## Trenchcoats and Cutthroats

Writers:

• Bike Repair Man
• The Grodd
• System Masterer
• The Imposter
• The Torch
• Barney Bear
• Dippy Bird
• El Loco
• Thomas Covenant
• Big Dave Diode
• Skillprof
• The Unbeliever
• Charlotte
• Fred The Yak
• Thomas Covenant
• Dippy Bird
• ...and others

 Bike Repair Man A cool refreshing breeze wafted across the acres of well tended lawns owned by eccentric millionaire hermit Eugene Whitmore III. He was alone, by his own choice on his own island in the carrebean. His mansion dominated a hilltop surrounded by the previously mentioned lawns. How did he do it? He has the island automated. every solid object on the island is a mechanical tending device. The lawn had just finished mowing itself. Eugene woke up, smiled at the lovely weather, stretched his arms out and yawned then flicked on the television. Now an explanation of the television will follow. His tellevision is connected through 15 dishes, to 15 sattelites and all communication between anyone and anyone else is known to Eugene when he is watching his television. Bike Repair Man I beg of you Marharishi Gerbil, I need my old identity back, I cannot take being a wetback anymore!" exclaimed the mind of Jake Gerbil from the body of Pedro McTavish. "Heck, In this body, I can't even have a barbecue! Why you ask?! Because the beans keep falling through the grill!" "My son, my follower, my life servent, my underling, my insignificant insect of an entity, I shall grant you this wish, But boy oh boy, this gets tacked onto the dozens of favors you owe me" Boomed the ominous gerbil mind. "Thanks dude, I'll remember it, your holy superiorness whose shoed I would most humbly lick." brown nosed Pedro Gerbil as his transformation proceeded. When that affair was over, Jake Gerbil P.I. climbed down the mountain and returned to life realizing that he would again have to attend to the legal mess of inheriting pedro's stuff back again. The Grodd I awoke suddenly, unexpectedly, and with a start. Much to my chagrin, the first thing I saw was an oddly off-kilter advertisement for Cheddar Melts. Then I realized why it was off-kilter; I was lying on my back somewhere, staring up at a billboard from the ground. Since this didn't seem to be a very macho position to be in, I stood up, brushed myself up, and looked around. I was in a vacant lot, next to a set of railroad tracks. I looked at my watch. 3AM. What the hell was I doing there? The last thing I could remember was walking out of my office to get a take-out order from the Chinese res- taurant across the street. Then nothing. I burped. Obviously, I had been to the restaurant, for I tasted chow mein. At the moment, it looked like I was going to have to investigate my own disappearance. Real neat. Just then, an unmarked police car pulled into the lot. Uh oh. System Masterer "Jake. Jake Gerbil." The PI spun, turning to face the voice. A man stood in a shadow. "Do you know me, Jake?" "I know you. Masters." "I want to hire you Jake." "Suck off, slime bag. I don't work for evil scientists." "I pay double your regular rate, and I don't know your regular rate." "What's the job?" "There's someone trying to take over the world, Jake." "Yeah, I know." "It's not me. If you'll accept the job, I want you to go to the address on this card within two hours. Any later, and the deal's off." "What card?" The man had disappeared. Jake walked over to where he had been, and found a white business card with an address imprinted on it. No name, no phone number, just an address. That guy Masters sure liked wasting money printing business cards with just addresses on them. Barney Beer I had just finished writing another installment of 'The Adventures of Bill Zebop in the 21st Century!!' and I was beat. I walked out of my ground floor office, shucked off my shoes and hopped into the sleeper on my Longnose Pete. I fell asleep almost immediately. I had a dream that I probably wouldn't be writing another one of these C&T stories because I was burned out. Most likely from writing those idiotic 'Bill Zebop' stories. I'd also been told that I'd been rather abrasive and irritable of late. "So what?", said I. I can be irritable if I want. That's the way I've always been. So saying, I slept soundly. Hmmm....I didn't even notice someone taking my Ruger Super Redhawk from it's shoulder holster. Big whoop. I wouldn't need it anyways. I've retired. "What a disjointed