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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN

HOKUM HOTEL

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First published in Fantastic Adventures, July 1942

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-12-30
Produced by Paul Sandery, Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Fantastic Adventures, July 1942, with "Hokum Hotel"



Illustration

The manager was wroth. "Get those creatures out of here."



If ever a hotel became a madhouse it was this
one, when a magician practiced in the lobby




IN the hotel business you can expect almost anything to happen. But in a theatrical hotel—the sort of inn that caters almost exclusively to hams, yodelers, acrobats, hoofers, jerks and jugglers and such—you can damned well expect everything to happen.

If you don't believe it, look closely at the gray hairs in my head. Gray hairs and not even forty. And if you still don't believe it, listen to this.

It was one of those washed out blue Monday mornings. I had a hangover in my head and chalk in my mouth. The head bellhop, Jerry, had just informed me that the Five Flying Flynns had checked out during the wee morning hours without bothering to stop at the desk and notify me of that fact.

It seemed that they had made their departure down the fire escape and hadn't left anything behind in their suite. Not even the two months rent they owed me.

And around nine o'clock Mrs. Donovan had called to tell me a prospective buyer would arrive in town that afternoon. She was very excited and pleased and hopeful. Now is as good a time as any to explain that Mrs. Donovan is the sweet little old lady who, as owner of the Hotel Harmony, was my boss.

Manager was my title at the Hotel Harmony. I was also day clerk at the desk, which had been my title when old Steve Donovan had been living and was owner-manager of the Harmony. He'd been dead ten years now, and his widow had inherited the Hotel Harmony and the headache and debts that came with it.

Mrs. Donovan lived in a little bungalow in the suburbs and was just able to get along on the income from the Harmony each month. So naturally she was excited when she called. The sale of the dump would be a God-send to her.

"He's going to stay tonight and tomorrow," Mrs. Donovan told me. "Give him the finest of everything, Pete. Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if he bought it?" She meant the prospective buyer.

"It would be swell, Mrs. Donovan," I agreed. "We'll see that everything is at its best. Don't worry. What did you say his name is?"

"Mr. Buttle," she said. "You'd better write it down."

I wrote it down, then, mentally hoping that a guy who'd been silly enough to keep a name like that all his life would probably be dumb enough to buy the Harmony.

For even though I'd started in the Hotel Harmony over twenty years back, and worked and lived in it ever since, I knew I'd be just as glad as old Mrs. Donovan to get away from it.

For I could have been working for more money in a much more highly rated hostelry. I could have been making almost twice what I was making at Hotel Harmony if I accepted any one of the plenty of offers I'd had from better inns.

Then why was I at the Hotel Harmony? Well, maybe because of my loyalty to old Mrs. Donovan. Maybe because I knew any other guy she might bring in as manager would soon swindle her out of it. Maybe because I knew that as long as she had the Harmony on her hands she'd need yours truly to handle it for her.

So don't think I didn't have my fingers crossed in the hope that this guy Buttle she'd interested wouldn't back out on us.

That reason, plus the previously mentioned blue Monday and heavy hangover, might account for the edginess I felt. Edginess that broke into a rash when I saw the gray mustached old gent swagger into the lobby in advance of a caravan of four bellhops who were buried beneath trunks and luggage.


THE gray mustached old gent looked like one of those summer gin advertisements you see of old southern plantation gentlemen swilling mint drinks on sunny verandas. His face was red, his eyebrows as gray and bushy as his mustache, and the expected paunch protruded behind the visible areas of a white vest across which dangled a heavy gold watch chain.

He carried a cane with practiced ease, and twirled it importantly as he approached the desk.

"Hafffmmmmph!" He sounded his opening salvo about three feet away.

I raised my eyebrows noncommittally. "Yes, sir?"

"Have you rooms?" the mustached old gent demanded.

"How many, sir?" I continued my noncommittal act.

"A suite of, ahhhh, four would be suitable for the present," the old duck said.

I was trying to size him up. He was too damned grandiose to ring true. Not the ham of the theater, but the plush of the con man, if you know what I mean.

"You have reservations, sir?" I asked, stalling. That remark usually brings the best of them down a notch. But not this old guy.

"My name is Colonel Applegate," he said, as if that were enough to command the royal suite in the Waldorf.

I pretended to think deeply. Of course, all I had in mind was the tenth floor suite just deserted by the Flying Flynns.

"There is a four room suite on the tenth," I said finally. "If you don't mind waiting several hours until we put it in readiness."

Colonel Applegate shook his head. "No. Not a bit. Give me time to have luncheon and all that."

I pushed the register over to him. "You will sign here," I said.

Colonel Applegate signed with flowing Spencerian flourish. Then he signed another name below it, and put the pen down. I turned the register around.

"Who is Mr. Joe Jobe?" I asked. "You valet?"

Colonel Applegate stiffened. "Mr. Joe Jobe is, or will soon be, known professionally as Hoako The Hindu. I am his manager. He is the world's greatest exponent of the mystic arts."

"I see," I nodded, looking around the lobby, "and he will arrive later?"

"He is at the moment purchasing a turban and other necessary items," declared the colonel. "When I return in several hours he will be with me."

I nodded again, trying to figure this out. The old colonel looked no more like a magician's manager than he did a bellhop.

"This is, ahhhh, a theatrical hotel, is it not?" the colonel asked.

"Yes," I acknowledged, "this is." That clinched my observation. Anyone in show business knows the theatrical hotels of the circuits.

"I, ahhh, imagine that in your position as manager of this hotel you become well acquainted with matters theatrical," the colonel went on.

"Sure," I said. "What would you like to know?"

"I am rather new to this line of business," Colonel Applegate explained. "Previously, I owned a small but, ahhh, very lucrative factory. Damned priority nonsense put me out of business. Got out before I lost my shirt, however. It was fortune that led to my discovery of Mr. Joe Jobe, ahhh, the new Hoako the Hindu."

"I see," I said.

"Took the chap under my wing," the colonel said. "Remarkable psychic phenomena, this Joe Jobe. I decided to back him, to exploit it, so to speak. Figured there would be money in it for both of us in the, ahhh, theater."

"But you haven't played anywhere as yet?" I asked. "That is, your Hoako the Hindu has yet to appear on the stage?"

Colonel Applegate nodded. "Precisely. We are just, ahhh, launching his career, so to speak. Have you any suggestions?"

"You worked out an act yet?"

The colonel nodded again. "Yes indeed. All we need now is a start, a theater, patrons at the box office, and all that."

"You might get in touch with some of the better agents," I said. "Let them catch his act. If he's all you say, they'll book a straight run for him."

"Ahhhh, yes," said the Colonel. "I see. Precisely. Capital idea. Agents, eh?"

I got a small piece of paper, scribbled several names and addresses on it, and handed it to the colonel.

"These are the names of some pretty fair ten percenters," I said. "You might begin by trying them."

The colonel looked at the slip. "Thank you," he said. "Very decent of you."

"Not at all," I answered. "Your rental for the suite on the tenth floor will be thirty-five dollars for the week, payable in advance."

The colonel nodded, reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet bursting with green stuff. Carelessly, he pulled out a twenty, a ten, and a five.

Bug-eyed, I took the money and scratched him out a receipt. If he was a four flusher, his wallet didn't show it. Later, I was going to regret deeply having taken that dough ...


THE prospective buyer, Mr. J. B. Buttle arrived a little after two o'clock that afternoon. I spotted him the instant he came through the revolving door and into the lobby. He was short, fat, bald-headed and beaming. And even the camel's hair sportcoat he wore couldn't keep him from looking like Tweedledum.

I slammed the desk bell so hard in my excitement, that five bellhops leaped to their feet at once and swarmed across the lobby toward him. I was wearing my biggest, friendliest, most professional grin as he came over to the desk.

"Yes, sir!" I said brightly. "What can I do for you, sir?"

Mr. Buttle looked startled, then pleased. Obviously he wasn't used to such attention.

"I would like to register for a room," said Mr. Buttle.

"Certainly, sir," I beamed. "A suite or a single?"

"A single," said Mr. Buttle. "A single with bath, of course."

I shoved the register under his nose. "We have an excellent single on the tenth floor. Southern exposure. Modern, comfortable—our best."

Mr. Buttle smiled. He picked up a pen and scratched his name on the guest register. I turned it around.

