Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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I TOLD Saki—he's my oriental screwball houseboy—not to bother going to the door. I let Charlie Bright in personally.
"Hello palsie-walsie," he smirked.
"Everything all set?"
I wanted to punch him in his pimpled face. That was Charlie Bright. He didn't even have the decency to drop his irritating air of jauntiness when out collecting blackmail.
"I have the money." I said. "Ten thousand in cash."
Charlie Bright threw his loudly-tailored self into my favorite overstuffed chair. He fished into into his pocket and drew forth a gold cigarette case from which he extracted a long, gold-tipped fag on which the initials C.B. were inscribed in gold. He didn't offer me one, and stuffed the case back into his pocket.
"The girl here?" he demanded. "The one you're going to marry tomorrow, I mean?"
I shook my head.
"She doesn't know a thing about this," I said, "and she never will. Understand?"
"Sure, sure," said Charlie Bright. "Trust your pal Charlie." He let his beady eyes sweep swiftly over the apartment. "Any devices around?" he demanded.
"I don't get you."
"Dictaphones," said Charlie Bright. "'Cause if there are, you're a damned chump. They'll only make you more trouble than you bargained for. Then all the Corwin dirty linen will come out in the wash, and your little bride-to-be, Wendy Corwin, will be a pretty miserable kid."
"Leave her name out of this!" I wasn't kidding, as melodramatic as it sounded. Then I said, "You needn't worry, there are no dictaphones concealed in the apartment."
"How about the dough?" demanded my visitor. He scratched the fingers of one clawlike paw in the palm of the other. "Fork over."
"Where is the record?" I demanded, countering. I had the cash in my pocket. But it wasn't going to leave my pocket until I had the stolen, time worn, prison record Bright was holding me up for. The prison record of Wendy's father, old Cornelius Corwin.
Wendy's father, a respected and well-loved local figure, had been dead five years now. But Charlie Bright, cunning ferret that he was, had gone back fifty years into the old man's past and dug up the fact that he had escaped from a Colorado prison farm in his youth.
Now Bright was threatening to break the news—on the day of our wedding—that Wendy was the daughter of an ex- convict. The fact that old Cornelius Corwin had been as honest and decent a citizen as New York had ever seen, and had been a model of the straight and narrow ever since his first and only youthful misdemeanor, didn't influence Charlie Bright. Things like that never did.
"Let's see that dough," Charlie Bright repeated nasally.
But the ten grand Bright wanted in exchange for the only existing record was worth it to me. Worth it to save Wendy the shame and suffering and humiliation that Bright's rotten nationally-syndicated column could cause her. And Bright had been shrewd enough to guess as much.
"You have the record with you?" I demanded again.
At this point Saki took it upon himself to thrust his brown and grinning presence into the room.
"Allo," Saki beamed. "Boss Duane have guest?"
Charlie Bright looked at me sharply.
"I thought we were alone."
"Just my houseboy, Saki," I said. "He doesn't matter."
Saki grinned and bowed briefly.
"Saki fix 'em dlink for gentlemens,"
I started to protest. Bright could have my dough but not my hospitality. But Saki had darted back into the kitchen and I could hear cabinet doors slamming as he searched for the mixings. Charlie Bright was grinning.
"That's real hospitable of you, palsie-walsie," he smirked.
"Don't call me palsie-walsie. Where is the record?" I grated.
"Time enough for that," Bright said, "after we have a friendly little drink. Then you can get rid of your houseboy. I don't want anyone around when the actual transfer is made."
I WANTED to wring his neck. But until I got my hands on that record there was nothing I could do. I slouched down on a divan and irritably reached for a cigarette. Saki—still grinning like the utterly benighted ass that he is—brought the drinks in five minutes later. He put them down on a center table.
There were six drinks on the tray. I had never been able to drum it into Saki's thick skull that a cocktail set of six pieces doesn't necessarily have to be used completely each time. But Saki never savvied. Six glasses in set, six drinks every time—no matter how many guests I had, two or eight.
Charlie Bright reached out and helped himself, downing the first drink in a gulp and promptly taking a second. I picked up one and sipped it slowly.
Saki stood there, grinning happily from Bright to me and back again. He was like a bowery waiter in a clip joint hovering about for a tip.
"All right, Saki," I said. "You can beat it. Take the night off. See your Mott Street girl friend."
Charlie Bright had finished his second drink. There seemed to be a peculiar expression on his features. Saki was still grinning like a Bhudda who's just overeaten pleasurably.
I finished my drink and put it down a little irritably.
"All right, Saki," I repeated. "You heard what I said. Scram please."
Saki shook his head.
"No, Boss Duane, must watch." His button eyes were fixed unwaveringly on Charlie Bright.
"Saki," I demanded, "what in the devil's eating you?" I turned to look at Charlie Bright.
Charlie Bright was gone!
Before I could catch my breath, Saki was smilingly explaining to me.
