EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
MOTES & QUOTES XV
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The Ratnaz Files - Book I
The tribulations of a pulp author in the electronic age
transcribed by an unusual gang of idiots
CHAPTER CONTENTS WHIZZLE PULP WRITER
Note: Click on each Chapter Title to go directly to that chapter
CHAPTER I: The Return of Ratnaz Bill Hillman [JoN]
CHAPTER II: Jumbled Tales of Ratnaz Bill Hillman [JoN]
CHAPTER III: The Beasts of Ratnaz Tangor
CHAPTER IV: Son of OB Bill Hillman [JoN]
CHAPTER V: Ratnaz and the Yellow Jacket Tangor
CHAPTER VI: A Princess of Bars Tangor
CHAPTER VII: Portal of Peril Bill Hillman [JoN]
CHAPTER VIII: The Giant Rodents on Helium Bill Hillman [JoN]
CHAPTER IX: Pellucifar Bill Hillman [JoN]
CHAPTER X: The Characters that Mimes Forgot Tangor
CHAPTER XI: The Gams That Man Forgot Tangor
CHAPTER XII: Into Klimb’s Abyss Bill Hillman [JoN]
CHAPTER XIII: The Bandits from Hell’s Bells Bill Hillman [JoN]
CHAPTER XIV: Airship 2-U-2 Bill Hillman [JoN]
CHAPTER XV: The Game's a Foot Tangor
CHAPTER XVI: Into The Inner World Tangor
CHAPTER XVII: The Mad King Sings Tangor
CHAPTER XVIII: The Fateful Plunge Tangor
CHAPTER XIX: The Inefficiency Expert Tangor
CHAPTER XX: A Fighting Man of Bars Tangor
...End of the Ratnaz Files Part I
I got this story for the price of a cheap beer from a fellow who couldn't wait to tell it. I can't think of anybody who'd take credit for the validity of the fantastic tale which ensued, outside of a Hollywood screen writer. I listened with half-an-ear, my attention more squarely centered on the seductive waitress who tended our table.
The bum suckered me as host for as long as he could until my patience wore thin. When I started to rise, the well-lubricated fellow offered a "name" for the source, which suddenly intrigued me. Another beer and an interested expression prodded the man to reveal secrets hacked from an improperly secured terminal at CIA headquarters.
He handed me a floppy, a standard 3.5 inch 1.44 megabyte Fuji, and then he was gone, after hitting me up for a five spot. Leave it to the government to buy foreign data storage materials. I went home and inserted the disk in a rickety 386 monochrome dinosaur and read an agent's narrative, some 508,000 kilobytes in size. The tale was fascinating, to say the least, and it is presented here. It is unique, sometimes interesting, but hardly credible. Hell, even if it is true, I'm not making the effort to change the names. Let those guys look out for themselves.
CHAPTER I: The Return of Ratnaz Tangor and Bill Hillman
"Ed, looks like we have a problem."
"Howzat? A problem?" The old man looked up from the archaic typewriter which had been making a noisy rattle. "I don't have time for problems, I'm on a deadline." The old Royal shook from the force of his precise blows on well-worn keytops.
"Yeah? Well, as long as the Ratanz animation project is in the air, you better damn well find time to deal with problems."
"What is the problem this time? Another website infringing? Another unauthorized story? What?" When the narrow-faced secretary scowled, the weary author gestured helplessly. "What?"
"The idiot won't come down from the trees."
"What am I supposed to do about it? The old fart has a mind of his own." Edgar Nice burrowed deeper into his office chair.
The secretary cleared his throat politely once, then a second time to get the writer's attention. "This must be addressed, sir. Rodent Pictures has a great deal invested in our trademarked product."
...More to come... --Tangor
Something snapped! Ed impulsively pushed aside the Royal, a move which almost toppled the ediphone and the half-finished glass of Scotch to the floor. Unmindful of the precariousness of the pile of typed proofs of his latest project -- Ratnaz’s List Adventure -- he grasped the desktop and propelled himself back from the desk.
Seeing the stack of manuscript pages about to topple, the ever-vigilante Rathmind went into a determined shuffle across the room. The aging secretary reached the ornately carved desk only in time to add to the confusion of the blizzard of fluttering typed sheets as they took up strewn residence on the study floor.
By this time Ed was already out the door and looking down the walkway which led past the towering mulberry trees to Ventura Boulevard where he could see his vintage 1948 Buick Roadmaster parked at the curb.
This time the man had gone too far -- hang the consequences, Ed had to put a stop to it -- he turned his gaze upward to the myriad array of tree branches where he could barely make out a figure in silhouette.
"Curse of a drunken sailor! Damn that clown, Boz!"
CHAPTER II: Jumbled Tales of Ratnaz --Bill Hillman
A Jungle Joke
The sight of the well-past-his-prime denizen of the trees -- the self-proclaimed Lord of the Leaves -- the Ratnaz, the apeman, once known and loved by millions -- stirred a wave of nostalgic images in Ed's mind. His thoughts raced back to a time when this now decrepit, almost comical tree figure was a vibrant young compadre. His flashback then drifted on to visions of the orchestrator of this current debacle -- to a life-long acquaintance with whom Ed had always shared a love-hate relationship. In their younger days, Boz -- Brace Bozhart -- had a knack for leading the young, adventure-seeking Ed into one cliffhanger crisis after another, but somehow Brace always came out smelling like a rose and Ed...well...
Their odyssey of misadventures started on the first day of school. Young Brace convinced Ed that the only way they could impress the strongest and richest girl in class - Miss Jane Porker - was to embark on the adventure of exploring the maze of out-of-bounds subterranean crawl spaces under Mrs. Wooley's Mapleburst School for Girls (don't ask). Soon the lads were hopelessly lost in the catacombs and spent what seemed like days groping their way through the Stygian darkness. Eventually blind luck -- and fate -- led them to a tiny sliver of light shining through a crack in a makeshift wall -- a barricade which turned out to consist of stacks of crates. There were ominous scratching and unhuman sounds emanating from the crates...and beyond this wall of trapped living beings echoed strange ceremonial chanting sounds. Curiosity overcoming their fright, the two boys pushed against the crates to get a better view.
The Treasure Vaults of La Rapo
Under the school cafeteria, High Chef Bertha La Rapo had just raised her cleaver to decapitate yet another Rhode Island Red for the next day's food offering. Her steady droning chant of "chop - chop - chick - chop" was interrupted by the crashing din of falling chicken crates, the frightened squawking of escaping birds, and a flurry of feathers which ushered in the tumbling bodies of two frightened young boys.
Battle with the Neeta
Quick-thinking Ed pushed his buddy through the cellar prep room door, but before he could follow, he was horrified to see Brace stumble and tip over a large vat of molasses from its storage perch in the corridor. Boz stumbled on, but Ed slipped, Bertha La Rapo screamed, the feathers flew and the chickens bounced from wall to wall until their frantic movements "tarred and feathered" the entire chamber -- and its occupants. It took hapless Ed three weeks of after school toil to restore the room -- and Bertha -- to an acceptable state. Courageous Boz won the hand of the bounteous Jane.
Flight -- Near Capture...and a Nightmare
Perhaps to make up for past experiences, and because of his perceived great knowledge of military history and strategy, Boz persuaded Ed to allow him to sit in for him on the West Point Entrance Exam. Boz flunked, Ed's ruse was discovered, and both escaped a messy situation by running off to join the 7th Cavalry.
On patrol in Arizona, it was again Bozhart's idea that the two young adventurers split from the main troop and ride down a rugged arroyo for a quick smoke. It was in this gully that they stumbled upon a scouting party of Geronimo's Apaches and barely escaped with their lives by spurring their horses into death-defying climbs and leaps over the treacherous rock formations. Ed dragged the terrified and swooning Boz into a mysterious cave where he himself soon passed out from the effects of an odorous gas that wafted over them. Sometime later, in a near out-of-body trance, Ed sensed a strange presence behind him in the cave...and through a haze, he could see the Apaches fleeing in panic...staring back at the cave in terror.
Boz's report to the sergeant somehow gave the impression that he had taken on the Indians single-handedly in a life and death struggle while Ed lay helpless in the cave. Boz got the medals.
