The third event of Wednesday came to my ears on Thursday morning.
I was a little late arriving at the barn, and was taken a bit aback to find the roadway leading to it rather full of parked automobiles, and the barn itself rather full of people, including two policemen. Our Ridgeville police are quite young men, but in uniform they still look ominous and I was relieved to see that they were laughing and evidently enjoying themselves.
"Well, now," I demanded, in my best classroom voice. "What is all this?"
"Are you Henderson?" the larger policeman asked.
"I am indeed," I said, and a flash bulb went off. A young lady grasped my arm.
"Oh, please, Mr. Henderson, come outside where it's quieter and tell me all about it."
"Perhaps," I countered, "somebody should tell me."
"You mean you don't know, honestly? Oh, it's fabulous. Best story I've had for ages. It'll make the city papers." She led me around the corner of the barn to a spot of comparative quiet.
"You didn't know that one of your junior whatsisnames poured detergent in the Memorial Fountain basin last night?"
I shook my head numbly.
"It was priceless. Just before rush hour. Suds built up in the basin and overflowed, and down the library steps and covered the whole street. And the funniest part was they kept right on coming. You couldn't imagine so much suds coming from that little pool of water. There was a three-block traffic jam and Harry got us some marvelous pictures--men rolling up their trousers to wade across the street. And this morning," she chortled, "somebody phoned in an anonymous tip to the police--of course it was the same boy that did it--Tommy--Miller?--and so here we are. And we just saw a demonstration of that fabulous kite and saw all those simply captivating mice."
"Yes, of course. Who would ever have thought you could breed mice with those cute furry tails?"
Well, after a while things quieted down. They had to. The police left after sobering up long enough to give me a serious warning against letting such a thing happen again. Mr. Miller, who had come home to see what all the excitement was, went back to work and Mrs. Miller went back to the house and the reporter and photographer drifted off to file their story, or whatever it is they do. Tommy was jubilant.
"Did you hear what she said? It'll make the city papers. I wish we had a thousand kites. Ten thousand. Oh boy, selling is fun. Hilary, when can you make some more of that stuff? And Doris, how many mice do you have?"
Those mice! I have always kept my enthusiasm for rodents within bounds, but I must admit they were charming little beasts, with tails as bushy as miniature squirrels.
"How many generations?" I asked Doris.
"Seventeen. No, eighteen, now. Want to see the genetic charts?"
I won't try to explain it as she did to me, but it was quite evident that the new mice were breeding true. Presently we asked Betty Miller to come back down to the barn for a conference. She listened and asked questions. At last she said, "Well, all right, if you promise me they can't get out of their cages. But heaven knows what you'll do when fall comes. They won't live in an unheated barn and you can't bring them into the house."
"We'll be out of the mouse business by then," Doris predicted. "Every pet shop in the country will have them and they'll be down to nothing apiece."
Doris was right, of course, in spite of our efforts to protect the market. Anyhow that ushered in our cage building phase, and for the next week--with a few interruptions--we built cages, hundreds of them, a good many for breeding, but mostly for shipping.
It was rather regrettable that, after the Courier gave us most of the third page, including photographs, we rarely had a day without a few visitors. Many of them wanted to buy mice or kites, but Tommy refused to sell any mice at retail and we soon had to disappoint those who wanted kites. The Supermarket took all we had--except a dozen--and at a dollar fifty each. Tommy's ideas of pricing rather frightened me, but he set the value of the mice at ten dollars a pair and got it without any arguments.
Our beautiful stationery arrived, and we had some invoice forms printed up in a hurry--not engraved, for a wonder.
It was on Tuesday--following the Thursday--that a lanky young man disentangled himself from his car and strolled into the barn. I looked up from the floor where I was tacking squares of screening onto wooden frames.
"Hi," he said. "You're Donald Henderson, right? My name is McCord--Jeff McCord--and I work in the Patent Section at the Commission's downtown office. My boss sent me over here, but if he hadn't, I think I'd have come anyway. What are you doing to get patent protection on Ridge Industries' new developments?"
I got my back unkinked and dusted off my knees. "Well, now," I said, "I've been wondering whether something shouldn't be done, but I know very little about such matters--."
"Exactly," he broke in, "we guessed that might be the case, and there are three patent men in our office who'd like to chip in and contribute some time. Partly for the kicks and partly because we think you may have some things worth protecting. How about it? You worry about the filing and final fees. That's sixty bucks per brainstorm. We'll worry about everything else."
"What's to lose," Tommy interjected.
And so we acquired a patent attorney, several of them, in fact.
The day that our application on the kite design went to Washington, Mary wrote a dozen toy manufacturers scattered from New York to Los Angeles, sent a kite to each one and offered to license the design. Result, one licensee with a thousand dollar advance against next season's royalties.
It was a rainy morning about three weeks later that I arrived at the barn. Jeff McCord was there, and the whole team except Tommy. Jeff lowered his feet from the picnic table and said, "Hi."
"Hi yourself," I told him. "You look pleased."
