that happened in your case? You’d tell the whole world how I plan to turn everybody into a slave. The minute I spotted you, Max Baby, I said to myself, ‘Lucky Bucky Baby, there’s a blabbermouth!’ ”
“Then you leave us no choice,” Max said. “Duty commands us to attempt to escape.” Again, he turned to 99. “Are you ready, 99?”
“Of course, Max. What did you have in mind?”
Max jumped up, turning the table over. “Run, 99! The door!”
They ran toward the exit.
“Zop’em!” Lucky Bucky cried.
A flash of light exploded in front of Max and 99.
They dived behind a sofa.
“Trapped!” Lucky Bucky shouted exultantly.
“Not quite yet!” Max called. “He can’t zop us unless he looks us straight in the eye.”
“Guards!” Lucky Bucky bellowed. “Shoo’em out from behind that sofa!”
The guards began closing in on Max and 99.
“Max! What can we do?” 99 said fearfully.
“Keep moving, 99. And, whatever you do, don’t look him in the eye!”
As the guards reached the sofa, Max and 99 dashed from behind it.
Three flashes of light-Zop, Zop, Zop-brightened the room.
Max and 99 ducked behind a chair. They peeked out.
One of the guards had rolled up in a ball on the floor.
“Watch out for my seeds!” the guard warned.
“What happened?” 99 said, perplexed.
“Apparently that guard got in the way of a zop,” Max replied.
“What does he think he is?”
“A watermelon, evidently.”
Another guard began racing around the room, his motor roaring, knocking over furniture.
“Max. . is he a-”
“Yes, I’m afraid so, 99-a hit-and-run driver. Watch out for him!”
The hit-and-run driver zoomed by Lucky Bucky, narrowly missing him.
“Come out of there and let me kill you!” Lucky Bucky called to Max and 99.
“With that crazy driver in the room?” Max answered. “We could get killed!”
The other guards were now closing in on the chair.
“Let’s go, 99!”
They dashed out into the open, headed for the overturned table.
There were three more flashes of light-Zop, Zop, Zop!
But Max and 99 reached the table safely.
They peeked out.
One of the guards dived into the fireplace, then rose up the chimney.
“What, Max?” 99 asked.
“A balloon would be my guess.”
“What about that guard over there? The one who’s standing at attention and blinking his eyes.”
“Well, let’s see. . The right eye seems to be blinking red and the left eye seems to be blinking green, so I’d guess that he thinks he’s a traffic signal.”
At that moment, the hit-and-run driver raced through a red light, then crashed through a wall and roared off down a corridor.
“Now’s our chance, 99!” Max said. “Through that hole in the wall!”
They jumped up and ran.
Flashes of light began exploding in the vicinity of the hole.
Max halted, stopping 99.
“He’s got us, 99,” he said. “We’re out in the open. Get behind me-I’ll shield you from the zops.”
“Get behind me, 99!” Max commanded. “It’s the only safe place in the room!”
“All right, Max. But-”
At that instant, Guru Optimo fired.
And 99 got the zop square between the eyes.
“Hold your zops!” Lucky Bucky said to Guru Optimo.
The remaining guards seized Max and 99 and held them tight.
“Hands off!” 99 cried, trying to break loose. “I have a schedule to keep!”
“99?” Max said, staring at her. “A schedule? What are you talking about?”
“Are you speaking to me, sir?” she replied vacantly. “If you are, please address me by my rightful name. I’m the Staten Island Ferry.”
Max sighed sadly. “Zopped.”
“Take them to the dungeon,” Lucky Bucky said to the guards. “Let’s proceed with the execution.”
The guards hustled Max and 99 from the room and along a corridor. Lucky Bucky Buckley and Guru Optimo followed close behind.
“What’s the matter?” Max asked.
“The water is cold today,” she replied.
“99, you’re not the Staten Island Ferry. You only think you’re the Staten Island Ferry.”
“Then why are all those passengers standing at my rail?”
“99, you only think-”
“Excuse me,” 99 broke in. “The Queen Elizabeth is passing. I have to blow my whistle in salute.”
“Too bad she has to die,” Lucky Bucky said. “I could book an act like that. Ed Sullivan would be crazy to introduce the Staten Island Ferry from the audience.”
“If you’re going to kill us, why are you taking us to the dungeon?” Max asked.
“That’s where all the killing stuff is,” Lucky Bucky explained. “Don Juan O’Houlihan, the Spanish gentleman who built this castle a long time ago did a lot of killing. It was kind of a hobby with him. He had a very nice little killing set-up in the dungeon. In them days, I guess, you had to think up your own time-passers. There wasn’t no television.”
They descended a dimly-lighted stone stairway, then entered a narrow corridor.
99 began humming.
“99, what are you doing?”
“I’m humming along.”
“Along? Along with what?”
“I’m carrying a rock ’n’ roll group to Staten Island to play at a mugging and they’re on my top deck, practicing,” she replied.
They entered a large chamber that was furnished with various implements of torture, a rack and a screw and a tape machine that played back old political speeches. The guards took Max and 99 to a device that looked like a wishing well.
“Well?” Max said.
“That’s what it is, all right,” Lucky Bucky replied.
“What I meant was, well, what happens now?”
“Look into the well,” Lucky Bucky said.
“Oh, no you don’t. I’ve been around a bit too long to fall for the old when-he-looks-into-the-well-somebody-will-give-him-a-shove-from-behind trick.”
“Nobody will push,” Lucky Bucky replied. “Honest-on my word as an agent.”
“Ah. . could you do a little better than that?”
“All right, on my word as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
Max peered down into the well. “Ummmm. . boiling oil,” he said. “And what are those lumps in it?”
“Boiling oil swimming with crocodiles. Isn’t that sort of gilding the lily? Wouldn’t one or the other, boiling oil or crocodiles, be enough?”
“With me, it’s playing it safe,” Lucky Bucky replied. “If the oil don’t get the victim, the crocodiles will. And what difference does it make to the victim? A guy that’s drowning in boiling oil don’t mind a little thing like a nibble from a crocodile.”
“Ughhhhh!” 99 shuddered.
“You’re frightening the Staten Island Ferry,” Max said to Lucky Bucky.
“It isn’t that,” 99 said. “The passengers are littering my decks with gum wrappers and paper cups.”
“How, exactly, do you expect to get us into the well?” Max asked Lucky Bucky. “Remember, you gave us your word as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that you wouldn’t shove us from behind.”
“You can shove me from behind,” 99 said to Lucky Bucky. “It will serve those litter-bugs right.”
Lucky Bucky pointed to a large bucket that was suspended over the well. “See the bucket?”
“Yes, I see the bucket,” Max replied.
Lucky Bucky pointed to a crank at the side of the well. “See the crank?”
“Yessss. . I see the crank.”
“You’ll be in the bucket,” Lucky Bucky explained. “When the crank is turned, down will go the bucket. Understand?”
Max looked closely at the bucket, then at the crank. “It won’t work,” he answered.
“I won’t be able to reach that crank from the bucket. It’s too far.”
“You think I’d make you turn your own crank?” Lucky Bucky said, hurt. “What kind of a host would I be?” He indicated one of the guards. “He’ll turn the crank.”
“In that case, maybe it’ll work,” Max said.
“Into the bucket,” Lucky Bucky commanded.
“And. . suppose we refuse?” Max said defiantly.
Lucky Bucky pulled a gun and pointed it at him. “If you refuse, we’ll just have to skip the bucket bit and get straight to the killing.”
Max smiled cunningly. “Well, Lucky Bucky Buckley, you’ve finally showed your hand, eh? You really mean to murder us. This is what I’ve been waiting for-the moment when you’d declare yourself.”
“Do you actually believe that two highly-trained secret agents would be stupid enough to come to this island alone? We’ve just been playing along, waiting for you to make that one fatal mistake that every criminal finally makes. And you, Lucky Bucky Buckley, have made it. You’ve threatened us with murder. That’s against the law, you know. Now, we have something on you!”
“Will you get to the point?” Lucky Bucky said. “The crocodiles haven’t been fed in a week.”
“The point is that this castle is completely surrounded.”
“With hundreds of Control agents.”
“How did they get here?”
“How did they get here? Well, ah, they dropped by parachute.”
“I have guards in the towers. The guards would have seen them.”
“Oh. Well, then, would you believe that they were landed by submarine?”
“The beach is too shallow. A submarine couldn’t get within a mile of this island.”
“Ummmm. . well, then, would you believe that they were born and raised here?”
“The only thing that was born and raised on this island that’s still here is a bunch of coconut trees.”
“I suppose you’ve never heard of a bunch of secret agents disguising themselves.”
“Into the bucket!” Lucky Bucky ordered; “or I’ll disguise you as a secret agent full of bullet holes!”
Resigned, Max climbed up on the edge of the well, then stepped into the bucket.
“You next!” Lucky Bucky said to 99.
“Gurgch, gurgch, gurgch,” 99 said.
“What’s that?” Lucky Bucky asked curiously.
“She’s pumping out her bilges,” Max explained. “It’s a thing a ferry boat always does before it climbs into a bucket.”
99 emitted a final gurgch, then got in beside Max.
Lucky Bucky addressed the guard he had picked to handle the crank. “Get a good hold,” he said. “And, whatever you do, don’t let the bucket drop into the well.”
The guard gripped the crank.
“Did I hear that correctly?” Max said. “Did you tell the guard not to drop the bucket into the well?”
“My exact words, more or less,” Lucky Bucky answered.
“You haven’t been a murderer very long, have you?” Max said. “You don’t seem to have the hang of it yet. You see, we won’t die unless the bucket drops into the well. That’s the point of having those crocodiles and that boiling oil at the bottom of the well.”
Lucky Bucky spoke to Guru Optimo. “Show ’em how it works,” he commanded.
Guru Optimo raised a hand. There was a flash of light.
The guard began giggling and squirming. And every time he squirmed he loosened his hold on the crank and the bucket dropped an inch or two closer to the boiling oil and crocodiles.
“Oh, yes, I see how it’s done,” Max said interestedly. “Guru Optimo zopped the guard into thinking he’s being tickled. And, in time, he’ll lose his grip on the crank and the bucket will fall into the well. Very clever. I apologize for calling you an amateur murderer. You’re a real pro.”
“You’re not a bad victim, either,” Lucky Bucky replied, returning the compliment. “You die real good. What I don’t like is them first-timers-all that yelling and screaming. You must have had a lot of experience at getting murdered.”
“No, I guess I just take to it naturally,” Max said.
“Well, have a nice die,” Lucky Bucky said. “It’s getting late. Guru Baby and I won’t wait up for the end. I like him to get a lot of sleep. He’s in training.”
“Good luck with the tap dancing,” Max called as Lucky Bucky and Guru Optimo and the other guards departed.
The bucket jerked, and dropped a few inches closer to the boiling oil and crocodiles.
“I knew that someday I’d kick the bucket,” Max said to 99, “but I had no idea that I’d be in it when I kicked it.”
“You’re sitting on my rudder,” 99 said.
“I’m sorry, 99. But it’s a little crowded in this bucket. Can’t you tuck your rudder under your horn pipe or something? And, besides, the Staten Island Ferry can’t talk. So be quiet for a moment, please, and let me try to think of a way out of this mess.”
The bucket dropped again.
Max spoke to the guard. “You know, if you put your mind to it, you could get over being ticklish.”
The guard ignored him. Suffering a spasm of giggling he loosened his hold on the crank, dropping the bucket almost a foot closer to the oil and crocodiles.
“Evidently this is the last chapter in our lives, 99,” Max said. “There’s no way out. I guess I better telephone the Chief and say our final goodbyes.”
“Ask him if he knows what to do for empty bilges,” 99 said.
“Yes, all right, I’ll do that.”
Max wriggled around in the bucket until he was able to reach his shoe phone and remove it. Then he dialed.
Operator: Could you call back later, Maxie? I’m doing my nails.
Max: Operator, I’m afraid I’m not very sympathetic. It just so happens that at this instant I am sitting in a bucket with the Staten Island Ferry and we are being slowly lowered into a well that is filled with boiling oil and swimming with man-eating crocodiles.
Operator: So what help will it be if I ruin my nails?
Max: Get me your Supervisor!
Operator: Oh, all right, I’ll take your call. Whom is it you wish to speak to?
Max: Who, Operator.
Operator: Who has an unlisted number.
Max: I don’t know-who does have an unlisted number?
Operator: What do you mean, you don’t know? You just said yourself that he has an unlisted number.
Operator: Right. So you can’t call him unless you know the number.
Max: I can’t call who?
Operator: That’s what I said.
Max: Operator, let’s start again. Pretend that I just picked up my phone and that you just answered. Okay? Now, connect me with the Chief, please.
Operator: Don’t you want to talk to Who any more, Maxie? You two have a falling out?
Max: It’s too personal-I don’t want to talk about it. Just connect me with the Chief.
Chief: Control. . Chief here.
Max: It’s me, Chief. I just-
Chief: Could you call back later, Max?
Max: Chief! Are you doing your nails too!
Chief: No, Max, I’m not doing my nails. I’m in a very important meeting.
Max: Oh. Sorry, Chief. But this won’t take but a minute. I just wanted to say goodbye. You see-
Chief: Max? You called me to say goodbye?
Max: Yes. You see-
Chief: Nevermind the explanation, Max. If that’s all you want-goodbye.
(a click as the Chief hung up)
Max: Chief! No! Wait!
Operator: I’m sorry, sir, but your party does not choose to speak with you.
Max: Operator, that is not for the telephone company to decide! Get me back my number!
Operator: Maxie, have a little pride. The Chief doesn’t want to talk to you. It’s over. Forget it. Make a new life for yourself. Find a new interest. Make new friends. Take dancing lessons. Learn to play the saxophone. Ten years from now, you won’t even remember who the Chief is.
Max: Operator, get me back my number!
Operator: What number is that, Max?
Max: The Chief’s number!
Operator: You still remember him, eh? The dancing lessons didn’t help?
Chief: Control. . Chief here.
Max: Chief, you didn’t let me finish. When I said I wanted to say goodbye, I didn’t mean goodbye for now, I meant goodbye forever. Chief, the fact of the matter is, that mission you sent us on isn’t working out exactly as planned. Instead of us recapturing Guru Optimo, Lucky Bucky Buckley has captured us-that is, two thirds of us, anyway. We haven’t seen V. T. Brattleboro since we landed on the island. But 99 and I are in a bucket that is suspended over a well, and the well is filled with crocodiles and boiling oil, and our bucket is dropping!
Chief: Then I think you made a very wise decision, Max.
Max: Decision? What decision?
Chief: To call and say goodbye forever.
Operator: You should have heard that story the first time he told it, Chiefy. He had the Staten Island Ferry in it.
Max: Stay out of this, Operator. Chief, what she means is that Guru Optimo hypnotized 99 into thinking that she’s the Staten Island Ferry. Incidentally, Chief, what do you do for empty bilges?
Chief: Max, offhand, I’d say that that’s not your main problem. You better worry about getting out of that bucket. Can’t you jump out?
Max: There’s a guard here, Chief.
Chief: Maybe V. T. Brattleboro will show up in the nick of time and save you.
Max: Chief, the first thing he did when we landed on the island was try to kill us.
Chief: Well, I just don’t have any other suggestions, Max. But don’t give up. Keep thinking. Maybe you’ll work it out. If you do, give me a call and tell me how you did it. If you don’t. . well, don’t bother to call.
Max: Thank you for those encouraging words, Chief.
Chief: And say goodbye forever to 99 for me.
Max: Actually, Chief, 99 may come out of this all right. I’m hoping that when we hit the oil she’ll float.
Operator: Tell her if she does to contact Ed Sullivan the minute she gets out of the well. He’d be crazy to introduce her from the audience.
Max: I’ll tell her. Goodbye, Chief. Goodbye, Operator.
Chief: I won’t say goodbye, Max. I’m sure you’ll think of some way to escape.
Operator: I’ll say goodbye, Max. I don’t think you could think your way out of a paper bag.
Max looked over the side of the bucket into the well. “I thought it was getting a little warm in this bucket,” he said. “We’re only about three yards from the hot breaths of those alligators.”
“Crocodiles,” 99 corrected.
“99, if I want to know the difference between a crocodile and an alligator, I’ll go to a better authority than the Staten Island Ferry.”
The bucket dropped another few inches.
“It won’t be long now, 99,” Max said grimly, looking down into the boiling oil again. “If you have any last words, now’s the time to speak up.”