Ratnaz Rescues the OB
Ironically, it was Ed who ultimately benefited from this strange partnership. Later in life, Ed -- a frustrated man approaching middle age, broke, a failure in every moneymaking venture he had embarked upon, and with a wife and child to support -- had taken pause to look back on all these misadventures. Ever the dreamer, he had developed a unique prowess in storytelling over the years and in desperation he submitted embellished versions of some of his experiences to the pulp magazine -- All-Gory Weekly. This marked the beginning of a rollercoaster ride that...
The Fall of Ratnaz
...Ed was jolted from his reverie by the loud crack of collapsing tree branches and he stepped aside barely in time to avoid a falling mass of flailing arms and legs which hit the walkway with a bone-crunching thud!
Follow the thrilling adventures of the Ratnaz Files in next month's spine-chilling chapter: The Beasts of Ratnaz
CHAPTER III: The Beasts of Ratnaz --Tangor
Edgar Nyce's burros set off a cacaphony of whinnies and squeals as the slightly over-weight and bleary eyed Ratnaz hit the ground. Dismayed by the noise, which would surely cause the new neighbors next door to call the police, Ed hurried over to the fallen apeman. "Nice of you to drop in," he growled, heaving mightily to bring the less than heroic figure to his feet, "but you could have used the sidewalk with your feet instead of your head."
"Hal-lo, Ed," the once imposing fellow breathed, exhaling a combination of hard-liquior and halitosis.
Staunchly taking control of his stomach, and his companion, Ed Nyce pushed and prodded the man inside the house. With the door firmly shut, and about to the end of his own strength, Ed unceremoniously shoved Ratnaz onto the divan. "Rathmind! Bring a pot of coffee--make that two!" Turning to his creation, the author frowned. "Where have you been?"
Ratnaz pushed a mane of unruly hair out of his bleary eyes and shrugged. "Out with the girls."
"For three weeks?" Nyce was incredulous. He had often written about the incomparable vitality of Ratnaz, though studiously avoiding certain aspects of his appetite for life.
"Hell, Ed, Boz and I were just having fun! Jeeze, don't be such a wet blanket!"
"I thought I told you to stay away from that snake-in-the-grass. Boz is nothing but trouble. I get pasted in kindergarten, get slammed at the academy, get buried in a cave...but he gets the breaks and, damn-it-all, he even got the girl! You know all this! You know that conniving, two-faced, back-stabbing bastard has ruined everything in my life. And now he's got you drunk, out of shape, and probably subject to several paternity suits just when we're about to go big time with Hollywood. I can't believe what a sap you are!"
Ratnaz ruefully inspected the tattered remains of his poorly-fitted suit. "Next time I'm going to Weismueller's tailor."
Ed lost his temper. "Pay attention, you over-grown fool! Nick Miser of Rodent Pictures wants to see you."
"What for? Say, how's about a drink? I sure could use one."
Rathmind entered with a battered coffee pot and two cups. Ed pointed to Ratnaz. "Sober him up. What? No, I do not want a cup of coffee! I'll finish my scotch in the study. Let me know when the Lord of the Leaves over there is lucid."
The phone rang. Rathmind arched an eyebrow. Ed scowled yet again and took the coffee pot and cups. "Answer it. If it's a bill collector, I'm out. If it's anyone else, I'm still out."
Coffee had barely started flowing down the pathetic hero's throat when Rathmind reappeared. "Miser's on his way. He heard that Ratnaz was visiting."
Of course! Ed thought. Only Brace Bozhart could be so fiendishly diabolical! Dollar signs in the author's future began popping like soap bubbles on a windy day--an illusion further soured when Ratnaz's bowels released a foul odor.
"We got to hide him."
Rathmind hated to be the one, but someone had to ask: "Where?"
Looking momentarily panicked, Ed Nyce barked, "In the barn with the rest of the beasts!"
CHAPTER IV: Son of OB --Bill Hillman
The long limo chauffeuring the head of Rodent Pictures was cruising down the broad expanse of Ventura Boulevard with the ebbing flow of late night traffic. The passengers were lazily enjoying this respite from the arduous labour of another day on the Hollywood studio casting couches. Nestled in the luxurious cushions at the rear of the imported vehicle were two men embroiled in deep conversation.
"Nick baby...This idea can't lose...Close your eyes...Can't you see her... Sleeza, Bimbo of the Jungle...Racing across the savanna on her faithful companion Leery the Bull ...I've even rented the bull ...Well, cow actually, but we can fix that... You'll see it when we get to Ed's...I got her hidden away in the warehouse... Out with the animals and all that Ratnaz garbage Old Ed keeps piling up. Ya know Nick, I think he's lost his marbles...now he's raising burros!"
"Yes, yes...Mr. Bozhart. But I have told you ... Our contract is with OB and his Ratnaz character....over the hill or not...and I just can't understand why you want to drag me all the way out to the valley this time of night."
Edgar Nyce lit another joss stick in the study and turned to meet the frazzled Rathmind who had finally made his way back from the old warehouse.
"He's sleeping like a lamb Mr. Nyce...behind the stack of film canisters by the burro stalls." Rathmind almost told his employer about the cow that Cows 2U Rentals had delivered to the stalls earlier in the day but reconsidered, realizing that his employer had endured just about all his weak heart could stand for the day.
Halfway to the door, the weary Rathmind remembered something and half turned. "O, I left the lantern on for Mr. Ratnaz, sir. Good night OB." Ed had adopted the nickname OB after a not-so-favourable film reviewer had christened Ratnaz with the title: "Obnoxious Ass", though the media inexplicably cleaned it up to read "Obnoxious Burros."
Edgar Nyce burrowed into the well-worn leather cushions of the chair which had helped give birth to so many of his dictated adventures.
"What a day...Idiots...Bozhart...Ratnaz...Paternity suit...Weissmuller's tailor...Jeez...I invented that guy...I gave life to the character...I treated him like my very own son....What a time for Miser to show up...What in blazes is keeping him? I wanna get this over with."
The excitement of the day, coupled with the cradling warmth of the chair, lulled the old storyteller into a dreamlike state...the condition from which he had drawn fodder for so many of his immortal stories. Ed's furrowed brow relaxed as images from the past flooded his consciousness.
The Valley of Gold
Bozhart...Ed's nemesis. Enna detested him! Feeling sure that Boz would not follow, she had agreed to accompany Ed on his harebrained scheme to find gold in Idaho. The Nyce newlyweds pitched a tent on a riverside claim at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains, and in this idyllic setting they were soon suffering the toil of placer mining. Unfortunately, all they panned out was fool's gold: Bozhart! He and a wagonload of mail order brides of dubious repute had shown up in a half-starved state, and had ravaged all the provisions that Ed and Enna had been carefully hoarding. In a rage, Enna drove them out, across the river, where Boz took refuge behind a huge rock formation festooned with bands of shiny ore -- Gold! Impoverished Ed and Enna were forced to sell everything they owned to buy train fare back East -- even Ed's custom-made golf clubs and Enna's prized bottle collection. Brace Bozhart carried out enough gold to build a lavish home for unwed mail order brides -- and with the money left over he bought a ranch in Southern California.
Ed's sojourn through the past was brought to a sudden halt by Rathmind's frantic shouts.
"Fire! Fire! Call the fire trucks OB! The bloody cow has kicked over the lantern."
Be sure to read the next breath-taking chapter of the Ratnaz Files --
which might be:
Ratnaz in the Fires of Gohr
Ratnaz and the Mules of Oprah in Wizzle's All-Gory Weekly
Then again, it just might be sumthin else...we gotta deadline to meet doncha know...
--The unusual gang of idiots at Whizzle & All-Gory Pulp Mags
CHAPTER V: Ratnaz and the Yellow Jacket-- Tangor
"Wake up, bo!" the harsh whisper was accompanied by an even rougher hand.
Ratnaz, comfortably passed out on a pile of straw laced with animal droppings, rolled away with a growl. "Lem'me sleep. No more Boz--I'm wore out."
The masked man in the black and yellow zoot-suit resorted to a more forceful approach. His Italian-style pointed boot toe slammed into the unprotected backside of the sleeping giant. It took a second kick to get the desired result. Ratnaz sat up, rubbing his eyes and pouting. "Damn it! I was about to get the Oscar."