story!", someone said loudly. "I told you I was burned out!!", I screamed. I needed a vacation. The Grodd A bright light was shone in my face. I heard the police officer mutter to his partner something rather uncomplimentary about me as he was getting out of the cruiser. He sauntered on over. "Y'got some ID, buster?" "Certainly," I said, reaching for my wallet. I bet you thought it was going to be gone. Well it wasn't. It was there, and I flipped it open to where my Dik Miller, PI identification would normally be. And it was. The cop peered at it for a couple of seconds before he realized that the reason he could not read it was that he was shining his own flashlight in his face. "So you're a private dick, ay?" he asked, obviously not being intentionally witty. "What were you investigating here? The ground?" He chuckled to himself as if he had just made a joke, which, of course, he had not. "As a matter of fact, no. I have no idea what I am doing here at all." "Looks like I'll have to bust you for tresspassing, then." "What?" "This is private property, y'know." "It's a vacant lot." The Grodd "Shut up. You have the right to remain silent..." He babbled on for a few more seconds while he slapped the cuffs on me and frisked me. He found my Ingram Mac-10 submachine gun and Smith & Wesson 9mm automatic pistol, as well as a few Dik Miller (tm) gadgets that I had stored in various places. I was carted off to the car, getting more confused by the second. El Loco The day grew older and the customers left the restaurant. It was closing time for La Boulagerie on the Sunset Strip, and I was bushed. I took my days total in tips and headed for LotusLand. A pub where I could find a brew or two if I felt like it. Tonite was different, though. "Louie, gimme a double whiskey, straight up.", I said, and slapping a $20 on the counter, I added, "And keep filling till we're even." He put the half empty bottle on the counter and said, "That's the rest." "Thanks, Lou.", I replied. I took the glass and dropped it back. It went down my throat feeling like a scouring pad that had been soaked in sulphuric acid. Smooth shit. After a long while of throat-rasping, I was thouroughly inebriated, and in a nostalgic mood. "Hey, Lou! Come here, Lou.", I slurred loudly. "I used to be a P.I. ya know, Lou." "Yeah, sure. What happened? Lost your leads?", he giggled out. He wasn't doing a good job on my emotional state. El Loco "Hell, Lou, I helped keep all the Jellybeans in the world from turning black!", I stated, and with that, pulled out my case that I always carried with me. It looked like a cigarette case, and when opened, it revealed about a dozen or so jellybeans of assorted color. "See?", I said, proving myself. "Can iI have a red one?", he asked. I snapped the case shut as his hand approached. I replaced it in my pocket. "Those are my -special- jellybeans. They were endowed with a special quality." "What? Mould?", and Lou proceeded to laugh. I picked up the drained whiskey bottle and hurled it across the room, hitting a mirror and smashing it. "NO!", I screamed at him, "THEY WERE GIVEN TO ME BY THE OTHER P.I.'S!", I bellowed. Turning around so Lou wouldn't see my rising emotion, I walked out of the pub, and down the street towards my flat. Where were the P.I.s now? I walked by an all night gun store and picked up a Weilheiler .45 auto with a thin-line laser mount, and 14 shell capacity. El Loco 'I'll never see them again', I thought. 'But buying this baby makes me remember those days. Oh, the glory.' I picked out my case, and looked at the jellybeans of assorted color. "Thanks Guys.", I said to myself and walked home. Barney Beer I woke with a start. Immediately, my hand shot to my shoulder holster where my Ruger Super Redhawk usually is. I sighed in relief as my hand closed around the cherry wood grips of the gun. I withdrew it and studied it in the dim light of the sleeper. I cocked it, flipped out the cylinder, checked it, sighted down the barrel, replaced and spun the cylinder, gently let the hammer down and placed the gun back in the holster. The weight of the gun was reassuring as it pressed against my side. I changed my undies, threw the worn ones into a corner of the sleeper, slipped on a pair of faded jeans, red and blue Adidas socks, my Def Leppard concert T-shirt and a grey windbreaker. Pausing only to grab my baseball cap, I leapt out of the sleeper and onto the pavement. Luckily, my