“Tooooot! Tooooot!” 99 whistled.
“Nicely put,” Max nodded.
The bucket dropped to below the top rim of the well. Max stood up and looked at the guard speculatively. “I wonder. .” he murmured. “99, if he was hypnotized by a flash of light, why couldn’t he be unhypnotized by a flash of light?”
“Don’t talk to me while I’m docking,” 99 replied. “Docking is a very tricky business.”
“If I had a flash of light, maybe I could flash it in his eyes and break the spell,” Max said. “But where would I get a flash of light?”
“Will you hold still while I’m docking, please,” 99 complained. “You’re rocking the boat.”
“Sorry, 99. I was shifting around because of that beam of moonlight that’s shining in the dungeon window and hitting me in the eyes.”
“You made me bump the pier.”
“I said I’m sorry.”
“All right. But will you please step out of the way?”
“My passengers want to get off.”
Max moved. The beam of moonlight hit him in the eyes again. “If I could just figure out how to create a flash of light,” he muttered. “But I can’t think with that light in my eyes.”
“Will you move again, please. My Staten Island passengers want to board.”
“Yes. . all right. . Say, would you ask them if they have any idea how I could- The moonlight! Why can’t I use that!” He opened 99’s purse and got her hand mirror from it. Then, holding it up, he caught the reflection of moonlight in it and flashed it against the wall of the dungeon. “Perfect! Now, if I can just flash the light in the guard’s eyes!”
“Will you fasten your seat belt, please,” 99 said. “I’m about to embark.”
“That’s an airliner, 99, not a ferry boat.”
Max flashed the light at the guard, trying to shine it in his eyes. But the guard was squirming too vigorously.
“Man the lifeboats!” 99 cried.
“What seems to be the problem?” Max asked.
“I’m about to ram a lighthouse!”
“99, that isn’t a lighthouse. That’s me. I’m flashing a light around, trying to unhypnotize that guard.”
Again, Max attempted to shine the light in the guard’s eyes. But the guard simply would not hold still long enough. Finally, Max gave up.
“We’re sunk, 99,” he said dismally.
“Shhh! Don’t let my passengers hear you say that!”
“They might as well know the worst. There is no possible way for us to survive. And it’s all the fault of that KAOS agent, V. T. Brattleboro. What a double-dealer! Although, I don’t know why I expected any more. A KAOS agent is the lowest form of life.”
At that instant, the guard, who had been six feet tall, skinny and bareheaded, stopped giggling and squirming, became short, fat and topped by a derby hat, and leaned over the edge of the well and said indignantly, “Oh, yeah!”
“V. T. Brattleboro!”
“Come out from behind that ferry boat and say that!” the KAOS agent said threateningly. “I dare you!”
“So it’s you, is it!” Max replied. “Mister Bad Guy in person! You just pull me out of this well and I’ll thrash you to within an inch of your lowest form of life!”
“You and who else!” Brattleboro sneered.
“Me and my ferry boat, that’s who!”
Furious, Brattleboro grabbed the crank and began hoisting the bucket from the well. Max and 99 were tossed about. The moonlight, reflected in the hand mirror, flashed in 99’s eyes.
“Max!” she cried suddenly. “Where am I?”
“I couldn’t say exactly, 99. Somewhere between Staten Island and lower Manhattan, but that’s as much as I can tell you.”
“Max, why, for heaven’s sake, would I be there?”
“Because that’s where the Staten- 99, you are the Staten Island Ferry, aren’t you?”
She stared at him. “The Staten Island Ferry! Max, I’m 99! Don’t you remember me? Did Guru Optimo hypnotize you?”
“I’ll explain it later, 99,” Max replied. “Right now, I have to-”
V. T. Brattleboro reached into the bucket, got Max by an arm, yanked, and hurled him across the dungeon, where he splattered against a stone wall, then dropped in a heap to the stone floor.
“Call me a lowest form of life, will you!” Brattleboro said, outraged.
Dazed, Max struggled to his feet. He shook his head, clearing his vision. “Not only are you a lowest form of life,” he responded, “but you are also unclean, irreverent, untrustworthy-”
“Don’t try to win me over with compliments now,” Brattleboro snarled.
“-and nasty to your mother!”
Max sidestepped and dropped him with a karate chop.
Stunned, Brattleboro dragged himself slowly to his knees.
“Max, we’re supposed to be working together,” 99 said. “Why are you two fighting?”
“Because our friend almost fed us to the crocodiles.”
“I don’t remember that, Max. When did it happen?”
“While you were the Staten Island Ferry, 99.”
“Max! Are you going to start that again! I have never been the Staten Island Ferry!”
“Ed Sullivan is going to be very unhappy to hear that, 99.”
Brattleboro had regained his feet.
“Max! Watch out!” 99 cried.
Max and Brattleboro hit each other with karate chops at the same instant. They dropped to the floor together and lay side by side, unconscious.
99 shook them. “Max. . Brattleboro. . get up!”
Max opened his eyes. “Well, I lost fairly, anyway,” he said. “That’s something.”
Brattleboro opened his eyes. “Well, I lost unfairly, anyway,” he said. “That’s something.”
“It was a draw,” 99 informed them. “You both lost.”
Max and Brattleboro jumped to their feet and raised their hands to karate chop each other again.
“Stop it!” 99 said. “You’re acting like children!”
“He started it,” Max pouted. “The first thing he did when we landed on the island was try to kill us!”
“A little joke-all in fun,” Brattleboro said. “How did I know you’d misunderstand. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known you were going to shoot back at me with a machine gun.”
“All right, your apology is accepted,” Max replied. “But what about when you were dropping us into that well in that bucket.”
“I don’t remember that, Max,” 99 said.
“It didn’t happen. He made it up,” Brattleboro said to her.
“Max, you shouldn’t make up stories,” 99 said.
“Stories? 99, I remember clearly that-” He interrupted himself, looking puzzledly at Brattleboro. “Why aren’t you squirming and giggling any more?” he said. “I saw Guru Optimo zop you with a spell.”
“While he was zopping me with a spell, I was zopping him with a spell,” Brattleboro explained.
“I don’t think I quite understand that.”
“Well, as he hypnotized me into thinking I was ticklish, I hypnotized him into thinking that he had hypnotized me into thinking I was ticklish. But, actually, his zop was canceled out by my zop. So, although I had hypnotized him into thinking he had hypnotized me into thinking I was ticklish, actually, I wasn’t hypnotized at all-he was. Clear?”
“No. But forget it. Let’s go back to where you were dropping us into the well. That was your second attempt to try to kill us.”
“Only teasing,” Brattleboro said. “I would have pulled you out.”
“You pulled us out only because you were angry about me calling you a lowest form of life.”
“Just a minute, Max,” 99 said. “Why don’t I remember any of this?”
Max explained. He told her everything that had happened since Guru Optimo had hypnotized her.
“Well. . I still don’t remember it,” she said.
“But you believe me, don’t you?”
“Yes, Max, of course. That is, all except the part about me being the Staten Island Ferry. That’s preposterous.”
“I agree,” Brattleboro said. “You shouldn’t make up stories, Max.”
Max raised his hand to deliver a karate chop.
“No, Max!” 99 intervened.
“All right,” Max said grudgingly. “I’m willing to forget everything that’s happened up ’til now and declare a truce. But he’ll have to stop trying to kill us.”
“Do you agree?” 99 said to Brattleboro.
“I agree-Max is willing to forget everything that’s happened up ’til now.”
“And the rest, too.”
“Okay-and he’ll have to stop trying to kill us.”
“No,” 99 said, “you’ll have to stop trying to kill us.
“I promise-for what it’s worth,” Brattleboro replied.
“Say ‘We’ll all be friends and we’ll work together,’ ” 99 insisted.
Brattleboro put a hand behind his back and crossed his fingers. “We’ll all be friends and we’ll work together,” he said.
“Now, you, Max.”
Max put a hand behind his back and crossed his fingers, “Ditto,” he said.
“Good,” 99 beamed. “Now, what next?”
Max pointed to Brattleboro. “I think we better bind him and gag him and hide him somewhere before he double-crosses us again,” he said.
“That wouldn’t be very smart,” Brattleboro said. “I couldn’t tell you my plan if I were gagged.”
Max eyed him suspiciously. “What plan?”
“Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this case,” Brattleboro replied, “and this is the way it looks to me. I think the real danger is not Guru Optimo, but Lucky Bucky Buckley. When Guru Optimo is alone, he’s probably harmless. It’s Buckley’s influence over him that makes him a threat to civilization as we know it. Right?”
“Maybe yes and maybe no,” Max replied. “What’s your plan?”
“We heard Buckley say that they were going to bed,” Brattleboro continued. “That means that, right now, they’re in separate rooms. Buckley will be in his bedroom, and Guru Optimo will be in his bedroom. In other words, at this particular moment, Buckley is unable to work his influence on Guru Optimo. Right?”
“I’d rather not commit myself,” Max replied. “What about the plan?”
“We’ll separate,” Brattleboro said. “You and 99 will look for Buckley’s room. And I’ll look for Guru Optimo’s room. When we find them, we’ll destroy them both.”
“Why didn’t you just say that? Why all that involved explanation?” Max asked.
“I’m a fuzzy thinker.”
“But this is such a big castle,” 99 said. “And we don’t have any idea where their bedrooms might be.”
“See what a fuzzy thinker I am,” Brattleboro said apologetically.
“Maybe I can straighten it out,” Max said. “How does this sound? Brattleboro, you go one way, and look for Guru Optimo’s room, and 99 and I will go another way, and look for Buckley’s room.”
“Fantastic,” Brattleboro said. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because you have a fuzzy mind,” Max informed him.
“But, Max, that doesn’t make the castle any smaller,” 99 pointed out.
“Did I say it did? Are you catching Brattleboro’s fuzzy-mindedness, 99?”
“I better go before I start an epidemic,” Brattleboro said.
Max stopped him. “Just a moment. We’re in the dungeon. And there’s only one way out. So how can we separate?”
“By cracky, you’ve done it again-lit a candle in the darkness!” Brattleboro said, impressed. “But what’s the answer?”
“We’ll go to the first floor-then we’ll separate,” Max decided.
“Brilliant! Brilliant! Now, I know why Control is the organization that it is!”
Max smiled modestly. “Why?” he asked.
“Because it has the Government behind it. KAOS could be the organization that it is, too, if it had all that tax money to support it.”
“Frankly, I doubt it,” Max replied scornfully.
With Max in the lead they made their way along the narrow corridor, then up the steps to the main floor. The main floor halls were almost totally dark.
“I’ll go that way,” Brattleboro said.
“I can’t see which way you’re pointing,” Max replied.
“Nevermind. Just go.”
Brattleboro disappeared into the dimness.
“We’ll go this way,” Max said to 99.
They started out, staying close to the walls.
“Excuse me,” Max said.
“99, your voice is changing.”
“That wasn’t me, Max.”
“It was me,” Brattleboro’s voice said. “What are you doing here? You were supposed to go the other way.”
“I didn’t know which way the other way was until now,” Max replied. “99?” he said. “Are you still here? We’re headed in the wrong direction.”
“I can’t see you, Max.”
“Here. . take my hand.”
“I’ve got it, Max.”
“That’s my hand,” V. T. Brattleboro’s voice said.
“I thought you’d left,” Max said.
“I did. But in this dark, I must have gone in a circle.”
“We need a light of some kind,” Max said. “Anybody got a match?”
“I have a miniature flashlight,” Brattleboro said.
“That’s even better.”
“You think so? Every try to light a cigar with one?”
“For this purpose, I mean, it’s better,” Max said. “Light your miniature flashlight, then go in whatever direction you want to, and we’ll go in the other direction.”
“You did it again,” Brattleboro said.
A pinpoint of light suddenly appeared. Then it moved down the corridor.
“Shall we go, too?” 99 said to Max.
“I don’t want Brattleboro to hear you.”
“But he knows we’re going to go.”
“Yes, but he doesn’t know which direction we’re going to go, 99. Let him get a little bit ahead of us, then we’re going to follow him.”
“Max. . that isn’t the plan.”
“It’s my plan, 99. Brattleboro’s plan is to double-cross us. That’s why I’ve instituted my own plan, which is to double-cross him.”
“Could you explain that to me, Max?”
“99, while we were having dinner with Buckley and Guru Optimo, Brattleboro had plenty of time to wander around the castle. It’s my guess that this isn’t a wild goose chase he’s on, that he knows exactly where Guru Optimo’s room is located.”
“But why wouldn’t he share the information with us?”
“Because, while we were roaming around in these corridors, chasing that goose, he would have time to go straight to Guru Optimo’s room and talk him into rejoining KAOS.”
“Max, maybe, but-”
“Come on, 99,” Max broke in. “We can’t let that light get out of our sight!”
They moved quietly down the corridor in pursuit of Brattleboro.
“Max, what’s the rest of your plan?” 99 whispered.
“We’ll let Brattleboro lead us to Guru Optimo’s room, then we’ll put Brattleboro out of commission-temporarily, of course-then we’ll talk Guru Optimo into rejoining Control.”
“Max. . I lost the light. Do you see it?”
“I haven’t taken my eye off it since Brattleboro first lit it, 99. There it is, right up ahead. It seems to have stopped. Let’s get closer.”
They crept nearer.
“Max,” 99 whispered, “that doesn’t look like the light.”
“I tell you, I’ve had my eye on it every second.”
“But, Max, that looks like the moonlight from that window over there shining on a suit of armor.”
“Exactly what Brattleboro wants you to think, 99.”
“Isn’t it obvious? Brattleboro has clouded our minds, making us think that he’s a suit of armor with the moonlight shining on him. Very romantic, but it won’t work. You’ll notice that the suit of armor is standing by a doorway. That doorway leads to Guru Optimo’s room. As soon as we leave, thinking we’ve lost the light, Brattleboro will enter the room and do his dirty work.”
“What can we do, Max?”
“Since we now know where Guru Optimo’s room is located, we no longer need Brattleboro to lead us to it. I’ll stroll up to that suit of armor, pretending I’m lost, then I’ll suddenly turn on it and put it out of commission with a karate chop.”
“All right. But. . careful, Max. .”
Max meandered up the corridor, looking as if he were lost. Then, reaching the suit of armor, he abruptly raised an arm and chopped it across the back of the neck.
There was a clanging sound.
“What happened, Max?” 99 called.
“I think I broke my hand, 99.”
“How is Brattleboro?”
“I don’t know. But the next time I see him, I’ll tell him that you asked.”
“It’s a suit of armor with the moonlight shining on it.”
Hurrying, 99 joined Max. “Then we’ve lost Brattleboro,” she said. “Oh, Max, we’ll never find him now!”
“99, if he’s in this castle, we’ll find him,” Max promised her. “Remember back there where we took a left turn and saw this suit of armor? Well, Brattleboro must have taken a right turn, instead. So, we’ll just go back to where we started, and next time, turn right instead of left. That ought to take us straight to Brattleboro.”
“Unless, after he made a right turn, he made another turn-a left turn, maybe? Or a right turn again? Or two right turns and a left turn? Or-”
“Well, we’ll just hope that we’ll be able to spot that light again.”
“After all those turns, Max?”
“Well, we’ll yell for him.”
“Max, let’s face it, there’s no chance in the world that we’ll ever find him again. Your plan- Max! Look!”
Several yards ahead of them a moving pinpoint of light had appeared.
The light was gone.
“Max, that was him, I’m sure of it!” 99 said. “He must have been in one of the cross corridors!”
“Why would the corridor be cross, 99, living in a nice, comfy castle like this?”
“I mean one of the corridors that crosses this corridor.”
“Oh. Yes, that was probably it. Hurry! Maybe we can catch him!”
They ran to the next corridor, then stopped and looked both ways.
“Nothing,” 99 said disappointedly.
“There!” Max pointed. He raced down the corridor in pursuit of a pinpoint of light.
“Max! No! That’s-”
There was a clanging sound.
A moment later, Max returned, looking crestfallen.
“Are you all right, Max?”
“Fine, 99. Fine, that is, as long as there’s no compelling necessity for shaking hands with anyone.”
“Max. . shall we give up?” 99 said gloomily.
“Well, 99, I hate to admit defeat. But it looks as if-”
A pinpoint of light suddenly appeared from around a corner and moved toward them. Max and 99 watched it, fascinated. A few moments later the light reached them.
“Are you two lost too?” Brattleboro’s voice said.
“What gave you that idea?” Max asked cagily.
“I thought you might be having trouble in the dark. Somebody’s been knocking over all the suits of armor.”
