THE RATNAZ FILES: BOOK III
CHAPTER TITLES CONTRIBUTOR
CHAPTER 41: The Immaculate Virgin -- Tangor
CHAPTER 42: The Plot Thickens, If Simmered Long Enough -- Tangor
CHAPTER 43: The Case of the Mysterious Mystery's Mystery -- Tangor
CHAPTER 44: Llana of Baseball -- Tangor
CHAPTER 45: Fantastic Voyage Into the Primeval Abyss -- Bill Hillman
CHAPTER 46: Jeriatric Park -- Bill Hillman
CHAPTER 47: Mister Bate's Motel -- Bill Hillman
CHAPTER 48: The Butler Did It! -- Bill Hillman
CHAPTER 49: The Fall and Rise of the Phantom Empire -- Bill Hillman
CHAPTER 50: When Worlds Collide--Violently -- Tangor
CHAPTER 41: The Immaculate Virgin -- Tangor
Hilary Billman gasped for air as the raging torrent carried him deeper into the bowels of the earth. The West Virginian Canuk maintained his grip on the heavy harpoon in his left hand. With his right he cross checked himself to make sure both shirt buttons were tight, then checked his spectacles and his zipper. All was in proper order so he bent all efforts to staying afloat long enough to check his hip pocket and shoe lace, having only one foot, the latter was easily accomplished.
The cold water had a beneficial side-effect as it brought the man out of his feverish daze, which state he descended into after reading humorously lurid adventure novels. When he lost his leg in the family's thrasher, the younger Hilary had convalesced with dozens of Edgar Nyce books borrowed from the local library. These books had sustained him through a long and painful recovery. When he went to the library to thank the 86 year old woman running the place, he inadvertently remarked that if only he could find women like Ratnaz seemed to find women, he could get on with his life.
The librarian, who had never found reason to open an Edgar Nyce opus, did so and promptly withdrew all Nyce books from the shelves. Such a stink was made that libraries across the US and Canada followed suit, which led to a slump in the fortunes of Ratnaz publishers for at least two decades.
But Hillie Billman was not recalling the past while being carried along with the debris in the flood, he was recalling the fact that Brace Bozhart had left him to die, and that sat very poorly with the enraged West Virginian Canuk. "I'll murder the guy," Hilary exclaimed. "I'll tear him limb from limb. I will..."Crash into a wall and lose consciousness...Billman thought as he crashed into a wall and lost consciousness.
Meanwhile, Dee Dee Morris hung on for dear life at the end of the tether still attached to the tar-smeared cow-balloon. To the west the sky was dark with smoke and ash as major portions of the suburbs surrounding Los Angeles burned out of control. The wind blew the fire behind the young woman, racing through bowling alleys and all-night drugstores. The conflagration strained public services to the limit and Dee Dee Morris' heart went out to the homeless. She did not want to think of how many may have perished (none at the moment according to news sources at the scene). Though her own life was in danger, it was a sign of the pure heart of Dee Dee Morris, ex-fan dancer and stripper, to be more concerned of others than for herself.
Yet, reality asserted itself and the young woman wondered what was to become of her. The helium-filled balloon showed no sign of losing altitude and she was high enough above the trees to fear letting go. "How will I get down?" she pondered beneath her breath as landscape continued to pass beneath her slim feet.
As if in answer, she felt a jolt through the line and looked up to see the side of the cow pushed inward. What caused it she could not say, then faintly, a subdued pop like the back-fire of a poorly maintained Toyota truck came to her shell-like ears. The balloon shuddered yet a second time and again she heard the sound. The balloon began to deflate, obviously rent by some agency beyond her ken, though it proved to be her salvation by bringing the plucky girl closer to earth. The balloon gently descended toward a farm house with a chicken coop at the rear. Fighting panic, Dee Dee Morris tensed for a hard landing, but in the end, her feet touched earth light as a feather."
A rather large woman toting a small bore rifle came running up. It was Bertha La Ropa looking tarred and feathered. "Are you alright, girl? Land sakes, chile, youse coulda been kilt up there!"
"I am Dee Dee Morris, a principle-ess of Helium Supply. Thank you for saving my life. Who might you be?"
"Me?" the older woman laughed, " I's a chick'n farmer who doubles as a school dietician when work is available. My, my, don't a look immaculate! Bertha La Ropa, dear. I'd shake hands, but as ya can see..." Dee Dee could see. The woman was covered with blood, feathers, bank notes and an occasional Roosevelt dime. Bertha led the way to the house. "Never see'd anyone fly like that before."
Dee Dee looked back toward the deflated bag which completely covered the hen house, much to those small creatures' discontent. "I would not recommend it. Ms. La Ropa." The sight of the kitchen, plucked chickens, and chicken heads and feet in a bucket by a bloody chopping block was a little disconcerting, but Bertha at least had power to her house.
"Been a strange night, honey-chile." The laughing woman leaned the rifle in the corner. "Here, sit yaself down in dat chair and I'll fetch us some coffee." Bertha poured two cups, blowing chicken feathers out of them first, and brought it, and a towel to wipe herself, to the table. "Been strange doin's this evening. Why, not an hour before ya came by I thought I saw a cow carrying a car over the valley! Before that I hear'd the most aggravatin' soun' in the groun', a perfect rumblin' it was. Way things been goin' I's expect the Lord hisself to come screamin' judgment on us all."
Coincidentally, they heard a scream outside the house.
"Lan'sakes!" Bertha La Ropa said, grabbing up her shootin' iron. "Stay here, honey-chile while I go greet Bealzabub hisself!"
Like all pulp heroines Dee Dee Morris ignored the instruction, following in the large woman's footsteps toward the incessant wailing. It took a few moments of confused exploration to realize the cries for help came not from the land around the ranch house but from the little-used well in the front yard!
Bertha pointed the rifle down the brick-lined excavation and called out, "Who's there? Speak up or eat lead!"
Dee Dee pushed the older woman aside and began lowering the oaken bucket. "I'm sending down a line. Grab on and we'll get you out."
A dullthunkwas followed by an "Ow!" and "Okay, I have it."
It took both women to turn the old-fashioned crank, but they managed to lift the heavy person to the well's rim. Hilary Billman sputtered as he hooked an arm over the edge. "Thank you kindly for saving my butt." He hooked his other arm, displaying the frightening harpoon.
"Ya lowdown skunk!" Bertha screamed. She whacked Billman over the head with the bucket. "You ain't tak'n no 'vantage of decent wimminfolks!" She hit him again, then a third time before Billman went limp and fell back into the well with a splash.
"You killed him!" Dee Dee ejaculated.
