By James Hold
[Copyright 2015 James Roy Hold
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INCIDENT ON PLUTO BEACH
It was not the first time O’Ryan told a waitress how he happened to end up with an ostrich for a companion. Nor was she the first waitress to listen sympathetically to his plight. Women in general and waitresses in particular were impressed by stories of steadfast undying love.
Men, however, overhearing his tale, tended to scoff. “Hey, girlie,” the cruder ones would say, “if you’re looking for a man who’ll love you like an ostrich—” Which was as far as they would get before the waitress accidentally spilled hot coffee in their laps.
Not all men were like that though.
“You said something about a Jeanie Dent?” one asked him.
O’Ryan nodded. It was a genie named “Dent” that was responsible for his having a female ostrich instead a female human.
“Seems to me I recall a name something like that,” the man went on. “I’m the postman in these parts and I once delivered a letter to…”
And so, armed with nothing more than the vague remembrance of a county postal clerk, O’Ryan and his ostrich once again struck out in search of the elusive genie that held the key to their happiness.
Something about the girl caused O’Ryan to halt his rented dune buggy by the side of the road. When first he glimpsed her on that narrow strip of rocky coast he was mildly surprised, for it was a desolate spot seldom frequented by bathers that time of the season. Now he was aroused to attention by the awkward posture of the slender body outlined against the graying sky. Ordering the ostrich to stay put, he switched off the ignition and sprang to the ground.
Although twisted into a cowering attitude, the slender figure was yet a thing to admire. Racing recklessly across the slippery stones, she seemed certain at any moment to fall. And fall she did, her arms waving wildly as, with a gasping cry, her body lurched violently and collapsed behind a jagged outcrop.
O’Ryan was running now. He had kicked off his flipflops and was picking his way over the treacherous footing.
A mysterious something intercepted his path; something that stung his shoulder like a fiery hornet. Then it was gone. Probably a fantasy of O’Ryan’s overexcited brain, or the surf breaking against the sea wall. He turned his attention to the girl.
The girl moaned and tossed her head, returning painfully to consciousness. O’Ryan placed his folded island shirt under her head, noting with alarm that red welts marred the Caribbean tan of her arms and shoulders. Those marks could not have come from her fall. It was as if she had been deliberately burned. He smoothed back the rumpled mass of dark kinky hair and studied her features.
She opened her eyes and startled. Not at the terror she had undergone. Nor at the shirtless fellow in board shorts. That was a common enough sight along Pluto Beach. It was at the ostrich standing alongside him. And it was not so much the ostrich as the fact it was wearing sunglasses.
“You’ll have to forgive her,” O’Ryan apologized. “She saw some beach bunnies wearing them and wouldn’t stop pestering me until I got her a pair.” Then he addressed the ostrich. “I thought I told you to stay put.”
The girl reacted calmly to this. First, she closed her eyes. Next, she said, “All right, Gina. Stay calm. Breathe deep. Obviously you hit your head and are hallucinating.” Then she opened her eyes again, and seeing nothing had changed, let out a little cry. With startling abruptness, she sprang to her feet.
“Hey, hey, it’s all right.” O’Ryan placed a reassuring arm around her. “Maybe you did bump your head but I assure you we’re real.”
The ostrich pecked O’Ryan’s bare shoulder.
“I know,” he told it. “I heard.”
“Heard what?” asked the girl.
“You said your name was Gina?”
“That’s right. Gina Kent. Why?”
O’Ryan sighed. So much for that postman and his Genie Dent. Still, as long as he was here…
“So what happened?” O’Ryan rubbed his shoulder blade, remembering the queer sting he felt when approaching her. He looked again at the burn marks on the girl’s upper torso. Whatever it was, it had not marked her below the waist.
“I—I don’t know.” Gina passed a trembling hand before her eyes. “Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I felt—No! No, it was nothing. I must have gotten too much sun. Nothing was there. I—I…”
O’Ryan caught her as she swayed on her feet. “Easy,” he said soothingly, “you’re all right. It’s gone now, whatever it was.” He was not buying her “imagination” act. The marks on her body were real—as was the pain in his shoulder.
“Perhaps,” he suggested, “you’ll let me help you get back home.”
