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The Ratnaz Files is an epic tale of parody written by two giants of fandom with too much time on their hands. Avoid this tale. Way too seriously humorous. All fractures of ribs laughing are your repsonsibility. If you are of brave heart (and also have too much time on your hands) read on. You have been warned!

LARGE file download. Please be impatient if you are a dialup user! Feel free to Rant, Rave, or Vent in colorful language. The authors assume no responsibilty regarding your health issues and laugh that you have any interest at all in reading this extraordinary complilation of drivel. We do suggest you shake your fist at the computer screen. This action will not make The Ratnaz Files load any faster but is exactly what the Lord of the Leaves would do!

The authors are: Tangor and JoN (David Bruce Bozarth and Bill Hillman)

Enter The Ratnaz Files Files at your own peril!

THE RATNAZ FILES

PART I

FOREWORD

I got this story for the price of a cheap beer from a fellow who couldn't wait to tell it. I can't think of anybody who'd take credit for the validity of the fantastic tale which ensued, outside of a Hollywood screen writer. I listened with half-an-ear, my attention more squarely centered on the seductive waitress who tended our table.

The bum suckered me as host for as long as he could until my patience wore thin. When I started to rise, the well-lubricated fellow offered a "name" for the source, which suddenly intrigued me. Another beer and an interested expression prodded the man to reveal secrets hacked from an improperly secured terminal at CIA headquarters.

He handed me a floppy, a standard 3.5 inch 1.44 megabyte Fuji, and then he was gone, after hitting me up for a five spot. Leave it to the government to buy foreign data storage materials. I went home and inserted the disk in a rickety 386 monochrome dinosaur and read an agent's narrative, some 508,000 bytes in size. The tale was fascinating, to say the least, and it is presented here. It is unique, sometimes interesting, but hardly credible. Hell, even if it is true, I'm not making the effort to change the names. Let those guys look out for themselves.

CHAPTER I: The Return of Ratnaz

"Ed, looks like we have a problem."

"Howzat? A problem?" The old man looked up from the archaic typewriter which had been making a noisy rattle. "I don't have time for problems, I'm on a deadline." The old Royal shook from the force of his precise blows on well-worn keytops.

"Yeah? Well, as long as the Ratnaz animation project is in the air, you better damn well find time to deal with problems."

"What is the problem this time? Another website infringing? Another unauthorized story? What?" When the narrow-faced secretary scowled, the weary author gestured helplessly. "What?"

"The idiot won't come down from the trees."

"What am I supposed to do about it? The old fart has a mind of his own." Edgar Nice burrowed deeper into his office chair.

The secretary cleared his throat politely once, then a second time to get the writer's attention. "This must be addressed, sir. Rodent Pictures has a great deal invested in our trademarked product."

tangor@erblist.com

Something snapped! Ed impulsively pushed aside the Royal, a move which almost toppled the ediphone and the half-finished glass of Scotch to the floor. Unmindful of the precariousness of the pile of typed proofs of his latest project—Ratnaz's List Adventure—he grasped the desktop and propelled himself back from the desk.

Seeing the stack of manuscript pages about to topple, the ever-vigilante Rathmind went into a determined shuffle across the room. The aging secretary reached the ornately carved desk only in time to add to the confusion of the blizzard of fluttering typed sheets as they took up strewn residence on the study floor.

By this time Ed was already out the door and looking down the walkway which led past the towering mulberry trees to Ventura Boulevard where he could see his vintage 1948 Buick Roadmaster parked at the curb.

This time the man had gone too far—fan or not, Ed had to put a stop to it—he turned his gaze upward to the myriad array of tree branches where he could barely make out a figure in silhouette.

"Curse of a drunken sailor! Damn that clown, Boz!"

CHAPTER II: Jumbled Tales of Ratnaz

A Jungle Joke

The sight of the well-past-his-prime denizen of the trees—the self-proclaimed Lord of the Leaves—stirred a wave of nostalgic images in Ed's mind. His thoughts raced back to a time when this now decrepit, almost comical tree figure was a vibrant young compadre—a life-long acquaintance with whom Ed had always shared a love-hate relationship. In their younger days, Boz—Brace Bozhart—had a knack for leading the young, adventure-seeking Ed into one cliffhanger crisis after another, but somehow Brace always came out smelling like a rose and Ed...well...

First Love

Their odyssey of misadventures started on the first day of school. Young Brace convinced Ed that the only way they could impress the strongest and richest girl in class - Miss Jane Porker - was to embark on the adventure of exploring the maze of out-of-bounds subterranean crawl spaces under the Oak Park Public School. Soon the lads were hopelessly lost in the catacombs and spent what seemed like days groping their way through the Stygian darkness. Eventually blind luck—and fate—led them to a tiny sliver of light shining through a crack in a makeshift wall—a barricade which turned out to be stacks of crates. There were ominous scratching and inhuman sounds emanating from the crates...and beyond this wall of trapped living beings echoed strange ceremonial chanting sounds. Curiosity overcoming their fright, the two boys pushed against the crates to get a better view.

The Treasure Vaults of La Rapo

Under the school cafeteria, High Chef Bertha La Rapo had just raised her cleaver to decapitate yet another Rhode Island Red for the next day's food offering. Her steady droning chant of "chop - chop - chick - chop" was interrupted by the crashing din of falling chicken crates, the frightened squawking of escaping birds, and a flurry of feathers which ushered in the tumbling bodies of two frightened young boys.

Battle with the Neeta

Quick-thinking Ed pushed his buddy through the cellar prep room door, but before he could follow, he was horrified to see Brace stumble and tip over a large vat of molasses from its storage perch in the corridor. Boz stumbled on, but Ed slipped, Bertha La Rapo screamed, the feathers flew and the chickens bounced from wall to wall until their frantic movements "tarred and feathered" the entire chamber—and its occupants. It took hapless Ed three weeks of after school toil to restore the room—and Bertha—to an acceptable state. Courageous Boz won the hand of the bounteous Jane.

Flight—Near Capture...and a Nightmare

Perhaps to make up for past experiences, and because of his perceived great knowledge of military history and strategy, Boz persuaded Ed to allow him to sit in for him on the West Point Entrance Exam. Boz flunked, Ed's ruse was discovered, and both escaped a messy situation by running off to join the 7th Cavalry. On patrol in Arizona, it was again Bozhart's idea that the two young adventurers split from the main troop and ride down a rugged arroyo for a quick smoke. It was in this gully that they stumbled upon a scouting party of Geronimo's Apaches and barely escaped with their lives by spurring their horses into death-defying climbs and leaps over the treacherous rock formations. Ed dragged the terrified and swooning Boz into a mysterious cave where he himself soon passed out from the effects of an odorous gas that wafted over them. Sometime later, in a near out-of-body trance, Ed sensed a strange presence behind him in the cave...and through a haze, he could see the Apaches fleeing in panic...staring back at the cave in terror. Boz's report to the sergeant somehow gave the impression that he had taken on the Indians single-handedly in a life and death struggle while Ed lay helpless in the cave. Boz got the medals.

Ratnaz Rescues the OB

Ironically, it was Ed who ultimately benefited from this strange partnership. Later in life, Ed—a frustrated man approaching middle age, broke, a failure in every moneymaking venture he had embarked upon, and with a wife and child to support—had taken pause to look back on all these misadventures. Ever the dreamer, he had developed a unique prowess in storytelling over the years and in desperation he submitted embellished versions of some of his experiences to the pulp magazine—All-Gory Weekly. This marked the beginning of a rollercoaster ride that...

The Fall of Ratnaz

...Ed was jolted from his reverie by the loud crack of collapsing tree branches and he stepped aside barely in time to avoid a falling mass of flailing arms and legs which hit the walkway with a bone-crunching thud!

Meanwhile your local computer features more blood curdling tales in: Whizzle's Classic SF

Bill Hillman

CHAPTER III. The Beasts of Ratnaz

Edgar Nyce's burros set off a cacophony of whinnies and squeals as the slightly over-weight and bleary eyed Ratnaz hit the ground. Dismayed by the noise, which would surely cause the new neighbors next door to call the police, Ed hurried over to the fallen apeman. "Nice of you to drop in," he growled, heaving mightily to bring the less than heroic figure to his feet, "but you could have used the sidewalk with your feet instead of your head."

"Hal-lo, Ed," the once imposing fellow breathed, exhaling a combination of hard-liquor and halitosis.

Staunchly taking control of his stomach, and his companion, Ed Nyce pushed and prodded the man inside the house. With the door firmly shut, and about to the end of his own strength, Ed unceremoniously shoved Ratnaz onto the divan. "Rathmind! Bring a pot of coffee—make that two!" Turning to his creation, the author frowned. "Where have you been?"

Ratnaz pushed a mane of unruly hair out of his bleary eyes and shrugged. "Out with the girls."

"For three weeks?" Nyce was incredulous. He had often written about the incomparable vitality of Ratnaz, though studiously avoiding certain aspects of his appetite for life.

"Hell, Ed, Boz and I were just having fun! Jeeze, don't be such a wet blanket!"

"I thought I told you to stay away from that snake-in-the-grass. Boz is nothing but trouble. I get pasted in kindergarten, get slammed at the academy, get buried in a cave...but he gets the breaks and, damn-it-all, he even got the girl! You know all this! You know that conniving, two-faced, back-stabbing bastard has ruined everything in my life. And now he's got you drunk, out of shape, and probably subject to several paternity suits just when we're about to go big time with Hollywood. I can't believe what a sap you are!"

Ratnaz ruefully inspected the tattered remains of his poorly-fitted suit. "Next time I'm going to Weismuller's tailor."

Ed lost his temper. "Pay attention, you over-grown fool! Nick Miser of Rodent Pictures wants to see you."

"What for? Say, how's about a drink? I sure could use one."

Rathmind entered with a battered coffee pot and two cups. Ed pointed to Ratnaz. "Sober him up. What? No, I do not want a cup of coffee! I'll finish my scotch in the study. Let me know when the Lord of the Leaves over there is lucid."

The phone rang. Rathmind arched an eyebrow. Ed scowled yet again and took the coffee pot and cups. "Answer it. If it's a bill collector, I'm out. If it's anyone else, I'm still out."

Coffee had barely started flowing down the pathetic hero's throat when Rathmind reappeared. "Miser's on his way. He heard that Ratnaz was visiting."

Of course! Ed thought. Only Brace Bozhart could be so fiendishly diabolical! Dollar signs in the author's future began popping like soap bubbles on a windy day—an illusion further soured when Ratnaz's bowels released a foul odor.

"We got to hide him."

Rathmind hated to be the one, but someone had to ask: "Where?"

Looking momentarily panicked, Ed Nyce barked, "In the barn with the rest of the beasts!"

tangor@erblist.com

CHAPTER IV: Son of OB

The long limo chauffeuring the head of Rodent Pictures was cruising down the broad expanse of Ventura Boulevard with the ebbing flow of late night traffic. The passengers were lazily enjoying this despite from the arduous labour of another day on the Hollywood studio casting couches. Nestled in the luxurious cushions at the rear of the imported vehicle were two men embroiled in deep conversation.

"Nick baby...This idea can't lose...Close your eyes...Can't you see her... Sleeza, Bimbo of the Jungle...Racing across the savanna on her faithful companion Leery the Bull ...I've even rented the bull ...Well, cow actually, but we can fix that... You'll see it when we get to Ed's...I got her hidden away in the warehouse... Out with the animals and all that Ratnaz garbage Old Ed keeps piling up. Ya know Nick, I think he's lost his marbles...now he's raising burros!"

"Yes, yes...Mr. Bozhart. But I have told you ... Our contract is with OB and his Ratnaz character....over the hill or not...and I just can't understand why you want to drag me all the way out to the valley this time of night."

*****

Edgar Nyce lit another joss stick in the study and turned to meet the frazzled Rathmind who had finally made his way back from the old warehouse.

"Well?"

"He's sleeping like a lamb Mr. Nyce...behind the stack of film canisters by the burro stalls." Rathmind almost told his employer about the cow that Cows 2U Rentals had delivered to the stalls earlier in the day but reconsidered, realizing that his employer had endured just about all his weak heart could stand for the day.

Halfway to the door, the weary Rathmind remembered something and half turned. "O, I left the lantern on for Mr. Ratnaz, sir. Good night OB." Ed had adopted the nickname OB after a not-so-favourable film reviewer had christened Ratnaz with the title: "Obnoxious Ass", though the media inexplicably cleaned it up to read "Obnoxious Burros."

Edgar Nyce burrowed into the well-worn leather cushions of the chair which had helped give birth to so many of his dictated adventures.

"What a day...Idiots...Bozhart...Ratnaz...Paternity suit...Weissmuller's tailor...Jeez...I invented that guy...I gave life to the character...I treated him like my very own son....What a time for Miser to show up...What in blazes is keeping him? I wanna get this over with."

The excitement of the day, coupled with the cradling warmth of the chair, lulled the old storyteller into a dreamlike state...the condition from which he had drawn fodder for so many of his immortal stories. Ed's furrowed brow relaxed as images from the past flooded his consciousness.

The Valley of Gold

Bozhart...Ed's nemesis. Enna detested him! Feeling sure that Boz would not follow, she had agreed to accompany Ed on his harebrained scheme to find gold in Idaho. The Nyce newlyweds pitched a tent on a riverside claim at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains, and in this idyllic setting they were soon suffering the toil of placer mining. Unfortunately, all they panned out was fool's gold: Bozhart! He and a wagonload of mail order brides of dubious repute had shown up in a half-starved state, and had ravaged all the provisions that Ed and Enna had been carefully hoarding. In a rage, Enna drove them out, across the river, where Boz took refuge behind a huge rock formation festooned with bands of shiny ore—Gold! Impoverished Ed and Enna were forced to sell everything they owned to buy train fare back East—even Ed's custom-made golf clubs and Enna's prized bottle collection. Brace Bozhart carried out enough gold to build a lavish home for unwed mail order brides—and with the money left over he bought a ranch in Southern California.

Ed's sojourn through the past was brought to a sudden halt by Rathmind's frantic shouts.

"Fire! Fire! Call the fire trucks OB! The bloody cow has kicked over the lantern."

—Bill Hillman

Be sure to read the next chapter of the Ratnaz Files—which might be: Ratnaz in the Fires of Gohr, or Ratnaz and the Mules of Oprah ... in Whizzle's All-Gory Weekly

It might have been one of those Chapter titles, but it ain't:

CHAPTER V: Ratnaz and the Yellow Jacket

"Wake up, bo!" the harsh whisper was accompanied by an even rougher hand.

Ratnaz, comfortably passed out on a pile of straw laced with animal droppings, rolled away with a growl. "Lem'me sleep. No more Boz—I'm wore out."

The masked man in the black and yellow zoot-suit resorted to a more forceful approach. His Italian-style pointed boot toe slammed into the unprotected backside of the sleeping giant. It took a second kick to get the desired result. Ratnaz sat up, rubbing his eyes and pouting. "Damn it! I was about to get the Oscar."

"Listen, you besotted cretin, I'm here to help you."

Ratnaz managed to focus on the tall, broad-shouldered man leaning over him. "Hey! I know you! You're that Yeller Jacket fellow. You fight crime and help the underdog and all that jazz! Gee, I never thought I'd get to meet you!" The Lord of the Leaves extended a large, meaty hand.

Suspicious of the brown stain discoloring Ratnaz's appendage, the Yellow Jacket studiously avoided it. "Splay-toe," the masked man spoke to a figure hidden on the other side of the empty stall wherein Ratnaz had been sleeping, "get a bucket and douse this guy. I'm not putting him in the Yellow Jacket mobile in this deplorable condition."

Splay-toe, a small man of Oriental descent, splashed a bucket of water in Ratnaz's face. The burly man sputtered unhappily and came to his feet, fists clenched. The Yellow Jacket's faithful sidekick moved back a step, prepared to respond lethally with one of a dozen martial arts systems, if necessary.

Ratnaz shook his head, straw flying every which way, and growled. "I don't take that crap from anybody. I am Ratnaz, mighty killer. Prepare to die!" Suddenly a spasm of savage coughing shook the Lord of the Leaves. "Damn—gotta cut back on the Camels."

"Enough!" the masked man rasped. "I came here to save you from a fate worse than death, but if you're too bone-headed to understand that, then you get what you deserve."

"Howzat?" Ratnaz blinked. "Whatchew talkin' about, bo?"

"Your career, your entire life, is in jeopardy." The masked man spoke with intense urgency. Splay-toe, bring up the car." The dependable sidekick disappeared like mist in the dawn.

"How you figure? I mean, what the hell are you talkin' about?" The vine swinger ineffectually brushed hay from his trousers.

In solemn tones the Yellow Jacket delivered his warning. "Brace Bozhart means to destroy you."

"Boz? Nah! You kiddin'? Ol' Boz is the salt of the earth. Why, he got me a date with a few Hollywood starlets and man, I mean to tell you it was fine! Even gave me a classic 1966 Camero to drive. Great booze, too!"

"There isn't much time to explain," the Yellow Jacket said. "Can you walk? We need to get out of here."

"Well, I'm more comfortable in the middle terrace, but I think I can manage. Where we going? What's this all about?"

The Yellow Jacket carefully located a less soiled sleeve and tugged the aging character into the yard. A snazzy vehicle silently rolled up and the back door opened. Splay-toe hurriedly threw a cover over the immaculate leather seats before Ratnaz and his boss entered. A hand gesture from the Yellow Jacket stopped Splay-toe from taking the driver's seat.

Ratnaz looked toward Edgar Nyce's bungalo. The lights were on, though the yard was dark. The drunken stupor was beginning to pass. "Say, what's dis all about? What's the bum rush?"

The masked man leaned back into the cushion and stared hard at the sad figure beside him. "For years Edgar Nyce borrowed from your supposed pal Brace Bozhart. He's behind in the payments. He keeps putting Brace off and Brace Bozhart is not the kind of guy to sit still and take it. Three weeks ago a $40,000 note was due. It went unpaid. Three weeks ago, your pal invited you on the binge of your life."

"And what a binge, bo! Them women, why they wuz..."

"Shut up, you mangy idiot!" The Yellow Jacket threw his hands into the air. "Gods above, why am I even making the effort?" Bunching a gloved fist into Ratnaz's odiferous coat, the Yellow Jacket punctuated his sentences with sharp jabs. "Those 'starlets' were whores from Heidi's and that booze was meant to destroy you. The car was used in a bank heist last Thursday. Bozhart intends to bring you down, to ruin what little reputation you have left, all to take revenge upon Ed Nyce."

Ratnaz's eyes opened wide. "Jeeze, bo, really?"

Snorting with disgust, the Yellow Jacket pointed to the barn. "A diversion, Splay-toe."

The small Oriental hurried away and returned almost as quickly. He took the wheel and spun tires down the drive. Without direction from his boss, he turned left on Ventura and floored the pedal.

In the rear view mirror, a flash of yellow appeared, then a column of smoke, but Ratnaz did not see it. Scratching his head, the big man scowled. "I don't get it. I really don't. He seemed like such a nice guy. Tell me this, Yeller Jacket, why are you helping me? What's in it for you?"

The masked man kept his face turned forward. "The less you know about that, the better it is for you."

CHAPTER VI: A Princess of Bars

Dee Dee Morris was exasperated. The attractive fan dancer fended off another unwanted caress as the rowdies along the runway grabbed at her. If her father, Kojak Morris, could see her now, he'd pitch a fit. But what else was she to do? Kojak's Helium Supply was in trouble. Sales had been iffy since the blimp relocated and fewer games were shot from those antiquated airships. For a time her boyfriend Don Darter had been helping them by strong-arming the competition, but he soon lost interest when he found out she wasn't going to put out for him. The nerve of the guy! Just because she looked like a million didn't mean she would act like a million dizzy dames who had no sense about a man's over-active gonads!

She had been sheltered all her life, and had few marketable skills for night work—and the only thing that had surfaced was this embarrassing and degrading job at Mars Markus's strip joint. Markus was an okay guy, she thought. He never tried anything with the girls and was always there to protect them if the customers got out of line. The pay was more than she expected, not counting the tips, so Dee Dee had no complaints in that regard, but to be stared at and lusted after by so many men, men who undressed with their eyes even the tiny thong revealed at the end of her performance, was humiliating beyond belief.

The girl, buxom and blonde, was young. Too soon had responsibility fallen upon her soft shoulders—but her love toward her father was the most important factor in her life. Dad needed help and she would help, regardless of situation or circumstance.

Though she hated the job, and hated the fat, balding clients, Dee Dee was dedicated to doing the best she could. From the cat calls and whistles each time she stepped onto the stage, there was a validation that she was, indeed, doing her best. Still, any reasonable alternative was desperately sought, and it seemed that such a prospect had appeared.

A week ago a man had entered into the club. He was tall, slender, broad-shouldered with a hard physique that set her youthful heart aflutter. He was unlike any man in the audience. Dee Dee had just finished performing her second act for the night when Markus had brought her a business card. It was from the handsome fellow. The card read: "Brace Bozhart." Nothing else was printed on the card except a charming invitation to join him for a lemon tea.

Intrigued, Dee Dee had pulled a robe about her voluptuous body and sat in the shadows at the rear of the club, away from the sweaty men surrounding the runway when Lala Opra entwined herself around the rigidly erect stainless steel pole.

Even now, dodging yet another calloused hand, Dee Dee remembered the gentleman's soft voice and civilized manners. "I have a proposition, my dear," he had said, "one that will take you away from this horrid environment."

"I've heard that before," Dee Dee had replied sweetly.

Bozhart smiled warmly in response. "Indeed, I am sure you have. My offer requires that you dress demurely, that you show up on time, and go home when the day is done. It pays $1,000 a week."

Dee Dee frowned. "I suppose I must earn it flat on my back?"

"My dear, I am a married man. I have no such interest, though you are quite attractive. No, I have no designs upon you, though it is not your fault you do not compare to the incomparable Jane Porker. Dee Dee—may I call you that?—this is strictly business. I need a personal secretary for Jane and I understand from Mr. Mars Markus that is your true profession."

"You want me to work for your wife?" Dee Dee laughed, not quite believing.

Brace leaned forward, his voice sincere. "I mean exactly that. Jane is over-burdened with social responsibilities she manages in my place. Are you interested?"

Dee Dee had reserved her answer, promising one on this evening.

The young girl, lost in revery, failed to take proper precaution. A hand gripped her slim ankle firmly, and before she knew it, the inebriated customer had pulled the young woman from the runway into his lap. Sweaty hands fondled Dee Dee's smooth skin, but before she could scream for Markus, or before that worthy could even exit his accustomed place behind the long bar, she was swiftly extricated from the loathsome grasp and set upon her feet. The tall man in the Amanti suit quickly dispatched the violator of her person with a single, powerful blow. An instant later his expensive jacket was comfortingly placed about her, still carrying the warmth of his muscular body. Dee Dee was ushered through the crowd, out of the club, and into the back of a dark limousine.

"Are you all right?" Brace Bozhart inquired as the driver started the vehicle. "Thank goodness I arrived when I did. You do not belong in a place like that. It would break your father's noble heart if he knew."

"My father?" Dee Dee gasped. "Oh, dear!"

Brace relaxed, the moment of action passed, and spoke soothingly. "I have just come from a meeting with Kojak. Splendid fellow! I have long been interested in exotic gases as an investment opportunity and I am pleased to say that your father and I have just signed a contract which, I am sure, will bring great benefit to us both."

"You saved Kojak's Helium? Mr. Bozhart, I do not know what to say!" The young woman was moved to tears and gratefully accepted a linen handkerchief bearing an intricately embroidered "B."

"I don't know how to thank you," she said.

"I do," Brace said evenly. "Come work for Jane. She needs you."

Dee Dee sniffled, daubing her pert nose. "And you, Mr. Bozhart, what do you need?"

"In due time, my dear. In due time." Retrieving his wallet, residing in the inside pocket of the jacket Dee Dee wore, Brace produced ten $100 bills and offered them to her. "Are we agreed?"

Miss Morris hesitated for a heartbeat, then demurely accepted.

WE INTERRUPT our broadcast schedule to bring you late breaking news. A fire has broken out near Ventura Boulevard. All traffic is being diverted by emergency services. Drivers are urged to find alternate routes. Stay tuned for more updates. We now resume our regularly scheduled program.

Brace Bozhart smiled mysteriously as the dark limosine pulled away from Dee Dee Morris' home.

Tune in next time, same station, same channel for the the next thrilling installment of "The Ratnaz Files."

tangor@erblist.com

CHAPTER VII: Portal of Peril

"Fire? No! Not the warehouse?!!" shouted an incredulous Edgar Nyce. "You gotta get my prize burro outta there Rathmind...Oh...and we gotta find that silly sot! Where'd you leave the garden hose?"

"Those crazy Brits have it, OB...the new neighbours who moved into the old Klimb house. They borrowed it last week."

"Curses...damned foreigners...I'll get it."

The new neighbours were just another prick point in what had been long series of thorns in Nyce's side. For weeks he had put up with mysterious noises, ground rumblings, and comings and goings at all hours of the night—and now this.

Rathmind, on his mercy mission to save OB's ass, tailed the harassed author out through the study room door, pushing his limited physical resources to the limit by revving into his fastest snail gait.

After turning the sometimes forgetful Rathmind in the right direction, Ed wended his way through the jungle of overgrown and untended flora which had taken over the garden that once had been his and Enna's crowning achievement. Since Enna's sudden departure with Ed's long-time neighbour and some-time ghost writer, Otis Elevator Klimb, he had lost all interest in horticulture and he spent very little time exploring the grounds. God, how things had changed. Ed followed the familiar shadow cast by the silver lunar orb shining through the branches of the trees that he had planted so many years before.

As he rushed up the neighbour's walkway, the familiar silhouette of the Klimb house stirred bitter-sweet memories but he put such thoughts aside to concentrate on finding the door to the newly renovated workshop. Ed pushed open what once had been a stable door and groped for what proved to be a non-existent light switch. Relying on moonlight and the disturbing, ever-growing, flickering luminance from the direction of his warehouse, he started his frantic search for the hose. An incessant drone and rumble piqued his curiosity and he took a few steps toward the source of the sounds. What must have been a metal trap door gave way and Edgar Nyce found himself hurtling downward to what surely must be his doom.

CHAPTER VIII: The Giant Rodents on Helium

The passengers in the Rodent Pictures limousine lunged forward as the luxury car skidded to an unexpected halt.

"What the hell is going on driver...those scum paparazzi again?"

"The street's blocked off Mr. Miser...must be that fire we heard about on the radio," explained the uniformed driver.

"Turn left here...take the side streets," ordered Brace Bozhart as he dabbed his monogrammed handkerchief at the stain his spilled martini had left on his finely tailored suit. Any other time Bozhart would have been upset over this annoyance, but tonight he had reason to gloat and was oblivious to such petty calamities. He had Ed and his Ratnaz character right where he wanted them. Furthermore, he stood to make a fortune from the helium contract he had negotiated between Kojak Morris Helium Supply and Rodent Pictures—what a stroke of luck! Just when Miser was planning his first non-animated Randy Rodent flick. A cast of thousands of live actors—all speaking with helium-induced high cartoon mouse voices...and Boz had just obtained the monopoly on the helium market AND control of Morris' beautiful daughter. Genius! Dee Dee Morris, former Princess of Bars, but soon to be star of Boz's new jungle picture: Sleeza, the Bimbo Jungle Girl. Nothing could stand in his way.

"I say Mr. Boz," exclaimed the chauffeur. "Aren't those fire trucks gathered around the Edgar Nyce estate?"

—Bill Hillman

Brace Bozhart leaned forward, the martini forgotten in his hand. "Sure looks like it. Curious." The handsome man with an aristocratic air pondered the significance with furrowed brow. Pulling his cell phone from an inner pocket, he dialed a number that only a select few could obtain. "Dr. Datsun? Is that you? Is Herlock Cabyns in? Herlock? How's the weather there? Cold, wet, foggy...no change. I see. Well, that's not why I called. I am in need of your services. Yes—it appears a friend of mine may be in trouble." Lowering his voice to a forceful whisper, the man in the immaculate suit said: "Find out who else, besides me, has a grudge against Edgar Nyce!"

Terminating the call, Brace scowled. "Nobody is cutting into my time!"

"Pardon?" the head of Rodent Pictures politely asked.

"I said: 'Probably bearing left we'll get through fine.'"

tangor@erblist.com

CHAPTER IX: Pellucifer

The moment was at hand. Devon McGuinness, Lord Greatstrokes, and his eccentric techno geek friend Carmon Nappie, had been working around the clock in the underground annex of their workshop—and their labours were about to bear fruit. McGuinness had invested what remained of the once-fabulous family fortune into a scheme that would put them on easy street for the rest of their lives. The house they had bought in Southern California was perfect for their nefarious underground activities and for what he felt confident would be the heist of the century. While Carmon tinkered with his Pellucifer Burrower invention, Lord Greatstrokes, last of a long line of embarrassments to the British Nobility, papered the walls of their newly purchased Ratnaza mansion with aerial photos and sketches, as well as land use, geologic, and topographic maps of the valley area. This location was ideal. They were in the epicentre of the major banking institutions of Southern California and all he had to do was to find a way to burrow through to one underground vault after another. And his klutzy cohort had invented the device to achieve this goal.

"Stop your diddling with the spanner, Nappie. Start the blooming engine rotor countdown. Let's get on with it before that snoopy old neighbour starts poking around and messes up the whole thing," urged an impatient Lord Greatstrokes.

"Blimey Lard, you know that once we start the countdown there ain't no turnin' back," groused the preoccupied technician.

The two men finally clambered through the large topside hatch of the sleek machine. Once settled into the cockpit, the thick-spectacled designer of the craft threw a series of switches and the whole front section of the vehicle sprang to life—rotating in giant corkscrew fashion.

"It works! It works! Close the blasted hatch Lard...I can't stop 'er now...the Pellucifer Burrower is takin' off!

As McGuinness moved under the hatch and pressed the hatch-secure button, he was thrown brutally to the Burrower floor by the dead weight of a screaming body falling through the rapidly closing hatch.

Bill Hillman

CHAPTER X. The Characters that Mimes Forgot

"Pull over here, Splay-toe. This is where we drop off Mr. Ratnaz."

The yellow-skinned driver slowed but did not come to a complete stop at the front of a three story office building. The Yellow Jacket leaned across Ratnaz, holding he breath as he did so, and thrust the door open. With the other hand he pushed the unsuspecting Ratnaz out. The Lord of the Leaves hit the pavement, rolling crazily. Before the powerful car sped away, the dazed vine swinger heard the Yellow Jacket's voice.

"Second floor, left. Room 20."

Every surface muscle bruised, and some internal ones as well, Ratnaz carefully pushed himself upright. No bones were broken, but he would feel the pain in his joints for some time to come. "Da bum! Why'd he go and do a thing like that? I've half a mind..."

The unshaven hero stopped the flow of angry speech. That particular phrase was always finished by Edgar Nyce as "That's a fact."

Gloomy, the despondent hero of two dozen novels took a close look at himself and his relationship with OB. "'Obnoxious' fits for sure! An' maybe dat Yeller Jacket ain't off da mark on Boz, either!" Absentmindedly counting the bumps on his skull as he rubbed them, Ratnaz looked at the dark entrance of the old building.

"Maybe, I'll just go check an' see."

The door was open. The narrow hallway sported doors to the left and right, and directly before him was a steep flight of stairs that looped back on themselves. Lifting feet that had lost all energy from the extended binge and the excesses of beautiful women, Ratnaz held tight to the railing to pull himself upwards. Puffing slightly at the second floor landing, there were two doors again. One had no number, the other had "22" nailed to the unpainted panel. Before he could knock, the door swung inward. Inside, looking ghoulish from the glow of the green glass desk lamp, were three hard cases. The one at the door stepped aside and jerked a thumb.

"Come in, Ratnaz, we been expecting you."

Leery, but curious, the still imposing figure entered. "I'm at the end of my patience, boys. Let's hear it fast, and it better be funny."

The man in a rumpled blue suit closed the door. "That's Ike Slammer, Dickie Spillway and I'm Cam Spaid. We got it in for your boss, but nothing against you," he swiftly added.

Ratnaz's eyes adjusted to the light. Hard-boiled dicks they were, the lot of them. He even knew their names though he'd never met them. Popular fellows one time they weren't the in the public light very much anymore.

"And you know why?" Ike Slammer said, letting Ratnaz know the vine swinger had been thinking out loud. "Your boss. Wrote a series of ghodawphul minute murder mysteries. Killed the whole genre. Well, we've been looking for a chance to get even. You're it."

Ratnaz may have lost significant mental prowess over the years, but he wasn't totally stupid. "What? You gonna whack me?"

Spillway laughed and it was not a pretty sound. "Thought cross our minds, bub, but you're a better revenge alive than a martyred legend like that George Reeves fellow. Nah, we ain't going to hurt you. We're going to take very good care of you."

"Why should I believe that?" Ratnaz narrowed distrusting eyes.

"We're after bigger fish than you or your cranky old boss. We want Bozhart—in jail or dead, we don't much care."

Ratnaz rubbed his chin, then quickly pulled it away, smelling something he rather not. For once, he kept his mouth shut. Four guys, if that Yellow Jacket was counted, had it in for Boz. Despite the good times and his friendly ways, perhaps Brace was up to something. Well, he'd find out.

"Where can a fellow get a shower, razor and a change of clothes?"

Cam Spaid nodded toward a half-opened door on the other side the room. "There's a bath. The closet's full—might be something your size in there."

Ratnaz started across the room, shedding his torn and soiled coat. Spillway touched his arm in passing. "By the way, Ratz, there's an old chum of yours in there."

Perplexed, the vine swinger entered the room. The lights were out. A harsh neon sign on the next building over barely shed light through dirty curtains drawn over the window. As he stood silhouetted in the doorway, a woman's soft voice startled Ratnaz.

"Close the door."

He did. A moment later the bedside light came on. The woman, tall, sharply dressed, and very attractive, smiled at the man's stunned expression. "Hello, Ratz. Miss me?"

"Bertie Ketchum!" Ratnaz exclaimed.

CHAPTER XI. The Gams That Man Forgot

Meanwhile, as Ratnaz renewed acquaintance with a double agent from an early episode in his career as Edgar Nyce's jungle flunky, Dee Dee Morris tried on several blouses before settling on a white silk with loose sleeves. It draped nicely over her black bra. Stepping into a knee-length black skirt, she zipped the side and buttoned the eighteen inch waistband. Taupe stockings encased her slim legs and her toes wiggled inside sensible black pumps with a two inch heel. A sleeveless vest matching the skirt was donned, then she checked her reflection in the mirror. Satisfied she looked her best without looking slutty, a light touch of lipstick was applied and blotted.

Kojak Morris was at the breakfast table, a bowl of Sugar Whammies in front of him. He looked up from the morning paper and whistled at his daughter. "I swear Dee Dee, you look prettier every day."

The girl turned then asked, "Too much?"

"Very beautiful, and proper, too. I'm proud of you darling. It broke my heart every night you went of Mars Markus'."

Dee Dee was staggered. "Oh, daddy! You knew?"

"To my eternal shame, yes, I did. I didn't worry about you because Mars and I go way back, but we were desperate, honey. And I couldn't forbid you to do whatever you felt was needful to help us through hard times. I also heard what Brace Bozhart did for you. Fine man, he is, don't you think?"

Dee Dee took a bite of her father's toast. "I can't really say. I am grateful, not only for pulling that drunk off me, but for offering me this job. Still," she grew misty-eyed, "I feel like I am leaving you when you need me most."

Kojak chuckled. "Not to worry, Dee Dee. The advance on the contract pays off the creditors and leaves plenty for operations for a while. Once we start supplying Rodent Pictures with helium, we'll be able to expand operations, just like we always dreamed."

The back door of the kitchen suddenly opened. A black-haired, grey-eyed warrior entered—Dan Darter, late captain U. S. Air Cavalry. "Dee, Kojak," he said. "So, it is true." There was a rage smoldering in his eyes that frightened Dee Dee Morris.

"You aren't welcome here, Dan," she stammered. "Please leave."

"Not until I get what I came after." Dan Darter hardened his expression and walked toward Dee Dee.

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tangor@erblist.com

CHAPTER XII: Into Klimb's Abyss

Back in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, young Splay-Toe, had been raised on imported American Blackhawk comics and before he had ever met his current idol, Yellow Jacket, The Zoot Suit Crusader, he had developed a profound case of hero envy for the hotshot fly boys' Chinese sidekick—Chop Chop. It seemed natural then, when it came time to emigrate to America that he should obtain a false Chinese passport. The fact that he had red hair and could speak no Chinese, and for that matter had not even mastered the blunt-end style chopsticks favoured by the Asian mainland horde, offered no deterrent to the gung ho houseboy. He did, however, emulate the Chinese costume of the diminutive Chop Chop...right down to the silk pyjamas, pigtail and the cleaver which doubled both as a weapon against evil-doers and, in less frenetic moments, a kitchen utensil for chop suey preparation. As Splay-Toe aimed the powerful Yellowjacketmobile through valley traffic—for the second time this night—he glanced into the rear view mirror at his masked friend in the back seat.

"Bryce?"—Only Splay-Toe, and the masked man's faithful female companion, Pancho Lane, knew the shameful secret of Yellow Jacket's real identity. Behind the mask was—Bryce Lee—illegitimate half-Cantonese brother of Brace Bozhart!—"Bryce? You awake?"

"Mmm. Just thinking Splay-Toe. We are being followed...that limo did a U-ie a few blocks back and it's been closing in on us. Step on it!"

The yellow vegetable dye on the driver's brow was beginning to join the beads of nervous sweat in a race down his unmistakably Caucasian features.

"Look out! There's a detour. Turn left and take the side streets." A little farther on, a quick glance out the side window met with an almost surrealistic scene of a hobbling elderly man in his boxer shorts—leading a burro and badly singed milk cow...all of this against a backdrop of the still-smoldering ruins of a recently burnt out warehouse.

"Up ahead...to your right," shouted the masked man. "There's a large building with an open stable door. Turn in and douse the lights!"

The yellow behemoth rolled easily through the wide portal, but immediately following the extinguishing of the lights the rear end of the vehicle tipped violently upward and the surprised occupants found themselves hurtling downward to meet what surely must be their doom.

CHAPTER XIII: The Bandits from Hell's Bells

The Stranger from Farris's

Through the night Bertie had used all of her feminine wiles and every trick she had learned from the Mata Hari handbook to eke out of Ratnaz everything he knew about Brace Bozhart. The morning sun lured three "has-been" PIs, a now much more presentable and contented man of the jungle, and a seductively dressed, radiant woman out of the rundown three-story building. They crossed a litter-strewn and crumbling sidewalk to a waiting 1949 maroon Ford sedan. A few moments later, as they sped off, a canary yellow 1966 Camaro nosed out from the nearby service alley beside Ferris's Big Wheel Club and roared in pursuit.

The Mucker

"Come on, yuse guys...where ya takin' me," pleaded an increasingly anxious Ratnaz. To mask his unease, he was trying hard to emulate the sonorous, dulcet, and glibly eloquent vocal abilities of his cinema hero, Johnny Weissmuller.

The Family Jewels of Opar

Feelings of apprehension, however, where soon assuaged by the ever-resourceful Bertie who pressed her full warm body even closer to the protesting apeman and fondled his freshly shaven face with seductive caresses. The spell wasn't broken until the car pulled into a parking lot ringed with palms and Ratnaz was startled to realize that he was staring at the familiar signage of the Ratnaza Branch of the Bank of America. Before he was fully aware of what was happening, he found himself transported to the basement of the bank building, where he and Bertie were being escorted by a burly security guard into the safety deposit box section of the bank's massive vault - a vault that the retreating guard pointed out with pride was impregnable, having being designed by the Opar Company of Cucamonga.

By this time Bertie knew what she was looking for as she reached over and unbuckled the belt which held up her ruggedly handsome friend's baggy pleated trousers: "Can I see it again Ratz, honey? Please...ummmm?"

Once again the noble savage felt a rush of embarrassment and shame. Embarrassment because he had promised his poor dear, long-departed African mother that he would never let anyone see him like this...hunched and cowering in his BVDs... his underwear in full view of...a girl. Shame because he had only yesterday promised his best buddy Boz that he would never betray the secret entrusted to him. Bertie knelt down in front of the poor, pitiful creature and reached out with both hands. She then lowered her sensuous face until he could feel her hot breath on his lower body. The mood built to a climax as she pulled on the handle of a huge magnifying glass hidden in the deep recesses of her handbag. Closer she came until she could make out the numbers tattooed on that part of him about which he felt most sensitive ...his knees. How clever and diabolical was Bozhart...would any sane man have thought of hiding the combination for his safety deposit box in such a private place?

Bertie gasped, "I've Got It!" The clever seductress raced to the wall of security boxes and frantically engaged the tumblers on the combination lock which was guarding Box 22. The series of numbers unleashed the thick metal door of safe and Bertie ran to the inspection table with a large waterproof, oilskin packet in hand. Ratnaz could see over her shoulder that the packet contained a cornucopia of photographs and documents...and precious gem stones. Just as the woman made a motion to return to the waiting henchmen upstairs, one entire wall of the vault gave way in an explosion of dust and brick, as a gigantic corkscrew monster crashed toward them and threatened to impale the startled couple who sought safety in each other's arms.

CHAPTER XIV: Airship 2-U-2

Dan Darter lunged past Dee Dee Morris in an attempt to snatch away the master key to the Helium Works, but his move was thwarted by Kojak Morris who sensed immediately what the man was seeking. The old man barred Darter's way, but in doing so, toppled over the key chest and found himself inextricably pinned beneath its immense weight. Uttering a curse, Darter seized the Princess of Bars by her slender wrist and unceremoniously pulled, pushed and carried the struggling beauty out to his waiting escape vehicle.

Darter had not always been of this ilk. When Dee Dee first met him he had a promising military career with the Uganda Secret Air Cavalry after a dishonorable discharge for bad conduct from the US military forces, but everything seemed to unravel when, during a hazardous mission in hostile jungle territory, his state-of-the-art (for Uganda) biplane went down. No one ever really knew what terrors he had faced alone in the jungle but he wandered out of that savage realm a very different man—his once baby blue eyes had turned a steely gray. He had never fully recovered from his head injuries, and for a time had drifted from country to country offering his services as a mercenary ultralight pilot. But always there were the headaches... and the flashbacks... and the hallucinations. He was no longer the chivalrous warrior—the gallant who had won the heart of the incomparable Dee Dee Morris so long ago—but she never lost hope...

The Jed of Clampett

Princess Dee Dee was thrown unceremoniously onto what appeared to be an old sofa—in the back of a very old truck. Behind her was a huge pile of rubber material wrapped in a web of rough jute twine. It was only after Darter had turned the sputtering jalopy onto Sunset Boulevard that he explained to her that he had purchased the truck from Honest Jed of Clampett auto sales...and it had once been used in some sort of TV comedy series. Then, after they turned into her father's Helium Atmosphere Works complex, she learned the startling secret of the large rubber material in the back. Darter gained forcible entry into the plant and was soon pumping helium gas into what turned out to be a giant Holstein-shaped promotional balloon he had obtained from the Cows 2U theatrical supply company. After they were airborne and sitting in the open cockpit of Darter's makeshift flier, Dee learned the rest of the story.

The Grimley Wave

The Grimley Wave was a Hollywood landmark...Jasmine Grimley had taken over her (his) father Ed's hair styling salon which specialized in the much-sought-after Grimley Wave hair curl. Countless celebrities—Veronica Lake, Marlon Brando, Martin Short, Bill Haley...an endless list. Darter was visiting Jasmine for a perm, a few weeks previously, when an old prospector—Zany Grany, accompanied by his burro, stormed in through the back entrance of the salon for his annual hair cut and shave. The old codger had a reputation as a teller of wild tales so after the first shock wave had subsided, Darter only half listened as he sat under the Grimley permanent wave machine. He later became intrigued, however, with the outrageous story of a giant rift that the old guy claimed had been opened in the desert just after the last big earthquake. Zany had been travelling across the Tappan Range just west of Death Valley's Stovepipe Wells when he saw giant, featherless birds in the distance. Upon approaching, he was horrified to see three of his burros pitch forward and fall into what had to be a bottomless pit—to meet what surely must be their doom. Two more of his burros were carried off and down into the depths by the giant lizard-birds which had been flying overhead. The improbable tale stuck in Darter's mind and stoked his sense of adventure to a fever pitch.

Now high above the dead sea bottoms of Southern California, Dee Dee Morris was suffering from emotional overload, and was trying to take a calm level-headed assessment of her hopeless predicament

Trapped by the Synthetic Cow

Here she was: kidnapped by a madman AND forced to participate in his wild fantasy AND clinging for her life to a solitary coil spring protruding from an Ozarkian loveseat, AND trying to avoid the escaping gases of a rubber flying cow sac which was propelling them ever higher into the increasingly rarefied Jasoomian air AND watching in hopeless abandonment as the twin towers of her father's beloved Helium Works shrank into the distance.

All of this utter hopelessness was framed against the blood red disc of a far off sun plummeting into the wild treacherous waters of the mighty Pacific. Facing a fate worse than death, the lovely Dee Dee Morris, Princess of Bars, had only one choice. The girl let her fingers slide from their grip on the spring...and she plunged to what surely must be her doom.

Bill Hillman

CHAPTER XV. The Game's a Foot

Herlock Cabyns and Dr. Datsun caught the first Concorde to the States. During the uneventful supersonic flight the world renowned detective and his ever present assistant reviewed the facts of the developing caper. Cabyns and Bozhart had a long relationship, primarily based on industrial espionage (Bozhart's) which had been profitable to them both—commissions from the British Government or the Royal Family had been few and far between in latter years.

"Brace is concerned," Herlock said quietly as he studied the faces of the well-dressed passengers in First Class. "I've never known him to be easily ruffled, so it must be something quite nefarious."

"My dear Cabyns," Dr. Datsun replied, "I heartily agree. Mr. Bozhart must be protected at all costs."

Herlock, without realizing it, had produced his discolored briar pipe. He was about to clench it between his teeth when a stern-faced stewardess tapped his shoulder. "Oh!" the detective ejected apologetically. "Force of habit. Sorry."

As the attendant walked away, Herlock Cabyns scowled. "One of life's small comforts, and it is illegal in the air. By so much has the world changed."

Dr. Datsun surreptitiously offered Cabyns a small packet. "To calm your nerves," the good doctor said.

For a moment the consulting detective considered the offer, then declined. "A clear head is needed, my good Datsun. Brace Bozhart deserves our keenest deductive abilities."

Datsun returned the packet to his tweed jacket pocket without further comment.

Upon landing, the two travelers were met by a well-dressed, stone-faced employee of Brace Bozhart's worldwide organization BB, Inc. "Mr. Bozhart sends his greetings and apologizes for the urgency. I'll take your bags, sir."

Datsun was left to carry his own bag, which fortunately for the aging medical practitioner, was a small black valise.

Cabyns and Datsun were driven from the commercial airport to a smaller private field where a sleek executive jet emblazoned with "BB, Inc." awaited their arrival. The turbines were turning at a low whine as the man delivered the detective and assistant. With little waste motion both boarded and the powerful aircraft took off.

The men were not alone in the cabin. An affable gentleman, blond-haired and husky, extended a hand. "My name is Hillie Billman. I'm to fill you in and assist you any way possible."

Cabyns accepted the handshake with cool aplomb. "Wait, do not tell me... you are originally from West Virginia, a farmer's son, experienced in manual labor and devoted to the works of Herman Melville. You are currently employed for your skills in martial combat and dedication to duty."

Dr. Datsun rolled his eyes. "Cabyns! Must you do that?"

Hillie Billman chuckled. "That's okay, Datsun. I'm curious, Cabyns, how'd you make that deduction?"

"T'is obvious, sir. Your hands are well-calloused and your shoulders well-muscled, strength gained in early youth from manual labor and maintained to the present. Your name is an honorary to your native mountains. Your accent reveals your upbringing and your stick pin, a small harpoon, declares your interest. As to the latter, Brace Bozhart never hires Milquetoast or those who are not personally loyal to him."

"Not bad," the young man grinned. "But I'm a Canuk, a boxer when I'm not playing guitar, never saw a farm in my life. The stick pin was given to me by my mother, who did like Moby Dick. As for the name...it's short for 'Hilary' and that's why I grew up handy with my hands. I don't like it, or the teasing. But you are correct, I am totally devoted to Brace Bozhart."

The aircraft suddenly veered left, g forces mounting as the jets increased pressure at a mad rate. Hillie, hanging sideways by the seat belt, shouted forward. "What the hell?"

The pilot replied. "Unmarked F-16. The son of a bitch is tracking us!"

Several violent maneuvers threw the passengers against seat cushions. Hillie Billman grabbed an arm rest to steady himself. Expending tremendous effort, the BB, Inc. employee pulled himself to the window and looked out. He saw the deadly aircraft, painted black, turning hard on their tail. He also saw the racks of rockets mounted beneath the wings. The pilot's next turn took the aircraft out of sight, but a few seconds later Hillie saw it again—just as it released an air-to-air missile!

CHAPTER XVI. Into The Inner World

"Criminey, Lard! Are you alright?"

Carmon Nappie sat at the controls of the darkened cabin of the Pellucifar Burrower. He was torn between abandoning his post and rushing to Lord Greatstrokes aid—for it seemed the British nobleman was in need of assistance!

Devon McGuinness grunted suddenly as the heavy weight fell upon him at the hatch closing. It was a frantically writhing body which pinned him to the floor. How many arms and legs he had was undetermined in the dim light, but it seemed far too many than the ordinary number.

"Hold still, you idiot!" McGuinness cried. Adding: "Get off me! Nappie, get a light on! Let's see what dropped in."

A harsh yellow light revealed a balding individual in casual clothes. McGuinness recognized him immediately. "Edgar Nyce—how kind of you to drop in."

Nyce blinked several times, adjusting to the light and the abruptly altered situation. "Where the hell am I, McGuinness?"

"Some place you weren't meant to be. Why are you skulking about? What were you doing anyway? I should have you arrested for trespass!"

Ed Nyce dusted himself off, then jutted his chin toward the English lord. "Get ready for a counter-suit if you try it. I needed the hose. My warehouse is on fire!"

Having had a moment to catch his breath, Lord Greatstrokes, who inherited the name from his family's extensive holdings in Scottish golf courses, reconsidered his threat—especially in view of the Pellucifar's intended expedition. "I'm sorry to hear that, OB," he said with conciliatory tone. "Of course, you may borrow the hose, but alas, I fear it will be impossible to do so any time soon."

Nyce had regained his composure as well, looking with interest at the inside of the contraption. "Hell, Rathmind will get the animals out...as for the rest, good riddance to bad rubbish. What is this thing?"

Greatstrokes hesitated only a heartbeat before replying. "An invention of mine—and Nappie's, of course." He nodded to the engineer who moved the hand holding a heavy spanner behind his leg. "It is an earth mole, a vehicle for exploring the inner world."

Ed smiled. "I wrote something like that in my early days. What a lot of balderdash it was. Still, technology has finally caught up with imagination. I'm impressed, Greatstrokes. Very impressed indeed. Show me more."

Seeing no harm, the English lord gestured for Ed to take the navigator's seat. He pointed to the various panels, some glowing with neat rows of leds. Dials indicating depth, course and speed were to the left of the steering yoke.

The author, now deeply immersed, smiled his admiration. "Very impressed," he repeated himself, "very impressed indeed. What does this button do?" Ed Nyce's extended finger punched the large red button before either Devon McGuinness or Carmon Nappie could shout "NO!"

The Pellucifar Burrower lurched awkwardly, a loud clanking developed in the rear of the vehicle. The grinding bore at the front whirled at a frantic pace, crunching through soil, rock, water mains and gas lines in an instant.

Nappie gripped Greatstrokes' shoulder, fear distending his eyes to the size of saucers. "We werna clear o' the utilities, Lard! 'e's cut the gas mains."

"One spark," McGuinness frowned. "One spark and it is all over."

As if on cue, a thunderous explosion rocked the crippled earth mole.

CHAPTER XVII. The Mad King Sings

Splay-Toe changed pyjamas when they returned to the secret hideout. The only difference between the one removed and the one donned was the discarded one bore soil picked up when they retrieved Ratnaz. Feeling better, the pseudo-Cantonese tucked his cleaver in the sash and went to the kitchen. Bryce Bozhart, now in familiar street clothes, sat at the table with a cup of freshly brewed oolong.

"I would have done that, boss," Splay-Toe groused. "That's what I hired on to do."

"Be unconcerned, my faithful servant," the handsome Bozhart replied. "Pour a cup for yourself and sit with me."

The oriental wannabe did as bid. Taking a sip, Splay-Toe asked: "What's this all about, boss? What's the beef between you and Brace?"

"Being the illegitimate son has few advantages, my friend. My mother, Junie Lambchop, was a working girl at Harris' for some years. She was the exclusive girl of Buzz Bozhart—"

Splay-Toe choked on the tea. "THE Buzz Bozhart? Golly!"

"The very same. John D. Rockerfeller came to Buzz for lessons in greed, though he failed in the execution of my father's suggestions."

Splay-Toe thought, "If that's failure, let me at it!" The camouflaged Cantonese remained quiet as the Yellow Jacket continued.

"Brace got the breaks, I got the bum's rush because a few months after I was born Junie Lambchop got religion and broke away from the prostitution game. Married a total jerk named Oggie Hash—but that's another story. In any event, mom told me who my real father was when I turned 21, a belated conscience, if you will. It was she who suggested I hit old Buzz up for past child support, so I guess she wasn't all bad in the end.

"But that meeting with Buzz Bozhart did not go well because Brace was there—talk about looking into a mirror and seeing yourself! 'Don't listen to this guy, Dad,' he said. 'He's a fortune hunter with a sad story that won't hold up in court.'"

"'We'll see,' I said, 'DNA tests are pretty common these days. I just want what's due me.'"

The Yellow Jacket fell silent, staring into the bottom of the tea cup. The suspense was unendurable for Splay-Toe. "Well, what happened?"

With a hard expression compressing his handsome features, Bryce Bozhart's voice was cold as ice. "Brace promised to see me in court, then took me by the collar and gave me the bum's rush. Humiliated, angry, frustrated at every turn, I vowed to one day claim my birthright—even if it meant destroying Buzz Bozhart and his son Brace. I became the Yellow Jacket, perfecting my skills, righting wrongs—but only wrongs which had been created by BB, Inc.—and they are many and varied, my friend, as you well know."

"Indeed," Splay-Toe replied. There was a long silence as the two men sat thinking. A special bond arose, one that would link the two together for many years to come. Splay-Toe rose, bowing to his master, then asked, "Egg sandwiches or a cheese omelet?"

CHAPTER XVIII. The Fateful Plunge

Dee Dee Morris closed her eyes. She did not wish to see the earth rushing toward her. Her only regret was dying a virgin.

The sickening sensation of falling lasted only a few seconds as she came to an abrupt stop! A sharp pain at her left ankle revealed why her tragic descent was aborted. A loop of rope had twisted about her shapely foot. Upside down, her skirt nearly over her head, exposing stocking tops, garter belt and red French cut bikini panties, the young woman was mortified with embarrassment.

"Dee Dee!" Dan Darter cried. "My God, girl!" The grey-eyed man quickly hauled on the rope until the woman was inside the Clampett dirigible. "You could have been killed!"

"That was the general idea," Dee Dee Morris muttered under her breath. Louder, she said, "I can do that myself!" She fended off Darter's hands which were trying to smooth down her skirt but lingering too long on her nylons. Dan Darter moved back, slightly amused. Dee Dee stamped her foot, as much to settle it inside the shoe as to express her petulance.

"Dan Darter, take me home immediately!

"My princess," Darter sighed, "fair Helium Supply is lost to view and we are, I'm sorry to say, lost, too."

"Well, stop and ask directions. Oh, I forgot, you're a man, you don't ask for directions. Listen to me, Dan, you need help."

The wind had carried the cow-shaped airship northwest of Los Angeles. Below them Ventura Boulevard was a ribbon of light as darkness descended. There was a fire below them, surrounded by emergency vehicles, yet here, hundreds of feet above the earth, it seemed distant and inconsequential.

Dan Darter whispered, "Will you call me 'my chieftain' tonight? I have great feelings for you, Dee Dee Morris."

"The only thing I feel for you at this moment, Mr. Darter, is a great pain in the a—"

At that moment (as in all cliff hanger chapter endings) there was a huge explosion several hundred yards from the burning house. The fireball rose directly beneath the Jed of Clampett dirigible!

CHAPTER XIX. The Inefficiency Expert

Ratnaz pushed Bertie Ketchum away. Ignoring the huge twisting drill penetrating the concrete and steel vault, the vine swinger reached down and pulled up his pants. As he buckled them, Bertie got behind and pushed Ratnaz out of the way. Dickie Spillway and Ike Slammer grabbed Ratnaz by the jacket and helped Bertie.

"Where's Cam Spaid?" Ike shouted over the mechanical din as the monstrous vehicle crossed the vault and began drilling into the opposite wall.

"On the other side!" Spaid yelled, coughing as rock dust and smoke filled the room.

Though it seemed to take forever, the mechanical mole, grinding at a fantastic rate, soon exited the destroyed vault. The three dicks and Bertie exchanged looks while Ratnaz pulled up his zipper. Bertie spoke, her voice high-pitched with astonishment.

"Did you swing into too many trees, Ratz? What were you thinking? There wasn't time to do up your pants!"

The Lord of the Leaves scowled. "I've spent my whole life runnin' around in my BVD's or less. I sure as hell wasn't goin' to die without pants on. Ah, fergit, youse wouldn't understand."

Ike Slammer motioned for his two friends to leave the couple alone. They began sorting through the debris left behind the contraption, which was still making a racket in the new shaft.

Bertie, the fright over, wilted against the vine swinger's broad chest. "Oh, Ratz, I was scared to death for you. You are an icon, a symbol, you cannot be allowed to die—either by neglect or for real."

Ratnaz was touched, and he liked the way Bertie touched his face. "Say, kid, you're not gettin' soft on me are ya?"

The woman lowered her eyes, her voice soft. "I've always been soft on you, you big galoot."

Feelings long denied, Ratnaz lifted Bertie's chin with thumb and forefinger. He gazed into her eyes, seeing in them that which he had repressed for nearly 70 years. "I think I'm stuck on you, too, kid."

Arm in arm, the couple walked out of the vault into the bank lobby. Spaid, Slammer and Spillway kept digging, happily announcing each find with cheerful glee. Spillway called out, causing Ratnaz and Bertie to break a long overdue kiss to look over their shoulders. "We got enough here to put Bozhart away forever!"

The ground shook in a fashion that Californians associate with earthquakes. Then a flash of yellow flame shot into the vault from the second tunnel made by the mysterious drilling machine. Spillway, Spaid and Slammer barely had a chance to scream before they were burnt to a cinder.

Bertie screamed and buried her face into Ratnaz's jacket. Filled with a resolve he had not known in years, Ratnaz, Lord of the Leaves, put his arm about the sobbing woman. "It's over, Bertie," he said. "Gas main blew. They never knew what hit them."

"Take me out of here, Ratz!"

The street was deserted, as most after hours business districts would be, but Ratnaz knew the police and fire services would soon arrive, and he had no intention of being detained by questions. They walked rapidly away from the gutted bank, crossed two streets, then hailed a cab. As they entered, the electrical grid went down, plunging several city blocks into complete darkness.

The cabbie reneged. "Sorry folks. My family lives close by. I got to go home and make sure they're okay."

Ratnaz and Bertie watched the cab pull away.

Bertie took the man's hand. "I liked those guys."

"Who? Spaid and da udders? Don't give it a second thought, dear. They wuz cardboard characters in a cheap pulp. Somebody hasta die, or many somebodies, so da reader gets a body count. And to my way of thinking, there ain't been enough bodies—yet!"

"Ratz, what are you going to do? Whatever it is, I want to be with you!"

"Dat's talkin', baby. I'm gonna find out who's muckin' with my life and—" the vine swinger's hard fist slammed into his palm.

CHAPTER XX. A Fighting Man of Bars

Mars Markus knew something was wrong the minute he drove up. Dee Dee Morris' two-seat speedster was parked in the drive. The burly barman unfolded himself from the economical Fiesta, yet again wishing he could afford better.

Walking up the drive, he paused to look into Dee Dee's vehicle. The hood was cold. She should have left hours ago. Perplexed, he continued along side the house toward the back door, the favored entrance to the Morris household. The alert barman noticed immediately that the back door was half-open, and coming from the inside were cries for help!

Pushing the door open with a thick muscled shoulder, Mars Markus saw his old friend Kojak Morris pinned beneath a fallen key case!

Instantly, he was at the old man's side. It took no time to remove the case and to lift Kojak to his feet. "What happened, Morris? Where's Dee Dee?"

Kojak shook his head. "No time for that. We have to hurry!" The man rushed outside, spindly legs pumping rapidly.

Markus dug his car keys out as he ran after Kojak Morris. He banged his head getting into the car while trying to reach across and unlock the passenger door at the same time. Feeling a little dizzy, Mars started the engine and backed into the street. "Which way?"

"Helium Supply, and step on it!"

On the way to the location, Kojak told of Dan Darter's theft of the key and kidnapping of Dee Dee. "I'll make that brain-damaged idiot pay," Kojak promised.

Mars Markus twisted the wheel savagely around corners. "You'll have to stand in line, Morris. I think of that kid like my own daughter." Of course, my daughter never worked as a stripper...

The gate to Helium Supply's yard was unlocked. Above the corroded metal roof of the main building stood the twin towers of helium—one scarlet, the other yellow. At Kojak's instruction Mars Markus drove into the yard and came to a screeching halt at the rear loading dock. It had rained during the day which had washed the dirt road clear of tracks. Because of that rain both men could clearly see that a vehicle had been driven to the scarlet helium tower—and there they ended!

"Where did he go?" Kojak exclaimed. "Somebody came in, but they didn't go out!"

Mars Markus was equally confused as he criss-crossed the earth looking for clues. Then he saw it. Glittering, shining, even as the sun set: Dee Dee's charm bracelet. "She was here, Kojak." The barman, who had been a boxer in the Navy, showed the bauble to the distraught father.

In tears, clutching the fighting barman's shirt, Kojak Morris pleaded. "You gotta help me find her. You gotta help me!"

"I will," Mars Markus promised. "You can bet on it."

tangor@erblist.com


BOOK II


CHAPTER 21: El Rancho Ratnaza

Lord of the Roost

Edgar Nyce had moved out to Southern California from the windy city many decades before, to take proud ownership of a sprawling tract of rangeland with canyons radiating out from a high rugged hill. Ed chose the hill as the site on which to build a mansion which he funded with royalties from his pulp fiction creations. A short time after he had modified the ranch to his specifications—a ranch he called Ratnaza, after "you-know-who"—a mystery lady moved into an abandoned range cabin down by the tar pits. Here, nestled away from prying eyes her main source of income ostensibly was a small chicken ranch. When Ed hit on harder times, he gradually subdivided most of the range land, and for some strange reason, the whole area became the Mecca for dozens of other chicken ranchers.

From Ed's perch in the hilltop mansion, he could look out in all directions over a red sea of fowl since Rhode Island Reds were the bird of choice of the ranchers. Years later, Ed used the income from these poultry subdivisions to implement a grand and glorious plan... he would build a theme park—featuring all the fantasy lands and characters from his books—on what remained of the once sprawling El Rancho Ratnaza.

It's a Nyce World After All?

Phase one of the theme park plan involved expanding a natural cave site he had discovered in the rocky crag beside the mansion.—a cave which he christened the Ratz Cave, again in honour of the famous character he had created in his books. This attraction would take the form of a guided ride through caverns which would feature miniature animated versions of his many fictional characters—all positioned in scenarios drawn from the many fantasy worlds he had created. At the cave entrance he designed an elaborate facade, rife with animation and colour. Ed himself wrote a song: "It's a Nyce World After All" and a huge sound system was built to play the ditty non-stop.

Ed's dream was not to be, as Brace Bozhart called in old debts and foreclosed on what remained of the ranch property. To appease his renegade half brother, or perhaps for other reasons known only to Boz, he signed the deed to the mortgage-ridden property over to his half-Chinese half-sibling, Bryce Lee. Ed was evicted and took up residence in a modest bungalow on nearby Ventura Boulevard—downwind from the chicken fields.

Sadly, the attraction, although near completion, never opened its doors to the public, as Bozhart sold away exclusive franchise rights to Nick Miser's Rodentland—the giant world-famous studio theme park. Ed's original prototype of what would become a very famous attraction for Rodentland, was soon forgotten...a demise hastened by the wild growth of a decorative fronting hedge. The bushes soon grew into a tall and near-impenetrable thorn hedge that almost completely hid the facade and cave entrance.

The Ratz Cave

Realizing that the cave was an ideal base for their fight against crime, Bryce and his young Canadian sidekick created the secret personae Yellow Jacket and Slay-Toe, and moved in. The new owners pushed aside most of the miniature attractions within the cave to make room to store all their crime fighting toys, including the powerful Jacketmobile and the new sleek, black F-16 fighter jet. The one thing they were never able modify, however, was the incessant theme music which had been looped to play 24 hours a day through the massive sound system.

The masked zoot-suited crusader raised his voice to be heard over the cutesy chorus of toddlers singing "It's a Nyce world after all...." to try to get the attention of his companion who stood decked out in a yellow silk flight suit, leather helmet and goggles.

For a second time he shouted, "This is it Splay-Toe...the day you've been waiting for...Splay-Toe!...Listen up!"

The begoggled companion, who had been singing and swaying with the music, took a long enough break to reply: "No sweat, Bryce. I could make this first solo flight with my eyes closed. Has old Hitchcock got the F-16 fueled yet? `...a Nyce, Nyce world. It's a Nyce...' ...awright, awright, I'm listenin'. Where's the bird?"

The two men glanced toward the huge animated facade of the Ratz Cave in time to see a portly, triple-chinned old gentleman in butler attire, appear at the entrance. He was straining and lunging in a specially made harness which was linked to a taut chain stretched out and attached to some heavy object still hidden from view in the cave. The duo waited expectantly. The sight of the sleek, unmarked black F-16 easing its way out of the Ratz Cave, around the thorn forest, and to the improvised runway was breathtaking.

The Yellow Man Gets...and Loses His Wings

An even more thrilling event transpired a short time later as a very proud Yellow Jacket watched his young protege race the craft down the runway and up into the sun—clipping the top off the row of thorn hedges as he climbed..

"Ye-Ess! Loop the loop baby. Wow, if Bryce could see me, I bet that..... yikes... what in hell?... BB Inc..... that's Bozhart's private jet.... ooo yah!... Will I have a surprise for Bryce... gotta crank this baby around.... arm the missiles... here we go... locked in... now... Fire..."

As the young daredevil released the missile which he thought would precipitate an end to all of his masked friend's problems, a large square object, surrounded by an escort of wildly flapping birds, rocketed up into the path of the missile. Splay-Toe had no time to duck as a feathered creature smashed through the canopy and attached itself to his flight goggles. The startled, gasping pilot felt consciousness fast slipping away. The last thing he remembered, as the aircraft went into a screaming dive, was an explosion, the whole world turning red, and his own frantic groping for the seat ejection trigger.

CHAPTER 22: "You're a Lucky Girl...Bertha La Rapo!"

As a young woman back in windy Chicago, Bertha La Rapo had dreamed of someday moving to California...and living on a chicken ranch of her very own. That dream had come true, thanks to the generosity of her old friend Edgar Nyce who provided a piece of property on his Ratnaza Ranch. And, many a lonely night thereafter, Ed had come down from the hill to help her with her pullets. But ever since Ed had fallen on hard times and had been forced out of the hilltop mansion, his visits had become fewer and farther between, and she had started to look forward, more and more, to the visits from the new occupants of the mansion—especially that nice young red-haired man from Canada with the Chinese accent and big cleaver.

Income from the chicken operation was somewhat meager, but luckily Bertha had been able to supplement her poultry income with pin money garnered from modeling fees. She had spent long hours over the years in the drafty studio of Allen J. St. Jacques, posing in various stages of undress for his paintings of heroines, which he sold as illustrations for Ed's books. But alas, those days were behind her as her figure—largely because of a steady diet egg sandwiches and cheese omelettes—had grown too Rubinesque, even for St. Jacques' tastes.

Shadows from the Black Lagoon

Bertha was tired—she had been up all night again. The situation was getting worse. When she first moved here, the nearby tar pits were quiet...but now...they seemed to be the source of regular raids on her chickens. Every night, ominous, grotesque shadows and unearthly prehistoric sounds haunted the wooded path between her beloved fowl house and the mysterious La Gaspack Tar Pits. Today, not even the irregular and ominous sounds of two jet aircraft overhead tempted her to look up from her work as she rushed through the daily chore of decapitating birds for market. With just a half dozen left she started in to an impatient count down: "Chop Chick 6... Chop Chick 5... Chop Chick 4... Chop Chick 3... Chop Chick 2... Chop Chick 1..."

Dejah Vu

Bertha was almost thrown from her feet as the ground shook from a mighty explosion. She looked on in helpless anguish as a billowing cloud of flame and smoke appeared under her clapboard chicken coop and the whole structure was propelled into the sky leaving a vapour trail of feathers, eggs, ammonia gases, and droppings. This was followed by a shock wave which covered her in feathers and tar droplets... followed by yet another wave which dropped a torrent of bank notes and coins.

Bertha, suddenly in molting blackface, cried out in disbelief, "No! Dejah... Dejah Vu! ....Not Again!...Ed—GAR!!!?!!!

CHAPTER 23: The Terrible Game A-Foot

(Wherein Our Intrepid Sleuth Plays A-Hand, Looks A-Head and Is Set A-Back)

Hallucinations A-Bound

Cabyns was confused. With flashes of lights still exploding on his retinas and his ears still ringing from the exploding fireball that seconds ago had exploded outside the portside window of Bozhart's speeding jet, he sat white-knuckled and rigid in his seat. Cabyns settled back into the cushions and humphed: "Crazy Country."

Seconds before he had faced certain death as a menacing renegade F-16 launched a deadly missile in his direction. It was then that the hallucinations began: Looking closer at the fighter jet he saw it was being flown by a red chicken, on the horizon far beyond he could just make out the apparition of a cow that appeared to be piloting an old tin lizzie lorry, coming up to intercept the missile was a rocket designed to look like a chicken coop—and flown by chicken astronauts...and all of this taking place in an inverted hailstorm of gold coins and gobs of black tar. Then the whole fantasy scene seemed to explode and suddenly the sky was clear as the aircraft raced eastward toward Bozhart's secret desert headquarters.

The Klezmar Kings

His resolve to maintain a clear head for his meeting with Bozhart seemed pointless now. "Datsun ...my briar...and THE pouch...if you please."

Datsun produced the notorious pouch and passed it to the sleuth. Cabyns' habit had progressed to the stage that he was now using a battery-powered, automatic injector. With shaky hand he loaded the contents of a foil-covered package into the dispensing injector, raised the device to his mouth and in rapid succession clicked a strong dose of three Pez pellets into the waiting orifice.

"Ohhhhh...I needed that!" crooned a much-relaxed Cabyns. He then took his favourite custom-made briar pipe...lovingly hand-crafted by the resident flute artiste in the exclusive inner sanctum of Wing Music in Bromley, Kent. He clenched the long, discolored pipe between his teeth and ran his fingers over the sound holes which were aligned along the length of the pipe.

"Care to join me, Datsun? Bring out the old licorice stick."

Dr. Datsun opened his small black valise and produced a vintage ebony Clarinet. Noticing a guitar case that had fallen from its stowed position during the squirmish with the F-16, Cabyns urged Billman to join in on guitar. Boz's trusted lieutenant expressed reluctance but was eventually coaxed into opening the case—only to reveal not a guitar, but an ornate Gibson 5-string banjo, complete with Scruggs pegs.

"I say Master Hillie...we were led to believe that you were a guitar player," blurted the surprised Datsun.

"Well ahhh...I...ahhh...," the blond Canuck stammered.

All three had a sudden unexplainable urge to burst simultaneously into a rousing Klezmar version of the "Theme from the Beverly Hillbillies." Mesmerized by their music, the musicians were oblivious to the passage of time and carried their spontaneous jam to a fever pitch. It was this scene then that Brace Bozhart walked in on after meeting the aircraft on the reception tarmac of his secret Death Valley airport.

Remember WENN

Later, in the private chambers of his elaborate underground office complex, Bozhart removed his prescription earplugs and settled in for a crucial meeting with his old English ally over a competitive game of Pinochle. While dealing the opening hand, he whispered:

"Careful my friend...the walls have ears. Cabyns...this is serious. Things have not being going smoothly of late. I don't know who I can trust anymore...strange doings are at hand. Even my right hand man Hillie is suspect. Wanna know how he got that sissy name? Back in the '40s, just before he was born, his old lady was really hooked on some Pittsburgh radio station, WENN or some damn thing—the only station that their Atwater Kent could pick up on their good for nothin' farm out in the sticks. Well, when she had the kid, the first voice she heard was some ham actress on there named Hillary Booth. So she saddled kid with a stupid girlie moniker. You know, when I took him in he was a starving, one-legged, banjo picking, son of a West Virginia sharecropper. He was useful to me because of his blind loyalty and his expertise in Tai Chi—despite the fact that he was slowed down considerably by his wooden leg. But now the blighter is telling everyone he's some kind of a boxing Canuck—he's flipped, I tell ya Herlock. But now, let's get down to this business about..."

The deep conversation between the two card players came to an abrupt and unceremonious halt as they turned their attention to the office door which suddenly burst into splinters. Racing across the room from the demolished entrance came a harpoon-wielding, peg-legged man who was pointing behind them at the wall-to-wall plate glass window which offered a panoramic view of the gigantic BB Inc. pool.

"Thar she blows Cap'n...It's the Great White, eh...Break out the harpoons! All hands..." screamed the man in a heavy Canadian accent.

CHAPTER 24: The Hair Rage of the Desert

Where The Trail Ends

Kojak Morris and Mars Markus stared in disbelief . All that remained of Dee Dee Morris—Princess of Bars—was her charm bracelet. And the tracks ended here at the twin towers of Helium Supply...she had disappeared!

"What's the problem yung fellers? Wooz-ya lookin' fer?" came a voice from across the yard.

The two men spun around to face a curious sight. A clean-shaven, well-manicured old codger, in ragged gray clothing, sat astride a small burro. In tow, he led another burro, heavily loaded with an arsenal of weapons...and a charred and singed milk cow sporting the brand "Cows 2-U" which had been burned into the left rump. Most unusual, however, was geezer's hair do - his long gray hair was done in a style that featured unique permanent waves closely resembling that worn by many of the Hollywood stars.

Seeming to sense the cause of their concern, the old galoot squinted his laughing gray eyes and offered some information: "The filly went thataway...under the cow... look... up... way o'er thar... driftin' out t'ward Death Valley,"

The trio stared into the darkening skies and were horrified to see a terrific explosion beneath the far-off bovine airship. The last image they had of the ship was lost in a billowing cloud of exploding gases.

As one, the two worried men turned and ran toward the Fiesta. Overzealous Mars Markus hit his head on the rear view mirror as he reached to start the engine. With a curse he twisted the key with such force that it broke in the ignition. Now totally frustrated, he pounded the steering wheel—an irresponsible action which resulted in an explosion that engulfed both driver and passenger in a cloud of carbon dioxide gases and a cocoon of mushrooming rubber— Markus had inadvertently deployed the Fiesta's custom-made airbags. The situation looked hopeless as the men painfully extricated themselves from the now-derelict auto, but the old desert prospector saved the day.

M&M The Riders

"Lookin' to hitch a ride gents? Just bot them thar critters today. Got a good deal from some old guy wandrin' round in his underpants. Hop aboard ole bossie there... she's a fine sturdy cow."

Showing some trepidation the two men prepared to mount the beast. Suddenly recalling something he had been told earlier, old Zany leapt into action. "Hold on there young fellers... O'Leery here's got a nasty kick with her hind hoofs." The teller of tall tales pulled a miner's shovel from his pack, went through a couple warm-up swings and soundly whacked the devious devil mount on her scheming snout. The dazed animal had met her match.

Knowing there was no time to lose, the Zany Grany rescue caravan soon was thundering out through the red-oxide decorated east gates of the ancient Helium Works. Morris and Marcus led the way by spurring their shared mount to a breakneck trot—stirring up clouds of red dust as they charged across the abandoned parking lot. Would they be too late to rescue the divine Dee Dee Morris, Princess of Bars?

CHAPTER 25: Into the Depths

The Outlaw of Porn

Ratnaz and Bertie stood amazed as the taxi drove away leaving them without conveyance. With a curse, Ratnaz was in hot pursuit. Realizing the futility of such a chase, Bertie took a moment to examine the oilskin packet she had retrieved from Bozhart's safety deposit box. Placed in no particular order among the rare gems and large denomination bills were documents detailing his many shady business dealings, as well as an abundance of photographs of well-known celebrities in compromising positions. Bertie's expertise born of years of espionage work led her to a secret inner pocket in which was hidden a computer diskette. On the label was a cryptic code that only the fiendishly clever Brace Bozhart could have devised. This would have to be taken to a Cray supercomputer for decrypting.

Ratnaz Becomes a Beast Again

Bertie's investigation was interrupted by a loud explosion from the direction of La Gaspack Tar Pits, but before she had time to ponder the cause of it her attention was turned to the approach of a panting, dusty and staggering figure, clad only in leopard skin patterned bikini underwear.

"Ratz?" she asked in a faltering voice.

The reply was an unintelligible "!($#,!(&(*!" so she directed his attention to a strange scenario unfolding before them in the sky above.

High overhead they saw two aircraft converge, and after an explosion the smaller of the two planes hurtled to the ground. At the last minute they saw the pilot eject and they waited with bated breath for his parachute to open. Open it did, but apparently the luckless parachutist was headed for the dreaded tar pits. The daring duo raced to his rescue.

The Gaspack Tar Pits

By the time they reached the lake of black goo, the aviator was sinking fast and was screaming for help in some unfamiliar language. Only after the rescuers were up to their knees in the steaming primeval pitch did they realize that their efforts could be to no avail—the poor unfortunate had sunk beneath the surface leaving a gurgle of dark bubbles. As the defeated pair turned to retreat to the shore they were met with the roar of a large yellow car racing toward them. The masked man at the wheel ordered them into the rear passenger seat and to their horror he then slammed the gear shift into low gear, pumped the accelerator to the floor and aimed the powerful machine directly into the pits. The passengers huddled in horror as tar engulfed the windows of the sinking car. Ratnaz and Bertie were at the mercy of a madman.

CHAPTER 26: The Dancing Girl of the Leper Guy

(Note to All-Gory editor: I can't figure out what to call this chapter but I've always liked this title —or— Gone with the Wind is a good one too—my mother likes IT.— BH)

Master Blunder

An advancing chain reaction of exploding gases trailed and rocked the Pellucifer Burrower as the wayward burrowing craft broke through the reinforced concrete walls of the underground Ratnaza sewage treatment reservoir. Shock waves from the blast carried the machine ever deeper into the foul excremental sludge. Thankful for the sanctity of the waterproof cabin, the passengers deployed every means possible to gain command of their wildly out-of-control earthship.

Edgar Nyce, momentarily overcome by the revolting odour of sewage which permeated the cabin, for some reason noticed that his thoughts turned to Ratnaz. "Jeeze," he thought. "What would that clown do in a situation like this?" "Damn it Nyce... What were you thinkin' of... keep your soddin' hands off me controls! Ya really done it now," threatened Carson Nappie, the designer of this scientific marvel of engineering and the only one who knew how to manage the complex controls.

Edgar Nyce's unfortunate blunder at the controls had resulted in an explosion that appeared to have damaged the depth and direction fins. Not only that, they soon realized that the blast had opened rifts along some of the notorious subterranean California faults. They used the remaining facility of the Burrower to follow this huge complex pattern of fault lines—looking all the while for an opening to the surface and hoping that the transpired events would not trigger a major earthquake.

Ahab's Revenge

The cockpit compass readings told them they were going east and the distance indicator suggested that they must have travelled hundreds of miles. Realizing the serious nature of their predicament, the three men had given up all hope of survival when the Burrower broke through a concrete wall and their machine came to a rest at the bottom of the clear blue waters of a what appeared to be a shallow lake. Lord Greatstrokes heaved a sigh of relief. The euphoria experienced by the English Lord proved to be short lived, however. The first sight that met the three adventurers as they peered through the charred and scorched front navigation port sent shivers down their spines.

They could see through the foreboding waters a screaming, peg-legged wild man charging at them while brandishing a deadly harpoon!

— This could be the end of the story! I haven't been paid yet.

—Bill Hillman hillmans@docker.com

CHAPTER 27: The Prize Chump of Helium

When Splay-Toe's American-made Sidewinder mis-targeted the Jed of Clampett dirigible, Dan Darter ducked. Dee Dee Morris, however, watched with horrorfied fascination as the missile tore through the flimsy helium-filled cow bag and exploded seconds later. The fireball and concussion drove the mortally wounded dirigible into the path of the supersonic F-16. Realizing they were about to die, Dee Dee Morris suddenly wanted to live more than anything. If only they could achieve a few feet of altitude they might survive.

Thought became action. The spunky girl reached down and, with both hands, flipped the Ozarkian loveseat off the rear of the rusted automobile. Where she got the strength Dee Dee could never say, but the ejection of the heavy piece shot the Clampett dirigible several dozen feet into the air.

The F-16 did not fare so well. The sleek aircraft slammed into the falling sofa, ripping off one wing and half of the tail assembly.

Dee Dee turned to watch the aircraft plunging to the ground, but did not see it crash, or if the pilot bailed out as their own situation worsened. A loud ripping noise overhead revealed that the gas bag was disintegrating. The composite aircraft was descending rapidly toward the California landscape.

"Hold together!" the girl prayed. "Please hold together!"

The cow-shaped balloon shrank at an alarming rate and the ground seemed to be approaching awfully fast.

"Do something, Dan!" Kojak Morris' daughter demanded. "Be a man!"

Darter looked up from the floorboard, where he cowered in a fetal position, weeping. "We're going to die! We're going to die!" he wailed incessantly.

With a scowl of disgust, Dee Dee ignored the panicked warrior and began throwing everything overboard that she could. Her frantic exercise proved to be working, the descent slowed. A capricious wind at the lower altitude carried the Clampett dirigible along at a good clip. Looking over the side, Dee Dee noticed that large sections of the city below were blacked out. She could not tell where they were headed.

Though it seemed longer, moments later the skinny spoke wheels of the antique auto crashed through tree tops, slowing the vehicle and bringing them closer to earth. Dee Dee watched carefully, looking for an appropriate time and place to jump out. A belated spasm of conscience forced the young girl to grab Darter by the collar and haul him erect.

"When I say, we jump. Got it?"

Darter, eyes distended with terror, could only nod.

In the darkness below, Dee Dee saw what she thought to be a man. The truck was low to the ground and they were headed straight for him!

"Look out!" Dee Dee shouted a warning, but it was too late. The running board bashed into the big man's head, knocking him to the ground. Mortified, Dee Dee looked behind and was relieved to see the man sitting up, rubbing his head. She turned her attention to their own dilemma.

Dan Darter, having come to his senses, spoke lucidly for the first time in minutes. "I know this place. We're near La Gaspack tar pits."

The damaged dirigible went to ground, but the landing was soft—too soft! Dee Dee accurately observed: "Near? Hell, we're in the middle of it!"

CHAPTER 28: Together—Again!

Bryce Lee Bozhart, the Yellow Jacket, gunned the powerful car from the Ratz Cave as soon as the explosion in the sky occurred. The intervening distance was covered rapidly, and as he neared the La Gaspack tar pits, brilliant headlights revealed Bertie Ketchum. Not far away, running toward her, was Ratz, but radically altered since the last time Bryce saw him.