Daytons were still laying where I left them the day before. I sat on the curb to put them on, drawing stares from passers-by. I had an urge to pull my gun, but I overrode it. I had business to attend to and I couldn't be delayed. Barney Beer I walked into my office, grabbed a MAT-49 submachine gun, a Remington 1A-191 combat shotgun and a Dragunov Sniper Rifle off of a wall rack and dumped them onto my desk. I dumped a mess of hockey gear out of a duffle bag and proceeded to put the guns inside. I shuffled around in my drawers.....my desk drawers....and threw the ammo clips and sundry accessories into the bag as well. I strode out of the office purposefully and walked to my tractor. I climbed in, threw the bag onto the passenger seat and started the truck. The 400 horsepower Cummins diesel roared to life. I could just barely hear the thin whine of the turbo as it spun up to boost. Putting the transmission into the low range, I shifted into the first of 15 gears and rumbled away from the curb I had my guns. I had my truck. I had my Daytons. Life was good. And I was on a case. Again. The Unbeliever A bright street lamp shone down on me as I sat in the plush leather interior of a Ferrari 412 SuperAmerica. A quick glance in the rearview showed a sleazy pub, brightly lit, loud voices pouring out into the blackness of the night. I reached into my breast pocket and extracted a pack of Lucky Strikes and a book of matches. I drew out one cigarette, threw the pack onto the dash and opened the matchbook. I moistened the filter on my lips and placed it in my mouth. A match flared. In the sudden glare, one could have seen my dark and handsome face. But the streets were deserted. Suddenly, a commotion ensued from within the pub, followed by the tinkling of glass. I watched casually in the rearview and spied a lone figure, eyes darting, stagger across the darkened street, trying to be furtive. This was my mark. I reached to the center console on the transmission tunnel and took out a small Walther automatic with silencer. I allowed a smile to creep onto my face. This would be very, very easy. El Loco As I passed under the pale lamplight, I thought of the other PI's, and how I wished I could join them on another case. From behind me and to my left, I heard, "Hey, buddy!". I turned slowly to see who was addressing me and said, "What do you wa..." Flash of light. Muffled popping sound. Searing pain. I didn't finish what I started saying, but fell back as the perferation in my left shoulder drowned itself in blood. Another flash, more sound, more pain. This time, right lower side. I hit the wall of the building and had the Weilheiler in my hand, but it was too late, the car was gone. I was washed in blood and pain as I slumped to the ground. My mind told me that the streetlight I was under went out, but my eyes were refusing to work properly. The rest of my body followed suit. I blacked out. Beast Leader When I came to, a dull thumping made thinking unpleasant. I didn't know how long I had been here. "here" was quite undefined. I lay (strapped down) on a kind of mobile cot, i barely percieved the cieling, an average hieght. The walls ahead, left and right, disappeared from the soft glow of the 15 watt bulb, hanging naked, from above. Behind me, a plain wooden door sat silently and gazed at my predicament. I tried the straps: no good. I let myself relax, feeling the need for soothing rest. Somewhere on the edge of consciousness, a friendly silver haired doctor leaned over my body and ordered his assistant nurse, "300 cc lysergic acid diethylamide." A sharp jab slapped me into an upright position. A door slammed, locked. I was free of the straps! Moving to my feet, I tried the door, then kicked it. Looking out at the blackness around me, I carefully started along one wall. Then, a swirl of multicoloured lights, euphoria, blackness. The Grodd "You're booking me for WHAT?" I asked, not sure if I has heard it correct- ly the first time. The duty officer grimaced at me through the rolls of fat around his face. I was tempted to make some sort of comment about dating Dana Zalko, but I refrained, lest that lead me into a worse situtation than the one I was already in. "We're charging you with aggravated assault, battery, and robbery." "What the hell for? And who? Where? When? What is going on here?" I was gettin g somewhat frustrated. "The details about all that sort of stuff