/ Language: English / Genre:det_irony

Max Smart Loses Control

William Johnston


William Johnston

Max Smart Loses Control

1

Max Smart, Agent 86 for Control, was awakened that morning by the jangling of his telephone. Always alert, Max jumped out of bed instantly-and went to the door of his apartment.

“Yes. . what is it?” Max muttered, looking out into the corridor. There was no one there. Yet, the bell was still ringing. Max’s eyes opened wide. “That’s a very good trick,” he said, impressed, addressing the empty corridor. “How do you do it?”

The only response was the continuing jangle of the bell.

“Oh. .” Max said, addressing himself now, “maybe it’s the phone.”

He closed the door, returned to his bedroom, and began looking for his shoes, one of which served also as a telephone. He peeked under the bed, and found the first base mitt he had lost several weeks earlier (just before the big game between the Control Angels and the KAOS Devils), but not his shoes. Max retrieved the mitt, slipped it on, then pounded his fist into it a few times. “I sure wish I’d had you during the game,” he told the mitt. “The Chief made me play with what was available. Have you ever tried to catch a hot grounder with Agent 99’s handbag? I kept losing the ball in the change purse. Twice, trying for double plays, I threw half-dollars down to second. It was very embarrassing.”

The phone, meanwhile, continued to ring.

Max searched the closet for his shoes. They were not there. He looked in the bathroom. Still, no shoes. He stood for a moment, baffled, shaking his head, then wandered out into the living room to look for them. They were not under the couch, nor under any of the chairs or tables. Then, raising up from the search under an end table, he toppled the table over-and the ringing abruptly stopped.

Max pondered the situation. The apartment phone had been on the table and had been knocked to the floor. It was now lying at his feet, with the receiver off the cradle.

“Well. . that solves the mystery,” Max said proudly to himself. “There are my shoes right there. They’ve been on my feet all the time. I must have been pret-ty tired when I went to bed last night.”

He removed his shoe phone and put it to his ear. “Agent 86 here,” he announced.

All he could hear was a dial tone.

Perplexed, Max slipped his shoe back onto his foot. “Maybe I’m still in bed, dreaming,” he suggested to himself, picking up the table he had accidentally knocked over. “That ringing certainly sounded real, though.” He lifted the apartment phone from the floor and started to place it back on the table. As he did, he heard a faint but familiar voice calling his name. It seemed, strangely, to be coming from the phone. Puzzled, Max spoke back to the instrument.

Max: Chief? Is that you?

Chief (excitedly): Max! Are you all right? Are you in trouble? The phone rang and rang, then the receiver was picked up, but I couldn’t get any response from you. What was happening?

Max: Sorry about that, Chief. I was a little groggy. Do you know what time it is? It’s eight o’clock in the morning. Chief. . am I getting overtime for taking this call before office hours?

Chief: Max, that’s too preposterous to discuss-even if I had time to discuss it. But I don’t. I have an assignment for you, Max. I want you to get down here to headquarters just as quickly as possible.

Max: I’m practically on my way, Chief. I’ll be- Oh, incidentally, Chief, I have some good news. I found my first base mitt.

Chief: That’s fine, Max. At the moment, however, that doesn’t interest me a great deal.

Max: I imagine Agent 99 will be pretty happy about it, though. If you see her, you can tell her it’s no longer necessary to keep rubbing her purse with saddle soap to keep it in condition.

Chief: You can tell her yourself, Max. She’ll be on the assignment with you.

Max hung up, then returned to the bedroom. He took a shower, then, wrapped in a towel, approached the small machine on the table beside his bed. The machine was his personal computer. It advised him on what was best for him to wear and to eat and, at times, to think. The computer was a great convenience. Max no longer had to concern himself with small, everyday details. He could concentrate on the Big problems.

He punched the Eat and Wear buttons. The computer clattered, then produced a tape, which advised: YOU WILL LOOK SPIFFY TODAY IN YOUR GOLFING KNICKERS AND RED WHITE AND BLUE HORIZONTAL STRIPED PULLOVER. FOR BREAKFAST: RED JELLYBEANS. GREEN JELLYBEANS CAUSE ASTIGMATISM. ASTIGMATISM IS-

“I know what astigmatism is,” Max snapped, discarding the tape. “It so happens that I’m an expert on all kinds of Oriental religions.”

Max dressed as his personal computer had suggested, then filled his pockets with red jellybeans, left his apartment and drove to headquarters. When he reached the Chief’s office, he found Agent 99 and Hymie, Control’s almost-human robot, there, too.

“Well. . my loyal assistants, eh?” Max said to 99 and Hymie. “I want you to know, first off, that it will be a pleasure to have you helping me on this case. You are both exceptionally able agents. I have always found you to be loyal, trustworthy, reverent, and so forth and so on, and generous with your purse in time of need.”

“Max-” the Chief began.

“I was just establishing my authority, Chief,” Max explained. “When I’m in charge of a case, I want those who are working under me to know it. That way, when I give an order, there’s no confusion or hesitation-they jump!”

“I understand, Max. But-” He interrupted himself, peering more closely at Max. “Golf knickers, Max?” he asked, puzzled.

“My computer’s idea,” Max explained. “When my computer gives an order-I jump!” He dug a hand into his pocket. “Want a jellybean, Chief? I brought a few more than I could eat. My eyes were bigger than my tummy, I guess.”

“Was that your computer’s idea, too, Max?” the Chief asked.

Max nodded. “My computer is always thinking about my health,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for my computer, I might have had my usual green jellybeans for breakfast. That could have been very embarrassing. I don’t even know any of the Astigmatists’ prayers. I often wonder, Chief: how did I function before I got my personal computer?”

“Frankly,” the Chief said, “I haven’t noticed any great change. But,” he went on, “we’re not here to discuss your relationship with your personal computer, Max. This assignment-”

Max had turned to 99. “How do you like my pullover,” he asked. “I hope it doesn’t make me look like too much of a flag-waver.”

“No, no, you look very nice in red, white and blue, Max.”

“It goes with your eyes,” Hymie said.

“Yes, I guess they are a little bloodshot this morning,” Max replied. “I was up too late last night.”

“Would I be out of line if I tried to fill you in on this assignment?” the Chief asked sourly.

Max looked thoughtful for a second, then replied, “I don’t see how that could be, Chief. After all, that’s why you called us in, isn’t it-to fill us in on the assignment?”

“Thank you,” the Chief sighed. “Now,” he said, “here’s the background. As you know, there’s a great interest in computers these days. It’s become almost a craze. It’s estimated that there are more personal computers in the country today than there are bathtubs. I-”

“I don’t know why that’s so surprising, Chief,” Max said. “I’ve been eating green jellybeans for breakfast for years and my bathtub has never said one word about it. It took my computer to warn me that I was in danger of being converted to Astigmatism.”

“Fine, Max. Now-”

“Max,” 99 said, “astigmatism means weak eyes.”

He stared at her, shocked. “Fantastic!” he said. “It’s almost unbelievable the things people will worship!”

“Max-”

“Go right ahead, Chief,” Max replied. “99 is sorry she interrupted you.”

“As I was saying,” the Chief went on, “people have come to depend on computers. Computers tell them what to eat, what to wear, when to water the house plants, when to carry an umbrella, when to take out the garbage, when to take the car in for a spring check-up. . The services performed by computers are increasing every day.”

“I agree, Chief,” 99 said. “I don’t know how I’d get along without my computer.”

“I’d be lost without mine, too,” Hymie said.

The others looked at him.

“Hymie, you are a computer,” the Chief said. “Why do you need a computer?”

“It’s somebody to talk to,” Hymie replied. “I’d be very lonesome without it.”

“I know what he means, Chief,” Max said. “Before I got my computer, I had nobody to talk to but the corridor outside my apartment door. But it never answered. I never fail to get an answer from my computer, though. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a crank. It keeps telling me to ‘shut up.’ ”

“I can’t imagine why, Max,” the Chief said sarcastically.

“Chief,” 99 asked, “does this assignment somehow concern computers?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” the Chief replied. “Yes-it does. It has been predicted that within ten years computers will be doing all of our thinking for us. I-”

“I must be ahead of my time, as usual,” Max said. “My computer does most of my thinking for me already.”

“Yes, Max. As I was saying, it has been predicted-”

“Ah. . Chief. . who made that prediction?” Max asked.

“A computer.”

“Oh. Well, it must be accurate, then. Computers never make mistakes.”

“Chief. .” 99 said. “Couldn’t that be dangerous?”

“Exactly, 99,” the Chief replied. “In fact, the danger already exists. It has come to our attention that KAOS has been experimenting with a number of personal computers, readjusting them so that they give their owners outlandish instructions.” He looked at Max. “I suspect that we have an example of that right here,” he said.

Max frowned. “You mean my computer?”

“Well, Max, how else can you explain those golf knickers?”

Max pondered for a moment. “I’ve just been named the new pro at the Chevy Chase Country Club?” he guessed.

The Chief shook his head.

“A flood is expected and by noon the water will be knee-high?”

“No, Max.”

“I give up, Chief. What’s the answer?”

“Your computer has been gimmicked, Max.”

Max shook his head. “Impossible. My computer would have mentioned it. It tells me everything. It tells me a lot of things I don’t even want to know. You should have heard what it tried to tell me last night about the people who have the apartment next door. Talk about gossip!”

“All right, Max. Nevermind the-”

“That’s why I was up so late last night,” Max said. “I was listening at the wall. And, believe me, Chief, my computer was right. That couple next door is ready for the loony bin. They were telling their guests about a fellow who lives next door to them who talks to the corridor. I’ve heard some wild stories in my time, but-”

“Max!”

“I’m just trying to defend my computer, Chief. You’re being very unfair to it.”

“All right, Max. I won’t argue with you. Your computer is in perfect working order. However, there are a number of computers that KAOS has got to. When Agent 76 came in this morning, for instance, he was wearing a bedsheet and had a rose between his teeth.”

“Are you sure it was his computer’s fault, Chief?” Max asked. “Maybe 76 is an Astigmatist.”

“Chief,” 99 said, “I don’t understand what KAOS thinks it can gain by gimmicking a few computers. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of computers in use. KAOS can’t get to all of them.”

“No, not one by one,” the Chief admitted. “But there is a way that, in time, KAOS could get control of all of those individual computers. As you may or may not know, 99, those individual computers were designed by a master computer. The master computer is kept here in Washington and it’s called: Number One.”

“Does it have a middle name?” Max asked.

“No, Max.”

“I like to have all the details,” Max explained. “Going out on an assignment without all the facts is like being rejected by the Boy Scouts.”

“Uh. . the Boy Scouts, Max?” the Chief said. “I don’t get the connection.”

“Without the facts, you’re not Prepared,” Max explained.

“Oh. Well, anyway, these small, personal computers are designed-as I said-by the master computer, Number One. Number One, of course, is always making improvements on the new, personal, smaller computers. So, in time, the smaller computers that are in operation now, in homes all over America, will be replaced, having become obsolete.”

“You mean today’s computers will be replaced by tomorrow’s computers,” Max translated.

“That’s what I said, Max.”

“Then that’s probably where I heard it,” Max nodded.

“Now, just suppose that Number One could be brainwashed,” the Chief continued. “It would mean that all the personal computers she designed in the future would be brainwashed, too. As a matter of fact-”

“Chief-” 99 interrupted. “Did you refer to Number One as ‘she’?”

“Yes, 99. Number One is female.”

99 looked at him doubtfully. “How do you know for sure, Chief?”

“For heaven’s sake, 99,” Max said, “don’t you know yet how to tell the difference between boys and girls? Girls are the ones with the long hair and- Ah. . well, come to think of it, I guess the long hair rule isn’t reliable anymore.” He turned to the Chief. “How do you know that Number One is a female, Chief?”

“Her inventor told us so,” the Chief replied. “But, anyway, that’s not important. The point-”

“Not important!” Max said indignantly. “Maybe it isn’t important to you, but I’ll bet it is to a boy computer.”

“I’ll second that,” Hymie said.

“See?” Max said to the Chief.

“But Chief,” 99 said, “aren’t you worrying about something that couldn’t possibly happen? If Number One is here in Washington-headquarters for the Army, Navy and Marines-she must be under constant guard. And KAOS couldn’t brainwash her without first kidnaping her, could they?”

“Right,” Max said. “You’re just an old worry-wort, Chief.”

“Last night,” the Chief announced, “Number One was abducted.”

“Did anybody think to give her an aspirin?” Max asked.

“Abducted means kidnaped, Max.”

“That’s terrible!” Max said. “Chief, do you realize what could happen? KAOS could brainwash Number One! And from then on, every computer it designed would be brainwashed, too! KAOS would soon be master of the entire civilized world! Why isn’t something being done? Am I the only one who understands how serious this is? Why are we just standing here? Chief! — do something!”

“I had in mind assigning my top secret agents to finding Number One and bringing her back,” the Chief said.

“Smart move,” Max said. “Have you done it yet?”

“Well. . not yet, but-”

“There’s no time to waste,” Max said, hustling the Chief toward the door. “You get those agents on the job! Every second counts. Don’t waste time standing around talking to us. 99 and Hymie and I can wait.” He shoved the Chief out the door, then closed it behind him. “The Chief needs a little push every now and then,” he said, facing back to 99 and Hymie. “I hope he isn’t gone too long, though. I’m anxious to know what our new assignment will be.”

99 went to the door and opened it. The Chief, looking discouraged, re-entered the office, moved back to his desk and sat down. He covered his face with his hands and sighed deeply.

“How’s the search for Number One coming along?” Max asked interestedly.

The Chief’s whole body began to tremble, as if he might be crying.

“Max. .” 99 said, “wouldn’t it be a nice surprise if we were assigned to find Number One?”

“That’s a ver-ry good idea, 99,” Max replied. He addressed the Chief. “Why didn’t you think of that, Chief? Does it make sense to keep 99 and Hymie and me sitting around your office, waiting for some second-rate assignment, when the fate of the entire civilized world is threatened? I hate to say it, Chief, but sometimes you give the impression that you’re just not too well organized.”

The Chief uncovered his face and wiped tears from his cheeks. “May I give you your instructions now, Max?” he asked pleadingly.

“If you’ve finally got yourself organized. . yes, go ahead,” Max replied.

The Chief turned to Hymie. “I want you to be in charge of this case,” he said. “The information-”

“Now. . just. . wait. . a. . minute!” Max broke in. “What do you mean, Hymie will be in charge of the case? I happen to be the senior agent, Chief. According to our union contract, the senior agent is always in charge! Besides. . Hymie is a machine. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends are machines. But a machine takes orders, it doesn’t give orders. Everybody knows that.”

“Tell us again, Max, how it is that you’re wearing golf knickers,” the Chief said.

“Because my computer told me- Let me put it another way, Chief. As I pointed out before, my union contract guarantees me that I will be the agent-in-charge when I have seniority. And if I don’t get what’s coming to me, I’ll pull every Control agent within the sound of my voice out on strike!”

“Max!” the Chief protested. “This is a national emergency! Where is your patriotism?”

“On my back!” Max replied smuggly. “Who else in this room is wearing a red, white and blue pullover?”

“But, Max, I’m only taking orders,” the Chief said. ‘The instructions to put Hymie in charge came straight from the top. It was a direct order from HIM!”

Max’s eyes opened wide. “From HIM?”

“Uncle HIM,” Hymie corrected.

“Well. . if it came from HIM,” Max grumbled. “What HIM wants, HIM gets, I suppose. But I don’t understand his reasoning.”

“He explained that to me,” the Chief said. “It’s his notion that it takes a machine to catch a machine.”

“That’s an old wives’ tale,” Max muttered.

“There’s one other reason,” the Chief said. “It seems that Hymie and Number One used to date.”

Max turned to Hymie. “Is that true?” he asked.

The robot nodded. “We were a ‘thing’ for a while,” he replied. “I’m surprised you didn’t know about it, Max. It was in all the engineering journal gossip columns.”

“Be that as it may,” the Chief said, “orders are orders, and if HIM wants Hymie to be in charge, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m sorry, Max.”

Max shrugged. “To me, it’s irrelevant,” he said. “I’m no prima donna. I can take orders just as well as I can give orders. Success is my only concern. As long as the Good Guys win and the Bad Guys lose, I’m satisfied. Let it never be said that Max Smart is a crybaby or a spoilsport.”

“That’s a wonderful attitude, Max,” the Chief said.

Max turned his back to him.

“Max. .”

“99,” Max said, “will you please tell the Chief I’m no longer speaking to him.”

“Oh, Max, don’t be that way,” 99 begged. “It isn’t the Chief’s fault that Hymie is in charge.”

“He didn’t have to accept HIM’s order,” Max said. “He could have told HIM he’d rather resign than hurt my feelings.”

“I tried that, Max,” the Chief said. “But HIM told me that if I resigned he’d give my job to Hymie. So, I wouldn’t have gained anything, would I?”

Max faced him again. “Anyway, it was a good try, Chief,” he said. “And I forgive you. Now. . what are the instructions?”

“I have to give the instructions to Hymie, Max, not you.”

“Couldn’t you give them to me and I could pass them on? You know how busy Hymie is. He has a lot of responsibility, being in charge of an important case like this.”

The Chief shook his head.

“Well, then. . is it all right if I listen when you give Hymie the instructions?”

“Of course, Max.”

Max addressed Hymie. “Pay attention,” he said, “I have something I want the Chief to tell you.”

“Hymie,” the Chief said, “here are your instructions: find Number One and bring her back.”

“Understood,” Hymie replied.

“Hymie will need a little more than that, Chief,” Max said. “How, for instance, will he identify Number One?”

“Hymie knows,” the Chief replied. “He used to date her-remember?”

“But how will I know?” Max asked. “I’ve never even been introduced to the girl!”

“You’ll have to get that information from the agent-in-charge, Max.”

“I will not!” He turned to 99. “You ask him,” he said.

“Hymie, can you describe Number One for us, please,” she asked.

The robot responded with a shrill wolf whistle.

“To you, maybe, but not to me,” Max said. “Be a little more specific. Is she round? Square? What color are her flashing fights? Protruding knobs? How will we know her when we see her?”

“She’s a flirt, for one thing,” Hymie replied.

“Maybe I can help, Max,” the Chief said. “I know, for one thing, that she’s square.”

“Not according to Hymie,” Max said. “The way he describes her, she’s a swinger.”

“Square,” the Chief insisted, “and about the size of a large refrigerator.”

“She sounds charming,” Max said.

“It’s all put-on,” Hymie said. “At heart, she’s as cold as ice.”

“I’m beginning to get the picture,” Max nodded. “It will be easy to identify her. All we’ll have to do is open her door. If her light goes on-that’s her!”

“The only information I have on the kidnaping, Hymie,” the Chief said, “is that she was taken away in a truck. It isn’t much, but, at least, it’s better than nothing. It’s your case from here on out. So. . hop to it.”

Hymie hippity-hopped toward the door.

“What baffles me is what a nice girl like Number One ever saw in him,” Max said, shaking his head woefully.

2

From Control Headquarters, Hymie, Max and 99 drove toward the secret installation where Number One had been kept before she was computer-napped.

“Let’s see. . I think it’s down this way. .” Max said, turning the wrong way into a one-way street.

“It’s the other way,” Hymie said.

“You may be in charge of this case, but I’m in charge of this car-at least, while I’m driving it,” Max said testily. “And I say it’s this way!”

99 pointed to a dead end. “Max, the street stops up ahead.”

“Well. .” Max said gruffly, “they’ve probably changed the neighborhood since I was here last.” He turned the car around and drove in the other direction. “I don’t know why they don’t put up signs,” he groused. “How is anybody supposed to find a secret installation when they keep its whereabouts a secret!”

“That’s it,” Hymie pointed. “That little locksmith shop with the sign on the door saying, ‘Out to Latch.’ ”

Max parked the car, then he and Hymie and 99 entered the shop. They were met by the director of the secret installation.

“Isn’t this a little dangerous, leaving your door open like that?” Max said. “It’s no wonder Number One was stolen.”

“Our lock is broken,” the director explained. “And we can’t find a locksmith to fix it. They’re all so busy. The soonest appointment we could get was for six months from now.”

“Appointment?” 99 asked.

“You have to take the lock to them, these days,” the director replied. “They don’t make house calls.”

“Just show us where Number One was kept when she was abducted, will you, please?” Max said.

“Max. .” Hymie complained. “I’m supposed to say that.”

“Oh. . yes, sorry.”

“Are you in charge of this case, Hymie?” the director said. “I’m not surprised. I always say, ‘It takes a machine to catch a machine.’ Well, I don’t have to show you to Number One’s quarters-you’ve spent enough time with her. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to work. We have the design for the new model personal computer on the drawing board. Without Number One around, we have to do our own thinking.”

“How is it coming?” Max asked.

“Great. . great,” the director replied. “We only started yesterday and already we’ve got all our pencils sharpened. Today, we’re working on thumb-tacking the drawing paper to the drawing board. It’s quite a challenge.”

When the director departed, Hymie led Max and 99 to a rear room. It was furnished with plastic chairs and decorated with pop art posters.

“You’re right,” Max said to Hymie. “Number One is a bit of a swinger.”

Hymie nodded. “The last time I saw her, she was talking about becoming a hippie.”

“Did she?” 99 asked.

Hymie shook his head. “Her shape was against her. No hips.”

“What baffles me,” Max said, looking around, “is how our people got her in here, and how those KAOS agents got her out. If she’s as big as the Chief said, she wouldn’t fit through the door.”

Hymie walked to a pop art poster that looked like a target and pressed a finger to the bull’s eye. The whole wall raised, leaving a large opening. Beyond the opening was the alley.

Max frowned thoughtfully. “Maybe that’s the way they got her in and out,” he suggested.

“Here are tire tracks,” Hymie said, stepping out into the alley. “They probably backed the truck up to this secret opening, loaded her aboard, and drove her away. I think we ought to follow these tracks.”

“Hymie, those tracks are going to disappear,” Max said. “Tires don’t leave tracks on cement. As soon as the truck left the alley, it ceased to leave a trail.”

“I have extra-sensitive vision, Max,” Hymie replied. “I can see tire tracks even on cement. There are a lot of advantages to being a machine. I have extra-sensitive hearing, too. I can hear a pin drop a mile away.”

“I’m sure that’s very impressive, Hymie,” Max said. “But it’s not the kind of thing you can build a career on. How many openings are there for pin listeners?”

“Hymie. . Max. .” 99 said. “If we’re going to track that truck, shouldn’t we be doing it? Every second is precious.”

They returned to the car and, with Max at the wheel, began following the tire tracks. When they left the alley, the tracks disappeared. But Hymie insisted that they were still visible to him, and he gave directions as Max steered the car through the city.

“I feel very foolish,” Max grumbled. “99. . are people staring at us?”

“Max, they don’t know we’re following invisible tire tracks.”

“But I know,” Max said. “I thought maybe they could read my expression.”

On Hymie’s order, Max turned the car into another alley. A moment later, Hymie commanded him to stop.

“What now?” Max asked.

“See those other tracks?” Hymie said. “They cross the tracks that we’ve been following. I think Number One was transferred to a different truck.”

“Nonsense!” Max said. “Why would they do that? They already had Number One in a truck, it would be foolish to waste a lot of time putting her into another truck. Hymie, the city is full of trucks, coming and going. And with all those trucks moving around, a couple of them are bound to cross paths. Let’s stick with the original tracks.”

“Max, the way I compute it, Number One was transferred to a second truck.”

“Hymie, believe me, computation is no substitute for experience,” Max said. “My superior knowledge of the way KAOS works tells me that Number One remained aboard the first truck. We’ll drive on, following the tracks we were following in the first place.”

“Max. . I’m in charge.”

“All right, be in charge,” Max said, driving on. “But do it my way.”

Hymie began giving directions again, and they soon reached the waterfront area. At the end of a pier, the tire tracks stopped.

“Hymie,” Max said, “did those tire tracks by any chance indicate that we were following a flying truck?”

The robot shook his head. “I computed it as a plain ’ol ordinary truck, Max.”

“Then, obviously, Number One was put aboard a barge or a ship at this point,” Max said.

“I still think she was transferred to another truck back in that other alley,” Hymie insisted.

“Oh, you do, eh?” Max said smugly. “All right, then, Hymie, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll separate. You can follow your silly hunch, and 99 and I will proceed according to my understanding of the intricate and devious ways of KAOS. In other words, you go back to that alley, and 99 and I will go on from here.”

“Max, it’s wet out there,” 99 pointed out.

“Let me handle this, 99. I know what I’m doing.” He turned back to Hymie. “Is that acceptable to you? Are you willing to make a contest of it? Will you pit your intuition against my expertise?”

“If that’s what you want, Max,” Hymie said sadly.

“That’s exactly the way I want it,” Max replied. “You go your way, and we’ll go mine.”

“Max-” 99 began.

“Don’t say it, 99!” Max warned. “I don’t care what you think, you have a duty to be loyal to me. I’m your own kind.”

“All right, Max. . since you put it that way,” 99 sighed.

“You better get a move on if you’re going to track that other truck, Hymie,” Max said. “Go on-shake a leg.”

“Right or left, Max?”

“What I mean is: buzz off!”

Hymie departed, sounding a great deal like a bumble bee.

“What now, Max?” 99 asked.

