Chapter 123 - The Damesel of Flanders -- Tangor
Judy Flanders rolled to a painful stop in the parking lot of the Biker Bar. Porker's 1966 yellow Camaro roared away, horn blaring. Within moments the young woman was surrounded by seven very large men who, wearing leather jackets and sporting advanced cases of B.O. and halitosis, exited the sleazy bar.
"Lookee what we got here!" the biggest, baddest, meanest of the bikers dwarfing the woman said. "It's Christmas! What a purty little package. I think I'll just unwrap it."
"Uh, Boss," one of the lesser man-mountains interjected, "I think it's April."
"Nah, we had April last night--didn't we, boys?" Fat Frank slyly winked. A round of licentious laughter loudly followed.
Judy Flanders, aka Pancho Lane, realized that only swift decisive action, such as her hero Yellow Jacket was wont to do, was the only way she'd get out of this predicament still alive, much less a virgin. The Yellow Jacket's time-honored philosophy of combat should come in good stead: "The best offense is to be as offensive as possible."
"Gather round, boys," Judy Flanders invited with a smile. She ran long-fingered hands tipped with bright red polish along the shiny spandex sheath stretched ever-so-tightly across her heart-shaped buttocks.
"A little closer," the goddess winked. "Don't be shy..."
Drooling and slobbering, grinning with malicious intent, Mighty Mike, Fat Frank, Hugh Huge, Large Larry, Monster Mo, Big Ben, and Pee Wee Perry moved in. A toothsome wench to relieve the boredom of bashing unwary patrons entering the bar was just the thing to add a little spark in an otherwise boring day.
Flanders deliberately licked her full lips to a glistening gloss and batted thick long lashes. She wiggled with a seductive come-hither that had an obvious effect on the bikers. Judy speculated that Snow White had had a much cuter band of leering lechers, but that did not deter the young woman from using all her feminine wiles to arouse a throbbing lust in the looming wall of fevered and sweating men. Their eyes fairly bulged, their limbs twitched spasmodically. The seven giants staggered in a sexual lock-step, closing in on Judy Flanders.
Judy continued to smile, continued to beckon with crooked finger to each of them–yet all the while the woman was cooly calculating the precise moment of action. One more step... she thought ... one more... and at that next step every male groin was exposed to the perfectly executed roundhouse kick that connected painfully in a rapid staccato on each zipper and fly. Howling with incredible agony each would be molesters rolled on the ground clutching their privates–all except Pee Wee Perry who nursed a bloody nose.
"Boys," Judy remarked as she gracefully stepped over the incapacitated bikers, "it was really nice connecting with each of you. It's a shame that modern action adventures simply do not sell to the public unless there's at least one male groin injury. Thanks to you, I'm fairly sure we won't need to do another in this story. Now," she smiled sweetly, "who wants to loan me their bike?"
Seven hands shot up, each holding an ignition key.
"How gallant!" Judy exclaimed. She took Fat Frank's key. "That's the Harley on the end, right?"
"I love you," Fat Frank nodded.
"Beat me, whip me, make me wear chains," another said.
"I want to be your door mat!"
"I'll do your laundry!"
"I'll take out the garbage!"
"I can cook and sew!"
"Let me bear your children!"
Despite the interesting proposals delivered so fervently, Judy Flanders merely smiled beautifully as she straddled Fat Frank's artfully chopped and chrome-plated hog. Judy momentarily admired the custom black lacquer paint and leather tassels dangling from the hand-grips, then switched on. She expertly kicked the massive motorcycle into thundering life, enjoying the strong vibration between her long and shapely legs.
Only Pee Wee Perry managed to stand as the blonde bid her recent playmates adieu. He waved frantically as the plucky black belt karate master sped in pursuit of the treacherous Jane Porker.
Tuvane Tuyak applied some needed foundation to conceal the blue tinge of her clean-shaven chin. "Let me get this straight, dear. Brace has been acting strange, such as firing me and ordering you to steal expensive pulp art canvases from Bertha La Ropa. Honey, Bertha's been dead thirty-four years. The last thing she did was pose for Bory Valveblo–as one of the monsters in the background."
"Well, it was no ghost who blew that robot to bits. Cranky old bitch. How do you know she's dead?"
"Case study in Correspondence Law School. This La Ropa agreed to pose then dropped dead. Valveblo, who is known for the realism of his fantasy erotic art, failed to report the death, allowing the woman's body to lie on his studio floor until it was adequately ripe and decayed for the effect desired."
"Euuu!" Jane cringed. "How gross!"
"It gets more interesting," Tuvane continued. Miss Tuyak deposited the compact within his smart sequined hand bag. "Bory Valveblo made a fortune selling that painting to a horror comic entitled ‘Tales of the Bizarre From Teo Olive's Pit'. When the magazine commissioned another that's when Valveblo's indiscretion got him caught–-he tried to trade La Ropa's moldy old corpse for a fresh cadaver at the local medical school. After the fines and all his reputation as a horror artist was ruined. All he could get after that was jobs painting lurid covers for Edgar Nyce reprints."
Jane concentrated on her driving. "But that doesn't explain the old bag who blew away my mechanical double."
"La Ropa had a daughter."
Tuvane Tuyak took a deep breath to expel yet another long-winded paragraph. "The little girl was only five when her model mother–-that's model as in artist model for Bertha La Ropa was far from being a model mother–-passed away. A mysterious benefactor stepped in, sending an aging male secretary to take the child to a foster home. He paid all costs and housing, seeing to the child's health and welfare and provided her with the best private education possible. In later years little Bertha learned that the mysterious benefactor was indeed her father. Even though this well-known individual has provided well the young woman had developed an intense hatred for the person who had allowed her mother to descend into desperation and tacky modeling roles and who had also left her in a foster home rather than acknowledging his relationship and taking a direct responsibility."
"I don't blame her, the cad! Who was her father?"
The reply was low-voiced. "Your husband's arch-enemy, Edgar Nyce."
The only pulp fiction magazine offering
the thrilling adventures of Ratnaz and Bertie
from the pen of the immortal Edgar Nyce.
Yes folks, this is another day in the life of Bertie Ketchum, love-struck angel of our fair city! On the edge of your seats? Can't wait to take that walk down memory lane for those readers who were unfortunate enough to miss the beginning episodes of this most enchanting love story? Let us review... Young Bertie Ketchum, sweet, vivacious, and alluring, first captured your editor's attention when, quite by accident, they were thrown together by the financial desperation of your editor. There was little, if any, conversation between us as we struggled to reach a rapport on how your editor could make a killing on this spurious love story. Suffice it to say that this initial silence lasted an unusually short time before your editor's ears were crimsoned by Miss Ketchum's fervent avowals of love and affection for Ratnaz, a figure of some social stature by way of print and film, who is currently the center of her heart's desire. As Editor of "The News", avid followers, I once again avow my persistence in providing the best coverage of this, the most important event in Bertie Ketchum's and Ratnaz's lives, without thought of accuracy or truthful content. Certain liberties must be taken from an editorial point of view to provide the needed color commentary to keep this inane rag sheet interesting. One such liberty is lying through my teeth, if necessary.
NEXT ISSUE: The hidden truth behind Bertie Ketchum's reported nymphomania!
THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE #3
As you recall in the last thrilling installment, Timid Bertie was hanging by the root of a bonzo tree growing on the edge of a tremendous precipice in the northern wilds of Borneo. The evil pirate Gitumbooti of the Letsgitriche tribe had abducted our staunch red-haired heroine. On the eve of Bertie's indoctrination into the harem of Gitumbooti's lodge, our brave lady managed to escape (scantily clad, of course) to flee to the dubious safety of the arboreal forest which surrounded the Letsgitriche village.
Through a number of trials and tribulations, Bertie barely avoided the grasp of horny orangutans, head hunters and Harrison Ford who had stopped in Borneo during his search for the Lost Ark. In fact, it was her narrow escape from the licentious grasp of Indiana Jones which had led to her present predicament: screaming for help at the top of her lungs, feet desperately attempting to find purchase on the crumbling cliff face.
As the old saying goes, it is always darkest before dawn. This old saying has absolutely no valid context with this particular situation since it was close to midday and, except for the bonzo tree by which root Bertie Ketchum was suspended, there was no shade to speak of. This being the case, Ratnaz, resplendent in his riding khaki and bandoliers, had no difficulty in locating our vivacious beauty from his vantage point on the opposite side of the awesome chasm.
