Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Eros, the god of love, came to Earth on an important mission; he had to put romance back on its feet. But the master match-maker messed things up this time!
IT was one of those blue Mondays that crop up even on Olympus. The tall, blonde, bronzed young man with the deep and brooding blue eyes sat dejectedly behind his desk in the offices of Deity Enterprises, Incorporated, gloomily reading the terse and somewhat nasty communication from his boss.
What's been eating you lately? Your department has shown nothing but red ink for the past two months. Even Valentine's Day, which should always be a cinch for your dept., fell far below last year's marginal quota. Get the lead out of your toga. I'll expect to see a definite upswing next month, or else.
A short, dark, swarthy young man with wide shoulders stopped before the desk of Eros. He wore a blue pinstriped toga and red sandals that refused to blend harmoniously.
"What's wrong, Cupie? Aren't the love bugs biting today?"
Eros raised a sullen glance. "Don't call me Cupie," he grated. "And as for the love bugs, have you ever heard of priorities?"
"Yes, demands that make equipment hard to get," Eros said savagely. "Priorities have played hell with my department. First it was the silk for bow strings. Then it was aluminum tips for arrows. But you wouldn't know about those things, Bacchus. Your outfit doesn't have that to worry about. That's why you're the bright and shining young god around here."
Bacchus waved a hand airily. "Don't beef, Cupie. I've got my troubles, too. What's going to happen if any more taxes are piled on liquor and the high cost of having a good time? I'm going to be in a bad way."
"Humph, nothing. Think of the tough times I had when almost a third of the earth brought in that prohibition business," Bacchus countered.
"Just the United States," Eros said.
"But they'd been marvelous customers," Bacchus said. "Until they put through repeal down there I had to get along principally by concentrating on my rioting business."
"I'd be sunk already," Eros grumbled, "except that the draft laws they inaugurated gave me a momentary lift."
"Why complain then?" Bacchus demanded.
"Because most of the eligible young men down there are either married or in the army by now. The fall off of my business will soon be terrific. As it is," Eros waved his hand to indicate the letter lying on his desk, "I already have a note from Jove, raising hell about my poor showing. What'll I do when it really falls off?"
BACCHUS shook his head sympathetically. "You're in a spot," he conceded. "In my department we've never really any serious trouble. If things are bad on Earth, people go out to drown their sorrows and raise the devil to forget it; if things are good, they go out to whoop it up in celebration."
Eros nodded glumly in agreement.
"All in all," Bacchus summed it up, "I feel sorry as hell for you, old man. The product you're peddling seems finally to be on the way out."
Eros looked up indignantly. "Love never dies," he snapped.
Bacchus pursed his lips together and made a vulgar sound. "Pah, don't feed me that saw from your propaganda releases. I'm no earthling. You're going to be looking around for a new job one of these days and you know it."
Eros put his blonde head in his hands. "You certainly make things look cheerful."
"You could get out and do something about it," Bacchus said.
"That sounds fine," Eros answered bitterly. "But what could I do? Nothing—and you know it."
"Tsk," Bacchus grinned, "that's a defeatist attitude."
"But what can I do?" Eros groaned appealingly.
"What did Mars do when his business started falling off?"
Eros considered this. "His business was pretty bad for about twelve years or so, wasn't it?" he said reflectively.
"You bet it was," Bacchus declared emphatically. "But look at the way he's cleaning up now."
"That's right," Eros conceded. "He's got more business than he can handle. But what did he do to work it up?"
"He got out and hustled," Bacchus said briskly.
"Yes, he went down to Earth, looked around, picked out a couple of ripe countries and started a war," Bacchus explained.
"Just like that?" Eros asked, snapping his fingers to show how he meant.
Bacchus snapped his fingers. "Just like that," he declared. "But," he added, "it took a little bit of trying. It wasn't too easy?"
Eros looked up. "Think he'd let me try it?" he asked.
"Who?" Bacchus wondered. "Who'd let you try what?"
"Jove," Eros explained earnestly. "Do you think he'd let me go down to Earth and take a crack at building up business?"
Bacchus shrugged. "You could ask him."
"Damnit," Eros replied, rising, "I will!"
Bacchus grinned approvingly. "Attaboy. It won't hurt to try."
Eros nodded and stepped out from behind his desk, flicking a speck of imaginary dust from the faultless white sleeve of his flannel toga. He straightened his shoulders purposefully.
"Here goes," Bacchus said.
Eros nodded again, and with a determined gleam in his eye strode off down the office in the direction of an ornate door at the far end.
"JOVE, HEAD GOD," the gold letters on the ornate door said.
THE huge figure in the gold silk toga looked like General Grant, even to his black beard and the cigar that jutted from the corner of his mouth. He shook his head interestedly as Eros, standing before his desk, explained his idea breathlessly.
"So you see, Boss, it's just gotta be done!" Eros ended his plea appealingly.
Jove nodded his head again, shifting the cigar between his white teeth.
"You want to take a pretty big job on those young shoulders of yours, Eros," he said.
"But business is so terrible, what with priorities and wars, and conscription—" Eros began.
"I know," Jove broke in quickly. "I know all that. Mars has been cleaning up in his department, and pretty much to the detriment of the gods with departments such as yours. I must admit he's even getting a little too smug about it. Why, when he was in my office the other day, he rattled his sword incessantly and kept looking at my desk here as if he thought he ought to be loafing behind it instead of me."
"Then you'll—" Eros started eagerly.
"Just a minute," Jove grinned, holding up his massive hand. "Just a minute. I want you to think it over. You aren't going to have any snap going down to Earth with conditions the way they are now. I want to make certain you realize this, first."
Eros nodded soberly. "I understand all that," he said.
Jove grinned at the young god somewhat fondly. "Never been down to Earth, have you, Eros?"
Eros shook his handsome blonde head.
"I didn't think so," Jove said reflectively. "It's quite some place."
"But I've seen it," Eros protested. "I've seen almost all of it."
"You've looked down on Earth from Olympus, purely in the line of business," Jove corrected him. "That's quite a bit different from actually having to live there. Humans are funny people. I know. I took a trip to Earth when I was about your age." He paused reflectively. "Ahhhh, that Cleopatra," he added.
Jove colored briefly. "Humph, nothing. Nothing at all," he said quickly. "I was just indulging in a bit of nostalgia. What I mean to say is that—oh," he broke off suddenly, "what the hell. Why not?"
"You mean I can go?" Eros yelped excitedly. "It's okay?"
Jove grinned. "It's okay. It'll probably do you some good. Getting around a bit might make you a more tolerant god."
Eros reached across the desk and grabbed Jove's massive paw in his own strong young hand. "Thanks, boss. Thank's a million!" he cried, pumping the other Deity's arm vigorously.
"You'll have to get someone to take over your job when you leave," Jove reminded him, drawing his hand back.
Eros nodded excitedly. "That won't be hard. I'll get Bacchus to fill in. He's a lazy loafer anyway. He never does much."
"You make your own arrangements with Bacchus, then," Jove said. "I'll leave the rest of the matters in your hands. Goodbye, son, and lots of luck to you!"
Eros bolted for the door.
"Just a minute," Jove called after him.
"You'll need Earth clothes," Jove reminded him. "Have my tailor fix up a wardrobe for you."
"Thanks, thanks awfully."
"And drop by our treasury and have them print you a few hundred thousand dollars in U.S. currency. You'll need it, and you won't be able to draw on the Bank of Olympus very well once you're on Earth," Jove said.
"Thanks a million!" Eros chortled.
"A few hundred thousand, anyway," Jove agreed. ..
EROS found Bacchus loitering around his desk when he returned.
One look at the blonde young god's face was all that Bacchus needed to tell him what had happened.
"All set, eh?" Bacchus grinned.
"All set," Eros laughed. "Easy as pie. You ought to try him, Bacchus. He's in a soft mood today." He looked down at the letter still open on his desk. "He wrote this thing yesterday, I guess. It was damp then and his gout was probably acting up."
Bacchus nodded a bit wistfully. "Yeah, I guess so." Then, even more wistfully, "I wish I did have the nerve to stomp in there and ask to come along with you."
"Why don't you?"
Bacchus shook his head and sighed sadly. "Not a chance. He let me go down to Earth about ten years ago. He still gives me hell about that visit whenever he's down on me."
"Whereabouts on Earth did you go?" asked Eros with the keen interest of the untravelled.
"Paris," Bacchus said. "Spent my time in the Latin quarter."
Eros whistled. "That was some spot there, at that time, at any rate."
Bacchus nodded in sad nostalgia. "It certainly was. What models they had, ahhh. But Jove jerked me back up here after a mere two weeks."
"He said I did enough corrupting of Earthlings in my status as God of Wine and Rioting up here on Olympus. He said if I hung around the Latin quarter much longer I'd have utterly ruined the reputation of the place."
"But next to Port Said," Eros protested bewilderedly, "the Latin quarter had the worst reputation on the face of the Earth."
"I know," Bacchus grinned wryly. "Insulting remark, wasn't it?"
Eros grinned in shocked amusement. "I'll say it was."
"What about the management of your department here on Olympus?" Bacchus asked suddenly.
"I wanted to talk to you about that," Eros began.
"But look—" Bacchus protested quickly.
"I'd do the same for you," Eros declared piously.
"Yeah," there was doubt in the voice of Bacchus.
"Honestly I would."
"I'm pretty busy right now," Bacchus started evasively.
"Not that busy," Eros said. "I know exactly how busy you've been."
Bacchus flushed. "Well, I suppose so. But you won't be long down there, will you?"
Eros shook his head. "Not long at all," he promised.
Bacchus sighed deeply. "Okay, I'll take over your department. But if it isn't run perfectly in your absence don't gripe; after all, love—as you propagandize it—isn't quite up my alley."
"You'll be able to handle the job," Eros assured him. "It'll be just routine stuff while I'm away. Your only important duty is to keep the heart rays running. They're pointing at Earth, all set, you won't have to worry about them."
"Okay, okay," Bacchus said. "I'm the goat. You can ease your mind on that, now."
Eros put a hand on Bacchus's shoulder affectionately. "Thanks awfully, old man. I know you'll take care of things."
"Yeah," Bacchus said absently. "Say, how much expense dough is the boss giving you?"
"A few hundred thousand," Eros said carelessly.
"Wheeeeeeeh!" Bacchus whistled.
"Is that a lot in Earth money?" the more naive Eros asked.
"For a month's stay," Bacchus promised him, "it ain't moondust, brother!"
"Well," Eros said reflectively, pleased. "Well."
"Well is right," Bacchus agreed. "You've done very well."
"Clothes, too," Eros said, "a complete wardrobe of Earth clothes is being tossed in for nix."
BACCHUS whistled again. "When I went to Paris I was given four smocks, two suits, three shirts, and a tam."
"That wasn't so bad," Eros said. "What more could a god wear in the Latin quarter?"
"I had to buy my own socks and pajama tops," Bacchus said in nostalgic disgust. Then, irrelevantly: "Have you picked out the spot yet?"
"The spot," Bacchus repeated, "the place you'll stay while you're on Earth."
Eros shook his head. "No," he admitted. "I haven't thought of that yet."
"The United States, I suppose," Bacchus said.
"Oh, yes, of course," Eros agreed. "Europe's in such a mess, and so is Asia. It'll be somewhere in the U.S. undoubtedly."
"Where?" Bacchus persisted.
Eros looked undecided. "Can you suggest a suitable spot?"
Bacchus did a bit of thinking. He snapped his fingers.
"I got it," he said, eyes shining.
"Where?" Eros asked eagerly.