“My guess is that Number One is out there in the harbor somewhere, 99,” Max replied. “She’s probably aboard a sea-going laboratory that’s disguised as a barge. If I were KAOS, that’s the way I’d do it.”

99 looked out into the harbor. “Max, there are a lot of barges out there. What are we going to do, go from one to the other?”

“That would take too much time, 99. We’re going to get a look at them from the air.”

From the pier, Max and 99 drove to the secret Control airport and signed out a helicopter, then flew back to the harbor area and began examining the barges from the air.

“There it is!” Max cried victoriously. “See that great big barge with that single crate on its deck! That barge has KAOS written all over it!”

“That says ‘Miss Madison Avenue,’ Max.”

“What I mean is, 99, why such a big barge to carry just one crate? And the answer is: below deck, there’s a laboratory, and it’s swarming with KAOS scientists who intend to brainwash Number One. We’re lucky we found her before they could get her uncrated.”

“Well, maybe, Max,” 99 said doubtfully. “What do we do now? Fly back to the airport and call the Coast Guard and have them board that barge?”

“99, time is precious-you said that yourself,” Max replied. “I’m going down there and make sure that that’s Number One in that crate, then, when I verify that it is, I’ll take over the barge and force the crew to return to the pier.”

“We could radio to the Coast Guard, Max.”

“And let them get all the glory? 99, this is very important to me. I have to prove to the Chief that I’m better qualified to handle this case than Hymie is. Do you think I want to play second fiddle to a collection of nuts and bolts and transformers the rest of my life?”

“All right, Max. . I understand.”

99 took over the controls of the helicopter, then descended and hovered over the deck of the barge, and Max lowered himself by a rope. A few moments later, he dropped to the deck.

From the bridge of the barge came a shout. “Hey, you! What’re you doing there!”

Max raced along the deck to the crate and put his ear to it. He heard a ticking sound. “Don’t worry, Number One,” he said. This is Max Smart speaking. I’m a Control agent. I’ll have you out of there and back with your pop art posters in no time at all. All I have to do is take command of this barge.”

“Get away from that crate!” a voice called.

Turning, Max saw a number of seamen running toward him, led by the barge captain.

“Very clever-disguising yourselves as a captain and ordinary seamen,” Max replied. “Just what I’d expect.”

“Will you get away from that crate!” the captain said angrily.

“In a pig’s eye, I will!” Max snarled.

“Get ’im!” the captain commanded.

The seamen rushed at Max. He dropped one with a karate chop, another with a right to the jaw, a third with a left to the belly, and another with a kick to the head. But the fifth seaman tackled him, bringing him down. The others, having recovered, piled on top of Max. He struggled out from beneath them. They jumped up and attacked again. Max dropped three of them with one karate blow. The fourth leaped on his back. Max ducked down, hurling him through the air, and he hit the fifth seaman, knocking him off his feet. But by then the other three had regained their feet and were closing in on Max. He hit them with a body check, upending them again, then ran toward the bridge. As he was climbing a ladder, two of the seamen caught up with him and dragged him down. Max kicked-one fell. He swung a roundhouse-another dropped. Again, Max started up the ladder. But his foot missed the bottom rung, and, losing his balance, he fell backwards and struck his head on the deck. Groggily, Max struggled to his feet. The whole crew was charging at him again. Dizzy, he knew he would not be able to handle them. Making a command decision, deciding that it would be better to destroy Number One than let her remain in the hands of KAOS, he got a grenade from his pocket, pulled the cap, then hurled it in the direction of the crate.

The explosion shook the whole barge.

The captain and the crew halted in their tracks.

“I suppose you probably had a reason for doing that,” the captain said sadly.

“I did it in the name of Good,” Max replied. “For Good to triumph over Evil, sometimes it’s necessary to blow things up.”

“I knew you’d have a reason,” the captain said philosophically. “A man doesn’t go around blowing up barges without a reason.”

A wristwatch fell at Max’s feet. He looked up. The sky seemed to be filled with falling wristwatches.

“Crazy weather we’re having,” Max commented to the captain.

“Oh?”

“It’s raining wristwatches,” Max pointed out.

“I’m not altogether surprised,” the captain said. “You blow up a crate full of five-hundred-thousand wristwatches and you’re bound to get a little fallout.”

Max peered at him interestedly. “Would you object to answering a few personal questions?” he asked.

“What have I got to lose?”

“Now, think this over carefully before you answer,” Max said. “Is there any connection between this barge and KAOS?”

“There wasn’t until a few minutes ago,” the captain replied. He looked up at the falling wristwatches. “Now, all is chaos.”

“I’m referring to the super secret organization that is dedicated to the establishment of evil as a way of life,” Max said.

“Oh. . that,” the Captain nodded. “Yes, I was hired by an advertising agency.”

Max shook his head. “I don’t think you understand. Answer me this: was that a giant computer inside that crate, or, as your earlier comment leads me to believe, was the crate full of wristwatches?”

“Five-hundred-thousand tick-tocks,” the captain replied.

“That’s very interesting,” Max said. “If all you had in the crate was wristwatches, why did you get so excited when I boarded your barge?”

“We were on a secret mission,” the captain explained.

“Aha!”

“For the advertising agency,” the captain went on.

“Oh. Ahh. . could you explain that, please?”

“Well, I suppose you’ve seen that television commercial where a wristwatch is strapped to the propeller of a motorboat motor, and then the motor is turned on, and then when it’s turned off again, the wristwatch is still ticking. That sells a lot of watches.”

“I’ve seen it,” Max replied. “But what’s this about a secret mission?”

“Those commercials are done in secret,” the captain explained. “It’s not good to have a big crowd around. I was delivering those watches to Niagara Falls. The next test was to drop a watch over the Falls in a barrel.”

“But five-hundred-thousand?” Max said.

“Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time,” the captain explained.

“But five-hundred-thousand?”

“Sometimes it doesn’t work the second time, either,” the captain said. “In fact, sometimes you have to try it four-hundred-and-ninety-nine-thousand-nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine times before you find a watch that will come through the test and keep ticking.”

“That makes a lot of sense,” Max nodded. He looked down. “Well, anyway, the weather has taken a turn for the better. It’s raining rain now.”

The captain looked down, too. Water was washing over the deck. It was shoetop high. “The barge is sinking,” he said.

Max looked up. The sky was clear-except for a helicopter. “You may be right about that,” he admitted.

“You blew a hole in it,” the captain said. “You blow a hole in a barge and you’re bound to get a little sinking.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Max said. “But, you must remember, my intentions were good. That ought to count for something. Actually, since I did what I did in the interests of the civilized world, and since you’re a citizen of that world, you really ought to thank me.”

“I find that hard to do,” the captain said, noting that the water had risen to knee-level.

“I’m used to it,” Max shrugged. “It’s very rare when the people appreciate what their public servants do for them. We’re taken for granted.” He waved to the helicopter, and it began descending toward the deck. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you now,” he said to the captain. “The civilized world’s work is never done.”

“You’ve got somebody else’s barge to blow up?”

“That’s not at all kindly of you,” Max said, hurt, reaching for the rope that was dangling above him.

“For you, I have one word,” the captain said.

“Yes?” Max asked, pulling himself up the rope.

“Glubble, glubble, glubble!” the captain said.

Max looked down, intending to request an explanation. But there was no need to-he understood. The captain had disappeared below the surface of the water. “Anyway,” Max said to himself, “glubble, glubble, glubble is three words. Some people never know when to stop.”

A few seconds later, Max climbed back into the helicopter.

“Max! I saw what happened!” 99 said. “And I’m sure you did the right thing. Since you couldn’t rescue Number One, the only thing you could do was destroy her!”

“There were a few little details you may have missed, being up here out of hearing range, 99,” Max said. “But there’s no point in discussing it further. Let’s just say that the mission fell a bit short of total success and let it go at that.”

“That was Number One in the crate, wasn’t it, Max?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then-”

“99, remember what you said? About time being precious? Let’s not waste it, shall we?”

“All right, Max.” She held out her arm. “How do you like my new wristwatch?”

“New? You mean-”

“I had a window open and it rained in,” 99 explained.

“I don’t want to hear any more about it, 99,” Max said gruffly. “Drive on!”

Max and 99 began circling the harbor again, still looking for a barge that might belong to KAOS.

“All I see are garbage scows, Max.”

“99, I am positive-”

He was interrupted by a ringing sound.

Max picked up the air-to-shore phone. “Yes?” he said, speaking into the transmitter.

“Control’s secret airport. Shhhh!” a voice replied.

“Don’t shhhh! me; I didn’t call you, you called me,” Max said.

The ringing was heard again.

“How could I call you? I don’t even know who you are,” the voice said.

“Max-” 99 said.

“Just a second, 99. I’ve got a smart-aleck on the line.” He spoke into the transmitter again. “If you don’t know who I am, then I don’t know who you are, either,” he said. “How do you like that!”

The ringing continued.

“Max, it’s not the air-to-shore phone, it’s your shoe,” 99 said.

“Oh.”

Max hung up, then took off his shoe.

Max: Agent 86 here. Is that you, Chief?

Chief: Max! Where are you? I just got a call from Hymie and he told me you’d gone off on a wild goose chase!

Max: That just goes to show how much he knows about it, Chief. It was a wild barge chase. Right now, 99 and I are directly over the harbor.

Chief: Max, get out of there. Our weather section tells me there’s some strange activity going on in that area. You won’t believe it, but they tell it’s been-

Max: I know. . raining wristwatches.

Chief: Then it’s true? You saw it?

Max: We not only saw it, Chief, but 99 had the presence of mind to leave a window open. I’m saving a 17-jewel, self-winding, water-proofer for you.

Operator: And what do you have in your old kit bag for a devoted fan, Maxie?

Max: Operator, for you, I have one word: glubble, glubble, glubble.

Operator (wildly): This means war!

Chief: Operator, will you get off the line, please. This is official business.

Operator: He started it, Chief! You heard him: glubble, glubble, glubble!

Chief: He probably meant it as a compliment. Max. . are you still there? I want to know what you’re doing over the harbor when you’re supposed to be with Hymie. I told you to follow his orders. Yet, he tells me that you insisted on following some silly hunch of your own.

Max: Hymie is a little mixed up, Chief. He’s the one who insisted on following a silly hunch. I was motivated by my know-how and my many years of experience. And I think it’s unfair of you to make a judgment before all the votes are in. The proof of the pudding will be when Number One is found. Where was Hymie calling from?

Chief: From the Krunchy Knutt Candy Company.

Max: There you are, Chief. It’s Hymie who’s chasing wild geese. Considering the fact that Number One was loaded onto a barge and taken out to sea, isn’t it a little ridiculous for Hymie to be hanging around a candy factory? What was his excuse?

Chief: He’s found Number One.

Max (somewhat subdued): In a candy factory?

Chief: That’s right, Max.

Max (suspiciously): With or without almonds?

Operator: Boy, if this is going to be a war of brains, I can hire the hall for my victory celebration right now.

Max: Chief, answer me this: has Hymie actually made contact with Number One?

Chief: No, not exactly. He’s waiting for you and 99. But he knows she’s in there. He heard her ticking.

Max: Mmmmm. . heard her ticking, eh? Take my word for it, Chief, that’s not too reliable. He might have been hearing five-hundred-thousand wristwatches.

Chief: Max, that’s ridiculous. I want you and 99 to join Hymie at the Krunchy Knutt Candy factory as quickly as possible. And Max. . on the way. . don’t do any thinking for yourself. Just follow orders!

Max: All right, all right-blow the case! See if I care!

Max hung up, then told 99 what he had learned from the Chief.

“A candy factory?” she said. “Then KAOS must have transferred Number One to that other truck. Apparently, Hymie was right.”

“I’d expect that from somebody like that telephone operator,” Max said, wounded, turning the helicopter back toward the airport. “But I thought you’d be loyal to me, 99. As I mentioned before, you’re my own kind.”

“Isn’t the telephone operator, Max?”

“In this day and age? She’s automated. She’s probably nuts and bolts and transformers, just like Hymie.”

“Still, Max, the fact remains: Hymie was right, and you were wrong.”

“Or so it seems,” Max said huffily.

“What do you mean, Max?”

“Hymie heard a ticking. That could be anything. He could have been listening to a clock.”

“Well. .”

“Or a mattress.”

“A mattress, Max?”

“A mattress has ticking, 99. A mattress is full of ticking.”

“But in a candy factory?”

“You’re right-it was probably a clock he heard.”

“Max, try to be nice to Hymie,” 99 said. “It isn’t his fault that he’s in charge of this case. He didn’t ask for it. You can’t even blame the Chief. It was HIM’s idea. Be big about it, Max. Nobody likes a sorehead.”

“Who’s a sorehead?” Max protested. “I just happen to be better qualified to be in charge, that’s all. Hymie is only a machine. I happen to be a human being, and human intelligence is superior to machine intelligence. That’s a known fact, that’s all.”

“Max. . why are we flying around in circles?”

“Because somebody moved the airport,” Max replied. “I can’t find it.”

“Use the air-to-shore telephone. Ask for directions.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Max replied. “I’ll just switch to the automatic pilot. It’ll take us straight home.”

99 smiled. “You mean you, a human, are going to depend on a machine, Max?”

“Right. And it proves my point.”

“How, Max?”

“Without an intelligent human being around to turn it on, that automatic pilot wouldn’t be worth the nuts and bolts and transformers it’s made of,” Max explained.

3

As soon as the helicopter had delivered Max and 99 safely to the Control secret airport, they got back into Max’s car and drove toward the industrial district, where the Krunchy Knutt Candy factory was located. They left the car about a block from the site, then proceeded on foot.

“The Chief wasn’t very specific about where we’ll find Hymie,” Max complained. “I hope we don’t have to make an intensive search for him. Robots aren’t like humans, they don’t have a natural sense of direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were lost.”

“Max. . when are we going to reach the factory?” 99 asked.

“Very soon. We left the car only a block away.”

“We’ve walked three blocks already, Max.”

Max halted, wet a finger, held it in the air, then said, “Mmmmm. . by some quirk of circumstance, 99, we’ve been walking in the wrong direction. The candy factory is back the other way.”

They turned and began retracing their steps. Four blocks later, they reached the factory. Hymie was standing near the entrance with an ear pressed to the building. Max and 99 hurried up to him.

“Why aren’t you in hiding!” Max scolded. “If this is a KAOS secret installation-which I doubt-they’ll spot you as a Control agent. Who else would go around listening to bricks?”

“They might think I’m an exterminator, listening for termites,” Hymie said.

“Ridiculous. But, I don’t suppose it really matters. My knowledge of the KAOS mind tells me they’d never pick a place like a candy factory as a hideout.”

“Number One is in there,” Hymie insisted. He put his ear to the building again. “Listen. .”

Max hesitated a moment, then shrugged and placed his own ear against the bricks. He listened intently, frowning. “I do hear something,” he said, surprised. “It’s a sort of crunching sound.”

“That’s the termites,” Hymie informed him. “They’re not used to bricks.”

Max nodded. “And I think they’re chewing with their mouths open, too.”

“It’s that other sound I’m talking about,” Hymie said. “Hear it?”

“No,” Max replied, taking his ear from the building.

“But Hymie has super-sensitive hearing, remember, Max,” 99 said. She turned to Hymie. “What does it sound like?” she asked.

“Ticking,” Hymie replied. “I’m ashamed to say, she’s ticking along happily. It doesn’t bother her a bit that she’s been computer-napped by KAOS. It won’t bother her when she’s brainwashed, either. Keep her in oil, and she’ll work for anybody.”

“This is preposterous!” Max said to 99. “He’s talking about that machine as if she were a human. I don’t even believe she’s in there. If you ask me, Hymie is overdue for a spring check-up.”

“Hymie,” 99 asked, “what brought you here to this candy factory in the first place?”

“The tire tracks,” Hymie replied. “I followed them, and they led me straight here. Then I listened at the wall and heard Number One ticking.”

“All right, all right,” Max said. “The only thing to do is go in there and search the place and show him that he’s wrong. You can’t reason with a machine. A machine has a one-gear mind.”

“Max,” Hymie said, “I have twenty-six gears just running the main gear that runs all the secondary gears.”

“All right,” Max replied, “put yourself in gear and let’s go in there and prove to you that you’re wrong.”

They entered the factory and found themselves in a large, lavishly-decorated reception area. At the far end there was a huge desk, with an attractive blonde seated behind it.

“She’s either the receptionist or the chairman-of-the-board,” Max said, leading on.

As they neared the desk, the young lady waggled her fingers amiably at Hymie. “Hi, cutie!” she smiled. “Hear any termites?”

“As a matter of fact-” Hymie began.

But Max interrupted. “As a matter of fact,” he broke in, “we exterminators haven’t quite finished our inspection of the premises yet, Miss. We like to examine a building both from the outside and the inside.”

“That makes a lot of sense,” the receptionist said.

Max whispered to 99. “You can tell a dumb blonde anything,” he said. “Now watch this.” Speaking in a normal tone, he addressed the young lady again. “It will be necessary for us to examine every square inch of the building,” he said. “And when I say every square inch, I mean all the nooks and crannies and all the secret tuck-away places where a computer the size of a refrigerator might conceivably be hidden.”

The young lady sighed. “Boy, what a dumb secret agent,” she said. She got a pistol from a drawer of the desk and pointed it at Max. “I knew you weren’t exterminators,” she said. “Only Control agents would go around listening to bricks.”

“See! — what did I tell you?” Max said to Hymie. “Now look what you’ve got us into!”

Holding the gun on them, the blonde marched them through a secret opening in the wall behind her desk, then into the factory area. Giant machines were humming away, turning out candy bars by the hundreds.

“Say. . this is interesting,” Max said. “I’ll bet you make a nice little profit on a secret installation like this.”

“Profits were up seventeen per cent last year,” the blonde replied. “We had a hot item-the Fudgy-Nut Bar.”

“I saw your television commercials,” Max said. “Very good. My favorite was where the little kid got his Fudgy-Nut Bar stuck in his father’s hairpiece. I like the humorous approach.”

“That was a tragedy,” the blonde said.

“Well. . for the father, I suppose. But-”

“No, no, I think you missed the nuances,” the blonde said. “You see, several years earlier, the boy’s mother was kidnaped by a protoplasm from outer space. As the commercial opened, the father was dandying himself up to visit a go-go dancer he’d been courting. Now, the boy did not want a go-go dancer for a stepmother. So, flashing code signals with a laser beam, he’d contacted the protoplasm and asked for his mother back. The protoplasm was completely willing to return her-in the first place, it’d thought it was getting a sample of hybrid seed corn, and, in the second place, the mother had turned out to be a regular shrew. The only problem was, the protoplasm could return to earth only at a certain time. And by then, the father would be gone, calling on the go-go dancer to ask her to become his second wife. So, somehow, the boy had to keep his father at home until the protoplasm appeared, returning the mother. Consequently-”

“I understand,” Max said. “He stuck his Fudgy-Nut Bar in his father’s hairpiece. What I don’t understand is why the kid didn’t just tell his father that the protoplasm was bringing back the mother?”

“That way, what reasonable reason would we have had to work the product into the story line?”

Max nodded. “That explains a lot,” he said. “You’re right-it was a tragedy. I’m sorry I laughed.”

A few yards on, they were met by two short chubby, well-dressed men, who were wearing derbies, chewing short, stubby cigars, and standing near a number of in-ground vats. Max looked into the nearest vat and discovered that it was bubbling with dark chocolate syrup.

“They finally got here,” the blonde said to the men.

“What kept you?” one of the men asked Max. “We left a trail that anybody with any brains could have followed with his eyes closed.”

“He’s dumb,” the blonde explained.

“Now, let me get this straight,” Max said to the man. “You wanted us to follow your trail?”

“I thought of it,” the other man said.

“Maybe we better introduce ourselves,” the first man said. “I’m Melvin Means, and this-” He indicated the second man. “-is Wayne Ways.”

“Got it,” Max nodded. “Means and Ways. But that doesn’t explain why you wanted us to follow your trail.”

“We knew a team of Control agents would be sent to follow us,” Ways explained. “And, things being what they are-with all this slanting, so that the Good Guys always catch up to the Bad Guys-we knew that, in time, you’d find us. Then, we’d eliminate you. So, knowing how it was going to turn out-why wait? We let you find us, now we’ll eliminate you, then we won’t be bothered with you anymore. Efficiency!”

“A very good plan,” Max said. “I like it. Except, of course, for the part about eliminating us.”

“That’s my department,” Means said. “And we have the means right here at hand.”

“Efficiency,” Ways repeated.

“I can see only one hitch,” Max said. “What you probably didn’t realize is that no Control team ever leaves on an assignment like this without a second team to back it up. At this very minute, this factory is probably surrounded by from fifty-to-one-hundred Control agents, all armed to the teeth with machine guns, shivs, grenades, and land-to-air communications systems.”

“Land to air. .”

“For calling in an air strike,” Max explained.

Ways frowned. “You said ‘probably’ surrounded. Aren’t you sure?”

“Little mix-ups do happen,” Max replied. “They may have been delayed. You know how traffic is at this time of day.”

“Fifty-to-one-hundred agents?” Means shot back. “Aren’t you sure about the number?”

“Well. . it depends a lot on how many men were hanging around the ready room with nothing else in particular to do.”

“With machine guns, shivs and grenades?” Ways asked.

“Listen,” Max said irritably, “did I question it when you came up with that wildy about a protoplasm kidnaping some kid’s mother!”

The blonde rolled her eye ceilingward. “Dumb!”

“Go out and look around,” Ways said to the young lady. “If you see any Control agents-give us a whistle. They’ll be easy to spot. They’ll be the ones listening to the bricks.”

The blonde hurried off.

“Since we have a few minutes to kill,” Max said to Wayne Ways, “would you answer a question for me? Is Number One really here?”

“Didn’t you hear her?” Ways replied. “We turned her up to ‘High’ so you’d hear the ticking.”

“You know, you’ll never get away with this,” Max said. “Number One is very loyal. She’ll never allow you to brainwash her.”

“You’re wrong,” Wayne replied. “We told her what we plan to do, and the only thing she said was: how much oil is in it for me?”

The blonde returned. “All clear,” she reported.

“Then we’ll just have to wait,” Max said. “I told you they probably got caught in traffic.”

“Tell him how we’re going to eliminate them,” Ways said to Means. “That’ll pique his interest.”

“It is kind of cute-even if I did think it up,” Means said, blushing slightly. “The thing is, it’s got kind of a new angle. There’s plain ol’ ordinary drowning, you know. And there’s common ol’ everyday headchopping. And there’s- But this has got a certain. . well, a certain ‘something’. . the touch of the artist, or something like that.”

“It’s got a theme,” Ways said.

“Right-a theme,” Means agreed. “The theme is: a man-and that includes the ladies, too-a man should die the way he’s lived. Get it?”

“Is ‘get it?’ a part of the theme, or was that a question?” Max asked.

“A question.”

Max shook his head. “I don’t get it.”

“I think I do, Max,” 99 said. “The point is, some men-including the ladies-live bravely, and some live cowardly, and some live inspiringly, and so forth and so on. And Mr. Means believes that a man-including the ladies-should die in the same manner. I think it’s sort of sweet.”

“Wonderful!” Means beamed. “Because that, dear lady, is how you are going to die. In a ‘sweet’ way. We’re going to drown you in this vat of sweet chocolate.”

“Oh, sure-I get it!” Max said brightening. “Sweets for the sweet! That’s very appropriate. Let’s see now,” he mused, “what could you have picked out for me? Something appropriate. .”

“We’ll feed you to the nut chopper,” Means said.

“I get it-in recognition of my sharp mind,” Max nodded. He indicated Hymie. “What about him?”

“Since he’s a machine-” Means began.

But he was interrupted. Max had been edging closer and closer to the blonde. All of a sudden, he reached out and snatched the pistol from her hand. But he did not get a good grip on it and it slipped from his fingers and clattered to the floor. Everybody-Max, the blonde, Hymie, 99, and Means and Ways-leaped for it. The toe of Max’s shoe reached it first, kicking it into the vat of chocolate.

“Boy, some kid is going to get a surprise when he bites into his Fudgy-Nut bar,” Max said, drawing his own pistol.

“We’ve just changed the name of the bar to the Fudgy-Nut Surprise,” Ways replied, drawing his pistol, too.

Max fired at Ways. The bullet struck Ways’ gun, knocking it from his hand, then ricocheted, hit a boiler, ricocheted again, and struck Max’s gun, knocking it from his hand. Everybody leaped for the two pistols. In the scramble, both guns were knocked into the vat of chocolate.

Melvin Means was the first to get free. He drew his gun.

“Everybody up!” Means commanded. “Them that’s with me, over here! Them that’s with him, over there!”

But at that moment, Max charged out of the pile-up and hit Means with a powerful block. Means went sprawling backwards-and the pistol went flying. Max jumped up and made a one-hand catch, just before the gun could fall into the vat of chocolate.

He leveled the gun at Means, Ways and the blonde. “All of you, over there!” he ordered. Then he addressed 99 and Hymie. “And all of you, over here-behind me,” he commanded.

Max heard two plops. He looked around. Behind him was the vat of chocolate. 99’s and Hymie’s heads were just bobbing back to the surface. They were chocolate-coated.