"Listen, you besotted cretin, I'm here to help you."
Ratnaz managed to focus on the tall, broad-shouldered man leaning over him. "Hey! I know you! You're that Yeller Jacket fellow. You fight crime and help the underdog and all that jazz! Gee, I never thought I'd get to meet you!" The Lord of the Leaves extended a large, meaty hand.
Suspicious ot the brown stain discoloring Ratnaz's appendage, the Yellow Jacket studiously avoided it. "Splay-toe," the masked man spoke to a figure hidden on the other side of the empty stall wherein Ratnaz had been sleeping, "get a bucket and douse this guy. I'm not putting him in the Yellow Jacket mobile in this deplorable condition."
Splay-toe, a small man of Oriental descent, splashed a bucket of water in Ratnaz's face. The burly man sputtered unhappily and came to his feet, fists clenched. The Yellow Jacket's faithful sidekick moved back a step, prepared to respond lethally with one of a dozen martial arts systems, if necessary.
Ratnaz shook his head, straw flying every which way, and growled. "I don't take that crap from anybody. I am Ratnaz, mighty killer. Prepare to die!" Suddenly a spasm of savage coughing shook the Lord of the Leaves. "Damn--gotta cut back on the Camels."
"Enough!" the masked man rasped. "I came here to save you from a fate worse than death, but if you're too bone-headed to understand that, then you get what you deserve."
"Howzat?" Ratnaz blinked. "Whatchew talkin' about, bo?"
"Your career, your entire life, is in jepordy." The masked man spoke with intense urgency. "Splay-toe, bring up the car." The dependable sidekick disappeared like mist in the dawn.
"How you figure? I mean, what the hell are you talkin' about?" The vine swinger ineffectually brushed hay from his trousers.
In solemn tones the Yellow Jacket delivered his warning. "Brace Bozhart means to destroy you."
"Boz? Nah! You kiddin'? Ol' Boz is the salt of the earth. Why, he got me a date with a few Hollywood starlets and man, I mean to tell you it was fine! Even gave me a classic 1966 Camero to drive. Great booze, too!"
"There isn't much time to explain," the Yellow Jacket said. "Can you walk? We need to get out of here."
"Well, I'm more comfortable in the middle terrace, but I think I can manage. Where we going? What's this all about?"
The Yellow Jacket carefully located a less soiled sleeve and tugged the aging character into the yard. A snazzy vehicle silently rolled up and the back door opened. Splay-toe hurriedly threw a cover over the immaculate leather seats before Ratnaz and his boss entered. A hand gesture from the Yellow Jacket stopped Splay-toe from taking the driver's seat.
Ratnaz looked toward Edgar Nyce's bungalo. The lights were on, though the yard was dark. The drunken stupor was beginning to pass. "Say, what's dis all about? What's the bum rush?"
The masked man leaned back into the cushion and stared hard at the sad figure beside him. "For years Edgar Nyce borrowed from your supposed pal Brace Bozhart. He's behind in the payments. He keeps putting Brace off and Brace Bozhart is not the kind of guy to sit still and take it. Three weeks ago a $40,000 note was due. It went unpaid. Three weeks ago, your pal invited you on the binge of your life."
"And what a binge, bo! Them women, why they wuz..."
"Shut up, you mangy idiot!" The Yellow Jacket threw his hands into the air. "Gods above, why am I even making the effort?" Bunching a gloved fist into Ratnaz's odiferous coat, the Yellow Jacket punctuated his sentences with sharp jabs. "Those 'starlets' were whores from Heidi's and that booze was meant to destroy you. The car was used in a bank heist last Thursday. Bozhart intends to bring you down, to ruin what little reputation you have left, all to take revenge upon Ed Nyce."
Ratnaz's eyes opened wide. "Jeeze, bo, really?"
Snorting with disgust, the Yellow Jacket pointed to the barn. "A diversion, Splay-toe."
The small Oriental hurried away and returned almost as quickly. He took the wheel and spun tires down the drive. Without direction from his boss, he turned left on Ventura and floored the pedal.
In the rear view mirror, a flash of yellow appeared, then a column of smoke, but Ratnaz did not see it. Scratching his head, the big man scowled. "I don't get it. I really don't. He seemed like such a nice guy. Tell me this, Yeller Jacket, why are you helping me? What's in it for you?"
The masked man kept his face turned forward. "The less you know about that, the better it is for you."
CHAPTER VI: A Princess of Bars -- Tangor
Dee Dee Morris was exasperated. The attractive fan dancer fended off another unwanted caress as the rowdies along the runway grabbed at her. If her father, Kojak Morris, could see her now, he'd pitch a fit. But what else was she to do? Kojak's Helium Supply was in trouble. Sales had been iffy since the blimp relocated and fewer games were shot from those antiquated airships. For a time her boyfriend Don Darter had been helping them by strong-arming the competition, but he soon lost interest when he found out she wasn't going to put out for him. The nerve of the guy! Just because she looked like a million didn't mean she would act like a million dizzy dames who had no sense about a man's over-active gonads!
She had been sheltered all her life, and had few marketable skills for night work--and the only thing that had surfaced was this embarrassing and degrading job at Mars Markus's strip joint. Markus was an okay guy, she thought. He never tried anything with the girls and was always there to protect them if the customers got out of line. The pay was more than she expected, not counting the tips, so Dee Dee had no complaints in that regard, but to be stared at and lusted after by so many men, men who undressed with their eyes even the tiny thong revealed at the end of her performance, was humliating beyond belief.
The girl, buxom and blonde, was young. Too soon had responsibility fallen upon her soft shoulders--but her love toward her father was the most important factor in her life. Dad needed help and she would help, regardless of situation or circumstance.
Though she hated the job, and hated the fat, balding clients, Dee Dee was dedicated to doing the best she could. From the cat calls and whistles each time she stepped onto the stage, there was a validation that she was, indeed, doing her best. Still, any reasonable alternative was desperately sought, and it seemed that such a prospect had appeared.
A week ago a man had entered into the club. He was tall, slender, broad-shouldered with a hard physique that set her youthful heart aflutter. He was unlike any man in the audience. Dee Dee had just finished performing her second act for the night when Markus had brought her a business card. It was from the handsome fellow. The card read: "Brace Bozhart." Nothing else was printed on the card except a charming invitation to join him for a lemon tea.
Intrigued, Dee Dee had pulled a robe about her voluptuous body and sat in the shadows at the rear of the club, away from the sweaty men surrounding the runway when Lala Opra entwined herself around the rigidly erect stainless steel pole.
Even now, dodging yet another calloused hand, Dee Dee remembered the gentleman's soft voice and civilized manners. "I have a proposition, my dear," he had said, "one that will take you away from this horrid environment."
"I've heard that before," Dee Dee had replied sweetly.
Bozhart smiled warmly in response. "Indeed, I am sure you have. My offer requires that you dress demurely, that you show up on time, and go home when the day is done. It pays $1,000 a week."
Dee Dee frowned. "I suppose I must earn it flat on my back?"
"My dear, I am a married man. I have no such interest, though you are quite attractive. No, I have no designs upon you, though it is not your fault you do not compare to the incomparable Jane Porker. Dee Dee--may I call you that?--this is strictly business. I need a personal secretary for Jane and I understand from Mr. Mars Markus that is your true profession."
"You want me to work for your wife?" Dee Dee laughed, not quite believing.
Brace leaned forward, his voice sincere. "I mean exactly that. Jane is over-burdened with social responsibilites she manages in my place. Are you interested?"
Dee Dee had reserved her answer, promising one on this evening.
The young girl, lost in revery, failed to take proper precaution. A hand gripped her slim ankle firmly, and before she knew it, the inebriated customer had pulled the young woman from the runway into his lap. Sweaty hands fondled Dee Dee's smooth skin, but before she could scream for Markus, or before that worthy could even exit his accustomed place behind the long bar, she was swiftly extricated from the loathsome grasp and set upon her feet. The tall man in the Amanti suit quickly dispatched the violator of her person with a single, powerful blow. An instant later his expensive jacket was comfortingly placed about her, still carrying the warmth of his muscular body. Dee Dee was ushered through the crowd, out of the club, and into the back of a dark limosine.