Bertha La Ropa took the stunned girl in charge. "Honey, dat kind always survive. I know, I was married to a good for nothing drug pusher who knew a little tramp named Deva Pendelton who put up 'o that kind of crap. Trust me, he ain't dead, but he'll shore wish he wuz if'n he poke his haid outta dat hole."
CHAPTER 42: The Plot Thickens,
If Simmered Long Enough -- Tangor
The gorgeous chauffeur slowed down so the panting woman with the whip could catch up. They moved into the shadow of one of the smaller buildings and looked toward the vacation house. The heavy woman was frantic with worry. "Do you think we convinced them, Ms. Jane?"
Jane Porker-Bozhart shivered in the night air. The brief costume worn by Bozhart staff drivers was all-too brief. "You did wonderfully, Mrs. Billman. Thank goodness you were here. For some reason Brace does not want Herlock Cabyns to have a clue."
"But he said, 'Gentlemen, you've met my wife, the lovely Jane Porker' and nobody would confuse me for you," Cecilia Billman sighed.
"Herlock Cabyns and Dr. Datsun are British subjects. The only Americans they pay attention to are the Clintons and Hollywood movie stars. Besides, Mrs. Billman, our most important mission is to save your husband."
"Yes," Cilli Billman said, "Hillie is the reason I am here. Since he left the farm to take up with your husband, he has not been the same man, though the money has been very good, I mean to tell you. Our son Willie got his teeth straightened and our youngest son Phillie has been enrolled in a prestigious art school for three year olds. Our twin daughters Milli and Vanilli have gowns for their junior prom, but oh, I wish Hillie were there to see them!"
Jane Porker-Bozhart flipped gorgeous dark hair back over her soft shoulders as the wind from the valley below blew it across her cover-girl features. "Brace is up to something big. I know it. There's a minor peeve between him and Ed Nyce and Ed Nyce's New York lawyers, but that's small potatoes compared to the big picture. I just wish I knew what it was!"
Mrs. Cilli Billman sobbed. "Hillie wasn't in the car. He told me he never went anywhere except where your husband goes. Something has happened to him. I just know it!"
The lovely Jane put her arm around the weeping woman's shoulders. "There, there, Cilli. Everything will be alright. I just know it."
Meanwhile, in the Ratz Cave, Bryce Lee Bozhart used ice to get tar out of Splay-Toe's red hair. "I can stand the loss of the F-16, my friend, and I can understand your zeal to take out the Bozhart executive jet, but I can't understand how a cow disabled your aircraft with a sofa! I'm cutting your beer ration in half."
Splay-Toe had said nothing up until that point because there was nothing to say. He had been over-zealous, he had lost the F-16, he had forced his boss to come to the rescue. "But cutting my beer ration?" the man protested.
The Yellow Jacket was none too gentle removing an exceptionally matted chunk of tarry substance. The Canadian Chinese-wannabe yelped. "I'm cutting my own beer ration, too, my faithful friend. It is expensive carrying on against the multi-billion dollar BB, Inc. octopus. Why, they are so large and so well-funded they could have bought several Latin American countries. In fact," the masked crime fighter confided, "I believe they have."
Bryce indicated he was through, and fortunately for Splay-Toe there was still some hair on his head. Lee-Bozhart clapped a comradely hand on his side-kick's narrow shoulders. "Fix us some Earl Grey while I make a few phone calls."
The Yellow Jacket felt a pang of guilt after talking to the chief at the Fire Department--he could see the glow of catastrophic fire on low-lying clouds outside the Ratz Cave. Still, what had been done was done and there was no reversing it. The chief of police reported an explosion at a Bank of America branch and finding three charred bodies inside. The astute crime-fighter knew it must fit into his campaign against Brace Bozhart, but how?
Not far from the Yellow Jacket's secret hideout a yellow 1966 Camero thundered along Ventura Boulevard.
CHAPTER 43: The Case of the Mysterious
Mystery's Mystery -- Tangor
A few doors away from Brace Bozhart's fantastically appointed inner sanctum a tinny piano was atrociously mauled by one of the less-attractive girls at the Chicken Ranch Vacation House. Dr. Datsun and Herlock Cabyns disregarded the off-tempo and poorly played "Clementine" because neither had an ear for music.
Brace Bozhart found it more difficult to ignore, having a background in classical music. He had, in fact, been an accomplished violinist as early as age four; however, given the type of entertainment offered at the Tappan Range Chicken Shack, he was inclined to forgive compositional butchery for the sake of income. What he could not condone, however, was any of the girls crying out his name!
Looking to the skylight, he saw Maize West being aggressively pursued by a local mayor. Apologizing to Cabyns and Datsun, the powerful figure of Brace Bozhart swiftly exited the office. The stairs just without rattled to the pounding of fleet feet encased in expensive ostrich-hide boots specially prepared for the president of BB, Inc..
Momentarily alone, Cabyns quickly turned to his friend and confidant Dr. Datsun. "By all accounts Jane Porker is reputed to be a beautiful woman. Ergo, unless standards of American taste have changed significantly since our last visit--impossible to believe considering the astonishing proliferation of gorgeous women displayed in various states of undress on the local marquee advertisements..."
"I believe they call them 'billboards', Cabyns..." interrupted Dr. Datsun.
Herlock waved a deprecatory hand, "Of course, my dear Datsun, 'billboards', but do you not agree that the woman presented to us as Jane Porker does not fit the description circulated among the gentlemen's clubs of London?"
Datsun nodded sagely. "Quite right, Cabyns. And another thing, this cobbled-together collection of electronic dead ends and obsolescent ironmongery is a technological insult. By similar accounts young Brace is considered a master of computer science."
"Just so," Cabyn's agreed. "Therefore we are left with one inescapable conclusion: The man in whose company we have been for the last hour is an imposter!"
Staggered by the great detective's deductive reasoning, Dr. Datsun looked on with awe as his old friend injected two Pez to cool his fevered excitement. "What do you plan to do, Cabyns?"
The crafty detective of a thousand successfully concluded cases (including those pastiches written by well-meaning but often hopelessly illiterate fans) turned a narrow gaze toward his friend. "Why, dear Datsun, we do nothing."
Datsun sputtered several times before ejecting the surprised question: "Cabyns! What do you mean? Surely we must do everything in our power to locate the real Brace Bozhart!"
Cabyn's patted his agitated confidant's shoulder with a soothing gesture. "All in due time, my friend. First we must learn the purpose of this elaborate charade. Then we shall know how to proceed from there. For now, say nothing, do nothing that will reveal our knowledge of the caper. I fear that if we fail, the life of Brace Bozhart will be forfeit!"
Meanwhile, the man who appeared to be heir to one of the largest personal fortunes ever assembled in the world (bigger than even Bill Gates by several orders of magnitude), emerged upon the tar-paper sundeck atop the Chicken Shack. Maize West, a sultry, though overweight, woman with a penchant for too much makeup and a fluffy feather boa, had been cornered by the panting mayor.
