The guard said something irritable and unhappy. I got her off his back with some difficulty, and we located Arthur.
Picture a shiny four-gallon tomato can, with the label stripped off, hanging by wire from the flashing-light panels of an electric computer. That was Arthur. The shiny metal cylinder was his prosthetic tank; the wires were the leads that served him for fingers, ears and mouth; the glittering panel was the control center for the Consolidated Edison Eastside Power Plant No. 1.
"Hi, Arthur," I said, and a sudden ear-splitting thunderous hiss was his way of telling me that he knew I was there.
I didn't know exactly what it was he was trying to say and I didn't want to; fortune spares me few painful moments, and I accept with gratitude the ones it does. The Major's boys hadn't bothered to bring Arthur's typewriter along--I mean who cares what a generator-governor had to offer in the way of conversation?--so all he could do was blow off steam from the distant boilers.
Well, not quite all. Light flashed; a bucket conveyor began crashingly to dump loads of coal; and an alarm gong began to pound.
"Please, Arthur," I begged. "Shut up a minute and listen, will you?"
More lights. The gong rapped half a dozen times sharply, and stopped.
I said: "Arthur, you've got to trust Vern and me. We have this thing figured out now. We've got the Queen Elizabeth--"
A shattering hiss of steam--meaning delight this time, I thought. Or anyway hoped.
"--and its only a question of time until we can carry out the plan. Vern says to apologize for not looking in on you--" hiss--"but he's been busy. And after all, you know it's more important to get everything ready so you can get out of this place, right?"
"Psst," said Amy.
She nodded briefly past my shoulder. I looked, and there was the guard, looking sleepy and surly and definitely suspicious.
I said heartily: "So as soon as I fix it up with the Major, we'll arrange for something better for you. Meanwhile, Arthur, you're doing a capital job and I want you to know that all of us loyal New York citizens and public servants deeply appreciate--"
Thundering crashes, bangs, gongs, hisses, and the scream of a steam whistle he'd found somewhere.
Arthur was mad.
"So long, Arthur," I said, and we got out of there--just barely in time. At the door, we found that Arthur had reversed the coal scoops and a growing mound of it was pouring into the street where we'd left the MG parked. We got the car started just as the heap was beginning to reach the bumpers, and at that the paint would never again be the same.
Oh, yes, he was mad. I could only hope that in the long run he would forgive us, since we were acting for his best interests, after all.
Anyway, I thought we were.
Still, things worked out pretty well--especially between Amy and me. Engdahl had the theory that she had been dodging the Major so long that anybody looked good to her, which was hardly flattering. But she and I were getting along right well.
She said worriedly: "The only thing, Sam, is that, frankly, the Major has just about made up his mind that he wants to marry me--"
"He is married!" I yelped.
"Naturally he's married. He's married to--so far--one hundred and nine women. He's been hitting off a marriage a month for a good many years now and, to tell you the truth, I think he's got the habit Anyway, he's got his eye on me."
I demanded jealously: "Has he said anything?"
She picked a sheet of onionskin paper out of her bag and handed it to me. It was marked Top Secret, and it really was, because it hadn't gone through his regular office--I knew that because I was his regular office. It was only two lines of text and sloppily typed at that: Lt. Amy Bankhead will report to HQ at 1700 hours 1 July to carry out orders of the Commanding Officer.
The first of July was only a week away. I handed the orders back to her.
"And the orders of the Commanding Officer will be--" I wanted to know.
She nodded. "You guessed it."
I said: "We'll have to work fast."
On the thirtieth of June, we invited the Major to come aboard his palatial new yacht.
"Ah, thank you," he said gratefully. "A surprise? For my birthday? Ah, you loyal members of my command make up for all that I've lost--all of it!" He nearly wept.
I said: "Sir, the pleasure is all ours," and backed out of his presence. What's more, I meant every word.
It was a select party of slightly over a hundred. All of the wives were there, barring twenty or thirty who were in disfavor--still, that left over eighty. The Major brought half a dozen of his favorite officers. His bodyguard and our crew added up to a total of thirty men.
We were set up to feed a hundred and fifty, and to provide liquor for twice that many, so it looked like a nice friendly brawl. I mean we had our radio operator handing out highballs as the guests stepped on board. The Major was touched and delighted; it was exactly the kind of party he liked.
He came up the gangplank with his face one great beaming smile. "Eat! Drink!" he cried. "Ah, and be merry!" He stretched out his hands to Amy, standing by behind the radio op. "For tomorrow we wed," he added, and sentimentally kissed his proposed bride.