Appalled, Max bent down to reach a hand to them. He heard running behind him, and the next moment he went diving into the vat of chocolate. When he pushed himself to the surface, he was between 99 and Hymie-chocolate-coated-and Means and Ways and the blonde were standing at the edge of the vat looking pleased.

“It’s not perfect, but it’ll get the job done,” Means said. “They can’t climb out. And how long can you swim in a vat of chocolate?”

“You may think this is working out for you right now,” Max warned, “but just wait’ll you start getting complaints from people who find bones in their Fudgy-Nut Bars. You’re going to have a lot of explaining to do!”

“Dumb!” the blonde groaned.

Assuming that Max, 99 and Hymie would soon drown, Means and Ways and the blonde departed.

“Max, this is terrible!” 99 said.

“Oh. . I don’t know, 99,” Max replied. “Look on the bright side. Before long, we-or, parts of us, anyway-may be appearing in a Fudgy-Nut television commercial. That’s something.”

“Max, that isn’t what I want out of life,” 99 fretted. “What are we going to do?”

“How should I know?” Max asked. “Ask Hymie. He’s the agent-in-charge. He got us into this, let him get us out.”

“Max, it wasn’t Hymie’s-”

“99,” Max interrupted, “the agent-in-charge must assume full responsibility. If I were in charge, I’d be glad to take the blame for this. And I expect Hymie to do the same.”

“If it’s my responsibility to get us out,” Hymie said, “will you do what I tell you?”

“And wind up in the vat of butterscotch?” Max replied, sarcastically. “Considering, Hymie, I don’t know how you have the gall to ask us to trust you again. But-” He shrugged. “-how could you do any worse than this? All right-what do you want us to do?”

“I’m going down to the bottom of the vat,” Hymie replied. “When you see bubbles appear, that’s the signal. Max, you stand on my shoulders.”

“I appreciate the gesture, Hymie,” Max said. “But forget it. It’s too late. . I no longer have the desire to appear taller.”

“No, Max-”

“You go ahead, Hymie,” 99 said. “I’ll explain it to him.”

Hymie dived toward the bottom of the vat. A few moments later, bubbles appeared on the surface of the chocolate.

“Now, Max, you stand on Hymie’s shoulders,” 99 said.

“All right. . but I’m going to feel silly. When you’re drowning in chocolate, it’s a little late to start working up an act for the Ed Sullivan Show.”

“Are you on his shoulders, Max?”

“Yes, 99, but- 99! What are you doing?”

“I’m climbing up on your shoulders, Max.”

“Hey. . you know! Ed Sullivan might be interested in this at that-if we kept the vat of chocolate in the act, that is.”

From Max’s shoulders, 99 could reach the rim of the vat. She got hold of it, then, dripping chocolate, climbed out. Next, she reached a hand to Max and pulled him out. Then 99 and Max helped Hymie out of the vat.

“You’re very fortunate, Hymie,” Max said. “If you’d told me your plan before you tried it, I think I could have proved to you that it couldn’t work. Let that be a lesson to you.”

“Max, are you going to let Hymie be in charge now?” 99 asked.

“I have nothing to do with it, 99. The Chief put him in charge, so that’s it-he’s in charge. However, I would like to point out once more that if I had been in charge we would never have fallen into that vat in the first place. Let me tell you how I’d have handled the situation. Now, you see. . Means and Ways and that blonde were over there. . and you and Hymie were over here. In other words, you were partly in my line of fire. So, I had to get you behind-99. . Hymie. . behind me, please. I can’t show you how I would have handled the situation if you won’t cooperate. That’s right. . behind me. Now. . the minute I had you out of the-”

Max had the feeling that he was talking to himself. He turned and found that 99 and Hymie were no longer behind him.

“Where the-”

“Max! Help!”

Max looked up. He saw 99 and Hymie riding a conveyor belt that was taking them toward the ceiling of the factory, where the belt then dumped its contents into a funnel-like container.

“I’m coming!” Max cried, scrambling up the conveyor belt.

“Max!” 99 wailed when he reached them. “You should have stopped the machine!”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Max grumbled. “You called for help. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m here to help. Anyway,” he said crossly, “how did you get into a predicament like this?”

“You made us get behind you, Max. And behind you was the conveyor belt.”

Max nodded gloomily. “Put a robot in charge and you can expect anything. When the Chief-”

At that moment, they were dumped into the funnel. The funnel was filled with a sticky liquid that was slowly being fed into another vat. As Hymie, who was first in line, was squeezed through the narrow end of the funnel, he got a hold on the rim of the second vat, pulled himself up to a walkway, then caught and rescued 99 and Max as they were extruded.

“That was close,” Max said. “Look, my arms are stuck to my side.”

His arms suddenly came unstuck and flew out. The left arm hit 99 and the right arm hit Hymie. They tumbled backwards off the walkway and landed on another conveyor belt.

“I’m coming-don’t yell!” Max called, leaping onto the belt.

“Up ahead!” 99 cried, as Max landed. “We’re being fed into the nut chopper!”

“Too bad old Means isn’t here to see this,” Max commented.

Hymie, still first in line, was drawn into the chopper. Fortunately, Hymie was made of the finest steel. The blades of the chopper hit him-and shattered. Max and 99 then passed through the chopper mechanism without a scratch.

“Well, that certainly made up for all those other bloopers you’ve made, Hymie,” Max said. “I think we’ve discovered where your true talent lies. You aren’t cut out to be a leader, you were born to be fed into nut choppers. I just hope you’ll remember your place from now-”

“Max! What’s that!” 99 cried.

Max peered carefully at the machine into which the conveyor belt was carrying them. “I’m not an expert on candy-making machinery, 99,” he said. “But, offhand, I’d say that’s a-”

One after the other, Hymie, 99 and Max disappeared into the machine. A moment later they emerged, dumped one on top of the other into a large basket. They were neatly sealed in Fudgy-Nut wrappers.

“-packaging machine,” Max said, completing his statement.

“Max! Where are you? It’s dark in here! I can’t see a thing!”

“Unfold yourself at the end!” Max called back.

There was a jangling sound.

“Your shoe is ringing!” 99 said.

“I’ll bet that’s the first time anybody ever said that to a Fudgy-Nut Bar,” Max commented, breaking out of his wrapper.

99 and Hymie had also freed themselves.

“Max. . your phone,” 99 said.

Max removed his shoe and spoke into the sole.

Max: I’m chewy and I’m crunchy and if you buy me and take me home I’ll please your sweet tooth-who am I?

Operator: You’re Max Smart and you’re loaded.

Chief: Max? For heaven’s sake, is that you? What’s all that prattle about a sweet tooth?

Operator: He’s been hitting the dandelion wine again, Chief.

Max: That’s not so, Chief. The fact is, if you could see me now, you’d swear I was a dead ringer for a Fudgy-Nut Bar. See what happens when you put Hymie in charge? Not only did he let Means and Ways get away with Number One, but he very nearly got himself and 99 and me displayed on candy counters all over America.

Chief: Max, what are you talking about? What Ways and Means?

Max: Means and Ways, Chief. They’re two little dumpy KAOS agents who wear derby hats and operate a candy factory at a very nice profit-up seventeen per cent last year.

Chief: I see. And this Ways and Means, as I understand it, they got away from you?

Max: Means and Ways, Chief. The way you say it-Ways and Means-it sounds funny. Yes, thanks to our fearless but stupid leader, they got away. And it’s my guess that they took Number One with them. We’ll probably never find her now. You might mention that to HIM the next time you’re talking to him.

Chief: Max, let me talk to Hymie.

Max: Hymie who, Chief?

Chief: You know who I mean, Max. Put him on!

Max: Chief, I have a suggestion. Wouldn’t it be better to put me in charge of the case? I could send Hymie back to headquarters and you could talk to him personally. A lot of misunderstandings result from poor communications, Chief. There might be static on the line, and Hymie might not understand what you were telling him.

Chief: Max!

Max handed his shoe to Hymie. “This may be a party line,” he said. “Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want your nearest and dearest friend to overhear.”

Hymie took over the phone, and, at the Chief’s insistence, began explaining what had gone wrong-and why.

“That’s the trouble with machines,” Max grumbled to 99. “Ask a straight question and you get a straight answer.”

“He took an oath to tell the Chief the truth, Max,” 99 said.

“I took that same oath, 99. But I had sense enough to cross my fingers when I took it. See? There’s further proof of the superiority of the human. A machine doesn’t think far enough ahead to cross its fingers when it’s taking an oath.”

Hymie handed the shoe back to Max. “He wants to talk to you again,” he said.

Max: This is a recorded announcement: Your party has been called away on business. If you would care to leave a message, please begin recording at the sound of the beep.

Operator: It’s him! It’s him, Chief! That recorded announcement is as phony as a ten-cent circuit-breaker!

Max: It takes one to know one!

Chief: Max! Stop it! All I want to say is that I understand why you feel so badly about Hymie being in charge of the case. I can put myself in your shoes. I know how I’d feel if HIM put you in charge of Control. I’d kill myself. But, Max, we must follow orders. So, please. . please, Max. . try not to do any thinking for yourself. Let Hymie make the decisions. All right?

(Silence)

Chief: Max! Are you there? Max, when I said I’d kill myself, I didn’t mean-

Max: Don’t get excited, Chief. I was just thinking.

Chief: Max, I told you to stop that.

Max: Oh. . not about the case exactly, Chief. I was just wondering. . when I said I was chewy and crunchy, didn’t that even give you a faint idea who I was?

(Silence)

Max: Chief? Chief? Are you there?

(Silence)

Max: Chief? Operator? Somebody?

(Silence)

Max put his shoe back on.

“What happened, Max?” 99 asked.

“The telephone workers must have suddenly gone on strike,” Max said. “We were cut off.”

4

Max, 99 and Hymie went to their respective apartments, got out of the sticky chocolate into some dry clothes, and then, after rendezvousing at Max’s, returned to the candy factory to look for some clue that might allow them to pick up the trail of Ways, Means and Number One.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Number One is still here in the candy factory,” Max said, speaking to 99, but making sure he could be overheard by Hymie. “But, if Hymie, our beloved brother agent, who is in charge of the case, wants me to look for evidence that she’s been taken away, then that’s what I’ll do. Mine is not to reason why, mine is but to do or die. Discipline is very important in secret agent work. Somebody has to be in charge, and somebody has to be the leader, and all the rest have to be the followers. It isn’t important that the followers might have more experience and-”

“Max. . please,” 99 said wearily.

“Am I running it into the ground, 99?”

“Yes, Max.”

“Well, it’s good to get resentments out of your system, you know, 99. If I kept it inside me, all bottled up, I might, in time, become a bitter old man.”

“Max, if I have to listen to much more, I suspect that, sooner than that, I’m going to become a bitter old woman.”

“Sorry, 99.”

“That’s all right, Max. Just-”

At that moment, Hymie called to them. He was holding a scrap of computer tape. “I think I found something,” he said. He showed the tape to Max and 99. On it was printed the letters: AU.

“You certainly did find something,” Max said. “Now throw it away, Hymie, and let’s keep looking for clues.”

“But I think this is a clue,” Hymie said. “My guess is that while Number One was being taken away she was thinking to herself-for want of something to do-and this is what she was thinking.”

“Au?” Max replied. “That’s thinking? I doubt it very much, Hymie. Maybe Means and Ways were feeding her information too fast and she was gagging.”

“No,” Hymie said. “Au means-”

“Or maybe one of them was standing on her foot,” Max suggested.

“Max, Number One doesn’t have a foot. I’m sure this is what she had on her mind. It’s like her. She probably overheard Ways and Means say where they were going to take her and she was mulling it over. She plays a little game sometimes when she’s bored. The word association game.”

“What place could she possibly associate with Au?” Max asked.

“Fort Knox,” Hymie replied.

Max snickered. “Did you get that, 99? Hymie thinks Number One associated Au with Fort Knox.”

“He might very well be right, Max,” 99 replied. “Au is the symbol for gold, you know. And gold and Fort Knox sure are a good match.”

“Oh,” Max said. “Well, of course, I knew all along that Au is the symbol for gold. But, Fort Knox? That may have been a good match a few decades ago, but today, when you ask yourself, ‘where’s the money,’ the answer is not Fort Knox. It’s Las Vegas.”

99 thought for a second. “You might be right, Max,” she decided.

“I think of Fort Knox,” Hymie said.

“All that proves is how square you are,” Max told him. “Just consider for a moment, Hymie. If you were Means and Ways, and you had to take a computer somewhere to keep her out of sight while you brainwashed her, which would it be, Fort Knox or Las Vegas? The answer, obviously, is Las Vegas. There’s no night life in Fort Knox, you know, Hymie.”

“What does that have to do with brainwashing a computer, Max?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea. But you can be sure that when we find Means and Ways that’s one of the first questions I’ll ask them. Now, is it settled? Shall we go to Las Vegas?”

“Fort Knox,” Hymie said.

“How about Fort Knox by way of Las Vegas?” Max suggested.

“Fort Knox-straight,” Hymie said.

“You know, Hymie,” 99 said, “Max could very well be right about Las Vegas.”

“I could?” Max said, surprised.

“I’m a woman,” 99 said to Hymie, “and when I think of gold, I think of Las Vegas, too. And, don’t forget, Number One is a female. Why don’t we do this? Why don’t you go to Fort Knox and Max and I will go to Las Vegas?”

“That’s good computing, 99,” Hymie replied. “We’ll do that.”

From the candy factory they went to the airport. There, Max and 99 got a plane for Las Vegas and Hymie took a flight to Fort Knox. A few hours later, Max and 99 checked into a large hotel in Las Vegas, and not long after that, at Max’s suggestion, they went to the hotel’s gambling casino.

“What now, Max?” 99 asked. “I don’t see either Ways or Means anywhere around.”

“They’ll show up,” Max said confidently. “I think I’ve got it all figured out, 99. Remember? — that blonde told us that Means and Ways were making a profit on that candy factory. It’s my guess that they were using it to finance this operation. But, since they can’t use the candy factory anymore, they’ll have to get money from somewhere else-right? So-”

“Max, you mean you think they’re financing the operation by gambling? Isn’t that a little risky?”

“Not if you’re not really gambling, 99.”

“I don’t understand, Max. How can you gamble without really gambling?”

“Just suppose, 99, that Means and Ways have brainwashed one of these slot machines? When they needed money, all they’d have to do is show up and hit the jackpot.”

“Max. . that’s a little far-fetched. .”

“When it was first mentioned, space travel sounded a little far-fetched, too, 99. But that didn’t stop Thomas Edison.”

“Thomas Edison invented the electric light, Max.”

“I’m talking about before that, when he flew his kite in a storm and discovered lightning. What do you think an electric light is, 99? It’s a little bulb of lightning.”

“Oh. But. . Max. . what’s the connection with space travel?”

“You don’t think they send those space ships up without lights, do you, 99? That would be very dangerous. How would they see where they were going at night?”

99 nodded. “I guess you’re right, Max,” she said. “Ways and Means probably are financing the operation by brainwashing a slot machine.” She peered at the hundreds of one-armed bandits in the casino. “But which one?”

“Well, we could wait around until we saw Means or Ways come in and play a machine and hit a jack-pot,” Max replied. “But they could be sending someone else to play it for them. So we’ll just have to start playing the machines and keep it up until we find the one that pays off every time with a jackpot.”

“I don’t know, Max. It seems to me-”

“Then when we find it,” Max went on, “we’ll put a stake-out on it. Sooner or later, we’ll spot the guy who’s collecting on it for Means and Ways. We’ll follow him, and where he goes, that’s where we’ll find Number One.”

“It sounds so simple. .” 99 said worriedly.

“Basically, 99, all of my ideas are simple.”

“I know, Max. But this one sounds easy, too.”

“Nobody likes an acid-tongued secret agent, 99. Just hand over your change, and let’s get started.”

They approached the first machine, and Max put a silver dollar into the slot, then pulled the handle. The cylinder spun, then stopped, showing an apple, a lemon and a cherry.

“Shall we try the next one, Max?”

“Just a minute, 99. This may not be the machine we’re looking for, but I have a feeling that it’s about to pay off, nevertheless. If we can pick up a little profit on the side, what’s the harm?”

“Max, we’re here on business.”

“But, 99, this machine is ripe. I can sense it. Why let somebody else walk away with the winnings?” He put another silver dollar into the slot. “Just this once,” he said. “I promise-from now on, it’ll be strictly business.” He pulled down on the handle.

The cylinder spun, and two lemons and a cherry came up.

“Can we move on now, Max?”

“99, I’ve invested two dollars in this machine. I can’t quit now. Especially when it’s right on the verge of coughing up that jackpot.” He put another dollar into the slot. “Heads up, 99-here it comes.” He pulled the handle. “We should have thought to bring a large bag to carry the winnings in.”

He got a cherry, a lemon and a peach.

“Max-”

“Don’t say it, 99. You’re right-I misjudged. It’s going to take a few more plays before this machine pays off.” He handed her a fifty-dollar bill. “Here, get me some change for this. I’ll stay here. I don’t want anybody else to get this machine-not while it’s hot.”

99 got more silver dollars for Max and he continued to play-and to lose the silver dollars. After he had been at it for about an hour, 99 drifted away and went to the coffee shop and had lunch. When she returned, Max sent her after more change. When she returned, she watched him a while longer, then, bored, she went to her room and had a nap. That evening, returning to the casino, she was surprised to find that he was no longer at the slot machine. There was an Out-of-Order sign on it. The sign was hand-printed in a shaky scrawl. Since Max was not playing any of the other machines, either, 99 went looking for him. She found him in the lobby, standing near the check-in desk. He was nervously drumming his fingers on the counter.

“Max-”

Max jumped, startled. “Don’t do that, 99,” he complained. “I’m a little on edge.”

“What are you doing here, Max?”

“Waiting for a reply to my wire to the Chief,” Max replied. “I asked him to send more money.”

“Oh. You mean-”

“99, it’s fantastic. That machine is going to pay off on the very next play. But I’m completely out of cash.”

“But, Max, that machine is out-of-order.”

“I put that sign on it, 99. Do you think I want some stranger to walk off with my winnings?”

“Max, isn’t this getting a little out of hand?” 99 said. “Remember what we’re here for? We’re looking for Number One.”

“Number who, 99?”

“Max! For heaven’s sake! I think you’ve got gambling fever. That’s terrible! Don’t you know you can’t win?”

“Can’t win?” Max said indignantly. “One more play, 99, and I’ll be rich! 99, I’ve learned to communicate with that machine. And believe me, it’s my friend. It wants me to win. Is it the machine’s fault that I ran out of money?”

At that moment, the clerk spoke to Max. “Your wire came in, sir,” he said. “And here’s the money-a thousand dollars.”

Max snatched the bag of silver dollars and rushed back to the casino, with 99 tagging after him. Quickly, he dropped another silver dollar into the slot, then pulled the handle. The cylinder spun-and came up with a peach, a lemon and a cherry.

“Your machine was lying to you, Max,” 99 said.

“No,” Max said, putting another dollar into the machine, “the trouble is, the conditions weren’t exactly right. I wasn’t holding my left foot off the floor an inch and a half.”

“Is that necessary?”

“Conditions have to be perfect,” Max said, pulling the handle.

He got two cherries and an apricot.

“Did you see that!” Max said excitedly. “Did you see that, 99?”

“No money came out, Max.”

“Not that. What I mean is, did you see that apricot. I’ve never got an apricot before. That’s a very good sign. Now, I think, if I just put my thumb in my right ear this time, I think that will do it!”

Max dropped another silver dollar into the machine.

99 sighed and moved on and went to the dining room and had dinner. When she finished, she stopped by the casino again. Max was still playing the machine.

“Any more apricots, Max?”

“No. But I got a kumquat. You don’t see many of those on a slot machine.”

“Have you hit the jackpot yet, Max?”

“Not yet, 99. But I’ll hit it on the very next try, I’m sure. Getting a kumquat is practically like getting a written guarantee.”

“Goodnight, Max,” 99 yawned. “I’m going to turn in.”

When 99 awakened the next morning, she telephoned to Max’s room. There was no answer. She had breakfast sent up, then dressed and went down to the casino. Max was not there. She moved on to the desk, intending to ask the clerk if he had seen him, guessing that Max may have wired for more money. But on her way through the lobby, she spotted him shining a man’s shoes. 99 waited until he had finished, then joined him.

“Max, is this a disguise?” she asked.

“Not exactly, 99,” he replied. “I’m just picking up a little change. That machine I’m playing is all set up to pay off. But, as luck would have it, I ran out of silver dollars again.”

“Max!” 99 said, appalled. “You’re shining shoes for money?”

“You certainly don’t think I’m doing it because I like it, do you?”

“Where did you get the shoe shine kit?”

“I rented it from the rent-a-shoe-shine-kit company.”

“But you said you ran out of money.”

“Fortunately, they accepted my Diner’s Club card.”

“Max. . Max. . look at you!” 99 said. “I’ll bet you haven’t had any sleep. Your eyes are bleary. . your tie is loose. . you look. . well, terrible! Do you realize what’s happening, Max?”

“Of course I realize what’s happening, 99. I’m standing here talking to you when I could be hustling customers. Or, are you interested in a shoe shine?”

“I can’t afford it, Max. You put all my money in that machine.”

“Why don’t you rent yourself a kit, 99? I’ll let you use my Diner’s Club card.”

“Max, if the Chief-”

“Don’t mention that man’s name in my presence, 99. He’s a fair-weather Chief. I wired him for money, and he refused to send it.”

“No, he didn’t, Max. I was with you when it arrived.”

“That was the first time. Later, I sent him another wire, saying, SEND ANOTHER THOUSAND. And he wired back, WHAT FOR? Then I wired him again, saying, FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE. After that, he telephoned me. And, 99, I would not repeat what he said to me. But, the gist of it was that my expense account has been cut off.”

“Did you tell him about your plan to locate Number One, Max?”

“The conversation didn’t get that far,” Max replied. “I hung up on him.”

“Max!”

“It served him right,” Max said. “He hung up on me first.”

“Max, you’ve got to stop this,” 99 pleaded. “Gambling is a sickness. Go to your room. Rest. I’ll telephone the Chief and explain everything. I’m sure he’ll forgive you.”

“Excuse me, 99,” Max said, moving away. “I have a customer.”

99 sat around the lobby all day watching Max shine shoes. Each time he got a dollar together, he rushed into the casino and put it into the slot machine. By night, not having hit the jackpot, he looked totally defeated.

“Are you ready to give up, Max?” 99 asked, joining him as he stood staring glassy-eyed at the machine.

“Yes, 99,” he replied, “I’ve had it. There’s just not enough big money in shoe shining. I need a new gimmick.”

“That’s not what I meant, Max. I meant, aren’t you ready to give up on this machine?”

“99, that’s ridiculous. I can’t quit now. Even if I just get back what I’ve put into this machine, I’ll be rich.”

“Max. . please. Come with me. We’ll have dinner and talk this over.”

“99, I’m not going to waste good money on food.”

“We’ll have to charge it, Max. We’re all out of cash.”

“Oh. . yes. All right.”

They went to the dining room, found a table, and ordered. While they were waiting for the food to be served, 99 reminded Max that he had a duty to the civilized world to resume the search for Number One.

“You’re absolutely right, 99.” Max replied. “And I’ll get to it just as soon as I hit that jackpot. First things first, you know. What good would it do to save the entire civilized world from the domination of KAOS and, meanwhile, miss out on a jackpot?” He leaned forward, lowering his voice. “I think I’ve got it, 99. My problem is, I need money-right? And when you need money, what do you do? You go where the money is-right? And where is the money these days?”

“Fort Knox, Max?”

“No, 99. Las Vegas.”

“Max. . you’re in Las Vegas.”

“There you are-see what a brilliant plan it is? I haven’t even started yet, and already the plan is clicking like clockwork.”

“You haven’t told me the plan, Max.”

“Oh. Well, the plan is, 99, I’m going to hold up Las Vegas.”

“Maaax!”

“Sh! — sh!-sh! Do you want everybody in town to know, 99? This is supposed to be a surprise holdup!”

“Max, in the first place, for heaven’s sake, that’s against the law. And, in the second place-everybody? How could you possibly hold up everybody at once?”

“Yell ‘stick-’em-up’ very loudly.”

99 shook her head. “It wouldn’t work, Max.”

“99, you haven’t heard the whole plan. Before I yell ‘stick-’em-up’ very loudly, I’m going to inundate the town with a special hypnotizing vapor. Every person in town will be immobilized and under my spell. When I yell ‘stick-’em-up,’ believe me, they’ll stick-’em-up.”

“And then what, Max?”

“Then, 99, I’ll go from person to person, robbing each one as I move along. It’s a cinch. Anything is possible with careful planning.”

99 thought for a moment, then said, “Well, Max, much as I hate to admit it, it does sound like a perfect plan. But, Max, it’s wrong to rob people.”

“99, some things are bigger than the law. There is a higher duty, you know. Just because a law is on the books, that doesn’t guarantee that it’s right or just. I ask you, 99, in all fairness, is it right to stop a man from robbing people when he has a golden opportunity to hit a jackpot?”

“Well. .”

“Don’t try to talk me out of it, 99. My mind is made up. Nothing can stop me.”

“All right, Max,” 99 said sadly. “It’s wrong, but. . Well, I guess you don’t really realize what you’re doing. You have the fever so bad, you don’t know right from wrong anymore. I won’t try to stop you, Max.”