The possible imposter quickly advanced upon the couple. It was the relief in Maize's eyes that caused the perspiring mayor to look over his shoulder. When he saw the determined look in Brace Bozhart's eyes, the man backed away from Ms. West.
"Brace, old son!" he cried, extending a hand. "So good to see you! How have you been? I have the building permits for your warehouse expansion on my desk. Expect my signature in the morning."
Bozhart narrowly eyed the outstretched hand and took it after a momentary pause. He did not release the frightened man's appendage, rather he gripped it fiercely to give greater effect to the words which followed:
"We are always delighted to receive guests at the Chick Shack Vacation House, Mr. (censored), but we do have rules against forcing the girls against their will."
Winching with pain, the local mayor stammered, "I---I--k-know that, B-Brace! Have a heart! Maize is the best damn partner I've ever been with. There's a big money game brewing in the card room right now. I hoped she would come and help me show 'em how it's done."
Brace arched a brow toward Maize, who wilted. "Damn it, Brace," the woman cried, "I've been playing cut-throat bridge for 18 hours straight! A girl needs to get a little shut-eye every once in a while!"
"There's your answer, Mr. (censored). If Maize West does not wish to play that is the end of it. Come," the commanding Bozhart, now affable and congenial, directed Mr. (censored) toward the roof top exit. "Let us see if Dorothy Laymore is otherwise occupied. Next to Maize, she's the best bridge partner we have."
Mollified, and still slightly intimidated, the mayor grudgingly agreed. "Well, if you say so. It's just that when we come here, my friends and I that is, we are seeking the kind of companionship our wives cannot give us. Most of them do not know a Spade from a Diamond or how to bid to their partner's hands. Your girls, however, are the best company of bridge players ever assembled and, well, we have come to expect the best. I apologize for my behavior," the mayor continued as Brace led him to the first floor. "Please give my regards to Ms. West."
Smiling broadly, the gracious Brace Bozhart assured the nervous man he would convey the apology. As they entered the main room, filled with more than a dozen card tables and foursomes at heavy play, Brace quickly located the stunning Dorothy Laymore, wearing a native sarong with a pink hibiscus blossom tucked over her left ear. He caught her eye, at which point the seductive bridge player came across the room with a swaying motion that could only be described as "fluid."
Her warm "hello" and white smile captivated the mayor. Brace linked them arm in arm and said, "Dorothy, be a dear, show Mr. (censored) just how ruthless you really are."
The couple walked away, heading for one of the empty tables. As the room filled with evening customers there was no doubt that a vicious game of bridge would soon ensue. Satisfied with the operation of the club the man, Brace imposter or not, was pleased for the moment.
CHAPTER 44: Llana of Baseball -- Tangor
Having narrowly averted a battle with the City's Ancient Heads, Mars Markus and Kojak Morris grimly faced forward in the rattling 1964 VW mini-micro bus they had purchased from an old-time hippie lost in a purple haze flashback. Kojak was thinking "That was my last quarter" and Markus was thinking "I hope Dee Dee's okay."
Markus, who drove, noticed the traffic coming toward them seemed to be increasing at an alarming rate. "Something's up, Kojak," he said. "Looks like a panic exodus to me."
Indeed, there was a tremendous blaze of on-coming headlights. The further east they travelled, the more frequent they heard horns blaring and saw drivers leaning out of windows shouting and shaking fists, or as the case may be, waving small automatic handguns. Beyond the blaze of light, above the frightened mass of humanity, loomed a vast billowing cloud of black smoke which snuffed out every star in the sky. The bottom edges of the cloud were tinged with orange and yellow highlights, looking like the flame-flickered cloud that might seen above some monstrous barbecue pit.
Car radios were tuned to a local broadcast, and with all blaring at full volume, the two rescuers soon had the reason: the northwestern quadrant of the Los Angeles basin was aflame!
At that moment, a strange moaning sound was heard from the rear of the van. The hackles rose on each man's neck as they turned eyes toward the rear. Rising like an apparition from a dark and moldy grave came the pasty-white face of a woman, bone-thin, whose stragglely brown hair was liberally shot with gray. In her right hand an empty longneck, in the right, a baseball bat!
Markus immediately pulled over to the curb as Kojak Morris wiggled between the seats to confront the fearsome creature. The fighting barman could not perform the same feat, thus Markus exited the vehicle and raced around to the double doors on the rear compartment. When he flung them wide, he saw that Morris was engaged in a fierce wrestling match with the armed woman!
Under ordinary pulp fiction guidelines, this would be the cliff-hanger ending for the chapter, but The Ratnaz Files are far from ordinary. We shall continue:
"Get this old sot off me, Mars!" Kojak growled. "Phew! A few too many brews!"
The woman weighed nothing to the powerfully-built fighting barman. If she tipped the scales at eighty-five pounds it would be because of the baseball bat still held within a vise-like grip. Taking the woman to the stoop of a nearby office building, Mars gently deposited the inebriated female on the steps.
"Wake up," Mars said. "Come, Mother, time to wakey-wakey."
"Whatzat?" a broken voice responded. Rheumy eyes tried to focus on the large man's face but seemed unequal to the task. "Be a dear, get me a beer."
"You've had quite enough," Kojak Morris announced. He was not a tee-totaller, but he could not abide abusers. "Wake up, lady. Who are you? What are you doing in our van?"
As they bent over the swaying woman, the traffic pattern on the two way street suddenly became one way by de facto means: a bevy of late model yuppie mobiles broke ranks and began to fill the expanse between buildings. Markus held the woman erect, but he also watched the mad drivers, fearing at any instant one might decide the sidewalk was designed for vehicular traffic.
Morris, naturally more solicitous than his gruff words revealed, attempted to take the baseball bat away from the woman. That action seemed to revive a spark in her, and she savagely jerked it away to cradle it close to her bony breast with protective arms.
"Mine!" she wailed. "Mine! Mine! Mine!"
Mars patted her head. "Of course it is, Mother. No one will try to take it away from you."
"I'd die first," the woman hissed. "It is all I have left. It is all my dreams, and longings, and yearnings. It is the symbol of my life--and the lack of it."
Perplexed by the odd speech, both men lifted the woman to her feet. They had to press on to find Dee Dee, but they could not, in good conscience, abandon the obviously distraught woman while the city panicked. Watching the on-coming traffic, the men half-carried the woman between them. As they travelled, the effects of the intoxicating beverage began to wear off, and the female made an effort at self-locomotion.