will be given to you later. Let it suffice to say that you are in the proverbial deep shit." "But..." "Take him away." I was led off to a cell. Big Dave Diode Elmer the Safety Elephant strolled innocently down the darkened street, and gazed in surprise at the prone form bleeding quietly in the corner. With a sniff of disgust, he continued on his way. >Sqeek< Went his tricycle. One of these days he was going to have to get it oiled. A shot rang out. Elmer's tricycle disintegrated. He totterred off, waving his purple trunk anxiously. The Unbeliever I floored the gas pedal and the Ferrari squealed away from the curb. Making sure that I had not been followed, I made my way back to my unobstrusive flat on the edge of town. Allowing myself to feel a slight modicum of elation at a job well done, I failed to notice a large Peterbilt tractor racing along in the direction I had come. Little did I know the significance of that truck and it's present mission. At the moment though, I felt like celebrating and all else fled my mind. I parked the car in a covered garage and walked casually into the basement. My good mood disintegrated as I noticed that the door had been forced sometime during my absence. My features hardened into a grimace and my eyes became steely but not fixated. I had not exppected someone to be tracking me in my own home. I made a mental note to be more careful next time and to move my operation elsewhere. But now I had a decision to make. The Unbeliever Did I have time to return to my car and retrieve my gun? Or did I rely on my little 'surprise'? Hesitating for only a moment, I reached down to my left ankle and detached the Ruger Speed-Six from it's holster. Knowing that I'd already announced my arrival with my carelessness, I decided that the direct approach would be best. I walked 2 metres to my right to stand in front of a small 4-paned window. I took two steps and leapt through the window with a horrendous crash. I could only hope that the sound had stunned my opponent for the nonce. Executing a perfect shoulder roll, I landed erect and alert, my gun pointing directly at.....someone. He stood, almost non-chalantly, looking in my direction. The second I'd looked into his face, I knew that he was cast from the same mold as I. Cold, ruthless and calculating. I held the gun on him, expecting some trick. He only spoke, calmly, "Your boss sent me to procure your services, Freeman. I'm Jake Gerbil, PI." Barney Beer I had to hurry to keep my appointment with El. He'd sounded desperate. I knew that he'd been mentally unstable at one point in his life. I just hoped that he hadn't gotten himself into soemthing that he couldn't handle. I passed through a quiet neighbourhood at over 90 mph, the exhaust roaring out of the two silver chromed stacks. In the fringe of my peripheral vision I noticed a charcoal grey Ferrari 412 parked under a covered garage. I thought little of it at first glance. Little did I know what the significance of that car would be. Nearing my destination, I sensed trouble. There was far too much commotion for this sector and time of night. A number of emergency vehicles had sped along and through the route that I was now on. I slowed appreciably to let them by. Perplexed now, I sat in the truck, the engine idling. Where was El Loco? had he caused this mess? There was the pub he frequented. There were a few of his friends walking about. I leapt from the cab of the truck and walked over. Barney Beer Lou the bartender looked shaken. I laid a hand on his shoulder and spun him around. He was a big man. He loomed over my own 6'5" solidly built frame. But now, he was sobbing visibly. I shook him by the shoulders. "What's happened here?! Where is El Loco!?!" All he could do was point. I peered in the direction he had indicated. I ran as fast as my legs would carry me, to a darkened street corner. This was where the emergency vehicles and police were congregating. I pushed through the throng only to be restrained a number of policemen. I demanded to know what had happened. All I could get out of them was that there had been a mysterious shooting a short time ago. I broke away from their grasp and walked back towards the truck. I knew now that Loco was involved. I turned to watch an ambulance speed away to the hospital. The one who did this would pay, I vowed solemnly. El Loco White. All white. And a wailing sound that came and went in a steady whine. 