"Saki tell you no like pimple fella. Saki tell him is bad. Saki know he come bothel you—try stop wedding malliage tomorrow. Saki fix him ancest'lial dlink—old lecipie."
I was on my feet.
"Saki!" I managed. "What in the name of all that's unholy have you done?"
Saki grinned reassuringly and stepped over to my armchair. He pushed it back. There, squeaking hysterically beneath it, was a black scrawny rat!
"See, Boss Duane. Is Chollie Blight!" Saki pointed happily at the frantically squeaking rat.
In times like that you don't stop to reason things out.
"What?" I screamed. "Charlie Bright—that rat?"
Saki nodded, pointing to the cocktail tray.
"Is flum dlink I mix 'em," he explained proudly.
To my dazed senses this much was becoming clear. Saki was insisting that from some ancient recipe he had mixed Charlie Bright a drink that had turned him into a rat!
"Saki!" I said, recoiling in horror at the thought of what he'd done,
"Is nothing," Saki said with becoming modesty.
"Nothing!" I began hysterically.
But Saki's jaw suddenly went foolishly slack, and he clapped one round palm to his brown brow in horror. He was the picture of sudden consternation.
"Oh woe!" Saki shrieked. "Oh gleat double and anguish!" His button eyes were now fixed on me with despair.
"Wha—" I began.
"Saki fo'get. Is tellible. Saki fo'get!" he moaned.
"Forget what?" I demanded harshly-
"Saki fo'get that Boss Duane dlink cockeltail tooooooo!" he wailed forlornly, his trembling finger pointing in my direction. "Is awful!"
Saki was suddenly much taller than I was. In fact I had to crane my neck to look up at his troubled oriental countenance. For I was down on the floor on all fours. Down on the floor and wagging my tail hysterically. I was a dog!
WHEN you become a dog, especially unexpectedly, there are plenty of adjustments that have to be made as quickly as possible. If you don't think so, try it some time. I was down on the floor and wagging my tail and looking up at the anguished moon face of Saki, and going a little bit loony from the shock of it all.
I guess I did a lot of wild running around in circles, snapping at Saki's fat ankles—possibly prompted by revenge and anger at his super-colossal stupidity. I remember vaguely that Charlie Bright, now in the form of a rat, was squeaking around the vicinity with about the same amount of hysteria.
Saki, however, filled with the remorse and resignation that only an Oriental can adopt, teetered brokenly out into the kitchen where he seized on the nearest bottle and began to drive away the anguish and sorrow of his blunder in drink.
Finally I stopped barking and running around. I left Saki, already well on his way to completely blissfully stupor, crouched atop the kitchen table, weeping copiously and muttering drunkenly, "Is bad. Is so velly bad. Is most awful than that!"
I went back into the living room to look for Charlie Bright. He was squeaking indignantly still, and crouched trembling near a rat-hole—possibly to use as an avenue of escape should I light out after him.
"Stop squeaking and snivelling!" I told him, and my voice was a bark of course.*
[* All down through the ages, the folklore of all races contain stories of men and women who were transformed into animals through the use of a magic incantation or a weird potion concocted of strange herbs and minerals. All of legend seems to have some basis in fact, and a belief that is so predominant must have some truth in it somewhere. So, before we reject the weird stories that tell of Jekyll-and-Hyde transformations, we ought first to reject everything else in old folk-stories. And we can hardly do that and remain within reason—Ed.
It wasn't particularly amazing that I could understand his squeaks with the same ease that I'd formerly listened to his normal conversation. After what Saki had done to us, nothing was surprising.
"Why in the hell did you do this to me?" Charlie Bright squeaked in terror. "Just so you could take advantage of your superior size as a dog?"
"Don't be an ass," I barked. "What happened to you was Saki's idea. What happened to me was an accident. If I'd wanted to take advantage of superior size I could have beaten you up when we were both normal. Incidentally, what sort of a dog am I?"
"You're a collie," Charlie Bright squeaked, still hovering near the safety exit of his rat hole. "But what difference does that make?"
"Well if I have to be a dog," I answered, "I'd certainly like to know a little something about what kind of a dog I am. Glad to know I'm a thoroughbred," I concluded.
"What's that got to do with it?" Charlie Bright squeaked in rat-like suspicion.
"It just occurred to me," I replied, "that's Saki's cocktails had varying effects on each of us. I became a dog. You became a rat."
"So what?" squeaked Charlie Bright.
"So I could have been the rat and you could have been the dog, except for one obvious item."
"What's that?" my rat visitor squeaked.
"As a human being my personality was most closely related to that of a fine, loyal, courageous dog," I answered, laying it on a little thick to make the contrast nastier. "But you, you were a rat from the start, so you're a rat now."
"I don't like you, Duane Thomas," Charlie Bright squealed venomously, his rat body shaking with rage. "I'll get you for this if it's the last thing I do!"