“No, no!” The girl frightened at the thought. “Professor Roberts wouldn’t welcome you. He’s suspicious of everyone, even keeping things from me, his secretary. But it was nice of you to offer. I—I’d better go now.”
They reached the road and O’Ryan searched for his dune buggy. He did not want to leave the girl in her current state and insisted upon driving her.
“That your place?” He pointed in the direction of a gloomy house barely visible over the treetops.
“Yes.” The girl shivered and drew closer to him.
Here the ostrich poked her head between them. In her beak was O’Ryan’s island shirt.
“Now, girl,” he chided, “jealousy is very unbecoming of you.” Nevertheless, he took the shirt and put it on.
“How is it you go around with an ostrich?” Gina asked.
“It’s a long story,” O’Ryan began. Began but did not finish as a sudden whoosh sound caught his attention.
O’Ryan looked in disbelief at the spot where he had left the dune buggy. But the buggy was no longer there. In its place was a fiery heap of molten slag and burning rubber. Such a thing could not be possible, yet there it was. In that brief interval following the sound of the whoosh some incredible power had incinerated the vehicle and all that was in it, leaving them stranded and staring into each other’s eyes in awed silence.
Professor Roberts was prowling in the shrubbery when they approached the house—a pale, pasty character with an unhealthy complexion. He straightened and peered at his secretary’s companion with obvious disapproval.
“Gina,” he said severely, “I’ve told you I want no visitors.”
“Yes, Professor, I know, but O’Ryan’s car was melted on the beach road and there is no way for him to go back. We must help him.”
“His car—melted? Who melted it?” Professor Roberts glared suspiciously at his unwelcome visitor.
“One of your enemies, I think,” she replied shakily. “The same ones who attacked me. Look at my burns!”
Roberts examined the marks, and his fingers trembled as he touched his secretary’s shoulder. He looked piteously into her eyes. “Are you sure, Gina? Did you see it?”
“No. But I felt it—the stinging and the buzzing. Oh, it was horrible!” The girl’s voice rose hysterically. “If I hadn’t slipped and fallen behind the shelter of a large rock who knows what might have happened.”
“Oh, Lord! What have I done?” groaned Roberts. “It’s true then. Mole and Owl have found a way to focus the stolen battery and turn it into a weapon. Only how—” He looked at O’Ryan, remembering his presence suddenly. “But I’m talking too much. It seems to me you showed up at a very convenient time, young man. Exactly who sent you to find me?”
“Nobody sent me,” O’Ryan bristled at the Professor’s suspicions. “I was passing by when I saw your secretary in danger and stopped to help.”
“That’s right,” Gina interposed, “he stopped to help me and then lost his car at the hands of—”
“Silence!” the Professor thundered.
“Silence yourself!” she returned angrily, “I’ve stayed here with you until I’m nearly crazy with your puttering and experimenting—listening to your uncanny machines buzzing all night—seeing impossible sights—and now this. Something has to be done, I tell you. I can’t stand it!”
Her voice broke on a choked sob.
“Don’t but me, Professor. I mean it. O’Ryan found your place by accident and he’s been very nice to me. He means no harm and I want him to stay. If you’re not decent to him, if you send him away, I swear I’ll go too. I will—I will!”
Roberts’ eyes misted and something of the hardness left his expression. A look of haunting fear took its place and he stared pleadingly at O’Ryan.
“Brrr! I’m cold!” Gina exclaimed irrelevantly. She turned away and raced for the shelter of the house without another word.
O’Ryan turned inquiring eyes on his unwilling host.
“O’Ryan,” he said sheepishly, “I’ve been a fool and I ask your pardon. But Gina doesn’t understand. There’s something tremendous behind all this, something that’s gotten beyond me. But I must carry on. If—if only there was someone I could trust—”
“You can trust us, sir,” O’Ryan stated simply.
They surveyed each other appraisingly. O’Ryan was mystified by the happenings of the day and was curious to learn more.
“Come with me.” Roberts led the way along the gravel path at the side of the house. Before them loomed the squat brick building that was the laboratory.
The door crashed open before the Professor’s hand reached the knob, and a hulking figure rushed by, knocking the scientist from his feet. Ponderous footsteps crunched the gravel of the path, and then, with a wild thrashing of the underbrush alongside, the intruder was gone.
