THIRD MILLENNIUM THRILLS!
1000 FEET OF FREE-FALL!
RECORDED KISSES AND HUGS!
Cuddle Your Favorite Star
Better Than Handies
YOUR MIND CLEARED IN TEN MINUTES!
Relive Your Childhood
You'll Feel Ripping as a Rocket!
TEST YOUR STRENGTH AGAINST A BEM!
THROW ROCKS AT GLAMOR GIRLS!
THOSEwere a few of the signs that flared and blared at Phil as he was marched across the springy, rubberized, plasti-bottle strewn grounds of All Pleasures Amusement Park.
The government crack-down on Fun Incorporated had produced a few tangible changes in Double AP, as far as Phil could judge from his last visit. The burlesque juke boxes were padlocked, the rubberoid figures that would shimmy orgiastically for a quarter were shrouded from view. Dresses were perhaps an inch higher than usual on the bosoms of the girls working in concessions. There didn't seem to be any shifty-eyed gents recruiting special parties to meet a gambling robot or enjoy some other form of illegal entertainment. In front of the side show someone was painting out the sign that read, "See the Woman With Four Mammary Glands!" Phil noticed Dion looking up at this defacement rather wistfully.
Yet there was an uneasiness in the park, and it wasn't just that the crowd was light. Barkers called out too suddenly and stopped too soon. Customers hesitated uncomfortable in front of concessions, then shuffled morosely on. Over-age glamor girls ready to dodge rubber rocks, or have their bedclothes or skirts jerked off when a spaceball hit its planet-simulating target, were a trifle hysterical in the challenges they shrilled at passing patrons. The cries coming faintly from the top of the 1,000 foot drop in the Spaceship Ride weren't the usual terrified but delighted squeals; they sounded more like wails.
Perhaps the fall of Fun Incorporated had caused people who pathetically treasured their thrills, or the money to be made from them, to wonder, "What next?" Perhaps President Barnes's rambling apocalyptic speeches had finally taken effect, making people ask themselves what they were getting from the so-called pleasures of life, especially the more highly advertised ones. Perhaps the government directive just now being barked from the public news-speakers for the destruction of all cats had given people a "We'd be safer at home" feeling.
Or it may have been that the uneasiness at Double AP was part of a general feeling gripping America, a feeling that had been gathering power in the unconscious and just now burst into thought, a feeling that something that even the government couldn't handle was stalking invisibly, whether for good or ill, behind each man.
Of course, for Phil the menacing stalkers were two very definite figures: Carstairs and Buck, who at the moment were shepherding their unwilling assistants through the pupil of one of several surrealistic eyes that served as the entrances to the Bug-Eyed Bar.
Tonight the gaudy tavern was emptier than the Park outside. Its famous Ten-G Highballs and Stun-Gun Cocktails were going begging. Its notoriously drink-hungry hostesses were conspicuous by their absence. The only two customers were being served soda pop by the smaller of the two bartenders, making it very simple for Juno, Phil, Mary and Dion to climb onto pneumo-barstools in front of the other bartender. Carstairs and Buck stood close behind them.
Phil found it difficult to believe that the man in front of them was Moe Brimstine. For one thing, his hair was red, even to the stubble on his cheeks and chin. For another, the eyes that Moe had always kept behind dark glasses were as small and squinting as a pig's. And although the fugitive from the FBL must recognize several of them, he didn't show it in any way that Phil could discern. He looked them all over stolidly, polishing the speckless bar with the immemorial soiled towel. For that matter, the whole bar looked much as a bar might have looked fifty or a hundred years before; robots could not supervise B-girls, nor had they ever been legalized as bouncers.
"What's your pleasure?" the big red-head asked.
Phil felt Carstairs' gun dig his ribs. He tried to wet his lips.
"Mrs. Brimstine, I want my green cat," he croaked.
Moe Brimstine wrinkled his forehead. "That made with creme de menthe, chartreuse, or green fire?"
"I mean my live green cat," Phil told him.
"We don't serve drunks here," Brimstine said evenly. "Your friend's had one too many. What would you ladies and gentlemen care for?"
Mary Akeley opened her handbag and laid the Moe Brimstine doll on the counter before her. She looked at it thoughtfully for a moment and with deliberate finickiness took off its tiny dark glasses. Its eyes were piggy. She smiled. She replaced the glasses and fished out of her handbag a hatpin, a pair of scissors, a small knife, a little pair of pliers, a sample size flame-pack, a tiny iron with insulated handle, and a white crusted black bottle, and lined them up in a neat row.