"Yes," I said, and I enjoyed the mental picture I painted, "you ought to run right down to your dirty column office this minute and write some nasty things about me. Go ahead, they'd all love to see you as you are now. It's so realistic." It helped my own situation somewhat to put the barbs into Charlie Bright. After all, there were worse things than being a dog.
CHARLIE BRIGHT suddenly scurried to the opening of the rat-hole.
"I think I hear someone coming," he shrilled. "You'd better hide, too." I saw his tail flick into the darkness of the rat- hole, and wondered why I'd never noticed it before, small though it was. I'd have to speak to the building managers the first thing in the morning. After all—And then I remembered that a dog would look pretty silly complaining to a building manager.
Then I heard the knocking on the door. The knocking that had sent Charlie Bright scurrying away to safety. There was a voice accompanying the knocking.
"Oh, Saki. Saki, or Duane. For goodness sakes, will someone answer this door before I wear my knuckles out on it?"
The voice belonged to Wendy Corwin—the lovely blonde angel who was scheduled to march to the altar in less than twenty-four hours to be my bride!
I had forgotten about Wendy. I had forgotten about the wedding. You can't be expected to undergo the tremendous shock that I had suffered in those past dreadful minutes and still remember things. You can't even be expected to keep your sanity. Somehow I had managed to do the last named, but as for recalling the fact that I was on the verge of becoming a husband—well, it took Wendy's voice to bring that back to me.
The door must have been slightly ajar, for I heard it swing back, and Wendy's footsteps were in the hall.
"Hey there," she called. "Duane darling, are you home?"
I started to trot forward to meet her, then stopped abruptly in my tracks. The horror of the situation, the tremendous embarrassment and confusion involved, swept over me in a terrifying wave. I couldn't meet my future wife in this fashion. I couldn't sally blithely forth and say, "Pip pip, old dear. Don't be alarmed. I've just been turned into a dog, donchaknow!"
No, I most certainly couldn't do that. Quickly, I looked about for a place of refuge. There was room enough behind the divan to hold and hide a good-sized collie—which I was. I made a quick leap and bound in that direction, just as Wendy, looking as beautiful as ten million angels, poked her lovely blonde head curiously into the room.
HIDING there trembling behind the divan I had a little more time to analyze the situation. I could hear Wendy moving through the living room and out into the kitchen from which Saki's drunken, moroseful babblings still issued.
And with my additional analysis of the situation, I realized that I had acted wisely in hiding. After all, I was probably quite a good looking collie and all that, but there was a certain vague sense of nakedness offered to my new condition. I found time to wish I'd been turned into a long haired sheep dog, or had been attired in a blanket before my transformation.
Then, too, I wasn't at all certain as to how I was going to explain this change to Wendy. For I had a hunch that my conversation, even though understandable to others of the animal world, would be nothing but a series of unintelligible barks and yelps to a human.
No—I concluded—there was no chance of making my situation known to Wendy.
"Saki!" I heard Wendy's voice come explosively from the kitchen, "what on earth has happened to you?"
I could hear Saki mutter something incoherent.
"Where is Mister Duane?" Wendy's voice demanded. "Where is Mister Duane, and why are you drinking up all his private stock?"
Evidently Saki's reply was quite unintelligible, for I heard Wendy's exasperated sigh, and then her heels clicked angrily out of the kitchen.
"I'm going to wait right here," I heard her shout to Saki, "until Mister Duane comes home. He'll make you sorry you ever got drunk." Her voice was much louder and she must have been approaching the divan, for suddenly it creaked slightly under the weight of a trim body depositing itself angrily.
I crouched there trying to hold my breath. Collies breath a bit more loudly than humans, you know. I heard the divan stir slightly, as if Wendy were leaning forward. There was the faintest clinking sound—I didn't realize what it was right then—and then Wendy sighed slightly.
When I heard the faint clinking sound again, I knew—with a sudden flush of horror—that it was the noise of a glass being put back on a tray!
Wendy had gulped one of Saki's terrible cocktails!
Scrambling wildly, I managed to extricate myself from behind the divan. Managed to extricate myself just in time to see an incredibly beautiful Persian cat leap gracefully down from the cushions!
"Wendy!" I barked. "My God, honey, it's happened to you too!"
The cat stopped abruptly, backing up and glaring in wild suspicion and terror at me.
"Wendy!" I barked again. "Don't be afraid, honey. It's Duane. I'm a dog!"
Wendy's voice was softly undertoned by a purr.
"Duane?" she asked, and I could tell that she was doing a brave job of fighting off hysteria. "What's happened to us, Duane?"
I had to hand it to Wendy Corwin. She had more courage than either Charlie Bright or myself. She didn't have to be told what had happened to her, and she wasn't going to lose control of herself because of it. Swiftly I told her exactly what my well- meaning but blundering ass of a house boy, Saki, had done.
I also told her about Charlie Bright, not adding, however, the reasons for his being in my apartment.
"Where is he?" Wendy wanted to know.
I pointed a forepaw at the rat hole.
"In there," I said, "hiding."
