Missed It By That Much!
Max Smart, known to Control, the secret organization for good, as Agent 86, marched briskly up to the secret entrance to Control Headquarters, entered, then strode snappily down a long corridor. Huge iron doors opened before him as he approached, then clanged closed behind him. At the end of the corridor he reached a telephone booth. Stepping into it, Max closed the folding door, then started to dial. At that exact moment, the telephone rang.
Max peered at the telephone puzzledly. “You’re a dummy telephone,” he said to the instrument. “You’re not supposed to ring.”
The telephone jangled again.
Max shrugged, then picked up the receiver.
Max: Max Smart, Agent 86, here.
Voice (male): Let me speak to Hazel, please.
Max: You have the wrong number. There’s no Hazel here. And, besides that, this is a dummy telephone.
Voice: Then let me talk to the dummy.
Max: You don’t understand. This telephone doesn’t work. Actually, it isn’t a telephone at all. It’s a gadget that triggers a trap door. When I dial a certain number, the trap door opens and drops me into the basement.
Voice: And you do it? Knowing the trap door is going to open and drop you into the basement? I guess that’s why it’s called a dummy telephone. Only a dummy would-
Max hung up.
He waited a moment, then took the receiver from the hook again and began dialing the secret number. He dialed one digit, then another, then another, then another, then placed the receiver back in the holder. The trap door sprang open. But, unfortunately, Max’s index finger was caught in one of the holes of the dial. He dangled over the opening.
Chagrined, Max sighed disgustedly. Then, still dangling by a finger, he reached down with his free hand and removed his shoe telephone from his foot. Holding the shoe in his teeth, he dialed a number, then put the shoe to his ear.
Chief: Control Headquarters. The Chief speaking.
Max: This is Max, Chief. I thought I’d better call. I’m going to be delayed a few minutes.
Chief (gruffly): Max, this happens every time I call you in for an assignment. What’s the problem this time? Where are you?
Max: If it’s all the same to you, Chief, I’d just as soon not say. Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing.
Operator: He probably tied his shoelaces together again, Chief.
Max (indignantly): I did not! And I’ll thank you to stay out of this, Operator.
Chief (worried now): Max, are you in trouble? Has KAOS taken you prisoner? Are you being tortured? Is that it?
Operator: I’ll bet he was taking a shower and he got his big toe caught in the drain.
Max: You’re both wrong. Chief, just give me a few minutes, will you? I do have a little problem. But I’m sure I can work it out. Start the meeting without me. I’ll be along in a while.
Chief: Max, the purpose of the meeting is to assign you to a mission-how can I start that without you? If you’re in trouble, tell me where you are. I’ll send someone to help you.
Max: Oh, all right, if it’s that urgent. I’m here in the building. In the telephone booth. At least, part of me is in the booth. The other part of me is in the basement. I got my finger caught in the dial, and I’m dangling.
Operator: I knew it! What a knucklehead!
Chief: Hold on, Max. I’m sending Agent 99 to get you down.
Operator: Don’t do it, Chief. Let him dangle. If you get him down, he’ll just get in trouble again. You know what you need? A new agent. Now, my brother-in-law, Arnold-
Max hung up, silencing the operator.
Approximately a quarter of an hour later, Max entered the Chief’s office, followed by the beautiful, dark-haired Agent 99, who was carrying a ladder. The Chief was in conversation with someone on the telephone. He motioned for Max and 99 to be seated. Max settled in the chair that faced the Chief’s desk. And 99, after standing the ladder against a wall, perched on a corner of the desk.
“I’ll take your word for it, your brother-in-law, Arnold, probably wouldn’t ever get his finger caught in a telephone dial,” the Chief said into the receiver, “but it takes more than that to be a secret agent.”
“Right. It takes know-how,” Max nodded.
“No, I’m sure your brother-in-law, Arnold, hasn’t ever tied his shoelaces together, either,” the Chief said. “However. . Well, look, do this: have your brother-in-law come in and fill out an application. I’ll give it every consideration.”
The Chief placed the receiver in the cradle.
“Chief, you’re not really thinking about replacing me with the operator’s brother-in-law, Arnold, are you?” Max said, hurt.
“Of course not, Max. There’s no time for it. This assignment I have for you is urgent.”
“No one could ever take your place, Max,” 99 said. “At least, not with me.”
Max leaned forward. “How about with you, Chief?” he said, a bit anxiously.
“Well, I will say this,” the Chief replied, “there has never been, and I’m sure there will never be, an agent like you, Max. Now, can we get down to business?”
“Yes, let’s,” 99 said. “What is the assignment, Chief?”
The Chief tipped back in his chair, looking solemn. “First, let me fill you in on the background,” he said. “A few weeks ago an incident occurred in a small English village that, at the time, seemed completely unimportant.”
“That sounds like it would be right down Arnold’s alley,” Max said, pouting.
“Max-will you forget about Arnold? Your job is safe. If I tried to fire you, I’d have your union on my neck. And I just don’t have time for that sort of thing. Now then, as I was saying-”
“Is that your reason? Because you don’t want trouble with the union?” Max interrupted, his lower lip trembling. “If it is, just say the word.”
“And you’ll do what, Max? Resign from the union?”
“No, I’ll pay up my back dues.”
“Chief, what was it that happened in that little English village that seemed completely unimportant?” 99 said.
“The town was suddenly permeated by a terrible odor,” the Chief replied. “The odor filled every nook and cranny in the village. It was everywhere. The people panicked. And within minutes the whole town was cleared. It looked like a ghost town.”
“And you call a thing like that unimportant?” Max said. “Those people are homeless, Chief. Doesn’t that mean anything to you? Or have you become so insensitive that the suffering and anguish of your nearest and dearest friend means absolutely nothing to you?”
The Chief stared at him, baffled. “My nearest and dearest friend? Max, I don’t know a soul in that village.”
“I’m talking about me,” Max replied. “This idea of yours to replace me with the operator’s brother-in-law, Arnold, has cut me deeply. How can you be so heartless?”
The Chief’s eyes rolled ceilingward. He groaned.
“Go on, Chief,” 99 urged. “Max didn’t mean it.”
“Well, in time,” the Chief went on, “the wind shifted and the terrible odor drifted away. The people returned to the village. And, when they traced the odor, it led them to the house of a Dr. Livingstrom, a scientist.”
“What caused the odor?” 99 said. “What did they find?”
“I’ll tell you what they found,” Max said. “They found a message scratched on the wall. It said: Arnold was here. There’s the explanation for your terrible odor.”
The Chief shook his head. “They did find a message, however-in a sense,” he said. “It was a scribbled notation. They found it in Dr. Livingstrom’s laboratory. It said: Brassica Oleracia-212°.”
99 looked at Max. Max looked at 99. Then they both turned back to the Chief.
“Brassica Oleracia-212°?” 99 said puzzledly. “What does it mean?”
“Nobody knows,” the Chief replied. “We think it may be a formula. But we’re not positive. It’s possible that it’s in code. Our cryptographers have been working on it, but, so far, they haven’t come up with anything.”
“I have an idea,” Max said.
“Let’s ask this Dr. Livingstrom what it means,” Max said. “After all, if it was found in his laboratory, he probably wrote it. And if he wrote it, it follows then that he knows what it means. You see, Chief? Every problem has a solution. I just wonder if you’ll get that kind of thinking from this Arnold fellow.”
“Max. . Dr. Livingstrom has disappeared.”
“Chief,” 99 said, “you told us that when this incident occurred it seemed completely unimportant. But, since you’re telling us about it, and in such great detail, you must have decided since then that it is important. Is that right?”
The Chief tipped back in his chair again, scowling thoughtfully. “Let’s suppose for a moment,” he said. “Let’s suppose that this notation we found-this Brassica Oleracia-212°-is the formula for the gas, or whatever it is, that exuded that horrible odor. And let’s suppose that this gas, or whatever it is, fell into the wrong hands. What would happen?”
“Somebody would have a pair of pretty stinky hands,” Max said.
“Yes, I see what you mean,” 99 frowned. “You mean, suppose KAOS got hold of it. That would be tragic.”
“Worse than that,” the Chief said. “I can just imagine how KAOS would use it. They could release the gas, or whatever it is, here at our headquarters, then, when we all fled, they could slip in, using gas masks, and go through our files. They could photograph our code books, our secret documents.”
“Then, eventually, when we returned, we wouldn’t even know what had happened,” 99 said.
“I would know,” Max said.
“I just heard the Chief tell about it. Stay alert, 99. You miss a lot if you don’t keep your ears open.”
“I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, though,” Max said. “After all, how could KAOS know about this gas, or whatever it is?”
“KAOS does know about it,” the Chief said. “While the Control agent who brought it to my attention was telling me about it, we were overheard by a KAOS agent who was posing as a cleaning woman.”
“How do you know that, Chief?” Max said.
“Because when the KAOS agent who was posing as a cleaning woman brought it to the attention of his chief at KAOS he was overheard by one of our agents who was posing as a cleaning woman at KAOS headquarters.”
“What a dirty trick,” Max said, incensed.
“It’s unfortunate, to say the least,” the Chief agreed. “Because KAOS has already dispatched an agent to find Dr. Livingstrom and get the secret of the formula from him.”
“Does he know where to look?” 99 said.
“He knows as much as we know, but probably no more,” the Chief replied.
“That’s a break,” Max said. “That makes us even-Steven on information, but, with me on the case, a step ahead on know-how. Who is this KAOS agent, Chief? Do we know?”
“His name is Whitestone.”
“Whitestone? Is that all? No first name? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of him.”
“Whitestone is his stage name,” the Chief explained. “He used to be in vaudeville-a magician. The description I have of him is that he’s tall, white-haired and very distinguished-looking. ”
“He should be easy to spot,” Max said. “Tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking, and pulling a rabbit out of a hat.”
“He’s new at KAOS,” the Chief said. “But don’t underestimate him, Max. I understand that he’s a master illusionist.”
“Chief, it so happens that I happen to be a master illusionist myself. I’ll match my master illusioning against anybody’s master illusioning. In fact. . Incidentally, what is a master illusionist?”
“Max, that means he can make you see things that aren’t really there,” 99 explained.
“He can also make things that are there look different than they really are,” the Chief said. “For instance, he could make a silk purse look like a sow’s ear.”
“That must explain why he went to work for KAOS,” Max said. “There probably isn’t much call for a man who turns silk purses into sow’s ears. In fact, turned loose in a department store, he could probably start quite a ruckus.”
“Chief, do we know where to look for this Dr. Livingstrom?” 99 said.
“We have a fair notion,” the Chief replied. “Dr. Livingstrom is somewhere in Africa-we think. You see, he’s a man of means. He inherited a great deal of money, and he’s able to come and go as he pleases. He could be anywhere. But all the clues lead us to Africa.”
“What clues?” 99 asked.
“Dr. Livingstrom has a hobby,” the Chief replied. “He invents fancy foods. For example, Broccoli Livingstrom is an invention of his. That’s broccoli stuffed with cornflakes and served with a rutabaga sauce.”
99 made a face. “How could anybody ever come up with a recipe like that?”
“He probably got it from Arnold,” Max said sourly.
“Be that as it may,” the Chief went on, “we began checking all the restaurants that serve food like that, hoping to pick up Dr. Livingstrom’s trail. And, we were more or less successful. We trailed him all across Europe, and then to Africa. He was last seen in Ghirzy.”
“Ghirzy?” Max said.
“That’s a country in Africa, Max,” 99 explained. She turned back to the Chief. “Although, it’s not called that any more, is it?”
“You’re right,” the Chief nodded. “Ghirzy recently became independent. It’s now called New Ghirzy.”
“Where exactly in New Ghirzy was Dr. Livingstrom spotted?” Max said.
“In the capital city, Pahzayk.”
Max nodded, making mental note of the name. “Pahzayk, New Ghirzy-got it.”
“It’s a rough, tough water-front town,” the Chief said. “But there’s an airport. I have tickets for you. You’ll be leaving on a jet in-” He glanced at his watch. “-in an hour from now.”
“Let me get this straight,” Max said. “Our mission is to go to Darkest Africa and locate Dr. Livingstrom-right? And when we find him, we’re to get him to give us the formula for this gas, or whatever it is, that creates this terrible odor-right?”
“That’s right, Max.”
“And, on the way, and as we carry out the mission, we’re to watch out for this KAOS agent, Whitestone, who is a master illusionist-right?”
“Now, then, I have just one more question.”
“Chief, you wouldn’t really replace me with the operator’s brother-in-law, Arnold, while I’m gone, would you?”
“Max, for heaven’s sake, you have a dangerous and important mission to perform,” the Chief said, annoyed. “Think what could happen if KAOS got hold of that gas-or whatever it is! It would be disastrous. The forces of evil would have the upper hand! With all that’s at stake, how can you worry about a little thing like Arnold!”
“Sorry, Chief,” Max said, crestfallen. “I promise. I won’t let Arnold enter my mind again.”
“That’s better. Now, you better get going.”
“Right!” Max snapped. He turned to 99. “Let’s get going, Arnold!”
“Max. .” 99 said woefully.
The Chief handed Max a small envelope. “Here are your tickets,” he said. “Just don’t miss the plane. Oh, and one other thing: Research amp; Development has some new gadgets. It wants you to take some of them along and experience test them on this mission. So, stop in there before you leave.”
“Your wish is my command, Chief,” Max said, heading toward the door. “Which is a lot more than you’d ever get from that trouble-maker Arnold, I’ll wager.”
The Chief and 99 exchanged looks of resignation, then 99 trotted after Max.
When Max and 99 reached Research amp; Development they were greeted enthusiastically by the scientist in charge, Dr. Hyde. “We have a whole carload of new gadgets for you to experience test,” he said. “I have them right here in my pocket.”
“A whole carload? In your pocket?”
“Miniaturization,” Dr. Hyde explained. “It’s the latest wrinkle in scientific development. Everything is reduced to the smallest possible size.” He withdrew a capsule about the size of a tube of lipstick from his pocket. “What would you say this contains? Guess?”
“A twenty-mule team?” Max speculated.
“Nope. Just watch.”
Dr. Hyde pressed a button at the bottom of the capsule. A lipstick popped out.
“Oops!” he said. “Wrong capsule. That belongs to my wife.” He got another capsule from his pocket. “Guess again.”
“Twelve thousand gallons of liquid plastic,” Max said.
Dr. Hyde looked woebegone. “You peeked!” he charged.
“Honest Injun, I didn’t,” Max protested. “It was just a lucky guess.”
“Well. . all right,” Dr. Hyde said doubtfully. He handed the capsule to Max. “Take it with you. And use it if you get the chance.”
“Isn’t it pretty unlikely that I’ll run into a situation where I’ll need twelve thousand gallons of liquid plastic?” Max said.
“I can think of an instance,” Dr. Hyde replied. “That plastic is kept in that tube under tremendous pressure, you know. And when it’s released and it’s exposed to air it hardens. So it might come in handy.”
“Well, suppose you got your finger caught in a telephone dial. And you were dangling over an open trap door. You could aim the spray downward, spray out enough plastic to form a mountain-a small mountain, of course-then, standing on the mountain, release your finger, and, free, climb down the mountain.”
Max took another look at the capsule. “I guess it’s not as impractical as I first thought.”
“Max, hadn’t we better hurry?” 99 said. “We have to get to the airport.”
“You’re right,” Max said.
“Here, take these with you,” Dr. Hyde said, handing Max a half-dozen or so additional capsules. “They’re labeled. That means they have little stickers on them so you can tell what they are.”
“I know what labeled means,” Max said testily.
“I like to be sure,” Dr. Hyde said. “We scientists are always being blamed for things. And it’s because nobody understands us. At least, that’s what they say-afterwards. But this way, if I make sure you understand me, when something goes wrong, you can’t put the blame on me.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Max said. He motioned to 99 and they headed toward the door.
“So long,” Dr. Hyde called. “That means good-bye.”
Max and 99 left the headquarters building, and, standing at the curb, began signalling for a cab. But all of the cabs that appeared were occupied.
“Max, the Chief will be furious if we miss that plane,” 99 said.
“I know, 99. But what can we do? All of these- Wait a minute, here comes a cab now.”
A taxi pulled up at the curb and stopped in front of them. The rear door opened and a befuddled-looking young man got out. Then a middle-aged woman appeared. But she remained in the cab, peering out the rear window.
“Excuse me,” the woman said to Max, “but could you direct my son to Control Headquarters?”
Max looked at the young man, who winced and backed off a step. Then he replied to the woman. “I’m not sure I should,” he said. “It’s a secret organization, you know. And if I go around pointing it out to everyone who drives up in a cab, it won’t stay secret very long. Could you tell me why you’re looking for it?”
“Secret agents never tell,” the woman replied.
Max beamed. “Oh. . you’re a secret agent. Why didn’t you say so?” He pointed to the headquarters building. “It’s right over there.”
“I hope I didn’t get that information under false pretenses,” the woman said. “It’s not me who’s a secret agent. It’s my son. Although, to be absolutely truthful, he isn’t exactly a secret agent yet.” She spoke to the young man. “Go on, dear. It’s that building right over there. Just walk right in and ask for the Chief.”
The young man ambled off toward the building.
“He still needs looking after,” the woman said to Max. “He’s only thirty-two-just a baby.”
“You say he intends to be a secret agent?” Max said dubiously, watching the young man approach the entrance to headquarters.
“It’s his sister-in-law’s idea,” the woman explained. She waved fondly to her son. “Good luck, Arnold!”
After an all-night flight, the airliner carrying Max and 99 reached Pahzayk, the capital city of New Ghirzy. As the plane circled the field, preparing to land, Max and 99 looked down on the city from a window.
“Why do you suppose Dr. Livingstrom came here, Max?” 99 said. “Pahzayk doesn’t look very interesting to me.”
“If you think about it for a second, the answer is pretty obvious,” Max replied. “As you can see, this is a waterfront town. And, we know that Dr. Livingstrom is a fancier of fancy dishes. Putting two and two together, we can deduce that he came here because he had a sudden, hankering for some fancy sea food. African lobster tails would be my guess.”
“Max, you’re so clever!”
The plane soon landed. Max and 99 passed through customs, then took a taxi to the center of town. Reaching there, they checked into a hotel. And, after taking their luggage to their rooms, they met again in the lobby.
“What’s the plan, Max?” 99 said.
“I think we better start making the rounds of the restaurants that specialize in way-out foods,” Max replied. “Dr. Livingstrom has undoubtedly eaten at one or two of them. And, if we’re lucky, a waiter may remember having seen him.”
“That’s brilliant, Max!”
“Let’s just hope that our adversary, Whitestone, didn’t think of it,” Max said. “If he did, we may already be too late.”
They left the hotel and got into a taxi and asked the driver to take them to a restaurant that served exotic foods. A few minutes later the cab dropped them at a place called the Greasy Ladle. When they entered they were met by a headwaiter who escorted them to a table and gave them a menu.
“Just a second there, fella,” Max said, as the headwaiter started to leave. “We don’t know much about fancy foods. Could you recommend something?”
The headwaiter glanced about, making sure he couldn’t be overheard, then replied in a low voice. “You want some advice? Here it is: go to another restaurant. The food they serve here, you wouldn’t believe it.” He took the menu from Max and pointed to an item. “Look at that! Breast of White Dove stuffed with Chocolate-Covered Cherries! Is that food for a human being? Or, look at this! Baked Tongue!”
“That’s not so bad,” Max said. “As a matter of fact, I like tongue.”
“You know where they got this tongue?”
The headwaiter shook his head. “From the left shoe of a pair of old sneakers. Believe me, the only place you could get worse food is at home. Every night, after I have dinner here, I get a bum-bum in my tum-tum.”
“If it’s so terrible, why do you eat here?” 99 asked.
“I own the place,” the headwaiter replied. “What should I do, give my business to my competitor?”
“Well, thanks for the suggestion, anyway,” Max said. “But I think we’ll stay.”
The headwaiter handed the menu back to him! “If you’ve got any sense, you’ll eat the menu and leave the food alone,” he said, departing.
Max and 99 scanned the selection of foods and made their choices, then Max signalled to a waiter.
“I’ll have the Broiled Trout stuffed with Tomato Seeds,” 99 said to the waiter.
He winced. “Do you want that with or without?” he said.
“What’s the difference?”
“With is two dollars extra.”
“But what is ‘with’?”
“If you order it with,” he replied, “you get an ambulance ride to the hospital. If you order it without, you have to walk.”
“With,” 99 decided.
“Waiter, before I order,” Max said, “I’d like to ask you a question. We’re looking for a fellow who may have eaten here in your restaurant recently. His name is Dr. Livingstrom. Do you remember seeing him?”
The waiter brightened. “Dr. Livingstrom! Sure!”
“When was the last time you saw him?” Max asked.
“When they were putting him in the ambulance.”
“I see. And have you seen him since?”
The waiter shook his head. “We never see them again after they put them in the ambulance,” he said.
“All right. Thank you.” Max picked up the menu. “I’ll have the Breast of White Dove stuffed with Chocolate-Covered Cherries. But hold the chocolate-covered cherries.”
“I can’t do that,” the waiter said. “The chocolate melts in my hands.”
“All right then, bring it as it is,” Max said. “I’ll take the chocolate-covered cherries out myself.”
“You’ll be sorry,” the waiter said. “They’ll melt in your hands. Then, you’ll not only have a bum-bum in your tum-tum, but you’ll have sticky fingers. They won’t let you into the ambulance. They don’t want to get it all smeared up with sticky chocolate.”
“Just bring the order,” Max said glumly.
The waiter left, headed for the kitchen.
“Max, your plan is working,” 99 said. “We’re on Dr. Livingstrom’s trail already.”
“Well, at least we know that he’s somewhere in the vicinity,” Max said. “After we eat, I think we better check the hospital. He may still be there.”
“That’s a good idea-since we’ll be going to the hospital anyway.”
Max leaned forward. “99,” he said, lowering his voice, “glance around at the other tables and see if you see that KAOS agent, Whitestone, anywhere. I’m a little surprised that we haven’t made contact with him yet.”
99 got a mirror from her purse, and, pretending to inspect her appearance, she looked for Whitestone at the other tables.
“Not one person who’s white-haired and distinguished-looking, Max,” she reported.
“That worries me,” Max said. “It’s just not normal. That KAOS agent should have tried to stop us by now.”
The waiter arrived with the food and placed it before them. “I alerted the ambulance,” he said.
“Waiter, I have another question,” Max said. “We’re also on the lookout for a tall, middle-aged gentleman with white hair. Have you seen him?”
The waiter frowned thoughtfully. “What does he look like?”
“Well, he’s tall, and middle-aged, and has white hair.”
The waiter nodded. “I think I’ve seen him. A little short guy? Kind of young? Red-headed? He was in here last week. He ordered the same thing you just ordered-the Breast of White Dove. But I don’t know what happened to him. When the ambulance refused to accept him, he just wandered off-leaving a trail of sticky, chocolate fingerprints.”
“Thanks, anyway,” Max said.
The waiter departed.
Max and 99 looked at the food.
“Max. . I feel a kind of a. . a bum-bum in my tum-tum.”
“So do I. And if looking at it does that, imagine what eating it will do. 99. . I think we better take something.”
“No, a powder. Let’s get out of here while we’re still reasonably healthy.”
Max and 99 slipped out of the restaurant. Reaching the street, they hailed another cab. Max told the driver to take them to the hospital.
“You should have ordered your dinner with,” the driver said. “You would have got a ride in an ambulance.”
“That’s not why we’re going to the hospital,” Max replied. “We’re looking for a friend.”
“Then you want the Y.M.C.A.,” the driver said. “You won’t make any friends at the hospital. Those people are all sick. They’re not in the mood to be friends with anybody.”
“We’ll take our chances,” Max said. “The hospital, please.”
It was a short drive to the hospital. The cab dropped them at the entrance. Entering, they approached the reception desk.
“We just came from the Greasy Ladle Restaurant,” Max said to the nurse. “We were-”
“The Greasy Ladle?” the nurse interrupted. “Then you want the Emergency Entrance. This entrance is for well people.”
“No, no, you don’t understand,” Max said. “We’re not sick. We were told that a Dr. Livingstrom was brought here recently from the Greasy Ladle. We’d like to see him if he’s still here.”
“I’ll check the records,” the nurse said, getting a file box from beneath the counter. After a moment of searching, she pulled a card from the file. “He left here about a week ago,” she informed them. “He didn’t like our food. He said it was too plain.”
“Did he say where he was going?” Max asked.