“No, no, we’re fine,” Max said. “We’ve been going about this very systematically, checking from room to room. How about you? Any luck?”
“No, it was bad luck. I fell down some stairs.”
“Lucky you weren’t carrying a match,” Max said. “You would have lost your light.”
“That’s not so lucky. I haven’t been able to light my cigar.”
“In that case, too bad you don’t have a match instead of that flashlight.”
“It doesn’t matter. I broke the cigar when I fell down the stairs.”
“Are we going to stand around the rest of the night talking nonsense like this?” 99 asked. “I thought we were supposed to be looking for Lucky Bucky’s and Guru Optimo’s rooms.”
“I knew I was carrying this flashlight around for some reason,” Brattleboro said. “It must be to look for that snake charmer’s room-it’s certainly no good for lighting cigars.”
Brattleboro moved on down the corridor.
“Did you get that conversation?” Max said to 99. “He’s trying to make us think he’s a harmless imbecile.”
“Which part of the conversation, Max? What you said or what he said?”
“99, I was just playing along. I wanted to make him think his trick had worked. He doesn’t want us to know how clever he is. He thinks he’s thrown us off the track. And now, as you’ll see in a second, he’s heading straight for Guru Optimo’s room, convinced that we think that he’s just blundering around blindly.”
“You mean we’re going to follow him again?”
“Come on, 99, before he loses us!”
Moving quietly, they set out after the light once more.
All of a sudden it disappeared.
“Oh, Max! Gone!”
“Aha! But this time I saw where it went!”
Max hurried, with 99 at his heels. A second or so later they reached a door.
“This is the place!” Max whispered. “This is the door to Guru Optimo’s room. And inside we’ll find Brattleboro.”
“Careful, Max. .”
There was a creaking sound as Max turned the knob. Then he flung the door wide open-and peered at a pinpoint of light that was staring back at them.
“Brattleboro?” Max said warily.
“Boy, am I glad to see you!” Brattleboro’s voice replied. “I blundered into this closet, then I couldn’t find my way back out!”
There was silence for a moment. Then Max said, “Look, maybe you better let me take the light.”
“That might be best,” Brattleboro agreed. He handed over the flashlight.
“Thank you,” Max said. “Now, perhaps we can get something accomplished.”
“Take this too,” Brattleboro said, putting two small objects into Max’s hand.
“What are they?”
“The broken cigar that goes with the flashlight,” the KAOS agent replied. “I don’t want to break up the set.”
In command of the flashlight, Max led the way along the corridor. He began quietly opening doors and looking into the rooms, searching for either Lucky Bucky or Guru Optimo.
“Nothing,” he continued to report.
“99, please don’t talk unless you have something important to say. Lucky Bucky could be in any of these rooms, and he might hear you.”
“Would it be important if we’d lost V. T. Brattleboro?”
“Mmmmm. . yes, I think that would fit the category.”
“Max, we’ve lost V. T. Brattleboro,” 99 said.
“What!” Max responded, startled.
“He was right behind me just a moment ago, but now he’s gone.”
“That means he gave us the slip. He knows where Guru Optimo’s room is, and he’s headed straight for it Quick, 99! Follow him!”
“I don’t know which way he went.”
“Look for that pinpoint of light!”
“I see it, Max.”
“Where. . where?”
“In your hand, Max. You have the flashlight.”
“Oh. . yes, I forgot about that.” He put out the light. “There, now, we won’t make that mistake again.”
“I’m sure that will be a big help, Max. What do we do next?”
“We’ll just have to backtrack, 99, and look in every room until we find Brattleboro and Guru Optimo. Let’s go.”
They retreated along the corridor, opening doors, looking into the rooms. But, again, Max kept reporting nothing, nothing, nothing.
Then they came to a door that was standing partly open.
“This has to be it,” Max whispered. “Careful, 99!”
He peeked into the room.
“Is it, Max?”
“What do you see?”
“Guru Optimo. He’s asleep in his bed.”
“I can’t see him, 99, but I know he’s in there. I can sense his presence. Evidently he has clouded my mind and is making me think he’s something else. We can’t let that stop us, though. We’ll have to go in there, wake Guru Optimo, and attempt to persuade him to rejoin Control.”
“Won’t Brattleboro try to stop us?”
“Undoubtedly. But there’s nothing we can do about it until he shows himself.”
“All right, Max. .”
They crept into the room and crossed toward Guru Optimo’s bed. Max’s eyes darted to the right and left, looking for some sign of Brattleboro. And, preoccupied, he bumped into a chair, then stepped back, surprised.
“Ouch!” a voice said.
Max flew into action. He leaped to the window, yanked the cord from the drapes, and quickly wrapped it around the chair, binding it.
“Max,” 99 asked curiously, “why did you do that?”
“99, I’m very surprised that you can’t figure it out. That chair is V. T. Brattleboro.”
“Is it?” She inspected the chair. “How do you know, Max?”
“Didn’t you hear it cry out when I bumped it?”
“Max. . that was me.”
“When you stepped back from the chair after bumping it, you stepped on my foot. I cried ‘ouch!’ ”
“99, didn’t I ask you to keep quiet unless you had something important to say?”
“Ouch seemed sort of important at the moment, Max.”
Max unwound the cord from the chair. “Well, it was still a good move,” he said. “If we can’t talk Guru Optimo into rejoining Control, we can tie him up and force him to put in with us again.”
Max motioned to 99, and once more they crept across the room toward Guru Optimo’s bed. Then suddenly, when Max was only a step away from Guru Optimo, the floor opened up beneath him and he went hurtling downward. He landed in water, disappeared below the surface, then bobbed up. Treading water, he looked around. Facing him, treading water too, was V. T. Brattleboro.
“Oh, so there you are!” Max said.
“I see you found Guru Optimo’s room,” Brattleboro replied. “Wasn’t that a little sneaky? What about our agreement? You were supposed to look for Lucky Bucky Buckley’s room.”
“Let’s call it even,” Max said. “You cheated too, you know.”
“You were supposed to have been a chair.”
“I wish I were a chair,” Brattleboro said. “I’d stand on myself and climb out of here. Look where we are! This basement, or whatever it is, has no doors and no windows, and the water is approximately ten feet deep. In a very short time, we’re going to become too tired to tread water and then we’re going to drown.”
“Brattleboro,” Max replied, “if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my many years as a secret agent, it’s this: If there’s a way in, there’s a way out.”
“We fell in through that trap door,” Brattleboro said, pointing upward.
Max looked, “Mmmm, yes, I see. . it closes after the victim passes through it. Well, that certainly proves one thing.”
“Sometimes the things you learn during your many years as a secret agent aren’t worth a hill of beans.”
But at that moment the trap door was suddenly pushed open and 99’s face appeared. “Max! Are you down there?” she called.
“Shhh! Don’t wake Guru Optimo!”
“All right,” she whispered. “But are you down there?”
“I can’t hear you, 99. Speak a little louder.”
“I don’t want to wake you-know-who.”
“When you shake what, it glows blue?”
“You-know-who!” 99 shouted.
“He’s down here!” Brattleboro called up.
“Max, why are you imitating Brattleboro? And who’s down there?”
“I am. He is. We both are. Now, look, 99, I think I’ve figured out a way to get us out of here. I still have that cord. I’m going to toss it up to you. You catch it. Then you can pull us out.”
“I don’t think I’m strong enough, Max.”
“99, in times of extreme peril, a person can summon an extra strength that he didn’t know existed. You can do it!”
“I’ll try, Max.”
Max tossed the cord up to her. She caught it.
“Just a second.”
Max looped the cord around his wrists. “All right, now, 99-pull!”
“Here goes nothing, Max!”
There was a sudden splash. Then 99 bobbed up beside Max and Brattleboro.
“Something apparently went wrong,” Max said thoughtfully. “I wonder what it was?”
“Max, you were the one who was in extreme peril,” 99 said. “So I guess you summoned an extra strength that you didn’t know existed and out-pulled me.”
“Well, I’m glad to know, at least, that the theory is still valid.”
“It’ll be a nice thing to die knowing,” Brattleboro commented.
“All is not lost quite yet,” Max said. “We still have the cord. Maybe I can lasso something up there in Guru Optimo’s bedroom. If it’s firm enough, if it holds, we can pull ourselves out.”
“Boy, would I like to be in a position to take bets,” Brattleboro said.
“Try it, Max,” 99 urged. “It’s our only chance.”
Max made a loop in the end of the cord, then slung it up through the opening. It did not return.
“Max! You caught something!”
“Don’t get your hopes too high, 99. I’ll give it a little tug, and-”
“I did catch something!” Max said excitedly.
“Will it hold us, Max?”
“Let me give it another little tug. We’ll-”
The chair came tumbling down through the opening, narrowly missing them. A moment later it popped to the surface and floated.
“Well, there’s that chair you were wishing you were to stand on,” Max said to Brattleboro.
“No help. I was talking about a highchair.”
“Try again, Max,” 99 said.
Max tried again.
He got a floor lamp.
“Once more, Max.”
This time he got a drawer from a chest of drawers.
“Don’t give up, Max.”
Next time, when he tugged on the cord, it held firm.
“Too bad,” Brattleboro said. “I was beginning to like it down here. The place is nicely furnished.”
Max climbed the rope, then pulled himself up through the opening. 99 followed. Then Brattleboro emerged from the trap.
Max peered into the dimness. “I wonder what I lassoed?” he said.
“Max, it doesn’t matter.”
“No, I’d like to know. When I tell this story to my grandchildren. . here I’ll turn on a light.”
He flicked on the switch. His eyes followed the cord.
“Oh. . hello, there,” Max smiled.
Guru Optimo was sitting up in bed looking at them curiously. The cord was looped around the large toe of his left foot.
“Thanks for the hand,” Max said.
“Foot, Max,” 99 corrected.
Guru Optimo grinned broadly. “No, Sergeant Preston, in the Royal Mounted Police we sit on the horse facing front,” he replied.
“Speaking of that,” Max said, “there’s a matter I’d like to discuss with you.”
“I have something to say too,” Brattleboro said.
Guro Optimo beamed. “I don’t care what your mother says, the light bulb is not an impractical invention-it will keep little children from sticking their fingers in empty sockets.”
“Yes, well, that’s very interesting,” Max said. “But what I’d like to discuss is renewing your agreement with Control. You promised, you know, that you would join us in our fight against the forces of evil. Now, as we look at it, a promise is a promise. So-”
“Don’t listen to that gush,” Brattleboro broke in. “A promise isn’t a promise. A promise is a tactic. You didn’t know what you were doing when you made that agreement with Control. They tricked you. Besides, you have a later agreement with KAOS. You promised you would join us in our fight against the forces of good!”
Guru Optimo looked from Brattleboro to Max, from Max to Brattleboro, confused.
“I would like to point out,” Max said, “that with us you would have the satisfaction of knowing that you were making the world a better place to live.”
Guru Optimo brightened.
“What’s that in comparison to the satisfaction of knowing that you were making the world a better place for you to live? Fooey on everybody else!” Brattleboro countered.
Guru Optimo glowed.
“You’re losing him, Max,” 99 warned.
“Speaking of old movies,” Max said to Guru Optimo, “remember last year’s famous Academy Award loser-‘A Beach Bunny Skins Her Shins at Jones Beach’? Recall what handsome, muscular, high-minded pre-med student Seth O’Scope said to gorgeous, blond, empty-headed apprentice beautician Spray O’Hara when she came staggering up onto the beach with her surf board wrapped around her neck? He said, ‘What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and flunk social responsibility?’ Think about that.”
Guru Optimo looked blank.
“I don’t think that’s an old enough movie, Max,” 99 said.
“Maybe not. I’ll try again. Speaking of old-”
“What’s going on here!” a voice behind them roared.
Max, 99 and Brattleboro turned and found Lucky Bucky Buckley standing in the doorway.
“You’re just in time,” Max said. “We were playing a game of Trivia, with old movies as the subject. Your question is: In the movie ‘The General Died at Dawn,’ what time was it exactly? We know it was dawn, of course. But at what time exactly did the sun rise on that day?”
“Guards!” Buckley shouted.
Max shook his head. “That isn’t even close. Try 5:17 A.M.”
“5:17 A.M.?” Buckley guessed.
Again, Max shook his head. “You were closer when you said ‘guards!’ ”
“Zop’em!” Buckley screamed at Guru Optimo.
A flash of light exploded over Max’s, 99’s and Brattleboro’s heads.
“Well, that ends the game,” Max said.
He dived under the bed.
99 followed him.
Brattleboro ducked behind the chest of drawers, one drawer of which was missing.
“Don’t just sit there! Zop!” Lucky Bucky shouted at Guru Optimo.
Guru Optimo’s head, upside down, appeared over the edge of the bed.
“Hide your eyes!” Max warned 99.
There was a flash of light.
But Max and 99, their eyes shielded by their hands, were unaffected.
“Grab’em!” they heard Lucky Bucky cry.
Peeking out, they saw that the guards had arrived.
The guards dived under the bed after them. Max and 99 crawled out on the other side.
A flash lighted the room.
But it was aimed at Brattleboro. And, looking out through the opening where the drawer had been, he caught the flash full in the eye.
Brattleboro jumped up, then began roaring around the room, throttle wide open.
The others stared at him.
He knocked over a table, a floor lamp, the chest of drawers, then roared out of the room and down the corridor.
“What was he?” 99 asked.
“A motorcycle cop,” Max replied. “And I think he’s after that hit-and-run driver who ran that traffic signal earlier tonight.”
Max and 99 ran for the doorway. But a guard had stationed himself in the opening.
A flash of light exploded inches away from them.
They dived back under the bed.
The guards followed.
Max and 99 crawled out from under the bed, and, hand in hand, galloped across the top of it-and across Guru Optimo in the process.
Guru Optimo aimed.
“Zop! Zop! Zop!”
But at that instant the guards emerged from under the bed and stomped across it in pursuit of Max and 99, tromping Guru Optimo beneath their boots and spoiling his aim.
Max and 99 dashed for the doorway again.
The guard still barred their way.
“Zop!” Buckley shouted wildly.
A flash of light.
The guard in the doorway-hit-dropped to his hands and knees. “I’m the George Washington Bridge!” he cried happily.
Max and 99 clambered over him and out through the doorway. They raced down the corridor, turned a corner, raced down another corner, then jumped back just in time to keep from getting hit by a motorcycle cop who roared by and then disappeared around a different corner.
“Poor Brattleboro,” 99 said sadly.
“Don’t waste your sympathy on Brattleboro, 99,” Max said. “I suspect that he’s putting on an act.”
“An act, Max?”
“It’s my guess that when Guru Optimo zopped him, trying to make him think he was a motorcycle cop, Brattleboro also zopped Guru Optimo back, making him think he was making him think he was a motorcycle cop.”
“Then you think Brattleboro isn’t really a motorcycle cop?”
“Right, 99. I think he’s just a crazy kid on a hopped-up Harley Davidson!”
A flash of light exploded behind them.
They turned the corner and ran down the corridor. At the next corner they turned right. Racing along corridors and whipping around corners, they turned right, left, left, right, left, right, left, right, right, left, left, right, left, left, right-and plowed head-on into the guards.
Max and 99 were the first to emerge from the pile-up. They raced back the other way, left, right, right, left, right, right, left, left, right, left, right, left, right, right-and plowed head-on into the heap of guards, who had not yet regained their feet.
Once more, Max and 99 were the first to arise. They dashed around the corner-and plowed head-on into Lucky Bucky and Guru Optimo.
All four of the accident victims arose at the same moment.
“Zop!” Lucky Bucky commanded.
Max and 99 ducked.
The spell hit a guard who was coming around the corner, pursuing Max and 99. The guard made a gun of his index finger, pointed it at Max, 99, Lucky Bucky and Guru Optimo and snarled, “Awright, youse guys, stick’em up!”
Eight hands flew into the air.
“What is he, Max?” 99 asked.
“Well, he’s- Wait a minute! That last zop canceled out his previous zop! He isn’t hypnotized any more. He’s an actor again, and he’s doing his Edward G. Robinson imitation!”
“Right, 99! That finger is only a stage prop! Run!”
Max and 99 darted past the guard-or actor-raced around the corner-and piled head-on into the rest of the guards.
Lucky Bucky Buckley, Guru Optimo and Edward G. Robinson came running around the corner an instant later and piled head-on into Max and 99.
There was a wild scramble.
Max squirmed out from the bottom of the pile. “99! Where are you!”