"How terrible. At least we're a little bit better off." Then suddenly her pink nose colored crimson and she backed away slightly.
"What's wrong?" I demanded.
"I feel sort of, er, ah, well, sort of immodest," Wendy purred in embarrassment. She was doing the best she could to wrap her four paws around herself.
"Don't be silly, hon," I told her. "I know just how you feel. But this isn't us, really, and besides animals are—well," I broke off in mutual embarrassment.
Wendy regained her composure.
"Certainly, Duane, I guess I was being silly. We've no time to add to our troubles by mental quirks. Let's try to get ourselves out of this mess."
That was Wendy. Calm, cool, on her toes. And she was an incredibly gorgeous looking cat. Up until now it had never occurred to me that there had to be some way out of this picklement, and that the only smart thing to do would be to get to work on it. I trotted briskly over to the rat hole into which I had last seen Charlie Bright's repulsive little self disappear.
"Hey, Bright," I barked. "Come on out of there."
Bright was a rat, and he still was a rat. But I couldn't bring myself to leaving him in the condition Saki had put him. He was a human being, after all.
A thin nose poked itself out of the hole. Charlie Bright's rat eyes blinked suspiciously at me.
"Is the coast clear?" he squeaked quaveringly, I could tell that the spell he'd had in the darkness of the rat hole hadn't helped his nerves any.
"Yes," I told him grimly. "The coast's clear. It was Wendy. Before I realized it, she took one of Saki's cocktails. Now she's like you and I. Except she's a cat."
"A cat!" squealed Bright in sudden terror. He backed frantically rearward into the shelter of the hole.
"Take it easy," I said. "She's really a human being, after all. She won't harm you."
Charlie Bright, trembling visibly, considered this.
"I guess you're right," he agreed. He emerged doubtfully from his hole. Wendy had followed me across the room.
"Come on out, Mr. Bright," she purred. "You won't be harmed."
I was thinking that Wendy might quite possibly change her mind if she knew what that stinking little rat had planned to do if I'd refused to come across with the blackmail.
Charlie Bright came a little closer.
"This is Charlie Bright, Wendy," I said. "You can see that the pictures you've seen of him aren't nearly as flattering as his actual appearance."
And at that instant there was a great thumping of feet, crashing of objects, and general confusion as Saki, emerging from the kitchen and crossing through the living room, made his way to the front door. He was out of the door before I could open my mouth.
"There he goes," I barked then. "Our one chance of getting this mess straightened out. For the love of heaven, we've got to stop him!"
All three of us, dog, cat, and rat, leaped forward in pursuit of the drunken house boy. We whipped through the door and out into the hall just as an elevator gate clanged shut, taking Saki downstairs and away!
"Damn!" I barked. "We're too late!"
WE sat down in the hall then and had a quick and frantic council of war. Saki was gone. He was the one who'd made us what we were this day. He was, through sheer logic, the only one who'd be able to bring us around and out of our predicament. "But where has he gone?" Charlie Bright squeaked desperately.
"We can't very well dash downstairs and question people," Wendy observed wryly.
I had an idea.
"There's just a chance," I said, "Saki has gone to the comforting arms of the oriental cutie of his dreams,"
"And where would that be?" Wendy demanded.
"On Mott Street, in Chinatown," I answered.
"You got his girl friend's address?" Charlie Bright squeaked, his rat body shaking with eager excitement.
I shook my beautifully shaggy head.
"I just know she works as a cashier in a restaurant on Mott," I answered. "I don't even know what restaurant."
"We'll have to try them all," Wendy said determinedly.
"And then what?" I asked.
"Then we'll have to see," Wendy declared, "what we can do about sobering Saki up."
"Let's get going," pleaded Charlie Bright. "We can't waste time."
"How are we going to get there?" Wendy wondered suddenly. "We can't go marching serenely down Fifth Avenue like a miniature wild-life parade. Don't forget, we're a cat, a rat, and a dog. People would be startled to say the least."
"We'll grab a cab," Charlie Bright squeaked hysterically. Wendy and I gave him dour glances for this brilliant stroke of genius. He subsided miserably.
"What are we going to do?" Wendy wailed after we'd been silent for perhaps three minutes.
"If my brain was bigger..." Charlie Bright squeaked complainingly.
"It was always that size," I barked. "Don't fall back on that as an excuse for your particularly bad ideas."
"I've got it!" Wendy exploded after another minute or so. Both Charlie Bright and I looked at her in excitement. Quickly, she outlined her scheme. It was all right. Quite clever.
"Come on," I said, heading for a staircase. "Let's get going." I took the first two downward steps clumsily.
"Wait for me," wailed Charlie Bright. "I'm not as big as you two!"
Fifteen minutes later we arrived on the first floor of my apartment building. And fifteen minutes after that, we scrambled aboard a truck that had paused in the alley behind the building. Now we were jouncing along the streets, heading down to Chinatown. It took four more changes of trucks, and exactly two hours more before we finally found ourselves standing in a darkened doorway on Pell Street.