“Yes. Out for a bowl of gnu soup. The gnu is an animal we have here in Africa. To make the soup, you fill a swimming pool with boiling water, add a half ton of carrots, a half ton of onions, a half ton of chestnuts, then toss the gnu into the pool and make him swim to the other end. When he crawls out, you top it off with a dollop of whipped cream.”
“I see,” Max nodded. “The fact that he mentioned gnu soup, did that tell you where he was going?”
“Yes. Out of his head,” the nurse replied. “Anybody who can eat gnu soup has a sparkplug missing somewhere.”
“No, what I mean is, is there, perhaps, a restaurant in town that specializes in gnu soup?”
“Oh. Yes. The Ye Olde Gnu Soupe Kitchen.”
“Thank you,” Max said, turning to leave.
“Just a minute,” the nurse said. “Come to think of it, that’s not exactly right. When we got independence they changed the name of the Ye Olde Gnu Soupe Kitchen. It’s now the Ye New Gnu Soupe Kitchen. But they still serve the same olde swill.”
Max and 99 left the hospital and took a taxi to the Ye New Gnu Soupe Kitchen. When they were seated at a table, they each ordered a bowl of gnu soup. They then asked the waiter if Dr. Livingstrom had been in lately. He replied that the scientist hadn’t been around in days, and suggested that they ask for him at the Curried Cod Cafe, a restaurant that specialized in corn cobs fried in butter and herbs.
“Shouldn’t that be the Curried Cob Cafe-not cod?” Max said.
“They wouldn’t have any customers if they called it that,” the waiter explained. “Who’d eat fried corn cobs?”
When the gnu soup was placed before them, Max and 99 felt a rambling in their tum-tums. They slipped out without eating and hurried to the Curried Cod Cafe.
But Dr. Livingstrom had not been there in days, either. The waiter at the Curried Cod suggested that they try at the Chop House, a restaurant near the water front.
“That sounds more like it,” Max said, brightening. “The Chop House. What kind of chops do they specialize in? Pork Chops?”
“Nope,” the waiter replied. “That’s rough territory down there by the water front. They specialize in karate chops.”
“Then why would it interest Dr. Livingstrom?” Max said.
“They also serve a free lunch,” the waiter replied. “All the boiled olives stuffed with robins’ nests you can eat. Although, no one has ever been known to eat more than one of them.”
Max and 99 left the Curried Cod, hailed a taxi, and told the driver to take them to the water front.
“Down there? Not me,” the driver replied. “That’s a den of thieves down there. And murderers. You know what kind of people those people are down there? When the Red Cross has a drive on for blood donations, those people down there donate more blood than anybody.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Max said. “That sounds public-spirited to me.”
“It’s where they get the blood,” the driver said. “They get it from the people on the other side of town.”
“All right, if you’re afraid, just take us as close as you can,” Max said.
“That’s where we are right now-as close as I’ll get,” the driver said.
Max and 99 got out of the cab, asked directions, then started out walking toward the water front. As they neared the area they noticed that all of the street lights had been broken. There were villainous-looking men standing in the darkened doorways, observing them sinisterly as they made their way.
“Max. .” 99 trembled, “. . I’m frightened. .”
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about,” Max replied. “Unless, of course, the Red Cross has a drive on for blood donations. Frankly, what bothers me most is my tum-tum. We’ve been in a dozen restaurants today, but we haven’t had anything to eat yet. I’m getting really hungry.”
“Me, too,” 99 said. “What I wouldn’t give for a good American meal!”
They reached the section of piers and docks. Along the street, facing the water, was a long row of low buildings. Most of the buildings were dark. But in the distance they saw a glow of light.
“According to the directions we got from that taxi driver, this is the street,” Max said. “The Chop House must be down there toward the end of the wharf.”
“I hope we’re not on a wild goose chase, Max.”
“As hungry as I am, 99, I sort of hope we are on a wild goose chase. In fact, I’m so hungry that if I had a wild goose, I’d like to have it stuffed with a second wild goose. Or a large chicken, at the very least. I’m so starved that-”
“Max!” 99 suddenly cried, pointing. “Look! There at the end of the wharf!”
Max peered ahead. He saw a brightly-lighted building. The flashing neon sign above it said:
JOE’S AMERICAN DINER
“Saved!” Max shouted happily. “American food!”
They raced toward the diner.
“Max, see those signs on the windows!” 99 cried joyously. “See what they serve! After that horrible foreign food, isn’t that a sight for sore eyes! Look! Peanut Butter Burgers! And Rice Krispies Burgers!”
“And Marshmallow Burgers!”
“And Home-Baked Mom’s Apple Pie Burgers!”
They rushed up to the door of the diner. Max whipped the door open and they dashed in-and immediately plummeted downward.
“99, we’re falling through the air,” Max said. “We’re dropping into the water.”
“Max! What happened to the diner? It disappeared!”
“I think I can explain that, 99.”
“Blug-Blug-Blug,” Max replied, hitting the water and sinking beneath the surface.
A moment later, Max and 99 reappeared, gasping for breath. They began treading water.
“Max. . what. . what did you say?” 99 gulped.
“I said. . Blug-Blug-Blug. .”
“What does that mean?”
“It means, I think we’ve finally made contact with the KAOS agent, Whitestone. Remember? The Chief told us that he’s a master illusionist. That diner we saw didn’t really exist. It was an illusion. Whitestone used it to try to destroy us. He hoped that we’d drown.”
“Max! That’s terrible!”
“It certainly is. I had my heart set on a peanut butter burger.”
“We better get back to the dock, Max.”
“In our condition, I think you’re right. I think it’s a dry dock.”
They dogpaddled to the dock, then climbed up out of the water. “Well, at least we got where we were going,” Max said. “There’s the Chop House over there.”
99 looked. “That taxi driver was right,” she said. “That’s a den of thieves, if I ever saw one. If he’s never been down here, I wonder how he was able to describe it so well.”
“Oh, I suspect he’s been down here often enough,” Max smiled. “Those tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking cab drivers get around more than they like to admit.”
“What shall we do now, Max?”
“What else? Go in and ask for Dr. Livingstrom. That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?”
As they approached the doorway of the Chop House, a small, wizened, hobbling man came out. He was carrying an unlit cigar in one hand.
The man spoke to Max. “Got a match, Mac?”
Max hit him with a karate chop, dropping him to the sidewalk.
“Max! Why did you do that!” 99 squealed, peering down at the prostrate little man.
“99, for heaven’s sake, didn’t you recognize that? That was the old match trick. If I’d delayed for just a second, reaching for a match, he’d have fired at us with that poison gas gun.”
99 looked around. “What poison gas gun, Max?”
“The cigar. You don’t really think that’s a cigar, do you?” He bent down and picked up the cigar from where it had fallen on the sidewalk. “You see, if you unroll these tobacco leaves, inside you find. . uh. . more tobacco leaves. Well, it could have been a poison gas gun, 99. It never pays to take chances.”
The little man began to stir.
“I think we better get inside,” Max said, urging 99 on. “You can’t depend on these little short guys having a sense of humor.”
Inside, the Chop House was dimly-lighted, foul-smelling and smoke-filled. There were tables and booths, most of them occupied by fiendish-looking men and wicked-looking women. Satanic-looking waiters were snaking in and out among the tables, delivering orders. Just inside the doorway was a sign saying: No Children Allowed After 6 P.M.
“A wise policy,” Max said. “At least, they’re keeping the welfare of the community in mind.”
“What now, Max?” 99 whispered.
“Play it cool,” Max replied. “Act as if we belong here.”
With Max leading the way, they entered and sat down at a table. A waiter appeared.
“Yeah, what’ll it be?” the waiter growled.
“Our usual,” Max replied.
“Yeah? I don’t remember seeing you in here before. What’s your usual?”
“Two peanut butter burgers,” Max replied.
“And I’ll have the same,” 99 said.
The waiter stared at Max. “Now I know I ain’t never seen you before,” he said. “I ain’t never even heard of nobody that ate a thing like a peanut butter burger. Where you from, Mac? The Moon? Anyway, we don’t serve no food. Unless you want to put our free lunch in the category of food. Which hardly nobody but a tourist with a cast-iron stomach does. All what we serve is drinks. You want a drink?”
“If we’ll have to settle for that, yes,” Max replied. “Two milks.”
“On the rocks,” Max added.
The waiter shrugged and departed.
“That was close, Max,” 99 whispered. “I think he was getting suspicious-until you told him to put ice cubes in the milks.”
“Ice cubes? Is that what ‘on the rocks’ means, 99?”
“Live and learn.” He squinted his eyes, peering into the cigar and cigarette smoke, looking about the room. “I don’t see any tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking master illusionists,” he said. “We must have given that KAOS agent the slip.”
“I hope so,” 99 said. “A person who could make us see what didn’t exist-the way he made us see that diner-would be hard to handle.”
“You’re right. But I think-”
Max looked up. A small, olive-skinned man, dressed in a flowing white Arab burnoose, was standing at the table, grinning down at them.
“Permit me,” the little man said. “I am Hassan Pfeiffer, at your service.”
Max shook his head. “Whatever you’re selling, we don’t want any,” he said.
“Perhaps if I joined you at your table we could discuss the matter,” Hassan Pfeiffer said, still grinning. “My goods are in great demand. I have jewels, stolen from King Solomon’s mines. I have fresh eggs, stolen directly from under the chickens, still warm. I have teflon-coated fry pans, stolen from Macy’s Department Store, Pahzayk branch. I have-”
“No, nothing, thanks,” Max broke in.
“I have the jewel stolen from the eye of the idol.”
“No, really- Uh, what idol?”
“What difference does it make? An eye from an idol is an eye from an idol. They’re all alike. Oh, maybe one glitters a little more than another, but, at base, they’re all the same, just a hunk of worthless paste.”
“No sale,” Max said.
“I have a genuine chain-driven saxophone-the only one of its kind,” the little man went on.
“Believe me, fella, there’s nothing you could mention that would interest us.”
“I have love potions-five parts coca cola and ninety-five parts radish juice.”
Max flinched. “What does that make?”
“Depends on what you like,” the little man replied. “It’s either great radish juice or a lousy coke.”
Max shook his head again. “Nothing. Just go away.”
“I have information about missing scientists named Dr. Livingstrom.”
Max indicated a chair. “Maybe you’d like to join us.”
The little man sat down at the table with them. “What’ll it be?” he said. “Fresh eggs? Fry pans? The eye from the idol? Chain-driven saxophone? Love potion? Or, I could make you a nice little deal on the whole kit’n’kaboodle.”
“What I had in mind was about a quart of that information on missing scientists named Dr. Livingstrom,” Max said. “What would that come to?”
“In the can or in the bottle?”
Max narrowed his eyes and leaned across the table. “I think there’s something you ought to know, Hassan,” he said. “The young lady and I are not really tourists, as you appear to think. Actually, we’re crack secret agents. I’m Max Smart, Agent 86. And the young lady is Agent 99. And, as crack secret agents, we are trained to get what we want, when we want it, in any way that we can get it. Now, I don’t want to scare you. But what we want at the moment is information about a missing scientist named Dr. Livingstrom. And we will go to any lengths to get it. Is that clear?”
“Sure. You want to bargain,” Hassan smiled.
“Not exactly. What I want is that information. And I’m prepared to get ver-ry mean about it if I don’t get the information immediately-and at the lowest possible price.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” Hassan said. “I’ll give you the secret agent rate. It’s better than wholesale.” He spread his hands, grinning again. “Sure, I’m losing money. But maybe you’ll send other secret agents to me, and, in the long run, I’ll make it up.”
“Slip me a fiver.”
Max handed him the money. “Now, what do you know about Dr. Livingstrom?”
“I know that he’s the only other man in the world with a chain-driven saxophone-the only one of its kind,” Hassan replied. “It’s just like mine. I sold it to him just before he left for the interior.”
“The interior?” Max said.
“That’s what we call the inside-the-jungle-place here in Africa,” Hassan replied.
“Are you telling me that Dr. Livingstrom has gone into the jungle? How do you know?”
“I gave him directions,” Hassan answered. “I sold him the sax, then he said, ‘Incidentally, which way to the jungle?’ So, I pointed, and he took off.”
Max turned to 99. “We’ll have to form a safari,” he said.
“Right, Max,” 99 replied.
“Wrong, Max,” Hassan said. “You don’t want a safari. You know what a safari is? Strip away all the romantic gloss and all it is is a bunch of natives. You want to be responsible for a bunch of natives? Think of the paperwork. Making deductions for Social Security. Keeping track of all those income tax withholding statements. Insuring the safari against rain damage, hit and run elephants and lion attacks. Is that what you want?” He shook his head. “That’s not what you want, Max. What you want is a plain old everyday guide. One man. A guide who knows the interior like the palm of his hand.”
“He may be right, Max,” 99 said.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I think he is,” Max said. “After all, we are on a secret mission. And if you tell a safari a thing like that, before long the whole country knows it. I saw that happen once.”
“Really, Max?” 99 said, surprised. “I didn’t know you’d been to the jungle before.”
“I wasn’t in the jungle, 99. I saw it happen to a Great White Hunter in a Tarzan movie.” He turned back to Hassan. “I suppose, just by coincidence, you happen to know where we can find a guide,” he said.
“Just by coincidence, I happen to have one right here in my Arab costume.”
“Your burnoose, you mean,” Max said.
“Is that what it’s called? Okay, in my burnoose, then.”
Max leaned forward again. “Where?”
“Me,” Hassan grinned.
Max looked at him narrowly once more. “I don’t know, Hassan. Somehow, I don’t trust you. No offense intended, of course.”
“Perhaps if I tell you something more you will believe me,” Hassan said. “I will tell you why Dr. Livingstrom went into the interior. He went in search of a rare plant-the Dog Rose. It grows only here in New Ghirzy, and only in the interior. He needs it for a new dish he is inventing.”
‘That’s Dr. Livingstrom, all right,” Max said. “All right, Hassan, I believe you-you did meet him and you did talk to him. At first, frankly, I doubted you. But, you’re hired. Your information proves, I think, that we can trust you.” He extended a hand. “Shall we shake on it?”
Hassan took his hand and pumped it. “You have made me a very happy guide,” he said. “It is such a good feeling to be trusted.”
“Ah. . Hassan. .”
“I’d like to have my ring back, please. It stuck to your fingers when we shook hands.”
“Sorry about that,” Hassan grinned. “It was a mistake. I recently removed some chocolate-covered cherries from a breast of white dove, and my fingers are still sticky.”
Early the next morning, by prior arrangement, Max and 99 met Hassan Pfeiffer at the edge of the jungle. Hassan, as he had promised, had brought the supplies they would need for the long trek into the interior.
“Let’s see what we have here,” Max said, inspecting the supplies. “A dozen cans of peaches. . a fly swatter. . a number of-” He looked back over his shoulder at Hassan. “A fly swatter?”
“For malaria,” Hassan explained.
“I don’t think I quite understand that.”
“With the fly swatter, you swat the tsetse fly before it bites you. That way, you don’t get malaria.”
“Good idea,” Max said. “I wonder why the scientists didn’t think of that.” He turned his attention back to the supplies. “Another dozen cans of peaches. A can of-”
There was a ringing sound.
“There’s the doorbell,” Hassan said.
“No, Hassan, that’s my shoe,” Max explained. “You see, actually, it’s a telephone. I think my chief is calling me.”
Max removed his shoe and put it to his ear.
Max: Yes, Chief?
Chief: Max, I was getting a little worried. I haven’t heard from you.
Max: We’re A-OK, Chief. Nothing to worry about. We’ve found out that Dr. Livingstrom has gone into the jungle, and we’ve hired ourselves a native guide and we’re about to set out to find him.
Operator: That’s not how Arnold would do it. Arnold would form a safari.
Max: Sure. And get himself tied up in a lot of paperwork. I don’t doubt it. Incidentally, Chief. . have you rejected Arnold yet?
Chief: I haven’t even seen him, Max.
Operator: That’s impossible. He started out for Headquarters two days ago.
Chief: Maybe he got lost.
Operator: No. His mother was with him.
Max: She’s right, Chief. 99 and I met Arnold and his mother outside headquarters two days ago. The last time I saw him, he was entering the building. But, frankly, judging from what I saw of him, if he hasn’t turned up, it’s no great loss.
Operator: Chief, look around-he must be there somewhere.
Chief: I’ll send out a search party. Max-are you still there? Have you seen that KAOS agent yet?
Max: Not exactly, Chief. But we have made contact. He lured us into a hamburger joint that wasn’t there and for a second we were in danger of drowning.
Operator: Arnold would never drown in a hamburger joint.
Chief: Keep your eyes open, Max. And don’t believe anything you see. It may be an illusion.
Max: I’ll remember that, Chief.
Chief: Good luck, Max.
Operator: Never mind about him, Chief. Go look for Arnold.
Max hung up and slipped his shoe back onto his foot.
“Well, are we ready?” he said to 99 and Hassan.
“You haven’t finished checking the supplies, Max,” 99 said.
“There’s no more time for that,” Max replied. “Besides, I trust Hassan. It’s very important, 99, to trust your guide. After all, when you go into the jungle, you’re putting your life in your guide’s hands. If you don’t trust him, you shouldn’t be going into the jungle with him in the first place. Right?”
“That makes sense, Max.”
“All right, then, as the natives say-‘Mush!’ ”
Hassan loaded the pack containing the supplies on his back, and led the way into the undergrowth. Max and 99 followed close at his heels. The going soon became extremely difficult. Jungle vines criss-crossed the trail, forming an almost impenetrable barrier. Hassan had to hack the path through the vines with a machete.
“It is very tough going,” Hassan panted.
“It’s a wonder they haven’t built a highway through here,” Max said.
“The highway is about a mile to the east of here,” Hassan replied.
Max halted. “There’s a highway? Then why aren’t we using it?”
“The traffic is terrible,” Hassan explained. “This way is faster.”
“I guess I know what you mean,” Max said. “We have the same trouble in Washington at rush hour.”
“Max. .” 99 said uneasily, “I know we’re supposed to trust Hassan, but. . Well, if Dr. Livingstrom came this way, didn’t he clear a path? And, if he cleared a path, why is it that we have to clear a path again?”
Max put a finger to his lips and shook his head.
“99, please,” Max said, speaking softly, “you’ll offend Hassan. You’re as much as intimating that he’s not telling us the truth.”
“But, Max,” 99 whispered, “I don’t understand. Why do we have to clear a path where a path has already been cleared?”
“It’s obvious,” Max replied. “This isn’t the way Dr. Livingstrom went. He probably took the highway. But, don’t forget, he’s days ahead of us. We have a lot of catching up to do.”
“That’s why we’re hacking our way through the jungle?”
“Right. You heard what Hassan said about the highway. This is the shortcut.”
“Instead of wasting your time questioning Hassan’s truthfulness, think about that notation that was found in Dr. Livingstrom’s laboratory,” Max said. “If we can figure out that formula, we won’t need Dr. Livingstrom.”
“All right, Max. Let’s see,” she mused, “Brassica Oleracia-212°. What could that be?”
“Let’s try it syllable by syllable,” Max said. “Now, the first syllable is ‘brass’. Brass is a metal. Iron is also a metal. Maybe Dr. Livingstrom created the odor by leaving the iron on and scorching a shirt. That makes a terrible smell.”
“I don’t think that’s it, Max.”
“99, we have to try every possibility. Only by leaving no stone unturned-”
They had entered a small clearing. Hassan stopped, breathing heavily. “We will rest here,” he said.
“Good idea,” Max agreed. “Let me help you get that pack off your back.”
“You’re a nice secret agent,” Hassan smiled.
Max placed the pack on a large rock. “Now then,” he said. “Brassica Oleracia-212°. If we transpose the letters, substituting-”
He was interrupted by a ringing sound.
“There’s the doorbell again,” Hassan said.
“My telephone,” Max corrected, removing his shoe.
Max: Yes, Chief. What is it?
Voice: Yes, Chief, what? Is Hazel there?
Max: Is that you again? You’ve made the same mistake. You’ve dialed a wrong number.
Voice: Who is this? The dummy?
Max: No, the dummy telephone is back at Headquarters. At the moment, I’m talking on my shoe.
Voice: That’s what I thought-I got the dummy again. Look, dummy, when Hazel comes in, will you have her call Fred?
Max: You don’t-
(the line went dead)
Max put his shoe back on his foot. “The next time he calls,” he grumbled, “I’m not even going to answer.”
“Max!” 99 suddenly shrieked. “Our supplies! The pack! Look! It’s gone!”
Max stared at the rock. The pack, indeed, had disappeared.
“Whitestone!” he said.
“White?” Hassan said. “That rock isn’t white. It’s more like an off-gray.”
“Hassan, there’s something I’d better tell you,” Max said grimly. “We have an enemy-a secret agent who works for the Bad Guys. His name is Whitestone. And, apparently, he has followed us into the jungle. He has the ability to make things look like they’re really not. That rock, for instance, is obviously not a rock.”
Hassan bent forward, looking closely at the rock. Then he looked back at Max. “Sure,” he grinned. “I see it now. It’s not a rock, it’s a roast duck-right?”
“No, it isn’t a roast duck,” Max replied. “I know, it’s hard to believe that that rock is anything but a rock, but take my word for it-Whitestone is somewhere nearby, and, by magic, he’s making us think that whatever it is that’s sitting there is a rock. In fact, however- Look, I’ll prove it to you.” He took a capsule from his pocket. Reading the label on the capsule, he said, “We won’t need this. It’s a duplicate of the football stadium at the University of Oklahoma-in miniaturized form, of course.” He placed the capsule on the rock. Slowly, it disappeared. “There you are,” he said to Hassan. “Are you convinced?”
Hassan blinked, astounded. “Son of a gun!”
“Max, what is that rock, really?” 99 said.
“Elementary, my dear 99,” Max replied. “Actually, that rock is a patch of quicksand.”
“Amazing!” 99 said.
“More than that. Terrible,” Hassan said. “Our supplies are gone. We have no food. We have no water. We’re doomed.”
“Not quite,” Max smiled. “I imagine that R amp; D has anticipated an emergency such as this.” He got a handful of capsules from his pocket. “Let’s see what we have here.” He began reading the labels. “A fully-armed Coast Guard cutter. A squadron of World War I fighter planes-with pilots. A landing strip for a squadron of World War I fighter planes. Twenty-nine years’ back issues of the Sunday New York Times. A- Ah, here’s what we want. A complete field kitchen and a year’s supply of food and water. This ought to take care of our problem. I’ll just-”
He was interrupted by a ringing sound.
“Somebody get the doorbell,” Hassan said.
“Excuse me,” Max said, placing the capsules on the rock. “That was my phone.”
He took off his shoe and put it to his ear.
Max: Chief? Is that you?
Voice: Chief who? This is Hazel. Any messages for me?
Max: You’re to call Fred.
Voice: Got it.
Max hung up. “Now then, I’ll just-”
“Max, you put the capsules on the rock,” 99 said woefully. “They disappeared.”
“I don’t care for your tone, 99,” Max said woundedly. “It’s a mistake anybody could have made.”
“We’re sunk!” Hassan groaned.
“Not at all,” Max said. “True, without food and water our mission is going to be more of a challenge, but we are definitely not sunk. Eventually, we’ll reach a native village. When we do, we can stock up on food and water again. Our duty now, as I see it, is to push on. Hassan-which way do we go from here?”
“That way looks like a good way,” Hassan replied, pointing. “But then, on the other hand, that other way looks like a good way, too. I guess it’s a toss-up.”
“Some guide,” 99 said. “You’re supposed to know the way.”
He shrugged. “That’s what you get when you get a cheap guide.”
“Never mind,” Max said. “I’ll just climb up here on this rock and see if I can spot a trail.”
“Max!” 99 screamed.
But the warning was too late. Max was sinking slowly beneath the surface.
“99!” he called. “Give me a hand!”
Frantically, 99 reached out and got hold of his hand.
She pulled. But Max remained stuck in the quicksand.
“Max, you’ll have to help!” 99 cried.
“All right-I’ll pull.”
He pulled. And 99 joined him in the quicksand.
“I don’t think that was a very good idea, 99,” Max said, as they both sank deeper and deeper into the mire.
“Max! Don’t criticize! Do something!”
“Hassan!” Max commanded. “Get a pole! Quick!”
“I know just the place,” Hassan said. “A little shop that specializes in poles. I know the owner. He’ll give me a good deal.”
“Hurry!” Max cried.
Hassan dashed off into the jungle.
“Where are you going!” Max called.