An arm reached out.
Max grabbed it by the wrist and galloped down the corridor.
“Max! Wait for me!” a voice far back along the corridor called.
He halted. He found that he had Edward G. Robinson by the wrist.
Max dropped him with a karate chop. “Sorry about that,” he said. “But you’ve had it coming a long time, you know, going around ordering everybody to stick’em up.”
99, who had freed herself from the spaghetti of arms and legs, caught up with Max.
“Let’s go, Max!” she said urgently.
“All right, 99. But no more lefts and rights. The next set of stairs we come to-down. Agreed?”
“Anything you say, Max. Just-”
There was a flash of light.
Max dashed along the corridor, with 99 close at his heels. They reached some stairs. But there was only one flight, and it ascended.
Max ran on.
“Max, why didn’t we take those stairs?” 99 asked.
“It’s against the rules to go down the up staircase, 99.”
“Max. . would it have hurt, just once?”
“That’s how bad habits start, 99. You go down the up staircase once, then, the next thing you know, you’re going up the down staircase. And after that you think nothing of it. It’s up the down staircase and down the up staircase all day long. And the nights are even worse.”
“Max, that doesn’t sound so terrible to me.”
“99, that’s only the beginning. Pretty soon, staircases don’t satisfy you. You need elevators!”
“Max, I still say-”
“Up ahead, 99! A down staircase!”
They reached the stairs, then dashed downward. When they reached the next floor, they stopped. Max looked back.
“Oh-oh!” he said, alarmed.
“Look, 99-that’s an up staircase we just came down.”
“Only from here, Max. From where we were it was a down staircase.”
He looked at her thoughtfully. “That’s what we tell ourselves, 99,” he said. “But who’s to say? Who really knows the truth, 99?”
Lucky Bucky Buckley and the guards appeared at the head of the stairs.
“Halt!” Lucky Bucky shouted.
Max and 99 took flight, running down a corridor.
“There-up ahead!” Max pointed. “Another staircase!”
“Max, do you think we should-the way it effects you?”
“I have no choice, 99,” Max replied, wild-eyed. “The worst has happened! I’ve got the habit! I’m hooked!”
Driven by his mad desire, Max raced down, down, down one ascending and/or descending staircase after another, with 99 right behind him. Finally, he reached bottom-the dungeon.
“Max! We can’t go any further! There are no more staircases!”
“I don’t know why you’re so disappointed, 99. Now, I can break the habit.”
“But we’re trapped!”
“Every silver lining has its dark cloud, 99.”
They heard Lucky Bucky and the guards at the entrance to the dungeon. Max grabbed 99 by the hand and led the way along the corridor. A moment later they reached the torture chamber.
“Maybe we can find someplace to hide,” Max said, looking around. “That well over there looks safe.”
“Max, that’s the well with the boiling oil and the crocodiles.”
“I thought it looked familiar.”
“There’s a huge wooden chest over there, Max. It looks big enough for both of us.”
They ran to the chest. Max lifted the lid, then they got inside, and Max started to close the lid. But 99 stopped him.
“Max! No! Look! The inside of the lid is studded with spikes! If you close it, we’ll be pierced!”
“Oh. Well, I wouldn’t want to get stuck in this chest. Let’s look for somewhere else to hide.”
They climbed out. They could hear Lucky Bucky and the guards in the corridor, getting nearer.
“Max-it’s too late!”
“Maybe not, 99.” He pressed himself against a wall of the dungeon. “Do this, 99.”
99 flattened herself against the wall. “How is this going to help, Max?”
“Pretend to be something,” he replied.
“Max, I don’t understand.”
“I learned this in drama class when I was in second grade,” Max answered. “If you put your mind to it, you can pretend to be anything you want to be. I used to pretend to be a tennis court. And I was so good at it that, at the end of the class, my teacher used to scold me for not putting my net away.”
“She said it would deteriorate if it was left out in the rain.”
“Max, it just won’t work.”
“Maybe you’re right, 99. A tennis court would look a little out of place down here in the dungeon.”
At that instant, Lucky Bucky and the guards burst into the torture chamber.
“They’re here somewhere!” Lucky Bucky said. “Search everywhere-every nook and cranny!”
“He didn’t mention tennis courts,” Max whispered to 99. “We might still have a chance.”
“Nook and cranny includes tennis courts, Max.”
The guards were getting closer.
“That reminds me of a joke,” Max said.
“Max! Not now!”
They pressed closer to the wall. And suddenly the wall opened up behind them and they tumbled backwards. The wall then closed, leaving them in total darkness.
“The way the joke goes-”
“Max! Where are we? What happened?”
“The wall opened and we’re in a secret passageway, 99. Now, the way the joke goes, you see, the cops were raiding a gambling den, and they found that every one of the gamblers was either a thief or an English governness.”
“Max, we escaped!”
“Yes, I know, 99. So, looking for evidence, the cops lined them up against the wall, and the head cop said, ‘Okay, boys, search them-every crook and nanny.’ ”
“Max, I can’t see a thing. How will we ever get out of here?”
“Don’t you get it, 99? The thieves were the crooks and the English governesses were the nannies. That’s what English governesses are called-nannies.”
“Max, I think I’ve found some steps.”
“No, thanks, 99-I’ve kicked the habit.”
“But we can’t stay here!”
“It was a play on words, 99. Nooks and crannies and crooks and nannies.”
“Max, this secret passageway must lead somewhere. Let’s follow it.”
“I have a better idea, 99. Why don’t we follow this secret passageway? It must lead somewhere.”
“You’re right, Max. You go ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”
They began making their way slowly up the steps.
“Well, I’m going to be in trouble with Miss Himmelman again,” Max said.
“With who, Max?”
“With Miss Himmelman, my second grade teacher. I left my net back there in the dungeon.”
“I think she’ll understand, Max.”
“It certainly was foresighted of the builder of this castle to put in this secret passageway,” Max said. “How do you suppose he knew, 99, that centuries later we’d need it to escape from Lucky Bucky Buckley?”
“Isn’t it just possible, Max, that he built it for himself?”
“Hardly, 99. Lucky Bucky Buckley wasn’t even born then.”
“Do you see anything, Max?”
“Only total darkness. And I’m not even sure about that. It doesn’t show up too well in this darkness.”
“If only we had a light!”
“Patience, 99. I think I see one up ahead.”
“Yes. It seems to be coming from under a doorway or something.”
“It must lead to a room. We’re safe, Max!”
When they reached the light, Max leaned his weight against the wall. It held firm.
“It isn’t a door,” he said. “It doesn’t rattle.”
“It’s probably a secret panel.”
“I hardly think so, 99.”
“Why not, Max?”
“Well, the man who built the castle knows about it, and you and I know about it. That doesn’t make it much of a secret any more.”
“Max, we can’t stay here. Try to break it down.”
He threw his weight against the wall. The panel splintered, and Max tumbled headlong into a room. 99 stepped out of the passageway behind him.
“Max!” she cried.
Max got to his feet. They had battered themselves back into Guru Optimo’s room. And facing them, sitting up in bed, was Guru Optimo himself.
“Hold your fire, Guru Optimo!” Max said. “We want to talk to you-about rejoining Control! Do you understand?”
Guru Optimo grinned. “Me Tarzan, You Jane!” he replied.
“Okay, Tarzan, here’s the deal,” Max said. “Lucky Bucky Buckley is taking advantage of your good nature. And we at Control feel that we had the idea to take advantage of your good nature first. Fair is fair. You can see that, you and your good nature, can’t you?”
Guru Optimo beamed. “Give it to me straight, doctor-will I always walk with a lisp?”
“Ahh. . I think that should be ‘limp,’ ” Max corrected.
“Tell him about all the advantages of working for Control, Max,” 99 said. “I think he’s interested.”
“Yes, well,” Max said, “there’s. . uh. . mmmm. .” He turned to 99. “What advantages, exactly, 99?”
“Working with happy people, for one thing.”
“Happy? More or less happy, maybe, 99. But, frankly, I’ve had some pretty sad days since I joined Control. I remember the day a few weeks ago when the Chief made me sit in a corner with a dunce cap on my head. That was not a very happy day.”
“But you deserved it, Max, giving an autographed copy of our secret code book to that KAOS agent.”
“But she said she was a fan of mine. And how was I supposed to know that KAOS was using little old ladies as agents?” He shook his head. “Give me another advantage.”
“Oh, sure. Control has to pay well. Because every time you make a teensy-weensy mistake and destroy some item of Government property, you have to pay for it out of your salary. If we weren’t paid well, we couldn’t afford to work for Control. Big advantage!”
“I can’t argue with that,” Max nodded. He faced back to Guru Optimo. “Our hours are only forty-five minutes long,” he said. “Of course, we have to be on duty twenty-four hours a day. But by saving fifteen minutes an hour, we have a total of three-hundred-and-sixty minutes left over at the end of the day that we can call our own. Whereas, at KAOS, the hours are sixty minutes long. And, at the end of the day, what do you have left?”
Guru Optimo giggled. “Mr. Hyde, I’d like you to meet my physician, Dr. Jekyll,” he replied.
“Aha! Here you are!” a voice roared from the doorway.
Lucky Bucky Buckley and the guards had returned.
“You’re too late, Lucky Bucky!” Max said. “I think Guru Optimo has just switched sides again.”
“Guru Baby, is that true?” Lucky Bucky said, aghast.
“Anyone for tennis?” Guru Optimo replied.
“If you’ll just wait till I get my net,” Max said.
“What did he promise you, Guru Baby?” Lucky Bucky asked. “I’ll double it, whatever it was.”
“I don’t think that will do you much good,” Max said. “I promised him a forty-five minute hour. Double it, and he’s going to find his Mondays running into his Saturdays.”
“A forty-five minute hour!” Lucky Bucky scoffed. “You think I can’t do better than that? Guru Baby, I’m talking show business! Stick with me and you’ll meet a lot of nice girls. That’s what show business is all about!”
Guru Optimo broke out in a grin that covered his entire face.
“99,” Max whispered, “I think we’ve been out-bid.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised, Max.”
“Zop’em!” Lucky Bucky shouted.
Max and 99 whipped around and dashed back into the secret passageway. A flash of light exploded behind them. They raced down the steps into the total darkness.
“After them!” they heard Lucky Bucky cry. “The guard that catches them gets a star on his dressing room door!”
Max and 99 reached the bottom of the steps.
“Now, to find where the wall opens,” Max said. “Ready, 99?”
“What do you want me to do, Max?”
“The same as last time. I’ll pretend I’m a tennis court and you-”
“Max! That won’t work!”
“You’re right, 99. I forgot. I left my net in the dungeon! We’ll just have to break our way through this wall the way we broke our way through that panel upstairs.”
There was a crunching sound as Max threw his weight against the wall.
“Max? Are you all right?”
“Well, I’m not in as good shape as the wall is, 99.”
Lucky Bucky’s voice was heard again. “They’re here someplace! Grab ’em!”
“We’ll have to fight our way out, 99!” Max said.
The guards and Lucky Bucky reached the foot of the steps. A battle began. Karate chops hacked through the darkness.
“I got one, 99!”
“That was me, Max.”
“Sorry about that, 99.”
Bodies dropped to the floor. Guards chopped guards. Guards chopped Max. Max chopped Lucky Bucky. Lucky Bucky chopped 99. 99 chopped Max. Max chopped the wall.
“Max, there are too many of them!”
“Give me your hand, 99!”
Max grabbed the hand and raced back up the stairs. He reached the opening to Guru Optimo’s room.
“We’re free, 99!” he said. “We can-”
He found that he was holding Lucky Bucky’s hand.
“Zop’im!” Lucky Bucky shouted to Guru Optimo.
Max ducked back into the secret passageway, dragging Lucky Bucky with him. He dropped Lucky Bucky with a karate chop, then dashed back down the steps.
“99-that wasn’t you! Where are you?”
Max found a hand. Holding it firmly, he started back up the stairs-then stopped.
“99,” he said, “are you sure this is you? I’d feel a little silly if I dragged a guard up these steps.”
“I think it’s me, Max. Somebody has hold of my hand.”
“It might be a guard, 99.”
“How can we tell, Max?”
“Let’s see. . I know. Here’s something a guard wouldn’t know. What was the name of my drama teacher when I was in second grade?”
“That’s right, 99. It’s you! Come on!”
They scampered up the steps-and reached Guru Optimo’s room just as Lucky Bucky was recovering.
They turned and dashed back down the steps.
“Max! The guards are coming back up after us!”
“This way, 99!”
There was a crash! Max had broken through the wall into another room.
“That was quick thinking, Max,” 99 said.
“Actually, 99, I thought I was heading back up the steps. Apparently I lost my sense of direction in the darkness.”
They looked around the room they had entered. It was crowded with glass cases that were mounted on pedestals. Inside the cases were ancient musical instruments.
“It’s the music room, Max,” 99 said, fascinated. “Look at all those wonderful old instruments. There’s a sixteenth century Strumplecord, and a bass saxopular, and a thirteenth century hinkenschmaller, and a-”
“99, that’s very interesting. But when the guards and Lucky Bucky get to that hole in the wall they’re going to guess where we are.”
“I know, Max. But, look, there’s a fourteenth century aphelkhnocker! ”
“99, will you-”
“In there!” they heard Lucky Bucky shout. “Grab ’em!”
Max and 99 ran to the door. Max yanked it open and they darted out into the corridor.
“Which way, Max?”
“It’s time to split up, 99. If they get one of us, the other can try to complete the mission. You go that way, and I’ll go this way.”
They ran down the corridor, each in a different direction. Max turned left and raced down another corridor. Meanwhile, 99 turned right and dashed down a different corridor. At the next corner, Max turned left again. 99, reaching the next corner, turned right. They met head-on in the corridor, crashed, and staggered back, stunned.
“I think we better stick together, Max,” 99 said.
“Either that or work out some signals,” Max replied.
Lucky Bucky and the guards appeared at the end of the corridor.
“Is that all he can say, grab’em and zop’em?” Max complained. “I’m getting a little tired of hearing it.”
“I don’t think you’ll be hearing it much longer, Max. He’s bound to catch us sooner or later. He knows the castle, and we don’t. Oh-oh! Here they come again.”
Max and 99 turned and ran back along the corridor. When they reached the corner they turned right, then, at the next corner, took another right. They came to an open doorway and ran into the room.
“And a whelpschmacher,” 99 said. “And a pianissimo, and-”
They dashed back into the secret passageway and raced up the steps. A few moments later they reached Guru Optimo’s room. Once more, he sat up in bed.
“Have you been thinking about that offer to rejoin Control?” Max asked.
Guru Optimo grinned. “What do you mean, ‘limp,’ Doctor? You operated on my lower lip.”
“Oh. Well, it was a natural mistake,” Max replied.
Behind them, Lucky Bucky’s voice shouted, “Zop’em!”
Max and 99 dived under the bed.
The guards dived under after them.
Max and 99 emerged and ran toward the doorway.
There was a flash of light.
“Duck!” Max warned.
The flash missed them. They darted through the doorway.
Behind them, they heard, “Quack! Quack! Quack!”
“He got another guard,” Max guessed. “Poor fellow. I wish now that I’d yelled something besides ‘duck!’ ”
99 looked back. “Max, they’re right behind us! Where to now?”
“I’m not sure, 99. I guess we’ll- No! Up ahead! See that!”
“That door at the end of the corridor, you mean, Max?”
“Yes. It’ll save us!”
“Max. . how?”
“See what it says over the door?”
99 peered ahead. “It says. . ‘Squash Room.’ Max, what is that?”
“Squash is a game, 99. It’s played on a four-walled court that is sixteen-feet high by eighteen-and-a-half feet wide by thirty-two feet deep. The back wall, which is shorter than the front wall, usually measures about nine-feet. Horizontal service lines six-and-one-half feet high are marked on both the front and back walls, while a floor service line is marked off ten-feet from, and parallel to, the back wall. The court is marked into two service-”
“Max, that’s fascinating,” 99 interrupted. “But what makes you think a squash room will save us?”
“Don’t you want to know what the game is played with, 99?”
“All right, Max.”
“A hard rubber ball.”
“It’s one-and-three-quarters inches in diameter.”
“Golly whiz. Now, what makes you think the squash room will save us?”
“Because I doubt very much that it’s a squash room, 99. When this castle was built, the game of squash hadn’t even been invented.”
“I see. Then what is the squash room, Max?”