"Into the car!" the Yellow Jacket commanded.

Bertie pulled Ratnaz inside. Bryce looked over his shoulder. "What's wrong with him?"

"Bump on the head," she replied, petting the drooling Ratnaz like a large puppy. "He's harmless in this state. Happens rather frequently."

"Watch him, I'm going after Splay-Toe!"

Bertie Ketchum screamed when she realized what the zoot-suited crime fighter intended. The sleek Yellowjacketmobile plunged into the tarry mass!

Ratnaz didn't seem to notice. He was checking for fleas in Bertie's hair.

Bryce, his voice filled with authority, silenced Bertie Ketchum. "Shut up! You're in no danger. The Yellowjacketmobile doubles as a submarine when necessary."

As the car sank deeper, Bertie's fear subsided when nothing untoward happened. But she did scream again when a man's body, clad in a yellow silk flight suit, though it wasn't very yellow now, slammed into the windshield.

Bryce, having all he could handle, reached back to slap Bertie and clobbered Ratnaz instead.

Ratnaz shook his head, coming out of a daze. The first thing he saw was his briefs. "Oh, no! Not again!"

Bertie threw her arms around the Lord of the Leaves with relief. "Thank goodness! The last time that happened to you wouldn't come down from the trees for weeks!"

Ratz was touched. "I didn't know youse kept tabs on me, Bertie, but gee, yer sucha swell dame!"

Bryce, meanwhile, had surfaced the now besmeared Yellowjacketmobile. "Pipe down, you two," the masked crime fighter commanded. "Five sentences in a row ending in exclamation points is not allowed!"

The vine swinger chuckled. "That's six, shame on you."

The Yellow Jacket ignored the man—when he was right, he was right. Steering the vehicle, with Splay-Toe on the hood, Bryce Lee Bozhart drove out of La Gaspack onto solid ground. Leaving the reunited love-birds in the back seat, the masked crusader leapt out to assist his trusty sidekick—who received a kick as soon he knew Splay-Toe was uninjured.

"What the hell happened up there?" Bryce demanded.

Splay-Toe, looking more like Amos or Andy, lowered his head. "I had him in my sights, boss."

"Who?"

"Brace Bozhart. Just as I got a rocket off, this cow gets in the way and then dumps a sofa on me."

"Hmm," the Yellow Jacket hummed. "Your injuries must be more serious than I thought. Get in the car. We'll sort this out back at the cave. First, we have to drop off those two."

Splay-Toe looked toward the car. "Who?"

Bryce's intense gaze followed the pseudo-Oriental's. The back seat was empty!

CHAPTER 29: The City of Ancient Heads

Zany Grany forced cow and burros into a fast stroll using a combination of colorful, though exceedingly blasphemous language and a stick with a carrot dangling from a string. "Hold yer water, gents," the old man cackled. "The wind's about to go rippin' past your face."

Kojak Morris impatiently waited. "Drats!" he ejaculated, jumping down from the cow. "Let's go, Mars, we can make better time on foot!" The old man proceeded to demonstrate, pulling rapidly away.

"Thanks, old timer," Mars Markus said to Zany Grany and took out after the disappearing father.

Daisy: Built For Two

They hadn't travelled very far when they came across a tandem bicycle chained to a darkened lamp post. It only took a moment for the powerfully-built fighting barman to break the chain. An instant later the thieves in the cause of justice raced away.

"This is more like it," Kojak gasped, pedaling hard behind Markus' broad back. "Hurry, man, my daughter may be in mortal danger."

This was the big man's intent, and toward that end he bent every effort. Through the strangely deserted streets the duo passed on whispering tires. Yet, even as they traveled, Mars Markus wondered where everybody was. Then he remembered, Star Trek: Voyager was on and since they added that voluptuous Borg female, no red-blooded man missed it.

This knowledge heartened the man of bars, for it meant no traffic would impede their swift journey; yet, even as that thought passed, there was a group of strange-looking men blocking the road! There was no way around them, and he couldn't just crash through them, so Markus was forced to slow and to eventually stop.

The leader, a tall skinny oldster wearing a fantastically-colored shirt and wide-bottomed jeans seemed untroubled by the many strands of beads around his neck. Upon his head was a bandanna or turban, Markus was not quite sure which, that topped a mass of incredibly long white hair. The other members of his party were near the same advanced age and similarly dressed. They seemed to be passing lit cigarettes amongst themselves. The leader raised a hand in benediction, thumb, third and fourth fingers clasped with index and middle upraised the shape of a "v", and said "Peace, brother. Love. It's a beautiful night. Slow down, smell the roses, man. Groovy."

"I wish I could," Markus tried to be polite, "but I am in a hurry. Please move aside."

"Uncool, man. Very uncool. Like, what's the rush?"

One of the other members of the eerie band laughed. "Rush? Yeah, man, I could use a rush!" Somebody else said, "Far out!"

"Chill out, night rider man. Have a toke of the love weed," another offered.

Markus would have none of the pungent smoke, whereupon the leader frowned. "Bad vibes, dude. Relax, that's the only way love will come to you."

Markus, his temper strained, replied, "Love is not what I have in mind at the moment."

The leader of the ancient heads, long ago evicted from San Francisco, became agitated. "Hey, man, that sounds like a threat!"

"Take it any way you like, just get out of the way!" Kojak Morris shouted.

"Bummer." Looking at his flock, the leader said, "It is time, my friends. It is time we march upon hurry and progress. It is time we take action against the Yankee capitalist pigs!"

Whereupon the determined and silent group closed in upon the men astride the bicycle.

CHAPTER 30: The Case of the Be-speckled Dodo

Hillie Billman jabbed at the monstrous device in the swimming pool—now rapidly draining through the large shaft in the side. "Avast ye demon of the deep! Drink deep of this blade, for I am Ishmael!"

Herlock Cabyns scratched his chin in amazement. The one-legged banjo-picking Canuk was transformed into a ineffectual and ludicrous hero. "Can't you do something, Brace?" he asked. "The man will hurt himself."

Taking Cabyns and Datsun by the arm, Brace Bozhart ushered his guests back into the house and out the front door where a long limousine was parked. The driver, a shapely lady who gazed at Brace with adoring eyes, closed the passenger door behind them and entered the front.

"Where to, Mr. Bozhart?" The way the woman fluttered her eyes indicated where she'd like to take the wealthy man.

Brace, ever the gentleman and faithful to his wife, at least in the presence of witnesses, said, "The vacation house."

Datsun looked out the rear window as the expensive car departed. "What about young Hilary? What's to become of him?"

Brace Bozhart narrowed his eyes. "That's Hillie's lookout. After tonight, I really do not care. Do you now see how serious this is, Cabyns? Have you nothing to offer at this time?"

Cabyns swiftly offered his automatic Pez dispenser. "Take two, they will calm your nerves. Do not fret, Bozhart, Datsun and I will get to the bottom of this."

Meanwhile, back at the pond, Hillie Billman, who now thought himself Ishmael, clanged his blunt harpoon against the earth mole's tough exterior. He waded deeper into the water, seeking a vital spot in the huge animal of his perception. Again and again the harpoon struck, only to be turned aside by the heavy armor.

Billman shouted his rage, drawing back a powerful arm to deliver what surely must be the death blow, and slipped in the out-rushing water and was sucked into the flow. He disappeared into the dark tunnel, still cursing, still waving his harpoon.

CHAPTER 31: The Eternal Barbarian

Bertie struggled in Ratnaz's tight embrace. His large hand covered her mouth, preventing any outcry. Into the darkness away from the filthy Yellowjacketmobile the Lord of the Leaves carried the struggling woman. When they were well away, and especially after Bertie managed to get a painful grip on the big man's crotch, Ratnaz put Ketchum on her feet and released her.

Bertie, however, retained her hold. "You big idiot! I don't take that from any man."

"Let up a little, wontcha, kid? I didn't have time ta explain and I didn't want an argument." Eyes crossed, legs bent, Ratnaz pleaded. "Please release the family jewels, o! par! don! me!" he whimpered as Bertie tightened her grip.

"Like you said a few hours ago, talk fast and keep it funny." She released him—and found a part of her mind occupied with the residual warmth of the big man's gonads heating her palm.

Even though the city lights were out and no moon filled the sky, Bertie's eyes shone with inner fire. Ratnaz massaged himself gingerly. "I don't trust dat guy. The polooka tossed me outta dat car oncet today. He's got it in for old Boz fer some reason."

"Sounds like a man after my own heart," Bertie said.

Ratz shook his head, slowly straightening up. Looking down at her face, he continued. "I think dere's more goin' on here than meets da eye. Big fires, explosions on the ground and in the sky, Spaid, Spillway and Slammer wasted...that funny Oriental in the tar pit...Yellow Jacket can't be doin' all dat. Dere's somethin' bigger goin' on."

The retired seductress spy considered the man's earnest words. "Maybe that last conk on the head did you some good, honey. That's mighty smart thinking." Then she slapped him. "And you'll get more of that if you ever drag me off like that again!"

Ratnaz wilted. He was a small boy in an instant. "Does dat mean youse and meese ain't gonna..."

Bertie stepped close, smiling gently. "Dear, I may be angry, but I still love you. Sure, it's going to happen. Sooner or later, some time during this episodic lurid adventure pulp, we'll tango at the Kit Kat."

The Lord of the Leaves brightened. "Dat's a relief! I thought youse was really mad."

Bertie linked her arm with his as they began to walk back toward the city proper. "What's the game plan, Ratz? This was your idea. Surely you have something in mind....besides that," she laughed at his goofy leer.

"Well, I wuz thinkin' that if youse can take me down, dere's only one person who can take down Brace Bozhart."

"Who's that?"

"Jane Porker, his wife."

CHAPTER 32: Twenty Inches Under the Sea

WHAM!

"What is that infernal clanking?" Devon McGuinness shouted.

WHAM!

"I dinno, Lard," Carmon Nappie covered his ears against the reverberating echoes. "It's outside!"

"I know that, you dolt," Greatstrokes scowled. "What happened to the Pellucifar Burrower? We have no forward motion."

Nappie looked at the gauges. "Fuel cell one is empty."

WHAM!

Edgar Nyce was beneath the burrower's hatch. "Well, it has been pleasant, fellows, but I think I'll get off here."

Greatstrokes looked at the old author with a frown. "I think not, OB." The English lord pulled a dark snub-nosed pistol from his hip pocket. Aiming it at Ed Nyce, Greatstrokes motioned for the man to sit down. "Switch to the second fuel cell, Nappie—and clear that overdrive instruction our stupid friend entered into the computer."

"Yes, Lard!"

WHAM!

Ed narrowed his eyes, distrusting the man holding the gun. "What are you going to do with me?"

"I'm going to make you famous, OB, even more famous than that decrepit hero of yours. You see, you are going to help us rob banks tonight—and we'll let you take the credit!"

The loud banging outside the ship had ceased. Carmon Nappie switched the fuel lines and started the engine. The heavy treads began rolling, and for an instant Lord Greatstrokes was unbalanced. Ed leaped upon the mad dog Englishman and wrestled for control of the weapon. But Greatstrokes was younger, larger, and stronger. The muzzle of the gun slowly came close to Edgar Nyce's gray-haired temple. Beads of sweat popped out on the author's terrified face as Greatstrokes' finger tightened on the trigger.

Meanwhile, as the Pellucifar Burrower and its desperate passengers began to drill into the earth, a yellow 1966 Camaro pulled away from the scene.

tangor@erblist.com

CHAPTER 33: The Best Little Chicken Ranch in Tappan Range

Madame Jane Porker

A small herd of mangy wild burros looked up from their unending quest for sustenance from the meager resources of Death Valley and let their jaded gaze follow the cloud of dust chasing a long limousine as it sped along a rutted, well-used desert road snaking across the Tappan Range.

The dust-covered luxury vehicle rattled over a Texas gate and through a timber arch from which hung a swinging weather-beaten sign heralding entry to the famed Chicken Ranch Vacation House. Tethered over the main building strained a giant helium-filled balloon which had been manufactured in the almost ludicrous image of a scarlet chicken.

Without slowing, the limo sped past the main entrance, sending a bombardment of dust over the front veranda - momentarily blocking from view the garish display of red lights and the cursing young ladies who were lounging on the weathered steps in various stages of undress.

The comely driver pulled up to a private entrance at the rear whereupon she quickly adjusted her leather micro-skirt and diaphanous blouse and checked her makeup in the rear view mirror. Exiting she moved fetchingly to the rear of the many-doored automobile where she ceremoniously opened a door to assist her three passengers onto the gravel driveway. The girl's hand lingered on the arm of the last man to leave the car.

"Get your hands off my man, you Bimbo!" bellowed the husky voice of a heavy set, matronly woman who had just appeared around the corner of the building.

"Why Mr. Cabyns, it's Ma Kettle," whispered the eldest of the three men standing in the driveway.

The blonde driver hastened to neutral ground at the front of the limo, obediently answering with, "Yes, Madame Jane."

"Gentlemen, you've met my wife, the lovely Jane Porker," introduced the owner of the limo who then turned to motion to his two travel companions. "And Jane, you remember Mr. Cabyns and Dr. Da...ooof:" The man was interrupted in mid sentence by a heavy blow from a riding crop across his ample buttocks . He flinched and turned in time to see the love of his life in hot pursuit of the blonde chauffeur. "Ah...Gentlemen, I believe a storm is brewing. Perhaps we should retire to my private quarters."

Terror in the Inner Sanctum

Brace Bozhart led his British guests, Herlock Cabyns and Dr. Datsun into his desert headquarters. The visitors stood amazed in the midst of the internal grandeur of the structure which had displayed such a shoddy barnwood exterior. After positioning his cohorts around the huge computer control desk, Bozhart was soon detailing his master plan for world anarchy.

Bozhart started by presenting the technical description of his elaborate computer system with which he had assembled his nefarious plan for world domination: "What you see here my dear Cabyns is a state-of-the-art Radio Shack, Asian imported, IBM-XT compatible computer with a super fast 8 megahertz microprocessor. I have recently added a massive 10 inch monochrome display monitor and have installed a built-in storage device which stores everything - DIGITALLY - on this 3 1/2 inch floppy DOUBLE DENSITY DISKETTE! ...And are you ready for my crowning achievement? ...I have ingeniously jury-rigged the machine via this telephone cable so that it is linked to nearly every other computer system in the world!!!" Bozhart's voice was rising to a fever pitch.

The response from the famous sleuth and his able assistant was an involuntary gasp. All of the high tech talk had gone completely over the heads of these internationally renowned investigators, but they were visibly impressed.

"I say Cabyns...the man is absolutely amazing," exclaimed an awestruck Dr. Datsun to his colleague.

Cabyns stared in open-mouthed admiration of the technical expertise of this genius among men. "Incredible achievement Mr. Bozhart!"

The genius then set both forefingers to work. Employing a laborious, determined Columbus typing method (discover it and land on it) typing technique, Brace Bozhart proceeded to enter secret codes.

Despite the breakneck speed at which the codes flashed up on the screen, Cabyns' trained eye for detail mentally stored away the encrypted entries. BANANARCHY seemed to be the code word. Following this was an incredibly complex main code line which Cabyns' straining eyes made out to be: (link no longer available).

A few more key strokes beyond the ken of even the master sleuth brought forth information which would certainly have instilled terror into the hearts of the heads of all peace-loving nations of the world.

—Bill Hillman

Bananarchy (Top Secret - For Your Eyes Only)

(The Partial Text of Brace Bozhart's Bananarchist's Handbook)

'Gorilla' Bananarchy Tactics

Every good bananarchist should have at least 20 pounds of bananas in his fridge. All bananarchy weapons listed below are the result of much research, preparation, and experimentation on the properties of bananas. Should you decide to become a bananarchist, I suggest you purchase a book on bananas.

The Banana Blade

The banana blade is a dangerous weapon in the hand of a skilled bananarchist. Materials: 1 Frozen Banana & 1 Carving Knife. The banana blade is far superior to a regular knife. It can be designed quickly for the job at hand, and if you are ever caught, it IS edible. Once the banana has been frozen solid, you may then carve it into the desired shape. Remember: The banana blade must be used quickly before it thaws.

The Banana Mine
Watch where you step!

A banana peel is a very inconspicuous weapon. The common tourist may mistake it for a simple pile of refuse or a discarded food item but beware, the banana mine can cause serious damage if positioned correctly in a highly trafficked area.

The Banana Bomb

The banana bomb is a stable high explosive, so it can be jarred or dropped without exploding. To detonate it, you use an electrical charge. Materials: 3 Peeled Bananas—1 Potato Masher—1 Cookie Sheet Mash up the bananas really well using the potato masher. Then form the bananas into the desired shape. Plop the mass onto the cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Usage: Connect an electric detonator to the Banana Bomb. Stay at least 20 feet away from the bomb when detonating.

Banana Pudding Napalm

Banana Pudding Napalm is a highly flammable mixture, and when it's finished burning, you've got banana survival cookies! Materials: 5 Unpeeled Bananas—1 Blender—1 Container Mix up the bananas in a blender until a thick paste is formed. Pour the mixture into a container. Usage: Pour the pudding on the intended surface, and light it up!

Banana Thermite

Banana Thermite is created from a chemical reaction between bananas, and aluminum. Materials: 1 unpeeled Banana—30 cm square sheet of aluminum foil—a sparkler (the kind you get on birthday cakes) Wrap the banana entirely in aluminum foil. Push the sparkler halfway through banana. Usage: Place the banana on the intended surface, and light the sparkler. The substance created will melt through anything!

— Robin Hillman hillmanjr@docker.com

A Terrible Secret

The potential ramifications of this evil document were staggering. Cabyns could not contain himself. "Datsun...THE packet...quickly!"

It was during moments like this that Cabyns' addiction reached a state beyond his control. He injected a large number of the Pez pellets through his trembling lips and settled back into his chair while the euphoric waves of contented pleasure washed through his lean and aged body.

"I fear that the work I have put into compiling this powerful information shall go for naught if we can not find a supply of the secret ingredient for these weapons," Bozhart continued. "There is only one known variety of this yellow fruit that is totally suitable for weapons use. We must find the location of a secret valley hidden somewhere in the African interior. Only two men know the way into this valley—one is a missing mystery aviator who went through untold, despicable tortures while imprisoned there, but somehow escaped. But there is only one known person who has a map—we must stop at nothing to wrest it from him—that man is Edgar Nyce!"

As the name of his arch enemy slid from his lips, an ominous shadow moved across the dome skylight above and a woman's frantic screams could be heard over the howling desert winds: "Brace!...Help!"

CHAPTER 34: Escape from the City of Ancient Heads

Butch and Sundance Ride Again

As the ancient heads, a group that somehow had escaped the advance of evolution, circled and closed in on Kojak Morris and Mars Markus, the men smiled and glanced at one another as they had done prior to so many battles before. Still balancing on the wobbly tandem bicycle that they shared, Markus boasted, "We still live, my old friend!" and he strained to push his shirt sleeves up past his bulging biceps. He then took a battle position by spinning around on his seat so that he and Morris were back to back. With Morris steering and Markus pedaling backwards, they raced their two-wheeled mount in a tight circle to keep the enemy at bay.

Kojak shouted, "Remember the Bijou, Mars...1, 2, 3," and with warrior bravado they burst into a fighting song they had sung so often in their prime: "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do/I'm half-crazy on a bicycle built for two..."

The ancient heads were taken aback. The melody triggered memories long forgotten which prompted a collective resounding response of: "Right On, Man... HAL rides again... Too cool... 2001... Wow."

Not having complete faith in the holding power of their guru abilities, the two veterans of untold bar wars changed their song after a few choruses: "Raindrops keep falling from my head, but..."

"Far out man...1969...cool...Katharine Ross...Hey! the Sundance Kid...too much...." As one, the assemblage burst into applause, assumed lotus positions, and mumbled along with the lyrics. Unfortunately for the revelers, their venture into song was washed out by a sudden cloudburst which appeared as if on cue. The nostalgic songsters were soaked under a deluge of raindrops.

The cyclists took advantage of the confusion to disembark and to ease their way out through the drenched crowd on foot. "Touch the sky man...Manson's back...They're prophets man... Hey! Anybody know 'Feelings'?" were the fading words they heard from the born-again hipsters as they continued their odyssey.

Return of the Living Dead

As the victorious gladiators resumed their reckless race through the rain-soaked streets they noticed that the deserted city was coming alive again. With the conclusion of the weekly showing of Star Trek: Voyager came a partial return to normalcy as mobs of Seven of Nine worshippers spilled into the street, wandering Borg-like in the face of wind-driven beads of rain.

The increasingly frantic pair jostled their way through the wild-eyed masses of video zombies until they found another vehicle to commandeer—this time it was a multi-coloured but rusted Volkswagen van of ancient vintage. Although the rain was subsiding, the winds were taking on gale-like proportions which rocked the van as the indomitable rescuers sped eastward on their mission to rescue the incomparable Dee Dee Morris. They had travelled only a short distance before being startled by a loud unearthly moan emanating from the rear of the van.

Bill Hillman

CHAPTER 35: Alone in the City of Mummies

"Dang fickle fools," cursed Zany Grany as he turned his back on the more than slightly comical sight of two oversized men struggling to navigate a wobble-wheeled tandem bicycle.

Zany and his entourage of cow and burros struck out for the desert. "We're goin' home me lovelies. Had 'nuff them galldurned empty-headed city slickers ain't we pards," he chortled in glee.

Shortly after reaching the desert lands, however, the weaver of tales found himself battling for his life in the face of a sudden and blinding desert sand storm. Struggling to find shelter he looked up to see a giant palomino rearing above him. After skillfully ducking to one side of the towering monster, he could barely make out the shape of a large building. A few deft swings of his miner's pick axe opened the sealed entrance way and Zany led his loyal followers into the unnatural chill of a chamber bathed in Cimmerian darkness. A hastily lit torch revealed a scene which made his blood run cold.

The grizzled raconteur stood in an eerie tomb surrounded by terrifying animals and glassy-eyed people who appeared frozen into a state of suspended animation. Weapons of destruction hung from the foreboding walls and a smaller version of the palomino that had attacked him earlier stood poised on hind legs, its evil eyes suggesting that it might revive at any time to attack him with murderous flailing hoofs.

Back edged the the shaken old storyteller until he came to a huge ornately carved door. A quick inspection revealed that it was decorated with two ornately carved letters: RR. In need of water and believing this to be an entrance to a rest room, Zany turned and burst through the heavy doors—only to find himself again facing the raging sandstorm which had engulfed the hostile plains of the Tappan Range.

A sudden panic swept over the old timer. He mounted his faithful burro but his race to escape the terrors which lay behind took an unexpected turn. Giant talons from above cruelly dug into the flesh of both man and beast as they were lifted high above the blowing sand which still covered the desert surface in a shroud of mystery.

CHAPTER 36: Ratnaz and the Forbidden Valley

King Dong and the Goat Kid

Ed's life passed before his eyes. He wished once more that Ratnaz were here. Thoughts turned to Ratnaz and away from the cold reality of the deadly weapon pressed to his throbbing temple. Despite all his faults, Ratz was the closest thing Ed had to a son. His mind raced back to a time so long ago. Ed had funded a safari to the unexplored heart of Africa, hoping to find research material for his adventure stories. He had been intrigued by incredible native stories about a hidden valley lost deep in the heart of the Dark Continent: ...tales of a giant three-legged ape - King Dong ...of cruel barbaric tribesmen of unusual physical proportions...of human and animal sacrifices to the gargantuan ape ...of bananas with unbelievable properties. Perhaps most intriguing to Ed were the legends of a white boy - the only survivor of a plane crash - who had been raised with the tribe's sacrificial goats. He had earned the name Ratnaz, which in the native tongue meant Goat Kid. His duties were to lead goats out beyond the giant walls of the village and to tie them to a huge sacrificial altar in hopes of appeasing the ape god - Dong. Eventually he came to be feared and despised as a traitor by the goats who had so lovingly raised him as one of their own. This rejection led him to spend more and more time with the three-legged giant ape from whom he learned the ways of the Great Dong Apes.

The Valley of Death

When Ed stumbled upon the village, Ratnaz was about to lead a captive white aviator to the sacrificial altar as an offering to the giant ape. Ed rescued both men before Dong arrived, but in the ensuing battle with the tribe, the aviator was recaptured. When Ed made his way back to civilization, all he had to show for his efforts were the Goat-Kid/Ape-Boy, a bunch of magic bananas, a map and an aviator's leather helmet with the name Darter finger-printed onto the temple. Stories of these daring exploits... and more... found their way into Ed's books of course, but he kept the location of the valley a closely guarded secret.

A loud explosion reverberated through the Pellucifer Burrower and Ed realized that he was about to meet his maker.

CHAPTER 37: At the Mercy of the Elements

Flight of the Phoenix

Ever-resourceful, Dee Dee Morris assessed in an instant; the dire situation which she and her comatose companion now faced after their crash landing into the dreaded La Gaspack Tar Pits. The makeshift gondola of their airship was sinking rapidly in the putrid pitch while the still-attached but now deflated bovine-shaped buoyancy sac was completely covered in the sticky mire. Dee reached for the one remaining full Helium tank in the horde that her abductor had absconded from her father's Helium Supply. Wasting no time, she connected the tank to the air sac, hoping that the coating of tar from the pits had patched the large tears in the fabric. As the balloon gained buoyancy she drew her trusty Swiss knife from her lacy garter and cut the affixing lengths of hemp twine. The princess clung to an appendage of the one-time Holstein—now resurrected as a Black Angus—as it started to rise above the predacious pitch. She then groped for the whimpering Darter only to see him sink ineffectually beneath the primeval sludge. The girl almost lost her grip on her only hope for rescue as the advance winds heralding an approaching storm launched the makeshift airship into a wild flight across toward the ancient sea bottoms of the California desert.

A short distance away, Bertha La Rapo, the feathers stuck to her besmirched face fluttering in the wind, halted in mid-scream to rub her eyes as she saw a flying black cow sail by overhead. There appeared to be a kicking figure of a desperate girl trailing behind—frantically clinging to the swinging tail of the airborne beast.

Meanwhile, many miles to the west, Hillie Billman struggled to keep his head above water as he fought the raging currents of a powerful underground stream which was carrying him ever deeper into the depths of the ancient planet.

Bill Hillman

CHAPTER 38: "I escape the pit."

Dan Darter slipped and clawed his way to the hood of the submerged Clampett Mobile. A putrid stench, created over millions of years of decomposition and geologic forces, assaulted his nostrils. "Dee Dee!" the frantic man shouted, but the girl of his dreams was well away, dangling from the rejuvenated gas cow. "Dee Dee!" he whimpered, wondering how long he could maintain his position chest deep in the sticky morass.

He knew he was going to die. So many times he had escaped death, not only as a crack officer in the U. S. Military (before his dishonorable discharge for something so heinous that even Dan Darter refused to recall the offense), but as a highly paid mercenary in trouble spots all over the world. For a time he had been a strike breaker, a traffic cop in Rome, a body guard for a now deceased rock star, a kindergarten school teacher (his toughest assignment), a White House Aide under Slick Willie (until caught dipping into the campaign contributions), a gaucho of the South American pampas with the code name Uno Uno Siete, a fighter pilot in the Pago Pago Air Force, a chain-link fencing instructor for Sears Roebuck (the result of which was his unusually flattened thumbs), a double double agent at the Kremlin (whose reports were so confusing to both sides that Yeltsen pitched Communism and embraced Capitalism), a bouncer at a local whorehouse, then, just two years back, the stint with the Ugandan Air Force, his adventure in the wilds of Africa, of which he only had fleeting visions, usually nightmares, coupled with a nagging suspicion that if he could only remember, he would be the world's most powerful man. This Jack-of-All-Trades was a master of One: Survival. Somehow, throughout his checkered past, Dan Darter had always survived—but it now looked like the end.

And the end hit him in the head. "Ouch!" Darter cried.

The "end" was attached to 3/8th inch poly rope, bright orange in color, which lay on top of the black tar. Stunned, Dan Darter picked up the rope and stared at it. A car honking, American obviously since it was in the key of F, drew his attention. On the firm ground, perhaps 50 feet away, a light colored, perhaps lemon-colored, low-slung 1966 Camero was at the verge of the La Gaspack tar pit. An indistinct figure made wrapping motions, suggesting Darter secure the rope at his waist. The desperate man was quick to follow through and waved when he was prepared.

The figure, which could have been male or female, entered the car. An instant later the brake lights came on, then shifted through reverse to drive. The engine revved, and continued revving—which caused Darter no small concern! Before he could shout a warning, the rear tires commenced to spin, throwing great gouts of tar-saturated dirt and grass in a huge rooster tail. Darter barely had time to close his eyes and cover his mouth and nose before the rope jerked taut and pulled him, skipping and splashing, across the viscous surface. A jarring thud on stiff weeds told the mercenary that he was free of the tar pit, but his gratitude turned to terror when the vehicle did not stop!

Dan Darter's bruised and battered body followed the Camero as willingly as a dog on a leash suddenly presented with an intriguing fire hydrant. He wanted to stop, the leash holder wanted to go!

Fearing for his life as the speed increased, Darter feverishly struggled with the slippery, tar-impregnated rope. Rolling from side to side, certain he would end with brains dashed out on some solid object, the man labored mightily until the knot loosened and he lost momentum. The rope burned his waist and skin, still attached of the speeding car. The Camero accelerated into the night, the tail lights eventually disappearing over a low hill.

Checking for broken bones, Darter was elated there were none, though he'd feel the bashing for days. Scratching his head over the near-fatal rescue, Dan mused, "Well, maybe mama was right—never accept rides from strangers."

Clearing his head with lung fulls of air he had thought short-lived just moments before, Darter thought of Dee Dee Morris and the runaway cow. He knew he should go after her, but decided he needed a bath instead.

CHAPTER 39: Midnight At The Oasis

Ratz and Bertie topped a grade and looked toward Ratnaza, which appeared to be engulfed in flames! Obviously the warehouse fire had spread from Edgar Nyce's bungalow and barn to surrounding buildings. A great column of smoke obscured the night sky, black clouds that occasionally reflected the hungry orange flames beneath.

Bertie leaned against her hero. "There's no going back, Ratz. It's all gone."

The Lord of the Leaves gave the lady a squeeze. "We still live, baby. An' as long as dey's life, dey's hope—unless we get a Santa Anna tonight."

"I'm so tired," Bertie sighed. "It's been a helluva night." In truth, the woman looked totally worn out.

Ratnaz pulled her close, supporting the woman with his huge arm. The slight layer of fat over his long-abused body concealed the once powerful muscles which had been his claim to fame in the Ed Nyce commercial potboilers. At least he was in better shape with the fans than that other jungle fellow.

"Let's get a room," Ratnaz suggested. "I need clothes, a pack of Camels an' a few brewski's. Whatcha say, Bertie?"

"Throw in a steak and you're on."

The couple checked into one of those common motor inns found along the major California highways. The desk clerk, a myopic old man who probably worked as a cast extra on Perry Mason episodes in the 1950's (he even looked like he was in black and white!) didn't comment on Ratnaz's brief attire or the strikingly handsome woman who produced an American Express to pay the room. The desk clerk's son, sixteen or so, was rousted from in front of the TV to run errands for the new guests. He grinned at the Lord of the Leaves, not recognizing him, and produced a sharp, clear, and enthusiastic wolf whistle for Bertie.

She made him feel like a million by patting his cheek and leaning close enough for the front of the low cut dress to reveal the flesh above her tight bra. "And please hurry, Jimmie Deardon, we need a real efficiency expert just now."

Ratz was in the shower when Deardon returned. He deposited the clothes and takeout dinners on the double bed. Bertie pressed a fiver into his palm and her warm lips on his cheek. "Think you can sneak a couple of brews and a pack of Camels for us?"

"Yes, ma'am!" Jimmie asserted. "Be right back!"

When the boy returned, Ratnaz, his mane of thick black hair plastered to his skull from his recent bath, had donned pants and was struggling into a too tight polo shirt. He looked the other way when Bertie again thanked the youth with a demure kiss. The woman linked arms with Deardon and ushered him out the door.

After closing the door, Bertie tossed the cigarettes on the bed. Ratz immediately tore off the cellophane and lit up. With the burning cylinder dangling from his mouth, he looked at the pack and sighed. "I sure miss that Joe fellow. Sure made smoking these things fun."

The jungle man sat on the bed, tearing open paper sacks to get at the food—after popping the top on a cold beer and downing half. He looked sideways at Bertie, a slight frown on his lips. "Youse like 'em young, does ya?" he said, referring to the love-struck Jimmie Deardon.

Bertie laughed as distant thunder rolled across the land. "Oh, Ratz! You're such a dear! I play with boys, but I make love to men." The way she looked at him was as unambiguous as a woman ever gets. "Do you really want to eat that silly old sandwich or would you rather..." Bertie reached behind and undid her zipper. The dress slid off her shapely form and ended in a limp pile at her feet. The shimmering slip encasing her healthy, young body seemed ignited by fire in the red glow of dirty lamps on either side of the bed.

The roast beef sandwich paused on its way to the Lord of the Leaves open mouth. "Rather what?" he asked with arched brow, very interested in Bertie's answer.

It was not long in coming. Bertie languorously knelt on the bed, her firm body moving gracefully toward the headboard. She smiled seductively, filled with yearning, and reached back to unscrew the lamp shade to expose the bare bulb. The room was suddenly lit with harsh light. Her shadow, and his, were starkly etched on the opposite wall. Clasping her hands together, the woman leaned forward, lips parted breathlessly, and wiggled two fingers. "What is it?" she asked the man. "What do you see?"

Ratz followed her gaze to the shadow on the wall and gasped. "It is hara the bunny, my favorite jungle food!" Putting down his sandwich, the cold beer forgotten, he clasped hands near the light bulb and created a fearsome shadow. "See, it is puma the mountain lion, and he's going to eat youse up!" At which point the shadow feline pounced on the shadow bunny.

The two lovers engaged in multiple shadow charades, ate sandwiches, smoked cigarettes and consumed beer until the wee hours of the morning, secure inside their cheap, but cozy, motel room as a freak storm battered the burning city.

CHAPTER 40: The Origin of the Lord of The Leaves, The Mystery Explained

Though the gun in Devon McGuinness' hand pressed hard against Edgar Nyce's furrowed brow, the aged author could not dispel the flashback to a similar time when his life had been in danger.

Getting Dan Darter and Goat Boy out of the jungle had not been an easy task. Cutting Darter loose and getting Ratnaz to cooperate had been the easy part.

Ratnaz had been told by the villagers that white men were evil. That the white man brought progress and industrialization, and taxes and tariffs and telephones. These were things to be despised, especially the latter as daughters would get on the family instrument and remain there chatting with their girlfriends until threatened with being sent along with the next scheduled sacrifice of sacred goats. Most annoying of all was the party line, which was all the natives could obtain in their wilderness location. No business could be conducted at night because of teenaged daughters, and no business could be done during the day because wives passed time with other wives, and no man of the tribe, no sane man, ever contradicted a wife!

This terrible evil, more evil than thong bikinis and cheap flip-flops, was hammered into the young Ratnaz's head. At times a hammer was actually used, which explained the slight impairment which marked the Lord of the Leaves' speech throughout his career as a pulp fiction hero. Nonetheless, the white boy had been taken into the tribe, primarily because no one liked to shovel goat manure—and he thought himself one of the tribe until the day he met King Dong.

King Dong came upon Ratnaz one hot, steamy, afternoon as the boy was securing a sacrificial goat to the stout pole embedded in the jungle loam. He was a fearsome beast, perhaps 160 pounds in weight, with black fur and a silver beard. Fearsome canines protruded from a low slung jaw and his frame was powered by muscles that were incredibly strong despite the creature's lean look.

"Bee's wax!" the mighty King Dong challenged. "Pneumatic Overdrive! Bull Market! Sophia Lornadoon!"

Terrified by the fantastic creature, whose natural state revealed why it was known as the three-legged ape, Ratnaz had backed away until he bumped into a tree. Quick as a flash the youth climbed high to escape which appeared to be certain death!

King Dong placed human-like hands on his narrow, almost non-existent hips and screamed, "Golf pro! Gopher hole! Hole in one!"

Since the monstrous creature had made no hostile advances, the Goat Boy of the Mambobasa tribe became intrigued. Tentatively he uttered two words he'd learned on the party line. "Bake sale!"

The fearsome ape-like beast became less aggressive at the boy's response. "Free beer?" it queried.

Ratnaz picked two more words heard in casual conversation: "Bill Clinton," whereupon King Dong fell to the ground rolling with laughter! A moment later the fearsome creature dusted himself and untied the frightened goat. Waving at Ratnaz, King Dong entered the deep shadows beneath the mighty trees.

In the weeks that followed, Ratnaz faithfully delivered goats to the appointed place, but instead of hurrying away, he remained to watch the strange beast. He hid in the trees and took to trailing the elusive King Dong, who often stumbled over the appendage which gave rise of his name among the Mambobasa. It was this method of travel which earned Ratnaz the title Lord of the Leaves, because he became very adept at tree traversing. He maintained that skill until he developed a taste for cheap beer and wine, which had a detrimental effect upon his equilibrium.

All this went through Ed Nyce's mind as the hard muzzle pressed against his brain. McGuinness shouted to Carmon Nappie to "follow the plan," whatever the hell that meant. Though he struggled for his life against the more powerful English lord, Nyce lapsed into further reverie.

Ratnaz eventually located King Dong's lair. It was a cave-factory where he used the goats to produce a sharp and highly desired cheese for which natives of the Rhumbabasa tribe traded "magic bananas." King Dong then traded the "magic bananas" with the Tangobasa tribe who imported rare and collectible Frank Sinatra albums—the possession of which was the beast man's sole vice.

King Dong, on one trip back from the goat post, stopped in the middle of his journey and called out. "Come on down, Ratnaz. It's time you and me had a talk."

Sheepish at having been found out, the boy did as bid. After that the Scourge of the Jungle and the Lord of the Leaves spent a great deal of time together. Since they had the party line language in common, it did not take long for a deep and lasting friendship to develop. Toward the end, not long after the Nyce safari entered the lands of the Mambobasa, Rhumbabasa and Tangobasa, Ratnaz discovered the secret of King Dong.

"I'm a hairy guy, kid," King Dong stroked his chest fur. "And I got a big one," but he was polite and didn't stroke that. "And for a long time I didn't know what to do in life. Back home in Maine I tried my hand at everything, but nobody would keep the 'furry guy' for long. Made problems with their medical insurance since I regularly came down with mange.

"So I moved to the West Coast and fell in with the wrong crowd. With my looks, and other attributes, I ended up in films, but let me tell you, kid, they weren't the kind of films you would take your mother to see. That's where the name came from. It's followed me everywhere."

"If that's not your real name, what is it?" Ratnaz had asked.

"In the language of the Mambobasa, Rhumbabasa and Tangobasa it means 'supreme justice.'"

"You mean 'Clarence T...'"

"Don't say it," King Dong growled. "I don't use that name anymore. King Dong is what I am, and let's leave it at that!"

Days later Dan Darter's Ugandan biplane had crashed in the jungle. A head injury had relieved the man of his wits. The Mambobasa, who found Darter hanging upside down in the treed aircraft, decided sacrificing him to King Dong would greatly appease the evil spirit. Ed Nyce had tried to tell them Darter wasn't meant for their savage rites but to no avail. Thus, on the afternoon that Ratnaz had led the mindless Darter to the goat post, Ed Nyce followed.

Their harrowing escape from the vengeful Mambobasa tribe was one that Ed had always meant to write but never got around to it. Now, with the straining figure of the enraged Devon McGuinness, Lord Greatstrokes, Englishman by birth, villain by natural bent, bent over him, he knew the chance of cranking out more Ratnaz stories bordered on slim and none.

"You're a vile bastard, Devon McGuinness. I hope you burn in hell!" Ed screamed, knowing the end was near.

Lord Greatstrokes blinked twice, and growled, "Take that, you pompous ass!" He pulled the trigger.

The scream in Ed Nyce's throat died a-borning, for it was not a steel-jacketed projectile that splashed into his skull, it was a stream of water! Sputtering, Ed stopped struggling and Greatstrokes moved away.

Grinning, Greatstrokes offered the water pistol to Nyce. "Take your revenge, sir, if you dare!"

Ed ignored the realistic-looking toy. "You're a real card, McGuinness. Mind telling me why you have a toddler's plaything in your possession?"

"Not at all, Nyce, since you have no choice but to join our enterprise. The 'toy' will be used to introduce a saline mixture into the security systems of bank vaults. It is ordinary Pacific seawater, but it will wreak untold havoc on electronic circuits." McGuinness shot Ed in the eye one last time before putting the water pistol away. "Join us, and you can be a rich man. You might even make enough to pay off Brace Bozhart and buy back the affection of Enna."

"Hell," Ed calculated, "If I forget the old broad, I'd end up with a profit and no nagging. Okay, Greatstokes," Nyce extended his hand, "you've got a partner."

McGuinness smoothly smiled, accepting the handshake with a hearty grip. "I knew there was a businessman hiding in there somewhere. This is one get-rich quick scheme that will really work."

"I'll believe it when I see it," Edgar Nyce replied.

tangor@erblist.com


BOOK III


CHAPTER 41: The Immaculate Virgin

Hilary Billman gasped for air as the raging torrent carried him deeper into the bowels of the earth. The West Virginian Canuk maintained his grip on the heavy harpoon in his left hand. With his right he cross checked himself to make sure both shirt buttons were tight, then checked his spectacles and his zipper. All was in proper order so he bent all efforts to staying afloat long enough to check his hip pocket and shoe lace, having only one foot, the latter was easily accomplished.

The cold water had a beneficial side-effect as it brought the man out of his feverish daze, which state he descended into after reading humorously lurid adventure novels. When he lost his leg in the family's thrasher, the younger Hilary had convalesced with dozens of Edgar Nyce books borrowed from the local library. These books had sustained him through a long and painful recovery. When he went to the library to thank the 86 year old woman running the place, he inadvertently remarked that if only he could find women like Ratnaz seemed to find women, he could get on with his life.

The librarian, who had never found reason to open an Edgar Nyce opus, did so and promptly withdrew all Nyce books from the shelves. Such a stink was made that libraries across the US and Canada followed suit, which led to a slump in the fortunes of Ratnaz publishers for at least two decades.

But Hillie Billman was not recalling the past while being carried along with the debris in the flood, he was recalling the fact that Brace Bozhart had left him to die, and that sat very poorly with the enraged West Virginian Canuk. "I'll murder the guy," Hilary exclaimed. "I'll tear him limb from limb. I will..." Crash into a wall and lose consciousness... Billman thought as he crashed into a wall and lost consciousness.

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, Dee Dee Morris hung on for dear life at the end of the tether still attached to the tar-smeared cow-balloon. To the west the sky was dark with smoke and ash as major portions of the suburbs surrounding Los Angeles burned out of control. The wind blew the fire behind the young woman, racing through bowling alleys and all-night drugstores. The conflagration strained public services to the limit and Dee Dee Morris' heart went out to the homeless. She did not want to think of how many may have perished (none at the moment according to news sources at the scene). Though her own life was in danger, it was a sign of the pure heart of Dee Dee Morris, ex-fan dancer and stripper, to be more concerned of others than for herself.

Yet, reality asserted itself and the young woman wondered what was to become of her. The helium-filled balloon showed no sign of losing altitude and she was high enough above the trees to fear letting go. "How will I get down?" she pondered beneath her breath as landscape continued to pass beneath her slim feet.

As if in answer, she felt a jolt through the line and looked up to see the side of the cow pushed inward. What caused it she could not say, then faintly, a subdued pop like the back-fire of a poorly maintained Toyota truck came to her shell-like ears. The balloon shuddered yet a second time and again she heard the sound. The balloon began to deflate, obviously rent by some agency beyond her ken, though it proved to be her salvation by bringing the plucky girl closer to earth. The balloon gently descended toward a farm house with a chicken coop at the rear. Fighting panic, Dee Dee Morris tensed for a hard landing, but in the end, her feet touched earth light as a feather."

A rather large woman toting a small bore rifle came running up. It was Bertha La Ropa looking tarred and feathered. "Are you alright, girl? Land sakes, chile, youse coulda been kilt up there!"

"I am Dee Dee Morris, a principle-ess of Helium Supply. Thank you for saving my life. Who might you be?"

"Me?" the older woman laughed, " I's a chick'n farmer who doubles as a school dietician when work is available. My, my, don't a look immaculate! Bertha La Ropa, dear. I'd shake hands, but as ya can see..." Dee Dee could see. The woman was covered with blood, feathers, bank notes and an occasional Roosevelt dime. Bertha led the way to the house. "Never see'd anyone fly like that before."

Dee Dee looked back toward the deflated bag which completely covered the hen house, much to those small creatures' discontent. "I would not recommend it. Ms. La Ropa." The sight of the kitchen, plucked chickens, and chicken heads and feet in a bucket by a bloody chopping block was a little disconcerting, but Bertha at least had power to her house.

"Been a strange night, honey-chile." The laughing woman leaned the rifle in the corner. "Here, sit yaself down in dat chair and I'll fetch us some coffee." Bertha poured two cups, blowing chicken feathers out of them first, and brought it, and a towel to wipe herself, to the table. "Been strange doin's this evening. Why, not an hour before ya came by I thought I saw a cow carrying a car over the valley! Before that I hear'd the most aggravatin' soun' in the groun', a perfect rumblin' it was. Way things been goin' I's expect the Lord hisself to come screamin' judgment on us all."

Coincidentally, they heard a scream outside the house.

"Lan'sakes!" Bertha La Ropa said, grabbing up her shootin' iron. "Stay here, honey-chile while I go greet Bealzabub hisself!"

Like all pulp heroines Dee Dee Morris ignored the instruction, following in the large woman's footsteps toward the incessant wailing. It took a few moments of confused exploration to realize the cries for help came not from the land around the ranch house but from the little-used well in the front yard!

Bertha pointed the rifle down the brick-lined excavation and called out, "Who's there? Speak up or eat lead!"

Dee Dee pushed the older woman aside and began lowering the oaken bucket. "I'm sending down a line. Grab on and we'll get you out."

A dull thunk was followed by an "Ow!" and "Okay, I have it."

It took both women to turn the old-fashioned crank, but they managed to lift the heavy person to the well's rim. Hilary Billman sputtered as he hooked an arm over the edge. "Thank you kindly for saving my butt." He hooked his other arm, displaying the frightening harpoon.

"Ya lowdown skunk!" Bertha screamed. She whacked Billman over the head with the bucket. "You ain't tak'n no 'vantage of decent wimminfolks!" She hit him again, then a third time before Billman went limp and fell back into the well with a splash.

"You killed him!" Dee Dee ejaculated.

Bertha La Ropa took the stunned girl in charge. "Honey, dat kind always survive. I know, I was married to a good for nothing drug pusher who knew a little tramp named Deva Pendelton who put up 'o that kind of crap. Trust me, he ain't dead, but he'll shore wish he wuz if'n he poke his haid outta dat hole."

CHAPTER 42: The Plot Thickens, If Simmered Long Enough

The gorgeous chauffeur slowed down so the panting woman with the whip could catch up. They moved into the shadow of one of the smaller buildings and looked toward the vacation house. The heavy woman was frantic with worry. "Do you think we convinced them, Ms. Jane?"

Jane Porker-Bozhart shivered in the night air. The brief costume worn by Bozhart staff drivers was all-too brief. "You did wonderfully, Mrs. Billman. Thank goodness you were here. For some reason Brace does not want Herlock Cabyns to have a clue."

"But he said, 'Gentlemen, you've met my wife, the lovely Jane Porker' and nobody would confuse me for you," Cecilia Billman sighed.

"Herlock Cabyns and Dr. Datsun are British subjects. The only Americans they pay attention to are the Clintons and Hollywood movie stars. Besides, Mrs. Billman, our most important mission is to save your husband."

"Yes," Cilli Billman said, "Hillie is the reason I am here. Since he left the farm to take up with your husband, he has not been the same man, though the money has been very good, I mean to tell you. Our son Willie got his teeth straightened and our youngest son Phillie has been enrolled in a prestigious art school for three year olds. Our twin daughters Milli and Vanilli have gowns for their junior prom, but oh, I wish Hillie were there to see them!"

Jane Porker-Bozhart flipped gorgeous dark hair back over her soft shoulders as the wind from the valley below blew it across her cover-girl features. "Brace is up to something big. I know it. There's a minor peeve between him and Ed Nyce and Ed Nyce's New York lawyers, but that's small potatoes compared to the big picture. I just wish I knew what it was!"

Mrs. Cilli Billman sobbed. "Hillie wasn't in the car. He told me he never went anywhere except where your husband goes. Something has happened to him. I just know it!"

The lovely Jane put her arm around the weeping woman's shoulders. "There, there, Cilli. Everything will be alright. I just know it."

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, in the Ratz Cave, Bryce Lee Bozhart used ice to get tar out of Splay-Toe's red hair. "I can stand the loss of the F-16, my friend, and I can understand your zeal to take out the Bozhart executive jet, but I can't understand how a cow disabled your aircraft with a sofa! I'm cutting your beer ration in half."

Splay-Toe had said nothing up until that point because there was nothing to say. He had been over-zealous, he had lost the F-16, he had forced his boss to come to the rescue. "But cutting my beer ration?" the man protested.

The Yellow Jacket was none too gentle removing an exceptionally matted chunk of tarry substance. The Canadian Chinese-wannabe yelped. "I'm cutting my own beer ration, too, my faithful friend. It is expensive carrying on against the multi-billion dollar BB, Inc. octopus. Why, they are so large and so well-funded they could have bought several Latin American countries. In fact," the masked crime fighter confided, "I believe they have."

Bryce indicated he was through, and fortunately for Splay-Toe there was still some hair on his head. Lee-Bozhart clapped a comradely hand on his side-kick's narrow shoulders. "Fix us some Earl Grey while I make a few phone calls."

The Yellow Jacket felt a pang of guilt after talking to the chief at the Fire Department—he could see the glow of catastrophic fire on low-lying clouds outside the Ratz Cave. Still, what had been done was done and there was no reversing it. The chief of police reported an explosion at a Bank of America branch and finding three charred bodies inside. The astute crime-fighter knew it must fit into his campaign against Brace Bozhart, but how?

Not far from the Yellow Jacket's secret hideout a yellow 1966 Camero thundered along Ventura Boulevard.

CHAPTER 43: The Case of the Mysterious Mystery's Mystery

A few doors away from Brace Bozhart's fantastically appointed inner sanctum a tinny piano was atrociously mauled by one of the less-attractive girls at the Chicken Ranch Vacation House. Dr. Datsun and Herlock Cabyns disregarded the off-tempo and poorly played "Clementine" because neither had an ear for music.

Brace Bozhart found it more difficult to ignore, having a background in classical music. He had, in fact, been an accomplished violinist as early as age four; however, given the type of entertainment offered at the Tappan Range Chicken Shack, he was inclined to forgive compositional butchery for the sake of income. What he could not condone, however, was any of the girls crying out his name!

Looking to the skylight, he saw Maize West being aggressively pursued by a local mayor. Apologizing to Cabyns and Datsun, the powerful figure of Brace Bozhart swiftly exited the office. The stairs just without rattled to the pounding of fleet feet encased in expensive ostrich-hide boots specially prepared for the president of BB, Inc..

Momentarily alone, Cabyns quickly turned to his friend and confidant Dr. Datsun. "By all accounts Jane Porker is reputed to be a beautiful woman. Ergo, unless standards of American taste have changed significantly since our last visit—impossible to believe considering the astonishing proliferation of gorgeous women displayed in various states of undress on the local marquee advertisements..."

"I believe they call them 'billboards', Cabyns..." interrupted Dr. Datsun.

Herlock waved a deprecatory hand, "Of course, my dear Datsun, 'billboards', but do you not agree that the woman presented to us as Jane Porker does not fit the description circulated among the gentlemen's clubs of London?"

Datsun nodded sagely. "Quite right, Cabyns. And another thing, this cobbled-together collection of electronic dead ends and obsolescent ironmongery is a technological insult. By similar accounts young Brace is considered a master of computer science."

"Just so," Cabyn's agreed. "Therefore we are left with one inescapable conclusion: The man in whose company we have been for the last hour is an imposter!"

Staggered by the great detective's deductive reasoning, Dr. Datsun looked on with awe as his old friend injected two Pez to cool his fevered excitement. "What do you plan to do, Cabyns?"

The crafty detective of a thousand successfully concluded cases (including those pastiches written by well-meaning but often hopelessly illiterate fans) turned a narrow gaze toward his friend. "Why, dear Datsun, we do nothing."

Datsun sputtered several times before ejecting the surprised question: "Cabyns! What do you mean? Surely we must do everything in our power to locate the real Brace Bozhart!"

Cabyn's patted his agitated confidant's shoulder with a soothing gesture. "All in due time, my friend. First we must learn the purpose of this elaborate charade. Then we shall know how to proceed from there. For now, say nothing, do nothing that will reveal our knowledge of the caper. I fear that if we fail, the life of Brace Bozhart will be forfeit!"

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, the man who appeared to be heir to one of the largest personal fortunes ever assembled in the world (bigger than even Bill Gates by several orders of magnitude), emerged upon the tar-paper sundeck atop the Chicken Shack. Maize West, a sultry, though overweight, woman with a penchant for too much makeup and a fluffy feather boa, had been cornered by the panting mayor.

The possible imposter quickly advanced upon the couple. It was the relief in Maize's eyes that caused the perspiring mayor to look over his shoulder. When he saw the determined look in Brace Bozhart's eyes, the man backed away from Ms. West.

"Brace, old son!" he cried, extending a hand. "So good to see you! How have you been? I have the building permits for your warehouse expansion on my desk. Expect my signature in the morning."

Bozhart narrowly eyed the outstretched hand and took it after a momentary pause. He did not release the frightened man's appendage, rather he gripped it fiercely to give greater effect to the words which followed:

"We are always delighted to receive guests at the Chick Shack Vacation House, Mr. (censored), but we do have rules against forcing the girls against their will."

Winching with pain, the local mayor stammered, "I—I—k-know that, B-Brace! Have a heart! Maize is the best damn partner I've ever been with. There's a big money game brewing in the card room right now. I hoped she would come and help me show 'em how it's done."

Brace arched a brow toward Maize, who wilted. "Damn it, Brace," the woman cried, "I've been playing cut-throat bridge for 18 hours straight! A girl needs to get a little shut-eye every once in a while!"

"There's your answer, Mr. (censored). If Maize West does not wish to play that is the end of it. Come," the commanding Bozhart, now affable and congenial, directed Mr. (censored) toward the roof top exit. "Let us see if Dorothy Laymore is otherwise occupied. Next to Maize, she's the best bridge partner we have."

Mollified, and still slightly intimidated, the mayor grudgingly agreed. "Well, if you say so. It's just that when we come here, my friends and I that is, we are seeking the kind of companionship our wives cannot give us. Most of them do not know a Spade from a Diamond or how to bid to their partner's hands. Your girls, however, are the best company of bridge players ever assembled and, well, we have come to expect the best. I apologize for my behavior," the mayor continued as Brace led him to the first floor. "Please give my regards to Ms. West."

Smiling broadly, the gracious Brace Bozhart assured the nervous man he would convey the apology. As they entered the main room, filled with more than a dozen card tables and foursomes at heavy play, Brace quickly located the stunning Dorothy Laymore, wearing a native sarong with a pink hibiscus blossom tucked over her left ear. He caught her eye, at which point the seductive bridge player came across the room with a swaying motion that could only be described as "fluid."

Her warm "hello" and white smile captivated the mayor. Brace linked them arm in arm and said, "Dorothy, be a dear, show Mr. (censored) just how ruthless you really are."

The couple walked away, heading for one of the empty tables. As the room filled with evening customers there was no doubt that a vicious game of bridge would soon ensue. Satisfied with the operation of the club the man, Brace imposter or not, was pleased for the moment.

CHAPTER 44: Llana of Baseball

Having narrowly averted a battle with the City's Ancient Heads, Mars Markus and Kojak Morris grimly faced forward in the rattling 1964 VW mini-micro bus they had purchased from an old-time hippie lost in a purple haze flashback. Kojak was thinking "That was my last quarter" and Markus was thinking "I hope Dee Dee's okay."

Markus, who drove, noticed the traffic coming toward them seemed to be increasing at an alarming rate. "Something's up, Kojak," he said. "Looks like a panic exodus to me."

Indeed, there was a tremendous blaze of on-coming headlights. The further east they travelled, the more frequent they heard horns blaring and saw drivers leaning out of windows shouting and shaking fists, or as the case may be, waving small automatic handguns. Beyond the blaze of light, above the frightened mass of humanity, loomed a vast billowing cloud of black smoke which snuffed out every star in the sky. The bottom edges of the cloud were tinged with orange and yellow highlights, looking like the flame-flickered cloud that might seen above some monstrous barbecue pit.

Car radios were tuned to a local broadcast, and with all blaring at full volume, the two rescuers soon had the reason: the northwestern quadrant of the Los Angeles basin was aflame!

At that moment, a strange moaning sound was heard from the rear of the van. The hackles rose on each man's neck as they turned eyes toward the rear. Rising like an apparition from a dark and moldy grave came the pasty-white face of a woman, bone-thin, whose stragglely brown hair was liberally shot with gray. In her right hand an empty longneck, in the right, a baseball bat!

Markus immediately pulled over to the curb as Kojak Morris wiggled between the seats to confront the fearsome creature. The fighting barman could not perform the same feat, thus Markus exited the vehicle and raced around to the double doors on the rear compartment. When he flung them wide, he saw that Morris was engaged in a fierce wrestling match with the armed woman!

Under ordinary pulp fiction guidelines, this would be the cliff-hanger ending for the chapter, but The Ratnaz Files are far from ordinary. We shall continue:

"Get this old sot off me, Mars!" Kojak growled. "Phew! A few too many brews!"

The woman weighed nothing to the powerfully-built fighting barman. If she tipped the scales at eighty-five pounds it would be because of the baseball bat still held within a vise-like grip. Taking the woman to the stoop of a nearby office building, Mars gently deposited the inebriated female on the steps.

"Wake up," Mars said. "Come, Mother, time to wakey-wakey."

"Whatzat?" a broken voice responded. Rheumy eyes tried to focus on the large man's face but seemed unequal to the task. "Be a dear, get me a beer."

"You've had quite enough," Kojak Morris announced. He was not a tee-totaller, but he could not abide abusers. "Wake up, lady. Who are you? What are you doing in our van?"

As they bent over the swaying woman, the traffic pattern on the two way street suddenly became one way by de facto means: a bevy of late model yuppie mobiles broke ranks and began to fill the expanse between buildings. Markus held the woman erect, but he also watched the mad drivers, fearing at any instant one might decide the sidewalk was designed for vehicular traffic.

Morris, naturally more solicitous than his gruff words revealed, attempted to take the baseball bat away from the woman. That action seemed to revive a spark in her, and she savagely jerked it away to cradle it close to her bony breast with protective arms.

"Mine!" she wailed. "Mine! Mine! Mine!"

Mars patted her head. "Of course it is, Mother. No one will try to take it away from you."

"I'd die first," the woman hissed. "It is all I have left. It is all my dreams, and longings, and yearnings. It is the symbol of my life—and the lack of it."

Perplexed by the odd speech, both men lifted the woman to her feet. They had to press on to find Dee Dee, but they could not, in good conscience, abandon the obviously distraught woman while the city panicked. Watching the on-coming traffic, the men half-carried the woman between them. As they travelled, the effects of the intoxicating beverage began to wear off, and the female made an effort at self-locomotion.

The cacophony of auto horns reached an ear-shattering crescendo as the ribbon of traffic came to a complete and utter standstill. People began abandoning their expensive cars (to the delight of neighborhood toughs who proceeded to strip them) to flee on foot, always away from the now gigantic conflagration toward which Mars Markus, Kojak Morris and the mysterious woman trudged. The fire had reached proportions of a magnitude many times greater than that which followed the Rodney King incident—and if the story the abandoned car radios continued to broadcast was true, then it had all started at the home of the world famous Ratnaz author Edgar Nyce.

"Not since Mrs. O'Leary's cow burned down Chicago has such a fire menaced a metropolitan area..."

Mars ignored the reports. His sole purpose in life was to locate Dee Dee Morris and to give that no good Dan Darter a sound thumping. In the meantime, however, he had a duty to Kojak Morris and this poor creature found in their VW micro-mini bus.

The old woman (not really that old, unless Mars was willing to concede that Kojak Morris was old) began to babble. At times her words were nonsensical, but as they walked, the exercise appeared to clear her brain.

"Yes, sir, I was a wee girlie then, not much past a grasshopper's knee when Daddy took me to the ball game. I was hooked, yesiree. I would grow up to play baseball with all those beautiful men. I would be the queen of the diamond. I would ..." the speech faltered, a short sob followed. "But I found out I couldn't because they wouldn't let me. I can out-bat, out-pitch and out-field the best of them, but they wouldn't sign me, little ole Llana—Llana of Baseball they used to call me when I led the high school team to State Championship. I did it again in college. Top-rated. The Best. Even the greats of the American Pastime noticed me. Berra sent me a catcher's mitt. Mantle sent me an autographed bat. To my eternal shame I fell on bad times because I couldn't work at a day job...my heart yearned for the green grass, the chalk line, the protective walls of the arena of honor. I lost everything Daddy left me, either selling it or pawning it just to eat...and then lost the house, the car, even the mitt Berra sent. But I will never give up Mantle's bat. I would die first!"

Both men rolled their eyes, amused, yet bored, by the sad story. Both felt that professional women athlete's cohabiting locker rooms and showers would be a bad thing. On many occasions at the fighting barman's strip joint they had remarked that it was fortunate women weren't as big or strong as men, because women have a vicious streak, a competiveness that would give them unbridled advantage over men. As it was, a ninety-pound woman could emasculate a two-hundred-twenty-pound man in a heartbeat with just a cold look or a scathing comment. Thus, while they felt sympathy for the poor woman, neither cared a fig for the insane ambition which had ruined her life.

But they did care for the sight of flames rapidly approaching over the rooftops!

tangor@erblist.com

CHAPTER 45: Fantastic Voyage Into the Primeval Abyss

Marshes on the Doorstep

A huge black cow rose specter-like out of perpetual fog which shrouded the primeval pits of seemingly bottomless goop known to the denizens of Ratnaza as La Gaspack Tar Pits. On the shore edge of this primordial mist-covered repository of past life stood two fearless masked crime fighters. The taller of the two, in reality Bryce Lee a mild-mannered journalist but known to the underworld as the feared Yellow Jacket, turned in shocked disbelief to his young knife-wielding partner in crime fighting. This boy-wonder, when not fighting evil-doers as Splay-Toe, put to use the houseboy skills he had learned back up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where everyone knew him as Ward Cleaver. Shocks hit the duo in threes: they were in the path of this gigantic flying beast from the tar swamp... behind them a piercing scream of what had to be the mating cry of a prehistoric beast rent the air—"Edddddd—gggggggarrrrrrr!" ... while sputtering toward them on the right was a battered but psychedelically-painted VW van which appeared to have just slipped through a time warp from the 1960s.

Yellow Jacket, realizing that something evil must have dragged his passengers, the apeman and his female companion, back into the tar pits, suddenly lost patience and vented his vexation toward his young partner. Splay-Toe, still suffering from the shock of his recent ordeal, and getting into the spirit of his recently acquired black face persona was on one knee belting out his favourite Jolson melody. "Mammy... Mammy... the sunshines east, the sun shines..."

"Get on your feet, you fool. There are lives at risk...time is of the essence...time is money... a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush...honesty is the best policy...a penny saved is a penny earned," monotoned the masked man who was prone to platitudes in times of stress.

Yellow Submarine

With pedal to the metal, the masked man screamed, "Dive, Dive, aaaaoooogahh!" as the yellow WAG (Water-Air-Ground) vehicle hit the murky sludge of the bottomless pit primeval."

"Lights on ...up periscope...sonar on!" The orders rolled off his tongue as he reached for his genuine WWII U-boat commander headgear.

Beneath the surface things got busy...and crowded. Sinking past them was an antique truck with trailing lengths of twine ...in the murky distance he could have sworn he saw a crippled F-16.. attracted to the light were a cavalcade of misshapen beasts... and perhaps most amazing was the terrified face and hands momentarily pressed against the windshield of the WAG. The gaping mouth was in the middle of a silent scream when the orange poly rope which was entangled around his neck jerked the body off through the viscous darkness.

"Holy Cow, Bryce you're right...I gotta see a shrink...that looked like my old ultralite instructor from back at the Moose Jaw flying school—Dan Darter."

"Ultralite be damned, boy wonder," was the masked man's retort. "That was my old chain fencing instructor from when I used to work at Sears Roebuck—I recognized his unusually flattened thumbs. Son of a gun!"

Trapped in the Golden Grotto

Sensing that they must be hallucinating from the pressure of the depths, Bryce started the underwater turbines to retard the descent. He then maneuvered the vehicle in ever-widening circles searching for his missing passengers. When all hope was gone, they headed for shore but were drawn into a submarine cave passage which they followed upward in a steep incline. Some distance up the subterranean tunnel their yellow sub broke surface and they found themselves in a still pond in the middle of a huge underground cavern. In a moment they had driven their sodden vehicle onto dry land and were staring in amazement at the strange golden phosphorescent glow of the caverns which stretched on as far as the eye could see. With almost religious reverence of the beauty of this wonder deep in the recesses of the earth they opened the doors to the vehicle, only to be set upon by screaming beasts which seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

CHAPTER 46: Geriatric Park

Edgar Nyce awoke in a cold sweat. Since the head injury years ago, he had been used to nightmares, in fact, he welcomed them as they were the source of many of his stories. But this one: "Criminy! I gotta lay off that scotch! Watta dream...drunken Ratnaz, fires, explosions, that Pellucifer Burrower, Limey nuts, some weirdo with a harpoon, guns...Where's the Scotch? Rathmind...where are you?!?" Hearing no reply from his secretary he sank back into a pile of downy pillows to collect his thoughts.

Ed was a dreamer...some might say a visionary. Just when his most elaborate fantasy was nearing fruition it had been wrested from him by his old nemesis Brace Bozhart, when the scoundrel took over Ratnaza Ranch. Although Phase I of his planned theme park, Nyce World, had been pilferred, what no one knew was that his much larger, and almost-completed master plan still lay sequestered below the Ratz Cave in immense caverns known only to him.

His discovery of the mammoth cavern beneath Ratnaza coincided with his return from Africa. By accident he discovered that by combining the phosphorescent luminance of the cave with hydroponics he could grow the magic bananas he had brought back from the Forbidden Valley of King Dong. These conditions, however, gave the fruit even stranger and more powerful qualities. He had seen hints back in Africa that most eaters of this strange fruit had regressed along the evolutionary scale. This did not prepare him for the tremendous transformations which his cave-grown variety brought about. Every living thing that ate them over a prolonged period of time seemed to drop millions of years down the evolutionary ladder. Before long his underground world abounded in life forms going back millions of years along the geologic time scale. He had plans to develop this remarkable freak of nature into the greatest theme park known to man—and he would call it Geriatric Park. In his secret office behind the Ratz Cave he had stored all of the blueprints for this master plan, as well as maps for as much of the Subterranean World as he had been able to explore. Experiments had gone well...unsuccessful specimens had been dumped into the sludge pond which filtered down to La Gaspack Tar Pits. Yes, things had gone well...until Brace Bozhart had executed his nefarious plan to oust him from Ratnaza Ranch. Now Ed's only hope was to churn out another best-selling novel which would allow him to regain ownership of what was his. He had to work fast before Bozhart and his dupe of a half-brother stumbled upon his secret.

As Ed swung his stiffer-than-usual legs off the bed he mumbled to himself, "Ya know, I'd better get some of that Pellucifer Burrower hokum written down before I forget it."

The old chronicler of classic pulp adventure threw on a housecoat and moved to the study. He sat down at his well-worn Royal typewriter and pounded out pulp prose until he was interrupted by Rathmind's noisy entry into the room.

"Ed, looks like we have a problem."

"Howzatz? A problem? I don't have time for problems, I'm on a deadline." Ed absent-mindedly carried on with his work.

"The idiot won't come down from the trees."

In a furious daze and experiencing a profound sense of deja vu, Ed next found himself rushing into his front yard, staring into the tree tops. "Curse of a drunken sailor! Damn...th..a..t....clo...w...n....B..O...Z??!!!

Nyce was suddenly shaken back to reality from his daydream by a furious jolting and ominous grinding that filled the Pellucifer Burrower. The Burrower had come to rest again...this time in a blue-lit room filled with control panels, computer terminals and huge computer monitor screens. Four men were scattered around the earth machine with looks of amazement on their faces. The man nearest the machine looked into the forward viewing glass of the Burrower and screamed, "You!!! Ed???"

CHAPTER 47: Mister Bate's Motel

The Cycle Path

Ratz savored the smoke from his last Camel, holding the intoxicating fumes in his lungs until the rising rings from the last exhale had dissipated near the fly-specked ceiling of the cheap motel room.

"Oooh...youse a babe Bert. Watta night!" Ratnaz had never felt so contented in his life and he felt refreshed, despite having spent a sleepless night in which he and the woman he loved had played out their most decadent forbidden fantasies on the wall of their shoddy rented room.

Now with Bertie in the shower, Ratz had a few moments to explore something that had raised his interest when they had checked in during last night's storm. He had been intrigued by the ominous silhouette of an old mansion on the rise a short distance behind the motel. Now in the bright morning sunshine it didn't look so foreboding, but nevertheless his curiosity had been piqued, so he prepared to climb up the cycle trail which wound to the towering gothicesque structure. Besides, the singing from the guests next door was starting to get on his nerves.

If he had examined the hole in the wall above the bed, he never would have left Bertie alone, but as fate would have it, he passed it unnoticed. He did not see then, the unblinking bloodshot eye that had been watching every move in the room, nor did he hear the triumphant whisper from behind the wall as he eased out of the room: "Yeeee-ess!"

The Dead Who Lived

A long-forgotten agility returned to the apeman—before he had adopted the ways of anthropoids, he had suckled at the breast of a foster nanny who had taught him to climb sure-footed, on four legs, over the most rugged of terrain. He instinctively returned to the stance in which he had first learned to walk as a kid.

On hands and knees Ratnaz avoided the front of the house and skirted around to the rear. Drawn by curious squeaking noises he came upon a large deck overlooking a well-manicured garden. His heart raced in anticipation as he saw a row of rocking chairs lined across the deck, and seated on the undulating rockers were pulsating bodies possessing the most gorgeous heads of blonde hair he had ever seen: platinum, blue tint, strawberry—all done up in bouffants, swirls, shags, and some even in the incredibly fetching Grimley Wave. Ratz gasped aloud. As one, the heads turned in his direction and the apeman startled at the array of mummified faces—grimacing toothless caricatures of what once must have been vibrant, ravishing beings. It was all too much for the usually imperturbable hero of so many jungle adventures. Horrified, Ratnaz fell back, lost his footing and tumbled down the rocky escarpment to what he felt must be certain doom.

Slim Whitman's Revenge

While preparing for her shower, Bertie hummed along with the rousing male voices whose ditty could be heard through the paper-thin walls of the motel bathroom: "I'm a lumberjack and I'm Ok ...I cut down trees...I skip and jump..."

"Mm—m...must be a lumberjack convention," she thought aloud, as she stepped under the refreshing cascading waters of the her morning shower.

A few minutes into her bathing ritual she was pleased to see a shadow appear on the other side of the shower curtain. "Ratz, you sexy devil...Can't you wait ' til I'm out of the shower..." The curtain was drawn back abruptly and the startled Bertie screamed as she stared into an ashen face, leering behind thick black horn-rimmed glasses.

As the woman reached to pull the shower curtain around her nakedness, the intruder raised a long threatening instrument above her body and with a maniacal giggle, moved it in a thrusting motion.

"Pass the soap dearie and I'll scrub your back real good."

Bertie screamed again and struggled out of the shower stall, seeing a lathered scrub brush fall to the tiled floor as she pushed aside the intruder. Another scream brought the bathroom door crashing inward as a small army of scarlet-tuniced Royal Canadian Mounties stampeded into the small room to apprehend the molester. The intrepid fighters of crime from the colonies were on hiatus—in town for a Miser Studios cattle call for actors who might be suitable to star in their upcoming live-action production of Dudley Do-Right.

The leader of this band of scarlet men, Sergeant Queen of the Royal Mounted, spoke in a booming voice: "Has this creep been bothering you Ma'am?"

And Now for Something Completely Different...

Ratnaz's plummet down the craggy hillside was retarded by a huge entrance sign at the foot of the hill. Had he noticed the sign on the way in last night he would never have approached the house of horrors above. Ratz struggled to read the letters on the splintered signboard: MISTER BATE'S MOTEL AND HOME FOR RETIRED HOLLYWOOD BLONDE STARLETS. Prophetically, a rude graffititeer long ago had changed the 'I' in MISTER to an 'A'... and the 'ST' in STARLETS to an 'H'—names perhaps more in keeping with the reputation of the establishment.

The dazed and battered apeman's struggles with the intricacies and vagaries of the English alphabet were interrupted by Bertie's cries for help. He turned in time to welcome into his arms a trembling and soap-water drenched figure wrapped in a ragged plastic shower curtain.

"O Ratz...it was awful...take me away from here darling....Honey, what happened to your clothes?!?" The apeman looked down to discover that most of his clothes had been torn away by the horrific tumble down the craggy hillside—once again his attire consisted of leopard patterned underbriefs.

As the two retreated along the roadway they looked back to see a squad of proud, singing mounties escorting the timid and trembling motel manager to their saddled steeds which they had parked along the front of the motel. They were some distance away now but the near-naked apeman could have sworn he heard: "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK...I cut down trees...I skip and jump... I like to press wild flowers...I put on women's clothing ...I cut down trees, I wear high heels ...Suspenders and a bra....Just like my dear Mama."

"Come on Ratz...let's get away from here," begged the trembling woman as they stood amid a cacophony of wolf whistles and blaring car horns from passing motorists.

CHAPTER 48: The Butler Did It!

The Torn Curtain

Despite last night's disasters and this morning's annoyances, Albert Hitchcock's day had turned out pretty well after all. He had found the one remaining Piggly Wiggly store in the city and had stocked up on groceries for the Bryce Lee mansion. His employer had taken the keys to all the vehicles but one—the yellow Yellow Jacket Harley. So, after he had dutifully covered the identifying insignia with gaffer tape, Albert had thundered the powerful motorcycle out of the Ratz Cave in search of provisions.

Hitchcock, a onetime star of scores of B movies—always as the "butler who done it" in mysteries, had been waiting for his big chance to become a director. Meanwhile, when he saw the ad for a butler he knew he was a natural for it. But O the secrets he could tell!

As the faithful butler/valet sped along Ventura Boulevard pulling a shopping cart overflowing with the week's groceries, he came to a tie-up of traffic at the rundown old Bate's Motel. A desperate woman dressed only in a torn shower curtain and accompanied by a long-haired man in a ridiculous loin cloth came running up to him for assistance.

"Please please...can you give us a lift away from here?"

Frenzy

With the scantily-attired woman seated behind him, her arms only half-clasped around his ample girth, and the vaguely familiar-looking wild man teetering precariously on the overloaded grocery cart which trailed behind, Hitchcock was soon back on his way to the Bryce Lee Mansion. He drove on, oblivious to the events which were unfolding behind them. In his wake, an entourage was forming which took on Mardi Gras proportions albeit in a slightly surrealistic fashion:

* A mounted formation of scarlet-tuniced, singing mounties, led by Sergeant Queen of the Royal Mounted, was in hot pursuit, hoping to get a statement from Bertie concerning the shower attack by Motel Master Bates.

* Behind the mounties, a retinue of suddenly-rejuvenated, blonde-wigged, elderly women from the Bate's retirement home had mobilized to track down Ratnaz, the handsome young man who had escaped from their midst—they had assembled in a cortege of walkers, wheelchairs, and motorized carts. And they in turn, were being chased by a pack of frantic nurses and personal care attendants.

* Along the way, Hitchcock and his charges passed a magenta-hued club house of a gay biker gang—Rock's Angels—and the members who had been primping and preening out front were soon closing in to get a closer look at the special custom designed yellow Harley—and if truth be known some were more than a little interested in the muscled hunk piloting the trailing shopping cart.

* Also drawn into this procession was a troop of boys who were loyal members of the Ratnaz Clan—a boys club that Edgar Nyce had founded to involve the youth of America in upstanding clean living and noble back-to-nature activities. The figurehead of the clan was no other than the mighty Ratnaz whose chiseled profile was recognized immediately by every member of the club. This august band of little men raised their middle fingers in the official salute and lit out on trundling little legs in chase of their supreme leader—all the while chanting their pledge of allegiance.

* Rounding out the morning parade was a motley assortment of older, hot-blooded and panting males racing in hot pursuit to get a better look at Bertie's shower curtain encased body.

* Trailing far behind the pack was a gray-haired man in the uniform of a supermarket security guard.

The California morning air was saturated with a chaotic roar of voices: "I'm a lumber jack and that's OK....Albert Hitchcock—stop! we're members of your fan club.

"I just laaauve saffron hogs...wait for me big guy...we always get our man...thief—bring back that shopping cart... Ratnaz—my hero...watta hunk...get a load of those melons... is this the creep, Ma'am?...I pledge to always lower the toilet seat after using...

[Editor's note: This is silly dialogue...please refer to the addendum at the end of this chapter for much more convincing stuff that our stable of writers are furiously rewriting so as to salvage this bit of drivel.]

The Trouble with Ratnaz

The ever resourceful butler turned into an overgrown and little-used shortcut back to hilltop mansion and quickly lost the determined pursuers. Meanwhile, back in the shopping cart, Ratnaz was suffering self-inflicted jabs to his right temple while hungrily eyeing the mound of rutabagas and bananas at the bottom of the shopping cart on which he held tenuous sway.

Recognizing the symptoms of an approaching relapse, Bertie shouted back, "Husk a banana, Ratz! You need something in your stomach."

"SUSQUAHANNA!!!! Did somebody say SUSQUAHANNA HAT COMPANY!?!?!"

Bertie rolled her eyes as Ratz plunged into an old Abbott & Costello vaudeville routine making a somewhat less than successful attempt at doing both voices. By the time the mansion came into view, the apeman-cum-vaudevillian had plunged into the opening routine of "Who's on First" but suddenly abandoned that routine to burst into song: "It's a Nyce World after all...It's a ...."

As Albert guided his bizarre tandem vehicle into the cave entrance of Ed's now-partially disassembled Nyce World, Ratnaz completely lost it. The Lord of the Leaves upset the banana cart and went into a broken field dash through the disheveled displays until Bertie lost sight of him in the deep recesses of the cavern. His screams echoed off the cave walls: "OB!...Ed!..I'm home....O No!...Now! I remember...Now I! remember... Now I remember! It's behind the cave wall!!!"

[Editor's Note: We've had complaints from our readers about our writers' choice of titles. Many have suggested that they have been irrelevant, irreverent, and just plain silly. We have made repeated suggestions concerning the appropriateness of these titles but so far our unusual gang of idiots have ignored us and all warnings have gone unheeded. Wanted: Immediately... new writers!]

CHAPTER 49: The Fall and Rise of the Phantom Empire

Plunge of the Loonie Loo

Herlock Cabyn's first move in trying to unravel the apparent elaborate charade surrounding Brace Bozhart's replacement by an imposter involved searching the BB Inc. office for clews. "Come Datsun we have no time to waste, I fear that the man posing as Bozhart shall return at any moment."

As Datsun rifled through the massive oak desk with built-in file cabinets, Cabyn checked the room where even the most clandestine of individuals always let down their guard—the loo. As he poked through the medicine cabinet, something in the mirror caught his eye: the bowl of the American Standard commode was absolutely dry and appeared never to have been used.

"Most irregular," muttered Cabyns to himself. Despite the fact that this was a private off-office convenience, surely Bozhart would have had some occasion to use it. "Datsun! Come...I need you," he hailed.

As Datsun made his way to the little room, Cabyns tried the flush handle of the toilet. To their amazement, the door slid shut on its own—almost crushing the bewildered assistant who leaped into the room to join Caybyns at the last moment. Over a rising chorus of mechanical and electronic sounds they could clearly hear a soothing voice which advised, "Please be seated and grasp the handicap rail for support." Cabyns instinctively took up position on the molded toilet seat, while an increasingly desperate Datsun crawled onto his lap.

Before they had time to collect their thoughts, the entire bathroom was plunging downward, accelerating to a frightful velocity. After what seemed an interminable journey, the plunging bathroom came to an abrupt braking halt, tossing the two passengers onto the suddenly very warm tiled floor—their two trembling bodies still locked in a clutching embrace. The noise of an opening door caused both men to look up in bewilderment.

"So Cabyns, you've found out our little secret have you?" snarled a slightly sarcastic voice from the entrance to their increasingly loony loo.

They were staring at Brace Bozhart whom they had seen just minutes before climbing to the roof of the Chicken Ranch Vacation House...in an entirely different set of clothes!

"I say Bozhart, is that you?" queried the suspicious sleuth from his cramped position wedged between the toilet bowl and the shower stall.

"Yes. Good to see you again, its been a while. Here, take my hand Cabyns," came the reply.

Datsun muttered under his breath, "Awhile? Yeah, five minutes."

Bozharts Abound

The famous detective clasped Bozhart's outstretched hand and found himself pulled out into a large futuristic room bathed in blue light. Looking around, incredulous, he exclaimed: "What is this place Bozhart...I AM speaking to the real Bozhart am I not sir?"

"I fear I owe you an explanation Cabyns. I should have known that you are too clever a man to be so easily duped. The man who met you and brought you to the Vacation House is a stand-in - an impostor if you will - but more accurately, a bionic android."

Both Cabyns and Datsun looked on with cocked heads and disbelieving looks.

"You see gentlemen, my life is in danger. Because of this and for other reasons which I am not at liberty to disclose at the moment, I had to go underground. Welcome, my old friends, to the Phantom Empire!"

Park Wars: May the Best Park Win

You see, I have known for some time now that Edgar Nyce and Nick Miser were working on rival underground prehistoric theme parks. My spies told me that Ed had some cockeyed plan to use magic bananas to achieve his goal. So far I have not been able to uncover his secret plan but I think I have driven him out of business. I do know that Miser of Rodentland has his Lost Land theme park near completion using his advanced animatronics technology. My plan is to outdo him - and Nyce - at their own games, so we have imported some of the best scientific minds to work on even more advanced robotics and bionic research."

Looking around the room, Cabyns noted scores of blue-jump-suited technicians seated at endless rows and banks of computer terminals and monitor screens. All were staring beyond their work stations through large sheets of protective viewing glass—intently studying something just beyond the detective's range of view.

"Over there, in the double breasted jump suit is top German/Russian scientist Dr. Von Brawny who defected from Russia after designing the MIRE space station. The fellow over by the genetic pool, yes that one, the one with the electrodes in the temples is Dr. Li-Chan Monreau. I had him transported all the way from a remote island in the South Pacific. The rest of the team are hand-picked experts from every corner of the world."

At that moment there were power surges and failures which played havoc with the illumination and the data readouts on the computer monitors. "Damn that German/Russian fellow!" cursed Bozhart.