"This isn't a powder room, lady," Brimstine said. "Order your drinks."
Phil couldn't help but be impressed by the big man's composure, and then without warning he felt a gust of terror that he knew at once had nothing to do with guns behind him and could hardly stem from the childish paraphernalia for black magic Mary Akeley had set out.
He could tell that the gust had hit Moe Brimstine too, for the big man dropped the towel and backed up against the shelves of bottles behind him.
Mary Akeley said, "Mr. Brimstine, you stole the Green One, whom my husband adores as Bast. You are going to suffer until you return him." Her voice shook a little at first, then settled down to a cold and cruel monotone. "I'm sorry I couldn't bring my little rack and iron maiden, but these implements are quite adequate." She ignited the flame-pack and held the tiny iron over it.
Phil heard Juno draw in her breath and Carstairs give a funny grunt behind him. The end of the iron grew red. Mary Akeley turned the doll over on its face and touched it lightly with the iron. Its pants smoked.
Moe Brimstine gasped loudly and clapped his hand behind him. Then he grabbed tremblingly at the doll, but Mary Akeley closed her hand around its two arms and its middle. Instantly Brimstine's arms clamped down against his sides and stayed there. Mary stood the doll up. Brimstine straightened. She moved it away from her a few inches. Brimstine backed up into the shelves. Sweat beaded his forehead. Mary unexpectedly flicked the doll on the cheek with the hot iron. Moe Brimstine gasped again in pain and jerked his head back.
"This sort of thing is going to go on until you give us the Green One," the young witch said matter of factly. Phil saw that a red spot had appeared on Moe Brimstine's ashen cheek.
"Only it's going to get much worse fast," she amplified, reaching for the white crusted bottle. Moe Brimstine started to say something, but she clamped the thumb of the hand holding the doll over its little mouth.
"After a while I'll be much more apt to trust the things you say," she explained. Moe Brimstine's face grew red and his eyes bulged.
Then a shadow came strolling softly along the top of the bar. Turning fearfully as he shrank away from it, Phil saw that it was green and silken and had a wise and winsome face. In a split second of realization Phil knew that it was Lucky who had breathed supernatural terror at them, just as he had at the Humberford Foundation; Lucky. who had opened Moe Brimstine's mind and built a bridge between it and Mary's, so that suggestion had made him experience everything happening to the doll.
And then Phil realized that no further unpleasant things were going to happen to Moe Brimstine and that no one was going to cause any trouble, even Carstairs or Buck, for suddenly all terror vanished and friendliness and invincible good will began to pour out of Lucky like Scotch from a bottle. Phil could feel it enter and fill at the others. There were little sighs and chuckles. Mary Akeley's lean finger shrank from the white crusted bottle, then hurriedly swept all the implements off the bar into her bag.
Lucky stood in front of Phil and stretched, slowly and luxuriantly working the muscles of his neck and back. Moe Brimstine beamed at the green cat, and the happy creases around his little eyes suggested those of Santa Claus. With an "If you don't mind?" to Phil, he reached out his big hand and softly and wonderingly stroked the silky fur.
"You sure rescued Uncle Moe in the nick," he told Lucky, scratching behind his ears. "I'm sincerely sorry for the things I did to you. I don't understand them now, and I'm sure glad you got yourself unstunned, though I don't understand how you did."
Then he straightened up and boomed out, "What'll it be, friends? The drinks are on the house!" And they were, too-several quick, happy rounds of them. Even Lucky got a cocktail compounded of milk, egg white, powdered sugar and gin. On Phil's advice Moe put it behind the bar so Lucky could consume it in private.
Buck let out an adolescent guffaw and handed two guns, butt-first, to Brimstine.
"Reckon I better check my shootin' arns, podner," he explained, adapting his hillbilly accent to cowboy lingo. Moe accepted them, tested one by shooting out a light in the ceiling, and put them away. Likewise Carstairs gave up his weapons, with the added injunction that Moe was to sell them and use the money to buy more liquor when the bar gave out.
Juno, with a smacking big whiskey in front of her, leaned across Phil and assured Mary, "From now on, I'll believe every word nuts tell me, especially you and Sash."
"And I'll always tell you when we're lying," Mary assured her back, rather mumblingly, since Dion was nuzzling her.