"Are you all right?" Brace Bozhart inquired as the driver started the vehicle. "Thank goodness I arrived when I did. You do not belong in a place like that. It would break your father's noble heart if he knew."
"My father?" Dee Dee gasped. "Oh, dear!"
Brace relaxed, the moment of action passed, and spoke soothingly. "I have just come from a meeting with Kojak. Splendid fellow! I have long been interested in exotic gases as an investment opportunity and I am pleased to say that your father and I have just signed a contract which, I am sure, will bring great benefit to us both."
"You saved Kojak's Helium? Mr. Bozhart, I do not know what to say!" The young woman was moved to tears and gratefully accepted a linen handkerchief bearing an intricately embroidered "B."
"I don't know how to thank you," she said.
"I do," Brace said evenly. "Come work for Jane. She needs you."
Dee Dee sniffled, daubing her pert nose. "And you, Mr. Bozhart, what do you need?"
"In due time, my dear. In due time." Retrieving his wallet, residing in the inside pocket of the jacket Dee Dee wore, Brace produced ten $100 bills and offered them to her. "Are we agreed?"
Miss Morris hesitated for a heartbeat, then demurely accepted.
WE INTERRUPT our broadcast schedule to bring you late breaking news. A fire has broken out near Ventura Boulevard. All traffic is being diverted by emergency services. Drivers are urged to find alternate routes. Stay tuned for more updates. We now resume our regularly scheduled program.
Brace Bozhart smiled mysteriously as the dark limosine pulled away from Dee Dee Morris' home.
Tune in next time, same station, same channel for the the next thrilling installment of "The Ratnaz Files."
CHAPTER VII: Portal of Peril --Bill Hillman
“Fire? No! Not the warehouse?!!” shouted an incredulous Edgar Nyce. ”You gotta get my prize burro outta there Rathmind...Oh...and we gotta find that silly sot! Where’d you leave the garden hose?”
“Those crazy Brits have it, OB...the new neighbours who moved into the old Klimb house. They borrowed it last week.”
“Curses...damned foreigners...I’ll get it.”
The new neighbours were just another prick point in what had been long series of thorns in Nyce’s side. For weeks he had put up with mysterious noises, ground rumblings, and comings and goings at all hours of the night -- and now this.
Rathmind, on his mercy mission to save OB’s ass, tailed the harassed author out through the study room door, pushing his limited physical resources to the limit by revving into his fastest snail gait.
After turning the sometimes forgetful Rathmind in the right direction, Ed wended his way through the jungle of overgrown and untended flora which had taken over the garden that once had been his and Enna’s crowning achievement. Since Enna’s sudden departure with Ed’s long-time neighbour and some-time ghost writer, Otis Elevator Klimb, he had lost all interest in horticulture and he spent very little time exploring the grounds. God, how things had changed. Ed followed the familiar shadow cast by the silver lunar orb shining through the branches of the trees that he had planted so many years before.
As he rushed up the neighbour’s walkway, the familiar silhouette of the Klimb house stirred bitter-sweet memories but he put such thoughts aside to concentrate on finding the door to the newly renovated workshop. Ed pushed open what once had been a stable door and groped for what proved to be a non-existent light switch. Relying on moonlight and the disturbing, ever-growing, flickering luminance from the direction of his warehouse, he started his frantic search for the hose. An incessant drone and rumble piqued his curiosity and he took a few steps toward the source of the sounds. What must have been a metal trap door gave way and Edgar Nyce found himself hurtling downward to what surely must be his doom.
CHAPTER VIII: The Giant Rodents on Helium
The passengers in the Rodent Pictures limousine lunged forward as the luxury car skidded to an unexpected halt.
“What the hell is going on driver...those scum paparazzi again?”
“The street’s blocked off Mr. Miser...must be that fire we heard about on the radio,” explained the uniformed driver.
“Turn left here...take the side streets,” ordered Brace Bozhart as he dabbed his monogrammed handkerchief at the stain his spilled martini had left on his finely tailored suit. Any other time Bozhart would have been upset over this annoyance, but tonight he had reason to gloat and was oblivious to such petty calamities. He had Ed and his Ratnaz character right where he wanted them. Furthermore, he stood to make a fortune from the helium contract he had negotiated between Kojak Morris Helium Supply and Rodent Pictures -- what a stroke of luck! Just when Miser was planning his first non-animated Randy Rodent flick. A cast of thousands of live actors -- all speaking with helium-induced high cartoon mouse voices...and Boz had just obtained the monopoly on the helium market AND control of Morris’ beautiful daughter. Genius! Dee Dee Morris, former Princess of Bars, but soon to be star of Boz’s new jungle picture: Sleeza, the Bimbo Jungle Girl. Nothing could stand in his way.
“I say Mr. Boz,” exclaimed the chauffeur. “Aren’t those fire trucks gathered around the Edgar Ryce estate?”
Brace Bozhart leaned forward, the martini forgotten in his hand. "Sure looks like it. Curious." The handsome man with an aristocratic air pondered the significance with furrowed brow. Pulling his cell phone from an inner pocket, he dialed a number that only a select few could obtain. "Dr. Datsun? Is that you? Is Herlock Cabyns in? Herlock? How's the weather there? Cold, wet, foggy...no change. I see. Well, that's not why I called. I am in need of your services. Yes--it appears a friend of mine may be in trouble." Lowering his voice to a forceful whisper, the man in the immaculate suit said: "Find out who else, besides me, has a grudge against Edgar Nyce!"
Terminating the call, Brace scowled. "Nobody is cutting into my time!"
"Pardon?" the head of Rodent Pictures politely asked.
"I said: 'Probably bearing left we'll get through fine.'"
CHAPTER IX: Pellucifar --Bill Hillman
The moment was at hand. Devon McGuinness, Lord Greatstrokes, and his eccentric techno geek friend Carmon Nappie, had been working around the clock in the underground annex of their workshop -- and their labours were about to bear fruit. McGuinness had invested what remained of the once-fabulous family fortune into a scheme that would put them on easy street for the rest of their lives. The house they had bought in Southern California was perfect for their nefarious underground activities and for what he felt confident would be the heist of the century. While Carmon tinkered with his Pellucifer Burrower invention, Lord Greatstrokes, last of a long line of embarrassments to the British Nobility, papered the walls of their newly purchased Ratnaza mansion with aerial photos and sketches, as well as land use, geologic, and topographic maps of the valley area. This location was ideal. They were in the epicentre of the major banking institutions of Southern California and all he had to do was to find a way to burrow through to one underground vault after another. And his klutzy cohort had invented the device to achieve this goal.
“Stop your diddling with the spanner, Nappie. Start the blooming engine rotor countdown. Let’s get on with it before that snoopy old neighbour starts poking around and messes up the whole thing,” urged an impatient Lord Greatstrokes.
“Blimey Lard, you know that once we start the countdown there ain’t no turnin’ back,” groused the preoccupied technician.
The two men finally clambered through the large topside hatch of the sleek machine. Once settled into the cockpit, the thick-spectacled designer of the craft threw a series of switches and the whole front section of the vehicle sprang to life -- rotating in giant corkscrew fashion.
“It works! It works! Close the blasted hatch Lard...I can’t stop ‘er now...the Pellucifer Burrower is takin’ off!
As McGuinness moved under the hatch and pressed the hatch-secure button, he was thrown brutally to the Burrower floor by the dead weight of a screaming body falling through the rapidly closing hatch.
CHAPTER X: The Characters that Mimes Forgot
"Pull over here, Splay-toe. This is where we drop off Mr. Ratnaz."
The yellow-skinned driver slowed but did not come to a complete stop at the front of a three story office building. The Yellow Jacket leaned across Ratnaz, holding he breath as he did so, and thrust the door open. With the other hand he pushed the unsuspecting Ratnaz out. The Lord of the Leaves hit the pavement, rolling crazily. Before the powerful car sped away, the dazed vine swinger heard the Yellow Jacket's voice.
"Second floor, left. Room 20."
Every surface muscle bruised, and some internal ones as well, Ratnaz carefully pushed himself upright. No bones were broken, but he would feel the pain in his joints for some time to come. "Da bum! Why'd he go and do a thing like that? I've half a mind..."