"Reno, Nevada," Bacchus said excitedly, "you goof."
"I know that much," Eros said frostily. "But Reno is the bane of my existence. That place has played utter hell with my business for years!"
"Of course," Bacchus said in exasperation. "And that's why it's a good place to go. Hit at one of the roots of the trouble if you want to correct an evil."
Eros considered this a moment. "You're right," he agreed, face lighting. "That's the most logical approach. I don't know why I didn't think of it myself."
Bacchus was fishing through a huge ledger at the side of the desk.
"What're you doing?" Eros demanded.
"Looking for a place for you. Wanta find a rich family you can stay with while you're in Reno."
"A hotel will be all right," Eros protested.
"Nuts to that," Bacchus declared. "You'll stay with the, ah," his finger was running down the ledger, "Keating family, they're listed here as Reno rich folks."
"But I don't know them!" Eros protested.
"Neither do I," Bacchus agreed. "But I'll take care of everything from here. Leave it to me. The Keatings of Reno it is!"
Eros opened his mouth to protest, then shut it. Arguing with Bacchus was always too much of a strain.
"And you'll have plenty to work on," Bacchus added. "The young Keating daughter is a deb who's been engaged six times!"
MRS. SYLVESTER B. KEATING, having but recently risen from the luxurious softness of her downy bed, was breakfasting on the sun-drenched veranda of the magnificent Reno family mansion.
Mrs. Keating was a large woman, with expensively bleached hair, expensively preserved features, and an air of complete and final authoritative determination. This determination was now in evidence as the good dowager tore ravenously into her melba toast, coffee, orange juice, cereal, and bacon and eggs.
This determination was also evident in the manner in which she frowned disapprovingly at the newspaper folded at the side of the table before her. Mrs. Keating almost invariably frowned in strong disapproval whenever she read the morning news accounts of her daughter Kay's escapades of the previous evening. And at the moment her eyes were fixed on exactly such an account.
"I'll have to speak to Sylvester about Kay," Mrs. Keating managed to tell herself wrathfully through a mouthful of melba toast.
"Kay Keating Breaks Off Seventh Vow," was the terse heading over the news item occupying the attention of Mrs. Keating.
"Disgraceful," muttered Mrs. Keating, putting four heaping teaspoonfuls of sugar in her coffee. Then, irately, her eyes flew down the columned story beneath the heading.
Last night in the swank surroundings of Mocambo's, Kay Keating, young Reno Society beauty, gave the gate in no uncertain fashion to the seventh suitor with whom her name has been linked in betrothal. The latest victim of young and glamorous Kay Keating's change of heart was none other than Prince Alexis Bolenoff. A plate of lukewarm soup in his face was Miss Keating's manner of informing the handsome Prince Bolenoff that she no longer considered him matrimonial timber.
The incident of the soup plate tossing occurred during the interval in which Prince Bolenoff had just asked the orchestra to play a congratulatory number in honor of his recently announced engagement to Miss Keating. It was at this moment, when the Prince stood up smilingly to acknowledge the applause and endeavored to have his fiancée do likewise, that Miss Keating drenched him with a plate of soup.
"It was at that instant," Miss Keating told reporters, "I realized Alexis was nothing but a stuff-shirted ass. After all, there was nothing to do but drown his smug smirk in a plate of bouillon." Prince Alexis could not be reached for comment, but it was learned from his closest friends that he was considering two legal actions, one for breach of promise, and the second for character defamation.
Mrs. Sylvester B. Keating angrily tossed the paper to the floor. There was another news journal beneath it. And on the front page of this second paper there was a small, lower page, headline reading.
A BOWL'S ENOUGH FOR BOLENOFF!
Underneath this gay heading there was a picture of the somber, moustached handsome figure of Prince Alexis Bolenoff, spluttering through a drenching just administered by an extremely shapely young lady in gorgeous evening attire. The young lady—her daughter, Kay—had her back to the camera, having just hurled the soup plate.
Mrs. Sylvester B. Keating gazed pop-eyed at this picture for an instant, then hurled the paper to the floor after the other, and dug savagely into her bacon and eggs.
A shadow fell across Mrs. Keating's breakfast table. She looked up sharply.
A tall, gray haired, somber man in a butler's uniform stood at her elbow.
"Well, Roger?" Mrs. Keating demanded.
The butler, Roger, held a silver plate in his hand. On the silver plate was a telegram.
"This just arrived, Madam," Roger explained neutrally.
Mrs. Keating took the telegram and Roger disappeared. Being a lady of wealth, Mrs. Keating was used to receiving telegrams like most people receive letters. Nevertheless, she held this envelope up to the light, peering curiously in an effort to see if she could ascertain its contents.
That procedure having failed, Mrs. Keating carefully opened the envelope.
"ARRIVING RENO THIS AFTERNOON. HOPE YOU HAVE ROOM FOR ME DURING BRIEF STAY. COUSIN SIDNEY BEGGED ME TO LOOK YOU UP. EROS HEARTWORTH."
MRS. KEATING regarded the message with a blank frown. Then she read it again, studying it carefully, lips working as she spelled the words.
"Cousin Sidney," Mrs. Keating mused. "Cousin Sidney, now let me see. Hmmmmmmmm." She placed a well manicured hand against her brow, holding this attitude of reflection for perhaps thirty seconds. Then she gave it up.
"For the life of me," Mrs. Keating declared bewilderedly, "I can't recall Cousin Sidney. And I've never heard of this Eros Heartworth, or whoever he is."
She was engaged in this problem of recollection, completely engrossed in it, in fact, when footsteps sounded lightly behind her.
"Mama!" cried a delightfully liquid voice. "Mama!"
Mrs. Sylvester B. Keating looked up sharply. Her daughter, Kay, stood before her.
"Who is Cousin Sidney?" Mrs. Keating demanded frowningly.
Kay Keating smiled. The veranda sunlight took on a positive brilliance with that smile. Birds twittering outside the veranda quite suddenly became more wonderfully vocal.
"I think he's a sort of distant cousin of Dad's," Kay Keating said. "Someone with plantations or something in South Africa. Why?"
"That's right," Mrs. Keating exclaimed. "Now I recall. Of course, but of course. Cousin Sidney is a distant cousin of your father's. He's been in South Africa for ages. Ten years, anyway."
"Why, Mama?" Kay insisted.
"There's a friend of your father's Cousin Sidney, a Mr. Eros Heartworth, coming to stay with us during his stop in Reno," Mrs. Keating declared, taking another glance at the telegram.
"Oh," said Kay Keating. "Is that all?"
Mrs. Keating suddenly noticed that her daughter was wearing white tennis shorts and swinging a racket impatiently. She smiled indulgently. And then she remembered the newspapers. Her carefully preserved features took on a glacier cast.
"Kay," Mrs. Keating demanded. "What's all this, this horrid gossip in the papers?"
"Gossip?" Kay's blue eyes were innocently uncomprehending. She smacked the tennis racket lightly against her lovely golden right leg, as if impatient to be off.
"Yes, about the Prince and you."
"That's not gossip," Kay said lightly. "That's the truth."
"The truth?" Mrs. Keating exploded. "The truth? Why, it's positively scandalous, that's what it is. It's positively disgraceful; You've called Prince Alexis this morning, haven't you?"
"Called Alexis?" Kay demanded as if her mother had lost her mind.
"Yes, of course. You go right to the telephone now and apologize. Tell him to come out for dinner tonight."
Kay smiled patiently. "But Mama, you don't understand. I loathe Alexis!" Her tone underlined the verb.
Mrs. Sylvester B. Keating looked at her daughter and started to splutter. "Why, why, why," she began.
"Mama," Kay reminded her, "your high blood pressure!"
"A soup plate!" Mrs, Keating managed. "A soup plate—how utterly revolting!"
"Handy," Kay corrected her. "The handiest thing I've ever hurled at a man. You should have seen Alexis!"
Kay burst into giggles of recollection. "He was purple!"
And with that as an exit line, Kay Keating's lovely golden legs took her racing lithely off the veranda and in the direction of the tennis courts.
MRS. SYLVESTER B. KEATING threw up her hands in despair.
Glumly she returned to the mopping-up attack on her bacon and eggs, A shadow fell across the table again, and she heard Roger's discreet cough as he reached out to remove a few plates.
"Roger," Mrs. Keating said.
"Yes, Madam?" the butler answered.
"With whom is my daughter playing tennis this morning?"
"Yes, in other words, what man has she got out here as a house guest today?"
Roger reflected for a moment. "A Mister Victor Vaprenzi, Madam," Roger informed her.
"Victor Vaprenzi?" Mrs. Keating's face came up from the bacon and eggs, looking strained and anguished. "The gambler?"
Roger coughed discreetly. "Now that you mention it, Madam, I do believe Mr. Vaprenzi does run a gaming house of sorts in his night club, the Mocambo."
"Roger," Mrs. Keating said huskily after a moment's debate.
Mrs. Keating had difficulty in framing this sentence. "Do you think, that is, from what you've noticed, do you imagine that Kay is, ah, uh, attracted to this Vaprenzi person?"
"She seemed very happy this morning," Roger said discreetly.
"But you don't think, do you, that she is, ah," Mrs. Keating was forced to flounder in her query.
"Engaged to Mr. Vaprenzi as yet?"
Roger helped her.
"Yes," Mrs. Keating choked. "Yes, that's what I mean." Her eyes searched the butler's face worriedly as he considered this.
"No, Madam," Roger said after a moment. "No. I don't believe Miss Kay is engaged to Mr. Vaprenzi as yet. It's only noon, you know. Miss Kay generally gets engaged in the evenings."
Mrs. Sylvester B. Keating let out a long sigh. "Thank God, Roger!"
"Yes, Madam. Anything else, Madam?"
Mrs. Sylvester B. Keating shook her head.
Roger was about to leave when, faintly, from the front of the Keating mansion, the front door chimes sounded melodiously. Both the butler and the dowager turned in the direction of the sounds.
"Answer that, Roger."
The butler left the veranda. Mrs. Keating finished off the last of the melba toast and drenched it in coffee. Roger returned a few moments later, just as Mrs. Keating was rising reluctantly from the ravaged table.
A tall, blonde, bronzed, incredibly handsome young man in a most expensively tailored pin-striped suit was right behind him. The blonde young man was smiling uncertainly and worrying a homburg in his strong brown hands.
Roger coughed. "Mr. Eros Heartworth," he announced gravely.
FOR a young god, Eros had been in pretty much of a dither of excitement when he lifted the lion-head knocker on the front door of the Keating Mansion. He had been in such a dither of excitement that it hadn't occurred to him to press the buzzer on the door until he'd waited without answer on the stoop for five minutes.
But pressing the buzzer had sounded the chimes inside. And the sounding of the chimes had brought Roger. And now Roger, after turning his luggage over to a houseboy, had led him into the majestic presence of Mrs. Sylvester B. Keating.
Eros stepped forward, taking Mrs. Keating's extended hand. He held it for a moment, dropped it, and grinned awkwardly.
"I don't feel quite at ease, barging in on you this way, Mrs. Keating," Eros said.
Mrs. Keating had appraised Eros from the cut of his expensive clothes to the flush of his handsome young features. Apparently she liked what she saw. She smiled.
"Not a bit," she protested. "We're delighted to have you. Any friend of Uncle Sidney's is more than a friend of ours." She was the twittering, rather than dominating, dowager now.
Eros looked startled. "Cousin Sidney, I thought he was."
Mrs. Keating caught herself. "Yes, of course, Cousin Sidney. He's on my husband's side, and sometimes I forget."