CHARLIE BRIGHT was complaining bitterly.
"My feet hurt," he squealed, "all four of them. Jumping on and off those tailgates is easy for you two, but it's a tuhriffic distance for me!"
"Shut up," I growled, "we're all in the same boat."
"Where will we find Saki?" Wendy asked, getting down to brass tacks.
"In one of the restaurants on Mott," I reminded her. And to myself I added, "I hope."
"Well we'd better get started them," Wendy said. "We can each take a restaurant. It will make it much easier and quicker that way. We'll have a central meeting spot to which we will all return at a certain time. That way should be best, don't you think?"
I looked doubtfully at Wendy.
"I don't like you wandering around the streets alone," I began. "It isn't safe at this time of—"
Wendy broke in.
"Don't be silly." She arched her back slightly to show obstinacy, "I'm not a girl any more. I'm a cat. I'll be able to take care of myself."
"Well watch out for cars," I growled.
"What about me," Charlie Bright squeaked quaveringly. "Rats ain't exactly welcome in restaurants."
"In case you don't know it," I barked, "you were never particularly welcome anywhere. It shouldn't be a novelty to you."
His beady eyes glared baleful resentment at me.
"Okay, then," Wendy said. "My plan seems to be accepted. Let's be off." It was dark, and staying close to the still darker shelter of the buildings, we made our way to Mott Street.
We faced Mott from a convenient alleyway.
"We'll meet back here," I said, "in exactly fifteen minutes. Each of us can cover about four restaurants in that time. I'll take the ones in the middle. Wendy can take those starting on the right hand corner, and Bright can cover those on the left hand quarter. It would be a good idea if we made our entrances from the rear."
We broke up, then, and I watched Wendy trot off down the street to the right, while Bright skulked dourly into the shadows on the left. I sighed, then trying to look like a collie that very definitely belonged to an owner who would resent his pet being bothered, I stalked majestically across the street.
There was a companionway through which I trotted that led to the rear of the restaurant I had selected. Browsing about in the alley entrance to the eating place, I saw that a short flight of steps led up to the kitchen door. Light streamed through the door, and the chatter of oriental voices could be heard from where I stood. I watched this for a moment, choosing a course of action, then boldy began my ascent of the stairs.
The door was open, and in all my four-footed majesty, I stepped into the kitchen. At first no one noticed my entrance. Oriental cooks were busy over huge tureens of delicately scented foods. I went toward the swinging doors which obviously led out into the restaurant.
THERE was a sudden shrill shout, and looking over my shoulder I saw a fat little cook had seen me and was dashing after me, obviously to thwart my efforts to get out into the dining room.
I bolted headlong toward the swinging doors.
A waiter, unfortunately, had chosen that precise moment to make his entrance into the kitchen. And equally unfortunate was the fact that he was carrying a vast armload of trays and dishes. The waiter and I went down in a tangled, crashing, clattering heap of oriental profanity and screaming.
But I was up, and off, and away, streaking across the restaurant, while startled patrons looked up in amazement from their food.
As I raced I peered from booth to booth, to table to table. There was no sign of Saki. I was close to the front of the restaurant. Close to the cashier's counter. The cashier was male, with a white drooping moustache. Quite obviously not Saki's girl friend. Wrong place. I knocked over the manager and neatly evaded the clutch of the doorman as I raced out the front entrance and into the street. It took a great deal of running, then, until I was finally clear of my pursuers and once more safely enshrouded in the darkness of the alley I'd left a few moments before.
I had to sit down on my haunches and catch my breath. This investigation business was no snap for an animal. Ludicrously, the thought occurred to me that I'd have been better off if I were a police dog. They were certainly better equipped for deductive work.
During the next twelve minutes I managed to repeat my first performance in four more restaurants. There was plenty of confusion, but no Saki. Thoroughly discouraged, and almost utterly winded, I trotted back to our appointed central headquarters.
Neither Wendy nor Charlie Bright were there.
I sat down in a corner doorway, relaxing in the darkness. There was a clock across the street—the one by which we'd gauged our departure—and I looked at it now and then. Minutes passed, and still no sign of Wendy or Bright. I got up.
A sound suddenly came to my ears. A faint, definitely troubled meowing—somehow I knew it was Wendy!
I ran into the center of the alley. The meowing came from an alcove several hundred feet down. I could hear Wendy, now, meowing—
"Duane! Duane! Help!"
EVERYTHING else was driven from my mind by the sound of that call.
Wendy was down there. And Wendy was in trouble. Like a tawny cannon ball, I hurtled down that alley.
I found Wendy in the alcove. She was back in the corner, trembling, eyes shining through the murky darkness. And with his back arched menacingly, a huge red tom cat was closing slowly in on her!
"Don't be afraid, Cutie," the tom cat was saying. "I just wanta be friends. You're new around this alley, and I'd like to show you the bright spots, kiddo."