O’Ryan bent over the prostrate man and saw he was unconscious. A trickle of blood ran from a cut in the side of his head.
“Gina! Gina!” O’Ryan called frantically, as he and the ostrich half-carried, half-dragged the limp body through the door of the laboratory. Roberts had only been stunned and already showed signs of recovering.
“What is it, O’Ryan? What happened?” the voice of Gina Kent answered breathlessly, panting from her exertions in responding to his call. “Oh, Professor,” she wailed, dropping to her knees at his side. She had changed from her swimsuit into something a little less revealing, although not by much. The white short-shorts and halter-top left plenty of coconut-colored skin on display. “He’s been hurt. Badly, too.”
“No, not badly, Miss Kent. He’ll be around in a minute. When I called I feared it was worse than it is.”
The ostrich fetched a washbowl and was dabbing the blood from the Professor’s wound as O’Ryan spoke. Gina took the basin from it, spilling some of the water in her eagerness. “Let me,” she demanded.
O’Ryan admired her as she took up the task. She was as exquisite in a simple short outfit as she had been in her bathing suit.
The scientist opened his eyes after a moment. He sat erect, staring.
“Gina!” he exclaimed, grasping her hand conclusively. “You’re here, thank God! I dreamed—oh, it was horrible—I dreamed they had you.” He clung to her closely.
“They?” she murmured inquiringly.
“Yes.” He rose to his feet in his agitation and shook his head to clear it. He looked pleadingly at O’Ryan as if expecting him to offer a solution of the difficulty, then pointed a shaking forefinger at an elaborate apparatus occupying a corner of the room. “That,” he said, “is the source of energy for these terrible attacks. Here, I’ll show you and you can judge for yourself.”
O’Ryan offered no objection as he, Gina Kent, and the ostrich watched in wide-eyed silence. The tubes of the transmitter glowed into life and the scientist manipulated the controls rapidly. Electrical coils shone and the hum of internal mechanisms filled the room.
“Now, observe.” Roberts pointed to a piece of rebar on the concrete floor. “We begin with a sealed battery containing a basic calcium acetate gelled alcohol solution, commonly referred to as ‘canned heat’, the atoms of which have been induced to a highly excited state by the application of applied laser blasts. By itself, it’s not of much use. But attached to an antenna which can focus its energy toward the infrared end of the energy spectrum, it becomes a powerful heat ray that can have many industrial uses.”
He closed a switch that lighted another bank of tubes behind the control panel. A cone-like attachment grew bright red and a whoosh sound followed. Within seconds, the steel bar became a molten puddle, the same as O’Ryan’s unfortunate dune buggy.
Gina tensed at the sight and buried her face in O’Ryan’s shoulder. Once again, the ostrich interposed her beak between them.
“It’s a simple matter of wave motions,” Roberts smiled. “Light, invisible light, ultra-violet, infrared, you know. Basic freshman science.”
“I never went to college,” O’Ryan apologized.
“I meant high school,” Professor Roberts frowned.
The Canned Heat Ray continued to hum, the molten steel puddle bubbled, steamed, and evaporated. But no trace of a beam was visible to the eye. The thing was positively uncanny.
“Professor! Turn it off—please,” Gina begged. “It’s getting on my nerves!”
Obligingly, Roberts pulled the switch. “Now,” he said to O’Ryan, “you see what they’re after. First they managed to steal one of my batteries, and now they’ve succeeded in developing the directional antenna as well. Fortunately, they still don’t know the exact procedure for stirring up the atoms by laser bombardment. That must be why they came earlier, to steal another battery because the old one was used up.”
O’Ryan’s shout interrupted him. He had seen a face pressed against the windowpane, a thickly-bearded visage contorted with unutterable malice. Then it was gone. With the shout of warning still in his throat, O’Ryan bounded through the door in pursuit of the intruder. Gina’s cry of recognition followed him into the twilight. “Bear!” she had called.
He saw a stocky figure slink around the corner of the laboratory and make for the underbrush beyond. In a flash he was after him. He tore savagely at the impeding branches as he plunged deep into the thicket.
It was a fruitless chase and O’Ryan soon retraced his steps to the laboratory. The ostrich met him outside, looking concerned. She had been unable to follow him into the thicket.