"Thank you, Mr. Bu—" I stopped.

The name scrawled on the register was not Buttle. It was John Smith. For a split second I was stumped. An alias—but of course. He was here to look the place over incognito. He didn't want me to know he was Buttle, the prospective buyer. He wanted to test our service, hospitality, facilities, and such.

I looked up at Mr. Buttle's round, smiling face. There was no mistaking him. Twenty years in the hotel game had made it tough to fool me. Naturally, I didn't let on that I knew his game.

We knew he was Mr. Buttle. Even though he didn't know we knew.

"Thank you, Mr. Smith," I said smilingly. "Don't hesitate to let me know if there's anything further we can do to make your stay here pleasant."

Mr. Buttle, alias Smith, nodded happily and was off, followed by two bellhops carrying his expensive calfskin luggage.

Watching our prospective buyer step into the elevator, I had to smile. This was fine. This was excellent. I'd lavish him with care and attention. I'd make his head swim with hospitality. And all the time he'd never know that I was aware of the fact that he was really Mr. Buttle.

I tapped the desk bell, and Jerry, the bell captain, came trotting up.

"See that gentleman who just stepped into the elevator, Jerry?" I asked.

Jerry nodded.

"He's to have extra special attention, Jerry," I explained. "Cater to his slightest whim. Bury him under a heap of hospitality. Understand?"

"What's his name?" Jerry asked.

"Mr. John Smith," I said. "Room 1020."

Jerry's eyebrows went up, but he nodded. It was plain to him that I wasn't offering any further information, but he was hotel- wise enough to know orders were orders.

Then I went back to work, clearing up mailing and billing lists for the day. About an hour after that, I took time off to telephone Mrs. Donovan.

"He's here, Mrs. Donovan," I told her. "And I've got the situation well in hand. Just sit back and relax. You'll have the place sold by this time tomorrow morning."

"Oh, I'm glad, Pete," she said. "That's wonderful. I know I can count on you. Really, Pete, I don't know what I would have done these ten years if it hadn't been for your—"

I cut her off. "Awww," I said, "skip it, Mrs. Donovan. Any manager would have done the same." This wasn't the truth, but then I was full of becoming modesty.

"I told him," said Mrs. Donovan, "to make the sale arrangements with you, as soon as he'd made up his mind. I know you'll be better at driving a good bargain than I am."

"Just leave it to me," I promised. "Leave everything to me!"

I am always very good at promising things ...


IT was a little after noon when Mr. Buttle—alias Smith—came down into the lobby again. Evidently Jerry and the other bellhops had been carrying out instructions to the hilt, for he looked as contented as a prize winning bovine at a stock show.

I beamed at him, and he came across to my desk.

"I must say that your hotel extends itself for visitors," Mr. Buttle smiled.

I was still beaming. "We just try to please, Mr. B—, Smith. Every guest is a special guest to us. It's always been that way. Perhaps that's why we have such a steady patronage. We like to feel that our guests always return." No time like the present to put in a plug, I figured.

"I was thinking of luncheon," Mr. Buttle said. "Could you direct me to a good restaurant?"

This was made to order. "Why, we have a restaurant right here in the Hotel Harmony," I said. "One of the very best, if I do say so. I can advise you, with confidence, to try our dining accommodations."

Mr. Buttle rubbed his bald head delightedly. "How convenient," he said. "I most certainly shall try your restaurant." He paused. "Ahh, would you care to dine with me, if you haven't already had lunch, I mean?"

Inside, I grinned. This was obvious. Along with his incognito inspection, he wanted to gain my confidence, and possibly get some inside lowdown on the Hotel Harmony. But this was right up my alley.

"Gladly," I told him. "But I hope you'll be my guest."

Mr. Buttle's eyebrows went up a notch in pleased surprise. "I must say this is certainly a right friendly hotel," he said.

I gave him a big, warm grin. "You have no idea," I said...


OUR dining room wasn't the most lavish set-up in the hotel world. But it was clean enough, and our cooks were slightly better than average. Catering to a theatrical trade, they had to be pretty good.

I took Mr. Buttle to a corner table by a window looking out over the street. The place was moderately crowded, for which I thanked God, and I made the most out of the second rate theatrical fry scattered around the tables.

"That woman over there," I said, pointing to a henna-haired, wrinkle-necked old doll in another corner, "is Madame Traladeay. She's in opera. Of course you've heard of her."

Mr. Buttle gazed until his button eyes threatened to drop on the tablecloth. Clearly, I was on the right track. And his next comment was proof of it.

"I've always been crazy about the theater, since I was a kid," Mr. Buttle said. "Course, I never was on the stage. Went into business. But I've always admired theatrical people. And it's sure interesting to have you point out celebrities, even if I haven't heard of 'em all."

I smiled, not mentioning the fact that he wasn't the only one who'd never heard of Madame Traladeay. She sang in the mass chorus numbers.

"And that couple over there," I said, pointing to a slick- haired boy and a platinum blonde, "are the famous dance team, the DeLooses."

Mr. Buttle's eye bulged again, and I didn't mention that the DeLooses weren't working at the moment and were a mere three weeks back in their rent.

Mr. Buttle's eyes bugged, and suddenly pointing a finger at the door, "are those two coming in now?"

I looked up, recognizing the portly, moustached figure of Colonel Applegate. Walking beside him was a thin pasty faced, scrawny little man with large, luminous brown eyes and a turban.

It took a minute for me to answer, for I was wrapped up in a quick estimate of the turbaned little egg who was undoubtedly Colonel Applegate's Joe Jobe, or Hoako the Hindu.

"Ohhh, yes," I answered. "They just registered this morning. An interesting pair." And then I told him about the colonel and his pint sized magician.

Mr. Buttle was but briefly interested. And I got the idea that his lack of enthusiasm over the pair was due to the fact that I'd inadvertently disclosed them as beginners in the theatrical trade. Obviously, he wanted to be pointed out the veterans, even if he didn't know them.

Obligingly, I went back to picking out others in the dining room who were a little more familiar with the grease paint and footlight routines. His interest picked up again immediately.

And as I chattered on, I waved to Louie, the headwaiter, who'd been standing in the corner giving a sleepy bus boy hell. I figured we'd better start ordering, for I couldn't go on building up the small fry theatrical patrons indefinitely.

Louie caught my wave, nodded, and started toward our table. Just before he passed the table where Colonel Applegate and his queer looking little magician were sitting, he picked up a couple of menus from a stand.

I turned back to Mr. Buttle, then, to make an opening remark about the cuisine which would steer him to the most passable dishes of the restaurant.

But Buttle wasn't in any mood to listen. His eyes were bugged out twice as far as they'd been when staring at the slightly tarnished theatrical stars I'd pointed out for him. And he was looking in the direction from which Louie, the headwaiter should have been coming.

I looked too. But I didn't see Louie.

Instead I saw a pair of menus—floating through the air at us!

I blinked once, then twice. My mouth must have been as wide open as a fish on land.

The menus were still floating through the air toward us!

Mr. Buttle was trying to speak.

"It, it, I mean he, was holding the menus. Now he's gone. But the menus are still coming!" Mr. Buttle managed to croak in horror.

This was the truth. The menus were still coming at us. And now they paused, hovering in the air, less than two feet from our table while Louie's voice said:

"Sirs, what will you have?"


LOUIE'S voice said that, and the menus suddenly separated, one hovering in front of Mr. Buttle and the other in front of me!

And then Louie's voice, bewilderedly, declared:

"What is the trouble? Is something wrong?"

Was something wrong! A pair of floating menus, and a voice without a body. Was something wrong!

"Louie," I rasped. "Don't be funny; where are you?"

"Am I?" Louie's voice protested even more bewilderedly. "Why, I'm right here in front of the table!"

Mr. Buttle was hastily scrambling to his feet, pushing his fat little paunch frantically away from the table. His face was ashen in horror.

He started around the table, then, and was suddenly halted abruptly, as if by an invisible force.

"Please, sir," Louie's voice declared. "Is there something wrong? Is there some trouble?"

Mr. Buttle let out a shriek, and backed hastily away.

"It touched me!" he yelped. "It put its hand on my arm to stop me!"

And then, yelling at the top of his lungs, Mr. Buttle backed around the other side of the table and streaked for the door.