Bozhart (BNT/WBBS/BCM), the Serial King

Things soon returned to normal and Bozhart, the second Boz they had met that day, carried on with his story: "Then fortune smiled on us, my English friends. As you know, BB Inc. has extensive entertainment and telecommunications holdings. Sometime ago we aquired the old Mascot Film Studios. While plundering their archives hoping to find enough material to create a Cliffhanger Superchannel for cable distribution, I managed to open a special vault which contained master films as well as shooting scripts, set plans and location maps from that old cowboy/SciFi serial they produced back in the early '30s—The Phantom Empire. The producers had stumbled across a deserted kingdom 20,000 feet under the old Gene Autry Radio Ranch and had developed a whole serial around this amazing discovery. Mascot Pictures covered up the many disasters they ran into while filming this serial and those who survived the shoot vowed to deny that any such place ever existed...and all records were either destroyed or buried in secret film vaults. Thanks to my remarkable diligence and perseverance, the Phantom Empire is reborn. WE are going to blow Miser's Lost Land and Nyce's Geriatric Park OFF THE MAP!!! "

"But surely Mr. Bozhart, there must be some setbacks and difficulties in bringing to fruition a plan set on so vast a scale?" asked an amazed Cabyns.

"We have the technology my good man! Once we find a way of closing up the giant rift to the surface which was torn open by a recent earthquake...and work out a few quirks with our bionic prehistoric flying creatures...we will open the greatest primordial theme park attraction known to man!" boasted a suddenly belligerent Bozhart. "Nothing can stop us!"

At that moment a number of calamitous events occurred almost simultaneously. One side of the control room gave completely away, causing a domino-effect of crashing panels of thick viewing glass beyond the computer workstations. Cabyns and Datsun looked beyond the shattered glass and were horrified to see a menacing giant lizard bird flying toward them with a bleeding burro dangling from its cruel talons.

As the two Brits took cover from the attacking lizard bird in the bathroom conveyor, the last words they heard before the door whizzled shut were—distorted and unintelligble!


PART II


CHAPTER 50: When Worlds Collide—Violently

The hatch of the Pellucifar Burrower opened. Standing at the base of the huge machine four men watched with hard eyes as Ed Nyce, Lord Greatstrokes and the indefatigable Nappie emerged. Nyce had a little trouble navigating the embedded foot recesses on the side of the monster machine, but one man stepped forward to guide the old author's toe into the first. He then moved back, waiting until the inner earth travelers had dismounted.

Nyce scowled at the sight of the tall figure in the grey jumpsuit. His eyes were drawn to the blazing jewel mounted on the handsome fellow's wrist. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Edgar Nyce furrowed his brow and addressed the stiffly erect figure.

"So, we finally met, Gimball Ginsu. Where's your master, that old reprobate Doctor G. G. Smthye?"

Ginsu kept his temper in check. As a Grey Gemsman he was honor-bound to serve and protect. especially since the insidious Borschtone were everywhere. "The good doctor is well, though he is currently engaged on a mission with the Skycar of Valentino, multiple universes away, a distance so great that light travelling from there to here has not yet crossed the limitless space between, riding on energies liberated from the fission of ordinary copper, an apparantly inexhaustible source of power."

Carmon Nappie scratched his head. "Ay hop' they tooka Mastercard an' Visa wi'h 'em. American Express hain't past Pluto, yet."

Greatstrokes barked the engineer's shin with a well-polished boot. "Devon McGuinness," he said, extending his hand. "Sorry for barging in like that," he nodded toward the huge hole behind the Pellucifar Burrower. "My card, sir. We will promptly pay any damages done." Greatstrokes had no intention of honoring that glibly-voiced commitment, but saw no reason to enlighten the fellow, who looked and acted suspisciously like an arm of the law.

The card was intercepted by a blonde-haired man wearing an aerodynamically streamlined helmet fitted with a shark-like fin. He wore an interesting jet-like device strapped on his back. Adam Drainge tapped the pasteboard with a well-manicured fingernail. "I know you."

Greatstrokes arched a brow. "I am sorry, sir, you have the advantage."

"You operate an electronics communication company in tandem with your holdings in Scottish golf courses. I had it in mind to pay you a visit."

The English lord smiled. "A business proposition? Why, of course! We are always open to new investors."

"I see we have a failure to communicate already," Drainge growled. "Your communications system interrupts my transfers from earth to the beyond. I haven't seen Atlanta, the love of my life, a sweet dear on a world of untold terrors, in months. And that does not sit well with me."

Greatstrokes blinked, taken aback. As words formed in his mouth, a third man closed in, an imposing figure wearing a red cloak with an erect hood. He wore a dark blue body stocking which clearly revealed his slim figure and well-filled codpiece. His small, neatly-trimmed mustache curled in a snarl.

"Before you take a bite out of our unexpected guest, Adam, I have a thing or two to say myself. Last year I was hired by Greatstrokes' Scottish subsidiary to exorcise a bevy of banshees from an ancient castle—so that it might be converted into a fashionable clubhouse. I performed my end, at some peril to myself I might add, and was stiffed on payment."

Nappie leaned close and whispered to McGuinness. "It's that Dr. Mange, Lard. We owe him 20,000."

In an equally quiet voice, the nervous Englishman replied to Carmon. "What have we got ourselves into, Nappie?"

The fourth man, a barbaric figure with broad chest, over-developed muscles and wearing a short kilt or loincloth, shouldered the others aside. He glared unwaveringly at Edgar Nyce. "I've always wanted to meet you, Nyce."

Edgar, tired, weary, and a few shots shy on his daily allowance of scotch, thrust his chin forward. "And who might you be?"

"Brandon of Terra.You've maligned Otis Elevator Klimb for the last time!" The barbaric figure drew a deadly-looking sword and brandished it.

Gimball Ginsu held up the hand adorned with the deadly-looking sparklie. "Hold!" his voice thundered in the cavernous room as he brandished it. "There will be no killing here today."

Drainge scowled, drawing a deadly-looking pistol of futuristic design and brandished it. "Back off, Ginsu. This man has distrupted my conjugal visits with Atlanta, and I mean to see the end of it!"

The man in the cape was not to be outdone. He hocus-pocused a brilliant, deadly-looking fire-ball, which he brandished suspended between his hands without mirrors or wires. Dr. Mange spoke in a spectral voice. "My magic reveals evil in this place—and it comes from Lord Greatstrokes!"

Carmon Nappie drew a deadly-looking salami sandwich from his hip pocket and garnished it with a wax-paper wrapped dill pickle. "Looks lik' t'is time da piper played 'is tune, Lard."

Ed Nyce drew a deadly-looking cigarette from his pocket and brandished a lighter. Lighting up, he blew smoke in the Prince of Porthole's face. "Brandon of Terra, you tell that hack Klimb that anytime he wants to face off, I'm ready."

Brandon of Terra raised his arm to decapitate Ed Nyce. Ginsu flashed a beam of energy from his gem which stopped the motion. Drainge fired at Greatstrokes at the same time Dr. Mange released his fireball. The two forces of science and magic collided, neutralizing each other.

Gimball Ginsu was suddenly faced by an irate swordsman, who took several cuts forcing the Grey Gemsman to back-peddle. Mange shrieked at Drainge and built another magical weapon to hurl at the beam-riding earthman. Adam nipped that in the bud by focusing his pistol's energy into the purple-red spirit fire.

Nappie chewed thoughtfully as the battle escalated between super-heroes.

Ed Nyce nudged Greatstroke's ribs. "Time to take a powder, McGuinness—unless you want to be around when they are through amusing themselves."

Greatstrokes smiled at the crafty old author. "You sly devil, OB! You turned them against one another!"

"I couldn't have done it without your help," Nyce said, mounting the Pellucifar Burrower with a half-smoked cigarette dangling from his mouth.

"I don't understand, old boy," Greatstrokes responded, close on Edgar's heels.

Inside the burrower, with Nappie choking down the remainder of his sandwich to take his place at the controls, Greatstrokes cornered Nyce for an answer.

The author chuckled. "Hell, son, they uniformly hated you. Each one wanted a piece of you, Greatstrokes. All I did was set off that meat-head Brandon. Klimb never could match me for creating characters with strength, restraint and honor."

"They intended to kill me, and you deliberately started a row?" There was a murderous look in the Englishman's eyes.

Nyce grinned, stubbing out the cigarette as the earth mole moved forward. "Drainge and Mange wanted to be the one to do you in, sir. Brandon wanted to do me. I knew I could count on G. G.'s pompous Grey Gemsman to interfere because G. G. always interferes. You were in no danger."

Carmon Nappie belched, the salami not sitting well. He turned his head to look over his shoulder. "Where to, Lard?"

Nyce spoke. "There's no reason to change plans, Greatstrokes."

Outside the thick armored hull a titantic battle raged, science vs magic vs barbarism. Greatstrokes listened to the engines of the Pellucifar Burrower for an instant, then grinned. "He's right, Nappie. Find us a bank."

tangor@erblist.com

BOOK IV


CHAPTER 51: Riders of the Purple Stage

Jane Porker-Bozhart entered the Tappan Range Chicken Shack Vacation via a side door. She was not seen, nor had it been her desire to be seen. Mounting a little used stairwell at the west side, she entered a private room and changed into jeans and a sensible plaid flannel shirt. Dainty feet were thrust into no-nonsense boots with an exaggerated cowboy heel, and a rather ratty Stetson of non-descript color was jammed over her beautiful hair. Leaning over a dressing table, the gorgeous woman wiped away all trace of feminine warpaint, getting as plain as God would allow—and fortunately for mankind, there was little she could do to undo His good work.

The disguise complete, Jane hitched up her loose-fitting jeans and adopted a studied bow-legged walk as she headed downstairs. If Cilli Billman was on schedule, she would be a dozen miles away from the Chicken Shack by now. Mrs. Bozhart's plan depended upon the wife of the West Virginian Canuck and she wished the woman well as she entered the main room downstairs.

Two dozen prominent captains of industry and public officials were engaged in hot and heavy intercourse with sweaty decks of abused cards. Jane Porker-Bozhart walked around the perimeter of her husband's popular resort, unnoticed by the men who were engaged in ardent bidding with extravagantly dressed women of questionable repute.

Brace had assured Jane that the women were of the highest quality, but as she passed table number three, she heard Nancy Draw, in bobby soxs and a felt skirt, bid double and re-doubled on a Diamond bid. Jane, like most of the readers of this increasingly inane story, had no concept of whether Hoyle's rules were in effect or not—and the Hoyle in mind was not the card shark but that often misunderstood science fiction writer responsible for unremembered sagas of speculative literature.

In any event, Jane successfully navigated the room, heading for the garage exit. But just as she was about to leave, a man's hand clasped her elbow.

Surburban Cowgirl

Marlin Brandough, one of the club's bouncers, leaned into Jane's face with a blue-chinned scowl. "Yer late, ya dizzy dame," he said, adjusting a too-tight leather jacket about his hard body. The man's lip curled in a sharp sneer. "Da boys is restless, chick. They's been waiting."

Brandough dragged Jane through the crowd to the stage where an Armitron Electric Bull was surrounded by a half-dozen feather mattresses. "Git yerself up, girlie," he said, picking Jane up by her slim waist and putting her astride the well-polished leather back of the mechanical bull.

Brandough leaned in close, still not recognizing his boss' wife, and said, "Tight jeans. dat's whatcha need. Show your skinny fanny next time. Dat's what the geeks pays for. Ya know," he confided, shoving Jane's feet into the stirrups, "I coulda been a contender. Grab on tight, honey, we's gonna buck a while, jest you an' me."

If not for the need to maintain complete anonymity, Jane Porker-Bozhart would have exercised her feminine outrage and slapped the cock-sure male. As it was, she maintained a tight grip, not only on her anger but the talc-encrusted rope which provided the only hand-hold on the mechanial beast. Marlin Brandough grinned sardonically as he reached for the controls which activated the electric bull.

Meanwhile, a dozen miles away, Cilli Billman gripped the steering wheel of a battered Ford F-100 pickup of dubious reliability. She had driven north of Los Angeles into the mountains on back roads throughout the night, the blazing fires and heavy smoke near Ratnaza always in her rearview mirror. Would she be in time?

In a cul-de-sac of one of the many canyons east and north of the metropolitan area, Cilli finally reached her destination. It was a simple two story, $12.6 million dollar fix-'er-up with a wrought iron fence and electric gate. Reaching the driveway intercom, Cilli took a moment to catch her breath. A moment later she pressed the button. A sleepy voice responded.

"I'm here to pick up my kids," Cilli announced.

"'Bout time," a woman's voice replied. "Come on up to the main house."

The electric gate swung wide. Cilli Billman gripped the steering wheel on the rattling F-100 and wrestled the pickup along a winding drive decorated with under-watered shrubs, lawn jockeys and sun-faded plastic pink flamingos.

Willie and Phillie and Milli and Vanilli were standing in an orderly row at the foot of a red-tiled portico of the typical Southwester adobe and plaster mansion. Beside them, brown hair in rollers and wearing a bathrobe and bunny slippers, was the woman who'd agreed to babysit while Cilli helped Jane Porker-Bozhart.

Before Cilli could shift gears into neutral and set the emergency brake, the woman had descended on the driver's side with a sharp expression. "It's about time you picked up your brats!" the woman shrieked.

"I'm sorry, Ms. Sotts," Cilli replied. "Annie—I really tried to get here on time."

The semi-attractive actress, always around the pheriphery of Hollywood success, gripped the dusty F-100's window ledge and scowled. "I never had this much trouble with Deltoid Quirk on Architectural Women! The way I see it, you owe ME money!"

Cilli Billman nodded, but her eyes were on the rear of the truck via the dirty rear-view mirror. Her kids stealthily climbed into the rusted truck bed as Annie Sotts shook a well-manicured finger in her face. "Yes, Ms. Sotts. I'll pay the repairs, Ms. Sotts. Whatever you say, Ms. Sotts."

Vanilli was the last to enter, carrying Phillie the gifted toddler-of-arts in her arms. When the children were settled Cilli Billman's voice took on a different tone as she simultaneously shifted into first. "You can kiss my grits, Ms. Sotts!"

Cilli Billman spun tires accellerating down the drive. She caught a glimpse of Annie Sotts saluting her with a rude gesture in the rear-view mirror, but she paid little attention as her whole being focused on exiting the estate before the woman could reach the controls governing the electric gate.

Gaining the main road, the fires of Los Angeles to the west, Cilli Billman pushed the tired truck to its limits, achieving 38 miles per hour in second gear, third being not an option as it had been burned out long before. Her brave Canuck West Virginian or West Virginian Canuk—depending on how many beers had been consumed—had done well in the employ of Brace Bozhart, but failed to invest in the family vehicle.

Dawn was near, the sun beginning to rise over the peaks to the east. Cilli Billman looked over her shoulder to make sure the kids were alright, humming that rock anthem of the Mid-Hippies while she glanced to make sure the kids were alright [editor's note: too obvious? Did you fail to register the refrain referencing The Who's semi-famous "The Kids Are Alright"? which fortunately has not been made into another deplorable automobile commercial—though that might happen if any advertising agents are reading this and say, "Hey, that would make a great commercial if we had a sturdy-built vehicle in need of market penetration being driven in an action-sequence with a bunch of kids strapped down (Federal and State laws, the political basketball of passenger side air bag fatalities of young children totally ignored) in the back seat of a speeding vehicle while Mom embarks on a cross-country drive?")

The momentary inattention to the deserted road was the downfall of Cilli Billman. The F-100 fell into a deep chasm which transected the lonely road. Frantic, concerned for her babies, the woman reached down and grabbed the well-worn transmission lever and screamed, "Aw, shift!"

CHAPTER 52: Gnu of the Plasticene

Dan Darter waited until sunrise before leaving La Gaspack Tar Pits. He had been mildly entertained by an excited burbling and gushing of prehistoric tar which seemed almost human in origin. He imagined a vehicle of some kind plowing through the black muck which was a present-day link to the mysteries of the past. But he knew that was only a case of vivid night dreams on his part.

With the rising of old Sol, the Sun, the Star and the center of the Solar System, an insignificant yellow object in the larger Milky Way, which was even more insignificant in the brotherhood of galaxies—still only a minor player in the game of universes—which was only a hiccup in the extremities of infinity, yet only a forgotten page in the book of page one of eternity, an unsingular footnote in Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and not even a speck of dust in G. G. Smyth's Gemsman's series, Dan Darter wiped antediluvian tar from his face and stepped behind a rather dry and forlorn bush to eliminate that which had accumulated during the hours proceeding, sheepishly grasping the fleshy flexible duct utilized for that very purpose, releasing a stream of liquid toxins from the anatomical structure which Nature had evolved for that very purpose.

"Hold!" a stentorian voice blared.

Dan Darter held it, but his knees quivvered rapidly as he held it. "Jeeze," he muttered, "I can't hold it. I gotta go!"

"This is a site where endangered species dwell. You cannot go here."

Darter, smiling as he contemplated dismembering the disembodied voice, said, "Sod off, you old, (Language too strong for mixed company. Expletive deleted...the editor). When you gotta go, you gotta go!"

"Release not that which might compromise the sacred environment," the voice sternly rumpled. "Too soon will the deluge of retribution of progress uncheck shall descend upon us all."

The ex-ultralight mercenary grinned. "Hey, Noah! Deluge this, you figment of my imagination. Prepare for a flood!" Darter released the product of his kidneys with a sigh.

Moments later the ground shuddered as a 8.2 on the Richter scale earth tremor shuddered the arid landscape outside of burning Los Angeles.

Darter barely had time to do himself up before the ground split beneath his very feet. The mercenary screamed "Maaaammmmaaa!" as the earth swallowed him up.

Aftermath of The Blazing Inferno

Elsewhere, Mars Markus and Kojak Morris, still saddled with the now sober Llana of Baseball, had endured a terrifying night of three-handed Hearts in the basement of a deserted building. The fire which had consumed thirty percent of the metroplex, and which still raged out of control to the south and east, had inexplicably burned blocks all around but had left their refuge intact.

Emerging from the soot-blackened structure, assaulted by lingering heat from smouldering piles of rubble and ash, the intrepid trio ignored tummy growls reminding all it had been some time since their last meal. Markus, the fighting man of bars, led the way to sunlight and devastation. Kojak Morris, having come to admire Llana's inante card sense and masterful ability to keep feeding him the bitch queen at every opportunity, was solicitious of her navigation through the destroyed city.

"Really weird," Mars Markus said, looking with sad eyes upon the ruins, "not a soul, not a creature, not a blade of grass..."

Kojak punched the man's shoulder. "There never was any grass, you idiot! Concrete, brick, glass, steel and aluma—alumin—al—that light-weight metal they use in airplanes and cheap disk drives."

The fighting barman offered no response, more important things had come to mind; such as the astonishing sight of an extinct pterodon winging over the city! The flying creature's thirty-foot wing spread rivalled that of a single-engine fighter and it seemed fully capable of achieving Mach One as it dived upon them!

CHAPTER 53: "How Do You Do What You Do To Me?"

"Those ain't birds, boss, they're bats!" Splay-Toe ducked as a California fruit bat flapped straight for his red hair—probably believing it a rather large and tasty apple.

The mighty Yellow Jacket held arms in front of his face as the thunderous din of flying mammals whipped by, his body tingling from the combined echo-locating squeaks emitted by the frightened creatures. Several thumped into Bryce Lee's muscular body, to fall stunned at his feet.

Their vehicle was not to be seen in the whirling cloud of excited fruit bats. "They've cut us off! This way, O faithful Splay-Toe!"

Head down, arm raised, Bryce Lee dragged the reluctant wannabe Cantonese by the stub of his recently shortened que. Splay-Toe flailed with his deadly cleaver, though connecting with the nimble beasts proved to be impossible.

The pair stumbled foward into the seemingly inehaustible mass of bats until Bryce bumped into a stalagtite (or is it stalagmite? Who cares?) slick with the mineral rich moisture which had formed the mighty column over a period of 100,000 years. "Ophf!" Bryce grunted when Splay-Toe bumped into him.

Sheltered by the water-formed column, the two men took a breather. A few moments later it seemed the torrent of flying fluff and leathery wings diminished and soon only occasional stragglers were seen, winging toward a distant openning which neither man could see.

"I wonder what set them off?" the Yellow Jacket mused.

"I don't care," Splay-Toe said, examining the unstained keen edge of his wicked cleaver. "I can't believe I didn't at least clip one of them!"

"Tut tut, my good fellow," Lee remarked, his easy manner and adventurous spirit rekindled by the respite. "Leave us to explore this hitherto unknown cave formation below the sprawling pestilence known as the City of Angles."

"That's 'Angels'," Splay-Toe suggested.

"You have it your way, I'll have it mine," the masked crime fighter rebuked. "Come, it is time to get on with the story."

The crusaders against Brace Bozhart, BB, Inc., and Red Dye No. 3, commenced a rapid exploration of the immense cavern. The walls glowed with sufficient light from phosphorescent lichens and fungi that visibility was reasonable. Several large tunnels converged upon the main chamber. Bryce took one that was free of bat guano, which was several feet thick everywhere else.

He was intrigued by the walls, which showed signs of having been smoothed and widened by intelligent hand, and the only creature to make such efforts was man.

"We may be travelling where no human has travelled in a million years," Lee announced, his voice echoing like some over-driven spring reverb in a cheap guitar amp. "Look here, and there!" he said, rushing forward to examine the marks upon the tunnel's wall. "Obviously worked by man. Oh, this is so exciting!"

Splay-Toe, worn out by his recent misadventures, was slow to follow. He was tired. He hadn't slept all night, some of his usual get up and go had got up and went. Getting knocked out of the sky hadn't helped. Thus, he was some distance behind his master when he heard a curious sound in the distance ahead.

It was a low throbbing at first, then came occasional sharp reports mixed in with the sound that kept getting louder. Then Splay-Toe noticed an odd bobbing light which transvered ceiling to floor in a rapid and erratic fashion. A running figure came toward him, outlined by the light which grew more harsh as the seconds passed. It was Bryce Lee, sprinting as if all the devils of Hell were upon his tail.

"What is it, boss?" the inscruitable Canadian chinaman asked.

"Run for your life!" Bryce shrieked, eyes distended with terror.

Never had the sidekick seen the big boy so distraught. Some of Lee-Bozhart's fear was transmitted to the yellow-dyed feet in black slippers; Splay-Toe's earlier fatigue forgotten. "If'n we're gonna die, Bryce, tell me what's going to kill us? A monster? A flood? A..."

Without pausing, or looking over his shoulder, Bryce Lee responded: "It is more horrible than any of those things!"

The noise behind them increased to such a level that the roar and rumble hurt eardrums. "Sounds like a freight train!" Splay-Toe yelled.

"Far worse than that, my friend," Bryce shouted. "It's a woman behind the wheel of a pickup truck!"

CHAPTER 54: Send it the Clones

Cabyns and Datsun cringed as the sounds of battle raged outside the elevator loo. Shouts and screams, some human, some not, came through the panel in an incredible wave. Datsun wiggled the handle on the porcelin throne, but to no avail. The conveyance stubbornly refused to move!

Something began attacking the door, which groaned and bent under the titanic force. What manner of creature lay beyond neither man could comprehend, but surely it must be their doom.

Equally appalling was the sudden THUD on the roof of the elevator. Now they were menaced from two directions! Though the door continued to hold, it would not hold much longer, yet it seemed less of a danger than the thing on the roof which had somehow opened the upper hatch!

A tentacle whipped into the compartment, writhing furiously, lashing about and striking both British subjects. The usually calm Cabyns wailed and poor Dr. Datsun fainted. Holding his Pez injector in a trembling right hand, Herlock Cabyns prepared to sell his life as dearly as possible.

An instant later Cabyns leaned against the water cabin's cabinets wishing for a strong cabernet. Clad in black from head to foot, a mountaineer's climbing rig about his lean waist, Brace Bozhart, or the imposter Brace Bozhart, landed lightly on the tiled floor.

"We must hurry," the imposing figure said calmly. "The door won't hold much longer."

"How?" Herlock asked, assisting the handsome man in lifting the reviving Datsun from the floor.

"Leave that to me," the Bozhart lookalike smiled. "Up we go, Dr. Datsun!"

With an unconscious display of his incredible strength, Bozhart lifted the overweight Datsun well above the edge of the access hatch. Heartbeats later Herlock Cabyns joined the confused physician.

"I say, Cabyns, that can't be Brace Bozhart!"

"I know," the frowning consulting detective whispered as the man effortlessly pulled himself up the rope, "but at the moment, he is our only hope. Play along, Datsun, until we can learn more."

The dark-haired man motioned for his companions to join him on the left side of the elevator. Overhead a maze of wire and cables, with occasional dim work lights, indicated the tremendous depth of the narrow shaft. Working quietly, swiftly, yet seemingly unperturbed, their rescuer fastened short web belts about each waist, then clipped a snap hook onto the rope which he held in one hand. Producing a knife with a long gleaming blade, the man smiled.

"Be not afraid, gentlemen, though I do suggest you hold on."

His hand flicked out slicing a taut cable. Almost instantly all three were jerked upwards with astonishing force. The man in black kept them from spinning wildly at the end of the ascending rope by using a gloved hand around another cable. A quiet warning came just as the heavy counterweight descended at the opposite side of the shaft. Datsun, poor soul, emitted a shriek which stopped almost immediately.

"Beg pardon," the embarrassed man said. "Surprised me."

"There is one more surprise," their mysterious benefactor said, "and here it is."

Herlock Cabyns, to his dying day, could never believe what happened next. The man, with knife in one hand, kicked against the wall to cause them to swing out into the shaft then, just below one of several openings they had passed, cut the rope!

The return swing, their upward velocity, the man's incredible sense of timing and calculation, had caused their entrance into a side tunnel with nary a jar upon the feet. The Englishmen were in a state of shock as the man removed web belts and took them by the elbow. They went where they were led, faces drained of all blood, knees weak and trembling.

The route was confusing, as it was near utter darkness, but their guide seemed unimpeded by the blackness. Turns were made without falter or hesitation. What manner of man was this? Herlock Cabyns asked himself. He is indominable, strong...perfect! Never have I met such a man in my life!

"Oh, dear Lord!" Datsun cried with relief as the last turning revealed a spot of light ahead. "We are saved!"

The tunnel let onto the side of one of the mighty peaks surrounding the Tappan Range. The entrance was concealed behind a growth of trees. The slope below was relatively gentle compared to the heights above. Cabyns and Datsun blinked as they entered the sunlight. The breeze from the ocean was strong, but carried the stench of burning Los Angeles. On the horizon a thick cloud of ugly smoke rose from thousands of buildings on fire.

The man in black, most strikingly handsome, accepted the profuse gratitude with a slight smile. "You are needed Herlock Cabyns, that's why I interceded. Beware, sir, and you too, Datsun, all is not as it seems. Be wary of those calling themselves 'Bozhart' for they are none of them what they claim."

"And how do you know this?" Datsun sputtered. "Why, looking at you, it appears the same could be said..."

"I agree," the man in black smiled, "but for one difference."

Cabyns narrowed his eyes, his deductive mechanisms running full tilt. "What difference?"

"I am the original," he said, and vanished into the black tunnel.

CHAPTER 55: Tinsel Town

Nick Miser threw up his hands. "What a time for a fire! Damn inconvenient if you ask me. Still, this won't affect our fabulous production of Edgar Nyce's Ratnaz, Lord of the Leaves. Should it, Brace?"

The immaculately attired business man sipped coffee in Miser's inner office, the morning sun shining through the floor to ceiling windows. The panorama beyond displayed the mountains to the north and east, the ocean to the west, and the thick column of smoke rising over what had been Los Angeles, Mendicino, Ratnaza, and a dozen other small cities and towns. How Hollywood had been spared was a mystery, though it is well known that regardless of shame or tragedy, Hollywood always came up smelling like roses. Of course, those roses might be atop a large pile of farmer's friend.

Brace set down the cup bearing a stylized Randy Rodent logo and considered the question behind steepled fingers. "There will be very little impact," he predicted. Fair Helium Supply had been missed by the raging inferno, thus sales of that exotic gas to Rodent Pictures were unaffected. "However, Nick, you know I have been against this film from the beginning. Sales of Ratnaz adventures at book stores are at an all time low. There will never be another printing revival such as we saw in the 1960's when it was through that Edgar Nyce's copyrights had expired. Fully a third of the Ratnaz novels are public domain and are available for free on the Internet. The possibilities for secure markets—and profitablity—seem rather slim."

Miser pooh poohed the nay-saying. "We've got that locked up. Nyce had to sign a rather one-sided licensing agreement that gives us exclusive use of the Ratnaz trademark for two years—and forbids him from granting use to anyone else during that time. Ratnaz lunch boxes, Ratnaz t-shirts, Ratnaz notebooks and school supplies, Ratnaz shoes, Ratnaz comic books, Ratnaz books—ours, naturally—Ratnaz underwear for both boys and girls, Ratnaz coasters, Ratnaz sunglasses, Ratnaz..."

The studio exec excitedly paced his spacious office, expounding on the target markets his ad groups were exploring. He was so caught up in the fantasy of several billion dollars flowing through the company coffers that he failed to note that Brace Bozhart winched each time 'Ratnaz' was mentioned. It was as if a sharp stick had been poked in the listener's eye. Miser's tirade of capitalism unleashed continued without abatement until Bozhart rose.

"Listen, NM, OB queues licensees like supermarkets cue customers. With him it is in one door and out the other. The result is there have been many bad Ratnaz licenses issued and the public has been burned. The animated series didn't last. That goofy TV series with the ex-jock had a short run. The comics wouldn't stand the insane editorial control, and I have no doubts that Edgar Nyce won't be very nice to work with. Mark my words."

Miser stopped pacing, looking at his visitor with direct gaze. "I know you were the one who put us back on track by suggesting that fish girl story, the girl and the beast story, and that Arabian Nights thing, and I admit you counciled against the deformed bell-ringer and the indian princess story and box office sales seem to bear your predictions out, but damn it, Brace, this is Ratnaz, the Lord of the Leaves! Quick as a cat, fast as a deer... great stuff! Ratnaz has been an American Icon for over 80 years. This character is too popular not to be exploited. And by golly, we're just the outfit to do it!"

Smiling cordially, Brace Bozhart extended his hand. The two shook warmly. "Keep me posted, NM. Though I do not have a lot of faith in the Ratnaz property, I have plenty in what you and your company can do. Oh, I left a little token of my esteem with your secretary. The short you produced for BB, Inc. was excellent. I'll see you at the club?"

Miser looked momentarily distracted, shocked Brace would mention the notorious Chicken Shack Vacation House where prying ears could overhear. Then he shrugged that aside because he was so powerful that if anyone did speak out of turn, he'd have them fired, and maybe killed if he thought it worth the trouble. "Tomorrow night. Big do at the arena—no," he laughed, "I guess that event has been cancelled on account of fire!"

CHAPTER 56: Savage Ratnaza

Bertie and Albert listened to the dying echoes of Ratnaz's voice. The again head-bonked Lord of the Leaves was temporarily insane. Bertie Ketchum, fetchumly wrapped in a see-through shower curtain flush a blush as crimson as her hair. She was not embarrassed for her state of undress, she had worked in far less during her years as a NATO spy, rather her chagrin was to be so hopelessly in love with a fellow who's behavior changed as rapidly as a character being written by two different authors. It was demeaning for one to have their affection blossom and grow and the other to dig up the garden and toss out the bushes.

She also thought it was rather idiotic to have to suffer through so many outrageous inappropriate metaphors. Oh, if she could only get her hands on them they'd both talk funny for a week!

"Let me get you some clothes, dear," Albert said. The old fellow mopped his perspiring face with a black and yellow handkerchief.

"You poor dear!" Bertie exclaimed. She struggled to hold the translucent curtain in place while putting her arm around the butler. "I'm so sorry we put you through all that! Don't worry about me."

"I'm not, dear girl," Albert explained. "I'm worried about my heart. You are simply too perfect and I do not think my heart can stand much more of it. Please, walk behind me, or call the paramedics."

Though his tone was facetious, Bertie was fully cognizant of her effect on men—all men except one. "Why do I have to love him so?"

It Happened At the County Fair

The night before Dee Dee Morris had waited until Bertha La Ropa had gone to sleep, then the plucky ex-stripper tiptoed out to the well.

"Pssttt!" she whispered. "Are you still down there?"

A pained voice replied, "Are you going to hurt me again?"

"If I let down the rope, can you get yourself out?"

"Is that crazy woman with you? If she is, I'm not sure I want to get out."

Dee Dee lowered the rope and waited impatiently for the man to haul his bruised and battered body to the surface. Carefully sticking his head over the well's rim, he said, "I left the harpoon. See, I'm unarmed."

"Hurry up and get out of there. Be quiet or you'll wake her."

Hilary Billman kept the grunting sub-vocal and managed to exit the excavation without undue racket. Now that the bedraggled peg-legged man was standing unsteadily beside her, Ms. Morris didn't know what to do with him.

"What were you doing down there?" she asked.

"Looking for Moby Dick. Now I'm just looking for Brace Bozhart so I can cut out his heart." Billman proceeded to relate all that had happened over the last few weeks... secret meetings, the cavern, the android animals, the attack of the F-16, too much broccoli at dinner, which gave him hallucinations, a monstrous earthen mole, the adventure in the flooded tunnel, and worst of all, three sharp whacks on the noggin by the chicken farmer. "I tell you, miss, life has been rather unkind to me recently. But of all the low-down things that's happened, being deserted by Brace Bozhart is the most disillusioning. I thought he was the tops, aces, king of kings, the messiah...well, you get the picture. I liked him. Then he had to run off and leave me to face that armored monster by myself. I'll kill him REAL slow."

This description of her benefactor was unsettling. Dee Dee Morris though La Ropa's attack had addled his brains. He was in need of medical treatment. Perhaps some fluid on the brain prompted all these fabrications, these fantasies. No normal human being would think of such things, or express them in such outrageous commentary.

"Let's go," Dee Dee said, draping one of his arms over her shoulder and putting a supporting arm around his waist. Billman, still weak from the long travail, felt ashamed to need her support. The big man openly wept.

"You're a sweet woman, you are," the confused Virginian West Canuck bawled. "Just like my dear Cilli and that nice Jane Porker-Bozhart." The mention of that name harded his voice. "I wonder what a swell gal like her sees in a snake like Boz!"

Seeing that his condition was growing worse, Dee Dee felt no compunction about borrowing La Ropa's pickup truck. The man needed a doctor, and soon! The mental abberation which caused the man to vilify his employer could not possibly be the same man who had saved her from a fate worse than leering lechery.

The dirt road exiting La Ropa's ghastly chicken ranch was dark and twisting. The black smoke from the Los Angeles inferno passed low overhead, driven by a strong wind. At times the cloud dipped to the ground, obscuring vision and searing lungs. Despite the hardships, the young woman was determined to complete her mission of mercy. She had steered the rattlling truck some considerable distance toward her goal when the smoke hugged the road once again. That black curtain concealed a vast fissure transsecting the road. Unaware of the danger, Dee Dee's tires rolled to the very brink.

tangor@erblist.com

CHAPTER 57: Flight of the Thipcar

"Steeerike One!" cried Llana of Baseball as she swung and connected soundly with the menacing beak of the attacking flying reptile.

Mars Markus and Kojak Morris looked on dumfounded as the monstrous pterodon-like creature plopped belly-up beside them—done in by an unerring swing from the trusty bat of the Sultaness of Swat. As they dodged cruel talons of the kicking feet—the last throes of the beast—they examined the underbelly. Tattooed on the leathery skin were the words: THIS THIPCAR IS PROPERTY OF BB INC.

"Aha!" declared Mars Markus. "Brace Bozhart is behind this!"

Further inspection in the chest area revealed a panel which opened to reveal a complex jumble of mechanical parts, wheels, motors, microcircuits, wires and Russian-made vacuum tubes—but all of this seemed to be integrated with throbbing organic material. Above the open panel were two buttons which the ever-curious Morris pressed in quick succession: RESET and MANUAL OVERRIDE.

The trio were tossed to one side as the beast sprang to live and assumed a crouch position on its two giant birdlegs. When sure that the creature posed no threat, Kojak climbed onto what surely was a riding seat on the back of and just below the long neck of what he now assumed had to be a bionic flying machine. Once seated he became aware of a complex control panel labeled N-64. Above a joystick and video display panel were two sets of control pads, each with four buttons with arrows pointing up, down, and to left and right. An adrenaline rush swept over the veteran adventurer and video arcade junkie. While getting the feel of the joystick, he entreated his companions to climb aboard the passenger seats and strap themselves in. When the "Please Fasten Seat Belts" sign flashed off the video display, Kojak reached out with his eager forefinger to engage the START button. The mighty featherless wings flapped into action and the spindly chicken legs moved in roadrunner fashion until the prehistoric lizard bird was airborne. At last they had found a conveyance suitable for locating the incomparable Dee Dee Morris!

The sight below them offered a panorama beyond belief. Much of the LA area lay in charred, smoking desolation but there were many island-like pockets of the city which remained relatively untouched. The indomitable and resilient spirit of humankind in face of disaster brought pride to the hearts of these jaded old warriors of bar and bat. Along a relatively unscathed area of Ventura Boulevard a group of brave survivors had organized a parade. Stretched out along the street was a long line of revelers: gaily coloured bikers, splendidly coiffeured blonde ladies on small motorized vehicles, a precision jogging team in matching white uniforms, a troop of singing horsemen with Canadian Mountie uniforms and tack—obviously executing the famed RCMP Musical Ride, and a squad of diminutive lads in what looked like Boy Scout uniforms—waving excitedly at the small crowd along the parade route. The procession was led by a parade marshall in full Lady Columbia costume who was chauffeured on a splendid yellow Harley by a robust driver in formal attire. Presumably for comic effect, an almost naked man—probably George of the Jungle—rode a cart attached to the rear of the motorcycle...and bringing up the rear of the whole cavalcade was a Keystone Kop going through a most impressive repertoire of comic slapstick moves.

Everywhere, fissures were evident from the catastrophic earthquakes which had coincided with the disastrous conflagration of the night before. Morris could not help but wonder what cosmic events were afoot to have brought about such a sequence of holocaustic events. The fledgling argonauts observed helplessly from their lofty viewpoint as at least two far-off pickup trucks disappeared from sight...swallowed up voracious tectonic forces. Over by the Gaspack Tar Pits they could see a lone smoldering bush behind which a solitary blackened figure appeared to be about to relieve himself. As if to ease the tension of the ordeals they had gone through, Kojak, ever the jester, decided to have some fun with the poor unsuspecting soul below. Having just discovered what appeared to be a microphone and amplification system, he reached for the mic and in a thundering voice commanded: "Hold!"

The novice aviators giggled as the fellow below recoiled and quivered. Enjoying the reaction of the desperate man doubled over behind the bush, the pilot of the Thipcar carried on with his Supreme-Being impression, much to the chagrin of his victim. As the bogus Almighty wound up his tirade with: "Too soon will the deluge of retribution of progress unchecked descend upon us all," the poor post-defecating vassal used his right hand to attend to his toiletry while he emphasized his vented blasphemous wrath with his left fist—and paid the price of his heresy. The ground beneath the sacrilegious heretic quaked and opened up to devour him.

"Holy dog dung!" exclaimed the cowed comedian. "Did I do that?"

Before he could ponder his newly acquired power, Kojak=92s attention was drawn to another scenario being played out far below. Llana of Baseball was gesticulating excitedly with her autographed bat: "Awwww...aren't they cute."

Scattered across a charred pasture area which Morris recognized as part of the old Edgar Nyce estate, were a scattered herd of burros cavorting in an insanely choreographed routine—closer surveillance revealed that they were only trying to retain their footing as the ground trembled beneath. Without warning, the rookie pilot lost all control of the flying machine and the Thipcar went into a steep dive—seemingly with a mind and intelligence of its own. The out-of-control lizard-bird plunged toward the unsuspecting burros with talons outstretched. The sound of the slipstream screaming over featherless wings mingled with the paniced cries of the riders as the Thipcar fell from the sky.

CHAPTER 58: The Secret Lab of Ras Putan—Mastermind of Stars

The man of superhuman physical ability who had called himself Brace Bozhart seemed to have vanished into thin air. Herlock Cabyns sat at the entrance to the tunnel from which their rescuer had just led them and instinctively reached for his automatic mechanized Pez injector. Finding the pockets of his plus fours empty, he fought panic as he turned to his trusted colleague: "Datsun, I must go back...I have dropped my medicine."

No amount of pleading could dissuade the master sleuth and soon he was retracing his steps with a reluctant Datsun lagging behind. After a few hundred feet of groping in the tunnel's darkness, they came to a branch in the passageway and Cabyn's attention turned to a glimmer of light far down the right hand fork. Temporarily forcing thoughts of the missing packet from his mind, he approached the source of the light.

A sudden turn in the tunnel brought them to a brilliantly lit cavern, the rough hewn walls of which were lined with elevated slabs bearing the bodies of naked men. The heads of the bodies were encased in bullet-shaped metal cones, each of which was attached to a number of flexible tubes. These tubes led to the centre of the cavern where they were affixed to a large number of transparent vats containing some sort of organic material.

No sooner had they entered the room than a heavily reinforced door fell behind them, sealing off the subterranean room from the entrance tunnel. The crash of the closing door was followed by a maniacal cackle, the source of which was a wizened old man crouching half-hidden in the shadows of the entranceway—his wrinkled hand still wrapped around a large control lever.

"How darest thou enter the sanctity of the Ras Putan laboratory," the shriveled crone crooned through his bushy mustache as looked them up and down with eyes transformed into giant orbs by thick horn-rimmed glasses.

"I say, my good man, has Brace Bozhart passed this way?" inquired the imperturbable Cabyns.

This question sent the little man in the oversized lab coat into hysterical fits of laughter: "Bozhart? Bozhart!!!...You want Bozhart? Walk this way!" he cackled.

The two English crime fighters had difficulty duplicating the stooped Grouchoesque stride but managed to follow the scientist across the obsidian floor to a gaudily lit control panel. The old man's crooked fingers flew across the blinking controls and then he stepped back, smugly motioning to the cadaver-like bodies positioned around the cave walls: "Take your pick sonny!"

The cone devices had slid back to reveal the countenances which had been hidden till now—the likeness of Brace Bozhart lay on every slab!

"How can this be, my man?" gasped Cabyns as Datsun furiously rubbed his spectacles on his sleeve. "Do you not have a tissue, Datsun?"

"Look Cabyns! It's Bozhart...there...and there...and there and..."

"My word, Datsun. You're right! What is this Mr. Putan?" came the query as the occasionally near-sighted Cabyns brushed his assistant aside and squinted around the cave periphery.

The obviously unhinged scientist went into his vindictive diatribe: "Those fools! I had it all....I was the Mastermind of the Stars... I had the pulse of Hollywood in my hands... nose jobs...face lifts...tummy tucks...implants... restructuring....hee hee hee...Fools... one little mistake on that Diana Ross wannabe... take my license would they... ah... but Dr. Monreau knows what I can do...hee hee hee... Old Ed Grimley knew what I could do...hee hee hee... now who's crazy?... With my modification of the Grimley Wave machine I can clone Bozhart's brain into Monreau's mindless bionic creations...heee heee heee ...see... see ...see... they are perfect replicas... except for those silly Grimley curls on their heads...but just watch...I'll find a way to straighten that out..."

The rantings of this raving madman were interrupted by the clamorous entrance of a wooden-faced, wild-eyed lab assistant who was shouting incoherent babble.

Ras Putan paused in mid mad tirade: "Yes...What is it Algor? Can't you see I'm busy!"

"The peasants Master...the desert townspeople...the miners...they're revolting"

"I KNOW that Algor. Now tell me...what is the problem?" quizzed the bug-eyed surgeon as he twirled an unlit fat cigar between his fingers.

"Seriously Master, there's a riot going on. They have torched the surface buildings and it is just a matter of time before they reach the lab!" shouted the frustrated assistant.

Cabyns and Datsun leaped back as a trap door raised beneath their feet and a disheveled head raised above the floor surface. They immediately recognized Dr. Li-Chan Monreau from Bozhart's underground Phantom Empire control room.

"Ras Putan! The Slavgoths are revolting!"

"I know! ...I know! ...Enough of the jokes already!

"There is a full scale mutiny by the workers in the underground theme park! They are reprogramming and releasing the creatures! It's only a matter of time before they reach the lab!

[Writer's note to rival staff writer Tangor. Let's see ya top that Tang Gor...8—count 'em—8 exclamation marks! Make that 9! 10! 11! 12!... Writer's note to All-Gory Pulp Magazine resident computer geek: Program an infinite number loop here! That'll drive him nuts!...]

At that moment there was a power surge throughout the lab. Crackling charges of electricity sent the bogus Bozhart bodies into spasms. When the power returned to normal, the entire curly-headed troupe slid feet-first to the floor and lurched stiff-legged, with arms outstretched, toward the five men huddled around the control panel in the centre of the cavern.

CHAPTER 59: FYIO: The Touchwood Pictures Secret Files On Elmer Ford and Bodacious Derricks

A sporty car eased to the curb just down the street from the main gate of Rodent/Touchwood Productions. The driver, dressed in black, left the car to scurry over the high wall which surrounded the studio lot and employed commando moves to gain access to the flat roof of an annex building. The darkened figure then made its way cat-like across rooftops to the main office building and after a few expert motions with a burglar's tool, the intruder had gained entry to the elaborate offices of Nick Miser, head of Rodent and Touchwood Pictures. Gloved hands picked the lock on a large desk drawer and withdrew a heavy leather-bound book. The light from a high intensity flashlight illuminated the title on the cover of the book: THE PERSONAL DAILY JOURNAL OF NICK MISER - PRESIDENT RODENT & TOUCHWOOD PICTURES - TOP SECRET STUFF. The figure in black hunched down behind the desk and started to flip through the pages:


Dear Diary: Arrangements and negotiations on the Ratnaz pic are going well...despite the reluctance and lack of enthusiasm shown by Brace Bozhart. Sometimes I can't understand that man. He's been acting peculiar lately...he's even taken to wearing one of those faggy Grimley Waves. Edgar Nyce is ticked off... I've decided to go with a new actor for the Ratnaz role... Bozhart's stories about the depths to which old Raztnaz has plunged are disconcerting... the compromising pictures he brought in today were the last straw—can't have stuff like this falling into the hands of the International Inquiring Minds tabloid—gotta find a new apeman. The reputation of Touchwood and Rodent Productions is at stake.

Dear Diary: Started our worldwide campaign to find a new face for the Ratnaz role. Hardly got off the ground...Boz brought in his latest find and even offered to pay the actor's salary. This guy coulda been Bozhart's twin except for the hair colour and a longer Grimley Wave hairdo... he's even got that goofy stupid Bozhart smirk and potbelly. Some guy called Elmer Ford. Told Ed... not happy!

Dear Diary: Hired OB on today as technical advisor...gotta appease the old fart. Probably a good thing. He caught the special effects department just in time this afternoon. Tigers are hard to find so they had dug up a huge wooly Great Pyrenees Mountain dog. Had to shave the poor animal. Ed caught them just as they were shaving off the mane! He had to tell the idiots that African tigers have manes...he even had to tell them to spray bigger spots on the animal. Just saw the rushes of the beast—they got him dyed, clipped and spotted just like the real thing. Got to mention that drooling tho.

Dear Diary: Voice test on Elmer Ford today. Jeeze, that Bozhart! How'd I let him talk me into hiring this guy. The bozo's got a speech impediment...can't say his R's. Called in a vocal coach. Meeting with the writers tomorrow to see if they can write around this little problem...maybe cut the R words out of the script.

Dear Diary: Ford seemed to have all the right physical moves when Bozhart brought him to us but now he's started tripping over things on the set, dropping things, falling out of trees—the chump's even taken to freezing in mid-step.

Dear Diary: Our Pyrenees tiger was the darling of the set until today's tragic accident. The dog had one annoying habit...it would mount anything and everything at any time of the day. During the scene at Ratnaz's goat cabin, Elmer Ford panicked and turned to defend himself against the faux tiger. He had grabbed the first thing at hand... a goat butter churn. Gotta find a new tiger... and Ford is becoming increasingly erratic.

Dear Diary: Talked to wardrobe today about Ford's costume. He insists on wearing unlaced hiking boots in all jungle scenes. I am not happy with the baggy, over-the-shoulder goat skin "loin cloth" either. I swear that the man is hiding something.

Dear Diary: Elmer Ford insisted on doing the tree flying stunts today. Bozhart suggested an improvement on the old fashioned vine swinging. Ford climbed the big old jungle tree on the back lot and jumped off holding a bungee rubber strap. We had the crew set up rubber trees in strategic places for the apeman to rebound into. He was supposed to fly through the upper terraces pinballing from tree to tree—idiot couldn't tell an oak from a rubber tree. Think we'll go back to the old vine idea. Should be able to shoot around Ford's scenes until Bozhart brings him back. Was hoping to plug more musical numbers into the script. Scratch "Oops there goes another rubber tree plant."

Dear Diary: Made a big mistake today. OB wanted permission for the Ratnaz Clan Boy's Club to visit the set. One look at Elmer Ford and they started to titter. Then they turned ugly—threw things—rampage. They wanted to know what had happened to their hero—the Real Ratnaz. Stopped filming early today. The set should be restored to normal by tomorrow.

Dear Diary: For some reason Ed insists on writing a Jane Porker character into each book and film—keeps pressing me to audition some big-bottomed chicken plucker. Nuts! Hired a luscious air head today... Boz brought her over from the Vacation House—these broads are picking weirder and weirder stage names: Bodacious Derricks!?! Must make a note to see if she's available for the staff party. May put her in that little flick I'm putting together for Bozhart's Chicken Ranch.

Dear Diary: Ed coached Ford on the King Dong dialect today. Pretty damn easy language—one word—Umgawa—with 2000 different meanings depending on inflection, body language, tone, pitch and rhythm. The guy's a slow learner—could only master three—with heavy accent!

Dear Diary: Gotta talk to security...there's a suspicious yellow 1966 Camero hanging around the studio gate at all hours.

Dear Diary: All scenes with King Dong were rejected today by the Film Decency Censors. And they say we gotta give Bodacious Derricks a costume. They loved Elmer Ford's costume tho...and the cute little goats. The ladies on the Censorship Team were very hard to deal with...all negotiation cut short...they were late for their weekly church bingo. They had arrived expecting to view our new Randy Rodent feature ... meddling old biddies!

Dear Diary: Unveiled our new Elmer doll merchandising tie-in today. Faced with instant recall... Our reps were only shown the dressed version of the doll for approval... underneath, the apeman is TOO anatomically correct. Big hullaballo in the papers. Barbie and Ken never had THIS problem... why me?

Dear Diary: Got a feeling that OB is working on some sort of a theme park idea... Ed's stepping into our territory here... must talk to Bozhart about this. Even Boz has something up his sleeve ... strange goings on every time I drive out to the Chicken Ranch. This job is getting me down... even the crew is suggesting we scrap the Elmer Ford footage and bring in the old Ratnaz... really stuck on how to do all those mouse voices on the new Randy Rodent live action flick. Gotta get that Bodacious broad's number...


—Bill Hillman

The mystery intruder had thumbed through about the first half of Nick Miser's personal journal when the sound of an approaching security guard in the hallway put a halt to any further clandestine reading. The book was hurriedly replaced, the flashlight switched off, and the figure in black scurried through the open window and over the rooftops and wall to return to the waiting vintage automobile.

As the night security guard entered the moonlit office of the president of Rodent Pictures, he noticed an open window through which he could see a yellow 1966 Camaro speeding off into the night.

CHAPTER 60: Death Comes in Twos

Dee Dee Morris, Princess of Bars and driver of stolen pickup trucks, instinctively pushed the brake pedal to the floor as a large pothole appeared before her in the road. Perceiving that the truck had no brakes, the resourceful Hillie Billman groped across from the passenger side of the cab to grab the steering wheel—causing the truck to swerve at the very brink of what surely would have been a big bump.

"Whew...that was a close one," boasted the West Virginian Canuck. "Ya got ta watch where you're goin' Dee."

The severely shaken beauty took her foot off the accelerator and let the truck coast to a stop. "You had better drive Mr. Billman...I can't go on."

"Ahhh! That's better!" exclaimed a confident Hilary as he took over the driver's seat. "I always wanted to try driving one of these things!" shouted the excited novice over the roar of an over-revving engine as the vehicle jerked and weaved in first gear down the road.

So intent was the driver that he didn't notice till the last second that a gigantic rift had opened in the road ahead of them. Frantically the quick-thinking driver plunged his peg leg down hard on the pedal...the gas pedal...and the pickup sailed into the darkness of the abyss.

* * * * * * * *

Cilli Billman fought for control of her F-100 as it fell into the chasm which had opened across the road. The truck landed heavily on all four wheels in what appeared to be a long tunnel, and kept going. She could see in the rear view mirror that the kids in the truck box seemed to be enjoying the excitement of this thrilling ride and, having run out of options, she carried on along the passageway—she was further reassured when she read on the reflecting lens that "objects in the mirror are closer than they appear"—somehow these comforting words satisfied a maternal need.

As she drove under another rift that had opened to the surface, a huge roaring object came crashing down upon the roof of her cab. Cilli maintained control of her mangled vehicle by hunching over and peering through the steering wheel but she was having trouble reaching the pedals in such a contorted position. Her view was further obstructed when another object, a flailing blackened figure, crashed onto the engine hood from yet another overhead rift.

Just before the struggling young woman lost complete control of the battered truck, two large screaming yellow objects went flying by, one on each side of the cab. There was a horrendous crash and then darkness.

tangor@erblist.com

* * * * * * * *

Bryce Lee and his faithful Cantonese-wannabe companion, Ward Cleaver, ran for their lives as a mechanical monster hurtled toward them in the tunnels far beneath Ratnaza. Bryce, still in full Yellow Jacket costume, repeated his warning: "Run for your life, Slay-Toe. It's a woman behind the wheel of a pickup truck!"

"Worse still Bryce, I see two women, and it's a double decker pickup truck!" replied his young friend.

Then, just before they leaped to safety, what appeared to be a huge black stalactite crashed into the lower hood of the of the piggy-back vehicle and seconds later the entire roaring, jumbled mass careened into a massive stalagmite where it came to a steaming halt.

The two crimefighters picked themselves up, adjusted their yellow costumes and rushed to the double decker to assist the survivors.

All-Gory Weakly Magazine Editor's Note: This Canadian hack goes on and on—we made the mistake of agreeing to pay him three cents a word for this drivel. Since we recognize most of it as having been plagiarized from old Barton Werper novels, we feel we owe it to our readers to step in here.—The lovely Dee Dee Morris was reunited with the unreliable Dan Darter, spunky Cilli Billman regained consciousness and was reunited with her noble and handsome husband Hillie Billman, The Kids Are Alright...Who?...Why, Willie, Phillie, Milli and Vanilli, of course...unfortunately Millie and Vanilli are still mute but Willie and Phillie do enough talking for all of them. The fearless explorers of the unknown then struck out to explore the labyrinth of underground tunnels and... we now take you back to our staff writer's illiterate and longwinded gibberish...

...and at that moment Yellow Jacket turned to the host of grateful followers, each of whom he had fearlessly rescued, and exclaimed: "I hear running water!"

Editor's Note: "I hear running water!" ??? THIS is a cliffhanger? Even Tangor can do better than this. Somebody call Zany Grany—at least he's Amurican.

—Bill Hillman

CHAPTER 61: The Geriatric Chronicles: Billions and Billions Served

Intrigued by the sound of running water, the ragtag band of underground adventurers led by the the stalwart Yellow Jacket stooped to explore a smaller passageway branching off from the tunnel they had been following. Unexpectedly, the narrow jagged cleft that they had initially feared to be an unpromising route, opened abrubtly into a splendid mammoth cavern.

Stretching as far as the eye could see was an inland sea of still waters, gilded by the luminescence of the golden radiance from the cave ceiling. At least three islands were discernable in the distance: one was jungle covered, one was decorated with numerous unworldly city skylines which were surrounded by flat desert-like topography, and the third was composed of a jumble of structures and abodes partially hidden by tall forests.

On the shore, a short distance from the tiny, partially hidden chasm from which they had emerged, was a large dome structure nestled between twin towers of ivory and gold. Behind the dome they could see a vast underground waterfall which tumbled into the sprawling inland sea. Close to where the waters met was a huge earthen mound.

The travellers found their way through an open portal at the base of the dome and climbed a tall spiral staircase which led to an impressive viewing room overlooking the entire panorama of the underground world. A booming voice greeted them: "Welcome to Geriatric Park. We don't get many visitors here since Mr. Nyce had his spot of trouble on the surface."

An elaborate chair at the observation window swiveled to reveal an aging, kind-faced man attired in a strange battle harness. "I am the Jeddak of the Edgar Nyce Geriatric Park. I have been observing your progress since you chanced on our inner world."

"What manner of place is this, Jeddak?" asked the impatient Yellow Jacket, while his weary band of followers eyed the luxuriously cushioned seats furnishing the room next door.

"My friends, I feel we owe you an explanation. Follow me into the adjoining room. Please have a seat and turn your attention to the large screens before you."

All-Gory Weakly Magazine Editor's Note: Hey gang...this is REALLY boring stuff from this point on...we suggest that if you want to get to the lurid blood and guts sensationalism we are famous for, not to mention the really keen descriptions of gorgeous gals, skip ahead to the next chapter. Even I didn't read this one. Some of our guys come up with some pretty boring scenarios—it must be a Canadian thing—those Canucks have NO sense of humour (now he's even got me spelling 'humor' wrong!)

The recorded stentorian, dulcet tones of the Shakespearean-trained actor Jonny Wineswiller went into a voice-over narration to accompany a boggling succession of images on the giant wallscreens which totally covered three walls of the chamber.

"Geriatric Retirement Properties offer a Utopian lifestyle for your retirement years. Our sales representatives will meet with you shortly to outline the many advantages of investing with us. But first, a short multi-media history of this unique development."

The next images on the screens were of throngs of white-haired, elderly people cavorting and milling around the earthen mound that the travellers had seen on their way in. Most of the low-stepping seniors carried large clubs and periodically interrupted their frenzied line dancing to shuffle to the mound, beat wildly on what upon closer surveillance turned out to be a midden, and look upward to scream unearthly falsetto yodels into the resounding cave ceiling.

"The 'Dumb Dumb' celebration you see before you is just one of the many festivities in which you may participate when you become a member of the EDite Community of Geriatric Park. Ours is a closed community—you will mingle with the last remaining fans of the unexpurgated works of Edgar Nyce. You have a choice of a wide range of lifestyles offered by three unique theme island communities: the primitive adventures found in the Jungles of Ratnaz, the futuristic urban living experienced in the Barrooms of Mars, or countless exploits proffered in the eclectic Weird Land which features castles, hobo jungles, Indian villages, caves, Roman villas—an endless array of alternative living styles. All of these islands are connected by a regular water shuttle service via our fabulous Riverboat. We are fortunate to have as pilot of this vessel the talented Phillipe, a retired Mexican Farmer whom Edgar Nyce has personally tutored in the skills of adventuresome navigation on jeopardous waters.

"Mr. Nyce created this dream-come-true in response to the constant urgings of his dedicated fans. His fandom had followed him through thick and thin but all were fast approaching old age—although none admitted to being past age 38. Most of Ed's novels were out of print...or suffered from the ravages of having fallen into public domain. Paperback books featured tiny unreadable print and were edited beyond recognition for the sake of political correctness. What's more, his many creations fared even worse in other popular media. A despairing Edgar Nyce came up with a bold scheme which involved a huge clandestine, subterranean world he had discovered years before, hidden beyond and below his Ratz Cave.

"Already the immense cavern had served him well. He learned by accident that the magic bananas he had brought back with young Ratnaz from the Valley of King Dong would grow prolifically in the golden luminance of the caverns. He also discovered that living beings were profoundly affected by ingesting the strange fruit.

"After a short time on a banana diet, lower orders of animals start an immediate regression through millions of years of evolutionary stages...stopping at random stages of development. Fortunately for the safety of all, a side effect experienced by all of the affected cave animals has been a condition of lethargy and docility. Humans, on the other hand, are affected most unpredictably, with Nyce fans showing the strangest characteristics—they regress mentally to the age at which each individual had first come under the spell of Mr. Nyce's storytelling, while their bodies continue to age normally. Since the main food offered here is magic bananas, and the only humans allowed here are Nyce fans, our inhabitants exhibit a strange mix of youthful exuberance in well-aged bodies.

"Our founder was also inspired by visionaries such as Ray Razzbury, Carl Shogun and Michael Redneck who had fired the imagination of a very young Edgar in his formative years in Chicago. He had thrilled to their adventurous stories of distant planets and the wonders promised by the billions and billions of stars in the Cosmos. It was only natural then that he incorporate a few of their ideas into this unique retirement park.

One of the most obvious influences in the day-to-day operation of this peerless community is Razzbury's famous novel 'Geshundeit 7-11.' Following the lead of the characters in that book, each of our residents is encouraged to commit the entire original text of a Nyce novel to memory. Our aim is to preserve the complete works of Edgar Nyce in their unbastardized states for future generations. Many of these scholars become so engrossed in their selected works that they adopt the dress and persona of their favourite fictional characters—even to the point of cross-dressing. Others, becoming bored with constant re-readings, turn to writing sequel pastiches. Ironically it was such devotion to the canon that brought down the wrath of copyright holders BB Inc. and Touchwood Pictures. It was their army of lawyers who hounded the most loyal and dedicated fans until they were forced to go underground.

"We have very few rules in this underground haven. Occasionally splinter groups of biographers, bibliographers, and self-appointed experts on obscure topics move off to the solitude of the far reaches of the caverns. We do warn our residents about wandering off too far, however. Last year, one group went too far north and stumbled upon the southern annex of what we believe to be the Bill Gates private underground garage...we never heard from them again. It must be assumed that they were gobbled up by the legendary wicked warlock of the west.

"You are watching this presentation in the Pleasure Dome Recreational Complex. This facility is open to all of our residents. You may have noticed the two nearby towers on your way in. The ivory tower contains Nyce research material and museum displays for the more erudite EDite, while the neighbouring gold tower contains more mundane resources to titillate the fun-loving.

"This brings to a close our short tour of the most exclusive and exciting retirement venture on this planet. Please remain seated—our investment counseling representatives will join you shortly."

The display screens darkened and as the room lights came up, the Jeddak moved to the front of the auditorium and addressed the newcomers: "Since that DVD was produced we have experienced a few difficulties. Sadly, our sales reps are not available at this time. Since we lost contact with our company head, Ed Nyce, our situation down here has become somewhat chaotic. Recently, very vocal leaders have surfaced in each island community. Rabble rousers have reveled in stirring up dissension between and among the various interest groups. Intense rivalry has led to intolerance which too often has escalated into physical confrontation. I have done my best to placate this chaotic potpourri of diverging groups under a peace-keeping assembly we call the OB TribeUlations. Unfortunately, not even my awesome diplomatic and persuasive powers have been adequate to maintain peace among these fiercely independent groups.

"The opposing factions take turns working themselves into a tribal frenzy during a celebration that Ed originally called a Dumb Dumb because not even he could stomach the unabashed adoration, rhetoric, juvenile role playing, and general debauchery that went on at these events.

"And now, even as I speak, the thin-skinned, gray-haired elders on the Jungle Island are mounting an army to do battle with the inebriated troublemakers from the Barroom of Mars site who, under their renegade leader Tang-Gor, have been waging a war of deprecation against the mighty Ratnaz of the Jungle.

"Since there are women and children in your group, I must find some way of leading you out of the Park to the safety of the surface. But first, each of you must take an oath of secrecy. There are evil forces above ground which will stop at nothing to take over Geriatric Park."

The plea had barely left the lips of the mighty Jeddak when a terrific rumbling shook the building and the floor beneath the intrepid adventurers from the outer world started to collapse amid screams of terror!

—Bill Hillman

CHAPTER 62: "I find the pants."

Disorientated, discombumbulated and dazed, Ratnaz used his body as the principal device in a gigantic pinball machine, banging into walls, galloping left and right, and eventually running into a tunnel that had a ceiling lower than his head.

It seemed like days later (though it was only an instant as this is a pulp fiction lapalalooza designed to mess not only Ratnaz's head, but yours) when Ratnaz sat up, massaging a large scarlet bump on his forehead. "Ow! That smarts!" was the Lord of the Leaves' first words.

To his great credit (and because the author has a need to manipulate the reader's emotions) the half-naked jungle man's first thoughts were for Bertie Ketchum.

"I bet that foxy broad thinks I'm a dizzy guy, a-runnin' off like that!"

Alone, Ratnaz reverted to his personal self, not that pendactical prude published primarily for Edgar Nyce's pocketbook. He wasn't perfect—far from it. He scratched when it itched, even in public. He belched after a beer or three. He smoked like a chimney when tobacco products were available, chased women, took candy from babies, and wasn't above abscounding with temporarily desired baubles from the local WalMart.

"In short," he majestically intoned in proper Hamlet form, "I'm a bum. What does she see in me? For that fact of the matter, where is she?"

She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed was not in sight. In reality, very little was in sight as the tunnel which did Ratnaz in was poorly lit at best. At worst it was a smelly sewer—and the thick, moist, slippery floor seemed to indicate that is exactly what it was.

Ratz, the goat boy hero of millions was not present, only Ratnaz the Uncertain, the Worried, the Just-short-of-mortally-terrified orphan boy found in a jungle which never existed on this Earth was present. "Gotta find me some pants. Ain't gonna be found dead naked to the world."

The Lord of the Leaves stumbled out of the tunnel, trying to retrace his steps. Somewhere Bertie Ketchum waited for him—at least he hoped she waited. She was a real woman, the kind of woman that—Ratnaz stilled those thoughts because his leopard briefs were cut too tight to allow that speculation to continue too far.

"What was that?" Ratnaz shuddered as a clicking sound assaulted his hyper-sensitive ears. Click-click-click! Heart in mouth, the jungle man, hero of a double dozen novels, took a grip and moved toward the sound.

Click! Click! Click!

Ratnaz bent down to pick up a rock. He had not intention of dying beneath the fangs of an inner world centiped or a loathsome firey-eyed giant rodent without a struggle.

CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!

It was coming closer! The dark shadows could have concealed Barnabas Collins and his family of blood-sucking vampires or the ID monster from that kewl Fifty's sci-fi thriller Forbidden Planet. The rocks were cold, the stone beneath his feet even colder.

CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!

There was a faint rectangle of light before him. It was an opening into another part of the cave. Gripping the rock firmly, Ratnaz took a deep breath and ran into the alcove, brandishing his rock and yelling like a madman.

Bertie and Albert were startled. The checker in Bertie's hand was frozen above the checkerboard. "Ratz!" she cried. "Oh, Ratz!"

The woman sprang from the table, wearing one of Albert's voluminous starched white shirts secured by a severe black tie as a sash. Her long legs quickly crossed the rec room in the Yellowjacket's hideaway, but she stopped just short of embracing her hero. Holding her nose, Bertie exclaimed, "What the hell did you fall into?"

Sheepish, Ratz lowered the rock and scratched his head. "I'm gettin' awful tired of these wannabe pulp fiction hacks givin' me da runaround. Say, Albert, I didn't get a chance to thank youse for savin' our bacon upstairs."

"Think nothing of it," the butler replied.

"Okay," Ratz grinned. "Where's the shower?"

Albert pointed the way with an extended finger.

"Thanks," the Lord of the Leaves replied. Taking Bertie's hand in his the jungle man said, "Scrub my back, kid. I'll scrub yours. Maybe we'll see what happens—if these hack writers give us half-a-chance."

An hour later, the half-a-chance granted, Bertie wobbled in on unsteady knees. She leaned against her jungle lover with adoration plainly evident. "You were masterful, Ratz. I've never had it like that before."

The Lord of the Leaves smiled smugly. "And you never will again, unless I'm a-doin' it to ya."

Editor's Note: While it is true that Ratnaz and Bertie got naked and entered the shower together, Bertie is referring to the masterful massage Ratnaz gave her scalp as he shampooed her hair. If you were thinking they did the nasty, you got another think coming, this is still PG rated unless that Canadian hack escalates things.

Bertie, to Albert's chagrin, had traded his stiff, starched white shirt for one of Splay-Toe's designer red-silk pyjamas. Ratz was wearing one of Bryce Lee's immaculate black tuxedos—full tails and cumberbund. After making an entrance that left the old butler flabbergasted, the stunning couple begged for a bite to eat, "It's been a long day," Ratnaz suggested.

"Quite right, sir," Albert bowed. "It is lucky I did the shopping today. May I take your order?"

"Baloney on rye, with a slice of swiss, mustard and a pickle if you got it," Ratz said. "What do you want, babe?" he asked of the glowing girl beside him.

"I feel utterly sinful for some reason: Peanut butter on toast, bananas and mayonaise."

Albert;'s arched brow remained in place as he headed for the kitchen.

Ratnaz and Bertie, arm-in-arm, explored the hidden hideaway of Bryce Lee-Bozhart, remarking upon the many varied and wondrous things they beheld. The couple were admiring a rather primitive cel from the first Randy Rodent animation by Malt Diznee when there came a knock at the secret entrance.

"I wonder who that could be?" Bertie frowned.

"Were you expecting anyone?" Ratz asked as he opened the door.

Both caught a fleeting glimpse of a mysterious running figure running that jumped into a car that looked suspiciously like the 1966 yellow Camaro Brace Bozhart had given to Ratz. "My gracious!" Ratnaz ejaculated. "Seems a little too old to be ringing doorbells and running away....what's this?"

Bertie watched with interest as her man leaned over and picked up an oil-skin wrapped parcel which had been left on the stoop. It was oblong in shape and about an inch-and-a-half in thickness. Her lover's strong brown hands (brown from smoking too many Camels) undid the simple pink ribbon and removed the covering.

It was a diary.

Ms Ketchum tried to look over Ratz's shoulder, but he was too tall, too wide and too inattentive as he read through a passage marked with yellow sticky notes. "What is it, Ratz? Oh, you look like you just ate a bug!"

The Lord of the Leaves, more angry than he could remember, showed Bertie the most damning passage: "Ratnaz sucks!" it read "Albert Ingalls has more character and charm than this over-hyped has-been. Ye gods, if it wasn't for the merchandizing we can make on the masses, I'd chuck the project in a minute!"

"That's pretty rotten," Bertie said, taking the book from the stone-faced jungle lord. "Oh, it is very rotten indeed! What are you going to do, Ratz?"

"I'm going to kick Nick Miser's butt," the grim voice replied, "but first, I'm going to kill Edgar Nyce."

CHAPTER 63: Darter Makes a Move

Falling from the sky, landing in the tar, jerked by a car through muck and weeds, hailed by a god-like voice, falling into the earth, slamming into a rapidly moving object, sandwiched between inanimate metal and a rather immovable columm of water-created stone had not left Dan Darter in the best of spirits. (Hey, I get paid by the word...nothing in the contract says they have to be good words— Tangor)

A freakazoid wearing a blinding yellow zoot suit with a sidekick in a red pyjama outfit had helped push the combined mass of two rusted pickups off his battered body. Darter couldn't say thank you—he could say anything until he could get tortured diaphram muscles to resume normal operation. There was even fewer words possible as Dee Dee Morris rudely grabbed him by the collar. The young woman tugged Darter along as she followed the horde of over-active children, Cilli Billman, the famous Yellowjacket and Splay-Toe, and a half-dozen bats which had not exited in the previous chapter.

The Jeddak of Nyce World had suitably impressed Darter into silence. He listened to the overlong and convoluted spiel regarding Geriatic Park, wondering how long Tangor was going to put up with the Canadian's off-the-wall parodies. After fifteen-and-a-half minutes Darter decided Tangor had more patience than he did. Fully recovered, except for two possible broken ribs, a hamstring, a multitude of minor but troubling lacerations on forearms and buttocks, and bruises over 63 percent of his body, Dan Darter waited until everyone's attention was focused on the not-too-subtle lift from Jurassic Park to clap a hand over Dee Dee Morris' lovely mouth. He put an arm around her waist and dragged the girl back through the entry into Nyce World to exit back into the cave complex.

He paid no attention to the girl's struggles, easily carrying her away from the spellbound group, easily because this is fiction and not real life. Have you ever tried to haul a squirming female against her will? It's no picnic. Yet, despite the difficulty, Dee Dee Morris was removed from the others simply because it's time to split up the characters if we're somehow going to manage a sequel out of this.

Into the dark caverns Dan Darter ran. Dee Dee fought against her captor with all her might—and mighty is that might which brought down a modern F-16 fighter jet..

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, Zany Grany settled under the shade of a tree beside a shallow little creek well beyond the smoking ruins of Greater LA. His burros cropped dry grass not far away, glad to be free of the old prospector's heavy prospecting kit, which had developed few prospects since the old writer had started prospecting. The prospective prospector loaded and lit a smelly old pipe, though the vegetable matter packed tightly in the bowl did not appear to be a tobacco product.

"Durn fools," he mused, sucking hard on the tooth-scarred pipe stem, "wonder what dey's all up to?" A few more tokes on the battered briar and Zany Grany's concern faded into indifference. The longer the old man imbibed of the powerful substance the more his mind expanded—in an imaginative state, not a physical state; for if the latter the amount of expansion would have pushed all the little grey cells out through his somewhat hairy ears.

"Wooo!" Zany Grany exclaimed. "That's some good sh... where'd I put that notebook? Got me an idea for a new story!"

The notebook found, along with a stubby pencil lifted from one of the innumerable golf courses surrounding the devastated city, Mr. Grany firmly clenched his pipe between sturdy teeth and commenced to scribble:

Query: Are Fairy Tales Real?

David Bruce Bozarth
(Zany Grany Pseudonym)

Chapter 1

Luck graces me like a pair of old, worn out shoes; I'm always wishing I had better. My experience with luck is such that if I had any more, I'd be in big trouble.

So, okay, I don't really have any reason to beef. There's a damn lot of trouble in the world and my little problems certainly don't rate on the national, or even municipal level. But they are problems which I have to deal with and frankly, I'm running out of energy to devote to the never-ending endeavor.

If my difficulties were monetary I could do something about it—by either making more or making less—and if I had trouble making up my mind about which course I'm certain someone out there is ready, willing, and eager to help me resolve that dilemma to their satisfaction. Were that it was so simple, but nothing is ever 'as simple as that'!

Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary Unabridged Second Edition- Deluxe Color has seven definitions of the word "trouble". five of the seven apply to me, plus most of the listed synonyms.

My trouble is: I can't seem to attract women who don't have deep emotional problems. I'm a savior type and, by golly, they get saved and I get shafted. I suppose I should be used to this by now, but I'm not after thirty some odd years of patting hands, shoulders, and other portions of the female anatomy, I'm no closer to resolving my own wants and desires than the day I was born and Mother decided I was too ugly to breast feed.

Even when I'm between "patients" I constantly look over my shoulder to make sure I've got a little space to feel miserable. The best place to be miserable in the company of fellow human beings is a nifty little hole in the wall called (ready for this?) Fernando's Hideaway.

Fernando is actually one Ricky Garcia, a round-faced, pleasant brown-skinned man of third generation Hispanic parents. The Hideaway itself is an ex- sweatshop loft on the second level of an abandoned textile mill. The patrons who frequent Fernando's are generally interested in maintaining low profiles, inconspicuosity, or virtual anonymity. Some actually come for the drinks and the terrible music Fernando's wet-back cousins perform between ten until midnight.

Me, I'm not the musical type. If it has a melody, I'll never recognize it. My feet tap rhythms only when I'm walking, and even then I miss a beat when I've bent the elbow too many times to drown my sorrows, just like I had right now.

I should have known better than to get hooked up with Avon. She's such a sweet, lovely, mixed up kid I couldn't resist. She made me feel like a million; a knight in white; the generous help-mate. I should have known better when she quietly moved in with me. I really should have run for the hills when she started doing my laundry; not that I specifically objected to this. I certainly derive no great pleasure from feeding quarters to voracious laundromat machinery.

All the signs were there: Dinner on the table, slippers by the chair; TV cranked to my favorite idiocy; cold brews poured just so in frosty mugs.

I like domesticity and I think it's all well and good for those who have the desire to settle down and stay in one place, but it's not for me. My job, I'm a traveling salesman if you haven't guessed, keeps me on the road most of the month. When I get home I like the illusion of marital stability without having to endure it.

I finished the beer and signaled Ricky for a re-fill as I contemplated the stormy session with Avon. She couldn't understand why I wasn't interested in getting new curtains for the bedroom and I thought she was a bit too assured I would eventually give in. We both knew I would; however, that would be the end of us.

I felt it building up inside again; the irresistible pressure, the nag of itchy feet— not for another woman, no! It was the need to have elbow room and privacy so I could be myself. There were times I'd like to go home and fart the Star Bangle Banner while filling the porcelain throne with used beer without getting critical reviews from an unappreciative audience.

How long could I continue to be the polite nice-guy before I startled both Avon and myself when I shouted unkind words I didn't really mean, just to get her to back off? The real trouble, which is why I over-worked my elbow pumping beer, was understanding that Avon was subtly different from the rest of my disastrous (for me) relationships. I had the sinking feeling she was capable of taking everything I dished out, and come back for more with her little cupid's smile firmly in place.

"You made a mistake a real boo-boo this time, Christopher," I warned the froth of my beer. "She won't cut and run when it gets too hot."

Well— I frowned, scratching my chin—do I really want her to? I was afraid to let myself answer that one so I downed half of the beer, belched twice as the carbon dioxide expanded my insides.

Ricky really helped my mood along when he came back with my change. "Chris," he asked, "Where's Avon? It's Thursday night..."

"So?" I demanded with a sour drawl.

"Avon always comes with you on Thursday. She sick?"

"Nope. Healthy as the proverbial horse. She's back at the apartment redecorating."

"Ah—" the Latino chuckled. He leaned forward, a knowing smirk on his brown face. "She is expecting the ring, no?"

"No," I replied, scowling. "She's certain."

"Congratulations!" Ricky grinned, extending his hand.

I stared at it narrow-eyed for six and one half heart beats then said, "She's certain, Ricky. I'm not." I shook his hand anyway, Ricky's a good guy.

Because Avon was waiting at the apartment, and because I was so abrupt with her, I finished the beer faster than I should have. I felt guilty for walking out on Avon in the middle of our argument, so much so I didn't enjoy the beers or the solitude. With a weary sigh I pushed away from the bar and tested my navigational equipment; legs slightly rubbery; eyes focusing at seventy percent; heart beat accelerated; body temperature appearing three degrees higher—a false impression since alcohol expands the capillaries, increasing blood flow at the skin prompting illusions of greater body heat—but in all, the mortal self was quite serviceable. I started toward the stairs.

"Vaya con dios," Ricky called out as I left the bar.

It was hot and humid outside, much like the atmosphere in the Hideaway, though the air lacked the dense fog of stale cigarettes. I looked at my watch. Quarter of eleven. With a reluctant sigh I turned toward my apartment and shuffle-marched for home. I turned the corner at the next street, my thoughts concentrating on what I would say to Avon when I got back. I didn't want to hurt the kid, so I sorted through a dozen of my best lines. As I researched the catalogue I was surprised when someone gently tapped my shoulder.

"I hope you can help me," a woman's voice asked.

I would remember those words at a later time as I was, then, too busy staring at the nimbus of blue light which outlined her sleek figure. I must have nodded my head or done something which she took as an affirmative to her plea for assistance because she smiled like an angel and said, "Thank you."

The next time I see old Doc Baker I'm going to have him check to see if I have an involuntary twitch or not, because whatever I did to give this lady the impression I was open for the rescue business got me into more trouble than Webster's could ever define.

To show her appreciation for offering to give her a hand with whatever was troubling her, she leaned forward and kissed me.

It was a toe-curler. I might have been fuzzy headed about most things after a couple of hours at Ricky's, but I remember that much. It was a deep, wet, hot kiss and, I think, I passed out.

When the electrical impulses which pass as cognitive thought began bouncing about my gray matter once again, I couldn't believe I'd slipped and fallen to the ground. Apparently the beer hit me all at once, or changed my perspective, because I wasn't looking into wonderfully violet eyes; I was staring at a pair of wonderfully shaped ankles. The next thing I knew a warm hand slipped under my belly and I was lifted from the pavement. I was brought to eye-level with the stunningly beautiful girl.

"It's only temporary," she assured me. "It's necessary to make it possible for us to get to Brondildia."

I started to ask her where, or who, Brondildia was, and was dumb founded by the sound of my voice. I tried it again. No! I thought with terror. Impossible!

I'd heard that raspy racket near every bayou and back-water pond all my boyhood. My voice sounded just like a bull-frog. My lip felt stiff, my tongue enormously thick. I raised my green spotted flipper and—

Egad! I was the frog!

CHAPTER 64: The Monster Men

The careening thipcar narrowly missed crashing to the rim of a vast, yawning pit, but as it pass close, the extended landing claws scooped up a terrified burro. Into the huge pit the mechanical reptile fell, the three humans on its back howling at the top of their lungs.

Mars Markus struggled with the joystick, his great muscles bunched with effort. The flying android began to nose up just as the cavern floor appeared to rise up. Kojak Morris kicked the landing talons to release the bleating burro just as the claws touched the smooth surface. A trail of bright sparks rose from the steel-tipped talons.

"I can't shut it down!" Markus cried. "Damn, we're gonna hit a wall!"

Llana raised her mighty bat and clubbed the machine over the head. It took a second homerun hit to seriously damage the avionics, at which point the propulsion ceased. She was about to give the thing another whack for good measure when Kojak's arm tightened about her waist and the two of them tumbled off the stricken air machine. Rolling across the floor the couple wound up in a tangle heap of arms and legs, and a new appreciation of one another as their lips briefly met. There arose in Kojak Morris' breast a feeling that he thought long forgotten (except when he had to mail an alimony check to Dee Dee's remarried mom). For Llana, who had ever been in the company of men, but never been close to a man, it was a revelation of a lifetime.

The fighting man of bars held his position on the thipcar's back. Whether he stayed there to direct the speeding vehicle away from the small group of men near an open bathroom door or was simply frozen with fear and couldn't move a muscle, this sympathetic author will not reveal, though a slow-spreading stain at the front of his pants might be a clue. In any event, Markus managed to turn the mechanical flier sufficiently to avoid four of the six men. He closed his eyes as the remaining two attempted to run inside the bathroom before the thipcar, its speed greatly reduced, slammed into the wall.

Markus staggered away from the wreckage, which commenced a tortured, spasmodic shuddering. The machinery fought against itself, tearing the device apart. The huge beak rammed against the bathroom door, now closed. The wings beat a horrendous tatoo on the floor. The cavern echoed with the death throes of the thipcar and that deafening din was liberally puncutated with humans crying out in agony. The fighting barman belatedly remembered the two dapper gents and hurried back to see if he could help them.

Startled by the discovery that there were no men pinned beneath the thipcar, Markus looked around to see where the cries were originating. He turned to seek help from the other men he'd seen, but they had somehow disappeared from view. The sounds became louder, more desperate in tone, and the pitiful tone of their despair tore at the great barman's generous heart.

Rounding the wreckage of the smoulding and, finally, still and silent machine, Markus beheld a sight which caused his eyes to expand considerably and to generate a blush which turned the barman crimson from head to foot. Near the base of a row of shattered computer desks was his friend Kojak Morris. He was in titanic embrace with Llana of Baseball. The embrace could only be defined as "intimate" or "passionate" in a family mag like All-Gory Weekly. Further details will be supplied to the more licenticiously minded by sending email to the demented author.

Loath to disturb his pal and his new lady friend, Mars Markus set about examining the curious laboratory into which they had fallen. Huge banks of computers lined the walls. Most of the lights and tell tales were dimmed because the power had been affected by the earthquake. There were three doorways. One obviously led to an elevator lobby. The fighting barman eagerly pressed the up buttons, hoping this might prove to be a way out of the strange underground complex.

Alas, Mars Markus sighed, none of them work.