"Have no fear!" Ratnaz shouted across the intervening distance. "I will let nothing stop me from saving you!"
The Lord of the Leaves turned to the members of the safari he had been leading through the trackless wilds of Borneo. "Companions of the trail," he said in his deep basso, the sun overhead etching the craggily handsome features with shadows which bespoke of his grim determination, "you'll have to fend for yourselves for a few hours while I save the life of yon helpless damsel. Do be careful and not step on the dangerous owcharueti plant or you'll die a horrible death. And," he added as he slung his cannon over his brawny shoulder, "please don't litter."
Ratnaz, following the screams of the lass, pushed his way through the dense jungle, He paused only long enough to kill a few head hunters bent on adding his pate to their ghastly collection of unfortunate Europeans and Chinese. This only slowed the Lord of the Leaves's progress by a very small margin; but was apparently a hair too long because Bertie had disappeared when Ratnaz arrived at the bonzo tree!
"Dear Lady!" Ratnaz cried, falling to his knees, peering over the edge of the tremendous cliff at the dense vegetation growth hundreds of feet below. "Dear Lady!"
Did Bertie Bite The Dust? Will the Lord of the Leaves Mourn Forever? Tune in next issue for the answer!
THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE #4
The Lord of the Leaves pulled back on the stick of his valiant little aircraft as the wind scream rose to such audible proportions as to be a nearly tangible physical force. Ratnaz grimaced with effort as he struggled to bring the spirited four seater back under control. Sweat popped out on his forehead. His arms shook from the tremendous tension needed to control the recalcitrant joy stick.
"I don't know if I will be able to keep her in the air much longer, darling!" Ratnaz shouted at the top of his voice. "If the worst should happen, I want you to know that I have loved you from the first...I will always love you!"
"Oh, Ratnaz, dearest!" Bertie cried as she struggled into the tiny cockpit of the spinning aircraft. With the last of her strength the lovely, red-haired girl managed to grasp the back of the pilot's seat and set her lips against the cheek of the man she adored.
"I know you will bring us safely out of this horrible adventure. I know you will, sweetheart. If for no other reason than to make it possible for me to get my hands on that asshole, shit-for-brains Nyce for getting the two of us in the most awful predicaments!"
"But, Bertie!" Ratnaz turned his eyes away from the swirling panorama of earth and sky to gaze with astonishment at his beloved. "I think you do Edgar a terrible injustice! He is only poking fun at you because you react just the way he plans! Really! If you want Nyce to stop teasing you, don't react."
"Hey!" Bertie punched Ratnaz in the arm (a difficult task under any conditions much less in a falling aircraft). "Who's side are you on?"
"Does it make any difference now, baby?" Ratnaz replied, shaking his graying hair from his sweating face.
"You bet your sweet petooties it does! I've had nothing but heartache and trouble from that odd little specimen of manhood. And now you side with him! That's it!" she screamed, with a finger wagging in Ratnaz's face. "I'm getting out while the getting's good."
"What are you talking about?" Ratnaz queried.
"This," Bertie responded as she pulled the straps of the only parachute in the aircraft tight about her luscious frame. "You can mess around with those damn stupid controls, or you can come with me. I've got a score to settle with Nyce and I'll be damned if I'm going to end up a pile of mashed protoplasm when this plane hits the ground! Coming?"
Ratnaz looked at the rapidly approaching ground then to the determined look on his darling's face. He took a look at the slim chance for life represented by Bertie's parachute and suddenly seconded her opinion about vacating the premises while there was still time.
"How are we going to do this?" Ratnaz asked. "Shouldn't I wear the parachute and carry you?"
"What difference does it make who's got the parachute? Just hug me like you always do," Bertie smiled licentiously, "and we'll do just fine."
"I'm for that!" Ratnaz cried and embraced his girl. As their lips met, Ratnaz and Bertie placed their fate in the hands of chance and leapt out of the plane.
THE NEWS VOLUME 1 - ISSUE #5
Bertie dreamily roused and propped herself up on one elbow. Bertie brushed her red out of her eyes before looking toward the sleeping bag laid out next to hers to find it empty. "Ratnaz? Where are you? Did you just say something?"
"Not me," Ratnaz's strong baritone responded from outside the small tent. "It's those damn alligators snapping at my behind."
"Alligators?" Bertie tossed her covers to one side and jumped to her feet (uttering a very unladylike curse when she bumped her pumpkin little head on the tent's ridgepole) and rushed out into the moonlight.
To her horrified gaze she found Ratnaz warding off the attack of hundreds of ferocious foot-long alligators bent on taking a bite out of the silently swearing one time youth of the jungle. Ratnaz's hair was plastered to his skull with the sweat of his endeavors. Bertie grabbed the nearest object, a camp stool, and waded into the fray to protect the rear of her beloved. For long moments they were so occupied that neither was able to speak.
After five frightful hours of strenuously fatiguing effort invested in beating alligators to death, Ratnaz sighed with relief as he slaughtered the last tenacious lizard and dropped his blood-smeared bludgeon to the ground. "Yecch!" he said with feeling as he attempted to cross the battlefield without stepping on any of the thousands of mutilated and mangled reptilian corpses with his bare feet. "I think you had a point about having a talk with this Edgar Nyce character. I'm getting damn tired of having one disaster after another..."
"Not to mention the whirlwind manner by which he transports us from one scene to another. The only thing which really bothers me is the way this cuts into our love life."
"Love life, hell!" Ratnaz snorted with exasperation. "What do you think this has done to my golf game? I doubt if I'll ever get back anywhere close to par for the rest of my life! My arm is plumb worn out from killing alligators, shooting head hunters, and swinging from vines like some modern day Tarzan!"
"Shhhh!" Bertie warned with sudden fear in her voice. "You were swinging from a parachute, Ratnaz! Don't give Edgar Nyce any more ideas!"
"No matter," Ratnaz grimaced with distaste and shoved aside a few dozen battered alligators from the area near the campfire. He sat down trembling with exhaustion. "I am resigned to the fact that until I punch him out, I'm going to continue being tossed into hundreds of zany, inconvenient situations by his warped mentality."
"Well," Bertie took her place next to Ratnaz and wrapped arms about his neck, "at least Nyce isn't prone to porno..."
"I won't put it past him," Ratnaz responded with a leer. "In fact, I think I could go for a little of that right now..."
"Ratnaz, dear Ratnaz!" Bertie grinned as she pushed the amorous Lord of the Leaves away. "How dare you! I am not a trollop of the market place! Now get those thoughts out of your head and let's see if we can't find some way to get back to civilization!"
Ratnaz nodded and bent his titanic mental powers towards resolving their present unhappy predicament. He was still at it when the sun rose. Bertie finally gave up trying to stay awake in hopes of that magic revelation which could free herself and her man from the capricious conceptions of the pulp hack Edgar Nyce.
"I give up, honey," Ratnaz spoke for the first time in hours. "Maybe after lunch I'll come up with something."
"I suppose you're right," Bertie replied. "I'll see what's in the ice box. At least he was thoughtful enough to provide us with one..."
Ratnaz watched his woman gorgeously sway across the blood stained ground to the 21 cubic foot Westinghouse at the edge of the clearing. He loved the gentle grace of her movements, the perfection of her form. The man knew in his heart of hearts that this was what he had always yearned for and -- What?
Ratnaz jumped to his feet and began sprinting towards Bertie just as the girl started to open the door of the Westinghouse refrigerator. His sudden anxiety was due to a premonition (prompted no doubt by the malicious humming of the first few bars of the Twilight Zone by a hidden voice laughing in the forest).
"Baby!" he cried in desperation. "Don't open that door. I have a feeling that..."
THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE #6
Ratnaz took another step and tripped on the carpet. He fell head long on the floor of his den to roll over and sit up nursing a bruised proboscis. Bertie dropped the hand which had grasped the handle of the Westinghouse that was not a Westinghouse (the ominous refrigerator having vanished). She felt a bit foolish holding onto thin air, and turned to kneel by her beloved.
"At least," Ratnaz grinned ruefully as he rubbed his nose, "we're back home."
"But for how long this time? What's in store for us? We're at the mercy of that demented Edgar Nyce."
"Bertie!" Ratnaz shook his head sadly. "Now you're beginning to sound as stilted and old fashioned as the chronicles which are narrating our adventures -- oops! Now HE'S got me doing it!"