I started out right after him, thinking only of the horrible fact that this would be a hell of an exit for our prospective buyer.

And then a hand detained me by grabbing my arm. A hand I couldn't see. A hand I could only feel!

"What's wrong?" Louie's voice, croakingly, pleadingly, came less than two feet from my ear.

I shut my eyes tight against any sanity that might come over me. Shut my eyes tight and pushed hard against the body of the hand I couldn't see. The body which was there, all right, but which was also invisible.

"One side," I yelled. "I'll come back and faint later!"

Then I was dashing out into the lobby of the hotel. Looking wildly right and left for some sign of the fleeing Mr. Buttle. I caught sight of the worried face of Jerry, the bell captain.

"Buttle," I yelled. "Which way did he go?"

"Buttle?" Jerry frowned.

Then I remembered. Jerry didn't know.

"I mean Mr. Smith. Which way did he go?" I explained.

Jerry pointed to the revolving doors at the front entrance.

I was across the lobby and starting to step through the doors in less than three seconds. And then, almost simultaneous to my stepping into the revolving apparatus, a huge, enormous creature, undoubtedly some three hundred and fifty pounds in weight, started through the same revolving doors from the street entrance.

We jammed there, as his bulk clogged the whirling panels to an almost complete standstill.

And then, cursing, I recognized the enormous tub as Thumpo, a guest at the hotel, who was currently appearing in a sideshow with an indoor circus on Seventy-Fourth street.

I continued to curse as slowly, laboriously, the big bulk of Thumpo, the sideshow fat man, pressed inexorably through the revolving door. It took exactly one minute and forty-five seconds.

And when I dashed out onto the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Harmony, there was no sight of Mr. Buttle.

It would be the height of understatement to say that I was sickly disgusted as I walked slowly back into the lobby.

In an hour, two maybe, there would undoubtedly be a call from Mr. Buttle. A call advising me to send his baggage on to another hotel.

And there would be no unloading of the Hotel Harmony on our now badly frightened prospect. No unloading of the Harmony, and more grief for old, sweet Mrs. Donovan. Plus the fact, I reminded myself, that I'd be stuck at the Harmony until I smiled at guests through a gray beard.

I was so damned sick inside that I didn't even realize my footsteps carried me back into the restaurant. So utterly dejected that I even forgot about the Louie phenomena until I saw him.

Yes, I do mean "saw" him. Louie, the headwaiter, of course!

For there he was, puzzled, perplexed, and big as life, watching me come back into the restaurant.

I stopped short when I caught sight of him. Stopped short and remembered what had happened scant minutes before.

"Looooie," I gurgled. "My God, Louie!"

"What happened?" Louie demanded shakily. "What on earth happened?"

I advanced cautiously toward him. "You're asking me?" I demanded shrilly, as the awful implications on what had happened tugged at the sleeve of my brain.

"Yeah," Louie stuck to his guns of confusion. "I'm asking you. I come up with your menus and you and your friend starting acting crazy mad. What was it, a gag?"

"Look," I said sharply. "I had a hangover, and maybe I still got it. But it wasn't the deetees that made you disappear, become invisible, before me very eyes."

Louie drew in his breath sharply. "Are you all right?" he asked solicitously.

"And Mr. Buttle saw you, too," I said hotly. "Or didn't see you, whichever way you like it!"

"Look," said Louie, "maybe your friend had a hangover, too. Maybe the two of you were out too late and too stinko last night, huh?"


I STARTED to get hot under the collar. No one can become invisible before my eyes and then deny it.

And then a voice boomed behind me, and I turned to see the portly, smiling bulk of Colonel Applegate.

"Really, old chap," he said. "We must apologize."

I frowned, getting still hotter. "For what?"

"For the trick my man, Hoako the Hindu, pulled on your headwaiter here," Colonel Applegate said.

"Hoako the Hindu?" I squealed.

Colonel Applegate was smilingly affable. "But, ahhh, of course. He was just practicing, sort of unthinkingly. He threw a cloak of invisibility over your headwaiter as he was passing our table."

"He what?" I screamed.

"He was just practicing," Colonel Applegate said. "Just brushing up on his invisibility trick, doncha see?"

The thin, scrawny, turbaned little figure of Joe Jobe, or Hoako the Hindu, appeared at the Colonel's elbow.

"Sure," he said. "Excuse me. I was just practicing."

A great light was beginning to dawn on the flushed face of Louie, the headwaiter.

"You mean I was invisible when I went up to that table?" he yelped.

Joe Jobe, alias Hoako the Hindu, nodded solemnly.

"But of course," declared the colonel.

I didn't say a word. The damn foolishness of the situation, the utter impossibility of it all, was just beginning to occur to me.

"This is all some damned rib. Someone's pulling my leg!" Louie growled, suddenly suspicious.

I looked at Louie and the colonel and Hoako the Hindu.

"You three think you cooked up a good joke," I said. "I don't know how you did it, but it stank. I'm warning you, all three of you, to keep out of my hair in the future. I'm not saying anything more!"

I was boiling inside as I turned away. Boiling and getting sick again. For their damned fool practical joke had driven Mr. Buttle, our prospect, far, far away. Further than I cared to think about.

When I passed the desk in the lobby, the assistant I'd placed there, called out:

"Mrs. Donovan telephoned. She wants you to call her."

The sickness got worse. "Tell her," I said, "that I'm still out. Tell her you don't know where I am."

I couldn't bear the thought of having to tell the little old lady that I'd nixed her prospect and ruined her chance at a secure old age in a little less than thirty minutes. I was going up to my room. I was going to put towels on my aching head. I was going to think.

Then, maybe, after a little while I'd be able to get up courage enough to telephone old Mrs. Donovan and break the bad news to her.

But half an hour wearing a groove in the rug of my room didn't help at all. I threw the cold towels off my aching head and slammed out of the room determined to find my way to the nearest bar and possible alcoholic refuge.


HOWEVER, I didn't get any farther than the lobby. In fact I was halfway across it, headed for the door, when I stopped dead in my tracks.

For Mr. Buttle had just stepped through the entrance!

Mr. Buttle wasn't beaming, but there was a tremulous effort at a smile on his round little face, and his composure seemed to have returned.

He saw me, then, and came directly over.

"I, I, just want to apologize," Mr. Buttle said earnestly.

It was all I could do to keep from fainting.

"Apologize?" I croaked.

Mr. Buttle nodded rapidly. "Yes," he admitted. "I guess I sort of acted like a fool, didn't I?"

I was too busy getting a grip on myself to answer that one.

"I, I mean," said Mr. Buttle, "running out screaming like that." He paused. "I, I guess I'm not a trouper," he said.

"Trouper?" I gasped.

Mr. Buttle nodded more earnestly. "Yes. I guess I got scared out of my wits by that show stunt." He blushed. "For a person as crazy about the theater as I am, that was certainly terrible, wasn't it?"

I nodded weakly. "Forget it."

"No," said Mr. Buttle. "I'll never forget it. I must have looked pretty silly. Imagine—thinking there was someone invisible present!"

"Yes," I agreed uncertainly, "imagine that."

Mr. Buttle laughed. "Someone invisible," he repeated self- scornfully. "Why, that's impossible. You'll have to forgive me. I know so little about show business. I didn't realize it was a stunt."

I tried a hearty chuckle. My knees were watery with relief.

"Think nothing of it," I said. "Ha, hah, hah."

"Ha, hah, hah," Mr. Buttle echoed.

Mr. Buttle wiped the perspiration from his bald dome.

"Boy," he said, "I must say it was certainly a shock."

"That's a fact," I agreed. "I think it would be a good idea if you had a drink. Like to join me?"

Mr. Buttle beamed. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you, very much. Do you have a bar in the Hotel Harmony, too?"

I shook my head. "There's one right around the corner, though. One that's very excellent."

From the corner of my eye I caught sight of Colonel Applegate and his pint sized magician, Joe Jobe, now Hoako the Hindu. They had just sighted us, and were moving in our direction. I grabbed Mr. Buttle's arm, turning him toward the door, and hastily piloted him toward it ...


MY chum Mr. Buttle and I not only had one drink, we had ten each after that. Ten drinks apiece in a little over an hour and a half. And I don't mind admitting that my gait was a trifle unsteady when we left the bar at last.