“To the shop.”
“Where is it?”
“Back in Pahzayk!” Hassan called back, disappearing into the underbrush.
“A lot of good that’ll do,” Max grumbled. “But, at least, his heart’s in the right place. He’s trying to save us money.”
“Max, what good will money do us? We’re sinking. We’ll be gone by the time Hassan gets back.”
“You’re right, 99. Maybe we better leave a message for him. I wouldn’t want him to think we ran out on him.”
“Forget about Hassan, Max! Think about us!”
“99, for every problem, there’s a solution. That’s elementary logic.”
“We’re almost up to our chins, Max. What’s the solution to that?”
“Let’s stand on tippy-toes.”
“Oh, Max. . Max. . we’re going fast, Max,” 99 wept. “Good-bye, Max.”
“Hold on, 99! The capsules! I still have a number of them in my pocket. Maybe one of them will provide a means for getting us out of this.”
“Can you get them, Max?”
“Yes. . I think. .” He pulled his arm up out of the quicksand. His hand was clutching a half-dozen capsules. “I have them!”
“What are they, Max?”
“Let me see. I’ll scrape the quicksand off this label, and. . do we have any use for a snow plow, 99?”
She peered up toward the sky. “It doesn’t look much like snow, Max. Try another capsule.”
Max read another label. “A yoke of oxen?”
“I don’t think there’d be room in here for all of us,” 99 said. “Keep trying.”
“A dinner service for twelve?” Max said, reading again.
“Oh, Max, it’s no use. Hassan was right-we’re sunk!”
“No, 99, we’re saved! Here’s the capsule that contains twelve thousand gallons of liquid plastic. I’ll just press this button, and-”
Max sprayed the surface of the quicksand with plastic. Instantly, it hardened.
“Max! We are! We’re saved!” 99 cried happily.
With a hard surface to use as leverage, Max and 99 pulled themselves from the quicksand, then walked across the plastic to dry ground.
“Good old R amp; D,” Max said. “They think of everything-eventually.”
At that moment, Hassan came rushing back. He was gasping for breath. “I was half-way there,” he panted.
“You don’t have the pole,” Max pointed out. “What happened?”
“I had to come back,” Hassan said. “You didn’t tell me what size pole. A short pole? A long pole? You didn’t say. If I’d got a short pole, it might not have reached. And if I’d got a long pole, it might have been too long. We’d have had a length of pole that we couldn’t use. And this pole shop won’t accept returns. It’s cash and carry. You’re stuck with all the pole you buy, whether you need it or not. You can see the problem I had?”
Max turned to 99. “See? I told you he was trustworthy. How many guides do you find these days who think about expenses?”
“He’s a jewel,” 99 said dryly.
“Well, I see you’re safe,” Hassan smiled. “Shall we push on now?”
“Yes, and quickly,” Max said. “Every moment that we delay we’re losing ground. Dr. Livingstrom already has several days head start on us. Hassan, is there a native village anywhere nearby? We’re still in need of food and water.”
“There should be one around here somewhere,” Hassan replied. “Why don’t you climb up on that rock and look around.”
“Good idea. I’ll- No, on second thought, that isn’t such a good idea, Hassan. You’re forgetting something. That rock is really a patch of quicksand.”
“Slipped my mind,” Hassan said apologetically.
“Just watch it,” Max warned. “If you were responsible for getting me caught in that quicksand again, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to overlook it-in spite of your excellent record, to date, on keeping expenses down.”
“I understand,” Hassan replied, looking sheepish. “And, in the future, I will do as you say-I will watch it. In my country, we have a saying: The bird that flies down the chimney will never be served breakfast in bed.”
“Yes. . well, that’s a nice little saying,” Max nodded. “What exactly does it mean?”
“What it says,” Hassan replied.
Max nodded again. “I see. And, come to think of it, it makes a lot of sense. Any bird who flew down a chimney probably would be in no condition to eat even if it were served breakfast in bed.” He turned to 99. “We’re very fortunate, 99,” he said. “Not only do we have a guide who watches the pennies, but, in Hassan, we also have a sage, a wise man and an all ’round good Joe.”
“He’s a jewel,” 99 said sourly.
Hassan wielded the machete once more, and, slowly but surely, the three penetrated deeper and deeper into the jungle. As time wore on, however, the difficulty of proceeding increased. Without water, and plagued by the steamy heat of the jungle, Max and 99 grew weak. Hassan, though, did not appear to be suffering.
“Hassan, aren’t we about to that native village?” Max said.
“I think we must have missed it,” Hassan replied. “We probably should have made a left turn back there at that giraffe.”
“Why don’t they post signs in this jungle!” Max said irritably.
“They do,” Hassan replied. “But they drop off when the giraffes lower their necks.”
“Hassan,” 99 said suspiciously, “how is it that this heat and the lack of water isn’t affecting you?”
“I was fortunate in my choice of ancestors,” Hassan replied. “My great-great-great-great-grandmother was a camel. I am able to travel for weeks without water.”
99 looked at him doubtfully. “Your great-great-great-great-grandmother was a camel? That’s hard to believe.”
“No, there’s nothing unusual about that,” Max said to her. “I have a grandfather, myself, who’s an Elk. And another who’s a Moose. And my father, as a matter of fact, is a member of the Lions Club.”
99 halted. “Max, I can’t go another step,” she groaned. “I need water.”
Max and Hassan stopped, too.
“As I recall from my Boy Scout training, it’s sometimes possible to squeeze water from plants,” Max said. “It won’t hurt to try, anyway. Even if we got only a few drops, that would be a help.”
Max snapped off a plant at the stem and squeezed it in his fist, holding his other hand under it. A drop of liquid fell into his palm, then another, and another.
“It’s coming, 99!” Max said triumphantly.
The drips began to fall faster. Max cupped his hand. The liquid flowed from the plant, gushing into his hand. Max’s cup ranneth over. Water poured into the jungle.
“Man the lifeboats!” Max shouted.
“Max, for heaven’s sake,” 99 said, “don’t you see what’s happening?”
Oddly, 99 and Hassan seemed unaffected by the flood.
“Secret agents first!” Max cried in panic as the water rose.
A four-masted schooner skimmed by.
“Send help!” Max called after it.
“Max, no!” 99 said. “Keep your head!”
The water rose higher. Max began dogpaddling.
An ark, stocked with animals, floated by.
“Noah! Wait for Max!” Max bellowed. “You’ll need me. My grandfather was an Elk. My other grandfather was a Moose. My father is a Lion.”
“Max, it’s an illusion!” 99 said. “It’s a trick!”
He looked at her blankly for an instant, then, pained, said, “Oh.”
The water vanished.
“99, I wish you hadn’t done that,” Max said crankily. “Why did you have to tell me right then that the water was an illusion?”
“There wasn’t any water, Max,” 99 insisted. “Whitestone was playing a trick on you.”
“I know that, 99. But you could at least have waited until we’d all had a drink.”
“I’m sorry, Max. I guess I just wasn’t thinking.”
“Well, anyway, some good came of it,” Max said. “Now we have a trail to follow.” He pointed. “Right over there. That ark plowed a big hole right through the underbrush. Good old Noah!”
Hassan took the lead again, and once more the three began hacking and clawing their way through the jungle. From overhead came the chattering of monkeys and the hissing of snakes. And from the surrounding undergrowth came the cries of other animals, lions, tigers, elephants and hyenas.
“Why are the animals making all that racket?” Max asked Hassan.
“They’re telling the animals up ahead that we’re on our way,” Hassan replied.
“Really? What for?”
“Just a matter of interest,” he replied. “Most of these animals have never seen a secret agent before.”
“Oh.” Max turned to 99. “It’s a good thing the animals don’t keep zoos,” he said. “We might be in trouble.”
Hassan suddenly halted, peering through the underbrush.
“What is it?” Max said.
“Up ahead-a veldt,” Hassan replied.
Max faced back to 99 again. “There’s a veldt up ahead,” he said. “Be very quiet. We may be able to slip past it.”
“Max. . what is a veldt?”
“I’m not sure. Just a minute, I’ll ask Hassan.” He tapped the guide on the shoulder. “Hassan. . what exactly is a veldt?”
“It’s what you Americans would call a prairie-an open stretch of field,” Hassan replied.
Max turned back to 99 once more. “You can forget about being quiet, 99,” he said. “A veldt isn’t dangerous.”
“I’m not sure about this one,” Hassan said, moving forward again. “It could be very dangerous.”
A moment later they reached the edge of a wide open space. It was crawling with tiny ants. And they were emitting a high-pitched squeaking sound.
“Just what I was afraid of,” Hassan said. “We’re stopped. We’ll have to turn back.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Max said. “Those are only ants.”
“Ants with a difference,” Hassan said. “These are man-eating ants. Hear that sound they’re making? They’re talking about us.”
Max cocked an ear. “As a matter of fact, I think I did hear my name mentioned.”
“They’re arguing over who’ll get the drumsticks,” Hassan said.
Max shuddered. “I think you’re right-we better turn back.”
“Max, we can’t!” 99 said. “Our mission comes first. We must go on-even if it costs us our lives.”
“You’re right, 99.”
“If we try to cross this veldt, we’ll be eaten alive,” Hassan said. “We must turn back.”
“You’re right, Hassan,” Max said.
“But, Max, the Chief is depending on us,” 99 said. “We must go on!”
“99, you’re right.”
“It would be suicide,” Hassan said. “We must turn back.”
“Hassan, you’re entirely right.”
“Max, will you make up your mind?” 99 said. “We can’t do both-go forward and go back, too. Which will it be?”
“Couldn’t we just stay right here?” Max suggested.
“Max, no. You must make a decision. Forward or back.”
Scowling, Max studied the man-eating ants. “Forward,” he decided. “Hassan, I think you’re wrong about those ants. I don’t think they’ve spotted us. If they had, why haven’t they attacked?”
“You may be right,” Hassan replied. “But if we try to cross the veldt, they’ll see us for sure.”
“Not if my plan works out,” Max said. “I propose that we very carefully step between them. They’re so busy, they probably won’t even notice us.”
Hassan shrugged, accepting the decision. “It’s your drumstick,” he said.
This time, Max led the way. Paying particular attention to where he stepped, he started across the veldt. 99 followed. And Hassan brought up the rear.
“It’s working,” Max said. “They don’t even know we’re here.”
“Careful, Max!” 99 warned.
“Don’t worry about me, 99. I have the lightest step of any agent in Control. When I was in basic training I was known as twinkle-toes. I remember-”
There was a sudden piercing screech!
“Max! You stepped on an ant!”
“That’s impossible. I-”
Max was suddenly tossed high in the air. Looking down, he saw that the veldt was now crawling with enormous African elephants.
“Max!” 99 shrieked. “It was a trick!”
Max landed with a thud.
“The ants were an illusion, Max!” 99 said. “They’re really elephants!”
“Yes,” Max said, rising. “The old ants-disguised-as-elephants trick.”
“I think we better run,” Hassan said nervously. “The elephants are going to charge.”
The three began running across the veldt. The elephants gave chase, trumpeting wildly.
“Head for the jungle!” Max called from his position in the lead.
“Max, it’s too far! We’ll never make it!” 99 cried.
“The elephants are gaining!” Hassan shouted.
“This calls for strategy,” Max said. “Does anyone have a peanut we could throw them?”
“Not me, Max.”
“Wouldn’t you know it?” Hassan said woefully. “A half-dozen chain-driven saxophones-each one the only one of its kind-but not a single peanut.”
“In that case, we’ll have to switch strategies,” Max said. “This calls, I think, for breaking the record for the long distance run.”
“Max. . the elephants are gaining!”
“They’re just trying to help us break that record, 99.”
There was a ringing sound.
“Somebody get the doorbell,” Hassan said.
“No, I suspect that’s another wrong number,” Max said.
Hopping on one foot, Max removed his shoe, then continued running, while putting the shoe to his ear.
Max: Smart, here. And if you’re calling for Hazel, I already gave her your message.
Chief: Max, what the devil are you talking about?
Max: Oh. . sorry, Chief. I thought you were Fred. Chief, could you call back a little later? I’m in a bit of a spot right now. 99 and I and our guide, Hassan, are being pursued across a veldt by a herd of ants.
Operator: You wouldn’t catch Arnold running from an ant.
Max: Ants twelve feet tall? Ants with tranks and tusks?
Chief: Max, you’re describing elephants.
Operator: What did I tell you, Chief! Max just can’t cut the mustard any more. He doesn’t know an ant from an elephant. You wouldn’t catch Arnold making a mistake like that. Give him that question on the examination, Chief. Ask him the difference between an ant and an elephant. He gets that question every time.
Chief: Operator, your brother-in-law, Arnold, hasn’t even showed up yet.
Max: Chief. . Operator. . do you mind? I’m being chased by a herd of elephants. Can’t we discuss this later?
Operator: Why do you hate Arnold, Max?
Max: I don’t hate Arnold, Operator. I just happen to have something more important to do right now.
Operator: If you don’t hate him, why do you get nudgy every time I mention his name?
Max: Believe me, Operator, I do not hate Arnold.
Operator: Then will you do him a little favor?
Max: Yes, yes, what is it?
Operator: Let the elephants trample you, Max.
Max hung up. Hopping on one foot again, he put his shoe back on.
“Max. .” 99 panted. “I can’t go on. . I’m too weak. .”
“99, just keep going for another few minutes. Look-there at the edge of the jungle! A native! He’s motioning to us. If we can just reach that native we’ll be safe!”
“Max. . I. .”
99 stumbled and fell to the ground.
Quickly, Max helped her to her feet. They raced on. But the elephants were only a few yards behind them now, and gaining.
“Max. . do something. .”
“I don’t have a weapon, 99. What can I do?”
“I don’t know. . but. . oh, Max, I can’t run another step!”
“Hold on, 99! I’ll try this capsule of plastic spray.”
“Max. . I’m falling!”
Max scooped 99 up into his arms, and, carrying her, ran on.
The elephants were only a few feet behind them, trumpeting triumphantly.
“Max! The spray!”
“I can’t, 99! I have my hands full!”
“Then give me the capsule!”
“I can’t, 99. It’s in my hand, and my hand is full of you. If I open my hand to give you the capsule, I’ll drop you. And, anyway, 99, it’s too late.”
“What do you mean, Max?”
“My legs won’t run any more, 99. I’m fallllllling!”
Max and 99 hit the ground together. They landed on top of the capsule. The capsule shot a spray of plastic behind them. The plastic spread out over the ground, and instantly hardened, stopping the elephants in their tracks, fixing them solid. Then, abruptly, the elephants vanished.
“Max! It was an illusion!” 99 groaned. “There weren’t any elephants!”
“And a good thing, too,” Max said, rising. “We’d have had a devil of a time prying those elephants loose from that plastic.”
“Why would we want to do a thing like that, Max?”
“99, we couldn’t have left them there like that. That would be a terrible thing to do. They’d never forgive us. Elephants have long memories, you know.”
Hassan tugged at Max’s sleeve. “That native,” he said, pointing. “He is approaching. Perhaps we had better start running again.”
Max peered at the native, who was dressed in a costume of brightly-colored feathers.
“He looks friendly enough to me,” Max said.
“We better not take a chance,” Hassan said. “This is cannibal territory.”
“Nonsense,” Max said. “He’s smiling.”
“Smiling? I think he is licking his lips,” Hassan murmured.
The native reached them, and stood grinning at them.
Max raised a hand as a sign of friendship. “Me bwana Max Smart, Agent 86,” he said. He indicated 99 and Hassan. “And this is bwana Agent 99 and bwana Hassan Pfeiffer. We travel many suns through jungle. We no catchum food, no catchum water. You show us place catchum food, catchum water, we pay you plenty big wampum-chain-driven saxophone, only one of kind.”
“Crazy, dad,” the native replied, grinning even more broadly. “You’re just in time for the cooky break. Come on back to the castle with me, man-you and your chick and your sideman-and we’ll put on the feedbag.”
Max turned to 99 and Hassan. “It’s just no use,” he said. “We can’t communicate.”
“No, Max, I think I understood him,” 99 said. “He says it’s time for lunch. And he’s inviting us to his home, or his village, or someplace, to eat with him.”
“Amazing!” Max said. “I didn’t know you spoke Native, 99.”
“I don’t, Max. He’s speaking a kind of English.”
“Yeh, dad,” the native said to Max. “I matriculated in the States.”
“There he goes again,” Max said. “Pure gibberish.”
“He means he went to school in the United States, Max,” 99 translated.
“Oh, really?” Max said, facing the native again. “I don’t recognize the jargon. Where in the States did you go to school?”
“Boston, dad. Funny you don’t catchum the accent.”
“Please,” 99 said to the native, “could you take us to your whatever-it-is, now? I’m starved.”
“Fall in, chick,” the native replied. “We’ll double-time it.”
“Now that you mention it, there is an accent there,” Max said.
The native led the way, and, trotting, the four of them followed a trail that took them quickly through the jungle. A few minutes later they came to a native village, a clearing that was surrounded by a circle of grass huts. The native escorted them into the center of the clearing. Immediately, other natives poured from the huts and gathered around them, cheering happily and shouting greetings.
“I guess they’ve never seen a secret agent before,” Max said.
“No, that’s not it,” their friend told them. “That cheering is for me, not you.”
“Is that a fact?” Max said. “What have you done?”
“I’ve returned successfully,” their friend replied.
“Oh. Out on a mission, were you?”
“Yes. I was out shopping for lunch.”
“Really? Well, what did you bring back?”
“You,” their friend grinned. “You’re lunch.”
“Max! They’re cannibals!” 99 shrieked.
Max smiled smugly. “Nothing to worry about, 99.”
“But, Max! Didn’t you hear what he said? They’re going to have us for lunch!”
“99, this is simply another illusion. There are no natives here. There is no village. None of this exists. Whitestone is trying to play another trick on us. He thinks we’ll panic and bolt and hightail it back to Pahzayk. Just keep your wits about you, 99. This will all be over in a moment.”
“I hope you’re right, Max.”
“99, have I ever been-”
At that moment, their friend signalled to a foursome of native men and they jumped Max and 99 and Hassan and dragged them off toward a hut.
“Max! Is it still an illusion?” 99 cried.
“99, everybody makes mistakes,” Max replied. “Nobody’s perfect, you know.”
The natives wrestled them into the hut, shoved them to the floor, then bound them hand and foot. After the natives had gone, their friend entered the hut.
“You’re making a big mistake!” Max told him. “This young lady and I are American citizens. Wait’ll the American Ambassador hears about this!”
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll get a message from him, dad,” their friend smiled. “He always sends us a thank-you note.”
“A thank-you note?” Max said incredulously.
“Yeh, man. Why not? We always send him a drumstick.”
Max sighed. “Well, if we have to go,” he said to 99 and Hassan, “I guess this is the way to do it. At least, we’ll know we died for a good cause.”
“What cause, Max, for heaven’s sake?” 99 said.
“To feed the hungry.”
Just then, another native entered the hut. He, too, was dressed in colorful feathers. But he was also wearing a high, white chef’s hat.
“This is Pierre,” their friend said to Max, 99 and Hassan. “He’s in charge of the pot.”
“Hi, victims,” Pierre grinned. “What’s cookin’?”
“I suppose you matriculated in Boston, too,” Max said.
“In Paris, dad,” Pierre replied. “Funny you didn’t catchum the accent.” He bent down and pinched Max on the arm. “Tender,” he enthused. “A little gristle around the muscle-but it’ll boil down.” Next, he pinched 99’s arm. “Ooooo-la-la!” he said, “five minutes over the fire, and this one’ll just melt in your mouth.”
“Why, thank you,” 99 blushed.
“99, don’t let them brainwash you,” Max warned. “Think tough.”
Pierre pinched Hassan, and made a disagreeable face. “This one goes out with the garbage,” he said. “One bite out of him and a man wouldn’t have a tooth left in his head.”
Their friend untied Hassan and shoved him rudely out the door.
“You just made your first mistake,” Max said. “It so happens that that fellow you just let go is a four-star general in the New Ghirzy Army. And in about five minutes he will be back here with a troop of New Ghirzy Marines. So, if you know what’s good for yourselves, you’ll untie us, too, then light out for the hills.”
Their friend laughed. “A general? That little dishrag? He wouldn’t have brains enough to come in out of a bombardment.”
Max eyed him narrowly. “Would you believe, then, that he’s a captain in the Pahzayk police force, and that in five minutes he’ll be back here with a squad of foot patrolmen?”
Their friend shook his head. “Believability-wise, dad, it’s nowhere,” he said.
“Then would you believe that he’s the doorman at the Pahzayk Hilton and that in five minutes he’ll be back with a gaggle of chambermaids?”
“I can only say I hope so,” their friend replied. “As it stands, man, we got nothing for dessert. Chambermaid a la mode would hit the spot.”
“It’s no use, Max,” 99 wept. “Our goose is cooked.”
“That may be so, 99,” Max replied. “But I think there must be some better way of putting it.”
“Talk, talk, talk,” Pierre complained. “I just wish that once I’d get a roast that would keep it’s mouth shut.” He turned to Max’s and 99’s Mend. “Okay, let’s put them in the pot.”
Their friend untied the ropes at their feet, then helped them up. When they were upright, he steered them out of the hut. A large iron pot had been placed in the center of the clearing. Natives were piling wood around it.
“Oh, Max!” 99 wailed. “That pot is for us.”
“Courage, 99. Maybe nobody will have a match.”
When they reached the pot they saw that it was full of water.
“Last one in has to hold the vegetables,” Pierre said.
“You mean you want us to get into that pot, clothes and all?” Max said.
“What else?” Pierre replied. “All the vitamins are in the clothes.”
“And suppose we refuse?” Max said.
Their friend picked up Max and popped him into the pot. And Pierre picked up 99 and put her in beside him.
“I guess that answers my question,” Max said.
Another native joined the party. He was carrying a suitcase, which he placed on the ground, then opened. The suitcase was filled with miniature apothecary jars that contained herbs and spices.
“Sit down in the pot,” Pierre commanded Max and 99. “You don’t want to come out underdone on your top end, do you?”
“I’ll stand, if it’s all the same to you,” Max said.
Pierre pushed him down into the water. “What kind of a stew are you? Don’t you have any pride?” He reached down to the open suitcase and got a salt shaker and a pepper shaker, then salted and peppered Max and 99 thoroughly. After that, he shook some cloves out of a jar into his hand, and held out his hand to them. “Stuff these in your ears,” he said.
“Now, just a darn minute!” Max said testily. “I happen to know a little bit about cooking myself, and cloves in the ears just isn’t done!”
Pierre offered the cloves again. “How about between the toes?”
“Never!” Max said indignantly. “But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll-”
He was unable to complete the suggestion. The village was suddenly pervaded by a terrible odor. The natives grasped their throats, choking. Panic seized them; they scattered, running into the jungle.
“Max! It’s horrible!” 99 cried, her eyes watering.
“Quick, 99! Dive under the water! And hold your nose!”
Max and 99 ducked beneath the surface. They remained submerged until they could no longer hold their breath. Then, gasping for air, they raised their heads above the water.
“It’s wave naw, wine-wine,” Max said.
“I can’t understand you, Max,” 99 said. “You’re still holding your nose.”
“Oh. I said, it’s safe now, 99.”
“Max, what was that odor?” 99 said. “It was terrible!”
“Elementary, my dear 99,” Max replied. “That terrible odor that panicked the natives of this village was the same terrible odor that, a few weeks ago, panicked the natives of that small village in England. Do you realize what that means, 99? It means that Dr. Livingstrom is somewhere in the vicinity. It was an ill wind that carried that odor to us.”
“Max, it saved our lives. The natives all ran away.”
“Well, it was a nice ill wind.”
“Where is the odor now, Max?”
“Obviously, the wind has shifted. The odor has gone back to where it came from.”
“Oh, Max, if we only knew where!”
“We’ll find it, 99.”
“By using the oldest tracking method in the book, 99,” Max replied confidently. “We’ll just follow our noses.”
Using a spear that one of the natives had left behind, Max and 99 cut the ropes that bound their hands. Then they ran from the village, wanting to get a good distance away before any of the inhabitants returned. Finally, they stopped again.
“Which way now, Max?” 99 said.
Max sniffed the air. “There’s still a slight scent of that terrible odor in the atmosphere,” he said. “It seems to be coming from over there. . and, uh, over there. . and over there. . and over there.”
“Max, that’s all four directions. How can we go all four ways at once?”
“I suppose we could split up,” Max said.
“Two of us? Four ways?”