"Be of stout heart, my champion! I have naught but the greatest confidence in your ability to over come our maliciously mischievous harbinger of ill fortune." Bertie gasped in surprise and clamped both hands over her mouth.
Ratnaz struggled to keep from giggling. "Methinks our method of communication has been altered to fit the whim of our nemesis. Mayhaps a thump of my mighty fist upon the knave's thick skull will induce greater respect..."
Bertie's eyes agreed with Ratnaz's words but she refrained from reply -- she was too busy laughing at his manner of speech. Ratnaz blushed. He jumped to his feet, brushing his hair from his eyes. He left the room with Bertie following close behind. The tall soldier of fortune checked the refrigerator in his kitchen with careful eye before he pulled the door open and liberated a cold drink from the half empty interior. He tossed a hearty draught of the chilled liquid down his throat before he attempted to speak.
"Dear lady, doth not this language we speak seem familiar? 'Tis a parody of communication once deemed popular for the Knights of Yore. Beyond the stout walls of this fortress doth be there dragons and other manners of evil?"
"Sir Ratnaz!" Lady Bertie's beautiful eyes were distended with horror. "Think you the wicked wizard intends Trial by Combat twixt you and monsters more terrible than the alligators? Beloved knight! I could not bear the thought of seeing you vanquished on the Field of Honor! If you should fall, I will not be long in joining you! This I swear!"
"My dearest princess, I doubt aught of that sort will occur. In me bones I feel certain Edgar Nyce has left us a way to free ourselves of this affliction. If me thoughts were not so befogged, I am positive I could save us from a lifetime of this horrid form of formal speech!"
Bertie wrung her hands in despair. Her hopes for the future were evaporating. She moved closer to Sir Ratnaz, feeling the previous realities she had known fading into obscurity as the insidious spell continued to remove more and more of her memories.
"Worthy knight! Canst thou no remember aught of our old ways? Canst thou not do something?"
Ratnaz did not respond. His eyes were glazed as the force of Edgar Nyce's magics began to drain his mind of both will and memory. This frightened the damsel with greater intensity than she could bear. She sank to her knees, hands clutching at Ratnaz's sword belt. Her face tilted upwards, tears streaming down her cheeks. Sir Ratnaz seemed oblivious to her presence: his eyes were fixed on a point where the wall before him was slowly dissolving into thin air revealing a pastoral plain where mighty armies of armour clad warriors were contesting the claims of all-powerful kings engaged in dispute over territorial rights. Lady Bertie raised a trembling hand to forehead and accidentally dislocated the diamond encrusted tiara from her red tresses.
With a peal of desperation she wailed: "Nyce! You shhhhh....! Shhhh...!"
Bertie struggled to release the rest of the word from her unwilling lips. She fought to gain control of her tongue, to utter the word in her mind, for she thought with sudden hope, that this might be the manner by which she could break Edgar Nyce's spell. Sir Ratnaz had been correct, Edgar Nyce, evil as he might be, had left them a way to escape. If only she could say this word!
"Shhh....!" Bertie's lovely face was lined with effort. "Shhh....!" Frantically she searched for a method to speak the magic word which would break the spell.
Sir Ratnaz was no longer staring at the great confrontation raging beyond the confines of the room. He dropped to one knee, his eyes urging his beloved to do what was beyond his power: to say the Word. His lips worked with effort to support her, though no sound escaped his rugged frame. He placed mailed gloves on the princess' dainty shoulders, as if by this much, he could aid her.
Bertie's voice was sobbing as she fought the magic pressures. "Shhh...! Shi....!" There! Was there not a lessening in the force entangling them? She tried again with renewed hope. "Shi....! Shiiiii...."
The last of her strength was expended in a single soul-wrenching effort. "TURDHEAD!" She cried in triumph and collapsed sobbing against the chest of Ratnaz.
Bertie opened her eyes. She suddenly became aware that she had fainted. "Is it over?"
Ratnaz held her in his arms and shrugged his shoulders. He bent his head and kissed her gently on the forehead before he sighed and turned her about to see what had been the result of her brave contest with the magic spell.
"That son-of-a-bitch!" Bertie exclaimed. "What the--?"
THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE #7
Space Ranger Tang-Gor crossed the room with extended hand and an apologetic look on his alien face. Ratnaz and Bertie were astonished to find this fully space-suited figure in Ratnaz's house.
"I'm sorry I did not have time to call ahead and warn you of my arrival," Captain Tang-Gor said as he vigorously shook Ratnaz's limp hand. With a flourish of his fingers, Tang-Gor twirled the end of his third tentacle and nodded his head in the direction of Bertie. "Hello, you beautiful doll. Will you excuse us? Your heartthrob and I have several things to discuss."
So saying, Ranger Tang-Gor led the wide-eyed Ratnaz out of the kitchen leaving a sputtering Bertie Ketchum glaring in their wake. She was tempted to ease-drop on the conversation going on in the other room, and with thought, came action. Bertie placed her ear against the door panel only to jump back when it rudely bumped her skull as Tang-Gor stuck his unruly mass of tentacles around the edge of the door.
"Naughty, naughty, you little vixen. Leave us big men alone so that we may figure out how to save the world from death and destruction at the hands of the nefarious Edgar Nyce. He's really got us in a terrible fix, you know. Why don't you whip up a few sandwiches? Or you could take a bath while we plan our strategy and Nyce has not yet made his move."
Bertie quelled her urge to teak the grinning Space Ranger's nose -- Tang-Gor had a point. In the recent several adventures she had not had the opportunity to attend her usual toilet. What the cheeky space geek had suggested made sense: get clean before Edgar Nyce decided to whisk them off into another adventure.
Without another thought for the arguing voices in the next room, Bertie trotted towards the bath. Within moments she was basking in the warmth of the shower's hot spray. When she was squeaky clean and glowing with health and contentment she donned fresh apparel and went back to the kitchen.
"Ratnaz? What do you want to eat?" Bertie called out as she inspected the meager larder. The wicked Edgar Nyce had not bothered to do any grocery shopping while she and Ratnaz had been gallivanting all over creation. That was just one more thing she had to settle with Edgar Nyce.
"Find out if your guest 'Captain Fantastic', Bertie shouted, "has any preferences about munchies because you're gonna get Wolf Brand Chili and Fritos for lunch."
Bertie busied herself with the preparation of the meal and momentarily forgot that she had not heard a reply from the living room. It was only after burning her finger on the hot stove while pouring up the Frito pie that Ketchum realized Ratnaz had not come in grouching about the mess the space-suited character was making on the living room carpet.
"Honey?" Bertie called out as she peeked around the door. "Where are you?"
There was nothing in the room but a swirling mass of sparkling blue lights which began to fade even as she watched. Biting a knuckle, Bertie ran into the midst of the waning light with tears in her eyes.
"Damn you, Nyce! Sent my Ratnaz off in a matter transmitter beam, haven't you?"
As if her words were a signal, the same funny blue lights began popping out all over the place. Bertie tried to make up her mind as to whether she should jump into the middle of one; or get the hell out of the way.
"I'm not that strong," she sobbed and moved back. "I've had enough of this traveling around. Ratnaz, good luck, baby cakes!"
The lights swirled more madly, the noise coming over the stereo had a _whieep whieep_ sound. As she moved further from the point of disturbance, the lights began to become more solidly compact and suddenly, she began to make out the shapes of...
"Bertie Ketchum?" The straight backed figure of Splash Goredone stepped forward with hand outstretched in greeting. There was an urgency in his manner which was not lost on the young girl. Right behind the captain of the Enterprise was a gorgeous creature: Wilma Endearing.
"Captain," Endearing spoke, "we have only trace readings of the renegade Ranger Tang-Gor. If my quadcorder is correct, the villainous Space Ranger has recruited another victim for the Fencers."
"Miss Ketchum," Splash emoted with horrible intensity, "We received a communication on route to Spica Rigellis IV that informed us of the presence of the nefarious Post-hole Digger-napper: Captain Tang-Gor. We have been searching for this recruiter for billions and billions of nano-seconds. If you could just tell us if he has been here--"
"A queasy looking guy with too many tentacles and an predilection for abrupt, rude, and lecherous manners?" Bertie inquired.
"That's him, Miss," Wilma Endearing nodded.
"About ten, fifteen minutes ago. He and Ratnaz were talking here in the living room while I took a shower. What's so bad about this Ranger?"