“Unless I miss my guess, it’s V. T. Brattleboro.”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense, 99. Would a Spanish castle have a squash room? Of course not! What’s happened is, Brattleboro has clouded our minds, making us think that he’s a squash room.”
“Max, I’ve never doubted you as a source of wisdom, but-”
“Believe in me, 99. Don’t change sources in midstream.”
“All right, Max.”
They reached the squash room. Max opened the door, they dashed in, then Max slammed the door behind them.
The room was vacant. There were no windows, and no other doors.
“Didn’t I tell you, 99?” Max said. “Do you see any service lines? Do you see a hard rubber ball? I knew this wasn’t a squash room. It’s completely empty.”
“It doesn’t look much like V. T. Brattleboro, either, Max.”
“But it looks like Brattleboro masquerading as an empty room. You can’t argue with that, 99.”
There was a sound at the door.
“It’s Lucky Bucky and the guards, Max.”
“Don’t worry, 99, Brattleboro won’t let them in.”
“Smart! You’re in there-right, baby?” Lucky Bucky called in.
“Snug as a couple bugs in a KAOS agent!” Max called back. “Your luck has run out, Lucky Bucky. You’re locked out.”
There was a burst of laughter from outside.
“He’s taking it well,” Max said to 99.
“You know, Max, we’re also locked in,” she pointed out.
“But safe, 99. That’s what’s important.”
Then they heard another sound-the sound of a motor starting. This was followed by a different sound-the sound of gears grinding.
“Max. . what was that? It sounded as if it were right here in this room.”
“Maybe it was Brattleboro shifting his feet,” Max suggested. “It probably gets tiresome masquerading as a vacant room.”
99 looked upward. “Max. .”
“Max, doesn’t that ceiling look lower to you?”
Max, too, peered upward. “You’re slumping!” he called out.
“Who are you talking to, Max?”
“Max, this room isn’t Brattleboro. We’re in a trap. The ceiling is being lowered on us. We’re going to be smashed.”
Max thought for a moment. Then he called out again. “Lucky Bucky? Still there?”
“Still here, Max Baby. Still enjoying the little joke.”
Max went to the door and tried the knob. “Locked,” he reported to 99.
“The ceiling is getting lower and lower, Max.”
“Lucky Bucky?” Max called again.
“Here, Max Baby.”
“Just as a matter of curiosity, do you play much squash in this room?”
“Never used it before,” Lucky Bucky replied. “It was put in by the Spanish gentleman what built the joint. He used it to squash his enemies.”
“That explains a lot, I guess, Max,” 99 said gloomily.
“Yes, a great deal,” Max nodded. “Everything, in fact, except why, with no service lines marked on the walls and floor, it’s called the Squash Room.” He shrugged. “We’ll probably never know.”
“Lucky Bucky Buckley!” Max called.
“He’s gone, Max,” 99 said. “He’s left us to our fate.”
Max looked up at the ceiling again. “Do you notice something strange, 99?” he said thoughtfully.
“Strange, Max? Well. . it isn’t every day I get crushed between a ceiling and a floor.”
“Not that. Something. . something not quite right.”
“Don’t you like the color of the ceiling, Max?”
“Off-white? How could I complain about that?”
“I just can’t quite put my finger on it, 99.”
“Well, you’ll be able to soon, Max. At the rate it’s descending, I’d say that the ceiling will be within finger reach in about ten minutes.”
Frowning, Max looked about. He suddenly brightened. “That’s it, 99! Look-the door is disappearing!”
99 glanced toward the door. Only about half of it was still visible. The lower half seemed to have sunk below the floor.
“I don’t see why that pleases you so, Max. What good is half a door?”
“That’s not the point, 99. The point is, the ceiling is not descending!”
“Then how do you explain the fact that it’s getting lower?”
“It isn’t, 99. It’s an optical illusion.”
“You mean we’re not going to be crushed, Max?”
“Oh no, we’re going to be crushed, all right. But not because the ceiling is descending. It’s because the floor is rising. That explains why the door is disappearing.”
“99, that’s a very important discovery. But you don’t seem very interested.”
“Max, if I’m going to be squashed between the ceiling and the floor, I don’t see what difference it’s going to make to me in the long run whether the ceiling is rising and the floor is descending or the floor is rising and the ceiling is descending or vice versa or anything else.”
“That’s shortsighted of you, 99. It so happens that the difference may make the difference between life and death. You see, if the ceiling were descending, we could assume that the force of gravity was being used to lower it. But the floor could not be raised by gravity, could it?”
“I don’t think so, Max.”
“Do you understand what I’m getting at, 99? A mechanical power, obviously, is being used to raise the floor. What does that suggest?”
“It’s time to duck, Max.”
“The ceiling is going to bump you on the head.”
Max and 99 sat down on the floor.
“To continue,” Max said, “it means that the mechanical apparatus that is raising the floor is probably being operated by some sort of electric motor.”
“Is that what you were getting at, Max? I could have told you that.”
“I see,” he replied shortly. “And what brilliant reasoning did you use, 99, to figure it out?”
“I heard the motor go on when the ceiling began to descend.”
“I told you, 99-the ceiling is not descending, the floor is rising.”
“You’ve caught Brattleboro’s fuzzy thinking, 99.”
“Max, what good is it going to do us to know that the mechanical apparatus is operated by an electric motor?”
“Guess, 99. What should we do next?”
“Duck again, Max.”
They flattened themselves on the floor.
“And what else, 99?”
“Send out for syrup?”
“I don’t quite follow that, 99.”
“In a very few minutes, Max, we’re going to be flatter than a couple of pancakes.”
Max shook his head. “That’s not it. The thing to do now is contact the Chief and have him contact the Electric Company and have the Electric Company shut off the electric power to the island.”
“Max! That’s a brilliant idea!”
Max got his shoe phone and dialed. “Let’s just hope the Chief’s line isn’t busy,” he said.
Operator: Number, please.
Max: It’s me, Operator. Connect me with the Chief.
Operator: Me who?
Max: Me Max.
Operator: The Max who was dropped into a well of boiling oil and devoured by crocodiles? Where are you calling from?
Max: From a Squash Room, Operator. Will you connect me with the Chief, please.
Operator: How did they get the Squash Room into a crocodile?
Max: They didn’t. And I don’t have time to discuss it. 99 and I are about to be ground between the upper and nether millstones. So connect me with the Chief.
Operator: One moment please.
Chief: Control. . Chief here.
Operator: It’s Max calling, Chief. He and 99 are going to pretend to be dirt.
Max: Operator, I said no such thing!
Operator: You said you were about to be ground.
Chief: Did you say that, Max? If you’re going to use that shoe phone to talk nonsense to the operator, I’m afraid I’ll have to take it away from you. It’s not a toy.
Max: Chief, what I told the operator was that 99 and I are about to be ground between the upper and nether millstones. And what I meant by that was, we’re trapped in a Squash Room and the floor is rising toward the ceiling. We are, in short, about to be squashed!
Chief: Oh. How did you get out of the boiling oil, Max?
Operator: How did you get out of the crocodile, Max?
Max: That isn’t important. Chief, I have a favor to ask. Would you please call the Electric Company. I want-
Chief: Just a minute, Max. I’ll have to use the other phone.
Max: All right. (A sound of dialing, then of muffled conversation)
Chief: Okay, Max, I called the Electric Company. Is there anything else I can do for you?
Max: Tell them-
Chief: Max, I don’t still have them on the line. You just said to call them.
Operator: This is fun! Call the Gas Company next, Chief.
Max: Operator, stay out of this! It’s a matter of life and death! Chief, call the Electric Company back. Tell them to shut off the power to this island! There isn’t a second to lose!
Chief: Why didn’t you tell me that the first time, Max. I’ll feel silly calling them again.
Max: Chief, please. They probably don’t know who it was the first time.
Chief: Sure they do. I said, hello, this is the Chief. And they said, hello, this is the Electric Company. And I said, how’re things at the Electric Company? And they said, fine, how’re things at the Chief place? And I said, great, and then we couldn’t think of anything more to say.
Max: Swallow your pride, Chief. Call again.
Chief: I’ll do it. But I’m going to tell them I’m you.
(Sound of dialing and muffled conversation again)
Chief: I’m mortified, Max. They recognized my voice.
Max: It was worth it, Chief. The floor has stopped rising. We’re saved.
Operator: Oh, sure, fine for you. But the Chief is a laughing stock.
Max: I’m sorry about that, Chief.
Chief: Nevermind, Max. It will all be forgotten in ten or fifteen years or so. Now, about the mission. I suppose the fact that you and 99 were trapped in a Squash Room means that you haven’t recaptured Guru Optimo yet.
Max: That sums it up fairly well, Chief. However, now that we are no longer being ground between the upper and nether millstones, we intend to get right back on the job. Incidentally, do you have any suggestions on how to open a door that has completely disappeared?
Chief: It’s impossible, Max. Forget about it and get out of that Squash Room and find Guru Optimo.
Max: That’s the problem, Chief. We’re locked in. And the door has disappeared.
Operator: Maybe one of the crocodiles ate it.
Chief: Have you looked in the crocodiles, Max?
Max: Chief, the crocodiles are in the dungeon and we’re on an upper floor.
Operator: Crocodiles aren’t people, you know, Max. They haven’t had any training in table manners. They don’t know they’re not supposed to reach.
Max: Chief, there’s too much interference on the line. I’ll call you back after 99 and I figure out how to get out of a locked room with no door.
Chief: I’d rather not know, Max. Just call me when you have the mission safely wrapped up.
Max: That will probably be very soon, Chief.
Operator: Don’t bet on it, Chief. By the time Max wraps up this mission you’ll probably have time to live down that call to the Electric Company and knit a pair of booties for the Jolly Green Giant to boot.
Max hung up.
“What did the Chief say, Max?” 99 asked.
“He has every confidence in us.”
“That’s nice. How are we going to get out of here, Max?”
“He didn’t say.”
99 sighed. “I wish we’d thought to bring along some of those gadgets from Research amp; Development.”
“99! That’s it! I think I have some gadgets left over from our last mission!”
He dug into his pocket and brought out a handful of tiny capsules. “Let’s see what we have here. . Ah! A miniature submarine!”
“How will that help, Max?”
“I’m afraid it won’t, 99. It says here that it’s a convertible. And you know how convertibles are-the top always leaks.”
“Anything else of value, Max?”
“We won’t starve,” Max replied. “Here’s a seven-year supply of peanut brittle.”
“Now that you mention it, I could use a snack.”
Max opened the capsule. What remained of the Squash Room was immediately filled with peanut brittle.
“Max! I can’t move!”
“Don’t panic, 99. Start nibbling.”
“But, Max, it’s a seven-year supply.”
“Never believe what you read on a package, 99. Take my word for it, six years from now there won’t be a bite of peanut brittle in sight.”
“Max, check the other capsules, will you? Maybe there’s a solution for dissolving peanut brittle.”
“Mmmmmmm. . no, but here’s a capsule that contains a package of twelve dynamite sticks.”
“Max! We’re saved! We can blast our way out!”
“I hope so, 99. Let me read the instructions. It says: ‘Attach fuse to dynamite stick, then light fuse, then stand back.’ But we have no means of lighting the fuse, 99.”
“We could rub two sticks together.”
“The package doesn’t come with sticks.”
“We could use two sticks of dynamite.”
“Standing back is going to be a problem, 99.”
“Maybe this peanut brittle will shield us.”
“Well, it’s worth a try. I’ll just- Oh-oh-”
“There’s a tag attached to this capsule. It says: ‘Note: These dynamite sticks will not fire if exposed to a mixture of sugar, water, corn syrup, butter, soda, vanilla and arachis hypogaea.’ ”
“What’s that, for heaven’s sake, Max?”
“The ingredients of peanut brittle.”
“Oh. Well, try another capsule, Max.”
“Here’s a collapsible Greyhound Bus. Nope, no use to us. There’s no collapsible driver. How about this-a miniature piggy bank.”
“For small change.”
“Keep going, Max.”
“That’s all the capsules, 99. I’m afraid there’s no hope. We’re doomed.”
They fell silent. The only sound in the Squash Room was the crunching of peanut brittle.
Then, soon, a voice called to them from outside the room.
“Smart! Are you still alive? It’s me, Lucky Bucky! Have mercy! You win!”
“Max!” 99 said. “Did you hear that!”
“We’re imagining it, 99. We’ve lost our minds.”
“But it sounded like Lucky Bucky Buckley!”
“It always does. That’s how you can tell that you’re insane. You hear your worst enemy begging for mercy.”
“Smart!” the voice called again. “Answer me! I can’t stand it! I know you did it! I know you turned off the electricity! Have mercy! Without electricity, I can’t make my morning coffee! Without my cup of morning coffee, I’m a nervous wreck!”
“Max, it’s him!” 99 insisted.
“All right, 99, since we’re doomed, I’ll humor you. I’ll say it’s him too. Is there anything else I can do to make your last hours easier for you?”
“Answer him, Max!”
“Why not?” Max shouted out to Lucky Bucky. “You’re right-I did have the electricity turned off. If you want it on again, you’ll have to get us out of here!”
“Hold on! You’re as good as out!”
Max snickered. “If this weren’t so tragic, it would be funny, 99,” he said.
“I’ve got the fire ax,” Lucky Bucky called. “I’m chopping down the wall!”
“Max. . chopping sounds. .” 99 said. “This is real!”
“99, at the hour of death, the imagination has no limits.”
They heard a scream outside the room.
“What now?” Max called, amused.
“I just chopped through the wall,” Lucky Bucky replied. “I didn’t know the Squash Room would do that to you. I’m sorry!”
“Do what to us?” Max asked, puzzled.
“Didn’t you notice? It turned you to peanut brittle!”
“That’s not us,” Max replied. “Keep chopping.”
The chopping sounds resumed.
“Max, he’s going to save us,” 99 said.
“If it makes you happier, 99, of course he is.”
A hole appeared in the peanut brittle. Then they saw Lucky Bucky Buckley peering in at them.
“Talk about your life-like hallucinations,” Max said. “I would swear that if I reached out and tweaked its nose it would cry ouch.” He smiled slyly. “In fact, I’ll prove it.”
Max tweaked Lucky Bucky’s nose.
“I was wrong,” Max shrugged. “But it certainly looked life-like.”
“Max, it is!”
“Ooooooo is not ouch, 99.”
“You promised me my electricity back!” Lucky Bucky said.
Max squinted at him. “Are you really for real?”
“Tweak me again.”
“99! It’s him!”
“Now, how about my electricity?” Lucky Bucky said wearily.
“Back up and let us out of here and electricity you shall have,” Max replied. “In fact, if I had my way, you’d get a whole chair full of it.”
Lucky Bucky backed out, and Max and 99 followed him through the hole he had chopped in the peanut brittle. When they got out, Max took off his shoe.
“You can’t get ready for bed until you get me my electricity!” Lucky Bucky shouted angrily. “What are you, one of those guys that promises a fellow anything, then doesn’t give him his electricity?”
“Easy,” Max said. “This is my telephone. This is what I used to shut off your electricity.”
Lucky Bucky was impressed. “Pretty good,” he said. “I never heard of that before. I heard of using a phone to kill snakes with, but never to turn off the electricity with.”
“Observe,” Max said, “and you’ll see how it works.”
Operator: Is that you, flat Max?
Max: I escaped from the Squash Room, Operator. Connect me with the Chief, please.
Operator: What’s that yummy odor I smell?
Max: Peanut brittle. Now, will you connect me with the Chief?
Operator: Is that anything like arachis hypogaea brittle?
Max: Please, just get me the Chief.
Chief: Control. . Chief here. .
Max: It’s me, Chief. Will you call the Electric Company again, please, and have them restore the power to the island?
Max: Chief, I’m sure they’ve forgotten about those other calls by now.
Max: Couldn’t you disguise your voice, Chief?
Chief: Max, I won’t even discuss the subject.
Max: It’s a matter of life and death again. If I don’t get him his electricity back, Lucky Bucky, who is standing right here beside me, is going to do something very drastic. He hasn’t had his morning coffee yet.
Chief: Why didn’t you say so, Max! I’ll make the call right away.
Max (to 99 and Lucky Bucky): The life or death bit sold him.
Chief: It wasn’t that. I know how tough it is to go without that morning cup of coffee.
(Sound of dialing, then muffled conversation)
Chief: The electricity will be on in a second, Max.
(From the Squash Room, a grinding sound as the ceiling and floor meet)
Max: The power is on, Chief. Thank you. Incidentally, how are you fixed for peanut brittle crunch? I have a seven-year supply that I’d be glad to share with you.
