He left the park, and wandered into a thriving luncheonette. He tried questioning the man behind the counter, who merely snickered and said: "You stayin' with the Dawes, ain't you? Better ask Willie, then. He knows the place better than anybody."
He asked about the execution, and the man stiffened.
"Don't think I can talk about that. Fella broke one of the Laws; that's about it. Don't see where you come into it."
At eleven o'clock, he returned to the Dawes residence, and found Mom in the kitchen, surrounded by the warm nostalgic odor of home-baked bread. She told him that her husband had left a message for the stranger, informing him that the State Police would be around to get his story.
He waited in the house, gloomily turning the pages of the local newspaper, searching for references to Armagon. He found nothing.
At eleven-thirty, a brown-faced State Trooper came to call, and Sol told his story. He was promised nothing, and told to stay in town until he was contacted again by the authorities.
Mom fixed him a light lunch, the greatest feature of which was some hot biscuits she plucked out of the oven. It made him feel almost normal.
He wandered around the town some more after lunch, trying to spark conversation with the residents.
He learned little.
At five-thirty, he returned to the Dawes house, and was promptly leaped upon by little Sally.
"Hi! Hi! Hi!" she said, clutching his right leg and almost toppling him over. "We had a party in school. I had chocolate cake. You goin' to stay with us?"
"Just another night," Sol told her, trying to shake the girl off. "If it's okay with your folks. They haven't found my car yet."
"Sally!" Mom was peering out of the screen door. "You let Mr. Becker alone and go wash. Your Pa will be home soon."
"Oh, pooh," the girl said, her pigtails swinging. "Do you got a girlfriend, mister?"
"No." Sol struggled towards the house with her dead weight on his leg. "Would you mind? I can't walk."
"Would you be my boyfriend?"
"Well, we'll talk about it. If you let go my leg."
Inside the house, she said: "We're having pot roast. You stayin'?"
"Of course Mr. Becker's stayin'," Mom said. "He's our guest."
"That's very kind of you," Sol said. "I really wish you'd let me pay something--"
"Don't want to hear another word about pay."
Mr. Dawes came home an hour later, looking tired. Mom pecked him lightly on the forehead. He glanced at the evening paper, and then spoke to Sol.
"Hear you been asking questions, Mr. Becker."
Sol nodded, embarrassed. "Guess I have. I'm awfully curious about this Armagon place. Never heard of anything like it before."
Dawes grunted. "You ain't a reporter?"
"Oh, no. I'm an engineer. I was just satisfying my own curiosity."
"Uh-huh." Dawes looked reflective. "You wouldn't be thinkin' about writing us up or anything. I mean, this is a pretty private affair."
"Writing it up?" Sol blinked. "I hadn't thought of it. But you'll have to admit--it's sure interesting."
"Yeah," Dawes said narrowly. "I guess it would be."
"Supper!" Mom called.
After the meal, they spent a quiet evening at home. Sally went to bed, screaming her reluctance, at eight-thirty. Mom, dozing in the big chair near the fireplace, padded upstairs at nine. Then Dawes yawned widely, stood up, and said goodnight at quarter-of-ten.
He paused in the doorway before leaving.
"I'd think about that," he said. "Writing it up, I mean. A lot of folks would think you were just plum crazy."
Sol laughed feebly. "I guess they would at that."
"Goodnight," Dawes said.
He read Sally's copy of Treasure Island for about half an hour. Then he undressed, made himself comfortable on the sofa, snuggled under the soft blanket that Mom had provided, and shut his eyes.
He reviewed the events of the day before dropping off to sleep. The troublesome Sally. The strange dream world of Armagon. The visit to the barber shop. The removal of Brundage's body. The conversations with the townspeople. Dawes' suspicious attitude ...
Then sleep came.
He was flanked by marble pillars, thrusting towards a high-domed ceiling.
The room stretched long and wide before him, the walls bedecked in stunning purple draperies.
He whirled at the sound of footsteps, echoing stridently on the stone floor. Someone was running towards him.
It was Sally, pigtails streaming out behind her, the small body wearing a flowing white toga. She was shrieking, laughing as she skittered past him, clutching a gleaming gold helmet.
