Crowley snapped, "Larry!"
From seemingly nowhere, the chauffeur had produced a thin black automatic and was now lazily pointing it, not so much at Ross Wooley as at Dr. Braun and Patricia. He said evenly, softly, "Easy, friend."
Ross released his grip, "Put that thing away," he blurted.
"Sure, sure," Larry said, his voice all but disinterested. The gun disappeared.
Crowley, only slightly ruffled, said now, "Take it easy, Ross. Nothing's going to happen to you. I'm going to need you folks and I'm going to treat you right."
"Where are we going?" Ross growled.
"I had the boys rent me a big estate like up in the Catskills. Big place, nice and quiet. In fact, the last tenants used it for one of these rest sanitariums. You know, rich people with DTs or trying to get a monkey off their back."
"The boys?" Patricia said softly.
He looked at her and grinned again. Crowley was obviously enjoying himself. "I got a few people working for me," he explained.
Dr. Braun blurted, "You fool! You mean you've revealed the existence of the process Pat, Ross and I worked out to a group of ignoramuses?"
Crowley said angrily, "Now look, Doc, let's don't get on that bit. Maybe I'm just a country boy but I'm as smart as the next man. Just because some of you eggheads spend half your life in college don't mean you've got any monopoly on good common sense. I went to the school of hard knocks, understand, and I got plenty of diplomas to prove it. Take it easy on that ignoramus talk."
Patricia said suddenly, "Don's right, Dr. Braun. I think you've badly underestimated him."
Ross snorted sourly at that remark. "We've all underestimated him. Well, I think you'll agree that our friend Don will get no more injections of the invisibility serum."
They looked at him. Three sinkings of stomach taking place simultaneously.
"Now, you know I thought that might be your altitude...."
"Attitude," Ross muttered.
"... So I went to the trouble of coming up to your suite last night and sort of confiscating the supply. By the looks of it, I'd say there was enough for another ten shots or so."
"See," Patricia said to Ross. "You're not as smart as you thought you were. Don's one up on you."
The estate which the "boys" had secured for Crowley was two or three miles out of Tannersville on a mountainside and quite remote. He took considerable pride in showing them about, although it was obvious that he had been here before only once himself.
He was obviously enjoying the situation thoroughly and had planned it out in some detail. Besides the empty-faced Larry, who had driven the car, they were introduced to two more of Crowley's confederates, neither of whom gave any indication that the three were present under duress. The first was a heavy-set, moist palmed southerner with a false air of the jovial. He shook hands heartily, said nothing with a good many words for a few minutes and then excused himself. The third confidant was an older man of sad mien who would have passed easily in the swankest of Washington, New York or London private clubs. He was introduced simply as Mr. Whitely, greeted them pleasantly as though all were fellow guests, had a word to say about the weather then and passed on.
Patricia was frowning. "Your southern friend, Paul Teeter, it seems to me I've heard his name before."
Crowley grinned. "Oh, Paul's been in the news from time to time."
Ross was looking after Mr. Whitely who had disappeared into the main building. They were standing on the lawn, as part of the guided tour Crowley was giving them. He growled, "I suppose the two of them are experienced confidence men, or something."
"Take it easy with those cracks, Ross," Crowley said. "Whitely used to have a seat on the Stock Exchange. A real big shot. But that was before they disbarred him, or whatever they call it."
"See here," Dr. Braun said urgently. "We've had enough of all this, Don. I propose we go somewhere where it will be possible for us to bring you to your senses, and save you from disaster."
"Kind of a powwow, eh? O.K., Doc, come on in here." He led them to the entrance, conducted them inside and into a library that led off the main entrada. He said, "By the way, Larry has a few of his boys up here just kind of like estate watchmen. Some of them aren't much used to being out of the city and they get nervous. So...."
Ross growled, "All right, all right, don't try to make like a third-rate villain in a B-Movie. You have guards about and it would be dangerous to try to leave without your permission."