Chief: That’s very-
Lucky Bucky had snatched the shoe from Max’s hand.
“That doesn’t happen to be a party line,” Max snapped at him. “Get your own phone!”
Lucky Bucky pulled a gun and pointed it at Max and 99. “The game is over, Maxie Baby,” he snarled. “I don’t need you any more.”
Max raised his foot. “Will you at least hang up my phone?” he said.
Lucky Bucky tossed the shoe out the window. “Now, try to contact your Chief!”
Max started toward the window and fell flat on his face.
“You forgot to lower your foot, Max,” 99 said.
“Usually, the shoe holds it down,” Max explained, rising. He continued to the window and looked out and down. “It looks like this is your lucky day, Lucky Bucky,” he reported. “You got two agents with one shoe. It hit Brattleboro.”
“What was he doing down there, I wonder,” 99 said.
“Out of gas, I think.”
“Oh, yes, I forgot-he’s a motorcycle cop.”
“To the dungeon!” Lucky Bucky commanded, brandishing the gun.
Max groaned. “Not that again!”
“Don’t blame me,” Lucky Bucky said. “It’s the rule. After an enemy is squashed in the Squash Room, the body is taken to the dungeon and dropped into the bottomless pit. It’s traditional. That’s the way the guy that built the castle always did it.”
“Oh, well, if that’s the system, that’s the system,” Max said. “I don’t suppose there’s anything you can do about it. I’m sorry I showed my pique. I didn’t understand.”
“Do it again,” Lucky Bucky said. “I missed it.”
“Do what again?”
“Show me your peak.”
“Well. . just a peek.”
“Forget it. All or nothing at all.” He waved the gun again. “March!”
Lucky Bucky directed them along the corridor, then down the stairs. When they reached the dungeon, he stopped them at a wooden lid that appeared to be sitting on the floor.
“That’s the top to the bottomless pit,” he said. “Lift it.”
Max picked up the lid and set it aside. A dark hole opened up before them.
Max peered into it. “So that’s the bottomless pit. How deep is it?”
“Nobody’s ever lived to tell.”
“Well, we have a first to shoot for, 99,” Max said.
“Jump!” Lucky Bucky commanded.
Max pointed to his foot. “Isn’t it a little barbaric to make a man die without his shoe telephone on?”
“If I find it, I’ll toss it down after you,” Lucky Bucky promised.
“I suppose that will have to do,” Max said. He turned to 99. “I’m sorry it has to end this way, 99. If we had completed this mission alive, there was something I was going to ask you.”
“Yes, Max. . what?” 99 said tearfully.
“Well, I was hoping you’d help me get that peanut brittle crunch back into that capsule. If I lose it, it’ll come out of my pay, you know.”
“Enough of this sentimental chit-chat!” Lucky Bucky shouted. “Jump!”
99 sniffled. “May I hold your hand, Max?”
“Of course, 99. I won’t need it where I’m going.”
“Juuuuuuump already!” Lucky Bucky screamed.
Hand in hand, Max and 99 leaped into the bottomless pit.
“Are you afraid, Max?” 99 whimpered as they hurtled downward through the pitch darkness.
“Afraid, no, 99. But I’m a little worried.”
“About what, Max?”
“Well, if this is really a bottomless pit, we’re going to be falling for an awful long time. Forever, would be my guess.”
“That is something to worry about,” 99 agreed.
“That isn’t what’s worrying me.”
“What, then, Max?”
“How is the bookkeeping department at Control going to look at it? Are we going to be paid double for overtime? Or are they going to take it out of our vacation?”
“Max, you know the bookkeeping department!”
“I guess you’re right. Well, let’s try to enjoy ourselves, in that case, 99, We’re on vacation.”
Max and 99 suddenly hit water. Water was all around them. Instinctively, they held their breaths and thrashed their way to the surface. All at once they were able to breathe again, although they were still in the water.
“99,” Max said, “are you by any chance pretending that we’re vacationing at Miami Beach?”
“Not me, Max.”
“Then we must have found the bottom of the bottomless pit. And apparently it’s filled with water.”
“Does that suggest Miami Beach to you, Max?”
“No, 99, I was- Nevermind. Can you see anything?”
“Not a thing, Max.”
“I seem to be moving. Are you moving, 99?”
“I think so. Max, I think we landed in some kind of underground stream. And the current seems to be taking us somewhere.”
“Either that, 99, or we landed in some kind of underground stream and we’re caught up in the current.”
“Max! There’s a light up ahead!”
“I hardly think so, 99. Lucky Bucky obviously doesn’t know about this stream. And if he did, he wouldn’t light it, would he? And since he doesn’t, who would?”
“Would what, Max?”
“But that is a light, Max.”
“99, it’s daytime. Nobody keeps the lights on in the daytime.”
“But, Max, can’t you see it? It’s definitely a light.”
“I know that, 99. All I’m saying is- Oh. It’s daylight, 99. We’re coming to the end of the underground stream.”
“I wonder where it will take us?”
“My guess would be-”
The stream swept them from the cavern and out into the ocean. Huge waves washed over them.
“Well, wrong again,” Max said.
“99, I’m not a child. I don’t have to be told what to do when I find myself over my head in ocean.”
They swam back to the island and dragged themselves up on the beach. After they had rested a moment, Max got up and looked around.
“Where are we, Max?” 99 asked wearily.
“I don’t recognize it, 99. But evidently something terrible has happened here.”
“What, Max?” 99 said, rising.
“Look-over there. That whole ring of trees has apparently been snapped off at the base by some giant, ferocious animal.”
“Oh. . Max! You snapped them off at the base with that collapsible machine gun-remember? We’re right back where we started!”
Max sighed. “Then this is it, 99. We’ll never find our way back to that castle.”
“Couldn’t we try, Max?”
“There just isn’t time. For all we know, Lucky Bucky may be setting out with Guru Optimo right now to take over the world. This calls for drastic action, 99.”
“Do you have something in mind?”
“Yes. I’m going to call the Chief and have him send the Air Force to bomb this island out of existence.”
“Max, in the first place, if the Air Force bombs this island out of existence, won’t we be bombed out of existence with it?”
“That’s a sacrifice we’ll have to make, 99. What’s more important-us, or the fate of the entire civilized world?”
“Well. . ”
“I tend to agree with you, 99. But I suspect that the entire civilized world would have a different opinion.”
“Max, there’s something else. How are you going to call the Chief? Lucky Bucky threw your shoe out that window.”
“Simple, 99,” Max replied, taking off his other shoe. “I’m going to use the extension.”
“I didn’t know about that, Max.”
“I try to keep it a secret,” Max said. “When the information gets out that you have two phones, some practical joker always tries to call you on both lines at once, and you find yourself talking to yourself.”
Operator: I’m ready with your call to General Grant, sir.
Max: Operator, General Grant is dead.
Operator: Then why did you call him?
Max: I didn’t. Operator, this is Max Smart. I’m trying to call the Chief.
Operator: Have you tried shouting out the window?
Max: I’m on an island out in the ocean. That’s why I’m using a phone. Now, will you connect me with Control, please?
Operator: What about your call to General Grant? He’s on the line.
Max: Let him talk to Mr. Lincoln for a while. I’ll speak with him as soon as I finish talking to the Chief.
Chief: Control. . Chief here. .
Max: Chief, this is Max. I have a desperate-
Chief: Max who?
Max: Max Smart, Agent 86, Chief. I have a desperate-
Chief: I don’t know who you are, sir, but if this is supposed to be a joke, it isn’t very funny.
Max: Chief? Is that you? This is me, Max. Remember? Your top agent?
Chief: This is in very bad taste, sir. Max Smart is dead.
Max: Operator, did you connect me to General Grant?
Operator: How could I? He’s talking to Mr. Lincoln.
Max: Chief, let’s start again. Hello, Chief? This is Max. Now, as I was saying-
Chief: Sir, it might interest you to know that not ten minutes ago I received a call from V. T. Brattleboro. He was calling on Max’s shoe phone. And he informed me that Max and Agent 99 had died in the castle, murdered by Lucky Bucky Buckley. Now, I’m certain that if Max were still alive, it would have been impossible for V. T. Brattleboro to have possession of his shoe phone.
Max: I wouldn’t say that, Chief. You see-
Chief: You’re an impostor, sir-whoever you are.
Max: Chief, let’s wait until I get back to Headquarters to debate this. Right now, I have a very unusual but nonetheless urgent request to make. The fate of the entire civilized world will depend on your answer. Chief, I want you to bomb this island out of existence. And there isn’t a moment to lose. Okay?
Max: Chief? Still there?
Chief: I don’t have a bomb handy.
Max: No, I want you to have the Air Force bomb the island out of existence.
Chief: I see. And what reason would I give? Because some nut called me on the phone and requested it?
Max: Chief, I’m not just any nut-this is Max!
Chief: I repeat-Max is dead.
Max: Chief, who are you going to believe, me or V. T. Brattleboro?
Chief: Are you calling on Max’s shoe phone?
Max: Well, no, I’m-
“He hung up,” Max reported to 99.
“Max, then why are you still listening on your extension?”
“Shhh. . I think the operator got the lines crossed. Mr. Lincoln and General Grant are discussing the campaign.”
“Battle strategy, you mean, Max?”
“Not that kind of campaign-the election campaign. Grant wants Lincoln to shave off his beard. He says it makes him look like a beatnik.”
“Max. . do you think you should listen?”
Max put his shoe back on.
“What happened, Max?”
“Mr. Lincoln couldn’t talk any more.”
“I imagine he was pretty busy.”
“Yes. He said he had a long speech written and he had to edit it down so it would fit on the back of an envelope.”
“What did the Chief say, Max?”
“He called me a nut. Remember when Lucky Bucky Buckley tossed my shoe phone out the window, 99, and it hit V. T. Brattleboro? Well, apparently the blow unzopped him. Anyway, he called the Chief on my shoe and told him that you and I are dead. And the Chief believed him.”
“Maybe Brattleboro believes it, too.”
“The Chief, I suppose, refused to ask the Air Force to bomb the island out of existence.”
“What do we do now, Max?”
“Carry on, 99. We have no other choice. In spite of the fact that we will undoubtedly be too late, we’ll have to try to find our way back through the jungle to the castle and attempt to stop Lucky Bucky Buckley and Guru Optimo.”
“It sounds like a complete waste of time to me, Max.”
“Well, look at it this way, 99-what else do we have to do?”
“That’s a point.”
“Don’t you mean Onward!?”
“No, backward, 99-back to the castle.”
Once more, they plunged into the jungle, following the stream. The heat beat down on them. The vines lashed at their faces. And the brambles pulled at their clothes.
Max halted. “It’s no use, 99. We’re lost.”
“Max, why don’t you climb one of these palm trees?”
“It doesn’t appeal to me, 99.”
“To look around, I mean. Maybe you could spot the castle.”
“Oh. All right.”
Max shinnied to the top of a tree.
“What do you see, Max?” 99 called.
“Well, I’m not sure. But it looks a little like a monkey.”
“I resent that a great deal,” the monkey said.
Max stared. “V. T. Brattleboro!”
“What is it, Max?” 99 shouted.
“It’s Brattleboro, 99.”
“Ask him what he’s doing up there!”
Max faced Brattleboro again. “You heard the question,” he said.
“I climbed up here for privacy,” Brattleboro replied. “I was making a phone call.”
“On my shoe?”
“Right. I had a sudden inspiration. I said to myself, why don’t I call the Chief and have him contact the Air Force and have the Air Force bomb this island out of existence. But I knew he wouldn’t do it for me-a KAOS agent. So I pretended to be you. Which wasn’t easy, because, earlier, I had called him and told him you were dead. But this time I told him that Brattleboro was wrong, I wasn’t dead. Then I asked him to contact the Air Force.”
“He hung up on me.”
“I’m not surprised,” Max said.
“The call wasn’t a total waste, though,” Brattleboro said. “I found out that Mr. Lincoln will be in Gettysburg later today.”
“Oh. . good. He got the speech edited down, I guess.”
“What are you doing up here?” Brattleboro said. “I thought you were dead.”
“No, I’m not dead. And give me back my shoe. And I’m up here looking for the castle.”
“What would a castie be doing at the top of a palm tree?”
“Just give me my shoe!”
Brattleboro handed the shoe to Max. Max put it on, then slid down the tree trunk. Brattleboro followed.
“Did you see the castle, Max?” 99 said.
“99, what would a castle be doing at the top of a palm tree?”
“I don’t know, Max. If you knew it wasn’t up there, why did you climb the tree?”
“If you’re looking for the castle,” Brattleboro said, “I know where it is. I just left there.” He pointed. “You just follow that stream.”
With Brattleboro to show them the way, they had no difficulty at all finding the castle. But then another problem arose-getting past the guards.
“Stopped!” Max said.
“I’ll hypnotize them and make them think we’re somebody else,” Brattleboro suggested.
“How about the two Smith Bros, and their sister?”
“They might mistake us for beatniks,” Max replied.
“Casting agents from Hollywood?”
Brattleboro hypnotized each of the guards as they passed by. Finally, he had them all under his spell. Then Max, Brattleboro and 99 stepped out and walked toward the castle. The guards crowded around them, asking for roles in their next picture. Brattleboro promised them all a starring part. Then the guards wandered off to brood about the lack of privacy in a star’s life.
Max, 99 and Brattleboro reached the castle and entered.
“What now?” 99 whispered.
“Find and destroy Lucky Bucky Buckley,” Max replied. “We’ve been nice guys about this long enough.”
“Right,” Brattleboro said.
“Not you, us,” Max said.
“How will we find him?” 99 asked.
Max looked at his watch. “It’s noon. We’ll go straight to the great hall, and there, unless I’m greatly mistaken, we’ll find him at lunch.”
“I would have thought of that if my watch wasn’t slow,” Brattleboro said.
They proceeded quietly along the corridor until they reached the door to the great hall. The door was closed, but they could hear sounds inside.
“What is that?” 99 said, cocking an ear.
“Someone eating celery,” Max replied.
“Suppose it’s Guru Optimo? All we have to do is open the door and he’ll zop us.”
“We have the element of surprise in our favor,” Max said. “Here’s what we’ll do. Brattleboro, I’ll yank open the door. And before Guru Optimo can zop us, you zop him first. Make him think we’re three of the guards. That way, he’ll make no attempt to stop us.”
“When we get inside, we’ll tell Lucky Bucky that there’s a phone call for him in his room. When he leaves, we’ll follow him. And when we get him out here in the corridor we’ll overpower him and put him out of his happiness.”
“Put him out of his happiness, Max?”
“That’s the opposite of putting him out of his misery, but it has the same result.”
“Got it,” Brattleboro said. “You yank, and I’ll zop.”
“What do you want me to do, Max?” 99 said.
“Hum something, 99,” he replied. “In the movies, when the hero does something dangerous like this, there’s always music in the background.”
“Anything special, Max?”
Brattleboro spoke up. “How about ‘I’ll be Glad When You’re Dead, You Nice Guy, You’?” he said. “That’s our KAOS fight song.”
“What’s the tune?” 99 asked.
“It’s sung to Shubert’s Symphony No. 3 in D Major as played by the Hanky Panky String Band, H. Panky, conductor.”
“If you two don’t mind,” Max broke in, “Could we get to the yanking and the zopping now?”
“We’re waiting for you,” Brattleboro said. “You’re on yank.”
Lucky Bucky was seated at the table alone, gnawing on a stalk of celery. He looked up.
“Looks like I’m stuck with a zop,” Brattleboro said.
“Keep it handy,” Max ordered. “Guru Optimo could show up any second!”
“Guards!” Lucky Bucky yelled.
Max ran to him and clapped a hand over his mouth. Brattleboro arrived and grabbed his arms and held them behind him.
“Now, if you’ll promise not to struggle and not to yell, we’ll release you,” Max said.
“I think we have a little problem,” Max said. “Was that yes or no?”
“Take a chance,” Brattleboro suggested.
Max took his hand from Lucky Bucky’s mouth.
“You can’t get away with this!” Lucky Bucky said. “I’ve got guards posted in every corridor and Guru Optimo is on his way down now to lunch!”
“We just came from the corridor,” Max pointed out. “And there were no guards.”
“You weren’t looking!”
“It won’t work,” Max said. “We’ve got you now, and we’re going to do to you exactly what you tried to do to us.”
“Maxie Baby, it was only a game,” Lucky Bucky persisted. “You think I meant to hurt you, kicking you into a bottomless pit?”