The cacophony of auto horns reached an ear-shattering crescendo as the ribbon of traffic came to a complete and utter standstill. People began abandoning their expensive cars (to the delight of neighborhood toughs who proceeded to strip them) to flee on foot, always away from the now gigantic conflagration toward which Mars Markus, Kojak Morris and the mysterious woman trudged. The fire had reached proportions of a magnitude many times greater than that which followed the Rodney King incident--and if the story the abandoned car radios continued to broadcast was true, then it had all started at the home of the world famous Ratnaz author Edgar Nyce.
"Not since Mrs. O'Leary's cow burned down Chicago has such a fire menaced a metropolitan area..."
Mars ignored the reports. His sole purpose in life was to locate Dee Dee Morris and to give that no good Dan Darter a sound thumping. In the meantime, however, he had a duty to Kojak Morris and this poor creature found in their VW micro-mini bus.
The old woman (not really that old, unless Mars was willing to concede that Kojak Morris was old) began to babble. At times her words were nonsensical, but as they walked, the exercise appeared to clear her brain.
"Yes, sir, I was a wee girlie then, not much past a grasshopper's knee when Daddy took me to the ball game. I was hooked, yesiree. I would grow up to play baseball with all those beautiful men. I would be the queen of the diamond. I would ..." the speech faltered, a short sob followed. "But I found out I couldn't because they wouldn't let me. I can out-bat, out-pitch and out-field the best of them, but they wouldn't sign me, little ole Llana--Llana of Baseball they used to call me when I led the high school team to State Championship. I did it again in college. Top-rated. The Best. Even the greats of the American Pastime noticed me. Berra sent me a catcher's mitt. Mantle sent me an autographed bat. To my eternal shame I fell on bad times because I couldn't work at a day job...my heart yearned for the green grass, the chalk line, the protective walls of the arena of honor. I lost everything Daddy left me, either selling it or pawning it just to eat...and then lost the house, the car, even the mitt Berra sent. But I will never give up Mantle's bat. I would die first!"
Both men rolled their eyes, amused, yet bored, by the sad story. Both felt that professional women athlete's cohabiting locker rooms and showers would be a bad thing. On many occasions at the fighting barman's strip joint they had remarked that it was fortunate women weren't as big or strong as men, because women have a vicious streak, a competiveness that would give them unbridled advantage over men. As it was, a ninety-pound woman could emasculate a two-hundred-twenty-pound man in a heartbeat with just a cold look or a scathing comment. Thus, while they felt sympathy for the poor woman, neither cared a fig for the insane ambition which had ruined her life.
But they did care for the sight of flames rapidly approaching over the rooftops!
CHAPTER 45: Fantastic Voyage Into the
Primeval Abyss --Bill Hillman
Marshes on the Doorstep
A huge black cow rose specter-like out of perpetual fog which shrouded the primeval pits of seemingly bottomless goop known to the denizens of Ratnaza as La Gaspack Tar Pits. On the shore edge of this primordial mist-covered repository of past life stood two fearless masked crime fighters. The taller of the two, in reality Bryce Lee a mild-mannered journalist but known to the underworld as the feared Yellow Jacket, turned in shocked disbelief to his young knife-wielding partner in crime fighting. This boy-wonder, when not fighting evil-doers as Splay-Toe, put to use the houseboy skills he had learned back up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where everyone knew him as Ward Cleaver. Shocks hit the duo in threes: they were in the path of this gigantic flying beast from the tar swamp... behind them a piercing scream of what had to be the mating cry of a prehistoric beast rent the air -- "Edddddd---gggggggarrrrrrr!" ... while sputtering toward them on the right was a battered but psychedelically-painted VW van which appeared to have just slipped through a time warp from the 1960s.
Yellow Jacket, realizing that something evil must have dragged his passengers, the apeman and his female companion, back into the tar pits, suddenly lost patience and vented his vexation toward his young partner. Splay-Toe, still suffering from the shock of his recent ordeal, and getting into the spirit of his recently acquired black face persona was on one knee belting out his favourite Jolson melody. "Mammy... Mammy... the sunshines east, the sun shines..."
"Get on your feet, you fool. There are lives at risk...time is of the essence...time is money... a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush...honesty is the best policy...a penny saved is a penny earned," monotoned the masked man who was prone to platitudes in times of stress.
With pedal to the metal, the masked man screamed, "Dive, Dive, aaaaoooogahh!" as the yellow WAG (Water-Air-Ground) vehicle hit the murky sludge of the bottomless pit primeval."
"Lights on ...up periscope...sonar on!" The orders rolled off his tongue as he reached for his genuine WWII U-boat commander headgear.
Beneath the surface things got busy...and crowded. Sinking past them was an antique truck with trailing lengths of twine ...in the murky distance he could have sworn he saw a crippled F-16.. attracted to the light were a cavalcade of misshapen beasts... and perhaps most amazing was the terrified face and hands momentarily pressed against the windshield of the WAG. The gaping mouth was in the middle of a silent scream when the orange poly rope which was entangled around his neck jerked the body off through the viscous darkness.
"Holy Cow, Bryce you're right...I gotta see a shrink...that looked like my old ultralite instructor from back at the Moose Jaw flying school -- Dan Darter."
"Ultralite be damned, boy wonder," was the masked man's retort. "That was my old chain fencing instructor from when I used to work at Sears Roebuck -- I recognized his unusually flattened thumbs. Son of a gun!"
Trapped in the Golden Grotto
Sensing that they must be hallucinating from the pressure of the depths, Bryce started the underwater turbines to retard the descent. He then maneuvered the vehicle in ever-widening circles searching for his missing passengers. When all hope was gone, they headed for shore but were drawn into a submarine cave passage which they followed upward in a steep incline.
Some distance up the subterranean tunnel their yellow sub broke surface and they found themselves in a still pond in the middle of a huge underground cavern. In a moment they had driven their sodden vehicle onto dry land and were staring in amazement at the strange golden phosphorescent glow of the caverns which stretched on as far as the eye could see. With almost religious reverence of the beauty of this wonder deep in the recesses of the earth they opened the doors to the vehicle, only to be set upon by screaming beasts which seemed to have appeared from nowhere.
CHAPTER 46: Jeriatric Park --Bill Hillman
Edgar Nyce awoke in a cold sweat. Since the head injury years ago, he had been used to nightmares, in fact, he welcomed them as they were the source of many of his stories. But this one: "Criminy! I gotta lay off that scotch! Watta dream...drunken Ratnaz, fires, explosions, that Pellucifer Burrower, Limey nuts, some weirdo with a harpoon, guns...Where's the Scotch? Rathmind...where are you?!?" Hearing no reply from his secretary he sank back into a pile of downy pillows to collect his thoughts.