"I am," he replied, "in a cautious legal sense, of course. Hilary and I were just going over the situation on his phosphonate detergent. I've spent the last three nights studying the patent literature and a few standard texts touching on phosphonates. There are a zillion patents on synthetic detergents and a good round fifty on phosphonates, but it looks"--he held up a long admonitory hand--"it just looks as though we had a clear spot. If we do get protection, you've got a real salable property."
"That's fine, Mr. McCord," Hilary said, "but it's not very important."
"No?" Jeff tilted an inquiring eyebrow at me, and I handed him a small bottle. He opened and sniffed at it gingerly. "What gives?"
"Before-shave lotion," Hilary told him. "You've shaved this morning, but try some anyway."
Jeff looked momentarily dubious, then puddled some in his palm and moistened his jaw line. "Smells good," he noted, "and feels nice and cool. Now what?"
"Wipe your face." Jeff located a handkerchief and wiped, looked at the cloth, wiped again, and stared.
"What is it?"
"A whisker stiffener. It makes each hair brittle enough to break off right at the surface of your skin."
"So I perceive. What is it?"
"Oh, just a mixture of stuff. Cookbook chemistry. Cysteine thiolactone and a fat-soluble magnesium compound."
"I see. Just a mixture of stuff. And do your whiskers grow back the next day?"
"Right on schedule," I said.
McCord unfolded his length and stood staring out into the rain. Presently he said, "Henderson, Hilary and I are heading for my office. We can work there better than here, and if we're going to break the hearts of the razor industry, there's no better time to start than now."
When they had driven off I turned and said, "Let's talk a while. We can always clean mouse cages later. Where's Tommy?"
"Oh, he stopped at the bank to get a loan."
"What on earth for? We have over six thousand in the account."
"Well," Peter said, looking a little embarrassed, "we were planning to buy a hydraulic press. You see, Doris put some embroidery on that scheme of mine for making ball bearings." He grabbed a sheet of paper. "Look, we make a roller bearing, this shape only it's a permanent magnet. Then you see--." And he was off.
"What did they do today, dear?" Marge asked as she refilled my coffee cup.
"Thanks," I said. "Let's see, it was a big day. We picked out a hydraulic press, Doris read us the first chapter of the book she's starting, and we found a place over a garage on Fourth Street that we can rent for winter quarters. Oh, yes, and Jeff is starting action to get the company incorporated."
"Winter quarters," Marge repeated. "You mean you're going to try to keep the group going after school starts?"
"Why not? The kids can sail through their courses without thinking about them, and actually they won't put in more than a few hours a week during the school year."
"Even so, it's child labor, isn't it?"
"Child labor nothing. They're the employers. Jeff McCord and I will be the only employees--just at first, anyway."
Marge choked on something. "Did you say you'd be an employee?"
"Sure," I told her. "They've offered me a small share of the company, and I'd be crazy to turn it down. After all, what's to lose?"
A BOTTLE OF OLD WINE.
By Richard O. Lewis
A grim tale of a future in which everyone is desperate to escape reality, and a hero who wants to have his wine and drink it, too.
Herbert Hyrel settled himself more comfortably in his easy chair, extended his short legs further toward the fireplace, and let his eyes travel cautiously in the general direction of his wife.
She was in her chair as usual, her long legs curled up beneath her, the upper half of her face hidden in the bulk of her personalized, three-dimensional telovis. The telovis, of a stereoscopic nature, seemingly brought the performers with all their tinsel and color directly into the room of the watcher.
Hyrel had no way of seeing into the plastic affair she wore, but he guessed from the expression on the lower half of her face that she was watching one of the newer black-market sex-operas. In any event, there would be no sound, movement, or sign of life from her for the next three hours. To break the thread of the play for even a moment would ruin all the previous emotional build-up.
There had been a time when he hated her for those long and silent evenings, lonely hours during which he was completely ignored. It was different now, however, for those hours furnished him with time for an escape of his own.
His lips curled into a tight smile and his right hand fondled the unobtrusive switch beneath his trouser leg. He did not press the switch. He would wait a few minutes longer. But it was comforting to know that it was there, exhilarating to know that he could escape for a few hours by a mere flick of his finger.
He let his eyes stray to the dim light of the artificial flames in the fireplace. His hate for her was not bounded merely by those lonely hours she had forced upon him. No, it was far more encompassing.
He hated her with a deep, burning savagery that was deadly in its passion. He hated her for her money, the money she kept securely from him. He hated her for the paltry allowance she doled out to him, as if he were an irresponsible child. It was as if she were constantly reminding him in every glance and gesture, "I made a bad bargain when I married you. You wanted me, my money, everything, and had nothing to give in return except your own doltish self. You set a trap for me, baited with lies and a false front. Now you are caught in your own trap and will remain there like a mouse to eat from my hand whatever crumbs I stoop to give you."
But some day his hate would be appeased. Yes, some day soon he would kill her!
He shot a sideways glance at her, wondering if by chance she suspected.... She hadn't moved. Her lips were pouted into a half smile; the sex-opera had probably reached one of its more pleasurable moments.