“That was certainly the impression I got.”
“Okay, you don’t want to play the game? Fine by me. We’ll call it even.”
“Max, how are we going to put him out of his happiness?” 99 said. “We have no weapons.”
“I still have my pistol,” Brattleboro said. “We could shoot him.”
“Here?” Max said, appalled. “In the eating room? That’s the height of poor taste, Brattleboro. We’ll take him to the dungeon and shoot him.”
Brattleboro got out his gun and pointed it at Lucky Bucky. “Victims first,” he said.
They left the great hall and marched down the corridor towards the stairs.
“Max. . isn’t shooting him a little. . well, drastic,” 99 said.
“Maybe you’re right, 99. Frankly, the idea doesn’t appeal much to me, either.”
“I like it,” Brattleboro said.
“Do I get a vote?” Lucky Bucky asked.
“We could throw him to the crocodiles,” 99 said. “Somehow, that wouldn’t seem so personal.”
“Why don’t you all just go away and leave me on the island alone?” Lucky Bucky said. “In twenty or thirty years, I’d probably be bored to death.”
“I lean toward the crocodile idea,” Max said.
“I don’t know why I’m carrying a gun if I’m not going to get to use it,” Brattleboro protested. “When they gave me my gun, they said-”
There was a sudden roaring sound behind them.
Max looked back. “That sounds like-”
A figure appeared from around a corner and raced toward them, engine screaming.
“The hit-and-run driver!” Max shouted. “Out of the way!”
They flattened themselves against the wall.
The hit-and-run driver roared by.
And as he passed, Lucky Bucky broke loose and ran down the corridor in his wake.
“Guards!” Lucky Bucky screeched. “Guards!”
Max, Brattleboro and 99 darted after him.
A pack of guards appeared from around a corner.
Max, Brattleboro and 99 skidded to a stop, then reversed direction and ran the other way.
“Stop’em!” Lucky Bucky shouted.
“It looks like the running shoes are on the other feet again,” Max commented.
“You and your childish hostility toward poor taste!” Brattleboro complained. “You should have let me shoot him back there in the eating place.”
“You could try shooting him now, you know,” Max replied. “He’d make a perfect target, running along behind us like that.”
“Max! He’s gone!” 99 said.
Max looked back over his shoulder. “No, he isn’t, 99. He’s still right behind us-him and those guards.”
“I mean Brattleboro.”
“You’re right, 99,” Max said, peering all around. “Now, how did he do that?”
“He clouded our minds, Max, and made us think he’s something else.”
Once more, Max looked back over his shoulder. “I wonder. .”
“Forget it, 99. But I’ll tell you this: We’re going to feel pretty foolish if Lucky Bucky catches up with us and we find out we’ve been running from V. T. Brattleboro.”
Max and 99 darted around corners, right, left, left, right, left, right, right, left-but Lucky Bucky and the guards kept pace with them.
“I wish we could lose them, then bump into them by accident again,” Max said.
“How would that help, Max?”
“It wouldn’t help, but it would be a funny little bit to pass along to the Chief if we ever get out of this alive. He’s collecting anecdotes for a book he’s going to call ‘Espionage Can Be Fun.’ ”
“Max, I don’t know how long I can keep running.”
“Hold out for a couple more minutes, 99. We’re almost safe.”
“We are, Max?”
“See that door up ahead? The one that says ‘Dining Room’ right above it? Well, I happen to know that in old buildings like this castle the dining room usually has a dumbwaiter. We can use it to escape.”
“Max, how can we be sure that the waiter will be dumb enough to help us?”
“It isn’t a person, 99. It’s an apparatus. It’s sort of an elevator for carrying food from the kitchen up to the dining room. It’s called a dumbwaiter because it worked for no pay.”
“What good is it going to do us, Max?”
“I would think you’d be able to figure that out. We’ll get into the dumbwaiter and ride down to the kitchen. Then we’ll leave it there. That way, Lucky Bucky and the guards won’t be able to use it to follow us.”
“Well, it sounds like a good idea, Max. But one thing bothers me-I don’t think this castle even has a dining room. If it does, why does Lucky Bucky always eat in the great hall?”
“Which are you going to trust, 99, your intuition or your eyes? Doesn’t it say ‘Dining Room’ over that doorway?”
“All right, Max. Seeing is believing, I guess. Still-”
They reached the doorway. Max yanked open the door, he and 99 rushed into the room, then Max slammed the door behind them.
The room looked almost exactly like the Squash Room. There were no windows and only the one door. The only difference was a lead pipe that protruded from the ceiling.
“Now, we know why Lucky Bucky eats in the great hall,” Max replied. “The dining room furniture was repossessed.”
“The dumbwaiter too, Max.”
“Yes. I think we better get out of here, 99, before-”
“Ha! Smart!” Lucky Bucky called in to them. “You’ve got a perfect record-you did it again! You’re trapped in the Dieing Room!”
Max grabbed the door knob and tried to turn it. But the door was locked.
“Did you hear what he said, Max?”
“Of course, I heard. He said I have a perfect record.”
“I mean about this being the dieing room.”
“Dining Room, 99.”
“That’s not what he said.”
Max called out through the door. “Lucky Bucky, we have a little controversy going in here,” he said, “and maybe you can settle it for us. Did you refer to this as the dining room or the dieing room?”
“I’m sure I saw d-i-n-i-n-g over the doorway. Explain that, please.”
“The guy what built the castle was only a so-so speller.”
“I see. Then maybe you can explain too why he needed a dieing room.”
“He had a lot of enemies that were too skinny to squash,” Lucky Bucky replied. “He’d squash them, but they’d look the same as before. So he got himself a dieing room.”
“For what, may I ask?”
“What else? For dieing his skinny enemies.”
Max looked up at the ceiling. “I suppose this pipe is in here for some purpose other than spoiling the looks of the room,” he said.
“That’s where the gas comes out,” Lucky Bucky explained. “It shoots out of the pipe and fills the room and after a couple minutes or so, you die.”
Max turned to 99. “Do you suppose that when Brattleboro left us he rushed in here and turned himself into a pipe?” he said.
“I don’t think we can count on it, Max.”
“Then, my guess is that we’re in big trouble, 99.”
“So long, secret agents,” Lucky Bucky called in, “I’m leaving now. Have a nice die.”
“And the same to you!” Max called back.
A moment later, gas began shooting into the room.
“Oh, Max, this is really the end!” 99 wept.
“Not necessarily yet, 99. Quick-climb up on my shoulders!”
“Won’t we look a little strange when they find us, Max?”
“99, don’t argue-I’m trying to save our lives!”
“I’m just thinking about my reputation, Max. When our bodies are found and word leaks out that I was standing on your shoulders, people will say that, at the last minute, I panicked.”
“Then how about this, 99? I’ll stand on your shoulders.”
“Well. . if you don’t care what people say about you.”
With considerable difficulty, Max climbed up onto 99’s shoulders. He then put his hand over the end of the pipe, stopping the flow of gas.
“Max! That’s marvelous! We’re saved!”
“For the time being, anyway, 99. Of course, a lot is going to depend on how long we can keep this position. How long will you be able to hold me up, would you guess?”
“Maybe five or ten minutes, Max.”
“In that case, I think I better telephone the Chief and have him send help. Ahhhh. . will you hand me my shoe phone, 99?”
“Lift your foot, Max.”
“99, if I lift my foot, I’ll fall. And if I fall, the gas will come shooting out of this pipe again.”
“But I can’t get your shoe off your foot unless you lift it, Max!”
“Then let’s try this. Instead of me-”
There was a ringing sound.
“It’s your shoe, Max,” 99 reported. “The Chief must be calling you.”
“Except that I still can’t get your shoe off unless you lift your foot, Max.”
The shoe rang again.
“Here’s my idea, 99. Instead of me lifting my foot, how about you lowering your shoulder?”
“Of course! Why didn’t I think of that!”
99 lowered her shoulder, removed Max’s shoe, then handed it up to him.
Max: Agent 86 here. Is that you, Chief?
Chief: Brattleboro? Is that you? Are you still trying to masquerade as the late Max Smart?
Max: Chief, I’ve never been late in my life. What can I do to convince you that I’m not dead?
Chief: There’s only one way. Have 99 tell me that you’re still alive.
Max (looking down): Chief, unfortunately, 99 can’t come to the phone right now. I’m standing on her shoulders.
Chief: I was sure you’d have some excuse.
Max: Let me try something else, Chief. Suppose I could tell you something about Max Smart that no one but Max Smart could possibly know?
Chief: Well. .
Max: Please, Chief. It’s a matter of life and death. Now, suppose I were to ask you: What was the name of Max Smart’s drama teacher when he was in second grade? What would you answer?
Chief: I haven’t the faintest idea.
Max: How do you mean that, Chief? You haven’t the faintest idea what your answer would be, or you haven’t the faintest idea who the drama teacher was?
Max: That’s right, Chief! How could you possibly know who my drama teacher was? I’ve never told anyone but 99. Now, are you convinced that I’m me?
Chief: All right, Max, I’m convinced. Nobody but you could think up a method like that to prove your identity.
Max: Thank you, Chief. Now, about why I called. You see, 99 and I are-
Chief: Max, you didn’t call me. I called Brattleboro. But, since you’re still alive, you can handle the matter as well as he could. I’m making out my end-of-the-month report and I have an expense item here, charged to you, that I can’t explain. It’s for twenty-eight cents. Will you look through your pockets and see if you can find a receipt for something for twenty-eight cents.
Max: Chief, how could Brattleboro have helped you with a problem like that?
Chief: I was going to ask him to find your body and look through the pockets.
Max: Oh. Well, I’m sorry, Chief, but I can’t get to my pockets right at this moment. You see-
Chief: Max, this is very important.
Max: I’m sure it is, Chief. But both my hands are busy at the moment. I’m holding my left hand over the end of a pipe, and with my right hand I’m holding the phone. If I move my left hand, the room will be flooded with gas.
Chief: Max, if there’s gas in the room, you better put out that pipe.
Max: You don’t seem to understand, Chief. It isn’t that kind of pipe. It’s a gas pipe. So, could you send help, please?”
Chief: Max, it’s lunchtime here. Nobody’s around.
Operator: I’ll come, Maxie. I’m not on duty.
Max: Operator, if you’re not on duty, what are you doing at the telephone company? Why don’t you go home?
Operator: Go home? I haven’t been home in over a year, Max. I have a cot right here by the switchboard where I sleep. If I left, I might miss one of your kooky calls.
Max: Just let me talk to the Chief, Operator. This is an emergency. Chief? Are you still there? Now, try to picture this. I’m standing on 99’s shoulders. With my left hand, I’m stopping the gas from shooting out of the pipe. And with my right hand, I’m talking to you. Got it? Now-
Chief: Max, I understand all that. But I can’t send help if I don’t have anyone to send. Do you have any other suggestions?
Max: How about calling the Gas Company, Chief, and asking them to shut off the service to the island?
Operator: They probably won’t even talk to him. They’ve probably heard about him from the Electric Company.
Chief: That’s a brilliant idea, Max. I’ll do it right away.
(sound of dialing, then muffled conversation)
Chief: All right, Max, the gas is shut of.
Max: Hold on a second more, Chief. I’ll take my hand off the end. .Yes, you’re right! No gas!
Operator: Maybe you didn’t pay your bill.
Max: I think 99 and I can handle it from here, Chief. Thanks for the assist.
Chief: You’re welcome, Max. Now, about that twenty-eight cents. Could you-
Max: Could I call you back on that, Chief? We’re still not out of the rough. We’re locked in a room. And, for all we know, Lucky Bucky and Guru Optimo might be getting away. We might never see them again until they took over the world. And that could be too late, you know.
Chief: You’re right, Max.
Operator: I can’t bring myself to believe it.
Max: That Lucky Bucky and Guru Optimo could take over the world?
Operator: No, that you could be right.
Max handed his shoe down to 99. “Can you lower your shoulder and then slip this back on my foot?” he said.
“I’ll try, Max.”
Slowly and cautiously, 99 lowered her shoulder.
“You’re doing great, 99.”
“It’s all a matter of balance.” Bit by bit she slipped Max’s shoe back onto his foot. “Okay, Max,” she called. “What next?”
“Next, we have to try to get out of here,” Max replied.
“Now, take it easy, and see if you can walk me over to the door.”
Cautiously, 99 took a step.
“Sorry, Max. This is so new to me.”
“Step by step, 99. You can do it.”
“All right, Max-ready? I’ll-”
“What is it, 99? Trouble?”
“Max, why am I carrying you on my shoulders?”
“99, you’re holding me up so I can keep my hand over the gas pipe. If I let go, the gas will come shooting- Just stand still, 99-I’ll be right down.”
Max hopped down to the floor, then moved on the door, got it by the knob, and rattled it.
“What do you think, Max?”
“Rattling the knob isn’t going to get us out of here.”
“It’s too bad we don’t have that dynamite with us, now that we’re nowhere near any peanut brittle.”
“99! That’s it!”
Max reached down and got his shoe.
“No, 99, a new gadget developed by R amp; D. It’s an electronic sound, so high-pitched that when it strikes an object it shatters it to bits. I’m going to call the Chief and have him send the sound over the telephone line.”
“And knock down the door?”
“Knock it down? 99, this sound is so destructive it will splinter that door to ashes.”
“Wonderful, Max. What did our scientists have in mind when they developed it?”
“They were having trouble getting the lid off a jelly jar.”
“Oh. But, Max, if it’s that powerful-”
“Later, 99,” Max interrupted, dialing.
Operator: Maybe you bought seven packs of gum at a going-out-of-business sale. At four cents apiece, that’s twenty-eight cents.
Max: Nevermind that now, Operator. Get me the Chief.
Operator: I wouldn’t call him if I couldn’t explain that twenty-eight cents.
Max: Will you let me worry about that, Operator?
Operator: I’m afraid you’ll get fired, Max. Then I wouldn’t have your kooky calls to listen to. I’d have to fold up my cot and go home.
Max: Really, Operator, would that be so terrible?
Operator: I’d miss my family. They’re living here at the telephone company with me.
Max: Your whole family?
Voice: Hi, Max-this is Uncle Ned.
Operator: All right, all right, don’t be a stool pigeon! With whom did you wish to speak to whom, Please?
Max: The Chief! And fast!
Chief: Control. . Chief here. .
Max: It’s me, Agent 86, Chief.
Chief: Good-got that door opened, eh? All right now, Max, about that twenty-eight cents. Do you have any idea-
Max: Chief, the door is still locked. That’s why I called you. Remember that marvelous gadget that R amp; D developed last week-the one that works on the principle of high-pitched sound waves?
Chief: You mean the jelly jar opener, Max?
Max: Right, Chief. Now-
Operator: Are you listening, Uncle Ned? Here comes the kooky part. Max wants to use the jelly jar opener on the door.
Voice: Hee-hee-hee! Old Maxie!
Chief: Who was that!
Max: Ignore it, Chief. Here’s the thing-would it be possible to send that sound over the telephone line? I’d like to use it to disintegrate this door.
Chief: We could try it, Max. I have the gadget right here. It’s sitting on my desk.
Max: Isn’t that a little dangerous, Chief? A gadget like that, sitting around on a desk.
Chief: I don’t intend to leave it here, Max. I’m taking it home with me tonight. I have a jar of pickles that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for months and the lid has rusted. I thought-
Max: I understand, Chief. But, could we take care of my door first? I’ll aim my shoe at it, and you send the sound over the line-all right?
Chief: Just let me know when you’re ready, Max.
Max: Pardon, Chief? I didn’t get that.
Chief: Ready, I said.
(Sound of sizzling wires)
Chief: Did that do it, Max?
Max: I didn’t have it aimed at the door yet, Chief.
Chief: Where was it aimed?
Max: I’d rather not say, Chief. But I’ll tell you this much-it’ll be a long time before I ever have to wash my right ear again.
Voice: Hee-hee-hee! Old Maxie!
Max: Will you just stay out of this, Uncle Ned, please? Chief-try it again. When I say ‘now.’
Max: Yes, now.
(Sound of sizzling wires)
Max: Perfect, Chief! Where that door was, there is nothing but a small pile of ashes!
Chief: Good, Max. Now, can we discuss that twenty-eight cents?
Max: I’d like to finalize this mission first, Chief, if you don’t mind.
Chief: How long would it take to explain twenty-eight cents, Max?
Max: All right-just say I made a couple phone calls.
Chief: Phone calls are a dime apiece. This is for twenty-eight cents.