Eros couldn't get the explanation, but he let it go at that.
"Will you be in Reno long?" Mrs. Keating made conversation.
"I, uh, really don't know," Eros said.
"That's nice," said Mrs. Keating. "I mean, that's nice that you might stay longer than you intended to."
Eros shifted from one foot to the other. This drawing room stuff, or even veranda stuff, was tougher than Bacchus had intimated when he'd given him hasty, last minute instructions as to social graces.
"Won't you take a drink?" Mrs. Keating asked. "And do sit down." She deposited her large form in a gaily-colored glider.
Eros nodded and found a wicker summer-chair.
Roger was still hovering about.
"What will you have?" Mrs. Keating asked.
"Nectar," Eros answered. Then he flushed. "I mean, ah," he fought to remember the drinks Bacchus had primed him on. "Scotch and soda, if you please."
THIS was different than he had imagined, Eros told himself. It was much different, and a great deal more difficult. He'd come down here to Earth, to Reno, to give his Love Department the old buck-up-o, but getting started seemed to provide a few snags. But then he recalled Mars must have had to make his entry into Earth affairs in just some such manner as this. And look at the job Mars did.
"What do you do, Mr. Heartworth?"
Mrs. Keating asked.
Eros winced. The last name, Heartworth, had been a brilliant stroke of genius on the part of Bacchus. But Eros wasn't particularly pleased with it.
"Do?" Eros raised an eyebrow.>/p>
"Yes," Mrs. Keating enlarged, "what business are you in?"
"Diamonds," Eros said promptly.
Bacchus had told him to say diamonds.
"And that's how you met Cousin Sidney?" Mrs. Keating questioned. "I mean, both of you being in South Africa and all that?"
Eros nodded vaguely. Bacchus hadn't gone over those angles very carefully, and Eros felt on shaky ground.
"Sylvester will be in shortly," Mrs. Keating said.
"Uh?" Eros blinked.
"My husband, Sylvester," Mrs. Keating said sharply. "Surely Cousin Sidney told you all about Sylvester. He and Sylvester used to be the closest chums in college."
"Oh yes," Eros laughed hastily. "That's right. Of course your Cousin Sidney spoke often of the times he'd had with your husband, Mrs. Keating."
Roger appeared at that instant to place a drink in Eros' hand. It gave the young god his first feeling of solidity in the last five minutes to have that glass in his hand. He gulped some of it hastily.
"I'd join you," Mrs. Keating said, "but I've just had my breakfast."
Eros nodded, groping for something to say. Then his desperate mental acrobatics were jarred by the sound of voices approaching the veranda from the sweeping lawn outside. The voices of a girl and a man.
Mrs. Keating looked unhappy. "My daughter, Kay," she explained. "Coming from the tennis courts with Mr. Vaprenzi. They didn't play long."
Glistening brunette locks flashed in the sun as Eros turned his head slightly. Then an exceptionally lovely girl, clad in white tennis shorts, was mounting the veranda steps. Behind her, dressed in a red blazer and white flannels and carrying three rackets, was a swarthy, thick-shouldered, black-moustached chap of about thirty. He was smiling and the girl was laughing.
Eros stumbled quickly to his feet, still holding his drink. He switched it to his left hand.
Mrs. Keating rose and swept grandly to Eros' side. She placed a fat well manicured paw on his arm possessively.
"Kay, dearest," Mrs. Keating trilled. "This is Cousin Sidney's friend, Mr. Heartworth."
EROS met Kay Keating's friendly, coolly appraising glance. Like her mother, Kay seemed to study Eros from head to foot. And like her mother, Kay smiled. She, also, liked what she saw. In a little different way.
"Awfully glad you'll be able to stop with us, Mr. Heartworth," Kay said. Her voice was more delightfully liquid than ever.
"Thanks," Eros mumbled, reddening under her gaze.
"You know," Kay declared with wide eyed candor, "I expected that you'd be a red-faced old fogey like Uncle Sidney. I'm tremendously pleased that you aren't."
"Kay!" Mrs. Keating protested sharply.
Kay smiled indulgently at her mother, then went blithefully on. "Are you married, Mr. Heartworth?" Kay demanded.
Eros shook his head. "No, I'm not."
"Good," Kay grinned. "Then we'll have lots of fun while you're here."
"Kay!" This time it was a masculine voice that protested in shocked annoyance. The voice of the chap in the blazer and flannels.
Kay turned. "Oh, Vick, I almost forgot you. Mr. Heartworth, this is my very good friend, Vick Vaprenzi."
Vaprenzi, scowling blackly, extended his hand. Eros took a bone-crushing grip and drew his own paw away hastily.
"Pleased," Eros declared. "And since we won't have to be formal I'd rather you all called me Eros."
"That's a funny name," Kay declared. Then, at Eros' look of indignation, she added swiftly, "I mean different, of course."
Eros looked somewhat mollified. "It is unusual," he admitted.
Kay looked pensive for an instant. Then she snapped her fingers unexpectedly. "I know!"
Eros looked at her in perplexity. "Know what?"
"Your name, where it's derived from. You're named after the Eros who was the god of love, aren't you?"
Eros flushed uncertainly. "I, ah, guess I am, in a way," he admitted.
Kay gave him one last long appraising look. "Hmmmmm," she decided, "you weren't badly named at that, big fella!"
Eros flushed to the roots of his hair.
"Kay!" exclaimed the horrified Mrs. Keating.
"Kay!" echoed Vick Vaprenzi.
"Oh, my," Eros said weakly.
Kay Keating gave him one long, slow wink, her button nose crinkling in an elfin grin. Then, grabbing Vaprenzi by the arm, she strolled blandly past the blushing young god of love and into the house.
"See you at dinner, Eros," she called back over her shoulder.
Eros automatically lifted his scotch and soda and drained the glass. His hand was shaking, and for the life of him he couldn't find a reason why.
"I am afraid," Mrs. Keating declared, "that my daughter has taken a fancy to you, Mr. Heartworth."
"You, ah, you think so?" Eros asked.
Mrs. Keating nodded sadly. "Yes, you poor dear boy."
"Poor dear boy?" Eros echoed blankly.
Mrs. Keating nodded again. "You'll find out what I mean," she promised ominously.
HALF an hour later, Eros was still considering Mrs. Keating's remark in the privacy of the bedroom which had been assigned to him. It was obvious to him, of course, that Kay Keating was the debutante daughter who—according to what Bacchus had said—had been engaged six times. And under these circumstances, Eros felt certain that he'd already come face to face with at least one of the great bottlenecks in his Love Department.
"After all," Eros told himself indignantly, "this Keating girl is probably known as a glamour deb from coast-to-coast. She is probably a sort of heroine to countless young ladies all over the United States. When she laughs in the face of serious romance, she sets a style, and all her would-be imitators start doing the same thing. It isn't right."
There was a knock on the door of Eros' bedroom.
Roger pushed his head in an instant later.
"I beg your pardon, sir."
"Eh?" Eros looked at the butler in surprise. "Oh, that's all right, Roger, come right in."
Roger came right in, standing somewhat hesitantly before Eros.
"What's on your mind, Roger?" Eros asked.
"Mrs. Keating, sir, noticed that you'd come without a manservant, a valet. She informed me, sir, to place myself at your disposal during your stay here."
"You're to be my valet?" Eros inquired.
"Very well, Roger, set about doing whatever valets do."
"Thank you, sir."
Roger began to prowl about in Eros' closet, taking down clothes and brushing them, unpacking some luggage, and generally making himself useful. Eros stood by the French windows of the bedroom which opened out onto a balcony overlooking a green terrace below.
"Roger," Eros suddenly asked, "is it true that Miss Keating has been engaged to be married on some six occasions?"
Roger paused in the unpacking. "No, sir. Last night she broke off another engagement. It is now seven times, rather than six."
Eros looked appalled.
"And the Mr. Vaprenzi you met," Roger continued, "seems to be in line as the eighth suitor, sir."
"You mean she'll probably get herself engaged to him?" Eros asked, astounded. "And on the day after she broke another engagement?"
"That's generally the procedure, sir," Roger replied. "She says, sir, that she detests carrying a, er, a torch after a broken romance. As a consequence, she generally endeavors to get engaged again as speedily as possible."
"Good heavens, Roger!" Eros exclaimed.
Roger raised his eyebrows despairingly. "Exactly, sir."
Eros paced back and forth in concentration a moment. "What does this Vaprenzi fellow do?" Eros asked suddenly.
"He, ah, is the owner of a night club and gambling house called the Mocambo, sir," Roger answered.
"Has he a good reputation?" Eros asked.
ROGER chose his words with care.
"He, ah, has never been in jail, sir," he replied. There was no mistaking his meaning.
Eros grinned. "I see, Roger. Well spoken. Very delicately phrased, if I do say so."
"Thank you, sir. Shall I lay out your dinner jacket?"
"I'm supposed to dress for dinner?" Eros asked.
Roger looked bewildered. "But of course, sir."
Eros flushed in embarrassment. "It's hard to get back into the swing of civilized living, Roger. South Africa is different, you know."
Roger accepted the explanation. "Of course, sir. I understand."
"And what's the program after dinner?" Eros inquired.
"I believe Mr. Vaprenzi intends to have you all along as his guests at the Mocambo Club, sir."
Eros considered this. "Then, of course, I'll need a sizable bit of currency."
Roger flushed this time. "I presume so, sir."
"Then I wish you'd get my money from the grip on your right. It's packed in the side," Eros explained.
Quite a little bit bewildered, Roger opened the grip Eros pointed to. He felt in the side. His face went white. His hand came up with a massive stack of green bills.
"Good," Eros said. "I was afraid I might have misplaced it." He held out his hand and took the sheaf of bills from Roger.
Eros flipped casually through the stack. "Twenty, twenty-five, thirty-five, fifty, seventy-five, a hundred, hundred and twenty- five, hundred and fifty, hundred and seventy-five, two-hundred, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars." He smiled. "Fine. Keep out twenty-five thousand, Roger, and put it in the pocket of my dinner jacket so I won't forget it." He flipped the stack of bills back onto the bed.
Roger's eyes were bugging.
"If you don't mind my saying so, sir," Roger finally managed to gasp, "I think it would be wise of you to be a little less careless with your, ah, currency."
Eros looked genuinely surprised. "Do you? I hadn't thought of it."
Roger was still white and shaken. "Yes, sir. I think it would be quite a sound idea for you to deposit it in a bank, sir. I am sure any bank here in Reno would be glad to keep it for you while you're here."
"That's nice of them, Roger," Eros observed warmly. "You take it down to them, then, won't you. But don't forget to leave twenty-five thousand in my dinner jacket."
"I, I'll call them, sir," Roger said. "That way they could send an armored car out for it. I wouldn't feel comfortable taking such an enormous amount to them personally."
"Any way you like," Eros conceded.
"I'll call them now, if you don't mind, sir. It would set my mind at ease," Roger declared.
"Go right ahead."
Roger left the room hurriedly.
EROS went back to the French windows and looked down on the green terrace. He stood there with his hands behind his back, contemplatively biting his lower lip.
"So she's just broken off her seventh," Eros muttered to himself. "And this Vaprenzi person seems in line for the eighth." He considered this a minute.
"From Roger's attitude toward Vaprenzi," Eros continued to himself, "that gentleman leaves a lot to be desired in the way of an ideal mate for any girl. Nevertheless," he paused to search for one of his Departmental Propaganda Slogans, "Love Conquers All, Love Makes Good Men Out of Bad, and all that sort of thing. Maybe it would turn Vaprenzi into a clean-living model of propriety."