I stepped up softly behind the big tom. With one forepaw I nudged him gently. He wheeled, and if a cat's face can have human expression, that tom's went ghastly white in terror.
I was blocking any chance he might have for a flight to safety.
"Move along, bum," I growled, baring my white fangs. "Move along before I chew you up and spit the pieces out in your whiskered mug!"
"Look, dog," he began quaveringly. "I didn't know you knew the young lady. I was only trying to be social like. I thought she was a stranger around this alley and would like to see some of the better dumps. Besides, she reminded me of a cat I knew once't in Greenwich Village."
I felt a little tolerant. After all, how was he to know we weren't of his kingdom, strictly speaking. I beckoned to Wendy, who moved out beside me thoroughly shaken.
"Did he bother you, honey?" I asked.
Wendy shook her pretty Persian head.
"No," she chattered, "but he certainly scared me half to death."
"Shall I chew him up?" I growled.
Wendy's sense of humor was returning, and her fright was almost gone.
"No, don't bother, Duane. He's probably a good enough egg in his way."
I felt very much like the great Protector.
"Okay, Bud," I said. "I'll let you alone this time. But no funny stuff, understand?"
The tom cat nodded gratefully.
"Sure thing. Sure thing. I was just trying to be friendly, pal. Wasn't thinking of making no passes at your lady friend. Don't get mad. If youse want, I'll take you and the young lady to a dandy eating spot I discovered only today. Youse can dine as my guests."
I looked at Wendy. Then, to the tom cat.
"Where is this place?"
He seemed very glad that we were now on a friendly basis. He gave a cat smile of camaraderie.
"Are youse hungry?"
Wendy and I were to have had dinner together that evening, and since the all-confusing interruption that had occurred, we'd never had a chance to.
"I am a little hungry," I admitted.
"So am I," Wendy declared.
We were walking down to the front of the alley again. The tom cat, Wendy, and I.
"But we might have to foist off another guest on you," I told the tom cat. "We're meeting a friend here at the alley edge. He's overdue. Probably get here any minute now."
"That's okay," said the tom cat with an expansive wave of his forepaw. "What is he, a cat or a dog?"
"A rat," I answered unthinkingly.
"WHAT?" The tom cat was outraged. Clearly we had asked him to lower his social levels. "Have dinner with a rat? Youse mean to tell me that youse even chum around with a rat?"
"This is sort of a different rat," Wendy began.
"There is only one kind of rat," declared the tom cat in high indignation.
"And this rat is both of them," I added.
"Huh?" The tom cat couldn't understand me, of course.
"Where is this restaurant?" I asked again.
"Back up the alley there," said the tom cat. "It's the biggest fresh garbage deposit heap youse ever saw!" There was great pride in his voice. "No better garbage anywhere in New Yawk."
"Garbage," Wendy moaned, gulping sickly.
"Garbage," I echoed, as my appetite swiftly vanished and my stomach did a neat turnover. Our expressions must have been equally sick. For the tom cat was suddenly indignant.
"What are youse two?" he demanded frigidly. "Are youse house pets?" There was no mistaking the deep scorn in his voice.
And it was at precisely this moment that we all turned in the direction of a bedlam of loud yelling, Chinese cursing, and shrill squealing. We turned and gaped. For across the street, heading directly toward us, was the small flying figure of a frantically fleeing rat—Charlie Bright! And behind him—a huge, ghastly, meanish-looking meat cleaver held menacingly in his right hand—pursued the yelling oriental cook!
"Getchum cuttumtopissis!" screamed the frantic cook.
"Yi!" squealed Charlie Bright hysterically, "this guy wants to kill me! Stop 'im, fertheluvvagawd stop 'im!"
I pushed Wendy back into a darkened doorway, and the tom cat leaped nimbly into its shelter right behind us.
"That your friend?" he asked.
I nodded my long nosed head.
"Then youse better say goodbye to him right now," said the tom cat gleefully. "I used to work in that guy's restaurant, catching rats. He seldom misses when he slings that cleaver of his."
But Charlie Bright had suddenly spied an open basement window, and taking advantage of the shadows, he darted through it. The fat and screaming oriental cook lumbered on past him, unaware that his quarry had succeeded in eluding his chase. We could hear the cries of the cook growing fainter and fainter as he ran off down the alley. Then I stepped out of the doorway and over to the basement window. I stuck my nose into the opening.
"Hey, Bright," I barked. "He's gone. You can come out now."
Charlie Bright's squeaking squeal came plaintively out to me.
"That's fine, that's just dandy. There's nothing I'd rather do than come out of this basement. But I can't." His voice was almost hysterical.
"Don't be stupid," I growled. "What's stopping you?"
"I'm caught in a rat trap!" he squealed despairingly.
I STEPPED back, torn between a feeling of impatient disgust at the trouble the little rat was causing us and a wild desire to sit down and laugh until I cried. I was standing there for no more than an instant when hands were suddenly wrapped around my body—human hands—and a muzzling cloak was thrown over my mouth and head!