Mr. Buttle, however, hadn't been the babbling type of drinker. He was a trifle tight by the tenth drink, of course, and my subtle sales talk seemed to have had a pretty good effect on him. However, he hadn't admitted to being anyone but the alias under which he had registered, John Smith. And when we went back to the Hotel Harmony, he was under better control when we entered the lobby than I was.

In fact, he spotted the pint parcel magician, Hoako the Hindu, before I did.

"Look," Mr. Buttle exclaimed in awe, grabbing my arm and extending a slightly unsteady finger. "Look at that!"

It took an instant for my eyes to focus, and another for me to follow Mr. Buttle's waveringly pointing finger.

I saw the rope before I saw Hoako the half-pint Hindu.

The rope rose straight up from the floor in the center of the lobby. It rose straight up and stopped some five feet short of the rather high lobby ceiling.

It didn't seem fastened to anything.

And yet it stood as rigidly as a pole.

And there was a crowd, maybe ten or twelve people, grouped in a circle at the base of the strangely erect rope, while, from the center of that group, right next to the rope, I caught the flash of the turban of Hoako the Hindu, alias Joe Jobe.

"I, I, really do believe that we are aboush to witsnesh the Hindu Rope Trick!" exclaimed Mr. Buttle, profoundly excited.

Sobriety was coming back to me. Coming back in a hurry. Theatrical hotel or not, the Harmony didn't tolerate acts in the lobby. It was a long standing policy, and I didn't intend to have it violated now. Even if a pseudo-professional magician wanted to practice.

I started for the crowd around the foot of the weirdly stationary rope. Mr. Buttle, babbling excitedly, was at my heels.

I pushed my way through the ring of spectators to confront Hoako the Hindu.

"What's going on here?" I demanded.

The turbaned little guy looked somberly up at me. "I am just brushing up on a trick," he said.

I looked up the strangely stationary rope. It was all of fifteen to twenty feet high.

"This is no place for tricks," I said. "You rented the suite on the tenth, not the lobby."

"It's too small," Joe Jobe, also Hoako the Hindu, declared.

"Then rent the Roxy," I said. "But get your damned rope trick out of this lobby!"

Mr. Buttle was plucking at my sleeve then, and I turned to see his round anxious face staring up imploringly at mine.

"Let him work his trick," Mr. Buttle begged. "I've never seen it done."

I hesitated. After all, Mr. Buttle was our prospective buyer. I had almost lost him once. There was no sense in crossing him now. I decided to make him happy.

"Okay," I told the turbaned little guy, "do your trick. But make it snappy, understand?"

Hoako the Hindu's large, luminous, sorrowful brown eyes looked around the crowd. He spotted a breathless little lad of about ten in his audience.

"You know how to climb, sonny?"

"Oh, Boy," exclaimed the youngster. "Kin I climb. Try me and see how good I can climb!" The kid dashed to the peanut magician's side.

And then, before I could think fast enough to do anything about preventing it, the kid was shinnying up the stationary rope toward the ceiling!

I watched him climb higher and higher, while Hoako the Hindu looked up, arms outstretched toward the boy, fingers working as if running a scale on an invisible piano.

"Abracadabra," muttered Joe Jobe soulfully, trying to look as Hindustanish as his stage name. "Abracadabra, baba, slabah!"

It happened just as the youngster reached the top of the rope, just as if it looked as the only thing left for him to do would be to climb down again.

There was a brilliant puff of smoke, completely concealing the kid. And when the smoke cleared an instant later—the kid was gone!


Illustration

Suddenly the kid disappeared in a puff of smoke.


I SHOOK my head in astonishment.

Right up the rope to the top and then—gone.

A shrill scream suddenly sounded behind my ear.

"Bobby! Bobby! My God—what did you do to my boy?"

The scream was feminine, and I needed no instinct to tell me it came from a mother in anguish.

Then a fat, red-faced, frightened woman was pushing through the circle around the rope which Hoako the Hindu, alias Joe Jobe, was now complacently taking down.

"My boy," the woman screamed. "My little Bobby. My darling child. You sent him up that rope! Where is he? Where IS he?"

She sailed into the mite of a magician with all fists flailing, screaming shrilly still.

Hoako the Hindu ducked into the crowd, and very skillfully got himself out of harm's length. The yowling mother, no longer able to see him, turned wailingly to a bystander.

"Where's the manager?" she yelled.

Someone pointed at me.

And just like that, the outraged picture of militant motherhood was bearing wrathfully down on me.

"Give me my Bobby!" she shrilled. "Give me my Bobby, you murderer. I'll sue you. I'll sue this hotel. You let a strange little boy wander into your lobby and go up a rope into thin air. You've killed him!"

A quick sidelong glance told me instantly that the enraged mother wasn't my only problem. Mr. Buttle had paled considerably, and now looked just as about as ready to flee as he had a while back in the restaurant.

"Police! PolEEEEEEEEEce!" the woman began to yell violently.

"Oh, my!" Mr. Buttle gasped. "Oh, my goodness!"

"Don't you think you better go up to your room?" I suggested desperately to my prospective buyer. "I'll handle this, rest assured."

Mr. Buttle nodded whitely, scurrying out and around the crowd that had now gathered, heading toward the elevators. I stuck out my arm to ward off the avalanche of maniacal motherhood bearing down on me.

"Madam!" I yelled as commandingly as I could. "Madam—please calm down!"

I might as well have been a matador yelling those words at an enraged bull. The irate dame was swarming all over me inside of another two seconds. I remember going down under the several hundred pounds she undoubtedly weighed. And I remember her big red, steamy fists pounding lumps on my noggin, and remember, too, wondering if I should hit a lady who wasn't a lady.

And then her weight was being pulled off of me. Pulled off of me while a deep, thundering voice demanded to know what in the hell was going on around here.

I looked up to see the bulk of two, blue uniformed coppers.

And climbing unsteadily to my feet, I recognized the biggest and bulkiest of the pair as Steve Clancy, officer of the beat on which Hotel Harmony was located.

Clancy was holding hard to the weighty and threshing woman. And though Clancy was a big man, and one of the toughest coppers on the force, he had his hands full at the moment.

"What goes on, Pete?" he thundered at me. "What's this she devil breaking up your lobby for?"

I mentally thanked God that Clancy and I were on the best of cordial terms. And I did some fast thinking in preparing my answer, when suddenly I spotted Hoako the Hindu coming back to the circle. He had the ten year old youngster with him!

"Nothing," I said swiftly. "This poor woman thinks her little kid came in here to climb up a rope and disappear."

Then I pointed toward Hoako the Hindu and the white-faced tyke beside him.

"Is that your youngster, madam?"

The big woman stopped struggling. Her eyes lighted.

"Bobby," she yelled, "my boy!"

Clancy released her, and she rushed to the little kid, swamping him in beefy affection.

I gave Clancy a knowing look. "Better steer her out gently, Steve," I advised. "I think she's had a little too much to drink."

Clancy's expression became righteously indignant. "A mither who'd drink with a fine little kid like that, oughtta be—" he punctuated his remark by starting toward the woman and her boy.

"Be gentle," I called after him remindingly, "'cause she thinks he ran up a rope in here and disappeared."

Clancy nodded knowingly. "I will that," he said, "fer the sake of her tyke."


WHILE Clancy and the other copper gently but firmly steered the previously hell-bent woman out of the Harmony's lobby with her child, I set out in the direction of Hoako the Hindu, who'd started for the elevators after he brought the kid back.

"Hey, you," I yelled.

The pint sized magician turned around. He looked suspiciously at me from those sorrowful brown eyes.

"I want to talk to you," I said, catching up with him.

Hoako the Hindu nodded noncommittally.

"Look," I said. "I'll have to get this straight. I don't want any more of your impromptu rehearsals in the public sections of this hotel. Do I make myself clear?"

"The colonel," said Hoako the Hindu mildly, "told me I should practice. I gotta brush up on things."

"I'll speak personally to Colonel Applegate," I said. "But in the meantime, you lay off. Get me?" If my voice was hot and harsh it was probably because I was thinking of Mr. Buttle up in his room at that very moment, thinking things over much too much, and quite probably deciding that hotels were things to keep your money out of.

Hoako the Hindu shrugged.

"You talk to the colonel," he said. "He left me orders what I should practice."

"Where is he?" I demanded hotly.