He thought this over a minute. "Of course it would," he decided. "And besides, I couldn't afford to have this Keating girl get engaged and get unengaged for the eighth time. It would ruin my business even more so."
Eros smacked his fist against his palm. "That's it, then. I'll see to it that little Miss Keating makes this eighth engagement stick. I'll see to it that Kay Keating and Vaprenzi actually become man and wife!"
Eros walked excitedly over to a writing table in the comer of his bedroom. He found paper and a fountain pen and sat down. For a moment he chewed reflectively on the end of the pen, then he bent his head over the paper and began writing.
He wrote rapidly, pausing now and then to find a phrase, and when he had finished, he blotted the sheet, waved it an instant to dry, then read over what he'd written.
Arrived intact, everything went according to schedule. Have already located bottleneck in this sector of U.S., but have ingeniously hit upon a scheme to eliminate same. I'll need your cooperation in this. At midnight tonight, Reno time, barrage a night spot called the 'Mocambo' with double the usual number of heart rays. Fifteen minutes of this extra-special barrage should be sufficient. Train the heart rays principally on the garden outside the Mocambo. But, for the love of Jove, don't slip up on this! I'll write more later. Give my best to the Gods in the office.
Eros smiled. That should do it. Already he was envisioning the success of his scheme. This personal management, right at the heart of his steepest sales resisting territory, should more than show results. Mentally, he was picturing himself receiving Jove's praise for a job well done. Why, he could continue on around Earth, handling other weak territories in his department. He might eventually take a fling at Europe.
He pictured Mars' savage rage at learning that love had triumphed over war.
"Yes, indeed," Eros told himself. It's the personal touch that counts." He grinned in smug self satisfaction....
BY the time that Eros had shaved and showered, the message to Bacchus had disappeared from the top of the writing desk. This didn't bother the young God, however, for he knew that a heavenly messenger had picked it up while he was in the shower. That was the form of communication that had been arranged.
Eros was singing happily as he adjusted the studs in his shirt-front, gave his black tie a tug, and slipped into his dinner jacket. And when Roger appeared to announce that dinner was being served in half an hour and that cocktails were now in order in the drawing room, Eros grinned cheerfully and buoyantly strode downstairs.
In the luxuriously-furnished drawing-room, Eros found Mrs. Keating, her daughter Kay, Vaprenzi, and a short, fat, baldheaded man who turned out to be Sylvester B. Keating himself.
"Glad you could stop with us, Heartworth," Sylvester B. Keating boomed heartily. He was wearing a dinner jacket tailored to make the least fuss over his protruding paunch.
"It's really a pleasure," Eros said.
Mrs. Keating was wearing a black evening gown which successfully tented at least fifty pounds away from her huge frame. A pearl necklace, pearl earrings, and a pearl tiara on her expensively-bleached blonde hair completed her costume.
Vaprenzi was dinner-jacketed, freshly shaved, and displaying a huge diamond ring on his dark hands and twin diamond studs on his white shirt front. He had a drink in his hand and nodded to Eros.
But Kay Keating, in a white evening dress, her ebon locks piled high in a striking coiffure, and her god-given figure displayed with tantalizing good taste, was the center of attraction in the drawing room. Looking at her, Eros found it hard to keep the admiration from his eyes.
"Hello, Eros," Kay Keating crinkled a grin in his direction. Her eyes swept approvingly over his dinner-jacketed splendor.
Eros grinned tolerantly at this. Young Miss Keating, he felt certain, was due to be jarred from her man-crazy pattern before another day was passed. She would be in love, then, as she had never really been before. She would have eyes only for her betrothed, one Victor Vaprenzi.
And Eros contented himself with this realization all through the dinner as the unconventional Kay Keating pushed Vaprenzi into the background and made a highly concentrated play for her family's new guest.
Sylvester B. Keating was a help, however, for whenever he got the chance he chattered incessantly about his Cousin Sidney and questioned Eros constantly about South Africa and the diamond mining business.
Through this all, Vaprenzi ate sullenly, confining his remarks to occasional futile attempts to say something to Kay, or grunted answers to questions directed at him by Mrs. Keating.
And Eros, flushed happily with his approaching masterly maneuver, and glowing warmly from the four cocktails he'd downed before dinner, talked completely at ease, fabricating gigantic lies about South Africa and his purely mythical experiences there.
When the dinner was over, Kay insisted that she and Vaprenzi would drive to the Mocambo in Eros' car, while her mother and father could come in the town limousine.
"But what about my car?" Vaprenzi protested.
"We'll have Roger drive it back to the Mocambo for you, Vick." Kay smiled sweetly.
"But Heartworth could ride with your mother and father, and we could take my car!" Vaprenzi insisted.
Kay dismissed this laughingly. "Don't be absurd, Vick. This is the simplest arrangement. Unless you'd like to drive to the club alone."
Vaprenzi sullenly gave in....
EROS sat behind the wheel of his high-powered, sleek-lined, crimson roadster fifteen minutes later. The night air was invigorating, the sky jammed with silently twinkling stars.
The roadway before him ribboned out whitely in the moonlight and the only sound was the contented purring of the motor.
Kay Keating sat very close beside him, her perfume drifting faintly to his nostrils, her shoulders covered by an ermine cloak. On the other side of Kay, Vaprenzi sat sullenly smoking a cigarette and staring out at the countryside.
"It's glorious out here, isn't it?" Kay observed with a liquid sigh.
"Very nice," Eros commented.
"Can't you get some music?" Vaprenzi broke in suddenly.
"Sure thing," Eros declared, reaching down and snapping the radio button. After an instant, dance music blared forth. Eros reached down again and softened the volume.
"Ahhh," Kay sighed. "Starlight, soft music, a velvet night."
"Made to order," Eros observed mechanically, thinking of the cunning detail Bacchus had gone to.
The Mocambo loomed up ahead of them after three more miles. It was a low, long, glittering place with a lavish electrical sign on the front. It was set back from the highway about fifty yards, and Eros turned the roadster up the gravel driveway. A uniformed doorman ran down the steps of the club to meet them.
"How do you do, Mr. Vaprenzi," he said respectfully, recognizing his boss. "And how are you tonight, Miss Keating?" he inquired.
"Shall we wait for your mother and father?" Vaprenzi asked dourly when the doorman had taken the roadster away.
Kay Keating shook her head. "No. They'll be able to find our table, Vick. Let's go on in."
Kay's right arm crooked into Eros' left arm, and as a sort of after thought she slipped her left arm into Vaprenzi's. In this fashion they strode through the luxurious foyer of the Mocambo.
Music came to Eros' ears. Soft carpets were beneath his feet, the lighting was rich and indirect. A white-tied head-waiter appeared, slick-haired and smiling, and escorted the threesome into an elaborate dining room to the right of the foyer.
A dance band was playing from a bandstand at the far end of the room. Several dozen couples were dancing on an illuminated glass floor. They stepped through an aisle of tables crowded with expensively-attired men and women, all of whom lifted their heads to stare at Kay Keating and her escorts.
THE table the headwaiter led them to was directly off the dance floor, in the center of the room. Vaprenzi stepped between the headwaiter and Kay and pulled out her chair for her.
Eros took a seat, looking around the place marvellingly.
"Like the set up?" Vaprenzi asked, seeing Eros look about.
"Great," Eros said enthusiastically. "Splendid."
This seemed to thaw Vaprenzi out slightly. "Order what you want," he smiled, "we've got the best liquor in the state. Champagne of any vintage. Tastes like nectar."
"Really?" asked Eros hopefully.
"You bet," Vaprenzi declared. He consulted with the headwaiter a moment, murmured an order. The head-waiter bowed and strode off.
"What time is it?" Eros asked abruptly.
Both Kay Keating and Vaprenzi frowned abruptly. But it was the girl who asked,
"Going any place, Mr. Heartworth?" Her voice was sarcastically polite.
Vaprenzi looked at his watch. "It's a quarter to eleven," he announced.
"I just wondered," Eros explained hastily, reddening. "That is, I wondered if this were the most crowded period at the Mocambo. The place seems packed."
Vaprenzi waved his diamond ringed hand casually. "You ought to see it about two or three a.m.," he boasted.
Eros raised his eyebrows in admiration. "Really?"
"You know it," Vaprenzi said. "Say, do you think this crowd in here is all we have at the Mocambo?"
Eros looked around for hidden rooms. "Isn't it?" he asked.
Vaprenzi chuckled. "Not on your life. Our gaming rooms are upstairs. Generally at this time there's a big crowd up there, too." He paused, then, "Like roulette, Heartworth?"
Kay Keating cut in. "Now, now, Vick. Family honor makes me warn you against fleecing a Keating guest."
Vaprenzi laughed. "You didn't let him answer."
Eros grinned. "I'd like to try my hand at some roulette. I've never played it before."
Vaprenzi lighted a cigarette and his eyes were interested. "That so?" he asked. "What games have you gambled on?"
"Hearts," Eros said unthinkingly, "and then only for small stakes."
Kay Keating let out an unnice squeal. "Mr. Heartworth," she giggled, "I'll bet that's no lie!"
Eros flushed. Vaprenzi looked annoyed.
THE drinks came, then. And the dance-band started up again. Kay Keating pushed back her chair, rose.
"I accept your invitation, Eros," she smiled.
Eros half stumbled to his feet. "Invita—" he began bewilderedly.
"To dance," Kay grinned. She took his arm and led him to the illuminated glass floor.
And then they were moving slowly to music while Eros was conscious of a soft coiffure against his cheek and perfume in the air. He danced slowly, experimentally.
"Like Reno?" Kay said suddenly.
"Eh, oh, ah certainly. I like it very much. It's the first time I've ever been here, y'know."
"Like our place?" Kay asked.
Eros shook his head. "It's really magnificent," he admitted.
"Like me?" Kay demanded softly.
"Yes, of course, I—what?" Eros was shocked.
"Why, Eros," Kay Keating said, moving a little away and looking up at him. "Why, Eros, you're blushing!"
"But, but, of course, naturally I like you," Eros gulped in confusion. "I like your mother, too. I like your father. I like Victor Vaprenzi. I like Reno. I like—"
"Oh," said Kay in a small, hurt voice. "You like them all as well as you like me."
Eros was definitely flustered. This was no kind of talk for a girl he hoped to unite with another man inside of another two hours. This wasn't scheduled. This was embarrassing. He felt acutely uncomfortable. Not the least bit god-like.
"You don't like me," Kay was going on. "You, you probably hate me." Her voice was breaking slightly. Eros had the horrible certainty she was going to cry unless he did something quickly.
"Look," said Eros, searching his brain wildly for an idea. "Look, I didn't say I didn't like you better than the rest of them. I, I, don't even know exactly how much I do like you. I've only known you a short time, and maybe I like you a lot more than I realize right now. We can talk it over later."
"When?" Kay demanded.
Eros got a brilliant idea. "At midnight," he said. "In the garden at the Mocambo here."
Kay drew closer to him. Her voice was a sigh. "What a wonderful idea!"
Eros knew his forehead was glistening with perspiration. He wished he had time to mop at it with a handkerchief. And then the music stopped.
Eros grabbed Kay by the arm. "Let's get back to the table," he said. "Victor is probably bored stiff by now."
Mr. Sylvester B. Keating and wife were seated at the table when Eros and Kay returned. Eros beamed at them gratefully.
"So glad you got here," he grinned. "I was wondering what was holding you up."
Vaprenzi broke in. "I was telling Mr. and Mrs. Keating that you wanted to learn roulette. What do you say we all go to the gaming rooms?"