As customers drifted into the bar by ones and twos, Brimstine called them to join the party. As soon as they did, they became as friendly and glowing as anyone else. After a time there was a small crowd and Moe did nothing but pour, shake and serve
. Shortly he quit the shaking part.
Mary broke away from Dion and picked up the Brimstine doll and hugged and kissed it, saying, "You dear, dear man." Moe paused for a moment in his bartending to shut his eyes and quake ecstatically.
Then Lucky came out from under the bar and jumped on it and walked up and down in a very lordly way but with a definite lurch. After a bit he jumped down in front of the bar and the crowd parted for him. The drunken green creature zigzagged with dignity toward an exit.
Moe heaved himself over the bar, spilling several drinks, and called out, "Come on, everyone, let's have fun! Everything at Double AP is free!"
And so a bacchanalian procession began to weave through All Pleasures Amusement Park, with Moe serving as Bacchus, Lucky as a leopard, and, thought Phil, if the others only knew about Dion.
There were nymphs a-plenty, as Moe invited each girl to leave her concession after everybody that wanted had a turn and Moe had explained how the games were gimmicked and all the prizes had been distributed or at least offered.
Once or twice concession owners bleated indignantly at Moe's rallying cry, "It's all free, folks!" But their objections always dissolved at Lucky's arrival.
The procession grew steadily larger. Occasionally groups would leave it to go on free rides, but there weren't as many of these groups as might have been expected and they always seemed to be happy to get back.
Moe was enjoying himself with godlike capacity. He skipped like a lamb on the rubberized surfacing. He had a word and a joke for everyone and could always think of a new stunt to cap his last. Perhaps he reached his high point when he loosed a tiger and two black panthers from the animal show. Arousing no fear, they wove in and out of the procession happily, accepting caresses from everyone but apparently getting the most pleasure out of lowering their necks to rub Lucky's.
Phil was enjoying himself thoroughly, especially while romping hand in hand with a cute red head from the "Visit Vicious Venus" show, but every now and then the thought of neglected dangers and duties returned to nag him. On one of these occasions, Juno threw a big arm around his neck, almost knocking his head off, and said, "Got troubles, Phil? Give ' em to Mama Juno and she'll throw ' em away. Oh boy, do I love that green monkey! He's got the best little formula for living there is. Hey, looka that!"
She was pointing at Carstairs and Buck, who had discovered a concession titled in flaming red phospho-flare KICK THE LOVELY LADY INTO YOUR ARMS and were happily struggling for the possession of a very large mallet which apparently had something to do with the game. After some puzzling, Phil understood. The game was the age old one of striking a target on the ground which caused an indicator to jump up a pole-with the typical late twentieth-century addition that, if the indicator reached the top of the pole, not only did a bell ring and lights flare, but a huge hinged lower leg with a cushioned boot swung down and rudely lifted a lovely lady off a perch some three feet above the winner and into his arms, if he were ready to catch her.
This last couldn't have been any too sure, since the lovely lady was one of the glamor girls pushing fifty rather than forty. At present she was glowering cynically at Carstairs and Buck, as if certain they were infinitely more interested in the mallet than in her. She wasn't yet under Lucky's influence, as the green cat had momentarily romped off with the black panthers to the tail end of the procession.
The two happy hep-jerks got things settled between them and took many mighty thumps at the target. The indicator jumped high but always hesitated just heartbreakingly short of the top. The onlookers sighed sympathetically. By this time most of the bacchanalian procession had gathered around the "kick the lady" concession. It was strategically located between two bars and opposite the "Mind Clearers," as they chastely labeled themselves in blinking red fluorescents, and a dismal cavern mouth called "Pluto's Palace," beside which was an inaccurate model of the solar system with the planets revolving jerkily.
Moe Brimstine was refreshing himself with a pitcher of beer his attendant nymphs had rushed him from one of the bars. Two black shapes came undulating in from the outskirts in pursuit of a green flash, as Lucky returned to his proper position, bringing the other felines with him.
Then, as Carstairs started to toss aside the mallet with an amiable grin of defeat, Dion da Silva came charging up and grabbed it. He stripped off his jacket and shirt, revealing an extremely hairy chest and back.
"That Dion man is sure male looking," Mary murmured to Phil appreciatively, eyeing her hero "With those cute ears, he's just like a little old satyr."
Dion flexed his impressive muscles, took up the mallet, and crashed it down with a force which the spectators felt with their back teeth. The bell clanged, the light flashed and the big foot started its descent.