Hoako the Hindu shrugged. "Out somewheres signing up my act, I suppose."

"Where did that kid hide?" I demanded suddenly.

"Hide?" Hoako the Hindu blinked uncomprehendingly. "Hide? Why, he didn't hide. I made him disappear. Just like I made that headwaiter invisible."

I really got sore.

"Who in the hell do you think you're kidding?" I yelled. "You have a good routine, I'll admit it. But don't give me any of that Hindu hokum. I'm no paying customer."

Hoako the Hindu looked at me guilelessly. He shrugged.

"You talk to the colonel," he said. Then he turned away and stepped into an elevator.

Fuming, I went back to the desk and took over from my assistant. Half an hour later, I was still burning, still worrying, and still wondering what Mr. Buttle's reaction to the second messy scene had been.

And five minutes after that, I got my chance to talk to Colonel Applegate. He swept in through the revolving doors like a duke on his way to Parliament. He was carrying his cane, and twirling it happily as he sauntered over to the desk.

"Ahhhhhh," he opened beamingly, "and how are you, sir?"

"Rotten," I snapped. "And I have some words I want to say to y—"

"Ahhhhh, yes," the colonel said, peeling a pearl gray kid glove from his right hand, "about the agents you recommended. I had only to see three. I have booked our act at, ahhh, a modest starting price. A three week starter, with an increase proportionate to our value if we're kept on. We open the night after tomorrow."

"That is all very fine," I said sourly, "but doesn't concern the talk I want to have with you a bit."

The colonel raised white, aristocratically tufted eyebrows in faintly nettled annoyance.

"You refer, I presume, to l'affaire invisibility of this noon?" he asked frostily.

"Only in part," I said grimly. "That was bad enough, but you missed your magical mite's very messy rope stunt just half an hour ago."

The colonel looked disturbed. "Messy? You mean Hoako the Hindu messed up the rope trick?"


I GOT hotter. "I mean he messed up the lobby with it, almost lost a woman her child, and almost lost me my front teeth!"

The colonel smiled in relief. "Hah, glad to know it worked. Had me worried for a moment. Thought he might be slipping. That rope trick is one of his best."

My blood vessels must have started bulging dangerously then.

"You and your damned faker!" I screamed. "Is that all you think matters around here? We aren't running this place as an exhibition hall for a clever magician."

Colonel Applegate raised his eyebrows indignantly. "My good man," he said. "Permit me to correct you. Hoako the Hindu is most certainly no mere magician. He is actually a wizard. You thought the invisibility thing was some trick. It was most certainly nothing of the sort. Your headwaiter was actually invisible when Hoako turned his concentration on him. The child you speak of actually disappeared into thin air at the top of that rope. Hoako is no magician. He is a modern throwback to the ancient wizards of past ages!"

This was more than I could stand.

"Then why don't the two of you get the hell onto your brooms and ride out of this hotel?" I yelled.

"We have paid," the colonel reminded me in frosty indignation, "a week in advance. You have accepted our money. We will remain here until the week has expired!"

With that as an exit line, the colonel turned his back on me and stamped off toward the elevators. At a boiling point of helpless rage, I stalked back behind the desk.

And then the telephone at my elbow rang.

Automatically, I grabbed the instrument from the cradle. Irately, I barked into it.

"Hello?"

Mrs. Donovan's voice came to me!

"Hello, is this Pete?" she asked.

I gulped once, twice, and felt sick all over again.

"Why, uh, yes, Mrs. Donovan. How's everything?"

"You sound strange, Pete," the little old lady said worriedly. "Is there any trouble? Has anything gone wrong?"

"No, no, nothing wrong. Nothing like that," I lied quickly. I couldn't bring myself to tell her the truth.

"Is Mr. Buttle still there, Pete?" Mrs. Donovan asked.

I could answer that one truthfully. "Oh, yes. Yes, indeed, Mrs. Donovan. Mr. Buttle is still here." I hated to think of how long he was going to stay here. I hated to think about Mr. Buttle's probable attitude by now at all.

"Are you making everything nice for him, Pete?" Mrs. Donovan asked. "Is he seeing everything?"

"He's seeing plenty, Mrs. Donovan," I said hollowly.

"That's fine. I'm so glad. I was worried. This means so much, doesn't it, Pete? I, I guess I've worked myself into a state where a disappointment would be awful. I'm silly that way. I know I shouldn't. But, well, I hope you understand, Pete."

"I understand perfectly, Mrs. Donovan," I declared. And then, before I could stop myself, I added: "Just leave everything to me."

Mrs. Donovan's tired little old voice came back relievedly. "Of course, Pete. I don't know what I'd ever do without you. Goodbye, and call me as soon as anything happens."

I put the telephone back in the cradle, feeling all the while like a guy who has just kicked a sweet little old lady into the path of the Broadway Limited.

I put my head in my hands. This was too much. Nothing worse could happen. Nothing more awful could—

The telephone rang again that instant. I picked it up.

"Hello!" yelled a frantic voice. "I want room service. I want the management. I want help!"

I breathed a terrible curse as I recognized that voice. It was Buttle.

"What," I gulped hysterically, "is wrong?"

"My room," squealed Mr. Buttle, "is filled, no—crammed, with rabbits and pigeons!"

"Rabbits and pigeons?" I echoed aghast.

"Hundreds of them!" Mr. Buttle yelped. And then I heard him yipe shrilly and slam the phone down into place.


IT was a little less than two minutes later when I was dashing along the tenth floor corridor toward Mr. Buttle's room near the end of the hallway.

I could see that his door was ajar, and I could also see that the door of the suite just beyond his room was also open. The suite in which I'd placed Colonel Applegate and his pint sized magician.

I don't know why I didn't see the pigeons on leaping from the elevator to the hallway—or the rabbits either, for that matter. But they were there, all right. The rabbits bounding in droves from the Applegate-Hindu suite, and the pigeons flapping noisily around in the hallway.

There must have been close to a hundred of them. And all were emerging from the tenth floor suite of Colonel Applegate and his damned magician!

I came to a skidding stop in front of Mr. Buttle's door. He was inside there, wearing nothing but an old fashioned nightshirt. And he was standing atop his dresser, purple faced with horror, while about his room swarmed a veritable rabbit and pigeon zoo.

He saw me, and his mouth opened and closed wordlessly.

I waved my hand, signaling him to hold on. Then I rushed on to the open door of the colonel's suite from which all this wild life was swarming.

The colonel sat comfortably in an easy chair in the drawing room of the suite, looking in benign approval at his half pint magician, Hoako the Hindu, who was standing in the center of the madhouse, holding a silk hat in his right hand, while extracting pigeons and rabbits at random from the depths of the topper.

"What in the hell is all this?" I screeched from the doorway.

Colonel Applegate looked up.

He smiled. "Oh, ahhh, yes, come in. Do come in. You can be of invaluable assistance. We are rehearsing."

"Rehearsing?" I screamed the word. "The rabbit-silk hat routine," the colonel explained. "Can't seem to get it down right."

"You'll get it down right!" I yelled. "You'll get it down in some other hotel. Get the hell out of here. Get those damned pigeons and rabbits out with you. Get your magician out of here, too!"

The colonel's smile disappeared. He gave me a frostily disapproving stare.

"Rabbits and doves," he said. "Not pigeons."

"Doves or pigeons, I don't care which. Get them the hell out of here, and take yourselves with them!" I screamed.

Hoako the Hindu looked up from his rehearsing. For an instant he pulled no more rabbits and pigeons from his silk topper.

Then he saw that the door in which I was standing was open.

He grinned apologetically, glanced at his mentor.

"Colonel," Hoako declared. "Maybe this guy has got a legit beef. We left the door open. I'll bet the doves and rabbits is all over the place."

The colonel raised his eyebrows. He looked at me, and then the open door. His frosty attitude thawed into one of apologetic friendliness.

"Haw," he said. "So we did. So we did. Awfully sorry, old man. Didn't realize it. Hope we haven't caused any trouble."

Hoako, scratching his head, sheepishly put the silk hat down on the bed.

"Get rid of the rabbits, Hoako," the colonel ordered.

Hoako waved his hands in a wide gesture.

"Abracadabra," he declared.

"And the doves," the colonel added.

"Ala salaba," Hoako said, repeating the gesture.