"How about that?" Crowley exclaimed as though amazed. "Man, you eggheads catch on quick. Nothing like a college education." He waved them to chairs. "I'm going to have to leave for a while. Whitely's got some big deal brewing and we got to work it out." He grinned suddenly. "And Larry's got a different kind of deal. One he's been planning for years but hasn't been able to swing one or two details. It's a caution how many details a little man who wasn't there can handle in one of these king-size capers."
He had used the pseudo-criminal term, caper, with considerable satisfaction. Crowley was obviously having the time of his life.
"Very well," Braun said, "we'll wait." When the other had left the room, leaving the door open behind him, the doctor turned to his two younger associates. "What children we've been."
Ross Wooley growled unhappily, "Brother, we couldn't have picked a worse so-called Common Man, if we'd tried. That character is as nutty as a stuffed date. Do you realize what he's in a position to do?"
Patricia twisted her mouth thoughtfully. "I wonder if any of us really realize. I am afraid even with all our speculation, we never truly thought this out."
Dr. Braun pushed his glasses back on his nose with a forefinger. He shook his head. "You make a mistake, Ross. We didn't make a bad choice in our selection of Don Crowley for our typical Common Man."
Ross looked at him and snorted.
Braun said doggedly, "Remember, we attempted to find the average man, the common man, the little man, the man in the street. Well, it becomes obvious to me that we did just that."
Patricia said thoughtfully, "I don't know. I'm inclined to think that from the beginning you two have underestimated Don. He has certainly shown considerable ingenuity. Do you realize that he's done all this in a matter of less than a week?"
"Done all what?" Ross said sarcastically.
She gestured. "Look at this establishment. He's obviously acquired considerable money, and he already has an organization, or at least the beginnings of one."
"That is beside the point," Braun said ruefully. "I say that he is reacting as would be expected. As the average man in the street would react given the opportunity to seize almost unlimited power, and with small chance of reprisal."
Patricia shrugged as though in disagreement.
Braun looked at Ross Wooley. "Close the door, Ross. Lord knows when we'll have another chance to confer. Obviously, something must be done."
Ross came quickly to his feet, crossed to the door, looked up and down the hallway which was empty and then closed the door behind him. He came back to the others and drew his chair in closer so that they could communicate in low voices.
Braun said, "One thing is definite. We must not allow him to secure further serum. For all we know, he might be planning to inject some of those gangsters he's affiliated himself with."
Patricia shook her head thoughtfully. "I still think you underestimate Don. He must realize he can't trust them. At this stage, he has had to confide in at least two or three, fully to utilize his invisibility. But in the long run it isn't to his advantage to have anybody know about it. If the authorities, such as the F.B.I., began looking for an invisible man, sooner or later they would penetrate the field of invisibility."
"You mean you think Crowley will use these men for a time and then ... destroy them?"
"He'll have to, or sooner or later the secret will be out."
Braun said in soft logic, "If he can't allow anyone to know about it, then we, too, must be destroyed."
Ross growled, "Then we've got to finish him first."
Patricia said, "Now, I don't know. Don is showing considerably more sense than you two evidently give him credit for. I think in many ways what he's done is quite admirable. He's seen his chance--and has grasped it. Why, I wouldn't be surprised that Don will be the most powerful man in the country within months."
The two men were staring at her. Ross sputtered, "Have you gone completely around the bend? Are you defending this ... this...."
A voice chuckled, "Mind your language, Buster. Just take it easy or you'll wind up with some missing teeth."
Ross jumped to his feet as though couched with an electric prod. Dr. Braun stiffened in his chair and his eyes darted about the room.
Patricia alone seemed collected. "Don Crowley!" she exclaimed. "You should be ashamed of yourself, listening in on private conversations."
"Yeah," the voice said. "However, it's handy to know what the other side is dreaming up in the way of a bad time for you. Sit down, Buster. I've got a few things to say."
Muttering, Ross resumed his place. The doctor sighed deeply and sank back onto the sofa he had been occupying. The three could see an indentation magically appear in the upholstery of an easy-chair across from them.