Wendy's scream, "Duane—oooh, lookout—dogcatchers!" was too late. I was lifted roughly into someone's arms!
I heard the voice of my captor say roughly,
"Get outta here, yuh damned cat. We're only taking canines today!" and I knew, even though the cloak around my head blotted out sight, that Wendy had raced after us. I was being carried, joltingly, to a truck. I knew it was a truck because I could hear the motor running and a voice saying, "Hurryup, Steve. Put 'im in the back!"
Then the cloak was snatched off, and I was hurled into the back of the truck, a caged wire affair in which there were a dozen other dogs of all descriptions. Frantically, I put my nose to the grating and peered out toward the alley where I'd been seized. Wendy was there, frantically trying to get by the huge red tom cat and reach the truck. But the tom was blocking her way, cuffing her with his forepaws. Then with a terrific lurch that threw me flat, the truck started off. The scene behind me faded in the distance and darkness.
A MANGY, flea-bitten mongrel with flappy ears and a woebegone expression sidled up to me after we'd traveled ten or twelve blocks.
"Why so blue, chum?" he asked.
In the anguish of despair I was feeling I couldn't answer. I wanted to bark my lungs out, or howl at the moon, or bite every damned last house boy in the world until they bled to death. Everything seemed lost, utterly completely lost. We hadn't found Saki. There didn't seem to be any way in the world in which we'd ever get out of our predicaments. And furthermore, there was the uneasy recollection of the tom cat's menacing attitude toward Wendy once I'd been eliminated from the scene at the alley. And if I wanted to stretch my pessimism to an extreme, there was the additional fact that Charlie Bright was trapped in a basement rat-nabber. However, it was difficult to include this last factor among my troubles.
So I looked up at the mangy flea-bitten mongrel and growled,
"Why not? What's there to be happy about?"
The mongrel tossed his head.
"You're right, comrade. The world is wrong. It's always been wrong. Ask me. I've never had a break." He paused to give me the once-over. "You look like a former rich dog," he said, "somebody's expensive house pet. But, no difference, you're in the same boat with the rest of us now." He waved a paw to indicate the other mongrels in the cage with us.
At the sound of my mongrel chum's yipping, the other dogs came up to us, forming a sort of circle around him. The mongrel seemed to relish the audience.
"We're all on the way to the gas chambers," he said. "Carted along heartlessly by the human swine up in front of the truck. But there will be a day of reckoning, comrades. There will be a day when our breeds have their say."
He threw back his head dramatically, and I couldn't help thinking of old paintings I'd seen in which patriots of the French Revolution rode in caged carts to the arms of the guillotine. And I was thinking, too, of the remark he'd made about the gas chambers. It had never occurred to me until then that this dog pound truck mightn't be leading to any pleasant destination.
"The dogs on the corner used to call me an agitator," said the old mongrel proudly. "But they were too weak to resent their bondage to the human beings!"
And as I sat there, half-listening to the ramblings of the old mongrel, it suddenly occurred to me that his remarks were growing more and more unintelligible. They were sounding like nothing more than everyday, common, garden variety dog-barks. A little on the hoarse side, but definitely just barks. Not words any longer.
Puzzled, I looked up from my dispirited contemplation of a ghastly end in a gas chamber. Looked up and tried to catch the words of the old mongrel once more. But the mongrel had stopped barking suddenly, and was gazing at me with jaw gone slack. So were all the other dogs in the cart.
And suddenly I looked down at myself. I was normal again. I was a human being once more!
I HAD two arms, and two legs. I was dressed in the same suit I'd been wearing when I had unfortunately sipped Saki's cocktail. But the effects of the cocktail had worn off. I wasn't a dog any longer!
And such a wild baying as the dogs set up, once they'd seen me in my new self, you've never heard before. The din was worse than terrific—it was colossal!
We were stopped at a red light. One of the truck men got out and came around to the back. His eyes bugged at the sight of me, and I don't blame him. In place of the collie he'd picked up some fifteen minutes ago there was a nattily attired young man about town.
"Hey, you!" The dogcatcher was enraged and baffled in one. "What do you think you're doing in there?"
I couldn't very well explain. I stood up, fishing in my pocket for a ten dollar bill. I held this up. The dogs were still baying wildly.
"Open up and let me out," I shouted, "and I'll tell you." He saw the bill and stepped over to the door. In a moment I was climbing down.
"I want you to let those dogs loose," I said, fishing out a twenty dollar bill. The dogcatcher had the ten in his hand. Now he eyed the twenty.
"This happened accidental-like, unnerstand?" he said. He took my twenty and opened the door wide. The dogs swarmed out to freedom. I waited an instant as they took to flight. Then I bowed politely to the driver-dogcatcher.
"Thanks," I said, "and toodle-oo." A cab was passing in the opposite direction. I flagged it down and leaped inside before the bewildered dogcatcher could get his breath.