“Good, 99. Now. . do you happen to know where I can get hold of some special hypnotizing vapor?”

99 stared at him, astounded, for a second, then shook her head.

“Darn!” Max scowled. “That’s the one weak link in the chain. I don’t know where-” He began looking around. “Do you see a telephone booth anywhere, 99?”

“No, Max. Who do you want to call?”

“I don’t want to call anybody. I want to look in the yellow pages. There must be a rent-a-special-hypnotizing-vapor agency in town.”

“Max, forget about robbing Las Vegas,” 99 begged. “Let me take you to a doctor. Maybe he can cure you.”

“Cure me! 99, that would be insane! I’m on a winning streak.”

“You’ve lost everything you have, Max.”

“Ridiculous. I still have what I need most-my lucky rabbit’s foot.”

“Well, I’m surprised you still have it.”

“It wouldn’t fit in the slot.”

“Max, let me-”

There was a ringing sound.

“What kind of a restaurant is this?” Max complained. “We haven’t had dinner yet, and already they’re sending around the Good Humor man with the dessert.”

“That’s your phone, Max.”

“Oh!” He looked down at his shoe. “You answer it, 99. It’s probably the Chief, and I’m not speaking to him.” He took off the shoe and handed it to 99. “If you can work it into the conversation,” he said, “you might tell him you’ve come into a large inheritance, but you can’t collect it until you get back East, and would he please send you the airfare-as a little loan, of course. Tell him you’ll pay him back the minute I hit that jackpot.”

99: Yes, Chief. . is that you?

Operator: See what happens when you gamble, Max? It strains your voice. You sound like a woman.

Chief: Operator, will you please stay off the line? This is an official call. When you listen in on the line, you are, in effect, bugging the Government.

Operator: Tit for Tat, Chief. You think the Government don’t bug me?

Chief: What I meant- Oh, nevermind. 99-are you still there? Where is Max?

99: He’s here, Chief. But he refuses to speak to you. He’s upset because you refused to advance him more money. But you were right to do it, Chief. He has gambling fever. Every dollar he gets, he puts in a slot machine. I can’t stop him.

Chief: I guessed that, 99, when I talked to him earlier. He kept telling me that lemons were coming out of his telephone.

Operator: He may have been right, Chief. It’s the season for it you know.

Chief: Lemons? On a telephone line?

Operator: Chief, how do you think they get all those lemons which were grown on the West Coast, into all those stores on the East Coast?

Chief: By train?

Operator: Boy, are you living in the Middle Ages. They phone them.

Chief: Operator, that’s preposterous. How can-(Deep sigh). Operator, please. . just stay off the line.

99: Chief, what am I going to do about Max?

Chief: You’ll just have to leave him there, 99. I got a call just a few minutes ago from Hymie. As you know, he went to Fort Knox. When he-

99: I know, Chief-he found Number One.

Chief: As a matter of fact, 99, no, he didn’t. He-

99: You mean-

Chief: Yes. As it turned out, Max was right. Hymie-

Operator: Hold it, Chief. You’ve got a bad connection. I thought I just heard you say that Max was right about something.

Chief: I did! And stay off the line!

99: Chief, hold it. We must have a bad connection. I just thought I heard the operator say she thought she heard you say that Max was right about something and you told her that you did say that-

Chief: 99, stop it! You’re getting more like Max every day. Now, just listen. Hymie looked all over Fort Knox and he found no trace of Number One. But when he put his ear to the ground, he did hear the clicking again. So, he followed the sound, and it led him to Las Vegas. He’s there now.

99 (looking around): I don’t see him, Chief.

Operator: Look down. He probably still has his ear to the ground.

99: No, I still-

Chief: He isn’t at the hotel, 99. He’s at the Leg Up Dude Ranch just outside town. He thinks that’s where Number One is being kept prisoner. I want you to get out there as fast as you can. He’ll need help

99: And Max, Chief?

Chief: As I said-just leave him, 99. Once a man gets the gambling fever, he’s no good to anybody

Operator: Wanta bet on that?

99: All right, Chief. . if that’s your decision. I’ll certainly miss him, though.

Chief: Be brave, 99.

99 handed Max back his shoe. “It was the Chief,” she said.

“I gathered that, 99. What I don’t understand is why you suddenly turned against me.”

“Oh. . you heard?”

“Of course I heard. I heard every word you said. And not once did I hear you mention your inheritance and ask the Chief for the borrow of airfare.”

“Oh. . that. Well, Max. .” She started to rise. “You know I wouldn’t do this if-”

“Where are you going, 99? We haven’t had dinner yet.”

“The Chief ordered me to rendezvous with Hymie, Max. He’s outside town at the Leg Up Dude Ranch.”

“Mmmmmm. .” Max mused. “I wonder how much money he has with him.”

“No, Max-you can’t go,” 99 said. “The Chief doesn’t trust you. You’re sick, Max. And this is an important case. Hymie has traced Number One to that dude ranch.”

Max suddenly stiffened. His eyes began rolling in circles. His hair stood on end. . then slowly drooped back into place.

“Max! What happened!”

“I just had a wonderful shock, 99,” Max replied. He jumped up. “Come on! Let’s get out there to that dude ranch!”

“But, Max. . your gambling. .”

“Gambling? I have no interest in gambling, 99. You can’t beat the system.”

99 grinned happily. “That was certainly some shock you had, Max. I wonder what caused it.”

“I haven’t the faintest idea, 99,” Max said, leading the way out. “It happened right after you told me that Hymie had traced Number One to Las Vegas.”

“And you know what that means, Max. It means that Hymie was wrong, and you were right.” She suddenly stopped. “Max. . I wonder. . could that shock have been caused by the fact that for once in your life you-”

“99, that’s ridiculous,” Max said, hustling her on. “I’m sure that, sometime in my life, I must have been right at least once before.”

“Like when?” 99 asked curiously.

“Well,” Max replied, “if you count that Fourth of July when I had the mumps and didn’t go out and get my fingers blown off with a firecracker. . and the day. .”

5

Max and 99 rented a car from an unbelievable organization called a rent-a-car agency, then, after asking for directions, sped toward the Leg Up Dude Ranch. As they neared it, driving slowly now, a figure suddenly stepped from behind a cactus and waved to them.

“Max! That’s Hymie!” 99 said.

“It could be a KAOS agent disguised as Hymie, 99,” Max replied. “Maybe we better run him down first and ask questions later.”

“Max-stop it. Try to get along with Hymie. It isn’t his fault he’s in charge.”

Max pulled over, and Hymie came trotting up to the car.

“Hi, Hymie,” 99 said cordially. “How did you know it was us?”

“I heard you talking when you were still miles away,” Hymie replied. “My super sensitive hearing, you know.”

“Oh. . sure. Gee, I hope you didn’t hear anything that offended you.”

“Not until you drove up just a minute ago-when Max wanted to run me down,” Hymie replied.

“Well, of course, Hymie, I didn’t mean that,” Max said. “If your Uncle HIM should ask, you can tell him it was just a little joke.”

“Hymie,” 99 said, “The Chief told us you think you’ve found Number One.”

Hymie nodded. “She’s up ahead-at the dude ranch,” he said. “I heard her ticking. She’s having a fine time. From what I can gather from the ticking, Ways and Means have got her well oiled ”

“You mean-”

“I mean well oiled,” Hymie said, “I can’t understand half of what she ticks.”

“We better get in there and save her,” Max said. “Lead on, Hymie. We’ll storm the place.”

Hymie shook his head. “That won’t work, Max,” he said. “There are guards all around. They look like ordinary ranch hands, but, in fact, they’re KAOS agents.”

“Mmmmm. . let’s take a look at the place,” Max said. “With my experience, I’ll probably be able to spot a weakness in the KAOS defense.”

Hymie led the way across the desert toward the Leg Up Dude Ranch. As they approached it, he motioned for Max and 99 to crouch, and then he halted the advance just as they neared the top of a sand dune.

“The ranch is just on the other side of this dune,” Hymie explained. “Don’t let the guards see you.”

Max and 99 peeked over the top of the mound of sand. They saw a large fenced-in area. There was a big guest house, and behind it a pool, and then a smaller house for the ranch hands. In the corral there were two animals-one that looked a great deal like a horse and another that looked like a cow.

“Baffling,” Max said.

“What is, Max?” 99 asked.

“Why they call it the ‘Leg Up,’” Max replied. “I don’t get the connection.”

“Max, that isn’t important. Do you see the weakness in the defense?”

“Of course I do, 99. It was obvious at first sight. That ranch is a sitting duck for a man with a cannister of hypnotizing vapor.”

“Max. .”

“I know, I know, 99-the same old problem. But, after all, all I promised was to spot the weakness. I didn’t say I could do anything about it.”

Max and 99 ducked down behind the dune again.

“I don’t suppose you thought to bring a cannister of hypnotizing vapor,” Max said to Hymie.

“What’s that, Max?”

Max turned to 99. “What can I do? I’m at the mercy of my leader. If he fails, I fail-it’s as simple as that. However,” he went on, “there’s always the alternative. If the initial plan happens to flop-due to bungling by the higher-ups-there’s always a second plan to fall back on.” To Hymie, he said, “You do have a second plan, I assume.”

“I propose that we infiltrate the ranch,” Hymie said.

“Well, that’s certainly better than your first idea-especially since you forgot to bring the hypnotizing vapor,” Max said. “And, as a matter of fact, it was what I was going to suggest, too. Tell me, Hymie, how do you think I think we ought to do it?”

“Max, you and I could apply for jobs as ranch hands,” Hymie replied. “All the hands they have now seem to be KAOS guards, so they must need somebody to do the work. And 99 could register as a guest.”

“Brilliant,” Max said. “Exactly what I was thinking.”

“There’s one problem,” 99 said. “Ways and Means have seen us, and surely they’ll recognize us if we appear at the ranch.”

“See, Hymie-you’re not so smart after all, are you?” Max said. “When you were thinking what I was thinking, you forgot that little detail.”

“I thought we could disguise ourselves,” Hymie said.

“You’re a mind-reader,” Max said approvingly.

The three returned to the car, drove back to town, then went to a costuming shop and purchased disguises. Max and Hymie cemented handlebar mustaches to their upper lips, and 99 donned a redheaded wig.

“How do I look?” Hymie asked.

“Ah don’t believe ah know you, stranger,” Max replied.

They then drove back to the ranch. After hiding the car, they approached the ranch gate, where a guard-dressed as a ranch hand-was on duty.

“Howdy, podna,” Max drawled. “We’re two cow pokes and a lady guest.” He indicated 99. “She’s the lady guest.”

“Welcome, Miss,” the ranch hand said. He pointed toward the guest house. “Thataway,” he said.

99 passed through the entrance and moved on toward the guest house.

“Whichaway do we go?” Max asked the hand.

“It depends on what you want?” the ranch hand replied.

“Waal, we just come off the big drive to Abilene,” Max said. “And we’re fixin’ to tie-up with a new outfit.”

“The big drive to Abilene, eh?” the hand said suspiciously. “How did you get there?”

“The freeway,” Max replied. “How else?”

“Well, we might be able to use some extra hands,” the guard said. “Come along.”

He led them to the guest house, then into the office. There, Max and Hymie found themselves in the presence of Wayne Ways and Melvin Means.

“Looking for work, eh?” Ways said. “Have you had any experience?”

“Doing what?” Max asked.

“Handling a herd,” Means said.

“Of course,” Max replied. “Cows are practically our middle names.”

“I’m talking about the guests,” Means said. “If they’re not watched, they stray, and get lost on the desert. That costs money.”

“What are you getting for guests by the pound these days?” Max asked.

“I mean if they stray and get lost for good they can’t pay their bills, naturally,” Means said. “Okay, you’re hired,” he decided. “Your duties will be to take care of the pony and the steer and-”

“Are they the same as the horse and the cow?” Max asked.

“Right. We only got one of each. That’s enough for atmosphere, we figure. Your other duty will be to do whatever the guests request. Just kind of hang around and be available.”

“We do that very well,” Max said.

“You’ll bunk in the bunkhouse with all the other hands,” Ways said. “Oh. . and one other thing. If you happen to be near the pool and hear a lot of loud ticking, pay no attention to it.”

“What causes it?” Max asked.

“Sun spots,” Ways said.

Max peered at him puzzledly. “Sun spots?”

“Why not?” Means said. “Everything else gets blamed on sun spots-why not loud ticking?”

“That makes sense,” Max admitted.

“Okay, let’s shake a leg!” Ways said.

Hymie shook his right leg.

“Uh. . he has a great sense of humor,” Max explained, hurrying Hymie out.

Max and Hymie went first to the bunkhouse. There were separate rooms for each of the hands. They were surprised to find that on each bedside table there was a bedside computer.

“That’s very nice of Means and Ways,” Max said. “Not every employer is thoughtful enough to supply his hired hands with such conveniences.”

“There must be some reason for it,” Hymie frowned.

“Of course there is-good employer-employee relations,” Max said.

“Some other reason,” Hymie insisted. “We’ll probably find out sooner or later.”

“In the meantime,” Max said, “we better pretend to be working.”

They left the bunkhouse and went to the corral.

“It’s probably either feeding time or milking time,” Max said. “Now. . we have a horse and a cow, so it ought to be easy to figure out which to do to which. Except that. . uh, Hymie, do you happen to know which is the horse and which is the cow?”

“A cow has horns, I think,” Hymie replied.

“Good-that settles that,” Max said, approaching the animal with the horns. “Now, then. .” He looked under the steer. “Are you positive about that horn business?” he asked, raising up. “This cow doesn’t seem to have any faucets.”

“The horse doesn’t either,” Hymie reported.

“Maybe we’ve got a handicapped cow here,” Max said.

“Or-” Hymie began.

Just then, though, 99 appeared. “You!” she called to Max and Hymie. “I want to ride. Saddle the pony for me.”

“I guess she doesn’t recognize us,” Max said to Hymie. “These handlebar mustaches are a better disguise than I thought.”

“I think she’s putting on an act, Max,” Hymie said.

“What for, for heaven’s sake? We’re old friends.”

“She’s acting like a real guest, Max, to keep the other hands from getting suspicious.”

“Oh,” Max nodded.

“Well-are you going to saddle the horse?” 99 asked. “Or do I have to report you to the management?”

“There’s a little difficulty about that, lady,” Max replied. “But maybe you can straighten it out. Do you happen to know which one of these horses is the horse?”

“The high one,” 99 replied.

“Wouldn’t you know?” Max sighed. “When you have to put a saddle on it, it’s always the high one.” He went to the shed where the fodder and gear were kept and returned a moment later with the saddle. “What’re all these straps and buckles for?” he asked.

“For strapping the saddle onto the horse,” 99 said.

“Snaps would certainly be a lot more practical,” Max grumbled.

Moving closer, 99 whispered, “What have you found out, Max?”

“Please, lady,” he replied, “I’m only a hired hand. I don’t think I’m allowed to mix with the guests.”

“Max!”

“We found out that they have bedside computers in all the rooms in the bunkhouse,” Hymie said to 99.

“Hymie, cut that out,” Max scolded. “Didn’t you hear me-we’re not supposed to mix with the guests. Do you want to get us fired?”

“It’s me, Max,” 99 whispered.

“I know that, 99. That wig didn’t fool me for a minute. I just wanted to show you that I’m as good an actor as you are.”

Max tossed the saddle onto the horse-and it slid off the other side. “Good thing you weren’t in it,” he said to 99. “You might have got a nasty fall.”

“Do you have anything to report?” Hymie asked 99, while Max was retrieving the saddle.

“Yes. . something very peculiar,” 99 replied. “The guests are. . well, they’re acting very strangely. They’re supposed to be on vacation. . and yet. . they’re enjoying themselves. .”

Max tossed the saddle onto the horse from the other side-and it kept right on going and landed on 99, pinning her to the ground.

Max reappeared. “You should have stayed out of it until I had it strapped to the horse, 99,” he said. “It looks like you had a nasty fall.”

“Max. . will you get this thing off me?”

He picked up the saddle, and 99 got to her feet. “I was just telling Hymie about the guests,” she said. “They’re enjoying themselves.”

“They probably haven’t been horseback riding yet,” Max guessed.

“No, it’s more than that,” 99 said. “It’s really sort of eerie. I mean, I know about vacations. I’ve been on vacation myself. And I know how it goes. You sit around bored stiff most of the time. You worry about what’s happening back at the office. But these people aren’t doing that. They’re having a fine time. I’ve never seen a happier bunch.”

“They sound like a bunch of phonies to me,” Max said.

“99. . do you have a bedside computer in your room?” Hymie asked.

“Of course,” 99 replied. “Also television and a sauna and a barbecue pit and a sandbox. Why?”

“I think what we’ve stumbled onto is not really a dude ranch, but a clinical laboratory,” Hymie said.

“I agree,” Max said. “That sandbox is a dead giveaway.”

“I don’t understand,” 99 frowned.

“I’ll have Hymie explain it to you,” Max said. “I’m still tied-up trying to get this saddle on.” He turned to Hymie. “Explain my thinking to her, Hymie.”

“I suspect that KAOS is conducting a test here,” Hymie said. “The bedside computers have all been brainwashed. And, in turn, the computers are brainwashing the guests-making them believe they’re enjoying themselves.”

“That’s horrible!” 99 shuddered.

“If the test works here, it will prove the theory that KAOS can control the world simply by controlling the world’s bedside computers,” Hymie said.

“What I don’t understand,” Max said, “is how the sandbox fits in.”

“It doesn’t, Max,” Hymie replied.

“It’s just a convenience, Max, in case you happen to have the children with you on vacation,” 99 explained.

“Oh. Listen, 99, would you mind if I came to your room tonight?”

“Max!”

“All right, all right. If you’re going to be that way about it, keep your sandbox to yourself-see if I care.”

“Max,” 99 said, “were you listening when Hymie explained what’s going on here?”

“I didn’t have to, 99. It was my idea, wasn’t it?”

“We’ll have to be careful not to let our bedside computers brainwash us,” Hymie warned.

“You’re right,” Max said. “If we started enjoying our work the way these guests are enjoying their vacation, we’d become totally useless. What we’ll have to do is listen very carefully to what our bedside computers tell us to do, and then do exactly the opposite.”

“That might not help,” Hymie said. “Suppose Ways and Means adjust the computers to order us to do the opposite of what they want us to do. If we do the opposite of the opposite, then, in fact, we’ll be doing exactly what Ways and Means want.”

“Only a machine could come up with a nutty idea like that,” Max said. “And neither Means nor Ways are machines-so forget it.” Max had been busy with the saddle while carrying on the conversation. Now, he pointed proudly to his work, and said to 99, “There you are-have a nice ride, lady.”

“Max. . you saddled the steer,” 99 said.

“Lady, you know that, and I know that,” Max said, “but the steer doesn’t know it. It thinks it’s a horse. Take a close look-it isn’t wearing its faucets.”

“I’ve changed my mind-I don’t think I’ll ride today, after all,” 99 said. She lowered her voice. “I’ll go back to the guest house and keep my eyes and ears open.”

“Anytime we can be of service, lady-don’t hesitate to call on us,” Max said.

99 departed, headed toward the guest house.

“Fantastic willpower,” Max said to Hymie.

“How do you mean that, Max?”

“She’ll probably spend the whole day hanging around the lobby, hanging around the pool, sticking strictly to duty.”

“That doesn’t sound so difficult, Max,” Hymie said.

“Are you kidding? Staying on the job, when you’ve got your own private sandbox waiting for you in your room? Talk about a challenge to the old willpower!”

“I think I’ll do some scouting around, Max,” Hymie said. “But one of us better stay here with the horse and cow.”

“Let’s see. . if you go scouting around, that leaves me to do the horse and cow sitting, right?”

“Right, Max.”

“Machines don’t have all the brains,” Max said smugly.

Not long after Hymie had gone, a plump, middle-aged woman appeared. She was wearing riding breeches and carrying a riding crop.

“Good afternoon, young man,” she said gayly. “I think I’ll take one of the ponies out for a gallop.”

“Isn’t that a little strenuous at your age, lady,” Max said. “The horse is probably used to it. But you’re not as young as you used to be, you know. You don’t look to me like you could even walk fast, let alone gallop.”

The woman giggled. “I’ll be riding the pony,” she explained. “Although,” she said, “I’m not sure how well I’ll do at it. I’ve never ridden a horse before. In fact, being from the city, I can’t recall ever seeing a horse before-not up close, anyway.” She pointed. “I probably wouldn’t have known that was a horse if it didn’t have a saddle on it.” She placed a foot in the stirrup. “Will you give me a leg up, please?” she asked.

“So that’s how this ranch got its name!” Max said

He boosted the woman up into the saddle, then stepped back.

“Is he gentle?” she asked.

“Unless you wave a red flag in front of him,” Max replied.

“How do I get him going?” she inquired.

“I’m not sure,” Max replied. “Is there a starter button anywhere up there?”

“I don’t know. . I. . where would I look?”

“On the control panel, probably to the left of the steering wheel,” Max replied.

“Young man, there must be another way,” the woman said.

“Give him a nudge with that leather stick,” Max suggested.

The woman swatted the steer across the rear with the riding crop. The steer bucked-and the woman went flying through the air and landed several yards away in a haystack.

Max went over to her. “How did you enjoy the ride?” he asked.

“It wasn’t exactly what I expected,” she replied, backing out of the haystack, “but, as long as I’m enjoying myself so much, I suppose that doesn’t matter, does it?”

“Not a bit,” Max agreed. “Care for another ride?”

“Noooo-I think I’ll go back to the pool,” the woman said. “As much as I enjoy riding, I think I enjoy practically drowning even more. It’s amazing what fun that is.” She giggled again. “I think I’m hooked,” she said.

“That’s the way it goes,” Max said. “You get a little water in your ears, and before you know it you’re on a drowning kick.”

As the woman departed, Hymie returned.

“You just missed something,” Max told him. “I had a perfect example here of what can happen to a person when her bedside computer has been brainwashed. This woman is so sure she’s enjoying herself, she can’t wait to get back into the pool and almost drown again.”

“I saw some evidence of it myself,” Hymie said. “People are sitting around the pool in the sun, practically burning to a crisp, and they’re laughing their heads off.”

“Did you see 99?”

“No, she wasn’t there,” Hymie replied. “She probably went in to the lobby to get out of the sun.”

“Or. . her willpower isn’t what I thought it was,” Max conjectured.

“My investigation paid off though, Max,” Hymie said. “The minute I got close to the pool I heard a very distinct ticking.”

“Hymie. . Means and Ways told us about that. It’s caused by sun spots.”

“They were lying, Max. That ticking is coming from Number One.”

“A second ago, you told me it was coming from the pool.”

“It is. Number One is somewhere near the pool. The odd thing is. . the sound seems to be coming from beneath the pool.”

“Well, we’ll just go over there and wait, then,” Max said. “It stands to reason that she can’t stay on the bottom forever.”

“She isn’t at the bottom, Max,” Hymie said. “I looked. The water is clear, and I could see straight to the bottom. She isn’t there, but still. . still, she’s there.”

“Hymie. . have you been talking to that brainwashed computer in your room?”

“I know it sounds puzzling, Max,” Hymie said. “But that’s the only way I can explain it. Tonight, when all the guests are asleep, we’ll have to make a thorough examination of that pool.”

“Hymie, you said you could see the whole pool, right to the bottom, and there was nothing to see. How will it help to go back at night? Can you see nothing better in the dark?”

“Max, I know that Number One is near that pool. I heard her.”

“You were hearing sun spots, Hymie.”

Hymie shook his head. “No, it was Number One. I’d know that ticking anywhere. Besides, I could tell by the condition of the ticks. She’s hitting the oil again.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised, Hymie, to find that you’ve been at the oil can yourself,” Max said. “But, if you say you heard Number One, and you insist on going back to that pool tonight, I suppose I’ll just have to go along. Brains, apparently, count for nothing in this outfit anymore. Since you’re the leader, and I’m the follower, then all I can do is follow when you lead. That’s just plain ordinary logic. And I want you to know, Hymie, that, although I resented it a little at first, I have come to accept you as my leader. There are no hard feelings. After all, we’re all part of the team. And each team member, in his own way, is just as important as every other team member. In fact, every individual team member is just as important, in his own way, as the leader of the team. Am I not correct about that?”

“I’m glad you feel that way about it, Max.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

“What was it, Max?”

“I said that every individual team member, in his own way, is just as important as the leader of the team-isn’t that correct.”

“Of course, Max.”

Max put an arm around Hymie’s shoulder. “Now, look, old buddy,” he said, “since there’s no difference in importance between you and me on this team, doesn’t it seem fairsies to you that I ought to get a turn at being leader? You’ve had it right from the first. Wouldn’t you like a change? How about me taking it from here on out?”

“I couldn’t do. that, Max,” Hymie said. “It would be disobeying orders.”

“Who’d know?” Max said. “Okay, then how’s this? Let me be leader for the rest of the afternoon.”

Hymie shook his head.

“Until tea time?” Max asked.

“I can’t, Max.”

“Just for a short time, then. For as long, say, as it takes me to unsaddle the steer.”

“Well. .”

“Thanks, Hymie. You’re a real friend,” Max said. He hurried to where the steer was standing and began removing the saddle. “The only thing is,” he said glumly, “if I’m the leader, how come I’m doing the manual labor?” But after a second, he figured it out. “That’s the way it always is,” he said. “If a leader wants a thing done right, he has to do it himself.”