'Are my eyes open?' I thought, 'Am I dead? If I am, it hurts like shit.' "Gimme 500 milligrams of adrenalin, STAT." I heard, followed by, "He's breathing okay, but he's in bad shock, and he needs blood, BAD." I tried to move, but seemed immobilized. I tried to make a sound, but my lungs were preoccupied with breathing heavily. "He's blood type AB negative.", said one. "Shit." said another, and, "We've got one pint, that's it." "Who cares, we'll make it to the hospital in time." replied the first. "Who shot him?" the second asked. "No one saw, and no one knows why. He was walking home from LotusLand." "Poor guy. Do you think he has a chance?" My mind screamed out. I knew there was going to be an answer. I didn't want to know. After a long pause, the first said, "In his condition, it could go either way." There was a moment of silence, and I returned to oblivion. The Imposter From the Journal of Jake Gerbil, P.I. Dear Diary, How are you? I am fine. Okay, okay, I'm not fine. Things have been getting wor... I tore the paper from the book and bunching it up in a ball, threw it into my trash can. Dik was sitting in the only other chair in the office, reading a newspaper. I quietly walked over to the small bathroom that accounted for the excessive price of my new office. I wasn't a great bathroom; hell, it wasn't a great office, but it was all I had. Everything I'd inherited as Pedro had been taken away. My 'rebirth' hadn't thrilled the cops, and they'd seen right through the phony will. Turning on the light I gazed into the mirror and opened my mouth wide. It was worse. Much worse. Sharpened canines, receeding gums, and an almost foggy image staring back at me. I wore sunglasses constantly now, to avoid three things. First, being recog- nised by the cops, second, having my ever-reddening pupils frighten anyone around, and third... The Imposter to protect my eyes from the sunlight that felt like it burned right through me. Like everything else the Bwana did, my 'rebirth' was a two edged blade. Sure, I had my old body back, but it was my OLD body. Day by day, looking into that mirror and seeing a stranger I'd avoid any day, I became more and more certain that my speculation was correct: I was turning into a vampire. My features weren't changing much, but the fangs were just too much for this detective. I returned to my desk and looked across at Dik. He didn't complain after I'd told him the scam. "You okay Jake? You look a little, well, pale" he said ominously. "Nah, just a touch of the.." a knock came at door. I opened it to reveal Masters. "Come into my office, freely and of your own will" I said. Damn! I was even talking like a vampire. "Hello Jake, Dik." "Now now, no need for name-calling" I replied. "I was saying hello to Dik you idiot." Oh. Suddenly the hunger came again, and I almost fell over in pain. The Imposter I reached into my jacket and pulled out a vial filled with V-8 colored liquid. I'd had to buy blood off the black market; it turned out blood banks were only open for deposits, not withdrawels. "Jake! Am I to understand that Maharishi Gerbil's finest student is taking drugs?" drawled Masters. I tried to stare icycles at him, but started to shiver and said "Just something the doctor gave me. Toothache." He didn't seem interested anymore and turned to Dik. "As you gentlemen are aware, someone is trying to take over the world." "Yeah, I know." said Dik "No you ninny! It's not me, someone else, someone...evil." he intoned ominously. "Oh and you were the fairy god-father eh?" I said, tired of everyone acting as if the world was going to end. Well, taken over anyway. "I wasn't going to keep the world you know," he sounded hurt. "Just sort of play with it for a while." "Enough!" bellowed Dik. "Why don't you just tell us what you want us to do." System Masterer "Gentlemen, this is the situation. As you know, I have remarkably large resources at my disposal. Some of these resources include survellance all over the world. "My sources have shown that somebody or somebodies are trying to control the world through the use of an exceptionally rare mineral. This mineral is called byzantium. The principal characteristic of byzantium is its amazing ability to nullify magnetic fields." The two PIs stared with a look of amazement and confusion. "With sufficent quanitities, they could set up areas where no electrical devices work at all. A little creativity, and