“It’s okay, girl.” He patted her neck. “We’ll get him next time.”
He managed to say it with more confidence than he felt.
This was a swell mess he’d gotten himself into! His dune buggy was gone and he would probably have to reimburse the rental agency for it. Not that money was a big deal to him. Still, the principal of the thing galled him.
Here was a situation that spelled real danger, a thing with which Roberts was unable to cope. Nor was Gina proving to be of much help. Other than looking hot, she contributed nothing to the situation except an excitable attitude that availed them nothing.
Gina’s firm voice came to him through the open door of the laboratory. “Professor,” she was saying, “why don’t you give it up? Go back home where it’s safe. You’ve plenty of money from your other patents, enough to last the rest of your life. Come on now—please—for me.”
“No, Gina,” Roberts voice rose querulously. “This is the most tremendous thing I’ve ever done. Think for a moment of what my heat ray could mean to industrial commerce. Besides, with this invention, the scientific community will finally stop comparing me to Edison and rank me above him. Although you’d think the simple fact of my not being an odious, double-dealing, credit-stealing prick would already put me up there.”
O’Ryan walked into the laboratory. “Couldn’t find him,” he announced briefly.
“No difference,” said Roberts, listlessly.
“I heard you call him ‘Bear’. Who is he?” O’Ryan asked shortly.
Gina avoided his gaze.
“He’s with Owl and Mole,” Roberts answered carelessly. “They’re the ones who are after my heat ray.”
This struck O’Ryan as incredible.
“If you know who they are, why don’t you report them to the police?”
“Because if I did that I’d have to tell them about my invention; and I’m not ready to do that yet!”
“Well, of all the stupid—”
“You dare talk to me like this!” Roberts roared.
“I do.” O’Ryan returned the older man’s glare with one equally savage.
Gina’s laughter broke the stalemate. “Oh, God. This is too rich. I’m going for a walk. I’d rather face Owls, Moles, and Bears with heat rays than listen to any more of this.”
“Wait!” Roberts called. “You can’t leave now. I still have some notes that need typing.”
“Are you kidding? You expect me to type up your notes after my arms have been burned?”
“Well, no,” the Professor humbled. “I guess not…if you’re hurting.”
Here O’Ryan came to the rescue.
“Why don’t you let my ostrich type them for you? She’s very handy at that sort of thing; does all my correspondence for me.”
“Your ostrich can type?”
“Not on a typewriter, but if you have a computer…”
“I do,” said Roberts.
“Of course, she can’t do uppercase, but if you have an auto-correct feature…”
“We do,” said Gina.
“Well, there you go then.” O’Ryan smiled, happy to have restored the peace. The ostrich did not look pleased, however, and she showed it with a withering glare.
“Just go along with it, okay?” he whispered to her. “You snoop around in the professor’s files and I’ll go with Gina and see what else I can learn.”
Something about the set-up did not satisfy him and he was determined to get to the bottom of it.
O’Ryan found Gina outside. She was sitting on a rock overlooking the beach and was going over her nails with a sharp metal file.
“Would you like to take a walk?” he asked.
She nodded and got up, slipping the nail file into her pocket.
The beach was both quiet and empty. The only sound came from the wavelets going in and out. O’Ryan and Gina walked past the rocky area and came to a long sandy stretch. This was the tourist section. It too was deserted; being it was out-of-season. They came to a walkway formed by wooden pallets set end to end. Opposite that, farthest from the shore, sat some kiosks and souvenir stands, boarded, locked, and awaiting re-opening.
All this time they walked in silence. Finally O’Ryan said:
“You said this place is called Pluto Beach?”
“I didn’t, but it is.”
“It used to be owned by a fellow named Knight.”
“Oh?” O’Ryan said blankly.
“As in ‘night’s plutonian shore’.”
O’Ryan kept a blank silence.
“From Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Raven’.”
O’Ryan shook his head. “People are always raving about something, I suppose.”
“It’s a poem!”
“Oh, right. That Raven. Sorry, I’m not much into poetry. Except for ‘Grover Beach’. My ostrich likes the line about ‘Let us be true to one another’.”
Here Gina stopped and faced him. “About your ostrich,” she placed a hand on his chest and looked into his eyes, “don’t you like…women?”