6

That night, when all of the other hands in the bunkhouse were asleep, Max and Hymie slipped out and made their way toward the pool area.

“I can hear her ticking,” Hymie told Max.

“Are you sure? I’m wearing my house slippers because the boots were too tight, and the slippers are flopping. Maybe that’s what you hear, Hymie.”

“Max, I know ticking from flopping.”

“You do have sensitive hearing,” Max said, impressed. “I’ve never been able to tell a flop from a tick from a click. I could sit right next to a machine that was going flop, tick, click, flop, tick, click, flop, tick, click, flop, tick, click, and it would all sound like a series of flaps to me. It would be flap, flap, flap, flap-”

“Believe me, Max, this is ticking-and it’s Number One.”

“And you still think she’s in that pool, eh?”

“Somewhere near the pool, Max.”

“And is she still on the old oil, Hymie?”

“The way she sounds-yes,” Hymie replied. “Her ticks are a little thick-tongued.”

“Oh. Thick-tongued ticks, eh? My guess, Hymie, is that what you’re hearing is flops. There’s a lot of resemblance between a thick tick and a flop. I’ve heard-”

“Max!”

Hymie suddenly reached out and stopped Max. One more step and he would have walked into the pool.

“I get carried away when I get on the subject of thick ticks, flips, flaps, flops and clicks,” Max explained.

Hymie was peering down into the water toward the bottom of the pool. “That’s strange,” he said. “Max, look-there are two drains. What could be the reason for that?”

“Simple, Hymie,” Max replied. “One is for the water to drain out, and the other is for it to drain in. You couldn’t have it drain in and out at the same time through the same drain, could you? Use your head, Hymie.”

“You may be right, Max. But I doubt it. You’ve already been right once. I don’t see how it could happen again. Not so soon, anyway. I’m going down to the bottom of that pool and take a look at that second drain.”

“Which one is the second drain, Hymie?”

“The other one.”

“Oh.”

Hymie stood at the edge of the pool, looking down into the water. “I wish I had my trunks,” he said.

“Really? Do you expect to be gone that long? It’s only about twelve feet to the bottom of the pool, Hymie. Why do you think you have to pack a bag?”

“My swimming trunks, Max.”

“You could have said that in the first place.”

Fully-clothed, Hymie dived into the pool, then settled to the bottom. Reaching the other drain, he examined it, then appeared to be turning it, as if it were a dial. Immediately, a doorway opened in the side of the pool. Oddly, though, water did not rush into the opening.

Hymie climbed out of the pool, dripping wet.

“That’s it, Max,” he said.

“It certainly is,” Max said. “Boy, are you going to have a cleaning and pressing job on your hands!”

“I meant I found where they’re keeping Number One,” Hymie said. “Didn’t you see that door open? Behind that opening, there’s a secret installation of some kind. They use air pressure, apparently, to keep the water out. Let’s go, Max.”

“Into the pool?” Max said. “Hymie, I’ve only had this cowhand outfit one day. I’ll ruin it if I jump into the pool in it.”

“Well, I guess you can take it off and go in in your birthday suit, Max.”

“Mmmmmm. Ahh. . do you have any idea who we might meet in that secret installation, Hymie?”

“Ways and Means, probably.”

“No problem there,” Max said.

“And Number One.”

“Oh-oh. That blows the birthday suit idea. She might be offended. I guess I’ll just have to sacrifice my new cowhand outfit for the good of the civilized world. I hope it appreciates it.”

Max and Hymie dived into the pool, then passed through the doorway, and found themselves in a long, dry corridor. At the far end, they could make out another door, which appeared to be closed.

“That’s probably where they’re keeping Number One,” Hymie said.

“Either that, or it’s a dead-end,” Max said.

“Max, there aren’t any other doors. Why would Ways and Means build an underground corridor, with a secret entrance that makes it so difficult to get to?”

“Hymie, I’m not a psychiatrist. I can’t explain things like that.”

“I think we’ll probably find a laboratory beyond that door,” Hymie said. “That’s undoubtedly where the brainwashing is being done.”,

“Well, you’re the leader,” Max said. “If you really have faith in a crazy idea like that-” He shrugged.

With Hymie leading the way, they proceeded.

“Max. . quiet!” Hymie said.

“I can’t help it. I have water in my house slippers.”

“Empty them.”

Max poured pool water from his slippers, then tagged after Hymie. “I just hope that water didn’t damage my phone,” he said.

“You have a phone in your house slippers, too, Max?”

“I often get calls in the middle of the night. Wouldn’t it be a little silly to get up out of bed and put on my street shoes? Just to answer the phone?”

“I suppose so, Max. I never-”

“Hymie! Stop!”

Hymie halted. “What is it, Max?”

Max pointed to a small nozzle that was protruding from the wall at about head level. “This is where my experience proves valuable,” he said. “You see? You weren’t programmed to detect that. But I spotted it for what it is the instant I saw it. That’s because I’ve seen the same thing several times before. That’s the benefit of experience, Hymie.”

“But what is it, Max?”

“Well. . let’s see. . I’ve seen so many of these mechanisms, in time, they all begin to look alike. It might be a napalm spray. Or, on the other hand, it could be a mind-destroying laser beam. Yet, come to think of it, it might be nothing more than an automatic sprinkling system. Although-” He looked around. “-there isn’t much lawn in here. So that probably rules out the automatic sprinkling system.”

“Is there some way we can find out, Max?”

“We could hold something in front of it. I wouldn’t suggest holding a mind in front of it, though. It just might be a mind-destroying laser beam.” He reached into his pocket. “How about a slightly damp pack of matches?” he said.

“In this case, you’ll have to make the decision, Max.”

“All right, we’ll try it.”

Max held the matches in front of the nozzle. There was a sizzling sound, and they completely disappeared.

“If that had been a mind, it wouldn’t be a mind anymore,” Max said. “What you just saw at work, Hymie, was a mind-destroying laser beam. I know because if it’d been an automatic sprinkler system, I would have had a very wet slightly damp pack of matches right now.”

“How do we get past it, Max?”

“We can’t. A laser beam is impossible to destroy. If you try to hit it with a hammer, you just lose your hammer.”

“Max. . couldn’t we duck down and go under it?”

“Well, yes, if you want to cheat, I suppose you can do that,” Max said. “But if I have to make a choice between losing my mind and cheating- Mmmmmm. . who’ll duck first, Hymie, you or me?”

Together, Max and Hymie crouched, passed the laser beam, then proceeded. But, a few yards on, Max stopped Hymie again.

“Experience proves itself again,” he said, pointing. “There’s another one.”

Hymie studied the nozzle-like protrusion. “Another mind-destroying laser beam?” he asked.

“Aha! You’re wrong!” Max cackled. “That’s because you don’t have my experience, Hymie. I was dealing with KAOS when you were still a gleam in some mechanical engineer’s eye. This is not a mind-destroying laser beam. Look at it a little more closely-but not too closely-and you’ll see that it’s scorched around the opening. Now-what does that suggest?” He shook his head. “No, it doesn’t mean that somebody left the iron on while they went to answer the telephone and the call was from an especially talkative friend. It means, Hymie, that this is a napalm spray. It sprays flame.”

“Well, then-”

“Which reminds me of a little joke,” Max broke in. “What command is given to a firing squad of soldiers who are using napalm sprays?”

“Max, I don’t think-”

“Go on-guess.”

“I don’t know, Max.”

“Ready, aim, fire!”

“That’s the usual command, Max.”

“I know that, Hymie. But when the soldiers are using napalm sprays, the command ‘fire’ has special significance. Because fire comes from the sprayers. Understand?”

Hymie nodded. “That’s very funny, Max.”

“You have a very warped sense of humor, Hymie,” Max said disappointedly. “There’s nothing at all funny about napalm. If you walk in front of that nozzle, for instance, you’ll get yourself burned to a crisp.”

“What shall we do, Max?” Hymie asked patiently.

“Well, we could turn back, and climb out of the pool and get the car out of hiding, and drive into Las Vegas, and see if we could find a store open, and try to buy some asbestos clothing.”

“Isn’t there an easier and faster way, Max?”

“Hymie, I don’t like what’s happening to you. You’re getting so you like to cheat.”

They crouched, passed the napalm sprayer, then proceeded.

“I can understand why they don’t have any guards in this corridor,” Hymie said.

“You’re right-it is damp in here,” Max said. “One tour of duty, and a guard would be down with pneumonia.”

“That’s not what I meant, Max. I meant that with all these defensive gadgets, it would be almost impossible for an intruder to make it to the end of the corridor.”

“Unless he was experienced,” Max nodded. He pointed again. “For instance,” he said, “see that fire extinguisher hanging on the wall up ahead?”

“Yes, What is it really, Max?”

“A fire extinguisher, probably,” Max replied. “KAOS isn’t totally heartless. If you get hit by that napalm spray, you probably get a second chance.”

“That’s very thoughtful,” Hymie said.

“Maybe not,” Max said. “If I know KAOS, that fire extinguisher is filled with gasoline.” He pointed once more. “Oh-oh-see that!”

“Just beyond the fire extinguisher, you mean? That nozzle that looks like those other nozzles? What is it, Max?”

“An electric eye,” Max replied. “And baby blue, or I’ll be very much surprised.”

“Is the color significant, Max?”

“Baby blue means that the electric eye operates a trapdoor,” Max replied. “With experience, you learn these things. Red would indicate that it fired a series of machine guns imbedded in the walls. And an orange electric eye opens and closes the garage doors.”

“I’m not going to ask you how to get by this,” Hymie said. “Let’s just cheat and save time.”

Crouching, they passed the electric eye. A moment later, they reached the door at the end of the corridor. Hymie turned the knob, opened the door a crack and peeked through it.

“What do you see?” Max asked.

“Just what I expected-a laboratory,” Hymie whispered. “And I see Ways and Means and Number One. They’re feeding information into her memory banks.”

“Making a deposit, eh?”

“I don’t see any guards,” Hymie said.

“Probably all in bed with terrible colds,” Max said.

“Do you have your gun, Max?”

Max got his pistol from his shoulder holster. Water poured from the barrel. “I think there’s going to be a hitch,” he said.

Hymie got out his own gun. It, too, was wet. “Well, we’ll just have to rush them and overpower them,” he said.

“Right. I’m ready when you are.”

“Maybe it would be better to try to slip up on them and surprise them,” Hymie said.

“You’re right,” Max nodded. “When I rush somebody, I always yell ‘Geronimo!’ And that always gives it away. Slipping up is much quieter.”

“Ready, Max?”

“Ready, Hymie.”

Hymie opened the door and he and Max entered the laboratory. Wayne Ways and Melvin Means had their backs to them, facing Number One, a refrigerator-size computer with a face that was a confusion of dials, gauges, buttons and levers.

“She looks just like I pictured her,” Max said.

“Shhhh!”

Max and Hymie crept closer and closer. They were only a few steps from Ways and Means when suddenly there was a ringing sound.

Ways and Means whipped around.

“You!” Means cried, staring at Max.

“You!” Ways cried, staring at Hymie.

The ringing sounded again.

“Your slipper, Max,” Hymie said.

“Guards!” Means shouted.

Doors began flying open and guards began rushing out.

“That’s loyalty for you,” Max said, impressed, “getting up out of a sickbed.”

“Run, Max!” Hymie commanded.

Max, his slipper still ringing, followed Hymie toward the doorway through which they had just entered. They dashed into the corridor.

“Wait!” Max called.

Hymie halted. “What is it?”

“Do you have a piece of chalk?”

Hymie handed him a fragment of white chalk.

Quickly, Max printed ‘Out of Order’ over the first nozzle. Then he and Hymie ducked under it and raced on along the corridor. A moment later, the guards poured through the doorway. Spotting the sign Max had printed above the nozzle, they elected not to duck. A trapdoor opened beneath them, and a number of them plummeted through the opening.

By then, Max and Hymie had reached the second nozzle. Max chalked ‘Out of Order’ over it. Then he and Hymie ducked down, then ran on. The remaining guards, still giving chase, saw the sign, and chose not to duck. They were burned to a crisp.

“I don’t understand,” Hymie said. “How could they be stupid enough to believe that second sign.”

“Because they’ve been brainwashed by their bedside computers,” Max explained. “They’d believe anything. That shows what will happen to the whole civilized world, Hymie, if we don’t stop Means and Ways.”

“We can’t go back now-not without weapons,” Hymie said.

“Well. . tomorrow is another day,” Max said.

R-i-i-i-n-n-g, Max’s slipper persisted.

“Max. . maybe you better answer your shoe.”

“Oh. . yes. I was-”

At that moment, there was a shot. A bullet zinged past Max’s head. Max and Hymie turned and saw that Ways and Means had appeared from the laboratory. They had guns. And, since they had not been brainwashed, it was unlikely that they would fall victim to their own traps.

“Run!” Hymie commanded.

Max raced after him. Gunfire followed them. Bullets hit the walls all around. They ducked under the mind-destroying laser, then dashed through the doorway and into the pool. A few moments later, they bobbed to the surface, swam to the edge of the pool, pulled themselves out, ran to the bunkhouse, jumped into bed, and covered up their heads.

Max’s house slipper was still ringing.

From his own room, Hymie called out, “Max! Answer it!”

“It’s too dark in here. I can’t find it!”

“Push the covers back!”

“Oh.”

Max sat up on the edge of his bed and removed his house slipper.

Max: Yes?

Unfamiliar Male Voice: Mr. Maxwell Smart?

Max (looking at his watch): Do you happen to know what time it is? It’s two o’clock in the morning!

UMV: I have seven after.

Max: I guess I’m a little slow. I’ve been swimming, and my watch isn’t waterproof. Who is this, anyway?

UMV: Mr. Smart, I represent the Wide Awake Telephone Answering Service-WATAS, for short. WATAS would like to represent you, Mr. Smart.

Max: You mean you’d like to be my telephone answering service?

Operator: You catch on quick, Maxie. What’ve you been doing, taking lessons?

Max: Operator, why did you let this screwball call me at this time of morning? You know this is a private line.

Operator: Maxie, you need a telephone answering service. This man is trying to do you a favor. You listen to him. All right, Harold, get in there and sell!

Max: Harold?

Harold: I’m her brother-in-law.

Max: Oh. Well, that explains a lot. It doesn’t excuse it, however. Couldn’t you have called me during regular business hours? It’s two o’clock in the morning!

Operator: I have twelve after.

Max: I guess my watch has stopped.

Harold: I called you at this hour, Mr. Smart-

Operator: Call him ‘Maxie,’ Harold. He’s nobody.

Harold: I called you at this hour, Maxie-boy, for a special reason. This is the best way to show you how valuable our service can be to you. You don’t like being called at two-seven in the morning, do you?

Max: No. But-

Harold: If you subscribed to our answering service, you wouldn’t get calls at two-seven in the morning. We’d take the calls.

Max: But nobody ever calls me at two-seven in the morning-except you.

Harold: I’m finally getting through to you. That’s the point: Take our service, and we promise to stop calling you at two-seven in the morning. Or, if we do call you at two-seven, we’ll take the call ourselves, so you won’t be bothered. Either way, how can you lose?

Max: I’ll think about it. Frankly, there’s something about it that doesn’t sound quite right to me.

Harold (to Operator): I thought you told me he was dumb.

Operator: Give it time. After he thinks it over, he’ll subscribe. He’s so dumb, it even takes him time to do something stupid.

Harold: I’ll call you again tomorrow morning at two-seven, Maxie-boy.

Max: It won’t do you any good. I won’t answer. You’ll only get my answering service.

Max put his house slipper back on, then got back under the covers. But a moment later, the slipper rang again.

Max: Yes-who is it?

Harold: This is your answering service, Maxie-boy. You’ve got a call from some whacko who calls himself a chief. Do you want to take it?

Max: At two o’clock in the morning?

Chief: Max! This is me, Max-the Chief. And it isn’t two o’clock in the morning-it’s two twenty-one. And, besides, what does that have to do with it? You’re on duty twenty-four hours a day, Max. When I call, I want you to be there! Is that clear?

Harold: Shall I put him on, Maxie-boo?

Max: Yes, I’ll accept that call, Harold.

Harold: I’ll connect you, sir. You may speak to Mr. Smart, now.

Operator: Harold. . you’re crowding in on my territory. This is a private line. I handle all the calls on this circuit. This is a Control line, you know. Control is a secret government organization. For all we know, you might be a KAOS spy. I’ll tell you the truth, Harold, I warned my sister not to marry you. ‘A KAOS spy, if I ever saw one,’ I said to her. What’s this thing about telephones you’ve got? Can’t you get an honest job? It looks very suspicious-a grown man playing with telephones. It’s probably not play to you, I’ll bet. You’ve probably got the whole world bugged. Not that I mind. But you know what it’ll do to Mother when she finds out. Her daughter married to a bugger! She’ll start having her fainting fits again. Harold! Please! Give it up! Go straight! For Mother’s sake!

Harold: Maxie-boo, I can’t be your answering service anymore. I’m going out of business.

Max: I’m very glad to hear that, Harold. I’m sure Mother will be pleased, too.

Harold: Who cares about her? I’m doing it for the profit I’ll make on declaring bankruptcy.

Operator: Don’t forget my cut! It was my idea!

Chief: Operator. . Harold. . please. . would you get off the line? Max. . are you still there?

Max: Am I still where, Chief?

Harold: He’s sure dumb, all right. It’s a pity to lose a customer like that. I could overcharge him and he’d never know it.

Operator: Maybe you’d like to reconsider, Harold. Whatever you decide, Mother will be pleased. She looks on you like her own son.

Harold: I thought your mother had only girls.

Operator: That’s what I mean.

Max: Operator, I don’t think I under-

Chief: Max! Forget it! I want to talk to you. Why do you think I called you at two twenty-two in the morning? I couldn’t sleep. I’m worried about this case. What progress have you made?

Max: I’ll have to ask Hymie, Chief. He’s in charge-remember?

Chief: Then put him on.

Max: He’s in another room, Chief. But I’ll go get him. In the meantime, you can talk to Harold and the Operator. Try to find out, will you, why. the Operator’s mother thinks of Harold as her own son when she only has daughters.

Max slipped his slipper back on his foot, then went to Hymie’s room. Hymie was asleep. But Max woke him and told him the Chief was on the line and wanted to talk to him.

“What time is it?” Hymie asked groggily.

Max looked at his watch. “Two o’clock in the morning,” he replied. Then he sat down on the edge of Hymie’s bed, took off his slipper, and handed it to Hymie.

Hymie: Chief? Why are you calling at two o’clock in the morning?

Harold: You’ve been swimming with your watch on, too, I’ll bet.

Hymie: Who’s this?

Operator: Hymie, that’s Harold. He’s my brother-in-law-although Mother thinks of him as her own son, practically. He’s in the telephone answering service business.

Chief: Forget all that, Hymie. I’m the one who’s calling you. I couldn’t sleep. I want to know how the case is progressing.

Operator: Should Harold be listening to this, Chief? You’ve heard about his connection with KAOS, I suppose.

Chief: Nobody’s supposed to be listening, Operator! I want this line cleared! Understand! Cleared!

Hymie handed the slipper back to Max. “He didn’t want to talk to me, after all,” he said. “He told me to get off the line.”

Max shook his head in dismay. “The Chief is getting old in his old age,” he said sorrowfully. “It’s a sure sign when you start calling people up at two o’clock in the morning and you don’t even want to talk to them. I hope he doesn’t make a habit of it.” He looked thoughtful. “Maybe I better get myself an answering service,” he said.

7

Max was awakened roughly the next morning, and when he managed to open his eyes he found Hymie shaking him.

“We overslept, Max,” Hymie explained.

Max reached for his watch, which he had placed on the bedside table. “It’s only two o’clock in the morning!” he complained.

“Your watch stopped, Max-remember?”

“Oh. . yes.” Max sat up. “What time is it, actually?” he asked.

“Nine, Max.”

“Oh? What are we late for?” Max asked. “If we overslept, we must be late for something. And, if we’re late-why bother? We’ve probably already missed the important part. Let’s go back to sleep and try again tomorrow morning.”

“There’s no time for sleep, Max,” Hymie said. “I think we’re in danger. Ways and Means are trying to trick us. When I got up a few minutes ago, I switched on my bedside computer, and it told me to go clean-shaven this morning.”

Max peered at him. “You’re still wearing your handlebar mustache,” he said. “You mean you defied your bedside computer, Hymie? That’s terrible. That could mean seven years bad luck!”

“That’s a superstition, Max,” Hymie said.

“Oh, it is, is it? Well, what would you say if I told you that my uncle Harry defied his bedside computer once, and his seven years bad luck started immediately?”

“What happened, Max?”

“He broke a mirror.”

“All right, Max, it’s seven years bad luck. But what bothers me is, I’m afraid it’s a trick. I think Ways and Means want us to discard our mustaches so they can recognize us.”

Max shook his head. “That’s ridiculous, Hymie. They already recognized us. Remember? When we were face to face with them last night, Means stared at me and said, ‘You!’ And Ways stared at you and said, ‘You!’” He frowned. “Or was it the other way around? Maybe it was Ways who stared at me, and Means who stared at you. I’m a little fuzzy on that.”

“What difference does it make, Max?”

Max shrugged. “How should I know? You’re the man-in-charge-you tell me.”

“Max, I don’t think that saying ‘You!’ means that they recognized us,” Hymie said. “Or, if it does, it doesn’t mean that they recognized us as Max Smart and Hymie. It could mean that they recognized us as the two hired hands they hired.”

“Hymie, this is getting a little confusing. Could you start at the beginning?”

“I came over here to find out if your bedside computer will give you the same orders that mine gave me,” Hymie said. “If it does, that will probably indicate that all the computers are giving the same order to everybody.”

“So?”

“So, if that’s the way it is, we’ll have to figure out what it means, and act accordingly,” Hymie said.

Max reached over and punched a button on his bedside computer. There was a clicking sound, then the computer disgorged a tape. Max tore it off and read it.

The tape said: IT PAYS TO LOOK WELL. GO CLEAN-SHAVEN TODAY.

“That’s a nice thought,” Max said.

“It’s a trick,” Hymie said.

“I don’t know. . it might just be some institutional advertising for the barbers’ union,” Max said.

Hymie shook his head. “Think, Max! All of the hired hands at this ranch wear handlebar mustaches. That’s why we’re wearing them-so we’ll look like all the others. But, if we all go clean-shaven today, Ways and Means will be able to recognize us.”

“So that’s why we’ll continue to wear the mustaches-right?”

“I don’t know, Max. It’s a difficult problem. It doesn’t compute.”

“Then we’ll have to rely on my experience, Hymie. And I say we should continue to wear the mustaches. Here’s what I think Means and Ways have done. They recognized us last night as the two new hired hands. So, while we were sleeping, they gimmicked our computers. We’ll be the only hired hands on the whole ranch who’ll be without mustaches. And, without mustaches, they’ll recognize us as Max Smart and Hymie. There. . clear?”

“Max, there are a few details you’re leaving out.”

“Maybe so, Hymie. But it’s better than your way. Your way, we’re in doubt about what to do. But, my way, our course is clear. Isn’t that better?”

“But, Max, in the end-”

“Let’s not argue about it, Hymie. There’s an old saying that fits this situation. It goes: When in doubt about what to do, do something anyway. Anything is better than nothing, isn’t it, Hymie? We live in a fast, action-packed time. Do you know what happens to people who do nothing because they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing, Hymie? They get left behind. The people who are advancing are the people who are doing something, whether it’s the right thing or not. That’s always been my motto: do something. That explains why I’m where I am today. And it explains, also, I imagine, why you’re where you are today. There’s a lesson in that, Hymie.”

“You mean that’s why I’m in charge and you’re taking orders?”

“That has nothing to do with it,” Max said sourly. “That happens to be a sad result of politics. Go comb your mustache,” he said, “while I get dressed.”

A few minutes later, Max and Hymie met in the corridor, both wearing mustaches. The instant they stepped out the door they were jumped on and taken prisoner by a half-dozen hired hands, none of whom were wearing mustaches.

“See? Isn’t this better than doing nothing?” Max said to Hymie. “Now, at least, we know where we stand. If we were still in the bunkhouse, fretting about what to do, we’d be nervous wrecks by now.”

The hired hands took them to the pool, then pushed them in. The guests around the pool applauded. The hired hands then dove into the pool, opened the door to the secret installation, hustled Max and Hymie inside, then closed the door behind them.

As they reached the mind-destroying laser beam, they all ducked under. But when they got to the napalm sprayer, Max started to walk right into it’s path. Hymie grabbed him and pulled him down.

“Max! You were almost burned to a crisp!”

“Don’t be silly,” Max said. “Don’t you see that notice chalked on the wall? It says: Out of Order.”

“Max, you chalked that there last night.”

“Oh. . yes. I’m surprised I didn’t recognize the printing.”

They proceeded, ducking down when they reached the apparatus that operated the trapdoor, then entered the laboratory. Ways and Means were there, feeding information to Number One.

“Those are the culprits, all right,” Ways said. He turned to Means. “Our trick worked perfectly,” he said.

“What trick is that?” Max asked.