Back tracking to the main cavern, Markus checked his watch then glanced toward the wrecked thipcar. The twisted machine fortunately concealed the ecstatic couple from view. "Geeze, Kojak," Mars mused, "give it a rest!"

Believing there was no quick conclusion forthcoming to Kojak Morris' end of celibacy, the mighty barman entered the second door.

A ruggedly handsome fellow sat in an leather executive swivel chair on a raised dias supervising a half dozen people wearing yellow, red, green and blue lab coats. He had the air of one accustomed to command. Markus entered the room which was much smaller than the huge cavern without but seemingly more crowded with high end big computer iron. His appearance caused all activity to cease, except for the humming of electronic gear, disk drives, modem tones and crt screens displaying either graphics or swift scrolling lines of text and numbers. The man on the dias glared at Markus with a critical eye.

"Uh, sorry, sir, didn't mean to intrude. I was wondering if you could help us?" Mars asked.

"And! who! might! you! be!?" the leader barked with a precise and forceful diction.

"My name is Mars Markus

I run the bar 'Markus'

I serve all the drunks who come there.

And the people I meet

as I serve them their drinks

say—'Hello, what's your name?

"My name is Mars Markus

I run the bar 'Markus'

I serve all the drunks who come there.

And the people I meet—"

The man in the swivel chair rose to his feet, back arched, face contorted mightly, and clapped both hands to his ears. "Enough! You! are! driving! me! nuts!"

Chastened, Mars lowered his eyes to the floor (which is the correct term though many writers would have 'dropped his eyes to the floor'. That would be awful messy when they hit the floor and then the poor fellow might step on one while he was searching for the missing orbs). "Sorry, sir. Who are you? What is this place?"

Mollified by the giant's apparent sincerity, the man in the yellow lab coat stepped down and greeted Markus with outstretched hand. "My! name! is! James! T.! Clerk! Chaparone! to! the! Star! Chips! laboratory! enterprise! We! go! where! no! man! has! gone! before!"

Markus concealed an amused grin. He had most recently thought his buddy Kojak Morris was going where no man had gone before. To the energetic chaparone he said, "I've never seen so many lights and computer devices in one place. Real snazzy setup."

"Yes! it! is! At! Star! Chips! we! test! our! new! equipment! lines! for! ergonomics! and! reliability! before! presenting! them! to! the! public! Our! five! month! mission! is! to! explore! bold! new! equipment! to! boldly! go! where! no! computer! manufacturer! has! gone! before! Mr.! Spott! Please! tell! our! guest! more! I! am! getting! a! headache! over! emoting!"

Dr. Spott, a slim fellow with pointy sideburns, left his position at a Star Chips Sparky 3000 Workstation to gravely intone: "Forgive Chaparone Clerk. There is a lot of stress in our expedition to achieve the perfect computer product." Raising an expressive though emotionless eyebrow to the weary chaparone, Spott asked, "How much should I reveal, Chaparone?"

"Any!thing! you! like! I! need! an! asprin! Mr! Tutu! an! asprin! from! the! medical! computer! please!"

The oriental man's eyes snapped wide with sudden fear. "Chaprone!" he wailed. "I'm wearing a gold lab coat!"

Clerk narrowed his gaze, rubbing his throbbing temple with two fingers. "Yes! I! see! My! apologies! Tutu! You! there! in! the! red! coat! An! asprin!"

Trembling with fear, the unnamed red-coated labman reluctantly approached a large, menacing computer system in the far corner. Sweating profusely, the labman's shaking hand reached for the keyboard, then suddenly screamed as an arc of static electricty—about 60,000 volts worth—smacked him hard enough to make the hair stand out on his head, his eyes roll back into his skull, and to knock him off his feet, unconscious.

The chaparone, fighting a tremendous migraine, raised his voice to a bellow. "Dr! Boner! Help! That! Man!"

A rangy fellow in a green labcoat sporting a sour expression responded harshly. "Dammit, Jim! I'm a technicial support engineer, not a doctor!"

Spott, his pointy sideburns sharply angled towards the angry Boner, offered a quietly offensive remark. Boner, incensed, responded with venom. Clerk raised his voice even louder, but the two computer scientists were at it hot and heavy. Just as the three were about to come to blows, Markus quietly backed out (as did Tangor who felt this spoof had gone as long as necessary for Morris and Llana to have consumated their lust and to have recovered themselves).

Markus did, in fact, bump into Morris who had been, hand in hand with Llana, searching for the fighting barman. "What's in there?" Kojak asked.

"Better left unsaid," Markus replied. "You guys ready? There's just that door left—"

The intrepid trio was about to enter the darkened doorway when Llana cried, "Wait!"

Puzzled, the two men watched as the thin, too-tall old woman ran toward the thipcar wreckage. She ducked behind then came back almost immediately. In her hand was the stout hickory bat bearing Mantle's signature. Breathlessly she linked arms with Kojak Morris. "I never thought anything could make me forget baseball or my bat..."

Morris did not seem to realize how silly the aged woman looked batting long gray eyelashes at him. Morris shrugged his broad shoulders and thought, "It takes all kinds, I guess."

Kojak held out his hand, smiling at Llana. The woman flushed almost prettily as she handed the bat to her lover. "My dear man," she said, "life has taken on new meaning since we met. My heart has been renewed in spirit. I feel a passion greater than my love for baseball, which is a mighty love indeed. Were it not for thy gallant strength, your wisdom, and your quiet patience, I might yet be a lonely spinster bereft of all possiblity of love; denied the prospect of eternal devotion to the one person in all the universe who—"

Mars help up his hand. "Save the Edgar Nyce pearls for later, Llana. We need to get out of here. And Kojak," he paused, "we still haven't found Dee Dee."

The father, newly rejuvenated by a juvenile rut, was embarrassed to be reminded of his parental duty. "You're quite right, my friend. Lead on!"

Markus did a double take. He'd been hoping the others would go first into the dark doorway, but once designated as the leader by Morris his pride made him take that first step into the shadows beyond.

CHAPTER 65: Valley of the Dolls

Brace Bozhart and his men narrowly escaped the thipcar's crash. Bounding up the stairs as the electrical power flickered in the earthquake's aftermath, the handsome Bozhart was well in advance of his followers when an aftershock collapsed the ceiling behind him. The man waited until the rock and cement quit falling then hurried back to the mass of rubble choking the passageway. Listening carefully, he heard nothing in the black silence.

Bozhart, saddened, and hoping the men had not been killed, hurried upward. Having designed the underground complex he was intimately (there's that word again!) familiar with the maze of corridors and shafts. It was imperative he reach the surface. He had to know if Jane Porker was all right.

Editor's note: Tangor is weary from handling too many writing projects simultaneously so buckle your seat belts the next few paragraphs are going to get dizzy.

Jane Porker-Bozhart was tired of bucking around with Marlin Brandough. It wasn't too many years before that she had helped Brace promote the Tappan Range Chicken Shack Vacation House as an indecently dressed mechanical bull rider—but riding that crowd pleasing beast out of love was quite different than riding it for other reasons. She waited until the bull was in the proper position and at the right height, then gracefully dismounted and dashed between the tables of sweaty men and too-heavily perfumed women intent on satisfying their card-in-all desires. The slim though bountifully well-endowed woman was out the side door before the surprised Brandough could muster a cotton-mouthed shout.

Jane headed straight to the garage where Brace's collection of vintage 1966 yellow Camaros were stored. There should have been six in the huge garage but there was only one: Number 4. She yanked the keys from the nail at the entrance, folded herself inside, switched on the powerful engine, and raced down the dusty road.

* * * * * * * *

Brace Bozhart raced out of his office at the Chicken Shack Vacation House as a yellow Camaro zoomed away. He wasn't sure but it looked like Jane at the wheel. First, Herlock Cabyns and Datsun disappeared now Jane Porker was gone. The man's features tightened with intense thought as he sought an answer for the strange goings on.

Brandough came running up. "Boss, dat new bull-rider just stole yer car! Want I should pulverize da bitch?" Marlin smacked a fist into his palm, demonstrating a willingness and ability to administer swift justice.

Bozhart shook his head. "Bring up the Deloren. I'll take care of this myself."

Moments later, behind the wheel of a silver-grey Deloren, Brace Bozhart sped into the night.

* * * * * * * *

Bozhart answered the phone. Nick Miser screamed, "Where's my diary?"

Brace rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Miser? What's this?"

As the heir to the BB, Inc. billions struggled to full alertness his hand passed over the sheets where Jane's lovely body should have been. The fabric was cold. There was no warmth of her there at all. Confused, Brace listened with half an ear as the head of Rodent Productions ranted.

"Calm down, Nick," Bozhart commanded. "We're getting nowhere fast. Talk to me, calmly, reasonably..."

Brace cradled the cordless with shoulder and chin as he looked for Jane. During his exploration of the house the irate Miser revealed that his diary had been stolen and that a 1966 lemon colored Camero had been seen and that he was going to have Brace killed if it wasn't returned.

Bozhart by this time had returned to the bedroom to dress in black boots, black jeans and a black shirt. "Nick," he said, "I don't have your diary. If it were my intention to destroy you I'd do it on the stock market—or I'd buy that penny-ante operation of yours and fire you, but that is of little import at the moment. Jane is gone. It isn't like her to leave without telling me. So, if you are looking for a villian, I suggest you look toward Edgar Nyce. Oh, by the way, threaten me again and I'll call in all your loans. Do you read me?"

Miser's tinny "Yes sir! Yes! ... " from the handset terminated when Brace thumbed the power off. He went downstairs to the two car garage. Jane's magenta Yugo was gone. He climbed into a carefully restored vintage 1966 yellow Camaro, clicked the automatic door opener, and sped into the night.

* * * * * * * *

Brace Bozhart was passed by the gate guard without question. At his side a bubbly blonde giggled as he handed her out. The lobby's night watchman nodded at the famous visitor and buzzed them through to the elevators. A short time later the couple entered Nick Miser's office, just as the nervous-appearing man hung up the telephone. When Miser saw who walked in, he turned white as a ghost.

"Hey, Brace! If I'd known that was your cell phone and you were out with... well, sorry for bothering you. No hard feelings?"

"What are you talking about?" Bozhart frowned. "Nipping a little too heavily tonight, Nick? This is Judy Flanders—cover up, dear, you're popping out."

The blonde in the tank top and way-too-short shorts giggled and gripped the straining spandex and yanked up. The resulting jiggles and bounces left both men speechless for a moment.

Nick recovered first, fear driving him. "Look, about that diary thing...I was way out of line. I know you wouldn't, well, I hope you wouldn't...golly, Brace, are you going to have me killed?"

Brace's frown deepened. To the blonde he said, "Go feed the fish." Bozhart pointed to the aquarium at the other side of the office. Putting an arm around Miser's shoulder, the bazillionaire leaned close. "What the hell are you raving about? You sound more whacked out than Randy Rodent."

When Miser finished babbling Brace Bozhart stroked his chin meditatively. Miser, anxious, watched the world's most powerful man with the same intensity as a rat watching a python—and for the same reason. "Relax, Nick," Bozhart finally said. "Entertain Miss Flanders for me, will you? She's our Sleeza of the Jungle. She doesn't speak English but I'm sure you can figure out a way of communicating."

"Where are you going, Brace?" Miser mopped his brow. "What's going on?"

"That's what I'm about to find out."

* * * * * * * *

Brace Bozhart sped away from the rescued Englishmen in a 1966 Camaro. Things were getting out of hand and it was time to put a stop to it. If his wife Jane Porker had accomplished her mission there would be a resolution soon.

Damn Mother Nature for interferring!

* * * * * * * *

Jane Porker-Bozhart knocked on the cabin door. There was no answer. She tried again with no results. Walking around back, she saw a chicken coop covered with a strange black and white rubberized tarp. At the dilapidated ranch house's back door, she rapped well-formed knuckles on the cracked paint of the weather-beaten screen door.

She heard a movement inside. Peering through the dust-coated wire screen Jane thought she saw a person approaching. The next thing she knew a shotgun had been fired. The wire screen burst outward and dozens of pellets tore into her young body. Slammed backwards by the blast, Jane Porker-Bozhart lay motionless in the dirt yard.

CHAPTER 66: In The Hall of The Demented Mountain King

"Ras Putan! Ras Putan! Let down your hair!" Cabyns cried.

The mad scientist was too terrified of the advancing zombies to respond. He did not initially understand the world's most famous consulting detective's directive. Cabyns, with time running out, did the deed himself. He quickly ran fingers through Ras Putan's Grimley Wave and produced the elaborate aluminum framework which supported the folicle product adornment. "Move aside, Putan, there's work to be done!"

The detective's fingers rapidly disassembled the cosmetic device into its various single parts—small slivvers of strong metal about the size and shape of sewing needles. Datsun, bug-eyed as the monster Bozharts advanced, tried to be encouraging but his voice rose to a grating falsetto:

"Hurry, Cabyns! They are upon us! Whatever you are going to do, please do it now!"

Unpreturbed by imminent death the English detective calmly produced his automated Pez dispenser and loaded it with the metalic components from the Grimley Wave device. Taking careful aim Herlock fired at the nearest Bozhart abomination. The deadly silver needle penetrated the bionic eye and crashed into the computer sub-matrix beneath. Smoke poured out of the zombie's ears as it passed between the men. It continued to walk across the laboratory until, like a wind-up Helen Keller doll, it hit the wall.

Cabyns methodically disabled or destroyed the remaining creatures. Some fell, never to move again, others walked aimlessly, and would continue to do so until switched off or their internal power supplies were depleted.

Datsun breathed a sigh of relief then gasped with astonishment as Cabyns turned the deadly Pez dispenser upon Ras Putan's assistants then upon the mad scientist himself. "Cabyns! What have you done?"

Blowing carefully to cool his smoking Pez dispenser, Cabyns removed the two remaining needles and replaced the tiny glucose tablets of his addiction, of which he promptly shot two into his mouth. "It is elementary, my dear Datsun. We are but pawns in a crude and often overly dramatic pulp fiction written by an obviously schizophrenic author. We were to perish by one of his embedded egos but the other persona is determined we shall live. You will note that I have retained the last two needles," he continued, patting the breast pocket of his tweed vest. "It is possible that you and I are also mechanical devices."

Datsun choked. "You don't say!"

"Indeed I do," the master detective replied, taking another shot from his Pez dispenser for its calming effect. "If or when the time comes I will do the responsible thing and, as the Yanks say, 'take us out.' We are not mere pawns—we are the crowning achievement of Sir Martha Caroline Doily—and you know what that means."

Datsun reverently nodded. "We are doomed to immortality no matter how many hideous pastiches are produced. I understand now, Herlock. You are quite right. Well, that's setlted. What next?"

The two men stepped over the inanimate objects and moved toward the opposite door. "Now we look for REAL clues."

In the room beyond Herlock applied the might of his trained mind and the accumulated experience of solving many baffling mysteries. He deduced that the room, which showed signs of frequent use, held the key to the strange turn of events which had beset them since leaving mother England. Cabyns examined everything within the stainless steel appointed room floored with red tile. His intellect was sorely tested for clues until at last, in the last place he looked, he found what he so diligently sought.

"I have it!" Herlock Cabyns cried triumphantly. "I cannot believe they were so daft to leave the key to this astonishing mystery unprotected!"

"What is it?" the redundantly dialogued Datsun inquired. He tried to examine the sheet of paper his excited companion waved in the air.

Cabyns quickly quieted himself with another injection from the Pez dispenser. In control of himself once again Cabyns allowed the good doctor an opportunity to read what he had found:


CHICKEN JAMBALAYA
 Serves: 4
Jambalaya is a popular dish throughout the American
South. It is most often associated with New Orleans
and is made with rice and pork, ham, chicken, shrimp,
and a variety of other additions and seasonings.
Jambalaya is similar to pilaf, but the origin of the word
jambalaya is still in dispute. Some say the name derives
from jambon, French for ham. Many styles of jambalaya
abound and probably as many recipes as there are
cooks in New Orleans.
Melt or heat in a large skillet over medium heat: 
   2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
Add and cook, turning often, until browned all sides,
about 10 minutes: 
   1 broiler-fryer chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut
   into serving pieces
Remove to a plate and season with: 
   Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Add to the drippings in the skillet: 
   1 medium green bell pepper, diced
   1/2 cup diced celery
   1 cup long-grain white rice
   1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
Stir to coat with the drippings. Stir in: 
   3 cups boiling water
   1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
   3/4 teaspoon salt
   1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
   1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
   1 bay leaf
Return the chicken to the skillet. Top with: 
   1 cup slivered cooked ham (about 1 ounce) or 2
   ounces chorizo sausage, thinly sliced
Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the water
is absorbed and the chicken is cooked through,
about 20 minutes. Cook, uncovered, until any excess
moisture is evaporated, about 3 minutes.

Datsun returned the paper, his old brow furrowed with confusion. "I don't understand, Cabyns. What does this—"

"Do not worry, my good man. You may not understand now, but soon all will be clear! Let us away, the game's afoot!"

CHAPTER 67: Tom Slow and His Electric Accordian

We break into our normally scheduled broadcast with a Special Report. And now, ERBS anchor Peter Lemmings...

Good afternoon, America. I'm Peter Lemmings. Throughout the day a series of severe earthquakes have hit southern California. This comes in the wake of the most devastating urban fire since Mrs. O'Leary's cow burned Chicago. While authorities are investigating the possibility that well-known Ratnaz author Edgar Nyce's burro Rexall and a kerosene lantern were responsible for the Los Angeles fire other developments have suspended the official police inquiry.

You are now looking at footage shot last night and early this morning by our Los Angeles affiliate KFLX. The destruction of Los Angeles and surrounding towns is incredible. Vast areas of blackened, demolished buildings stretch from the mountains to the Pacific. There are isolated areas the fire capriciously left unharmed but for most of the millions living in the area they are without shelter, food or water.

However, that seems a minor inconvenience since few of them will live long enough to become hungry. At 1:46 pm, Pacific Time, the largest earthquake ever recorded has lowered large sections of the San Andres Fault. We are now looking at live coverage where a section of the California coastline has disappeared. The Pacific ocean is pouring through that gap at an incredible rate. A flood, almost like a huge tidal wave, is rushing inland. Scientists at the Geological Institute predict that the Salton Sea, Death Valley, and other low lying areas will be connected to the Pacific as an unbroken body of water.

President Clinton has declared a State of Emergency for California and portions of Arizona. In a news conference given just minutes ago, President Clinton was heard to say, and I quote, 'My heart goes out to the people of California. We, as a nation, will do all that is in our power to send aid and assistance', end quote.

As you can see, the rushing water is taking out everything in its path. Whole communities and cities are washed away as if they never existed. Please stay tuned. We will continue with our continuous live coverage of 'Disaster in California' after these messages.

Tired of that long drive to the beach? Have you avoided driving the Mojave and Death Valley just to swim in the Pacific? Forget those worries! Yuma Beach Resort Communities are the perfect combination of invigorating seaside living with the convenience of a mid-continental address. You must act fast as these valuable properties are limited. Contact your Arizona Real Estate Agent for more information.

* * * * * * * *

HIllie Billman, no longer silly, grabbed Cillie and Willie and Phillie and Milli and Vanilli. "Run!" he cried moving as fast as his peg leg allowed.

Bryce Lee, the illegitmate half-Cantonese half-brother of Brace Bozhart, and his Canadian Cantonese wannabe sidekick Splay-Toe rapidly followed. The group headed for a fissure in the cavern wall of Nyce World, one that seemed to trend upward.

Lee picked up Milli, who was an attractive sixteen year old but rather slow moving. He effortlessly kept pace with the burly West Virginian Canuck. "Why are we running?" he asked.

Splay-Toe tried to pick up fifteen year old Vanilli but recieved a swift smack in the chops from the independent teen who probably had good reason to distrust the pyjama suited superhero. Cilli gave the cleaver-toting fellow a nasty look when he offered to carry Willie.

Bryce Lee-Bozhart again asked, "Why are we running?"

The wily veteran of the hilly farm wars and several years at sea as a one-legged cabin boy was quick to answer. "Can't you feel it in your bones? Why, man, our bodies are 98 percent sea water and like knows like. It is in our heredity that we should know when the source of our birth is near. We live and die by the tides which break upon the shores. That last earthquake has done it, I tell you. The sea is coming to reclaim us all!"

The Yellowjacket deferred to the frantic farmer for lack of a better plan. Anything to escape the hideous stagnation of Nyce World with its violent Dumb-Dumbs and warring island city/states. If there was any truth to the wild-eyed West Canuck Virginian's statement, then higher ground was highly desired. As they moved higher into the high fissure, which seemed to lead higher up into the heart of the high mountains, the zoot suited crime fighter had a pang of high conscience. "Where's Dee Dee and Dan Darter?"

"They left, I guess," the peg-legged man replied.

The slope steepened rapidly. Soon all were puffing and huffing with exertion, except Milli who looked with adoration upon the craggy visage of the god-like Yellowjacket. At a ledge midway up the cavern wall Hilary Billman put his hand under Cilli's ample behind and pushed up to help the woman to a wider, more secure ledge above. He passed up the smaller children, then Vanilli, but when he tried to take Milli from Bryce the girl inexplicably tightened her arms around the yellow clad hero's neck.

"I'll manage," Lee-Bozhart assured the concerned father. "Up with you, now. You, too, my faithful Splay-Toe!"

Below their precarious perch, a mutted roaring was heard. All eyes turned toward the subterranean entrance to Nyce World. A tremendous jet of water shot out of the cavern's opening, sending an enormous plume of water well into the underground lake. The children began to scream, which got on everyone's nerves, except for Vanilli, whose adoring eyes were focused upon the handsome features of the powerful man holding her.

The jet of water carried away the Jeddak of Nyce World, as well as the platform, the ticket gates, the concession stands, groves of artificial trees and two dozen paddle boats. Billman had to shout to be heard over the roar of the flood. "Hand her up! Quick!"

Bryce Lee attempted to do so, but for once in his life the mighty Yellowjacket was foiled. Milli's young arms tightened about his neck so strongly that he had difficulty drawing breath! "Go to your father!" he cried.

"I stay with you," the girl said. "I love you."

These were the last words Bryce Lee heard as the rising water washed out the rocks at the base of the fissure. The tiny ledge on which he stood, holding the perverse child, collapsed. The Yellowjacket and Hillie Billman's eldest daughter fell into the swirling water to what surely must be their doom.

tangor@erblist.com

BOOK VI


CHAPTER 68: Strange Bedfellows: Rathmind, Tang-Gor, and CAPTAIN CANUCK!

Rolph Rathmind, clad only in his favourite Winnie the Pooh undershorts and clutching a wad of dollar bills in one hand and a Zany Grany autograph in the other, shuffled up the walkway to what, a few short hours ago, had been the bungalow office of Edgar Nyce, Inc.

The old man, who had been private secretary and business confidante to Nyce for nearly as long as he could remember, hopscotched barefoot through the roofless, charred remains of the Nyce study and stopped at the ruins of a large carved desk. He brushed aside the ashes under the derelict wooden structure and grasped a large brass ring. After a few tugs a trap door swung up to allow ingress downward via a steel ladder. The weary survivor of what had turned out to be a cataclysmic night reached the bottom rung of the ladder and turned to push open a heavy sliding door. A quick surveillance of the room beyond brought a sigh of relief:

"Thank God, everything's all right here," he sighed upon entering the subterranean chamber far beneath Ratnaza.

He began his inspection by opening the top drawer of a large filing cabinet and pulling out a file folder labeled "Desert Property Deeds - Death Valley Area." Satisfied that all the documents were in order, he made a quick tour of the blue-lit room that was lined with control panels, computer terminals and huge computer monitor screens. He hobbled across the red and black checker-tiled floor, pausing to study the images of huge tidal waves on the display screens. Impatient, the old fellow then opened a sliding glass panel and peered into an adjoining lab.

"Captain Canuck!?!...Tang-Gor!?!...You in there?"

A giant of a man with long, blondish-red hair, his near-superhuman muscles emphasized by his skin-tight red costume, stepped out of the shadows. As he approached Rathmind his steely blue eyes peered quizzically through the red mask that covered the upper part of his face. He swept aside his long flowing cape to reveal a large golden maple leaf logo embroidered on his bulging codpiece, and in a booming voice queried:

"WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?"

He then went into a wide-legged stance and stood with arms akimbo, waiting for an explanation—his cape and locks fluttering in the breeze. As the rugged man from the north stood with chiseled jaw jutting upward in the angle best suited to absorb the full glow of the overhead blue spotlights, it occurred to Rathmind that every time the Commonwealth crime fighter assumed this macho pose, a sudden gust of wind always came up unexpectedly. And...he swore he could hear the stirring strains of "The Maple Leaf Forever" somewhere in the background.

Before the beleaguered secretary could reply, another figure crept out of the shadows and in a curious drawling voice declared: "rathmind...we...had...to...start...without...you... the... explosives... have... been... detonated!"

Rathmind had never gotten used to the grotesque figure which now moved up beside the tall, handsome Canadian super hero. The undraped body of a bearded, emaciated Brace Bozhart moved forward to bask naked in the blue light of the chamber—eyes staring frighteningly vacant while the underdeveloped muscles of the man twitched compulsively in the chilling breeze.

It was not unusual in the past for Bozhart to bring terror to those whom he accosted but now he presented terrors ten-fold. Perched piggy-back fashion on top of the once-formidable man's head was a squat, bodiless, head-shaped creature with two feelers and six spider-like legs which seemed to be manipulating the body below. Most frightening was the glowing, semi-transparent, almost hologram-like nature of the repulsive being.

Rathmind whined at the creature, "Gee, Tang-Gor you promised I could push the detonator button!" The resigned old man shambled with head bowed to one of the lab control chairs where he sank devastated into the body-contoured cushions.

This was the last straw for the long-suffering, unacknowledged secretary/advisor of the Nyce holdings. He had made all of the magazine serial deals with All-Gory Weekly from day one, wrangled all the money-making book publishing deals for Ed's books issued by McGurgled & Burnt and Grossitter & Bunlap, plotted the very lucrative give-away promotional campaigns with Sagnil Oil Co., masterminded all the comic strip and graphic novel adaptations with Dark Burro Comics, come up with the idea for the controversial Muscle of Doom X-rated serial with Big Dirk Productions, organized the string of sweat shops across the impoverished Canadian prairies for clothing manufacture, and he had even secured the latest Ratnaz movie deal with Miser's Touchwood Studios.

He had done it all while Ed blew the money on lavish parties, fancy cars and exorbitant expeditions to far-off places. He finally realized that it was time he did something for himself...he wanted a piece of the action... a little respect and recognition... and a nest egg for his retirement years.

"You guys don't play fair," groused the old fellow as he reached across the lab table and collated the ingredients for his favourite pick-me-up: a Ratnaz Special cocktail. Yes, Ed had even taken credit for this concoction, Rathmind's crowning achievement, when it became the rage in all of the watering holes across the country.

"Mmm...let me see now, this flask otta do...now...two ounces of Newfoundland Screech, one ounce of sarsaparilla, one ounce of goats' milk, five drops of Habanero Hot Sauce, two tablespoons of molasses... gotta shake it...pour it over some ice...now to garnish with banana slices...ahhhh....yessss....and one big Jalopeno to float on top..... gulp... humphhh... augghh... wheewooo... I needed that!"

Rathmind sank back into the cushioned leather seat and stared at his slightly startled companions through the smoke clouds which were wafting from his ears. In his quest for power he had fallen in with strange bedfellows: a flamboyant Canadian Superhero who had come to Southern California on a green card to work as a part-time wetback ..and...this strange ethereal creature from beyond CyberSpace who had taken control of the Internet and had ultimately taken possession of nethead extraordinaire, Brace Bozhart.

Bozhart's own greed for power had proved to be his undoing—he had bitten off more than he could chew when he tried to manipulate the Internet. Tang-Gor had materialized from beyond CyberSpace to empty Boz's mind .. and others... into computer banks which were then downloaded into countless BB Inc.-designed androids and turned loose on the unsuspecting world.

Now from Rathmind's own secret lab, this disparate trio had pooled resources to omnisciently control the various branches of the Bozhart, Nyce and Miser empires—to accomplish their own enigmatic objectives.

Tang-Gor, who had developed a penchant for Ratnaz Specials, hopped off his mindless mount to scurry across the lab bench to partake of Rathmind's powerful cocktail. Meanwhile, the unguided Boz bod was left to stumble around the lab, bumping into delicate lab equipment and the still-posing Canuck.

The elderly master mixer yanked his flask away from the alien's slurping feelers and hurriedly gulped down the remaining dregs of the potent mixture.

"Too potent!" he thought as the floor and walls started to shake around him and a huge section of the rear wall fell away.

The shaken and stirred septuagenarian swung around in time to see a giant corkscrew come to rest within millimeters of his flushed face. He raised his eyes to stare in amazement through a window in the mighty machine before him and screamed at what he saw:

"YOU!!!...ED???"

CHAPTER 69: "What's the buzz....Tell me what's a-happenin'"

Ratnaz was hurt to the quick. He was overcome by a flood of feelings of complete betrayal. The two people whom he had most trusted—Nick Miser and Edgar Nyce—had conspired against him. Bertie noticed tears running down his quivering cheeks and reached for the hankie protruding from the breast pocket of the tux that her sobbing companion had borrowed from Bryce Lee's wardrobe.

The formal suit was a splendid raiment—an immaculate full-dress, baby blue tuxedo, complete with trailing tails, green cummerbund, and flaring bellbottoms. To her amazement she pulled out a long, endless line of silk handkerchiefs, and accompanying the chain of hankies there fluttered out a flock of doves. The tired muscles of the apeman/goat kid/cinema child instinctively harkened back to past experiences as they impulsively wrenched his formally clad body to the cave floor.

"Duck sweets, here comes another flock!" came the warning from the hunching, hallucinating humanoid.

As he fell to the floor, a frightened white rabbit squirmed out from under his tux jacket, followed by a poof of red smoke.

"It's alive! It's alive! Ripley! Help!" he screamed as he clutched his belly.

In near-panic the apeman sat up and frantically tore off the hexed clothing—a move which seemed to loosen the lining and to dislodge a cleverly concealed carpenter's utility belt. By the time that Ratnaz had peeled down to his skivvies, the cave floor was strewn with clattering, rolling gadjets that had fallen out of his now-discarded apparel. Before him lay a bizarre mix of magician props and tools designed for carpentry and crime fighting.

The startled, inquisitive apeman poked at the spent pile of discarded clothing with his forefinger, revealing an identification label: "Property of Cows 2U Theatrical Rentals—Magician's Costume." Then, like a kid in a toyshop, he turned his attention to the heap of gadgets strewn around him. Both he and Bertie were relieved to find that each of the thingamajigs was labelled: BuzzArang, BuzzBlowtorch, BuzzSaw, BuzzTamagochi, Buzzooka, BuzzBombs, BuzzPopcorn maker, BuzzNosehair clipper, BuzzClean Underwear, Keys to the BuzzMobile and BuzzCave secret entrance...

Fascinated by all of this, Bertie started to explore the pockets the silk pajamas that she had borrowed from Ward Cleaver's wardrobe: a vial of yellow dye, a switchblade cleaver, a Wokking for Dummies cookbook, one well-used Swiss Army chop stick, a yellow-hilited wad of annotated paper slips from fortune cookies, a Tiger Balm tin containing miniature BenWa balls, a picture of a plump middle-aged woman with a big red rooster on her shoulder, and an autographed 8-track cartridge of Joni Mitchell songs.

"Wheww! Too weird for me," the amazed woman muttered as she stripped down to the skimpy bra and panties she had also found back in Ward Cleaver's closet—hidden beneath the pajama outfit she had borrowed.

As they sat cross-legged, surrounded by the incredible assortment of doodads retrieved from the clothing, Ratnaz regained his finely honed mental faculties and expressed his puzzlement: "Ya knows toots, ther's something fishy goin' on here."

While in deep thought, the astute adventurer absent-mindedly reached for the device labelled BuzzRemote—but as he diddled with the object, the cave came alive. A loud wasp-like buzzing sound filled the room and a huge flashing neon sign displayed: "Welcome to the BuzzCave... Home of America's Intrepid Crimefighters: Yellow Jacket and Splay-Toe."

Wide-eyed with amazement, Ratnaz and Bertie, explored the hidden hideaway of Bryce Lee-Bozhart—illegitimate son of magnate Buzz Bozhart. As they walked arm-in-arm, they were dazzled by the many varied and wondrous things they beheld in what they now knew to be the Buzz cave: racks of costumes - mainly yellow Zoot Suits and Chinese silk pajamas, an extensive library of crime-fighting reference materials featuring a complete Hardy Boys collection, stacks of what appeared to be mug shot photos in matched bound volumes - each cover embossed with a rabbit's profile and the monogram HMH, a BuzzCopter with a huge industrial strength rubber band propulsion unit, BuzzBoat (a raft of 2x4s with a pedal-drive mechanism) and a familiar-looking yellow Harley with gaffer tape strategically placed over the ubiquitous yellow wasp logo.

"Look what they done to my play cave Bertie! Old Ed used to let me come down here to play...they threw out all my toys and filled it with this junk! But I remember..I remember! Follow me!" shouted the near-naked apeman as he resumed his pinball bounce deeper into the cave.

A resigned Bertie gave chase and caught up to the wildman just as he rebounded off a flat rock wall at the rear of the cave. Undaunted he bounced up and scampered among the rocks until he tripped over and almost impaled himself on an ominous looking stalagmite.

"Aha... help me here babe!" he shouted as he tugged on the pointed rock formation. Bertie, torn between humouring the unstable loony and trying to talk some reason into him, stood indecisive while the apeman grappled with the stalagmite. Following one last superhuman tug, a section of the rock wall rumbled open before them.

"It's Ed's secret place! He used to take me here everyday! Come on..." he yelled as pulled the startled girl through the opening in the rock face to a fate she feared might be worse than death.

CHAPTER 70: The Strange Odyssey of Rex, The Wonder Rooster

Bertha La Rapo had been awakened by the sound of a pickup truck roaring out through the front gate of her poultry compound. She pulled aside the bedroom curtains in time to see a cloud of dust and a trail of feathered carcasses that had been run over in the driveway leading down to Ventura Boulevard.

"Goll durned little hussy...she stole my pickup," she cursed as she waded through the waist-deep pile of chicken feathers and nesting hens that had taken over her sleeping chamber. She proceeded to walk a gauntlet through the living room clutter and slid onto the down-covered bench at the breakfast nook table where she reached for a spiked and winged Prussian-style helmet. Taking the metal headgear in both hands she turned it over and drove the spear-like spike which adorned the top of the helmet into an already well-splintered tabletop.

She had first worn the helmet while posing for St. Jaques' cover illustration for Ed's book, "The Mud King"... and later had scotch taped chicken wings on the sides when it was necessary to adapt it to a Viking helmet while modeling for Hal "Gump" Forester's Prince Violent Sunday page illustrations.

In more recent times this versatile tin hat had served her well as a drinking goblet from which she sipped Barnyard Custards mixed with chicken broth and spiked with Ratnaz Specials. Squinting in the brilliant sunlight of a brand new California day, she ritualistically mixed her morning concoction and hunched over a drinking straw to slurp the heady mix from the bowl-shaped container.

Life had not been kind to Bertha. She could not trust people. Just last night she had saved that wench's life and had taken her in...and the bitch ran off with one of the few things she treasured on this earth—her trusty old poultry truck. She sighed...gulped down another swig of the brew and looked around her crowded living room.

The walls were festooned with Edgar Nyce book jacket illustrations and paintings by St. Jaques, Forester, and Franco Frazelli. She had posed for every one of the illustrations, but where was the recognition? Where was the financial reward? Where was Ed? Many years before she had almost snared Brace Bozhart but he had chosen that scheming Jane Porker leaving her stuck with old Ed...and all Ed could ever talk about was that Porker jezebel.

Bertha was a woman scorned, two-timed, jilted and used. She reached over for the latest edition of All-Gory Weekly: "Humph!... Now I only get to pose for weird stuff like this Zany Grany cover by Jock Davis."

The now more-than-slightly inebriated woman tore off the cover of the pulp magazine, took one last look through bleary, half-shut eyes, and tore up the page which featured the picture of a hideous frog.

Unable to concentrate long on anything in her worsening condition, she switched on the radio to tune in the latest news from her favourite morning man, Orcon Whales:

"We know now that in the closing years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied..."

"Ah, bull!" slurred the impatient Bertie as she switched off the set. "Old Orcon's off on another rampage... must be tippin' that corn jug agin. Last week he was rantin' on about some far-fetched earthquake and fire goin' to wipe out LA. Give us a break ya big pompous windbag."

After a few more sips of her morning waker-upper, she spilled out her innermost thoughts to her only real confidante in this world: Rex, the Wonder Rooster who had just fluttered up to the table surface. "Well we still got each other Rex ...and... and... old Rathmind and... that new partner of his...that big handsome fellow from up north... in the long red underwear... and the red flannel bedsheet that he ties in a granny knot around those big broad shoulders." Her heart palpitated at the very thought of the big Canuck...visions of maple leaves danced before her eyes... why, she even got chills every time he came near...she had even taken to wearing a sweater when he was around.

"Hey Rex, have we got a plan! Ed's gonna pay for what he done. We're gonna help our old pal Rathmind and his strange friends to get even with Ed ...and Boz...even if we have to put up with that creepy Tang-Gor."

A few more nips of the strange brew and Bertha had worked herself into an hallucinatory rage—she prepared for battle against foes real and imagined. The spurned woman rose from the table, adjusted her khaki baby doll pajamas, and reached for her trusty shotgun. She pried loose the not-quite-empty helmet and rammed it down over her giant Dolly Parton-wanna-be hair do. Her next move was to assist faithful Rex, the Wonder Rooster onto her left shoulder. At that very moment she was alerted by a loud banging on the screen door and moved across the room in a wobbly commando crouch, shotgun pressed to her shoulder, to defend what was hers.

Bertha's eyes were playing cruel tricks on her. The inebriating effects of the Ratnaz Special combined with her growing mental rage convinced her that the face of the woman she hated most in the world was trying to haunt her—she could see her through the screen door—the abominable Jane Porker Bozhart was trying to break into her house!

She lifted her left hand to wipe the tears of rage and the burning helmet drippings from her eyes before she took aim at the apparition in the doorway and pulled the trigger of her deadly firearm. Not pausing to assess the results of the blast, she turned and stumbled through the back door of her homely hovel.

Barely balancing Rex on one shoulder she made her way to the stone and mortar upper structure of the backyard well and paused to uncover a hidden flashlight which she scotch-taped to the spear point on her winged helmet.

Turning once more to the moulting bird she babbled and clucked: "We shore done our job din we ole fren. Ain't no way no intruder's gonna learn our li'l secret or git down our well. Rathmind an' my Cap'n guy gung be rele proud! Les go down an tell our new buddies."

Then, with Rex still perched on her shoulder and her shotgun tucked underneath her arm, she awkwardly made her way down a steel ladder attached to the inner well cribbing—pausing only to yank free a harpoon which somehow had become wedged in the well shaft. She counted off 22 rungs of the ladder and then used her right foot to probe for an opening in the wall of the well casing. Finding firm footing she swung into a wide horizontal tunnel which the light from her improvised miner's helmet showed to stretch far into the distance. Looking back down the abyss of the well she saw no sign of last night's prowler but she was surprised to notice that the water table in the well had risen almost to the height of the tunnel opening. Her mind being too fuzzy to ponder the reasons for this unexpected rise, she immediately struck out along the subterranean passage way, muttering all the while to her feathered companion.

A bend in the tunnel brought her to a balcony overlooking a blue-lit cavern laboratory. Bertha was about to whistle and to wave her weapons to attract the attention of the men working below her when the ground started to shake and a gigantic burrowing machine crashed through the rock wall of the lab. She stared on, helpless, as the mechanical behemoth lumbered across the floor threatening to crush the only friends she had left in the world.

Say kids! Don't miss the next breathtaking installment of the Ratnaz Files when Ratnaz, your favourite All-American hero takes on the Japanese invaders in: CHAPTER 71: Rora, Rora, Rora: Pearl Harbor - January 11, 1973 !

CHAPTER 71: Rora, Rora, Rora: Pearl Harbor - January 11, 1973

"Come with me Bertie...I remember this!... It's Ed's big secret project!" howled the ecstatic Lord of the Leaves as he pulled a dazed Bertie Ketchum through the still-opening secret entrance deep within the refurbished Ratz Cave far beneath Ratnaza Ranch. Bertie found herself being yanked down a long spiral staircase encased by a plexiglas cylinder. At the bottom of the stairs she realized that she was in a red-lit, huge bubble-like control room made almost entirely of glass and suspended above a vast subterranean sea that was strangely lit by a golden phosphorescent glow off the rock ceiling.

"Jeeze...look at the water...wonder what happened? cried a baffled Ratnaz. "It's almost up to our viewing gondola!"

Bertie could make out two large floating islands in the distance, and directly below them was a third island—its jungle foliage almost touching the bottom of their observation pod. Amazingly, there appeared to be struggling bodies adrift on the waters—one was a large gray-haired fellow trying to stay afloat by clinging to a piece of flotsam and beyond him was a yellow-suited man and young girl who appeared to be in a tight embrace on an unusual yellow rubber raft. Steaming toward both these parties was a fabulous paddle wheel riverboat. She didn't have the opportunity to see what happened next as her unpredictable friend was again tugging on her arm.

"Bananas! Look just below us!" exclaimed the girl's thrilled companion as he flung open a hatch in the floor of the observation pod. He then boasted, "Look Berts... I can almost touch the trees... ooooeeee... magic bananas.... ah... ahh... ahhh...uh oh....BWAHAHAHAHA!"

Bertie reached to grab him as he teetered over the edge of the hatch opening. Her attempt to pull him back only resulted in her being pulled over the side with him. The two bodies plunged through the upper terraces of the jungle growth until their fall was broken by the thatched roof of a small cabin. The thatch gave way and the two naked misadventurers found themselves sprawled on the earthen floor of a crudely constructed shack.

"O Bertie, it's just like my Nanny's house back in the Valley of the Dong...Where I was raised...What a memory that Ed's got! He made all this, you know!"

Ratnaz became a goat kid again as he ran on all fours about the cabin. "Look! Here's the book I used to teach myself how to colour. And there's the pile of goat bones I used to use for my dolly. And there's my daddy's old manure shovel I used to carry everywhere...even hit big King Dong over the head with it a few times."

With knees bruised and dirty, the Lord of the Leaves paused in his euphoric romp to sit cross-legged on the dirt floor of the goat cabin. He squinted and peered through the heavy cloud of dust that had been stirred up in the cabin. "Where are ya Bertie? Ahh come on... don't ya wanna play?"

Bertie floated out of the dust cloud with the grace of an angel and seated herself beside the panting goat kid. "Ratz...you never told me about the early days...What was it like? Why did you leave the jungle? How did you get to America?"

Thinking back to his formative years, Ratz took a deep breath to settle himself and became uncharacteristically literate in his narrative.

Author's Note: Uncharacteristic because the Canadian weaver of this tale is weaving with a different set of colours than his American counterpart who seems to have evolved an almost Brooklynese accent for our Lord of the Leaves... or perhaps it's a bit of Texas local colour seeping through, eh, huh, eh?

"Well, Edgar Nyce came to our village just when I was gettin' ready to give that Dan Darter guy over to King Dong—I had an important job, you know...I was in charge of sacrifices—and then Ed and his safari took us away from my pal, Dong, and the village. But the natives came after us and took Darter back. After many adventures, our safari made it back to Ed's ship with all the magic bananas we could carry and we finally set sail. For some reason though, Ed wanted to stop over in Hawaii on our way back to California.

"We had just docked at Pearl Harbor when they hit us...the Japanese...it was awful! They swarmed over everything...there were bright lights exploding everywhere...they came roaring out of the clouds in planes and out of the sea mists in ships...and then advanced over the islands in huge buses. News cameramen took their lives in their hands to get footage of the chaos. The roar from the mass of humanity was deafening. The final confrontation was pandemonium and thanks to the genius of Arthur Seaclerk and his geosynchronous satellites the whole affair was televised worldwide... shockwaves spread around the world. And at the scene of the skirmish there were Japanese everywhere... each of them loaded down with the latest in high tech equipment. Our guys didn't have a chance. The intruders had the best equipment that Japanese scientists could produce: finely crafted 35mm cameras, giant telephoto zoom lenses, parabolic mikes, high fidelity stereo recorders, with belts and battle packs crammed with futuristic electronic gizmos.

"The final showdown took place at the International Confrontation Center, culminating with our King leaving the scene. This seemed to be what the invading hordes had been waiting for. Evidently the words, "Elvis has left the building" were the signal for a massive retreat of the invaders, and within hours most of them had pulled back to Japan. But the carnage they left! Janitors and street cleaners worked for hours to clean up the rubble. FTD declared it a Day of Infamy...their unprepared communication lines crashed under the deluge of floral and lei orders and they lost all of the day's business to rival companies.

"It was the damnedest thing Ed had ever seen. He really got caught up in the excitement and patriotism of the event so we stayed on the islands for many months afterward, while Ed worked as a columnist doing human interest stories about the effects of the invasion on the Islanders. He even got real chummy with the wife of one of them film producers that covered the campaign - she was actually a countess of some sort. They met on an island cruise ship and darned if they didn't eventually get married. Didn't last though...magic bananas, you know.

"I guess you know the rest of the story. Ed wrote a few books and movies based on my adventures in the jungle...I won some gold medals in gymnastics at the Olympics and then I got my big break in the movies playing myself as some kinda jungle king. Those were great years Bertie...but then Ed got mixed up with that Nick Miser and now I think they got somebody else to play Ratnaz on the screen. Life stinks, don't it."

Without warning the cabin door crashed open and through the splintered opening lurched the hulking mass of a huge gorilla. As the beast approached them with fangs bared, it snarled: "!!!Ummmmgaaaaaaawaaaaaa!!!"

CHAPTER 72: Sign of the 2+2=3D4

THE SCIENCE OF DEDUCTION

Dr. Datsun was completely confounded by Herlock Cabyn's excitement over something as mundane as a Jambalaya recipe. As the super sleuth rushed back to the stainless steel-lined room where he had so cleverly found the treasured paper, Datsun shuffled behind, scratching his thatch of graying hair. He stumbled many times over the crumpled bodies in his path as he concentrated on figuring out the importance of the document he had just read. By the time Datsun reached the room, Cabyns had heaped a multitude of food ingredients beside an already steaming cauldron and was in the process of wrestling with a squawking live chicken over by a chopping block.

"But Cabyns, it's..." the doctor paused and started over again in a much louder oratorical delivery to rise above the racket generated by the combatants. "I say Cabyns, it's just a recipe for a common dish from the American south called Jambalaya. What has that to do with anything?"

HERLOCK CABYNS GIVES A DEMONSTRATION

"Stand back Datsun...I can handle this...Take that you vicious, unruly beast..."

The swirling cloud of red chicken feathers obscured much of the action of the combatants writhing on the red-tiled floor, but Datsun beamed with admiration for the martial artistry of his long-time companion. "That's it Cabyns. Try a hammerlock...now you've got him...yes...a head lock...gouge him in the eyes...oooof....well done Cabyns...that body slam did it!"

Datsun stared on in wide-eyed amazement as the wild man rose with chest heaving and stood hunched over the vanquished body of his formidable foe—unmindful of the frightful bleeding from the scratch wounds on his hands. What occurred next startled the English doctor but at the same time filled him with unabashed feelings of pride and patriotism and brought his body to a stiff and rigid, motionless stance. The savage victor put one heavy Wellie on the carcass of his lifeless foe, threw his blood-stained deerstalker to the floor, and raised his cricket-scarred, battle-strained face to the radiant overhead fluorescent light fixture to scream the rallying cry of every British barbarian: "God save our gracious Queen... ...send her victorious... ...long to reign over us.... God save the Queen."

Caught up in the wild euphoria of a hard-fought victory, the gasping victor then effortlessly raised the unconscious body of his worthy opponent over his head and hurled it into the boiling cauldron.

"Come Dr. Datsun, now you may lend a hand," urged Cabyns, starting to come down from his adrenaline rush. "We have no time to waste," implored the man as he commenced to indiscriminately fling ingredients into the cooking pot: rice cakes, pigs feet, shrimp shells, peppers, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Cabyns adjusted the flame on the gas burner and gave the contents of the pot a good stir before turning the stirring stick over to his able assistant. The good doctor leaped to the task and, as do all men happy at their work, burst into song, wrapping his Oxford-trained voice around his own inimitable version of a heavy Louisiana accent: Good bye Joe... Me gotta go... Down the bayou... Jambalaya... Crawfish pie... dum... diddly dee di, dee dee - dee dee..."

IN QUEST OF A SOLUTION

Seemingly unmindful of the boisterous balladeer's performance over by the cooking cauldron, the master sleuth pulled a chair up to a stainless steel counter, pushed aside a heap of unwashed knives and utensils, and produced a note book and fountain pen from the inside breast pocket of his tweed jacket. He then put the full might of his concentration and deductive powers into play and commenced to scrawl computations onto his notepaper. After a few minutes of furious scratching and casting aside crumpled pieces of paper, he looked up and exclaimed: "Eureka! I have it Datsun! I should have known."

"The key to the code is in the words and number 4 that are found in title of the recipe. Furthermore, the final solution of the problem is reinforced by the ubiquitous number 22 that we have seen posted everywhere since we first arrived at Bozhart's empire. Keep in mind Datsun that 2 plus 2 equals 4!"

The ingenious sleuth then moved to a message chalk board scotch taped to a refrigerator and wrote the words:

CHICKEN JAMBALAYA Serves: 4

"Now my good man...
If we start at the key word Jambalaya...the fourth letter is B.
Two letters back from B is the letter A
Two letters back from A is the letter N
Two letters ahead from N is A
Two letters back from A is the letter N
Two letters ahead from N is the letter A"

His voice rose in volume and pitch with addition of each letter and he ended his demonstration of the solution in a fevered crescendo: "!!!BANANA!!! ~~~ !!!BANANA!!!"

"That, my good man, spells out the missing ingredient needed for the complete secret formula. If my deductions are correct, we have before us the ingredients of the most addictive and powerful hallucinogenic known to man. I can only guess at the side effects...and the ultimate domination that such an horrific concoction threatens to impart to the owner of the secret formula." With that dire warning barely off his lips the dedicated protector of mankind started another mad search of the room. The last place he looked revealed booty he sought.

"Stupid imbeciles! Don't they know the dangers... the consequences! You can't store bananas in the refrigerator without them turning black! Fools!" cursed the world renowned authority on almost every known topic.

The two triumphant Britishers were on their way to the bubbling cauldron with the secret catalyst that would trigger the whole reaction when a clang from an opening trap door in the main lab drew their attention. Both of the two turned in time to see first two, and then two more disparate desperate figures clamber from the depths below—the smallest one of the four stepped forth sporting a large number 22 on the chest of his black T-shirt..

Cabyns shouted, "Brace Bozhart! What happened to you?! You have been shrunk!!!"

CHAPTER 73: Monster Kids of the Phantom Empire

DOUBLE JEOPARDY

In their frantic quest for the beautiful Dee Dee Morris, Mars Markus, with some trepidation, led Kojak Morris and Llana of Baseball into the only remaining door out of the bizarre underground laboratory to which they had been delivered by a wayward Thipcar. He pulled open a creaking door and the trio cautiously entered a partially lit antechamber.

They were immediately accosted by two ancient, grotesque wooden robots, their names indicated by file cards scotch taped to their chests: Gob Barker... and Al Lex TreBarker. "Yes and our final contestants for the day have chosen mystery door number 22. Proceed through the door to receive your surprise gift," they intoned in unison as they pulled opened the double doors for their guests.

As they stepped into the next room, the three confused mystery contestants heard the doors close behind them, and found themselves in complete darkness. Kojak groped for and found a light switch which revealed they were in a gigantic cavern teeming with the most deadly and obnoxious species known to mankind: pre-teenagers.

THE BOYS FROM BRAZOS

"Surprise! Surprise! Mommy Jane Porker! It's our birthday!" came a deafening roar of young cracking male voices. This was followed by a solemn and ominous hush.

The silence was soon broken by a cacophony of disappointed and angry voices, "You're not our Mommy! What did you do with Jane Porker?"

Moving toward the now thoroughly confused intruders were hundreds of young boys, all in matching black T-shirts. Each of the boys were identical in apearance, sporting Grimley wave curls on their foreheads and little Chaplin tramp mustaches scotch taped to their upper lips.

Kojak gasped, "They all look like a young Brace Bozhart! They're identical except for having different numbers painted on their shirts!"

THE BABE STRIKES OUT FOR HIGHER GROUND

Fearless and undaunted, Llana of Baseball spit into her hands, went in a batter's battle crouch and leaned over to tap the floor with her Mickey Mantle Special. "Gimme your best shot, squirts! Come on... ya wanna play hardball do ya?" she shouted while leaping back and forth across an imaginary home plate, utterly confusing the oncoming horde with her ambidextrous positions and her switch hitting prowess as she took lethal practice swings.

Despite Llana's resolve to battle to the death, the situation looked hopeless for the adventurers from the surface. Just when it appeared that the situation could not get any worse, there was a simultaneous commotion pouring from the entrances at both ends of the elongated cavern. Behind them charged a mob of townspeople with torches and garden utensils, hoeing and torching everything in their path. From the front, at the far end of the cavern, advanced another mob - this one was comprised of angry borax miners who were wielding pick axes and swinging heavy bursting burlap sacks at anything in their path. The entire scene was one of chaos and confusion.

Out of this mass of hopelessness stepped one of the Boz Boys with the number #22 on his shirt. "Hi guys. I'm Boom Boom! I'm Boz 22. It's all right!" he shouted above the din of the melee and then he motioned them to follow.

He led them to a partially hidden alcove in which they saw a ladder leading upwards. Within seconds the two men and woman had followed the lead of their benefactor and had started their long climb to the surface. After climbing for what must have been hundreds of feet, they were revitalized by the tantalizing aroma of something cooking. It had the unmistakable smell of Cajun spices and burnt chicken feathers.

THE GAME IS A FACE OFF

Finally, at the end of the ladder, Number 22 opened a trap door above their heads and they crawled up into what appeared to be another lab. This lab, however, was strewn with the bodies of dead adult Bozharts. This was almost more that Kojak could bear and he would have slumped to the floor if his new found love had not been there to steady him. It was then that they discovered the source of the cooking aromas. In an adjoining room, walking toward a large steaming cauldron, were the two men they had almost rammed with their Thipcar earlier in the day. The taller of the two, who was in the process of dropping a bunch of blackened objects into the pot, stared in amazement at young Number 22 and gasped: "Brace Bozhart! What happened to you?! You have been shrunk!"

Further exclamations were lost as a tremendous gurgling and eruption took place in the cooking pot. Billows of acrid smoke engulfed the entire room and its inhabitants. An expression of wild ecstasy came over the faces of Kojak, Mars and Llana and they slumped unconscious to the cold cave floor.

—Bill Hillman


PART III


CHAPTER 74: There's No Place Like Home!

Ratnaz did a double take. Then a second. "Mom!" he cried joyously. "Mom! I'll be..." Sweeping Bertie up from the floor, where the startled girl had fallen, the Lord of the Leaves presented her to the fearsome figure. "This is Bertie Ketchum, Mom. She's my girl! Bet you thought I'd never... say, you're supposed to be dead! I spent eight years ambushing and slaughtering Mambobasa tribesmen because I thought they killed you."

The she ape lowered her eyes nervously and jammed her stogey firmly between her teeth. "Sorry 'bout that, kid. Never meant to hurt you."

"Me? Geeze, Mom, what 'bout all doz pore dudes I wasted? What 'bout them?"

Ratnaz's mother looked apologetic as she pulled a silver compact from the small leather wrist bag dangling from her large and hairy wrist. Powdering her nose, the gigantic anthropoid again expressed her sorrow. "Look, Ratz, it wasn't my fault you went off the deep end. I never thought you'd be that vicious and vengeful—and yes, I never thought you'd find a lovely girl like this sweet child. You were such an awkward klutz as a baby."

The "sweet child" clung to the man's immense biceps in a combination of possessiveness and weak-knees. "He's a hell of a man, your son," Bertie breathlessly announced.

"Tell me about it," the ape she replied. "When he was just a tyke he buried his father in goat manure as Tubfat slept. Nearly suffocated the old thing. Later I caught him tieing baby leopards together by their tails and putting glue in birds' nests and— oh, all sorts of evil-spirited things." Mama reached out and pinched the Lord of the Leaves' cheek. "You certainly grew into a big fellow!"

"Aw, Mom!" Ratnaz blushed, dragging a toe across the floor with his head lowered. "Yer embarazing me!"

The ape patted her son on the head and deftly inserted herself between him and Bertie. Putting a large, heavy, hairy arm about the girl's shoulders, Mother walked Bertie away. Bending low and speaking in a whisper which could be heard for several hundred feet she said: "He's got a foul temper, dearie. Obsessive, too. A little slower than most as well since he was fooled by an old fur coat with some arrows stuck in it. My word, girl, after Tubfat died and he had no one else to play jokes on, he turned his full attention on me, and I mean to tell you, it was the most painful and disheartening 38 minutes I ever spent in my life.

"Ratz just assumed that old coat was his dear old mother and took out with his real father's slingshot and began murdering natives like crazy. Well, I tell you, there wasn't a better time for me to cut and run—and I did."

Bertie looked over her shoulder at the helpless appearing Ratnaz. "Did you kill a bunch of natives?"

"Gosh, Berts, Edgar Nyce made me do it. I never wanted to kill anybody! No siree, not me! Lover not a fighter. Peace, brother. I wore flowers in my hair, darlin'!"

Mama grudgingly nodded. "That's true. As a jungle hero that boy was pretty lame until that Nyce fellow came around. He fixed old Ratz up with a backbone, a conscience and a heredity factor contrary to Darwinian theory. Seemed to take, too, until he met that tramp Oolala. Snippy little broad with a great affection for sharp objects. They started palin' around, boozing it up, and first thing you know, my Ratz is a real rat. If it wasn't for that not nice Nyce our Ratz might have become a regular nobody drinking too much beer on weekends and having to be reminded to carry out the trash twice a week. I don't envy you," the sympathetic ape mother patted Bertie's sleek forearm. "He needs a lot of reforming."

"I'm looking forward to it," Bertie Ketchum replied with a determined expression. "'Salvation' is my middle name."

"Honey, you got your work cut out for you. Well, I have to run. I have an appointment with a mahrvelous hair dresser Zany Grany told me about. I just love those cute Grimy Waves."

Both Ratnaz and his woman chorused: "Grimley!"

The ape mother shrugged her enormous shoulders. "Whatever. You kids take care of yourselves."

And then she was gone, moving through the middle terrace with a speed impossible for any human to duplicate, even the fabulous Ratnaz (before his years of dissolution and debauchery).

"Grand old dame," Ratz sighed. "Damn old dame, too, for misleadin' me like that!" The Lord of the Leaves wiped the bloodstains of hundreds of innocent natives on his naked thighs. "Oh! Oh! Oh!" he wailed. "Gotta find me some pants!"

Bertie eyed the man with a critical eye. "No you don't. But we do have to find a way to get you out of those briefs and into mine. I need you, Ratz!"

Ratnaz looked over Bertie Ketchum's head toward the inside of the computer monitor where Tangor sat on the other side banging keys. "Please, boss? Please?"

Tangor, of course, ignored him. Tangor also decided to mess with the reader's head by

CHAPTER 75: Farewell, Canada!

"Plop!" "Pop!" "Pishhh" "Ploosh!" "Plink!" "Phffttt!"

"My word!" Datsun cried. "What is happening?"

Herlock Cabyns swayed unsteadily beside the bubbling pot. The rubber chicken hung in his hands limp of laughs.

"Ploop!"

Cabyns eyes grew round as another kitchen utensil vanished. A torrent of popping sounds assaulted the Englishmen's ears, some explosive like a shorted lightbulb, others as quiet as a fart rising in a bathtub. The continuous sound of disappearing objects, near and far, was disconcerting.

"What did you put in that vat?" Datsun scowled. "Have you addled our brains, sir?"

"It is not that," Cabyns replied, swiftly recovering his shaken aplomb. "I fear we have been led horribly astray by our missing friend Hilary Billman. I have little doubt that our complimentary drinks served during our impromptu aerial jamboree were drugged and that the last dozen or so chapters have been nothing more than a canny Canuck's uncanny Canadian hallucinations (far more uncanny than ordinary hallucinations, mind you!), most probably brought about by over-indulgence of heavy lager and sushi!"

"Plip!" The kitchen wall disappeared. "Plup!" The cavern disappeared, as well as all the Bozhart zombies and Ras Puten and his gang. There came a most horrendous "Ka-plop!" and the two men found themselves standing beside a small creek, in broad daylight, not far from a trio of burros cropping grass.

"My word!" Datsun cried, stretching his limited vocabulary.

"My word, indeed," Cabyns said with thoughtful tone. "We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto..."

"Beg Pardon?" the ever querrolous Datsun queried.

"Nevermind, Datsun. I think we may have stumbled upon something vital to our case. Look there, under the tree. What do you see?"

Datsun raised a hand to shield his old eyes from the sun. "It looks like a crazy old man, Cabyns."

"You are as observant as you are faithful. Come, Datsun. I want to have a chat with this fellow."

Before the world's foremost insulting detective could speak, the old man looked up from his notebook with a smile. "Ben expectin' ya, gents. Pull up a stump and roost. Here. Read this."

Query: Are Fairy Tales Real?

Chapter 2

David Bruce Bozarth
(Zany Pseudonym)

* * * * * * * *

I wasn't allowed time to bemoan my unusual state; the woman muttered three words which made my ears sing with pain, then the light went out.

When I opened my eyes (or were they open all the time and the light just came back?) and discovered two things simultaneously. The sky was international orange and there was a rather attractive lady frog beside me. I assumed it was the strange lady—there can't be many amphibians with violet eyes. Her inner eyelid blinked at me twice as she moved to the left. I took that as a signal to follow, for she immediately jumped off the oddly formed floating vegetation into the water. I watched for an instant as powerful hind legs propelled that sleek green body through the apparently endless ocean.

"Wait!" I croaked, seeing my only hope of becoming human again stroke-coast-stroking away. "I'm coming with you!"

I had not expected the words to be understandable, but they were. She slowed as I clumsily splashed into the warm water and concentrated on making my oversized webbed feet do the work frogs knew best and humans only mimicked.

When I came alongside, the lady frog began a steady stroking at a pace which allowed me to adjust to my new body. The fortunate aspect of being a frog was that I didn't have to worry too much about drowning, the form I occupied had a natural buoyancy that kept my eyes, ears and nose above water.

Either the shock, or the exercise, burned the alcohol out of my system at a positively indecent rate, thereby depriving me full benefit of the dollars spent to get drunk. That, plus the unasked for transformation, ticked me off. I asked questions.

"Is there any particular grudge you have against me, or is it men in general? Am I really a frog or is this some sort of hallucination or hypnotism?"

"You are a knight of good honor, are you not?" Despite the croaking sound, her voice was still as sweet as her human form had been delectable. Which made me wonder whether male gonads were the same regardless of species.

"I'm not sure I understand, bright eyes."

"I desperately need the service of a good knight, a rescuer. Are you not such a one?"

I gulped. Caught again! "I suppose you've got some deep emotional problem that needs solving?"

"Not me," her merry laugh informed. "My mistress is in dire difficulties. I was sent by dimensional translation into the void to be drawn to and captured by the aura of a knight in good standing. I was drawn to you. Are you now, sir, saying that my mistress' one hope of rescue is for naught? The formula was good for only one attempt."

"I guess you could call me a knight—though I'm not sure I'll be able to do much given the present circumstances."

We continued stroking between curious appearing lily pads and weed, some of which resembled coils of rusty barbed wire. Unfortunately I discovered that weed's similarity to rancher's fencing went deeper than first seeming; I collected several long scratches on my shoulder when I came too close to a patch.

"Where are we going? Why the frog suit, honey?"

"Suit? Are you speaking of the Tarot?" she inquired.

"Tarot? Hey, you're not into astrology and all that other garbage are you? I had enough of that with Deanna."

"Not I, sir knight. I have no powers of my own, only those which were lent me to bring you here."

"Where is here?" I asked. I noticed the sky slowly turning turquoise, a rather mind-wrenching combination with the orange streamers stretching from horizon to horizon. "This place gives me the creeps."

"Which is precisely what we must do, sir. We must creep upon the shoreline and find a suitable place to land, one not too closely watched by the Agavin."

"The who?"

"Agavin, the hideous scaled warriors of Lord Iwanit of Igathat."

"Oh," I said, more confused than ever.

"No, sir knight," she responded sharply. "Not Ooo. He's one of the good wizards gathered by King Ulf Usal to discover where Black Ben Bordum, at the instruction of his master Lord Iwanit, has taken my mistress.

"The wizards Stangetz and Bilhalee made the first attempts and were consumed by the Fires of Ozone. Ooo, thinking such direct measures were incapable of penetrating the magical shields created by Lord Iwanit's wicked Warlock Wewil Ewinkee, thought it might be possible for me to seek her whereabouts by means of an astral tracer. Thus believing, he fashioned three great spells; one to find you, one to change you, and one to change you back when the time was right."

"As far as I'm concerned," I told her, "that time has come now. So, how do we go about this change?"

"It will be the same as when I changed you—a kiss. I hope you will forgive my boldness earlier, sir knight."

I thought I saw a blush on the lovely creature's lime-green cheeks. Amazing! Frogs blush! "Well, I don't mind kisses from pretty girls," I admitted, "but I'll be honest with you, dear, I'm not particularly happy at being whammied into an amphibian. I always thought the fairy tale worked the other way around."

"Sir knight?" The lady frog had increased the tempo until we fairly skimmed the water's surface.

"You know," I said without missing a stroke, "the princess kisses the frog and a handsome prince appears. This is the first time a lady kissed a hopefully not too ugly human and turns him into a frog."

"I'm not sure I understand you, sir, and I wish I had more time to learn, but we must be quiet now, we are approaching yon shoreline."

Indeed we were. I noticed the dark line of foliage rising above the mirror smooth water. She slowed, floating more and using her flippers less, until we ghosted between the pads and other water-logged debris.

I looked to the shore and saw other things which made me understand the woman's caution. They were about six feet long, six legged, with at least sixty-sixty fangs. I knew the number of that beast; low-slung like a crocodile, though they lacked the large tails of those familiar swamp beasts. They looked vicious and one glance at the frog beside me confirmed my suspicions. She was edging away.

The sky had turned completely turquoise by the time we were far enough away from the shore to begin travelling at high speed once again. As we put distance between ourselves and those nasty looking ambulatory hedge-clippers, some of the tension dissipated and she started talking.

"Those we saw on the shore are the Agavin, sir knight. They are on constant patrol at the beck and call of Lord Iwanit."

"And they like nothing better than frog legs for supper?"

"They'll eat anything."

"Like Mikie?" I asked. Though frogs can't frown I certainly received such an impression so strongly I attempted to explain the old cereal commercial. I finally gave up. "I was just trying to relieve the tension. What is your name?"

"Zelandriakofornia."

"Zelan...who?" She repeated the name for me and I wished I had a proper set of shoulders to shrug with. "Is it okay if I call you Zela?"

"You may call me as you wish, sir knight, though some have used 'Z' or 'Zee'" (there was a difference in the pronunciation but I'll be damned if I could figure how to make it come out right) "I will answer to anything."

"Including 'Hey, you'?"

"Of course," she said matter of factly. "And you, sir knight, if the question does not offend, how are you called?"

"At the moment it should be 'Flipper', but my real name is Christopher Carter Reynolds—Creedence for short."

"Creedence—a proper and pure name for a worthy knight. It is so appropriate..."

"No!" I sighed with exasperation. "That's only a joke, Zela. 'C.C.R.—'Creedence Clear Water Revival'—get it? Christopher Carter Reynolds. My friends call me 'Chris."

"Sir Christopher—I like that..." she repeated. At that moment I thought she would like anything as long as we kept putting miles between us and the Agavin. "I hope you will allow me to be your friend, Sir Chris."

"Right now, Zela," I said with sincere feeling, "you're the best friend I have. The very best." And she would remain so until I had my old body back. . . .

The old prospector took back the startling manuscript. "Answer yer questshuns, gents?"

"Quite!" Cabyns feverishly popped six Pez into his open mouth, heeding not Datsun's overdose warning. "You're a very interesting fellow, Mr. Grany. Do you mind if we talk?"

"Got any tobacky?" the old reprobate responded.

BOOK VII


CHAPTER 76: The Alien Invasion

Tang-Gor, the disembodied (almost) intelligence from beyond the farthest star, dismounted the animated Bozhart mannikin before the drill on the strange burrowing machine whined to a halt. The devious alien scuttled across the rubble-strewn floor like a South Seas land crab, but twice as fast. Into a floor-level furnance vent, the grill having been removed previously for such need, the hideous creature hurried to a destination which only it knew about (and Tangor, of course).

Through a veritable maze of twisting channels and tunnel-like fiber-glass insulated vent tubing the unearthly monster scuttled. Left, then right, then up, down, left again, two rights followed by a wrong, sideways, downways, upways and thatways. The course was mind-boggling to both reader and author (though really smart readers will draw a map using the directions above, but only Tangor knows HOW FAR before each twist and turn that went left, then right, then...).

The strange creature eventually arrived at a tiny cubicle far beneath the planet's surface. The machines were of odd and unusual design, never fashioned by or meant to be used by human hands. Tang-Gor's strong chelae clicked and clacked as they moved purposefully over the bizarre display of dials, switches, flashing lights and knobs. Robby the Robot, first seen in that wonderful terrestrial SF flick "Forbidden Planet" then later relegated to a comedy relief role in the campy "Lost In Space" series, might have understood what the grotesque being labored to produce, but naught other on the small, spinning globe known as Mama Urth.

An unnerving and low-pitched tone permeated the tiny chamber. At that moment Tang-Gor ceased his restless activity and turned to face a holographic grid which materialized out of thin air. The image fizzled and sparked then slowly cleared to reveal the visage of a similar creature much larger and more imposing than Tang-Gor. In the background were two humans, a male and a female, who appeared to be tied to laterally-placed poles slowly rotating above heat cells embedded in the floor.

"This better be good, Tang-Gor," the authoritative alien's voice reverbrated in the scientifically cramped hollow. "Lex Lesion and Faithful Dromedary are nearly done." The chief glanced toward the dead actors sizzling over the high-tech hibachi.

"O Mighty Monitor of Betatuna," Tang-Gor reverently intoned, "all is going according to plan. The humans of this backward island planet have begun to destroy themselves through greed, hate and bad pulp writing."

The Monitor of Betatuna impatiently asked: "Did you send that delightful plant substance like I asked?"

Tang-Gor would have gulped had the creature an anatomical feature with which to gulp. "I have it here," the alien said, lifting a bottle containing ground dessicated leaves.

"Put it in the transporter," the powerful Monitor said.

An instant later the bottle of Macintosh Oregano disappeared. The image of Tang-Gor's boss shifted slightly, then the spice appeared in his mighty claw. Deftly opening the container the Monitor savored the pungent aroma with satisfaction. "By the way, Tang-Gor, did you retrieve your claw-held communications device yet?"

Tang-Gor cringed. He had made the mistake of relating his tale of woe to Edgar Nyce, who sold the idea as a marketing scheme to a cellular phone company who embarked on a rather successful advertising campaign with a bumbling purple claymation alien from another planet sent back to retrieve a lost communications device.

"O Mighty Monitor of Betatuna, it is my sad duty to report I have been unsuccessful—"

Zap!

The deeply buried chamber, as well as all the other-worldly equipment, the hideous Tang-Gor and two reserve bottles of Oregano went up in flames. Before the holographic image faded forever we hear the Monitor of Betatuna say, "Idiot! We'll send the battle fleet instead of waiting for the humans to destroy themselves. I must have more Oregano!"

Meanwhile, far above in the underground chamber where the Pellucifar Burrower had burrowed, Captain Canuck sprang forth to do battle just as Rathmind screamed "You? Ed????"

That name, and the appearance of the man named emerging from the monstrous machine, took Captain Canuck by surprise. Breaking down into tears the heroic Canadian fell to his knees. "They made me do it, boss! I didn't want to! Honest! It's all Rolph's idea! Him and that creepy slimeball Tang-Gor! Forgive me, Mr. Nyce! Please?"

Edgar Nyce, revitalized by his exhilarating adventures with Lord Greatstrokes and Nappie, was inclined to be forgiving. He patted the downcast Canadian superhero's head in passing, heading straight to the bar where the decanter of Ratnaz Specials resided. Pouring a snootful the firey-eyed author turned to address the gathered group.

"We have reached the mid-point in our little narrative," Nyce began. "Long have I been the master of foreshadowing and convoluted plotting. Unbeknowst to you all, we have arrived at this present location through my masterful skill in diverting the reader from the obvious."

Greatstrokes had helped himself to a glass and sipped the Ratnaz Special with appreciation. "Do tell, Nyce. I suppose you fixed it so I would become desperate for funds to shore up my shattered golf holdings overseas, forced me to cross the Atlantic and to rent a house next door to you and to create the most intricate scheme of stealing billions from California banks via a fabulous underground mole—and that I wouldn't kill you when you interferred?"

Nyce merely smiled. "Precisely."

Carmon Nappie frowned. "I dinna think so. I'm me own man."

"Really?" Ed chuckled. "When were you born? Where were you born? Who's your mother?"

Nappie's forehead wrinkled with the extreme effort of thought then, failing, smoothed with startled surprise. Nyce grinned hugely, replenishing his empty glass.

"I employed a hack Canadian writer to create you and Greatstrokes," Nyce said. "I knew his simple methods would result in humourous though ineffective characters, characters I could mold to my will and purpose. I will soon reveal that purpose, my dear Nappie. Rathmind, a pickle for our puzzled engineer."

"Ed—" Rathmind scowled.

"Eh?"

"Damn it, I suppose you're going to tell me that you knew what we were doing all along."

Edgar Nyce's furrowed brow remained so for an instant. "We have a third player," the author revealed. "A Texan of uncommon intelligence who has surprised me on occasion, but never fear, even he will fall before the craft and cunning of Edgar Nyce!"

Greatstrokes fished for the olive, not appearing to pay attention to the excited writer's revelations. In a cool, cultured, high society voice he asked: "And Brace Bozhart—what about him?"

Ed lit a cigarette and puffed furiously. "That bastard I will crush personally."

Captain Canuck shivvered under the baleful glare of Ed Nyce. "We'll help, boss. Won't we?"

Rathmind sighed, the serving tray craddled between his ancient and arthritic hands. "Do we have much choice?"

CHAPTER 77: You Only Live Twice In Real Life

Jane Porker-Bozhart looked down at the mechanical droid lying in the dust of Bertha La Ropa's chicken farm. "Thank goodness Brace told me to send in Body Double Oh Seven. He was absolutely correct that bitch would kill me if she had the chance. Well, I'm alive and she's gone. I can get about my business."

Jane stepped over the mangled form of the $200 million dollar cybernetic body double. The weather-beaten screen door, what was left of it, swung open to her touch. Inside the fowl house, she quickly began removing the pulp art from the walls, rolling the canvases tightly until she had a sizeable bundle. The lithe blond easily lifted the large package to her shoulder and hurried out to the yellow Camaro hidden behind a soot-covered hedge.

The voluptuous woman closed the trunk on the stolen paintings then entered the car. Reaching inside the skin-tight bodice of her black bodysuit, Jane retrieved a small notebook which had been secured by her underwire bra. Consulting the instructions her handsome husband had prepared the woman ticked off two items then turned the ignition key on the powerful vehicle. Moments later only a slowly drifting haze of dust wafted over the desolate chicken farm.

* * * * * * * *

Jane glanced into the rear view mirror as Brace ran out of the Tappan Range Chicken Shack Vacation House. As she turned onto the narrow highway, that thug Marlin Brandough appeared. Pressing her dainty foot— clad in sensible Western boots —against the responsive gas pedal the woman concentrated on steering as the meticulously maintained lemon Camaro accelerated to 100 miles per hour and beyond.

The beautiful woman handled the sports car with masterful authority. All her skills learned as Bumper Car Crash Queen at the Texas State Fairgrounds as a young beauty pagent contestant were needed if Cilli Billman and her charming children were to be helped.

The landscape passed in a blur, though most of it was already obscured by a pall of thick ash following the cataclysmic firestorm which had destroyed most of Los Angeles. As she drove Jane again contemplated the odd change in her husband's behavior. Brace had always been a gentle, caring, loving, generous person—or had been until that scoundrel Hillie Billman showed up. Since Hilary joined Brace's staff her husband had not been himself. He seemed preoccupied with business dealings and it was obvious that business had taken a nasty turn. Something was terribly wrong at BB Inc. and the determined woman hoped that helping Cilli Billman find her husband, who claimed to be from Canada but who actually came from West Virginia (according to Cam Spaid who'd run a background check at her request) would set things right. If Cilli could make Hillie take responsibility for his family it was Jane's fervent hope that the Brace she loved would resurface.

Jane slowed to make a sharp turn onto an unmarked and little used road. Heading east, into the mountains, Mrs. Porker-Bozhart maintained as high a speed as the twisting roadway allowed. She was aware of the series of S curves ahead, having come to the underground facilities of BB Inc. on several occasions. She was aware of the turns but was caught totally by surprise by the sudden appearance of a tawny-haired, past middle-age man staggering in the middle of the road. She barely caught a glimpse of the green-sequined evening dress fashionably draped over his too-thin body before she swerved to miss hitting him. Her last impression, as the car left the road to bounce over rough, uneven terrain, was the startled look on the man's face. Her forehead hit the windshield and Jane Porker-Bozhart lost consciousness.

* * * * * * * *

Nick Miser was locked in a pleasant (for him) struggle with Judy Flanders. The blond babe with double D's didn't speak English but she had no trouble understanding the lecherous producer's intentions. Her cries to cease his unwanted advances where ignored by the panting Miser—that is until the door to his office slammed open and an avenging angel entered.

"Jane!" Miser stammered. He was shocked by her abrupt entrance. He was embarrassed to have been caught assaulting the weeping woman. But most of all he was terrified by the sight of a 9mm handgun pointed at his head.

"Leave 'em down," Jane barked as Miser reached to draw up his trousers. Jane kept the weapon steady on the perspiring executive of Rodent and Touchwood Productions. She offered her left hand to the distraught woman and gently pulled her up from the leather sofa.

Miser, trembling with fear, spoke placatingly. "It's not what it looks like, Jane. We were rehearsing a scene for the new Sleeza, Bimbo of the Jungle movie. Just ask her."

Jane did. The reply was melodic, desperate, but not English. Jane's eyes narrowed as the woman spoke. Looking at Miser, Jane's trigger finger stiffened. Mrs. Porker-Bozhart answered the mussed starlet in Ms. Flander's native tongue, at which point the foreigner's weeping subsided significantly.

Miser's shakes intensified as the conversation continued between the two women. He knew there would be no mercy from Jane, who had a reputation as being more hardened than her powerful husband. Brace Bozhart was so powerful that he could buy judges the way Miser bought peanuts. Should Jane murder him she would never see the inside of a jail.

"Okay, I was a horse's behind. Things got out of hand. I misunderstood her. Don't kill me, Jane."

The woman said nothing to Miser, though she spoke quickly to the red-eyed girl at her side. Judy Flanders suddenly grinned, nodding furiously.

"Lie down on the couch, Nick. Face down." Jane's muzzle remained centered on the terrified producer. "Keep still!" Jane commanded.

Miser felt a tugging at his feet, then felt his pants pulled off. His keys, some coins, and a fat money clip hit the floor. He couldn't see what was going on and that made it more frightening. He openly wept, pleading for his life.

"Don't kill me, Jane. Gosh! I've done everything Brace asked me to do. I think of him like a brother."

"Brother snakes," was the cold reply. "Make a move and I'll take off the back of your head with a bullet."

Flanders knelt on his back. She gripped his wrists and jerked Nick's hands behind him. He felt something wide being wrapped around his wrists and realized it was his belt. The sound of ripping cloth was heard, then his feet were tied together.

"Roll over, Nick."

It was difficult, bound hand and foot, but the pressure of a cold gun pressed against his neck provided sufficient desire to accomplish the task. Miser sat on the leather sofa in his Randy Rodent briefs, his shirt unbuttoned and his dignity vastly diminished.

"Where's Brace?" Jane asked. She had lowered the gun and pulled a chair over to the bound producer. "I know he was just here."

"I don't know," Miser said. "Honest, Jane. He showed up here with this lady and..." Miser clammed up. He wasn't about to reveal the conversation he had with Brace on the phone, nor the words they had exchanged in his office not fifteen minutes earlier.

Jane, straddling the chair, leaned forward to press the muzzle of her deadly pistol against the insignificant bulge fronting Miser's underwear. "Talk, Nick, or I'll make an alto out of you. Of course," she added with a sorrowful tone, "the kick this thing has might make you a soprano."

Five minutes later Jane had all her questions answered.

"Come along, Judy," Jane said. "I'm not wasting a bullet on this scumbag."

Jane glanced at the clock in the lobby as they passed into the night, 4:30am. "Where are you, Brace?" she muttered softly.

Both women entered the sleek Camaro. Speaking aloud, though she knew Judy Flanders did not understand a word she said, Jane Porker-Bozhart made a vow. "I never worry about Brace and floozies like you, dearie, but if he's mucking around with our fortune, I'll carve him like a Christmas turkey!"

CHAPTER 78: The Last Chapter Wasn't Funny

Dan Darter had carried the struggling woman some distance from the mesmerized group listening to the Canadian hack's spiel delivered by Jonny Wineswiller. Darter had had a rough time of it because Dee Dee's efforts to escape had marked him with more shin bruises, rib bruises and given him a bad case of lower back pain. Though the young woman was lithe and slim-waisted, hauling Dee Dee Morris' 115 pounds for a half-hour was no picnic.

The ex-mercenary turned bully boy had descended deeper into the cavern system, at times sliding on his rump down steep inclines with the woman across his shoulder. How far their descent had taken them was not known, but it was some considerable distance. Curiously, Darter's keen ears heard the sound of surf and his sensitive nostrils detected the scent of sea water. How this could be in this ill-lit underworld he did not know, but their current path seemed to take them toward the source of sound and scent.

The rock beneath the perspiring kidnapper's feet leveled out, it was no longer a rapid descent into the bowels of the earth. The tunnel seemed wide, though the patches of luminescent fungi were too few and far between to reveal the true extent of their surroundings.

After a particularly vicious kick by Dee Dee, Dan stopped, set the woman on her feet, then cocked a heavy fist back to his muscular shoulder. "Damn it, Dee, give me any more crap and I'll knock some out of you!"

His eyes were mean and threatening. Dee Dee chewed her lip, contemplating her answer. She wisely realized that any answer at all would send the desperate man over the edge.

Darter, satisfied, kept a cruel grip on the princess of bars' wrist and resumed his search for a way out of the caverns beneath destroyed Los Angeles. Moments later they both saw a brightness ahead and Darter did not have to tug exceptionally hard to get Dee Dee to hurry along; the daughter of Helium Supply's chief executive officer was equally eager to leave the dreary, forbidding confines of the dank tunnels. Rounding a damp wall the two stopped with stunned surprise as the fantastic scene beyond imprinted their brains.

A dozen men worked on a stone wharf alongside which lay a sleek and powerful submarine. Looking more like a great white shark grown to monstrous proportions rather than any work of man, the vessel was unlike any that Dan Darter, ex-military, had ever seen.

"Jumpin' Jiminy!" Darter softly exclaimed. "That's some work of art! Man, if I'd had that during the Coconut Island War there'd have been some serious damage done!"