they could make a mobile unit that could be placed somewhere, and shut down everything and anything electrical or electronic. Imagine the havoc one could wreak if they had access to... say the military computers of the Pentagon." Dik and Jake looked at Masters gravely. This was serious. "Now let me show you what little information I have gathered... I have little time to spare." System Masterer As near as I can figure, these people, for I believe it is a group, have discovered the single largest source of byzantium." Masters opened a large map of the Mediterraean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. "Right here." He pointed to an area several hundred miles out to sea. Jake peered at him with slight amusement, Dik looked puzzled. "That, my friends, is the resting place of the lost city of Atlantis." "Atlantis?" Dik said questioningly, "Nobody knows where Atlantis is." "I do." Barney Beer I was becoming more and more puzzled by the minute. Had I heard correctly? Had we been hired by Masters? Had the guy that beat the crap out of me and shot El Loco, working for Masters and 'on loan' to us? Why was I asking so many questions? I finally woke from my impromptu nap. There was a dull, throbbing pain in the vicinity of my left ear, but I deserved it. I was much too careless in my approach of the tall man. He looked smugly in my direction. I felt like kicking him where it counts, but he'd probably beat me to the punch. Again. I walked over to Jake's desk and picked up my gun. I checked the cylinder to find all of my bullets missing. I shot an angry look at the man, but all I got in return was a smile, a nod and a casual salute. Dik threw the ice pack into the trashcan and sat on the corner of the desk, studying Jake. Jake gnawed his lower lip, chewed his knuckle and sweated. Very strange, indeed. I turned my back to them and furtively reloaded my gun with an evil glint in my eye. The Imposter It seemed we were one big happy family again. Whoopee. It looked like we were stuck with this case, so I decided it was time to get George. George the gun. Going back into the bathroom I opened the medicine cabinet. "Hey Jake, whatcha doing?" bellowed Barney, lowder than necessary. "Oh, just some medicine, you know," I pulled out my gat, "pain killer," then a my handcuffs, "band-aids, you know, that kind of stuff." "anything else?" he queried. "Yep, constipation reliever" and I removed my silver bladed knife. Skillman It's a good job I had a police scanner going all the time in my lab (what good law abiding citizen doesn't?). I picked up the police report of an "El Loco" being held at St. Thomas. I was out the door immidiately, almost tripping over my cat on the way out. My sleeping cat. My cat that was STILL sleeping AFTER I drove off! A few minutes later, I was at the hospital. Good job it was only 3 blocks away, or I'd really have been up the river. This rush-hour-old-folks-home traffic is murder. A shadow of a large "4" appeared in front of me - then it was gone. Anyways, I faked up some phoney release papers and marched into the hospital (well, not marched). "Hi! I'm Dr. Shweinhunt. I've come for a patient named Loco. His brother needs a kidney" (it was all I could think of. @ "He doesn't have a brother" "He does now!". I couldn't be bothered arguing with the nurse, and ran up the stairs to his room, hauled him out of bed, down the elevator, and out the door. We were history. The Unbeliever I still didn't quite trust Bear, even though I'd been reassured over and over by Miller and Gerbil. Miller and Gerbil. Sounds like a law firm. Miller, Gerbil, Freeman and Bear sounds eve more like a bunch of lawyers. Hmmm, there's probably some significance in that, but right now that wasn't my main concern. My main concern was to complete my assignment to kill El Loco The other PIs were secondary. If they got in my way, though, I'd have to kill them, too. While I carefully formulated my plans, Gerbil checked his weapons, Bear was thinking of a way to outsmart, and possibly neutralize, me and Miller stood by looking professional. What kind of professional, I did not know. Maybe a bedpost cleaner or a bicycle seat sniffer. I glanced at my watch and decided that we'd wasted enough time. I could not abide this inactivity that the PIs seemed to relish. Eat, sleep, eat, sleep. The world would be a better place without them. Maybe I would take the time out to exterminate