Now it was not as though O’Ryan was the handsomest man in the world, not with his receding hairline and nascent whiskers, but it was also not the first time he had been asked that question. And it was not like he did not have urges. Plus Gina Kent was a drop-dead gorgeous fox. Still:
“The ostrich is my woman. She’s my soulmate and the one for whom I wished. True, at the moment she may not be physically human, but someday, when I find my genie—”
“I’m a Genie,” Gina interrupted, drawing close.
“I—uh—m-m-mean a m-magical one,” O’Ryan managed.
“I can be magical too,” Gina purred, as she raised her lips to his.
The gentle lapping of the waves, the soft moonlight sparkling on clean white sand, and the close presence of a beautiful woman proved too much for O’Ryan to resist. He bent his head toward hers, puckered his lips…
And tasted a mouthful of feathers.
The ostrich had shown up in the nick of time, once again thrusting her neck between them.
“Gaah!” screamed Gina, giving vent to an unfeminine bout of gagging and spitting.
“Oh, hello girl,” O’Ryan recovered quickly, rubbing the bird’s neck and beak. “Hmm, what’s this? Oh, look Gina, she has a note. It’s from the Professor. ‘Dear Mr O’Ryan, thank you for the use of your ostrich. With your permission I would like to hire her full-time as she is the most efficient typist and filer I have ever had.’ Wow, what do you think about that?”
“Are you sure she didn’t write it herself?” asked Gina, still clearing her throat.
“No,” he shook his head. “Her penmanship’s awful. You should see her—”
He stopped. The swish-swish of the surf came faintly to his ears. Or was it someone creeping along the sandy shore? The moon dropped behind a cloud and he looked around, straining his eyes in the darkness. There was a glimmer of light. It flickered a second and vanished. An uneasy fear gripped him as he recalled the glow of the heat ray’s directional antenna.
Then darkness of another kind descended.
What a headache! O’Ryan rolled over and groaned, sat up and stared. Where the devil was he? Slowly his blurry vision came into focus and he saw he was inside one of the beachside souvenir stands. Gina and the ostrich were in an opposite corner. Between him and them, forming a triangle, sat a man in a wheelchair. The man held a gun on them. Alongside the man in the chair stood another man, this one hefting a crowbar. Behind O’Ryan was the brutish bearded fellow he had run into outside Professor Roberts’ laboratory.
“I thought Mole might have hit you too hard,” said the man in the chair. “Not that it would have mattered.”
O’Ryan put his hand to the golfball-size knot on this head.
“You’re the Owl, I take it?”
“You can take it or leave; it makes no difference to me. Still, as long as we’re being formal, yes, my name is Owl. Our friend with the crowbar is Mole, and the fellow behind you is Bear. You, however, I do not know.”
“His name’s O’Ryan,” said Gina.
“Like the constellation,” O’Ryan added.
Owl looked questioningly at the girl.
“His favorite poem is ‘Grover Beach’,” she added.
“I didn’t say it was my favorite.” O’Ryan pointed to the ostrich. “I said it was her favorite.”
“That’s his fiancée,” Gina elaborated.
Owl sighed, “You meet all kinds in the spy business,” and left it at that.
O’Ryan decided this would be a good time to make a break for it. He was wrong. Leaping to his feet, he found he was still woozy from the conk on the head. Immediately he was seized by the rough hands of the towering Bear.
Owl ignored this. He wheeled his chair close to Gina, then said, “Okay, girl, get out of them clothes.”
“Are you crazy?” Gina snapped. “If you think for one minute I’m—”
“You’d rather Bear and Mole searched you instead?” Owl asked.
“Search for what?”
“I need to make sure you have no weapons on you. And I’m giving you a gentlemanly way to prove it.”
“What if I searched her?” O’Ryan offered.
“What!” went the girl, while Bear whacked his shoulder.
“Ow! All I meant was she’d be more comfortable with me than with Owl’s goon there.”
“Who ya callin’ a goon?” demanded Bear.
“Shut up all of you!” Owl pointed his gun at the girl. “I’ve wasted too much time already.”
Gina subsided, retreated to a corner. “Can I at least have a little privacy?”
The souvenir shop did not have much to offer in that department.
“Let her stand behind my ostrich,” O’Ryan suggested.