"He steals strong backs and weak minds to bolster the work battalions of the Fencers: a group of alien beings bent on fencing the galaxy off into beach front properties. I don't mean to imply that your Ratnaz is one such, only that he will be treated in that manner. Can you say which way did they go?"
"Which way did they go." Bertie replied literally. "Now that that's out of the way, can you tell me which way did they go?"
"Alas and alack," Splash Goredone shook his head, "all we can hope to do is follow the tenuous trail of excited ions left by the matter transmitter. Speaking of excitement-- " Splash Goredone grinned at Bertie, the fire starting up in his eyes.
Without a word of warning, the man sprang forward and pressed impassioned lips against those of the startled woman. Breathless moments later (at the constant urging of Wilma Endearing who was angrily pointing out that the trail was getting colder by the second) Splash Goredone released Bertie.
"I never was happy," Splash Goredone explained to the stunned girl, "with the way the movie writers portrayed me with the opposite sex. Now that Wilma Endearing and I are free of the inhibitions of prime time TV, I take my reward first and then hope like hell I can deliver. If I don't, then I have lost nothing but some time. Take care, Miss Ketchum. If we can find your Ratnaz and capture the dastardly Tang-Gor, we will do so. Ta Ta!"
Splash Goredone whipped out his communicator and said: "Scotty, beam us up."
"I have three bodies in the transmittal area captain." Scotty's voice came back. "Should I beam aboard all three?"
Splash Goredone looked at Bertie with a personal interest, thought for a moment about his chances with the red-haired woman, then sadly shook his head. "No, Scotty, just beam Wilma Endearing and myself aboard. Good day, Miss Ketchum."
The blue lights started up, along with the theme from a famous episodic space tv series blaring through the stereo. Bertie stood with arms akimbo and glared at the fading figures of Splash Goredone and Wilma Endearing. After they were gone Bertie shrugged her shoulders and went back into the kitchen to rescue her burning Frito pie.
"One of these days, you wily Edgar Nyce, there will be an accounting and I know you will not be happy with the outcome!" Bertie tested the edge of the butcher knife while she longingly contemplated a few minutes with Edgar Nyce in a quiet little room and locked doors...
Bertie breathed a sigh of relief. For once, it seemed, the wily Edgar Nyce was going to let her be. She leaned back on Ratnaz's couch idly dipping spoon into Frito pie as she wondered what sort of adventure her lover was experiencing in the depths of interstellar space.
The girl's bottomless pit was feeling close to satiation as she scraped the sides of the pot for the last dregs of the commercially made chili. Her Fritos had long since become soggy, due primarily to the extended time between preparation and consumption. Without the reassurances of Splash Goredone, Bertie might have been prone to hysteria for the safety of her Ratnaz. But with the renowned commander and his capable crew on the lookout for her man, Bertie refrained from any additional emotional output.
All she wanted was a good night's sleep.
Ratnaz, on the other hand, desperately wished he'd had the opportunity to grab a bite to eat before Tang-Gor had spirited him off-planet to this forsaken place. Over head the sky was off-vomit green with a touch of nicotine haze thrown in for extra measure. Why the Fencers thought they could interest anyone in this as beach front property was beyond Ratnaz's conception. He only knew that he'd be examining brochures for land investment more closely from now on. Ratnaz's stomach growled again, louder this time. The man chained next to him spat with disgust.
"Damn! Is that all your body can think of? Food? How can you be hungry in such an inimical environment?"
"Easy," the displaced person replied. "I'm starving!"
"Tsk, tsk," the human-shaped pop-eyed frog replied. "I have the feeling that you are going to get mighty hungry still since all we have to eat are the - THAWP!" The frog's tongue shot out and snatched a dragonfly out of the air. He paused to belch after swallowing the screaming insect ("Watch it, Bub! I'll sic my big brot---").
With a smile of satisfaction, Ratnaz's companion continued his interrupted speech. "Wonderful taste to these Gozandan Flits!"
"Uhh," Ratnaz squeezed his eyes shut and shuddered. "The next time you hit one of those babies, would you mind sharing? My back bone is wrapped around my spine!"
"I could," the frog replied with a chuckle, "but I'd hate to waste it. You'd only spit it out after getting the best juices..."
"Well," Ratnaz admitted with a green face, "I suppose you're right. Can we talk about something else?"
"Sure thing, Bub," the over-grown puddle jumper grinned. "What's the topic?"
The frog chuckled. "How's that? You got to be kidding!" The amphibian hushed as his eyes followed the movement of something over Ratnaz's shoulder. The big earthman man thought about ducking to give the frogman a clear shot at the dragonfly, then realized the creature was not interested in food. Ratnaz spun about in his place (as easily as you can spin with chains on all four appendages) and saw Ranger Tang-Gor talking with Nyce.
"Hey, frog," Ratnaz whispered.
"What kind of devilment are they up to?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. As for me, I'll take whatever Dastardly Tang-Gor dishes down, but that wily Edgar Nyce is as wicked a wonder as I rather hope to avoid. If at all possible."
"I know what you mean," Ratnaz fervently replied. "That little runt has been causing a lot of trouble lately."
"Trouble?" the frog croaked in anguish. "You don't know the meaning of trouble! I've been having one bitchin' bad time because of Edgar Nyce! The bastard transported me and my kids from the pond back home into the middle of a catfish convention. Results; Catfish: 350 tads. Me: my ass. If I could just get my flippers on him I'd--"
"Shhh!" Ratnaz cautioned. "Here comes the space ranger."
They waited in silence until Tang-Gor came to a stop just out of Ratnaz's arm length. The renegade ranger sneered as he spoke.
"I have no idea why, but I am supposed to let both of you loose. I suppose it is due to economic conditions since the Fencers have just lost 6 zillions on the beach front market and we have no use for post hole diggers. Be sure to turn in your equipment at the maintenance shack on your way out." With a negligent gesture of his hand, Tang-Gor caused the chains to disappear. Then he turned to walk away.
"Wait a minute!" Ratnaz cried and ran after the figure of the space ranger. "Wait just a damn minute!"
"Yeeesssss?" Tang-Gor sighed with ill concealed petulance.
"Uh. How do I get back home?"
"Shank's Mare, son. Ankle Express. The Ambulatory Transportation Company. Your choice. Bye."
"Huh?" Ratnaz started to protest but the words died unsaid. Tang-Gor, the planet and all else disappeared at the same time. Vanished. Poof!
Ratnaz did not have much to say in the matter. He was glad for was the shortness of the trip and the appearance of a Hilton Hotel on the white beach which stretched away as far as the eye could see. For a moment Ratnaz regretted not being able to say good by to the frogman.
He'd come to like the great green critter during the short time they'd been chain-mates. Most of all he regretted not getting the frogman's address. Dollar signs illuminated his eyes as Ratnaz contemplated the profits he could make with frog's legs the size of his own not inconsiderable thigh in conjunction with his promising catfish enterprise. But, the time was past -- he would never know where to find those huge frogs until he'd had a little chat with Edgar Nyce.
Although Ratnaz was disappointed as far as the frog was concerned, he was delirious with his present situation:
The long, winding white beach was populated with the most beautiful girls Ratnaz had ever seen. Curiously, there were no signs of any men -- anywhere.
"I'll be damn!" Ratnaz breathed his amazement as he stepped out from behind the palm tree and started walking towards the hordes of naked, laughing women. "Would you look at that? Oh, damn. Oh, damn, damn, damn!"
Ratnaz fell to his knees and raised his hands in supplication. "Oh masterful Edgar Nyce! You really don't mean to do this to me, do you?"
Ratnaz's skin crawled as he heard the hollow mocking laughter coming out of the air. Ratnaz jumped to his feet and turned to run as twenty-five nubile maidens rushed towards him with unbridled lust in their eyes.
"You old fart!" Ratnaz's breath burned in his throat as he sought escape. "I know what you are planning! You are going to get me into a compromising sex orgy and then bring Bertie here! She'll kill me!"
Ratnaz managed to elude the women for several miles, but he was beginning to tire. There were tears in his eyes as he suddenly found himself in a box canyon. "Back!" he screamed as the women converged on his position. "I'm engaged! Back! Back!"
The girls only giggled seductively and closed in.
Bertie woke in a cold sweat. Ratnaz was in trouble! She could feel it in her bones. The girl leapt out of bed and jumped into to her jeans (Hooray! Only Two Jumps!) and pulled a t-shirt over her head. Shoes were forgotten as she felt the tingle in her spine that indicated another transfer by the machinations of the wicked Edgar Nyce.