Eros disregarded the kick Kay Keating planted on his shin. "I think it's an excellent idea," he agreed. Vaprenzi rose, grinning.
"I'll have our drinks sent up to the tables," Vaprenzi said.
EROS sat between Mrs. Keating and Kay. Before them stretched the flat numbered and segmented expanse of the roulette table. Vaprenzi and Sylvester B. Keating, stood behind the three. Seated around the rest of the tables were men and women in various stages of gambling hypnosis. The eyes of all were riveted on the wheel in the center of the table behind which the croupier, emotionless and hard-eyed, stood supervising the betting.
Eros had a glass at his side. It had been refilled for the fifteenth time. He felt warm and glowing and very happy. There were knots of spectators gathered behind his chair. He looked fondly at the tall stacks of chips beside his elbow.
The stacks amounted to seventy-five thousand dollars.
The croupier looked at Eros.
The room was hushed.
Eros pushed all the stacks out on the red marker. There was an audible gasp from everyone in the gaming room.
"You fool," Kay Keating hissed, kicking Eros in the shin for the fifteenth time. "Get out of here while you're ahead."
Eros just grinned, watching the croupier spin the wheel. There was silence while the ivory ball danced up and down the rim, balancing like a nimble little man on a rolling log. The wheel was slowing. The ivory ball began to bob.
The wheel stopped. The croupier looked emotionlessly at the stack of chips Eros had pushed forward.
"Red," he announced flatly, "eighteen."
The room burst into a babble of excitement.
"You lucky idiot!" Kay Keating marvelled. "Quit now, for heavens sake!"
Eros still said nothing, grinningly sweeping in the chips that were pushed over to him. Vaprenzi's voice, behind Eros' shoulder, came to him a little sickly.
"Very lucky, Heartworth. One hundred and fifty grand is our bank limit at the roulette table. I'm afraid you've broken it."
"That's a shame," said Eros, sincerely sorry. "I was just beginning to enjoy the game. Are you out of chips?"
"Out of the green stuff to back them up with," Vaprenzi said flatly.
"Can't you call the bank and get more?" Eros asked.
There was an audible snicker around the room. Vaprenzi flushed.
"I can write you out a check," Vaprenzi said, "although I don't usually do that."
"Splendid," Eros beamed. "I'd like to play this all night. It's really great sport."
Kay Keating rose. "You two can postpone the roulette championship until tomorrow night," she said. "My nerves can't stand any more of it."
Vaprenzi looked suddenly contrite. "I'm sorry, Kay. I was just trying to oblige Mr. Heartworth." He looked at Eros. "If you don't mind," he began.
"Not a bit," Eros grinned, rising a little unsteadily. "Always make a fool of myself over games. We'll pick it up again tomorrow night, eh?"
THE normal gambling in the room resumed, people took over the chairs vacated by Eros, Kay, and her mother and father. Vaprenzi stepped back to allow Kay and her mother to walk ahead. Sylvester B. Keating was with them. Eros brought up the rear.
Vaprenzi touched his arm.
"I'd like to see you a little later, Heartworth," he said softly.
"Surely," Eros agreed. "Whereabouts?"
"Outside would be best," Vaprenzi answered.
"In the garden?" Eros suggested, struck by the cleverness of his idea. "In the garden about midnight?"
"Good enough," Vaprenzi agreed.
Possibly it was the champagne. Or possibly it was the smug feeling of a man about to pull off something awfully clever, but Eros felt exceedingly fine as they walked out of the gaming room and down to the night club mezzanine. He felt so fine he'd even forgotten that he now had one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars in his pocket....
HALF an hour later, at the table, Vaprenzi glanced at his watch and gave Eros a significant wink.
"Why," Vaprenzi announced, "it's a quarter to twelve. I hope you people will excuse me for a short spell. I've several very important telephone calls to make. Long distance arrangements." He rose.
When Vaprenzi had gone, Kay Keating looked at Eros. "Let's dance, Eros," she said.
"It's a quarter to twelve," Kay said when they were on the illuminated glass dancing area. "And you've a date at midnight with a certain brunette. Do you remember? Or have the drinks and the small fortune driven it out of your mind?"
Eros grinned smugly. "Of course I remember. I wasn't thinking of anything else since the arrangement was made. In the garden, wasn't it?"
Kay Keating nodded happily. "Ummmhmmm."
Eros said, "We'll finish this dance, then go back to the table. I'll excuse myself. Then you do the same. I'll meet you out in the garden, promptly on the stroke of twelve."
One chorus and a vocal later they were walking back to the table, where Sylvester B. Keating and mate looked up sharply, guiltily, faces flushed. They had been talking about something, strictly entre nous. Their manner was smug, knowing, secretive.
Eros and Kay sat down, and less than a minute later Mrs. Keating rose, beamingly.
"I'm sure you'll excuse me," she said.
Sylvester B. Keating rose also. "You'll pardon me, too, for a bit, won't you?"
Eros nodded blankly. "Why, er, that is, certainly."
Kay nudged Eros with her knee.
"It's much easier than we thought," she whispered. Eros was on his feet, smiling somewhat bewilderedly. The Keatings were moving away. When they'd gone, Eros sat down again and turned to Kay.
"Now why do you suppose—?" he began.
Kay cut in. "Mama and father are awfully understanding," she said. "And in addition to that, I think they thoroughly approve of you."
"Approve of me?"
Kay nodded. "They didn't approve of the others."
"The others?" Eros felt his voice rising an octave in an alarmed squeak. He was beginning to get the drift.
"Yes," Kay said blandly, "the other seven."
"But—" Eros began in protest.
"It's almost midnight," Kay said swiftly. "Remember that date in the garden?" She rose, and Eros got to his feet.
"Uh, now," he started.
"I'll meet you out there," Kay said. "Follow me in a few minutes." She leaned over to pat his arm. Then she moved off. Eros sat down heavily. This was not going along quite as smoothly as he'd like it. Kay Keating was getting a number of wrong impressions. They had to be corrected, somehow. But then Eros remembered Bacchus up there on Olympus probably even now glancing at his watch and setting the extra batteries of heart rays on the garden.
Eros took a deep breath and got to his feet. A lot would depend on his fellow god's dependability.
Weaving through the maze of tables, Eros made his way to the side veranda of the Mocambo which fronted the night club's garden. Vaprenzi would probably be out there in the garden waiting for him already. And Kay would meet Vaprenzi. Bacchus and the heart rays would take care of the rest.
Eros stood just inside the club, gazing out at the veranda and the garden beyond it. He fished for a cigarette, lighted it, and smoked slowly, killing time.
In his capacity as God of Love from Olympus, Eros had done a great deal of matchmaking in his day. But doing it all from up there had been like a puppet-master pulling strings to manipulate his victims. This personal—literally down-to-earth—handling, however, was vastly different. Eros felt nervous.
A drunk staggered in off the veranda. He was red-faced, gloomy-eyed, and middle-aged. Eros tapped him on the shoulder.
"Have you the time, old boy?" Eros asked.
The drunk looked suspicious. Then he fished for his watch.
He stared at the timepiece for perhaps half a minute, then looked up at Eros, eyes searching the young God's face suspiciously.
"Thash's sa rottun lie," the drunk mumbled. "Ish mush later than that." He put his watch back into his pocket and reeled on.
Eros tried again when a portly, white haired old man passed in from the veranda.
"Five after twelve," that gentleman said.
Eros thanked him, grinning smugly. The heart rays were already at work, and Kay Keating and Vaprenzi were out there under them. Ten more minutes and they'd be droolingly mad about each other. Eros timed the interval that followed with a fresh cigarette. When it was a small stub, Eros stepped out onto the veranda.
SAVE for occasional couples sitting around in the gliders by the veranda railing, the garden seemed deserted.
Eros went down the steps and frowningly proceeded up a gravel path that led to a sequestered bower.
Voices, loud and angry, came to him from the bower.
Eros turned the corner and faced Vaprenzi and Kay Keating. They were both arguing wildly!
"Hello!" Eros said in surprised dismay.
Vaprenzi swung on Eros, eyes unpleasant. "Well?" he grated.
Eros took a deep breath. This wasn't at all as it should be. The pair should be entwined in one another's arms, whispering sweet nothings at this stage of the game.
Kay appealed to Eros. "Punch this, this, gangster in the nose for me, Eros!" she demanded.
Vaprenzi clenched and unclenched his fists. "So that's how it is, eh?" he snarled.
"Look—" Eros began. He was beginning to realize that Bacchus was—true to form—completely unreliable. The heart rays couldn't have been trained on the garden at the appointed time. Eros felt more than a little sick. Mentally he damned Bacchus.
"Look, nothing," Vaprenzi spat. The man was furious. His eyes blazing. "I'm suddenly wise to the situation, Heartworth, plenty wise."
"Punch him in the mouth, Eros!" Kay Keating screeched.
And then there was the sound of hasty footsteps on the garden gravel pathway. A figure swung around the corner of the bower. Eros blinked in amazement as he recognized Roger.
"Mr. Heartworth, sir," Roger began.
Suspicion darkened the baleful glare on Vaprenzi's features. "What's this?" he demanded loudly, looking from Roger to Eros to Kay.
"A message, Mr. Heartworth," Roger said. "I found it on your writing desk, unopened, after you'd gone and I was cleaning up your room. One of the maids must have left it there and forgotten to tell me about it."
Eros snatched the envelope Roger extended.
He opened it, shielding the paper from the view of the others.
Eros, Old Thing:
Heart Rays went on blink, needed bit of repair. Won't be able to provide their lovelush rays until about twenty after midnight. Sorry, old moppet. Make your arrangements accordingly.
EROS took a deep breath, then let it out in a sigh. So that was what had happened. A slight delay, nothing more serious. Bacchus hadn't gone off and gotten drunk as he'd feared. Eros felt better, much better than before. He pocketed the note.
"What time is it, Roger?" he asked.
Roger looked at his watch. "Exactly twelve, ah, twelve eighteen, Mr. Heartworth."
Eros grinned. "Thank you, Roger. I'm very glad you thought to bring the message. I shan't forget it, old boy, never fear."
"I still want to know," Vaprenzi demanded in bewildered sullenness, "if this is some sort of a wise stunt."
Eros put on his most innocent expression. "Why, Victor, old man, I'm surprised you should talk that way."
"What's this all about?" Vaprenzi demanded.
"You wait," Eros promised, taking Roger by the arm. Unconsciously he glanced upward. "Let 'er rip, Bacchus," he thought.
Eros started away, pulling Roger by the elbow with him. "You wait," he repeated, "and you'll find out in practically no time at all."
"Hey!" Kay Keating yelled after them.
"What IS this?" Vaprenzi screamed.
"Wait," Eros shouted. "I'll be back in a minute. Stay where you are."
Then he was dashing madly down the gravel path, Roger behind him. He was conscious that the moon was getting brighter and brighter, and that the stars were taking on a business-like polished gleam of utter radiance. Bacchus was already setting the scene. The heart rays would be pouring down next.
Kay and Vaprenzi would be left alone together. That's all those heart rays would need.
Eros cut sharply behind a high hedge of bushes. And then hands siezed him roughly, and a voice barked nastily behind the blunt nose of an automatic.
"Nice going, mug," said the voice. "I was waiting for you."
Eros opened his mouth. Whoever held him put a hairy paw over it quickly. Eros struggled futilely, staring into the muzzle of the gun before him. He was aware that there must be two men, one holding him, while the other held the gun. Roger was nowhere around.