The unshaven hero stopped the flow of angry speech. That particular phrase was alway finished by Edgar Nyce as "That's a fact."
Gloomy, the despondent hero of two dozen novels took a close look at himself and his relationship with OB. "'Obnoxious' fits for sure! An' maybe dat Yeller Jacket ain't off da mark on Boz, either!" Absentmindedly counting the bumps on his skull as he rubbed them, Ratnaz looked at the dark entrance of the old building.
"Maybe, I'll just go check an' see."
The door was open. The narrow hallway sported doors to the left and right, and directly before him was a steep flight of stairs that looped back on themselves. Lifting feet that had lost all energy from the extended binge and the excesses of beautiful women, Ratnaz held tight to the railing to pull himself upwards. Puffing slightly at the second floor landing, there were two doors again. One had no number, the other had "22" nailed to the unpainted panel. Before he could knock, the door swung inward. Inside, looking ghoulish from the glow of the green glass desk lamp, were three hard cases. The one at the door stepped aside and jerked a thumb.
"Come in, Ratnaz, we been expecting you."
Leery, but curious, the still imposing figure entered. "I'm at the end of my patience, boys. Let's hear it fast, and it better be funny."
The man in a rumpled blue suit closed the door. "That's Ike Slammer, Dickie Spillway and I'm Cam Spaid. We got it in for your boss, but nothing against you," he swiftly added.
Ratnaz's eyes adjusted to the light. Hard-boiled dicks they were, the lot of them. He even knew their names though he'd never met them. Popular fellows one time they weren't the in the public light very much anymore.
"And you know why?" Ike Slammer said, letting Ratnaz know the vine swinger had been thinking out loud. "Your boss. Wrote a series of ghodawphul minute murder mysteries. Killed the whole genre. Well, we've been looking for a chance to get even. You're it."
Ratnaz may have lost significant mental prowess over the years, but he wasn't totally stupid. "What? You gonna whack me?"
Spillway laughed and it was not a pretty sound. "Thought cross our minds, bub, but you're a better revenge alive than a martyred legend like that George Reeves fellow. Nah, we ain't going to hurt you. We're going to take very good care of you."
"Why should I believe that?" Ratnaz narrowed distrusting eyes.
"We're after bigger fish than you or your cranky old boss. We want Bozhart--in jail or dead, we don't much care."
Ratnaz rubbed his chin, then quickly pulled it away, smelling something he rather not. For once, he kept his mouth shut. Four guys, if that Yellow Jacket was counted, had it in for Boz. Despite the goodtimes and his friendly ways, perhaps Brace was up to something. Well, he'd find out.
"Where can a fellow get a shower, razor and a change of clothes?"
Cam Spaid nodded toward a half-opened door on the other side the room. "There's a bath. The closet's full--might be something your size in there."
Ratnaz started across the room, shedding his torn and soiled coat. Spillway touched his arm in passing. "By the way, Ratz, there's an old chum of yours in there."
Perplexed, the vine swinger entered the room. The lights were out. A harsh neon sign on the next building over barely shed light through dirty curtains drawn over the window. As he stood silhouetted in the doorway, a woman's soft voice startled Ratnaz.
"Close the door."
He did. A moment later the bedside light came on. The woman, tall, sharply dressed, and very attractive, smiled at the man's stunned expression. "Hello, Ratz. Miss me?"
"Bertie Ketchum!" Ratnaz exclaimed.
CHAPTER XI: The Gams That Man Forgot -Tangor
Meanwhile, as Ratnaz renewed acquaintance with a double agent from an early episode in his career as Edgar Nyce's jungle flunky, Dee Dee Morris tried on several blouses before settling on a white silk with loose sleeves. It drapped nicely over her black bra. Stepping into a knee-length black skirt, she zipped the side and buttoned the eighteen inch waistband. Taupe stockings encased her slim legs and her toes wiggled inside sensible black pumps with a two inch heel. A sleeveless vest matching the skirt was donned, then she checked her reflection in the mirror. Satisified she looked her best without looking slutty, a light touch of lipstick was applied and blotted.
Kojak Morris was at the breakfast table, a bowl of Sugar Whammies in front of him. He looked up from the morning paper and whistled at his daughter. "I swear Dee Dee, you look prettier every day."
The girl turned then asked, "Too much?"
"Very beautiful, and proper, too. I'm proud of you darling. It broke my heart every night you went of Mars Markus'."
Dee Dee was staggered. "Oh, daddy! You knew?"
"To my eternal shame, yes, I did. I didn't worry about you because Mars and I go way back, but we were desperate, honey. And I couldn't forbid you to do whatever you felt was needful to help us through hard times. I also heard what Brace Bozhart did for you. Fine man, he is, don't you think?"
Dee Dee took a bite of her father's toast. "I can't really say. I am grateful, not only for pulling that drunk off me, but for offering me this job. Still," she grew misty-eyed, "I feel like I am leaving you when you need me most."
Kojak chuckled. "Not to worry, Dee Dee. The advance on the contract pays off the creditors and leaves plenty for operations for a while. Once we start supplying Rodent Pictures with helium, we'll be able to expand operations, just like we always dreamed."
The back door of the kitchen suddenly opened. A black-haired, grey-eyed warrior entered--Dan Darter, late captain U. S. Air Cavalry. "Dee, Kojak," he said. "So, it is true." There was a rage smoldering in his eyes that frightened Dee Dee Morris.
"You aren't welcome here, Dan," she stammered. "Please leave."
"Not until I get what I came after." Dan Darter hardened his expression and walked toward Dee Dee.
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CHAPTER XII: Into Klimb’s Abyss --Bill Hillman
With the Yellow Men
Back in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, young Splay-Toe had been raised on imported American Blackhawk comics and before he had ever met his current idol, Yellow Jacket, The Zoot Soot Crusader, he had developed a profound case of hero envy for the hotshot flyboys’ Chinese sidekick -- Chop Chop. It seemed natural then, when it came time to emigrate to America that he should obtain a false Chinese passport. The fact that he had red hair and could speak no Chinese, and for that matter had not even mastered the blunt-end style chopsticks favoured by the Asian mainland horde, offered no deterrent to the gung ho houseboy. He did, however, emulate the Chinese costume of the diminutive Chop Chop...right down to the silk pyjamas, pigtail and the cleaver which doubled both as a weapon against evil-doers and, in less frenetic moments, a kitchen utensil for chop suey preparation. As Splay-Toe aimed the powerful Yellow Jacketmobile through valley traffic -- for the second time this night -- he glanced into the rear view mirror at his masked friend in the back seat.
“Bryce?” -- Only Splay-Toe, and the masked man’s faithful female companion, Pancho Lane, knew the shameful secret of Yellow Jacket’s real identity. Behind the mask was -- Bryce Lee -- illegitimate half-Cantonese brother of Brace Bozhart! -- “Bryce? You awake?”
“Mmm. Just thinking Splay-Toe. We are being followed...that limo did a U-ie a few blocks back and it’s been closing in on us. Step on it!”
The yellow vegetable dye on the driver’s brow was beginning to join the beads of nervous sweat in a race down his unmistakably Caucasian features.
“Look out! There’s a detour. Turn left and take the side streets.” A little farther on, a quick glance out the side window met with an almost surrealistic scene of a hobbling elderly man in his boxer shorts -- leading a burro and badly singed milk cow...all of this against a backdrop of the still-smoldering ruins of a recently burnt out warehouse.
“Up ahead...to your right,” shouted the masked man. “There’s a large building with an open stable door. Turn in and douse the lights!”
The yellow behemoth rolled easily through the wide portal, but immediately following the extinguishing of the lights the rear end of the vehicle tipped violently upward and the surprised occupants found themselves hurtling downward to meet what surely must be their doom.
CHAPTER XIII: The Bandits from Hell’s Bells
The Stranger from Farris’s
Through the night Bertie had used all of her feminine wiles and every trick she had learned from the Mata Hari handbook to eke out of Ratnaz everything he knew about Brace Bozhart. The morning sun lured three "has-been" PIs, a now much more presentable and contented man of the jungle, and a seductively dressed, radiant woman out of the rundown three-story building. They crossed a litter-strewn and crumbling sidewalk to a waiting 1949 maroon Ford sedan. A few moments later, as they sped off, a canary yellow 1966 Camaro nosed out from the nearby service alley beside Farris’s Big Wheel Club and roared in pursuit.