Hyrel let his eyes shift back to the fireplace again. Yes, he would kill her. Then he would claim a rightful share of her money, be rid of her debasing dominance.
He let the thought run around through his head, savoring it with mental taste buds. He would not kill her tonight. No, nor the next night. He would wait, wait until he had sucked the last measure of pleasure from the thought.
It was like having a bottle of rare old wine on a shelf where it could be viewed daily. It was like being able to pause again and again before the bottle, hold it up to the light, and say to it, "Some day, when my desire for you has reached the ultimate, I shall unstopper you quietly and sip you slowly to the last soul-satisfying drop." As long as the bottle remained there upon the shelf it was symbolic of that pleasurable moment....
He snapped out of his reverie and realized he had been wasting precious moments. There would be time enough tomorrow for gloating. Tonight, there were other things to do. Pleasurable things. He remembered the girl he had met the night before, and smiled smugly. Perhaps she would be awaiting him even now. If not, there would be another one....
He settled himself deeper into the chair, glanced once more at his wife, then let his head lean comfortably back against the chair's headrest. His hand upon his thigh felt the thin mesh that cloaked his body beneath his clothing like a sheer stocking. His fingers went again to the tiny switch. Again he hesitated.
Herbert Hyrel knew no more about the telporter suit he wore than he did about the radio in the corner, the TV set against the wall, or the personalized telovis his wife was wearing. You pressed one of the buttons on the radio; music came out. You pressed a button and clicked a dial on the TV; music and pictures came out. You pressed a button and made an adjustment on the telovis; three-dimensional, emotion-colored pictures leaped into the room. You pressed a tiny switch on the telporter suit; you were whisked away to a receiving set you had previously set up in secret.
He knew that the music and the images of the performers on the TV and telovis were brought to his room by some form of electrical impulse or wave while the actual musicians and performers remained in the studio. He knew that when he pressed the switch on his thigh something within him--his ectoplasm, higher self, the thing spirits use for materialization, whatever its real name--streamed out of him along an invisible channel, leaving his body behind in the chair in a conscious but dream-like state. His other self materialized in a small cabin in a hidden nook between a highway and a river where he had installed the receiving set a month ago.
He thought once more of the girl who might be waiting for him, smiled, and pressed the switch.
The dank air of the cabin was chill to Herbert Hyrel's naked flesh. He fumbled through the darkness for the clothing he kept there, found his shorts and trousers, got hurriedly into them, then flicked on a pocket lighter and ignited a stub of candle upon the table. By the wavering light, he finished dressing in the black satin clothing, the white shirt, the flowing necktie and tam. He invoiced the contents of his billfold. Not much. And his monthly pittance was still two weeks away....
He had skimped for six months to salvage enough money from his allowance to make a down payment on the telporter suit. Since then, his expenses--monthly payments for the suit, cabin rent, costly liquor--had forced him to place his nights of escape on strict ration. He could not go on this way, he realized. Not now. Not since he had met the girl. He had to have more money. Perhaps he could not afford the luxury of leaving the wine bottle longer upon the shelf....
Riverside Club, where Hyrel arrived by bus and a hundred yards of walking, was exclusive. It catered to a clientele that had but three things in common: money, a desire for utter self-abandonment, and a sales slip indicating ownership of a telporter suit. The club was of necessity expensive, for self-telportation was strictly illegal, and police protection came high.
Herbert Hyrel adjusted his white, silken mask carefully at the door and shoved his sales slip through a small aperture where it was thoroughly scanned by unseen eyes. A buzzer sounded an instant later, the lock on the door clicked, and Hyrel pushed through into the exhilarating warmth of music and laughter.
The main room was large. Hidden lights along the walls sent slow beams of red, blue, vermillion, green, yellow and pink trailing across the domed ceiling in a heterogeneous pattern. The colored beams mingled, diffused, spread, were caught up by mirrors of various tints which diffused and mingled the lights once more until the whole effect was an ever-changing panorama of softly-melting shades.
The gay and bizarre costumes of the masked revelers on the dance floor and at the tables, unearthly in themselves, were made even more so by the altering light. Music flooded the room from unseen sources. Laughter--hysterical, drunken, filled with utter abandonment--came from the dance floor, the tables, and the private booths and rooms hidden cleverly within the walls.
Hyrel pushed himself to an unoccupied table, sat down and ordered a bottle of cheap whiskey. He would have preferred champagne, but his depleted finances forbade the more discriminate taste.
When his order arrived, he poured a glass tumbler half full and consumed it eagerly while his eyes scanned the room in search of the girl. He couldn't see her in the dim swirl of color. Had she arrived? Perhaps she was wearing a different costume than she had the night before. If so, recognition might prove difficult.
He poured himself another drink, promising himself he would go in search of her when the liquor began to take effect.
A woman clad in the revealing garb of a Persian dancer threw an arm about him from behind and kissed him on the cheek through the veil which covered the lower part of her face.