Dee Dee frowned. She had not heard of the Coconut Island War. She knew something of Dan's checkered past as a mercenary, but this episode had never been mentioned.

Darter was not about to enlighten the woman as the "war" had simply been a tiff between two Pago Pago families over a grove of palm trees. He'd been hired to "wipe out the competition" but had ended up seduced by the rival competitor's number eight daughter. He still might have accomplished his mission if he had not contracted a particularly disagreeable social disease that required immediate attention at a Stateside hospital.

A slight movement by Dee Dee caused Darter to growl. "Make a sound and you're dead meat, kid."

Darter's erratic behavior impressed the princess of bars. She remained silent, though possible succor was only a dozen yards away, just beyond the mountains of crates and engine parts that lay between.

"They're getting ready to sail," Darter surmised. "Smell that? Seawater. Must be a subterranean entrance to the Pacific."

"Indeed there is," a booming voice announced.

The man and woman turned quickly. What they saw was even more startling than the fantastic vessel in the underground grotto. The man was nearly seven feet tall. He wore a satin dress uniform, plum in color with white ermine at tunic hem, cuffs and collar. A large stovepipe-like hat, only wider at the top and rather floppy, sat atop his tightly-curled black hair. His skin was black, his face handsome, his presence commanding.

"Pity you found dis place," the man said. Dee Dee and Darter listened attentively, the sawed off shotgun was a great attention getter. "Damn crackers always buttin' in a man's business. Who you with? DEA? Locals?"

Dee Dee's eyes widened slightly, though she revealed little else. Drug smugglers! Oh!

Darter relaxed, offering a smile. "I know you."

The shotgun elevated and turned toward Darter. "You do? Too bad, sucker!"

"Wait! You don't understand. You know me, too!"

The black man (and the three armed sailors at his back) leaned forward. After a long look, the leader shook his head. "Never seen you before. Prepare to die."

"Columbia. 1987. Two hundred keys. Ring a bell?"

"Dr. Livingston, I presume? Yeah! It is you! Damn, bro, what happened? Last time I saw yo' skinny white ass it was in green khaki!"

"Things change. I remember you as a bit less gaudy and well-armed."

The black man grinned, tossing his weapon to one of his men and moving forward to drape a friendly arm around Darter's shoulder. "Come aboard, man. Yo, Ned Bland, bring da bitch."

Dee Dee tried to avoid the sailor's rough grasp, but failed to elude him. He was a hard-looking, pasty-white, blonde haired man with bulging biceps. Darter and the purple uniformed leader entered the submarine and there was nothing she could do but follow where Ned Bland led her.

The rest of the men entered the ship, the hatch was sealed, and pressure was pumped into the hull. Dee Dee's ears popped, and for a few moments she was disoriented. When she was next aware of her surroundings Bland had folded her into a tuck-and-rolled seat which hugged one wall of a fairly large compartment. At one end a polyphonic Korg synthesizer dominated one wall, at the other an arms rack sufficient to conduct civil war in a small Central American country. The opposite wall was floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with CDs of gangsta rap, rap, home musak and, she blushed, at least fifty VHS pornographic film cassettes. Through the compartment's entrance she saw another large area, but it was stacked with dozens of large plastic-wrapped bales which could only be, she guessed, marijuana!

Darter and the ship's leader were laughing over a couple of beers. Dan grinned at Dee Dee and said, "Ain't life full of coincidences? Hell, babe, this character and I go way back. Old Jackson and I—"

"I don't use dat name no mo'," he said. "They call me Captain No'mo now cause I ain't takin' no mo' crap from anybody. We kick ass and take names, bro, and makes a few bucks at the same time."

"All right, Captain No'mo. I'm using Dan Darter now, but you can call me MISTER Darter."

For some reason both men began laughing. Dee Dee could not stand it. She had been mistreated and kidnapped and ignored. "What's so funny?"

"That old Orcan Whales movie," Darter grinned.

Captain No'mo interrupted. "Dat's 'In the Heat of the Light'. You're thinking of that one with Martin Blandau and Ed Asmear."

"No, I'm not! That's Rod Stickler. Bet you're thinking of 'Tactile-sense of Evil'."

Captain No'mo frowned, then downed his beer and popped the top on another. "Maybe you're right. Well, it's not important enough to get bent out of shape. I know we had some good trades together, but give me one good reason why I don't waste yo' ass for findin' my hideout and gettin' an eyeball on the old Naughtyass."

"How about twenty million reasons?"

The black man doffed his hat and sat next to Dee Dee. "You interest me, my man. Rap on."

"I know where you can get your hands on pure pharmaceuticals."

Captain No'mo's hand, which had been exploring the tight-stretched nylon over cringing Dee Dee's shapely knee, suddenly paused. "Where?"

Darter smiled. It was not a pleasant smile. "Bozhart Pharmecuticals."

"Brace Bozhart," Captain No'mo's eyes glazed slightly. "That's one bastard I'd like to pop! Count me in, bro. Yo, Bland! Take the Naughtyass out...and take dis bitch to the brig. We got us some business to do!"

Ned Bland leered with hideous promise as he dragged the unwilling princess of bars though the corridors of the submarine Naughtyass. Each villianous crewman they passed pinched her fanny or made rude remarks or gestures, but the imposing figure of Bland kept them from doing more.

The brig was a small storage chamber with a heavy door which could be locked. Bland looked down the corridor in both directions, saw they were alone, grinned and rudely goosed her, then shoved Dee Dee into the locker. "Hope you last longer than the last bitch we had on board." And with that dire promise hanging in the air, the metal door clanged shut on virginal Dee Dee's prison.

The furious young woman stamped her foot. "Dan Darter, I will kill you one of these days!" She stamped her foot a second time, but was totally unprepared for the result: the submarine, which had been proceeding on even keel, violently heeled over. Dee Dee was thrown against the steel bulkhead with bruising force. Outside her prison she heard the shouts of men—terrified men. What could it mean?

CHAPTER 79: The Land of Delusions

Mars Markus blinked.

Kojak Morris and Llana of Baseball held onto each other.

They stood in the large room where the thousands of miniature Brace Bozharts had attacked them. All around them where thousands of slimy puddles, each giving off a nauseating vapor.

"Damn, Mars, did you cut one?" Morris scowled, holding his nose. "What is that smell?"

Llana, who seemed unpreturbed, said, "I can't smell anything. Haven't been able to sniff since Lousie 'Lefty' Sneider broke my nose with a sneaky fast ball. What's that?" she cried, pointing to the catwalks above.

A man in dark clothing, tall and well-built, moved from one ventilator to the next, switching the blowers on. With each activation, the fumes became less and the trio became more clear-headed. Markus ran toward the man. "Hey! Who are you? What's happening?"

"Beware!" the voice floated down. "Beware!" then he was gone.

Llana blinked. "Be where? Where are we supposed to be?"

Though he loved her, Kojak Morris was continually surprised by the workings of Llana's mind. "That's wasn't what he meant, dear."

Markus ignored the two lovers. "I don't think Tangor or that crazy Canuck know where we're supposed to be. Come on, let's find a way out of here. It gives me the creeps!"

His companions were in full agreement. Rapidly, but taking care to avoid stepping into the puddles, the three raced across the vast hall toward one of several exits.

The fighting man of bars skidded to a halt. "I hate choosing doors. Llana, you pick one."

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, as the flood waters continued to rise, Hillie Billman frantically called for his missing daughter and the Yellowjacket. Splay-Toe sat on the ledge weeping shamelessly, for he had truly loved his patron. Cilli Billman gathered her children about her.

"Hillie—we can't stay here," she said. "We'll drown."

The West Virginian Canuck sadly turned away from the swirling foam-flecked waters. He picked up his youngest, then picked up Splay-Toe by the scruff of the neck. "Snap out of it."

Ward Cleaver stopped sniffling. He was a fellow of weak character, unable to make decisions of his own. Billman, the peg-legged harpoonist was not afflicted by such indecision, so it was only natural that the Cantonese wannabe transferred his allegiance upon the powerfully built fellow. Billman's wife, however, continued to shield her remaining daughter from the shifty-eyed cook-butler-sidekick.

With one last sorrowing look into the flooded cavern, Billman began the long climb to the surface.

* * * * * * * *

Bryce Lee-Bozhart stuggled against the enveloping grip of an over-excited teenager in the throes of hormones gone mad. At the same time, he was determined not to drown as the floodwaters whisked them away from the cavern's walls. Good fortune (or attention to detail given in the chapters written by my writer-advessary) placed near the Yellowjacket's hand a yellow paddleboat, upside down, but floating.

Milli clung to his back, legs locked tightly about his lean waist, her young body pressed tighly against his hard muscles, her arms about his neck (nearly choking him) as her lips pressed fevered kisses to his neck and cheek.

"Let up, kid, I can't breathe!" the Yellowjacket ordered.

Gripping one side of the half-submerged hulk, Bryce Lee leaned his weight on the pontoon and, combined with that of the amorous teen, the water park vessel flipped over. Climbing into the righted paddleboat, the nearly exhausted Lee flopped down into the water-filled boat. Milli, meanwhile, quickly moved from behind to press herself atop the prostrate crime-fighter, her small hands trying to hold his head still long enough to kiss him.

Bryce Lee, restraining himself (from popping her a swift one in the chops) forcefully, though gently, pushed the lust-maddened girl away. "We don't have time for this, Milli," he said, drawing free breath for the first time in many long minutes. "We have to bail the water out."

"I'd rather you make savage, passionate love to me!" cried the distraught girl.

"Maybe later." The Yellowjacket's sharp mind was again clear, and he used it to good effect. "It wouldn't be any fun in water up to our necks, would it? I'll give you a kiss as soon as we get the water out of the boat. How's that sound?"

Milli's response was a frantic splashing of water over the side. Bryce helped, it was his life, too, but the majority of the work was accomplished by the feverish teenager. Before long the paddle boat rode high in the water.

Bryce Lee turned to examine the paddle mechanism, which seemed fouled. When he removed a branch which had jammed the propulsion unit, he turned about and was shocked by what he saw.

Milli Billman had removed her dress to use as a mop to soak up the last water from the bilge. She knelt on the deck, young, rounded (more rounded than the dress had originally revealed...and very attractively rounded!) sopping up water then wringing it over the side. She repeated the action several times as the breathless Yellowjacket looked on.

"There!" Milli announced with satisfaction and anticipation. "Done! I want my kiss!" She advanced upon the nervous Yellowjacket clad in pink bikini panties and a well-filled pale blue bra.

Bryce Lee-Bozhart, betrayed by his promise and his honor to keep all promises, thought rapidly. Into his nimble brain came the answer, and with thought was action.

Before the statuesque teen the crime fighter knelt. Across his breast he clasped both hands and in a voice as dramatic as Larry Oliver in Drekspeares' Omlet he said, "Thy beauty is beyond belief, fair princess! O, my eyes have been blessed by the sight of thy wondrous form, the goodness of thine heart. I pledge my life to thine safety and honor, and vow that until we are rescued that thou's will is my will, that thou's virtue is sancrosant! My kiss, humble and pure, is for thy sweet hand, the hand that has toiled mightily toward our salvation!" So saying, Bryce Lee-Bozhart took the child's hand into his and pressed his lips against her wet flesh.

Startled, Milli's brow furrowed. Before she knew it her rumpled dress had been wrung by the man's strong hands, shook out, and draped over her body. At his insistence she sat with the tiller in hand. The tall man sat at her side, his boots ready at the pedals of the paddle boat.

"Steer well, my princess!" exclaimed the Yellowjacket. His feet began pedaling. A rooster-tail of excited water appeared at the rear of the yellow vessel. "Steer with thine eyes and thine heart while I provide the motive force! Between us we shall escape this terrible event!"

Milli pouted. This wasn't working out like she planned.

CHAPTER 80: Big Bertha

Bertha La Ropa nearly strangled Rex the Wonder Rooster to keep her fowl pal silent. The grinding, crashing, whining of the ugly machine had nearly set Rex off with his famous cock-a-doodle-do, which usually sounded like "any-cock'l-do" but Bertha knew her rooster was not bent in that direction, so it must be faulty hearing on her part, probably as a result of a life long addiction to Ratnaz Specials and having been bonked on the head too many times by falling props in pulp artists' studios.

Whispering to herself and the fowl, which had turned blue because of the heavy hand clenched about its throat, Bertha La Ropa turned rhuemy eyes toward the scene unfolding inside the underground chamber. "What they up to, my precious? Think they have secrets? Bertha has secrets, they have lies and subtrefuge. Listen to that OB go on. Thinks himself a god, he does. Well, in my pocket I have it. They don't have it. Crazy old coot! Who's that namby-pamby? Looks handsome fishing that olive. I could show him a thing or two but not my secret. Nosiree! Bertha La Ropa keeps her secrets, she does!"

Peering out of the deep shadows of the tunnel made by the Pellucifar Burrower, Bertha La Ropa fell silent, listening to all that transpired within.

Unknown to her or the inhabitants of Rathmind's hideaway another watched with cool eyes. The brain behind that gaze was brilliant and agile. Calculations were produced with startling rapidity and the faces and words were indelibly etched within that gigantic intellect. The listener watched with rapt attention until Edgar Nyce began repeating himself, as he had done through dozens of books; the same themes over and over, never varying, constantly resurfacing. When it was apparent nothing new was to be said, the watcher in the shadows withdrew.

Bertha La Ropa also withdrew, but for a different reason. The Ratnaz Specials consumed at breakfast were making themselves felt as an unpleasant pressure in her bladder. "Damn! Damn! Damn!" she muttered, backing away. "What a time to need to go!"

Still under the intoxicating effects of the too-strong Ratnaz Specials Bertha inadvertantly missed her turning. Into a crack in the tunnel wall, probably a result of the recent earthquakes, Bertha La Ropa entered. The path was downward but in her alcoholic daze the direction did not make an impression. Her whole being was concentrated on not thinking about the thing most pressing in her life, and pressing indeed was her need.

She became conscious of a dripping sound like that of the leaky faucet in her kitchen at home. It was an annoying sound, a sound that only made her present condition more unbearable. It was difficult to walk with knees clenched, nor did the gasping, gagging sounds of Rex the Wonder Rooster help. Bertha released her stranglehold on the poor foul-feathered friend and winched when the bird clamped angry talons into her shoulder.

"Drip, drip, drip!" Bertha cursed. "Drip, drip, drip! It's enough to make a person insane. How far to go, precious? How far to our porcelin bowl, our relief, our private retreat? How can one think with that drip, drip, drip!"

The tenor of that drip became more ominious in tone. It splashed. It spattered. It grew in volume. Desperate indeed was Bertha La Ropa, deep in the underground world where wet and damp and fluids and seepage and sewers and watertables all contrived to increase her misery. "Oh! Please make it quit!" she wailed. Her voice echoed throughout the tunnel and seemed to reply to her with a low rumbling sound.

"Now I hear creeks and streams and brooks and rivers and estuaries in full tide, I hear currents and flows and falls and flues and liquids rushing headlong. I can't hold it, precious. It is now or wet panties!"

Big Bertha hiked up her costume, dropped her drawers and squatted in the darkness. She crinkled her eyes with concentration and sighed as she released. She felt a flood of fluids slam into her ankles. "Ahh!" Bertha sighed. Then almost immediately shrieked as the flood roaring down the subterranean tunnel spanked her bare-bottom, rolled over her waist, and carried her head over heels down into the darkness!

* * * * * * * *

Elsewhere, Tangor interviewed prospective spoofs in his dark and cramped office. The glare of the huge computer monitor shed a pale light upon those who entered.

"Next!" A fat man and a skinny sidekick entered. One looked like a bus driver, the other like an out of work bum. "You are?" Tangor's gravelly voice inquired.

"Gleason and Carney."

"What's your gag?"

"Honeymooners. You see," the fat man began, "we thought you might be interested in having Ratnaz and Bertie end up as dinner guests on our set. Alice and I have an argument as usual, but only this time, Ratz would really 'pow!' and send Alice to the moon."

"Yeah," Carney grinned. "And I could make a pass at Bertie and get knocked on my ass. What I wouldn't give to get smacked for smoochin' her!"

"Too droll," Tangor said and pressed a key on his multi-tiered keyboard. The floor opened and Gleason and Carney dropped out of sight.

Leisurely lighting a cigarette, Tangor wadded up the top resume and called out, "Next!"

A red-head, not too bad looking, and a Cuban carrying a conga entered. Before either had a chance to speak, the button was pressed. Tangor leaned over his desk and called as they disappeared: "We already have a red head."

Nervously, the next person entered. "My name is Jose Jimenez. I am an astronaut."

The imperious finger depressed the fatal key. "You are a naught, zero, zip. Next!"

A masked man on a white horse and an indian on a pinto rode in. Tangor's finger hovered over the key. "Tell me why I ought to consider you? That Canadian has already written in more cowboys than we need."

The indian spoke. "How about 'The Lonesome Stranger'? Lots of gag potential there!"

Tangor considered it for a moment. "Nah!" and pressed the button. "Next!"

Tangor's wife stuck her head inside. "Dinner's almost ready. Are you done pulling the Canadian's leg yet?"

"Just a few more minutes, honey. Who's left out there?"

"Seahunt, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Flipper, and Little Lulu."

Tangor's eyes lit up. "Kewl! Send Lulu in. Tell the rest to come back tomorrow. Oh, and dear," he softly added with a sly wink as Lulu demurely entered the master author's inner sanctum, "I don't want to be disturbed for a while."

Tangor's wife looked the black-haired two-dimensional female up one side and down the other with a critical eye. "You're such a pervert, sweetheart. I'll put your dinner in the oven. Don't hurt yourself," she admonished as she closed the door.

Little Lulu gulped as the leering Tangor approached her.

tangor@erblist.com

CHAPTER 81: Dim Son and Big Moons

Ratnaz pulled back from Tangor's monitor to share his frustration with Bertie. More and more, his life was being manipulated by this hack writer of pulp parodies. In desperation he poked his head back through the computer screen and was relieved to see that the monitor had changed from a boring monochrome to a glorious wide screen, multi-coloured display. He was also relieved to see that the author pounding the keys on the other side of this new, improved display was now the Texan's rival - the much more sympathetic, and vastly more talented Canadian literary giant. And...a man infinitely more in tune with the apeman's natural cravings.

"Jeeze... thatz uh releef... yuz back... pleeez boss... uh... uh... ay... ay... PLEEZ?" Encouraged by the Canuck's crooked half smile, the love-starved Lord of the Leaves pulled back from the dimension beyond and turned to the object of his affections.

Bertie repeated her plea from behind a bamboo dressing screen in the corner of the goat cabin: "We do have to find a way to get you out of those briefs and into mine, Ratz!"

The woman's hand appeared over the top of the screen and fetchingly dropped a pair of embroidered silk panties. A soft cooing voice accompanied the undergarment on its fluttering fall to the floor: "It's your turn, Ratz honey. I love it when you wear silk."

With a few deft moves the excited Ratnaz exchanged his improvised leopard skin loin cloth for Bertie's garment which turned out to be little more than a g-string.

"Jeeze Tootz...I'z gotta fine me some pantz," he stammered as he cowered knock-kneed with trembling hands covering exposed buttocks. It started to dawn on his passion-addled brain that perhaps his favourite Canadian writer wasn't doing him any favours after all.

"Ratz honey, why are you so shy about your bottom?" Bertie pleaded as she watched her jungle lord back away in a classic Jerry Lewis splay-footed plod. The wretched soul's ignominious retreat met an unforeseen end however, when he toppled over an ancient steamer trunk—falling in a heap among its spilling contents. Instinctively he landed on all fours with his buttocks exposed to Bertie's astonished gaze.

"Ratz! I had no idea. Why didn't you tell me?"

But Ratnaz was suddenly oblivious to all entreaties—he was lost in a flood of memories mustered by the jumble of clothes, books, toys and documents strewn about him.

"That Edgar Nyce! He thinkz of everythin'. It'z Mommy and Daddy'z ole trunk. He muzta brought it over from Africa with the bananaz and all that ztuff. He'z a ztickler fer detail, ain't he. Look! It'z my ole baby zhoez... an' my pet rock... an' my whoopie cuzhion... an' my Red Ryder pop gun...an my...."

Meanwhile Bertie uprighted the trunk revealing the "FullWada Air Charters Co." sticker fastened across the lid. Curiosity led her to explore the pile of books and documents remaining in the bottom of the trunk. She was fascinated by a weathered volume which displayed a crest featuring two crossed tulips, a bag of golf clubs, a lightning bolt and a flag bearing the number "22". A quick look at the last entry on a blood-stained page in what must have been a diary was a revelation: "My little son Sean Jr. is crying for goat milk...I can't find a stool low enough...O Allie, Allie, what shall I do? Why? why? ... I must let the world know that the one responsible for our disasters is..." The ink marks trailed off the smudged page.

Bertie's search led her to a Scottish passport made out to Sean McClayton, Lord Greatstrokes. The name meant nothing to her but the photo brought forth an involuntary gasp: "Ratz! It's you... with a mustache! Do you ever look silly." She stifled her chortle and continued her investigation. The description of identifying birthmarks on the document was just as intriguing: "Possesses the Greatstrokes family hereditary birthmark: Large red marks in the shape of two lips on the right buttock.

"Ratz! That's just like the mark you were trying to hide! You are a Greatstroker. You are the rightful heir to the Greatstrokes titles, estates and fortunes!"

Her outburst fell on deaf ears as Ratnaz had fallen into a comatose state—his terrified eyes riveted on the ominous shaggy figure that had appeared in the window of the goat hut.

CHAPTER 82: Death Valley Daze—From Sand to Shining Sea

Herlock Cabyns turned off his Walkman and ejected the Mega Speed Reading instruction cassette that had guided him as he had read through Zany's lengthy manuscript. He then turned the manuscript over to a slightly impatient Datsun who promptly plopped it onto a stump, and eagerly pored over the tattered pages. Grasping his magnifying glass firmly in this left hand and his using his right forefinger to expertly trace Zany's chicken scratches, he resolutely mouthed the syllables:

"I... was.. .n't... al...low...ed...to...be...moan... my... us...u...al... staaaaate....."

With the good doctor mumbling in the background, Cabyns turned again to Zany Grany: "I say, my good man. I feel introductions are in order. My name is Cabyns, world renowned investigator and criminologist. The gentleman so engrossed in your story over there is my assistant Dr. Datsun. Now, to whom do we owe the pleasure of this hospitality.

"Grany, Zany Grany is mu name, writin's mu game."

The old galoot then reached back into his saddle bags and pulled forth another ragged manuscript, hand-scrawled on a pile of Chicago Pencil Sharpener Co. stationery.

"Har ya be yung feller...gotta `nuther...got this idee from some furriner who come down from way up in Canadee... wears one o' them sissy Scotch dresses. Hard worker tho... helped me work a claim a while back."

Before turning to Zany's second epic, Cabyns leaned back against a stump and took time to meditate and to try to assess which of the events of the last few hours had been real and which had been hallucinations brought on by Billman's damnable drugged drinks. The three men and the grazing burros appeared to be in a deep mountain-fringed valley on the banks of a stream which fed into a vast lake or inland sea in the distance.

"What sea is this Mr. Zany?"

"By golly, ya got me. Warn't thar when I started writin'. Must be that thar Salton Sea every body's always yakkin' `bout. Fer as I know we're in good ole Death Valley—should be Tappan Range out thar... shure lookin' wet fer this time a year tho. By crackie, don't that beat all.

Cabyns popped another soothing Pez, reinserted his speed reading instructional tape, and settled in for his second long read of the day.

Cabyn's eyes drifted up from the pages of the manuscript. Even his colossal powers of oncentration could not hold up to the excited shouts and arm tugging from the wavy-haired old story teller.

"Looka there gents ...by jingo... look out there maties... ain't she a beaut..."

"Damn it man...now I've lost my place," cursed a frustrated and uncharacteristically peevish Datsun. Now I've got to start over: "I... was... n't... al... low... ed... to... be...moan... my... us...u...al... staaaaate....."

His train of thought also broken, the master sleuth succumbed to Zany's excited pleadings and peered seaward.

Just off shore drifted the most unusual houseboat any of them had ever seen. The lower deck was lined with scantily dressed young ladies while the upper deck seemed to be reserved for two joggers - a man and a woman - who appeared to be in the middle of a strenuous work out. Attached to the craft was a large scarlet buoyancy tank - in the shape of a giant rooster!

Cabyns rubbed his eyes and reached again for his powered Pez dispenser. The old hallucinations were coming back. Painted across the bow of the odd-shaped craft were the words: "Chicken Ranch Vacation House"—and it was floating out to sea.

CHAPTER 83: Something Wicked This Way Comes...They're Here!

In the secret underground lab below Ratnaza Ranch, the scene around the Pellucifer Burrower had taken on a near carnival atmosphere. The Ratnaz specials flowed freely and Edgar Nyce was basking in his regained authority over his dominions.

"We're with ya Ed baby."

"Yeh, ole Boz the Bozo don't know nothin'...he's toast man."

"Anybody see that creep Tang-Gor around lately?"

"Hey, you guys smell fried chicken?"

"Pass the gherkins, Rathy."

"Got any more Specials, Rathy?"

"Where's big Bertha...don't she know it's party time."

"Turn on the box Rathy... Gotta get some music in here... Gotta boogie."

"But I get to lead!"

"Turn it up Rathy."

"Ah damn...it's that bloody blow hard Orcan Whales."

"Can't ya tune in that Canadian dude Peter Lemmings?"

"Silence!" Ed commanded. "Let's hear what he has to say."

"...and so much for the weather, urban fire, and earthquake reports. We now take you to the Purple Stage room in Ferris' Big Wheel Club—the only surviving club in downtown LA. Our show featuring the hippest of the hip—down and dirty blues tunes sung by your favourite Blues Buoys: Big Bill and Big Bruce—is in progress:

`How much is that doggie in the window...Arf!...Arf!...the one with the waggely tail...'"

"Ladies and gentlemen. We interrupt our program of hurtin' songs in three quarter time, to report that Professor Perry of Mt. Polomar Observatory has observed several explosions on the planet Mars over the last few days. He stresses that there is no cause for alarm and he insists that there can be absolutely no connection between these explosions and the meteorological and geological disasters we have experienced lately. We now take you back to our regularly scheduled program from the Big Wheel Club."

Edgar Nyce rose from his lab stool and flung his empty glass at the radio. "What a load of crap. Turn that thing off Rathmind. Come on guys. We got work to do. Climb into the Burrower. Fire up the engines Nappie. I've got a plan."

CHAPTER 84: Invasion of the Led Zeppelins (aka Panic at Stutter's Mill)

Jane Porker raced her yellow `66 Camber down Ventura Boulevard hoping to get to Ferris' Big Wheel Club before the Blues Buoys and their incredible back-up band, the Waltz Kings, finished their morning performance.

"Oh damn. They're already on the air," she cursed—angry with herself for forgetting to tune in her favourite show.

"How much is that doggie in the window...Arf! Arf!...I do hope that doggie's for sale."

"Whew! Those guys sing with soul...they sing from the heart...they musta lived to be able to sing like that," she muttered admiringly, while tapping out the funky 3/4 beat on the steering wheel of her vintage Camber.

"I must take a trip to California....[and uh...mmm...ah...mmm...a...good place for a solo Lawrence...take it away cat...pick that accordion, man]"

"Ladies and Gentlemen. We interrupt our program with the latest bulletin from the ERBS news wire large cluster of flaming meteorite-like objects falling from the sky are reported to have landed near Stutter's Mill. Despite assurances from the Air Force that the objects are only weather balloons, our remote unit is on its way to provide live coverage of the phenomenon. We return you now to our Blues Buoys concert."

"[ah...mmm a ... yeh that's it... thanks Big Bruce]... and leave my poor sweetheart alone...If she has a doggie to protect her..."

"We take you now to Stutter's Mill where our ERBS remote reporter is standing by:"

"This is Wolfen Blitzen. I have just joined a large crowd gathered around a smoking crater at Maple Grove Farm just outside of Stutter's Mill. The crater appears to have been made by what can only be described as a lead weather balloon. The spectators are pressing in closer, obstructing my view. ... Wait... you... sir... could we ask you a few questions? What is your name sir?"

"Tttttterrible... It was ttttttterrible!... Ttttttterrible... She didn't have a chance... uh.... my what?... oh... it's Ziffel... yup... Oliver Wendell Ziffel... It's tttttterrible... the dadburned thing landed right on her... Porkie... my prize pig... she didn't have a chance.... tttttterrible..."

"Thank you Mr. Ziffel... Now... Oh... Can you hear that?.... a curious humming sound... the top of the meteor thing is turning... it's opening!.... stand back everyone...back!...."

"Due to circumstances beyond our control we are unable to continue our broadcast from Stutter's Mill."

"We have report just in from the Air Force. They inform us that fleets of weather balloons have been tracked all over southern California. Colonel Snipes assures us that there is no reason to panic as these unusually large numbers are in direct response to the extraordinary weather disturbances we have experienced lately.

"What's that?... I have just received a cell phone report from the only survivor at the crater by Stutter's Mill. At least 40 bodies... and a pig... have been burned beyond recognition by a heat ray projected from the meteorite. And clouds of spore-like material have been blown into the air from the object in the crater."

"What a load of bull. That Orcan Whales is up to his old tricks again. Some people will believe anything. Come on...let's bring back those Blues Buoys." Jane Porker continued her race along Ventura—unmindful of the sky full of weather balloons above her.

CHAPTER 85: Big Bill & Big Bruce - The Blues Buoys with the Incredible Waltz Kings - Live at Ferris' Big Wheel Club Performing Their Hit: "You're Tuvane... you probably think this song is about you."

Jane Porker-Bozhart struggled to break away from the annoying dream she was experiencing...her awakening consciousness and senses were being bombarded by the sound of a wailing and barking dog, an incessant barbaric shaking, and a pungent, cloying—almost nauseating odour, that she later identified as Big Stud Toilet Water. Gradually her returning faculties identified the sounds as coming from her car radio. The source of the shaking and odour was a tawny-haired person in heavy make-up which failed to hide a two-day-old stubble. A deep bass voice, totally out of character with the person's female attire, rose above the din coming from the custom Mega stereo system of the Camaro.

"Madame!... Please wake up madame!... Thank heavens you're OK... You went off the road.... Don't you recognize me...It's me!.... Tuvane Tuyak from the Vacation House!"

"All right, all right...give me a moment!" pleaded the still-confused Jane Porker as she gingerly dabbed at the small gash and rising bump on her forehead. The caterwauling from the car speakers continued unabated:


"Arf! Arf!... I do hope that doggie's for sale... [That's it Big Bill... get down...] ...Arf! Arf!"

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt this program of funky waltz tunes by the Blues Buoys and the Incredible Waltz Kings to bring you a report from our man in the field.

"Orcan?...Orcan Whales?...Are you there?"

"Yes...Am I on...I'm standing at the edge of the La Gaspack Tar Pits where locals have reported the landing and sinking of a large lead weather balloon. Nothing appears to remain of the craft which has obviously sunk to the bottom of the pit. We do, however, have an eyewitness to the event—a Mr. Hitchcock. Sir, what exactly did you see?"

"Well, I was just coming back from the supermarket on Master Bryce's Harley... we have house guests you know... Can that fellow ever eat... I don't know what Bryce is going to say when he sees the grocery bill... and his Harley.... how am I going to explain that mess... I just took it down the street... Jeez, he coulda left me some car keys... but no... he's got ta..."

"Please Mr. Hitchcock... calm yourself... what exactly did you see?"

"Well, I was just coming back from... uh?... ok?... well I heard this big whooshing noise... and then it just fell outa the sky... dang thing hit my shopping cart... you see I have this chain and I just tie it around the fender of the motor sickle and... uh? ...ok?... well it spilled all the groceries and knocked some crazy security guard into the tar pits...then the whole shootin' match—it even dragged in the Harley!—plopped into the guck and just sunk outa sight. Dangdest thing tho...just after it sunk down, up bobs some of the ugliest fellows I've ever seen—real gheekie guys. Right over there...out in the middle. Just saw their heads, mind you...looked like big pumpkins...and then they was gone."

"Thank you Mr. Hitchcock... it's back to you Peter Lemmings."

"Thanks Orcan...we now take you to a live feed of a press conference with Air Force spokesman, Colonel Snipes..."

"We know now that in the latter years of the Twentieth Century, this third rock from the sun was being watched by some pretty smart aliens. These guys are bad news.

Citizens of the nation, we have a national emergency. An alien invasion of our mighty, glorious, upright, virtuous, noble, pure and beloved country is underway. We are calling up the National Guard and all military personnel have been put on red alert. We request all red-blooded Americans who wish to volunteer, to report to the nearest weather bureau. We must unite and drive this menace from our shores.

I must stress that we are not dealing with UFOs here... These are IDENTIFIED Flying Objects...they are WEATHER BALLOONS!

In the annals of our military there has been only one man who has successfully shot down a weather balloon. Citizens, that man is former American military aviator Dan Darter! We are sending out an urgent nation-wide appeal to anyone who knows of this gallant man's whereabouts to contact the weather bureau headquarters. This frightful invasion must be stopped! Just remember... Tomorrow is Halloween! If we fail in our mission we're going to have some pretty disappointed kids on our hands tomorrow night. Think about it!"


"Hogwash. How do they expect anyone to believe such far-fetched hooey. That Orcan Whales is not fooling anyone. Hey! Help me up...Turn off that silly radio!... Now then ... what are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere? How about helping me get my car back on the road!" Jane turned for a response but was surprised to see that the skinny figure in the green sequined dress had left the car and was sitting spread-legged and glassy-eyed by the roadside, using a heavily padded bra to scoop up and mold gravel into two butte-like piles.

"I gotta get there...you gotta take me... gotta get to Butt Buttes...gotta find Hangar 22... gotta get there... gotta stop the autopsy... gotta get to Lt. Rykor before it's too late..."

In her shaken state, Jane Porker failed to notice the mass of plummeting weather balloons descending into the mountains to the east.

Meanwhile, not far away, Pancho Lane—Bryce Lee's gootchie, gootchie girl—sat in the passenger seat of a yellow `66 Camaro—wondering just how much she should reveal to the comely driver. After all, the woman had thought she was doing the right thing by thwarting Nick Miser's lecherous plans—how could she have known that she had ruined everything.

CHAPTER 86: Das Boobs

Fearless Hilary Billman led wife Cilli and their three surviving children ever upward in search of safety. Behind them trailed a dejected Splay-Toe—mourning the tragic loss of his heroic, crime-fighting partner—Yellow Jacket.

"What am I gonna do?" he lamented. "There ain't no market for side kicks no more."

Yes, sidekicks were a lost breed: Gabby, Smiley, Pat, Tonto, Poncho, Kato, Little Beaver, Artemus, AlGor, Ed McMann...and a thousand more... gone...all gone.

"Jeeze! Why doncha watch where you're goin'?" Hilary grabbed the hapless Chinese wanna-be just as he was about to plunge downward into a sinkhole which blocked their way and which connected to a tunnel far below.

"Quiet! Listen! What's that noise?" Suddenly the tunnel below was flooded by a surging wall of water... and riding the crest of this giant wave was a bottomless, overly-chubby and buxom surf girl balanced on a red rooster-shaped surfboard.

"Yikes. Gettin' kinda crowded down here," Splay-Toe observed as the surfer was washed down the tunnel and the waters eventually subsided.

"Come. We have no time to waste. We are going back. I sense that Milli is still alive... and she needs me. Follow me," ordered Billman as he again took command and led the party back down into the depths whence they had come.

*******

At that very moment, the eldest daughter of the Billman family was adrift in a paddle boat, staring expectantly at Yellow Jacket who appeared to have had a change of heart. The yellow-caped crusader had removed his flowing cape and was slipping out of his stylish zoot suit jacket. Her hopes where raised even higher when her hero fumbled with his massive and multi-pocketed utility belt.

Alas, it was not to be. Milli's hopes for a romantic interlude were dashed when the object of her desires selected a number of items from the belt's pouches and turned his back upon her.

"Aha!...That should do it," uttered the crafty crimefighter in a low voice.

When he turned around a few minutes later, it was with fishing rod in hand—complete with line, hook and bait. "I sense that you must be famished, my lady. If there is anything alive in this strange sea, I shall capture it for you Princess." With that, he cast the line and proceeded to overwhelm his youthful charge with his fly casting prowess. Fate was not bounteous on this day however, and he was about to admit defeat when a mighty pull on the line almost pulled him out of the boat.

"Lend a hand my lady...it's a big one!" shouted the struggling masked angler.

Within seconds they were being towed across the waters at a frightening speed. They were at the mercy of a giant fish just visible below the surface - all that was visible above the surface was the creature's strange pole-like fin which created a clearly visible wake on the otherwise placid waters.

"Y.J....it's daddy's whale! He was right! He's not crazy after all! Catch it! Quick! Get it for daddy!"

The ever-resourceful crime fighter tied the line to one of the boat's footpedals and rummaged again in his Buzz Belt—this time producing a retractable harpoon gun and an assortment of Buzz Bombs and Buzz Depth Charges. The launch of the BuzzPoon disabled the above-surface fin and this was followed by unerring tosses of the Buzz Bombs which rocked the marine creature and appeared to draw blood—a black gooey glob that floated on the surface.

The creature slowed and came to a halt, after which, it let out a series of terrifying "AAA00000GAHHH" screams, and plunged downward into the sanctity of its marine abode. The masked adventurer barely had time to release the line secured to their paddle boat before it was torn from his hands and disappeared into the murky depths below.

"It's getting away YT... O please catch it... For daddy... Ahhh I miss my daddy... Take me home—please?..."

Yellow Jacket looked at the pleading young girl who suddenly appeared very young and helpless, but before he could reach for the deadly percussive depth charges now rolling in the bottom of their yellow craft, the girl had taken possession of them. Like one possessed, and without thinking of the consequences, she tossed the explosive devices to the area she had last seen the crippled monster. The consequent explosions brought forth no giant whale, but a short time later a curious array of flotsam started to bob to the surface—all of the items appearing to be man-made in origin. The significance of this incongruity was lost on the girl.

"O we must tell Daddy... He can rest easy now... The great white whale is dead... I have killed it. Now I understand. I want to go home now. I want my daddy."

Feeling drained and totally exhausted by the day's events, Yellow Jacket turned the boat in the direction of the nearest stretch of solid ground—a large jungle-covered island.

CHAPTER 87: Watership Down

"Ah come on No'mo," pleaded an excited Dan Darter. "Let me try on the top hat and look through the periscope thingee."

"No way man...a top hat for a top man...but come on...get your white ass over here," conceded the flamboyant Captain of the Naughtyass sub. "I'll let ya look for Nazi U-boats just like in that Orcan Whales and Ray Razzberry science fiction movie: `Moby's Dick.'"

"Nah...ya got it all wrong Jackso...ah...No'mo. You're thinkin' of that `Catch-22' flick that ole Orcan did...that one where the Jap sub attacked California and they blew up that big old mansion with the rosebuds... and... ah... how do I look through this thing? All right, all right, I got it... Wow... Look at that... some dude in a faggy yellow suit... ah No'mo?... This don't look good. Holy shit man... it's coming right a us! Duck!"

As Darter moved back from the periscope, a clanging noise reverberated through the sub and the viewing instrument swung around wildly, knocking the surprised man to the deck. Before he could regain his feet the ship was shaken by a series of explosions.

"Dive!...Dive!" shouted No'mo as he sounded the alarm. "Execute evasive maneuvers! It must be the Coast Guard. Prepare for depth charges. Gotta get rid of the evidence. Load the dope into the torpedo tubes. Prepare to fire all tubes."

The next series of explosions from the depth charges caught Darter off guard and all turned black as he was thrown violently against a bulkhead.

Meanwhile, Dee Dee Morris, Princess of Bars, fought to keep her head above the water that was rushing into the sub's steel storage chamber where she found herself a helpless prisoner. She knew that only the nimble fingers of Tangor could write her out of this hopeless situation where she was about to meet her doom.Was he up to it? Could he rise to the challenge? Did he have time? Why had the Canuck failed her? Why, why, why Delilah? Had she paid the water bill? Where in heck had she left her car keys? Did Tangor still remember the Alamo? Her inquiring mind had to know.

CHAPTER 88: The Return of the Living Dead

Some distance away, another damsel in distress was struggling with her own set of problems. She hated it when she was forced into making decisions. Damn that Markus...and that crazy Texan. Nevertheless, Llana of Baseball surveyed the numerous exit doors which lay before her and chose the one which showed the most signs of wear. She led her two male companions through the portal into the great beyond behind the door. They soon found themselves in a cluttered and crowded living room done up in a western motif. The room was filled with people in various states of repose and aggravation.

"You here to see Tangor? You'll have to get in line like the rest of us," ordered a gruff voice from the far side of the room.

Kojak Morris searched out the least hostile face in the room and asked: "Where are we? What manner of place is this?"

"You don't know? This is Tangor's house," came the reply. "We gave up trying to see him at the office... kept ducking out on us to play with that infernal computer machine of his. We're the Living Dead! That nut has killed off everyone in this room... present company excluded I assume... but you may be next! Watch your step. Beware!

"We've got nowhere to go. We gotta have a job. We gotta get a life. Heard he's about to write a new story and we're gonna keep showing up here until he puts us back to work. Why, even now he's in the back room interviewing greenhorns for his notorious writing projects. I tell ya, you can't trust the guy. Without warning he will kill you off with a few clever keystrokes. We ain't gonna budge... are we gang!?!"

The crowded room shook from the response from the Living Dead as they vented outrage over their predicament by setting up a rhythmic chant: "Tan Gor, we're sore—We ain't gonna take no more!"

Meanwhile, in the back room, Tangor reached over to his stereo system and turned up the latest Blues Buoys release in an attempt to drown out the uproar in the next room. He then leaned over his desk to resume the conversation with a young lady who was probably much older than she looked.

"Now, where were we, Miss Lulu?" he asked in a voice approaching shout volume. "Ah yes, and have you ever read any of the Edgar Nyce Mars stories? You would be a natural you know. Why, with new wardrobe, make-up, voice, caps, hair-do, silicone injections... and with a few acting lessons and a little dieting we could..."

Tangor's audition with the girl went on for many hours... much to Mrs. Tangor's dismay.

Elsewhere, Llana and her two male friends made a hasty retreat from the Tangor residence and retraced their steps back to the cavern where they were soon trying their luck at a different exit door.

Bill Hillman

CHAPTER 89: The Jeddak of The North

There was a knock at the door. The large fellow bent over a new computer keyboard shouted, "Can you get that, dear?"

He paid no further attention, continuing to pound keys (his most favorite key was the period which he used quite frequently), totally engrossed in his bizarre thought process. Clickety, Clickety, Clickety, clack! Clackety, Clackety, Clackety, click! The small room resounded with the force of his blows, delivered with a grim writing smile etched upon his craggy face. At his side was a trusty rodent, a product co-manufactured by the Mickysoft and the Randy Rodent companies. The buttons on the rodent were shaped like the nether extremity of the Lord of the Leaves, left buttock to execute, right buttock to bring up a context-sensitive menu.

Occasional snorts and small guffaws accompanied the Warlord of Words' furious rate—never mind that he was easily amused— it was a grim and earnest occupation for this man. Constantly muttering under his breath one might almost hear "I've got ya now!" or "Oh ho! That's a good one! Try to top that, you silly Texican!"

The Jeddak of the North gradually noticed a strange silence in the house. He did not hear his children, the princes and princesses of his frozen realm banging about with their usual youthful exuberance, nor did he hear his princess, the love of his life, puttering in her world famous kitchen. The hot keyboard quickly cooled as the Jeddak ceased his obsessive behavior. Hands poised above the keytops, his noble head turned to one side to listen intently.

Something was amiss!

Taking up the wine bottle near at hand (the empty one), the mighty warrior of the Canadian wilderness held it as a weapon. He moved cautiously from his computer into the main house. Still no sound of life.

Wait! What was that? The tiny sound was repeated again. It came from the kitchen!

Clutching his makeshift weapon and occasional source for story inspiration in one large hand, the Jeddak tiptoed toward the kitchen. Holding the bottle on high, he rushed into the room, prepared to do battle.

His wife, pouring tea into dainty cups, looked up. "Need a refill, honey?"

The Jeddak grinned sheepishly and lowered the bottle. There were three men in the room, each holding a tea cup in large hands that seemed as if they had never held such delicate things before. One wore a narrow-brimmed hat, the other wore a narrow-brimmed hat and a ratty trench coat, the third wore a narrow-brimmed hat, too.

"Sorry, didn't know we had company," the Jeddak said.

"These nice fellows are up from America," the wife replied. "They said you were expecting them."

The Jeddak, always wishing to appear in complete control in front of his family said, "Of course. Business. Have you all been served? Good. Thank you, dear." To the men he said, "Let us retire to my office."

As soon as the door was shut, the Canadian faced the three grim-visaged men and asked, "Who the hell are you? What are you doing in my house?"

"Your wife let us in," the tallest said.

"You've been a naughty boy," the second tallest said.

"And we're here to set you straight," the shortest said—only he wasn't all that short!

The Jeddak of the North scowled. "You'll have to state your business more clearly than that."

"You've made some threats, son. We're here to find out if you're a Dangerous Dan or just a kookie Canuck Crackpot."

"What? I haven't threatened anyone! Me? Nah, gentle as a pussy cat. Nice fellow. Salt of the earth and all that."

"Yea? What about this?"


Subject: Re: Unearthly quiet
Date: Sat, 3 Jan 98 21:40:17 +0000
From: Bill & Sue-On Hillman
To: tangor@erblist.com

>This strange silence from the cold north bodes ill
>for author Tangor. Either that or that silly West
>Virginia doesn't have a leg to stand on.
>>Hope you had a nice new year!
>TANGOR

You have good reason to tremble on your slurping
feelers and chomping chelae O alien Tang-Gor.
America is about to face an invasion like one
never experienced.

A flotilla of ominous, odious chapters is about
to be launched into Texas Cyberspace... you will
not... repeat... will not... be able to survive
this invasion...hope you had a nice new year...
your last!

"There's many more like that," the man in the trench coat said, taking back the printout from the Jeddak's trembling hands. "This doesn't sound like 'salt of the earth' to us, boy."

The Jeddak turned pale, eyes shifting nervously from side to side. "Look, uh, well, uh—who are you guys? What's your stake in this?"

"You should know," the man with the narrow-brimmed hat and mustache said.

The Jeddak sat down, a little concerned by the rough demeanor of the men surrounding him. "I'm sorry," he said. "I haven't got a clue!"

One man looked at the other and winked. "That's exactly what Nyce said."

"Nyce? You know Edgar Nyce?"

A curt nod came in response. "We also know the fellow you sent this email to. Now there's a fellow who is really salt of the earth."

The Jeddak cringed. "Who are you guys?"

"Can he really be that slow?" the short man asked. Leaning close, his beak only inches from the Jeddak's, the man growled. "I'm Cam Spaid. He's Dickie Spillway and that's Ike Slammer."

"B-b-but you're dead! Tangor killed you in a California bank vault!"

"Listen, son, if you're going to be a hack writer you better learn a few tricks of the trade. Nobody stays dead in pulp fiction."

"You were ash and cinders! You were little more than embers! I remember! December!"

"It was November. Haven't you ever heard of special effects? Ratnaz had to believe we were dead. Bertie had to believe we were dead. You were tricked into believing we were dead. The reader was bamboozled into believing we were dead. But we ain't, see?"

"I see that!" the Jeddak said, not seeing a thing at all. "Okay, you're alive. Why are you here?"

"Simply put," Slammer grinned, "to make sure you're as harmless as we think you are. If you aren't, we'll be back."

Spillway clapped a heavy hand on the Jeddak's shoulder. "And if we come back, we'll work over your fingers a little while—with a pair of pliers and a hammer. Got it?"

"Well?" Cam Spaid barked, "Do you?"

"Yes! Yup! Right on! You bet! Without a doubt! Certainly!..."

The Jeddak of the North was still babbling as the three men silently let themselves out. A few long moments passed as the Canadian struggled to still the pounding of his heart, then, with near desperation lending great impetus, he turned to his computer, killed the story on the screen, and fired up his Internet connection. Opening his email program he began typing...


Dear Tangor!

You old son-of-a-gun! How are you doing? I hope
my little joke was appreciated. You know I think
you're the salt of the earth...

CHAPTER 90: Malice In Underland; Wherein A Knowledge of Music History Is Essential

Milli Billman had been startled by the huge creature hooked by the Yellowjacket's fishing rig. Some of her father's madness had possessed her, which led to the use of the crimefighter's horrible weapons. Suffering a Communication Breakdown, she was Dazed and Confused as she looked toward the Black Mountain Side of the jungle island with A Whole Lotta Love. The Ocean seemed filled with Moby Dick debris and it was a real Heartbreaker to Bring It On Home to daddy as a Livin' Lovin Maid. It was just Good Times, Bad Times Going To California with a Misty Mountain Hop seeming like A Stairway To Heaven. What Is And What Should Ever Be is Tangerine Over The Hills And Far Away Since I've Been Loving You. Friends never met at the Gallows Pole or sang an Immigrant Song though they might sing The Lemon Song or The Song Remains The Same on Dancing Days when people did The Grunge on Celebration Day. No Quarter had been asked and Four Sticks of Yellowjacket explosives had been used in the Battle Of Evermore which sank that Black Dog Out On The Tiles, Thank You. That's The Way D'yer Maker sent Hats Off To (Roy) Harper. Rather than have her thoughts Ramble On When The Levee Breaks, Milli turned to Bryce Lee and said:

"That's The Way: You Shook Me, baby. You Shook Me all night long. I Can't Quit You Baby, Your Time Is Gonna Come."

"Huh?" Bryce Lee-Bozhart frowned. "What's with you, child?"

Milli shook off the strange possession that had momentarily dulled her teenage hormones. "All my life daddy has been talking about that damn whale. You'd think he'd really lost his leg to a vicious marine animal rather than an inanimate but dangerous farm tool. Killing that thing has finally freed me of his sick influence."

She stepped close, no more child-like unless one thinks Lolita was a child! Yet, showing a maturing wisdom beyond her admittedly young years, Milli stopped short of coming too close. "I can't keep calling you silly names like Yellowjacket or YT. What is your name?"

Under the seductive spell of the suddenly transformed woman he replied without thought or reservation: "I am Bryce Lee, the illegitimate son of gazillionaire Buzz Bozhart and Junie Lampchop. I am your servant. Please be gentle with me!"

Milli chuckled, a merry sound, yet one that mocked the Yellowjacket. "Sir! You are much too old for me. Why, you must be at least five or six years older!"

He was ten years older but that no longer mattered to the awakened Bryce Lee. The girl's lighthearted rejection, however, ignited a smoldering passion which had been submerged within the crimefighter's dual personalities—and it threatened to consume him.

"Just moments ago you said you loved me," Bryce cried. "What's happened? What have I done to cause you to turn your face from me?"

Milli patted his outstretched hand. "Silly man, I still like you. It's just that daddy's madness must have had an effect on me all these years. Now I am me, Milli Billman, not daddy's little girl. You understand, don't you?"

Lee nodded yes though his brain was confused.

In the meantime the currents had carried the paddleboat close to the island. They soon landed on the ominous shore. Bryce helped Milli to the beach, keeping his distance, still struggling with his newly acquired feelings for the beautiful girl. "Jail bait, jail bait, jail bait" he chanted to himself.

As they neared the jungle at the base of the black mountain side Bryce suddenly swept the child-woman into his arms, smothering her face with kisses. "I love you!" he cried.

Milli calmly kneed the over ardent fellow in the groin. She stepped back as Bryce Lee-Bozhart slumped to the ground clutching his privates. Bending over, she shook a finger in his face and said: "I told you 'no' and I meant 'no'. Understood?"

"Because of Things We Said Today I thought I had a Ticket To Ride. You better Run For You Life Little Child because I've Got A Feeling Her Majesty and Every Little Thing in a Day In The Life won't Carry That Weight when I use Maxwell's Silver Hammer. Baby's In Black and dead as Cold Turkey, Dig It? You Don't Bother Me because I'll Get You, I Will. The Fool On The Hill can tell The Continuing Story Of Bungalo Bill For No One From A Window Eight Days A Week for all I care. No Day Tripper Please Please Me laughs If I Fell! Okay I'm Down now, and you think I'm A Loser If I Needed Someone. Well, Dear Prudence—that's you—live in a World Without Love. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party, but I Feel Fine. Think For Yourself and Things We Said Today for little Sexy Sadie should have Let It Be when I Saw Her Standing There. I've Just Seen A Face In My Life and I Call Your Name Here, There, And Everywhere. 'Hello, Little Girl!' Give Peace A Chance to say Good Day Sunshine, but you've been Bad To Me and that Can't Buy Me Love. Do You Want To Know A Secret? Dig A Pony fast or Drive My Car, but make an appointment with Dr. Robert for Fixing A Hole From Me To You. I Don't Want To See You Again. Like Dreamers Do, Lady Madonna, It's Only Love, It's For You—spurned and attacked! Mean Mr. Mustard I Want To Tell You is a Hey Bulldog, Honey Pie. Hold Me Tight, folks, Maggie Mae, or Martha, My Dear, or Julia, or Michelle or Oh! Darling, OO You, Polythene Pam She Said, She Said She's Leaving Home. Run to Strawberry Fields where Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey because I'm Looking Through You. The Word is You Can't Do That. It's too late for 'We Can Work It Out When I Get Home.' Yes It Is. Yer Blues that Yesterday One And One Is Two but Not A Second Time The Night Before. This Mother Nature's Son is in Misery and No Reply to this Nowhere Man will save you, Penny Lane. You Won't See Me—Your Mother Should Know You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)— for Within You Without You this Paperback Writer is Helter Skelter. You will die, Milli. You will die very slowly you two-timin' Lovely Rita!"

Milli stared at the malevolent face of Bryce Lee-Bozhart with horror! Never had she seen such a transformation before—except when her daddy thought an inner tube floating in the neighbor's swimming pool was Moby Dick. He spent four days in County lockup for leaping the fence and terrorizing all with his harpoon—and had to pay damages to the inner tube.

"Oh, dear!" the girl cried."Such malice in underland!" She turned and ran screaming into the jungle. "HEEELLLLPPPP MMMMMEEEE!"

Bozhart got to his feet, unsteadily, and staggered in her path. At the edge of the jungle he bent down and lifted a heavy branch. He swung it experimentally and grinned with terrible promise as he crashed into the thick underbrush.

BOOK VIII


CHAPTER 91: MISTER Hilary Goes To Town. Cilli: Alone again, naturally!

Several times during their treacherous ascent from the flooded underworld Hillie Billman had to rescue Ward Cleaver. How that bumbling incompetent had managed to land a position as a superhero's sidekick was the $64,000,000 (inflation) question.

After one fall by the Cantonese wannabe, Cilli had leaned close to her husband's ear: "Can't we just leave him? He's frightened Vanilli."

"That child can take care of herself," Billman said. "All my girls know the Hindkick Maneuver. As for the nutty Chinese guy, we may need this lunkhead at some point."

The point was not far off. Billman located a crack in the rock which led them into a storm sewer. Splay-Toe worked well as a step-stool to reach the manhole cover over head. After lifting his family out, the Canuck West Virginian seriously considered sliding the manhole cover in place and leaving the irritating Cleaver in the dark. Then realized that condition was perpetual with the poor creature therefore the ever practical Hillie decided that if Splay-Toe had been handy once, he might be useful again.

As the grateful Splay-Toe clung to his peg leg, giving profuse thanks, Billman looked around. So much of Los Angeles had been destroyed! Hillie did not recognize where they were, but he did spy something that put a quick step to his leather and wood stride. Patting his pockets, Hillie cursed. "Anybody got a dime?"

No one, except Splay-Toe did. As Hillie shoved the coin into the pay phone, he was glad he had not abandoned the useless Cleaver.

"Hello? Hello— Can you speak up? I've got a bad connection." Billman, standing at the skewed and blackened phone booth, tried to get the operator to understand. "I need a cab... Yes... a cab... What? Damn noise! No, they call me MISTER Hilary Bill..." Hillie suddenly pulled the phone away from his ear, puzzled by the excited buzzing from the handset.

"I don't get it, dear," he said to his patient wife, "I just mentioned my name and the operator went nuts!"

Before Cilli could respond, Billman, the children and the forlorn Splay-Toe were astounded by the abrupt appearance of two helicopters overhead. More astonishing, one landed in the street. Three men in dark suits with narrow black ties, narrow-brimmed hats and suspicious bulges under their left armpits quickly approached.

"MISTER Hilary?" the lead man inquired, looking at Cilli.

"That's me," Hillie spoke. "What's this all about?"

The man's expression did not change. "You're wanted home, MISTER Hilary."

"Home? It's been burned down!"

"Surely you jest. Have these people molested you, MISTER Hilary?"

"What? No. Not at all. Hey, where are you taking me?" Billman cried as two men gently, but firmly escorted the peg-legged Hillie to the waiting helicopter.

"To the White House," the leader responded with a respectful monotone. "Your husband can't decide if he should invade Guatemala or Quebec."

* * * * * * * *

"Hillie!" Cilli Billman cried. "You come back right now!"

The distraught wife's plea went unheard as the helicopter's powerful engine revved. The aircraft took off, raising a cloud of ash and soot. Seconds later Cilli Billman, her children, and Splay-Toe were alone in the savage wastelands of deserted Los Angeles.

"Just like a man," Mrs. Billman scowled. "Making plans and not including the family! Well, Hilary Billman, I've just about had enough! Come, children!"

"Mrs. Billman!" Splay-Toe wailed—again without an authority figure upon which to heap his devotion. "What about me?"

Cecila was not as forgiving as her harpoon-carrying husband. "We do not need you, Splay-Toe. Go bother someone else."

Splay-Toe looked around, his hands held in helpless supplication. "Who? We're the only ones left."

Cilli glanced around, noticing the austere and barren landscape as if for the first time. It was as dry as the dead sea bottoms of Mars. The ersatz Chinaman's eyes produced the only moisture in sight. Vanilli leaned to her mother and said, "I can take care of myself."

With a heavy sigh Cilli nodded. "You can come, Splay-Toe, as long as you behave yourself."

"Yes, missy! Vely good, missy! You no solly humble Splay-Toe along!"

"Lead the way," Cilli said. "Just pick a direction and go!" she added when the creature looked askance.

Wending through the burned out shells of residences which might have been the Barrio or Beverly Hills for all they could tell, the small group hurried toward their unknown destination.

CHAPTER 92: Atlas Shrugged. He Was Bored.

After the terrible explosions which had rocked the submarine Naughtyass there had been screams and terror in the corridor outside Dee Dee Morris' prison. In a very short time silence followed, punctuated by occasional groans in the metal hull. The girl sensed by intuition rather than empirical proof that the vessel had been severely injured and was sinking into the abyss of the underground ocean.

Water seeped into the steel locker past the gasketed door with agonizing slowness. Dee Dee Morris cringed as the cold water crept up her curvaceous legs. At the hem of her skirt the poor girl began praying, something heroines do in Edgar Nyce stories, even if it was only lip service to further the plot.

"Oh Lord, don't you buy me a Mercedes Bentz. Who cares about Porches when life's about to end? I've worked hard all my lifetime, any means to that end. Oh Lord, don't you buy me a Mercedes Bentz."

Dee Dee was into her second chorus when the seal on the locker door began to fail. Water rushed in with appalling rapidity. Terrified, Dee Dee screamed, then changed her mind and filled her lungs with air. She wasn't going to drown stupidly, though she had no doubts of the eventual outcome.

The water completely filled the compartment. Perversely, the electric lights continued to work in the murky water. Dee almost screamed again as a fearsome apparition appeared in the now open doorway. For a moment she struggled against the creature as it tried to put a suction cup over her face—then realized it was the breathing mask attached to a scuba tank!

Drawing grateful breath, the princess of bars tried to make out the face of her rescuer. Her vision was hampered by the cloudy water, but it was a man who took her arm and pulled her out of the locker. Dee Dee offered no resistance to her savior as he towed her through the flooded submarine. The journey was a nightmare of confused images, a stairwell, a hatch, then another hatch and they were outside! As they rose to the surface Dee looked down to see the malevolent hulk of the Naughtyass sliding into the black depths.

They reached the surface moments later. Tearing the mask from her face, Dee Dee Morris gulped down lungfuls of air. "Thank you Lord!" she cried.

"Bland," the man beside said. "The name is Bland. Ned Bland."

"You!" Startled, the woman blurted her inner feelings without thinking. "You vile creature! You bastard! You defiler of women! Still, thank you for saving my life."

"Listen, you silly dame, I've been a captive on the Naughtyass since Captain No'mo fished me out of the Pacific after my little smuggler's boat broke up in a storm."

"A smuggler! Carrying drugs into America. How despicable!"

"Parrots," the man replied, turning surly. "I smuggled birds. I know it's illegal, but damn, girl, I'm no drug runner. Or at least I wasn't until I had to talk fast to keep No'mo from murdering me. I'm headed for that island over there. You can do whatever you like."

Chastened by the man's outburst, Dee Dee treaded water momentarily. Contrite, she soon followed. On shore Dee wrung water from her long hair and apologized. "I was out of line back there," she said. "I do thank you for saving my life."

"Aw... forget it. Let's get off this beach. I don't like the looks of things."

A hundred feet inland they found a clear water pool at the base of a high, black escarpment. The man and womanl lsise flkeu fs;les ;le;lp4e0-spelkjsefh lkdsfj elheleivl lsei-

Elske kls E! sllu spo e0-kl s! lks .. ??? lksj l???? Ahhhhhhhh hhh hh hhhhh! SSSSSSsssss tttttt iiiiil llllll ll LLLLLliiiii iii vvvvvvvvv eeeee!!!! Erk! Ugh! Phoop! Foom! Flash!


"So, Tangor, you thought Tang-Gor
could be so easily disposed of?
You foolish human! I have acquired
powers of recuperation granted by the
dense atmosphere of this barbaric planet
you call Mama Urth! I have reformed,
reintegrated, reappeared, and I am more
powerful than ever because of that
incredible substance Oregano which
combined with my atoms while I was in a
gaseous state! You cannot control me,
now, puny creature! I am more puissant
than even the mighty Monitor of Betatuna.
I have taken control of your keyboard
and soon I will take control of your
insignificant brain. My thoughts will
be your thoughts. My will shall be your
will. And my will is that..."

CTRL-ALT-DEL

Dee Dee looked on with horror as the two men fought. They were as jungle beasts in their violence. The growling sounds emanating from human throats terrified her. As they grappled each tried to sink teeth into the straining neck of the other. Thrashing about savagely, Ned Bland and the mad stranger clad in yellow tatters carried their fight across the clearing and into the jungle beyond. After what the dastardly Ned had attempted at the pool, the woman felt no remorse running in the opposite direction.

Wanting only to get far away from the titanic battle behind her, and continuously looking over her shoulder to see if there was any pursuit, Dee Dee failed to watch her fore trail carefully. She ran smack into a tall, wet body which immediately entrapped her in muscular arms. She was too tired to scream.

"I see you came running back to me, baby," Dan Darter grinned. "So good to see you again."

"Let me go."

"You'll just run away."

"No," she said with a weary sigh, "I won't."

Darter did, she was limp and heavy in his arms.

Dee kicked off her sensible black shoes which had somehow remained with her during the recent trials and tribulations. The stocking on her left leg was quickly removed, followed by the right. The hook to the waistband of the black skirt was undone, the short zipper unzipped. The wet fabric was pushed down over hourglass hips to fall at her feet. Dee stepped out and began removing her blouse. Next came the straining bra and French cut panties. Her well-formed body was naked to Darter's view. The woman's form was stupendous, no other woman on earth was more perfect in conformation.

"Take me, Dan."

"What?" Darter did a double take. "Have you taken leave of your senses?"

"Just get it over with," Dee Dee demanded. "I'm tired of all the crap and kidnapping and threats and leers and ogling. Have your way and be done with it. I'm too tired to care anymore."

Dan Darter, the woman of his dreams naked and consenting before him, could not believe the turn of events. A lecherous smile twisted his rugged features. He took an anticipatory step toward the woman. She did not flinch. She did not, in fact, show any emotion whatsoever. Darter's brow drew together.

At his touch she stood immobile. As he pressed her unresisting body to his, she said nothing. When he bent to place hot kisses on her ivory throat, Dee ignored it. Though his hands explored her smooth skin, no response was forthcoming.

Darter drew back, a trifle angry. "Hey."

"Hey what?" the forlorn girl replied.

"I could use a little help here, you know."

Dee Dee scowled. "You certainly didn't need any help before, you brute."

Darter lowered his eyes. "That's different. We've never gotten this far before."

"I've gotten nowhere," the woman responded. "Well? Isn't this what you wanted?"

"Sure. I mean, yes. I've wanted you all along, Dee Dee."

"You have me. Get it over with."

"But you don't understand."

"Understand what?"

Darter's face burned crimson as a confession was painfully made. "I—I need... well, I need a little help here."

"Huh?" For the first time in long moments, Dee Dee Morris looked directly at her recurring and obnoxious suitor. It was astonishing to hear the mighty Dan Darter stammer like a schoolboy!

"It's just a case of performance anxiety," Darter revealed. "I need you to talk to me. That's all."

"Talk? That's all I've been doing for years, Dan Darter. Talking—telling you 'no' with every other breath. I suppose you want sweet nothings whispered in your ear, or some slutty bedroom chatter to flatter your male ego."

"That would help!" Darter said hopefully.

"Forget it." Dee picked up her panties and stepped into them. The garter belt was next, then stockings, skirt, bra, blouse, and shoes. "You're pitiful, Dan Darter!" Dee cried. "Don't you ever, ever, EVER try anything with me again or I'll talk your ego into a hole so deep the only way you'll see daylight again is to keep digging for China! You hear me you miserable creep?"

Angry, Dee Dee Morris stamped her little foot.

The ground gave way beneath the two.

As she fell, Dee Dee Morris thought to herself: "I've got to quit doing that!"

CHAPTER 93: Secrets Revealed. The Past Returns.

Bertie picked up the nearest thing, a manure shovel of ancient design, and stood over her unconscious man prepared to defend them both against the mysterious intruder. "Come near us and I'll brain you!" Ketchum cried.

"Put that away, Miss!" a commanding voice replied. "I mean you no harm." The massive figure stepped from the underbrush, which had given him a shaggy appearance. He was a powerful figure in a tight suit with a maple leaf on his chest. Inexplicably a wind from nowhere rose to flutter the cape on his shoulders. It was a chill wind that gave naked Bertie goosebumps.

"I am Captain Canuck here to rescue you and the mighty Ratnaz."

"You look like a fugitive from a Superman impostors convention."

"Alas," the heroic Canuck replied, "that is ever the response caped crusaders receive. Nonetheless, Ms Ketchum, I have been sent to offer aid and assistance by one who has only your best interests at heart."

"Who? I didn't know we had any friends left."

"Edgar Nyce."

"I dunno," Bertie scowled. "Ed's been awful mean to Ratnaz recently."

"Most likely due to pressures resulting from Brace Bozhart's attempts to destroy Mr. Nyce. I suggest to you," the Canadian offered in tones usually found in higher quality comic books, "that Edgar Nyce is less enemy of Ratnaz than the villainous Bozhart."

"You got a point. Give me a minute." Bertie knelt beside the unconscious man and patted his cheek. "Ratz? Honey? Wake up, baby. Come on, now. That's a good boy!"

"What's going on?" Ratz rubbed his head. "Man, I need ta see a neurologist. Must have a tumor or sumthin'. Oh! Hey, Dilbert!"

Captain Canuck put a finger to his lips and went "Shhhh! I do not go by that name any longer."

"Really? Did they finally fire ya? Like the snazzy new threads! What, Bertie?"

The girl had been tugging at her panties, which were severely wedged between the Lord of the Leaves broad cheeks. "Oh, never mind," Bertie sighed, "they're stuck." She stepped into Ratnaz's discarded undies. "Okay, Captain Chuck, let's go."

"Canuck."

"Whatever. Here, Ratz, hold my hand."

Dilbert—Captain Canuck—led the couple outside the broken down goat shed. A short walk through the trees brought them to a Jeep Wrangler. "In you go," the caped hero said.

A 40 minute drive, including a ferry off the island, brought them to the underground bunker which housed the Nyce headquarters. Bertie, Ratz and Dilbert entered the main room.

"I've had a hell of a time locating you," Nyce said by way of greeting. Instead of offering his hand, he offered a tall Ratnaz Special. "Hello, Bertie, long time no see, and what I see now I've never seen before. You're quite a looker."

"Pompous old fart," was Bertie's reply.

Nyce ignored the compliment. "Ratz, I want you and your girlfriend to have a shower, food, a little sleep if you need it. We have much work to do if we are going to destroy Bozhart before he destroys us."

Ratz, feeling more human after consuming half a Ratnaz Special, said, "That's all you ever do, Ed. Death, destruction. Worlds in jeopardy. Women in peril. Blood by the millions of gallons. Don't you believe in peace, prosperity and picket fences?"

"I expected a little resistance, old fellow," Nyce puffed furiously on his cigarette. "Here, read this again and tell me I'm wrong."

Nyce tossed the damning diary toward the Lord of the Leaves. The wild man's coordination was a bit off, considering his long hardships and the effects of the triple Ratnaz Special. The book fell to the floor. Ratz bent to pick it up, scowling, but as he came erect again, he saw a new fellow enter the room.

At that moment something snapped in the Lord of the Leaves' memory. That face, the aristocratic sneering visage of Devon McGuinness restored memories lost in an airplane crash which had left the young Ratnaz abandoned in the jungle.

"You!" Ratnaz dropped both book and glass. His powerful fingers curled into talons. "I remember you putting on a parachute. You jumped out of the plane, intending that I, the rightful heir of the Greatstroke fortune, would perish! I survived, at great hardship and embarrassment, but you, my cousin, will die the death that even pulp authors cannot negate!"

With that statement, the enraged Ratnaz launched himself at his old enemy.

CHAPTER 94: Raining: Datsun Clogs

Herlock Cabyns noticed the gathering clouds above the new inland sea. "It appears a storm is brewing."

Zany Grany squinted into the sun before it was obscured. "Yep. Come on, gents. What with the fire, the earthquake and the flood, any rain we gets likely ta wash us out ta sea."

Grany led the Englishmen away from the quiet grass lined brook toward a distant house nestled under a thick canopy of trees. "I'll tell ya the next part of the story as we go," Grany said.

Query: Are Fairy Tales Real?

Chapter 3

David Bruce Bozarth
(Zany Pseudonym)

Zela looked at me, attentive, ready to respond to any demand I might wish of her. I grinned, stopping, my hands on her lovely shoulders. "Are we fairly safe from the Agavin right now?"

"Yes, I would say so," Zela said.

"Then we'll try a little of the old in and out, my dear. You are the most incredibly beautiful woman I have ever seen."

I took her in my arms and Zela responded eagerly. We joined in a frenzy of mutual desire and it was heavenly. I never had it so good. I couldn't seem to control myself. It was so wonderful, so intense, so constant. I felt I was being drained by her pulsating warmth. Zela clung to me, making little satisfied moans, apparently unable to get enough.

I became concerned when my body complained of the continuous drain. Concern turned to alarm as I noticed a strange lassitude, a weakness growing by the minute. I nearly had to fight free of Zela's clutching embrace and, when I pulled away from her delicious warmth and looked down at my limp member I was shocked to see a thin sheen of blood there—my blood!

"What the hell?" I shook with sudden apprehension, my body trembling with weakness caused, no doubt, by the abrupt blood loss. I looked to Zela, still lying on the ground with glazed eyes, and noted the high flush on her cheeks, the fullness of her body, the way her pink tongue licked her lips!

Her husky voice was a melody of desire. "No man has ever given so much to me before!" She sighed, replete and contented. She looked six pounds heavier. I could guess how she acquired it, which caused me too look upon Zela with horror. Her next words were filled with tender love. "Are all the men of your world so strong, so willing to give?"

"Once!" I cried, backing away. "We may be horny bastards, but we're not totally stupid. What did you do to me?"

"Sir Christopher," she sat up, more agile and alert than ever before. "I do not understand your question. You know what we did."

"I know what I thought we were going to do, but apparently the rules are a little different over here. Did you just relieve me of some blood?"

"About two and a half pints I would guess. Thank you so very much!"

Holy horrors! I would have run screaming in terror, but I lacked the strength. Zelandriakofornia was a vampire—a sex vampire. "Do you bite necks as well?"

"Why would I bite you?" her tone was quizzical, mystified.

"Nothing, Zela." I was suddenly very thirsty. I knew I'd also be hungry. Two and a half pints of blood was nothing to sneeze at. That's a hell of a lot of blood to lose in one session.

"Is this sort of thing going to happen every time we have sex, Zela?"

Confusion gave way to bewilderment. "It's the nature of life, Sir Christopher. In return for our total obedience, the man provides, though most would not provide so generously."

"You can be assured—" I started to tell her it would never happen again, then realized Zela was my only link back home. It might not be a good idea to piss her off. "My surprise is due to the innate differences between your world and mine, Zela. Do you—"

What a minute, I told myself. Don't throw gasoline on a burning fire because it's the only liquid you have. Remember what she said, "Total obedience, dear. Zela, we shall not have sex again until I say so. Understood?"

"Yes, Sir Christopher," she promised, a forlorn pout marring her lovely lips.

I had to amend my statement just to put a smile back on her face. "What I mean to say, Zela, is it takes some time for a man of my world to regain his desire. My generosity is due to the long periods of abstinence which my fellow men and I suffer between such wonderful copulation as we just enjoyed."

Her face brightened, the unhappiness vanished. She rolled across the grass and leaned against my chest, her massive breasts soft against my skin, her arms about my neck. "I will obey, Sir Christopher." She kissed me again and I lost the other pair of socks.

Zelandriakofornia might be a vampire of the most unusual sort, but she surely made blood donating a unique and sensual experience. I began to understand why her race managed to survive. Any man would take a chance on loosing a little blood just to repeat the mind-numbing experience. In fact, I felt an ominous (for me) twitch of renewed desire rising between my legs and I gently pushed Zela away before the gonads over-rode my normally impeccable common sense.

"You must obey me, Zela. Turn off the charm and give me a little breathing space..."

Though she was reluctant to move, Zela did so, once again displaying that unbelievable fact: women of this world cheerfully obeyed, the explicitly submissive servants of men. This was such a change from the manner of my life up until this moment that I couldn't dare hope there were no other surprises in store.

"Hungry, sir knight?" Zela asked. "Or are you not as other men and do not require immediate sustenance after sex?"

She was still licking her lips, damn it! "Food-yes," I said. After all, beer and bar nuts only go so far toward satisfying the inner man. I looked around the small clearing in the midst of the bristly bottle-brush trees. "What's edible?"

"A moment, Sir Christopher."

Zelandriakofornia rolled to her feet, rising in one fluid motion. She went to the base of one tree and knelt, digging into the soil with strong, conical shaped fingers. In a few moments she had unearthed a number of tuber-like roots, which she stacked by her knee.

I took one, eyeing it warily, as she sat down and commenced to gnaw another root with her beautiful teeth. "What is it?" I asked, sniffing the chalk white interior after snapping the root in half. There was no odor.

"'Tree root'," she replied. "It's quite tasteless and thoroughly disgusting, but it is high in nutritional value and," she added with an engaging grin, "there's nothing else available at the moment."

Zelandriakofornia's entrancing eyebrows knit together. I imagined that there were times she wondered if her white knight was playing with a full deck. "Do you not consume tree roots on your world, Sir Christopher?"

As I could not say yes or no to the question, personally never having gnawed on maples or elms myself, I chose not to respond by taking a bite out of the tree root. It was, as advertised, thoroughly bland and unappealing, but it did fill the emptiness in my middle and chomping on the fibrous material gave me time to come to terms with the various startling concepts I'd encountered since Zela's first kiss.

One, a nubile naked nymph dressed in a nimbus of blue light appears from nowhere and zaps me from one existence to another. Two, I experience the delights of body transformation, along with the accompanying terror of never being able to return to my original form. Three, I get more exercise in hours than I usually do in a month. Four, the delightful nymph proclaims complete obedience to my every whim. Five, her eager, erotic response to such a suggestion makes me a happy man. Six, discovery that such incredible pleasure has such an incredible price tag leaves me doubting my own sanity. And, lastly, I wondered if MacDonald's or Burger King would be considered four star restaurants if the average meal consisted of "tree roots".

Apparently, by some unguessable process, I was selected and recruited by the lovely little demon who sat opposite me. A rescue mission lay ahead and then—what? I put the question to Zelandriakofornia.

"Then we shall send you back to your own world, Sir Christopher."

"Oh, Rent-a-Knight, I guess. Tell me, Zela, what makes Princess Tee'an'a so special? I am curious, you see, considering that unusual side effect women of this world bring into the conjugal embrace."

"We are not all vampires, Sir Christopher—"

"Please, Zee, shorten it down to 'Chris'."

"As you command...Chris. As I was saying, not all women are vampires. There are a very few, usually of royal blood, without my particular biological needs. They are, of course, highly prized by men, though I cannot fathom why. It is common knowledge that masters or husbands say that making love to such women is like embracing cold fish; however, the men seem more than satisfied to accept such short-comings. Men are such eccentric creatures."

I started to tell Zelandriakofornia that death by pleasure wasn't quite as appealing as she might think, but my little vampirix was such a sweet kid, all things considered, that I kept that thought to myself. I switched subjects. "Tell me, Zela, can I get killed doing this little mission?"

"'Tis a near certainty, sir knight," she replied, the smile disappearing, replaced with a pensive frown. "T'would be a great shame for one so generous as yourself." She heaved a tremulous sigh, which caused her luscious breasts to jiggle enticingly.

I quickly diverted my attention back to her face where there was less danger in giving her the impression that I was "ready" for another close encounter simply because my gonads didn't have the sense given to gnats.

I looked up the sky, barely visible between the interlaced bristles of the bottle brush trees, and instantly regretted it. My stomach churned something terrible when I saw the pink swirls inter-mixed with fuchsia and magenta. "Is it always like this?" I jerked my thumb upwards, praying the tree root I'd eaten wouldn't come back to visit me. "What gives with the sky, Zela? It looks like a painter's palette—a mad painter's palette."

"'Tis nothing, Sir Chris. It only represents the imbalance in our world when great magic is in force, such as that which brought you here."

"Oh—usually blue skies and sunshine except when arcane incantations are used? Tell me, Zee, don't you think that's going to make my job a little more difficult? After all, dear, Lord Iwanit and Wizard Wewil Ewinkee ought to know about things like that."

"Most certainly they would, Sir—" she paused when I narrowed my eyes with displeasure "—Chris. Lord Iwanit is a magician of no mean talent himself."

"I have the sinking feeling that you mean that as 'cracker-jack' and not an indication of his emotional stability. Can you tell me a little more about how I'm expected to do what I'm supposed to do?"

Zelandriakofornia lowered her lovely violet eyes with a blush. "T'would not be fair, sir knight. T'would be against the rules of fair play amongst magicians."

"Oh—" I scowled. "It's okay for them to have rules as long as the pawns suffer? I don't think that's very fair, Zelandriakofornia."

"'Tis not supposed to be, Chris," Zela pouted, moving closer. "In all honesty, sir knight, I would gladly tell you if only I knew what powers you might face, but I am just a lowly serving girl who was selected by others to find you and bring you to a certain place near the Opal Tower where others would give you final instructions." Zelandriakofornia's lip quivered, afraid I was angry with her.

I was, but I couldn't stay that way. Against my better judgement I opened my arms and, with a girlish giggle, Zelandriakofornia snuggled her deliciously dangerous body against mine. Her pert bottom wiggled on my lap and I gently shook my finger in her face. "None of the you-know-what, Zee."

She nodded solemnly, then erotically sucked the end of my appendage. I felt an instant response in my groin and had to fight myself to keep from slapping her away. Zee didn't bite, nor did she pout when I pulled my finger from her pursed lips. I examined it in the shifting light, reflections of the convoluted sky above, and felt somewhat reassured when I discovered no damage or blood loss. Apparently women of this world actually did as they were told. (Dummy, I already knew that!) Hey! Maybe I could work that to my advantage!

"I want you to send me back where I came from and tender my apologies to Princess Tee'an'a, King Ulf Usal and extend my regrets to Lord Iwanit for being unable to participate in world events. That's an order—" I added with as much firmness as I could muster in the face of her gut-aching beauty.

"That's impossible, Chris," Zelandriakofornia moaned, fighting tears and fears. "I would gladly do as you command, but I have only a part of the spell. The rest will come after you have accomplished the task before you. Do you understand this, O Knight?"

I could see the poor girl was torn between the desire to obey and the impossibility of doing so. Understanding the truth behind her heart ache, I nodded regretfully. "So, when do we get started. There's a girl waiting for me back home..."

As soon as I said that, I realized I didn't care if Avon waited forever. Despite the dangers to health and sanity, I found myself completely intrigued with the warm bundle in my arms. I wondered if that flaw in judgement was part of the fascination that mice displayed when they viewed snakes before they were devoured. I certainly couldn't help myself regarding Zelandriakofornia.

Zela tried to answer my questions as best she could. It appeared she wasn't exactly all that well informed about the task, or the land, or the powers which decreed that we two were the last hope of the kidnapped princess.

"So," I said, summing up our conversation, "once we arrive in Igathat we go over the river and through the Woulds to Gran Mathers' house we go?" I asked her to spell Woulds and it was W-O-U-L-D-S. "And who is Gran Mathers?"

"I do not know, Chris."

"Then what?"

"The Stairs. They are the last obstacle."

"The Stairs? How much trouble can a flight of stairs be?" Bad question, one that wouldn't be answered until we got there. By then, however, it was too late to run for cover. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Oh, by the way, since you are reading this first person manuscript, you've probably figured out that I survive this adventure, but I'm not going to spoil it by telling you how at this point.

At any rate Zee and me got going. The bottle brush trees marched up slope with us for a zillion yards or so, then started to be replaced with tightly packed copses of brush that looked like they were decorated in preparation for a Tupperware party. I swear some of the plants had leaves that looked like those little snap lids with the air freshness seal while others bore fruit that appeared to be an assortment of freezer-safe containers ranging from pint to one gallon sizes. They even felt like Tupperware.

"Only problem with these," I said to Zelandriakofornia as I tried to place a "lid" on a "container" I'd plucked while passing, "is they don't come with lids that fit."

"Of course not, Chris, those grow in the heights. Once a year the people come down from the mountains and trade with the people of the lowlands. It's a big annual bazaar where everyone comes and makes things whole and have a good time." She swiveled her hips suggestively, licking her full lips.

"Once a year?" I cleared my throat, suddenly understanding. "Is that how often you get some, Zela?" Her pout was so pretty I wanted to kiss it away, but I managed to keep control.

"Yes," she replied with a forlorn sigh.

"Then you've already had twice as much as usual, right?" She nodded again, head drooping between her shoulders as we walked through the Tupperware forest.

I tossed the useless bottom to one side and sent the lid spinning like a Frisbee. What good is a Tupperware bottom without a lid to keep in the freshness? Besides which, the only food I'd seen was tree root and that didn't need anything to keep it fresh.

I felt like a heel, though. Just because women here didn't have any freedom of choice didn't mean they weren't as horny as the girls back home. If anything, they were more so, and thoroughly honest about it, too. Back home I'd probably be taking a chance with any woman, who usually turned out to a man-eater, so why should it be any different here?

"Sorry," I apologized. "I didn't mean to make you feel bad."

"You could never do that," Zela confided. Her smile came back as she shivered with delicious memory. "You've made me happier than any woman since the beginning of time. You're very wonderful."

"Flattery might get you somewhere," I muttered under my breath, "but don't count on it." Louder, I said, "How much farther do we have to go? I'm getting tired."