“Yes, I see what you mean. That will be difficult. This is one of those times, apparently, 99, when we’re unfortunate not to have split personalities.”
“Since we don’t, Max, what’s the solution?”
“We’ll just have to wait right here, 99, until one of those scents becomes stronger than the others. That will be the one to follow.”
“I guess you’re right,” 99 said. “But it seems like such a shame. We’re so close. Waiting is such a waste of time.”
“No, I don’t think it will be,” Max said. “We can use the time to deal with our other problem. Don’t forget, 99, Whitestone, the KAOS agent, is still on the loose. In fact, he’s probably hot on our trail. And before we can be successful at this mission, I think it will be necessary to put our adversary out of the game.”
“You’re probably right, Max.”
“Of course I’m right. Suppose we were closing in on Dr. Livingstrom and suddenly, out of nowhere, a parade appeared. You know I can’t resist a parade, 99. The blare of the horns! The beat of the drums! I’d have to stop. And, while I stood there cheering, Whitestone might make off with Dr. Livingstrom.”
“But, Max, you’d know it was an illusion. We’re out in the middle of the jungle. And this isn’t a holiday. There’d be no excuse for a parade.”
“99, people who march in parades don’t need an excuse.”
“I see what you mean, Max. You’re right, we better deal with Whitestone. But how? We haven’t even seen him yet.”
“We know that he’s following us, though,” Max pointed out. “So. . we’ll set a trap for him.”
“He won’t be easy to snare, Max.”
“It may not be all that difficult,” Max said. “What’s the first rule when setting a trap for an intelligent animal like man?”
“Always punt on the fourth down?”
“No, 99. The rule is: Know your victim. And what is it that we know about Whitestone? We know that he’s an ex-vaudevillian. What does that suggest?”
“Offering him a booking on the Ed Sullivan show?”
“You’re on the right track-but you’re in the wrong jungle. What do you think would happen if we set up a spotlight here in this clearing? I’ll tell you what would happen. Whitestone would see it and he’d be unable to resist it. Ex-vaudevillians are the same about spotlights as I am about parades. He’d march into the spotlight and go into his act. And we’d have him!”
“I don’t know, Max. .”
“Trust me, 99. I put in a little time on the stage myself, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know that, Max. When?”
“In the third grade at Daniel Webster Elementary School. I was the hit of the class hi jinks. Offers poured in from all over the country. Offers from Hollywood. From Broadway. From off-Broadway.”
“Why didn’t you go, Max?”
“My mother wouldn’t let me. She thought it might be embarrassing. You see, I hadn’t quite licked toilet training yet.”
“Too bad, Max.”
“Yes, but that’s past history, 99. Let’s think about the present. Now, here’s my plan: We’ll dig a pit here in the center of the clearing, then we’ll cover it with branches and twigs. Above the pit, we’ll set up a spotlight, beamed directly at it. Whitestone will be lured into the spotlight, then drop into the pit. We’ll take him prisoner, then pick up Dr. Livingstrom’s trail again-free of the danger of being detoured by Whitestone.”
“It sounds perfect, Max! But how will we dig a pit? We don’t have a shovel.”
“Let’s check these capsules,” Max said, putting a hand into his pocket. “R amp; D probably sent along something that we can use in place of a shovel.” He handed 99 a fistful of capsules. “You check these, and I’ll check the others.”
“I have an exact-size replica of the Washington Monument here,” 99 said, reading a label.
“I suppose we could dig with that-it’s pointed at one end,” Max said. “But it might be a little hard to handle.”
“I also have the city of New York,” 99 said, reading the label on another capsule.
Max peered at her. “Really? It’s odd nobody’s missed it.”
“Well, it’s winter back in New York, Max. Everybody’s probably in Florida.”
“That explains it,” Max said. He read the label on one of the capsules he was holding. “ ‘One Shovel and One Spotlight for Trapping Ex-vaudevillians in the Jungle,’ ” he announced. “Good old R amp; D!”
Max and 99 set to work. 99 dug the pit. And Max mounted the spotlight in a tree above it. After they had covered the pit with vines and twigs, they hid in the underbrush. About an hour later, the sun went down. Max switched on the spotlight.
“It is tempting,” 99 said, impressed. “I almost feel like going out there and doing a little dance myself. I don’t see how an ex-vaudevillian like Whitestone could ever resist it.”
“Yes, it brings back memories,” Max said.
“Third grade at Daniel Webster Elementary School.”
“Oh. . yes. .”
“I recited a poem,” Max said, recalling. “In fact, it was a poem that I’d written myself. It had a lot of heart.”
“Do you remember it, Max?”
“Well. . let’s see. . It went:
By the shores of Lake Superior,
Where the night is dark and sceerior,
“Poems have to rhyme, you know, 99. If a poem doesn’t rhyme, it isn’t a poem.”
“Sorry, Max. Go on.”
Rising, Max placed a hand over his heart, indicating deep feeling, and continued:
I wandered, lonely as a clam,
Whistling ‘Dixie’ to Uncle Sam.
He paused and explained to 99. “A little patriotism never hurts,” he said. “And it’s always wise to play both sides of the fence.”
“I understand, Max. Don’t stop. It’s beautiful.”
Max stepped out into the clearing, and, facing 99, went on:
When suddenly there came a knocking,
As if someone loudly socking.
He glanced back over his shoulder at the spotlight, then took a step to the rear.
‘Who is there?’ I cried. ‘Hiawatha?’
But whoever it was, to answer didn’t botha.
Doing a shuffle-off-to-Buffalo, Max danced several steps backwards, nearing the spotlight.
Who was it rapping? Was it a ghost?
Could I sell you-
“Max!” 99 cried, leaping up.
Max was nowhere in sight.
99 ran to the edge of the pit. “Max-are you all right? Speak to me!”
“to the Saturday Evening Post,” Max replied from deep in the pit.
“Max! Are you delirious?”
“No, 99. That’s the last line of the poem. The final stanza goes:
Who was it rapping? Was it a ghost?
Could I sell you a subscription to the
Saturday Evening Post?
“It rhymes, Max, but it doesn’t make much sense.”
“It did then, 99. When I was in third grade I was selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. I was getting in a plug. That’s why I got all those offers from Hollywood and Broadway. I’d created a work of art with a sales message.”
“Max. . give me your hand. I’ll help you out.”
When Max had been rescued from the pit, he and 99 covered it again with vines and twigs.
“Well, at least, we know it works,” 99 said.
“Yes, it’s perfect,” Max said. He frowned. “That’s what bothers me, 99. It’s too perfect.”
“I don’t understand, Max.”
“When Whitestone sees this spotlight, won’t he become suspicious? After all-a spotlight? In the middle of the jungle? Won’t he guess that, as an ex-vaudevillian, it was planted here especially for him?”
“Max, I think you’re right.”
“We’ll have to rig up a different kind of trap,” Max said. “Something that isn’t quite so obvious.”
“Do you have anything in mind, Max?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. The old vine-tied-to-the-tip-end-of-a-tall-supple-young-tree-and-the-other-end-with-a-loop-in-it-hidden-on-the-ground-and-covered-with-branches trick.”
“I think I’ve heard of it. But doesn’t it have a shorter name?”
“It’s also called The Number Twenty-Six, or The Upsa-Daisy.”
“Oh, yes, now I remember.”
“First,” Max said, gathering vines, “we’ll braid these into a long rope.”
When they had finished that, Max lassoed the tip of a tall, supple, young tree, and bent the tree until the tip touched the ground. Then he secured the tip to a stake he had driven into the earth.
“What now, Max?”
“Now, we make a loop in the other end of this rope,” Max explained. “And we place the loop on the trail and cover it with branches.”
“I see. And then Whitestone comes along and steps in the loop and trips the trap and the loop tightens around his ankle and the tree springs up and there he is, dangling from the tree.”
“By the rope.”
“Yes, by the rope.”
“Without the rope, he couldn’t dangle from the tree.”
“Yes, I understand, Max.”
“But you didn’t mention it. And, without the rope, he couldn’t dangle from the tree.”
“I’m sorry, Max. I should have mention-”
99 was interrupted by a ringing sound.
“I think that’s the doorbell,” Max said. “Will you get it, 99?”
“Max, it’s your shoe.”
“Oh. . yes. .”
Max removed his shoe.
Max: 86, here. Is that you, Chief?
Chief: Yes, Max, it’s me. Why haven’t you called? I’ve been worried about you. Did you manage to get away from those elephants?
Max: Of course, Chief.
Operator: I knew it! Self! Self! Self! That’s all you ever think of, Max. All you had to do was get run down by one little elephant and Arnold’s career would have been assured. But no, you had to escape! Self! Self! Self!
Max: Operator, I’m sorry. But I’ll make it up to Arnold. The next time I meet a rampaging elephant, I’ll throw myself in its path.
Operator: When, Max? People are always making promises like that, but they never follow through. When?
Chief: Operator, will you get off the line, please. This is a top-secret conversation. Max, are you still there? What progress have you made?
Max: We’re hot on Dr. Livingstrom’s trail, Chief. At the moment, however, we’re taking time out to trap that KAOS agent, Whitestone. He’s been giving us a lot of trouble.
Operator: Max, when you get back, you’re invited to my house for dinner. There’s a nice elephant I want you to meet.
Chief: Operator! Please! (pause) Max, don’t waste too much time on that KAOS agent. Remember, the most important thing is to find Dr. Livingstrom and get the formula from him.
Operator: Here are the seating arrangements for the dinner, Max. Arnold will be seated at my left, and his mother will be seated at my right, and you’ll be seated under the elephant.
Max: Chief, we can’t talk-there’s too much interference. I’ll call you later.
Chief: You’re probably right, Max. Over and out.
Operator: Watch for rampaging elephants, Max. A promise is a promise.
Max put his shoe back on his foot.
“The trap is ready, Max,” 99 reported.
“Fine. Now, let’s conceal ourselves in the underbrush again, and wait for Whitestone to come along and step into that loop.”
Not long after they had hidden, they heard a sound on the trail.
“It’s him-he’s coming!” Max said. “Quiet, 99!”
“I didn’t say anything, Max.”
“You just did! Quiet!”
A moment later, a large lion wandered into the clearing, crossed it, then disappeared into the jungle.
“Oh, Max,” 99 said, disappointed. “Did you see what happened? That lion stepped into the loop, but the trap didn’t spring.”
“And good thing. What would we do with a lion, 99?”
“But, don’t you see? If the lion didn’t trip the trap, Whitestone won’t either.”
“Oh. Well, let’s not jump to conclusions, 99. After all, it’s not a lion trap, it’s a Whitestone trap. That may make a difference.”
“I doubt it, Max.”
“Let’s give it a chance,” Max said.
Again, they waited. Soon, they heard a sound on the trail once more. Then a leopard strolled into the clearing. The leopard stopped at the point where the loop had been camouflaged. It sniffed, then stepped into the loop, then out of it, and loped off into the jungle.
“Oh, Max. .”
“99, I refuse to jump to conclusions. We’ll wait.”
Minutes passed. Then a gorilla emerged from the jungle. It reached the loop, dug it up from under the vines and branches and peered at it quizzically, then began playing a game with it, pretending to lasso imaginary smaller animals. But after a while the gorilla tired of the game, dropped the rope, covered it with the vines and branches, then ambled on along the trail.
“I’m willing to admit, 99, that it may not be working perfectly. I’ll check it out.”
“Max, no! Don’t go out there!”
He peered at her puzzledly. “Why not, 99?”
“Max, you know exactly what will happen. You’ll trip that trap, and, the next thing you know, you’ll be dangling in the air.”
“99, give me credit for some intelligence, will you? I know exactly where that loop is. I’m not going to blunder into it.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Max.”
“For goodness sake, 99, you’d think I was a child!”
Max scrambled out of the underbrush, and very cautiously crossed the clearing toward where the loop was hidden. “See?” he called back. “I’m approaching it very slowly, step by step by step by-”
Max suddenly vanished.
99 leaped from the underbrush and rushed to the edge of the pit. “Max! Are you all right? Speak to me!”
“Careful, 99,” Max replied. “That fourth step is a doozy!”
99 reached down into the pit. “Take my hand, Max.”
“Watch it, 99. You’re getting a little too close to-” There was a snapping sound, then a twan-n-n-n-n-ging sound.
“-to that trap we set for Whitestone,” Max finished, peering up at 99, who was dangling overhead.
“Oh, Max, I’m sorry,” 99 moaned, swinging to and fro.
“It does present a bit of a problem,” Max said. “With you up there, you can’t help me out of this pit. And with me in this pit, I can’t help you down from up there.”
“Max, telephone the Chief. Maybe he can send help.”
“I will not!” Max snapped.
“But, Max! We’re trapped. Why not?”
“Because he might send Arnold!” Max said. “That would be the last straw!”
“Well, then. . Wait a minute, Max. . I think I can pull myself up by the rope and unfasten this loop from around my ankle. .”
“Good girl, 99!”
Using all her strength, 99 arched her body upward until she could get a hold on the rope. Then, clutching tightly to the rope with one hand, she used the other hand to untie the loop.
“You did it, 99! Now, drop to the ground!”
“Max, I’m right over the pit. If I drop, I’ll drop into the pit. Then we’ll both be trapped again.”
“99, I don’t like to criticize, but you’re not handling this too well.”
“What do you suggest, Max?”
Max sighed. “I guess I better phone the Chief.”
“No, Max! Listen!”
Max cocked an ear. “Something. . or someone. . is coming. .”
A giraffe stepped daintily into the clearing.
“It’s a giraffe, Max,” 99 reported.
“Great. I’ll mention that to the Chief.”
“Max, wait-don’t phone yet. The giraffe is coming my way. When it reaches me, I’ll drop to its neck, then slide down to the ground.”
“Forget it, 99. I’ll call the Chief. What if he does send Arnold to rescue us. My ego has survived harsher blows than that.”
“Max, please wait!”
The giraffe reached the tree from which 99 was dangling. As it did, she dropped to its neck. But her weight was too much for the giraffe’s neck to bear. It tilted downward, dropping 99 into the pit.
“Sorry about that, Max,” 99 said sheepishly.
Max shrugged. “This just isn’t our day, 99.”
The giraffe continued on its way. And Max bent down to get his shoe-phone.
“Max, there must be some other way,” 99 said.
“There isn’t, 99! Now, let me phone!”
“No, Max. I won’t have you humiliated!”
99 grabbed the shoe from Max and held it behind her back.
“99, you’re being childish!”
Max reached for the shoe. But, in desperation, 99 threw it out of the pit.
Max sighed deeply. “Now, you did it.”
“I’m awfully sorry, Max,” 99 said contritely. “I got carried away.”
“Well, I’ll just have to get that phone,” Max said. “Make a sling out of your hands, 99, and boost me up.”
99 locked her fingers together, and Max put his shoeless foot in her hands, then, summoning all her strength again, she boosted him up and out of the pit.
“Did you find your shoe, Max?” 99 called.
“Yes, I have it. Now, watch out below, 99. I’m coming down.”
“Max. . may I ask a question?”
“Yes, 99,” Max replied irritably, “what is it?”
“Why are you coming back down here, Max?”
“Why? For heaven’s sake, 99, so I can telephone the Chief and ask him to send someone to rescue us from this. . oh, yes, I see what you mean. I’m not in the pit any longer, am I?”
“Reach, 99. I’ll help you out.”
“Thank you, Max.”
When they were both clear of the pit, they covered it again with vines and branches. Then, once more, they went into hiding.
“Maybe we should give up, Max,” 99 said sorrowfully. “You said yourself that that trap is too obvious.”
“99, we can’t continue until it gets light, anyway,” Max said. “So we might as well sit here and be failures.”
“Your traps aren’t complete failures, Max. One caught me. And one caught you-twice.”
“Don’t be nasty, 99. Nobody likes a nasty secret agent.”
“I’m really sorry, Max. If there’s-”
“What is it, Max?”
“I heard something. Someone is coming!”
“It’s probably another animal.”
“I suppose it is. But- No, look, 99! On the trail. A human figure!”
99 squinted into the dimness. “It is, Max! You’re right!”
“Whitestone! Or my number isn’t 86!” Max said.
“We’ll get him this time, Max.”
“Down, 99! Duck out of sight! We can’t take a chance on him spotting us!”
They lowered their heads, crouching down in the undergrowth.
Soon they heard a crackling sound-the sound of twigs snapping. A moment later they heard a crash and a shriek.
“We got him!” Max cried, leaping up.
They sprang from the underbrush and rushed to the edge of the pit and peered in. And there they saw their captive. Not the tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking Whitestone, however. But the short, squat, dark Hassan Pfeiffer.
Hassan grinned up at them. “I saw your spotlight,” he said. “I couldn’t resist it. It reminded me of my days on the stage. I was only six years old-a child prodigy! I recited a poem that I learned at my mother’s knee. Like to hear it? It goes:
By the shores of Lake Ontaria,
Where the night is dark and scaria. .
Quickly, Max and 99 began piling vines and branches over the opening.
After Hassan had been discouraged from continuing the recitation of the poem, Max and 99 hauled him up out of the pit. He explained where he had been.
“After that chef tossed me out, I rushed back to Pahzayk to get the police and a fork,” he said.
“Police, I understand. You wanted the police to rescue us,” Max said. “But-a fork?”
“I figured we might be too late to save you,” Hassan replied. “But why let the food go to waste?”
“Oh. . yes, I see.”
“But I couldn’t get the police to come,” Hassan went on. “There’s talk in Pahzayk about a band of rebels who are going to try to overthrow the government. The police are busy guarding the Government Building.”
“Fortunately, we didn’t need them,” Max said. “When that terrible odor pervaded the village, we were able to escape. Since then, we’ve been setting traps for Whitestone. But, apparently, he isn’t going to cooperate.”
Hassan frowned thoughtfully. “I have been thinking about this Whitestone matter,” he said. “I have decided that there is no reason to worry about him. I think he does not exist.”
“I’m afraid that doesn’t make much sense, Hassan,” Max replied.
“It is my opinion that Whitestone is an illusion,” Hassan insisted.
“But what about those ants that looked like elephants-and then vanished?”
“They were an illusion.”
“Exactly. And it takes an illusionist to create an illusion-right?”
“Ah. . but what is an illusion?” Hassan smiled. “It is something that does not exist-correct? And since the illusions did not exist, then obviously we did not see them. And, if we did not see them, how can you base your contention that the illusionist exists on the fact that we saw the illusions?”
Max turned to 99. “Well, that problem’s solved,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about Whitestone any more. He doesn’t exist.”
“Max,” she replied, “what do you believe? Hassan’s theory? Or what you saw with your own eyes?”
Max turned back to Hassan. “What do you have to say to that?”
“Can you see your own eyes?” Hassan smiled.
Max tried to look at his own eyes, but found it impossible. “No, as a matter of fact, I can’t,” he answered.
“Then, clearly, they do not exist. They are an illusion,” Hassan told him.
“Max, are we going to stand around listening to this nonsense or are we going to track down Dr. Livingstrom?” 99 said sharply.
“Nonsense? 99, when I started out on this mission, I had two very competent, very blue eyes. But somewhere between Pahzayk and here I lost them. To you that may be nonsense, but to me it’s very serious business.”
“Max, I’m going! You can come with me or stay here!”
“I’m coming, 99. But you’ll have to take my hand. I can’t see a thing.”
“Oh. . Max!”
“Hassan, you lead the way,” Max said. “You can be my seeing-eye guide.”
“Max,” 99 said angrily. “I won’t go one step until you-”
A sudden snorting sound was heard. The three whipped around. A huge hippo was standing in the middle of the trail. It snorted again-an angry sound.
“99, I see it!” Max cried happily. “My eyes are back!”
“Are you sure it is not an illusion?” Hassan smiled.
At that moment, the hippo lowered its head and charged.
“No, I’m not sure,” Max replied. “But, in this case, I think Rule 17 applies. Rule 17 is: Run first, think later.”
Max, 99 and Hassan dashed up the trail. The hippo pounded after them, snorting furiously.
“Hassan, you’re an experienced jungle guide,” Max said. “What do you do about a mad hippopotamus?”
“Tell him a joke!” Hassan replied.
“A joke? I don’t exactly understand how that would help.”
“How could he stay mad while he’s laughing?” Hassan replied.
“I don’t think that-”
“Max! Up ahead! There’s a river!” 99 cried.
“Saved!” Max shouted.
“But, Max! On the river! Look! Crocodiles!”
“Scratch that ‘saved,’ ” Max said gloomily.
The snorting and the pounding of the hippo was getting closer.
“Oh, Max!” 99 wailed. “A mad hippo behind us, and a river of crocodiles ahead of us! What can we do?”
“Don’t worry, 99,” Max said. “We have our trustworthy, dependable, highly-experienced jungle guide to protect us. Hassan, what are we going to do?”
“Well, as I see it,” Hassan said, “we have three choices. We can stop at the river’s edge and be eaten by the hippo. Or we can jump into the river and be eaten by the crocodiles. Or-”
“Yes?” Max said anxiously.
“Or, we can split up,” Hassan said. “You and 99 can jump into the river and be eaten by the crocodiles, and I can stop at the river’s edge and be eaten by the hippopotamus.”
“I suppose that’s better than nothing,” Max said.
“Max! Think of something!” 99 wept.
“I have it!” Max said. “Now, listen carefully. When we reach the edge of the river, we’ll stop-suddenly-and side-step the hippo. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Max,” 99 said. “That’s a wonderful plan. The hippo will charge right on past us. He’ll plunge into the river, then we can turn and run the other way.”
“Right, so far, 99,” Max said. “But there’s more to it. We want to cross that river-right? But it’s crawling with ferocious, man-eating crocodiles-right? So, how do we get across the river?”
“Take the ferry?” Hassan guessed.
“I don’t think we can count on that, Hassan. No, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll side-step the hippo, then, as he charges by us, we’ll leap on his back. He’ll plunge into the river, taking us with him. And, he’ll ferry us to the other side.”
“That’s what I said-take the ferry. See? You can always depend on your trustworthy, dependable, experienced jungle guide.”
“See, 99?” Max said. “I told you Hassan would save us.”
“Attention!” Hassan said. “We’re only a few steps from the river. Remember, now-do exactly as I told you!”
A second later, the three reached the bank of the river. As one, they braked themselves, coming to a sudden halt. Then, when the hippo reached them, they jumped onto its back. And the hippo, carried forward by its own momentum, plunged into the river. High and dry aboard the hippo, they skimmed through the water toward the opposite shore.
“Congratulations, Hassan,” Max said. “That was a crackerjack plan!”
“It was nothing,” Hassan smiled modestly. “Only magnificent.”
“Those crocodiles!” 99 shuddered. “I’m glad they can’t get at us.”
“Don’t worry, 99. Those crocodiles wouldn’t dare attack this hippo. We’re as safe here as we would be on the deck of a battleship. Hassan has thought of everything.”
“I’m efficient,” Hassan agreed.
Without warning, the three suddenly found themselves floundering around in the water. The hippo was no longer beneath them.
“Max! It submerged!” 99 cried.
“I’m not surprised!” Hassan said. “It was a crazy plan in the first place-doomed to failure. Only a secret agent would think of a lousy plan like that.”
“I’m sorry,” Max said. “But it seemed logical at the time.”
“Max! The crocodiles are closing in!” 99 wailed.
“Rule 17!” Max shouted. “Run first, think later!”
“Max, we’re in the middle of a river! We can’t run!”
“99, don’t be picky. Nobody likes a picky secret agent.”
“Max-the plastic spray! Use the spray, Max! Spray us a raft!”
“Excellent idea, 99!”
“You’re lucky you’ve got a trustworthy, dependable, experienced jungle guide along to think of it,” Hassan said.
“Don’t think I’m not thanking my lucky stars,” Max replied.
He sprayed a film of plastic on the surface of the water. It hardened instantly, becoming a makeshift raft. And, quickly, Max, 99 and Hassan climbed aboard, just in time to escape the crocodiles.
“Whew!” Hassan breathed. “That was close-but I did it again.”
“Brilliant,” Max said. “We’re as safe here as we would be on the deck of a battleship.”
“Max, that’s what you said before-just before the battleship turned into a submarine,” 99 pointed out.
“That was different, 99. This plastic can’t possibly sink. In just a very few moments we’ll reach the other side of the river.”
“I doubt it, Max.”
“Don’t be a doubting secret agent, 99. Nobody-”
“But, Max, look. The current is carrying the raft downstream. We’ll never get to the other side.”