He called out to her, but she was too busy outdistancing her pursuer. It was Sheriff Coogan, puffing and huffing, the metal-and-gold cloth uniform ludicrous on his lanky frame.
"Consarn kid!" he wheezed. "Gimme my hat!"
Mom was following him, her stout body regal in scarlet robes. "Sally! You give Sir Coogan his helmet! You hear?"
"Mrs. Dawes!" Sol said.
"Why, Mr. Becker! How nice to see you again! Pa! Pa! Look who's here!"
Willie Dawes appeared. No! Sol thought. This was King Dawes; nothing else could explain the magnificence of his attire.
"Yes," Dawes said craftily. "So I see. Welcome to Armagon, Mr. Becker."
"Armagon?" Sol gaped. "Then this is the place you've been dreaming about?"
"Yep," the King said. "And now you're in it, too."
"Then I'm only dreaming!"
Charlie, the fat man, clumsy as ever in his robes of State, said: "So that's the snooper, eh?"
"Yep," Dawes chuckled. "Think you better round up the Knights."
Sol said: "The Knights?"
"Exelution! Exelution!" Sally shrieked.
"Now wait a minute--"
Running feet, clanking of armor. Sol backed up against a pillar. "Now look here. You've gone far enough--"
"Not quite," said the King.
The Knights stepped forward.
"Wait!" Sol screamed.
Familiar faces, under shining helmets, moved towards him; the tips of sharp-pointed spears gleaming wickedly. And Sol Becker wondered--would he ever awake?
By HENRY SLESAR
Monk had three questions he lived by: Where can I find it? How much will it cost? When can you deliver? But now they said that what he needed wasn't for sale. "Want to bet?" He snorted.
Systole ... diastole ... the Cardiophone listened, hummed, and recorded; tracing a path of perilous peaks and precipices on the white paper.
"Relax!" Dr. Rostov pleaded. "Please relax, Mr. Monk!"
The eyes of Fletcher Monk replied. Rostov knew their language well enough to read the glaring messages they transmitted. Indignation ... "Don't use that commanding tone with me, Doctor!" Protest ... "I am relaxed; completely relaxed!" Warning.... "Get me out of this electric chair, Rostov!"
The physician sighed and clicked the apparatus off. Swiftly, but with knowing fingers, he disengaged his patient from the wire and rubber encumbrances of the reclining seat. Fletcher Monk sat up and rubbed his forearms, watching every movement the doctor made as he prepared to study the results of his examination.
"You're fussing, Rostov," he said coldly. "My shirt."
"In a moment."
"Now," said Monk impatiently.
The physician shook his head sadly. He handed Monk his shirt and waited until the big man had buttoned it half way down. Then he returned to the Cardiophone for a more critical study. A fine analysis was hardly necessary; the alarming story had been told with the first measurements of the heart machine.
"Cut it out," said Monk brusquely. "You've got that death's-head look again, Rostov. If you want to say something, say it."
"You were tight as a drum," said the doctor. "That's going to influence my findings, you know. If you hadn't refused the narcotic--"
Fletcher Monk barked: "I won't be drugged!"
"It would have relaxed you--"
"I was as relaxed as I ever am," the other man said candidly, and Rostov recognized the truth of his analysis. Monk lived in a world of taut muscles and nerves stretched out just below the breaking point. Tenseness was his trademark; there was no more elasticity in Monk's body than there was in the hard cash he accumulated so readily.
"Well?" the patient jeered. "What's the verdict, you damned sawbones? Going to throw away my cigars? Going to send me on a long sea voyage?"
"Don't look so smug!" Monk exploded. "I know you think there's something wrong with me. You can't wait to bury me!"
"You're sick, Mr. Monk," said the doctor. "You're very sick."
Monk glowered. "You're wrong," he said icily. "You've made a lousy diagnosis."
"What was that feeling you described?" asked Rostov. "Remember what you told me? Like a big, black bird, flapping its wings in your chest. Didn't that mean something to you, Mr. Monk?"
The industrialist paled. "All right. Get to the point," he said quietly. "What did that gadget tell you?"
"Bad news," said the doctor. "Your heart's been strained almost to bursting. It's working on will power, Mr. Monk; hardly anything else."
"Get to the point!" Monk shouted.