“Come on, yuse guys...where ya takin’ me,” pleaded an increasingly anxious Ratnaz. To mask his unease, he was trying hard to emulate the sonorous, dulcet, and glibly eloquent vocal abilities of his cinema hero, Johnny Weissmuller.
Feelings of apprehension, however, where soon assuaged by the ever-resourceful Bertie who pressed her full warm body even closer to the protesting apeman and fondled his freshly shaven face with seductive caresses. The spell wasn’t broken until the car pulled into a parking lot ringed with palms and Ratnaz was startled to realize that he was staring at the familiar signage of the Ratnaza Branch of the Bank of America. Before he was fully aware of what was happening, he found himself transported to the basement of the bank building, where he and Bertie were being escorted by a burly security guard into the safety deposit box section of the bank’s massive vault - a vault that the retreating guard pointed out with pride was impregnable, having being designed by the Opar Company of Cucamonga.
The Family Jewels of Opar
By this time Bertie knew what she was looking for as she reached over and unbuckled the belt which held up her ruggedly handsome friend's baggy pleated trousers: "Can I see it again Ratz, honey ...please...ummmm."
Once again the noble savage felt a rush of embarrassment and shame. Embarrassment because he had promised his poor dear, long-departed African mother that he would never let anyone see him like this...hunched and cowering in his BVDs... his underwear in full view of...a girl. Shame because he had only yesterday promised his best buddy Boz that he would never betray the secret entrusted to him. Bertie knelt down in front of the poor, pitiful creature and reached out with both hands. She then lowered her sensuous face until he could feel her hot breath on his lower body. The mood built to a climax as she pulled on the handle of a huge magnifying glass hidden in the deep recesses of her handbag. Closer she came until she could make out the numbers tattooed on that part of him about which he felt most sensitive ...his knees. How clever and diabolical was Bozhart...would any sane man have thought of hiding the combination for his safety deposit box in such a private place.
Bertie gasped, "I've Got It!" The clever seductress raced to the wall of security boxes and frantically engaged the tumblers on the combination lock which was guarding Box 22. The series of numbers unleashed the thick metal door of safe and Bertie ran to the inspection table with a large waterproof, oilskin packet in hand. Ratnaz could see over her shoulder that the packet contained a cornucopia of photographs and documents...and precious gem stones. Just as the woman made a motion to return to the waiting henchmen upstairs, one entire wall of the vault gave way in an explosion of dust and brick, as a gigantic corkscrew monster crashed toward them and threatened to impale the startled couple who sought safety in each other's arms.
CHAPTER XIV: Airship 2-U-2 --Bill Hillman
Revenge of the Madman
Dan Darter lunged past Dee Dee Morris in an attempt to snatch away the master key to the Helium Works, but his move was thwarted by Kojak Morris who sensed immediately what the man was seeking. The old man barred Darter's way, but in doing so, toppled over the key chest and found himself inextricably pinned beneath its immense weight. Uttering a curse, Carter seized the Princess of Bars by her slender wrist and unceremoniously pulled, pushed and carried the struggling beauty out to his waiting escape vehicle.
Darter had not always been of this ilk When Dee Dee first met him he had a promising military career with the Uganda Secret Air Cavalry but everything seemed to unravel when, during a hazardous mission in hostile jungle territory, his state-of-the-art (for Uganda) biplane went down. No one ever really knew what terrors he had faced alone in the jungle but he wandered out of that savage realm a very different man -- his once baby blue eyes had turned a steely gray. He had never fully recovered from his head injuries, and for a time had drifted from country to country offering his services as a mercenary ultralight pilot. But always there were the headaches... and the flashbacks... and the hallucinations. He was no longer the chivalrous warrior -- the gallant who had won the heart of the incomparable Dee Dee Morris so long ago -- but she never lost hope...
The Jed of Clampett
Princess Dee Dee was thrown unceremoniously onto what appeared to be an old sofa -- in the back of a very old truck. Behind her was a huge pile of rubber material wrapped in a web of rough jute twine. It was only after Darter had turned the sputtering jalopy onto Sunset Boulevard that he explained to her that he had purchased the relic from Honest Jed of Clampett Auto Sales...and it had once been used in some sort of TV comedy series. Then, after they turned into her father’s Helium Atmosphere Works complex, she learned the startling secret of the large mound of rubber material in the back. Darter gained forcible entry into the plant and was soon pumping helium gas into what turned out to be a giant Holstein-shaped promotional balloon he had obtained from the Cows 2U theatrical supply company. After they were airborne and sitting in the open cockpit of Darter’s makeshift flier, Dee learned the rest of the story.
The Grimley Wave
The Grimley Wave was a Hollywood landmark...Jasmine Grimley recently had taken over and expanded her (his) father Ed’s hair styling salon which specialized in the much-sought-after Grimley Wave hair curl. The locks of countless celebrities -- Veronica Lake, Marlon Brando, Martin Short, Bill Haley...an endless list -- had been teased, twisted and tangled by Jason's...ah...Jasmine's loving digits. Darter was visiting Jasmine for a perm, a few weeks previously, when an old prospector -- Zany Grany, accompanied by his burro, stormed in through the back entrance of the salon for his annual hair cut and shave. The old codger had the reputation of being a teller of wild tales so after the first shock wave had subsided, Darter only half listened as he sat under the Grimley permanent wave machine. He later became intrigued, however, with the outrageous story of a giant rift that the old guy claimed had been opened in the desert just after the last big earthquake. Zany had been travelling across the Tappan Range just west of Death Valley’s Stovepipe Wells when he saw giant, featherless birds in the distance. Upon approaching, he was horrified to see three of his burros pitch forward and fall into what had to be a bottomless pit -- to meet what surely must be their doom. Two more of his burros were carried off and down into the depths by the giant lizard-birds which had been flying overhead. The improbable tale stuck in Darter’s mind and stoked his sense of adventure to a fever pitch.
Flight of the Moo Maid
Now high above the dead sea bottoms of Southern California, Dee Dee Morris was suffering from emotional overload, and was trying to take a calm level-headed assessment of her hopeless predicament.
Here she was: kidnapped by a madman AND forced to participate in his wild fantasy AND clinging for her life to a solitary coil spring protruding from an Ozarkian loveseat, AND trying to avoid the escaping gases of a rubber flying cow sac which was propelling them ever higher into the increasingly rarefied Jasoomian air AND watching in hopeless abandonment as the twin towers of her father’s beloved Helium Works shrank into the distance.
This scenario of utter hopelessness was being played out in the fading light projected by the blood red disc of a far off sun plummeting into the wild treacherous waters of the mighty Pacific. Facing a fate worse than death, the lovely Dee Dee Morris, Princess of Bars, had only one choice. The girl let her fingers slide from their grip on the spring...and she plunged to what surely must be her doom.
CHAPTER XV: The Game's a Foot -- Tangor
Herlock Cabyns and Dr. Datsun caught the first Concorde to the States. During the uneventful supersonic flight the world renowned detective and his ever present assistant reviewed the facts of the developing caper. Cabyns and Bozhart had a long relationship, primarily based on industrial espionage (Bozhart's) which had been profitable to them both--commissions from the British Government or the Royal Family had been few and far between in latter years.
"Brace is concerned," Herlock said quietly as he studied the faces of the well-dressed passengers in First Class. "I've never known him to be easily ruffled, so it must be something quite nefarious."
"My dear Cabyns," Dr. Datsun replied, "I heartily agree. Mr. Bozhart must be protected at all costs."
Herlock, without realizing it, had produced his discolored briar pipe. He was about to clench it between his teeth when a stern-faced stewardess tapped his shoulder. "Oh!" the detective ejected apologetically. "Force of habit. Sorry."
As the attendent walked away, Herlock Cabyns scowled. "One of life's small comforts, and it is illegal in the air. By so much has the world changed."
Dr. Datsun surrepitiously offered Cabyns a small packet. "To calm your nerves," the good doctor said.
For a moment the consulting detective considered the offer, then declined. "A clear head is needed, my good Datsun. Brace Bozhart deserves our keenest deductive abilties."