"Shit!" Bertie snarled. "I don't even have a weapon!" Just as she began to fade from the apartment, the enterprising girl grabbed the first thing close to hand: a hair brush.
At the next moment Bertie was squinting in brilliant sunlight on a beach that looked like all the picture postcards of the South Seas. Only difference: X rated. All the women were clothed in Nature's Garment, and as the wind came from the ocean, a breeze felt upon a part of her anatomy where breeze normally did not go suddenly informed the red-haired (and elsewhere) girl that she was clad in the same alarming lack of clothing as the rest of the ladies.
Blushing mightily, the girl yanked a few banana leaves from the nearest plant and deftly formed a bikini that maintained the illusion of prudence, though quite precariously.
To the west (at least the sun seemed to be setting in that direction, the young lady heard the raucous din of dizzy females. At any other time Bertie's full lips would have turned downward in a sneer at the salacious behavior of the women, but this time, something told her that Ratnaz was there: and he was in trouble.
Miss Ketchum joined the rest of the women moving in the direction of the outburst, though her face was not laughing and yearning as were the others. Instead she was grimly worried. Furrows cut her brow, which with proper care, water and fertilizer could provide a corn crop i.e. she was really WORRIED.
The hair brush was still gripped in her hand, though why it should have made the transition while her clothes did not was beyond Bertie. The impression that her man was in terrible trouble persisted so strongly that she kept on the look out for other weapons besides the ineffectual hair brush.
The nude laughing ladies were running towards the gaiety to the west. Bertie kicked her pretty little butt into high gear to keep up with them. So well was her effort rewarded that she soon pulled ahead of the pack and was first to enter the box canyon at the end of the beach. There, at the far side of the declivity, was a mass of writhing arms, legs, torsos and unbound bosoms. Faintly, as if from far away, Bertie heard Ratnaz's voice protesting, calling for help.
"Leave me alone! Stay away! I'm engaged!"
"Ratnaz?" Bertie ran up to the frenzied dog-pile. She recognized the hand pushing (or cupping?) the curvaceous bottom of a pretty, giggling brunette.
"Ratnaz! You come out of there right this instant!"
Bertie jumped into the fray with the only weapon she had, the hair brush. She smacked a blonde's fanny and the woman vanished with the pop of a champagne cork. Ketchum did not need further proof that she did indeed have a formidable weapon. With a hearty rebel yell, she screamed "You hussy Jezebels!" Bertie smacked, swatted, switched and slapped bottom after beautiful bottom.
The pile began to diminish. Bertie found Ratnaz's behind when, after delivering an especially hard wallop to a hairy posterior she heard: "Hey! That's me!"
"I know!" Bertie said between clenched teeth. Soon there were only three girls draped over Ratnaz's body and seconds later, there were none.
Ratnaz looked up with a sheepish grin. "Look, I can explain this. It's not my fault. I really tried to escape this. REALLY!"
"I believe you."
"You're not mad at me?" Ratnaz gasped in astonishment.
"Well? Aren't you glad to see me again?"
Bertie did not answer. She was too busy daring the horde of drooling women to try and take her man. Not a single one of those painted hussies was about to touch her baby cakes for fear of losing their hair.
"Honey, it was Edgar Nyce. You know I love only you." Ratnaz explained.
"Doesn't make any difference. I don't like hussies. Period."
"Whew!" Ratnaz was relieved.
"Just wait until I get you home, Ratnaz! You could have fought back harder!"
"Hey! I resemble, uh, resent that remark!"
Bertie softened, though she did not relax her watch over the salivating women. "I know, sweets. Moment to moment I expect that Edgar Nyce is gonna place me in the same situation. And I hope you can come to my rescue."
The Lord of the Leaves scowled. "He better not!"
"Ratnaz, what are we gonna do?"
"Well," Ratnaz grinned, "we could take a swim. And by the way -- aren't you a bit over-dressed? When in Rome..."
Before Bertie could retort to the lewd suggestion made by her beloved, her spine tingled once again. She snatched Ratnaz's hand. At least he wouldn't be left where those man-hungry sluts could get their claws into her Ratnaz! She was taking him with her!
Dear readers, it is time to remind you once again that "The News" is not above printing the most slanderously outrageous lies possible in the interest in perpetuating the expenditure of your hard earned cash into our bulging coffers. As long as you keep parting with your bucks, we'll keep handing out the bull!
Bertie sighed with relief when the tingling in her spine simmered down and they found themselves on the edge of a gorgeous little meadow surrounded with great, hoary old oaks casting a wonderful shade. There was a picnic lunch laid out on a red checkered cloth; the aroma of potato salad and fried chicken a mouth-watering delight.
With only a moments hesitation the starving couple sat down and started cramming their faces.
"I don't care," Ratnaz said with some difficulty because a drumstick's worth of succulent fried chicken in one's mouth is tough to talk around, "if this might be a trap or something: It sure tastes good!"
"Really!" Bertie agreed. "Napkin?"
Ratnaz accepted the offered cloth and whipped his mouth. He looked inside the picnic basket and cheered when he found a couple of bottles of frosty cold beer. Without further ado, Ratnaz popped the top on one and chugged half down before coming up for air.
"Just what I needed. Sure hit the spot."
"Hey, piggy," Bertie pouted. "What about me?"
"Sorry," Ratnaz blushed. He opened a brew for his lady.
Bertie sucked at her suds with a satisfied smile-a smile which slowly changed to an expression of concern as she noted the tall figure approaching them from the opposite side of the meadow. "Don't look now, but I think we might have some trouble on the way."
"Christmas!" Ratnaz savagely muttered. He looked back over his shoulder and examined the stranger. "Hey, that's no stranger. That's Tang-Gor. Let's get the hell out of here!"
Ratnaz jumped to his feet and started for the trees. Bertie extended her foot and tripped the escapee. "Not without me, you don't! Why don't we just wait and find out what he wants? May be we can talk him into siding with us against Edgar Nyce..."
"Fat chance of that! He gets as big a kick out of what happens to us as Edgar Nyce does. Besides," Bertie pointed out, "he's not dressed as Ranger Tang-Gor, the Scourge of the Spaceways."
Ratnaz took a second look and agreed with part of Bertie's statement. "He may not be the Space Ranger, but he sure as hell looks like a Texas Ranger. Six guns, boots, and a star on his leather vest. Reminds me of John Wayne."
"Well," Bertie sighed, "if you want to run, go. I'm too tired right now and I haven't had my desert."
Ratnaz grinned ruefully in a lopsided manner and sat back down. By the time Tang-Gor squatted next to the edge of the checkered cloth, Ratnaz had polished off the last of the potato salad.
"Howdy, folks," Tang-Gor drawled. "Sorry to barge in on you like this but I thought I'd warn ya about the real bad bandits lyin' in wait for new folks in this here territory. Yer takin' a real chance bein' out here all by yer lonesomes."
"What kind of bandits?" Ratnaz asked.
"Don't know as how I should tell yer this in front of the lady..." Tang-Gor lowered his eyes and a vermillion flush suffused his alien features.
"No problem," Ratnaz urged the ranger, "Bertie don't mind. Do you?"
"I..." Bertie began. Ratnaz cut right over her as he pressed the ranger for information.
"Tell me all about it, Tang-Gor. What kind of bandits?"
"Titty Bandits?" Ratnaz frowned. "How can you steal titties?"
"Can't," Tang-Gor admitted with a wry wink, "without takin' the whole thing. But these men are real desperadoes. If they can't steal the whole thing, then they cops a feel."
Ratnaz shuddered in disgust. Bertie tried to keep a smile from appearing on her face. Tang-Gor rose and whistled. Ratnaz was suddenly alert. Was Tang-Gor one of the nefarious Titty Bandits?
A moment later the big man's apprehension was stilled as a great black stallion bearing a silver emblazoned saddle broke from cover and came trotting up to the ranger. Tang-Gor tipped his ten-and-a-half gallon hat and mounted the powerful horse.
"Just thought I'd warn ye. Got to mosey on. Ya'll take care now, ya hear?"
And with the speed of light and a hearty hi ho Midnight, the taciturn rider vanished into the forest.
"Titty Bandits," Ratnaz snorted. He moved over and put his arm about Bertie's shoulder. Pulling her close to him he chuckled. "The only 'Titty Bandit' around here is me!" he cried and tried to grab a handful of heaven.