Then Eros saw the gun barrel raise. He felt, rather than saw, it smash down on the top of his head. Explosions, one after another, then pinwheels, sparkling, whirling, sparks scattering through a blanket of blackness. Eros fell forward, still held by the captor behind him, quite unconscious....
THERE was a buzzing, aching bedlam in Eros' head when he regained consciousness. He felt for a moment as if his mouth was crammed tightly shut with cotton batting, and then he realized that a gag was tied tightly around it.
He couldn't see a thing, inky blackness surrounding him. And then Eros realized that his eyes were covered also. It took only a moment's effort for Eros to become aware that his legs were tied, and his arms trussed behind him.
Faintly, Eros heard the strains of dance music. It seemed to be coming from below him. He pressed his ear hard to the deep rich carpet on which he lay and listened carefully.
Yes, it was a dance orchestra. A dance orchestra that sounded familiarly like the one at the Mocambo.
Eros did a bit of reasoning. If he were still at the Mocambo, he decided, then he was in a room of some sort directly above the dance floor.
Eros turned his attention from the music and raised his head slightly from the carpet, listening for sounds in the room. He stayed that way perhaps a minute, hearing nothing. Apparently he was alone.
He lay there, then, trying to recall what the thugs who'd seized him in the bushes had looked like. Recollection was futile. It had all happened too quickly.
But what had happened? What was the reason for all this? Why was he still here in the Mocambo after such an assault?
Eros remembered the money he had won.
A hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Eros rolled over on his face, pressing against his chest to see if the money were still in his dinner jacket pocket.
It was gone.
Eros rolled over on his back and thought this out. These creatures of Earth were greedy grubbers. They'd knock a man out and almost kill him for a paltry hundred and fifty thousand dollars. That sort of thing would never happen on Olympus. But, sadly enough, this wasn't Olympus. This was Reno, U.S.A., Earth. Eros sighed.
But who'd do a thing like this?
Eros did a little more puzzling. Kay Keating? In spite of his situation, Eros had to smile at this. Kay Keating would be guilty of assault and battery in the pursuit of a fiancé, but not in the pursuit of money. She had plenty of money, much more than the scant supply of cash that Eros took along for his expenses. And, Eros further suspected, she would probably inherit scads more of the stuff eventually if she hadn't already.
That eliminated Kay.
Vaprenzi seemed quite logically to be next on Eros' list of suspects. But Vaprenzi, with this huge night club and gambling establishment, the Mocambo, seemed also to be rolling in wealth. Maybe not as much wealth as Kay had, but certainly a tidy fortune. And yet Vaprenzi hadn't seemed particularly pleased to have Eros win one hundred and fifty thousand dollars from his roulette tables. Of course you really couldn't blame him. Still, Eros had offered to play again the next evening, and if Vaprenzi were a person nasty enough to have hired men leaping from bushes to club people, he'd not stop at fixing his roulette tables so that he could get the money back from Eros without any taint of violence or dirty work.
That seemed to eliminate Vaprenzi.
BY now Eros was beginning to have a flying start on an aching head.
This was too much to be considered all at once. Obviously, he was now in a more or less precarious position. And, equally obvious was the fact that someone didn't like his having one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in his pocket and had deprived him of same.
Eros was an extremely puzzled and exceedingly anxious young god.
And then Eros heard a door open. The door to the room in which he lay trussed on the floor.
Voices, next. Ugly voices.
"Well, here he is," said the first voice.
"Yeah," said the second. "He's moved. Musta come around."
Eros lifted his head slightly and tried to talk through his gag. He only succeeded in half choking himself to death.
"Look at that," said the first voice sharply, "you're right!"
Footsteps, coming across the floor. Coming to Eros. A voice bending over him. The first voice.
"Well, well, Heartworth," said the voice. "Howyuh feeling?"
Eros gurgled against his gag.
The first voice laughed.
"Lift him up," ordered the second voice.
Eros felt hands dragging him unceremoniously to his feet. He swayed there, while strong paws held his shoulders to keep him from toppling forward on his face. Dizziness assailed him, caused, undoubtedly, by the blow he'd had on the head.
"Here," said the second voice. "I'll hold him while you untie his feet."
Eros felt himself turned over to another pair of strong paws. Then someone was bending by his feet, untying the bonds around them.
"There," said the first voice, "that's done."
Eros moved one foot tentatively. It was numb, but it was now unfettered. He moved the other. The same sensation. Blood was beginning to flow back into his ankles. The sensation was painfully pleasant.
"Got the car running downstairs?" asked the second voice.
"Okay, then," the second voice commanded, "let's lug this mug outta here."
Eros felt something round and hard pressing against his spine.
"This is a gun," explained the first voice from behind him. "It can go off like nobody's business, if you make any false moves. You understand?"
Eros shook his head violently up and down to indicate that he understood quite readily.
"Good," said the first voice. "Now just move along like we direct you and everything's gonna be jake."
Eros felt himself being propelled out of the doorway, down a thickly-carpeted staircase. Then he heard another door open, and cool air hit his face.
"Okay," the first voice said softly, "step lively, Heartworth. When I say 'up' raise your tootsies. We're getting in a car."
Eros felt gravel beneath his feet as he walked along.
"Up," commanded the first voice.
Eros raised his foot and felt the running board of a car. The door was open and the thug behind him shoved him in against the upholstery of the rear seats. Then the thug climbed in beside Eros. The other hoodlum was evidently driving, for Eros heard the motor roar to life, the doors slam, and then they were off.
FOR the next long interval Eros tried to time the passing minutes as they drove. Finally, losing track of his calculations, he gave it up, closing his eyes beneath the bandage across them.
The thug beside him woke Eros by jabbing a gun in his ribs after what might have been minutes or hours later.
Then he was being shoved out of the car and forced across an uneven rocky terrain. He could hear no sounds around him save for his own, and his captors' breathing. But he had a sense of vastness around him that led him to believe they were somewhere out on the desert.
They were pushing him up a flight of wooden steps. Then a key turned in a door and they stepped into a musty room. Eros heard the door bang and lock behind them. Then someone was opening a few windows, while the smell of kerosene came strongly to Eros' nostrils.
"Take his blinkers off," said the voice of one of his captors.
Eros felt hands loosening the bandage around his eyes. Then it was taken away and he found himself blinking bewilderedly in an effort to adjust his eyes to the light.
He was in a small, crudely furnished shack. There was a table in the center of the room, on which the kerosene lamp flickered brightly, and in the corner were several bunks. In the other corners were a stove, a small, oil-burning affair, another bunk, the flat, army-cot type, and a small stand against which were leaning three ugly, ominous looking rifles.
"Take off his gag," said a large, exceptionally fat man facing him beside the table. The fat fellow was over six feet tall and his eyes were the only part of him that seemed hard. His features had the stamp of corpulent indulgence.
Hands behind Eros removed the gag from his mouth. Eros turned, staring at a thin, dapper, gray little man wearing a white fedora and grinning unpleasantly.
"What is this all about?" Eros demanded indignantly. "You've taken the money, whoever you are. What else do you want?"
The gray, thin, dapper little man moved over to the table beside his fat comrade. It was the corpulent captor who answered Eros.
"You'll find out, Heartworth," he declared, "in plenty of time."
"But see here," Eros protested. "I haven't harmed a soul. I haven't intended to. You must have the wrong fellow. That is, you must have the wrong man if you want something more than the money I won."
"Yeah," said the fat captor taking out a match and picking his teeth. "Yeah. That money was nice, too."
Eros turned appealingly to the short, thin, gray man. "Look," he said, "all this is ridiculous. Untie me and let me out of here. My hosts, the Keatings, will be wondering what in the devil has become of me. They'll—"
"They won't wonder a thing," the little gray man broke in. "They'll just think you ain't sending telegrams on your honeymoon, that's all."
EROS made a wry face. "Don't be so stupid. I'm not marr—" His face went suddenly ashen as the full import of the little man's words hit home.
"What did you say?" Eros demanded at the top of his lungs.
"They won't expect no message from neither you nor their daughter. They think you two love-boids is on a honeymoon. A sorta elopement, like," the fat captor removed the match from his mouth to announce.
Eros was spluttering futilely, while his spine congealed to ice. This was horrible. This was worse than horrible. This was—. But he had to find out. He had to get to the bottom of this.
"Explain," Eros begged hoarsely. "Explain!"
The fat man pushed a black fedora back on his bald head and explained. "This Keating dame, Kay, disappeared from the Mocambo just after we nabbed youse in the garden and took the dough."
Eros looked blank. "Disappeared?" he asked.
The fat captor nodded. "Yeah. Beat it. Left her folks a note. The note told them she would wire them later and telephone long distance the following morning. The note went on to say that she was eloping, and that dis time it was really love."
"But I didn't elope with her!" Eros wailed. "At least I don't recall having eloped with her!"
The fat captor bit off a piece of his match and chewed on it reflectively for a moment. "No," he agreed. "No, of course you didn't do no such thing. But you disappeared the same time she did. She had been sweet on you and had told her folks she thought she'd nail you. You was the first young guy her folks ever took a shine to. They were solid for the idea and give the doll their blessing."
Eros groaned, remembering the cat-ate-canary glances that Mr. and Mrs. Keating were exchanging when he and Kay returned to the table from the dance floor. That's why the two elder Keatings had left so obligingly. And that also explained why Kay had been so pleased with the arrangement to meet Eros in the garden. But there was a lot still unexplained.
The corpulent captor obligingly elaborated on these missing details.
"We was detailed—by a person or persons unknown—to wait for youse the first chance we got," the fat captor continued, "and heist the wad of greenbacks you'd won at the tables. We was further told to bring youse directly out here the first chance we got."
"But," protested Eros, returning to his first queries, "what in the world use am I now that my money's gone?"
"That wasn't all the dough youse had," the fat captor reminded him. "There was quite a wad piled away in the bank this afternoon, or I should say yesterday afternoon."
EROS frowned at this. "Why, ah, yes," he said naively. "I do remember that Roger banked about a hundred and seventy-five, no, on second thought, he banked two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars for me yesterday afternoon."
"Which," said the thin, gray, little man, "with the roulette winnings tagged in, amounts to damned near a half a million bucks!" He whistled to punctuate his estimate.
"That's a lotta moola," agreed the fat fellow.
Eros gulped. There was entirely too much greed in evidence around Earth.
Much too much greed, if these gentlemen were standard examples of the breed. He made a mental note to speak to Jove about the situation when he returned to Olympus.
"That is neither here nor there," Eros said stiffly. "The—"
"Neither here nor there," the fat fellow broke in mockingly. "A mere matter of close to half a million ironmen and this guy says it's neither here nor there!" He broke into coarse guffaws.
Light dawned on Eros' face. "You mean," he demanded, "that you people are thinking of holding me here for, for ransom?" His voice rose indignantly on the last word.
The corpulent captor grinned at his thin, gray companion. The little man grinned back.
"You catch on pretty quick, Heartworth," the fat one said.
"You're crazy!" Eros snapped. "I've had about enough of this, this, highway robbery. Let me out of here! Unloose these bonds!"
The thin little gray man giggled. "He's a card, ain't he?"
"The Keatings will track you down!" Eros thundered.
The fat chap guffawed uproariously.
"It's the blasted principle of the thing," Eros thundered, red-faced, "not the dirty money! You won't get a cent from me!"
"Why not?" the fat fellow asked blandly, tossing his match to the floor.
"I won't pay it. I won't authorize anyone to withdraw it," Eros snapped.
The thin, gray little map giggled again. "That's a scream. He won't pay it!"
"If you wanta stay alive you'll pay it," the fat man said softly.