Datsun returned the packet to his tweed jacket pocket without further comment.
Upon landing, the two travelers were met by a well-dressed, stone-faced employee of Brace Bozhart's worldwide organization BB, Inc. "Mr. Bozhart sends his greetings and apologizes for the urgency. I'll take your bags, sir."
Datsun was left to carry his own bag, which fortunately for the aging medical practioneer, was a small black valise.
Cabyns and Datsun were driven from the commercial airport to a smaller private field where a sleek executive jet emblazoned with "BB, Inc." awaited their arrival. The turbines were turning at a low whine as the man delivered the detective and assistant. With little waste motion both boarded and the powerful aircraft took off.
The men were not alone in the cabin. An affable gentleman, blond-haired and husky, extended a hand. "My name is Hillie Billman. I'm to fill you in and assist you any way possible."
Cabyns accepted the handshake with cool aplomb. "Wait, do not tell me... you are originally from West Virginia, a farmer's son, experienced in manual labor and devoted to the works of Herman Melville. You are currently employed for your skills in martial combat and dedication to duty."
Dr. Datsun rolled his eyes. "Cabyns! Must you do that?"
Hillie Billman chuckled. "That's okay, Datsun. I'm curious, Cabyns, how'd you make that deduciton?"
"T'is obvious, sir. Your hands are well-calloused and your shoulders well-muscled, strength gained in early youth from manual labor and maintained to the present. Your name is an honorary to your native mountains. Your accent reveals your upbringing and your stick pin, a small harpoon, declares your interest. As to the latter, Brace Bozhart never hires milquetoasts or those who are not personally loyal to him."
"Not bad," the young man grinned. "But I'm a Canuk, a boxer when I'm not playing guitar, never saw a farm in my life. The stick pin was given to me by my mother, who did like Moby Dick. As for the name...it's short for 'Hilary' and that's why I grew up handy with my hands. I don't like it, or the teasing. But you are correct, I am totally devoted to Brace Bozhart."
The aircraft suddenly veered left, g forces mounting as the jets increased pressure at a mad rate. Hillie, hanging sideways by the seat belt, shouted forward. "What the hell?"
The pilot replied. "Unmarked F-16. The son of a bitch is tracking us!"
Several violent manuevers threw the passengers against seat cushions. Hillie Billman grabbed an arm rest to steady himself. Expending tremendous effort, the BB, Inc. employee pulled himself to the window and looked out. He saw the deadly aircraft, painted black, turning hard on their tail. He also saw the racks of rockets mounted beneath the wings. The pilot's next turn took the aircraft out of sight, but a few seconds later Hillie saw it again--just as it released an air-to-air missile!
CHAPTER XVI: Into The Inner World -- Tangor
"Criminey, Lard! Are you alright?"
Carmon Nappie sat at the controls of the darkened cabin of the Pellucifar Burrower. He was torn between abandoning his post and rushing to Lord Greatstrokes aid--for it seemed the British nobleman was in need of assistance!
Devon McGuinness grunted suddenly as the heavy weight fell upon him at the hatch closing. It was a frantically writhing body which pinned him to the floor. How many arms and legs he had was undetermined in the dim light, but it seemed far too many than the ordinary number.
"Hold still, you idiot!" McGuinness cried. Adding: "Get off me! Nappie, get a light on! Let's see what dropped in."
A harsh yellow light revealed a balding individual in casual clothes. McGuinness recognized him immediately. "Edgar Nyce--how kind of you to drop in."
Nyce blinked several times, adjusting to the light and the abruptly altered situation. "Where the hell am I, McGuinness?"
"Some place you weren't meant to be. Why are you skulking about? What were you doing anyway? I should have you arrested for tresspass!"
Ed Nyce dusted himself off, then jutted his chin toward the English lord. "Get ready for a countersuit if you try it. I needed the hose. My warehouse is on fire!"
Having had a moment to catch his breath, Lord Greatstrokes, who inherited the name from his family's extensive holdings in Scottish golf courses, reconsidered his threat--especially in view of the Pellucifar's intended expedition. "I'm sorry to hear that, OB," he said with concilliatory tone. "Of course, you may borrow the hose, but alas, I fear it will be impossible to do so any time soon."
Nyce had regained his composure as well, looking with interest at the inside of the contraption. "Hell, Rathmind will get the animals out...as for the rest, good riddance to bad rubbish. What is this thing?"
Greatstrokes hesitated only a heartbeat before replying. "An invention of mine--and Nappie's, of course." He nodded to the engineer who moved the hand holding a heavy spanner behind his leg. "It is an earth mole, a vehicle for exploring the inner world."
Ed smiled. "I wrote something like that in my early days. What a lot of balderdash it was. Still, technology has finally caught up with imagination. I'm impressed, Greatstrokes. Very impressed indeed. Show me more."
Seeing no harm, the English lord gestured for Ed to take the navigator's seat. He pointed to the various panels, some glowing with neat rows of leds. Dials indicating depth, course and speed were to the left of the steering yoke.
The author, now deeply immersed, smiled his admiration. "Very impressed," he repeated himself, "very impressed indeed. What does this button do?" Ed Nyce's extended finger punched the large red button before either Devon McGuinness or Carmon Nappie could shout "NO!"
The Pellucifar Burrower lurched awkwardly, a loud clanking developed in the rear of the vehicle. The grinding bore at the front whirled at a frantic pace, crunching through soil, rock, water mains and gas lines in an instant.
Nappie gripped Greatstrokes' shoulder, fear distending his eyes to the size of saucers. "We werna clear o' the utilities, Lard! 'e's cut the gas mains."
"One spark," McGuinness frowned. "One spark and it is all over."
As if on cue, a thunderous explosion rocked the crippled earth mole.
CHAPTER XVII: The Mad King Sings -- Tangor
Splay-Toe changed pyjamas when they returned to the secret hideout. The only difference between the one removed and the one donned was the discarded one bore soil picked up when they retrieved Ratnaz. Feeling better, the pseudo-Cantonese tucked his cleaver in the sash and went to the kitchen. Bryce Bozhart, now in familar street clothes, sat at the table with a cup of freshly brewed oolong.
"I would have done that, boss," Splay-Toe groused. "That's what I hired on to do."
"Be unconcerned, my faithful servant," the handsome Bozhart replied. "Pour a cup for yourself and sit with me."
The oriental wannabe did as bid. Taking a sip, Splay-Toe asked: "What's this all about, boss? What's the beef between you and Brace?"
"Being the illegitmate son has few advantages, my friend. My mother, Junie Lambchop, was a working girl at Harris' for some years. She was the exclusive girl of Buzz Bozhart--"
Splay-Toe choked on the tea. "THE Buzz Bozhart? Golly!"
"The very same. John D. Rockerfeller came to Buzz for lessons in greed, though he failed in the execution of my father's suggestions."
Splay-Toe thought, "If that's failure, let me at it!" The camaflaged Cantonese remained quiet as the Yellow Jacket continued.
"Brace got the breaks, I got the bum's rush because a few months after I was born Junie Lambchop got religion and broke away from the prostitution game. Married a total jerk named Oggie Hash--but that's another story. In any event, mom told me who my real father was when I turned 21, a belated conscience, if you will. It was she who suggested I hit old Buzz up for past child support, so I guess she wasn't all bad in the end.
"But that meeting with Buzz Bozhart did not go well because Brace was there--talk about looking into a mirror and seeing yourself! 'Don't listen to this guy, Dad,' he said. 'He's a fortune hunter with a sad story that won't hold up in court.'"
"'We'll see,' I said, 'DNA tests are pretty common these days. I just want what's due me.'"
The Yellow Jacket fell silent, staring into the bottom of the tea cup. The suspense was unendurable for Splay-Toe. "Well, what happened?"
With a hard expression compressing his handsome features, Bryce Bozhart's voice was cold as ice. "Brace promised to see me in court, then took me by the collar and gave me the bum's rush. Humiliated, angry, frustrated at every turn, I vowed to one day claim my birthright--even if it meant destroying Buzz Bozhart and his son Brace. I became the Yellow Jacket, perfecting my skills, righting wrongs--but only wrongs which had been created by BB, Inc.--and they are many and varied, my friend, as you well know."