Ratnaz immediately discovered the folly of his action when Bertie knocked him sprawling with the back of her hand. "Not until we are well and truly married, Ratnaz! You know better than that!" Then to show that she was not permanently angry, the lovely girl leaned over and planted a big wet one on Ratnaz's willing lips. "Okay?" she breathlessly asked. Ratnaz nodded -- Bertie giggled.
They spent the rest of the afternoon lying in the shade of a fine, ancient oak listening to the wind in the tree tops and the sounds of all the little forest creatures. The couple enjoyed the quiet and slow passing of time: too often as of late they had been whirled from one end of the universe to the other without so much as a by-your-leave. Neither was willing to voice the question: 'When will this end? What is in store for us?' Instead, they lay entwined in gentle embrace and thanked the fates for this moment of peace.
Eighteen days later they were getting a bit tired of all the peace.
"I've had it up to here," Ratnaz kicked at the grass with an angry boot toe. "I was not cut out to be a pioneer in a raw world. I miss my golf games, nights out with the guys. Where, in all this pastoral delight, is the nearest poker game? When are we going to see some action?"
"I'm with you, babe," Bertie's full lips were shaped in a pretty moue. "I'm the big city type. I like stores and shopping and friends and..."
"Edgar Nyce has done it to us again!" Ratnaz cried in irritation. "He's torturing us with kindness! I would almost relish fighting off the dread Titty Bandits, if they actually exist, just for a change of pace!"
Ten days later, the young lovers were about to murder each other.
"Bertie, dearest, I love you with all my heart. You know that, but I hope to heaven we are never stuck together 24 hours a day--every day--like this again!"
"Tell me something I don't know, sweet cakes. You're a wonderful man--in reasonable doses. Everyday intimacy of this sort stretching out forever does get to be a bit much. You know I haven't had a moment to myself in--how long has it been?"
"Forever." Ratnaz replied.
"Right. Forever. Edgar Nyce! Will you do something? Give us a break! Change this! Anything at all will be fine with us!"
The sound of hideous arcane laughter echoing in the woods sent chills up both spines. A hollow voice petrified the couple. "Anything?" Edgar Nyce inquired. "Anything at all? Prepare yourselves, children! You are about to discover the true depths of depravity of which I am capable!!!!"
Ratnaz and Bertie stood with arms about each other, quivering in their boots. The old familiar tingling began and then...
Swirling madness. Ebon clouds shot with crimson tongues of flame. Blue points of light speeding through the void crying in despair. Bloated forms of crickets, distorted beyond the size nature had ordained; chorusing in insane unison -- a symphony guaranteed to drive even the stoutest heart into fibrillation. The roar of a volcano in the distance and a ribbon of molten lava flowing across the immense horizon.
Sensations of ultra sweet cotton candy on the tongue: honey and cinnamon. Fructose and saccharin. Glucose and glycerides and dextrose twisting taste into a stomach wrenching rebellion: creating the need for Limburger and liver--a desire for anything except the overwhelming nectars...
Tactile sensations taxed the imagination. Nothing felt the same. Rough became smooth; soft, hard. Long was short and short was invisible. Wind screamed about the ears; yet there was no breath of air on the face. Lungs screamed for air while the diaphragm continued to aspirate with unimpeded function.
One was blind, though the nightmares were clearly visible. Colors shifted from one hue to another with a rapidity which left the mind swirling, unbalanced. In short: Insanity.
And a break in the action.
Editor's Note: You surely would not expect an account of such strange adventures as those which have befallen Bertie and Ratnaz to overlook the need for including some sort of psychological madness just to keep things interesting. Would you? Not on your Aunt Tina's prized begonia, you wouldn't!
We Will Continue With The Story of Ratnaz and Bertie After These Messages From Our Sponsors:
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THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE # 8
I hadn't seen nicer gams since they sent Lil up the river. She looked like the kind of doll I wanted in my front office. I asked her name.
"What's your name, Peaches?"
"Ketchum," she replied with cool poise. "Bertie Ketchum."
"You got the job, Peaches."
"What if I didn't come here looking for a job?"
"Then why did you come in here?"
"I was looking for a job with the city's best private dick."
"That's me, Ratnaz. The Best. Like I just said, you got the job. By the way, can you type?"
"Gee, does that mean I don't get the job?"
"Nope. Just asked. The way you look, I wouldn't care if you couldn't talk. Have a seat at the desk out front. I'll whistle if I need you."
The long-legged beauty swayed out. My eyeballs still felt good after getting treated to Peaches. I had to tear my mind off the dame and get back to the latest caper to hit my doorstep.
Two days earlier a tall dude with glasses and mustache had hired me to discover who had stolen his fence posts from his home. I had several leads which might, or might not reveal the identity of the criminal responsible for the theft of Mr. Edgar Nyce's valuable fence posts. I checked the list I had put together a third time before I grabbed my trench coat and headed for the door.
"Don't know how long I'll be, Peaches. Keep a light in the window for me."
"I will, Ratnaz. You be careful. It's a dangerous world out there." She batted those lovely thick lashes at me.
"Tell me something I don't know." I growled. "Take care of yourself, kid." I had to get out of there in a hurry. That dame was doing things to me. I wasn't sure how long I'd be able to keep my hands off her delicious body if I hung around. The elevator wheezed as I descended to the first floor. I paused outside the rundown office building's revolving door and lit a cigarette.
I jerked my head around. It was Mouse. "Make it quick, Mouse. I'm on a hot caper."
"Sure, sure, Ratnaz. I won't take much of your time. You know that Edgar Nyce character that came to see you the other day?"
"Yeah? What's it to you?" Mouse had my sudden and undivided attention. I like to know things. Could come in handy some time and Mouse seemed to know a lot of things before they were known anyplace else.
"Well, I heard 'im talking to dis guy after he came out of your office. Couldn't hear much of what was said except the last thing the short, The Texican said."
"Short? Fat? Was he balding and have a thick beard and glasses?"
"Yeah! How did you know?"
"Never mind," I told Mouse. I broke out into a cold sweat. Things were starting to make sense -- a kind of sense that left me shaking. "What'd he say?"
"Something about how he had you and the dame all set up for a frame. I like you, Ratnaz. You always treated me right."
"Sure, sure, old man. Thanks for the info. Anything else?"
"Naw. That's all I heard. Gee!" Mouse said when I handed him a fiver. "That's mighty white of you, Ratnaz!"
"It's okay, Mouse. You deserve it." I waved goodbye to Mouse and made a note to myself to win that fiver back with another sucker bet with the old geezer. Right now I had other things cooking so I'd have to wait to fake Mouse out of the mazoola.
I grabbed a taxi and listened to the cabbie's gripes as he took me to the address I'd given him. I was relieved to arrive and pay the bitchin' bad-mouther off and get into the fresh air. I'd had all I could take from him. (What I would rather have done is yank out my gat and blow a hole right between his beady eyes.)
The joint was an old warehouse. I scanned the dingy exterior with a critical eye. Bogey had been caught flat-footed too many times in locations such as these and it was not about to happen to Ratnaz.
The place stunk. Like a sock hop with nothing but sweaty jocks and their dippy dames. I had difficulty keeping my trigger finger loose in case of trouble: I wanted to hold my nose shut to keep out the foul aroma.
Standing here in the doorway bemoaning the atmospheric conditions was not going to make my job any easier. The man I had to see was in the main office -- up the stairs and around the back. Taking a deep breath I stepped into the dimly lit warehouse and took the most direct route to the stairway.
All the way up that flight of stairs I had two thoughts bouncing back and forth between the lobes of my brain: Peaches; and what Mouse had told me about Mr. Edgar Nyce and The Texican.
Peaches was easy: love on first sight.
The Texican bothered me. I'd tangled with this guy before. As far as size was concerned, Sidney Greenstreet he wasn't; but if you looked at the sheer malevolence the man was capable of, old Sidney would look like a grandmother knitting doilies for the Salvation Army. I hoped The Texican was after something besides my ass. Or Peaches'.
"Hold it right there, Ratnaz!"
I reached for my gat. The voice warned me against that: "Make another move and you'll sing soprano the rest of your life. About ten minutes worth after a gut shot. Wanna try your luck?"
A gloved hand impersonally reached beneath my trench coat and relieved me of old Betsy. I missed her comforting weight in the shoulder holster. I was prodded with the cold muzzle of what felt like a cannon.