“Fine,” said Owl. “But make it snappy.”
While Gina was doing that, Bear and Mole frisked O’Ryan thoroughly, stripping him of his garments as well. Satisfied that he carried no weapon, they returned him his shorts. The other things they kicked to the side.
By this time, Gina was naked behind the ostrich, her tossed clothes at Owl’s feet. Owl ordered her to lean forward and shake her head, and when nothing fell out, said, “Okay, you can come out now.”
“Aren’t you going to let me have my stuff back?” she asked him.
“No,” he told her. “You might have chemicals stitched in the lining, or powders concealed in the buttons.”
Gina shook her head. “You read too many spy stories.”
Owl swore something unintelligible, then wheeled to a clothes rack with some swimsuits on display. He grabbed a bikini bottom at random and tossed it to her, telling her to put it on.
Gina took the garment and struggled into it. “It’s a bit small,” she complained. “Can you give me something a size bigger?”
“Look, kid, it’s that or nothing. And I mean nothing.”
Left with no other options, Gina stepped out from behind the ostrich, her trim hips attired in a way-too-snug bikini that would have been illegal in the daytime. As for her upper body, she would have to rely on her thick, waist-length hair for concealment. In any event, it left absolutely no doubt that she was not concealing any weapons.
“Just what makes you think I’m a spy?” she asked Owl.
“I wasn’t sure at first, until I heard your hunt-and-peck typing and I knew you couldn’t be a secretary.”
“That was the ostrich!”
“Sure it was,” Owl sneered.
“It’s true, I tell you. Ask O’Ryan. He has a note from the Professor to prove it.”
“Fine, fine. Have it your way. It was the ostrich. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is you guys are in the way and need to be eliminated.” Owl looked at Bear and Mole. “Okay, boys, let’s get it over with.”
Gina drew back and, as she did, her eyes fell on the Canned Heat Ray—battery, directional antenna, and control panel—perched on top of the souvenir shop’s sales counter. “Good gosh,” she faltered. “You’re not—You’re not going to use that thing on us.”
Owl shook his head. “I tried earlier, only the battery’s dead.” That would account for the momentary glow O’Ryan saw on the beach. “The thing doesn’t have a long shelf life.”
“What about the one Bear stole from the Professor’s lab this evening?” asked O’Ryan.
“That too was a dead one.” Owl looked at Bear. “Frankenstein’s Igor steals abnormal brains, my Bear steals dead batteries. But what can you do?”
All this time Gina had been resting her hand on the ostrich’s back. As Owl looked away to berate his assistant, she reached her fingers deep into the birds feathers and came up with a metal nail file—the one she stuck in her pocket when she and O’Ryan left to go on their walk. Shielded by the ostrich as she undressed, she had hidden it in the bird’s plumage.
Moving quickly, she lunged forward and drove the pointed end of the file into Mole’s backside. The man yelped in pain as he let go the crowbar and grabbed his buttocks.
O’Ryan tried to join the fray, only without warning he was knocked to the floor by the impact of a heavy body, the brutish Bear striking from behind.
O’Ryan did not like fighting, however there were times when he had no choice. When such occasions presented themselves, his weapon of choice was a simple sock to the jaw—especially if the sock covered a foot and the foot was encased in a heavy shoe. At the moment though he had neither, and he was reduced to kicking, biting, and gouging his opponent as they thrashed about the floor.
O’Ryan managed to get on top and he let loose with a furious barrage of rights and lefts that found a home in Bear’s head and face. The fellow ceased struggling—knocked cold. O’Ryan staggered to his feet, wiped the blood from his knuckles, and looked around, breathing heavily. He saw the ostrich standing atop Mole, a kick from one of her powerful legs had laid him out, while Gina kept the Owl at bay with the point of her fingernail file pressed against his throat.
The heat ray still sat on the souvenir counter. Before anyone could stop him, O’Ryan grabbed the heavy crowbar from the floor and, with a few well-aimed blows, destroyed the directional antenna and control box. The battery he did not bother with, as the crooks had admitted it held no power. He only wished he could destroy the one in Professor Roberts’ laboratory as well. The world did not need such deadly devices, which, whatever their practical uses, could too easily be turned into implements of destruction.