Max: Then call it two and eight-tenths phone calls, Chief.
Chief: Finally! I don’t know why you have to make such a big problem out of a little matter like twenty-eight cents, Max. All right, that takes care of it. Good luck with the mission.
Operator: Max? Uncle Ned wants to know if he’ll have time for a nap before you make your next kooky call.
Max and 99 left the dieing room and made their way quietly along the corridor.
“Where are we going, Max?” 99 asked, whispering.
“To find Lucky Bucky and Guru Optimo.”
“I know that. But, I mean where are we going to look?”
“We’ll start on this floor and search every room. Then we’ll-”
They had reached a corner and Max had suddenly halted.
“What is it, Max?”
“We’re not going to have any trouble finding Lucky Bucky and Guru Optimo, 99.”
99 peeked around the corner. Lucky Bucky and Guru Optimo were standing there, facing them.
99 waggled her fingers and smiled amiably. “Hi.”
“Well. . out of the dieing room into the fire, eh?” Lucky Bucky said.
Guru Optimo grinned broadly. “You’ve got the idea, Lassie. But I sent you for the morning paper, not a gang of counterfeiters,” he said.
Max’s eyes narrowed. “All right, Lucky Bucky, are you ready to surrender, or do we have to start running up and down the halls again?”
“I can answer that in one contraction, Maxie Baby,” Lucky Bucky replied.
Lucky Bucky turned to Guru Optimo. “Zop’em!”
Guru Optimo raised his hand.
Max and 99 darted between Guru Optimo and Lucky Bucky and raced down the corridor. As they whipped around a corner a flash of light exploded behind them.
“Guards!” they heard Lucky Bucky shout.
Max and 99 reached a stairway and dashed upward. They entered another corridor.
“Into one of these rooms!” Max said.
He threw open a door and he and 99 ran into the room. Max slammed the door behind them.
“Max! This is Guru Optimo’s room! Look-there’s the hole in the wall to the secret passage!”
“We couldn’t have picked a better room, 99! Quick, let’s get out of here!”
“Because this room leads to the secret passageway,” Max explained, “and the secret passageway leads either to the dungeon or the music room.”
“Where we saw those old musical instruments-remember?”
“Oh. . yes. .”
“Come on, 99,” Max said, taking her hand and leading her into the secret passageway.
“Max, I still don’t understand-”
“Quiet, 99. I’ll explain later.”
They descended the steps in the secret passageway. A few moments later they entered the music room.
“Understand now, 99?” Max said.
She shook her head.
“A good general always leaves a way open for retreat,” Max explained. “You see, from here, if Lucky Bucky and Guru Optimo and the guards come in through the doorway, we can escape by way of the secret passage. And, if they come in through the secret passage, we can escape through the doorway.”
“Max, that’s really brilliant-really!”
“Of course. But we couldn’t have done that if we’d stayed in Guru Optimo’s room. Because there was only the doorway and the. . Ummmmm. . well, here, we won’t be bored. We can amuse ourselves by looking at these old musical instruments.” He indicated an instrument that looked like a stringed watermelon.
“What did you say that is, 99?”
“That’s a strumplecord, Max.”
“How do you know that?”
“See that little brass plate attached to it, Max? It says ‘strumplecord.’ ”
“And the brass plate on this one says ‘saxopular.’ ”
“All right, 99, I understand the system now.”
“Aren’t they beautiful, Max!”
“Well. . I don’t know that beautiful is exactly the word for some of them. This one, for instance. The one here that looks like a bass fiddle.”
“Mmmmm, you’re right. It is sort of ugly. I wonder why it’s wearing a derby hat?”
“I thought that was a funny-shaped bow.”
“What does it say on the brass plate, Max?”
Max bent down and read. “It says-” He straightened and stared at the instrument. “-V. T. Brattleboro?”
The instrument tipped its hat. “I come from a musical family,” Brattleboro explained. “When we all sat down to the table together we looked like the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.”
“Really?” 99 said. “Why?”
“We sat on folding chairs.”
“I don’t think-” Max began.
But at that moment they heard Lucky Bucky’s voice in the corridor. “Guards! — into the music room!” it shouted.
“Max! They’re coming!”
“All right-everybody out through the secret passage!”
They ran to the opening in the wall-then halted.
“Somebody’s in there!” Brattleboro said.
A voice came from the passageway. “Of course I’ll love you as long as I live, darling. Now, step aside and let the firing squad do its job,” it said.
“Anybody recognize that voice?” Max frowned.
“Guru Optimo!” 99 said. “Max, we’re trapped! Guru Optimo in the passageway, and Lucky Bucky at the door!”
“What a dumbhead!” Brattleboro said to Max. “You should have left a way open for a retreat!”
“Well, it’s too late for that now,” Max said. “We’ll just have to fight it out, man to man.”
“What about me, Max?” 99 asked.
“Woman to man, in your case, 99.”
“But, Max, we don’t have a chance. Guru Optimo will zop us!”
“I know, 99. But until- Wait a minute! 99, remember when we were in that bucket and you were hypnotized? You thought you were the Staten Island Ferry-”
“Are you going to start that again, Max?”
“I know you don’t remember, 99, but that’s exactly what happened. The spell was broken when the moonlight, reflected in your hand mirror, flashed in your eyes.”
“Max, your story gets more preposterous every time you tell it.”
“Just give me your hand mirror again, 99.”
“What for?” she asked, opening her purse.
“If a flash of moonlight can break a spell, why can’t it create a spell?”
“I don’t know,” Brattleboro said. “Why can’t it?”
“What I’m getting at is, maybe it can!” Max replied. “Now, when Guru Optimo steps into this room, I’m going to catch a beam of moonlight in this mirror and flash it in his eyes. I may be able to hypnotize him.”
“Max, there’s one thing,” 99 said. “There’s-”
“Don’t tell me why it won’t work, 99,” Max interrupted. “You might shake my confidence.”
The door to the room flew open. Lucky Bucky appeared, and behind him were the guards.
“Gotcha!” Lucky Bucky shouted victoriously.
At that very same instant, Guru Optimo stepped into the room from the secret passageway.
“Well, here goes. .” Max said, raising the mirror.
“See what I mean, Max?” 99 said.
“I see that it isn’t working,” he replied puzzledly. “But I don’t understand why it isn’t.”
“It’s mid-afternoon, Max. We don’t get much moonlight at that time of day.”
“That could explain it,” Max frowned.
Lucky Bucky shouted to Guru Optimo. “Zop’em!”
Guru Optimo raised his hand. There was a flash of light. The flash of light hit the hand mirror-and was reflected. It bounced back and hit Guru Optimo square in the eyes. His face lit up. His hand opened and a bright, shiny object fell from it and hit the floor and rolled toward a corner.
Lucky Bucky groaned. “Every once upon a time some little thing goes wrong,” he commented gloomily.
“Max!” 99 shouted gleefully. “Guru Optimo hypnotized himself!”
Max walked to the corner and picked up the shiny object that had fallen from Guru Optimo’s hand. “Amazing!” he said.
“What is it, Max?”
“The source of his power,” Max replied. “A Kennedy half-dollar. I had no idea these things could have such a hypnotic effect.”
Guru Optimo, as if in a trance, opened the case that held the strumpelcord and took the instrument from it. Wholly delighted, he began strumming it.
“Aiiii! A banjo player!” Lucky Bucky moaned.
“It’s the influence of the room,” Brattleboro said. “He’s turned himself into a musician.”
Guru Optimo got the saxopular and the hinkenschmaller from their cases. He began playing all three instruments at the same time. It sounded like someone falling downstairs with a load of garbage cans.
“I don’t recognize the tune,” Max said.
“I think he’s composing as he goes along,” 99 guessed.
Guru Optimo began singing:
Good dog, Lassie!
You’ll light up the ice box yet!
I’ll love you ’til the day I die,
Although you walk with a lisp!
“I’ll make a bet that by the time we get off this island that will be at the top of the charts,” Max said.
“And this is the booby I had penciled in for the emperor of the world!” Lucky Bucky wailed. “What a comedown for my comeback!”
“Poor Lucky Bucky,” 99 said sympathetically.
“99-he’s the enemy,” Max pointed out.
“But, Max, he’s harmless now. Without Guru Optimo, what can he do?”
A tear trickled down Lucky Bucky’s cheek. “All I wanted was to be a good agent to everybody,” he said. “Ninety per cent of everybody’s income-was that too much to ask?”
“Max. . do something. .” 99 pleaded.
“Well, I might be able to help,” Max said grudgingly. “Guru Optimo is of no use to us any more, since he’s become a musician. The fate of the entire civilized world, as we know it, is no longer in danger. So. .”
“This castle,” Max said. “Why not turn it into a resort hotel?”
Lucky Bucky stopped weeping and listened.
“The great hall would make a dandy restaurant,” Max continued. “And the guards, with their vacant expressions, would make perfect waiters.”
Lucky Bucky beamed.
“And for entertainment-why not Guru Optimo?” Max said. “I can see it up in lights now: ‘Guru Optimo on strumplecord, saxopular and hinkenschmaller-the world’s one and only one-man trio!’ ”
“He’ll be a star!” Lucky Bucky enthused.
“And you’ll be a star’s agent,” Max said.
“My comeback has just made a comeback!” Lucky Bucky crowed.
“Trouble?” Max said.
“Happy endings always make me sad,” Brattleboro explained.
“Well, that seems to close the lid on this case,” Max said. “Shall we go?”
There seemed to be agreement, so Max, 99 and Brattleboro headed toward the door.
Lucky Bucky called after them. “Look for us in the audience on the Ed Sullivan Show!”
A few minutes later they emerged from the castle. Max took off his shoe and began dialing. “I’ll have the Chief send the helicopter for us,” he said. “It can pick us up where it dropped us off.”
“Hold it, 99. I think I have the Chief on the line.”
Max: Chief? Max here. .
Operator: Just a minute, Maxie. I want to wake Uncle Ned. He’d never forgive me if I let him nap through one of your kooky phone calls.
Max: All right, Operator-anything to keep peace in the family. But, in the meantime, would you connect me with the Chief, please?
Chief: Control. . Chief here. .
Max: It’s me, Chief. Mission accomplished. Once again the forces of good have triumphed over the forces of evil. The confused alarms of strife and struggle have been stilled. The white dove, freed from its chains, flutters aloft. Where once trod the heavy boot of jeopardy, now trips the light fantastic. Joy abounds-except, perhaps, in Mudville.
Chief: Mudville, Max?
Max: There is no joy in Mudville, Chief. Mighty Casey has struck out.
Chief: Max, what exactly are you trying to tell me?
Max: Didn’t you get it, Chief? I was asking you to send the helicopter for us.
Chief: Max, that’s great! You’ve recaptured Guru Optimo!
Max: Not exactly, Chief. I don’t think you’d want him any more. He’s off-tune.
Operator: Excuse me, Chief. . Max. . Max, will you do that line about the heavy boot of jeopardy again? It’s for Uncle Ned. He’s taking notes.
Max: I’m sorry, Operator, but there isn’t time now. He’ll have to read the book. It’s on page-
Chief: Max, nevermind about that! Have you recaptured Guru Optimo or haven’t you?
Max: No, Chief. Weren’t you listening? I told you, you wouldn’t want him any more. He hypnotized himself. He’s harmless now.
Chief: Couldn’t we use him for something, Max?
Max: Well. . could we use a tall, skinny music box?
Chief: I guess not, Max. I’ll send the helicopter for you. Where do you want it to pick you up?
Max: Where it dropped us, Chief. Chief. . you sound a little disappointed.
Chief: I just don’t know how to explain this in my report, Max. This mission cost Control a lot of money. And what do we have to show for it?
Max: Ensuring the continued existence of the entire civilized world isn’t exactly small potatoes, Chief.
Chief: I know. But I sent you to bring back a person. A person is something that can be seen, touched, or, if need be, tortured. But the continued existence of the entire civilized world is. . Well, do you see what I’m getting at, Max?
Max: You’ve changed your mind about the tall, skinny music box?
Chief: Forget it, Max. I’ll try to explain it to you when you get back to headquarters.
Max hung up.
“What’s the matter, Max?” 99 asked.
“The Chief is disappointed.”
“He is? Why?”
“He didn’t say.”
“We better get going,” Brattleboro said. “I’d hate to miss that helicopter. I understand there isn’t a next one.”
They plunged into the jungle, headed for the clearing where the helicopter had dropped them. The vines lashed at their faces, the brambles tore at their clothes.
“Max, we should have waited for the helicopter at the castle,” 99 said. “I tried to tell you that.”
“Wouldn’t work, 99.”
“The helicopter is meeting us at the clearing.”
“What I- Oh, nevermind.”
“Too bad it had to end this way,” Brattleboro commented sadly.
“You’ll get over it,” Max said. “A happy ending isn’t fatal.”
“It’s not that. My Chief will be disappointed in me, that’s what I meant.”
“Why?” Max asked interestedly.
“Well, this mission cost KAOS a lot of money. And what do we have to show for it?”
“Ensuring the continued existence of the entire civilized world isn’t exactly small potatoes, you know.”
“Yes,” Brattleboro nodded. “But my Chief sent me out to bring back a person. A person is something you can see, touch, or, if need be, torture. But the continued existence of the entire civilized world is. . Well, you know what I mean.”
“I think I’m beginning to get it,” Max replied.
Max signalled to 99 to drop back and let Brattleboro get ahead of them.
“What is it, Max?” she whispered.
“What the Chief was trying to tell me, 99, is that he wants me to bring back a person.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, he wasn’t interested in a music box.”
“Did he mention anyone by name, Max?”
“No, but he didn’t have to. I have a very quick mind, 99. It’s Brattleboro he wants me to bring back. Somehow, the Chief has the idea that this mission was a bust. But if we could capture one of KAOS’s top agents. .”
“Right, 99! Now, here’s how we’ll handle it. When we spot the helicopter, you yell, ‘There it is!’ That will get Brattleboro’s attention. When he looks up, I’ll give him a karate chop and render him unconscious. Then we’ll take him back to Control with us-a captive!”
“Max. . I don’t know. .”
“Of course, 99, it’s a dirty rotten trick. But when a nice guy like the Chief asks you to pull a dirty rotten trick, how can you refuse?”
“I suppose so. Let’s see, now. . I’ll yell ‘There it is!’ ”
“And I’ll chop.”
“All right, Max. Max. . we’d better catch up with Brattleboro. He’s looking back. And he looks as if he has something on his mind.”
“Probably troubled about disappointing his Chief,” Max said. “I know how he feels.”
“Yes, you and he have the same problem.”
“I wonder how he’d handle it if he were in my shoes?” Max mused.
A few moments later they all reached the clearing. They scanned the sky.
“I can’t see anything,” Brattleboro said.
“You’re standing in the wrong position,” Max said. “Stand with your back to me.”
“I just hope the helicopter can find us,” 99 said. “There are probably hundreds of little islands like this around here.”
“It’ll be along,” Max assured her. He turned to Brattleboro. “Well, this is about the end of the line for us,” he said. “Frankly, when we started out, I had my doubts about a KAOS agent and two Control agents working together. I was sure there would be a lot of conflict. But I guess that our experience proves that it’s really possible for the lion and the lamb to lie down together.”
Brattleboro looked around. “Where?”
“What I mean is, our experience proves that it’s possible for two natural enemies, like the lion and the lamb, or like Control and KAOS, to work together.”
“You’re right,” Brattleboro said. “I’ve had a wonderful time on this mission. And not once did I think of you or 99 as the enemy.”
“Not even when you tried to kill us?” 99 asked.
“I was having nice thoughts all the while.”
“Brattleboro, I’d be very pleased if you’d call me friend,” Max said.
“You changing your name?”
“No, no. I mean from now on, I want you to think of me as your friend.”
“You, too,” Brattleboro smiled. “You think of me as your friend, too-okay?”
Max extended a hand. “Buddy. .”
Brattleboro started to respond in kind. “Buddy. .”
“There it is!” 99 shouted.
Max and Brattleboro clipped each other with a karate chop. They dropped to the ground, each one having rendered the other unconscious.
A second or so later, the helicopter landed. The pilot jumped down. He looked puzzledly at Max, unconscious on the sand, then at Brattleboro, unconscious beside him.
“Boy, that’s a relief,” the pilot said. “From up there, when I was coming down, you know what these two looked like?”
99 shook her head.
“A lion and a lamb,” the pilot replied.
“No,” 99 said. “They’re just. . just buddies. .”