"Upstairs. The Boss wants to see you."
"You'll find out. Now get movin'. Or are you tired of livin'?"
"Not yet." I started up the stairs.
The office smelled of cigarette smoke. The Texican was seated behind the beat-up desk in the center of the room. Peaches was on the floor behind him, bound hand and foot with rope. That made me mad.
"She ain't got no part in this, Texican!"
"Watch your mouth, Ratnaz, or Tang-Gor will have to teach you a lesson." The man known as Mister Nyce by the street people nodded at the man behind me. I was punched with the cannon a second time. I looked over my shoulder and saw the grinning face of the 'homeowner' who'd reported stolen fence posts.
"So you're in this, too." Didn't make that a question. I can see facts when they stare me in the face. "What's he paying you? I'll double it if you'll help me beat the shit out of Edgar Nyce."
"Sorry, Ratnaz. He pays better than what you can offer."
"There's no profit in trying to woo Mr. Tang-Gor to your side, Ratnaz. We are both committed to the action we have undertaken. If you follow my instructions to the letter, I'll let you and the young lady go free. If you will not, then the consequences will be on your head." The Texican grinned. I didn't like the look of things.
"What's this thing I have to do?"
"Simple. You go on national televison and say: I am Bertie Ketchum's Sweetcakes."
"Never!" I cried. I remembered all too well the ribbing I'd received at the hands of my drinking buddies when a dame had let that slip one night at the bar. I wasn't about to go through that a second time. "You are asking too much of me, Nyce!"
"Somehow I thought you'd say that, Ratnaz. Tang-Gor, put him on ice."
I never knew what hit me. The next thing I knew I was sitting up in the office with a splitting headache. I looked around for Fats and his stooge. And Peaches. They were gone. On the desk was a note.
YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE, GUMSHOE. NOW YOU'LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO THINK THEY CAN DEFY...
P.S. If you want to see Peaches before she is turned into preserves, get your fanny over to the SMUCKER'S processing plant before midnight.
I looked at my watch. Twenty minutes to the witching hour. I jumped to my feet and reeled down the stairs to the street. There was a cabbie (same one who'd brought me here!) waiting for me.
"You've got one hell of a bill, mister. The meter's been running for hours!"
"Don't worry," I yelled. "I'm good for it. Now get me to the Smucker's plant before midnight and there's an extra sawbuck in it for you!"
The cabbie did not spare the gas, tires, or my hide as he set records for flying low without a license. He dropped me off in from of the jelly manufacturing plant and I stuffed a wad of bills in his grimy paws and ran inside the brightly lit edifice. I threaded my way past the stainless steel vats and preparation tables. Old Betsy would have made me feel a bit braver than I felt at the moment, but then again, Peaches was depending on me--Betsy or no Betsy. I kept seeing things through a red haze. There was no reason to drag the kid into this mess, even if it was Peaches Edgar Nyce had dared me to name on National TV.
Maybe I'd been too hard-headed about refusing. Maybe. I'd have to think it over--after I got Peaches out of the clutches of The Texican. I didn't know where I was going. Only knew I had to try and find the lady. I turned to the left.
A voice shouted out: "Wrong way, stupid!"
So I turned about and headed the other way. At the end of the aisle between the vats was a brighter spot of light. As I got closer I could see Peaches lying on the floor. She was still tied up. I ran to her side and lifted her into my arms. There was no sign of Edgar Nyce or Tang-Gor.
"Ratnaz!" Bertie sighed with relief. "I knew you'd come for me!"
"Did you think your sweetcakes would ever desert you, Bertie Ketchum?" I smothered her lips with mine.
"Excellent! Excellent! Thank you, Ratnaz! Did you capture the whole lurid scene on your video recorder, Mr. Tang-Gor?"
"I did, sir. We have the proof you demanded of the private dick. It's on tape."
"Good. Very good. Thank you, Mr. Ratnaz. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"Does it really matter, Ratnaz?" Bertie asked me as I loosened the last of her bonds.
"Why fight it? I can't win against The Texican."
"Ratnaz! Don't say that! You can beat him! I know you can!"
"We'll have to wait and see, won't we. But right now," I lifted the delicious bundle to her feet and hugged her tight, "we have other things to do. Shall we go?"
"Whatever you say, Ratnaz."
I looked down at the doll and gave her my best smile. The Texican had won this round. But I got the prize.
THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE # 9
I realize, fellow fans of the Ketchum/Ratnaz saga, that several days have elapsed since the publication of the last issue. I wish to remind you that The News is a non-profit periodical which has an extremely 'periodic' cycle. As a result, you will have to suffer the occasional deprivation of your favorite reading matter until, and when, each issue becomes available. Were it possible, your editor could think of nothing more entertaining than long hours of composing the exciting and impossible adventures of America's Sweethearts--yet given the current economic situation (i.e. working for a living) I have no recourse other than the pursuit of the all-mighty buck. As a result, the appearances of The News will continue to be on an as possible basis....
Time for a few facts:
Our heroine has been bemoaning her current state of health endured for the past few months. "If it isn't one thing, it's another," she has been known to say. Your editor hopes Bertie recovers soon as it is his intention to send her and her paramour to the south of France for a holiday among the beautiful people on lovely beaches and quaint little chateaus...
FLASH: Would you like to hear about all the other mundane catastrophes which have befallen our dainty damsel? Then wait on: I have no intention of spending six days listing the complaints I've heard in just two...
ENOUGH OF FACTS! LET'S GET ON WITH THE GOOD PART!
The great thunder lizard strode toward the couple clad in animal skins and generated fear within their breasts. The youngsters turned to run; to hide from the great, hulking monster. With one mighty gulp Tyrannosaurs Rex gobbled them up. The End of the Story.
With one exception: The victims were not our protagonists.
This is the total extent of the obligatory violence required by both Motion Picture and Writer's Guilds while in the course of producing light entertainment for the masses. Please don't ask for any of the really yeechy stuff because I hate to write about busted innards and eyeballs swinging on cheeks by slim strands of repulsive muscle tissue! I mean, who wants to read about putrification and excessive violence? All you have to do is walk the streets of any metropolitan area and get all you can handle!
Signing off for now. Have a good day!
Bertie frowned. A moment ago she was about to show Ratnaz the curtains she wanted to have for their bedroom. Now, she was sitting cross-legged, not on their couch, but on an old oaken bench in a beautiful gazebo. It was not quite full evening, but the old kerosene lantern flickering in the gazebo gave enough illumination to show how she was dressed: a costume of the Old South.
Beneath the full hoop skirt; a corset, pantaloons, stockings, bustle, wire and whale bone and at least a dozen petticoats. Bertie was conscious not only of the heat caused by her apparel but the left over dregs of a warm summer afternoon which only the climate of the Gulf Coast could produce.
Bertie rose from the bench in a pirouette. She was pleased with the colors. Soft pinks in the finest silks which added shimmering highlights under the soft glow of the lantern. Bertie's hand rose to her throat as she tried to catch her breath. She encountered a massive necklace that was worth a king's ransom. Bertie lifted the chain from her breast to examine the numerous diamonds and rubies. Bertie Ketchum's eyes reflected the glittering sparkle of the precious trinket.
"Finally!" she whispered with carefully repressed happiness. "You have finally redeemed yourself, you old wonderful Wizard of Words! I think I could go for this, Edgar Nyce!"
"Yes?" Bertie turned about and saw the wrinkled face of old, faithful Sam. She gave the ancient Negro a smile.
Sam bowed low. "Master Tang-Gor's coach has arrived in the drive. Shall I tell him you'll receive him here?"
Bertie's breath caught in her throat. She abruptly realized the meaning of Sam's words and knew fear. Tang-Gor! How could Nyce do this to her? Bertie knew how devious Edgar Nyce could be; how he even provided the memory of past events to back up his outrageous situations.
Ratnaz was off to war with the 123rd Virginia Regulars. Thought to be somewhere around Richmond where great battles had been raging for weeks, her Ratnaz was a captain of Cavalry. A true son of the South, Ratnaz had answered the clarion call with honor and bravery. In her heart Bertie was proud of the rugged man, but his presence at the front had left her and her family at the not-so-tender mercies of Lord Tang-Gor.
Tang-Gor owned the neighboring plantation. An English investor in the riches of the South, Lord Tang-Gor thought it was beyond his position to involve himself in the War of Separation in a physical sense. His concerns revolved about the wealth which could be taken from the land and exported to England, and in the beauty of her daughters.