“And the river runs into the sea,” Hassan said morosely. “We’ll be swept into the ocean. We’ll drown. That’s what we get for putting our lives in the hands of a crazy secret agent.”
“Let’s not lose hope,” Max said stoutly. “I’ve always found it to be the case that, in situations like this, when all seems lost, something always happens to alter the course of events.”
“Max. . listen. . do you hear that?” 99 said. “A roaring sound.”
“You’re right, 99. I wonder what it could be?”
Hassan clapped a hand to his brow in agony. “A waterfall!”
“Oh, Max! The raft will go over the falls! We’ll be crushed!”
“Didn’t I tell you, 99? See? Something always happens to change the course of events. And you were worried about being swept out to sea!”
“Max, this is worse! There’s no escape!”
“99, you’re misinterpreting what I said. I only said that something always happens to change the course of events-I didn’t say that the course of events always changes for the better. Sometimes it’s for the worse.”
“Oh, Max, what does that matter now? We’re going to die!”
“Not necessarily, 99. I’ve always found it to be the case that, in situations like this, when all seems lost-”
“What, Max?” 99 screamed. “Don’t preach to me! Tell me! What, Max?”
“Well, for instance-see that bridge up there.”
99 turned and looked downstream. “Max! You’re right! A bridge!”
“Yiii! I was losing faith in myself,” Hassan said. “But I guess I pulled the old chestnuts out of the fire again.”
“As I was saying,” Max went on, “that bridge is low enough that, when the raft reaches it, we can jump up and grab hold of the span and pull ourselves to safety.”
“It looks sort of rickety, Max,” 99 said. “Will it hold us?”
“We’ll soon know, 99. Get ready to jump.”
The three crouched, preparing to leap into the air.
“When I say ‘three!’ ” Max said.
At that moment there was a ringing sound.
“Somebody get the door,” Hassan said.
“No, Hassan, that’s my-”
“Forget it, Max!” 99 said. “We’re almost to the bridge.”
“You’re right. Okay? Get set! One! Two!”
Again, the ringing sound was heard.
“99, I can’t just ignore it. There’s something about a ringing telephone that-”
At the signal, they leaped-and caught hold of the lower span of the bridge.
“99, why did you do that!” Max complained. “Listen. . the ringing has stopped. I may have missed a very important call.”
“Max, if I hadn’t yelled ‘three,’ you’d be dead now.”
“Maybe so. But I wouldn’t be wondering who was calling. That’s a terrible thing to carry through life with you, 99-wondering who was calling.”
“Max, if it was important, whoever it was will call back.”
“I hope so. And soon, too, I hope. I won’t be able to think about anything else until I find out who it was.”
Max, 99 and Hassan pulled themselves up onto the bridge. It swayed precariously under their weight.
“The raft is gone-over the falls,” 99 said, looking over the railing.
“Forget about the raft, 99. Try to think of who might have been telephoning me.”
“Max, I haven’t the faintest- Max-look! Coming across the bridge.”
Max looked in the direction that 99 was pointing and saw a half-dozen tall, fair-skinned, blond young men approaching.
“Oh-oh! Hostile natives!” Max said.
“But, Max, they’re blond and fair-skinned and smiling.”
“99, that’s only an illusion. It’s the old dark-skinned, ferocious-Africans-disguised-as-fair-skinned, smiling-Americans trick.”
“Max. . I don’t think so. .”
The leader of the young men raised a hand in greeting. “Hi-ho, everybody!” he grinned.
“See, Max?” 99 said.
Max shrugged. “It was a natural mistake.”
“Well, two bright-eyed, intelligent Americans and one underprivileged person,” the young man said. “Glad to see you-the two of you, anyway. We’re bright-eyed, intelligent Americans, too.”
“Out here in the middle of the jungle?” Max said dubiously. “That’s a little hard to believe.”
“We’re with the Peace Corps,” the leader explained.
The other young men broke into a cheer.
“Rah-Rah-Rah! Sis-Boom-Bah! Peace Corps! Yeah!”
“We just finished building this bridge,” the leader said to Max. “We were hoping someone would come along to test it. We didn’t dare. It looks a little rickety, doesn’t it? We thought one of the natives would happen along and try it out. We’re sorry that you bright-eyed, intelligent Americans had to risk your lives on it. But. . all’s well that ends well, eh?”
Max looked around. “You’re building a bridge out here in the middle of the jungle? Do you mind if I ask a question?”
“No, go ahead.”
“You didn’t by any chance make a telephone call to me a few minutes ago, did you?” Max asked.
The leader shook his head.
“Darn!” Max muttered.
“Max-ask him about the bridge,” 99 said.
“Oh. . yes.” Max addressed the leader of the Peace Corpsmen again. “Why are you building a bridge out here in the middle of the jungle?”
“Because of the falls,” he replied.
“There you are, 99,” Max said. “Does that answer your question?”
“Let me explain,” the Peace Corpsman said. “You’ve heard about Niagara Falls, I suppose. And you know that it has a bridge over it. But do you know that thousands and thousands of tourists go to Niagara Falls every year just to stand on that bridge? And do you know that those tourists spend thousands and thousands of dollars?”
“Oh, now I understand,” 99 said. “You want to make a tourist attraction out of this falls. The tourists will come here and spend money and the economy will boom.”
“Right. These people here are practically savages,” the Peace Corpsman said. “But, with a little money. .”
“That’s wonderful,” 99 enthused. “You could change their whole way of living. You could civilize them.”
“No, no, we’ll keep them the way they are,” the Peace Corpsman replied. “Savages are a great tourist attraction.”
“But. . but the falls. . the bridge. .” 99 said.
“Who would come all the way to Africa to see a waterfall?” the Peace Corpsman replied. “You can see the same thing at Niagara Falls. And the bridge is safer.”
“You’re doing a great job,” Max said. “We’re all proud of you. Now-”
“Max,” 99 interrupted, looking perplexed, “I still don’t understand why they’re building the bridge.”
“For heaven’s sake, 99! Because they want to do their bit for mankind, and get it out of the way, so they can go back home and start making money.”
Max saluted the Peace Corpsmen. “As I say, we’re proud of you,” he said. “And thanks loads for building that bridge. You got it up just in the nick of time. I shudder to think where we’d be now if we’d gone over the falls.”
“Any time. .” the leader smiled graciously.
“We have to be going now, though,” Max said. “We’re on the trail of a scientist who has developed a gas or something that could be a blessing or a curse to civilization, as we know it, depending on whether or not it falls into the hands of the Good Guys or the Bad Guys.”
“Say. . that sounds like Dr. Livingstrom,” the leader said.
Max’s eyes opened wide. “You know him?”
“He passed through here a few days ago,” the leader replied. “He was looking for the Dog Flower plant, a rare specimen that grows only in New Ghirzy.”
“I know, I know,” Max said, delighted. “Which way did he go?”
The Peace Corpsman pointed to the other side of the river. “That-a-way.”
Max eyed him suspiciously. “But, before, you told us that you had just finished the bridge a short time before we happened along. How did Dr. Livingstrom cross the river?”
“You wouldn’t believe it,” the Peace Corpsman replied.
“No. I know-you just wouldn’t believe it.”
“Cross my heart, Scout’s honor, and all that-I’ll believe it.”
“Well. . what he did was, he went into the jungle and teased a hippopotamus and got it to chase him. He ran toward the river bank, and when the hippo caught up with him, he side-stepped it, then jumped on the hippo’s back, and- See? It’s just too unbelievable.”
“Unbelievable? It’s the only way to travel,” Max said.
“Max, hadn’t we better go?” 99 urged.
“99, we can’t go without saying good-bye to these young men.”
“I don’t think there’s time for that, Max,” 99 said nervously.
“99, there is always time for politeness.”
“Max. . I hear a splintering sound.”
Max listened. “Yes, that’s what that is, 99. That’s definitely a splintering sound.” He faced back to the Corpsman. “I suppose that’s the call of some exotic jungle bird,” he said.
The Corpsman shook his head. “No, that’s the bridge. It’s failing the test.”
“Max,” 99 urged again, “the bridge is going to collapse.”
“Now, just a minute, 99,” Max said. “Let’s not panic. All bridges make sounds like that when they sway in the wind. I’m sure we’re as safe right now as we would be if we were standing on the deck of a battleship. I’m positive that the Peace Corps wouldn’t send this young man out here to build a bridge if he didn’t have some training in bridge-building.” He turned back to the leader. “You have built bridges before, haven’t you?”
“Lots,” the young man smiled.
“I knew it. And where did you get your bridge-building training?”
“Massachusetts College of Dentistry.”
At that instant, the bridge collapsed, and the Peace Corpsmen and Max and 99 and Hassan hurtled downward toward the water.
“You know,” Max said to the leader, “there’s a difference between the bridges you learn to build in dentistry school and the bridges you build to put across rivers.”
“That’s what I told them at the Peace Corps,” the leader replied. “But they said, ‘Who’ll know? A bunch of dumb savages?’ ”
The whole group hit the water together, disappeared, then bobbed to the surface, gasping for breath.
“Max!” 99 screamed. “We’re being swept toward the falls!”
“Well, Hassan,” Max said, “time to pull off another miracle.”
“I’m tired of saving us all the time,” Hassan grumbled. “It’s your turn.”
“In that case,” Max sighed, “this is the end. So long, Hassan. Good-bye, 99. Peace Corpsmen-toodle-ooo!”
“Oh, Max,” 99 sobbed. “Why does it have to end this way? Why? Why?”
“It is regrettable,” Max agreed. “Now I’ll never know who it was who was calling me on the phone.”
“Is that still so important to you, Max?”
“I’m afraid it is, 99. I don’t really mind dying so much. But puzzling over who that phone call was from is going to make it very difficult for me to Rest in Peace.”
“Sorry, Max. .”
They had reached the falls. And over they went, all together, and plunged downward-a distance of about thirteen inches.
“Somehow, I don’t think this falls is ever going to be much of a rival to Niagara,” Max said.
“Max! We’re saved!” 99 shouted gleefully. “It’s hardly a falls at all!”
“Well, another day, another miracle,” Hassan grinned. “Don’t bother to ask me how I did it. It’s a trade secret.”
The whole group got to its feet.
“I guess this knocks your little project into kind of a cocked hat,” Max said to the leader of the Peace Corpsmen. “There won’t be much interest in the falls.”
“No, I see no reason to change our plans,” the leader replied. “We’ll rebuild the bridge.”
“Over a thirteen-inch waterfall?”
“Who’ll know? A bunch of dumb tourists?”
Max smiled at him proudly. “That’s the spirit that made America what it is today!” he said.
The party waded to shore. Then Max, 99 and Hassan said a last good-bye to the Peace Corpsmen. As they headed off into the jungle, they heard the leader address his companions.
“Okay, fellas,” he said, “this time, let’s show these savages that we can really build a bridge that will last.”
A cheer went up.
“Rah-Rah-Rah! Sis-Boom-Bah! Yeah!”
They heard the leader speak again, this time addressing the river. “Open wide,” he commanded. “This won’t hurt a bit.”
Max, 99 and Hassan pushed on into the jungle. But after a few minutes, Max called for a rest period. And when they stopped, he sat down on a small mound and removed his telephone shoe.
“What now, Max?” 99 asked.
“There’s something I have to find out,” Max replied, dialing.
Chief: Control, here. Chief, speaking.
Max: Chief, did you call me a while back? My shoe was ringing, but I was tied up and couldn’t answer it.
Chief: Who had you tied up, Max? Are you free now?
Max: I don’t mean that I was actually tied up, Chief. I mean I was busy.
Chief: Max, how could you be too busy to answer your shoe? It only takes one hand.
Max: Before this goes any further, Chief, would you just answer my question? Did you phone me a few minutes ago?
Operator: He refuses to answer that question on the grounds that you are unfair to Arnold.
Max: Operator, how could I be unfair to Arnold? I don’t even know Arnold. I only met Arnold once with his mother.
Operator: Have you got yourself trampled by an elephant yet?
Max: Well. . frankly, no.
Operator: I ask you-is that unfair or is that unfair? How can Arnold take your place if you’re still around? He just wouldn’t feel right about it. You’d be hanging around, watching everything he did, trying to catch him in a mistake. Max, this boy wants to make good, but you just won’t let him. Is that fair?
Chief: Operator, I think you’re being a bit premature. Your brother-in-law hasn’t even appeared to fill out an application yet.
Operator: You must be wrong, Chief. Have you looked under your desk? Arnold is sometimes a little shy.
Chief: He’s not under my desk. He’s not anywhere around.
Operator: He’s there. Max saw him enter the building-didn’t you, Max?
Max: She’s right about that, Chief-I did.
Chief: Then where is he? It’s no more than a hundred feet or so from the entrance of the building to my office.
Operator: It’s only been three days-give him a chance.
Max: Frankly, Operator, I think it’s Arnold’s mother who wants him to be a secret agent, not Arnold. And you. You and his mother are pushing him into this.
Operator: Pooh! If he doesn’t want to be a secret agent, what does he want to be?
Max: Missing. And I think he’s achieved his goal.
Operator: Sorry, sir, your time is up. Deposit another seven thousand dollars, consisting of the following combination of coins: twelve French francs, seventeen Czechoslovakian halerus, eleven Turkish kurus, nine Russian-
Max: Operator, stop it! In the first place, this isn’t a pay shoe. And in the second place, you’re just looking for an excuse to cut me off because of what I said about you and Arnold’s mother. The truth is, Operator, the truth hurts!
Operator: Seven thousand dollars in unissued foreign coins, Max! Put up or shut up!
Max: I protest! Let me talk to your Supervisor!
Operator: No can do, Max. All protests have to be submitted in writing. Where’s that seven thou?
Max: Operator, would you settle for my Diners’ Club Card?
Operator: Cash on the barrelhead, Max. Sorry about that.
The line went dead.
Max sighed sadly, then put his shoe back on his foot.
“Bad news, Max?” 99 said sympathetically.
“No. Not if no news is good news,” Max replied. “But I still don’t know who it was who called me when we were floating down the river on that plastic raft. .”
“Max, I told you, if it was important, whoever it was will call you back.”
Max turned to Hassan. “Hassan, it wasn’t you, by any chance, who called me, was it?”
“I was there on the raft with you,” Hassan replied.
“I know. But I don’t want to leave any possibilities unturned.”
“Max. .” 99 said, lowering her voice and glancing around the perimeter of the clearing.
“99, fess up, now, was it you who called me?”
“Max,” 99 replied, still speaking softly, “number one, I was on the raft with you, too. And, number two, I didn’t have a phone. But, Max-”
“I have two shoes, you know,” Max said. “You could have been using the extension.”
“Max, it wasn’t me who called you. Will you forget about that call? Max, I think we’re in jeopardy.”
“Nonsense, 99. I’m sure we’re still in New Ghirzy. If we’d crossed over into Jeopardy, I’m positive we’d have seen some border guards.”
“Max, I mean we’re in danger. We’re surrounded by a band of evil-looking cutthroats. They’re hiding in the underbrush. I just caught a glimpse of several of them.”
Coolly, Max glanced about. “Yes, I see them,” he said, speaking softly. “And I think you’re right, 99. They do look like Jeopardyians.”
“Max, jeopardy means danger.”
“I don’t care if they did get their independence and change the name of their country, 99, they’re still Jeopardyians to me.”
“Well, Hassan,” Max said. “Time for another miracle.”
“You got yourself into this,” Hassan replied. “Get yourself out.”
“Hassan, in the name of-”
A wild cry suddenly issued from the underbrush. A band of about a half-dozen evil-looking cutthroats, brandishing pistols, leaped from hiding places and surrounded Max, 99 and Hassan.
“If you’re the welcoming committee from the Chamber of Commerce, I’ll tell you right now, your technique could use some polishing,” Max said.
“Silence!” the head cutthroat commanded.
“It’s a very small person who can’t take criticism,” Max pouted. “You know, we grow in both efficiency and proficiency by having our mistakes pointed out to us.”
“Siiiiiilence!” the head cutthroat shrieked.
“Otherwise, we become soreheads,” Max muttered.
“Bind them and blindfold them,” the head cutthroat ordered his cohorts.
Working efficiently and proficiently, the men tied Max’s, 99’s and Hassan’s hands behind their backs, then placed blindfolds over their eyes.
“I’ll tell you another thing, if you’re trying to encourage the tourist trade, this is no way to do it,” Max said.
One of the cutthroats stuffed a gag into Max’s mouth.
“Mrbmfph!” Max protested.
The cutthroats led Max, 99 and Hassan stumbling through the jungle. After about a half-hour’s travel they halted, and removed the blindfolds-and the gag from Max’s mouth. The three found themselves standing at the doorway to a crude grass hut. Then they were rudely shoved inside.
An African, seated behind a rough wooden table, and wearing a bushy black beard, and dressed in khaki, greeted them with a snarling accusation. “Spies!”
“Is that what those fellows are?” Max said. “When they tied us up and put blindfolds on us, I guessed they were up to no good. But I couldn’t quite figure out what it was.”
“Not them, you spy!” the man thundered. “Those men are my loyal followers. I am Freddy Fitz-Hugh, III, Generalissimo of the Grand Revolution! You are the spies!”
Max peered at him closely. “Freddy Fitz-Hugh, III?”
“It’s not my real name,” Fitz-Hugh admitted. “I was born Lester Mdunboto-which, in my tongue, means ‘lightning that sometimes strikes twice in the same place.’ But Freddy Fitz-Hugh, III, has more of a revolutionary sound to it, don’t you think?”
Max shook his head. “No.”
Fitz-Hugh glared at him, then called one of his followers into the hut. “This spy just disagreed with me,” he said. “Make a note of that. It’s evidence.”
The follower got out a notepad and pencil and sat down at the table and scribbled a notation.
“Who is paying you to spy on us?” Fitz-Hugh demanded of Max.
“Spy? We’re not spies.”
Fitz-Hugh turned to his follower. “He’s lying. Make a note of that. It’s evidence.” Then, again, he faced Max. “If you’re not spies, what are you?”
“It so happens that we’re secret agents, assigned to Control, and here on a secret mission,” Max replied.
Hassan stepped forward. “Not me. I’m just an innocent bystander. I’ve never seen these two spies before in my life. You see, I was making the rounds of my customers-I’m a dealer in chain-driven saxophones-when suddenly these two spies appeared out of nowhere and asked directions. Well-”
“When I want a confession, I’ll torture you for it!” Fitz-Hugh interrupted. He turned to his follower once more. “Giving directions to spies,” he said. “That’s treason. It’s also evidence, so make a note of it.”
“I object!” Max said. “You’re twisting everything we say!”
“Where else are we going to get evidence when we don’t have any facts?” Fitz-Hugh replied. “This is a court of law. You wouldn’t suggest that we make a judgment without having any evidence, would you? I thought you Americans were supposed to be so hot for justice.”
“He’s got you there,” Hassan said to Max.
Fitz-Hugh pounded a fist on the table. “Having considered the evidence, this court finds the defendants guilty-as-charged,” he said. “Now, if you three will just make a confession, we can execute you, and get on to more important things-the Grand Revolution.”
“Is a confession really necessary?” Max asked.
“It makes it neater.”
“I know, but is there any other choice?”
“Well, you can either confess straight-out, or we can torture you for a while, until you confess, and then execute you. But we prefer the straight-out confession. It saves time. And when you’re running a Grand Revolution, every minute counts.”
“About that torture,” Max said. “What’s the usual procedure?”
“Toothpicks under the fingernails,” Fitz-Hugh replied. “Except that, at the moment, we’re fresh out of toothpicks.”
“Doesn’t that smack of sloppy organization?” Max said.
“It’s one of the drawbacks when you’re running a Grand Revolution and there’s a price on your head,” Fitz-Hugh explained. “It’s hard to get into town to shop.” He smiled. “But, we make-do. Instead of toothpicks, we use match sticks, whittled to a sharp point.”
“Speaking for myself,” Max decided, “I think I’ll skip the torture and go right on to the confession. Where do I sign?”
Fitz-Hugh smiled slyly. “Of course. . there is one other alternative. .”
“We’ll take it,” Max said.
“Max. . shouldn’t we hear what it is first?” 99 said.
“99, the other choices are match sticks under the fingernails and execution. Could it possibly be any worse?”
“I guess you’re right, Max.”
“The other alternative is, you can join the Revolution,” Fitz-Hugh said.
“Well, normally, I’m not a joiner,” Max said. “But, if you’ve got a cause that I can believe in, I see no reason why I shouldn’t make an exception in this case. What is your cause?”
“ ’Cause we want to overthrow the present government,” Fitz-Hugh replied.
“For any particular reason? Or do you just have a lot of leisure time on your hands?”
“For the best reason in the world,” Fitz-Hugh replied. “It’s time for a change. The present government has been in office for going on three weeks now. It’s shot through with graft and corruption. The officials are getting rich.”
“I see. So, now you figure it’s your turn.”
“Right. Let them hole up out here in the jungle for a while and see how they like it, not being able to go into town and shop.”
“Well, compared to match sticks under the fingernails, that certainly is a worthy cause,” Max said. “I, for one, am with you.”
“Me, too, I guess,” 99 said. “If Max thinks it’s right.”
“I’ve always been loyal to the cause,” Hassan said. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the Grand Revolution-unless, of course, it involved physical exertion. You see,” he said, putting his hands on his waist and wincing, “I have this bad back.”
“I know what you mean,” Fitz-Hugh said. “Myself, I have a trick knee. That’s why I don’t go out on dangerous assignments.” He turned to Max. “And, speaking of dangerous assignments,” he said, “At this very moment, I happen to be in need of a volunteer for a dangerous assignment.”
“Too bad,” Max said. “It so happens that I happen to have a physical problem myself. I suffer from sticky eyelids.”
“Coward!” Hassan sneered.
“Slacker!” Fitz-Hugh sneered.
“Chicken!” 99 sneered.
“My greatest desire is to volunteer for this assignment,” Fitz-Hugh said. “But there’s my trick knee.”
“All my life I’ve been grooming myself for this dangerous assignment,” Hassan said. “But, with my bad back, I’d muff it. For the Glory of the Grand Revolution, I’ll have to volunteer not to volunteer.”
“99, how about you?” Max said. ‘You don’t have a bad back. Or a trick knee.”
“Max, I’m a girl.”
“That’s even worse than having a bad back,” Hassan said. “With a bad back, you can at least put on a mustard plaster. But if you’re a girl, nothing will help.”
“Be on somebody else’s side,” 99 said testily.
Max shrugged. “All right, I guess I’m elected. Not that I really mind. It just so happens that danger is my bread and butter.”
“Fattening, eh?” Fitz-Hugh said. “Well, you won’t have to worry about that this time. There’s very little chance that you’ll come out of this assignment alive. So, big deal if you put on a few pounds.”
“What exactly is the assignment?” Max said.
“You’ll make a delivery to the Government Building,” Fitz-Hugh replied.
“Well, that seems simple enough. What will I deliver?”
“A bomb.” Fitz-Hugh turned to his follower. “Bring in the bomb,” he said.
The follower left, and returned a few seconds later with a basket of fruit. There was a bomb in the center of it.
“Isn’t that a little obvious?” Max said. “Won’t the guards at the Government Building get a little suspicious when they see that bomb in the middle of the basket of fruit?”
“Naturally,” Fitz-Hugh replied. “That’s what we want. You see, it’s not the bomb that’s really a bomb. The bomb is only a decoy.”
“When you enter the Government Building, of course, a guard will see the bomb in the middle of the basket of fruit,” Fitz-Hugh went on. “He’ll stop you and say, ‘Excuse me, sir, but isn’t that a bomb you have there in the middle of that basket of fruit?’ And you’ll reply, ‘Well, bless me, so it is. I wonder how that got in there?’ Then the guard will say, ‘I’m sorry, sir, but there’s a rule against carrying bombs into the Government Building.’ At which point, you will take the bomb from the basket and hand it to the guard and say, ‘Well, I certainly don’t want to break a rule, so will you hold this for me until I come out?’ The guard, of course-”
“Don’t tell me,” Max interrupted. “The guard will accept the bomb, and I’ll rush out of the building, and a moment later the bomb will explode-right?”
Fitz-Hugh shook his head. “All wrong. You haven’t been listening. I told you-the bomb isn’t a bomb. It’s a decoy. You see, when the guard takes the bomb from you, he’ll think it’s safe to let you enter the building-little knowing that it is really the banana that is the bomb.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Fitz-Hugh’s follower said. “It’s the apple that’s the bomb.”