Ed was a dreamer... some might say a visionary. Just when his most elaborate fantasy was nearing fruition it had been wrested from him by his old nemesis Brace Bozhart, when the scoundrel took over Ratnaza Ranch. Although Phase I of his planned theme park, Nyce World, had been pilferred, what no one knew was that his much larger, and almost-completed master plan still lay sequestered below the Ratz Cave in immense caverns known only to him.
His discovery of the mammoth cavern beneath Ratnaza coincided with his return from Africa. By accident he discovered that by combining the phosphorescent luminance of the cave with hydroponics he could grow the magic bananas he had brought back from the Forbidden Valley of King Dong. These conditions, however, gave the fruit even stranger and more powerful qualities. He had seen hints back in Africa that most eaters of this strange fruit had regressed along the evolutionary scale. This did not prepare him for the tremendous transformations which his cave-grown variety brought about. Every living thing that ate them over a prolonged period of time seemed to drop millions of years down the evolutionary ladder. Before long his underground world abounded in life forms going back millions of years along the geologic time scale. He had plans to develop this remarkable freak of nature into the greatest theme park known to man -- and he would call it Jeriatric Park. In his secret office behind the Ratz Cave he had stored all of the blueprints for this master plan, as well as maps for as much of the Subterranean World as he had been able to explore. Experiments had gone well...unsuccessful specimens had been dumped into the sludge pond which filtered down to La Gaspack Tar Pits. Yes, things had gone well...until Brace Bozhart had executed his nefarious plan to oust him from Ratnaza Ranch. Now Ed's only hope was to churn out another best-selling novel which would allow him to regain ownership of what was his. He had to work fast before Bozhart and his dupe of a half-brother stumbled upon his secret.
As Ed swung his stiffer-than-usual legs off the bed he mumbled to himself, "Ya know, I'd better get some of that Pellucifer Burrower hokum written down before I forget it."
The old chronicler of classic pulp adventure threw on a housecoat and moved to the study. He sat down at his well-worn Royal typewriter and pounded out pulp prose until he was interrupted by Rathmind's noisy entry into the room.
"Ed, looks like we have a problem."
"Howzatz? A problem? I don't have time for problems, I'm on a deadline." Ed absent-mindedly carried on with his work.
"The idiot won't come down from the trees."
In a furious daze and experiencing a profound sense of deja vu, Ed next found himself rushing into his front yard, staring into the tree tops. "Curse of a drunken sailor! Damn...th..a..t....clo...w...n....B..O...Z??!!!
Nyce was suddenly shaken back to reality from his daydream by a furious jolting and ominous grinding that filled the Pellucifer Burrower. The Burrower had come to rest again... this time in a blue-lit room filled with control panels, computer terminals and huge computer monitor screens. Four men were scattered around the earth machine with looks of amazement on their faces. The man nearest the machine looked into the forward viewing glass of the Burrower and screamed, "You!!! Ed???"
CHAPTER 47: Mister Bate's Motel --Bill Hillman
The Cycle Path
Ratz savored the smoke from his last Camel, holding the intoxicating fumes in his lungs until the rising rings from the last exhale had dissipated near the fly-specked ceiling of the cheap motel room.
"Oooh...youze a babe Bert. Watta night!" Ratnaz had never felt so contented in his life and he felt refreshed, despite having spent a sleepless night in which he and the woman he loved had played out their most decadent forbidden fantasies on the wall of their shoddy rented room.
Now with Bertie in the shower, Ratz had a few moments to explore something that had raised his interest when they had checked in during last night's storm. He had been intrigued by the ominous silhouette of an old mansion on the rise a short distance behind the motel. Now in the bright morning sunshine it didn't look so foreboding, but nevertheless his curiosity had been piqued, so he prepared to climb up the cycle trail which wound to the towering gothicesque structure. Besides, the singing from the guests next door was starting to get on his nerves.
If he had examined the hole in the wall above the bed, he never would have left Bertie alone, but as fate would have it, he passed it unnoticed. He did not see then, the unblinking bloodshot eye that had been watching every move in the room, nor did he hear the triumphant whisper from behind the wall as he eased out of the room: "Yeeee-ess!"
The Dead Who Lived
A long-forgotten agility returned to the apeman -- before he had adopted the ways of anthropoids, he had suckled at the breast of a foster nanny who had taught him to climb sure-footed, on four legs, over the most rugged of terrain. He instinctively returned to the stance in which he had first learned to walk as a kid.
On hands and knees Ratnaz avoided the front of the house and skirted around to the rear. Drawn by curious squeaking noises he came upon a large deck overlooking a well-manicured garden. His heart raced in anticipation as he saw a row of rocking chairs lined across the deck, and seated on the undulating rockers were pulsating bodies possessing the most gorgeous heads of blonde hair he had ever seen: platinum, blue tint, strawberry -- all done up in bouffants, swirls, shags, and some even in the incredibly fetching Grimley Wave. Ratz gasped aloud.
As one, the heads turned in his direction and the apeman startled at the array of mummified faces -- grimacing toothless caricatures of what once must have been vibrant, ravishing beings. It was all too much for the usually imperturbable hero of so many jungle adventures. Horrified, Ratnaz fell back, lost his footing and tumbled down the rocky escarpment to what he felt must be certain doom.
Slim Whitman's Revenge
While preparing for her shower, Bertie hummed along with the rousing male voices whose ditty could be heard through the paper-thin walls of the motel bathroom: "I'm a lumberjack and I'm Ok ...I cut down trees...I skip and jump..."
"Mm--m...must be a lumberjack convention," she thought aloud, as she stepped under the refreshing cascading waters of the her morning shower.
A few minutes into her bathing ritual she was pleased to see a shadow appear on the other side of the shower curtain. "Ratz, you sexy devil... Can't you wait 'til I'm out of the shower..." The curtain was drawn back abruptly and the startled Bertie screamed as she stared into an ashen face, leering behind thick black horn-rimmed glasses.
As the woman reached to pull the shower curtain around her nakedness, the intruder raised a long threatening instrument above her body and with a maniacal giggle, moved it in a thrusting motion.
"Pass the soap dearie and I'll scrub your back real good."
Bertie screamed again and struggled out of the shower stall, seeing a lathered scrub brush fall to the tiled floor as she pushed aside the intruder. Another scream brought the bathroom door crashing inward as a small army of scarlet-tuniced Royal Canadian Mounties stampeded into the small room to apprehend the molester. The intrepid fighters of crime from the colonies were on hiatus -- in town for a Miser Studios cattle call for actors who might be suitable to star in their upcoming live-action production of Dudley Do-Right.
The leader of this band of scarlet men, Sergeant Queen of the Royal Mounted, spoke in a booming voice: "Has this creep been bothering you Ma'am?"
And Now for Something Completely Different...