"Indeed," Splay-Toe replied. There was a long silence as the two men sat thinking. A special bond arose, one that would link the two together for many years to come. Splay-Toe rose, bowing to his master, then asked, "Egg sandwiches or a cheese omlet?"
CHAPTER XVIII: The Fateful Plunge -- Tangor
Dee Dee Morris closed her eyes. She did not wish to see the earth rushing toward her. Her only regret was dying a virgin.
The sickening sensation of falling lasted only a few seconds as she came to an abrupt stop! A sharp pain at her left ankle revealed why her tragic descent was aborted. A loop of rope had twisted about her shapely foot. Upside down, her skirt nearly over her head, exposing stocking tops, garter belt and red French cut bikini panties, the young woman was mortified with embarrassment.
"Dee Dee!" Dan Darter cried. "My God, girl!" The grey-eyed man quickly hauled on the rope until the woman was inside the Clampett dirigible. "You could have been killed!"
"That was the general idea," Dee Dee Morris muttered under her breath. Louder, she said, "I can do that myself!" She fended off Darter's hands which were trying to smooth down her skirt but lingering too long on her nylons. Dan Darter moved back, slightly amused. Dee Dee stamped her foot, as much to settle it inside the shoe as to express her petulance.
"Dan Darter, take me home immediately!
"My princess," Darter sighed, "fair Helium Supply is lost to view and we are, I'm sorry to say, lost, too."
"Well, stop and ask directions. Oh, I forgot, you're a man, you don't ask for directions. Listen to me, Dan, you need help."
The wind had carried the cow-shaped airship northwest of Los Angeles. Below them Ventura Boulevard was a ribbon of light as darkness descended. There was a fire below them, surrounded by emergency vehicles, yet here, hundreds of feet above the earth, it seemed distant and inconsequential.
Dan Darter whispered, "Will you call me 'my chieftain' tonight? I have great feelings for you, Dee Dee Morris."
"The only thing I feel for you at this moment, Mr. Darter, is a great pain in the a--"
At that moment (as in all cliff hanger chapter endings) there was a huge explosion several hundred yards from the burning house. The fireball rose directly beneath the Jed of Clampett dirigible!
CHAPTER XIX: The Inefficiency Expert -- Tangor
Ratnaz pushed Bertie Ketchum away. Ignoring the huge twisting drill penetrating the concrete and steel vault, the vine swinger reached down and pulled up his pants. As he buckled them, Bertie got behind and pushed Ratnaz out of the way. Dickie Spillway and Ike Slammer grabbed Ratnaz by the jacket and helped Bertie.
"Where's Cam Spaid?" Ike shouted over the mechanical din as the monstrous vehicle crossed the vault and began drilling into the opposite wall.
"On the other side!" Spaid yelled, coughing as rock dust and smoke filled the room.
Though it seemed to take forever, the mechanical mole, grinding at a fantastic rate, soon exited the destroyed vault. The three dicks and Bertie exchanged looks while Ratnaz pulled up his zipper. Bertie spoke, her voice high-pitched with astonishment.
"Did you swing into too many trees, Ratz? What were you thinking? There wasn't time to do up your pants!"
The Lord of the Leaves scowled. "I've spent my whole life runnin' around in my BVD's or less. I sure as hell wasn't goin' to die without pants on. Ah, fergit, youse wouldn't understand."
Ike Slammer motioned for his two friends to leave the couple alone. They began sorting through the debris left behind the contraption, which was still making a racket in the new shaft.
Bertie, the fright over, wilted against the vine swinger's broad chest. "Oh, Ratz, I was scared to death for you. You are an icon, a symbol, you cannot be allowed to die--either by neglect or for real."
Ratnaz was touched, and he liked the way Bertie touched his face. "Say, kid, you're not gettin' soft on me are ya?"
The woman lowered her eyes, her voice soft. "I've always been soft on you, you big galoot."
Feelings long denied, Ratnaz lifted Bertie's chin with thumb and forefinger. He gazed into her eyes, seeing in them that which he had repressed for nearly 70 years. "I think I'm stuck on you, too, kid."
Arm in arm, the couple walked out of the vault into the bank lobby. Spaid, Slammer and Spillway kept digging, happily announcing each find with cheerful glee. Spillway called out, causing Ratnaz and Bertie to break a long overdue kiss to look over their shoulders. "We got enough here to put Bozhart away forever!"
The ground shook in a fashion that Californians associate with earthquakes. Then a flash of yellow flame shot into the vault from the second tunnel made by the mysterious drilling machine. Spillway, Spaid and Slammer barely had a chance to scream before they were burnt to a cinder.
Bertie screamed and buried her face into Ratnaz's jacket. Filled with a resolve he had not known in years, Ratnaz, Lord of the Leaves, put his arm about the sobbing woman. "It's over, Bertie," he said. "Gas main blew. They never knew what hit them."
"Take me out of here, Ratz!"
The street was deserted, as most after hours business districts would be, but Ratnaz knew the police and fire services would soon arrive, and he had no intention of being detained by questions. They walked rapidly away from the gutted bank, crossed two streets, then hailed a cab. As they entered, the electrical grid went down, plunging several city blocks into complete darkness.
The cabbie renigged. "Sorry folks. My family lives close by. I got to go home and make sure they're okay."
Ratnaz and Bertie watched the cab pull away.
Bertie took the man's hand. "I liked those guys."
"Who? Spaid and da udders? Don't give it a second thought, dear. They wuz cardboard characters in a cheap pulp. Somebody hasta die, or many somebodies, so da reader gets a body count. And to my way of thinking, there ain't been enough bodies--yet!"
"Ratz, what are you going to do? Whatever it is, I want to be with you!"
"Dat's talkin', baby. I'm gonna find out who's muckin' with my life and--" the vine swinger's hard fist slammed into his palm.
CHAPTER XX: A Fighting Man of Bars -- Tangor
Mars Markus knew something was wrong the minute he drove up. Dee Dee Morris' two-seat speedster was parked in the drive. The burly barman unfolded himself from the economical Fiesta, yet again wishing he could afford better.
Walking up the drive, he paused to look into Dee Dee's vehicle. The hood was cold. She should have left hours ago. Perplexed, he continued along side the house toward the back door, the favored entrance to the Morris household. The alert barman noticed immediately that the back door was half-open, and coming from the inside were cries for help!
Pushing the door open with a thick muscled shoulder, Mars Markus saw his old friend Kojak Morris pinned beneath a fallen key case!
Instantly, he was at the old man's side. It took no time to remove the case and to lift Kojak to his feet. "What happened, Morris? Where's Dee Dee?"
Kojak shook his head. "No time for that. We have to hurry!" The man rushed outside, spindlely legs pumping rapidly.
Markus dug his car keys out as he ran after Kojak Morris. He banged his head getting into the car while trying to reach across and unlock the passenger door at the same time. Feeling a little dizzy, Mars started the engine and backed into the street. "Which way?"
"Helium Supply, and step on it!"
On the way to the location, Kojak told of Dan Darter's theft of the key and kidnapping of Dee Dee. "I'll make that brain-damaged idiot pay," Kojak promised.
Mars Markus twisted the wheel savagely around corners. "You'll have to stand in line, Morris. I think of that kid like my own daughter." Of course, my daughter never worked as a stripper...
The gate to Helium Supply's yard was unlocked. Above the corroded metal roof of the main building stood the twin towers of helium--one scarlet, the other yellow. At Kojak's instruction Mars Markus drove into the yard and came to a screeching halt at the rear loading dock. It had rained during the day which had washed the dirt road clear of tracks. Because of that rain both men could clearly see that a vehicle had been driven to the scarlet helium tower--and there they ended!
"Where did he go?" Kojak exclaimed. "Somebody came in, but they didn't go out!"
Mars Markus was equally confused as he criss-crossed the earth looking for clues. Then he saw it. Glittering, shining, even as the sun set: Dee Dee's charm bracelet. "She was here, Kojak." The barman, who had been a boxer in the Navy, showed the bauble to the distraught father.
In tears, clutching the fighting barman's shirt, Kojak Morris pleaded. "You gotta help me find her. You gotta help me!"
"I will," Mars Markus promised. "You can bet on it."
End of Book One -- Chapters 1-20 of the Ratnaz Files
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