Fitz-Hugh glared at him. “It’s the banana-or maybe the orange. But not the apple.”
“I’m positive, sir, it’s the-”
“Who’s Generalissimo around here!” Fitz-Hugh raged.
The follower cringed. “I’m sorry, sir. You’re absolutely right-it’s the banana.” Then, lowering his voice, he said to Max, “But I wouldn’t try to peel that apple, if I were you.”
“Never mind the details right now,” Max said to Fitz-Hugh. “Just give me the general plot. What happens after I get by the guard?”
“You enter the building,” Fitz-Hugh said, “and you, quick-like, pull the stem out of the banana. That detonates the bomb.”
“Generalissimo,” 99 said, “a banana doesn’t have the kind of stem you can pull out.”
“Then try the orange,” Fitz-Hugh said. He shot a quick, antagonistic look at his follower. “But not the apple,” he said to Max. “Let’s not have any question about who’s Generalissimo around here.”
“Right. I pull the stem from the orange. Then I put it down somewhere. And while the delayed-action timer ticks away, I make a hasty escape.”
“What delayed-action timer?” Fitz-Hugh said. “The bomb goes off instantly. When you’re running a revolution, there’s no time to waste, every minute counts.”
“Uh. . then how do I get out?” Max said.
“Through the roof.”
“Do you mean to say that there’s actually no chance of me getting out of there alive?”
“Welllll. . that depends. How good a runner are you?”
“Not that fast,” Max replied. “I’m afraid, Generalissimo, I’m beginning not to care much for this assignment.”
“It’s a great opportunity for you,” Fitz-Hugh said. “You’ll meet a lot of highly-placed people on your way up through the roof. I’d give a year of one of my follower’s salary to have the chance that you’re getting. But. . my trick knee, you know.”
“Maybe you’d like to go along for the ride,” Max said. “I could make room for you.”
Fitz-Hugh shook his head. “It’s your honor. I wouldn’t dream of butting in.”
“Me, neither,” Hassan said. “My trick knee, you know.”
“No, you’re the one who has the bad back,” Max said. He reached into the basket and picked up the orange. “Let me get this straight, now,” he said. “I walk up to the guard-”
“No, no,” Fitz-Hugh said, “you let the guard stop you. Don’t walk up to him. That would make him suspicious.”
“Okay. I let the guard stop me, then I hand him this orange. As soon as-”
“Max, no,” 99 said. “You don’t hand him the orange. You let him see the bomb.”
“That’s almost what I said, 99. The orange is the bomb.”
“No, I think the banana is the bomb,” Hassan said.
“Just a minute!” Fitz-Hugh shouted. “You don’t let him see the orange-or the banana, as the case may be-that’s really a bomb. You let him see the bomb that isn’t a bomb.”
“Oh, yes, I remember now,” Max said. “I let him see the bomb that isn’t a bomb, and he says to me, ‘I’m sorry, sir, but it’s against the rule to carry a banana into the Government Building.’ So, I hand him-”
“No, Max,” 99 said, shaking her head.
“I carry the guard into the Government Building?”
“The guard carries me into the Government Building?”
Fitz-Hugh clasped his head in his hands, groaning. “Why does anybody want to be a Generalissimo? The followers you got to put up with these days, it’s nothing but a headache!”
“I’m sorry,” Max said. “But I’m trying my best. Let me start at the beginning. I approach the Government Building-right?”
“So far, perfect,” Fitz-Hugh replied.
“No, unfortunately, it isn’t,” Max said, looking disappointed in himself. “I forgot to take the basket of fruit. I left it back here on the-”
Fitz-Hugh grabbed up the basket and shoved it into Max’s hands. “Okay! You got the fruit! Start again!” he raged.
Max put the orange back into the basket. “It wouldn’t do to accidentally leave this behind,” he explained. “When I got to the-”
“Right. Okay, now, I approach the Government Building, basket in hand, and I make sure that the guard spots me. How am I doing?”
“You’re a jewel,” Fitz-Hugh smiled blissfully.
“As soon as the guard spots the bomb, of course, he’ll stop me,” Max went on. “And, being a conscientious civil servant, he’ll explain to me in a kindly and understanding manner that it’s against the rule to carry a bomb into the Government Building. Have I left anything out?”
“Only the mistakes,” Fitz-Hugh beamed. “Go on.”
“Doing his duty as he sees it, the guard will then relieve me of the bomb-the bomb that is not a bomb,” Max continued. “And, being a conscientious revolutionary, I will then- Oh-oh-we’re in trouble.”
“What trouble!” Fitz-Hugh asked through gritted teeth.
“Look,” Max said, “if I know my conscientious civil servants, that guy isn’t going to let me go until he gets a piece of fruit. Suppose he wants an orange? Or a banana?”
“Idiot!” Fitz-Hugh screamed. “Guards don’t eat on duty!”
“He could save it for later. There’s nothing better than a banana right after dinner.”
“Take my word for it!” Fitz-Hugh stormed. “He won’t ask for a piece of fruit! Now, go on!”
“I sort of lost my place,” Max said. “I think I better start at the beginning again.”
“Stupidido!” Fitz-Hugh shrieked. He grabbed the basket of fruit from Max’s hands. “I’ll show you! Step by step, I’ll show you what to do! Now, watch! And remember!”
Max squinted his eyes. “I’m watching.”
Fitz-Hugh stomped up to his follower. “This is the guard,” he said. “He asks me about the bomb in the basket. I tell him the bomb is a surprise to me. He asks me for it. I give it to him.” He handed the bomb to the follower. “Have you got it?” he said to Max.
“No, you gave it to him.”
“I mean, do you understand, so far, what you’re supposed to do?”
“Oh, yes, that. . yes.”
Fitz-Hugh stomped to the door of the hut. “This is the entrance to the Government Building,” he said. “Now, I enter the Government Building.” He stepped out through the doorway into the clearing. “Did you see that?” he called back.
“Got it!” Max replied.
“Now-are you listening?”
“You’re coming in loud and clear.”
“I’m in the Government Building,” Fitz-Hugh said. “I take the orange out of the basket, and-just like this-I pull the stem from the orange. Okay? Clear?”
“It isn’t going to work,” Max said.
“Did you pull the stem from the orange?”
“Yes. I told you I did.”
“If that orange were a bomb, it would have exploded when you pulled the stem,” Max pointed out.
“Say. . you know, you’re right.”
“Try the banana,” Max suggested.
“You’re right, maybe it’s the banana. I’ll just- No, that didn’t do it, either.”
“How about the apple?” Max called out.
“Ah, come on,” Max urged. “Even a Generalissimo can be wrong once in a while. The thing is to be a big enough man to admit it.”
“Give it a little pull,” Max said. “What harm could that do?”
“Okay. But only to prove that it isn’t the apple. If a Generalissimo is wrong, he isn’t really a Gen-”
The area was suddenly rocked by a tremendous explosion. Max, 99, and Hassan went flying up through the roof of the hut.
“Max, you tricked him,” 99 said proudly.
“Yes, I did,” Max admitted. “Though, frankly, it was as big a surprise to me as it was to him. All along, I thought it was the banana, not the apple.”
“Luckily, I knew it was the apple all the time,” Hassan said. “What would you two do without me?”
“Hassan is right, 99,” Max said. “We’re very fortunate to have him along.”
“I’m not so sure about that, Max.”
“You will be in a moment.”
“How is that, Max?”
“Because that explosion blew us pret-ty high, and in just a few moments we’re going to hit the ground.”
“I know, Max. But why are we fortunate to have Hassan along?”
“Because, if you will look closely, you will see that Hassan is flying a few feet below us. And when we land he’s going to break our fall.”
99 looked down. “That’s very considerate of you, Hassan,” she said. “I take back all the unkind things I’ve been thinking about you.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” Hassan said. “You come down here and let me get up there and you can think anything you want to about me.”
“I couldn’t,” 99 said. “I’m a girl.”
“Then how about this?” Hassan said. “Send Max down. Not only will I give you permission to think anything you want about me, but also I’ll throw in a chain-driven saxophone-the only one of its kind.”
But the offer was made too late.
Max and 99 landed, picked themselves up, then picked Hassan up. He was somewhat flatter, but otherwise he wasn’t much changed. Since they had landed clear of the revolutionists’ camp, they immediately set out on the trail again, wanting to avoid being recaptured. Many minutes later they decided it was finally safe to stop and rest.
“Well, Hassan,” Max said, “you did it again. Those cutthroats are far behind us by now.”
Hassan nodded. “Not bad for a flat guide, even if I do say so myself,” he said.
“It’s fine, except for one thing,” 99 said. “We’re lost.”
“Lost?” Max said. “We’re not lost, 99. We know exactly where we are.”
“Where are we, then, Max?”
“We’re right here.”
“I know that, Max. But where is here? I mean, where is here in relation to everywhere else?”
“99, I never claimed that everywhere else isn’t lost.”
“There is no problem,” Hassan said. “All we have to do is follow the signs.”
Max and 99 looked at him skeptically.
“Over there,” Hassan pointed.
Max and 99 looked, and, a few yards away, saw a low trailside sign that pointed into the jungle. Followed by Hassan, they walked to the sign and read it. It said:
TO DR. LIVINGSTROM
“Max, that sign isn’t really there,” 99 said. “It’s an illusion. It’s another of Whitestone’s tricks.”
“I know that, 99. It’s pretty obvious that it’s a Whitestone trick.” He touched a finger to the sign, then held it up. “See? The paint is still wet.”
“Then the thing for us to do is to go the other way,” 99 said.
“I disagree, 99. If we continue in this direction, I think we’ll find more signs. Whitestone is undoubtedly trying to lead us into a trap.”
“That’s why we ought to go in the other direction, Max. We don’t want to get caught in Whitestone’s trap.”
“But we do, 99. There’s an old saying: Where there’s a trap, there’s also a trapper. When we find that trap, we’ll find Whitestone. And, once we find him, I have every confidence that we can outwit him and take him prisoner. When we do that, it will be much simpler for us to complete our mission. We won’t have these illusions to contend with.”
“But, Max,” 99 argued, “if Whitestone has gone off in that direction, we can avoid him and his illusions simply by going in the opposite direction. And there wouldn’t be any danger of falling into a trap.”
Max sighed. “You explain it to her, Hassan,” he said.
“In my country,” Hassan said to 99, “there is an expression that, I think, will answer your questions. It goes: ‘When the voice of the turtle is heard in the land, it’s time to have your ears examined.’ ”
“That doesn’t help much,” 99 said.
“Let me explain it another way, 99,” Max said. “If we go in the other direction, in the direction you want to go, we’ll be going away from Dr. Livingstrom-right? And the object of our mission, remember, is to find Dr. Livingstrom.”
“Max, how do you know we’ll be going away from him?”
“Because he’s in this direction.”
“How can you be so sure of that, Max?”
“99, it’s obvious. Just look at the sign.”
99 drooped. “All right, Max,” she said, resigned. “We’ll do it your way.”
With Max now in the lead they set out in the direction indicated by the sign. Soon they came to a second sign, which said:
“That’s interesting,” Max said. “I wonder what it means?”
“It’s a teaser, Max,” 99 explained. “It’s intended to lure you on to the next sign to see what it says.”
“That is interesting,” Max said. “Let’s go.”
“But, Max, now we know it’s a trap. Whitestone is doing this deliberately to lead us on.”
“I know, I know, 99. Hurry.”
After a while, they reached a third sign, which said:
“Fascinating,” Max said. “Onward.”
And, moments later, they reached a fourth sign, which read:
silly to spread this message out over four signs when we could have put it on one and saved the cost of three signs, which, according to our bookkeeper, would have amounted to $12.68; a sum that, if put in the bank, and kept there for twenty-five years, earning five per cent interest, wouldn’t do us any good, anyway, because, by then, we would probably be too old to enjoy it.
“The tag line is a little disappointing,” Max said. “But I think the idea has a lot of merit. They probably could have got the whole message on one sign.”
“The reasoning is off, though,” Hassan said. “Nobody is ever too old to enjoy $12.68. For instance, $12.68 would make a down-payment on a chain-driven saxophone. What’s nicer for old folks than making music?”
“Max, what I don’t understand,” 99 said, “is why we’re not in a trap.”
“The trap is a few yards on, 99,” Max said. “See? Right over there,” he added, pointing.
99 looked and saw a spectacular sight. Rising out of a filmy cloud bank were the majestic white spires of a cluster of medieval castles. And then, listening, she heard the sounds of laughter and singing.
“Max! It’s Paradise!” 99 gasped.
“At least, that’s what Whitestone wants us to think,” Max said.
“Of course! It’s an illusion. It has to be an illusion. Paradise wouldn’t be stuck away out here in the middle of the jungle, would it?”
“Naturally not,” Max replied. “It would be somewhere on a main highway. Nobody wants to live in a place that’s more than an hour’s drive from town. But, this Paradise, illusion though it clearly is, does have one advantage. Somewhere within those walls, I think we’ll find Whitestone. And once we do that, and take him prisoner, completing our mission will be much easier.”
“I’m with you, Max,” 99 said.
“I’ll wait here,” Hassan said.
“No, you better come with us,” Max said to him. “We may need you to pull off another miracle.”
“They won’t let me in,” Hassan said. “I’m too flat.”
“Nonsense. There is no discrimination in Paradise, Hassan.”
The three followed the high wall that surrounded the illusion, and finally came to a gate. A tall, white-haired, distinguished old man, dressed in a flowing white robe, greeted them with outstretched arms and a gentle smile on his face.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” the old man said. “I am your host. Come in, come in.”
“Thank you,” Max said. “This is Paradise, isn’t it?”
“That’s the technical term,” their host replied. “We have our own word for it, though. We have named it after its founder-the Caliph of Phornia.”
“Max. .” 99 whispered. “Have you noticed our host’s looks-tall, white-haired and distinguished-looking. .”
“Of course, 99. Do you think I’m blind? Now, I’ll show you what I’m going to do about it.”
Max clipped the old man with a karate chop, dropping him to the ground.
“Why did you do that?” the old man asked puzzledly.
“Because you’re tall, white-haired and distinguished-looking,” Max replied. “That means that you’re Whitestone, the ex-vaudeville magician, now a KAOS agent.”
“You must be out of your head,” the host said, rising. “Everybody in my family is tall, white-haired and distinguished-looking. But I forgive you. There is no hate here-only love.”
“Gee, I’m sorry about that karate chop,” Max said contritely.
“It is forgotten,” the host smiled. “Now, let me show you our Paradise.”
Max, 99 and Hassan started to enter. But the host put out a hand, halting Hassan.
“Not you, fella,” he said. “You’re too flat.”
“You mean there’s discrimination even here?” Max said.
“What discrimination?” the host replied. “Your friend is welcome, too. But he’ll have to use the special entrance for flat people. It’s around in back.”
“But isn’t that discrimination, having a special entrance?” Max said.
“Not a bit,” the host replied. “It’s a simple matter of efficiency. See this entrance here-how wide it is? If a flat person passed through here, he wouldn’t use all the space. The space, in other words, would go to waste. So, we built a special, skinny entrance for flat people. That’s all-discrimination has nothing to do with it.”
“You can’t argue with the reasoning,” Max said to Hassan. “So maybe you better go around to the back.”
Hassan ambled off, following the wall.
“Where will we meet him?” Max said to the host.
“You won’t,” the host smiled. “The special entrance for flat people is closed.”
“Yes. You see, it’s so skinny that not even a flat person could get through it. So, since it was never used, we decided to close it.”
“Oh. Well, that makes sense,” Max said.
The host led them through the gate, into Paradise. The inhabitants, all dressed in flowing white robes, were singing and dancing in the streets.
“Is this all you people do here, just dance and sing?” Max asked.
“Yes. It’s what our founder, the Caliph, wanted. No toil. No violence. No hate. Only love. Eternal dancing and singing.”
“Of course not. We’re a modern society-we have the eight-hour day.”
“I see. What do you do then, after the eight hours?”
“Well, the singers and dancers switch to dancing and singing, and the dancers and singers switch to-”
“-singing and dancing,” Max nodded. Then, leaving the host’s side, he delivered a karate chop to the back of the neck of one of the singers, a tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking old man. The old man dropped to the ground.
“I suppose you had some reason for doing that,” the host smiled.
“This is the KAOS agent we came here to find,” Max explained. “I recognized him by his height, his white hair and his distinguished-looking appearance.”
“He’s my father,” the host said. “I told you, the whole family is tall, white-haired and distinguished-looking.”
Max bent down and helped the old gentleman to his feet. “Sorry about that,” he said.
“That’s all right,” the man replied. “It was kind of a nice change from all this singing and dancing. And I needed the rest, anyway.”
A crowd was gathering.
“How did you do that?” one of the other inhabitants said to Max. “I’ve never seen that done before.”
“That karate chop? It’s very simple. Here. . I’ll show you.”
He hit the host’s father another blow, flattening him once more.
“Thank you,” the old gentleman smiled up at him.
“Let me help you up,” Max said.
“No, I think I’ll stay down here. When you’ve been singing and dancing as long as I have, it’s a great relief to be able to lie flat on your face.”
“Is that what you do all day in the place where you come from?” another inhabitant asked Max.
“No, no,” Max replied. “We save karate chopping for special occasions. Mostly, we work.”
The people in the crowd looked at each other puzzledly.
“What is work?” one asked.
“Well, it’s. . uh, doing things,” Max replied. “There are many kinds of work. Brain surgery, for instance, is work. A brain surgeon is a doctor who opens up heads, and, assuming that he finds a brain, does. . ah, brain surgery.”
“Is it difficult?” another inhabitant asked.
“As I understand it, the opening up is a snap,” Max replied. “Any baseball pitcher with a wild arm can open up a head. But after that it can get complicated. Where I come from, you very seldom meet a brain surgeon who isn’t, at the very least, a high school graduate.”
“It sounds like fun!” a female inhabitant giggled.
“All right, break it up!” the host said, making shooing motions at the crowd. “Back to your singing and dancing.”
“All singing and dancing and no work makes Jack a dull boy,” one of the inhabitants complained hostilely.
“All right, Jack can have the day off,” the host said. “But the rest of you-let’s hear those high notes, let’s hear the tap, tap, tap of those dancing feet!”
The crowd began breaking up. But the dancing and singing did not resume. And the inhabitants were muttering grumpily.
“Max, I’m afraid you made them dissatisfied,” 99 said.
“Oh, they’ll adjust,” the host said confidently. “We’ve had these flare-ups before. Once when a group of rock’n’rollers tried to get in here, our people all wanted to take up the guitar.”
“Tried to get in?” Max said.
“We judged them on the basis of their singing, and had to send them around to the special entrance,” the host explained. “They were flat.”
At that moment, another tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking man approached them. Instantly, Max dropped him with a karate chop.
The host helped the man to his feet. “I’m sorry, little cousin Lucille,” he said. “Our guest doesn’t seem to be able to understand about our family trait.”
“He doesn’t understand our way of life, either,” little cousin Lucille said. “There’s trouble. And he’s the cause of it.”
“What trouble?” the host inquired.
“Our people are forming protest groups,” Lucille answered. “One group is protesting against singing and dancing and the other group is protesting against the group that’s protesting.”
A large number of inhabitants suddenly appeared, shouting and shaking fists, and headed for the place where Max and 99 and the host and his cousin Lucille were standing. Many were carrying signs, with such slogans as:
SINGING AND DANCING
THE FAMILY THAT PERFORMS BRAIN
SURGERY TOGETHER STAYS TOGETHER!
UP WITH WORK!
‘DOWN BY THE OLD MILL STREAM’!
The inhabitants surrounded Max and 99 and the host and Lucille, shouting the slogans, and angrily shaking their fists at the host.
“Citizens! Citizens!” the host pleaded. “Quiet! Quiet, please!”
But the shouts became louder.
“Shut up!” the host raged. “Or I’ll hit you with a lightning bolt!”
There was sudden silence.
“Now, then,” the host smiled. “What seems to be the grievance?”
“We want work!” an inhabitant yelled.
Others took up the chant. “We want Work! We want Work! We want Work!”
The host shook his own fist. “You’re going to get it! Oh, such a lightning bolt!”
‘Think!” the host said, smiling once more. “Suppose I let you do a little work-making your own beds, say, taking out the garbage, mowing the grass. It wouldn’t be long before you’d tire of it. You’d be sneaking off, leaving your work, dancing and singing again. Take my advice-leave well enough alone.”
The inhabitants began shouting the slogans again.
“Brain surgery is dangerous!” the host raged at them. “You could cut a finger!”
“We want Work! We want Work! We want Work!” they chanted.
At that moment, the group of inhabitants who were protesting against the protesting came into view. They, too, were shouting and shaking their fists and carrying signs.
“Max, maybe we better leave,” 99 said. “I don’t think Whitestone is here, anyway.”
“We can’t go yet, 99. I’m sure he’s here somewhere. Maybe he’ll be with this new group of protesters.”
The anti-protest protesters were near enough now that their signs could be read:
IF WORK IS WHAT YOU WANT,
WHY DON’T YOU GO BACK
WHERE YOU CAME FROM?
I DIDN’T BRING UP MY BOY
TO BE A BRAIN SURGEON!
The anti-protest protesters surrounded the protesters, still shouting and shaking their fists. But it was difficult to hear what they were saying over the shouts of the protesters. The protesters were now shouting loudly that the anti-protest protesters, by surrounding them, had violated their rights. And a group of protesters broke off from the main force, pushed its way through the line of anti-protest protesters, surrounded them, and formed a new protest group called the anti-anti-protest protesters.
“Oh, boy, are they asking for a lightning bolt!” the host groaned disgustedly.
99 tugged at Max’s sleeve. “Max. . let’s go. .” she urged.
“Wait a minute, 99. I think I see Whitestone. See? Over there at the edge of the crowd. The one holding the sign that says, ‘The Host is Always Right!’ ”
“Hands off,” the host warned. “That’s my sister Bertha.”
“Oh. . sorry. .”
“Max, please, let’s leave,” 99 begged.
“Maybe you’re right, 99. We’ll slip out the back way.”
But as Max and 99 started to leave, one of the anti-protest protesters shouted, “Stop them! We were all happy dancers and singers until they came here!”
“Who was a happy dancer and singer?” one of the protesters protested. “You know how I went home every night? Raw tonsils and bruised toes! Is that any way to live!”
The anti-protest protester dropped the protester with a karate chop.
“Why, you anti-protest protester you!” the protester screamed, leaping up. He dropped the anti-protest protester with a karate chop.
The anti-protest protester was back on his feet in an instant, though. “Karate chop me, will you, you would-be worker, you,” he snarled. “Take this!” And he dropped the protester with a karate chop.
Karate chops began flying in all directions, as the protesters attacked the anti-protest protesters and the anti-protest protesters attacked the protesters, both of whom were then attacked by the anti-anti-protest protesters.
“It’s a shame,” Max said, looking back, as he and 99 made their way toward the gate. “They were all so happy before, singing and dancing.”
“Well, it probably got to be too much like work, Max,” 99 said.
“Then what are they fighting about?”
“They wouldn’t be human if they didn’t fight, Max.”
“I suppose that explains it.”
They reached the gate. And as they passed through they heard the voice of the host in the background, shouting in violent rage.
“Okay! You asked for it! This is your last chance! Cut out the foolishness! Or, oh, baby-such a lightning bolt!”
Hassan was waiting for them. “How’re things in Caliphphornia?” he asked.
“About the same,” Max replied. “Shall we go?”
Max took the lead and they pushed on into the jungle. But after they had been traveling for about a half-hour, he called them to a halt.
“What is it, Max?” 99 said.
“I think before we go any further, there’s something I ought to mention,” Max said. “I haven’t the vaguest idea where I’m leading us.”
“I know exactly where you’re taking us,” Hassan said. “After all, that’s my job. I’m the guide.”
“Good,” Max said. “Where are we headed?”
“In the wrong direction.”
“You could have said something, you know,” Max said.
“Not me. I know when to keep my mouth shut. What are you paying me for? To guide? Or to run off at the chops? To guide, that’s what you’re paying me for. If you’d wanted a blabbermouth, you’d’ve hired a blabbermouth-right? I know my duty. To guide, that’s what I’m here for. You won’t catch me boring you with a lot of jabber-jabber-jabber about which way to go. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: a guide should be seen, not heard. A guide should be out in front, leading the pack, showing the way. What good is a guide who lags behind, making snide remarks and causing dissension in the ranks? Why, a guide like that is a traitor to his craft. That’s why I didn’t say anything.”