Crowley's voice said confidently, "You know, from the first, I've kept telling you eggheads that I'm not stupid, but none of you've bothered to listen. You think just because you spent six or eight years of your life in some college that you're automatically smarter than other people. But I got a theory, like, that it doesn't make any difference if you spent your whole life going to college, you still wouldn't wind up smart if you didn't start that way."
Ross began to mutter something, but Crowley snapped, "Shut up for a minute, I'm talking." He resumed his condescending tone. "Just for example, take a couple of guys who got to the top. Edison in science and Khrushchev in politics. For all practical purposes, neither of them went to school at all. Khrushchev didn't even learn to read until he was twenty-eight years old.
"Then take Dr. Braun here. He's spent half his life in school, and where's it got him? He'd make more dough if he owned the local garage and dealer franchise for one of the automobile companies in some jerkwater town. And look at Ross. He'd probably make more money playing pro football than he does messing around with all those test tubes and Bunsen burners and everything. What good has all the school done either?"
Dr. Braun said gently, "Could we get to the point?"
"Take it easy, Doc. I'm in charge here. You just sit and listen. The point is, you three with your smart-Aleck egghead education started off thinking Mr. Common Man, like you call me, is stupid. Well, it just so happens I'm not. Take Pat there. She's smarter than you two, but she had the same idea. That this here country boy isn't as smart as she is. She's going to fox him, see? As soon as she saw the way the cards were falling, she started buttering up to me. She even figured out that I was probably right in this room listening to you planning how to trip me up. So she pretended to take sides against you."
"Why, Don!" Patricia protested.
"Come off it, kid. You probably hate my guts worse than the others. You were the one who thought this particular average man was a slob. That all common people were slobs."
Patricia's face went expressionless, but Ross, knowing her well, could sense her dismay. Crowley was right. She had been trying to play a careful game but their supposedly average man had seen through her.
Crowley's voice went thoughtful. "I been doing a lot of thinking this week. A lot of it. And you want to know something? You know what I decided? I decided that everybody talks a lot about the Common Man but actually he's never had a chance to, like, express himself. He's never been able to put over the things he's always wanted."
"Haven't you ever heard of democracy?" Ross said sourly. "Who do you think elects our officials?"
"Shut up, I told you. I'm talking now. Sure, every four years the lousy politicians come around and they stick coonskin caps on their heads or Indian bonnets and start saying ain't when they make their speeches. Showing they're just folks, see? They go out into the country, and stick a straw in their mouth and talk about crops to the farmers, all that sort of thing. But they aren't really common folks. Most of them are lawyers or bankers or something. They run those political parties and make all the decisions themselves. The Common Man never really has anything to say about it."
Braun said reasonably, "You have your choice. If you think one candidate is opposed to your interests you can elect the other."
Crowley grunted his contempt. "But they're both the same. No, there hasn't been no common man in Washington since Lincoln, and maybe he wasn't. Well, I'll tell you something. The kind of talk I hear down in the corner saloon from just plain people makes a lot more sense to me than all this stuff the politicians pull."
Dr. Braun cleared his throat and stared at the seemingly empty chair from whence came the other's belligerent voice. "Are you thinking of entering politics, Don?"
"Maybe I am."
"Good heavens," Patricia ejaculated.
"Oh, I'm not smart enough, eh? Well, listen baby, the eggheads don't seem to be so great in there. Maybe it's time the Common Man took over."
Dr. Braun said reasonably, "But see here, Crowley, the ability to achieve invisibility doesn't give you any advantages in swinging elections or...." He broke off in mid-sentence and did a mental double take.
Crowley laughed in contempt. "The biggest thing you need to win elections, Doc, is plenty of dough. And I'll have that. But I'll also have the way to do more muck-raking than anybody in history. I'll sit in on every important private get-together those crook politicians have. I'll get the details of every scheme they cook up. I'll get into any safe or safe deposit box. I'll have the common people, you sneer so much about, screaming for their blood."