Eros purpled. This was too much. Who did they think he was? What did they think he—. Suddenly this train of thought was jarred quite sickeningly.
He was a god. He couldn't die. At least he never had died. But he'd never been to Earth before. Maybe gods were subjected to the same mortality rate as humans when they took Earth tours. Eros gulped uncertainly, frantically searching his memory in an effort to recall if, on any past occasions under circumstances such as this, gods had died on Earth. For the life of him he couldn't remember.
"Well?" said the fat man ominously, "changed your tune?"
Eros felt shaky, but his voice was dogged. "No."
"That's too bad," the thin man giggled.
"Yeah, too bad," the fat one agreed regretfully.
"Listen," Eros said desperately. "This is all a lot of nonsense. You're being much too greedy. You've got a nice share of cash. Why don't you let it go at that?"
"You're a diamond big shot," the fat one said. "You'll have more moola where that came from. You won't lose your shirt over a measly four hundred gees." He smiled ingratiatingly. "Come on now, Heartworth, play ball and we'll have you back in Reno safe and sound in no time."
Eros did a little considering all around. This was a mess. If he gave the rest of his expense money to these thugs he'd be washed up insofar as his continued stay on Earth was concerned. He could drop Jove a line explaining what had happened and ask him for more. But that would be sticking his chin out. He'd never hear the last of it from the boys in the office when he got back to Olympus. On Earth less than twenty-four hours and he'd been taken for every last nickel. Eros had pride and a great sense of godly dignity. He couldn't face that.
But if he paid them, and didn't ask for more from Jove, he'd be in even a deeper hole. He'd be stranded on Earth without a penny to continue his love promotion campaigns which—he remembered incidentally—were just getting under way in good style. He felt confident that Kay Keating was by now happily married to Vaprenzi, and that in no time at all the news would flood the nation and thousands upon thousands of young damsels who'd been patterning their lives after the glamorous existence of the famed Kay Keating would stop scoffing at love and start getting wed.
The fat captor coughed. "Well?" he inquired ominously.
This brought Eros back to his immediate problem. If he didn't pay up, these two gentlemen, he felt certain, would have no hesitation about killing him.
"Look," Eros said. "Can't I have a little time to think it over?"
The two thugs exchanged dubious glances. The fat one looked back at Eros.
"How much time?" he asked.
"Just, just an hour," Eros asked desperately.
The fat one jerked a thumb at Eros and looked at his thin companion. "Tie him up again," he instructed, "and stuff a gag in his mouth. We'll run into Reno and grab a shot, I need a couple. When we come back, he'll either be willing or headed for a hearse."
ONCE again Eros lay sprawled on the floor, feet re-tied and a gag stuffed into his mouth. This time, however, there wasn't the softening comfort of rich rugs beneath his aching body. The hard dusty boards on which he lay were cold and unyielding.
To say that Eros was as mentally miserable as he was physically would be sheer understatement. His mind was a torrent of shame and anguish. And grope as he might for some solution to his dilemma, he was still in a fog as the time when his captors would return drew inexorably closer.
So involved was Eros in the tangle of his own problem, that he failed to hear the first of the caravan of automobiles that passed along the highway somewhere within a stone's throw of the shack.
However, after five minutes of the motorcade's passing, Eros heard the loud sounds of a steam calliope chortling a merrily unrecognizable tune.
For an instant his heart pounded faster, and he listened eagerly to the sounds of the truck and automobile motors that passed. Then he realized, despairingly, that whatever procession was moving down the highway would undoubtedly be unaware that the lone desert shack they passed contained a bound and gagged young god with a serious problem on his hands.
Nevertheless, out of sheer desperation, Eros threshed about the floor in his bonds, kicking this way and that in an effort, futile though it was, to free himself in time to yelp for help.
The calliope grew fainter and fainter, finally, as did the sound of the caravan's motors, the hope in Eros flickered once and went out completely. Now he realized, for the first time, that he could have summoned them to his aid.
It would have been childishly simple, he saw too late, to have tipped over the table in the center of the room which held the kerosene lamp. The kerosene lamp, on crashing to the floor, would have ignited the tinder-like flooring of the shack and in mere moments the place would have been ablaze.
But the motorcade was past, now, and on reconsidering the scheme born too late, Eros decided that it was probably just as well he hadn't tried anything as spectacular as all that. After all, he would have remained bound and gagged, and possibly the shack might have burned down before his rescuers got to him.
It was while gloomily deciding on which was better—death by fire or death by bullet—that Eros heard the sound of the automobile off in the distance. An automobile coming down the same highway on which the motorcade had passed.
Again, Eros had a flicker of newborn hope. And again it was rapidly extinguished. This car would pass the shack just as quickly as the motorcade had. Unless he tipped over the lamp.
Eros took a deep breath. He wondered just exactly how far this shack was from the highway. He wondered, too, how quickly the flames would spread about the shack to be noticed from the highway. If he tipped it now, while the car was still approaching, there might be time for it to ignite.
But if the car passed, and the lamp were tipped, and Eros remained gagged and bound on the floor. The young god pushed this thought as rapidly from his mind as it had entered.
It didn't bolster courage.
Eros edged over to the table. From his position on the floor he looked up once in speculation at the lamp. Then he set his jaw and rolled wildly into the legs of the table.
The table rocked back and forth from the force of Eros' body. The lamp toppled, stayed on the table and then fell forward to the floor. Eros heard the crash of its glass chimney, felt the splatter of kerosene on his face, and waited breathlessly for the blaze.
There was none.
The wick had gone out, for there was nothing but blackness in the shack. The fire hadn't started.
Eros groaned aloud, but it didn't get past his gag.
The sound of the passing automobile's motor came loudly to his ears. Then, suddenly, he heard the screech of none too gently applied brakes.
The car out on the highway was stopping!
Wildly, Eros' heart began to thump.
And then another thought occurred to him. It might be the fat and the thin thugs return. He held his breath. Faintly he heard a car door slam. Then, even more faintly, he heard feet stamping across the rocky terrain. The footsteps were coming toward the cabin!
Minutes turned into small eternities as Eros waited and the footsteps grew louder. Eros could hear a deep voice grumbling to itself now.
Then someone was pounding on the door of the shack.
Eros rolled himself desperately about the floor in an effort to inch over to the door. It was locked, and if the person outside grew aware of that he might move off.
Eros stopped his rolling to pound his feet on the floor of the cabin. But the person outside was pounding much too loudly on the door to make Eros' feeble efforts at return signals audible.
Still twisting himself along like a huge lizard, Eros inched toward the door. The pounding suddenly stopped and a heavy voice cursed.
Then the person outside was turning the doorknob in an effort to force entry. Eros could hear it rattling. Suddenly a heavy shoulder was thumped into the door and it gave in creakingly, almost snapping the lock shaft through the jamb.
Eros was less than three feet from the door now, still desperately inching toward it, when the shoulder of the person outside smashed into it again—this time with incredible force.
The door flew every which way in splinters, careening open behind the tremendous assault of the shoulder as it did so. A huge figure, outlined blackly in the night, almost stumbled over Eros as it tripped into the shack!
And then, still cursing loudly, the huge figure struck a match. Eros blinked in the sudden glare of unexpected light.
"Well I'll be damned," said a voice in heavy astonishment. "Well I'll be double damned!"
Eros, who had a wild, impossible glimmer of recognition in connection with the voice, suddenly felt overwhelmed by the same sentiments of astonishment.
The huge figure picked up the kerosene lamp, placed it back on the table, and lighted the soggy wick. The room was suddenly whitely illuminated. The huge figure became clearly visible.
"Eros!" thundered the large intruder wonderingly, "What in the blazes are you doing here?"
Eros tried to answer. His gag quite naturally prevented him from making anything but gurgling noises against it. The mammoth newcomer stepped across the room and swiftly removed the gag from Eros' mouth. Then he dexterously untied the young god's arms, and released his feet by the simple method of snapping the ropes in his huge paws.
Dazedly, Eros climbed to his feet. He was still staring in fascination at the burly figure of his rescuer. The man—he looked more like a creature than a man—was approximately six feet ten inches tall. He wore an expensive camel's hair topcoat and a pearl gray fedora of soft and expensive felt.
Peeking out from under the collar of his massive sports coat was the top of a turtle neck sweater.
The fellow's face was big, wide, and good natured. His ears were slightly cauliflowered, and his big nose somewhat dented. He gave Eros a flashing grin.
"Eros," he repeated, "what in the blazes are you doing here?"
Eros was finally able to speak. "Hercules," he sighed gratefully, "you have no idea how glad I am to see you now!"
HERCULES shoved Eros playfully, almost spinning the other young god across the room.
"What's wrong, kid?" Hercules demanded. "Tell me all!"
And Eros told Hercules everything, omitting no details. When he was finished he added several questions to his statements. Questions that sought an explanation of his fellow god's timely appearance at the scene of his abduction.
Hercules grinned. "Didn't you know I was down here for the summer?" he asked. "Didn't you know that Jove gives me a vacation every twenty years or so, and that this year was my vacation year?"
Eros thought a minute. "I forgot it completely," he said. "I thought I was the only one out on a pass."
"Naw," Hercules replied. "I'm with the carnival again this year. It's wunnerful fun, kid."
Eros grinned, recalling that Hercules' earthly vacations invariably consisted of being handed the privilege to tour with a small carnival. Jove granted the muscular god that present inasmuch as Hercules constantly complained that his muscular feats on Olympus were invariably taken for granted and that he should be allowed to soak in the appreciation of earth dwellers now and then as a sop to his vanity. That was why he invariably joined a carnival on his earthly visits. As a strong man, he could get his fill of attention from the earth dwellers and return to Olympus, where he had very little to do but promote health movements, with his ego bolstered enough to last a couple of decades or so.
And the calliope he had heard many minutes ago, passing along the highway, had undoubtedly belonged to Hercules's carnival troupe. Hercules confirmed as much in his next words.
"I was driving like hell, trying to catch up with my show before we got to Reno," Hercules explained, "when my motor just couldn't stand the heat no longer. I stopped at the first shack I came to, which was this, in order to try to get some water."
"Thank heavens," Eros breathed.
Hercules' brows knitted in a frown as he recalled his fellow god's plight. His huge fists knotted angrily, and his good humored face grew wrathful.
"You been taking quite a pushing around, kid," he said angrily. "I don't like it. If these Earth punks think they can get away with shoving a god around, they're crazy."
"Those," Eros said grinningly, "were my sentiments exactly." He paused. "But I couldn't very well tell them I'm a god. And there wasn't much I could do in the face of a gun. Incidentally, Herk, do we gods retain our immortality here on Earth?"
Hercules blinked. "First visit here, ain't it, kid?"
"Then you better get this through your noggin, Eros," Hercules answered. "We ain't immune to death when we're down here. None of us are, except maybe Jove. I don't even know about him. But just remember that in the future, the next time you're looking for trouble."
Eros felt suddenly woozy. It was a bit of a shock to learn so suddenly that you aren't immune to death. Especially after many centuries of such immunity on Olympus.
"Where are these bums that took you here?" Hercules demanded. His eyes flashed around the room.
"They've gone," Eros explained. "But they ought to be due back here pretty darned quickly. Listen, Herk, you won't tell any of the boys in the office about my getting into this jam, will you?"
Hercules looked noncomittal.
His eyes indicated that he considered this situation as ripe for the telling when he got back to Olympus after his vacation.
Eros gulped nervously. Rescue wouldn't mean a thing if this got back to the gods in the office. And then a faint odor came to him.