“Why, Gina,” the Professor exclaimed upon their return, “your—swimsuit—has—shrunk—so,” his eyes glazing over with each successive word. It gave O’Ryan a bit of satisfaction to learn the crusty old goat was not as woman proof as he pretended to be.
They had called the police from a payphone and turned Owl, Mole, and Bear over to them, protecting the Professor’s secret by charging them with vandalizing a souvenir stand. The police would not let them have their clothes back, saying they needed it for evidence, so O’Ryan was still shirtless and Gina was still topless, protected only by her long hair. O’Ryan wondered if the Professor would be gentleman enough to offer her his lab coat. He did not, and Gina excused herself, saying she was going to bed.
Much later that evening, after midnight, a silent figure snuck into Professor Roberts’ laboratory. It stole to the workbench and set something down beside the last remaining heat ray. It was the Professor’s personal computer, the one containing all his notes. The figure then reached beneath the workbench and came up with a cardboard box.
“Don’t bother packing,” said O’Ryan, switching on a desk lamp.
Gina blinked at him and the ostrich, then smiled.
“How did you know?” she asked.
O’Ryan looked at his bandaged knuckles before answering.
“It wasn’t until Owl accused you of being a rival spy that I got to thinking. I remembered you telling me Professor Roberts kept things from you. Only how could he do that if you were typing his notes? Also you were right there when he demonstrated the thing.” He paused. “Now, granted, I’m no Einstein, and I’m certainly no Tesla, but…”
“Actually, O’Ryan, you are a bit like them. One was a sex pervert and the other kept a pigeon he wanted to marry.”
“I’m not a pervert,” O’Ryan defended himself. “Our relationship is strictly chaste.”
Gina smiled, reached into her trouser pocket, and produced a pistol.
“This time I do have a weapon, and it’s not concealed.”
O’Ryan raised his hands.
“I really should thank you for helping rid me of Owl’s gang. I could never have gotten my hands on this as long as they were around.” She softened a bit. “And, believe it or not, I do sort of like you. Still I can’t let you stand in my way. So, you can either let me go, or I’ll have to dispose of you the same way Owl would have done.”
O’Ryan weighed his options. This did not take long as he did not have any.
“Can I have a minute to think about it?” he asked.
“No,” she replied.
All this time Gina paid no attention to the ostrich, which, for a big bird, moved quiet. When Gina did see it, it was standing behind the heat ray. Before Gina could stop it, the ostrich had switched on the mechanism and taken the control lever in her beak.
“Good grief, O’Ryan, tell your stupid bird to get away from there! The directional antenna isn’t attached. Without it, the rays will spread out from the source and fry us all!”
O’Ryan realized this as well. Only he dared not approach the ostrich suddenly lest he startle her into moving the control lever.
Tense moments followed as the ostrich stared at Gina, her mouth still clutching the lever. Then her eyes glanced down and a lightbulb seemed to go off over the bird’s head.
The lever pointed straight up. Moving it to the right would activate the infrared side of the wave spectrum and trigger the heat process. However, there was also a left side. Pushing the lever there would logically take it to the ultraviolet side. Which would result in…
She pushed it to the left.
And the battery glowed.
Without the directional antenna to guide it, a massive outpouring of ultraviolet energy spread from the battery and across the workbench, engulfing everything on it. Everything including the Professor’s computer with all its notes.
With an angry cry, Gina reached for the computer, but she drew back quickly as a tingling shock traveled up her fingertip. She gasped in horror to find she had one less finger than before. Although, in reality, she had not really lost the finger. It was still there. She could feel it. But the blast of ultraviolet energy had rendered it invisible.
As it did the rest of the workbench. Along with the battery, the antenna, the control panel, and the computer with all its notes. Everything was still there; but no one would ever see it again.
“Well, girl,” O’Ryan said to the ostrich as they strolled past the still-smoldering remains of the fried hockey buggy, “looks like we’re on the road again.”
It would be a long walk into town, but it beat staying and listening to the Professor cuss him out for destroying his invention.
“One thing though: your flipping that lever to the ultraviolet side and making everything disappear…that was an accident; wasn’t it?”
The ostrich nudged his shoulder as if to say, “What do you think?” and O’Ryan had enough sense to leave it at that.
Thank you for reading my book.
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