Ross rumbled, "What do you expect to accomplish in office, Crowley?"
The voice became expansive. "Lots of things. Take this Cold War. If you drop into any neighborhood bar, you'll hear what the common man thinks about it."
The three of them stared at the seemingly empty chair.
"Drop the bomb first!" Crowley snapped. "Finish those reds off before they start it. In fact, I'm not even sure they've got the bomb. They're not smart enough to...."
"There was sputnik, you know," Ross interrupted sourly.
"Yeah, but built by those captured German scientists. We're way ahead of those Russkies in everything. Hit 'em now. Finish 'em off. The eggheads in Washington are scared of their own shadows. Another thing I'd end is getting suckered in by those French and English politicians. What does America need with those countries? They always start up these wars and get us to bail them out. And I say stop all this foreign aid and keep the money in our own country.
"And we can do a lot of cleaning up right here, too. We got to kick all the commies out of the government. Make all the commies and socialists and these egghead liberals, illegal. In fact, I'm in favor of shooting them. When you got an enemy, finish him off. And take the Jews. I'm not anti-Semitic, like, understand. Some of my best friends are Jews. But you got to realize that wherever they go they cause trouble. They stick together and take over the best businesses and all. O.K., you know what I say? I say kick them out of the country. And they all came over here poor and made their money here. So let them leave the way they came. We'll, like, confiscate all their property except like personal things."
Patricia had closed her eyes in pain long before this. She said, softly, "I imagine somewhere along in here we'll get to the Negroes."
"I'm not against them. Just so they stay in their place. But this integration stuff is bunk. You got to face facts. Negroes aren't as smart as white people, neither are Chinks or Mexicans or Puerto Ricans. So, O.K., give them their own schools, up to high school is all they need, and let them have jobs like waiters and janitors and like that. They shouldn't take a white man's job and they shouldn't be allowed to marry white people. It deteriorates the race, like."
Crowley was really becoming wound up now. Wound up and expansive. "There's a lot of things I'd change, see. Take freedom of speech and press and like that. Sure I believe in that, I'm one hundred per cent American. But you can't allow people to talk against the government. Freedom of speech is O.K., but you can't let a guy jump up in the middle of a theater and yell fire."
"Why not?" Ross growled. "Freedom of speech is more important than a few movie houses full of people. Besides, if one man is allowed to jump up and yell fire, then somebody else can yell out 'You're a liar, there is no fire.'"
"You're not funny," Crowley said ominously.
"I wasn't trying to be," Ross muttered, and then blurred into sudden action. He shot to his feet, and then, arms extended, dashed toward the source of the voice. He hit the chair without slowing, grappled crazily.
"I've got him!" He wrestled awkwardly, fantastically, seemingly in an insane tumbling without opponent.
Patricia was on her feet. She grasped an antique bronze candle-holder and darted toward the now fallen chair and to where Ross was wrestling desperately on the floor. Crowley was attempting to shout, but was largely smothered.
Patricia held the candlestick at the ready, trying to find an opening, trying to locate the invisible Crowley's head.
Frederick Braun staggered to his own feet, bewildered, shaking.
A voice from the door said flatly, "O.K., that's it." Then, sharper, "I said cut it out. You all right, Mr. Crowley?"
It was Larry. His thin black automatic was held almost negligently in his right hand. He ran his eyes up and down Patricia, taking in the candlestick weapon. His ordinarily empty face registered a flicker of amused approval.
Patricia gasped, "Oh, no," dropped her bludgeon and sank into a chair, her head in her hands.
Ross, his face in dismay, came slowly to his feet. The redhead stared at the gunman, momentarily considering further attack. Larry, ignoring both Braun and Patricia, swung the gun to cover him exclusively. "I wouldn't," he said emptily.
Of a sudden, Ross' head jerked backward. His nose flattened, crushingly, and then spurted blood. He reeled back, his head flinging this way and that, bruises and cuts appeared magically.
Crowley's voice raged, "You asked for it, wise guy. How do you like these apples?"