“You two are the only ones wearing mustaches,” Ways explained. “So you must be the infiltrators. As soon as we shave you, we’ll know for sure.” He reached out and ripped off Max’s mustache and then Hymie’s. “Now, how about a little trim around the ears?” he asked.

“Wayne-it’s them!” Means said.

“You’re right, Melvin-the dumb one and the other one.” He addressed Max. “How did you get out of that vat?”

“Nevermind that,” Max said sharply. “You’re the ones who have explaining to do. Maybe you don’t know it, but that computer behind you happens to be government property. Now, we all make mistakes. Maybe you didn’t know it was government property when you broke into that government installation and computer-napped it and tried to drown us in chocolate when we attempted to retrieve it. Normally, ignorance is no excuse. But, in this case, I think the government might be willing to make an exception. Here’s my suggestion. You turn the computer over to us, and we’ll ask the government to go easy on you. With our help, you could be out of prison and leading useful lives again within seventy or eighty years.”

“I’d be one-hundred-and-twenty,” Ways said.

“And-at that age-a celebrity,” Max said. “See what can happen when you cooperate with the government?”

“We’ve got a better plan,” Means said. “The way we’re working it, within a few years, we’ll be the government.”

Max frowned. “How, exactly, do you figure to manage that?” he asked.

“We’ll have control of every bedside computer in the nation,” Ways replied. “Number One will design them for us. And she’ll tell them exactly what we want her to tell them, and then they’ll pass on the information to their owners.”

“We’re brainwashing Number One right now,” Means said. “Here’s what we’re feeding her,” he added, handing Max a tape that he had been about to put into the computer.

Max read:

THE GUYS IN THE BLACK HATS ARE THE GOOD GUYS

SPINACH IS TASTY

ONE PART GIN, FOUR PARTS VERMOUTH

THE WORLD IS FLAT

LOVE CAUSES ULCERS

SMOKING CLEARS THE SINUSES

THE GOVERNMENT IS ALWAYS RIGHT

EDUCATION CAUSES INGROWN TOENAILS

“That’s terrible!” Max said. “You’ll set civilization back a thousand years!”

“I don’t think there’s any danger, Max,” Hymie said. “Who would believe that stuff?”

“You’re right,” Max said. “Nobody is that much of a slave to his computer.”

“How were you dressed when you went to work the day you showed up at the candy factory?” Ways asked Max.

“Well, I was wearing my golf knickers and my. .” He turned to Hymie. “I think you’ve grossly underestimated the danger,” he said. “Nobody in his right mind would disregard orders from his bedside computer. We’re not used to thinking for ourselves early in the morning.” He faced Ways and Means again. “But, in order to carry out your plan,” he said, “you’ll have to place a brainwashed computer in every home. That’s impossible.”

“Easiest thing in the world,” Ways said. “They’ll be snapped up the minute we put them on the market. Our computers will cost twice as much as the computers that are now available.”

“Very clever,” Max nodded. “Everybody knows that anything that costs twice as much has to be twice as good.”

“Our computers will become a status symbol,” Means said.

“People will mortgage their homes to get our computers,” Means said.

“They’ll go into debt to get them,” Means said. “They’ll sell their boats, their second cars, their summer homes-all to get our computers.”

“I’ll have to admit it-it’s a clever plan,” Max said. “Double the price, and you won’t be able to manufacture these things fast enough to keep up with the demand. But-what then? Convincing everybody that the guys in the black hats are the good guys is interesting-but it won’t get you control of the government.”

“That’s only the beginning,” Ways said. “As soon as we have a computer in every home, we’ll tell the people how to vote. Our candidate will win by a landslide.”

“Your candidate?”

Ways pointed over his shoulder. “Number One.”

“Aha! A brainwashed computer will become President-and you’ll have control of the computer. That’s very clever. It might even work.”

“How can it fail?” Means asked.

“Well, she’s a computer, yes. But she’s also a woman, you know. It’s one thing to put a woman in the White House, but it’s another to get her to do what you want after you get her there. As a very wise man once said: you’d be a fool to depend on it.”

“She’s a machine,” Ways scoffed. “A machine will-”

Number One, who had been clicking contentedly, suddenly began clattering.

“I think you hurt her feelings,” Max said to Wayne Ways.

“That’s-”

Number One unreeled a tape.

Means tore it off, then read:

What havoc here is being wreaked?

A gear of mine is being squeaked.

What language here is being spoken?

Was that a circuit I heard broken?

What explanation will explain

This feeling I feel that feels like pain?

Do I need a change of erl?

Or am I being a silly girl?

Put it on if fits the glove!

Whee! Hurrah! I am in love!

“I hope you got that, Hymie,” Max said. “It’s probably something in code.”

Hymie shook his head. “It’s poetry,” he said. “She always gets that way when she’s in love.”

“Oh, poetry, eh? And very nice, too,” Max said. He spoke to Ways. “See what I mean,” he said. “You’re liable to have yourself a President who delivers the State of the Union message in verse. And who knows what else she might do?”

“Get them out of here!” Ways said to the guards. “Something’s gone wrong. We must work on the machine.”

The guards hustled Max and Hymie out of the laboratory through one of the side doors, then locked them in a cell. One of the guards remained, and the others departed.

“We won’t need you-if you have something important you’d like to attend to,” Max said to the guard.

“I’m your guard-I have to stay here and guard,” the guard replied.

Max motioned to Hymie and they withdrew to a corner of the cell. “Did you hear that?” he said, lowering his voice. “That guard is guarding us.”

“I heard,” Hymie replied.

“I just don’t want you to say, later, that I’m keeping things from you,” Max said. “I always tell my leader everything. A leader without all the facts is like a fisherman without a worm.”

“I understand, Max. Thanks.”

“Unless, of course, the fisherman happened to bring along some bread crusts,” Max said. “If fish are very hungry, they’ll sometimes bite on bread crusts.”

“I know, Max.”

“Bread crusts aren’t much help to a leader without the facts, though,” Max said. “Try figuring out what step to take next when all you’ve got is a handful of dry bread.”

“Max. . I understand.”

“Unless it’s the leader’s day off and he’s gone fishing,” Max said. “In that case, the fact he needs is whether or not the fish are hungry enough to bite on bread crusts. But if he had the bread crusts, he wouldn’t need the facts. All he’d have to do-”

“Max! I know! I know!”

“Hymie,” Max scolded, “if you’re going to be a leader, you’ll have to learn to control your temper. Your followers won’t respect you if you blow up like that over nothing. A leader is always cool, calm and collected. Remember that.”

“I will, Max.”

“All right, now-where was I? Oh, yes-I’d just congratulated you.”

“Max. . somehow, I think I must have missed that part,” Hymie said.

“You’re not paying attention, Hymie. I congratulated you for saving the day-temporarily, at least.”

“I did?” Hymie said, puzzled. “What did I do, Max?”

“Do? You didn’t do anything. But, fortunately, that was enough. Just being there was all that was required. You threw a monkey wrench into Means’ and Ways’ plan. They’ve lost control over Number One. And it’s all because you were there.”

“Max, I didn’t do a thing,” Hymie said.

“You didn’t have to. All you had to do was walk into that laboratory. The instant Number One saw you, the flame was rekindled, Hymie. You heard that poetry, didn’t you? Number One is in love!”

“Not with me, Max,” Hymie said. “The last time I saw Number One, she told me to take a walk.”

“She meant she wanted you to take her for a walk, Hymie. A lovers stroll-haven’t you ever heard of that?”

“That’s not what she meant, Max. She told me where to go.”

“Oh? Where did she tell you to walk to, Hymie?”

“Off the end of a pier.”

“Well, in the meantime, she’s thought it over, and she’s sorry. She realizes now what a catch you are, Hymie. You’re dependable. And, besides, you’ve gone up in the world. You’re in charge of a case. That makes you an executive. Face it, Hymie-she loves you.”

“Max, it’s very hard to believe. She said some pretty nasty things to me.”

“But, you told me yourself that she’s fickle. Now, she’s just fickling the other way.”

“I know it sounds-”

Wayne Ways and Melvin Means had suddenly appeared at the cell door.

“What’d you do to that computer!” Ways said angrily, shaking a fist at Max.

“Still acting up, is she?” Max smiled.

“Poetry! That’s all we can get out of her!” Means said. “Want to hear the latest? It goes:

How do I love thee?

Let me count the ways:

One, Two, Three, Four,

Five, Six, Seven-

“Sounds like a computer, all right,” Max nodded. “But if you think you’re going to get me to do anything about it, you’re like a fisherman without a worm.”

“We’ll torture you!” Ways threatened.

“A fat lot of good that will do,” Max said smugly. “The reason Number One is acting up is because she’s in love with Hymie. They were once steadies, you know. Unfortunately, there was a little misunderstanding, and they broke up. Hymie was hurt, of course. He thought she was just using him as a convenience until Mr. Right came along. And Number One thought Hymie ought to be the one to apologize, even though she’d started the whole thing by telling him to go jump off a pier. But then, today, when they saw each other again, they realized what a great mistake the parting had been.”

“Thanks,” Means said. “That’s what we wanted to know-what was causing all that love poetry. Now that we know, we can cure it. We’ll just feed her anti-love information. Before long, she’ll hate everybody-even her ex-robotfriend.”

Ways and Means departed.

“Well, Hymie,” Max said disgustedly, “you booted it again.”

“What did I do, Max?”

“You had a clear responsibility to shut me up, Hymie, and you muffed it. How you got to be an executive, I’ll never know.”

Again, Max motioned to Hymie, and they withdrew to a corner of the cell.

“We have to get out of here,” Max said, whispering. “Now-how do we do it?”

“I don’t know, Max.”

“Hymie, I figured out the problem. It’s your duty, as the leader, to come up with the solution. Do I have to do it all myself?”

“Do you have a suggestion, Max?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. First, I think we ought to overpower the guard.”

“But we’ll still be locked in the cell, Max.”

“Mmmmmm. . you’re right. All right, first, we have to escape from the cell. . then, we have to overpower the guard. How’s that?”

“Fine, Max. How do we escape?”

“Wouldn’t you like to do the thinking from here on out, Hymie? It’s your turn, you know.”

“It’s too bad we didn’t pick up some escape devices from Research and Development before we left,” Hymie said.

“Yes. Good old R amp; D is always- Wait a minute! I may have some left over from my last case,” Max said, digging a hand into his pocket. He brought out a small metal spoon.

“What’s that?” Hymie asked.

“It’s a small metal spoon,” Max replied.

“I mean what is it really?”

“Really, it’s a small metal spoon,” Max replied. “I don’t know what it’s doing in my pocket-it belongs in my sandbox.”

“Could we use it in some way, Max?”

“Well. . if the guard is a sand-boxer himself, and he doesn’t have a small metal spoon, I suppose we could try bribing him.”

Hymie shook his head. “I don’t think so, Max.”

“If we could get him to take us to the machine shop, we could make it into a key,” Max suggested.

“I doubt it, Max.”

“Hold the spoon,” Max said. “I’ll see what else I can find.”

He dug into his pocket again. This time, he came up with a metal item about the size of an aspirin tablet. “This will do it,” he said. “This is used for underwater demolition. This one little explosive will blow up a body of water the size of Lake Ontario. My last case was at the bottom of the Pacific. The mission was to destroy a KAOS secret underwater nuclear power installation.”

“Did you do it, Max?”

“Would I still have the explosive if I’d done it?”

“What happened?”

“It’s dark at the bottom of the Pacific,” Max replied. “I couldn’t find the explosive. At the time, I had a slight headache-from thinking about carrying around an explosive the size of an aspirin tablet that could blow up a body of water the size of Lake Ontario-and so, I was also carrying some aspirin tablets. Well, as it happened, the explosive got mixed up with the aspirin tablets. And, my light wouldn’t work-”

“What was the matter with it, Max?”

“How do I know? I used up a whole box of matches, trying to strike a light. Defective workmanship, I suppose.”

“Maybe it was because you were at the bottom of the Pacific,” Hymie suggested.

“Hymie, above or below sea level, matches should still work. Anyway,” he said, “that was another case. It’s just lucky I didn’t use this explosive to blow up that nuclear power installation. If I had, I wouldn’t have it with me now. And this explosive, Hymie, is going to get us out of here.”

“It probably would, Max,” Hymie said. “But I think we’d regret it.”

“Oh? How so?”

“Max, if it’s powerful enough to blow up a body of water the size of Lake Ontario, what do you suppose it will do to this cell-and everybody in it?”

“That’s a very good point, Hymie. We better crawl under that bunk, so we won’t get hurt.”

“That won’t help, Max. Think about it.”

Max thought about it, then put the explosive back into his pocket. “I guess we’re stuck with the spoon,” he said.

“That won’t be much help, either, Max.”

“Never say die,” Max said. “I saw a Jimmy Cagney picture once where he rattled on the cell bars with a spoon. It made an awful racket.”

“Did it get him out of the cell, Max?”

“No, but it got me out of the theater,” Max replied. “And maybe the same thing would work in this instance. I’ll rattle the spoon on the bars. The noise may drive the guard away. And once the guard is gone, we can use the spoon to start digging our way out.”

“Max-”

But Max was determined. He began rattling the spoon on the bars, making a terrible racket.

“Hey!” the guard said, coming to the cell door. “That’s a terrible racket. You’re giving me a headache.”

“Sorry about that,” Max said sympathetically. “I know exactly how that is.” He dug into his pocket. “Here. Here’s an aspirin.”

“Thanks,” the guard replied, taking the tablet and swallowing it.

Max began rattling the spoon on the bars again.

The guard drew his gun and pointed it at Max. “Do that once more, and you get it right between the eyes!” he warned.

Glowering, Max put the spoon away. The guard returned to his post.

“Max! Do you know what you gave that guard!” Hymie said.

“Yes-a very nasty look!” Max replied. “He could have been polite about asking me to stop, he didn’t have to threaten me.”

“That aspirin, I mean. That was the explosive!”

“Oh-oh,” He called through the bars. “Guard! I want you to know that you don’t have to worry about us trying to make a jailbreak. So, don’t make any sudden moves. If you hear or see anything unusual, don’t panic. Ask questions first. Whatever you do, don’t jump up or run.”

“Quiet!” the guard yelled back.

“Leave him alone, Max,” Hymie said. “You might upset him.”

“Maybe we better get under that bunk, anyway, Hymie-just in case.”

“There’s nothing but cotton padding on that bunk, Max. What good would that do?”

“Don’t forget-I’ll be holding my spoon over us, too.”

8

As soon as 99 had had breakfast that morning, she strolled out to where the horse and cow were standing, grazing, assuming that Max and Hymie would make contact with her there. But morning passed and they did not appear. 99 took a half-hour off for lunch, then returned to the corral. She noticed now that all of the hired hands were clean-shaven. That started her wondering. Was it possible that Max and Hymie, obeying their bedside computers, had taken off their false mustaches? If so, they might have been recognized. They might now, in fact, be in the clutches of Ways and Means!

Beginning to worry, 99 strolled to the pool, mingled with the other guests, and began asking sly questions.

“Well. . any clues to anything?” she inquired of a middle-aged man, settling down beside him in the next deck chair.

“My dear, clues to anything you might choose,” he beamed. “Nothing is impossible in this place. First vacation I’ve enjoyed in years. I’m thinking of moving my office out here.”

“Business and pleasure don’t mix,” 99 reminded him.

“I’ve always enjoyed working,” the man said. “And now I enjoy vacationing. So, it’ll be mixing pleasure with pleasure.”

“But won’t it get boring, enjoying yourself all the time?” 99 asked.

“No, no, no. There’s always something new and interesting going on here at the Leg Up. Why, only this morning, several gentlemen jumped into the pool fully clothed, turned the rim on that drain at the bottom, then disappeared through a secret opening in the side of the pool. You don’t see much of that back home in Milford, Connecticut.”

“Oh?”

“No. You have to drive all the way to Bridgeport. It gets pretty wild in Bridgeport sometimes.”

99 leaned a little forward, lowering her voice. “These men who jumped into the pool-were they clean-shaven?” she asked.

“All but two of them,” the man replied.

“Could you describe them?”

“Had handlebar mustaches.”

“Was there anything else about them that you noticed?” 99 asked.

“Well. . one of them wasn’t as dumb-looking as the other.”

99 smiled. “Thank you.”

She got up, dived into the pool fully clothed, turned the rim on the drain, then disappeared through a secret opening.

“Same old stuff,” the man grumbled. “Who was it said there’s always something new and interesting going on here?”

Finding herself in a corridor, 99 sized up the situation, then proceeded toward the closed door at the far end of the corridor. Approaching a nozzle that was protruding from the wall, she identified it as a mind-destroying laser beam, and ducked under it. A moment later, she came to a second nozzle. Chalked over it, she saw the words: Out of Order. Recognizing the nozzle as a napalm spray, 99 knew that there would be no point to putting an Out of Order sign on it if it were really out of order, so the sign was probably a trick. She ducked under the spray and proceeded. The sign over the trapdoor did not fool her either. She soon reached the closed door at the end of the corridor.

Opening the door, 99 spotted Ways and Means, with their backs to her, feeding information into a machine that looked a great deal like a refrigerator that had broken out in a rash of gauges, buttons, dials and levers, and which, consequently, she assumed must be Number One. Ways and Means appeared to be quite perturbed. As a result, they did not see her as she slipped quietly across the laboratory toward one of the side doors. Nor did they notice when she passed through the doorway and entered the smaller corridor that led to the cells.

A few seconds later, 99 came upon the guard who was doing sentry duty near the cell which held Max and Hymie. She immediately dropped the man with one quick, sharp karate blow, then, as he fell, hurried to the bars of the cell.

“Max! Hymie! Are you all right?” 99 called.

“We’re fine, 99.”

“What are you doing under that bunk?”

“It’s sort of a game,” Max replied, as he and Hymie crawled out. “It’s called ‘When you see a good friend creep up on a guard and drop him with a karate blow and let him fall and he’s just swallowed an explosive that could blow up a body of water the size of Lake Ontario, duck under anything, even a bunk or a small metal spoon.’ ”

“Gee. . I like the title,” 99 said. “But, how is it played?”

“Very carefully, without disturbing the body,” Max replied.

“99,” Hymie said, “get the keys from the guard and let us out.”

“But, 99-” Max warned, “-don’t disturb the body!”

99 returned to where the guard had fallen, rolled his body over-very carefully-then unhooked the ring of keys from his belt.

“I wonder which is which?” 99 said, returning to the cell and examining the keys.

“The key for the cell will fit the lock in the cell door,” Max explained. “That’s the way you tell.”

“I know, Max. I- Here it is!”

99 turned the key in the lock, then opened the cell door. Max and Hymie slipped out, then the three moved toward the doorway that led to the laboratory. But suddenly Max halted them.

“Somebody’s coming!”

“I heard it, too, Max,” 99 said.

“Anybody have a weapon?” Max asked.

There was no reply.

“Then we’ll have to hide,” Max decided. “That’s probably Means and Ways and the whole army of guards coming this way. If they catch us, they’ll toss us all into that cell. And then 99 won’t be free to rescue us again.”

“Max! Where can we hide?”

“Follow me!”

Max turned and retreated along the corridor, and 99 and Hymie followed close behind. Max suddenly made a sharp right turn-and Hymie and 99 tagged after him.

“They’ll never find us in here,” Max crowed.

“Max, we’re-”

There was a clanging sound.

“That was probably the guard shutting that cell door we left open,” Max gloated.

“It was, Max,” Hymie assured him. He pointed. “If you’ll look, you can see him.”

Max looked, then broke into a broad grin. “Talk about stupid,” he said. “Look-that guard has locked himself into his own cell.”

“Max-”

“Of all the dumb tricks!” Max went on. “I knew he couldn’t be very bright when he swallowed that explosive, thinking it was an aspirin. But this takes the prize.”

“Max,” 99 said, “it isn’t the guard who’s locked in the cell.”

“What do you mean, 99? I can see it for myself. There he is, standing there with his hands gripping the bars. Look at that happy look on his face. That’s the look of a man who- Oh. Yes, I see what you mean, 99.”

“This wasn’t the best place to hide, Max,” Hymie said. “We’re right back in the cell where we started.”

“Matters aren’t quite as bad as they were,” Max insisted. “99 is with us now. It’s always better to have feminine company. I don’t know why. But things seem to work out that way.”

“Hey, wait a minute!” the guard said. “I had two prisoners before. Now there’re three. Who doesn’t belong?” He narrowed his eyes. “I don’t remember having a girl in there before.”

“Okay-we admit it-we sneaked her in,” Max said. “And we’re willing to take our punishment. If it’s against the rules to have girls in the cells, then kick us all out. We deserve it.”

“It’s not against the rules,” the guard replied. “You can have all the girls in here you want to for all I care.”

“Now. . just-a-minute!” Max said indignantly. “If that’s the kind of jail this is, I want no part of it! I have a reputation to consider. I want out! And, furthermore, I want my money back!”

Cowed, the guard put the key in the lock. “I don’t know about getting your money back,” he said. “You’ll have to talk to the management. All I-”

At that moment, Ways and Means came stomping into the room.

“What’re you doing?” Means asked the guard.

“He wanted out,” the guard explained, indicating Max. “He’s worried about his reputation, what with us allowing girls in the cells and all.”

“Girls in the-”

Ways and Means peered into the cell.

“It’s her!” Ways said. “I’d remember that head anywhere. Once you see a head bobbing around on top of a vat of chocolate, it’s hard to forget it.”

“How did she get in there?” Means asked the guard.

“I have a sore neck, sir,” the guard replied, “so she must have fought her way in.”

Means looked hard at Hymie. “I don’t see it, but you must have something,” he said. “Number One is ga-ga over you, and now you’ve got dames fighting their way in to get to you in jail.”

“Can we assume from that statement,” Max said “that Number One is still reciting love poetry?”

“As fast as she can turn it out,” Ways said. “We feed her hate, and she gives us love. It’s a terrible thing. But we have the solution. We’re going to give her what she wants-the robot.”

“That’s very good thinking,” Max said. “I approve of that.”

“You think when that robot gets in there he’ll brainwash her in the other direction, don’t you?” Ways said.

“Well. . it just may be possible that since she’s ga-ga over him he might have some influence over her,” Max admitted

“Dumb,” Means said.

“Before we turn him over to her, we plan to brainwash him,” Ways explained to Max. “We’ll make him think he’s a KAOS agent. That way, he’ll work with us, not against us.”

“That’s very good thinking,” Max said. “I’m afraid you’ve lost my approval, however.”

“Open the cell door,” Means commanded the guard.

When the door had been opened, Hymie was taken out. Then Ways and Means returned to the laboratory, taking Hymie with them. The guard relocked the door.

“Max, do you really think they can brainwash Hymie?” 99 asked.

“Why not, 99? He’s a machine. If you tell a machine it’s a KAOS agent, it believes it.”

“But it isn’t working on Number One, Max. They haven’t been able to persuade her to give up her love and turn to hate.”

“She must need an overhaul,” Max replied. “If she were functioning correctly, she’d believe anything she was told. I’m positive about that. That’s what makes machines inferior to humans-they believe anything they’re told. I know that because that’s what I’ve been told.”

“Max, what are we going to do?”

“Escape, 99. It’s our duty to break out of here, rescue Hymie and Number One, and destroy this KAOS installation.”

“Good, Max! How?”

“Did you bring any escape devices with you?”

99 shook her head.

“Then we’ll have to rely on our brains,” Max said. 99 went to the cot and slumped down, looking defeated.

“Don’t give up so quickly, 99,” Max said. “Haven’t I thought us out of tighter spots than this?”

“Well, frankly, Max-”

“Nevermind that,” Max broke in. “There’s always a first time for everything, you know. This time, it might work. Now, listen-here’s my first idea. Get up off the cot and let me lie down, and I’ll pretend to be ill. I’ll moan and groan and attract the guard’s attention. When he comes in here to find out what’s the matter with me, you’ll drop him with a karate chop. Okay?”

“Didn’t I see that in a movie, Max?”

“Yes, 99. In an old movie-on television.”

“As I recall-”

“That’s irrelevant, 99. This time, it will work.”

99 got up, and Max stretched out on the cot and began moaning and groaning. After a few moments, the guard appeared at the ceil door.

“You sound like you got the miseries,” the guard said sympathetically.

“And I’m terribly ill, too,” Max replied.

“Shouldn’t you do something?” 99 said to the guard.

“I’m no doctor, ma’am.”

“But shouldn’t you come in and get him and maybe take him to the guest house? There must be a doctor among the guests.”

“He don’t want no doctor,” the guard said. “Don’t you know about doctors, ma’am? They’re a bunch of scalywags, every last one of them. My mom used to say, anybody who goes to a doctor, there’s something wrong with them. The home remedies, they’re the best.” He addressed Max again. “Where does it hurt?” he asked. “Somewhere around the rib section?”

“That’s it!” Max groaned.

“Then you’ve probably got what mom used to call riboflavin,” the guard said. “What’s good for that is fish-eye stew. You get yourself a pot and put in some turnip tops, and the bark of a weeping willow, and a ten-months-old badminton net, then fill it to the brim with rusty rainwater, and let it simmer ’til the badminton net dissolves. You serve it-”

“What about the fish eye?” 99 asked.

“You bury that out in back of the woodshed,” the guard replied.

Max groaned again.

“That don’t sound like riboflavin to me,” the guard said.

“The pain has moved,” Max said.