“Just one little question, Hassan,” Max said. “If you’re supposed to be out front, leading the pack, showing the way, why aren’t you?”
“Because the pack is going in the wrong direction,” Hassan replied. “That puts me in the rear. But if the pack would turn around, I’d be in the lead-right?”
“He’s right about that, Max,” 99 said.
“All right-about face!” Max commanded.
They all turned and faced in the opposite direction. The move placed Hassan in the lead. Once more, the party set out.
After a while, Max said, “Hassan, I don’t want to be a trouble-maker, but how do you know that, now, we’re going in the right direction?”
“Simple logic,” Hassan replied. “Before, we were going in the wrong direction-correct?”
“And we did an about-face, turning us in the opposite direction-correct? And what is the opposite direction of the wrong direction?”
“The right direction.”
“Brilliant,” Hassan said. “You could be a guide yourself.”
“Max. .” 99 said, sniffing the air, “. . do you smell something?”
“Hassan,” Max said, “you better move back here to the rear.”
“No, Max,” 99 said. “This is. . isn’t it. . yes, it is, it’s the same odor we smelled when we were back in that cannibal village.”
They halted, and Max and Hassan turned their noses into the wind.
“99, you’re right!” Max said, making a face. “It’s the terrible odor! We’ve picked up Dr. Livingstrom’s trail again! Hassan-full speed ahead!”
“Do you want some advice?” Hassan said, hesitating.
“No, Hassan. A guide should be seen, not heard.”
“Maybe we better listen, Max,” 99 said.
“All right, Hassan. What’s the advice?”
“You better change that command to: full speed to the rear,” Hassan said. “Do you hear that rumble?”
Max and 99 listened, and heard a noise in the distance that sounded something like thunder.
“Hassan, is there, by any chance, a bowling alley anywhere near here?” Max said.
“The nearest bowling alley is in Provo, Utah,” Hassan replied. “That’s the animals you hear.”
“Hassan, I am willing to believe that animals can be taught to bowl. But I refuse to believe that they’re so fond of the game that they’d travel all the way to Provo, Utah, to-”
“Max, he means the animals are stampeding!” 99 said. “That’s the sound we hear! They’ve smelled the odor and they’re fleeing from it in panic!”
“Oh. That’s very interesting.” He turned to Hassan. “Do you think we’ll be able to see it?”
“I’m positive,” Hassan said. “All we’ll have to do is look up. We’re right in the animals’ path.”
“Let me get this straight,” Max said. “What you’re saying is that if we remain here we’ll be trampled by the stampeding animals-is that right?”
“It’s not right-I’m too flat to die-but it happens to be the way the ball is bouncing right at this moment,” Hassan replied.
“Max! That sound is getting closer,” 99 said fearfully.
“I know, 99. I’m not deaf. I’m also aware of the fact that we’re in great danger. And, I think that the longer we stay here the greater the danger becomes. But I don’t want to make a decision without first hearing what Hassan has to say on the matter. Remember what happened the last time? When I plunged ahead without getting his advice? I led us in the wrong direction.”
“Max!” 99 shouted, “I can’t hear you over the sound of the thundering hoofs!”
“What I’m saying, 99!” Max shouted back, “is that I don’t want to make a mistake! If it were entirely up to me, I’d say that we ought to run! But, Hassan-”
“Max,” 99 screamed. “Hassan isn’t here!”
“Isn’t here? Oh, yes. . I see. There he is, running through the jungle! Well, 99, that gives me a pretty good idea what his advice would be. So-”
Max and 99 plunged into the jungle, following Hassan, fleeing the sound of the stampeding animals.
“Max, we’ll never find a place to hide,” 99 said. “The animals are everywhere!”
“99, in a case like this, you have to depend on the quick thinking of your guide. That’s what guides are best at, protecting you in instances of dire emergency.” He called to Hassan. “Do you have a place in mind for us to hide!”
“The perfect spot!” Hassan yelled back. “A bowling alley in Provo, Utah. It’s never had an animal stampede!”
“That’s quick thinking, all right,” Max said. “But isn’t Provo, Utah, a bit far from here?”
“You’re trying to lead again,” Hassan said admonishingly.
“Sorry about that.”
“Max. . up ahead. . look!” 99 said. “There’s Paradise again. Maybe we can hide in there!”
“99, that’s only an illusion.”
“I know, Max. But it’s closer than Provo, Utah. So couldn’t we take advantage of it, anyway?”
“I’ll ask Hassan,” Max replied. “Hassan-” he called.
“Don’t bother me with questions!” Hassan yelled. “Quick-into the illusion. It’s a short-cut to Provo, Utah.”
The three dashed through the gate. Ahead, they could hear the sounds of battle; the protesters, the anti-protesters and the anti-anti-protesters apparently were still fighting. A moment later they reached the scene of the fray.
The host was shaking both fists at the inhabitants, who were busily engaged in dropping each other with karate chops.
“Okay, this is it!” the host raged. “I’ve been kidding before, but this is really it! I’m warning you! Stop the foolishness! Do you hear me? You’re really going to get it! Honest Injun! You really are! Such a lightning bolt! You’re really going to get it!”
Max, 99 and Hassan tried to push their way through the battling inhabitants. But they were mistaken for protesters and dropped with karate chops.
“Max, the stampede is getting closer!” 99 wailed. “We’ll be trampled!”
At that moment, however, one of the anti-protesters got a whiff of the terrible odor. “It’s the lightning bolt!” he shrieked.
Instantly, the rest of the anti-protesters, joined by the protesters and anti-anti-protesters hiked up their flowing white robes and fled the terrible odor.
“I warned them,” the host said.
“Uh, I don’t like to prick your bubble,” Max said. “But that wasn’t a lightning bolt.”
“Oh?” the host said, crestfallen.
“No, that’s a terrible odor, accompanied by the sound of stampeding animals,” Max said.
“Then what’s a lightning bolt?” the host asked.
“A great flash of light that destroys everything in its path,” Max replied.
The host looked around. “Well, they’re gone,” he said.
“But there was no great, flash of light,” Max pointed out.
“So? So it was a different kind of lightning bolt. It did the job, that’s what’s important.”
99 tugged at Max’s sleeve. “Max, please, let’s go!”
“You better come with us,” Max said to the host. “In a few moments this place is going to be trampled underfoot by a stampede of thousands of fear-crazed jungle animals.”
“Let ’em come,” the host replied cockily. “I’ll hit ’em with a lightning bolt.” He lowered his voice. “Frankly, I’d never used it before. But, now that I’ve got the hang of it, I’m invincible.”
“Max. . let’s go!”
“99, I think we have a duty to convince our host that he is not invincible,” Max said.
“Max, in a few minutes, when those animals come stampeding through here, he’s going to find that out.”
“You have a point there, 99. Experience is the best teacher.”
“Let’s go, 99!”
Max, 99 and Hassan raced on. Soon they reached the wall that enclosed the illusion.
“Max! We’re trapped!” 99 cried.
“Hardly, 99. Remember-that wall is an illusion. We only imagine that it’s there.”
“You mean we can crash right through it?”
“No, what I mean is that if we can imagine that there’s a wall there, then we can just as easily imagine that there’s a ladder leaning against it.”
“Max, you’re right! Look! A ladder!”
“Up and over!” Max said, mounting the ladder.
Max, 99 and Hassan cleared the wall, then went dashing on into the jungle, followed by the terrible odor and the sound of stampeding animals.
“Max. . wasn’t that a little strange,” 99 said. “Until you mentioned it, there was no ladder there. Then suddenly it appeared. Whitestone must be somewhere nearby.”
“99, that’s ridiculous. That ladder helped us escape. Why would Whitestone do that for us?”
“I don’t know, Max. Unless-”
99 was interrupted by a ringing sound.
“Will somebody get the door,” Max said.
“I think it was your shoe,” Hassan said.
“Oh. . yes. .”
Hopping on one foot, Max removed his shoe.
Max: 86, here. Is that you, Chief?
Chief: Are you all right, Max? You sound a little out of breath.
Max: That’s because I’m out of breath, Chief. You see, we’re being pursued by a stampede of fear-stricken jungle animals.
Operator: You wouldn’t catch Arnold in a position like that.
Max: Oh, is that so? What would Arnold do?
Operator: He’d hit ’em with a lightning bolt.
Chief: Max, in case you don’t escape that stampede, maybe you better tell me what information you’ve gathered on Dr. Livingstrom-so I can pass it on to the agent who takes over the case.
Operator: Yes, Arnold will appreciate that, Max.
Max (hurt): Chief. . Operator. . I’m surprised. Don’t I always manage to extricate myself from these impossible situations? Have a little faith. Believe in me.
Chief: I’m sorry, Max. Of course, I believe in you.
Operator: I’m sorry, too, Max. You’ll pull through-I’m sure you will. But, Max, when those stampeding animals catch up with you and you fall, will you fall on your shoe phone, please? I wouldn’t want it to be damaged. Arnold will need it when he takes over for you.
Chief: Operator, I think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself. Arnold still hasn’t filled out an application.
Max: Some secret agent candidate. He can’t even find the Chief’s office.
Operator: It must be hiding.
Chief: Operator, my office is right where it’s always been.
Operator: That explains it. Arnold was probably expecting a trick. He knows how tricky secret agents are. Hide your office, Chief, so Arnold will be able to find it.
Chief: I will not!
Operator: You won’t even give Arnold a chance! Shame on you! Both of you!
Chief: I’m sorry, Operator. Maybe you’re right. I’ll move my office down the hall a few doors, if you think that’ll help.
Operator: That’s the spirit! And, Max, what about you? Will you get trampled by an elephant now?
Max (listening with one ear to the sound of the stampeding animals): I may not have much choice, Operator. There’s bound to be an elephant somewhere in that stampede.
Operator: Wonderful! Let’s ring off now. We all have work to do. Chief-get that office hidden. Max-fall down in front of an elephant. And, Max, remember-when you fall, fall on Arnold’s shoe phone! But gently!
Max hung up.
“Max, this scenery looks familiar,” 99 said. “Haven’t we been through here before?”
“I don’t know,” Max replied. “How about it, Hassan? Have we been this way before?”
“It depends,” Hassan replied. “Have you ever taken the short-cut to Provo, Utah, before?”
“Max!” 99 said. “I know where we are! We’re-”
Before 99 could complete the statement, she and Max and Hassan found themselves suddenly surrounded by the revolutionaries they had left behind hours earlier. They recognized the follower who had taken notes at their trial. Apparently he was the new leader.
“A-ha! We knew you’d come down sooner or later!” he said.
“Come down?” Max said.
“Thought you could escape by blowing yourselves sky-high, eh?” the new leader said. “Well, it didn’t work. Now, line up! We promised you an execution, and you’re going to get it!”
“Well, I guess this is it, 99,” Max said. “Our luck has run out. All we can do is line up. Now, let’s see, how shall we do this-alphabetically?”
“How about according to height?” Hassan said, “I’ll stand in the rear.”
“I don’t think that would be quite fair, Hassan,” Max said. “If you were standing in the rear, you’d be behind 99 and me, and the executioners wouldn’t be able to see you.”
“That’s the breaks,” Hassan smiled.
“No, alphabetically, I think, is fairer all around. Let’s see, now. . ‘H’ for ‘Hassan’ comes first. Then. . mmmmm. . which is next in the alphabet, ‘S’ for ‘Smart’ or ‘9’ for ‘99’?” Shaking his head, he turned to the new leader. “I’m afraid this isn’t going to work. Letters and numbers just don’t mix. The execution will have to be called off.”
“No, just a minute,” the new leader said. “I think we can work something out. How about lining up according to age?”
“Never!” 99 said. “I’d rather die than tell my age!”
The new leader sniffed the air. “What’s that?”
“Would you believe a lightning bolt?” Max said.
The new leader cocked an ear. “I think you’re right. I hear thunder.”
“That’s a stampede,” Max said. “In a very few minutes, a pack of fear-stricken jungle animals will come charging through this camp, destroying everything and everyone in its path. So, if you’re going to hold an execution, you’d better get on with it, before we’re all killed.”
“There’s the problem about lining up,” the new leader reminded him.
“It’s been my experience,” Max said, “that a problem is a problem only if you make it a problem. Now, if you’d just tell your men to go ahead and shoot, I think the problem of lining up would take care of itself.”
“I’ll try it,” the new leader said. “But, frankly, it sounds like only a temporary solution to me.” He turned to his men. “Ready! Aim!” He looked around puzzledly. “Men? Where are you?”
Max pointed. “Are those your men? The fellows racing toward the jungle, holding their noses?”
“Men! Come back!” the new leader called. “Running away won’t solve the problem!”
“I don’t think they can hear you over the thunder of the stampede,” Max said.
The new leader went chasing after them. “Wait! Wait! You’re supposed to be the followers-I’m supposed to be the leader!”
Max, 99 and Hassan dashed toward the jungle, too, using the trail being blazed by the fleeing revolutionaries. Behind them the thunder of hoofs grew louder.
There was a ringing sound.
Hopping on one foot, Max removed his shoe.
Max: 86, here.
Voice (female): Congratulations, Mr. 86! You have just won ten free dance lessons!
Max: Gee! That’s wonderful. But, at the moment, I’m afraid I won’t be able to take advantage of it. You see, I’m being chased by a stampede of fear-stricken jungle animals.
Voice: That is too bad. But is there anyone else there who might be interested in ten free dance lessons? It’s a wonderful opportunity. All you have to do to get your free lessons is sign up for an additional five hundred paid lessons, at a nominal cost of only three hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars. Where can you beat a deal like that?
Max: Hold on a moment, please.
Max turned to 99. “99, are you interested in free dance lessons?”
“Gee, I don’t know, Max?” 99 replied. “What dances do they teach?”
“I didn’t ask. Why don’t you talk to the girl, 99. She can probably answer your questions.” He took off his other shoe and handed it to 99. “You can use the extension,” he said.
99: Hello? What was it now about dance lessons?
Voice: Congratulations, Mrs. 86! You’ve-
99: No, no, I’m not Mrs. 86. I’m 99.
Voice: Congratulations, Mrs. 99! You’ve just won ten free dance lessons. And all it will cost you is three hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars.
99: Oh, well, that lets me out. I just couldn’t afford it.
Voice: Mr. 86? Are you still there? Do you have any friends who aren’t cheap?
Max: Miss, I’m afraid I’m going to have to hang up now. I think I mentioned that we’re being pursued by a pack of fear-stricken jungle animals.
Voice: Oh. Well, then, look, could you do me a favor? Put one of the animals on.
Max hung up and put his shoes back on.
“Max! Up ahead!” 99 said. “The bridge! The Peace Corpsmen must have rebuilt it!”
“And just in time,” Max said. “Apparently our luck hasn’t deserted us.”
As Max, 99 and Hassan rushed up to the bridge, they were met by the Peace Corpsmen. “How does it look?” the leader said proudly.
“Like it was built by a drop-out from the Massachusetts College of Dentistry,” Max replied. “Is it safe?”
“It must be,” the leader replied. “A bunch of people in flowing white robes just crossed it, and, after that, a bunch of followers, who were followed by their leader. It held them.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Max said. “99, Hassan-let’s go.”
“Max. . shouldn’t you tell them about the stampede?”
“Oh. . yes. Look, fellas,” Max said, “there’s something I think you ought to know. In a very few minutes, a pack of fear-stricken wild animals is going to come charging through here.”
“Nice of you to mention it,” the leader smiled.
“You’d better get out of here,” Max said.
“No, thank you, we’ll stay.”
“Fellas, I realize how dedicated you are,” Max said. “But isn’t this carrying dedication a bit too far?”
“It isn’t that,” the leader said. “You see, the only way to escape is across that bridge.”
“We’d rather face a stampede of fear-stricken wild animals than risk our lives on a bridge built by a drop-out from the Massachusetts College of Dentistry,” the leader explained. “We figure our chances for survival will be better.”
Again, 99 tugged at Max’s sleeve. “Max. . the stampede is getting closer!”
The three rushed onto the bridge, headed for the opposite bank of the river. But as they reached the center of the span they heard a splintering sound. An instant later the bridge collapsed, and they hurtled downward toward the river.
“There’s a lesson in this, 99,” Max said. “Never cross a bridge that a bridge-builder won’t cross.”
“In my country, we have a saying,” Hassan said. “When the cuckoo flies west, it’s time for Polly to put the kettle on.”
“I don’t think I quite understand that, Hassan,” Max said.
“Polly is a girl who lives out West,” Hassan explained.
“Yes, I got that part of it. But the cuckoo?”
“Oh. She cooks cuckoos in a kettle.”
“Yes, I guessed that. But what I don’t get is the connection between Polly and cooked cuckoos and this bridge.”
“Any dumb dame who would be nutty enough to think she could get a cuckoo to fly into a kettle of boiling water would also be crazy enough to cross a bridge that a bridge-builder wouldn’t cross.”
“You see, 99,” Max said. “Sometimes at first these old sayings don’t seem to make sense. But if you examine them closely-”
At that instant they landed on something solid.
“The water’s a little hard in these parts,” Max complained.
“Max! We landed on the back of a hippopotamus!” 99 cried. “And, look, he’s swimming upstream! We’re saved!”
But the hippo immediately submerged. And Max, 99 and Hassan found themselves floundering in the water.
“We have a saying in our country,” Hassan groaned. “Never yell ‘We’re saved!’ when you’re riding on the back of a hippopotamus.”
“Max! We’re being swept toward the falls!” 99 cried.
“Lucky for us, 99! Because the crocodiles are bearing down on us from the other direction!”
A moment later, Max, 99 and Hassan were swept over the waterfall. They jumped to their feet and ran toward the opposite shore, and reached dry land just in time. For the stampeding animals had arrived at the river and were swimming across.
“Hassan, exactly how far is Provo, Utah, from here?” Max said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Hassan replied. “We’ll never make it.”
“He’s right, Max!” 99 wailed. “All is lost!”
“Hassan! 99! We can’t quit! Run!”
They dived into the underbrush. Behind them, once more, they heard the thunder of hoofs.
“Max! It’s too late!” 99 screamed. “We’ll be trampled-Max? Max, where are you?”
“Look down, 99.”
99 looked down. And saw Max looking up-from the bottom of a deep pit.
“Max. . isn’t that the pit we dug to trap Whitestone?”
“Yes, 99, I think it is. But it probably isn’t essential right now that we definitely identify the pit. Suppose it turned out that this isn’t the same pit? We would still be faced with the same problem-namely, getting me out of here.”
“Good thinking, Max. Here. . I’ll reach you my hand. Hassan,” she called, “hold onto me.”
99 reached a hand into the pit. Hassan held onto her.
And Max pulled them both into the pit with him.
“It didn’t work, Max,” 99 said.
“I wouldn’t exactly say that, 99. It worked. It just didn’t work in the way we had planned.”
“We have a saying in my country,” Hassan said. “Oi! What a development!”
“Yes, it’s a pretty kettle of fish, all right,” Max said. “In a very few minutes, those wild animals are going to come charging through here, fall into this pit, and land right on top of us. Our pretty kettle of fish is going to be a pretty pit of lions, tigers, elephants, jackals, and hippopotamuseseses.”
“Max, maybe there’s still time to escape,” 99 said. She made a cup of her hands. “I’ll give you a boost up-the way we did it last time.”
“99, that was the last time. This time, I think it would be proper to observe the niceties. Ladies first. I’ll give you a boost up.”
“Max, there isn’t time for that!” 99 said anxiously.
“99, I don’t like to be picky, but let’s examine this closely. Now, the object of one or the other of us giving the other a boost up is to save our lives-right? And, if we save our lives, we’ll-as the saying goes-live-right? But, 99, what kind of a life would it be for me if I had to live with the knowledge that I gained my life at the sacrifice of the niceties? I couldn’t sleep nights, 99, thinking about it. And I doubt very much that, after that, you could honestly respect me. Oh, you’d pretend, I know. You’d-”
“Max, don’t be picky. Nobody likes a picky secret agent.”
“All right, 99, give me a boost up.”
99 cupped her hands again.
“Just a moment,” Hassan said. “Shouldn’t I go first? This is your pit, you know. So, in a sense, I’m only a guest here. In my country, a guest always goes first.”
“He’s right, 99,” Max said. “I think if we examine this closely-”
“I don’t care who goes first!” 99 shrieked. “But somebody-GO!”
Hassan put a foot in 99’s cupped hands. “On the count of three!” he said.
“Three!” 99 yelled. She shoved.
But Hassan wasn’t ready. He did a loop-de-loop and tumbled back into the pit, landing on Max. There was a psssssssht! sound. Plastic spray shot into the air, and instantly hardened, forming a cover over the pit. A second later there was another sound-the sound of pounding hoofs overhead.
“It’s the stampeding animals!” 99 cried. “Max, we’re saved. That plastic cover kept the animals from falling into the pit on top of us!”
“Missed us by that much,” said Max holding his finger slightly apart from his thumb.
“Yes, I did it again,” Hassan smiled. “You can always depend on your experienced, dependable, trustworthy guide.”
“I think I can take a little credit for this one,” Max said. “After all, if I hadn’t been carrying that tube of plastic spray in my back pocket, this wouldn’t have happened when you landed on me.”
“It never fails,” Hassan said disgustedly. “Pass a miracle, and some total stranger always comes along and tries to claim the credit. It happened to Abkar Ben Gay, my own countryman, when he invented the electric light.”
“Abkar Ben Gay?” Max said. “Hassan, it was Thomas Edison who invented the electric light.”
“See? Some total stranger always comes along and claims the credit.”
“Now, look here, Hassan-”
“Max,” 99 interrupted, “it doesn’t matter. What’s important is, the stampede has passed us by. Now we can follow the scent of that terrible odor and find Dr. Livingstrom.”
“You’re right, 99. Give me a boost up, so I can lift the lid from this pit.”
Once more, 99 cupped her hands.
Max put his foot into her hands-but at that moment there was a ringing sound.
“99-will you get the phone, please,” Max said. “You’re holding it.”
“Max, in a minute.” She boosted him up. “Can you lift the cover?”
“Yes, 99-but the phone.”
The shoe rang again.
“Max, the phone will wait. Lift the cover.”
Max removed the cover from the pit, then crawled out. Leaning over the edge of the pit, he said, “99-will you please answer the phone.”
“Max, I don’t have it any more. It’s on your foot.”
“Oh. . yes.”
Max took off his shoe. But when he put it to his ear all he heard was a dial tone.
“Who’s calling, Max?”
“I don’t know. Whoever it was hung up again.”
“Never mind, Max. Help us out.”
“99, do you suppose it was the same person who called me before and hung up? Or do you think this time it was someone else?”
“I don’t know, Max. But if it was important, whoever it was will call back.”
“That’s what you said the last time, 99.”
“Well. . this time it was probably the person who called the last time calling back.”
“Then you think the call was important?”
“Max, I don’t know! Will you help us out, please!”
“I hate to miss an important call, 99.”
“Oh. Sorry about that, 99.”
Max reached a hand into the pit. He helped 99 to safety, then he and 99 pulled Hassan from the hole.
“Max, the scent is still in the air,” 99 said. “If we hurry, we can track it to Dr. Livingstrom.”
Max plunged into the jungle.
99 and Hassan ran after him.
“Max, is it necessary to go this fast?” 99 said.
“It’s essential, 99. My peace of mind depends on it. I have to find out if it’s Dr. Livingstrom who’s been calling me and hanging up before I could answer.”
“Max. .” 99 panted, racing to keep up, “. . Dr. Livingstrom doesn’t even know you exist. .”
“I know that, 99. But maybe he’s been calling someone else and getting a wrong number.”
By the time they had reached the site of the revolutionaries’ camp, now deserted, Max had slowed down. They proceeded at a normal pace, following the scent, and soon came to the river. They crossed it at the shallowest point, the falls. There, they found a plaque that had been mounted on a tree. The plaque read:
On this site, a half-dozen members of the Peace Corps gave their time and energy-and no little amount of heart-to constructing a bridge that would span this mighty river. But it was busted down by a bunch of secret agents and some other guy in a burnoose who kept crossing it. You can’t expect a bridge to last if a lot of guys are going to be all the time walking around on it. So to heck with it. We’re going back to the Massachusetts College of Dentistry, where, when you build a bridge, you don’t get a lot of guys walking around on it.
Six Disgusted and Disillusioned
Guys Who Won’t Get Caught
Helping No Other Under-developed
Country that lets guys walk
around on Bridges, you can
bet your life, boy!
“Too bad,” Max said. “It was such a worthy cause.”