Ratnaz's plummet down the craggy hillside was retarded by a huge entrance sign at the foot of the hill. Had he noticed the sign on the way in last night he would never have approached the house of horrors above. Ratz struggled to read the letters on the splintered signboard: MISTER BATE'S MOTEL AND HOME FOR RETIRED HOLLYWOOD BLONDE STARLETS. Prophetically, a rude graffititeer long ago had changed the 'I' in MISTER to an 'A'... and the 'ST' in STARLETS to an 'H' -- names perhaps more in keeping with the reputation of the establishment.
The dazed and battered apeman's struggles with the intricacies and vagaries of the English alphabet were interrupted by Bertie's cries for help. He turned in time to welcome into his arms a trembling and soap-water drenched figure wrapped in a ragged plastic shower curtain.
"O Ratz... it was awful... take me away from here darling.... Honey, what happened to your clothes?!?" The apeman looked down to discover that most of his clothes had been torn away by the horrific tumble down the craggy hillside -- once again his attire consisted of leopard patterned underbriefs.
As the two retreated along the roadway they looked back to see a squad of proud, singing mounties escorting the timid and trembling motel manager to their saddled steeds which they had parked along the front of the motel. They were some distance away now but the near-naked apeman could have sworn he heard:
"I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK... I cut down trees... I skip and jump... I like to press wild flowers... I put on women's clothing ... I cut down trees, I wear high heels ... Suspenders and a bra.... Just like my dear Mama."
"Come on Ratz...let's get away from here," begged the trembling woman as they stood amid a cacophony of wolf whistles and blaring car horns from passing motorists.
CHAPTER 48: The Butler Did It! --Bill Hillman
The Torn Curtain
Despite last night's disasters and this morning's annoyances, Albert Hitchcock's day had turned out pretty well after all. He had found the one remaining Piggly Wiggly store in the city and had stocked up on groceries for the Bryce Lee mansion. His employer had taken the keys to all the vehicles but one -- the yellow Yellow Jacket Harley. So, after he had dutifully covered the identifying insignia with gaffer tape, Albert had thundered the powerful motorcycle out of the Ratz Cave in search of provisions.
Hitchcock, a onetime star of scores of B movies -- always as the "butler who done it" in mysteries, had been waiting for his big chance to become a director. Meanwhile, when he saw the ad for a butler he knew he was a natural for it. But O the secrets he could tell!
As the faithful butler/valet sped along Ventura Boulevard pulling a shopping cart overflowing with the week's groceries, he came to a tie-up of traffic at the rundown old Bate's Motel. A desperate woman dressed only in a torn shower curtain and accompanied by a long-haired man in a ridiculous loin cloth came running up to him for assistance.
"Please please...can you give us a lift away from here?"
With the scantily-attired woman seated behind him, her arms only half-clasped around his ample girth, and the vaguely familiar-looking wild man teetering precariously on the overloaded grocery cart which trailed behind, Hitchcock was soon back on his way to the Bryce Lee Mansion. He drove on, oblivious to the events which were unfolding behind them. In his wake, an entourage was forming which took on Mardi Gras proportions albeit in a slightly surrealistic fashion:
* A mounted formation of scarlet-tuniced, singing mounties, led by Sergeant Queen of the Royal Mounted, was in hot pursuit, hoping to get a statement from Bertie concerning the shower attack by Motel Master Bates.
* Behind the mounties, a retinue of suddenly-rejuvenated, blonde-wigged, elderly women from the Bate's retirement home had mobilized to track down Ratnaz, the handsome young man who had escaped from their midst -- they had assembled in a cortege of walkers, wheelchairs, and motorized carts. And they in turn, were being chased by a pack of frantic nurses and personal care attendants.
* Along the way, Hitchcock and his charges passed a magenta-hued club house of a gay biker gang -- Rock's Angels -- and the members who had been primping and preening out front were soon closing in to get a closer look at the special custom designed yellow Harley -- and if truth be known some were more than a little interested in the muscled hunk piloting the trailing shopping cart.
* Also drawn into this procession was a troop of boys who were loyal members of the Ratnaz Clan -- a boys club that Edgar Nyce had founded to involve the youth of America in upstanding clean living and noble back-to-nature activities. The figurehead of the clan was no other than the mighty Ratnaz whose chiseled profile was recognized immediately by every member of the club. This august band of little men raised their middle fingers in the official salute and lit out on trundling little legs in chase of their supreme leader -- all the while chanting their pledge of allegiance.
* Rounding out the morning parade was a motley assortment of older, hot-blooded and panting males racing in hot pursuit to get a better look at Bertie's shower curtain encased body.
* Trailing far behind the pack was a gray-haired man in the uniform of a supermarket security guard.
The California morning air was saturated with a chaotic roar of voices:
"I'm a lumber jack and that's OK....
Albert Hitchcock -- stop! we're members of your fan club. ...
I just laaauve saffron hogs
...wait for me big guy
...we always get our man...
Thief -- bring back that shopping cart...
Ratnaz -- my hero...watta hunk...
Get a load of those melons...
Is this the creep, Ma'am?...
I pledge to always lower the toilet seat after using..."
[Editor's note: This is silly dialogue...please refer to the addendum at the end of this chapter for much more convincing stuff that our stable of writers are furiously rewriting so as to salvage this bit of drivel.]
The Trouble with Ratnaz
The ever resourceful butler turned into an overgrown and little-used shortcut back to hilltop mansion and quickly lost the determined pursuers. Meanwhile, back in the shopping cart, Ratnaz was suffering self-inflicted jabs to his right temple while hungrily eyeing the mound of rutabagas and bananas at the bottom of the shopping cart on which he held tenuous sway.
Recognizing the symptoms of an approaching relapse, Bertie shouted back, "Husk a banana, Ratz! You need something in your stomach."
"SUSQUAHANNA!!!! Did somebody say SUSQUAHANNA HAT COMPANY!?!?!"
Bertie rolled her eyes as Ratz plunged into an old Abbott & Costello vaudeville routine making a somewhat less than successful attempt at doing both voices. By the time the mansion came into view, the apeman-cum-vaudevillian had plunged into the opening routine of "Who's on First" but suddenly abandoned that routine to burst into song: "It's a Nyce World after all...It's a ...."
As Albert guided his bizarre tandem vehicle into the cave entrance of Ed's now-partially disassembled Nyce World, Ratnaz completely lost it. The Lord of the Leaves upset the banana cart and went into a broken field dash through the disheveled displays until Bertie lost sight of him in the deep recesses of the cavern.
His screams echoed off the cave walls: "OB!...Ed!..I'm home....O No!...Now! I remember...Now I! remember... Now I remember! It's behind the cave wall!!!"