"Long and long," Zelandriakofornia told me.

When she didn't elaborate, or stop, I sighed. "How long is 'long and long'?"

"As long as it takes, Chris." She looked into my eyes, her arm brushing against mine as we walked. "Do you wish to stop?"

"I think we're going to have to, Zela," I admitted, my eyes so heavy I felt I was going blind. Surprisingly I wasn't all that hungry though we'd walked perhaps twenty miles since coming ashore.

"There's a small valley up ahead," she told me. "We can sleep there. There's plenty of ash and rowan berries, and running water."

"So?" I asked as we turned our steps in that direction. "What's an expensive wood veneer, tiny berries, and potable liquid have to do with the shape of things to come?"

"Protection against magic, sir knight. We shall sleep undisturbed."

Oh—magic. Once again with the magic! "Does it ever get dark around here?"

"Oh, yes. If you'll look, you'll see the sky is less troubled." She gestured with a slim, sexy hand. "In a few hours all will be back to normal, until you leave that is, then we'll have kaleidoscope skies again."

"Okay—" I shrugged my shoulders. I gave up trying to understand something as foreign to me as chicken with teeth and racing snails. "I'll take your word for it."

Zelandriakofornia's smile was reassuring and, as promised, we came to the rim of a valley. It was actually a cut traversing the base of a geologic uplift, an escarpment, that formed a hem for a series of highlands rising into the far distance. How far it extended was impossible to tell, the purple mountain's majesty above the fruited plain was hidden by the purple and indigo bands making up the "night" sky.

Zee led the way down slope then we walked along the bank of a wide, placid stream. She rejected several spots that I considered suitable for a night camp, then clapped her hands with delight when we came upon a grass and bush topped island about the size of three king-size mattresses pushed together. The water came up to our waists as we waded across and, before stepping onto the island, we took time to bathe and drink our fill.

Zelandriakofornia displayed her woodcraft talents by assembling a warm, comfy bed out of grasses and leaves stripped from the bushes. I appreciated her efforts as I lay down, weary to the world. Zela made a bed for herself, though there wasn't as much material left to do so.

"Hey, Zee," I said.

"Yes, Chris?"

"You can sleep with me."

Zee's face glowed with delight as she dropped the handful of grass and abandoned her bed making. She knelt down, a lovely vision of grace and beauty, then paused when I raised a warning finger.

"No hanky panky or I spanky," I said.

"Yes, Christopher," she beamed, snuggling close, her breasts warm against my side, her arm across my chest.

"Comfy?"

"I might be more comfortable if you let me pillow my head on your shoulder—"

"Oh—by all means! How thoughtless of me!"

Actually, after she settled down, I discovered I enjoyed the feel of her silken hair on my shoulder, the pleasant weight of her leg over mine, the innocence of her embrace. I looked down at her closed eyes, marveling at Zelandriakofornia's beauty. It was a damn shame she wasn't just your usual run of the mill ball-breaker. Having a good time with Zelandriakofornia was a slow form of pleasant suicide.

Caught with my thoughts hanging out again, I noticed it was night. There were stars in the sky and a lovely moon. They didn't look like anything I'd seen back home, but then again, I never expected they would. If this was a practical joke, it was too elaborate, too damn real.

"I'll figure it out in the morning," I sighed, closing my eyes.

Inside the comfortable southwestern style abode Zany Grany sent his burros to their bedroom which doubled as a barn. "Drink, gents? All that talkin' makes a man mighty dry."

"Port, if you have it," Cabyns replied, "a dry sherry if not. Datsun does not imbibe."

That worthy scowled at his friend. "I believe I'll have one of your American beers, sir."

Cabyns merely arched an expressive brow at the good doctor's unusual request.

Grany returned from the modern kitchen with a frozen beer stein for Datsun, a stem glass for Cabyns and an old fashioned for himself. Settling on the worn cowhide divan the old writer prospector kicked off dusty boots and propped religious (ie holey) sock-clad feet on a battered coffee table. "Been a long day fer you fellers, eh?"

Cabyns cautiously sat on a three-legged stool of dubious ancestry. "That is an understatement, sir." After sipping his port, Cabyns' opinion of the rough-edged westerner rose quite favorably. "What do you know about the various mysterious happenings as related to Edgar Nice, his burro, Rolph Rathmind, Brace Bozhart and several other fellows claiming to be Bozhart."

"Cabyns!" Datsun exclaimed. He had been looking through the 12" vinyl record collection of Zany Grany. "Music of the Germanic Mid-West! Look at that cover! The last time we saw wooden shoes was Amsterdam."

"Rotterdam and be damned, old friend. I am having a chat with the inestimable Mr. Grany. Do please contain yourself."

Red-faced, the rotund Dr. Datsun harrumphed and snorted.

Grany chuckled. "Don't ya mind yer intense friend, Datsun. Put that platter on if'n ya like. A little mood music might be appropriate."

Delighted, Datsun did that very thing and within seconds the room will filled with an energetic rendition that put toes to tapping and lightened spirits even as the sun disappeared completely. Rain began to hit the roof and dripped onto the dusty windows, momentarily obscuring them as the dust became mud.

Ignoring Datsun, Cabyns attempted to continue his conversation with Grany. "This tale you spin, I presume it is allegorical in some manner?"

"Yer durn tootin', sonny boy! Say, that weather sure looks bad out there. It's raining..."

"And Datsun clogs. Do you think the reader apprehended the pun more readily simply because it was used twice?"

"Whether they did or ain't ain't the issue," Grany replied, looking a little worried as the rainfall became a torrent. "That's my cat and dog out there in the rain on that broken old wagon. Hang onta this, sonny. I'll be rite back."

Cabyns held the old fashioned in one hand and the port in the other as he watched the old timer wade across the front yard. Grany picked up both animals and was halfway back when a flash flood swept the man and his pets away. The shocked Englishman could barely drop his jaw to call to Datsun when a fantastic vision of a bare-bottomed girl hanging ten on a red rooster-shaped surf board passed by on a high crest. He thought the woman shouted "Kowabonga!" before passing into the pines.

CHAPTER 95: Stranger in a Strange Band

Brace Bozhart's yellow Camaro came to a screeching halt at the end of the driveway leading to the Tappan Range Chick Shack Vacation House. Or where it had been. As far as the eye could see, which was pretty far, the new inland sea covered the area which had once belonged to coyotes and jack rabbits as well as other indigenous rodents and small mammals, many of which had made the Federal Endangered Species Act and caused no end of heartache for residents and landowners when Uncle Sam's ecology bully boys came and dictated land use/protection of species.

"It's gone!" Brace sighed. "Jane will have a fit!"

As the man stood at the edge of the lapping waters, a Ford POS pulled in behind the lemon Chevy. Two men stepped out of the vehicle, both wearing identical black suits and wearing dark sunglasses. One was white the other black.

"Are you Brace Bozhart" the white man asked.

"Yes, I am."

The black man pursed his lips distastefully. "We hear you've been harboring an alien."

"Pardon? If you mean Miguel, he's already returned to Mexico."

"Not that alien," the white man said.

Brace regained his composure rapidly. "I'll need to seem some identification before I answer any more questions. Oh," he said when two badges were flashed. "M.I.B. And your names?"

"Smith."

"Jones."

Brace allowed a faint smile. "Alias Smith and Jones. How droll. Ask your questions then begone so I may get about my business."

"Tang-Gor."

"Betatuna."

"Oregano."

The rapid-fire application, so useful for Jack Webb as Sergeant Friday, had no effect upon Bozhart, who was accustomed to dealing with bankers and politicians. "Unacquainted. What? Spicy. Anything else, gentlemen?"

"Yeah," the black guy said. "Look at this." Smith held up a silver thingamajig with a red crystal on one end.

* * * * * * * *

Brace Bozhart left the catwalks above the cavernous warehouse where 20,000 artificial life forms patterned after his DNA encoding were reduced to so many slimy puddles. The old woman below had sighted him and the best he could do was to shout a warning: "Beware!"

Cabyns and Datsun had held up his part of the plan. Glancing at the non-reflecting face of his watch saw that he was well over 15 minutes late for his rendezvous with Jane Porker. "What else can go wrong?" he mused, hurrying through the dark warrens of the Bozhart underground enclave.

* * * * * * * *

Brace floored the Camaro. Things were far too out of control. If only he could catch up to Jane! She had left the Chicken Shack only minutes ago, yet there was no sign of her in the road ahead.

* * * * * * * *

After leaving their house, handsome Brace Bozhart made three stops. These were late night places Jane was known to habit when sleepless: a theater known for the quality of its foreign film offerings, especially sub-titled Canadian wilderness epics, a seedy, but fashionably patronized mahjongg den, and an all-night beauty salon featuring Grimley Waves in 2 hours, though she had little need of their services to make perfection any more perfect; but she was at none of these. After sun up he went to her office, but she had not been there, nor had she called in to pick up her messages. Bewildered, and becoming concerned, Bozhart turned the Camaro toward the temporary housing for the disaster stricken Los Angeles area—a Buddy Burger which had escaped the firestorm.

The policemen manning the newly fenced building recognized the world-renowned business man. Bozhart was granted immediate entrance. The mayor, the police chief, the fire chief, city controller, city attorneys 1, 2 and 3, as well as the usual gang of sycophants and yes men stopped what they were doing to hear the gazillionaire's impassioned plea: "My wife is missing. Find her or there's hell to pay."

Bozhart did not wait for a reply—he knew no stone would be unturned. The man returned to the Camaro and roared away toward his private airfield. "Damn that Billman," Brace muttered as he rousted pilot and crew for his Lear, "I suspect he's at the bottom of all this."

The lean, hard-bodied executive entered the jet. Moments later the engines began to whine. "Ready for take off, sir!" the pilot called.

Brace fastened his seat belt, scowled, then jabbed an extended index finger with a decisive forward motion. "Engage!"

CHAPTER 96: Jane Jane bo fane ba na na na fo fame fee fi fo fein ane: Jane!

"...Butt Buttes... Lieutenant Rykor ... stop the autopsy..."

Jane Porker-Bozhart jammed her Stetson over her aching head and marched across the road. "Are you Tuvan Tuyak?"

"Eh?" the pitiful creature in the green sequined evening grown looked up. "Yes, I am. I told you that when I pulled you out of the car. Do you see this? I am totally fascinated by physics. I mean, I do not understand a thing about it, but it is thrilling just the same. Why those equations and suppositions and predictions and theories and heresies and..."

Jane kicked sand into the babbling man's face. "What happened to you, Tuvane? You were such a barbarian when you were a bouncer at the Chicken Shack. Look at you, man, you're all skin and bones—and that hair, what is it, honey gold?"

Dusting himself off, and collecting his matching hand bag, Tuyak rose. "Things haven't been the same since your husband fired me on your orders. I sure which I knew what I did to make you do such a thing."

"I didn't can you, Tuvane. You were one of our best employees."

Scratching a chin in need of a depilatory creme, Tuvane Tuyak frowned. "Those were his words, ma'am. 'Jane told me to let you go,' Mr. Bozhart said. I asked why and he said, 'We do not question the lady, Tuyak. You must have pissed her off and that's good enough for me. Here's your severance pay.' It was generous, too. Put me through law school but I wasn't very good at litigation. Those briefs and pleadings were too boring. I'm more creative than that, but the judges didn't appreciate case facts filled with princes and princess and wildmen and buckets of blood and gore and ..."

"You're still Tuvane Tuyak!" Jane laughed sweetly. "Come here. I missed you." Mrs. Bozhart embraced the man affectionately. "Now that you're a lawyer, I might have need of your services."

"Oh, yes! Anytime!"

"Good. Attorney client relationship is in full force. I've just stolen two million dollars worth of pulp cover art."

"Oh dear!"

"Get in the car, I'll tell you the rest."

Tuyak barely had time to buckle her seat belt before the powerful sports car spun into motion.

* * * * * * * *

Jane Porker narrowly watched the woman in the car beside her. Judy Flanders was not who she appeared to be: a dumb blond bimbo starlet who relied on good looks to get ahead. The woman was good, but not good enough. She had not noticed when Jane had stopped issuing orders in the supposed native tongue and directed Flanders with English. She would bear watching, but in the meantime she might prove useful.

(Translated)"Be a dear, sweetie. In the back seat there's an outfit. Put it on. You're too bare for where we are going."

(Translated)"Where is that, my dear friend?"

(Translated)"We'll be there shortly. I'll explain after you change clothes."

The woman who called herself Judy Flanders used several contortionist tricks to accomplish the task, but a short time later she was wearing a black bodysuit. The material was an expensive spandex that felt as good as it looked.

(Translated)"I feel more naked in this than what I was wearing!"

(Translated)"Yeah. Drives men nuts. I wearing them quite frequently myself," Jane added, slowing to make a turn into one of the smaller towns north of LA which had escaped the fire storm. "All the convenience of being naked, yet demure, yet so revealing that men think with their crotch instead of their brains."

(Translated)"This monogram upon the breast, 'JPB', what does it mean?"

Jane neared a neon-lit biker bar which had a lot of bikes parked outside. She slowed to ten miles an hour. Suddenly reaching across the car, Jane opened the door and pushed the unsuspecting woman out. (Not Translated)"My initials, dear. And those fellows are expecting me to pay for some services rendered... but you'll do just as nicely since they are always so drunk they aren't likely to notice the substitution!"

Jane spun the tires, which closed the door, and honked the horn loudly. Speeding away, she glanced into the rear view mirror. The woman who called herself Judy Flanders, but who was someone else, was surrounded by a horde of large, beefy men in black leather. Laughing, she turned the corner just as they closed in on the hapless woman.

* * * * * * * *

"Nick. Nick, wake up."

Jane Porker Bozhart slapped the trussed executive twice more before he opened bleary eyes. "You're a mess, Nick. What happened?"

Miser saw Jane and thought his life was over. "Dear Lord, woman, didn't you humiliate me enough last night?"

"Not me, Nick, though I agree with the sentiment entirely."

"Huh?"

She pointed at his t-shirt. It was smeared with red. At first Miser thought he had been wounded, but upon closer examination he finally managed to make out: "Property of BB Inc." scrawled in red lipstick.

Pissed, Miser threw caution to the winds. "You better see a shrink, girlie. You've got multiple personality disorder or some such rot. You did this to me last night."

Faintly amused, Jane said, "Be nice, Nickie, and maybe I'll untie you."

"Don't you remember? I was..." whoops, that was a can of worms best left unopened! "I was in my office interviewing a lead for the Sleeza project when you came in with a nasty gun. You forced the woman to tie me up with my own clothes, then threatened to shoot me if I didn't tell you where Brace was. I didn't know then, I don't know now. Please untie me. I can't feel my hands."

"Only because you asked so nice."

Moments later Nick Miser used swollen hands to put on what was left of his trousers. One leg showed through. He walked toward his desk, but before the executive reached it, the woman's cold voice stopped him.

"Leave the panic button alone, Nick. I've got a gun. I will shoot you."

Nick slowly turned around. "Damn, you dames change guns like you change clothes. What is that? A thirty-eight?"

"No. It's a .357 magnum with a four inch barrel. I wasn't here last night, but I am here now. Where's Brace? What have you done with him?"

"Me? I'm the one who was tied up and threatened with murder by you twice, and you think I've done something to your hubby gone AWOL? Get a think, dear. Kill me now or leave me alone. Tangor would."

Jane narrowed her eyes. "It is an intriguing idea, Nick. You've certainly become superfluous to the plot."

"Yeah? Well, I know where Ed Nyce's burrow is. You find Nyce and you'll find Brace. Or one of the Braces and maybe one or more Janes. What do you guys do—run a cloning factory?"

"Not hardly, Nick. Willie J. and the Ponderous of the United States thinks that a bad idea. I do, too. I am presently the most beautiful woman in the world. If there were two of me, one of us would have to die. Get my drift?"

Miser, near the windows, happened to look into the parking lot. "You may just have to put your money where you mouth is. Take a look."

Jane Porker Bozhart edged closer to the window, keeping her silver-plated revolver pointed at the executive of Touchwood and other Rodent studios. In the parking lot were two yellow Cameros. Hers was parked nearest the building. The second disgorged a man and a woman. The man was Brace Bozhart. The woman was her twin.

"So, he did clone me. Nick, you get to see something that many on Earth would love to see. Brace Bozhart is going to get his—right after I kill his bitch clone whore!"

There is an old saying regarding women, rage and scorn—it seemed far too mild to describe the emotional state which consumed the beautiful woman who watched the door to Miser's inner office with a level, hate-filled gaze and a firm, steady grip on the deadly revolver.

CHAPTER 97: The Door Into Summersville

Llana of Baseball spit into her hand then clapped them together to see which way the spittle spattered. "That's it, boys," she said, pointing to the last one on the right. Laying her Louisville Slugger over her right shoulder, Llana opened the door and stepped within.

Mars Marcus glanced at his old friend, Kojak Morris of Helium Supply. "I can't take much more of this," he said. "My brain's getting frazzled."

"Dazzled?"

"That, too. Well, are we gonna let Llana have all the glory?"

Arm in arm, the two pals entered the doorway.

As expected, and as usual in a tale of inchaotic madness, it did not open into another room or corridor. The horizon to the front was a distant range of mountains, purple in hue. The sky above was a maddening swirl of color. Llana stood a few feet away, gawking at the strange forest of bottlebrush trees.

"Dang," she said, "if that isn't Tupperware, then I'm an old gray woman."

Mars rolled his eyes—for she was an old gray woman and it was Tupperware growing on trees. Grabbing both by the scruff of the neck, the mighty fighting man of bars yanked them back through the door. "Wrong world," he said, kicking the panel shut.

The next door was cracked for a peek. "Ragtime cowboy... talk about your cowboy... Ragtime Cowboy Jo..."

The next looked upon the deck of a rolling old-time canvas-sail ship. "Mister Christian, flog that man!"

"Wasn't that Brandough?" Llana asked as Morris quickly closed the door.

"Nel Gibson, dear," Kojak said. "One of the Sappho Production movie versions." He opened the next doorway.

"That's my dog! Don't kill Old Feller!" Morris closed the door quickly. "Been there. Done that. What's next, Mars?"

"I'm afraid to open it, sir."

Kojak Morris inched the door open. A rugged man with a six gun faced 10,000 Indians. A spectral voice said: "Use the Force, Duke." The six-shooter totin' cowboy replied: "I hear ya, Pilgrim."

Llana raced to the next door. A chorus of happy voices sang: "Jasper, the friendly host, the friendliest host we know. His girls know everyone in sight and collect nearly all of their dough. Jasper..."

"Ugh!" Llana frowned. "I hate perverts!"

Mars sighed. "We're getting nowhere fast. There's only one door left. This is it."

"...implants. Now, I'm not saying you should do this because there's contrary evidence to the safety of silicone implants, but if that is your desire... Hello! What's this?"

Mars entered the darkened room which was dominated by a complex and elaborate computer desk. The woman of indeterminate age, slightly pudgy in a red dress with hot iron curls, turned her two dimensional body toward the three adventurers. "Lulu?" the fighting man of bars breathed. "I thought I had lost you forever!"

The man behind at the computer keyboard was touched by the big man's soulful gaze. "You've been a good sport about all this, Mars," Tangor said. "Here's your reward." For a mad instant capable fingers tapped codes into the computer. The brilliant author then leaned back and deliberately pressed the Enter Key to execute the new program.

PPPFFHHHTT! POP!

The girlish woman seated next to the desk expanded like a balloon, then popped into a svelte, slinky shape. The red dress and white sox were replaced by an exotic costume of jewels and little else. Her limbs were long and tan, her breasts young and firm, her hair a cascade of midnight black curls surrounding a face of heavenly beauty. A diadem of platinum graced the woman's high forehead, and upon her dainty feet were soft leather sandals encrusted with gold and precious gems.

The man at the computer smiled, satisfied with his work. With a gentle, caring voice, Tangor said, "If I may be permitted just one further intrusion? May I suggest that you assume the name La-la and that your past as the perky Lulu of childish pursuits be replaced with the smoldering desires and seductiveness of the mysterious priestess of the old Ed Nyce stories. Of course," he added with a wink, "you only have to be as Nyce as you feel."

Mars was stunned. The woman of his dreams had become a reality. He clasped a warm, vibrant hand in his and fell to his knees, kissing it. "I have always loved you for your mind, my darling! Your exuberance of life has been my heart's beacon— but this miraculous transformation... damn, woman, you're a fine lookin' babe!"

The transmogrified woman embraced her stalwart lover with passionate intensity. "Thanks be to the gracious and sympathetic Tangor who has given me what I most desire, my beloved! A human form that may love you in reality as my heart has always loved you!"

"Isn't that sweet?" Tangor smiled beatifically. "What say you to a group hug? Come on, Kojak! You too, Llana! That's it. Hey! I want a picture of this!"

Tangor raised a high-tech camera to his eye, snapped a shot, then while they were all blinded, pressed a key on his multi-tiered keyboard. The floor dropped out. Down into the abyss fell the foursome, though Tangor decided he'd let La-la continue in her present form for the time being.

"So long, suckers!"

After the trap doors swung shut, the author brooded over his next move. The Canadian was a wily and crafty fellow, though given to bouts of insanity. The man must be contained.

"Sherman!"

A freckle-faced kid with glasses entered the inner sanctum. He stood trembling at the edge of the desk, just one pace away from the trick floor, an indication that he well knew the consequences of addressing Tangor from that position. Nervous, he cleared his throat, though his voice broke anyway. "Yes, Boss?"

"Tell Mr. Peabody to warm up the Way Back Machine."

"Uh, aren't you supposed to be making parodies out of all these things, Boss?"

"Hell, I'm tired. I haven't had my dinner. If they want to sue me, let 'em go for it. Where's that squirrel and the stupid moose?"

"Raking leaves in the back yard."

"Oh. Okay. Boris and Natasha?"

"On that assignment in Iraq. Operation Sadden Hussain. Remember?"

"Damn, too many irons in the fire. Yogi and Boo Boo?"

"Lunching on campers in Yellowstone. The rangers are mighty pissed."

"Good! Flintstone and Rubble still on the Man From U.N.C.L.E. pastiche?"

"Gangbusters, sir."

"Topcat?"

"Topgun."

"Pebbles?"

Sherman blushed. "You know, Boss, that's one of the few I wish you hadn't done. She's way too cute to be the whore of Calcutta."

"Can it, Sherman, or you're off to the bottomless pit."

"Yes, Sir! May I ask, what do you need done?"

"The Canuck must be made to suffer."

"And you need Mr. Peabody's Way Back Machine to do this?"

"Peabody I can't send, and while you are an amazingly stupid and annoying little twit, you're still useful to me here. I want someone to go back and bring Caligula and Vlad the Impaler here. I have in mind a comedy wherein Ratz and Bertie are the objects of their entertainment. Get that Seinfeld writer...you know the one I mean. I don't have time to do this myself. I expect 13 minutes of laugh track as they are slowly tortured. Fail me and..." Tangor tapped the white plastic motorized head of his paper shredder.

Sherman gulped. "That was 13 minutes? If we can't get Caligula, would it be alright if Jason Alexander plays the part? He's a fat tap dancing singer who might fill the bill."

"There may be hope for you yet, Sherman. I can see why Jay Ward kept you on the payroll. You're not as dumb as you look. Okay, Alexander if you can't get Caligula."

"Sir? Vlad the Impaler is otherwise occupied. He's in the midst of impaling 10,000 people."

"Hmm, hate to tear him away from that. Sounds like fun. Okay, what about that Rice character?"

"The vampires? Haven't you already used vampires elsewhere?"

Tangor sighed. "Yeah. That Zany Grany bull. Werewolves?"

"In Paris."

"Mummies?"

"All wrapped up."

"Poltergeists?"

Sherman tapped his forehead, thinking hard. "Not in use, but that was some pretty lame horror film, don't you think?"

Tangor agreed. "Kruger?"

"Works for Veg-a-matic. As does Edward Scissorshand. They are making a bundle on the paid advertising circuit."

"Find out what they are making. Maybe we can afford to sweeten the pie. Damn it, Sherman, I need a villain!"

"Jason?" Sherman suggested.

"That argonaut fellow? Puhleezzee!"

"Mask. Blades. Campers, etc." Sherman explained.

"Oh, that. Done to death. Think, man!"

Sherman hesitated. He knew his life depended upon his answer. "You already have two, sir. There's no need to bewilder and mislead."

"You're trying my patience, son." Tangor's finger hovered over the deadly key. "I'll zap your ass, no matter where you stand."

"Yes, sir!" Sherman spoke at top speed. "Tang-Gor has returned from beyond the farthest whatever. He's ideal! Then there is..."

"Don't choke now, Sherman, I'm almost interested in your thought process."

"Well, Boss, there's Ratz himself. He's recovered his memory. He knows Devon tried to do him in. He'll soon figure that Nyce has played him for a wholesome chump all these years. The man's got urges just like everybody else, but they've been artificially dampened. Release Ratz from that formula and just let Tang-Gor do what comes naturally for a malevolent alien intelligence."

"Go on," Tangor said, his finger moving away from the delete key.

"Well, as I see it, the Canadian Hack is over reaching with the weather balloon invasion. I mean, it's corny as hell. Stutter's Mill? Give me a break!" Sherman's voice gained confidence as the master author leaned back into his chair.

"That Orcan Whales thing was pretty clever but," Sherman quickly added, "that Naughtyass sub thing was a topper. Still, this thing is supposed to be a roast of Ratnaz, Ed Nyce, that conglomerate of Bozharts and the mysterious Billman. The Canadian Hack is on the ropes. He's run out of ideas. I suggest we stick with the present status quo and force him to be original. Tang-Gor was his puppy until you transformed him. Let's see what he can do with that... which I know will be way too substandard for the current project. You've whupped his ass, only he doesn't know it."

"Like those old dinosaurs in the Ed Nyce Candyland That Time Forgot series?"

"Precisely!" Sherman exclaimed. To himself Sherman thought, Man, this butt kissing is hard work! "Let me take care of the details, Boss. Why don't you go have some dinner? Mrs. Tangor's made one of her famous meatloafs with baked potatoes and all the trimmings. Take a break, sir! You've laid a wonderful foundation. We can handle it from here."

"We?" Tangor frowned. His hand slowly edged toward the deadly key.

"YOU! Of course, you! I meant that me and Billy Breakspeare could handle things for a few hours. Take a pee break, if nothing else. If I fail you," Sherman gulped, "make confetti out of me."

Tangor crossed an arm across his ample expanse and stroked his three-day old beard with his free hand. "Maybe you're right. A home cooked meal, shower and shave might make a new man of me. Okay, Sherman, you've got the helm for a few hours."

The great author departed the inner sanctum.

Sherman looked at the closed door for several minutes before allowing a sly grin to cross his freckled features. Pulling a cellphone of advanced design from his shorts, Sherman keyed an unlisted number. "He bought it, Tang-Gor."

The tinny voice from the handset chortled with glee. "Dumb humans. We'll nail his ass to the wall shortly. Are the girls in place?"

"Wicked Witches East and West. We'll have a third as soon as Hansel and Gretel are done baking in the oven. I couldn't get the three Muses, but Medusa wants a piece of the action."

"Watch yourself," Tangor warned.

PHOOP! (cheap sound effects. If you can do better, have at it.)

"Give me that thing!" Tang-Gor said, snatching the cell phone from Sherman's hand. "Not that it makes a difference now since everybody's got one, I just hate to leave things undone."

Tang-Gor waved a small metallic device over the cellphone and it vanished. "The mighty Monitor of Betatuna will be surprised to receive that." Tang-Gor chuckled. "Okay, you get that Do-Right fellow on the move. He's got to be in place by 1300 tomorrow afternoon."

"At the edge of the Arizona Sea?"

"That's the place. Carney and Gleason?"

"Far side of the moon. They are coordinating the battle fleet disguised as weather balloons."

Tang-Gor would have smiled if his sphincter mouth could have produced the equivalency of the human facial gesture. "Gort?"

"Sorry. Couldn't get him. Klaatu has a gig in the Orion Sector."

"Damn shame. Robby?"

"Dismantled. Gee, Tang-Gor, get with the times. I thought you were smarter than that!"

"Wanna be a small cloud of disassociated atoms? Don't cross me, boy. You need me more than I need you. Capiche?"

Sherman lost some of his certainty. "Sorry about that. I guess we can't think of everything."

"We better," Tang-Gor admonished.

Sherman nodded. "Bury the hatchet, pal—between my shoulder blades if I forget what we are about."

"Never fear, I shall certainly do that and far worst if you cross me. Let's get on with it. Tonto?"

"Indian uprisings on demand. All settled."

"Lone Ranger?"

"Courts tied up over the mask. That and the criminal cases will keep the authorities looking elsewhere."

"Trampas?"

"Gee, Tang-Gor, do we really have to..."

"The Old West is a defining part of American History. If we show it as a Hollywood fallacy, the humans will lose the will to fight."

"Okay, but we couldn't get pink tights for him... Madame Bovary had blue satin in stock."

"We'll call him 'Little Boy Blew,'" the raunchy alien announced. "Van Gogh?"

"Is that the fellow with the ear? We got the second. The bionic listening device has been installed."

"Jesus?"

"The only Jesus on the payroll is Jesus Enriquez. He does Tangor's landscaping."

"That other fellow. Human. Earth history."

"We don't want to go there," Sherman said. "Religion is a dangerous thing."

"We've got the Pope, don't we?"

"Only as far as Cuba is concerned. Seriously, Tang-Gor, forget it. Religion is off-limits for parody purposes."

"This isn't about parody, Sherman. It is about conquest and world domination."

"There's too many of them. Use the KISS method to world conquest."

"Unfamiliar term, Sherman. Explain."

"Keep It Simple, Stupid."

WAZAPP!

Where Sherman had stood, a small vapor cloud swirled. Tang-Gor, the revitalized and malevolent entity growled. "Stupid I ain't," the alien chuckled.

PPAZAW!

Sherman shook his head so recently reassembled. "That wasn't funny."

"I'll make it permanent if you really tick me off."

Sherman was not impressed. "You need me. I know all the ins and outs. You're just a slimy alien looking to get ahead. One thing before I have to go, what's gonna happen with La-la? She's a dish."

Tang-Gor accessed Tangor's computer. A moment later the alien replied. "They're on a Journey to the Bottom of the Ocean. Walter Pidgentoe and David Headofstone are commander and chief officer."

"That's not the character's names and it's a damn poor play on words for their real names."

"Nonetheless," the mighty Tang-Gor said, "That's where they are headed. And yes, even for a human, that La-la is some woman."

"Hey!" Sherman exclaimed, a penetrating thought having crossed his mind. "She's the kind of gal that could turn Ratnaz's head! Ooohhh, can you imagine the cat fight that would ensue if Bertie Ketchum and La-la fought over the Lord of the Leaves?"

Tang-Gor, still at Tangor's computer terminal, uttered a hideous laugh. "I don't have to imagine it, Sherman, because it is already keyed into the program!"

tangor@erblist.com

BOOK IX


Chapter 98: Ch'nook of the North and his Crawl from the Wild

"Mush! Mush! On you huskies! On Buck... On Spitz... On Lassie fellow... . On Yeller... On Benji... On Bruce... On Trikki Woo... On Babe... On Donner and Blitzen... On big fellows... Mush!"

The Jeddak of the North—Warlord of Words—Mighty Warrior of the Canadian Wilderness, presented a gallant picture as he pulled out of his driveway in his custom-made dog sled and headed south—his way lit by the aurora borealis dancing in the night sky behind him. The initial shock of the intrusion into his home by Tangor's henchmen had turned to feelings of anger which spurred the usually unflappable Canuck into action.

Mrs. Jeddak had packed a lunch of his favourite survival fare—two ton soup, dried squid lips and sticky rice balls—while his offspring had rounded up enough animals from around the neighbourhood to make up a team capable of launching his sled into the deep south of the continent. He knew he had no time to lose. Tangor had gone too far this time.

"'Kookie Canuck Crackpot'... indeed. Thinks he's the 'salt of the earth' does he! What in heck does he mean by that?" After switching on the auto-musher, the Jeddak left his command post at the intricate G-pole controls and crawled into the passenger cockpit of the sled to study his pocket dictionary by the light of the pole star.

"Mmmm.... SALT... '...a medicine that causes movement of the bowels'... Yep... 'To make appear more prosperous or productive by fraudulent or illegal means'... Yep... 'A sailor, especially an experienced one - a gob'... Uh?... Tangor, a sailor? Well, two out of three ain't bad."

The Warlord of Words moved deeper into the pile of furs and snuggled up to the hot water bottles that Mrs. Jeddak had so thoughtfully provided. "It's dang cold for late October. Minus 40... Lucky for us that's measured in Celsius. I shudder to think how cold that would be on the old Fahrenheit scale."

He had just put his favourite 8-track cartridge into the on-sled player—The Blues Buoys Live at the Elks Club in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan—when the panting dog team swerved to one side to avoid a car stuck in a snow bank in the middle of the single track road.

"Damn fools. Don't they know you can't drive a car in Canada in the middle of winter. Why, it's Halloween tomorrow for cripes sake!"

As the sled sped past the snow-covered, stalled vehicle he noticed that it was a maroon 1949 Ford sedan with Texas plates, and huddled in the front seat of the frozen car were three familiar-looking, blue-faced thugs in narrow-brimmed hats.

"Ha! Let's see them get outa this one. On my huskies... it's the California or bust!"

The night was clear and the moon was yellow and the only traffic on the road consisted of sleds driven by the occasional Indian trapper and French Canadian fur trader. The Jeddak settled in for a long journey. Tiring of the tape of hurting songs in waltz time, he reached down to try to tune in the sled's wind-up radio to CBC North. The network had been plugging a new upcoming line-up of soap operas all week: Ma Perkins, Pepper Young's Family, One Man's Family, Stella Dallas—trendy topical stuff just too good to miss.

"Mmmm... now where is that CBC station... mmm... Oh, there's that American station ERBS... sure pumpin' out their signal tonight... must be using that MegaWatt Wolfman pirate tower out of Mexico again."

"We interrupt our live remote from the Ferris Big Wheel Club to take you to Pismo Beach ....where our man Orcan Whales is standing by. Orcan..."

"I am speaking from the roof of the Pismo Beach Women's Auxiliary tea room. The bells you hear are ringing to warn people to evacuate the city. The streets are jammed. The weather balloons are still falling. Accompanying these alien IFOs are billowing clouds of lethal black smog which so far have had little or no effect on our hardy Californians. But the awesome FAY Ray has incapacitated the army guys. Parts of the city are experiencing mob hysteria. Starbucks has been looted. The 7-11 is closed. And ahh... wait... I have just been handed a bulletin ... in an amazing development the White House has officially declared tomorrow to be New Year's Day 2000!... and..."

"Enough... enough... pull a little harder there Rinty... Mush!... On you huskies!"

"And now Oxydol presents America's mother of the air waves... America's own Ma Perkins...."

But the Warlord's mind just wasn't on entertainment tonight. He hadn't wanted to scare the folks back home, but during his set-to with the American thugs, one of them had dropped a hit list, listing major Canadian heroes that Tangor had earmarked as the next victims for his bottomless pit. He seemed to have a thing against Canadians, and especially actors, writers and musicians:


Aykroyd, Dan
Bochner, Lloyd
Burr, Raymond
Cameron, James
Cameron, Rod
Candy, John
Carrey, Jim
Carson, Jack
Chong, Tommy
Cronenberg, David
Dmytryk, Edward
Doohan, James "Scotty"
Ford, Glenn
Fox, Michael J.
Fraser, Brendan
Galbraith, John Kenneth
George, Chief Dan
Gibson, William
Goulet, Robert
Greene, Graham
Greene, Lorne
Hall, Monty
Henning, Doug
Hiller, Arthur
Hockey Stars, NHL
Huston, Walter
Jennings, Peter
Jewison, Norman
Kent, Arthur
Levy, Eugene
Linkletter, Art
Little, Rich
Lockhart, Gene
MacDonald, Norm
MacNeil, Robert
Mandel, Howie
Massey, Raymond
Mayer, Louis B
McLuhan, Marshall
Michaels, Lorne
Moranis, Rick
Morse, Barry
Myers, Mike
Nielsen, Leslie
Perry, Matthew
Pidgeon, Walter
Plummer, Christopher
Priestley, Jason
Reeves, Keanu
Safer, Morley
Sahl, Mort
Sarrazin, Michael
Shuster, Joe (Superman creator)
Sennett, Mack
Service, Robert
Shatner, William
Short, Martin
Silverheels, Jay
Smith, Steve (Red Green)
Steinberg, Dave
Sutherland, Donald
Sutherland, Kiefer
Thicke, Alan: Actor
Thomas, Dave
Trebek, Alex
Vernon, John
the Villeneuves
Warner, Jack
Wayne & Schuster
Anderson, Pamela
Bujold, Genevieve
Cattrall, Kim
De Carlo, Yvonne
Dewhurst, Colleen
Dressler, Marie
Durbin, Deanna
Keeler, Ruby
Kidder, Margot
Kuzyk, Mimi: Actress
Lillie, Beatrice
Martin, Andrea
Maxwell, Lois
Nelligan, Kate
O'Hara, Catherine
Pickford, Mary
Rutherford, Ann
Shaver, Helen
Shearer, Norma
Smith, Alexis
Stratton, Dorothy
Tilly, Jennifer
Tilly, Meg
Tweed, Shannon
Wray, Fay
Adams, Bryan
Anka, Paul
April Wine
Arden, Jann
Bachman-Turner-Overdrive
Breau, Lenny
Cockburn, Bruce
Cohen, Leonard
Crash Test Dummies
Dion, Celine
Ferguson, Maynard
Gould, Glenn
The Guess Who
Healey, Jeff
lang, k.d
Lightfoot, Gordon
Lombardo, Guy
McGarrigle, Kate and Anna
McKennitt, Loreena
McLachlan, Sarah
Mitchell, Joni
Morissette, Alanis
Murray, Anne
Peterson, Oscar
Robertson, Robbie
Rush
Sainte-Marie, Buffy
Shaffer, Paul
Siberry, Jane
Snow, Hank
Stratas, Teresa
Twain, Shania
The Tragically Hip
Young, Neil...

The thought of the mad Texan hurling these Canadian icons into a bottomless pit of oblivion sent shivers down the Jeddak's spine and further strengthened his resolve to get to the Golden State in record time.

"Faster you huskies... and that means you too Cleaver Beaver, you'll have time to sleep after we have finished our mission." The team had been extremely fortunate in having recruited this famous furry symbol of the Canadian nation as lead animal—luckily they had been able to awaken him from his winter's nap, but he hadn't found his winter legs yet and the Jeddak noticed that kept dozing off and falling asleep in the traces.

"M*U*S*H!"

Chapter 99: MISTER Hilary Goes to Washington In the Heat of the Fight

It's a Nyce World After All

The unerring homing instinct and acute hearing of Ward Cleaver guided him in leading the surviving members of the Billman family back into familiar territory.

As they approached a hilltop mansion, young Willie squealed with delight: "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!... it's that Nyce song - 'It's a Nyce world after all...'"

The weary but whistling party was met at the Ratnaza Mansion entrance by Hitchcock who was unloading the last of the day's haul of groceries from a Yellow Cab waiting in the driveway. He looked up in surprise and asked: "Where's Master Bryce?"

This was too much for the overwrought, bereaved Cleaver. The flood of upwelling emotions triggered an incredible caterwauling. Wallowing in self pity he wrapped himself around the butler's spatted ankles and sobbed: "He's gone... Albert... he's gone... What am I going to do. He's got my Tamagotchi! It's gonna die!"

Hitchcock was the perfect butler and host. Within an hour the travellers had been pampered, fed and shown around the mansion—all but Ward Cleaver who lay whimpering in the top section of the two-tiered bunk bed unit that was usually slept in by poor Bryce.

Man the Lifeboat - Get the Woman and Children Outa Here

It did not take long for the rejuvenated Billman off-springs to invade every nook and cranny of the Ratnaza mansion. There seemed to be no place for staid Albert to hide. When he discovered that the onslaught had advanced as far as his favourite sanctuary, the ground floor study, he could take no more.

"Out! Out! You ruffians... you hooligans!" shouted the harried butler as he shooed the rampaging Billman kids out of the newly created shambles. These little monsters had taken over the entire mansion. "I Confess, I should have stuck with that gig as stage director at the Jamaica Inn—Stagefright or not!" he groused to himself as he dug through the rubble to retrieve his damaged prize leather Paradine Case with the Capricorn insignia. He realized now that he was the Wrong Man for this job.

He stood Spellbound and, as memories of his past failures swirled through his mind, he was overwhelmed with feelings of Vertigo and Suspense. Here he was, Hiding in his own room—convinced without a Shadow of a Doubt that this was a Billman Family Plot to drive him into a Frenzy. All of his jobs had ended this way. First there was that Trouble with Harry and that Psycho, Marnie, and those two Strangers on a Train—Mr. and Mrs. Smith—who in their zeal To Catch a Thief, had put him under Suspicion. Jeeze, it was only an old copy of Juno and the Paycock! You'd think he had committed a Murder or was a Notorious Saboteur or something. Then he saw her, Rebecca - the Woman Alone. The Girl was Young,—Young and Innocent—and a Foreign Correspondent. For Albert it was love at first sight but, 39 Steps past the dining car and the Lady Vanishes—along with his dreams and....

Shaking off his depression, he looked around the demolished den, pulled back the Rope of the Torn Curtain which covered the Rear Window and looked out to the North, By Northwest. At first he thought the falling objects in the brilliant Topaz sky were Birds but upon closer scrutiny he realized that he was witness to a downpouring of weather balloons. There was something wrong. Seriously wrong. He reached for the phone and Dialed M, For.... yes, this was a job for a Secret Agent—he could always count on him—the Man Who Knew Too Much!

Bungalow Bill

Meanwhile the Billman kids had joined their mother Cilli who was being entertained by the giant multi-screen video wall in the Media Room. They were just getting into an exciting Brady Bunch rerun when the show was interrupted by a synthesized trumpet fanfare and a familiar Double B insignia that flashed across the centre screen.

"We now present a special, non-scheduled Presidential address to the nation, televised from the White House. Accompanying the President in this important telecast are advisors from the American Laser Lab and Federal Underground Complex for Keeping Extraterrestrial Dudes and UFOs Pickled."

Despite the time-consuming and tongue-twisting inconvenience of calling this complex by its full name each time, the media preferred to struggle through the long moniker rather than use the unfortunate acronym.

"We take you now to the White House and President Bill Blimpton."

"Mommy, Mommy those are the initials on all of Daddy's paper things... BB. Why is the President wearing that silly big hat Mommy? Oh! Mommy look. There's Daddy... look, he's with the president!" cried excited little Phillie as she trampolined on the imported leather sofa.

"My fellow Americans. It is with heavy head that I come to you tonight," spoke the burdened leader of the Western world in a plodding and stilted monotone.

"Our nation and the planet are under attack. Countless numbers of weather balloon-shaped alien spacecraft are landing on our soil. The accompanying black smog cloud has proven to be ineffectual in Southern California but is turning out to be a very lethal weapon elsewhere in the world. Even more of a threat is posed by the enemy's FAY Ray which has incapacitated the gallant members of our armed forces by turning them into mind-washed, love-starved zombies—with the base instincts of a gorilla. My scientific advisers have devised a daring strategy. What we are about to present to you is for your eyes and ears only. It is top secret stuff. My wife and chief advisor, Hilary, will explain the plan."

The introduction seemed to catch Hilary Billman off guard and he muttered a surprised: "Wife??? Eh??? [Canadian writer's translation for American audiences: 'Huh']"

The advisor made a rapid recovery from the shock of the inaccurate introduction and turned to face the close-up camera to outline the strategy he had so cleverly prepared.

"Anyway... ah... Thank-you Mr. President. Our plan is daring and simple. At midnight tonight GMT, the entire planet must advance all calendars to the year 2000. Tomorrow IS New Year's day - October 31, 2000 AD. Tomorrow we celebrate the new Millennium... and I do mean celebrate. At noon tomorrow—upon hearing the code words MORK KLAATU MINDY NICKNITE—EVERY inhabitant of this planet will take to the streets to celebrate the coming of the year 2000.

"Thanks to computer guru Bill Greats, every computer in the Universe is programmed to self-destruct with the coming of the new Millennium. We must convince the enemy that the clocks on their computers are all wrong which will force them to change their dates. If their computers fail... so will their entire network of weapons and life-support systems... and with the help of the Millennium Bug, we can..."

Before the Presidential Advisor could end his speech all hell broke loose. Crashing up through the floor and impaling the president's desk appeared the tip of giant corkscrew which was soon followed by the emergence of a huge burrowing machine. The cameras were upset and bumped askew revealing that the White House Oval Office was really a mock-up set and backdrop, positioned in the middle of a gigantic hangar which was filled with row upon row of metallic weather-balloons.

The President was knocked to the floor, losing his gigantic floppy hat which, to everyone's amazement, ran away on spider legs leaving the world leader sitting on the floor with a bewildered vacant expression on his face.

Only two people seemed to have had the presence of mind to take action. A gray-haired advisor wearing the name tag "Buzz Bozhart" leaped to the huge computer console which had been offscreen until now. A tilted and slightly out-of-focus television camera showed him furiously pounding a keyboard, entering directions which were displayed on the huge wall monitors.


PASSWORD:
klaatu
Disable bionic doubles RETURN
Sonny B. RETURN
Jane P. RETURN
klaatu RETURN

Meanwhile, the sight of this long, gray, almost whale-shaped craft seemed to have transformed Hilary Billman into a madman. Cilli gasped as she saw her husband reach for the ornate, spear-tipped flagpole supporting thePresidential flag and charge toward the intruding burrower machine—screaming: "Ho! The great white! Towards you I come you monster whale. To the end of my life I will fight with you!"

Before Cilli could see Bozhart's final entry or determine her husband's fate, the television screen turned to black.

"We are experiencing technical difficulties with our special broadcast from the White House. Please stand by. We now return to tonight's exciting episode of the Brady Bunch."

Chapter 100: ***Special Centennial and Millennium Gala Celebration Issue***

Our mail bag has been overflowing with a deluge of fan mail since the first edition of the Ratnaz Files and since this is our 100th issue, we feel it is only fitting that we listen to, and feature, the words of some of our loyal readers.


Is the Jeddak of the North really from Canada?
What state is that in? My Dad says it's just
left of Greenland.
Phillie

Editor:Yes, unfortunately the Jeddak is a foreigner of non-American heritage. Canada is in a state of confusion. Actually it is just to the right of the Alaskan Panhandle.


I got this idea for a story. This earth guy
goes to Mars, you see. And he jumps all over
the place and... well that's as far as I
got... but it's going to be really good.
Normal Nut 

Are the Blues Buoys playing at the next
Dumb Dumb? Where can we buy their 8-track
tapes?
Abner and Dwit Yoakum

Editors: The Blues Buoys 8-tracks are completely sold out. There are a few albums left on Edison cylinders but they too are going fast. The boys have no plans for playing the Dumb Dumb in the near future as they have an exclusive contract with Ferris' Big Wheel Club... besides, a couple of old geezers stole their Volkswagen mini bus a while back.

Why does Whizzle cost so much more than
those cheap McGurgle and Grossitter and
Bunlap reprints. What a rip off!
Furthermore, the paper in the reprints
is much easier to re-use out there in
our little crescent moon backhouse.
Up with recycling!
Howard Sterno 

What does Captain Canuck wear under that
codpiece?
Wee Angus MacDonald

I always thought this was a family magazine.
But now I must protest. If your writer
Tangor keeps writing filthy things, I feel
I must cancel my subscription for the sake
of the children. Please feature more of the
clean, family-oriented stories by that
Canadian fellow. My two-year-old thinks
they are the best.
Morel Magoraty

Editor: We will be featuring many more of the wholesome stories by the Jeddak of the North in the upcoming chapters. Look for "No Mo'! No Mo'! You! Naughty Ass" and "4 People, Verses, Harry Flint's Titillating Treasure Trove, and Some Naughty Rap"

Why don't you buy some stories by
Otis Elevator Klimb? He's just as
good as old Ed.
Enna 

How can we join the Rex, the Wonder Rooster
fan club?
Dan and Jean

That Texas guy is a comedy genius. Me and
the boys down at the KKK club house are
still laughing about that Chapter 77:
You Only Live Twice In Real Life. Have
yuse guys thought of putting out another
all comedy issue of Ratnaz like that one?
Joe Goebbels III

Editors: Our Texas writer, Tangor, reports that he is experiencing a writer's block. His well of inspiration has dried up and he is short a few hundred words for his upcoming chapters. He invites all his readers to send in a few words. Every little bit helps.


I think that Barbarians should ... (revised
for brevity from the original 36-page letter)
... and besides, they can't even apply
eyeliner properly.
Tuvane Tuyak

KUDOS FROM FELLOW AUTHORS

We are looking for scripts for our next
season's Ray Razzbury Theatre. We invite
your team of writers to submit scripts.
We are especially interested in the
adventures of that surfer girl and her
rooster.
Ray Razzbury 

Keith, Richard and I just wrote a song about
Rex the Wonder Rooster. Do you want to hear
it? It was a big hit when we played it at
Edgar Nyce's Geriatric Park.
Mick Jogger 

Hope to see billions and billions more issues —
especially ones about aliens. I just love
Cosmetology.
Carl Shogun, Chief Astrologer and Cosmetologist
at the Nancy Reagan Conservatory Dedicated
to Seeking Out Fading Stars

Your stuff is getting much better. I refuse to
read the early chapters. They should never have
been written.
Michael Redneck 

Why have you discontinued that adventure series
about those three Karas guys and their zither?
Orcan Whales III

FROSTY, MELNICK, LEERMAN, LEAKMAN, AND IZU, P.C.
FORMERLY CLAMPETT, BODINE AND ASSOCIATES
RR 3
BUGTUSSEL, TN
April 1, 2000
Re: Objection by BB, Inc. and Touchwood
 Pictures to the use of RATNAZ and
publishing of RATNAZ related stories
Dear Messrs. Tangor and Jeddak:
We are lawyers to B. Bozhart, Inc. ("BB") and
Nick Miser's Touchwood Pictures Productions.
Our clients have wrested from their original
creator, all existing rights to the RATNAZ
trademark and all related works as well as
the following letters of the alphabet: A,
R, N, L, S, T and E (Rights to Z pending).
It has recently come to our attention that
you have written 100 chapters with the
unauthorized prominent mis-use of
RATNAZ in their title and text. We hereby
demand that you desist or you will come
under the wrath of our full legal clout.
Sincerely yours,
"Nuk 'em" Nijinski
Chairman of the Bored

Editors: In an effort to comply with the above demand, our writers are working on a new name for our intrepid jungle hero. Some of the suggestions which have crossed our desk have been Micky, Goofy, Chyp, Dopy, Louy, McDuck, and Schmook. We trust that some or all of these shall meet with your approval.

FROM THE EDITORS' DESK:

As we go to press, the entire Ratnaz Files cast from past issues are gathering in the Walmart parking lot next door for a Centennial-Millennium Gala Celebration. Our entertainment editor has been commissioned to report on this historic event and his feature will appear in a future issue of this magazine.

Also slated to appear in a future issue is a MEET THE AUTHORS feature where we shall share candid human interest stories about our highly paid stable of artistes.

Chapter 101: "No Mo'! No Mo'! You! Naughty Ass!"

The eldest daughter of Hilary Billman fought her way through the jungle underbrush until she reached an open glade where she was momentarily set aback by the panoramic slendor of the scene which stretched out before her. Milli resumed her desperate flight in the direction of a remarkable waterfall on the far side of the clearing. The frightened girl was half-way across the glade before her panting, yellow-jacketed pursuer emerged cursing from the jungle. With his prey now in plain sight, his chase took on renewed vigor, but as he saw her approach the waters of the falls he suddenly lost sight of her as he tripped over the struggling figures of a man and a woman concealed in the tall tropical grasses.

The force of the collision precipitated the woman's escape across the veldt, leaving Yellow Jacket to face the wrath of her frustrated attacker. In the second before the man lunged at him, the yellow avenger's trained eye for detail noted that his opponent was a burly character in sailor togs. He was an otherwise rather bland individual except for his distinctive gob cap which was decorated with artistically arranged, multi-hued parrot feathers which obviously had been laboriously scotch-taped to the fabric to achieve a look of studied carelessness.

The testosterone-charged males clashed with a ferocity usually associated only with wild, primitive beasts. Bryce Lee, the Yellow Jacket, was no stranger to such barbaric contact. He broke away, retreated some distance, and turned to vent a cry his ancestors had voiced since time primordial.

"Owwwwwwwwwwwwch. Geeeze that hurt. What'd ya wanna do that for!? You crazy or somethin'?"

Seeing that there was no reasoning with the assailing sailor he prepared for battle and stood with fists raised high in an awe-inspiring John L. Sullivan classic pugilist stance. Even this, however, did not prepare him for the lunatic charge which toppled both combatants into the pool below the falls.

Instinctively the student of every known martial art drew from his bag of tricks the most feared technique practiced by heavyweight prize fighters and before the grappling bodies had bobbed to the surface, the hemi-Asian avenger had his teeth clamped firmly on his opponent's right ear.

Bryce Lee soon realized he had bitten off more than he could chew. The appendages of his adversary seemed to have grown and multiplied. He found himself cocooned in a bone-crunching coil of pulsating tentacles and realized that his opponent was experiencing the same plight—they had been entrapped by the tentacles of a giant octopus!

With only seconds of life left in his body, the crushed crusader freed a hand and reached for his Buzz utility belt. Lightning fast moves produced a battle-proven, life-saving weapon—an industrial strength vibrator. He applied the throbbing device to the monster's tickle prone underbelly long enough to relax the terrible grip of the tentacles.

What transpired next took place in a blur faster than the eye could follow but by the time Lee was finished, the eight-armed monster had been disabled by a phalanx of strategically clamped handcuffs. The reprieve was short-lived, however, for in the confusion of battle he realized that had accidentally cuffed himself and the barbarian to the writhing tentacles of their mutual foe.

Suddenly he felt very old and tired. As he felt the veil of unconsciousness descending, his last thoughts were of the his faithful young companion Splay-Toe. "The boy! Oh, I wish the boy was here. He would give me strength."

His fading auditory senses could hear the faint far off cursing and pitiful pleadings of his new comrade in arms who must surely have been in his final death throes: "Naughty Ass! Naughty Ass! No Mo'! No Mo'!"

The last thing he remembered was a lion-like roar and being raised up out of the water toward the heavens by a massive force from below.

* * * * * * * *

During the struggle between the two barbarians and the marine monster, the crippled sub Naughtyass had magically appeared from the bottomless depths of the pool and had risen to the surface beneath them, hoisting the jumbled and teeming menage a troi out of the water.

The craft had barely broken the surface when a hatch on the conning tower was flung open and Captain No'mo leaped forth to the rescue, roaring like an untamed beast and wildly swinging a fire axe. Within moments, the deck was teeming with squirming detached tentacles, body fluids and the sprawling bodies of the two now-unconscious victims of the mighty mollusk. Defeated and dying, the armless body of the octopus slid back into the depths.

Was this the end of the mighty Yellow Jacket? Had the life of one so dedicated in his fearless battle against crime and evil truly come to an end... at the arms of a filthy fishy foe? ....

Chapter 102: Four People, Verses, Harry Flint's Titillating Treasure Trove, and Some Naughty Rap

Milli ended her dash across the jungle clearing by plunging into the icy waters of the pool beneath a splendid waterfall at the far side of the clearing. As she pulled herself onto the rocks near the base of the falls, she could see what appeared to be a cave entrance hidden behind the tumbling waters of the falls. She made her way over the slippery rocks, through the cascading waters and into the cave mouth.

Before her eyes could grow accustomed to the sudden darkness, she was grasped savagely by the hands of a wiry wheezing old man with horny claw-like nails and hairy palms. Whatever nefarious plans the old codger may have had in mind were thwarted prematurely by the bombardment of two bodies falling upon him from a collapsing section of the cave roof.

With the aid of the increased light from the newly-formed opening above, Milli could see that her attacker was an old bearded man—only half conscious under the weight of the man and woman she recognized as Darter and Dee Dee who had mysteriously disappeared back at the Geriatric Park reception lounge.

She could now see that the cave was lined with chests each marked XXX. "Aha," she muttered. "Moonshine liquor—just like that stuff from Daddy's still back in West Virginia."

"What rock you bin hiding under Daisy Mae?" came the muffled and laboured response from under Dan Darter. This ain't no Kickapoo Joy Juice, Sweetie. Ain't no money in that stuff no mo'. We got XXX RATED goods. Yo Ho Ho an'a bottle of rum gets a Ho Ho with a big-bottomed bum—he he he he!" the wild-eyed reprobate cackled out an uncontrollable maniacal giggle at his lewd rhyme.

Feeling that he was being confronted by someone even more perverted than himself, Dan Darter leaped to his feet and pulled the two women to the far side of the cave. An upwelling of moral indignation seemed to come over him as he tried to keep himself between the scantily clad girls and the lecherous old coot of the caves.

"Who are you? What despicable activity are you involved in?" asked Darter as he surveyed the XXX branded crates piled along the walls of the cave.

"It's Flint's treasure. I moved it over here from the stockade where Cap'n No'mo had stored it. It's mine, mine, all mine. It belongs to old Pete Gunn now. Look at this...look at that ..." he screamed in near frenzy as he hobbled around the cavern. "Ain't nobody's gonna get Harry Flint's contraband XXX goodies."

The amazed trio couldn't help but notice some of the magazine labels on the crates: Harry Flint's Lustler, Huge Heifer's Playbore, and e.z. 'doc' smut's Great Glansman featured in All-Gory Passion Stories.

"I got hot stuff here kiddies. Ya like ta watch? I even got them there new fangled Vie-Dee-O tapie thingies. Ain't seen 'em yet but the titles make even an ole salt like Pete Gunn blush."

This unlikely curator of classic erotica had carefully arranged, in alphabetical order, a huge selection of what must have been some of the steamiest videos ever recorded to tape:


An Affair to Remember
African Queen,
The Agony and the Ecstasy
Big Top Pee Wee,
Blood Alley
Casanova's Big Night
Cinderfella
The Devil and Miss Jones
Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet
Dragonwyck
Earth Girls are Easy
Enter the Dragon
Fail-Safe
Family Jewels
The Farmer's Daughter
Fun with Dick and Jane
The Gay Ranchero
Geisha Boy
Good Fairy
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
The Horn Blows at Midnight
A Man Called Horse
The Man with the Golden Gun
Mary Poppins
The Mating Game
Moby Dick
A Night to Remember
Nuns on the Run
Octopussy
Of Human Bondage
Nutcracker Fantasy
Notorious Landlady
On Top of Old Smokey
Pandora's Box
Pillow Talk
Please Don't Eat the Daisys
Pocketful of Miracles
Privates on Parade
Quigley Down Under
Sex Lies and Videotape
She's Working Her Way Through College
Some Like It Hot
Space Balls
Squaw Man
Switching Channels
Teachers Pet
Three Men and a Little Lady
This Happy Breed
Thunderball
Triumphs of a Man Called Horse
Two Mules for Sister Sarah
Under the Cherry Moon
We Dive at Dawn
Wee Willie Winkie
What's Up Tiger Lily?
Wrong Box.

Their perusal of this treasure trove of forbidden erotica was cut short by the sound of the incessant beat of rap music which rose above the roar of the falls at the entrance to the cave.

Old Pete Gunn's face turned ashen and he screamed out in terror: "Oh no... No'mo's back Ya gotta hide me. I can't stand that noise. Not Slimey Whiteguy and Barber Strident and their yodel rap duets. He's found me...I can't take any more of that infernal caterwauling he calls music. He's got speakers everywhere on that underwater boat."

When I'm / call ing / yoo ooo /
 ooo ooo / ooo ooo / oo oo
Pee ple / pee ple / who need /
pee pul / are the / luck ee /
est Pee / pul in / the wirld..."

"Nooooo! He's coming!" Pete Gunn's terrified cries reverberated through the catacombs as he ran deeper into the subterranean labyrinth—leaving Milli, Dee Dee and Darter alone to face the unknown terrors just beyond the wall of water at the cave mouth.

Chapter 103: Bertie Peeps at the Diary as Sleeping Giants Lie

"Yuh can't hide behind yur writerz no more my treacherouz couzin. Come on... fight like a man!" bleated Ratnaz, the wild child of the jungle, as he instinctively dropped into the fighting stance he had learned from his adopted father, Buck Ram. He crouched on all fours, lowered his head and pawed the floor with his forelegs before charging at the hated usurper of his rightful titles, family fortunes and golf courses.

At that same moment, Devon McGuinness, Lord Greatstrokes, bent over to arm himself with a 3-iron from his ever-present golf bag. Unfortunately, the bogus lord misgauged the speed of his enraged cousin's charge and both men met head-on. The two heads collided with a force that lesser mortals could not have survived and the Edgar Nyce bunker reverberated with prolonged deafening, gong-like reverberations.

"Let them lie there Bertie," ordered Nyce as Ratnaz's comely companion made a move to run to his aid. "It's safer for all of us. They'll come to, eventually. Come over here Bert—there is something you must read. I am afraid you do not know the whole story behind the troubles we face." Ed picked up and passed over a heavy, leather-bound book bearing the title:

THE PERSONAL DAILY JOURNAL
OF NICK MISER - PRESIDENT
RODENT & TOUCHWOOD PICTURES
- TOP SECRET STUFF-

Bertie Ketchum reluctantly opened the diary and started to read a recent entry.

Dear Diary: I'm about to face the most disastrous day of my life. The Elmer Ford film premier is tomorrow night. This thing is a stinkeroo. It is so bad we decided to not use the RATNAZ name... couldn't wish this turkey on even that over-the-hill oaf—it's a disaster. That klutzy Elmer jerk is an idiot—constantly swinging into trees and sets. Decided to let him take the heat. Our new title is ELMER OF THE JUNGLE. I'm afraid there's going to be a big clean-up bill in the theatre—nothing worse than rotten tomatoes. Those little Rodenteers can turn ugly when they smell a clunker.

Dear Diary: We gotta save face. Spent the day rushing an animated Ratnaz film into production. No more chances with no-talent, muscle-bound live actors. Trying to get some of the best Ed Nyce artists in the business: Hal 'Gump' Forester, Franco Frazelli, Allen J. St. Jaques and his son Jeff Jaques. We'll spare no expense on this one. Gotta wipe off the stigma of that Elmer of the Jungle thing. But even this big budget project is attracting its share of weirdos. Security just threw out some gin-soaked, chubby broad with a rooster on her shoulder—said she was Frazelli's model. Yah... right.

Dear Diary: Last night's premier was a huge success! The audience thought every scene was hilarious... laughed all through it. I decided to take some curtain calls after the credits... after all, I was the brains behind it. Critics say it's the comedy hit of the year, I knew it was going to be good. Why, that Elmer Ford is a comedy genius—but it takes a talented producer to discover talent like this. By golly, mommy would have been proud.

Dear Diary: Met with Orcan Whales today... film projects ideas... Ever since that Citizen Kubla Khan bomb, he's been getting weirder... trying to flog disaster movies... something about a big sinking ship he calls the Titanic, earthquakes, tidal waves, and some far-fetched thing about aliens that he wants to call the Invasion of the Led Zeppelins... give us a break Orcan.

Dear Diary: Finally kept that appointment with Buzz Bozhart today...he's the real brains behind the BB Inc. conglomerate. He cleared up a lotta stuff about his no-good son Brace Bozhart's mysterious behaviour... I'm starting to put the pieces together. And he let me in on why Brace has been playing Ratnaz for a fool. He got the dumb goat kid drunk and took some pretty incriminating photos of him in a motel room with a half dozen stewardesses. Ratnaz and Edgar Nyce are finished. They can't survive the scandal if we release the photos. Ed's a changed, crushed man. And the ape man is too stupid to know what's really going on... thinks Brace Bozhart is his friend.

Dear Diary: Had our legal department send a letter today to those simps at that Whizzle All-Gory pulp rag. Should put an end to their cashing in on our guy's name. No talent hacks!

Dear Diary: Good ole Buzz took me over to their secret underground Area 22 complex at Butt Buttes today. And how's this for a piece of luck... I met President Bill Blimpton over there. You know there is something unhealthy about our recent presidents' obsession with their looks. First we lost Raegun to Grecian Formula-induced Alzheimer's. Now Bungalow Bill is wearing a silly, gigantic floppy hat everywhere. Never saw him without it - must think he's Jack Carson's Great Tarak or something. Weird.

Buzz had Lt. Rykor give me a tour of the whole BB Inc. underground complex ... top secret stuff that even the government doesn't know about... and he even promised to give me a tour of the Alien Autopsy Lab next time I go back.

Bertie put the book aside and looked up in shocked amazement. Ed was hunched over a 15 minute Topographic Map sheet on which he was carefully calculating the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of Butt Buttes. Without raising his head he asked, "Hot stuff, huh?. Wanna come with us on our little mission?"

Ed finished his calculations and scribbled the coordinates on a slip of paper which he passed on to Carson Nappie. "All right now. Let's get these two sleeping lugs into the Pellucifer and let's get the show on the road."

Within moments, seven people—Ed, Nappie, Rathmind, Bertie, Captain Canuck, and the still-unconscious Ratnaz and Greatstrokes—were crammed into the tiny cabin of the Pellucifer. Little did they know that they were about to embark on the most important... and most perilous adventure of their lives.

Chapter 104: "Pardon Me Roy, Is That The Cat That Chewed Your New Shoes...Your clogs that is, Mr. Datsun." (Obviously, a knowledge of the history of big band music is essential for the comprehension of titles around here.)

Herlock Cabyns looked on in horror as the lovable Zany Grany was swept away by a massive tidal wave while attempting to rescue his beloved cat and dog.

"Stop that infernal clatter Datsun," shouted Cabyns to his clog dancing companion. "Don't you realize that this is serious!"

The crushed assistant looked down forlornly at his two twitching feet encased in scratched and cat-hair-covered clogs. Zany's now-deceased feline must have used the wooden shoes that Datsun had taken such a shine to as a scratching post.

Unnerved by the horrific loss of life he had just witnessed, the sleuth extraordinaire looked around the lamented western author's cedar lined study taking note of the towering stacks of manuscripts and rejection notices. His gaze settled on a flickering computer monitor which he was surprised to discover displayed the second chapter of the manuscript that old Grany had shared with him earlier:

Millennium Adventures

by Ja-On (William Ja-On Campbell Hillman)
Zany Grany pseudonym

Chapter Two: ...

"Mmmm... just the ticket to settle my nerves. Anything would be better than that other stuff the old codger forced on me... frogs? I think Mr. Grany should have stuck to horse operas." Cabyns soon got into the electronic manuscript and became so engrossed in the tale that even Datsun's determined resumed clogging to the annoying sound of the scratchy accordion record had little effect on his concentration.

While Cabyns read, Datsun eventually tired of his strenuous footwork and looked around for other amusements. The title on a large weathered notebook caught his eye:


PROPERTY OF AGENT Z.G.—PROJECT BLUE BOOK

Realizing that their host was probably now lying in a watery grave, the English doctor had no compunction in perusing the contents of the book. He was amazed at what he saw. The entries were all careful observations of celestial and meteorological phenomena from over the last year—all recorded in a very trained and exacting manner. Most of the activity seemed to have been associated with the area above and around the Butt Buttes landform which was clearly visible through the rear window of Grany's cabin.

Datsun was well into his study of the notebook when he realized that his remarkable associate had moved over behind him and was reading the notebook from over his shoulder.

"Come, my dear Datsun. We must be going. This is an incredible development," exclaimed an excited Cabyns.

Following a great deal of difficulty in saddling the two surviving burros, the accomplished English horsemen, now turned assmen, were soon trekking to higher ground—and toward the ominous Butt Buttes. Sadly they had to leave one of the saddled burros, the short one, behind as its old worn saddle of French design was far too loose to trek.

The two side-saddle equestrians were so intent on the difficulties of sharing the same saddle and in watching what appeared to be an unusually large number of birds gliding over the distant twin buttes, that they were oblivious to the threatening shadows that had engulfed them from overhead.

Chapter 105: Fun with Boz and Jane—A Primer

A Primer

See Boz 1 drive to the ranch. Boz can not find Jane. He meets the Men in Black. They are looking for space men. The Men in Black show Boz something. They show him a silver thing-a-ma-jig. See Boz scratch his head. Look at the big red knob on the think-a-ma-jig...

See Boz 2 drive fast. He is trying to catch Jane. Jane drives faster. He can not catch her. Look at his red face. Boz is angry.

See Boz 3 look in the city. H can not find Jane. He goes away on a fast aeroplane. It is a jet. Jets fly fast. Boz thinks Mister Billman is a bad man.

See Boz 4 park his car. Jane likes to ride in his car. Boz and Jane go into a big building. Randy Rodent lives there.

See Jane 1 drive fast. Tuvane rides with Jane. Tuvane is a smart lawyer girl. Sometimes smart lawyer girls are really boys who wear dresses. Jane and Tuvane like to help each other.

See Jane 2 take a pretty girl for a ride. They go fast in Jane's yellow car. The girl's name is Judy Flanders sometimes. Jane thinks Judy likes men who ride motorcycles. Jane makes Judy visit the motorcycle men. The motorcycle men are lonely.

See Jane 3 wake up Randy Rodent's daddy. His name is Nick. Jane talks loud to Mister Nick. She is angry at Mister Boz. Jane thinks Mr Boz has a new girl friend. Jane likes to play with guns.

See Jane 4 come to visit Jane 3. Jane 3 is angry. She likes to play with guns.

Boz and Jane like to pretend. They like to pretend they are frozen. Look at all the frozen Bozes and Janes. They are not moving. Oh! Look again. One Boz is moving. Quick! Come see. One Jane is moving. Jump Jane!

Do you know which ones they are boys and girls? Mister Tangor knows. Don't you, Mister Tangor? Mister Tangor likes to have secrets. Do you like secrets boys and girls?

Fun with Boz and Jane: A Primer II

(The Incoherent, Incomprehensible Adult Version)

Do you remember all that shit that went down back in Chapter 99? When powerful Buzz Bozhart entered the code word Klaatu, he shut down all the bogus Bozes and Janes. They ground to a halt and fell into a state of suspended animation. Only the two real ones carried on with what they were doing... and of course we all know who they are... and what they were doing... don't we Tangor? [Nudge... nudge... (wink)...(wink)... say no more... say what?...]

Chapter 106: Captain Marble and the Pit of Doom - Shaboom, Shaboom!

Sherman was still smarting from his boss's verbal abuse... and he was still getting his body parts back together after the alien Tang-Gor's mean-spirited attack on his molecules. But he wasn't going to take it much longer. He had an ace up his sleeve and now was the time to play it. He was well aware of the one weakness in the mantle of the alien Gheeks—oregano addiction! And he knew his plan could not fail.

"By the way, Tang-Gor... I have a little gift for you," purred Sherman as he produced a lead-lined jewel box. "Here... It's good stuff... just in from Panama—fresh oregano. Just a token of my appreciation."

Unbeknownst to Tang-Gor the Gheek, the oregano leaves had been spiked with a powerful 10 percent portion of catnip. In fact, the very act of opening the lead container had released enough of the catnip essence to make the alien feel weak in the chellae.

Unable to resist the lure of an oregano fix, the head-like creature scurried over and sucked up the offering from Sherman's outstretched hand. The effect was immediate and startling. Within seconds the Gheek had become incoherent and was rolling, writhing and bouncing around the room.

Despite Sherman's verbal tirades against Tangor's rival, the Jeddak of the North, he had been secretly conspiring with the Canuck for some time. Realizing that Tangor, Tang-Gor and Company were becoming increasingly dangerous and unpredictable, Sherman had contacted the more stable and unquestionably more clever Warlord of Words on the InterNet. The thankful Jeddak had bestowed superpowers known only to select British Loyalists upon the poor little creep. The moment for Sherman's first test of these powers was at hand.

"This is a job for Captain Marble!"

Sherman swayed rhythmically and snapped his fingers to create a backbeat as he intoned the magic mantra in a high-pitched cracking voice:

"Shaboom, Shaboom, Sha La-la, la-la, la-la, la-la, la-la, Shaboom, Shaboom..."

An Al Capp-inspired cartoon cloud appeared over the two disparate creatures in Tangor's study—the knock-kneed geek and the convulsing Gheek-head. Lightning bolts flashed from the black cloud and a sudden change occurred in Sherman's appearance. His coke-bottle-thick glasses fell to the floor, the rain from the cloud slicked back his disheveled hair, and his many-sizes-too-large K-Mart Aisle #3 special wardrobe fell away—revealing a magnificent red flannel suit. Scotch taped to the buttons which ran from crotch to neck up the front of the costume was a sheet of wrinkled computer paper bearing a lightning bolt insignia that had been meticulously hand drawn with a yellow hi-liter. Around his shoulders was a thick burlap rope to which was fastened a billowing purple satin bedsheet which doubled as a cape. The loins of the once lowly mortal, now transformed to superhero, were sheathed in chartreuse BVDs which were worn outside of the main red body suit—obviously a Madonna-inspired fashion flare.

With new-found confidence he groped myopically toward Tangor's well worn computer keyboard—narrowly avoiding tripping over the rolling alien. Upon finding the computer, Captain Marble commenced to revise the text that had been left on the monitor:


The heroic Jeddak of the North, on his
selfless and daring mission of mercy,
drove his sled team relentlessly.
Already he could see the sprawling
city lights of Minot, North Dakota,
as they sped southward without respite.
Meanwhile, down at the bottom of Tangor's
bottomless pit, four bruised, battered
and perplexed casualties of the mad
Texan's deranged wrath huddled by a
locked doorway as screaming bodies
plummeted from above— landing in their
midst in mangled heaps on the earthen
pit floor. An exotically beautiful,
near-naked young woman clung to the
largest of the two men in the group
and gave a running commentary as the
bodies fell around them:
"Why, it's poor Dudley... we worked for
the same syndicate. And here comes...
ah... it looks like the flying nun...
oooph... I bet that hurt. Oh...and
look... Little old ladies... in black...
on brooms sticks?... and... there's a
big one.... pow!... look at him bounce...
look out here comes a skinny one... uh
oh... too late... ooo the carnage...
Look Mars honey, here comes a masked
cowboy and an Indian... and a horse..."

Captain Marble worked well into the night—his nearsighted eyes just inches from the clattering keys of the computer keyboard. Tangor's best laid plans went 'oft agley' as his treacherous one-time "yes man" caused his favourite characters to disappear one by one down into his own deadly pit of doom.

Taking full advantage of his boss's absence, Sherman—now transformed into the mighty Captain Marble—paused from his keyboarding only to periodically open the lead box at his side and to withdraw portions of the powerful catnip-spiked oregano which he tossed to the helpless, writhing and mewling alien Tang-Gor.

The fate of the world depended upon a lone gallant man and his tireless band of hairy sled animals who by now had reached the Black Hills and were approaching the base of scenic Mount Rushmore. Would the heroic Canadian, the indomitable Jeddak of the North, reach the troubled American Southwest in time to save the world... and Pismo Beach?

Bill Hillman


PART IV

Chapter 107: The Inner Sanctum

"Come on in, old timer. The wife has dinner on the table. Expected you a little earlier."

Zany Grany put down both cat and dog to accept the handshake of the brilliant Texan author. "Got hung up. That flash flood was a little too realistic to suit me. If it weren't for this little girl," Grany reached back through the open door to hand in the blushing Bertha La Ropa, "I might have washed up in Kansas."

La Ropa, a vibrant young woman, perhaps twenty-five years old, cradled a pet rooster under one arm and a fat woman suit over the other. "May I set this down, Tangor? Those boys over at F/X used too much latex—this thing is heavy."

"You're a good kid, La Ropa. Here, I'll take that."

Tangor draped the realistic body suit over the back of a chrome and leather arm chair. Guiding his guests through the immaculate living room the three traversed a carpeted hallway to the rear of the modest house. Mrs. Tangor, gracious as always, welcomed the visitors.

Viewing the sodden appearance of her husband's employees, Mrs. Tangor exclaimed, "You poor dears! A bath and dry clothes for you both. I can wait dinner until you are refreshed."

Tangor planted an affectionate kiss upon the lovely woman's cheek. "Thanks, darling. You're a brick."

Zany Grany as much as agreed when Tangor showed the couple the guest quarters. "Not a word of complaint. You're a lucky man, Tangor."

"A point of which she frequently reminds me," the Texican grinned.

La Ropa elected to shower first. The two men chatted over brandy and cigarettes while the young woman took advantage of the facilities.

Feeling invigorated by the heady brandy, Grany made his report. "So far, Tangor, your plan is working flawlessly. That poor Canadian hack just doesn't have a clue. Why, did you notice he's even mixed up on months now? The real world is April 1998 and he's telling everyone it is October—Halloween. I'd feel pity for him if that wasn't a wasted emotion on cantankerous Canucks."

"Do not be too harsh on Sh'nook of the North," Tangor smiled. "He means well."

"Gosh durn it, man, he's not even in my league much less yours! How can you be so magnanimous and cheerful? That fellow has done nothing but ride you from day one. You'd think he'd show some gratitude for allowing him to join you on this grand adventure."

"Tut, tut, my dear Grany. You are too uncharitable toward our northern friend. He cannot help his wilderness upbringing or lack of public school talent. He has made a determined effort to overcome his natural shyness and we must recognize his courage for having done it."

Bertha appeared, freshly scrubbed and nicely filling out a knit blouse and pair of jeans from Mrs. Tangor's wardrobe. The spirited girl sighed. "Gee, that's better!" La Ropa started to kiss Grany's cheek, then drew back with a just-ate-a-bug face. "In the shower, you old galoot!"

Zany playfully goosed the young lady as he, his snifter, and a change of clothes went into the bath. Bertha waited until the shower was running before talking to her boss.

"All done," she winked.

"Good girl!" Tangor smiled. "There will be a token of my appreciation in your next paycheck."

"Not necessary," La Ropa replied. "Just part of the job. Besides, it was fun! I can't wait to see the expression on the Jeddak of the North's face when he finds out what's coming."

"It will be amusing," Tangor chuckled, "but let us not spoil it for the readers of All-Gory Weekly by discussing it now."

Bertha grinned and added a sly wink. "Gotcha, Boss!"

* * * * * * * *

At the dinner table Zany, Bertha, Tangor and Mrs. Tangor enthusiastically consumed one of the latter's famous meatloafs complimented with baked potatoes and all the trimmings and beverages of choice. When the meal was concluded Mrs. Tangor shooed her husband and guests out of the kitchen, naysaying all offers to help with the dishes, whereupon they retired to Tangor's library for after dinner drinks and cigars. (Editor's note: This is a fantasy, folks. Remember?)

Grany puffed contentedly upon a fragrant cheroot. "I'm so grateful you rescued me from the Canadian's inept handling. Okay, sure, he had one good idea inserting me in the story, and that Grimley Wave thing was kinda cute, but the fellow never did anything beyond that. He hasn't written a new thought in ages!"

Bertha agreed. "They say that imitation is the sincerest from of flattery, but face it, Boss, what Sh'nook of the North is turning out is not flattery, it's rip off and rehash. He's simply riding your coattails, reviving your old gags over and over. Why, this last time around he just couldn't keep up with you so he copied lists from his video collection and rehashed what's gone before."

Zany chuckled disparagingly. "Why, even his titles 'Warlord of Words' and 'Jeddak of the North' were bestowed by Tangor without even a thank you from the ungrateful twit."

"Now, now, Grany," Tangor gently admonished. "No name calling. We must make allowances for others—it is the charitable thing to do."

Bertha snickered impishly. "Is this the malevolent author the Canuck is so fond of describing?"

Tangor's amusement was plain.

The phone rang. Tangor picked up the instrument. "Hold on, Cam. I'll put you on the squawk box. Zany and Bertha are here."

The imperfect telephonic device could not mask the unmistakable voice of Cam Spaid. "We waited, Boss. Like you said, old Sh'nook of the North piled into his Model B dog sled and headed south. That lead beaver, however, got turned around. Last we saw the kit-and-caboodle was en route to Minnesota."

"Hmm," Tangor frowned. "That will make him late for Phase Two. Spaid, if I know my adversary—and I do—the tedium of his trip will force him to enter the cabin to watch ERBS news or to numb his mind with Blues Bouys tapes. Send Slammer to intercept. When the Warlord of Words enters the cabin, have him replace that brain-dead beaver with one of our own."

Spaid's chuckle was clearly audible. "I've got three homing beavers on line, Boss. Where do you want the putz to end up? Des Moines, Tupelo or Ratnaza?"

For a moment Tangor considered Tupelo as a destination of great discomfort for Sh'nook, but regretfully decided against it. Two chapters of the Jeddak's unpleasant adventures in that part of backwaters Americana might bore the All-Gory Weekly readership unnecessarily. "Ratnaza, Cam. It's time we get this show on the road."

"Roger," Spaid replied and rang off.

The imposing figure of the creative genius faced Zany Grany. "Recharged, old man?"

Grany stubbed out his cigar and rose. "Yes, sir, I am. Mighty fine dinner. I'll show myself out."

"One last thing, Grany..."

"Eh?" the old writer paused at the door.

"Hold the next installment of 'Query: Are Fairy Tales Real?'"

Though disappointed, Grany kept his voice under control. "Any reason, Boss?"

"The Canuck is expecting it. I want you to lay low with it until we're ready to kick off Phase Two." Satisfied, Grany nodded then exited the room, stage door right.

Tangor looked at Bertha La Ropa for a long moment. "How are you holding up, kid?"

"I was doing okay until the Sh'nook of the North got me addicted to those Ratnaz Specials. Damn, Boss, those things are Hell on the kidneys!"

"Well, that's past." Tangor checked his watch. "It's been long enough. Switch on the viewer, let us see how our little back-stabber is doing."

Bertha unfolded her lean, tan body from the comfortable overstuffed chair and went to the west wall of the library. She located Of Mice and Men; and pulled on the top. The volume tilted halfway and a relay clicked. The center section of books separated on double doors which concealed a 42 inch monitor.

Tangor tapped a key on his wife's deceptively simple-looking computer and the screen activated. The view was that of the Texican's inner office. Bent over Tangor's multi-tiered computer keyboard the myopic Captain Marble, aka Sherman, aka Tangor's Unknowing Stooge, pounded the keys at an astonishing rate of three words per minute.

Bertha tapped an attractive, red-polished fingernail of sensible length on the image of the ludicrous super hero. "He's cute, Boss. Can I have him when this is over?"

"Only if you promise to be gentle, dear. Poor Sherman is a victim of arrested physical development. Beneath that child-like exterior beats the heart of a 50 year old virgin who has never known the warmth of a woman's touch. You, my pet, would give him a heart attack."

Tangor keyed another set of commands and the monitor cleared to reveal a long list of responses that scrolled down the screen. "Brace was successful! The Canadian's attempt to reprogram the Brace scenarios was intercepted by our code firewall. Buzz Bozhart's klaatu command never left Butt Buttes. Even if it had, it only affected Sonny Bonos or Jane Pauleys, both of whom have already self-destructed."

"Didn't you tell me it wouldn't work because each Brace is a unique individual cloned directly from your cells, and therefore impervious to computer command?"

"You have a good memory, kid. I think I'll keep you around. As wonderful as technology has become, the machines still cannot control biological matter."

Bertha glanced at her sensible watch secured to her slim sun-browned wrist. "Almost time for me to get, Boss. Do I really have to wear that repulsive fat cow disguise?"