My eyes almost fell out of my head. I reeled back against the door jam. There were no more rabbits. No more pigeons. Hoako had made them vanish as easily as he had been making them appear!

"There," the colonel said affably. "Does that satisfy you?"

I gurgled something and staggered out of the room down to Buttle's adjoining room. I peered in the doorway there.

There were no more rabbits or pigeons in Buttle's room!


NIGHT-SHIRTED Mr. Buttle, his eyes filled with terror and tears, his face a portrait of bewilderment, was climbing shakily down from his perch on his dresser. His mouth was still working as he tried to say things to me, but no sounds came.

I stepped across to his dresser and helped him down.

"I want to get out," Mr. Buttle finally croaked feebly. "I want to get out of here before I lose my mind completely!"

I was thinking swiftly, desperately. No matter what happened, I couldn't let him out of my clutches now. Maybe there'd be some way to soothe this over. Maybe if I could throw the damned magician and his manager out of the hotel, and convince Mr. Buttle that he'd been the victim of self-delusions, we could still peddle the hotel to him.

Maybe.

"Look," I said sympathetically. "I don't know what's wrong with you. But obviously you aren't feeling well. Maybe you're having hallucinations or something."

Mr. Buttle looked wild eyed at me.

"Didn't you see them?" He whispered hoarsely, his fingers biting deep in my arm.

"See what?" I lied.

"The rabbits," Mr. Buttle said. "And the damned pigeons!" He shuddered deeply and swayed back and forth on his rubbery little legs.

I forced a humoring smile. "Now maybe you'd better get some rest," I said soothingly. "I'm sure it will fix you up fine. A nap is all you need."

"I want to get out of here," Mr. Buttle said brokenly. He started swayingly toward his open suitcase near his bed.

I picked up the room telephone.

"Send up some sleeping pills!" I barked into it. "Snappy!"

I took Mr. Buttle gently by the shoulders, forcing him down onto his bed.

"Just lie there a minute and rest," I told him. "Everything is going to be all right. You wait and see."

I hoped to hell, in my secret mind, that it would be all right.

While Mr. Buttle went through a series of shuddering spells, I paced the room and went quietly crazy trying to find a solution to his mess. Then the bellhop arrived with the sleeping pills. I gave a couple of them, plus a glass of water, to Mr. Buttle.

"Here," I said. "Take these. They'll make everything fine!"

Mr. Buttle swallowed them unprotestingly with the water. I fixed his pillow, covered him up, and stood back watching the drowsiness take effect. A few minutes later and he was sleeping.

Mopping a fevered brow, I closed his door behind me and stepped down the hall to Colonel Applegate's suite. I pounded on their door for almost two minutes before I realized that they weren't going to answer. I went down to the elevators at the end of the hall.

"Has Colonel Applegate left in the last ten minutes?" I asked the elevator boy when he stopped at the tenth.

"Yes, sir. Just about five minutes ago. The little man with the turban wasn't with him, though."

I went back to the door of the Applegate suite. I found a passkey and stepped inside a moment later.

The place was deserted.

"Hoako!" I hollered. "Come out, wherever you are."

No answer. I stormed through the bedrooms and the rest of the suite. No sign of the little magician. And yet the elevator boy hadn't seen him leave.


THEN I saw the note on the desk in the drawing room. It was written in a scrawly, childish hand. Obviously by Joe Jobe, alias Hoako.


Dear Colonel:

I have gone out of the world for about twenty minutes. I will practice some more when I get back.

Joe, Hoako the Hindu, Jobe.


This, definitely, was more than I could stand!

I must have been frothing mad as I churned out of their suite and stormed my way to the desk down in the lobby.

For fully five minutes I was so purple I couldn't utter an intelligible word. And when I was finally coherent again, I screamed instructions at the bellhops, doorman, chambermaids and guests as to what to do the moment any of them caught either Colonel Applegate or his half-baked Hindu sticking their noses into the hotel again.

And then for another ten minutes I panthered back and forth in a secluded corner of the lobby, trying to twist and turn the problem of Mr. Buttle-the-would-be-buyer of the Hotel Harmony into some chance of solution.

For I was aware that it was one thing to knock Mr. Buttle out with sleeping pills and keep him a virtual prisoner in the Hotel Harmony, and quite another to return him to his happy potential- buyer frame of mind when he woke up.

He'd been thinking of packing his bag and fleeing this madhouse, undoubtedly, when he opened his eyes again. And yet, if there was something I could do along the line I'd hastily conceived some fifteen minutes ago—something that would make him think he was sick and nothing more than the victim of his own imagination—I might have a chance of pushing the hotel off on him before he was quite aware of what had happened.

The situation, bad as it was, could have been worse. He could, for example, have jumped from the window of his tenth floor room when the rabbits and pigeons swarmed into the place.

I shuddered at the thought of the grease blob our buyer would have made on the sidewalk under those circumstances. Shuddered and thanked God that he was still alive and intact.

And I was congratulating myself on this fact, while mentally deciding that the situation was still not lost as long as nothing further in the way of complications occurred, when the commotion started on the mezzanine balcony overlooking the lobby.

My first indication of the furore came in the form of several shrill feminine yelps from the lobby itself. I looked up to see three women standing underneath the mezzanine balcony railing, gazing up in terror at the scene above them.

With a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach, I let my eyes follow their horrified gazes.

And then I, too, felt like yelping shrilly. For Mr. Buttle was up there on the mezzanine balcony. Mr. Buttle and Hoako the Hindu. And quite obviously Mr. Buttle wasn't at all aware that he was up there. For he was still in his nightshirt, and sound asleep. Sound asleep, and floating horizontally some three feet from the floor, while Hoako the Hindu, palms extended flat over Mr. Buttle's sleeping form, maneuvered him this way and that!

Hoako the Hindu was practicing again.

And then I saw Hoako, still steering the horizontally floating form of Mr. Buttle before him, start down the mezzanine stairs to the lobby itself.


OTHERS in the lobby, attracted by the yipping of the three dames, were gathering in a rapidly growing group of spectators by the time I was out and around the desk and racing headlong toward the staircase down which Hoako was piloting Mr. Buttle.

But by the time I reached Hoako and Mr. Buttle, the half pint magician was already down the stairs and starting to steer his floating victim across the lobby.

And the crowd was surging in around us, forming an ooohing and ahhing, and laughing gallery.

For as near as I was to the brink of insanity at that moment, even I was aware that the night-shirted, plump, floating little body of Mr. Buttle did look ridiculous.

"Hoako!" I hissed desperately. "Hoako, for God's sake, take him back upstairs where you got him!"

But Hoako the Hindu, alias Joe Jobe, didn't seem to hear me. His gaze was cloudily fixed on Mr. Buttle's horizontally drifting carcass. He seemed deep in a trance.

"Take him back upstairs, Hoako!" I said more sharply.

Hoako the Hindu still didn't look up. He continued to move along behind Mr. Buttle's floating form as he steered it along.

"Damn you," I yelled, "take him back upstairs!"

Hoako the Hindu's eyes grew a trifle less cloudy. A little light appeared in them. But still no glimmer of response.

The crowd was hooting hysterically by now.

"Pass a hoop around his body," someone shouted. "See if it isn't all done by wires."

"Or mirrors," another wag yelled.

I grabbed Hoako the Hindu viciously by the arm, jerking him around to face me.

"Listen, you—" I started to shout hotly. "This is too mu—."

And in the next sickening instant I realized I had done the wrong thing.

For, with Hoako's concentration disrupted, Mr. Buttle crashed heavily to the floor of the lobby, landing with a smack on his back and nether extremity!

"Oh, God!" I gurgled, releasing my grip on Hoako.

Mr. Buttle was blinking wildly, rubbing his eyes with his pudgy fists, and gazing around like a stricken woodland gazelle.

Hoako's voice, indignantly reproachful, exclaimed: "Now look what you went and made me do!"

The spectators were roaring with laughter now, and Buttle, scrambling to his feet with frantic embarrassment, uttered a choked, confused cry and tried to sweep his nightshirt tighter around his pudgy frame.

Suddenly I wanted very much to fade from view. But before I could do so, Mr. Buttle's bewilderedly accusing gaze lanced me.

"So," he said hoarsely. "So!"