"Mott Street," I told the cabbie, "and barrel like hell!"
And as the driver threw the cab into gear, I settled back on the cushions with a desperate prayer that I wouldn't be too late to get to Wendy. It was becoming clearer to me as to what had happened by now. Obviously Saki's cocktail had worn off. In other words there had been—thank God—a time-limit to the potion. In that case, I figured quickly, Wendy was probably still a cat, since she'd had her cocktail later than I'd gulped mine. And since Charlie Bright had been greedy enough to gulp two of them, the little rat would probably still be a little rat for a while yet.
It was just about midnight, maybe a little after, and it seemed incredible that all that had occurred could have happened in so short an interval of hours. But my troubles were far from over yet. I was still thinking of my bride of the morrow, Wendy Corwin, fleeing frantically from the big tom cat. I closed my eyes to shut off the thought.
My cabbie was really traveling. We careened into Mott in what seemed to be scant minutes later. I leaned forward, indicating the alley where I wanted him to stop. I jumped out before the cab had completely come to a halt, stuffing a tenner into the driver's paw as I did so. I heard his gears mesh as he drove away, fearful that I might change my mind and want change. Then I ran down the alley.
WENDY!" I shouted, "Wendy, where are you?" The alley was dark. So dark that I almost stepped on a soft, furry body lying at the bottom of a fence. I bent over, my heart in my mouth. It was the limp form of a cat. It's head was bleeding!
"Wendy!" I gasped, peering at the limp animal.
"Duane, oh Duane, you're here. You're safe! I'm so glad!" The voice came from behind my ear, and I wheeled to see Wendy standing—quite her old normal and beautiful self—right behind me!
"Honey!" I gurgled. "Aw, Honey!" I had my arms around her. The animal at our feet stirred. Wendy giggled.
"That's the tom cat," she explained. "He was knocked out cold by an old shoe when he sang for me on a fence top. I was having a little trouble with him until I convinced him that song would melt my heart more quickly."
I laughed happily for the first time in a number of hours.
"Then—it couldn't have been five minutes after the tom cat was knocked cold by the shoe—I suddenly regained my former self," Wendy concluded breathlessly.
"What about Charlie Bright?" I asked her.
Wendy pointed to the basement window.
"He's still a rat, squealing quite dreadfully, trapped down there."
I climbed down through the window. Charlie Bright was still, figuratively and literally, a rat. Furthermore, he was in a small wire cage, helpless to get out. He squealed frantically when he saw me. I picked the cage up in my hand and climbed out of the basement.
Wendy was waiting in the alley.
"We've got to get a cab," I said, taking her arm and propelling her out into the street. We stopped a yellow. I gave the driver the address of Charlie Bright's newspaper office.
By bribing the night elevator man and telling him that Mr. C. Bright was expecting us, we gained entrance into the gossip columnist's private office. There I put Charlie's cage trap on his desk.
I swear that little rat was sweating as he darted frantically around and around in the confinements of his trap. I began right away.
"I can't understand you since I've changed back," I said, "but if you can understand me, Charlie, squeak three times."
The rat stopped running long enough to nod its head frantically and squeak three times.
Then I told Charlie Bright—lying glibly—that we had the remedy that would return him to normal, that we'd used it on ourselves, and would feed it to him if he'd squeak and indicate the number of the file where the copy of "a certain paper" (I didn't want Wendy to know) was deposited. If he didn't, I intimated, he would remain a rat for the rest of his life.
AS I suspected, Bright hadn't brought the record up to my apartment. He'd probably thought to use it for future blackmail. I found the file his number of squeaks indicated. The paper was there, along with five copies the snake Bright had made and intended to keep, I wouldn't let Wendy see the copies and sent her out of the room.
Then, one by one, I made the little rat that was Charlie Bright eat the original paper, and the five copies. I got tremendous enjoyment in watching his body bloat larger and larger. Finally he'd eaten them all, and began sickly squealing for the formula to return him to normal. I didn't have it, of course, but inside of two more minutes it was time for his cocktails to wear off. Then and there, Charlie Bright returned to his normally repulsive self.
"You skunk! You thief! You louse! You didn't have a remedy at all!" Charlie Bright screamed in shrill rage. And then, suddenly, he bent over in a series of horrible stomach pains.
"If you hadn't done so already," I told America's Ace Sneak, "I'd request that you eat your words. Good day, Bright. We'll have a lovely wedding tomorrow. Put that in your column!"
Wendy was waiting for me outside the door as I banged it closed.
"Come, Honey," I told her. "Ladies shouldn't listen to such language."
We were getting into a cab outside Bright's office building. Wendy turned a troubled face to me.
"Duane, do we have to have Saki as our house boy after we're married?"
"Not if you don't want him," I answered. "But we can always call on him when we've too many guests. Say, for an example, when your relatives visit us."
"Duane," Wendy Corwin said, "I think you're horrid!"
But the next minute she was in my arms, proving that she didn't, really.