"Just a while longer. When the unsuspecting Canuck is in place and after Phase Two starts, we can drop that charade. Bertha," Tangor's voice warned as the woman rose, "do not under estimate the Canadian. For all his rough-edged humor and inept plotting, there lurks a wily mentality. So far his best efforts to tell a story have gone to naught; ever playing the buffoon and going for the quick laugh and gag. Yet, I suspect he may be up to something that could queer our adventure romance epic parody. Keep a sharp lookout, La Ropa. I'd hate to lose you."

Bertha turned pale, but so great was the girl's courage and strength of character that by no other expression did she reveal her reaction. "The Canuck is not given to killing of players, Tangor."

"The Canuck has never been in such desperate position before. Even a trapped Smurf will attack viciously. Just watch yourself."

Chapter 108 : And just when you thought things made sense...

"Where's the list?" Spaid asked Spillway.

"Huh? I thought you had it." Spillway patted the pockets of his pinstripe double-breasted to be sure. "I don't got it, Cam."

"Damn! We'll have to go back to HQ to get another."

Spaid suddenly laughed. "If that bull moose Canadian found it, he won't have a clue as to it's meaning."

Spillway grinned, exposing a gap where a belligerent bum had performed crude dental surgery. "Hell, he'll probably think it's a hit list or sumpin'."

The two detectives were still chuckling as they drove away in the borrowed 1949 maroon Ford sedan.

Meanwhile, several hundred miles to the south, Slammer was wrestling with a wild Canadian beaver. Sh'nook's Rudolph didn't have a red nose, but he did have awful big teeth and an unpleasant disposition—at least until he got a gander at the svelte lady beaver parked in the front seat of the 1934 Ford tudor. After that Slammer had no problems substituting Benny, the Steroid Beaver in the lead traces. One of the huskies tried to take a nip out of the new leader, but Benny thwacked him with an iron hard tail and that showed who was boss.

Slammer closed the door on the speeding car, glanced in the back where beaver love was in full bloom "Just like Muskrat Love," the big man sighed. He took the car off auto pilot and eased off the main road at the next intersection.

A mile further the old car—which was not old at all and was armored and equipped with goodies that would make even inventive "Q" jealous—pulled into an isolated private airfield. Slammer halted the vehicle next to an expensive private jet which sat with engines idling. A man opened the door for him and then took the car and the rutting beavers away. Another, standing at the airplane's hatch, motioned the detective forward. "He's waiting for you."

Without a word, Slammer entered the aircraft. Brace Bozhart glanced up, acknowledging the detective with a nod. He was on the phone listening intently. Slammer took a chair and accepted a hot toddy served by an attractive young woman dressed in a blue and red ski outfit.

"Thank you, ma'am," Slammer sighed, warming his hands and throat.

"Jane," she said. "Jane Porker-Bozhart."

"Whatever you say, ma'am." Slammer had a different opinion. The Jane Porker-Bozhart he knew was a blond. The two women looked alike, except this one was a brunette, but there was an accent in her voice that reminded him of those classy dames in Georgia.

She laughed lightly, sitting beside the big man. "I should say, 'Jane Five'. Today is my first birthday."

"You, a year old?"

"Absolutely. I am a very young and naive little girl. You could tell me to do things and I wouldn't know if they were bad or good. Would you tell me to do bad things, Mr. uh..."

"Slammer," he said, pulse pounding, as she searched for a name.

"Buckle up, Mr. Slammer. We will take off shortly." She patted his ham-sized fist with a delicate gesture that seemed to imply much more. Jane Five went forward, her delicious backside making exaggerated figure eights that affected Slammer in a most extraordinary manner.

Bozhart terminated his call and grinned at the detective. "Amazing creature, don't you think?"

"I— I—" Slammer removed his narrow-brimmed hat and wiped his brow. "Yeah, you could say that!"

"There's a Jane in your future, Slammer, provided things go as expected."

"They will, Mr. Bozhart. My word on that."

Brace snorted with amusement. "I seem to recall you made the same statement to your pals Spaid and Spillway. Should they catch you in betrayal, they will only kill you. I will make you suffer for an eternity before oblivion brings you peace. If, on the other hand, you serve me well, you can have a Jane or two."

Slammer's palms grew sweaty thinking about the possibilities. "What do you want me to do?"

"You're not due back until tomorrow morning, so we'll spend a little time with Chaperone Clerk and his band of techno-idiots. You wouldn't have any objections to being the second smartest man in the world, would you, Slammer?"

"Depends. Who's the smartest?"

"Me."

Slammer gulped self-consciously under the stern glare of the world's richest—and smartest—man. "Yes. I can see that. I'm you're man. Trying to take you down was a stupid move on Ed Nyce's part. The old fart suckered me into the game. Working for you is much more profitable."

Bozhart nodded agreeably. The jet was taxiing when Jane Five returned. Brace patted her round fanny and said, "Mr. Slammer's lap is cold. See if you can't warm it up for him. I'm going forward."

There was a moment of confusion as Brace and Jane Five danced in the isle, but soon the gazillionaire was past and the door to the cockpit shut. Jane Five looked down at Slammer with a sweet smile then very deliberately draped herself across his lap.

* * * * * * * *

Smith and Jones removed their sunglasses. Jones waved a hand in front of Brace Bozhart's glazed eyes. "He's under. Let's get him back to base." Jones headed for the Ford POS.

"What?" Smith exclaimed. "You want me to haul this white boy all by myself?"

Jones grinned sardonically. "Who's got rank? You or me?"

"Damn," Smith scowled. "I keep forgetting about that." The black man put a shoulder into Brace's stomach and lifted the inert body. "Heavy dude. Hey, what about that kewl 1966 yeller Camero? We ain't gonna leave it here, are we? Somebody might steal it."

Jones produced another gizmo from a side pocket. He aimed it at the Chevy and pressed a button. A weird blue light bathed the machine, and in an instant it vanished. Smith's eyes bugged out. "What happened to it? Man, you didn't zap it to nothing, did you? Hell, if I know'd you wuz gonna do that, I'd a stole it myself."

Agent Jones shook his head. "Rookies." He walked over to where the car had been, then examined the ground. A few seconds later he bent down and picked up something the side of a walnut—but there aren't very many yellow walnuts. Holding out the palm of his hand, Jones showed Smith an incredibly detailed Hot Wheels.

"Only it is the real thing," Jones explained. "Miniaturization. One of the things we got from Tang-Gor before he disappeared."

Smith looked at the comatose Bozhart in the back seat. "And you made me carry that heavy son-of-a-bitch when you had that thingie all the time? You're cold, man. Real cold."

Jones held his patience with a tight grip. "It only works with inanimate objects, Smith. If we'd shrunk Mr. Bozhart it would have killed him—and made quite a mess in the process. Think of it this way, I saved you a cleaning bill."

* * * * * * * *

Two yellow 1966 Cameros met on a lonely highway northeast of Ratnaza. The two drivers were alike in build and facial structure. They were more identical than identical twins.

"Hello, Brace."

"Hello, Brace. Did you find her?"

"Jane?"

"Yeah."

"Which one?"

"The one with a gun."

"There's two. Be more specific."

"MY Jane."

"She's mine, too."

"Not THAT one, she's too surly. MY Jane, the sweetheart."

"A gun-totin' blond hussy with a bad attitude is a sweetheart? Have you had your amino acids checked lately? You're not making sense, brother."

Instead of responding with anger, Brace posed a question which had been puzzling him since the Ratnaz caper began. "How can you be my brother when we share the exact same DNA? You aren't my father, you aren't my son, you aren't my brother...what are we?"

"That's a damn good question. I suppose Tangor, from whose cells we were cloned, would be the original, yet, since we are identical that would make us originals, too."

"But we aren't original. There's Tangor," Brace gestured to one side with a hand and then made an opposite gesture with the other, "and there's me."

"You mean 'us', don't you?"

"No. You are me. Me are you."

"Wrong. That's 'or', don't you think?" There was a trace of uncertainty in Bozhart's reply.

The other Bozhart said, "When were you born? One of us is bound to be senior to the other. That is what will make us different."

"November 13, 1998, 21:03 hours."

"Damn! That's mine. Wait, what second were you born?"

"Why, that would be 21:03:07."

"Ha! That makes me the elder."

"By how much?" Brace inquired, unwilling to relinquish anything to his father/brother/son.

Brace lowered his eyes, the admission torn from him. "I was born 21:03:0659."

"Ha!" the other Brace exclaimed. "I am the superior being as I was born on an integer whole second!"

"This is getting us nowhere. Do you have the package?"

Brace got out of his vehicle and went around to the trunk. Opening it, he removed a bundle that was wrapped in cloth. It was about the size of a washtub, and similar in shape. Brace got out of his car and opened the trunk on his 1966 yellow Camero and Brace transferred the object. Both men looked at it for a moment, then Brace closed the truck lid and shook hands with Brace.

"I know it took a lot of guts to get that."

"You should know, same guts." Brace jabbed a friendly punch at his brother/son/father's hard waistline. "Take care of yourself, Brace."

"I will, Brace. Give my love to Jane."

"Which one?"

Brace rolled his eyes. "Don't start that crap again!"

Laughing, the two Bozhart's roared off in opposite directions.

* * * * * * * *

Nick Miser waited with bated breath. In just a few moments all his troubles would be over. Jane would kill Brace Bozhart and he'd finally be free!

As he waited, the President of Touchwood Pictures and other Randy Rodent enterprises, took another look at the vivacious, though deadly woman at the other side of his office. She was lean, yet voluptuous, delicate, but hard as nails. She was also auburn-haired, not blond. Though the Jane in the parking lot was no longer visible, he now realized that her hair color was more strawberry than auburn or blond. Something screwy was going on here.

Jane's grip on the .357 wavered not a millimeter. Her eyes were filled with hatred. Her whole being was centered on the moment yet to come, and she savored with full delight the thought of murdering her husband and his bimbo.

The door opened.

Brace Bozhart greeted the magnum with an arched eyebrow. "There you are, dear! I've been looking for you."

Jane Porker Bozhart tightened her finger on the chrome-plated trigger. "First the hussy, then you, you son of a-"

"Jane!" Bozhart's commanding voice barked. "There's a lady present."

Startled, Jane frowned. "You're not going to tell that tramp is a lady, you low-down, two-timing Bill Blimpton!"

Miser sputtered, terrified and confused. "Please don't kill anyone in my office. I just had new carpet put in."

"Oh, shut up, Nick, or I'll plug you, too!"

Miser did not have to be warned twice.

Jane maintained her aim, but her curiosity was aroused. "Why'd you do it, Brace? Wasn't I woman enough for you?"

"You always have been, darling. There's been no other woman in my life since you chose me for that Nyce fellow."

"Stop it, Brace," Jane pleaded, the gun wavering. "You're giving me goose bumps." Indeed, the fine hairs on the shapely woman's forearms were standing erect.

"You do that to me, too," the powerful gazillionaire replied, "in spades."

"Then why did you clone me?" Jane wailed, heartbroken.

The other woman, who looked exactly like the weeping wife, spoke with a soft and sympathetic voice. "He didn't, my sister. Somebody ealse did, but it really wasn't cloning. It was-how'd you say it, Brace?"

"Astral division." Turning to his wife, the wife with the gun, handsome Brace Bozhart explained. "Ed Nyce, or someone working for him, did this to us. Yes, us. There's other Brace Bozharts out there, too. Whoever did the dirty deed botched the job. Doctor Ras Putan was working on a cure when he was mysterious murdered."

Janie with a gun let the heavy weapon fall to her side. "Ras Putan, dead? Cure?"

"Putan was attempting to reverse the process, to recombine our astral selves. I don't know if you've weighed yourself recently, but you should be about one-seventh of your usual weight."

"I haven't," Jane said, "but if that's true, shouldn't I be one-seventh of my size as well?"

"You'd think," Brace shrugged. "Apparently Nyce intended to send us to Barsoom or Oz or whatever, but we ended up as copies of ourselves. That's why killing Jane here might result in killing yourself, and I wouldn't want that to happen to you, darling."

Jane and Jane sobbed-one with relief, the other with sisterly happiness. Both converged on Brace to hug and kiss the great man. What happened next left Nick Miser doubting his sanity.

An electrical charge abruptly filled the room and the two women brushed against each other. Inexplicably a tortured vortex of swirling vapors coalesced, punctuated by sharp crackling sounds and tinkling like glass bells in a breeze. An incandescent light formed, growing brighter by the heartbeat, until it was a blazing brilliance that threatened to burn the eyes. Then a small clap, like distant thunder was heard and the light disappeared.

"Where'd she go?" Miser demanded, looking at Brace and Jane. "Where's the other Jane?"

Jane hugged her husband with a sigh. Placing a small hand between her breasts, she said, "In here. Jane is here, where she belongs. Oh, Brace, if you are divided as I was, then you must feel as empty and alone as I did. We must find your other selves. We must!" Jane burst into tears of worry and concern.

Bozhart patted the woman's shoulder and motioned toward Miser's leather couch. "Dry your eyes, dear. I'll be with you in a moment. I just need a few words with Nicky."

Bozhart's broad shoulders turned toward Miser. He advanced with a smile—but a smile the cat might display to the mouse just before dinner. Putting a brawny arm about Miser's shoulder, Brace led the executive to the farthest corner, then shoved him into it none too gently. Blocking Miser with his imposing body, Bozhart leaned in with narrowed eyes.

"I hear you've been a naughty boy, Nicky."

"Me?" Miser shivered, quaking with fear. "Not a chance, Boz!"

"I hear Jane was here and she tells me different."

"What? What did she tell you? I'm innocent! She's lying!" At once Nick Miser realized the poor choice of words. "No... no... I meant, she didn't understand. She didn't know the whole story. You see..."

"Nick, Nick, Nick," Brace gripped Miser's shoulder. "You always think out loud. You also think with the wrong part of your anatomy. I didn't leave Judy Flanders with you for your perverted amusement. If anything has happened to that girl, I'll skin you alive, fry it up nice and crispy like pork skins, and then I'll make you eat it. Now, tell me what happened—and if you leave anything out, or tell me different, I'll know."

Miser was on his knees, hands clasped placatingly, by the time he finished wailing his story. "I swear to you, Boz, it was like there was two of them! And that one over there makes three!"

Bozhart grabbed Miser's collar and drew the distraught man erect. "Let's just say that I'm a lucky man and let it go at that. Where'd the first Jane go?"

"Oh, Lord!" Miser bawled. "We're back to square one!"

* * * * * * * *

Brace packed his tools and kit into the boot of his 1966 yellow Camero. Butt Buttes towered above him. He checked his watch. All hell ought to be busting loose about now. Billman, Blimpton and the rest should be ass-deep in aliens and incompetents. For a brief instant the handsome man's face darkened as he wondered what had become of Tang-Gor, but the time table was too pressing to dwell overlong on that subject. All that was important was the entire Butt Buttes complex had been effectively isolated from the rest of the world.

Chapter 109: "When the moon is in the seventh house..."

Herlock Cabyns and Dr. Datsun precisely applied the loose ends of their burros halters on the recalcitrant creatures' backsides. The determined prodding, however, failed to have the desired effect. Datsun's bogged and Cabyns' veered left, eventually bucking him off at the edge of the Arizona Sea.

Datsun abandoned his obnoxious mount and raced to Cabyns' aid. The world's most famous insulting detective gingerly dusted his equally famous bum with an exasperated hand. "Devilish creature!" Cabyns cried.

"Are you well, sir? Are there any broken bones?" Datsun had the top of his doctor's bag wide open, eyes gleaming with anticipation.

"The only thing you have in that bag which will do me any good is a refill for my Pez dispenser. I shall allow no quack to administer to the great Herlock Cabyns."

"So!" Datsun exclaimed. "The truth comes out! Goodbye, Cabyns!"

Datsun immediately turned on his heel and stomped over the nearest sand dune. Considering the desolation of the area, the recent devastation by fire and storm and earthquake, the last thing Datsun expected to see was the Tappan Range Chicken Shack Vacation House moored on the shoreline below. It appeared the girls, dressed in their seductive parlor room finery, were about to cast off. Thinking of those women, and one in particular who had taken a shine to the good doctor during his previous visit, caused the rotund Englishman to speed down the dune.

He managed to jump aboard, to be caught by three lovely women, just as the floating card house began to leave shore. Gazing at the adoring girls, he sighed. "I'm coming!" Datsun ejaculated.

* * * * * * * *

Herlock Cabyns almost regretted his words to Datsun. They had been together for nearly a century. He would miss the old fool, but perhaps it was best this way. In the past it had always been Cabyns and Datsun, much like Batman and Robin, or Yellowjacket and Splay-Toe, or Tarzan and Jane, or Micky and Minnie. It was time he struck out on his own, free at last of the ancient windbag's restraining influence. He, the great Herlock Cabyns, had no need of a sniveling yes man.

At that moment the floating Tappan Range Chicken Shack Vacation Shack passed the promontory. There, on the lower deck, the ancient windbag was availing himself of the charms of several enthusiastic young ladies.

"Damn," Cabyns thought to himself, "my timing is WAY off."

* * * * * * * *

You remember the presence that stared at Bertha La Ropa from the darkness when she spied on Ed Nyce as he busted Rathmind, Tang-Gor and Captain Canuck? That deep-earth dwelling sentience which noted the goings on of weak humans? Do ya? (I could give ya the chapter number, but that's too easy. If you don't remember, then go back, start at the beginning, get up to speed, then continue.)

That entity had quietly retreated from the encounter, though for a while it had watched the fat woman with the rooster. She was a strange sight, weirdly garbed, and constantly muttering to herself about a secret. She had squatted to make water—and been flushed away by a raging torrent of water. Out of sight, she was out of mind, and more so because what was on the mind of the being was revenge and self-preservation.

The dark figure, lightly furred, scurried down twisting tunnels in utter darkness. The Stygian gloom meant nothing to a being born and bred beneath the planet's surface, a being who made its home in the bowels of the planet.

These upper crust creatures had brought death and destruction to their twilight eden. Monstrous machines boring through warrens and dens, great floods with bitter tasting water, and worse, fracturing the earth itself until the familiar was unfamiliar. For a million years this being and those like him had avoided the upper-crust and the frantic, violent life forms that existed there. Not even in the dark of night did they feel comfortable coming to the surface, but in all those years, very few of the surface people had ever come into their world. Now that had changed. If they did nothing, the under-dwellers would perish, but these were not beings of such timid character. They would fight to save their world, and they had at their disposal the internal energies of the planet itself.

At St. Helens a fire storm had been unleashed, at Pompeii, and Krakatoa. Hawaii was a constant reminder of their power and ability, and the natives of that island knew well the consequences. No, not all surface dwellers were enemies of the Mole People, the being thought. Not all. These newcomers from the land of California, however, were dangerous and to be despised. It was these people upon which Molejowerkin would lead his warriors. Before long the upper world would be as flooded with red human blood as the underworld was flooded by the bitter water.

Molejowerkin continued down into the cold, dark depths of the earth. In time he reached the shore of the underground ocean. There he witnessed additional flooding and did a small victory dance as the raging waters destroyed the underground complex of the Nyce man who wasn't nice.

Ed Nyce knew the mole people. He knew their primitive society and had written a series of stories regarding a world inside a world—but he had lied. The world in his novels had surface humans instead of mole people. When Nyce visited the capitol city, he was known as the one called "OB-wan-in-Kanobe." His hairless, wan, white skin reminded Molejowerkin and the other leaders of the Hidden World that there were basic differences between the humans and the mole people. For example: OB-wan-in-Kanobe was always in the dark and the only holes he could dig were financial predicaments he couldn't get out of.

Molejowerkin knew in his heart that Ed Nyce was at the bottom of all the terrible disasters which had befallen his people. Now was the time to once and for all put an end to the horrors of the surface world.

Chapter 110: "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me..."

Kojak Morris felt like a traffic cop in a Max Sennett film. He directed Llana through the steady stream of falling entertainment icons while dragging the preoccupied Mars and La-La in his wake.

"Move it, Mars!" the elder man ordered. "It's not safe here!"

"Tangor won't let anything happen to us," Markus said, one brawny arm about the delectable La-La. "After all, he took a photo of us and called out 'So long, honeymooners!'"

Morris shook his head. "We've got to get your hearing checked."

The noble master of Helium Supply steered his companions around a rabbit in a top hat, a wacky old geezer with a teacup, a sour-faced Queen of Hearts and a Jack of Knaves. This group of characters had surrounded a severe-looking clergy man and a young girl and there was murderous intent upon their faces.

A woebegone old wolf cowered behind another little girl who wearing a red cape and glaring at three aggressive little pigs in sailor suits. The pigs were armed with bricks, pointy sticks and a handful of straw, near which a lit match was being held.

Llana of Baseball gripped her autographed Louisville Slugger and looked imploringly at Kojak. "A few wacks with this and we have pork chops. Do you realize we haven't eaten in about 100 chapters?"

"Leave the pigs alone, dear. I'm sure there's a Burger Prince or something on the road ahead. Mars!"

During the distraction with Llana, the fighting man of bars and La-La had disappeared into the vague shrubbery in Tangor's basement. "Wait here," Kojak commanded. He hoped Llana would obey, though she still gazed hungrily at the three little pigs.

The deep shadows of the pit made it difficult tto proceed. Where, in all the babbling of lost souls, could Mars Markus and the gorgeous La-La be?

Kojak tripped over a bean stalk vine and was cursed by a rude fellow whom some girl eating whey called Jack. Not two minutes later did Morris narrowly miss being knocked over by a boy, girl and a bucket tumbling down a hill.

A mangy, starving dog had an old woman backed up against a cupboard and it looked like curtains for her. Just beyond, flopping like a fish out of water, a little mermaid gasped for air while an old woman leading an impossibly long line of small children trudged toward a two-story shoe.

A cute little thing carrying a shepherd's crook stopped Kojak. "Have you been molesting my sheep? I cannot find them."

"Strictly a ladies man," Kojak replied and hurried on.

In the near distance a nimble boy jumped over a flaming candle. By that flickering light Morris saw a rather large rodent running up a grandfather clock.

Despite the cacophony and press of strange characters, neither the burly Mars or the fabulous La-La could be found. For an instant the mighty Kojak felt a moment of panic. Why had their world had been reduced to Fairy Tale Hell in the malodorous Stygian darkness of the Texican's basement? He suspected it was the work of that other, lesser, writer involved in The Ratnaz Files.

"Mars," Kojak spoke under his breath, "you'll have to look out for yourself. I have to think of Dee Dee and Llana."

The surreal landscape was in constant motion, very like an animated Salvador Dali painting. Time seemed to have no constant. At least two days passed crossing ten feet, then merely a few seconds to traverse a mile. Morris side-stepped a battle royal between two chipmunks and a talking duck, only to slip and nearly fall as he passed through the droppings of eight swans, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a fruit-bearing tree.

"Drat that Mars," Kojak groused. "All those years running a peeler bar with all those gorgeous women, my daughter included-each eligible for instant induction into the Hooter's Hall of Fame-and he picks this time to be ruled by gonads rather than commonsense! If I were only a few years younger I'd thrash him to within an inch of his life!"

Upon further reflection, however, Morris of Helium Supply realized he would have done the same thing...and had in fact done the same thing. "Name your first born after me, old pal," the emperor of exotic gases chuckled, "and all will be forgiven."

Llana of Baseball was spotted a few minutes/hours later. The princess of the diamond stood not far from a small boy weeping inconsolably. When Llana spied her lover, she grinned hugely. "Hey, darling! Ready for lunch?"

The woman's face was smeared with the filling from a plum pie.

"Where'd you get that?" Kojak asked, wolfing down the portion Llana offered.

"That punk kid over there wouldn't share. Even after I asked nice he put in his thumb and said, 'What a good boy am I..'"

"Why is he bawling?"

Llana patted the worn hickory of her Mantle autographed bat. "I reminded him little boys shouldn't play with their food."

Morris was horrified. "You didn't hit him with that, did you?"

"Or course not, but I made him watch me swat four and twenty black birds hiding under that pie crust over there."

Dee Dee's father did not long gaze at the pile of bloody feathers. "You're going to have to stop doing that, dear. Save your aggressions for the diamond."

"As in 'Queen of'?" Llana asked. "Yeah, that damn gal cost me plenty in poker games over the years. Where's Mars and that Oo-la-la girl?"

"Only Tangor knows. At least I hope he does! Come, dear. It's time to move to the next chapter."

Chapter 111: When the Naughtyass shook her booty.

Captain No'Mo's teeth gleamed stark white, a contract all the more apparent against his black skin. The smile was not friendly.

"You two!" the drenched submariner criminal roared. "I thought I was gonna nab that little weasel who stole my best XXX flicks!"

"You're just in time," Darter stepped aside to gesture to the hoard of racy video tapes. "I just ran the old fart off. Here's your stuff."

Dee Dee Morris was shocked by the man's prevarication. What had she ever seen in him? Darter had turned out to be a kidnapper, a bully, a thief, impotent and, worst of all, a fibber! The menacing aspect of Captain No'Mo', however, kept Dee Dee's thoughts to herself. The last thing she wanted was to draw the villainous smuggler's attention.

"Yo, bitch. How'd you get outta my sub?"

"I swam." The princess of bars left it at that.

No'mo was not inclined to pursue the matter. Calling over his shoulder, the tall black man yelled, "Get yo asses in here, boys, and shake this booty."

Within minutes a stream of men, including Bland and that fellow known as the Yellowjacket, had gathered up the illicit hoard and departed. Mo'mo crudely played with a .357 magnum handgun.

"I ought to waste yo' skinny white ass, Darter, and yo' bitch, too, but I only got two bullets left. So, instead of wastin' them, I'll leave ya here to drown."

Darter started to protest, but Dee kicked him in the shin with a withering look. Darter backed up and said, "Uh, well, okay. See ya around."

No'Mo laughed. "No'Mo will see you no mo'!" Still chuckling, the black-hearted scoundrel exited the cave.

Dan Darter looked at the water creeping over the lover. Obviously the Pacific Ocean was still in the process of filling the vast caverns beneath the dry California deserts. "Dee," the ex-ultra light mercenary whined, "what did you do that for? I could have talked him into taking us along."

"Dan, you twit, your old pal would kill us at the drop of a hat. Now, you listen to mama and we'll get out of this alive. You do as I say, and maybe I'll see if my vocabulary contains any slutty remarks."

"Really?" Darter exclaimed, following Dee Dee into the bolt hole used by the crazy old coot. "Does that mean you've reconsidered?"

"I don't think so, but you can hope," the woman replied. "Give me a leg up." Dee Dee Morris exposed a long-length of nylon-clad leg scrambling up a steep incline. Darter was mesmerized as he tagged along.

Chastened the mighty Dan Darter made a stirrup with clasped hands and lifted the voluptuous woman to a high ledge. He managed to hoist himself up moments later, but Dee Dee was not waiting, she had immediately moved on, heading toward a lighted area.

The cavern ledge ended at a doorway set into the rock with concrete. Above the door was an exit sign, such as those found in movie theaters. The steel door was ajar, indicating recent use. Ms. Morris made an observation: "That hideous old man probably went through here. Check it out, my hero."

Darter was aware Dee Dee, princess of bars and mistress of Helium Supply, mocked him, but so deeply did he crave any notice from the woman who spurned him that he passed through the doorway without hesitation.

A long, well-lit corridor lay beyond the entrance. There were no doors or features for some distance. "All clear, dear. Keep to the rear and have no fear, Dauntless Dan Carter is here-ya hear?"

Dee refrained from commenting on Darter's ludicrous poetry She simply maintained a no-nonsense attitude and pace.

The corridor ended at an intersection with another. At one end was a door and at the other a pair of elevators. Darter looked both directions and shrugged. "Why way, my princess?"

"The elevators."

Dan Darter, once again asserted his masculinity and took the commanding role. He marched down the hallway and, with grim determination, extended a sturdy, well-muscled finger to press the up button. After a lengthy wait, the doors creaked open and the couple entered.

Inside the dimly-lit conveyance was a control panel of simplistic design: there was only one button. Darter depressed the back-lit switch.

Having resumed control of his deflated male ego-endowed by Mother Nature purely to give the hairy types an illusion of worth-Darter darted his eyes over Dee Dee's attractive exterior. Hormones working overtime, Darter suddenly embraced the irritated princess of bars.

"You are the sun of my day, my moon at night," Darter mushed. "The sparkle in your eyes is starlight reflected on a woodland pond. Your sweet scent puts magnolias to shame and the gentle blush on your cheeks is more exquisite than the palest rose. The touch of your skin is more exciting than the most fabulous silk and-"

Petulant to an extreme, Dee Dee pushed the gushing masher away. "I think I liked you better as an arrogant asshole. You're so sweet I'm getting a toothache! Quit that!" she admonished when Dan reached for her again. "You're making me mad!" Dee Dee cried, raising her little foot to stamp it.

"Whoa!" the girl chided herself. "That usually gets me in trouble." To Darter she hissed, "What's with you? Damn, you've got more arms than an octopus!"

The struggle between man and woman continued as the elevator surged upwards.

Chapter 112: Crisis in the Right House

Ed Nyce looked out the window of the Pellucifer Burrower and shook his head. "Would you look at that? President Blimpton's been caught with his pants down again."

Carmon Nappie, at the periscope, shouted, "That's not all. There's an alien invasion in full swing, laddies!"

Nyce negligently nodded upon receiving the information. "I suppose they've heard that Paul Jones, that co-complainant in the Tin Star investigation, was found not-guilty of contextual harassment in the American History Department where Bill Blimpton once held senior chair. Blimpton, accused of re-writing history for the better good of the politically correct, and to enhance his chances of election to the highest office in the United States, had better watch out. Tin Star and his colleagues at the University of Iwananoital have formed a panel of die-hard historians to make sure the truth, as history portrays it, is made known to the public at large."

Lord Greatstroke frowned. "Ed, what the hell does that have to do with things?"

The cigarette puffing author jutted his chin in a very Roosevelt fashion and glared at Devon McGuinness with a steady eye. "Damn little, if you must know. When I wrote all those Ratnaz stories my editors would not let me comment on Political Things, and by golly, I'm going to do it at least ONCE in this tale."

"But you aren't writing it. Besides, this is Tangor's chapter and he's about as apolitical as you can get. How'd you get this in without him knowing?"

"Ah, don't worry about Tangor. He sleeps more now that the doctors have scared the bejezzus out of him. This is the part Sherman wrote and I'll tell you this, in the vuglar vernacular of today's youth, it really sucks. We're in for a bumpy ride. If I could only get my hands on Tangor's multi-tiered computer keyboard, why I'd write the most fabulous-"

Ratnaz rolled on the floor of the Pellucifar Burrower and sat up with a groan. "What happened? Bertie? Bertie? Where are you?"

"I'm here, honey," the woman said soothingly. She knelt beside her legendary lover and threw her arms about his thick neck. "Oh, I'm so glad you weren't injured butting heads with an Englishman." Her voice took on an admonishing tone. "Really, Ratz, you should learn to control your temper. You're a grown man."

The Lord of the Leaves lowered his head, mumbling beneath his breath, "Only when Tangor, the Warlord of Words, or the general public allow it." Suddenly, with more spirit, the jungle lord grinned. "Well, that's all water under the bridge. I feel much improved after recent events, and mayhaps that physical contest with yon Englishman has done me good. My thought processes have increased measurably with every knock on the cranium. I wonder if it is medically possible that physical trauma visited upon the thought processing organ of the human body might actually result in higher intelligence?"

Edgar Nyce furrowed his brow. "Bertie, shut him up! We have work to do."

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile on stage, Hillie Billman in drag as Hilary Blimpton, charged into the mass of alien monsters brandishing an American flag standard like a harpoon. The vast grayish-white cigar-shaped alien ship suggested, to his demented mind, a long-imagined adversary. "I've got you now, you devil of the deep!"

Dodging the multitude of creepy-crawly aliens and their powerful flouresent silly string shooters, the West Virginian Canuck valiantly assaulted the metallic skin of the landing craft. Each thrust of his make-shift weapon removed side mirrors, running lights, aerials, mud-flaps and wheel covers. Within seconds a veritable junk yard was assembled at his stiletto pump clad feet—one of flesh and blood, the other the well-worn end of his spit-polished hickory peg leg. Repeatedly, while shouting whaling chanties at full roar, Hilary methodically disassembled the alien spaceship.

Of Blimpton and the other officials there was no sign. How they disappeared, or why, Sherman was not author enough to explain-and Tangor was too preoccupied with restoring some semblance of order to the chaotic and disjointed parody to try to sort it out. But Tang-Gor and his aliens were very much present (a concession made by the Texican since his Canadian literary opponent had obviously invested a great deal of mental effort in producing the absurd plot line). However, Tangor had other fish to fry, plotwise, therefore the Warlord of Words will have to extricate the aliens of Betatuna from the predicament which currently imperils them.

* * * * * * * *

"Sherman!"

Tangor's authoritative voice startled the myopic Captain Marble. "Gulp!" that worthy uttered. "Curses, foiled again!"

"Listen son, if you're going to do parody, at least make it plausible." Tangor walked around the desktop littered with technology and gadgets rarely seen outside of experimental labs or government spook facilities. "Take that silly costume off. We've got work to do."

The phone rang.

"Get that, Sherman," Tangor said, settling into his chair and swiftly clearing his computers.

The freckle-faced toady answered the call. "It's Spaid. The Jeddak of the North is mushing through Utah now."

"Good. Tell Cam 'Phase Two begins now.'"

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, and when you're done, get that Twain fellow on line. There's a few things I'd like to discuss with him."

"Yes, sir."

"Sherman, you're an amazingly annoying little twit, but I have to admire your politeness. WEll—get on with it, son, time's a-wastin'!"

Basking in the glow of any recognition from the brilliant author, Sherman applied himself diligently to the tasks at hand.

tangor@erblist.com

CHAPTER 113: Onboard JedSled X.1—The Spruce Moose

Famous Canadian
Warlord of Words
Feared Killed in
Tragic Sled Mishap

There are unconfirmed reports today of a fatal accident involving the well-known, beloved, handsome and brilliant Jeddak of the North. Emergency rescue vehicles have been called to a Detroit suburb—one of the few cities in the world which can claim to be north of Canada [check it out folks... I didn't draw the borders]—to clear the wreckage resulting from the collision between a speeding Zamboni and what is believed to be the Jeddak's famous Spruce Moose RV JedSled.

"Yesss! The News Services bought it... it'll be in all the papers... ah... the wonders of modern communication. It's not every day ya can write your own Obit and have it sent around the world in a matter of minutes. This otta throw the Texan off track and give him a false sense of security."

The Jeddak glanced up from the slightly exaggerated report of his demise to stare into the wild wapiti eyes of Lawrence Elk who was loping alongside the JedSled. The elk had left his post as advance scout and was jabbering wildly through the portside porthole in the language of the creatures of the wild—the very guttural `Moose Jaw'.

Are You Being Swerved?

"KREEG-AH ZU GUND! ZU WAPPI ETA-GO-GO TARMANGANI GUND!"

"RAK LARRYELK?" replied the Jeddak. "DANDO PANDA!"

"BPOELK UTOR ZU DAKO AT DAK RY GASH GUND PAMBO SUKS! TAND YO! ZU SORD PAMBO! DAN-DO! DAN-DO! ADU KOR GOM WALA! ELK BUNDOLO ZU PAMBO!" growled Lawrence.

Despite the fact that every Canadian raised in the northern wilds has some ability to talk to the animals, this city-bred "DoneLittle" needed some translation help. The Word Wizard reached for a well-worn pile of Edgar Nyce Dull comic books and after a period of rapid page flipping through Annuals and 52-pagers, he poked his head back through the larboard porthole and replied to his trusty horned scout:

"Yes. I believe I understand. You have recounted an encounter between our lead animal Cleaver Beaver and a stranger in a double-breasted suit, probably from Oregon, who used the feminine wiles of a female of the rodent species to lure away our faithful lead beaver ... and who then put a ringer in the traces to lead us off course? Gad! The nerve of them. This can only be more of Tangor's insidious work."

Neither Rain, Sleet, Snow, nor the Dark of Night...

The Jeddak lost no time in climbing through the top hatch and onto the observation deck. Once he regained his topside balance on the swaying, top-heavy Spruce Moose JedSled, he groped his way forward until he reached the large wicker navigation rocking chair stationed just over the prow of the sled. Once strapped in, he placed his size 12 Gucci mukluks firmly on the forward safety rail of the deck and had soon propelled the squeaking chair into a frantic rocking motion. When he had gained sufficient velocity he wet his a middle finger which he raised to the breeze to determine the sled speed and direction based on his unfailing meteorological instincts and knowledge of prevailing wind currents.

"Mmm... We are speeding in a SouthWesterly direction... straight for Ratnaza, California! Just as I thought... Tangor has huddled away in the safety of his Texas stronghold and has sent his henchmen to sabotage my mission. All right. I'll play their silly game. I shall have to postpone my little Texas sortie."

Harrod Hews and the Zen of Sled Maintenance

Now with nothing to do but wait, he lowered himself into the sled cabin and took time to admire the workmanship of his amazing JedSled—the Spruce Moose. The huge multi-tiered, plywood sled was a one-of-a-kind prototype that he had obtained from the wood-crafting division of Al Frayd e'Numin's Harrods of London: the Harrod Hews Annex. Their designers had modeled the sled on the Allen J. St. Jacques' illustrations of airships in the Edgar Nyce Mars-Uranus books.

There apparently had been some trouble on its maiden slide. The top Frayd test pilot had pushed the vehicle to its limits in a test run along the Seine River in Paris, but the inebriated pilot had clipped a speeding Mercedes at the entrance to a busy underpass. Damage had been minimal to the sled - a broken stern light - but for some inexplicable reason, the Harrod Hews carpenters hurriedly repainted the craft and rushed it across the Atlantic where the Jeddak had taken early delivery.

The Canadian had actually welcomed a chance to take the sled on a long voyage because he had been harassed of late by a procession of strong-arms from far-away places... shifty looking characters with strange sounding names: Omar Kadaffi Duk - Sodam Hinsein - Solong Rushdie - Kareen Abdrul-Jabba-Hut - Nik Roksoff - Yessir Iarfat - Ringo. Not all of them were a hindrance, however... one of them, Benjamin Net'N'Yahoo, proved to be most useful in setting up an onboard Internet access system.

The Pride of Rube Goldberg

To take off some of the heat, the Jeddak had camouflaged the sled in his own inimitable style: the neighbourhood kids had scotch-taped a huge but somewhat moth-eaten moosehead figurehead to the prow, the pair of net-stockinged leg lamps that Mrs. Jeddak had never allowed into the house were mounted on either side of the moosehead to serve as headlights, and a multitude of treasures procured from neighbourhood yard sales finished off the custom job in the finest Rube Goldberg tradition.

The vehicle was so splendid that it was borrowed for a week by the world famous Canadian Snowboarding team. The Jeddak didn't have the heart to charge them for the use of the vehicle as their team was so underfunded that they couldn't even afford cigarettes—many a time he saw them sharing and passing around the same roll-your-own butt.

Secret Agent Rat

"I wonder if I can get some dope on Tangor's beaver agent. Aha... I got it." The ever-resourceful Canuck reached for his powerful WWII vintage field glasses and focused on the waving flat tail of the bogus lead beaver. There in plain view was the ubiquitous Canadian Department of Natural Resources ID Number branded on the underside of the tail. This was all he needed. A few deft keystrokes on the computer keyboard accessed the privileged information the Jeddak sought:

Top Secret Dossier - For Your Eyes Only

CDNR ID# 123-123-123-dip

"That's just the information I need. I'll soon have this fur ball in my pocket."

One for Ripley's Believe It or Not

The Jeddak then turned to a more immediate and insidious sabotage threat. Not too long into the journey he had become aware of mounds of sawdust appearing everywhere in the JedSled interior. Upon investigating, his worst fears were confirmed: there was an illegal alien on board!

Further research on the Internet identified the alien as a nasty Siberian Spruce Weevil - the rapacious Bores Rippenkoff AKA Evel the Weevil. He even managed to trace the weevil's origins to a cargo of Siberian spruce, which the Harrod Hews Stores had imported for their factories in the Thames dockyards. Already there had been numerous onboard confrontations in which the harried warrior of words tested every weapon in his deadly aerosol arsenal—so far, all efforts had failed and the apparently invincible alien still carried on with his incessant assault.

As the mission moved on tirelessly to the SW, the brave pilot was unaware that in its wake the H.M.C.S. Spruce Moose was leaving an ever-growing trail of sawdust.

CHAPTER 114: Megadoka Motel Hell: Camp Disaster

The Two Pun Dope Flies South

Westerners are friendly people. Fellow travellers greeted the northern voyageur with a barrage of greetings and well wishes as he guided his powerful sled along the Idaho Interstate: a tumultuous honking of horns, celebratory shouts, and fists raised in victory salutes. Many of them even motioned their hands in half peace signs or perhaps they were just double checking highway speeds, as the Jeddak was wont to do, with middle fingers thrust boldly into the slip stream and air currents.

The Jeddak's gallant expedition had successfully avoided all radar traps along I-84 and was well into southern Idaho when it dawned on the adventurer that he was traversing familiar territory. Years of studying the Edgar Nyce biographies had etched a multitude of placenames into his consciousness. He realized that esteemed literary scholars and Nyce researchers such as Campbell Heinz, Bess Porges, Fenton Hardy, Captain Flint, and Dick Lopoff had done their jobs well as he recognized names such as the Lois and Clark Trail, River Wass, Sawptooth Mountains, Kamaphutra River Bed... and the biggest thrill of all—the Freeway sign that proclaimed: "One Mile to Highway 937 - Megadoka and the Dangerous Old Abandoned No Access, No Trespassing, Edgar Nyce Deep Space Mine - Exit."

Yes, this was the area where the master storyteller had spent his formative years working at a gaggle of occupations: steer wrangler, houseboat captain, corset salesman, night watchman, gold digger and pencil sharpener. And it was here that he found the gold to fund an adventure-filled automobile trek, which eventually led him to even greater fame and fortune in Ratnaza, California. The Jeddak confirmed this information by referring to a series of maps and photos published in back issues of the Nyce fanzines EN-ania and ENCRAPA. The countryside reeked of history... and something else. He had to find a shower for his hard-working beasts of labour.

Keep on Trekkin'

He realized that Tangor's stooge beaver in trying to lead him off course had accidentally stumbled upon the Mecca of every OB fan. Rumour had it that even OB periodically returned here for inspiration. It was only when he noticed a billboard announcing the luxuries of the nearby Megadoka Motel that the Jeddak realized how tired he was and took the motel exit. After checking into the roadside oasis, his first thought was for the sled team animals.

The team was led by the elite K-9 Corps followed by the grunts—the team's muscle: Laurence Elk, Roseanne Bear, Johnny Walrus, Adam Grizzly, Ma and Pa Cattle, and Sterling Moose. Sterling was particularly valuable to have along. Whenever the Jeddak felt they were behind schedule he turned the controls over to him - he was real daredevil behind the g-pole. He also proved his worth at feeding time when the team gathered around the junk food vending machine. A much younger Sterling had posed for the moose picture that the Canadian Mint uses on all Canadian quarters and as part of the recompense he was able to buy quarters wholesale from the Mint. As a result he always had a bag of quarters that he was willing to dole out for Twinkies and Nachos.

Beyond 49

After the team was fed and showered everyone staked out a spot on the motel room floor while the Jeddak used his skill with the television remote to entertain the assemblage with lightning fast channel surfing. He was exceptionally fast this evening as there were only three available channels. The weather on the Weather Channel was particularly uneventful, the Shopping Channel was showing reruns of their best buys of 1989 and the Nostalgia Channel was featuring the Sci Fi epics "Bambi Meets Godzilla" and "Hardware Wars." The media were strangely silent about the alien weather balloon invasion but there was a prominent countdown to midnight 2000 at the bottom right of the screen.

While surfing through the weather channel, the Jeddak noticed that weather seemed to end at the US-Canada border. As a "Manatorban"—as locals pronounce it (actually Manitoba)—the Canadian was always amazed that once he travelled south of 49 degrees latitude there ceased to be any mention or acknowledgement in America that anything lay Beyond 49. The entire media and populace of the country were convinced that the area consisted of only forbidden barren wilderness—a no-man's land whose only claims to fame were the exportation of Battle Chess champions and cold fronts.

After having cried through "Bambi Meets Godzilla" everyone in the room was ready for something a little less depressing. They were about to turn off the Tele when the opening voice-over for an old re-run caught the Canadian's attention.

Mr. Dimwittie, the Misologist Proffered for Coronation

"Tonight our combined episode of `This is Your Life' and `Queen...' ah er 'King for a Day' honours that Texas man of many words and few readers:TANGOR. Welcome to our throne of honour Tang... may I call you Tang...ah... oh... I'm sorry—Mr. Tan Gor."

As the team started to doze off, the Jeddak stayed awake long enough to see a parade of people from the Texan's formative years. Pretty boring stuff and it soon bogged down in saccharine treacle. Only a few words penetrated the hazy curtain of sleep: crazy inventions, vine swinging, highland and ballet lessons, garage bands, Bleatles, torrid affair with a female drill instructor, ukulele lessons, etch-a-sketch computer consultant, devoted and long-suffering Mrs. Tangor...

"Bah! Tangor... the ingrate! He was nothing until I propelled him to International stature. He's been showered with fame and fortune thanks to our co-authoring work on the Ratnaz Files. It's all gone to his head. He fudged the account books ... my last royalty cheque was for 46 cents...Canadian! And that Texas blowhard? He lives the good life: big fancy cars, new luxury house, multi-tiered computers, European vacations for Mrs. Tangor, luxury excursions to the Tennessee hills. Yes... a classic case of Hollywood studio style royalty manipulation!"

The Jeddak realized that he owed it to Lawrence and Sterling to let them have a good night's sleep so he let them share his bed. He soon came to rue the decision: Sterling snored—Lawrence insisted on hanging onto his night-time-sleep-buddy doll, Rosemary's Barbie—and both of them tossed and turned and fought for control of the Hudson Bay blanket. Despite the obstacles which lay between the northern traveller and the Land of Nod he soon realized he was drifting off...

CHAPTER 115: The Man from H.O.O.V.E.R. Wilya Kurmyakin?

The Final Problem?

The Jeddak of the North stared disbelieving at the storefront in front of him and then back at the scrap of crumpled paper in his hand.

"Hmmm... 2222 Dolt Street, Houston, Texas. "Nutty Napoleon's Vacuum World—Home of the Crazy Deals?!?" This can't be it. I thought Tangor was in some sort of a high tech computer business. Anyway, it won't hurt to ask inside."

He swung open the heavy aluminum and glass door but before he could enter, was almost trampled by a panic-stricken, screaming woman in a dirt-covered white dress. Behind her raced a stammering man brandishing a vacuum hose with huge carpet cleaning attachment in one hand and a half-empty pail of black soot in the other.

"But Madame... let me explain... it's only a demonstration... this deluxe model will restore your dress to its original sparkling white... wait... come back... O crud.... Another one."

"Pardon me. Is this 2222 Dolt Street? I'm looking for Mr. Tangor."

"Yes. Central Vac, Rainbow, Dust Buster, Dirt Devil, Hoover—and are you in luck. We have a special this week on our top model Electrolux."

"Aaahh... You see I've come all the way from Canada to talk to him about the Ratnaz Fi...."

"RATNAZ! Why didn't you say so man? This way. Quickly."

The Jeddak was unceremoniously pulled behind the service counter where the Hoover man proceeded to engage a lever which forced a large Electrolux display panel to swing open, revealing a room brimming with computer equipment. As the panel closed behind them, the man threw off his Dirt Devil wedge cap and his official Hoover service apron and turned to accost the startled Jeddak.

"And you must be... HIM! What are you doing here? How did you find me? Who knows you're here?" asked the Texan in shaky hushed tones.

The two men stared at one another and gradually each regained his composure.

"Well... you must be starved and exhausted after your long journey—we'll talk business later. Please sit down and I'll get you a drink. I'll ring Mrs. Tangor and have her bring you some of her famous meatloaf."

"But I have something very important to discuss with you Mr. Tangor. It's about..."

"Later my dear fellow—in due time. Our business can wait until we attend to your needs. Ah, my dear... you've brought the meatloaf... prepared extra special for our friend from the north I hope."

Meatloaf Under the Display Board Lights

The Canadian visitor wheeled around in time to see a shadowy figure wisp her way back through a Dutch door leading to what he presumed to be a kitchen. Noticing that his host was busy preparing cocktails, the Jeddak took the opportunity to look around the room. Displayed on the giant 42 inch monitor above the multi-tiered computer keyboards was evidence of photos and personal files on scores of Edgar Nyce fans. This confirmed his suspicions that the man was extremely dangerous... and strengthened his resolve to stop the miscreant's nefarious activities at all costs.

"Aha! You've noticed my little toys, have you? What do you think? Magnifique n'est pas, mon ami? Do you mind if we speak English my Canadian friend? Alas, my grasp of French is somewhat lacking. You do speak some English up there, do you not?"

Tangor's semi-rhetorical questions fell on deaf ears as the Jeddak was well into his second Ratnaz Special and had already wolfed down two helpings of Mrs. Tangor's famous meatloaf. Most people eat to live... the Jeddak lived to eat. After licking his plate for the second time, he rose to make his way over to the steaming pot for thirds, but a nauseating wooziness came over him. He stumbled to the centre of the room and squinted at Tangor through unfocused eyes.

"You! That cursed meatloaf... you tricked me... you scoundrel...."

Tangor eased over to the shelves which displayed his treasured Pat Boone video library. He skipped over the complete set of Pat's MTV appearances, "Heavy Metal Unplugged," and located his all-time favourite Pat Boone classic, "Journey to the Centre of the Earth." With a maniacal giggle, the tittering Texan pulled on the top of the cassette. The tape sleeve tilted halfway and a relay clicked.

The Jeddak was close to unconsciousness but he felt the floor open up under him and he realized he was falling to certain death in Tangor's infamous pit of doom.

CHAPTER 116: In the Megadoka Hills Where I Was Borne

Jeddak's OB Odyssey Log: Day 4 - Pt. 1

One Good Turn Gets...

I awoke in a cold sweat. Had I survived the fall into the pit of doom? My eyes opened onto a scene of complete carnage... there were bodies of beasts piled everywhere and a terrible fusion of hoofs and paws, fur and feathers, snouts and beaks, heads and tails.

Gradually my terror subsided as I realized that my meeting with the evil Tangor had been only a dream - a nightmare. I was still in the Megadoka Motel, surrounded by my faithful wheezing and snoring sled team. All night I had battled with my bedmates, Sterling and Lawrence, for possession of the elusive "Shroud of Turnin'"—and lost—they got the blanket and I got the floor.

* * * * * * * *

The morning sun rejuvenated us all and it was good to be back in the traces. Last night I had slipped Benny the Beaver a bribe—chips, thousands of surplus VIC-22 computer chips—he has gone completely hi tech and doesn't touch birch bark chips any more. I realized that since we were in historic Edgar Nyce territory that I could use Benny's great knowledge of the wilds to lead us on the scenic route shortcut to Ratnaza, California and to retrace the important automobile trek taken by Nyce in his formative years.

The Old Apache War Chief Waits... and Waits...

Homing instinct and reference to my crudely drawn map led Benny off the Freeway in search of a shortcut to take us to the first stop on the retracing of OB's route. Within a few miles we came upon a decrepit sign: OLD ABANDED DEEP SPACE MINE—POISONOUS GASSES - KEEP OUT. Although the entrance was heavily boarded over, clouds of billowing putrid yellow-orange noxious gasses were being emitted through the cracks between the boards. The odour was reminiscent of the type usually found hovering over Taco Bull parking lots on Friday nights. Undaunted I left the Spruce Moose and climbed to the mine on foot. Suddenly a gray-haired Apache who appeared to materialize from out of nowhere barred my way.

"KEMO SABE CHIC ASAW WAC CAM AW IRO QUOIS SI OUX SUSQUE HANNA MISS IS AUGA KIC KAP POO CHOC TAW CHIP PEWA YAK IMAC REE SISSIP AHAW WICH ITA PAW NEE CHER OKEE APA CHE MO HAVE MAN DAN SHAW NEE COM ANCHE MI AMI CHEY ENNE APA LACHE MUSKO GEE TUT CHONE NAV AJO MISS OURI SHO SHONE ARA PAHO TO RON TO SASK ATOON SASK ATCHE WAN WIN NIP EG MINNE DOSA ASSI NI BOINE!!!"

"Uh?"

"New to these parts are you stranger? I'll say it again: BEWARE!"

The old man stumbled off, muttering under his breath: "Jeez. He's not thinking of goin' in there is he! These white guys got no sense of smell. Gotta be somethin' dead in there. What a stench. Silly ass!"

Then he was gone almost as quickly as he had appeared.

What the Carrion Caves Revealed

I sensed from the urgency and fear in the man's voice that he was actually giving me a warning and was pleading with me to stay away from the mine. I fought back a sudden irrational chilling fear and pried off enough boards to allow entry. After successfully squeezing through the narrow cleft I found myself in a long tunnel with unusually smooth and glowing walls. As I progressed farther into the tunnel, the stench increased and the noise reached an almost unbearable decibel level.

Upon rounding a bend in the tunnel there was just enough light to discern the letters on an ancient advertising display board propped up against the tunnel wall: "Vacuum World's Special of the Month: Tangor's Pit of Doom - North Annex Entrance." It was fortunate that I had stopped to read the sign, for as I looked down I found myself teetering on the brink of a pit opening that barred my way. Arising from the abyss was a horrific pandemonium. My ears were assaulting with a cacophony of wailing and gnashing of teeth... and endless spiels, which sounded like multi-tracked, endless sales pitches of door-to-door vacuum salesmen.

I got up the nerve to take a running leap over the putrid opening to this abandoned stope shaft which apparently had been taken over by the devious Tangor. Another turn in the tunnel, however, brought me to a dead end. A giant, perfectly round boulder appeared to have been rolled in to block the tunnel exit as I could see daylight entering around its spherical mass. I paused for a moment to assess my situation. Looking around I noticed that the tunnel walls were covered with an abundance of graffiti.

"Gnu son of Ung Was Here" "Jonar loves Joon, My Princess" "Stayin' Alive" "Waldo Loves Nadar" "Beware Tangor's Club"

While perusing this puzzling, yet vaguely familiar graffiti, I stumbled over two bodies. In a typically Canadian reaction, driven by generations steeped in ingrained politeness, I exclaimed: "Oops! Pardon me, eh." My face was flooded with a strange blue light given off by an aura emanating from two motionless, prostrate embracing bodies: a near-naked woman, her voluptuous body decorated with bejeweled leather harness, and a handsome man in a Confederate Captain's uniform of American Civil War vintage. There was no sign of life in either of the bodies.

Stooping down for closer examination, my only thought was that this couple must have been relics from some crazy Science Fiction convention. Both glowing bodies were warm but there was no sign of a pulse. Nor was there any evidence of ID except for the name "Captain John R. Cash - Virginia" inscribed on the scabbard of the man's cavalry sword. The woman was of exceptional beauty and possessed strangely radiant copper-red complexion. Both the man and the woman appeared to be about thirty years old.

"Incredible! He looks just like Mother's old pictures of my Uncle Jack!"

Further investigation revealed a nearby Apache Devil Chewing Tobacco tin containing a number of thick manuscripts. I opened one of the documents and thumbed through the pages. The colour and texture of the paper was like none I had ever seen. Upon thumbing through the pages I discovered that the frontispiece displayed the title:

"Dead Seas of Mars Scrolls: A Memoir by Jonar and Joon Carter"

"ON THE MEGADOKA HILLS: I am a very old man; I think maybe a couple hundred or more.... flip... my name is Captain Jack R. Cash of Virginia.... flip... we had tied one on the night before and I became so drowsy I threw myself to the floor of the mine... flip... delicious dreaminess overcame me and something snapped... flip... stretched out my arms toward the immensity of space and experienced extreme cold and utter darkness ... flip... MY ADVENT: I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape surrounded by menacing green frogs - Brondildia? ... flip...incubator... flip-flip... GOOD NEWS / BAD NEWS: ... and I rescued my Princess from the Farks, was declared Warlord of Lampoon, and married the incomparable Joon Carter in the great Hall of Krypton... flip... going to be hard to explain this one to the guys back home but local tradition decrees that I must adopt my wife's surname. Anyway, I guess Jonar Carter's got a pretty good ring to it... flip... Ring of Fire... flip... the heat was incredible. Could I get to the thermostat in time? I reached for the switch and swooned."

"Looks like pretty far-fetched stuff," I mused as I tossed the manuscript into my back pack and reached for a second one written on more worldly paper—yellowed business paper with the letterhead Chicago Pencil Company. A glance inside revealed the title to be: "The Personal Journal and Writing Notebook of Edgar Nyce." My excitement was unbounded but before I could examine this second manuscript, I was overcome by a feeling of nausea. I hastily threw my new-found treasures into my backpack and turned to look for an exit.

Unexpectedly, the large rock rolled away revealing sunlight and emitting fresh air. My only thought was to reach the safety offered by this new opening as I stumbled toward the light, woozy from vapours. A sense of delicious dreaminess overcame me, my muscles relaxed and this semi-euphoric state was followed by an instant of extreme and utter darkness. I opened my eyes on a strange and weird landscape and gulped in the fresh mountain air in startled amazement.

CHAPTER 117: Amazing Secrets Revealed: The Valley Dorm Plant People and Megadoka's Lost Empire of the Sun

Jeddak's OB Odyssey Log: Day 4 - Part 2

The panorama which sprawled below had me half-convinced that the cave gases were playing tricks with my sanity. Stretching to the distant peaks was a lush, hidden mountain valley, teeming with life and artifacts of a day long past.

A high barbed wire barricade with abandoned lookout towers and searchlights enclosed an extensive area filled with dormitories and stores, and even a school, hospital, radio station, baseball diamond, theatre and Pachinko parlor. The Stars & Stripes, with 48 stars, flew from every building.

Past the fenced compound sprawled fields of garden crops and orchards that filled the valley floor and lower slopes.

My curiosity aroused, I raised and focused my field glasses for a closer look. A sign over the main gate read: "Valley Dorm Relocation Internment Concentration Camp for Japanese Civilians - est. 1942." While down at ground level a softer more informal sign read: Welcome to Valley Dorm - Home of the Plant People.

In the Niche of Time

Walking the streets were men sporting wide-brimmed hats and draped double breasted suits, women in print dresses with short hemlines and padded shoulders, and youngsters wearing zoot suits, Sloppy Joe sweaters and penny loafers—clothes which haven't been in fashion for over 50 years - outside of Cleveland.

A symphony of sounds wafted up the slope to my perch at the tunnel mouth: happy carefree sounds reminiscent of simpler and more innocent times. The sound of radios from almost every window melded with the voices of people walking the tree-lined streets. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men... Gangbusters!... He hunts the biggest of all game... ...another tale well calculated to keep you in Suspense!... the breakfast cereal shot from guns presents... Get outta here you big lug or I'll call the coppers... No, don't open that closet McGee... Aw shuddup... Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar... "

As I panned the binoculars across the valley floor I noticed for the first time that there was another cluster of buildings at the far end of the intermontane rift. I could just make out the letters on the sign over the entrance to this walled settlement: "Achtung! Japanese Sweinhunt Verboten. All Others Welcome to Good Hope Hutterite Colony."

Panning back to the settlement immediately below I was fascinated by the strange dichotomy of the sign messages:

Outside the high barbed wire fence hung signs displaying slogans such as STOP - AREA LIMITS - For Persons of Japanese Ancestry Residing in this Relocation Center—A Jap's a Jap! - Beware of the Alien - Yellow Menace - Yellow Devils Go Home - Remember Pearl Harbor—We'll take the Hit out of Hitler and our Joes will get Tojo.

Inside the fence, however, were signboards containing noticeably different types of messages: I Am An American - Why are we 'forever at war?' - God Bless America - For a good time try Pennsylvania 6-5000 - Now playing at the Strand Theatre for a record breaking 2757 weeks: Lost Horizon... Today's game: Brooklyn Dodgers Megadoka Farm Team Intra-squad Game #11001 and 55th Annual Try-out... Join the River Wass Scavengers Canoe Club.

Rip Van Tojo

"You from the outside?"

I whirled around to confront the source of the heavily accented voice which accosted me from behind. Standing in the tunnel mouth was a man in a tattered and soiled World War II Japanese army uniform. I find it impossible to tell the age of Asians—he could have been anywhere between 78 and 80.

"War over yet stranger? How's the President doing?" came a second query.

"Well he's keeping a step ahead of impeachment, but..."

"No, no, how's old FDR's health, still using that wheel chair? Or has that Dewey guy really taken over... seem to remember reading something about him in a headline on a newspaper that blew in a while back."

"What are you doing here... in that uniform... and the people in the valley down there... what place is this?"

"You got time for long story stranger? Well... my name is Colonel Itchikoo Gitchigumi of the Japanese Imperial Army, Secret Service Division. After Pearl Harbor I took a trip to California in one of our subs and..."

This seemed to ring true as I remembered seeing it all documented in the acclaimed Steve Spillberg documentary - "1941" - a while back.

"...somehow I got mixed up with all the local suspects they rounded up and sent to the Valley Dorm Relocation Internment Camp. Patriotic American fools... I was the only one in the whole camp who was true to our glorious homeland, Japan. Not one of the idiots would help me try to escape... so I did it myself... I dug... and I dug..."

"But why is the camp still here? Why weren't they released back in 1945? Who lives in the settlement at the other end of the valley? Why are you in that military uniform?"

"Why?... You mean the war is over? Well that explains it. A few years ago, musta bin 1945 or so, we woke up and the guards were all gone... and the gates were open. Fools were so damned patriotic they just kept on with the routine... every stupid one of them was willing to remain in that horrible self-sufficient camp until someone came to tell them the war was over. They've slaved in the fields for years and every day at sunset they dutifully march back to the compound and slam the gates. Not me. I escaped.

"The only white guys around here are those German fellers in that Hutterite Colony across the valley. They showed up around `44... seems their German lingo and commune living wasn't too popular 'out there'."

They Got Their Molejowerkin

The old soldier waved his rusted blade in a broad arc indicating the area beyond the valley. This seemed to signal the arrival of a band of furry people who filed out of the mine mouth. Each of the stooped, hairy creatures dragged some sort of archaic garden tool and a pushed shopping cart. There was something very familiar about their faces... maybe it was the great mole on the nose... I had seen these faces before... somewhere... then I remembered: the mysterious Cydonian face on Mars before it had been camouflaged for the benefit of the NASA Global Surveyor close-up probe. Yes... and the Sphinx... before carousing French soldiers had shot the mole and part of the nose off the face.

"Wha...? Who in heck are..."

"These are the Hidden World people... my good friends the Mole people. You see, I dug for a long time but never did dig all the way through to the homeland."

"Honourable Tojowerkin we have all assembled. We are ready for the night raid and will hide in the rocks and eat our veggie lunch, as usual, till dark," came the chirping, whining voice of the Mole leader.

"Night raid?" I asked.

"Yes, my faithful Mole people rescued me years ago when I became hopelessly lost in the myriad caverns of the Hidden World—somewhere in the Moleholevicic layer between the Lithosphere and Mantle. In appreciation I led them to a perpetual source of free veggies. Every night we roam through the fields of the Japanese Plant People and German Communes and take what we like."

"Don't they realize what is going on?"

"Ha! That's the beauty of it. Each of the two settlements thinks the other is involved in the raids... and none of them come out at night. My foolish patriotic Japanese brothers dutifully return to the compound at sundown and close the gates as they used to do when the guards were still here. The God-fearing Hutterites have some sort of religious curfew. We go shopping almost every night. The surface idiots are in a perpetual state of war over this. Enough about us... what brings you here stranger?"

"Well, I started out for Texas to save the world but now I'm on a personal odyssey—guess I'm a sort of "Wrong-Way Warlord of Words." I am retracing the route of the master of imaginative fantasy adventure and the father of science-fiction Edgar Nyce... and..."

My words threw the Mole mass into an excited frenzy: "Edgar Nyce!... OB!... The Great One is your father!?! O mighty one! We bow to you. Long have we awaited the return of your father to the Hidden World. Welcome O Great One... O great son of OB. If only our noble leader Molejowerkin could return from his reconnaissance mission in time to meet you."

My protestations had no affect in correcting their misunderstanding of my words. However, this nauseating display of hero worship came to a sudden stop as a root-covered furry head popped up under a nearby sagebrush.

"Aha... he cometh now...he is back. Welcome honourable Molejowerkin... you are very fortunate... the son of the Great OB honours us a visit."

"OB-wan-in-Kanobe!!!" screamed the still half-buried Mole man. "The Great One is a traitor! He lied about us in the stories he wrote for the surface people. He is behind all the terrible disasters, which have befallen our people. He has brought death and destruction with his monstrous burrowing machine. He is a false god. Death to this evil son of OB-wan-in-Kanobe!"

Sensing that the Under World people were turning nasty, I dodged a barrage of half-eaten veggies and I beat a hasty retreat into the mine tunnel. My flight soon became more difficult as someone, or something, rolled the giant rock sphere into the tunnel, cutting off the light from outside. With the granite orb rumbling in close pursuit I cleared Tangor's pit and headed for the mine entrance. In one last desperate lunge I burst through the splintering boards and cleared the platform of the mine entrance ramp - hurtling freefall off the mountainside!

CHAPTER 118: Ratnaza Mile 3537 or Bust... The Latter Prevails

The Bold Rush of the 49ers

The Jeddak of the North lives a charmed existence. His headlong leap off the old abandoned Deep Space Mine ramp was broken by a very startled Canadian elk. The jolt of the falling body kickstarted the lead animal of the JedSled power train into action and the expedition was again galloping en route to Ratnaza, California—but this time with the Jeddak piloting from a vanguard position on the powerful back of Lawrence Elk.

It turned out to be a good day. The Spruce Moose travelled from Idaho to Northern California—before lunch. Everywhere along the way were signs of inspiration for the famous Nyce novels: Beatrice's Moo Maid Dairy, Julie Samules' Vegas Stables, Red Hawk Jungle Campground, Barney Torn's Medieval Supper Club, The Mad Barbarian's Used Car Lot, Little War Chiefs' Cub Scout Club House... enough to make any Nyce fan's head spin.

Just after high noon, while passing through the mysterious towering Redwood Forest, the Jeddak guided his entourage under the shade of an Amtrak railway trestle - the Oskpalooka Bridge - and they pulled to a stop for a lunch break. It was only later that he noticed they had stopped close to a hobo jungle. After a quick snack, they were about to resume their journey when a guitar carrying hobo left the throng of misfits who remained huddled around an open fire and approached the JedSled. His rhyming song took everyone aback:

Jammin' with Billy 'Byrde' Schmucker

"As I was hiking past the woods, I saw your big glued sled of woods I saw two things that changed my moods, a fridge with booze and packs of foods Out there somewhere we'll ride the range, a-looking kinda weird and strange; My feet are tired - I need some change. Come on! It's up to you! Dudes."

"I take it you're lookin' to hitch a ride stranger," was the Jeddak's response. "Guess we got room if you don't have a lotta baggage... and if you don't keep layin' those godawful rhymes on us. What's your name anyway?"

"Ya can call me Billy Byrde... well really it's Billy 'Byrde' Schmucker. Bin everywhere... done everything... bin carousin', wrasslin', and piratin' all over the world. Just come back from a Mexican divorce, where I took some time off to lead a revolution. Lately I bin muckin' 'round, singin' songs and writin' poetry... but there's one thing left that I gotta do... gotta get down to LA and jam with them Blues Buoys. 'Big Byrde'... that's what they'll call me then... 'Big Byrde.' Ya know I'm in line to inherit the Schmucker family fortune in jams and jellies, but I's gotta find meself first. Ole Stubby Tubbs the Two Ton Troubadour give me muh stage name - Billy Byrde he called me—he knew that with a name like Schmucker I had to be just too good. Ole Stubby sure knows showbiz.

"O ... just about forgot ... got a couple of pals with me. Come over here gals.

"This here's the beautiful XaXa Gahor. [Whisper aside: Pssst... XaXa's an aging sex queen trying to get to Grimley Wave Salon for her weekly makeover.]

"And this here's Lashes La Rue [Whisper aside: Pssst... Lashes is an intern by day and a plaster caster blues band groupie by night. She collects nose casts of big time musicians.] Lashes and me is headed down to see the Blues Buoys at the Farris Big Wheel Club. She's kinda obsessed with a new mystery sax man in the band - that Big Bubba from the deep South. They're both Led Zip fans."

H.M.C.S. Spruce Moose: California or Carpathia Bound?

As the Spruce Moose carried on southward, its passengers noticed signs of celebration and the wreckage of weather balloon-shaped alien spacecraft everywhere along the roadside. The Jeddak commented: "Hilary's plan must have been successful. There is evidence of New Year's celebrations everywhere along our route. I'll bet they're decorating him right now at the White House. What a hero."

All the while, Bores Ripley AKA Evel the Weevil had been consuming the wooden parts of the Spruce Moose, leaving an ever-growing trail of sawdust on the road behind. Already large holes had appeared in various parts of the cabin.

"When I get back I'm going to send a formal complaint to the Harrod Hews Corporation. This thing's falling apart. Dang it... we've just lost another all-terrain training wheel. Now we're down to the skids. Uh O... What was that?... Now what? Whew, that feels better... losing that old moose figurehead from the front fuselage opened things up a little. We needed a little more fresh air in here."

To catch the latest news and to break the tedium of the afternoon's journey, the Jeddak turned on the JedSled radio:

The Band That Time Forgot

"...and remember, now that the invading force has been wiped out, you must turn your calendars back to Standard Time from Earth Saving Time. The news and weather have been brought to you by the Dino Oil Company who pump 100 per cent natural petroleum directly from nature's source to your tank. Remember 'Let Dino Oil put a bone in your tank'.

"And now we take you out to the shores of the scenic Gaspak Tar Pits were we present the grand opening of Southern California's only Mom and Pop gas company: Dino Oil. With our stars: The Band That Time Forgot, THE BLUES BUOYS."

"Hey! Turn it up yuse guys... it's the Blues Buoys," shouted Billy Schmucker as he huddled close to the speaker.

The Boys opened with a couple of Bleatles oldies: "Take Her Back Riding" and "She's Got A Tick In Her Eye." Their music had a noticeably harder edge since the addition of Big Bubba and his wailing sax.

The band's third number was The Cucaracha (The Cockroach) which Big Bruce and Big Bill sang in halting Spanish. The ditty was given an exhilaratingly authentic feel, however, by the furious background stomps, castanet clicks, whip cracks and exuberant shouts coming from Senorita Reno, the Flamenco dancer that Big Bubba had brought with him from back East.

Another novel twist was added by the band members who sang backup harmonies in what was apparently Spanish: "Daed si rognat ... daed si rognat... daed si daed si, daed si, daed..." over and over behind the Cucaracha verses. The band's cult following who obsessively claimed there were hidden messages in the Blues Buoys songs when played backward, would have a hard time picking anything controversial out of these clever Spanish lyrics.

The Blues Buoys then went straight into the singing commercial they had written especially for Dino Oil: Gaspak Tar Bones.

"O well de Bo-lo connected to de Sto-lo,
De Sto-lo connected to de Band-lo,
Band-lo connected to de Kro-lo
We's gushin' out another Galoot
Dem bones, dem bones, dem tar bones,
Dem bones, dem bones, dem tar bones,
Dem bones, dem bones, dem tar bones,
We's gushin' out another Galoot"

"Well a great big howdy to ya folks. This is Big Bill speakin' at ya. How we doin' so far? While Big Lawrence and his accordion are on vacation somewhere up in Canada, we gotta whole new sound for ya. How about that Big Bubba, our new down-home mystery boy from Arkansas. Says he gave up his old Civil Service job with government... but he ain't never givin' up sax and playin' around—ain't he somethin'! We've got one more song for you and then we're all heading over to the Farris Big Wheel club for our dinner show... all right... take it away Big..."

Evel's Out There Somewhere

At that moment the weakened wood of the straining Spruce Moose totally collapsed leaving its passengers clinging to the metal chassis and runners. Evel the Weevil had done his job well.

It was this ragtag derelict that skidded into the Dino Oil parking lot about an hour later—too late to participate in the opening festivities. As the team pulled up to the service bay, all that remained of the once mighty Spruce Moose gave a shudder and then completely collapsed into a heap of scrap metal.

Resigned to having to leave the sled behind, the crew struck out find their respective destinations. The Jeddak, although he didn't like to brag, did consider himself somewhat of an expert on Southern California. First he gave directions to the team animals who decided to visit relatives at the Gryf Park Zoo. Learning that the Blues Buoys had moved over to the Rodeo Drive location of the Ferris Club, he sent Billy and Lashes out in that direction. He felt obliged to warn them, however, that he believed Rodeo Drive to be a pretty run down part of town since he was pretty sure it was a cowboy chuckwagon racers' hangout. XaXa, who was anxious to get to the Grimley Wave Salon, he put on a bus for downtown LA. He then turned his attention to Evel who was just finishing the last morsel of spruce attached to the sled runners. Earlier he had mentioned to the muncher that the bleacher seats and goal posts of that famous football stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, were made of wood. Now that the Jeddak realized his mistake it was too late to dissuade the ravenous alien weevil from visiting the beloved Los Angeles landmark.

"O well... can't do anything about it now," he muttered as he started out past the tar pits. Once past the pits his heart beat a little faster when he realized that he was walking on hallowed ground that had once been part of the famed Rancho Ratnaza. Soon he was making his way up the hill to the Ratnaza Mansion. He gave into an irresistible urge to whistle and hum a happy tune as he climbed the steep walkways: "It's a Nyce World after all... It's a..."

Behind the Big Door: The Jeddak Meets the Ratznjammer Kids

As the Jeddak approached the heavy carved oak door of the mansion, the first thing he noticed was a rough sign crudely written with crayons and fastened to the door by a railway spike that had splintered one of the decorative panels:

"Thes is thu howse of the Ratznjammer Kids thu killerz uf bad gyes. Do not herm thu thinggs who is owz. Keep Owt. Sined thu Billman Kids - Vanilli, Phillie and Willie"

Repeated knocks on door brought no response. He was about to go around to the back of the house when he heard a second story window slide open.

"Beware! Get away stranger... while you can. There is danger within!" babbled a terrified voice from a window above. "There are hooligans about. There is no defense! Flee this place!"

Before the Jeddak could locate the source of the warning, the massive oak door creaked open. Still there was no one in sight. Then came the assault. The courageous Jeddak was bombarded with suction cup arrows, silly putty strings, a lasso around the neck, a custard pie in the face, a club on the shins with an oversized plastic baseball bat, and a sack of bursting flour. Following this was a period of respite and complete silence... and still no sign of his attackers. Then again without warning, he was hit with a second onslaught. The blare of a toy trumpet stampeded a terrified, crudely shaven cat through his legs and before the surprised Canadian could regain his balance a blur of whirling dervishes were running circles around him, wrapping him in masses of video tape - mummy style.

"Children. Stop it now or I'll tell your father if he gets back!"

The Jeddak had been rescued in the nick of time by Mrs. Hilary Billman.

"O you'll have to excuse them. The children are a such a handful but they love to play cowboys an... I mean cowpersons and indigenous people—I keep forgetting that we're in PC correct southern California now. They seem to have inherited their father's skill with spears and truncheons," Cilli said apologetically as she pulled a suction cup spear from the Jeddak's forehead.

"They certainly come by it honestly, they come from a long line of Billmans —and they miss their father ... he's not home very much these days." (Editor's Note: Billman definition: a soldier armed with a bill which is a spear with a hook-shaped blade and a spike at the back.)

"Oh dear. I can't find Albert, the poor man, I don't believe he is feeling well. And you look weary... I'm sure Albert wouldn't mind if I showed you to the sitting room where your can await his arrival."

A short time later, the Jeddak sat in what had been Edgar Nyce's favourite smoking chair and relished the opportunity to finally examine the manuscripts and writer's notebook he had stashed in his backpack back at the Deep Space Mine. But he was not ready for the shock which awaited him as he opened the ancient documents...

CHAPTER 119: Edgar Nyce Personal Journal: The Early Years

OB Entry 1: Finished my first novel today... Science Fiction stuff... why not... I've tried everything else... and it beats selling pencils on Chicago street corners. Can't decide which title to go with: MY FIRST ADVENTURE IN URANUS or UNDER THE MOONS OF URANUS. It's pretty crazy stuff... probably wise not to use the family name ... think I'll try a pen name: NORMAL BUTT

OB Entry 2: Sent my handwritten manuscript off to my favorite magazines: AMUZING, WIRED, BLUNDER STORIES, ANAL-LOG, PEEPOLE ENMIRER... even tried those rags AGROSSY ALL-GORY WEAKLY and WHIZZLE.

OB Entry 3: Can't understand it. Nothing but rejections. Not one of them was interested, but I'm not giving up—I've only been writing for 35 years. Gotta keep track of stuff I put in these stories though, so I've put together a list of inventions I've created for Uranus—so far: Camouflaged Billboards, Dehydrated Water, Helium Paperweights, Impact-Triggered Parachute, Inflatable Anchor, Non-toxic Chemical Weapons, Nuclear Powered Radiation Detector, Solar Powered Flashlight, Superconducting Insulator, World's Largest Microchip.

OB Entry 4: I've been busy on some Uranus sequels. Got none finished yet but have started: Into the Depths of Uranus, Escape from Uranus, Wizard of Uranus, Lost in Uranus, Rumble in Uranus, Hurtling Moons of Uranus, Rings Around Uranus, Gas Wars in Uranus, Mission to Uranus, Fighting Men in Uranus, and Deep Probe to Uranus.

OB Entry 5: Bad news. My old school "buddy" Brace Bozhart has stolen all my Uranus manuscripts and notes and is hiring a couple of hacks - Otis AlaVator Klimb and Berper Werper—to rewrite them. And Bozhart is publishing them.

OB Entry 6: Funny thing happened this week. For some reason the critics found the titles of my stolen Uranus stuff extremely funny and that crook Bozhart and his hacks are the laughing stocks of the publishing industry. Some hotshot even pointed out that the anagram for Uranus is UR `n USA ... not a very convincing locale for a far out space opera. Boz is going to lose his shirt on this one. Oh... and good ole Enna got back my stolen manuscripts and story outlines somehow... won't tell me how she did it... what a gem!

OB Entry 7: On a whim I changed the names of my Uranus series. Decided to use Mars, Venus, Luna and Jupiter instead of Uranus. Sent them around to those big-time publishers McGurgle and Grossetter & Burlap, and even to those cheaper outfits Carnal, Ase and Ballantwine Books. They all love `em. The money's rolling in. Enna's even talking about moving to California... she's been talking to that Klimb hack again.

OB Entry 8: Running out of ideas again. Time for my annual trip back to the Megadoka Deep Space Mine. Hoping that Jonar and Joon Carter got some more tales to tell.

OB Entry 9: Got back from Idaho... and "you know where" ... gotta bag of new tales... off on African safari next week. Enna is content to stay home... says she's got a good lead on a ranch property in California.

OB Entry 10: Good to be home. That was one crazy safari... never again. Smelly goats and cranky monkeys. Been working at odd moments on another of the `improbable' variety of tale. The story of this goat kid, Ratnaz, is probably too far-fetched for anyone to believe but I think I'll give it a whirl.

OB Entry 11: Just had a letter from Meatcow over at All-Gory Magazine. Accused me of writing racist stuff in the Ratnaz story. Says it will offend women, colored races, fat people, thin people, old people, kids, pet lovers, and overweight middle-aged pygmy women with red hair. The idiot wants me to change the setting to the Alps and write about Swiss yodellers in lederhosen to make everything neutral.

OB Entry 12: Interesting visitors today. Some guy called Georges Lucre and his buddy Little Stevie Wonderberg wanted to turn some of my books into movies. Said they'd pay me with a percentage of the profits... yeh, right! Sent them trundling in a hurry. I've worked out a much better TV deal with a newcomer, Wolf Leerson, Enna says she heard from O.A. Klimb that he's going to be big.

OB Entry 13: Been working on a movie deal for the Ratnaz kid with Touchwood Pictures. I had them agree to call him "RATnaz" in the movies... this leaves me control over the "Ratn'z" pronunciation in the books. I wasn't born yesterday.

OB Entry 14: The Ratnaz Kid is at it again. You'd think the mess he made of Jumbled Tales of Ratnaz would have convinced him that he doesn't know bananas about writing. His brainstorm this time was to give every monkey in the Gryf Park Zoo a typewriter and let them pound away on the keys for a year. Now the idiot thinks they have come up with some kinda masterpiece... something about a Giant on Mars... crap... and he wants me to release it under my name.

OB Entry 15: Sent a couple of bus tickets to those two moonie maids I let go a few months ago. Paid the hospital bills. Both babies were boys. Sent them as far away as possible... one to Canada.... one to Texas.

The startled Jeddak stared long and hard at the last entry in the dog-eared Journal of Edgar Nyce.

"Could it be? No! It's impossible. Yet..."

He remembered his mother's picture of Uncle Jack, the hushed tones whenever she mentioned her early days in Chicago, and she had never spoken of his father. There were too many coincidences. Why, this would mean that Tangor is... no... it was too horrible to think of... and RATNAZ would be... incredible. As startling and revolting as some of this knowledge was, the crushed Canadian had to read on. What other skeletons would fall from these pages?

CHAPTER 120: The Writing Notebook of Edgar Nyce

MY RATNAZ NOVELS—A LOG

1. RATNAZ OF THE GATS

OB NOTE: I wrote this thing longhand—1609 pages—started it on a roll of toilet tissue and didn't want to stop till I finished the roll. The cheapskates at All-Gory edited it down to 276 pages.

SUMMARY

Deep in the jungles of darkest Africa a baby Lord Greatstroke, the only survivor of a plane crash is rescued by a fierce native tribe and is raised with their goat herd. He later spends time with the mighty ape King Dong from whom he learns the ways of the wild and earns the title Lord of the Leaves. He is eventually rescued and taken out to civilization by a safari led by the courageous author Edgar Nyce who uses the goat kid's real and fictional adventures as fodder for this story. CHARACTERS: RATNAZ THE GOAT KID, THE APES: DONG, TUBFAT & KILLA, BILLY & NANNIE, GREATSTROKE, BROOMSTROKE, PROF. PORKER, JANE PORKER, LORD CECIL CRETIN, LADY ALUCE CRETIN, PHILANDERER, LT. D'AMIT, BLACK JACKO, CAPTAIN ANDY DIVINE OF THE CHARTER PLANE FULWADA, CAPTAIN BILLABONG OF GRINALDA, ROKSOFF

2. RERUN OF RATNAZ:

OB NOTE: Just a rewrite of the first novel. Sent the roll back to that Meatcow guy at All-Gory—all the story tissues they rejected from the first book. I know when to milk a good thing—it's just good business.

3. THE BEASTS OF RATNAZ

Ratnaz' goat friends are kidnapped and Ratnaz, Shita the panther and Agut the ape look everywhere for them. In the happy conclusion they all came home wagging their tails behind them.

4. THE SON OF RATNAZ

Ratnaz' adopted goat kid, Rokka, runs into jungle with Agut to answer a mating cry. He stays out all night with Agut and a girl goat. Ratnaz is furious.

5. RATNAZ AND THE MULES OF OPRA

Queen Opra's fanatical obsession to rid the world of mules results in the spread of mad mule disease through Ratnaz' beloved goat herd. Ratnaz faces danger many times at Opra's notorious sacrificial altar.

6. JUMBLED TALES OF RATNAZ

Ratnaz' first attempt to write in his own words results in a jumbled mishmash of story fragments. In this very personal tell-all the goat kid rattles on about his formative years in the jungle, his battles with halitosis, acne and jock itch, his first real puppy love, his introduction to the complete works of Dickens and Shakespeare, and his penchant for grub-in-a-leaf burgers.