“But, Max, the project was so pointless,” 99 said. “There was no need for a bridge here.”
“Well, then, in a sense, I guess you could say that they succeeded,” Max said. “If there’s no need for a bridge, and they didn’t build one, then they accomplished something, at least. It’s just too bad that they went home thinking they were failures.”
“Max, they’re young. They’ll get over it.”
“I suppose so.”
Max, 99 and Hassan continued on their way. After a while they came to Paradise. It, too, was deserted-except for the host. The host was rising from the dust.
Max helped him to his feet.
“Where is everybody?” the host said groggily.
“They ran,” Max explained.
“Lucky them, they got out in time,” the host muttered. “My lightning bolt must have backfired.” He stumbled off into the clouds of dust.
“Max, shouldn’t we tell him that it was a stampede, not a lightning bolt, that did that to him?” 99 said.
“And destroy a beautiful myth, 99?”
“You’re right, as usual, Max.”
The three moved on, entering the jungle again. They found a trail and followed it.
“The odor is getting stronger, Max,” 99 said. “I’m sure we’re on the right track.”
“It might be the library,” Max said.
“The library? Max, what library smells like that?”
“No, 99, I’m not talking about the odor. I’m thinking about that call. It might have been the library calling me. I think I have a book that’s overdue.”
“Max, forget about that call. Keep your mind on your work.”
“Work. . 99, do you suppose the employment office was calling me? Maybe they heard that Arnold is trying to get my job.”
“Max, please forget- Max! Look! Up ahead! Another native village!”
Max peered up the trail. “I doubt it, 99,” he said. “What we have here, I suspect, is another illusion. You’ll notice that the native village is deserted. And no native village is really a native village without natives.”
“Max, I think I can explain that,” 99 said. “See that one hut, the one where something like steam is coming up out of the opening in the roof? I think that steam is what is causing the terrible odor.”
“99, that doesn’t explain where the natives are.”
“The terrible odor has driven them away, Max.”
“Then why isn’t it driving us away?”
“Because, see, the breeze is blowing the steam in the other direction. We’re getting only a faint whiff of the terrible odor.”
Max looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he said, “99, I think I can explain this. Do you see that steam rising from that hut? It’s my guess that that steam is the cause of the terrible odor. And, furthermore, I think the odor has driven the natives from the village.”
“But why isn’t the odor driving us away, Max?”
“Beats me, 99. Just luck, I guess.”
“Max, do you think we’ll find Dr. Livingstrom in that hut?”
“99, you may find this hard to believe, but it’s my guess that we’ll find Dr. Livingstrom in that hut.”
“Of course, on the other hand, we might not,” 99 said. “We might find Whitestone posing as Dr. Livingstrom.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out what we’ll find out,” Max said. “Let’s go find out.”
They continued cautiously along the trail. Reaching the village, they walked warily toward the hut.
“Max, how will we know whether it’s Whitestone or Dr. Livingstrom?” 99 asked.
“99, there is one way to distinguish illusion from reality. I’ve been saving it in case of emergency.”
“What’s the way, Max?”
“It’s very simple. For example, when a magician tells you he’s going to pull a rabbit out of a hat, and tells you to keep your eye on his right hand, the thing to do is, instead, keep your eye on his left hand. Every time, you’ll catch him stuffing the rabbit into the hat from underneath-with his left hand!”
“You mean all we have to do is keep our eyes on whoever-this-is’s left hand?”
“Max, somehow, I don’t think that will work.”
Max halted. “I’ll prove it to you, 99.” He turned to Hassan. “Hassan, pretend that you’re going to pull a rabbit from a hat.”
“Okay, keep your eye on my right hand.”
Max, instead, stared, narrow-eyed, at Hassan’s left hand.
“Hocus-Pocus!” Hassan cried.
Max’s eyes opened wide. He peered puzzledly at the tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking gentleman who was standing before him. “In the first place,” he said, “you don’t look anything at all like a rabbit. And, in the second place, what did you do with Hassan?”
“Max!” 99 cried. “It’s Whitestone! He’s been with us all along! Hassan was only an illusion!”
“She’s right,” Whitestone said. “It was all illusion. I was never really short, squat and dark. I have been tall, white-haired and distinguished-looking all the while.”
“That certainly is a relief,” Max said.
“A relief, Max?”
“Yes. Now, we don’t have to worry about whoever-it-is in that hut being Whitestone. I think that it can be assumed without any doubt at all that whoever-it-is is Dr. Livingstrom.”
“A very clever deduction, 86,” Whitestone said. He whipped out a pistol and held it on Max and 99. “And Dr. Livingstrom is mine, all mine!” he cackled.
At that instant, a short, squat, dark, undistinguished-looking man stepped from the hut. “Did someone call me?” he said.
“No, Dr. Livingstrom, someone called me,” Max said. “But I couldn’t get to my shoe quick enough. It wasn’t you, by any chance, was it? Calling a friend and getting a wrong number, perhaps?”
Dr. Livingstrom stared at him blankly.
“Never mind him,” Whitestone said. “Just confirm your identity. You are Dr. Livingstrom, I presume.”
Dr. Livingstrom turned his blank stare on Whitestone. “Am I?” he replied. “If you say so, I suppose I am. I’m never sure. Like all scientists, I’m a bit absent-minded, you know.”
“Maybe this will give you a clue,” Max said. “ ‘Brassica Oleracia-212°.’ Does that mean anything to you?”
Dr. Livingstrom suddenly brightened. “My heavens, yes!” he said. “I am Dr. Livingstrom!”
“Now, we’re getting somewhere,” Whitestone said. “Dr. Livingstrom, I know how busy you are. I don’t want to take up a lot of your valuable time. If you’ll just give me the formula for your gas, or whatever it is, I’ll do away with you and these other two and I’ll be on my way.”
“Don’t do it, Doctor!” Max said. “The key phrase is ‘do away with.’ By that, he means that after you give him the formula for the gas, or whatever it is, he’ll eliminate us.”
“Are you sure you’re not looking for some other Dr. Livingstrom?” Dr. Livingstrom said to Whitestone. “I don’t recall having a formula for a gas, or whatever it is.”
“Don’t pull that absent-minded business on me,” Whitestone warned sinisterly. “We traced the terrible odor to this village. And when we got here we found that the natives had taken a powder. Then we saw steam rising from the hole in the roof of that hut.” He turned the gun on Dr. Livingstrom. “Talk! What is it?”
Dr. Livingstrom turned his head and looked up toward the hole in the roof of the hut. “I don’t know why you need me to tell you,” he said. “You’re right-it’s steam.”
“Excuse me,” Max said to Whitestone. “Do you mind if I try?”
“Go ahead,” Whitestone replied. “If you get the secret from him, I’ll have a better reason for rubbing you out. I couldn’t let you live, could I, if you knew the secret. It’ll be better that way. I don’t cotton to senseless killing. Every time I kill somebody senselessly, I say to myself, ‘Whitestone, that was a dumb thing to do.’ I get a little tired hearing it.”
Max nodded understandingly, then addressed Dr. Livingstrom. “Maybe if I give you a little background on the case, you’ll see what we’re after,” he said. “A few months ago, the small English village in which you resided was pervaded by a terrible odor. When the wind shifted, and the odor was wafted away, a search was made of your laboratory. A notation was found. The notation read: Brassica Oleracia-212°. We assumed that the notation was the formula for the gas, or whatever it was, that created the terrible odor. Now, what Whitestone wants is the translation of the formula. In other words, in plain English, what does it mean?”
“I think it means you’ve come a long way for nothing,” Dr. Livingstrom replied. “Brassica Oleracia is the botanical name for cabbage.”
“Cabbage?” Max replied, perplexed.
“And 212° is the point at which water boils,” Dr. Livingstrom added. “Put them together and you have-”
“Boiled cabbage,” Max said sickly.
“Oh, Max!” 99 said. “Of course! I thought that terrible odor was familiar. It was the terrible odor of boiled cabbage!”
“It was the first step in an experiment,” Dr. Livingstrom explained. “I’m creating a new dish-Dog Rose Wrapped in Boiled Cabbage Leaves. That’s why I’m here in New Ghirzy-to gather petals from the rare Dog Rose.”
“It sounds tasty,” Max said.
“Oh, yes, the Dog Rose is delicious. It’s related to a vegetable that grows in America-the Collie Flower.”
“Well, Whitestone,” Max said, “much as I hate to admit it, this is one caper in which KAOS has emerged the victor. The formula is yours. Take it, and hurry back to KAOS in good health.”
“Hold it, 86!” Whitestone snapped. “I’ve still got the gun, don’t forget. You’re not going to shove that formula off onto me!”
“Whitestone, the fact that you still have the gun makes you the winner. You’ve overcome us. We’re helpless. And, by all the rules of fair play, that means that you get possession of the formula.”
“Max. . I don’t understand,” 99 said. “Even though we’ve found out that the gas isn’t really a gas, but boiled cabbage, it’s still effective. It drove the natives from this village. So, why don’t we want the formula?”
“We do, 99. But Whitestone has bested us. So, it’s only right that he gets the formula.”
“Story-teller!” Whitestone snarled. “Admit the truth!”
Max sighed. “Oh, all right.” He turned back to 99. “You’re right,” he said. “The odor is effective. It would make a terrible weapon. But, 99, you’re forgetting the human element. Weapons don’t function alone, you know. Someone has to operate them. And, can you imagine what would happen if, for example, Control was planning to invade a KAOS installation, and the Chief said to us, ‘All right, secret agents, everybody grab a pot of boiling cabbage, and let’s go!’ ”
99 nodded. “I think I understand, Max.”
“Morale would crumble. There isn’t one secret agent I know who wouldn’t feel silly as all get-out attacking the enemy with a pot of boiling cabbage.”
“Difficult to control, too,” Whitestone said. “The wind would have to be just right.”
“And suppose, in the middle of the attack, the wind shifted,” Max said. “We’d put our own forces to rout.” He faced back to Whitestone. “What are you waiting for?” he said. “Take the formula and run, before we think of some clever means of overpowering you.”
“I’ll wait,” Whitestone said.
“Look, Whitestone, I don’t like to be hard-nosed about this,” Max said. “But right is right. You’re the victor, and the formula belongs to you.”
“Maybe we could make a deal,” Whitestone said. “You take the formula, and I’ll throw in a hat and a rabbit.”
“What do you take me for-a country bumpkin?”
“How about a hat and a rabbit and a chain-driven saxophone-the only one of its kind?”
“No, thanks. Face it, Whitestone-you’re stuck with that formula.”
“A hat and a rabbit and a chain-driven saxophone-the only one of its kind-and my collection of three-hundred odd baseball cards?”
Max frowned. “How odd are they?”
“I’ve got one with a picture of Benedict Arnold on it. And, as you well know, he never made the major league.”
“Max, no!” 99 said. “Don’t weaken!”
Max shook his head. “Sorry, Whitestone.”
Whitestone suddenly shoved the pistol into Max’s hand, and raised his own hands high above his head. “You win!” he shouted gleefully. “I give up! Don’t shoot!”
Max looked at the pistol in his hand. Then he turned to 99. “Now I know why they call them the Bad Guys,” he said. “That was as dirty a trick as I’ve ever witnessed.”
“Sticks and stones, but you-know-what,” Whitestone jeered.
“Max, you know, maybe it isn’t as bad as it seems,” 99 said. “You’ve taken Whitestone prisoner. Now we can take him back to Control and put him under lock and key. We’ll be eliminating a source of evil from the world. That’s something.”
“But, 99, we’ll have the formula.”
“Couldn’t we give it back to Dr. Livingstrom?”
“Curses!” Whitestone growled. “Why didn’t I think of that!”
“Because you’re a Bad Guy,” Max told him. “Bad Guys just don’t think that way. With Bad Guys, it’s always take, take, take!”
“You didn’t think of it, either,” Whitestone snapped.
“But I would have! We Good Guys think like that all the time. Give, give, give!”
“Then give me back my gun.”
“Max!” 99 snatched the gun from Max’s hand as he was about to give it back to Whitestone.
“Sorry, 99. It just seemed like the natural thing to do.”
“Try not to be yourself for a while, Max,” 99 said, passing the gun back to him. “At least, not until we get our prisoner under lock and key.”
“Excuse me,” Dr. Livingstrom said, “but would anybody mind if I went back to my work?”
“Just a second,” Max said. “I want to return your formula to you.”
“I didn’t know I’d lost it.”
“Doctor, I’d do something about that absent-mindedness if I were you,” Max said.
Dr. Livingstrom returned to the hut to continue wrapping Dog Flowers in Brassica Oleracia. As he departed, Max called after him. “We’ll inform the anxious world that you’ve been found, and that you’re in good health!” he said.
Dr. Livingstrom halted. “What good health?” he said. “I haven’t been able to taste or smell a thing since the age of six months.” He then disappeared into the hut.
“I think that probably explains a lot,” Max said to 99. “I’ve always suspected there was something not quite right with people who could stomach those exotic foods. As for me, give me a peanut butter burger every time.”
“Max, don’t you think you ought to report-in to the Chief,” 99 said.
“99, the Chief knows I like peanut butter burgers.”
“About the mission, I mean, Max.”
“You’re right, 99.” He handed the pistol toward her. “Here, hold this on Whitestone while I make the call.”
“She’s busy,” Whitestone said. “I’ll hold it.”
“Whitestone, why don’t you face it?” Max said. “Your evil days of trickery are over. You’ve pulled your last prank. As soon as I make this call to the Chief, 99 and I are going to take you back to the States. You’ll be put behind bars and kept there. And I hope it teaches you a lesson. Remember, Whitestone: Pranking Does Not Pay!”
“Spare me the goody-goody,” Whitestone said sourly. “Make your call, and let’s go.”
Keeping a cautious eye on Whitestone, Max removed his shoe, then dialed.
Chief: Control. Chief speaking.
Max: This is Max, Chief. I just want to report that our mission has been completed.
Chief: Max, that’s great! Now, get the formula back here as soon as possible. We’ll rush it to our scientists, so they can begin producing a supply of the gas, or whatever it is! Incidentally, Max-what is it?
Max: Boiled cabbage, Chief.
Chief: Max, we must have a bad connection. I thought you said boiled cabbage.
Operator: That’s right, blame it on the telephone company. You send a secret agent-so-called-out to get the formula for a mysterious gas, or whatever it was, and he comes back with a formula for boiled cabbage, and do you blame the secret agent-so-called? Oh, no! You blame it on the telephone company. The telephone company gave me a bad connection, you say. Well, let me tell you, Chief, the telephone company is getting pret-ty sick and tired of that kind of treatment. The telephone company has feelings, too, you know. The telephone company is just like anybody else-sensitive. What do you think the telephone company is, anyway? Just a mass of wires and dial tones and wrong numbers? A telephone company is people. People, Chief! Thousands and thousands of people! And if you don’t lay off, those thousands and thousands of people are going to come down there to Control headquarters and slug somebody in the old musherino! Got it?
Chief: I’m sorry, Operator. But, try to understand. I actually thought I heard Max say that the gas, or whatever it was that was causing that terrible odor, was boiled cabbage.
Operator: Maybe you have a bad connection.
Max: Chief, there’s nothing wrong with the connection. That’s what I said: boiled cabbage.
Operator: Just a second, Chief. I’ll try another line. I thought he said boiled cabbage, too.
Max: Operator, stop it. I did say boiled cabbage. And I’ll say it again. Boiled cabbage. Boiled cabbage. Boiled cabbage.
Chief: Max, do you realize what that means? The mission was a complete waste of time and money. What kind of a weapon is boiled cabbage?
Max: I’m aware of that, Chief. After all, you could hardly be expected to order your men to attack a KAOS installation armed with pots of boiled brassica oleracia. It just wouldn’t be dignified. But, Chief, you’re wrong about the mission being a complete waste of time and money. I’ve captured Whitestone.
Chief: Great, Max! But are you sure it’s him? It isn’t just an illusion, is it?
Max: I don’t think so, Chief. He’s tall, white-haired and distinguished-looking.
Operator: So is my Aunt Martha.
Max: Can your Aunt Martha pull a rabbit out of a hat, Operator?
Operator: She can do better than that. She can put on a sweater.
Max: What kind of trick is that?
Operator: It’s called: pulling the wool over your own eyes.
Chief: Never mind her, Max. Just get Whitestone back here to headquarters as quickly as you can. I won’t feel that this mission is a complete success until he’s behind bars.
Operator: Chief, you know Max will never get Whitestone back to headquarters. He’ll muff it. Doesn’t he always? Chief, tell Max to stay right where he is, and send Arnold to get Whitestone. Please, Chief, give Arnold another chance!
Max: Another chance? Chief, did Arnold finally show up?
Chief: You might say that, Max. We found him in the telephone booth on the main floor. He was dangling there. His finger was caught in the dial.
Operator: It could happen to anybody.
Max: Chief, you know, she’s right about that-it could happen to anybody. The question is, did he do anything to free himself?
Chief: He kept dialing numbers, trying to reach me.
Max: Did he finally get you?
Chief: No. He got the Busy Bee Bakery in Eskilstuna, Sweden, Frank’s Bar amp; Grill in Chinde, Mozambique, Darla’s Dress Shoppe in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, and Bob’s Kangaroo and Koala Bear Hospital in Sydney, Australia. Our telephone bill is going to be outrageous. Oh, yes, and he got two D.A.s.
Chief: Two numbers that didn’t answer.
Max: Oh. Listen, Chief, will you tell Arnold that I’m sorry about that. But he hung up before I could get to my shoe.
Chief: He isn’t here, Max. Agent 44 found him hanging by his finger and released him. I believe his mother took him home.
Operator: I’ll give him your message, Max. As soon as he stops sobbing his little heart out.
Max: Thank you, Operator. Chief-I think I better hang up now. Whitestone is beginning to get that crafty look in his eyes. The sooner I get him back to the States, the better.
Chief: Good thinking, Max. Be careful. Don’t let him trick you with another illusion.
Max: I don’t think there’s anything to worry about on that score, Chief. I’m wise to him now. Anything I see that looks the least bit fishy, I’ll avoid.
Chief: Good luck, Max.
Operator: And, as we say in my country, Max: May the Bird of Paradise lay its eggs in your onion soup.
Max: Operator, is that an expression of good will?
Max: Operator! Operator!
Max put his shoe back on. “99,” he said, “how would you take it if a Bird of Paradise laid its eggs in your onion soup?”
“For heaven’s sakes! Why, Max?”
“I’m trying to figure out whether the Operator was wishing me well or evil.”
“Worry about that later, Max. I’m afraid Whitestone is plotting something.”
Max retrieved the pistol from 99 and, pointing it at Whitestone, said, “Remember what I told you before: Pranking Does Not Pay. One false move, one attempt to create an illusion, and I’ll be forced to shoot.”
“With what?” Whitestone smiled.
“With this pistol, of course.”
Whitestone laughed. “Do you really believe that’s a pistol, 86? Don’t forget where you got it-from me. Would I be carrying a pistol? What need would I have for it? If I wanted a pistol, all I’d have to do would be create the illusion of a pistol.”
Max examined the gun. “You mean this is only an illusion?”
“Max. . careful. .” 99 warned.
“Actually, it’s a pigeon,” Whitestone said.
Suddenly a white bird was flapping in Max’s hand, trying to get free. But Max held tight. He aimed the pigeon into the air and pulled the trigger. A shot rang out.
“Shucks!” Whitestone said churlishly.
“All right, now that you know that I can’t be fooled,” Max said, “let’s get going. It’s a long ride back to Pahzayk.”
“Ride, Max?” 99 said.
“Yes, 99. I thought we’d take the subway. There’s the entrance right over there. See the sign above it? It says: Subway Entrance.”
“Max. . in the middle of the jungle?”
Max turned back to Whitestone, looking at him disappointedly. “Now, I ask you: was that really fairsies?” he said.
“It was fairsies of me,” Whitestone protested. “But was it fairsies of her? If she’d kept quiet, we could have ridden back to Pahzayk on the subway. Now, we’ll have to walk.”
Max faced 99 again. “99, think before you debunk, will you?”
“I only wanted to help,” Whitestone said, pouting. “I’ve come to realize, 86, how right you are. Pranking Doesn’t Pay. As of now, I’m turning over a new leaf. No more tricks. I want to get back to the States as much as you do. I want to get behind bars, and start paying my debt to society. I realize now that I’ve been a bad illusionist. I used my talent for evil rather than good. I deserve whatever happens to me.”
“It’s another trick, Max,” 99 warned.
“Maybe yes, and maybe no,” Max said. “Only time will tell.” He gestured with the pistol. “March, Whitestone!”
They left the clearing, entered the jungle, and proceeded in the direction of Pahzayk. Soon, they reached the river, crossed it at the falls, then continued.
“Notice that he hasn’t tried any more tricks,” Max whispered to 99. “I think he’s really reformed.”
“I suppose it’s possible. But I still doubt it.”
“You know, there’s a little good in everybody, 99. And I think Whitestone’s good has finally asserted itself. Look at the way he’s charging ahead, anxious to get back to the States so he can begin getting what he deserves.”
“I just hope you’re right, Max.”
“I think I know something about people, 99. And it’s my judgment that Whitestone has- Oh-oh.”
“Max! That was amazing! He vanished! Just completely vanished, right before our eyes!”
“Yes, and that’s not the worst of it, 99.”
“He’s making it very difficult for me to continue believing that there’s a little good in everybody.”
“86!” a voice called. “Get me out!”
Max and 99 looked around, baffled.
“Max, wasn’t that Whitestone’s voice?” 99 said.
“It certainly sounded like it. But, of course, it could have been an illusion.”
“Down here!” the voice called.
“In that direction-up ahead,” 99 said.
They hurried on-and came to the edge of the pit they had dug earlier. Whitestone was at the bottom of it.
“Will you give me a hand?” he said.
Max began applauding. “And you certainly deserve it,” he said. “That was the best trick I’ve ever seen. How did you do it? There you were, right in front of us, and suddenly-”
“Max. .” 99 broke in.
“I’m just trying to encourage him, 99. There’s no harm in harmless tricks. After he’s paid his debt to society, maybe he can get back into vaudeville.”
Max and 99 pulled Whitestone from the pit. Again, the three struck out into the jungle. And, in time, they reached the outskirts of Pahzayk.
“We’ll be at the airport soon, Whitestone,” Max said. “Then we’ll board a plane, and, before we know it, we’ll be back in the States.”
“I can hardly wait,” Whitestone said. “Now that the good in me has asserted itself, there’s nothing I want more than to be locked up.”
“Take it easy,” Max said. “You know, it’s as bad to be all good as it is to be all bad. You can become a nut on the subject. Then you have to be locked up.”
A few minutes later, they reached the airport. The clerk at the ticket counter, a tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking gentleman, advised them that the next plane for the States was warming up on the runway, and would be leaving in ten minutes.
“There’s a stroke of luck for you,” Max said. “See what happens, Whitestone, when you’re a Good Guy.”
Max purchased three tickets, and he and 99 and Whitestone left the terminal, made their way to the plane, and boarded. The stewardess, a tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking young lady escorted them to their seats.
“Hear the roar of those airplane engines.” Max smiled. “That’s music to the ears. In a few hours we’ll be home.”
“Behind bars,” Whitestone said expectantly.
The tall, white-haired, distinguished-looking stewardess returned. “Fasten seat belts, please,” she said. “We’ll be taking off in just a second.”
Max, 99 and Whitestone buckled themselves in.
“Max. .” 99 said. “That stewardess-doesn’t she look a little familiar?”
“Not to me, 99. But maybe she was our stewardess on the trip here.”
“No,” 99 said, shaking her head. “And that clerk at the ticket counter-”
“Not now, 99. The plane is moving down the runway.”
“99, will you save it, please, until after we get into the air. Take-offs make me nervous.”
“99, please! The plane is taking off. See, there it goes. Nose up. Climbing higher and higher. Isn’t that a beautiful sight, 99?”
“Yes, what is it, 99? You can talk now-now that we’re off the ground.”
“Max, that’s what I was trying to tell you! We’re not off the ground! We’re still sitting here at the end of the runway!”
Max looked around. “So that’s why my ears didn’t pop,” he said.
“Max! The plane was an illusion!”
“And Whitestone flew off in it,” Max sighed. “We missed getting him back to headquarters by that much. Well, 99, I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised. It was expecting too much to believe that Whitestone would reform. We have a saying in my country: When the frost is on the pumpkin, there’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.”
“What does that mean, Max?”
“Once a prankster, always a prankster.”