[Editor's Note: We've had complaints from our readers about our writers' choice of titles. Many have suggested that they have been irrelevant, irreverent, and just plain silly. We have made repeated suggestions concerning the appropriateness of these titles but so far our unusual gang of idiots have ignored us and all warnings have gone unheeded. Wanted: Immediately... new writers.]
CHAPTER 49: The Fall and Rise of the
Phantom Empire --Bill Hillman
Plunge of the Loonie Loo
Herlock Cabyn's first move in trying to unravel the apparent elaborate charade surrounding Brace Bozhart's replacement by an imposter involved searching the BB Inc. office for clews.
"Come Datsun we have no time to waste, I fear that the man posing as Bozhart shall return at any moment."
As Datsun rifled through the massive oak desk with built-in file cabinets, Cabyn checked the room where even the most clandestine of individuals always let down their guard -- the loo. As he poked through the medicine cabinet, something in the mirror caught his eye: the bowl of the American Standard commode was absolutely dry and appeared never to have been used.
"Most irregular," muttered Cabyns to himself. Despite the fact that this was a private off-office convenience, surely Bozhart would have had some occasion to use it. "Datsun! Come...I need you," he hailed.
As Datsun made his way to the little room, Cabyns tried the flush handle of the toilet. To their amazement, the door slid shut on its own -- almost crushing the bewildered assistant who leaped into the room to join Cabyns at the last moment. Over a rising chorus of mechanical and electronic sounds they could clearly hear a soothing voice which advised, "Please be seated and grasp the handicap rail for support." Cabyns instinctively took up position on the molded toilet seat, while an increasingly desperate Datsun crawled onto his lap.
Before they had time to collect their thoughts, the entire bathroom was plunging downward, accelerating to a frightful velocity. After what seemed an interminable journey, the plunging bathroom came to an abrupt braking halt, tossing the two passengers onto the suddenly very warm tiled floor -- their two trembling bodies still locked in a clutching embrace. The noise of an opening door caused both men to look up in bewilderment. "So Cabyns, you've found out our little secret have you?" snarled a slightly sarcastic voice from the entrance to their increasingly loony loo.
They were staring at Brace Bozhart whom they had seen just minutes before climbing to the roof of the Chicken Ranch Vacation House...in an entirely different set of clothes!
"I say Bozhart, is that you?" queried the suspicious sleuth from his cramped position wedged between the toilet bowl and the shower stall.
"Yes. Good to see you again, its been a while. Here, take my hand Cabyns," came the reply.
Datsun muttered under his breath, "Awhile? Yeah, five minutes."
The famous detective clasped Bozhart's outstretched hand and found himself pulled out into a large futuristic room bathed in blue light. Looking around, incredulous, he exclaimed: "What is this place Bozhart...I AM speaking to the real Bozhart am I not sir?"
"I fear I owe you an explanation Cabyns. I should have known that you are too clever a man to be so easily duped. The man who met you and brought you to the Vacation House is a stand-in - an impostor if you will - but more accurately, a bionic android."
Both Cabyns and Datsun looked on with cocked heads and disbelieving looks.
"You see gentlemen, my life is in danger. Because of this and for other reasons which I am not at liberty to disclose at the moment, I had to go underground. Welcome, my old friends, to the Phantom Empire!"
Park Wars: May the Best Park Win
You see, I have known for some time now that Edgar Nyce and Nick Miser were working on rival underground prehistoric theme parks. My spies told me that Ed had some cockeyed plan to use magic bananas to achieve his goal. So far I have not been able to uncover his secret plan but I think I have driven him out of business. I do know that Miser of Rodentland has his Lost Land theme park near completion using his advanced animatronics technology. My plan is to outdo him - and Nyce - at their own games, so we have imported some of the best scientific minds to work on even more advanced robotics and bionic research."
Looking around the room, Cabyns noted scores of blue-jump-suited technicians seated at endless rows and banks of computer terminals and monitor screens. All were staring beyond their work stations through large sheets of protective viewing glass -- intently studying something just beyond the detective's range of view.
"Over there, in the double breasted jump suit is top German/Russian scientist Dr. Von Brawny who defected from Russia after designing the MIRE space station. The fellow over by the genetic pool, yes that one, the one with the electrodes in the temples is Dr. Li-Chan Monreau. I had him transported all the way from a remote island in the South Pacific. The rest of the team are hand-picked experts from every corner of the world."
At that moment there were power surges and failures which played havoc with the illumination and the data readouts on the computer monitors. "Damn that German/Russian fellow!" cursed Bozhart.
Bozhart (BNT/WBBS/BCM), the Serial King
Things soon returned to normal and Bozhart, the second Boz they had met that day, carried on with his story: "Then fortune smiled on us, my English friends. As you know, BB Inc. has extensive entertainment and telecommunications holdings. Sometime ago we aquired the old Mascot Film Studios. While plundering their archives hoping to find enough material to create a Cliffhanger Superchannel for cable distribution, I managed to open a special vault which contained master films as well as shooting scripts, set plans and location maps from that old cowboy/SciFi serial they produced back in the early '30s -- The Phantom Empire.
The producers had stumbled across a deserted kingdom 20,000 feet under the old Gene Autry Radio Ranch and had developed a whole serial around this amazing discovery. Mascot Pictures covered up the many disasters they ran into while filming this serial and those who survived the shoot vowed to deny that any such place ever existed...and all records were either destroyed or buried in secret film vaults. Thanks to my remarkable diligence and perseverance, the Phantom Empire is reborn. WE are going to blow Miser's Lost Land and Nyce's Jeriatric Park OFF THE MAP!!! "
"But surely Mr. Bozhart, there must be some setbacks and difficulties in bringing to fruition a plan set on so vast a scale?" asked an amazed Cabyns.
"We have the technology my good man! Once we find a way of closing up the giant rift to the surface which was torn open by a recent earthquake...and work out a few quirks with our bionic prehistoric flying creatures...we will open the greatest primordial theme park attraction known to man!" boasted a suddenly belligerent Bozhart. "Nothing can stop us!"
At that moment a number of calamitous events occurred almost simultaneously. One side of the control room gave completely away, causing a domino-effect of crashing panels of thick viewing glass beyond the computer workstations. Cabyns and Datsun looked beyond the shattered glass and were horrified to see a menacing giant lizard bird flying toward them with a bleeding burro dangling from its cruel talons.
As the two Brits took cover from the attacking lizard bird in the bathroom conveyor, the last words they heard before the door whizzled shut were -- distorted and unintelligble!
CHAPTER 50: When Worlds Collide--Violently--
The hatch of the Pellucifar Burrower opened. Standing at the base of the huge machine four men watched with hard eyes as Ed Nyce, Lord Greatstrokes and the indefatigable Nappie emerged. Nyce had a little trouble navigating the embedded foot recesses on the side of the monster machine, but one man stepped forward to guide the old author's toe into the first. He then moved back, waiting until the inner earth travelers had dismounted.