I cleared my throat. "How about inspecting the ship, Major?" I interrupted.
"Plenty of time for that, my boy," he said. "Plenty of time for that." But he let go of Amy and looked around him. Well, it was worth looking at. Those Englishmen really knew how to build a luxury liner. God rest them.
The girls began roaming around.
It was a hot day and late afternoon, and the girls began discarding jackets and boleros, and that began to annoy the Major.
"Ah, cover up there!" he ordered one of his wives. "You too there, what's-your-name. Put that blouse back on!"
It gave him something to think about. He was a very jealous man, Amy had said, and when you stop to think about it, a jealous man with a hundred and nine wives to be jealous of really has a job. Anyway, he was busy watching his wives and keeping his military cabinet and his bodyguard busy too, and that made him too busy to notice when I tipped the high sign to Vern and took off.
In Consolidated Edison's big power plant, the guard was friendly. "I hear the Major's over on your boat, pal. Big doings. Got a lot of the girls there, hey?"
He bent, sniggering, to look at my pass.
"That's right, pal," I said, and slugged him.
Arthur screamed at me with a shrill blast of steam as I came in. But only once. I wasn't there for conversation. I began ripping apart his comfy little home of steel braces and copper wires, and it didn't take much more than a minute before I had him free. And that was very fortunate because, although I had tied up the guard, I hadn't done it very well, and it was just about the time I had Arthur's steel case tucked under my arm that I heard a yelling and bellowing from down the stairs.
The guard had got free.
"Keep calm, Arthur!" I ordered sharply. "We'll get out of this, don't you worry!"
But he wasn't worried, or anyway didn't show it, since he couldn't. I was the one who was worried. I was up on the second floor of the plant, in the control center, with only one stairway going down that I knew about, and that one thoroughly guarded by a man with a grudge against me. Me, I had Arthur, and no weapon, and I hadn't a doubt in the world that there were other guards around and that my friend would have them after me before long.
Problem. I took a deep breath and swallowed and considered jumping out the window. But it wasn't far enough to the ground.
Feet pounded up the stairs, more than two of them. With Arthur dragging me down on one side, I hurried, fast as I could, along the steel galleries that surrounded the biggest boiler. It was a nice choice of alternatives--if I stayed quiet, they would find me; if I ran, they would hear me, and then find me.
But ahead there was--what? Something. A flight of stairs, it looked like, going out and, yes, up. Up? But I was already on the second floor.
"Hey, you!" somebody bellowed from behind me.
I didn't stop to consider. I ran. It wasn't steps, not exactly; it was a chain of coal scoops on a long derrick arm, a moving bucket arrangement for unloading fuel from barges. It did go up, though, and more important it went out. The bucket arm was stretched across the clogged roadway below to a loading tower that hung over the water.
If I could get there, I might be able to get down. If I could get down--yes, I could see it; there were three or four mahogany motor launches tied to the foot of the tower.
And nobody around.
I looked over my shoulder, and didn't like what I saw, and scuttled up that chain of enormous buckets like a roach on a washboard, one hand for me and one hand for Arthur.
Thank heaven, I had a good lead on my pursuers--I needed it. I was on the bucket chain while they were still almost a city block behind me, along the galleries. I was halfway across the roadway, afraid to look down, before they reached the butt end of the chain.
Clash-clatter. Clank! The bucket under me jerked and clattered and nearly threw me into the street. One of those jokers had turned on the conveyor! It was a good trick, all right, but not quite in time. I made a flying jump and I was on the tower.
I didn't stop to thumb my nose at them, but I thought of it.
I was down those steel steps, breathing like a spouting whale, in a minute flat, and jumping out across the concrete, coal-smeared yard toward the moored launches. Quickly enough, I guess, but with nothing at all to spare, because although I hadn't seen anyone there, there was a guard.
He popped out of a doorway, blinking foolishly; and overhead the guards at the conveyor belt were screaming at him. It took him a second to figure out what was going on, and by that time I was in a launch, cast off the rope, kicked it free, and fumbled for the starting button.
It took me several seconds to realize that a rope was required, that in fact there was no button; and by then I was floating yards away, but the pudgy pop-eyed guard was also in a launch, and he didn't have to fumble. He knew. He got his motor started a fraction of a second before me, and there he was, coming at me, set to ram. Or so it looked.