"Look," I cried frantically. "It's all a mis—"

But Mr. Buttle wasn't waiting around to hear what I had to say. He dashed toward the elevators and into the cage of one just about to go up, while the derisive hoots and guffaws of the lobby crowd followed him.

I started after him, then stopped. I'd seen the look in his eye. The look he gave me. If I'd had the proverbial chance of a snowball in hell to sell him the hotel fifteen minutes before it, was a cinch that said chance had now vanished.


THERE would be no talking Buttle out of leaving this time. I had awful, sinking visions of myself staying at the Hotel Harmony until both the building and I were condemned as unfit for further service.

But that didn't lessen the emotional reaction I had toward Hoako the Hindu. And it didn't cut down the verbal barrage I sent his way in the next instant.

"And furthermore, you @@—*†—!"&(‡"*!!!,"@@ I concluded a full five minutes later, "I'll see to it, personally, that you and your damned manager spend the rest of your lives in jail!"

Hoako the Hindu had been listening wide-eyed through my tirade, but in the last few lines of it, his gaze had wandered up and over my shoulder. It was still fixed there as I concluded breathlessly.

"What's this? What's this?" a deep rumbling voice demanded behind me.

I wheeled to face Colonel Applegate, who had just returned to the hotel.

"I'll tell you what this is!" I yelled.

Colonel Applegate raised his hand, as his button eyes swept around the fascinated group of spectators surrounding us.

"Come, come, sir. I would prefer that you state your, ahhh, complaints in a place somewhat more private."

I nodded grimly. "Okay. You bet I will. Come right along!" I led the colonel and his half pint magician into my private office to the rear of the desk.

Slamming the door, I turned on the colonel.

"Your magician," I thundered, "has gone too far. For the fourth time he has jeopardized the sanity of the tenant adjoining your suite on the tenth floor." I paused for breath. "And now said guest will undoubtedly pack up and leave."

The colonel had been listening with his tufted brows knotted in concentration. Now they suddenly smoothed, and he raised his hand characteristically to interrupt.

"Ahhhhhh," he declared. "I see what you mean. Of course. Of course. The guest my, ahhh, magician has annoyed is leaving your hostelry, eh?"

"Precisely," I grated. "And what's more, I—"

The colonel cut me off again.

"Tut, tut, my dear fellow. It's a simple matter to adjust. I shall merely reimburse you for the rent you will lose by his leaving."

He started to dig in his pocket for his wallet.

"Listen," I began again.

"Isn't that a satisfactory, ahhh, adjustment?" the colonel demanded.

"No!" I yelled emphatically. "No. It is not!"

And then I was off and running. Running at the mouth. In no small detail did I omit the complete picture of the mess they'd put me in. I screamed forth the facts about poor old Mrs. Donovan. I set down with cold, biting bitterness, the events they had contributed to in driving our potential buyer to near madness. And when I finished, out of breath and somewhat glassy- eyed, five minutes later, I glared from Hoako to the colonel and back.

"So, you see," I snarled, "a mere matter of rent missing is not the trouble. It is plenty deeper than that."

The colonel looked sober. Hoako looked guiltily ashamed, like a small boy who has been caught pitching pennies in church.


COLONEL APPLEGATE tugged reflectively at the end of his sweeping gray moustache. He squinted in concentration, his button eyes disappearing beneath the rolls under them. "You say the owner of this hotel is, ahhhh, a poor widow?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Hmmmmmmm," said Colonel Applegate. "I wonder if we could. I wonder. Hmmmmmm. It isn't ethical. But, ahhhh, the situation might seem to warrant it."

"What the hell are you muttering in your moustache about?" I demanded.

Colonel Applegate gave me an offended glance. "I was just arriving at a solution to your dilemma," he said.

"Solution?" I yelped. "You mean you can—" And then I stopped. "No, you don't," I said quickly. "You've messed things up badly enough already. Keep out of this!"

"Could it be any worse than it is now?" Hoako the Hindu asked quietly.

The colonel nodded. "Precisely. What could we do now that could hurt the situation, ahhh, further? It is obvious that your prospective buyer is no longer such."

"You could have us all tossed in jail," I suggested. "No. I don't think I'd be smart to trust you two—"

The colonel raised his hand and cut me off. "Tut, tut. I give you the Applegate word of honor that we will do nothing to bring any of us into a court of law!"

I looked at him indecisively.

"What do you say?" the colonel asked. "Will you permit us to repair the damage done?"

"Oh, God," I groaned. "If you only could!" Then another thought occurred to me. "What's your plan?"

The colonel looked solemn. "Hypnotize the chap," he said.

"Hypnotize him?" I squealed. "Why, that would be like putting a man under morphine and making him buy something. It, it would mean the pen for us all!"

The colonel shook his aristocratic head. "Not at all," he explained. "Not at all. You see, we would hypnotize the blighter, bring him out of it, and then have him buy the hotel."

"I don't get it," I said flatly.

"The power of suggestion," said the colonel, "is extraordinarily strong under hypnosis. We can have Hoako hypnotize the chap, and while he is in that state, convince him that none of the things which occurred to him in his stay here at your hotel actually occurred. We can, through suggestion, make his memory insofar as what happened here a complete blank."

"So when he comes out of the hypnosis he'll have no recollection of the invisible waiter, the rope trick, the rabbits and pigeons, or floating horizontally downstairs in his nightshirt?" I demanded.

"Precisely," said Colonel Applegate. "Yeah," Hoako the Hindu seconded. "Are you sure you can do this?" I asked.

"In the realm of the occult, nothing is certain. It has, however, been accomplished in other cases I have read of," Colonel Applegate said.

I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath. "Let's find Buttle," I said....


MR. BUTTLE had his bags packed and was frantically getting into his camel's hair overcoat when the colonel, Hoako, and I entered his room. The moment he saw us, his face went ashen and he backed slightly away.

"What do you want?" Mr. Buttle demanded hysterically. "What devilment are you three up to now?"

"Listen," I said soothingly, "we aren't going to hurt you. We just want a few moments of your time."

Mr. Buttle sidled nervously toward his bags. "I haven't any time," he croaked. "I'm leaving here, now, right away, at once."

Colonel Applegate gave me a sidelong glance. He sighed, our signal to advance on him together, should force become necessary to hold him for the experiment.

The colonel was surprisingly strong, amazingly agile. We had Mr. Buttle helplessly on the bed in less than a minute. Hoako advanced and stood over him, while the colonel and I held.

There was a burning intensity in Hoako's eyes as he glared forcefully down at the prostrate and pinioned Mr. Buttle.

Buttle groaned, and turned his head away from the glance.

"Hold his head," Hoako ordered.

The colonel put his large hand on Buttle's forehead, pressing palm down so the chubby little victim couldn't turn away.

"Look at me!" Hoako said.

Mr. Buttle closed his eyes and shuddered.

"Pry his eyelids open, and hold 'em open," said Hoako.

I moved around so that I could hold both Buttle's arms. Then the colonel, his other hand free, opened Buttle's eyes forcibly with thumb and forefinger.

"Unreceptive duck," commented the colonel. "This will take a bit of doing."

Hoako was wordless now. But he continued to stare commandingly down at the helpless Mr. Buttle. His brows, beneath his silly white turban, were knotted in concentration from the effort. Sweat was starting to bead his forehead.

"You are getting sleepy," said Hoako somnambulantly.

"No, I'm not," Mr. Buttle yiped shrilly. "I never felt more wide awake."

"You are getting sleepy," Hoako repeated insistently. "Sleepy, sleepy, sleepy!"

"No," Buttle choked. "No." His reply seemed weaker.

"Sleepy," Hoako repeated, his voice suddenly growing soothing. "Very, very sleepy. Rest, rest. Think only of rest." The drops of sweat beading his brow were now starting to trickle down his nose.

And then, much to my amazement, Buttle answered docilely: "Yes. Yes, I am very tired. I want to rest. I want to sleep."

"Sure you do," said Hoako. "You want to sleep. You want to sleeeeep, sleep, sleeeeep."

Mr. Buttle sighed. "Yes." he said.

Colonel Applegate released his pressure on Buttle's eyelids. They remained open, staring, glazed.

Hoako bent over Buttle and passed his hand before his eyes several times. There was no reaction.

"You are asleep," Hoako declared.

"Yes—I am asleep," Buttle replied in a far-away voice.