“Since you know so much about healing,” 99 said to the guard, “maybe you could help him. Why don’t you at least come inside and look at him.”

“Oh, I can see what he’s got all the way from over here,” the guard said. “You’ll notice that he’s lying down and his eyes are closed. That’s a sure sign of the blind staggers. If he got up, he’d fall flat on his face. What’s good for the blind staggers is chicken soup.”

“That sounds good,” Max said. “Why don’t you get some and bring it in?”

“It’d have to be Mom’s recipe,” the guard replied. “And I don’t have any shoe tongue handy.”

Max peered at him. “Shoe tongue? For chicken soup?”

“The way the recipe goes,” the guard said, “you take a tongue out of an old shoe, you put it in a big pot, then you add an old horse blanket-diced, of course-the scrapings off a squirrel carcass, the last leaf of summer, the glue from an old book binding, the want ad section out of the July 4th edition of the Clinton, Illinois, Daily Courier (being sure, naturally, to remove the Personal Ads), four hounds teeth, a pinch of salt, and a gallon of spring cider. You cook it for-”

“Chicken,” Max interrupted.

“Pardon?”

“You forgot the chicken,” Max pointed out.

“Shucks you don’t put chicken in it. That’d spoil it.”

“You don’t put chicken in chicken soup?”

“It’s not for putting chicken in, it’s for feeding to the chickens,” the guard explained. “They’re the ones that get the blind staggers. You’re the first human I ever saw to get it.”

Max sat up. “Nevermind,” he said to the guard.

“Max. . what about you-know-what,” 99 said.

“99, if I he here listening to any more of these recipes, I’ll get sick,” Max explained.

“Glad to do whatever I could do,” the guard said, returning to his post.

“That didn’t work too well, did it, Max?” 99 said.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Max admitted. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re defeated, 99. We’ll just have to try something else. How about the old setting-the-cot-on-fire trick? That always works-more or less-in old movies. Do you have a match, 99?”

“No, Max.”

“Neither do I. Well. . that boots that one, too. Unless we could rub a couple sticks together.”

“No sticks, Max.”

“Ask the guard-maybe he has a couple.”

99 went to the cell door and called to the guard. “I wonder,” she said, “if you might have a couple sticks we could borrow?”

“The last time I loaned a prisoner a couple sticks, he got careless and started a fire,” the guard replied.

“Matches, then?”

“That was the kind of sticks I loaned him,” the guard explained.

“Oh.”

The guard returned to his post, and 99 moved back to where Max was waiting. Max had lit a cigarette.

“Max! How did you do that?”

“It wasn’t easy, 99. Since I had no matches, I had to use my lighter.”

“Ah. . Max. . couldn’t you-”

“Hold it, 99! I think I’ve got an idea.”

Max got out his lighter, strolled over to the bunk, then set fire to the mattress.

“Fire!” 99 cried.

“Take it easy, 99,” Max scolded. “I did that. I told you I planned to set the bunk on fire.”

“I know, Max. I’m trying to attract the attention of the guard.”

“Good idea, 99. I’ll help you. Fire! Fire!”

99 joined in, screaming. “Fire! Fire! Fire!”

The guard came to the door. “You know you got a fire in there?” he said.

“Help! Save us!” 99 wailed.

“Open the door and let us out before we burn to death!” Max urged.

“Shucks, that’s the hard way,” the guard smiled. He walked to the wall, got down the fire hose, pointed it into the cell, then turned on the water. It was only a few seconds before the fire died out.

“I did it that way the last time, too-when that fellow borrowed the two sticks from me,” the guard said.

“Yes. Well, that’s quick-thinking on your part.”

“Funny thing is, he didn’t look any happier about it than you do now,” the guard said, puzzled. “Sometimes I wonder if it really pays to do things for folks.”

“How would you like to try it just once more?” Max asked.

“Well. .”

“You could turn off the water,” Max suggested. “We’d appreciate it, I assure you.”

The guard shut off the water. “How come you’re not smiling?” he asked.

Max and 99 grinned.

“I like to have a happy jail,” the guard said, going back to his post.

“Well, Max?” 99 said gloomily.

“We’ll have to try to bribe him,” Max decided. “What have we got, 99, that’s very valuable?”

“I left everything I had in my room, Max.”

Max dug into his pocket, and came up with a number of tablets. “Mmmmm. . I must have had some of those aspirins left over,” he said. “Maybe I actually gave that guard an aspirin instead of the explosive. And that means that I still have the explosive. Maybe. On the other hand, it could have been the explosive I gave the guard instead of an aspirin.”

“Max. . what are you talking about?”

“It’s not important, 99. Or, to put it another way, it’s so important, I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, I don’t have anything in my pocket that’s valuable enough to use as a bribe. So, apparently, we’re stuck. I-”

“Yes? What, Max?”

“99, do you suppose that guard would be interested in owning a shoe telephone?”

“Well, it’s a tricky little gadget, Max. If he’s interested in tricky little gadgets- Try it, Max.”

Max went to the door and called the guard over. “Say, fella, I wouldn’t be out of line, would I, if I asked you if you might be susceptible to a bribe?”

“Out of line how?” the guard asked.

“I mean, you wouldn’t take offense, would you?”

“Why do you think I gave you all those recipes instead of getting you a doctor? And why do you think I turned the hose on your fire instead of letting you out of the cell?”

“You mean-”

“Stalling,” the guard said. “I watch the movies on television, too. And the way I had it figured, a bribe had to be next. What’ve you got to offer?”

“Tell me, do you have a lot of headaches?”

“You can keep your aspirin tablets,” the guard replied. “That last one tasted funny.”

“Then how interested are you in gadgets?” Max asked.

“I’m a bug, man. Have you ever seen that gadget where when you turn it on all it does is a hand comes out and turns it off? I’ve got a gadget that does that gadget even one better. You turn it on and nothing happens at all. No hand, no nothing.”

“Say, that’s fascinating,” Max said, impressed. Then he frowned. “But how do you know when it isn’t working?”

“When it’s on the blink, it does things,” the guard explained.

“Oh. Well, anyway, getting back to the subject, how would you like to have a shoe that’s really a telephone?”

The guard looked at him doubtfully. “It’s a shoe and it’s also a telephone? Where do you keep it?”

“On your foot.” Max raised his foot. “See? That’s it right there.”

“It’s black,” the guard said.

“I’m aware of that.”

“Everybody has color phones these days.”

“Yes-but do they wear them on their foot?”

The guard thought for a moment. “That’s a point,” he admitted.

“Would you like to make a test call?” Max asked.

“Well. . I haven’t talked to Mom in a good while.”

Max took off his shoe. He asked the guard for his mother’s number, dialed it, then handed the shoe to the guard.

Mom: Just terrible, now that you ask. I’ve got pains in my back, pains in my shoulders, pains in my legs, and my only son never calls me. Who’s this?

Guard: It’s me, Mom. Guess what I’m calling from?

Mom: You’re probably calling from your shoe. You’ve always been a strange boy. I remember when you used to talk for hours into a soup can. Nobody ever answered, though, did they, boy? Didn’t that learn you? If you’ve taken to talking into a shoe, give it up boy. Nobody’ll answer.

Guard: You sure know how to take the fun off a surprise, Mom.

Mom: Is that why you haven’t called? ’Fraid I’d make fun of you, calling on a shoe? I’ll change, boy. I promise. You call me on your shoe any time you want. I won’t say a word about it. Just to hear your voice, that’s all I want. You call me on your shoe, or your shirt, or your garters or anything you want, boy. Just call me, that’s all.

Guard: You want to know why I don’t call you, Mom?

Mom: Why, boy?

Guard: You’re a nutty old lady.

Mom: Son, you call me a nutty old lady all you want-just so you call me, that’s what’s important.

The guard handed the shoe back to Max. “Not interested,” he said.

“But it’s a fabulous gadget!”

“What’s so fabulous about it? It’s the same as the phone out in the booth. Pick it up, and you get the same nutty old lady.”

“You could dial another number, you know,” Max said.

The guard shook his head. “She’s got me hexed,” he said. “No matter what number I dial, I get the same nutty old lady.” He leaned forward, whispered. “And you know what? She’s not even my mom!”

“She isn’t?”

“I got her one time when I dialed a wrong number. Haven’t been able to shake her.” He pointed to Max’s shoe phone. “You’ll probably never be able to get her off the line,” he said. “When it comes to a hex, she’s dynamite.”

“Nonsense,” Max said.

The guard shrugged and went back to his post.

Max looked at his shoe. He put the receiver to his ear.

Mom: — except a Mother’s Day card, but the least you could do is call me every five or ten minutes or so. I get lonely, boy. Dad won’t talk to me anymore, you know-not since we buried him. He was a good old man, but-

Max put the shoe back on his foot.

“Still on, Max?” 99 asked.

“She’ll get tired when she doesn’t get any answer,” Max said confidently. “Right now, 99, our big problem is to get out of here and rescue Hymie and Number One. Sickness, fire and bribery haven’t helped. So, what next? Isn’t it about time you thought of something?”

“Well, Max, we might call the Chief and have him send reinforcements.”

“That’s a great idea, 99! Why didn’t you mention it before?”

“Well, Max, I don’t have much seniority. It didn’t occur to me that my idea would be worth anything.”

“It’s such a natural,” Max said. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself.”

Max removed his shoe and put the receiver to his ear.

Mom: — on Christmas, but you could have at least telephoned me. I had nobody to talk to but Santy. And he wasn’t saying anything fit to hear. He burned his boots in the fireplace, and you’d think it was the last pair of boots in all creation, the way he carried on. I told him, I said, if you’d brought me a call from my sonny-boy, ’stead of that tinker-toy set, you’d’ve got a warmer welcome. He said it was warm enough as it was. Well, I told-

Max: Lady, would you get off the line, please? I have an important call to make.

Mom: Sonny-boy! I thought you’d hung up on me, as always. What a joy it is to this old heart to hear your voice again. How long has it been? A half-hour? Seems more like forty-five minutes.

Max: Lady, I’ve never talked to you before in my life. I’m not your son. And, according to that other fellow, he’s not your son, either. Wise up, lady. Whether you know it or not, you’ve been disconnected for a long time.

Mom: Insult me! Go on! It’s music to my ears. You don’t have to love me, just talk to me. Call me a nutty old lady, like you always do. I know how happy that makes you. And what’s a mother for? To make her baby-boy happy, that’s what a mother’s for.

Max placed his shoe back on his foot. “Now I know why I didn’t think of it, 99,” he said. “It wasn’t such a hot idea. The line is busy.”

9

Every quarter-hour or so, Max tried again to get through to the Chief to ask for reinforcements. But each time he found that Mom was still on the line. Eventually, however, the problem was solved. Ways and Means returned, accompanied by Hymie. And even if the line had been open it was unlikely that Ways and Means would have allowed Max to call the Chief, thus, the fact that it wasn’t open no longer mattered much.

“The fact that you’re here must mean that you got Number One straightened out,” Max said to Ways and Means. “You came back to gloat, I assume.”

“Button your lip, buster!” Hymie said to Max. “Secret agents should be seen but not heard.”

Max peered at him. “Hymie?”

“They brainwashed him, Max,” 99 explained. “Remember? They said they were going to turn him into a KAOS agent.”

“Well, you certainly did a top-drawer job of it,” Max said to Ways and Means. “He even has that evil look in his eyes.”

“When we do a job, we do a job,” Ways said.

“And what about Number One?” Max asked.

“That’s a different story,” Ways said gloomily. “We took this robot to her, but she wouldn’t even give him a second click. She’s still reciting that crummy poetry.”

“Anything worth hearing?” Max asked.

“She’s still working on her epic,” Ways replied.

“You mean the one that goes: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways? You mean she’s still counting?”

“She’s up to seven billion, six million, five hundred thousand, four hundred and thirty-two,” Ways replied.

“Baffling,” Max mused. “I was sure it was Hymie she was pining for.” He suddenly brightened. “Maybe it’s because you turned him into a KAOS agent. Number One could never love a KAOS agent. Her heart belongs to the Establishment, you know.”

“That’s not it,” Means said. “We took him to her before we brainwashed him. Nothing. We figured it was because we hadn’t gimmicked him yet. So, after, we took him back. Still nothing.”

“All right-let’s not give up,” Max said. “If we all put on our thinking caps, I’m sure-”

“Max!” 99 interrupted. “We’re not supposed to help them. They’re the Bad Guys.”

“Oh. . yes. A challenge always fascinates me. Sometimes I get carried away.”

“We’ve got the problem solved, anyway,” Means said.

“Really? What’s the answer?” Max asked.

“We’ve decided to fall back on KAOS Rule No. 1,” Ways replied. “It goes: When in trouble, kill somebody.”

Max thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t see how that could help in this situation.”

“Beats me, too,” Means said. “But we’ve tried playing it by ear, and that hasn’t worked. So, we’re going to revert to going by the book-starting with Rule No. 1.”

“Yeah,” Hymie said. “Boy, are you going to get it!”

“Max!” They’re going to kill us!” 99 cried.

“Now, don’t jump to conclusions,” Max said. “So far, no names have been mentioned. Cross your fingers. They may be thinking about killing some strangers.”

Ways winced. “Strangers! What do you take us for? Animals? Madmen? Psychos? Why should we kill perfect strangers when the joint is crawling with Control agents?”

“Gab, gab, gab!” Hymie said. “Let’s get this over with!”

Means opened the cell door and motioned to Max and 99. “Out!” he said. “You’re wanted in the execution chamber.”

As Max and 99 emerged from the cell, Max suddenly grabbed the guard, and, holding him in front of him, backed off. “Don’t anybody move!” he commanded.

“You think holding that guard in front of you is going to help?” Ways said. “What’s one guard, more or less, to us? We’d shoot right through him and never blink an eye. He’s no good, anyway. He never calls his mother.”

“Before you start shooting, I think you’d better think twice,” Max warned. “It so happens that this guard has swallowed either a plain ordinary aspirin tablet or an explosive so powerful that it could blow up a body of water the size of Lake Ontario. And if I should be forced to throw him to defend myself, we’d soon find out which.”

Ways and Means exchanged looks.

“Should we believe him?” Ways asked.

“Beats me,” Means replied. “I can’t recall that this exact situation has ever come up before.”

“99-come over here!” Max ordered. “We’re going to back out, using this guard as a bluff.”

“He said ‘bluff,’ ” Ways said to Means. “Is that significant, do you think?”

“What does the book say about it?” Means asked.

“Same old thing: If you suspect a bluff, kill somebody.”

Max and 99, keeping the guard in front of them, began backing toward the door.

“Max. . what about Hymie?” 99 said. “We can’t leave him here. Ways and Means will have no more use for him, and they’ll eliminate him. You know what the book says.”

“You’re right, 99.” Max motioned to Hymie. “Come over here and get behind the guard with us,” he ordered. “We’re going to make a break for it.”

Hymie walked toward him. When he reached Max, he struck him across the back of the neck with a karate chop, dropping him to the floor.

“Hymie!” 99 cried, appalled.

“What’d you expect?” Ways asked. “When we brainwash, we brainwash. He’s a KAOS agent from top to toe. Good work, Hymie,” he said. “Get that clown on his feet and let’s proceed with the execution.”

Hymie, with 99’s help, pulled Max to his feet. Max shook his head, trying to clear his vision. He looked around. “Apparently it was an aspirin tablet, not an explosive,” he said. “It didn’t do much damage, did it?”

Ways and Means and Hymie took Max and 99 to the execution chamber, a small room that was outfitted with a number of plain-looking wooden chairs and a filing cabinet.

“Look under ‘P’ in the filing cabinet and you’ll find a can of gasoline,” Ways said to Hymie.

“Under ‘P’?” Max asked.

“For petrol,” Ways explained. “We run a classy joint.”

“Oh.”

“I have the gasoline,” Hymie said, returning from the filing cabinet. “What now?”

“Pour it over him and her,” Ways replied, indicating Max and 99, “and then over yourself.”

Hymie doused Max and 99 with the gasoline, then dumped what was left in the container on himself.

“That’s curious,” Max said to 99. “I can understand pouring the gasoline over us. But why over Hymie?”

“Maybe they just didn’t want to have any left over,” 99 guessed. “It’s possible that it gets stale after the can is opened. I really don’t know too much about gasoline, Max.”

“I suppose we’ll find out, sooner or later,” Max shrugged.

“Now, look under ‘Y’ in the filing cabinet and you’ll find some gelatine capsules containing poisonous spiders,” Ways said to Hymie. “Bring three.”

“Under ‘Y’?” Max asked.

“ ‘Y’ for ‘Yiiiiiii!’ ” Ways explained. “Whenever I see a poisonous spider, I scream, ‘Yiiiiiiii!’ ”

Max nodded. “That’s makes a lot of sense.”

Hymie returned from the filing cabinet with the three capsules of poisonous spiders.

“Yiiiiiii!” Ways screamed.

“Put one in his pocket and one in her pocket and one in your own pocket,” Means said to Hymie.

Hymie started to put a capsule in Ways’ pocket.

“Not him!” Means snapped. “In the clown’s pocket, I meant.”

Hymie placed a capsule in Max’s pocket, then in 99’s pocket, then in his own.

“Good, good,” Ways beamed. “I guess you can’t miss when you stick to the book. Now,” he said, “everybody except Means and me will take a seat.”

Hymie picked up a chair and started toward the door with it.

“Stop!” Means commanded.

Hymie halted.

“Bring back the chair.”

Hymie returned, and placed the chair beside the others.

“It’s going to be nice not having him with us much longer,” Means said to Ways.

“Did you hear that, 99?” Max said. “I’m beginning to suspect that you and I are not the only ones who are going to fall victim to Rule No. 1.”

“Be seated!” Ways ordered.

Max and 99 sat down, then Ways had Hymie strap them to the chairs. When he had finished, Ways said to Hymie, “Now, you. Strap yourself into a chair, too.”

Hymie appeared to be thinking.

“Well?” Ways said irritably.

“I don’t like to be a trouble-maker,” Hymie said. “But. . could you explain to me exactly what we’re doing here?”

“You haven’t figured it out?” Ways replied, astounded. “By now,” he said, “I’ll bet even that one’s guessed.” He pointed to Max.

“Well,” Max said, “if the truth were-”

“I’ll explain,” Ways said gruffly. “You see those chairs? Those are electric chairs. Only they’ve got a short. When the juice is turned on, the chairs will short, causing a spark. The spark will set the gasoline on fire. The heat of the fire will melt the gelatin capsules, releasing the poisonous spiders. The spiders will bite, and. . and Zonk!”

“Zonk?” Max asked.

“I don’t like to say ‘die’ or ‘dead’ or anything like that,” Ways explained. “It depresses me.”

“I understand that part,” Hymie said. “The part I don’t understand is where I doused myself with gasoline and put a spider capsule in my pocket and now you want me to strap myself into an electric chair.”

“Yes, that puzzles me a little bit, too,” Max frowned.

“Hymie, I’ll tell you the truth,” Means said. “On the outside, you’re a KAOS agent, but down deep inside, you’re still on the side of Control. Brainwashing is not perfect. We can’t trust you. Any minute, you might turn on us. So, for our own sakes, we have to eliminate you. Now, clear?”

“I think I get it,” Max said.

“How about you, Hymie?” Means asked.

“I’m only a robot,” Hymie replied. “I find it difficult to understand the human thinking process sometimes. Could you draw me a diagram?”

Ways turned to Means. “How are we on time?” he asked.

“There’s always time for a last request,” Means replied. “What are we? Animals? Psychos?” He went to the filing cabinet, and from the ‘H’ drawer got a piece of chalk.

“ ‘H’?” Max asked.

“For hopscotch,” Means answered. “Ever draw a hopscotch diagram on the sidewalk? What’d you use?”

“Chalk,” Max nodded.

Means got down on his knees and drew a diagram on the floor. “There,” he said to Hymie. “Understand now?”

“I already knew how to play hopscotch,” Hymie replied. “What I wanted was a diagram of your plan.”

“Coming up,” Means said. He began drawing again.

Hymie moved closer. Then all of a sudden he dropped Means with a karate chop.

“Was that in the diagram?” Ways asked.

Hymie replied by dropping Ways with a karate chop.

“Hymie, I think you’re ad-libbing,” Max said. “I don’t see that in the diagram, either.”

Hymie was too busy to answer. He dragged Means to a chair and strapped him in, then did the same to Ways. After that, he got spiders from the file cabinet and placed them in their pockets.

“I think it was a trick, Max,” 99 said. “Hymie understood what Ways and Means had in mind all along. He was just stalling when he asked them to draw a diagram.”

“Is that right, Hymie?” Max asked.

“Knock it off, buster,” Hymie snarled.

“Hymie, if you’re not on their side anymore, then you must be on our side again,” Max said. “That’s how it works-you have to be on one side or the other. And if you’re on our side, then you should be releasing us.”

“Release a couple of Control agents?” Hymie laughed.

“Uh. . Hymie, could you work up a diagram on this?” Max asked.

“Those two are traitors,” Hymie explained, indicating Ways and Means. “They tried to eliminate a KAOS agent, so they, must be traitors. It makes sense.”

“I suppose, but-”

“Now, I’m in charge,” Hymie said. “And it’s my duty, as I see it, to carry on with the mission. I must return to the laboratory and continue brainwashing Number One.”

“But, Hymie-”

Ignoring Max’s protest, Hymie departed.

At that moment, Ways and Means regained consciousness.

“You and your diagram!” Ways said to Means. “Look what you’ve done!”

“It must’ve been the chalk I was using,” Means said glumly.

“Ah, well, nevermind,” Ways said. “Our friends from Control will get us out of this.” He turned to Max. “What’ve you got in mind?”

“I ought to just sit tight and let you figure your own way out,” Max said.

“If you sit tight, Max,” 99 pointed out, “we’ll all be the losers.”

“I thought of that, 99. So, I’m going to put in a call to the Chief and ask him to send those reinforcements I didn’t get a chance to ask him to send before because you-know-who was on the line.”

“Max. . you’re strapped to that chair.”

“But I can still move my feet, 99. Watch this.”

Max slipped his foot out of his shoe, then, using his big toe, flipped the shoe over. Utilizing the toe again, he dialed. Then, faintly, a voice could be heard coming from the shoe.

Mom: I haven’t moved, sonny-boy. Just been sitting here waiting for you to call. I been here for seven months. Haven’t had a bite to eat.

Chief: Is that you, Max? What happened to your voice?

Mom: Is that you, baby-boy? Your voice sounds funny. Been eating too many graham crackers? That’ll do it.

Max (shouting): Chief, that’s not me. That’s Mom. This is me. I need reinforcements!

Operator: Max? Is that you? How come you’re answering your own phone? You’ve got an answering service to do that for you, you know. What’re you trying to do, put Harold out of business?

Harold: Yeah, watch it, Maxie-boy!

Mom: Harold! At last! It’s you! You don’t know the butterheads I’ve had to talk to, waiting for you to call.

Harold: Mom? Gee, it’s good to hear your voice again. I thought you Zonked years ago.

Mom: That was your Dad, Harold.

Chief: Operator! Is Max on this line? What’s going on? Who are all those people?

Max: Here I am, Chief! I need reinforcements. We’re in desperate-

Mom: Operator, get that butterhead off the line. I’m talking to my baby-boy! Harold? You still there, sweetie?

Harold: Mom, don’t call me that on a public phone. I’m a big boy, now. I’ve got a business of my own. I’m very big in the telephone answering service racket.

Mom: I don’t care if you are in the rackets, Harold. You’ll always be my sweetie baby-boy to me.

Harold: Dad is Zonk, eh? How about that!

Chief: Operator, I’m losing my patience. Is Max on this line or isn’t he?

Harold: You sure about Dad, Mom? That voice I just heard sounded awful familiar.

Mom: Hold on, sweetie. I’ll check the upstairs extension.

Max: Now, can you hear me, Chief? I’m shouting as loud as I can. I can’t get any closer to the phone. I’m strapped into an electric chair.

Chief: Speak up, Max! I can’t hear you.

Operator: He’s strapped into an electric chair, Chief.

Chief: Is that what he called me to tell me?

Max: Operator, tell the Chief I called him to tell him I need reinforcements.

Operator: You tell him, Maxie. I don’t want to know any government secrets. Don’t get involved, that’s my motto.

Chief: Max, what was that you said about cement?

Mom: No, sweetie, baby, it wasn’t Dad. There’s nobody on the extension. In fact, the upstairs isn’t there anymore. I guess Dad took it with him. He always was partial to the upstairs.

Max: Not cement, Chief. Reinforcements!

Chief: Four cement what, Max?

Harold: I don’t think he took it with him, Mom. You probably just misplaced it. Have you looked in the hall closet? That’s where you used to lose everything else.

Chief: I got that, Max. You’re lost in a hall closet. But where? How can I help you if I don’t know where the closet is?

Mom: No, he took it with him.

Chief: What help is that! I still don’t know where he is!

Operator: Where everybody goes when they Zonk, Chief. To that great switchboard in the sky.

Max: Don’t listen to her, Chief! I’m not at any switchboard! I’m at the Leg Up Ranch!

Chief: How will four cement whatever-it-ises help you let go of a branch, Max? Are you hanging from it? Do you need more weight, is that it?

Max: I don’t need weight! I need-

Chief: All right, Max, I’ll wait. But I wish, in the meanwhile, you’d tell me what you want.