them, heh heh. The Unbeliever "I suggest we use those platinum cards, instead of staring at them and watching the colours change on the holographic image." Miller and Gerbil turned towards me. Bear seemed to be pre-occupied with something. "Hey, there's an idea!", Miller exclaimed. "Ok, sounds good to me.", Gerbil said slobberingly, barely stifling a burst of maniacal laughter. In any case, he continued to waver around, stare about with wide-open eyes and curl up the corners of his mouth, displaying his teeth. "What about you, Bear?", I asked. He spun around from the window he was gazing out of. I couldn't tell what he was thinking, but from the general expression on his face I got the impression that he hated my guts. "Yeah, what?", he snarled. "Do you want to start on this case?", I reiterated. He thought this over for the moment and said bluntly, "What?" Gerbil and Miller groaned audibly. I didn't wait for more stupid answers and walked from the office and down to the street below. System Masterer The sun broke over a grassy knoll. The brilliant orange and yellows of the morning sillouetted two men, facing eachother. They drew swords, and began to fight. The moves of experienced swordsmen blurred by faster than sight, striking, parrying, counter-strike. The younger of the two made a minute error, his timing out by a fraction. The elder seized the opportunity, and, moments later, had disarmed his opponent and pinned him to the ground. The Great Master helped Torch to his feet. "My son, truly you are one of the greatest of ours in history. Yet, you have more to learn." "He is finished training." The two ninjas snapped around to face the voice. A man, dressed in a black gi with a red belt faced them both, holding a katana loosely in his left hand. "Who dares..." "I do." The two Masters faced off. The battle ensued. Moments later, the Great One broke off. "You will state your name to me." "Masters. Richard Masters." "He is yours." "Come with me, Torch." El Loco Running for your life is common practice among PI's, but Wheeling for your existence is another matter. This is what I was attempting, with the help of Skillprof. My shoulder was not so bad, but my side hurt like I was holding a barbed spear in my flesh. "Shit, Skill," I moaned, "where are we going?" "Out of here, buddy, you got cops that want answers from you." I remembered my previous conversation with the Doctor, and I grappled with hidden thoughts of my recent past. I remember light, shots and pain, but nothing of my surroundings or frame of mind. After being dumped into Skillprof's car, and a gut-gripping nausea took over, mixed with pain. The nausea won, and filled my mind with a pale, ruddy blur. The thoughts again. Fight them. Impossible. Those two thundering bullets of pain ripping into and through my flesh, grating tissue in the process. I fought the urge to black out and triumphed, only to realize searing pain from my side. "Help me Skill...", I winced. Blackout again. Skillman El hurt. He hurt bad. I guess that's understandable with rather large holes in one's shoulder and stomach. We raced back to my lab, taking alley's to avoid cops, and narrowly escaping a certain-death accident with some dumb bitch turning into my alley. at last. We were here. I just hope those lasing devices I had made really DID work. I plopped him down on my lab bench, laser fired up overhead, and went to work.. Barney Beer "The dirty scum! I'll get him!", I thought grimly. "The dirty scum! I'll get him!", I yelled, surprising Jake and Dik. I grimaced and gestured aggressively and stalked back to the window. Down below on the street, I saw Freeman leaning against my truck, still parked partly on the road and partly on the sidewalk, it's entire front end embedded into the building. A sudden fury filled me and like a berserker, I went absolutely wild. I gripped Jake's desk and flung it through the window with a terrific crash. I was slightly off the mark and missed Freeman completely, serving only to dent my truck's hood. Jake literally flew (batwings?) to where I stood and grappled with me. Suffer- ing from some fear of the supernatural, I fought back with vigor. That's when I felt the sharp fangs pierce the skin of my left upper arm. Pain shot through my arm, neck and chest as I desperately tried to push Jake away. I was on the very very verge of unconsciousness, when I saw Dik come to my aid. Then there was