"Release his arms," the colonel said. I stopped holding Buttle, and the colonel took his palm from the chubby little guy's forehead. I noticed, then, that the colonel's brow was also beaded with sweat.

"You want to forget some things," Hoako said soothingly.

"I want to forget some things," Buttle repeated.

Hoako nodded at the colonel. "He's right where we want him," he whispered. Then he turned his attention back to Buttle.

"You want to forget about the invisible waiter you saw in the restaurant," Hoako declared.

"I forget having seen an invisible waiter," Buttle responded.

"You forget that rope trick," said Hoako.

"I saw no rope trick," Buttle answered mechanically.

"You didn't see any doves and rabbits," Hoako went on.

"There were no doves and rabbits," Buttle said.

"You didn't float downstairs and wake up embarrassed in the lobby with nothing on but a nightshirt," Hoako told him.

"No floating. No lobby. No embarrassment. Never happened," Mr. Buttle's voice declared.

The colonel looked triumphantly at me. "Good enough?" he asked.

"Will it stick?" I asked.

The colonel nodded. "It should."

"Usually does," Hoako seconded.


I HAD a sudden brainstorm. "Why not put in a few plugs for the Hotel Harmony now that we got him this way?"

The colonel looked dubious. "We've already used Hoako's powers somewhat unethically. Don't know as if it would be right."

"Think of the poor old lady you two almost gypped. Poor Mrs. Donovan. If you put in a plug, it'll sort of even things up."

The colonel thought this over a second, then nodded. "Very well," he said, giving the Hoako the go signal.

"Marvelous hotel, the Harmony," Hoako said, putting his attention back in focus on Buttle. "Cheap at any price. You'll be a lucky man if they let you buy it."

"It is wonderful," said Mr. Buttle from his trance. "It is a positive steal. I'll be lucky to buy it."

"You'd be a fool if you passed up a chance to buy it," Hoako declared.

"I would be a fool," Buttle echoed.

"Swell," I said. "Now bring him out of it."

Hoako's gesture was swift, the noise startling, as he clapped his hands under Buttle's nose. Buttle blinked, shook his head, staring uncertainly at the colonel, Hoako, and me.

"Wh-where am I?" he asked without much originality.

I stepped in, then. Stepped in and told him. And did a neat bit of lying to account for the time that had passed which he wouldn't recall. Briefly, I explained that he had come in here an hour or so ago, signed the register as John Smith, and collapsed. I told him that we'd called a medico, who ordered him to bed here in his room for a few hours rest.

"I must have had some shock," Buttle said weakly, sitting up. "My recollection of everything is fuzzy, blurred. Did the doctor think there was anything seriously wrong with me?"

"No," I said laughingly lying in my teeth. "No. You're in perfect shape. He said he wouldn't have to look at you again. He said when you woke up you'd be okay."

"I do remember something about this hotel," Buttle frowned. "It's very strong in my mind. This is the Hotel Harmony, isn't it?"

"It certainly is," I said quickly.

Buttle thought a minute. "I want to buy it," he said suddenly. "That's what was sticking in the back of my mind. I remember that it's a wonderful buy. Very urgent that I snap it up."

I was beaming as I fished into my pocket and drew out the sales contract I'd had ready and prepared ever since he arrived. I handed him the contract and the fountain pen Colonel Applegate produced.

"Here you are. Better grab it now."

Buttle looked it over. "Cheap at the price," he said.

"Sign right there, Mr. Buttle," I told him. "Then I'll sign, and the colonel and his friend," I indicated Hoako, "can sign as witnesses to the deal."

I felt like yowling and screaming for joy. Inside everything was a warm, flushed elation. This was triumph. Triumph after almost certain defeat.

But Mr. Buttle was holding the pen and the contract and looking at me queerly.

"What did you call me?" he asked.

"Why, Mr. Buttle," I said. "I knew you were Buttle the moment I saw you, even though you registered here as John Smith—incognito."

"But I am not Mr. Buttle," he said. "My name is John Smith. What's all this about?"

Everything inside me started turning around like a top.

"What?" I squealed.


AND at that instant someone was knocking on the door, and Hoako was across the room to open it. A bellhop stood there. Next to him was a tall, thin, dyspeptic chap with gray hair and a miserly set to his mouth. "This gentleman insisted on being taken to you immediately, sir," the bellhop declared, addressing me. "He said his name is Mr. Buttle."

"You're damned right my name is Mr. Buttle," said the tall, gray haired drink of acid, striding into the room.

His eyes flashed from me to the colonel and then to Hoako, finally resting on the guy I'd mistaken for Buttle. They seemed to read the contract my chubby mistake held in his hand at a glance.

"What's this?" the tall, thin, real Buttle demanded. "Is that fourflusher trying to buy this hotel out from under my nose?"

The chubby, ex-Mr. Buttle, John Smith by fact, rose indignantly to his feet.

"Whoever you are, sir, I won't be so insulted. You're damned right I'm buying this hotel," he declared, clutching the contract in his fat little paw.

"At what price?" thundered the acidulous old gent who was really Buttle.

The John Smith who'd been mistaken for Buttle looked down at the contract in his hand. He looked up.

"Listed price," he said. "Fifty thousand."

"I'll pay seventy-five," said our newcomer angrily.

"I'll pay a hundred thousand," said the ex-Mr. Buttle.

"A hundred and five thousand," said the thin, gray, real Buttle.

My head was swimming. A hundred and five grand—twice what I thought I'd get!

"A hundred and ten thousand," said the chubby little John Smith, after a moment's hesitation. He seemed to be dreading another bid upping. It showed on his face, and the real Buttle saw it.

"A hundred and twenty," said old acid pan.

There was a silence. The fat, round, little John Smith choked. Tears came to his eyes.

"I don't have any more money than my last bid," he said.

The thin, honest-injun Buttle grinned triumphantly. He snatched the contract from the guy I'd originally thought to be Buttle. He pulled a fountain pen from his pocket, scratched his name across the bottom, and handed it to me. I signed promptly, then the colonel and Hoako completed the deal with their witnessing signatures. I pocketed my copy.

John Smith watched it all disconsolately.

The thin, acidulous Mr. Buttle pulled out three checks. He handed them to me. "You beat my price up," he admitted. "These checks are certified, and amount to a hundred and twenty thousand. I was," and here he grinned gloatingly, "prepared to pay more. But now the bargain is sealed, no backing out. You see, this hotel property will be bought by the government at a handsome price very shortly. They'll put up Factory Number Ten, for gunsights, here."

Colonel Applegate started chuckling. I looked at the real Buttle and then to Applegate, while my stomach turned inside.

"The joke is on you, my dear man," Applegate told the real Buttle. "Factory Ten, for gunsights, has already selected a site. I ought to know. They recently contracted for my Novelty Products Factory. Put me out of business, but with a handsome profit, of course."

It was the real Buttle's turn to look sick.

"That's a lie!" he gurgled.

Colonel Applegate shrugged. "As you like, sir. I know it to be true. I'm but a disinterested spectator."

"And as you said, Mr. Buttle," I threw the last knife into our thin drink-of-acid's neck, "the deal is sealed. You can't back out!"

I started for the door then, my knees hardly strong enough to hold me up. But in my pocket was the signed contract, plus the certified checks. I wanted to get to a telephone. This time it would be a pleasure to talk to old Mrs. Donovan ...

IT WAS when I was walking out of the lobby of the Hotel Harmony the following day, bags in hand and headed for the swank hotel I now manage, that Colonel Applegate, carrying a telegram in his hand, staggered weakly over to me and grabbed my arm.

"Look," he said chokingly. "Look at that. I'll sue the bounder. I have a contract. I've made bookings. I'll sue him!"

I took the telegram from his trembling hand.


AM ON WAY TO WASHINGTON, AFTER BEING ACCEPTED THIS MORNING FOR SECRET SERVICE DUTY. FEEL IT ONLY RIGHT I SERVE U. S. MIGHT BE OF HELP. HOPE YOU UNDERSTAND.

JOE, HOAKO THE HINDU, JOBE.


"The Secret Service!" Colonel Applegate groaned. "Hoako has joined the Secret Service!"

I grinned, thinking of the little guy who could make things vanish and people disappear. Maybe he could try his hand on Hitler.

"It's just like you said yesterday morning, Colonel," I answered. "Those damned priorities!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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