Operator: Harold, how come Maxie is on this line? I thought you were taking all his calls.

Harold: It’s your fault. You must’ve rang him instead of me. Maxie-boy, get off the line. I’ll let you know if you have any calls.

Max: I didn’t receive the call, I made the call.

Harold: Max, if I’m going to be your telephone answering service, you’ll have to stay off the phone. You might have an important call coming in and I wouldn’t be able to reach you.

Operator: I’ll handle it, Harold. Maxie-no more calls for you.

Max: But-

There was a click, as the line went dead.

Max slipped his foot back into his shoe.

“You can’t even depend on your friends, the Control people, these days,” Ways grumbled.

At that moment, Hymie came back into the room. He looked distressed. He dropped into one of the chairs and put his head in his hands.

“If you’d like an aspirin,” Max said, “I just happen-”

“That’s not a computer! That’s a woman!” Hymie groaned. “I can’t do a thing with her!”

“Still at it, eh?” Max said sympathetically.

“I fed her every hate word in the dictionary,” Hymie said. “And what did I get? I got:

C is for rapid calculation

R means rhabdology’s old hat

U is for universal mathematics

S is for statistics, doo-be-doo

and H means hyperalgebra’s here to stay!

Put them all together and they spell

WHOOPEE!

The dearest word in all the world to me!

“That’s pretty sickening, all right,” Max said.

“That’s the breaks,” Ways said to Hymie. “Nothing to do now, but electrocute, burn and poison these two Control agents and let Means and me go.”

Hymie raised his head. “There’s one other alternative,” he said to Ways.

Ways sighed. “I was afraid of that.”

“I could sell out,” Hymie said.

“Now, just a minute, Hymie,” Max said. “You weren’t brought up to be a fink. When the scientists at Control created you, they used the very best parts available. There’s not a dishonorable nut or bolt in your body.”

“I was thinking about selling out to you,” Hymie explained.

“Oh! Well, that’s different. That’s good selling out. I thought you were talking about bad selling out.”

“Think it over,” Ways said to Hymie. “If you’re going to sell out, consider us. We pay well. And we’ve had more experience with selling out than that cheap Control outfit has.”

“If I sold out to you, you’d order me to strap myself into an electric chair again,” Hymie said. “Where’s the profit?”

“Don’t knock it until you’ve heard Control’s offer,” Ways advised. “The electric chair may be the best deal you can get. Don’t forget-you’re a fink.”

“Max! Say something!” 99 urged.

“Yes. . all right. Hymie, I’m sure I can do better than KAOS. How does two electric chairs sound to you?”

“No, Max!” 99 said.

“99, I don’t think the Chief would like it if I went all the way to three electric chairs. You know how upset he gets when somebody goes over the budget.”

99 took over the bargaining herself. “Hymie, wouldn’t you like to be a Control agent?” she said. “If you defect from KAOS, I’m sure the Chief would accept you. And it’d be nice to be a Good Guy for a change, wouldn’t it?”

“You’d never win another ball game,” Means warned.

“But there would be other compensations,” 99 said. “For instance, at the end of fifty years of service, you’d get a Fifty Year pin.”

“Unless the Chief didn’t like you,” Max said. “There’s a lot of politics involved in getting a Fifty Year pin. You’ll notice I’m not wearing one.”

“You haven’t been in service fifty years, Max,” 99 pointed out.

Max nodded. “Politics.”

“KAOS gives out Fifty Year pins after only twenty-five years of service,” Ways said to Hymie. “And you get the pin whether our Chief likes you or not.”

“Of course,” Means said, “whether he likes you or not has a lot to do with how you get the pin.”

“Working for Control, you get Washington’s Birthday off,” 99 said to Hymie.

“At KAOS, you get Benedict Arnold’s Birthday off,” Ways countered.

“99,” Max said, “you forgot to mention that you get Washington’s Birthday off only if it falls on the second Tuesday of the month of December. And, so far, that hasn’t happened.”

“That’s good,” Ways said to Max. “At KAOS, you only get Benedict Arnold’s Birthday off if he happens to come back to life. Off hand, I’d say your chances for getting a day of are better than ours.”

“Well, Hymie-which will it be?” 99 asked anxiously.

Hymie put his head in his hands again, concentrating. “Maybe I ought to try once more to get some sense out of that infernal computer,” he said. “I could kick her. I didn’t try that. That sometimes works.”

“Thinking like a KAOS man!” Means said proudly.

“No, Hymie!” 99 urged. “Don’t weaken. Make a decision! This may be the most important moment of your life! Which will it be? A life of crime? Or excellent prospects for a Fifty Year pin?”

“I’ll do it!” Hymie decided.

“Which?” Max asked.

“I’ll sell out to Control!”

A cheer rose from Max and 99.

“Just in case somebody asks-why did you make that particular decision?” Ways inquired.

“I don’t like your faces,” Hymie informed Ways and Means.

“Politics,” Max mused. “Hymie-sometimes you’re almost human.”

10

Hymie released Max and 99, then, after disarming them, Max released Ways and Means.

“Well!” he said. “The tables are turned!”

“It’s a long, long way to Tipperary,” Ways said.

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning you still have to get Number One and us to Washington before any of this counts,” Ways replied. “That would be easy, of course, if you could get through to your Chief to get him to send reinforcements. But with Mom on the line, we’ll all be old and gray and Number One will be obsolete before you reach him. In the meantime, I’m sure I can think of some way to upset your apple-cart. My name isn’t Wayne Ways for nothing.”

“Max, he may be right about that,” 99 said.

“No problem, 99. Don’t forget, I’m in charge of this case now. I gave myself a battlefield promotion. And with me running things we won’t have the confusion and error we had while Hymie was at the helm.”

“Max. . taking over. . isn’t that mutiny?”

“Only on board ship, 99. On land, it’s horse sense. Would the Chief want an ex-KAOS agent to be in charge?”

“Well. .”

“Of course not,” Max decided. He handed the pistol he had taken from Ways to Hymie. “Your job will be to guard the prisoners,” he informed him. “Keep an eye on them every minute. I’d do it, but I’ll be busy thinking.”

“Yes, sir!” Hymie replied, saluting.

“Max. . I don’t understand,” 99 said. “He can’t be trusted to be in charge, but he can be trusted with our only weapon?”

“That’s politics, 99,” Max replied. “Now then, let’s evaluate our position. In the first place, we know that this place is crawling with guards, and, somehow, we’ll have to get past them. Secondly, there’s the problem of getting Number One out of this underground installation, past the pool, and back to Washington. That’s two items to take care of. Two items aren’t many. I’ve handled five and six items at a time in my day. See, 99? If you attack problems logically, you usually find that what, on the surface, appears to be difficult, is actually very simple.”

“If you say so, Max,” 99 replied. “What’s the first step?”

“I think first we better get these spiders out of our pockets,” Max replied. “One bite, and we’d never get to items one and two.”

The capsules containing the poisonous spiders were put back into the file, then Max went to the door of the execution chamber and peeked out. “No guards,” he reported.

“The guards seem to appear only when Ways or Means calls them, Max,” 99 said.

Max faced Ways and Means. “One peep out of you, and it’s curtains,” he warned.

“Guards!” Means bellowed.

“All right, smarty-that does it!” Max said. He turned to Hymie. “Get some curtains somewhere and rip them up and then bind and gag these two!” he ordered.

“I protest!” Means said. “You told us we couldn’t peep. You didn’t say anything about yelling.”

“Technically, he’s right, Max,” 99 said.

“And, another thing,” Hymie said, “there aren’t any curtains. This is an underground installation. No windows.”

“In that case-under the circumstances-”

At that instant, a dozen guards burst into the room.

“Grab’em!” Ways commanded.

The guards began moving in on Max, 99 and Hymie. But Max snatched the pistol from Hymie and pointed it at Ways’ head.

“One more step, and he gets it!” he threatened.

The guards halted.

“I’m reassessing my position,” Ways told the guards. “Take one more step, and let’s see what happens.”

The guards moved a step closer.

Max pulled back the hammer of the pistol.

“Forget the ‘grab’em,’ ” Ways ordered the guards. “Return to quarters and wait for further yells.”

Obediently, the guards departed.

Max handed the pistol back to Hymie. “I hope you remember what you just saw,” he said. “That maneuver may come in handy some day.”

“Will it be safe to leave now, Max?” 99 asked.

“Safe, yes. But not easy,” Max replied. “We have to take that refrigerator with us.”

They moved on to the laboratory. Number One was still clicking away, turning out one love poem after another.

“She’s sure hooked on some guy,” Max said. He looked around the lab. “I wonder if it’s somebody here? That’s a nice looking electric typewriter over there,” he said. “Do you suppose?”

“Too bad for her if he’s the one,” Means said. “His ‘e’ key sticks.”

“You’re right,” Max said. “It would be a tragedy. That’s the way it always starts-with an ‘e’ key. Then it’s a ‘u’ key, then a ‘b’ key, then the magic margin goes on the blink. Six months, and she’d be supporting him.” He glared at the typewriter. “He looks like the type, too,” he said.

“Max, how are we going to get her out of here?” 99 asked.

“That’s easy enough, 99. We have both the Ways and Means.”

Struggling, Ways and Means carried Number One from the laboratory, then, ducking, through the corridor. When they reached the pool, they halted.

“You got her in,” Max said, “so there should be no reason why you can’t get her out.”

“Pushing a refrigerator into a pool is one thing, but pushing a refrigerator out of a pool is something else,” Means said.

Max nodded agreement. “This requires some calculation,” he said. “We’re lucky we have a computer with us.”

Max typed out the problem on Number One’s keyboard, then waited for the solution. A second later, Number One responded with a tape.

Max read:

I’d climb the highest mountain,

I’d swim the deepest river.

I’d stack a pile of lumber, dear,

Even if, in my finger, I got a sliver.

All for you!

I’d cross the burning desert,

I’d leap the broadest gorge.

I’d hammer out a horseshoe, dear,

Even if my finger I scorched on the forge.

All for you!

“Well, there’s the answer,” Max said. “But I think it must be in code.”

“That’s only another love poem, Max,” 99 said.

“Oh. I didn’t recognize it.”

“Max, we can’t depend on Number One,” 99 said. “She’s too much in love to think. We’ll have to work this out ourselves.”

Max studied the situation a moment, then said, “I think I have it, 99.”

He swam out into the pool, found the cover to the drain, and removed it. The water level began descending. When all the water had drained out, a half-dozen or so guests remained in the pool, swimming on the bottom.

“Anything they do here, they enjoy it,” Ways said.

“Then they’ll be ecstatic over what I have in mind for them,” Max said.

With the aid of the guests, who formed themselves into a human freight elevator, Number One was raised out of the pool. Then the car that Max had rented was brought around and she was loaded on top.

“All right, everybody into the car,” Max said. “We’re off to Washington!”

“Max. .”

“I know, 99-we’ll be a little crowded. But it’s only a three or four day trip. And the scenery will be nice. And we’ll be good company for each other-we have a lot in common; we’re all in the same business.”

“Max, couldn’t we call the Chief and have him send a plane for us?”

“You forget, 99-my line is busy.”

“You could use the ranch phone, Max.”

Max shook his head in disgust. “99, that’s a very good idea,” he said. “It’s just too bad that you suggested it. Thinking like that could cost you your job, you know. It’s very poor politics, 99, to have better ideas than the man in charge.”

“Sorry about that, Max,” 99 said contritely.

Max was in a cheery mood a few days later as he approached the Chief’s office. The mission had been completed successfully-Ways and Means were behind bars, Hymie was being de-brainwashed, and Number One had been rescued-and, after checking in, he intended to begin a two-week vacation, which, as he saw it, he amply deserved.

Max halted at the door and knocked.

“Give the password,” a voice replied from inside.

“It’s me, Chief,” Max said.

“Enter.”

Max opened the door and stepped into the office. 99 was there, too, seated beside the Chief’s desk.

“I’m sorry I forgot the password, Chief,” Max said.

“You didn’t, Max. That was it.”

“What was it?”

“ ‘It’s me’-that’s the password.”

“Oh. Well, then, I guess I didn’t forget it.” He nodded to 99. “Still sore?” he asked.

“Are you angry at Max, 99?” the Chief asked.

“He doesn’t mean sore that way,” 99 replied. “He means physically sore. That was a long car trip, Chief. And we were so crowded.”

“Oh. . that,” the Chief said. “I’m sorry I didn’t have a plane available. But you probably saw a lot of nice scenery.”

“And exchanged a lot of shop talk,” Max added. “Chief, do you know that at KAOS they’re giving trading stamps? They get fifty stamps for every Control agent eliminated, and a hundred stamps for every mission completed successfully. We ought to have that here at Control. It would be a great incentive.”

“Max, the fact that you’re doing a good job, and doing it for a good cause, ought to be enough,” the Chief said.

“Of course, that helps,” Max admitted. “But, on the other hand, do you know what you can get for a hundred and fifty trading stamps? You can get a rain cover for your sandbox.”

“That’s fine, Max, but-”

“I think we’d all work a little bit harder if we knew, while we were out on a case, we weren’t getting rain in our sandboxes,” Max said.

“I know, Max, but-”

“Nobody likes to come home to soggy sand.”

“All right, Max. The next time I talk to HIM, I’ll suggest that Control start giving trading stamps.”

“Have you talked to HIM lately, Chief? Did you tell him how I stepped into the breech when Hymie was incapable of carrying on as a leader?”

“Max, that wasn’t Hymie’s fault,” 99 said. “He was brainwashed. He didn’t know what he was doing.”

“I realize that, 99.”

“It wouldn’t be fair to mention it to HIM-since it wasn’t Hymie’s fault,” the Chief said.

“Fair? I’m talking about politics, Chief.”

“Even so, Max, I don’t think-”

There was a knock at the door.

“Give the password,” the Chief called out.

“It’s me, Hymie,” a voice replied.

“Enter.”

The door opened and Hymie stepped in. The evil KAOS look was gone from his expression. “Reporting for duty, Chief,” he said.

“Chief, doesn’t Hymie get a two week vacation, too?” Max asked. “I realize that his bungling nearly lost us the case, but it isn’t fair to hold that against him. He’s only a machine.”

“Max, being a machine, he doesn’t need a two week vacation,” the Chief said.

“I just needed a brainwashing, Max,” Hymie said.

Max shook his head. “No, Hymie. A brainwashing was what you had. What you needed was an unbrainwashing.”

“No, Max-Hymie is right,” the Chief said. “Unbrainwashing is very difficult. Brainwashing, on the other hand, is fairly simple. So, our scientists simply brainwashed him into thinking he was a Control agent.”

Max turned to Hymie. “Isn’t that a little confusing for you?” he asked.

“I do have a slight headache,” Hymie replied. “But I’m told it will pass.”

Max dug into his pocket. “Have an aspirin or an explosive powerful enough to blow up a body of water the size of Lake Ontario,” he said, offering a tablet to Hymie.

“Max, I-” the Chief began.

But at that moment his phone rang.

The Chief picked up the receiver and identified himself, then, covering the mouthpiece, whispered to Max, 99 and Hymie. “It’s HIM,” he said.

“Mention the trading stamps idea,” Max suggested.

HIM and the Chief had a lengthy conversation. The longer they talked, the more worried the Chief appeared to be. Finally, the talk ended. The Chief looked quite disturbed.

“Well. . we’ve reported in,” Max said. “I suppose there’s no point to hanging around any longer. Shall we go, 99?”

“Max. . something is bothering the Chief. Don’t you even want to know what it is?”

“99, since the Chief is not concerned about me, I see no reason why I should be concerned about him.”

“I don’t understand, Max. Why do you think the Chief isn’t concerned about you?”

“He had HIM on the phone, 99. It was the perfect opportunity. And not one word about trading stamps.”

“Max,” the Chief said, “I didn’t think it was appropriate. HIM is quite worried. We have a major crisis on our hands.”

“Naturally,” Max said glumly. “It just so happens that I have a reservation on a flight to Hawaii that leaves in one hour. In addition, I have engaged a little grass shack on the beach at Waikiki for two weeks. Considering all that, it is hardly surprising that we suddenly have a major crisis on our hands. But I am not interested in hearing about it, Chief.”

“I didn’t intend to tell you about it, Max,” the Chief said. “It’s Classified.”

“Good! I’m glad it’s Classified. I’m glad you had no intention of telling me-” Max interrupted himself, looking hurt. “Chief, I’m authorized to hear Classified secrets,” he said.

“Max, you better go. You’ll miss your flight.”

“You’ll tell Hymie the Classified secret, though, I’ll bet,” Max grumbled. “The minute I step out the door, you’ll be whispering in his ear.”

“If it’s going to upset you that much, Max, I’ll tell you what HIM told me. I just didn’t want you to go off on your vacation feeling guilty.”

“Guilty, Chief?”

“It concerns Number One, Max.”

“Why should I feel guilty about that?” Max asked, puzzled.

“Well. . you took over the case when Hymie was brainwashed. So, in the official record, it’s listed as your- Well, to be brutally frank, Max-it’ll be listed as your failure.”

“My failure! Chief, I brought her back!”

“Forget it, Max. Go on your vacation.”

“Hang my vacation!” Max said. He grasped the Chief by the lapels. “What is it, Chief?”

“Max, if you’ll let me go. .”

“Tell me! Tell me!”

“Max, it isn’t your fault. It’s just that Number One is still grinding out love poetry. And, in that condition, she’s of no use to us anymore. But, don’t blame yourself.”

Max released the Chief’s lapels. “Why should I blame myself?” he asked.

“You shouldn’t.”

“Then why did you say I shouldn’t?” Max asked. “If you really thought I shouldn’t, you wouldn’t even have mentioned it.”

“All right, Max. If it’ll make you feel better, pretend I didn’t say it.”

Max thought for a moment. “It isn’t my fault,” he decided. “No matter what anybody says, it isn’t my fault. All I did was rescue her and bring her back. That was a good thing to do. It wasn’t a bad thing. So why should I feel guilty? I shouldn’t. I have no reason in this world to feel guilty.” He sighed deeply. “Tell me, Chief-how can I make it up to her?”

“Make what up to her, Max?”

“Whatever it was that I did that makes me feel so guilty.”

“Max, there isn’t anything you can do,” the Chief replied. “Apparently there’s nothing anybody can do. Our scientists have been working over her ever since you brought her back, but they haven’t accomplished a thing. She’s still as lovesick as before.”

“Can’t they kind of work around the problem, Chief?”

“Not very easily,” the Chief replied. “Just to test her, they asked her to design a new air defense system. And she advised them to ring the country with butterfly nets.”

“I don’t get the connection,” Max said.

“That’s because you’re not a female,” 99 said. “I understand it, Max. Butterflies are sort of romantic. When you were young and you went on a picnic out into the country with your best girl, didn’t you notice the butterflies?”

“I guess I did, now that you mention it,” Max replied. “Only, in those days, we called them ants.”

“Oh, Max! You’re not a bit romantic!”

“Chief, maybe it would help if we took Hymie over to her,” Max said. “I still think she has a crush on him.”

“Ways and Means tried that, Max-remember?” Hymie said. “It didn’t work. She didn’t pay any attention to me. She just went right on turning out that garbage.”

“Let’s give it one more try, anyway,” Max said. “What’ve we got to lose?”

“Well. .” the Chief said. He turned to Hymie. “If you have no objections. .” he said.

Hymie shrugged. “What choice do I have?” he replied. “I’m only a machine.”

The Chief, Max, 99 and Hymie got into Max’s car and drove to the installation where Number One was being treated. As they approached Number One’s quarters, they were met by a scientist in a white coat.

“How’s the patient?” the Chief asked.

“No change,” the scientist replied glumly. “Right now, she’s working on the forty-ninth stanza of an ode in celebration of blind dates.”

“She is sick!” 99 said.

“Have you tried a diet of fruit juices?” Max asked.

“Something like that-considering the fact that she’s a machine,” the scientist replied. “She’s getting nothing but lemon oil.”

“How about an aspirin?” Max asked.

“Thanks-I think I will,” the scientist replied. “This case has given me a splitting headache.”

Max dug into his pocket and handed the scientist a tablet. “This may ease it,” he said. “Then, on the other hand, it may cure it permanently. Lots of luck.”

“We came over,” the Chief explained to the scientist, “because we think we may have the solution to the problem. As you know, Hymie and Number One were once steadies. We thought-”

“But that’s all over,” the scientist broke in.

“How can you be so positive about that?” Max asked. “Maybe Number One isn’t finished with Hymie at all. Maybe she’s just being coy. Maybe she just wants him to be the first to apologize.”

“Apologize for what, Max?” 99 asked.

“Don’t ask me,” Max replied. “I wasn’t even there. Ask Hymie.”

99 turned to Hymie. “Apologize for what?” she asked.

“I didn’t do a thing,” Hymie replied.

“There you are-that’s it,” Max said. “She wanted you to do something, Hymie, and you didn’t. No wonder she’s angry. Now, go in there and apologize.”

“For what, Max?”

“For nothing.”

Hymie shrugged. “Well, if you think it’ll help. .”

Followed by the scientist, Hymie entered Number One’s quarters. A moment later, there was a clanging, a hissing, a rattling, and a banging. Then Hymie came rushing out, with the scientist right behind him.

“Wow!” Max said. “I saw her when you opened the door. She’s really steamed up about something, isn’t she? Was it something Hymie didn’t apologize for?”

“He didn’t get a chance,” the scientist reported. “The instant she set eyes on him, she went into a tantrum.”

“That’s love for you,” Max said.

“Max, face it-it isn’t Hymie who’s the object of Number One’s affections,” 99 said. “We’ll probably never know who it really is. It might be some face that passed in the night.”

“She’s a lost cause, I’m afraid,” the scientist sighed.

“That’s very tragic,” Max said sadly. He looked at his watch. “However, I have a reservation on a flight to good old Wicky-Wacky-Woo. So, if you’ll excuse me. .”

“I suppose we might as well all go,” the Chief said. “There’s nothing more we can do here.”

99 addressed the scientist. “What will happen to her?” she asked.

“In time, we’ll have to scrap her,” he replied.

Tears came to 99’s eyes.

“99. . do you mind?” Max said. “I don’t want to be late for my flight.”

“All right, Max.”

They returned to the car, then headed back toward Headquarters, where Max would drop the Chief, 99 and Hymie before driving on to the airport. But when they had gone no more than a block, a call came on Max’s radio for the Chief. The scientist was asking them all to return.

“I have a reservation,” Max protested.

“Max, don’t you even want to know what it’s about?” 99 asked.

“Couldn’t you write me a letter about it?”

“Max, turn this car around!” the Chief commanded. “That’s an order!”

When they reached the installation, they hurried to Number One’s quarters. The scientist was waiting for them. Instead of telling them why he had called them back, however, he whispered to the Chief, then led him into a conference room.

“You can mail that letter to me in care of the third little grass shack up from the beach,” Max said to 99, edging away.

“All right, Max. Try not to feel too guilty.”

“99! Will you stop that! This isn’t my fault!”

“Who said it was, Max?”

“You keep implying-”

The Chief and the scientist reappeared from the conference room.

“I have some good news,” the Chief announced. “Number One has revealed the object of her affections.”

“I knew it!” Max crowed. “It was Hymie all along, wasn’t it?”

The Chief shook his head. “Max,” he said, “do you remember exactly when it was that Number One began grinding out love poetry?”

“Of course,” Max replied. “We were all there. No, come to think of it, 99 wasn’t present. The way it happened was, Hymie and I were slipping up on Ways and Means, and all of a sudden my telephone began ringing. We found out later that it was at about that time that Number One went haywire.”

“That’s the way Number One described it,” the scientist said.

“You mean she’s talking again?” 99 asked.

“She had a few rational moments,” the scientist replied. “And we got the whole story.”

“Well, good,” Max said. “I’m glad the story is going to have a happy ending.” He began moving away. “If you’ll excuse me now. . I have a date with Waikiki-the biggest sandbox in the world.”

“Max. .” the Chief said. “I’m very sorry about this, but. . your vacation is canceled, Max.”

Max returned. “That’s a very unfunny joke, Chief.”

“Max, it isn’t a joke. You’re needed here. I have an assignment for you. You see, Max, when Number One saw you in that laboratory at the Leg Up ranch, she- Well, Max. . it was love at first sight.”

Max stared at him. “Me?”

The Chief nodded. “I’m assigning you to keep company with Number One, Max.”

“Chief! That’s preposterous! I’m a human, and she’s a machine!”

“Max, I know that. And you know that. But Number One doesn’t know that. Or, at least, if she does, she’s willing to overlook it.”

“Don’t worry, Max-it won’t last,” Hymie said. “She’s fickle.”

Max put a hand to his head. “Duty is duty,” he sighed. “If I have to, I suppose I have to.”

“Aren’t you feeling well, Max?”

“A little headache,” he replied. “Understandable, under the circumstances, I suppose.”

“You better go to her, Max,” the Chief said.

Max opened the door to Number One’s quarters. From inside came a happy clicking. Max dug into his pocket and got out a tablet, and, as he entered, popped it into his mouth. A moment after the door closed, there was a tremendous explosion.

“Let’s look on the bright side,” 99 said. “Maybe it was only Number One blowing a fuse.”

The Chief nodded. “Yes. . that’s the way Max would have wanted it,” he agreed.