7. RATNAZ AND THE TROUBLE WITH UNTAMED TRIBBLES

Ratnaz follows Jane through impenetrable marshes and back in time 60 million years where they are transformed into small furry prolific mammals in a prehistoric world of savage dinosaurs.

8-57. RATNAZ AND THE LOST CIVILIZATIONS: Parts 8-57.

O.B. NOTE: I kept the same plot I used in the first seven books and just plugged in different lost cities and civilizations. Seemed to work pretty well. Gave me lots of time to ride my horse.

UNPUBLISHED STORIES

These seemed like good ideas at the time... Titles, Openings Lines, Themes and Treatments. I never got around to finishing most of them.

In-law of Torn

OB NOTE: This is an embarrassing story about my wife's no-good brother that lay suppressed and dormant for years—until the paparazzi caught wind of the caper.

The Mad Queen

"All Castro was in an uproar—the Mad Queen had escaped through the closet. Knots of little excited men stood upon the street corners surging to and fro, listening to each latest rumor...."

The Cover Girl

"The dim shadow of the g-string was but a blur against the delicious dimpled curves of the mounds of flesh behind...."

The Mobster Man

"As he dropped the last grisly fragment of the dismembered and mutilated body into the massive vat of nitric acid that was to devour every trace of the horrid evidence which might easily send him to the gallows, Big Bruce sank weakly into his computer chair and throwing his body forward upon his great, teak computer desk, buried himself into his work, breaking into a rapid two-fingered assault on his keyboard...."

Eternal Laver

"Gnu, the son of Ung, his flabby muscles rolling beneath his wrinkled bleached skin, beat the last of the morning's wash between his battered battering head and the large soapstone outcrop on the shore of the jungle stream...."

The Knacker

"Billy Byrd was a product of the streets and alleys of Chicago. There was scarce a horse owner or nag whom Billy knew not by his first name—and he was a veritable encyclopedia when it came to assessing the amount of life left in an animal... and the current rates paid by the nearest glue factory for the carcasses."

The C.C. Rider

"'I won't! Be back till fall!' The king tugged upon one end of a black sideburn, curled his lip and frowned over the monitor speakers...."

Beyond Thirty... They're All Man-Eaters

"Since earliest childhood I have been strangely fascinated by the mystery surrounding human intercourse with aging females. My interest is keenest, perhaps, not so much in relation to known facts, as to speculation of the mystery following termination... provided, of course, the intercourse had been terminated...."

The Deputy Sheriff from Farris County Meets the Bandit Girl from Hollywood Bend

"A lone rider drew rein at a fork in the road. He leaned from the saddle to study the condition of the two trails. Then he rode slowly along the dirt road that showed the less sign of travel... and that made all the difference...."

Single Girl from Hollywood and the Inefficiently Expert Evangelist

"`My lord, I may go no further,' said the Presbyterian Missionary as he nervously tucked at the tightening band of his shirt collar...."

The Oaktree Affair

"The house in the tree showed lights only upon the first floor in those more or less mysterious purlieus thereof from which emanated disagreeable odors. The Root-O-Rooter man was late again...."

Natrog the Barbarian from Beyond

"In this little world there were three scourges: Pestilence, Famine, and Natrog. He was about as civilized as a brown bear in rutting season...."

Chief of the Apache Devil Dancers

"Naked but for a G-string, sandals and a black French beret, Oo La La leaped down the runway to the demon beat of the house drummer...."

The Lady and the Loin

OB NOTE: X-rated

* * * * * * * *

The Jeddak's trembling hands closed the worn tattered Writing Notebook of Edgar Nyce—these amazing documents were a revelation to him. In his temporary euphoric state he was oblivious to his surroundings—and to the opening of a nearby section of oak paneling through which he was being observed by two pairs of desperate eyes.

CHAPTER 121: The Jeddak Strikes Back... and Out

The Warlord's First Really Big Adventure in Ratnaza

The incomparable Dee Dee Morris, Princess of Bars and the hopelessly infatuated Dan Darter had successfully taken Ed's private elevator up from the rapidly flooding Jeriatric Park and had discovered the secret panel to the author's former sitting room. Peering through the observation slit they were surprised to see that a handsome redheaded man wearing earmuffs, a heavy Canadian Armed Forces issue parka and Gucci mukluks occupied the large leather chair in the centre of the room. Realizing that there was no other way out, they took a chance and stepped into the room to confront the stranger.

At that moment, before introductions could be made, a woman's scream echoed from another room in the mansion. All three rushed out to find the source of the terrified shriek and their exploration led them to the large theatre room where ERB used to treat the locals to the latest Ratnaz films. The Billman Ratznjammer Kids were dragging a lifeless hideous head-shaped creature into the middle of the room, its trailing chelae leaving a trail of green slime leading to the French doors which opened onto the rolling greens of the mansion's private golf course.

In a far corner of the room, poor Cilli was labouring under the dead weight of the unconscious Splay-Toe who appeared to have fainted in her arms.

"The sniveling coward. He stepped on my foot with those fleece-lined aviator clodhoppers. Somebody help get this jerk off me. Whew... does that hurt. And Phillie... take that thing back to where you found it... and wash your hands... It's filthy," snapped the disgusted Mrs. Billman.

After a short reunion and a show of warm greetings to the Canadian visitor, the group decided it was time to take their destinies into their own hands. All agreed they couldn't help their missing loved ones by waiting in the safety of Ratnaza: Dee Dee was anxious to find her father, Kojak Morris - Splay-Toe was pining for Yellow Jacket—Cilli and Kids were worried about their husband and father Hilary—the Jeddak wanted to meet with Edgar Nyce to plan some way to thwart Tangor's and Bozhart's nefarious plans for world domination—and Darter just wanted to be anywhere close to Dee Dee.

"I wanna ride the space ship... I wanna ride the space ship! We found one out on the golf course beside the Gheek head we brought you," squealed the kids as they bounded back into the room.

Suddenly Dee had an idea: "Why don't we use one of the alien weather balloon ships in our search? But who could fly it?"

"Well if I can shoot down one of them suckers I should be able to fly it. You forget that I specialized in UltraLites in the R.C.A.F. up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan," retorted a somewhat piqued Dan Darter.

"But the computer systems are disabled... the internal clock in the main computer has been set to 2000 AD and everything is down," responded the Jeddak.

"It's a simple system... any 10 year old could reset it."

"Yeh, but where are we going to find a ten-year-old?"

"I wanna ride the space ship." "No, I wanna ride the space ship—I saw it first."

"Hush children. The grownups are trying to talk. Little ones should be seen and not heard!" pleaded the little tykes' mother.

"Wait! I think I have an idea," interjected the ever-observant and resourceful Jeddak.

Lost in a Balloon

The alien craft handled like a charm. Dan Darter, once more behind the controls of a flying machine, was a new man. The cockpit was not made to accommodate such a large number of people but everyone eventually found a comfortable position and settled in for an exciting flight. And an exciting one it was to be. Soon after takeoff the controls froze and the ship set off on an eastward course following a preprogrammed flight path.

"What's wrong Dan... what's happening? Where are we going?" queried a suddenly concerned Dee Dee.

"I have a feeling some strange homing device has taken command of the ship's controls and we are headed for Butt Buttes, my dear. All we can do now is hang on and enjoy the ride."

Soon the passengers forgot about the possible dire consequences of their predicament and gathered around the viewing portals to marvel at the wonders unfolding below. The Jeddak got his first aerial view of Southern California and was very impressed. His first shock came as they passed over the Gryf Park Zoo. Running through the main gate and toward downtown LA was a huge menagerie of escaping animals, led by two large loping animals: a male and female moose. The Canadian muttered under his breath in embarrassed tones: "Damn that Sterling... up to his old tricks. He'll have us deported."

The recent fires, earthquakes, floods, storms, and alien attacks had devastated much of the Los Angeles area. In fact, as they flew over the renowned Hollywood Bowl, they saw it suddenly disintegrate into a pile of dust. But Rodentland appeared to be operating under full steam. And there was a long queue of music fans gathered outside Farris' Big Wheel Club... obviously the Blues Boys were in town again. Disturbingly though, there was an ambulance parked in the front and the attendants were carrying out a man on a stretcher who must have been one of the band, as he was still clutching his saxophone in one hand while trying desperately to tear off a large featureless mask which covered his face.

As they flew eastward they noticed a large number of yellow Camaros converging on Nick Miser's Touchwood Studios—and far off in the north they could just make out a vintage maroon Ford sedan being pushed along the freeway by a group of husky men in baggy suits. Another crowd had gathered down at the Grimley Wave Salon where they seemed to be cheering on a middle-aged woman with gorgeous platinum blonde hair. The woman had one of LA's finest pinned to the sidewalk and she was pummeling the burly cop with her handbag. Meanwhile, Dee Dee gasped in surprise as she noticed that a fleet of Touchwood Studio tanker trucks was filling up at her daddy's Helium Supply lot.

Mr. Bland Finds His Dream House

Soon the land below with its excitement and turmoil was replaced by the endless expanse of water which now covered the vast desert lands which had until recently been known as Tappan Range, Death Valley and Salton Sea. As they approached the east shore of this fledgling Arizona Sea, Dee Dee had occasion to gasp once more: "No'Mo's Naughty Ass!"

"Hush, Miss Dee Dee. There are children present," scolded Cilli.

"No! You don't understand. Look! I mean the sub moored to that rambling houseboat. Isn't that odd? There's a group of sunbathers gathered around a clarinet player... oh... and a bunch of sailors huddled around a television set... and..."

"Bryce! Bryce! It's Bry... I mean YJ... Yellow Jacket. He's alive! He's scrubbing the deck of that sub. I'd recognize that suit anywhere... I've gotta go to him. Take it down, Darter. Bryce! Up Here...." screamed the ecstatic Splay-Toe.

The Billman kids were suddenly uncharacteristically silent and seemed oblivious to the commotion generated by the Chinese wannabe as they stared intently at what at first glance appeared to be a piece of flotsam bobbing on the water just beyond the submarine. As they came closer, however, it soon became apparent that they were observing a small rowboat with a lone occupant wearing a long flowing gown and who was rowing furiously toward the submarine. A large fluttering American flag supported by an ornate flag standard protruded high above the bow of the boat.

Suddenly it was the Billman kids' turn to add to the commotion that was filling the cabin: "Mommy! Quick come see! I see Daddy! Look! See Daddy row! Row Daddy! Wave Daddy! Go Daddy go!"

Butt Buttes Beckon

The blue expanse of the Arizona Sea was soon behind them and they were once more travelling over dry land but the interior of the alien craft still reverberated with the emotional cries, sobs and shouts of the occupants.

Dan Darter, still seated at the frozen controls, felt compelled to take command of the situation: "Listen Up! I've had enough of your infernal caterwauling. We're approaching Butt Buttes... I've heard some pretty strange rumours about this place. Get ready for trouble."

All eyes were soon fixated on the unusual landform to which the alien craft appeared to be headed. If they had looked directly below, however, they would have seen the comical sight of a tweed-suited gentleman attempting to ride a burro sidesaddle while trying to goad his stubborn mount on to a faster walk.

The balloon-shaped craft hovered momentarily over the buttes and then plummeted earthward amid the shrieking cries of its terrified occupants.

CHAPTER 122: Edgar Nyce Has Left the Building: The Jeddak's Odyssey Comes to an End?

Calling Algor to the Rescue

Life had not been kind to Algor. He had been born with a physical deformity which he had carried with him into his adult life. He had spent most of his life in faithful service to the cantankerous and capricious Ras Putan. He had been with the skillful doctor throughout his rise to fame, watching him reach the exalted position of Mastermind of Stars, and he had even stuck by him when the slightly crazed doctor fell out of Hollywood favour and teamed up with those Grimley Wave characters. He had been at Putan's side during his comeback and eventual rise to infamy in the cloning labs at the Phantom Empire.

Then - POOF! - the medical genius disappeared and Algor was left with nothing. It wasn't easy starting over at his age. The jobs for hunch-backed assistants to over-sexed, diabolical geniuses were few and he had to settle for a very mundane position as a freelance Sanitation Engineer.

His heart had raced a few hours ago when he received a mysterious call from the Secret Service in Washington. Feeling sure that his fortunes were on the upswing he sped his moped across the desert flats to the secret government facility at Butt Buttes. He should have known... the job was not quite what he had been expecting.

"Here's the broom, Bud. The mops and cleaning supplies are over there. We want this place cleaned up toot de sweet. Comprenday?" were the only instructions he was given.

All day his work had been hampered by a succession of government agents behaving in mysterious ways, but for the last hour he had been completely alone. Only then did the immensity of his task strike him.

Algor stood hunched in the middle of a cavernous hangar surrounded by the charred wreckage of what he could only perceive to be countless alien spacecraft. Over the years, he had been charged with cleaning up endless messes created by his former associate, Ras Putan, but never anything this horrendous.

The only unscathed vehicle in the complex was poised over a large bottomless crater in the floor—it was a large, shiny, cylindrically shaped device with a gigantic corkscrew at one end. The jangled janitor was pondering the function of this machine when he was startled by a grinding noise from above.

Overhead, a section of the hangar roof was sliding open and falling toward him was a screaming weather balloon. In an act of self-preservation he fell to a fetal position on the concrete floor—just as the landing struts of the strange craft settled around him.

The Ratznjammer Kids Unleash the Horrors of the Black Box

"Whew! What a ride. Let's do it again Mr. Darter. Wow. You sure can fly this thing!" shouted the Billman kids as they jumped out of the alien spacecraft. They were a good two metres off the floor but their fall was broken by a huddled figure lying just below the hatch. Seeing the fearless Billman offspring run across the floor of the gigantic hangar in which they had been deposited, the rest of the occupants exited in similar fashion.

It was only after they had leaped to the floor of the hangar that they noticed their fall had been broken by a moaning human cushion. Their attempts to revive the luckless janitor were interrupted by a jumble of loud excited voices emanating from the unusual machine with the corkscrew that they had seen the kids enter.

"Oh shit! We're breaking through! Look out! God, look at the lights. And cameras. And weather balloons. Looks like the Oval Office of the White House. Yes. There goes President Blimpton! No... It's only a movie set. O crud... not again. It looks like the sister of that last weirdo who attacked us back at the shallow lake! Look out... this one's got a harpoon, too. Whew... It's OK... the interns got her... they're taking her away. Jeez.... Would ya look at that... those weather balloons are blowin' up... wow... ya'd think it was New Year's Eve or the Fourth of July or somethin'?...

The Jeddak gallantly faced the unknown and followed the Billman kids into the daunting craft to find the reason for the screaming voices. "Look Mr. Jedrak. We found a big black box with a tape recorder in it," Willie proudly proclaimed as he held out what must have been the cockpit's Burrowing Recorder.

The adults, relieved that the kids were unharmed, positioned themselves around the recorder to try to discover the identity of the speakers and to unravel the mystery of what had transpired before their arrival on the scene.

Dan Darter, the consummate pilot offered some background information to the group: "That explains the opening vulgarity we just heard. I know from experience that 'Oh shit' is the most common last words heard on flight recorders."

Meanwhile as the voices from the Burrowing Recorder continued their excited chatter, a deep, cultivated voice in a quasi-English accent was attempting to calm the occupants of the machine's cabin: "Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive."

"O Ratz. You are such a thinker since that butt on the head," answered a woman's admiring voice.

"Good grief!" exclaimed ever-observant Jeddak. "That must be Ratnaz!"

"Intelligence makes clear to us the interrelationship of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to form in the social life of man. What is your assessment of the situation, OB?"

"I think you've gone nuts... what a loony. Hey, Bertie see if you can straighten him out."

The listeners whispered in hushed awe: "OB!"... "It's Ed!"... "Edgar Nyce!"... "He was here!"... "Dad?"...

"The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. Do you not agree Bertie, my pet?"

"Oh Ratz!... What's happened to you? Speak to him Lord Greatstroke... you brought this on! Men! ...and their stupid macho pride!"

"OB! OB! Look at this. Coming up through the crater we made. What the...?"

The Capture of OB-wan-in-Kanobe

"Control yourself Nappie. They're friends of mine from the Under World. Hail! Molejo... Molejowerkin! Up here... Good to see you old friend. Hey... What the... What's got into you fellows? Take your hands off her you..."

The Jeddak stood helplessly while he listened in growing horror to the scenario playing out before his ears. The next voice was one he recognized from back at the Valley Dorm—the whining voice of the leader of the Mole People.

"Seize the traitor. We will take the traitor OB-wan-in-Kanobe and his murderous followers back for trial in the Hidden World. Molejowerkin has spoken."

There were sounds of a skirmish, then silence.

"We came so close to meeting Edgar Nyce. It would have been such a fitting conclusion to my OB odyssey. But this... What can we do?" lamented the perplexed Jeddak of the North.

Possessed with the short attention span of the '90s generation, Willie had soon tired of the little audio-only drama coming from the recorder. While the others were listening in rapt attention, the youngster had crawled into the pilot's seat in the cockpit and had started flipping switches on the complex instrument panel.

The Pellucifer Burrower sprang to life. The vibrations from the front auger threw the cabin occupants to the floor as its young pilot directed the machine back into the crater from whence it had come.

A battered Algor crawled to the smoking crater and looked down in utter bewilderment as the Pellucifer disappeared from sight into the very bowels of the earth.

—Bill Hillman

Chapter 123 - The Damesel of Flanders

Judy Flanders rolled to a painful stop in the parking lot of the Biker Bar. Porker's 1966 yellow Camaro roared away, horn blaring. Within moments the young woman was surrounded by seven very large men who, wearing leather jackets and sporting advanced cases of B.O. and halitosis, exited the sleazy bar.

"Lookee what we got here!" the biggest, baddest, meanest of the bikers dwarfing the woman said. "It's Christmas! What a purty little package. I think I'll just unwrap it."

"Uh, Boss," one of the lesser man-mountains interjected, "I think it's April."

"Nah, we had April last night—didn't we, boys?" Fat Frank slyly winked. A round of licentious laughter loudly followed.

Judy Flanders, aka Pancho Lane, realized that only swift decisive action, such as her hero Yellow Jacket was wont to do, was the only way she'd get out of this predicament still alive, much less a virgin. The Yellow Jacket's time-honored philosophy of combat should come in good stead: "The best offense is to be as offensive as possible."

"Gather round, boys," Judy Flanders invited with a smile. She ran long-fingered hands tipped with bright red polish along the shiny spandex sheath stretched ever-so-tightly across her heart-shaped buttocks.

"A little closer," the goddess winked. "Don't be shy..."

Drooling and slobbering, grinning with malicious intent, Mighty Mike, Fat Frank, Hugh Huge, Large Larry, Monster Mo, Big Ben, and Pee Wee Perry moved in. A toothsome wench to relieve the boredom of bashing unwary patrons entering the bar was just the thing to add a little spark in an otherwise boring day.

Flanders deliberately licked her full lips to a glistening gloss and batted thick long lashes. She wiggled with a seductive come-hither that had an obvious effect on the bikers. Judy speculated that Snow White had had a much cuter band of leering lechers, but that did not deter the young woman from using all her feminine wiles to arouse a throbbing lust in the looming wall of fevered and sweating men. Their eyes fairly bulged, their limbs twitched spasmodically. The seven giants staggered in a sexual lock-step, closing in on Judy Flanders.

Judy continued to smile, continued to beckon with crooked finger to each of them, yet all the while the woman was cooly calculating the precise moment of action. One more step... she thought ... one more... and at that next step every male groin was exposed to the perfectly executed roundhouse kick that connected painfully in a rapid staccato on each zipper and fly. Howling with incredible agony each would be molesters rolled on the ground clutching their privatesסll except Pee Wee Perry who nursed a bloody nose.

Judy continued to smile, continued to beckon with crooked finger to each of them, yet all the while the woman was cooly calculating the precise moment of action. One more step... she thought ... one more... and at that next step every male groin was exposed to the perfectly executed roundhouse kick that connected painfully in a rapid staccato on each zipper and fly. Howling with incredible agony each would be molesters rolled on the ground clutching their privates—all except Pee Wee Perry, who nursed a bloody nose.

"Boys," Judy remarked as she gracefully stepped over the incapacitated bikers, "it was really nice connecting with each of you. It's a shame that modern action adventures simply do not sell to the public unless there's at least one male groin injury. Thanks to you, I'm fairly sure we won't need to do another in this story. Now," she smiled sweetly, "who wants to loan me their bike?"

Seven hands shot up, each holding an ignition key.

"How gallant!" Judy exclaimed. She took Fat Frank's key. "That's the Harley on the end, right?"

"I love you," Fat Frank nodded.

"Beat me, whip me, make me wear chains," another said.

"I want to be your door mat!"

"I'll do your laundry!"

"I'll take out the garbage!"

"I can cook and sew!"

"Let me bear your children!"

Despite the interesting proposals delivered so fervently, Judy Flanders merely smiled beautifully as she straddled Fat Frank's artfully chopped and chrome-plated hog. Judy momentarily admired the custom black lacquer paint and leather tassels dangling from the hand-grips, then switched on. She expertly kicked the massive motorcycle into thundering life, enjoying the strong vibration between her long and shapely legs.

Only Pee Wee Perry managed to stand as the blonde bid her recent playmates adieu. He waved frantically as the plucky black belt karate master sped in pursuit of the treacherous Jane Porker.

* * * * * * * *

Tuvane Tuyak applied some needed foundation to conceal the blue tinge of her clean-shaven chin. "Let me get this straight, dear. Brace has been acting strange, such as firing me and ordering you to steal expensive pulp art canvases from Bertha La Ropa. Honey, Bertha's been dead thirty-four years. The last thing she did was pose for Bory Valveblo—as one of the monsters in the background."

"Well, it was no ghost who blew that robot to bits. Cranky old bitch. How do you know she's dead?"

"Case study in Correspondence Law School. This La Ropa agreed to pose then dropped dead. Valveblo, who is known for the realism of his fantasy erotic art, failed to report the death, allowing the woman's body to lie on his studio floor until it was adequately ripe and decayed for the effect desired."

"Euuu!" Jane cringed. "How gross!"

"It gets more interesting," Tuvane continued. Miss Tuyak deposited the compact within his smart sequined hand bag. "Bory Valveblo made a fortune selling that painting to a horror comic entitled 'Tales of the Bizarre From Teo Olive's Pit'. When the magazine commissioned another that's when Valveblo's indiscretion got him caughtÖ­he tried to trade La Ropa's moldy old corpse for a fresh cadaver at the local medical school. After the fines and all, his reputation as a horror artist was ruined. All he could get after that was jobs painting lurid covers for Edgar Nyce reprints."

Jane concentrated on her driving. "But that doesn't explain the old bag who blew away my mechanical double."

"La Ropa had a daughter."

"Really?"

Tuvane Tuyak took a deep breath to expel yet another long-winded paragraph. "The little girl was only five when her model mother—that's model as in artist model for Bertha La Ropa was far from being a model mother—passed away. A mysterious benefactor stepped in, sending an aging male secretary to take the child to a foster home. He paid all costs and housing, seeing to the child's health and welfare and provided her with the best private education possible. In later years little Bertha learned that the mysterious benefactor was indeed her father. Even though this well-known individual has provided well, the young woman had developed an intense hatred for the person who had allowed her mother to descend into desperation and tacky modeling roles and who had also left her in a foster home rather than acknowledging his relationship and taking a direct responsibility."

"I don't blame her, the cad! Who was her father?"

The reply was low-voiced. "Your husband's arch-enemy, Edgar Nyce."

* * * * * * * *

ENJOY A PREVIEW OF A SISTER MAGAZINE, "THE NEWS"

Follow Ratnaz and Bertie through fabulous adventures!

The News

The only pulp fiction magazine offering the thrilling adventures of Ratnaz and Bertie from the pen of the immortal Edgar Nyce.


Advertisment:

Yes folks, this is another day in the life of Bertie Ketchum, love-struck angel of our fair city! On the edge of your seats? Can't wait to take that walk down memory lane for those readers who were unfortunate enough to miss the beginning episodes of this most enchanting love story? Let us review... Young Bertie Ketchum, sweet, vivacious, and alluring, first captured your editor's attention when, quite by accident, they were thrown together by the financial desperation of your editor. There was little, if any, conversation between us as we struggled to reach a rapport on how your editor could make a killing on this spurious love story. Suffice it to say that this initial silence lasted an unusually short time before your editor's ears were crimsoned by Miss Ketchum's fervent avowals of love and affection for Ratnaz, a figure of some social stature by way of print and film, who is currently the center of her heart's desire. As Editor of "The News", avid followers, I once again avow my persistence in providing the best coverage of this, the most important event in Bertie Ketchum's and Ratnaz's lives, without thought of accuracy or truthful content. Certain liberties must be taken from an editorial point of view to provide the needed color commentary to keep this inane rag sheet interesting. One such liberty is lying through my teeth, if necessary.

NEXT ISSUE: The hidden truth behind Bertie Ketchum's reported nymphomania!

THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE #3

As you recall in the last thrilling installment, Timid Bertie was hanging by the root of a bonzo tree growing on the edge of a tremendous precipice in the northern wilds of Borneo. The evil pirate Gitumbooti of the Letsgitriche tribe had abducted our staunch red-haired heroine. On the eve of Bertie's indoctrination into the harem of Gitumbooti's lodge, our brave lady managed to escape (scantily clad, of course) to flee to the dubious safety of the arboreal forest which surrounded the Letsgitriche village.

Through a number of trials and tribulations, Bertie barely avoided the grasp of horny orangutans, head hunters and Harrison Ford who had stopped in Borneo during his search for the Lost Ark. In fact, it was her narrow escape from the licentious grasp of Indiana Jones which had led to her present predicament: screaming for help at the top of her lungs, feet desperately attempting to find purchase on the crumbling cliff face.

As the old saying goes, it is always darkest before dawn. This old saying has absolutely no valid context with this particular situation since it was close to midday and, except for the bonzo tree by which root Bertie Ketchum was suspended, there was no shade to speak of. This being the case, Ratnaz, resplendent in his riding khaki and bandoliers, had no difficulty in locating our vivacious beauty from his vantage point on the opposite side of the awesome chasm.

"Have no fear!" Ratnaz shouted across the intervening distance. "I will let nothing stop me from saving you!"

The Lord of the Leaves turned to the members of the safari he had been leading through the trackless wilds of Borneo. "Companions of the trail," he said in his deep basso, the sun overhead etching the craggily handsome features with shadows which bespoke of his grim determination, "you'll have to fend for yourselves for a few hours while I save the life of yon helpless damsel. Do be careful and not step on the dangerous owcharueti plant or you'll die a horrible death. And," he added as he slung his cannon over his brawny shoulder, "please don't litter."

Ratnaz, following the screams of the lass, pushed his way through the dense jungle, He paused only long enough to kill a few head hunters bent on adding his pate to their ghastly collection of unfortunate Europeans and Chinese. This only slowed the Lord of the Leaves's progress by a very small margin; but was apparently a hair too long because Bertie had disappeared when Ratnaz arrived at the bonzo tree!

"Dear Lady!" Ratnaz cried, falling to his knees, peering over the edge of the tremendous cliff at the dense vegetation growth hundreds of feet below. "Dear Lady!"

Did Bertie Bite The Dust? Will the Lord of the Leaves Mourn Forever? Tune in next issue for the answer!

THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE #4

The Lord of the Leaves pulled back on the stick of his valiant little aircraft as the wind scream rose to such audible proportions as to be a nearly tangible physical force. Ratnaz grimaced with effort as he struggled to bring the spirited four seater back under control. Sweat popped out on his forehead. His arms shook from the tremendous tension needed to control the recalcitrant joy stick.

"I don't know if I will be able to keep her in the air much longer, darling!" Ratnaz shouted at the top of his voice. "If the worst should happen, I want you to know that I have loved you from the first...I will always love you!"

"Oh, Ratnaz, dearest!" Bertie cried as she struggled into the tiny cockpit of the spinning aircraft. With the last of her strength the lovely, red-haired girl managed to grasp the back of the pilot's seat and set her lips against the cheek of the man she adored.

"I know you will bring us safely out of this horrible adventure. I know you will, sweetheart. If for no other reason than to make it possible for me to get my hands on that asshole, shit-for-brains Nyce for getting the two of us in the most awful predicaments!"

"But, Bertie!" Ratnaz turned his eyes away from the swirling panorama of earth and sky to gaze with astonishment at his beloved. "I think you do Edgar a terrible injustice! He is only poking fun at you because you react just the way he plans! Really! If you want Nyce to stop teasing you, don't react."

"Hey!" Bertie punched Ratnaz in the arm (a difficult task under any conditions much less in a falling aircraft). "Who's side are you on?"

"Does it make any difference now, baby?" Ratnaz replied, shaking his graying hair from his sweating face.

"You bet your sweet petooties it does! I've had nothing but heartache and trouble from that odd little specimen of manhood. And now you side with him! That's it!" she screamed, with a finger wagging in Ratnaz's face. "I'm getting out while the getting's good."

"What are you talking about?" Ratnaz queried.

"This," Bertie responded as she pulled the straps of the only parachute in the aircraft tight about her luscious frame. "You can mess around with those damn stupid controls, or you can come with me. I've got a score to settle with Nyce and I'll be damned if I'm going to end up a pile of mashed protoplasm when this plane hits the ground! Coming?"

Ratnaz looked at the rapidly approaching ground then to the determined look on his darling's face. He took a look at the slim chance for life represented by Bertie's parachute and suddenly seconded her opinion about vacating the premises while there was still time.

"How are we going to do this?" Ratnaz asked. "Shouldn't I wear the parachute and carry you?"

"What difference does it make who's got the parachute? Just hug me like you always do," Bertie smiled licentiously, "and we'll do just fine."

"I'm for that!" Ratnaz cried and embraced his girl. As their lips met, Ratnaz and Bertie placed their fate in the hands of chance and leapt out of the plane.

THE NEWS VOLUME 1 - ISSUE #5

"SNAP! SNAP!"

Bertie dreamily roused and propped herself up on one elbow. Bertie brushed her red hair out of her eyes before looking toward the sleeping bag laid out next to hers, to find it empty. "Ratnaz? Where are you? Did you just say something?"

"Not me," Ratnaz's strong baritone responded from outside the small tent. "It's those damn alligators snapping at my behind."

"Alligators?" Bertie tossed her covers to one side and jumped to her feet (uttering a very unladylike curse when she bumped her pumpkin little head on the tent's ridgepole) and rushed out into the moonlight.

To her horrified gaze she found Ratnaz warding off the attack of hundreds of ferocious foot-long alligators bent on taking a bite out of the silently swearing one time youth of the jungle. Ratnaz's hair was plastered to his skull with the sweat of his endeavors. Bertie grabbed the nearest object, a camp stool, and waded into the fray to protect the rear of her beloved. For long moments they were so occupied that neither was able to speak.

After five frightful hours of strenuously fatiguing effort invested in beating alligators to death, Ratnaz sighed with relief as he slaughtered the last tenacious lizard and dropped his blood-smeared bludgeon to the ground. "Yecch!" he said with feeling as he attempted to cross the battlefield without stepping on any of the thousands of mutilated and mangled reptilian corpses with his bare feet. "I think you had a point about having a talk with this Edgar Nyce character. I'm getting damn tired of having one disaster after another..."

"Not to mention the whirlwind manner by which he transports us from one scene to another. The only thing which really bothers me is the way this cuts into our love life."

"Love life, hell!" Ratnaz snorted with exasperation. "What do you think this has done to my golf game? I doubt if I'll ever get back anywhere close to par for the rest of my life! My arm is plumb worn out from killing alligators, shooting head hunters, and swinging from vines like some modern day Tarzan!"

"Shhhh!" Bertie warned with sudden fear in her voice. "You were swinging from a parachute, Ratnaz! Don't give Edgar Nyce any more ideas!"

"No matter," Ratnaz grimaced with distaste and shoved aside a few dozen battered alligators from the area near the campfire. He sat down, trembling with exhaustion. "I am resigned to the fact that until I punch him out I'm going to continue being tossed into hundreds of zany, inconvenient situations by his warped mentality."

"Well," Bertie took her place next to Ratnaz and wrapped arms about his neck, "at least Nyce isn't prone to porno..."

"I won't put it past him," Ratnaz responded with a leer. "In fact, I think I could go for a little of that right now..."

"Ratnaz, dear Ratnaz!" Bertie grinned as she pushed the amorous Lord of the Leaves away. "How dare you! I am not a trollop of the market place! Now get those thoughts out of your head and let's see if we can't find some way to get back to civilization!"

Ratnaz nodded and bent his titanic mental powers towards resolving their present unhappy predicament. He was still at it when the sun rose. Bertie finally gave up trying to stay awake in hopes of that magic revelation which could free herself and her man from the capricious conceptions of the pulp hack Edgar Nyce.

"I give up, honey," Ratnaz spoke for the first time in hours. "Maybe after lunch I'll come up with something."

"I suppose you're right," Bertie replied. "I'll see what's in the ice box. At least he was thoughtful enough to provide us with one..."

Ratnaz watched his woman gorgeously swayed across the blood stained ground to the 21 cubic foot Westinghouse at the edge of the clearing. He loved the gentle grace of her movements, the perfection of her form. The man knew in his heart of hearts that this was what he had always yearned for and— What?

Ratnaz jumped to his feet and began sprinting towards Bertie just as the girl started to open the door of the Westinghouse refrigerator. His sudden anxiety was due to a premonition (prompted no doubt by the malicious humming of the first few bars of the Twilight Zone by a hidden voice laughing in the forest).

"Baby!" he cried in desperation. "Don't open that door. I have a feeling that..."

THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE #6

Ratnaz took another step and tripped on the carpet. He fell head long on the floor of his den to roll over and sit up nursing a bruised proboscis. Bertie dropped the hand which had grasped the handle of the Westinghouse that was not a Westinghouse (the ominous refrigerator having vanished). She felt a bit foolish holding onto thin air, and turned to kneel by her beloved.

"At least," Ratnaz grinned ruefully as he rubbed his nose, "we're back home."

"But for how long this time? What's in store for us? We're at the mercy of that demented Edgar Nyce."

"Bertie!" Ratnaz shook his head sadly. "Now you're beginning to sound as stilted and old fashioned as the chronicles which are narrating our adventures—oops! Now HE'S got me doing it!"

"Be of stout heart, my champion! I have naught but the greatest confidence in your ability to over come our maliciously mischievous harbinger of ill fortune." Bertie gasped in surprise and clamped both hands over her mouth.

Ratnaz struggled to keep from giggling. "Methinks our method of communication has been altered to fit the whim of our nemesis. Mayhaps a thump of my mighty fist upon the knave's thick skull will induce greater respect..."

Bertie's eyes agreed with Ratnaz's words but she refrained from reply—she was too busy laughing at his manner of speech. Ratnaz blushed. He jumped to his feet, brushing his hair from his eyes. He left the room with Bertie following close behind. The tall soldier of fortune checked the refrigerator in his kitchen with careful eye before he pulled the door open and liberated a cold drink from the half empty interior. He tossed a hearty draught of the chilled liquid down his throat before he attempted to speak.

"Dear lady, doth not this language we speak seem familiar? 'Tis a parody of communication once deemed popular for the Knights of Yore. Beyond the stout walls of this fortress doth be there dragons and other manners of evil?"

"Sir Ratnaz!" Lady Bertie's beautiful eyes were distended with horror. "Think you the wicked wizard intends Trial by Combat twixt you and monsters more terrible than the alligators? Beloved knight! I could not bear the thought of seeing you vanquished on the Field of Honor! If you should fall, I will not be long in joining you! This I swear!"

"My dearest princess, I doubt aught of that sort will occur. In me bones I feel certain Edgar Nyce has left us a way to free ourselves of this affliction. If me thoughts were not so befogged, I am positive I could save us from a lifetime of this horrid form of formal speech!"

Bertie wrung her hands in despair. Her hopes for the future were evaporating. She moved closer to Sir Ratnaz, feeling the previous realities she had known fading into obscurity as the insidious spell continued to remove more and more of her memories.

"Worthy knight! Canst thou no remember aught of our old ways? Canst thou not do something?"

Ratnaz did not respond. His eyes were glazed as the force of Edgar Nyce's magics began to drain his mind of both will and memory. This frightened the damsel with greater intensity than she could bear. She sank to her knees, hands clutching at Ratnaz's sword belt. Her face tilted upwards, tears streaming down her cheeks. Sir Ratnaz seemed oblivious to her presence: his eyes were fixed on a point where the wall before him was slowly dissolving into thin air revealing a pastoral plain where mighty armies of armour clad warriors were contesting the claims of all-powerful kings engaged in dispute over territorial rights. Lady Bertie raised a trembling hand to forehead and accidentally dislocated the diamond encrusted tiara from her red tresses.

With a peal of desperation she wailed: "Nyce! You shhhhh....! Shhhh...!"

Bertie struggled to release the rest of the word from her unwilling lips. She fought to gain control of her tongue, to utter the word in her mind, for she thought with sudden hope, that this might be the manner by which she could break Edgar Nyce's spell. Sir Ratnaz had been correct, Edgar Nyce, evil as he might be, had left them a way to escape. If only she could say this word!

"Shhh....!" Bertie's lovely face was lined with effort. "Shhh....!" Frantically she searched for a method to speak the magic word which would break the spell.

Sir Ratnaz was no longer staring at the great confrontation raging beyond the confines of the room. He dropped to one knee, his eyes urging his beloved to do what was beyond his power: to say the Word. His lips worked with effort to support her, though no sound escaped his rugged frame. He placed mailed gloves on the princess' dainty shoulders, as if by this much, he could aid her.

Bertie's voice was sobbing as she fought the magic pressures. "Shhh...! Shi....!" There! Was there not a lessening in the force entangling them? She tried again with renewed hope. "Shi....! Shiiiii...."

The last of her strength was expended in a single soul-wrenching effort. "TURDHEAD!" She cried in triumph and collapsed sobbing against the chest of Ratnaz.

"Darling?"

Bertie opened her eyes. She suddenly became aware that she had fainted. "Is it over?"

Ratnaz held her in his arms and shrugged his shoulders. He bent his head and kissed her gently on the forehead before he sighed and turned her about to see what had been the result of her brave contest with the magic spell.

"That son-of-a-bitch!" Bertie exclaimed. "What the—?"

THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE #7

Space Ranger Tang-Gor crossed the room with extended hand and an apologetic look on his alien face. Ratnaz and Bertie were astonished to find this fully space-suited figure in Ratnaz's house.

"I'm sorry I did not have time to call ahead and warn you of my arrival," Captain Tang-Gor said as he vigorously shook Ratnaz's limp hand. With a flourish of his fingers, Tang-Gor twirled the end of his third tentacle and nodded his head in the direction of Bertie. "Hello, you beautiful doll. Will you excuse us? Your heartthrob and I have several things to discuss."

So saying, Ranger Tang-Gor led the wide-eyed Ratnaz out of the kitchen leaving a sputtering Bertie Ketchum glaring in their wake. She was tempted to ease-drop on the conversation going on in the other room, and with thought, came action. Bertie placed her ear against the door panel only to jump back when it rudely bumped her skull as Tang-Gor stuck his unruly mass of tentacles around the edge of the door.

"Naughty, naughty, you little vixen. Leave us big men alone so that we may figure out how to save the world from death and destruction at the hands of the nefarious Edgar Nyce. He's really got us in a terrible fix, you know. Why don't you whip up a few sandwiches? Or you could take a bath while we plan our strategy and Nyce has not yet made his move."

Bertie quelled her urge to teak the grinning Space Ranger's nose—Tang-Gor had a point. In the recent several adventures she had not had the opportunity to attend her usual toilet. What the cheeky space geek had suggested made sense: get clean before Edgar Nyce decided to whisk them off into another adventure.

Without another thought for the arguing voices in the next room, Bertie trotted towards the bath. Within moments she was basking in the warmth of the shower's hot spray. When she was squeaky clean and glowing with health and contentment she donned fresh apparel and went back to the kitchen.

"Ratnaz? What do you want to eat?" Bertie called out as she inspected the meager larder. The wicked Edgar Nyce had not bothered to do any grocery shopping while she and Ratnaz had been gallivanting all over creation. That was just one more thing she had to settle with Edgar Nyce.

"Find out if your guest 'Captain Fantastic', Bertie shouted, "has any preferences about munchies because you're gonna get Wolf Brand Chili and Fritos for lunch."

Bertie busied herself with the preparation of the meal and momentarily forgot that she had not heard a reply from the living room. It was only after burning her finger on the hot stove while pouring up the Frito pie that Ketchum realized Ratnaz had not come in grouching about the mess the space-suited character was making on the living room carpet.

"Honey?" Bertie called out as she peeked around the door. "Where are you?"

There was nothing in the room but a swirling mass of sparkling blue lights which began to fade even as she watched. Biting a knuckle, Bertie ran into the midst of the waning light with tears in her eyes.

"Damn you, Nyce! Sent my Ratnaz off in a matter transmitter beam, haven't you?"

As if her words were a signal, the same funny blue lights began popping out all over the place. Bertie tried to make up her mind as to whether she should jump into the middle of one; or get the hell out of the way.

"I'm not that strong," she sobbed and moved back. "I've had enough of this traveling around. Ratnaz, good luck, baby cakes!"

The lights swirled more madly, the noise coming over the stereo had a _whieep whieep_ sound. As she moved further from the point of disturbance, the lights began to become more solidly compact and suddenly, she began to make out the shapes of...

"Bertie Ketchum?" The straight backed figure of Splash Goredone stepped forward with hand outstretched in greeting. There was an urgency in his manner which was not lost on the young girl. Right behind the captain of the Enterprise was a gorgeous creature: Wilma Endearing.

"Captain," Endearing spoke, "we have only trace readings of the renegade Ranger Tang-Gor. If my quadcorder is correct, the villainous Space Ranger has recruited another victim for the Fencers."

"Miss Ketchum," Splash emoted with horrible intensity, "We received a communication on route to Spica Rigellis IV that informed us of the presence of the nefarious Post-hole Digger-napper: Captain Tang-Gor. We have been searching for this recruiter for billions and billions of nano-seconds. If you could just tell us if he has been here—"

"A queasy looking guy with too many tentacles and an predilection for abrupt, rude, and lecherous manners?" Bertie inquired.

"That's him, Miss," Wilma Endearing nodded.

"About ten, fifteen minutes ago. He and Ratnaz were talking here in the living room while I took a shower. What's so bad about this Ranger?"

"He steals strong backs and weak minds to bolster the work battalions of the Fencers: a group of alien beings bent on fencing the galaxy off into beach front properties. I don't mean to imply that your Ratnaz is one such, only that he will be treated in that manner. Can you say which way did they go?"

"Which way did they go." Bertie replied literally. "Now that that's out of the way, can you tell me which way did they go?"

"Alas and alack," Splash Goredone shook his head, "all we can hope to do is follow the tenuous trail of excited ions left by the matter transmitter. Speaking of excitement— " Splash Goredone grinned at Bertie, the fire starting up in his eyes.

Without a word of warning, the man sprang forward and pressed impassioned lips against those of the startled woman. Breathless moments later (at the constant urging of Wilma Endearing who was angrily pointing out that the trail was getting colder by the second) Splash Goredone released Bertie.

"I never was happy," Splash Goredone explained to the stunned girl, "with the way the movie writers portrayed me with the opposite sex. Now that Wilma Endearing and I are free of the inhibitions of prime time TV, I take my reward first and then hope like hell I can deliver. If I don't, then I have lost nothing but some time. Take care, Miss Ketchum. If we can find your Ratnaz and capture the dastardly Tang-Gor, we will do so. Ta Ta!"

Splash Goredone whipped out his communicator and said: "Scotty, beam us up."

"I have three bodies in the transmittal area captain." Scotty's voice came back. "Should I beam aboard all three?"

Splash Goredone looked at Bertie with a personal interest, thought for a moment about his chances with the red-haired woman, then sadly shook his head. "No, Scotty, just beam Wilma Endearing and myself aboard. Good day, Miss Ketchum."

The blue lights started up, along with the theme from a famous episodic space tv series blaring through the stereo. Bertie stood with arms akimbo and glared at the fading figures of Splash Goredone and Wilma Endearing. After they were gone Bertie shrugged her shoulders and went back into the kitchen to rescue her burning Frito pie.

"One of these days, you wily Edgar Nyce, there will be an accounting and I know you will not be happy with the outcome!" Bertie tested the edge of the butcher knife while she longingly contemplated a few minutes with Edgar Nyce in a quiet little room and locked doors...

* * * * * * * *

Bertie breathed a sigh of relief. For once, it seemed, the wily Edgar Nyce was going to let her be. She leaned back on Ratnaz's couch idly dipping spoon into Frito pie as she wondered what sort of adventure her lover was experiencing in the depths of interstellar space.

The girl's bottomless pit was feeling close to satiation as she scraped the sides of the pot for the last dregs of the commercially made chili. Her Fritos had long since become soggy, due primarily to the extended time between preparation and consumption. Without the reassurances of Splash Goredone, Bertie might have been prone to hysteria for the safety of her Ratnaz. But with the renowned commander and his capable crew on the lookout for her man, Bertie refrained from any additional emotional output.

All she wanted was a good night's sleep.

* * * * * * * *

Ratnaz, on the other hand, desperately wished he'd had the opportunity to grab a bite to eat before Tang-Gor had spirited him off-planet to this forsaken place. Over head the sky was off-vomit green with a touch of nicotine haze thrown in for extra measure. Why the Fencers thought they could interest anyone in this as beach front property was beyond Ratnaz's conception. He only knew that he'd be examining brochures for land investment more closely from now on. Ratnaz's stomach growled again, louder this time. The man chained next to him spat with disgust.

"Damn! Is that all your body can think of? Food? How can you be hungry in such an inimical environment?"

"Easy," the displaced person replied. "I'm starving!"

"Tsk, tsk," the human-shaped pop-eyed frog replied. "I have the feeling that you are going to get mighty hungry still since all we have to eat are the - THAWP!" The frog's tongue shot out and snatched a dragonfly out of the air. He paused to belch after swallowing the screaming insect ("Watch it, Bub! I'll sic my big brot—").

With a smile of satisfaction, Ratnaz's companion continued his interrupted speech. "Wonderful taste to these Gozandan Flits!"

"Uhh," Ratnaz squeezed his eyes shut and shuddered. "The next time you hit one of those babies, would you mind sharing? My back bone is wrapped around my spine!"

"I could," the frog replied with a chuckle, "but I'd hate to waste it. You'd only spit it out after getting the best juices..."

"Well," Ratnaz admitted with a green face, "I suppose you're right. Can we talk about something else?"

"Sure thing, Bub," the over-grown puddle jumper grinned. "What's the topic?"

"Escape?"

The frog chuckled. "How's that? You got to be kidding!" The amphibian hushed as his eyes followed the movement of something over Ratnaz's shoulder. The big earthman man thought about ducking to give the frogman a clear shot at the dragonfly, then realized the creature was not interested in food. Ratnaz spun about in his place (as easily as you can spin with chains on all four appendages) and saw Ranger Tang-Gor talking with Nyce.

"Hey, frog," Ratnaz whispered.

"Yeah?"

"What kind of devilment are they up to?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. As for me, I'll take whatever Dastardly Tang-Gor dishes down, but that wily Edgar Nyce is as wicked a wonder as I rather hope to avoid. If at all possible."

"I know what you mean," Ratnaz fervently replied. "That little runt has been causing a lot of trouble lately."

"Trouble?" the frog croaked in anguish. "You don't know the meaning of trouble! I've been having one bitchin' bad time because of Edgar Nyce! The bastard transported me and my kids from the pond back home into the middle of a catfish convention. Results; Catfish: 350 tads. Me: my ass. If I could just get my flippers on him I'd—"

"Shhh!" Ratnaz cautioned. "Here comes the space ranger."

They waited in silence until Tang-Gor came to a stop just out of Ratnaz's arm length. The renegade ranger sneered as he spoke.

"I have no idea why, but I am supposed to let both of you loose. I suppose it is due to economic conditions since the Fencers have just lost 6 zillions on the beach front market and we have no use for post hole diggers. Be sure to turn in your equipment at the maintenance shack on your way out." With a negligent gesture of his hand, Tang-Gor caused the chains to disappear. Then he turned to walk away.

"Wait a minute!" Ratnaz cried and ran after the figure of the space ranger. "Wait just a damn minute!"

"Yeeesssss?" Tang-Gor sighed with ill concealed petulance.

"Uh. How do I get back home?"

"Shank's Mare, son. Ankle Express. The Ambulatory Transportation Company. Your choice. Bye."

"Huh?" Ratnaz started to protest but the words died unsaid. Tang-Gor, the planet and all else disappeared at the same time. Vanished. Poof!

Ratnaz did not have much to say in the matter. He was glad for was the shortness of the trip and the appearance of a Hilton Hotel on the white beach which stretched away as far as the eye could see. For a moment Ratnaz regretted not being able to say good by to the frogman.

He'd come to like the great green critter during the short time they'd been chain-mates. Most of all he regretted not getting the frogman's address. Dollar signs illuminated his eyes as Ratnaz contemplated the profits he could make with frog's legs the size of his own not inconsiderable thigh in conjunction with his promising catfish enterprise. But, the time was past—he would never know where to find those huge frogs until he'd had a little chat with Edgar Nyce.

Although Ratnaz was disappointed as far as the frog was concerned, he was delirious with his present situation:

* * * * * * * *

The long, winding white beach was populated with the most beautiful girls Ratnaz had ever seen. Curiously, there were no signs of any men—anywhere.

"I'll be damn!" Ratnaz breathed his amazement as he stepped out from behind the palm tree and started walking towards the hordes of naked, laughing women. "Would you look at that? Oh, damn. Oh, damn, damn, damn!"

Ratnaz fell to his knees and raised his hands in supplication. "Oh masterful Edgar Nyce! You really don't mean to do this to me, do you?"

Ratnaz's skin crawled as he heard the hollow mocking laughter coming out of the air. Ratnaz jumped to his feet and turned to run as twenty-five nubile maidens rushed towards him with unbridled lust in their eyes.

"You old fart!" Ratnaz's breath burned in his throat as he sought escape. "I know what you are planning! You are going to get me into a compromising sex orgy and then bring Bertie here! She'll kill me!"

Ratnaz managed to elude the women for several miles, but he was beginning to tire. There were tears in his eyes as he suddenly found himself in a box canyon. "Back!" he screamed as the women converged on his position. "I'm engaged! Back! Back!"

The girls only giggled seductively and closed in.

* * * * * * * *

Bertie woke in a cold sweat. Ratnaz was in trouble! She could feel it in her bones. The girl leapt out of bed and jumped into to her jeans (Hooray! Only Two Jumps!) and pulled a t-shirt over her head. Shoes were forgotten as she felt the tingle in her spine that indicated another transfer by the machinations of the wicked Edgar Nyce.

"Shit!" Bertie snarled. "I don't even have a weapon!" Just as she began to fade from the apartment, the enterprising girl grabbed the first thing close to hand: a hair brush.

At the next moment Bertie was squinting in brilliant sunlight on a beach that looked like all the picture postcards of the South Seas. Only difference: X rated. All the women were clothed in Nature's Garment, and as the wind came from the ocean, a breeze felt upon a part of her anatomy where breeze normally did not go suddenly informed the red-haired (and elsewhere) girl that she was clad in the same alarming lack of clothing as the rest of the ladies.

Blushing mightily, the girl yanked a few banana leaves from the nearest plant and deftly formed a bikini that maintained the illusion of prudence, though quite precariously.

To the west (at least the sun seemed to be setting in that direction, the young lady heard the raucous din of dizzy females. At any other time Bertie's full lips would have turned downward in a sneer at the salacious behavior of the women, but this time, something told her that Ratnaz was there: and he was in trouble.

Miss Ketchum joined the rest of the women moving in the direction of the outburst, though her face was not laughing and yearning as were the others. Instead she was grimly worried. Furrows cut her brow, which with proper care, water and fertilizer could provide a corn crop i.e. she was really WORRIED.

The hair brush was still gripped in her hand, though why it should have made the transition while her clothes did not was beyond Bertie. The impression that her man was in terrible trouble persisted so strongly that she kept on the look out for other weapons besides the ineffectual hair brush.

The nude laughing ladies were running towards the gaiety to the west. Bertie kicked her pretty little butt into high gear to keep up with them. So well was her effort rewarded that she soon pulled ahead of the pack and was first to enter the box canyon at the end of the beach. There, at the far side of the declivity, was a mass of writhing arms, legs, torsos and unbound bosoms. Faintly, as if from far away, Bertie heard Ratnaz's voice protesting, calling for help.

"Leave me alone! Stay away! I'm engaged!"

"Ratnaz?" Bertie ran up to the frenzied dog-pile. She recognized the hand pushing (or cupping?) the curvaceous bottom of a pretty, giggling brunette.

"Ratnaz! You come out of there right this instant!"

Bertie jumped into the fray with the only weapon she had, the hair brush. She smacked a blonde's fanny and the woman vanished with the pop of a champagne cork. Ketchum did not need further proof that she did indeed have a formidable weapon. With a hearty rebel yell, she screamed "You hussy Jezebels!" Bertie smacked, swatted, switched and slapped bottom after beautiful bottom.

The pile began to diminish. Bertie found Ratnaz's behind when, after delivering an especially hard wallop to a hairy posterior she heard: "Hey! That's me!"

"I know!" Bertie said between clenched teeth. Soon there were only three girls draped over Ratnaz's body and seconds later, there were none.

Ratnaz looked up with a sheepish grin. "Look, I can explain this. It's not my fault. I really tried to escape this. REALLY!"

"I believe you."

"You're not mad at me?" Ratnaz gasped in astonishment.

"Nope."

"Well? Aren't you glad to see me again?"

Bertie did not answer. She was too busy daring the horde of drooling women to try and take her man. Not a single one of those painted hussies was about to touch her baby cakes for fear of losing their hair.

"Honey, it was Edgar Nyce. You know I love only you." Ratnaz explained.

"Doesn't make any difference. I don't like hussies. Period."

"Whew!" Ratnaz was relieved.

"Just wait until I get you home, Ratnaz! You could have fought back harder!"

"Hey! I resemble, uh, resent that remark!"

Bertie softened, though she did not relax her watch over the salivating women. "I know, sweets. Moment to moment I expect that Edgar Nyce is gonna place me in the same situation. And I hope you can come to my rescue."

The Lord of the Leaves scowled. "He better not!"

"Ratnaz, what are we gonna do?"

"Well," Ratnaz grinned, "we could take a swim. And by the way—aren't you a bit over-dressed? When in Rome..."

Before Bertie could retort to the lewd suggestion made by her beloved, her spine tingled once again. She snatched Ratnaz's hand. At least he wouldn't be left where those man-hungry sluts could get their claws into her Ratnaz! She was taking him with her!

* * * * * * * *

Dear readers, it is time to remind you once again that "The News" is not above printing the most slanderously outrageous lies possible in the interest in perpetuating the expenditure of your hard earned cash into our bulging coffers. As long as you keep parting with your bucks, we'll keep handing out the bull!

* * * * * * * *

Bertie sighed with relief when the tingling in her spine simmered down and they found themselves on the edge of a gorgeous little meadow surrounded with great, hoary old oaks casting a wonderful shade. There was a picnic lunch laid out on a red checkered cloth; the aroma of potato salad and fried chicken a mouth-watering delight.

With only a moments hesitation the starving couple sat down and started cramming their faces.

"I don't care," Ratnaz said with some difficulty because a drumstick's worth of succulent fried chicken in one's mouth is tough to talk around, "if this might be a trap or something: It sure tastes good!"

"Really!" Bertie agreed. "Napkin?"

Ratnaz accepted the offered cloth and whipped his mouth. He looked inside the picnic basket and cheered when he found a couple of bottles of frosty cold beer. Without further ado, Ratnaz popped the top on one and chugged half down before coming up for air.

"Just what I needed. Sure hit the spot."

"Hey, piggy," Bertie pouted. "What about me?"

"Sorry," Ratnaz blushed. He opened a brew for his lady.

Bertie sucked at her suds with a satisfied smile-a smile which slowly changed to an expression of concern as she noted the tall figure approaching them from the opposite side of the meadow. "Don't look now, but I think we might have some trouble on the way."

"Christmas!" Ratnaz savagely muttered. He looked back over his shoulder and examined the stranger. "Hey, that's no stranger. That's Tang-Gor. Let's get the hell out of here!"

Ratnaz jumped to his feet and started for the trees. Bertie extended her foot and tripped the escapee. "Not without me, you don't! Why don't we just wait and find out what he wants? May be we can talk him into siding with us against Edgar Nyce..."

"Fat chance of that! He gets as big a kick out of what happens to us as Edgar Nyce does. Besides," Bertie pointed out, "he's not dressed as Ranger Tang-Gor, the Scourge of the Spaceways."

Ratnaz took a second look and agreed with part of Bertie's statement. "He may not be the Space Ranger, but he sure as hell looks like a Texas Ranger. Six guns, boots, and a star on his leather vest. Reminds me of John Wayne."

"Well," Bertie sighed, "if you want to run, go. I'm too tired right now and I haven't had my desert."

Ratnaz grinned ruefully in a lopsided manner and sat back down. By the time Tang-Gor squatted next to the edge of the checkered cloth, Ratnaz had polished off the last of the potato salad.

"Howdy, folks," Tang-Gor drawled. "Sorry to barge in on you like this but I thought I'd warn ya about the real bad bandits lyin' in wait for new folks in this here territory. Yer takin' a real chance bein' out here all by yer lonesomes."

"What kind of bandits?" Ratnaz asked.

"Don't know as how I should tell yer this in front of the lady..." Tang-Gor lowered his eyes and a vermillion flush suffused his alien features.

"No problem," Ratnaz urged the ranger, "Bertie don't mind. Do you?"

"I..." Bertie began. Ratnaz cut right over her as he pressed the ranger for information.

"Tell me all about it, Tang-Gor. What kind of bandits?"

"Titty Bandits."

"Titty Bandits?" Ratnaz frowned. "How can you steal titties?"

"Can't," Tang-Gor admitted with a wry wink, "without takin' the whole thing. But these men are real desperadoes. If they can't steal the whole thing, then they cops a feel."

Ratnaz shuddered in disgust. Bertie tried to keep a smile from appearing on her face. Tang-Gor rose and whistled. Ratnaz was suddenly alert. Was Tang-Gor one of the nefarious Titty Bandits?

A moment later the big man's apprehension was stilled as a great black stallion bearing a silver emblazoned saddle broke from cover and came trotting up to the ranger. Tang-Gor tipped his ten-and-a-half gallon hat and mounted the powerful horse.

"Just thought I'd warn ye. Got to mosey on. Ya'll take care now, ya hear?"

And with the speed of light and a hearty hi ho Midnight, the taciturn rider vanished into the forest.

"Titty Bandits," Ratnaz snorted. He moved over and put his arm about Bertie's shoulder. Pulling her close to him he chuckled. "The only 'Titty Bandit' around here is me!" he cried and tried to grab a handful of heaven.

Ratnaz immediately discovered the folly of his action when Bertie knocked him sprawling with the back of her hand. "Not until we are well and truly married, Ratnaz! You know better than that!" Then to show that she was not permanently angry, the lovely girl leaned over and planted a big wet one on Ratnaz's willing lips. "Okay?" she breathlessly asked. Ratnaz nodded—Bertie giggled.

They spent the rest of the afternoon lying in the shade of a fine, ancient oak listening to the wind in the tree tops and the sounds of all the little forest creatures. The couple enjoyed the quiet and slow passing of time: too often as of late they had been whirled from one end of the universe to the other without so much as a by-your-leave. Neither was willing to voice the question: 'When will this end? What is in store for us?' Instead, they lay entwined in gentle embrace and thanked the fates for this moment of peace.

Eighteen days later they were getting a bit tired of all the peace.

"I've had it up to here," Ratnaz kicked at the grass with an angry boot toe. "I was not cut out to be a pioneer in a raw world. I miss my golf games, nights out with the guys. Where, in all this pastoral delight, is the nearest poker game? When are we going to see some action?"

"I'm with you, babe," Bertie's full lips were shaped in a pretty moue. "I'm the big city type. I like stores and shopping and friends and..."

"Edgar Nyce has done it to us again!" Ratnaz cried in irritation. "He's torturing us with kindness! I would almost relish fighting off the dread Titty Bandits, if they actually exist, just for a change of pace!"

Ten days later, the young lovers were about to murder each other.

"Bertie, dearest, I love you with all my heart. You know that, but I hope to heaven we are never stuck together 24 hours a day—every day—like this again!"

"Tell me something I don't know, sweet cakes. You're a wonderful man—in reasonable doses. Everyday intimacy of this sort stretching out forever does get to be a bit much. You know I haven't had a moment to myself in—how long has it been?"

"Forever." Ratnaz replied.

"Right. Forever. Edgar Nyce! Will you do something? Give us a break! Change this! Anything at all will be fine with us!"

The sound of hideous arcane laughter echoing in the woods sent chills up both spines. A hollow voice petrified the couple. "Anything?" Edgar Nyce inquired. "Anything at all? Prepare yourselves, children! You are about to discover the true depths of depravity of which I am capable!!!!"

Ratnaz and Bertie stood with arms about each other, quivering in their boots. The old familiar tingling began and then...

* * * * * * * *

Swirling madness. Ebon clouds shot with crimson tongues of flame. Blue points of light speeding through the void crying in despair. Bloated forms of crickets, distorted beyond the size nature had ordained; chorusing in insane unison—a symphony guaranteed to drive even the stoutest heart into fibrillation. The roar of a volcano in the distance and a ribbon of molten lava flowing across the immense horizon.

Sensations of ultra sweet cotton candy on the tongue: honey and cinnamon. Fructose and saccharin. Glucose and glycerides and dextrose twisting taste into a stomach wrenching rebellion: creating the need for Limburger and liver—a desire for anything except the overwhelming nectars...

Tactile sensations taxed the imagination. Nothing felt the same. Rough became smooth; soft, hard. Long was short and short was invisible. Wind screamed about the ears; yet there was no breath of air on the face. Lungs screamed for air while the diaphragm continued to aspirate with unimpeded function.

One was blind, though the nightmares were clearly visible. Colors shifted from one hue to another with a rapidity which left the mind swirling, unbalanced. In short: Insanity.

And a break in the action.

Editor's Note: You surely would not expect an account of such strange adventures as those which have befallen Bertie and Ratnaz to overlook the need for including some sort of psychological madness just to keep things interesting. Would you? Not on your Aunt Tina's prized begonia, you wouldn't!

We Will Continue With The Story of Ratnaz and Bertie After These Messages From Our Sponsors:

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THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE # 8

I hadn't seen nicer gams since they sent Lil up the river. She looked like the kind of doll I wanted in my front office. I asked her name.

"What's your name, Peaches?"

"Ketchum," she replied with cool poise. "Bertie Ketchum."

"You got the job, Peaches."

"What if I didn't come here looking for a job?"

"Then why did you come in here?"

"I was looking for a job with the city's best private dick."

"That's me, Ratnaz. The Best. Like I just said, you got the job. By the way, can you type?"

"Gee, does that mean I don't get the job?"

"Nope. Just asked. The way you look, I wouldn't care if you couldn't talk. Have a seat at the desk out front. I'll whistle if I need you."

The long-legged beauty swayed out. My eyeballs still felt good after getting treated to Peaches. I had to tear my mind off the dame and get back to the latest caper to hit my doorstep.

Two days earlier a tall dude with glasses and mustache had hired me to discover who had stolen his fence posts from his home. I had several leads which might, or might not reveal the identity of the criminal responsible for the theft of Mr. Edgar Nyce's valuable fence posts. I checked the list I had put together a third time before I grabbed my trench coat and headed for the door.

"Don't know how long I'll be, Peaches. Keep a light in the window for me."

"I will, Ratnaz. You be careful. It's a dangerous world out there." She batted those lovely thick lashes at me.

"Tell me something I don't know." I growled. "Take care of yourself, kid." I had to get out of there in a hurry. That dame was doing things to me. I wasn't sure how long I'd be able to keep my hands off her delicious body if I hung around. The elevator wheezed as I descended to the first floor. I paused outside the rundown office building's revolving door and lit a cigarette.

"Hey, Ratnaz!"

I jerked my head around. It was Mouse. "Make it quick, Mouse. I'm on a hot caper."

"Sure, sure, Ratnaz. I won't take much of your time. You know that Edgar Nyce character that came to see you the other day?"

"Yeah? What's it to you?" Mouse had my sudden and undivided attention. I like to know things. Could come in handy some time and Mouse seemed to know a lot of things before they were known anyplace else.

"Well, I heard 'im talking to dis guy after he came out of your office. Couldn't hear much of what was said except the last thing the short, The Texican said."

"Short? Fat? Was he balding and have a thick beard and glasses?"

"Yeah! How did you know?"

"Never mind," I told Mouse. I broke out into a cold sweat. Things were starting to make sense—a kind of sense that left me shaking. "What'd he say?"

"Something about how he had you and the dame all set up for a frame. I like you, Ratnaz. You always treated me right."

"Sure, sure, old man. Thanks for the info. Anything else?"

"Naw. That's all I heard. Gee!" Mouse said when I handed him a fiver. "That's mighty white of you, Ratnaz!"

"It's okay, Mouse. You deserve it." I waved goodbye to Mouse and made a note to myself to win that fiver back with another sucker bet with the old geezer. Right now I had other things cooking so I'd have to wait to fake Mouse out of the mazoola.

I grabbed a taxi and listened to the cabbie's gripes as he took me to the address I'd given him. I was relieved to arrive and pay the bitchin' bad-mouther off and get into the fresh air. I'd had all I could take from him. (What I would rather have done is yank out my gat and blow a hole right between his beady eyes.)

The joint was an old warehouse. I scanned the dingy exterior with a critical eye. Bogey had been caught flat-footed too many times in locations such as these and it was not about to happen to Ratnaz.

The place stunk. Like a sock hop with nothing but sweaty jocks and their dippy dames. I had difficulty keeping my trigger finger loose in case of trouble: I wanted to hold my nose shut to keep out the foul aroma.

Standing here in the doorway bemoaning the atmospheric conditions was not going to make my job any easier. The man I had to see was in the main office—up the stairs and around the back. Taking a deep breath I stepped into the dimly lit warehouse and took the most direct route to the stairway.

All the way up that flight of stairs I had two thoughts bouncing back and forth between the lobes of my brain: Peaches; and what Mouse had told me about Mr. Edgar Nyce and The Texican.

Peaches was easy: love on first sight.

The Texican bothered me. I'd tangled with this guy before. As far as size was concerned, Sidney Greenstreet he wasn't; but if you looked at the sheer malevolence the man was capable of, old Sidney would look like a grandmother knitting doilies for the Salvation Army. I hoped The Texican was after something besides my ass. Or Peaches'.

"Hold it right there, Ratnaz!"

I reached for my gat. The voice warned me against that: "Make another move and you'll sing soprano the rest of your life. About ten minutes worth after a gut shot. Wanna try your luck?"

I didn't.

A gloved hand impersonally reached beneath my trench coat and relieved me of old Betsy. I missed her comforting weight in the shoulder holster. I was prodded with the cold muzzle of what felt like a cannon.

"Upstairs. The Boss wants to see you."

"Boss who?"

"You'll find out. Now get movin'. Or are you tired of livin'?"

"Not yet." I started up the stairs.

The office smelled of cigarette smoke. The Texican was seated behind the beat-up desk in the center of the room. Peaches was on the floor behind him, bound hand and foot with rope. That made me mad.

"She ain't got no part in this, Texican!"

"Watch your mouth, Ratnaz, or Tang-Gor will have to teach you a lesson." The man known as Mister Nyce by the street people nodded at the man behind me. I was punched with the cannon a second time. I looked over my shoulder and saw the grinning face of the 'homeowner' who'd reported stolen fence posts.

"So you're in this, too." Didn't make that a question. I can see facts when they stare me in the face. "What's he paying you? I'll double it if you'll help me beat the shit out of Edgar Nyce."

"Sorry, Ratnaz. He pays better than what you can offer."

"There's no profit in trying to woo Mr. Tang-Gor to your side, Ratnaz. We are both committed to the action we have undertaken. If you follow my instructions to the letter, I'll let you and the young lady go free. If you will not, then the consequences will be on your head." The Texican grinned. I didn't like the look of things.

"What's this thing I have to do?"

"Simple. You go on national televison and say: I am Bertie Ketchum's Sweetcakes."

"Never!" I cried. I remembered all too well the ribbing I'd received at the hands of my drinking buddies when a dame had let that slip one night at the bar. I wasn't about to go through that a second time. "You are asking too much of me, Nyce!"

"Somehow I thought you'd say that, Ratnaz. Tang-Gor, put him on ice."

I never knew what hit me. The next thing I knew I was sitting up in the office with a splitting headache. I looked around for Fats and his stooge. And Peaches. They were gone. On the desk was a note.

YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE, GUMSHOE. NOW YOU'LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO THINK THEY CAN DEFY...

Edgar Nyce

P.S. If you want to see Peaches before she is turned into preserves, get your fanny over to the SMUCKER'S processing plant before midnight.

I looked at my watch. Twenty minutes to the witching hour. I jumped to my feet and reeled down the stairs to the street. There was a cabbie (same one who'd brought me here!) waiting for me.

"You've got one hell of a bill, mister. The meter's been running for hours!"

"Don't worry," I yelled. "I'm good for it. Now get me to the Smucker's plant before midnight and there's an extra sawbuck in it for you!"

"Yes sir!"

The cabbie did not spare the gas, tires, or my hide as he set records for flying low without a license. He dropped me off in from of the jelly manufacturing plant and I stuffed a wad of bills in his grimy paws and ran inside the brightly lit edifice. I threaded my way past the stainless steel vats and preparation tables. Old Betsy would have made me feel a bit braver than I felt at the moment, but then again, Peaches was depending on me—Betsy or no Betsy. I kept seeing things through a red haze. There was no reason to drag the kid into this mess, even if it was Peaches Edgar Nyce had dared me to name on National TV.

Maybe I'd been too hard-headed about refusing. Maybe. I'd have to think it over—after I got Peaches out of the clutches of The Texican. I didn't know where I was going. Only knew I had to try and find the lady. I turned to the left.

A voice shouted out: "Wrong way, stupid!"

So I turned about and headed the other way. At the end of the aisle between the vats was a brighter spot of light. As I got closer I could see Peaches lying on the floor. She was still tied up. I ran to her side and lifted her into my arms. There was no sign of Edgar Nyce or Tang-Gor.

"Ratnaz!" Bertie sighed with relief. "I knew you'd come for me!"

"Did you think your sweetcakes would ever desert you, Bertie Ketchum?" I smothered her lips with mine.

"Excellent! Excellent! Thank you, Ratnaz! Did you capture the whole lurid scene on your video recorder, Mr. Tang-Gor?"

"I did, sir. We have the proof you demanded of the private dick. It's on tape."

"Good. Very good. Thank you, Mr. Ratnaz. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

* * * * * * * *

"Does it really matter, Ratnaz?" Bertie asked me as I loosened the last of her bonds.

"What's that?"

"You know...sweetcakes."

"Why fight it? I can't win against The Texican."

"Ratnaz! Don't say that! You can beat him! I know you can!"

"We'll have to wait and see, won't we. But right now," I lifted the delicious bundle to her feet and hugged her tight, "we have other things to do. Shall we go?"

"Whatever you say, Ratnaz."

I looked down at the doll and gave her my best smile. The Texican had won this round. But I got the prize.

THE NEWS - VOLUME 1, ISSUE # 9

I realize, fellow fans of the Ketchum/Ratnaz saga, that several days have elapsed since the publication of the last issue. I wish to remind you that The News is a non-profit periodical which has an extremely 'periodic' cycle. As a result, you will have to suffer the occasional deprivation of your favorite reading matter until, and when, each issue becomes available. Were it possible, your editor could think of nothing more entertaining than long hours of composing the exciting and impossible adventures of America's Sweethearts—yet given the current economic situation (i.e. working for a living) I have no recourse other than the pursuit of the all-mighty buck. As a result, the appearances of The News will continue to be on an as possible basis....

Time for a few facts:

Our heroine has been bemoaning her current state of health endured for the past few months. "If it isn't one thing, it's another," she has been known to say. Your editor hopes Bertie recovers soon as it is his intention to send her and her paramour to the south of France for a holiday among the beautiful people on lovely beaches and quaint little chateaus...

FLASH: Would you like to hear about all the other mundane catastrophes which have befallen our dainty damsel? Then wait on: I have no intention of spending six days listing the complaints I've heard in just two...

ENOUGH OF FACTS! LET'S GET ON WITH THE GOOD PART!

The great thunder lizard strode toward the couple clad in animal skins and generated fear within their breasts. The youngsters turned to run; to hide from the great, hulking monster. With one mighty gulp Tyrannosaurs Rex gobbled them up. The End of the Story.

With one exception: The victims were not our protagonists.

This is the total extent of the obligatory violence required by both Motion Picture and Writer's Guilds while in the course of producing light entertainment for the masses. Please don't ask for any of the really yeechy stuff because I hate to write about busted innards and eyeballs swinging on cheeks by slim strands of repulsive muscle tissue! I mean, who wants to read about putrification and excessive violence? All you have to do is walk the streets of any metropolitan area and get all you can handle!

Signing off for now. Have a good day!

* * * * * * * *'

Bertie frowned. A moment ago she was about to show Ratnaz the curtains she wanted to have for their bedroom. Now, she was sitting cross-legged, not on their couch, but on an old oaken bench in a beautiful gazebo. It was not quite full evening, but the old kerosene lantern flickering in the gazebo gave enough illumination to show how she was dressed: a costume of the Old South.

Beneath the full hoop skirt; a corset, pantaloons, stockings, bustle, wire and whale bone and at least a dozen petticoats. Bertie was conscious not only of the heat caused by her apparel but the left over dregs of a warm summer afternoon which only the climate of the Gulf Coast could produce.

Bertie rose from the bench in a pirouette. She was pleased with the colors. Soft pinks in the finest silks which added shimmering highlights under the soft glow of the lantern. Bertie's hand rose to her throat as she tried to catch her breath. She encountered a massive necklace that was worth a king's ransom. Bertie lifted the chain from her breast to examine the numerous diamonds and rubies. Bertie Ketchum's eyes reflected the glittering sparkle of the precious trinket.

"Finally!" she whispered with carefully repressed happiness. "You have finally redeemed yourself, you old wonderful Wizard of Words! I think I could go for this, Edgar Nyce!"

"Mistress Bertie?"

"Yes?" Bertie turned about and saw the wrinkled face of old, faithful Sam. She gave the ancient Negro a smile.

Sam bowed low. "Master Tang-Gor's coach has arrived in the drive. Shall I tell him you'll receive him here?"

Bertie's breath caught in her throat. She abruptly realized the meaning of Sam's words and knew fear. Tang-Gor! How could Nyce do this to her? Bertie knew how devious Edgar Nyce could be; how he even provided the memory of past events to back up his outrageous situations.

Ratnaz was off to war with the 123rd Virginia Regulars. Thought to be somewhere around Richmond where great battles had been raging for weeks, her Ratnaz was a captain of Cavalry. A true son of the South, Ratnaz had answered the clarion call with honor and bravery. In her heart Bertie was proud of the rugged man, but his presence at the front had left her and her family at the not-so-tender mercies of Lord Tang-Gor.

Tang-Gor owned the neighboring plantation. An English investor in the riches of the South, Lord Tang-Gor thought it was beyond his position to involve himself in the War of Separation in a physical sense. His concerns revolved about the wealth which could be taken from the land and exported to England, and in the beauty of her daughters.

Within weeks after Ratnaz's enlistment, the Englishman began to force his attentions upon Bertie. Tang-Gor made it well known they could share in mutual betterment if she deigned to accept his proposal of marriage. Bertie's wealth and prestige could be enhanced, and Tang-Gor would reap benefits of a similar kind. Therefore Lord Tang-Gor had been an almost daily visitor since the news of the Confederate reverses at Richmond began to filter back from the front.

So far Bertie had refused the not-unhandsome Englishman's advances. After all, her Ratnaz may be dead in the war. If Ratnaz did not come home there would be none to protect her, her parents, or the many slaves which worked the plantation.

"Shall I bring him here, Miss Bertie?" Sam asked a second time.

Startled out of her reverie the young girl shook her head. "No, Sam. I will receive Lord Tang-Gor in the parlor. Please make him comfortable and tell him I will come shortly."

"Yes'am." The slave replied and turned towards the flower-lined path which would take him back to the big house.

Bertie waited until the Negro was out of sight before she stamped her foot in rage. "Edgar Nyce! You little ..." With frustration constricting her throat the lovely woman was unable to complete her curse. Instead, she felt immense distress.

What could her father, the Colonel do? He had deservedly sought a peaceful retirement long before the War had erupted between the States and now, with so many young men involved in the fray, there were only those, like her father, who remained behind. None could dispute the Colonel's bravery and courage, but what can an elderly gentleman hope to accomplish against the likes of the avaricious Lord Tang-Gor?

Bertie slowly walked to the mansion trying to think of a way to ask her unbidden guest to leave without arousing his ire. She could think of nothing which would prevail upon the Englishman. Bertie found Tang-Gor, along with her father, waiting in the parlor. A tray of brandy and cut-glass crystal had been set on the table. Both men held glasses, though neither had sipped the heady beverage.

"I hope I haven't kept you waiting," Bertie spoke to the tall Tang-Gor who had risen at her entrance.

"I do not mind the wait, dearest," Tang-Gor replied with an approving leer. "You are most beautiful this evening."

"Thank you," Bertie blushed at the man's forward appraisal. "Won't you sit down? Tell me, how have your dealings gone at the port? Has a ship agreed to take your cargo?"

Tang-Gor frowned, an evidence of his annoyance with the day's work. "No. None of the captains in port are willing to run the Union blockade. They fear for their lives and their ships. I will have to try again tomorrow, but never fear, I will find someone who is willing to take my cargo, and the fee I have offered. It is just a matter of time. Just as," he smiled possessively, "you will eventually come to accept my proposal."

"But I cannot!" Bertie cried. "How many times must I tell you, sir, that I am promised to another? Will you please stop your unwanted attentions?"

"When I finally believe they are truly unwanted, or you have said yes. That is when I will stop."

Tang-Gor set his untouched brandy on the table and rose to tower over the woman. She looked up into his steely eyes and knew despair. Lord Tang-Gor would not be denied, and Bertie did not know how much longer she could hold him off.

The plantation was in trouble. What with the war and the subsequent drains upon the economy. The Colonel was near to losing the old homestead due to debts incurred in the maintenance of the vast property. In fact, very few plantation owners were in much better shape. Only those like Tang-Gor, who were supported by foreign monies, still prospered.

Bertie eluded Lord Tang-Gor's outstretched arms and went to stand by the French doors opening on the huge veranda. "Please, sir," she begged with a whisper, "do not continue with this... I may not betray the love of one who is hundreds of miles away in the midst of who knows how horrible warfare."

"What do I care about this Ratnaz?" Lord Tang-Gor cried in exasperation.

Bertie was about to answer the Englishman's query when she caught sight of one she had not expected to see. Coming across the veranda from the yard to the parlor was the tall figure she knew so well. It did not matter that he did not walk with the same bold stride she recalled, only that he was here. She flung the doors open and ran to the grey clad man before Tang-Gor could stop her.

"Ratnaz! Somehow I knew you would return! Are you alright?"

Ratnaz heartily embraced his magnolia blossom of the south. "As well as can be expected," he grinned without amusement, "as an ex-captain of horse afflicted with acute hemorrhoids can feel. But enough of the war!" Ratnaz kissed her soundly. "How have you fared in my absence?"

"Poorly, until now! I'm so glad you're home! Will you be staying?"

"Yes, my usefulness to the South has ended. I cannot sit horse for more than ten minutes and most of the battles and journeys require long hours, or even days in the saddle. How is your family?"

"Can we talk of them later, my darling? I have something more important to speak to you about. Something only you can handle..."

"And what may that be?"

"A suitor after my hand and my father's plantation."

"Ah," Ratnaz sighed unhappily. "I suppose I will have to kill him. Who is this person?"

"Lord Tang-Gor."

Ratnaz shook his head. "Damn shame. I like the chap."

"Perhaps you will not have to duel with him."

"Ridiculous, Bertie! I, a gentleman of the south refusing to answer the boorish manners of one who has besmirched the honor of my intended? I'll give him his choice of weapons and we will have this done with all dispatch."

"Then," Lord Tang-Gor stepped out of the parlor and stared at the Confederate officer, "let us be at it now. And I chose swords."

"Will a saber suffice, Lord Tang-Gor?" Ratnaz replied. "I personally have no desire to use one of those sissified epees favored by the French."

"As you wish. Sabers at twenty paces."

"Are you mad?" Ratnaz laughed. "Twenty paces?"

"Surely. And to answer your question, no I am not mad. Nor should you be. Think man, I am only after her money, not her admittedly desirous body. Perhaps we can talk things over. You keep the girl, I take the plantation and offer the two of you a residence in return. If it were Bertie I desired, I could have achieved that goal months ago. I am speaking only the truth. I want the plantation. You can have her. What do you say?"

Ratnaz frowned in thought.

"Ratnaz!" Bertie was surprised. "Don't tell me you are seriously considering his proposal!"

"And why not? Let's be realistic, Bertie. You father is in debt, and while he could soon rectify that minor problem as soon as the war is over, he may lose the plantation before that could happen. If Tang-Gor takes over the plantation the slaves will survive this bloody mess. Your father could take that European vacation from the proceeds of the sale and still have a fortune afterwards on which to live comfortably for the rest of his life.

"And if the truth were known," Ratnaz continued, "I have no desire to be a plantation owner. I prefer the sea. I know that is where I will make my fortune."

"Well," Bertie was slightly mollified. "Aren't you at least going to demand an accounting from Tang-Gor for the unpleasantness of his constant attention?"

Ratnaz turned to the Englishman. "Were you ever forward with my lady?"

"Absolutely not. As I said I am interested in the plantation. Real estate's the game."

"Then consider that you have incurred my wrath and I have properly chastised you."

Tang-Gor bowed at the waist. "As you wish, sir. I bid you and your woman a good evening. I will have my solicitor contact yours in the morning regarding the details of our agreement." Lord Tang-Gor stuck out his hand and Ratnaz grasped it firmly.

"Done. Good night, sir."

The News sadly reports this is our last issue of the Ratnaz and Bertie adventures. It is also our last issue ever as creditors and vendors without a sense of honor or humor are demanding payment of past debts. All we can say at this late juncture is that if Edgar Nyce had remained popular with the reading audiences we'd still be making a slim buck. As it is now we are well and truly f*c—

The couple watched in silence as the Englishman boarded his carriage. Bertie refrained from speaking until Tang-Gor's conveyance exited the gate of the plantation. Turning to her returned lover she said, "You make damn sure the monies are properly counted and banked—and count your fingers afterwards. Sweetcakes. I am so thrill to have you home!"

What happened thereafter on that evening is—

"Damn it, Ratz! He's at it again!"

Bertie wailed as time and space twisted and diverted and...

THE NATIONAL BOARD OF CENSORS HAS REGRETFULLY MUZZLED, WITHOUT PREJUDICE, THE STAFF, EDITORS, AND CONTRIBUTORS OF "THE NEWS," WHICH HAS FILED FOR BANKRUPTCY.

"Bertie?"

"I'm here, beloved."

"Hang in there, darling. I'm sure there's another pulp rag out there that will take us. Kisses, sweetcakes!"

"Kisses back, doubled. When are you going to kill Edgar Nyce?"

"The first chance I get. Wanna help?"

"You know I do!"

tangor@erblist.com

In the vein of Edgar Nyce, who borrowed "I still live!" from another, the authors of Ratnaz vow: "This ain't over yet!"