Nyce scowled at the sight of the tall figure in the grey jumpsuit. His eyes were drawn to the blazing jewel mounted on the handsome fellow's wrist. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Edgar Nyce furrowed his brow and addressed the stiffly erect figure.
"So, we finally met, Gimball Ginsu. Where's your master, that old reprobate Doctor G. G. Smthye?"
Ginsu kept his temper in check. As a Grey Gemsman he was honor-bound to serve and protect. especially since the insidious Borschtone were everywhere. "The good doctor is well, though he is currently engaged on a mission with the Skycar of Valentino, multiple universes away, a distance so great that light travelling from there to here has not yet crossed the limitless space between, riding on energies liberated from the fission of ordinary copper, an apparantly inexhaustible source of power."
Carmon Nappie scratched his head. "Ay hop' they tooka Mastercard an' Visa wi'h 'em. American Express hain't past Pluto, yet."
Greatstrokes barked the engineer's shin with a well-polished boot. "Devon McGuinness," he said, extending his hand. "Sorry for barging in like that," he nodded toward the huge hole behind the Pellucifar Burrower. "My card, sir. We will promptly pay any damages done." Greatstrokes had no intention of honoring that glibly-voiced commitment, but saw no reason to enlighten the fellow, who looked and acted suspisciously like an arm of the law.
The card was intercepted by a blonde-haired man wearing an aerodynamically streamlined helmet fitted with a shark-like fin. He wore an interesting jet-like device strapped on his back. Adam Drainge tapped the pasteboard with a well-manicured fingernail. "I know you."
Greatstrokes arched a brow. "I am sorry, sir, you have the advantage."
"You operate an electronics communication company in tandem with your holdings in Scottish golf courses. I had it in mind to pay you a visit."
The English lord smiled. "A business proposition? Why, of course! We are always open to new investors."
"I see we have a failure to communicate already," Drainge growled. "Your communications system interrupts my transfers from earth to the beyond. I haven't seen Atlanta, the love of my life, a sweet dear on a world of untold terrors, in months. And that does not sit well with me."
Greatstrokes blinked, taken aback. As words formed in his mouth, a third man closed in, an imposing figure wearing a red cloak with an erect hood. He wore a dark blue body stocking which clearly revealed his slim figure and well-filled codpiece. His small, neatly-trimmed mustache curled in a snarl.
"Before you take a bite out of our unexpected guest, Adam, I have a thing or two to say myself. Last year I was hired by Greatstrokes' Scottish subsidiary to exorcise a bevy of banshees from an ancient castle--so that it might be converted into a fashionable clubhouse. I performed my end, at some peril to myself I might add, and was stiffed on payment."
Nappie leaned close and whispered to McGuinness. "It's that Dr. Mange, Lard. We owe him 20,000."
In an equally quiet voice, the nervous Englishman replied to Carmon. "What have we got ourselves into, Nappie?"
The fourth man, a barbaric figure with broad chest, over-developed muscles and wearing a short kilt or loincloth, shouldered the others aside. He glared unwaveringly at Edgar Nyce. "I've always wanted to meet you, Nyce."
Edgar, tired, weary, and a few shots shy on his daily allowance of scotch, thrust his chin forward. "And who might you be?"
"Brandon of Terra.You've maligned Otis Elevator Klimb for the last time!" The barbaric figure drew a deadly-looking sword and brandished it.
Gimball Ginsu held up the hand adorned with the deadly-looking sparklie. "Hold!" his voice thundered in the cavernous room as he brandished it. "There will be no killing here today."
Drainge scowled, drawing a deadly-looking pistol of futuristic design and brandished it. "Back off, Ginsu. This man has distrupted my conjugal visits with Atlanta, and I mean to see the end of it!"
The man in the cape was not to be outdone. He hocus-pocused a brilliant, deadly-looking fire-ball, which he brandished suspended between his hands without mirrors or wires. Dr. Mange spoke in a spectral voice. "My magic reveals evil in this place--and it comes from Lord Greatstrokes!"
Carmon Nappie drew a deadly-looking salami sandwich from his hip pocket and garnished it with a wax-paper wrapped dill pickle. "Looks lik' t'is time da piper played 'is tune, Lard."
Ed Nyce drew a deadly-looking cigarette from his pocket and brandished a lighter. Lighting up, he blew smoke in the Prince of Porthole's face. "Brandon of Terra, you tell that hack Klimb that anytime he wants to face off, I'm ready."
Brandon of Terra raised his arm to decapitate Ed Nyce. Ginsu flashed a beam of energy from his gem which stopped the motion. Drainge fired at Greatstrokes at the same time Dr. Mange released his fireball. The two forces of science and magic collided, neutralizing each other.
Gimball Ginsu was suddenly faced by an irate swordsman, who took several cuts forcing the Grey Gemsman to back-peddle. Mange shrieked at Drainge and built another magical weapon to hurl at the beam-riding earthman. Adam nipped that in the bud by focusing his pistol's energy into the purple-red spirit fire.
Nappie chewed thoughtfully as the battle escalated between super-heroes.
Ed Nyce nudged Greatstroke's ribs. "Time to take a powder, McGuinness -- unless you want to be around when they are through amusing themselves."
Greatstrokes smiled at the crafty old author. "You sly devil, OB! You turned them against one another!"
"I couldn't have done it without your help," Nyce said, mounting the Pellucifar Burrower with a half-smoked cigarette dangling from his mouth.
"I don't understand, old boy," Greatstrokes responded, close on Edgar's heels.
Inside the burrower, with Nappie choking down the remainder of his sandwich to take his place at the controls, Greatstrokes cornered Nyce for an answer.
The author chuckled. "Hell, son, they uniformly hated you. Each one wanted a piece of you, Greatstrokes. All I did was set off that meat-head Brandon. Klimb never could match me for creating characters with strength, restraint and honor."
"They intended to kill me, and you deliberately started a row?" There was a murderous look in the Englishman's eyes.
Nyce grinned, stubbing out the cigarette as the earth mole moved forward. "Drainge and Mange wanted to be the one to do you in, sir. Brandon wanted to do me. I knew I could count on G. G.'s pompous Grey Gemsman to interfere because G. G. always interferes. You were in no danger."
Carmon Nappie belched, the salami not sitting well. He turned his head to look over his shoulder. "Where to, Lard?"
Nyce spoke. "There's no reason to change plans, Greatstrokes."
Outside the thick armored hull a titantic battle raged, science vs magic vs barbarism. Greatstrokes listened to the engines of the Pellucifar Burrower for an instant, then grinned. "He's right, Nappie. Find us a bank."
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