I wrenched at the wheel and brought the boat hard over; but he swerved too, at the last moment, and brought up something that looked a little like a spear and a little like a sickle and turned out to be a boathook. I ducked, just in time. It sizzled over my head as he swung and crashed against the windshield. Hunks of safety glass splashed out over the forward deck, but better that than my head.
Boathooks, hey? I had a boathook too! If he didn't have another weapon, I was perfectly willing to play; I'd been sitting and taking it long enough and I was very much attracted by the idea of fighting back. The guard recovered his balance, swore at me, fought the wheel around and came back.
We both curved out toward the center of the East River in intersecting arcs. We closed. He swung first. I ducked-- And from a crouch, while he was off balance, I caught him in the shoulder with the hook.
He made a mighty splash.
I throttled down the motor long enough to see that he was still conscious.
"Touche, buster," I said, and set course for the return trip down around the foot of Manhattan, back toward the Queen.
It took a while, but that was all right; it gave everybody a nice long time to get plastered. I sneaked aboard, carrying Arthur, and turned him over to Vern. Then I rejoined the Major. He was making an inspection tour of the ship--what he called an inspection, after his fashion.
He peered into the engine rooms and said: "Ah, fine."
He stared at the generators that were turning over and nodded when I explained we needed them for power for lights and everything and said: "Ah, of course."
He opened a couple of stateroom doors at random and said: "Ah, nice."
And he went up on the flying bridge with me and such of his officers as still could walk and said: "Ah."
Then he said in a totally different tone: "What the devil's the matter over there?"
He was staring east through the muggy haze. I saw right away what it was that was bothering him--easy, because I knew where to look. The power plant way over on the East Side was billowing smoke.
"Where's Vern Engdahl? That gadget of his isn't working right!"
"You mean Arthur?"
"I mean that brain in a bottle. It's Engdahl's responsibility, you know!"
Vern came up out of the wheelhouse and cleared his throat. "Major," he said earnestly, "I think there's some trouble over there. Maybe you ought to go look for yourself."
"I, uh, hear there've been power failures," Vern said lamely. "Don't you think you ought to inspect it? I mean just in case there's something serious?"
The Major stared at him frostily, and then his mood changed. He took a drink from the glass in his hand, quickly finishing it off.
"Ah," he said, "hell with it. Why spoil a good party? If there are going to be power failures, why, let them be. That's my motto!"
Vern and I looked at each other. He shrugged slightly, meaning, well, we tried. And I shrugged slightly, meaning, what did you expect? And then he glanced upward, meaning, take a look at what's there.
But I didn't really have to look because I heard what it was. In fact, I'd been hearing it for some time. It was the Major's entire air force--two helicopters, swirling around us at an average altitude of a hundred feet or so. They showed up bright against the gathering clouds overhead, and I looked at them with considerable interest--partly because I considered it an even-money bet that one of them would be playing crumple-fender with our stacks, partly because I had an idea that they were not there solely for show.
I said to the Major: "Chief, aren't they coming a little close? I mean it's your ship and all, but what if one of them takes a spill into the bridge while you're here?"
He grinned. "They know better," he bragged. "Ah, besides, I want them close. I mean if anything went wrong."
I said, in a tone that showed as much deep hurt as I could manage: "Sir, what could go wrong?"
"Oh, you know." He patted my shoulder limply. "Ah, no offense?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Well," I said, "let's go below."
All of it was done carefully, carefully as could be. The only thing was, we forgot about the typewriters. We got everybody, or as near as we could, into the Grand Salon where the food was, and right there on a table at the end of the hall was one of the typewriters clacking away. Vern had rigged them up with rolls of paper instead of sheets, and maybe that was ingenious, but it was also a headache just then. Because the typewriter was banging out: LEFT FOUR THIRTEEN FOURTEEN AND TWENTYONE BOILERS WITH A FULL HEAD OF STEAM AND THE SAFETY VALVES LOCKED BOY I TELL YOU WHEN THOSE THINGS LET GO YOURE GOING TO HEAR A NOISE THATLL KNOCK YOUR HAT OFF.
The Major inquired politely: "Something to do with the ship?"
"Oh, that," said Vern. "Yeah. Just a little, uh, something to do with the ship. Say, Major, here's the bar. Real scotch, see? Look at the label!"
The Major glanced at him with faint contempt--well, he'd had the pick of the greatest collection of high-priced liquor stores in the world for ten years, so no wonder. But he allowed Vern to press a drink on him.