At the same time, Dora Pannes pushed out of the crowd from the direction of Pluto's Palace and walked haughtily past Dion with never a glance at him or anyone else. She was moving toward Lucky with the single-purposeness of a sleep walker.
Disregarding the kicked lovely lady, Dion sprang upon Dora Pannes, crushed her to his hairy chest, and started suffocating her with kisses. Phil gallantly stepped forward and caught the lovely lady. His knees sagged. She was now within range of Lucky's influence and pursed her lips invitingly at Phil, but he quickly set her down, aghast at something else.
With a sudden howl of furious anger, Dion had pushed Dora Pannes away from him, so that she fell down heavily. Before anyone could stop him, Dion snatched up the mallet and brought it down with a titanic crash on the head of the gorgeous violet blonde.
"I in love with thing like that!" he screamed. "Aah!" And he continued to batter the beautiful head and body so that it bounced up and down on the rubber.
Phil was doubly shocked because this was occurring in Lucky's presence. In fact, the green cat, sitting calmly in front of Phil, seemed to be looking on with approval.
Dora Pannes began to writhe crippledly and lasciviously between blows and to sing "Slap Me Silly Honey" in a hideously gay voice. Then her head, flattened by repeated blows, split open. But instead of brains there spilled out fragments of glass, plastic and metal, some of them with wires attached. Her voice rose in a final meaningless duck quack and she stopped moving.
A number of realizations fitted themselves together in Phil's mind at this proof that Dora Pannes was not a human being, but the most advanced of mannequins operating by scanners and instruction tapes. Why, even her name was a pun from Greek mythology, a rough anagram of Pandora, the metal maiden constructed, if Phil remembered Dr. Romadka correctly, at the command of Zeus.
As Dion finally put down the mallet, a girl in slacks broke out of the crowd and grabbed Phil's arm. It was Mitzie Romadka, panting and disheveled. Behind her darted Sacheverell Akeley.
"Jack and Cookie managed to slug Llewellyn," she panted, "and tried to do the same to us. We got away from them, but they've gone to warn Billig."
Looking around quickly, Phil realized that they had. Standing in the gloomy entrance to Pluto's Palace was Mr. Billig, flanked by a half dozen gleaming sales robots. Only these sales robots had gun muzzles jutting from their gleaming turrets. Billig had a box slung to his chest.
"Any funny business from anyone and they mow down the crowd," he called, his fingers poised over the box "Dora, stun that cat and bring it here."
The crowd sucked back to either side and showed Billig the wreckage of Dora Pannes, with Lucky sitting serenely beside it. Phil could see the horror come into Billig's face as he sensed the golden wave of peace coming from Lucky. Billig jerked up the ortho and fired.
The blue beam splattered molten rubber a dozen feet from Lucky and did no other damage before it winked out. But as the dazzle died, Phil saw that the beam's back fire had found a target. Billig pitched forward with a large hole in his head.
Then, as if Billig's fall had been a cue, a small, fattish man stepped out through the curtains of the Mind Clearers. Although he was wearing some sort of partial gas mask, Phil recognized Dr. Romadka. He pointed a stun-gun, Lucky collapsed and was still, and the night's eerie peace shifted in a finger snap to a churning terror which seemed to Phil to take the form of a palpable vibration, a wailing roar.
Romadka darted forward toward Lucky. Beside Phil, Mary Akeley jerked something from the pocketbook and waved it in the air. "Anton!" she screamed menacingly, and when the psychiatrist looked her way, she swung the doll of him sharply against her foot, so that its head snapped against her heel.
For a moment Phil believed she was a genuine witch, for Romadka pitched forward on his face.
But then he saw that the wailing roar had been that of a dozen squad cars, converging on the spot from all directions and rocket braking so close to the crowd that there were singed legs and screams. Men uniformed and in plain clothes piled out and barked and pummeled the crowd into a semblance of control. The man who'd jumped from the foremost car lowered the stun-gun with which he'd knocked out Romadka. It was Dave Greeley.
For a moment Phil wondered bleakly whether Billig mightn't have made arrangements with the government for a deal involving the cat, naming this place as a rendezvous. Then out from behind the FBL man stepped Morton Opperly, peering about with great interest, and Phil decided that this was a world in which you couldn't even trust noble looking old scientists pretending to be great liberals and babbling government top secrets in order to win your confidence.
He held out his wrists for the handcuffs.