Within weeks after Ratnaz's enlistment, the Englishman began to force his attentions upon Bertie. Tang-Gor made it well known they could share in mutual betterment if she deigned to accept his proposal of marriage. Bertie's wealth and prestige could be enhanced, and Tang-Gor would reap benefits of a similar kind. Therefore Lord Tang-Gor had been an almost daily visitor since the news of the Confederate reverses at Richmond began to filter back from the front.
So far Bertie had refused the not-unhandsome Englishman's advances. After all, her Ratnaz may be dead in the war. If Ratnaz did not come home there would be none to protect her, her parents, or the many slaves which worked the plantation.
"Shall I bring him here, Miss Bertie?" Sam asked a second time.
Startled out of her reverie the young girl shook her head. "No, Sam. I will receive Lord Tang-Gor in the parlor. Please make him comfortable and tell him I will come shortly."
"Yes'am." The slave replied and turned towards the flower-lined path which would take him back to the big house.
Bertie waited until the Negro was out of sight before she stamped her foot in rage. "Edgar Nyce! You little ..." With frustration constricting her throat the lovely woman was unable to complete her curse. Instead, she felt immense distress.
What could her father, the Colonel do? He had deservedly sought a peaceful retirement long before the War had erupted between the States and now, with so many young men involved in the fray, there were only those, like her father, who remained behind. None could dispute the Colonel's bravery and courage, but what can an elderly gentleman hope to accomplish against the likes of the avaricious Lord Tang-Gor?
Bertie slowly walked to the mansion trying to think of a way to ask her unbidden guest to leave without arousing his ire. She could think of nothing which would prevail upon the Englishman. Bertie found Tang-Gor, along with her father, waiting in the parlor. A tray of brandy and cut-glass crystal had been set on the table. Both men held glasses, though neither had sipped the heady beverage.
"I hope I haven't kept you waiting," Bertie spoke to the tall Tang-Gor who had risen at her entrance.
"I do not mind the wait, dearest," Tang-Gor replied with an approving leer. "You are most beautiful this evening."
"Thank you," Bertie blushed at the man's forward appraisal. "Won't you sit down? Tell me, how have your dealings gone at the port? Has a ship agreed to take your cargo?"
Tang-Gor frowned, an evidence of his annoyance with the day's work. "No. None of the captains in port are willing to run the Union blockade. They fear for their lives and their ships. I will have to try again tomorrow, but never fear, I will find someone who is willing to take my cargo, and the fee I have offered. It is just a matter of time. Just as," he smiled possessively, "you will eventually come to accept my proposal."
"But I cannot!" Bertie cried. "How many times must I tell you, sir, that I am promised to another? Will you please stop your unwanted attentions?"
"When I finally believe they are truly unwanted, or you have said yes. That is when I will stop."
Tang-Gor set his untouched brandy on the table and rose to tower over the woman. She looked up into his steely eyes and knew despair. Lord Tang-Gor would not be denied, and Bertie did not know how much longer she could hold him off.
The plantation was in trouble. What with the war and the subsequent drains upon the economy. The Colonel was near to losing the old homestead due to debts incurred in the maintenance of the vast property. In fact, very few plantation owners were in much better shape. Only those like Tang-Gor, who were supported by foreign monies, still prospered.
Bertie eluded Lord Tang-Gor's outstretched arms and went to stand by the French doors opening on the huge veranda. "Please, sir," she begged with a whisper, "do not continue with this... I may not betray the love of one who is hundreds of miles away in the midst of who knows how horrible warfare."
"What do I care about this Ratnaz?" Lord Tang-Gor cried in exasperation.
Bertie was about to answer the Englishman's query when she caught sight of one she had not expected to see. Coming across the veranda from the yard to the parlor was the tall figure she knew so well. It did not matter that he did not walk with the same bold stride she recalled, only that he was here. She flung the doors open and ran to the grey clad man before Tang-Gor could stop her.
"Ratnaz! Somehow I knew you would return! Are you alright?"
Ratnaz heartily embraced his magnolia blossom of the south. "As well as can be expected," he grinned without amusement, "as an ex-captain of horse afflicted with acute hemorrhoids can feel. But enough of the war!" Ratnaz kissed her soundly. "How have you fared in my absence?"
"Poorly, until now! I'm so glad you're home! Will you be staying?"
"Yes, my usefulness to the South has ended. I cannot sit horse for more than ten minutes and most of the battles and journeys require long hours, or even days in the saddle. How is your family?"
"Can we talk of them later, my darling? I have something more important to speak to you about. Something only you can handle..."
"And what may that be?"
"A suitor after my hand and my father's plantation."
"Ah," Ratnaz sighed unhappily. "I suppose I will have to kill him. Who is this person?"
Ratnaz shook his head. "Damn shame. I like the chap."
"Perhaps you will not have to duel with him."
"Ridiculous, Bertie! I, a gentleman of the south refusing to answer the boorish manners of one who has besmirched the honor of my intended? I'll give him his choice of weapons and we will have this done with all dispatch."
"Then," Lord Tang-Gor stepped out of the parlor and stared at the Confederate officer, "let us be at it now. And I chose swords."
"Will a saber suffice, Lord Tang-Gor?" Ratnaz replied. "I personally have no desire to use one of those sissified epees favored by the French."
"As you wish. Sabers at twenty paces."
"Are you mad?" Ratnaz laughed. "Twenty paces?"
"Surely. And to answer your question, no I am not mad. Nor should you be. Think man, I am only after her money, not her admittedly desirous body. Perhaps we can talk things over. You keep the girl, I take the plantation and offer the two of you a residence in return. If it were Bertie I desired, I could have achieved that goal months ago. I am speaking only the truth. I want the plantation. You can have her. What do you say?"
Ratnaz frowned in thought.
"Ratnaz!" Bertie was surprised. "Don't tell me you are seriously considering his proposal!"
"And why not? Let's be realistic, Bertie. You father is in debt, and while he could soon rectify that minor problem as soon as the war is over, he may lose the plantation before that could happen. If Tang-Gor takes over the plantation the slaves will survive this bloody mess. Your father could take that European vacation from the proceeds of the sale and still have a fortune afterwards on which to live comfortably for the rest of his life.
"And if the truth were known," Ratnaz continued, "I have no desire to be a plantation owner. I prefer the sea. I know that is where I will make my fortune."
"Well," Bertie was slightly mollified. "Aren't you at least going to demand an accounting from Tang-Gor for the unpleasantness of his constant attention?"
Ratnaz turned to the Englishman. "Were you ever forward with my lady?"
"Absolutely not. As I said I am interested in the plantation. Real estate's the game."
"Then consider that you have incurred my wrath and I have properly chastised you."
Tang-Gor bowed at the waist. "As you wish, sir. I bid you and your woman a good evening. I will have my solicitor contact yours in the morning regarding the details of our agreement." Lord Tang-Gor stuck out his and Ratnaz grasped it firmly.
"Done. Good night, sir."
The couple watched in silence as the Englishman boarded his carriage. Bertie refrained from speaking until Tang-Gor's conveyance exited the gate of the plantation. Turning to her returned lover she said, "You make damn sure the monies are properly counted and banked-and count your fingers afterwards. Sweetcakes. I am so thrill to have you home!"
What happened thereafter on that evening is -
"Damn it, Ratz, he's at it again!" Bertie wailed as time and space twisted and diverted and ...
The News sadly reports this is our last issue of the Ratnaz and Bertie adventures. It is also our last issue ever as creditors and vendors without a sense of honor or humor are demanding payment of past debts. All we can say at this late juncture is that if Edgar Nyce had remained popular with the reading audiences we'd still be making a slim buck. As it is now we are well and truly fuc--
THE NATIONAL BOARD OF CENSORS HAS REGRETFULLY MUZZLED, WITHOUT PREJUDICE, THE STAFF, EDITORS, AND CONTRIBUTORS OF "THE NEWS," WHICH HAS FILED FOR BANKRUPTCY.
"I'm here, beloved."
"Hang in there, darling. I'm sure there's another pulp rag out there that will take us. Kisses, sweetcakes!"
"Kisses back, doubled. When are you going to kill Edgar Nyce?"
"The first chance I get. Wanna help?"
"You know I do!"
In the vein of Edgar Nyce, who borrowed "I still live!" from another, the authors of Ratnaz vow: "This ain't over yet!"
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