"Hercules," Eros said suddenly, "I think you'll forget this when you get back to Olympus. I think you'll forget it because I detect the faintest trace of alcohol on your manly young breath!"
Hercules suddenly crimsoned. "Look," he said swiftly. "I won't say a word about this, so 'elp me, Eros. I won't tell a soul!"
Eros grinned in relief. Another problem was eliminated. Hercules would never spill anything about this now. For if he did, Eros could inform Jove that the God of Strength and Health was doing a bit of rumpotting on the sly during his earthly vacation. Jove was very unsympathetic with Hercules whenever he caught him tippling.
"No," Eros agreed curtly. "I don't think you will."
Hercules was prowling about the shack now, noticing the shattered glass chimney of the kerosene lamp, the spilled liquid on the floor. Eros explained what he'd done.
Hercules whistled. "And all the time you didn't really know that you could damned easily die down here."
"I wasn't certain," Eros admitted. "I had to take a chance nevertheless."
Suddenly their conversation was interrupted by the sound of an automobile drawing up near the shack. Eros looked startled. His companion listened grimly.
Hercules jerked his thumb in the direction of the sounds. "Think these'll be the mugs?" he asked.
"Haven't any doubt about it," Eros said. "But they'll have seen your car out on the highway. Watch for something slick. They'll be expecting trouble." He spoke the last sentence in a hoarse whisper, for footsteps were sounding now, coming closer to the shack.
"Go over on the floor," Hercules hissed, "and lie behind the table with just your feet in sight. Wrap a little rope around them like they were when I came in."
Eros moved swiftly and silently, doing as Hercules ordered. Silently, too, the giant god took a place to the side of the door. The sound of the footsteps outside paused. Voices were heard arguing in low suspicious tones.
"Listen in there!" a voice called out. "We got the shack covered with a couple rods. Any wrong moves will be the last!"
Hercules and Eros looked at one another in silence.
"The door's been smashed," said a voice Eros recognized as belonging to the thin, gray little man.
"Yeah." It was the fat hoodlum who answered him. "But that car is out on the highway and nobody ain't in it. Whoever nosed around is probably still there."
Footsteps sounded tentatively on the steps of the shack. A shot was fired through the torn door—apparently just for good measure.
"There's more pellets in this rod!" a voice called out. "Be nice and you won't get 'em in your carcass."
Then a fat, fedora-covered head peeped in through the shattered doorway. And Hercules went into action, clamping a headlock around it with one massive arm.
THERE was a scream of pain from the fat hoodlum, and his gun began to go off all over the place. An instant later and he dropped the smoking weapon as Eros leaped to his feet and dashed out the doorway just in time to see the thin gray little thug dashing fearfully toward a limousine.
Eros was as swift as Hercules was tough. He overtook the little gangster just as that worthy was climbing in behind the wheel of the limousine. He fired three shots, point blank, at Eros when he saw him. But Eros had dropped flat to the ground an instant before the first, and was up on his feet and running again after the last one. The thin little thug didn't have a chance. It was concentrate on getting the limousine started, or waste time firing at Eros. He made his mistake in choosing the first expedient.
Eros practically pulled the little thug out of the window of the limousine. And when he'd jolted the gray gunman to the ground, he grabbed his weapon away from him.
When Eros led the little thug back into the shack, Hercules was pounding methodically on the back of the fat hoodlum's neck with one massive paw while methodically demanding information.
"Who do you work for?" Hercules kept repeating. "Who do you work for?"
The fat gunman was moaning piteously as each of Hercules' blows descended on the back of his almost broken neck with the force of railroad ties.
Hercules looked up. "I'm questioning," he announced.
"Okay, okay," the fat thug suddenly screamed. "Fergawdsakes don't chop my damned head off with that palm of yours!"
Hercules stopped thumping and listened attentively.
"Vaprenzi, he's our boss!" the fat hoodlum squealed.
Eros released the quavering little lump that had been the thin gray gunman. He blinked in astonishment at the other thug's words.
"Vaprenzi!" Eros gasped. His face turned deathly white.
Hercules looked sharply at him. "What's the trouble? Didn't you think he did it?"
Eros shook his head. "Good heavens, no," Eros babbled. "Why, that means that he's absolutely no good. He's literally a crook. I just thought he was a trifle dishonest and in a somewhat shady racket. I thought that his marriage to Kay Keating would turn him into a nice guy. Love conquers all, and all that sort of thing."
"Those damned slogans of yours will be the death of me yet," Hercules winced. "Sometimes I actually think you believe them yourself."
Eros gave him an indignant glance, disregarding his insult as he went on. "This is awful. It throws all my plans into a cocked hat. You see what it'll do? Thousands and thousands of girls and young women, in high schools, in colleges, in factories, in shops, all follow with avid interest the goings-on of Kay Keating, America's glamour deb. If she'd had a normal marriage they'd all have followed suit. It would have been the biggest boon to my department since Adam fell for Eve."
"But," protested Hercules bewilderedly, "she's married anyway, and that's something."
"Something!" Eros exploded despairingly. "I'll say it's something. It's horrible, that's what it is. Don't you see? She married a crook, which means it'll last for a month at the most. A divorce on the part of Kay Keating would have every still young, and every would-be still young housewife in the country trying to imitate her!" Eros' voice had risen to an hysterical wail.
Hercules shook his head. Yeah," he said softly. "That's as bad as you say it is."
"We have to do something," Eros wailed, "but quick!"
HERCULES dragged the fat gunman over to where his small companion cringed against the wall. Thoughtfully, almost automatically, he banged both their heads together with a sickening clack. They both slumped to the floor, out cold.
"Yeah," said Hercules solemnly, dusting off his hands and not bothering to look back at his victims. "Yeah, we gotta do something all right, all right."
Eros looked at the two gunman. "They'll stay here for a while," he decided. "Besides, they won't make any more trouble."
Hercules read his thoughts and was moving down the steps before Eros got to the doorway of the shack. "We'll borrow their jalopy," Hercules said over his shoulder. "Mine still needs water for the motor."
They were inside the big limousine, then, Hercules behind the wheel. He turned to Eros. "Where do we go to start doing something?" he asked.
Eros thought a moment. "If two people are going to elope from Reno," he asked, "where is the most logical, the quickest place for them to go?"
Hercules thought a moment. "That's easy," he said. "I know the town."
"How far is it away?" Eros asked desperately.
Hercules turned the car toward the highway, gunning the motor. He thought an instant. "Five minutes, the way I'll make it," he grunted. "It's back in the direction I came from."
Hercules was guilty of exaggeration, Eros realized in the next few minutes, as the gigantic god whipped the limousine up into a frenzied rate of speed. Guilty of exaggerating the time it would take to arrive at their destination. On the steeper grades and more dangerous curves, Hercules slowed down to eighty-five or ninety.
"On Earth we can die even as mortals," Eros reminded him on at least two occasions.
But finally the lights of a sleepy little village were blinking in the distance. And then, before another minute had passed, Hercules was slowing the car to about seventy miles an hour as they reached the outskirts of the town.
On every side of the roadways Eros saw signs flashing past which read:
BEST WEDDINGS IN TOWN, REASONABLE,
JUSTICE VARIEW WANTS TO MARRY YOU,
and so on ad infinitum. This town was in strange contrast, Eros thought approvingly, to the not so distant Reno.
"Regular marrying-mill, here," Hercules commented. "And there's only one hotel. We'll head right for that."
"It's our best chance," Eros said.
A minute later they stopped with a screech of brakes before a large frame, old-fashioned hostelry. The sign on the front read:
LOVER'S NEST HOTEL.
They woke a desk clerk in the lobby who looked at them startledly and blinked.
"Look," Eros demanded immediately. "I don't want any time wasted. "Is Miss Kay Keating staying at this hotel tonight?"
The clerk blinked owlishly.
Hercules shoved in front of him. "Speak up," he growled.
The clerk gulped and nodded his head. "If you mean the heiress, we're not allowed to give any such information, but she's here—sir."
"What room?" Hercules growled menacingly.
The clerk gulped again. "Really, sir. I mean, after all—"
"What room?" Eros demanded.
"The bridal suite, third floor," croaked the clerk almost tearfully. "But I beg you gentlemen, please, not to—"
HERCULES was already dashing up the dusty stairs, scorning the ancient elevator which was empty and apparently operated by the desk clerk.
Eros followed swiftly behind them.
"This must be it," Hercules hissed hoarsely on the third floor corridor as he stood before the only room entrance that had double doors.
Eros nodded. Hercules put his shoulder to the door.
"Knock, you big lummox," Eros whispered. "You can't break down every door in the state."
There was the sound of footsteps from inside. They could hear a radio playing faintly. Eros wondered precisely what he thought he was going to do when he confronted Vaprenzi. He decided to act on instinct. It was all he could think of.
"Who's there?" asked a voice.
"Might be the bellboy," said a feminine voice, and Eros recognized it as belonging to Kay Keating. "Let him in, honey."
The door swung open.
Eros gasped. Hercules made a preparatory growling noise in his throat.
Roger, the Keating butler, stood facing them. Kay Keating stood behind him. Both of them looked puzzledly at Eros and Hercules.
"Why, Mr. Heartworth," Roger said, amazed.
"Eros!" Kay Keating screeched excitedly.
Eros could only blink.
"He's come to be the very first to wish us happiness and good luck, Roger," Kay Keating was exclaiming delightedly. "Isn't that sweet of him!"
"Yes," said Roger doubtfully. "Yes, I suppose it is."
At last Eros could form words. He spoke to Kay. "You, you married Roger?" he gasped.
"Yes, isn't it romantic?" Kay squealed. "He's been in love with me all along and had never dared speak his mind. Difference in station and all that sort of thing. It wasn't until you ran away from us in the garden, and Roger started to follow you, and I started to follow also, that I realized I loved Roger. Everything seemed to go up in a big blaze, like lightning or something, and all at once I knew. I tripped on him, and he picked me up. We looked at each other, and it was LOVE AT LAST!"
"Remarkable," Eros gulped. "Really remarkable." He was thinking swiftly, desperately, putting the pieces together. The heart rays had started working after Kay tried to follow Roger and himself from the garden. They'd started working when Roger lifted Kay to her feet after she tripped on him. That explained why she was here, married to Roger instead of Vaprenzi.
Eros felt a vast overwhelming surge of wild relief. This was magnificent. This was more than he had ever hoped for. Here was Kay Keating setting an example for all the high school, college, shop and factory girls in the nation to follow. Here was Kay Keating showing that Love Was Not A Matter Of Money. Here was Kay Keating showing LOVE CONQUERING ALL.
Eros beamed. "Bless you, my children," he said. "Bless you both."
"Thank you," Roger said.
"Good night," Eros said happily. "Good night and luck to you both."
Kay Keating shrilled a farewell after him, and Roger said something lamely, and they shut the door.
In the lobby, passing the clerk's desk, Eros told the scared and shocked guardian of the ledger, "Thanks, old man. Just wanted to pay our respects to the happy couple."
They went out and got into the car.
"Look," said Hercules bewilderedly. "I take it that wasn't Vaprenzi at all."
Eros smiled, and explained. When he had finished, Hercules shook his head admiringly. "You sure have luck, Eros," he said.
Eros nodded. Then a sudden worried look crossed his face. "You don't think she'll fall out of love, do you? It would have a terrible effect on all the swell propaganda it's produced."
"Naw," Hercules answered. "All they need is a family, now, and they'll stay hitched."
Eros nodded, satisfied. "Remind me," he said, "to drop a note to the Goddess of Fertility after we get back to Reno and pick up the money Vaprenzi stole."