nothingness Scratch beep..."this is your landlord Mr. Scratch, your six month in arrears...click Shaddup! beep..."Hey Cat my man, dis is your bookie...your six months in arrears..click Jeez where've I hoid dat before. beep..."Cat honey, my period is six months in arrears...click Crissakes, dey mus' all belong to da same family! beep....Cat your needed by the PI's stay by your phone and someone will call and let you know where to go. Now dat's more like it. Myrddin Brown sat at his desk. His 7 foot frame was streched to its fullest. The sign on the door said. Bobby Brown, PI, he had never had a job before. A PhD in Geophysics and Electronic Engineering but there were never any job openings in those fields. Oh well maybe someone out there would need help. Bobby picked the nail clippers out of the desk drawer and began to cut his toenails; Damn! it took a long time to clip all 12 of them nails. The Torch Richard Masters led me into a taxi-cab. From there we proceeded to the airport. Not a word had been uttered. Between us that is. We sat comfortably in the reserved special deluxe beyond first class section. "I have a problem", Masters started off with. I did not deign to respond. He explained his problem to me. "I want you to find and kill the people who are trying to take over the world". I still did not say anything. I would do this task for him, for my Master had taken gold from him. "Take as much time as you need to prepare yourself, but know that the PIs are already on the case." He had even thought to book us on a flight to Okinawa. "Your Master decided to send you to study at the Nine Fingers Ryu". Now I was impressed. The school I was being sent to was incredibly elite, and I was surprised that my Master would even inform Masters of it's location. Shortly, my training would be complete. The Torch "Do you agree to do as contracted?" he asked. What a silly Westerner he was, I had been hired. I would complete my contract, or die. "Swear by your mother's name, your REAL mother's name." he said. "I also found out your real name too., Low". My face broke it's stoney wall for a second, but he saw it. "Yes, I know your real name, Duk Down Real Low. And your mother's". I swore I would complete my mission, which was really quite redundant. Firstly, any mission taken would be completed, and secondly, I had only the code of ninjitsu to follow and swearing on names was to be laughed at. But Masters biggest fault was that he was Western. Little did he know that once I was finished my training, he would fall as chopped wheat to my sword if I so desired. I got off the plane, leaving him onboard. I made my way towards the hidden dojo. Barney Beer I opened my eyes to see what looked a high ceiling. I noticed a number of large cracks radiating from a single point. This probably meant something, too but I was just too bummed out to care. I seemed to be spending alot of time laying on my back, unconscious and this was getting me down. SI tried to prop myself up on my elbow, but experienced a burning pain in my blood clotted around it. The memory of how that came about was fresh in my mind. I looked around the office, but Dik and Jake were nowhere to be seen. I leapt up and strode to the window. It was still mangled and shattered. I looked down to the street and noticed that my truck was missing! The dirty rats had stolen my truck! Probably that Freeman guy's idea. I smacked my right fist into my left hand and thought about the terrible tortures that I'd make him endure. Feeling a little better after that, I walked out of the office and down to the street. The Imposter In the heat of confusion I found myself lost in the shuffle. unaware of quite what had gone on and where it had gone to, I became nervous and soon began flying away, towards the centre of the city where I could cloak myself in the anonimity of the crowds. I wondered just how fast I could fly as a bat, until I realized I wasn't a bat at all. My wings were feathered, not leathered, and a quick nasal appraisal showed that I had a beak, as opposed to a squinty little nose. With a startled cry I said "Oh no! I'm not a bat, but a useless old crow. Instead of being fearsome and deadly and hot, I'm short and ugly and liable to get shot. Then I realized the worst of the crimes, I was starting to talk in verse and in rhymes. WI wondered to myself with what I was hit, to make me so silly and talk like a twit. That the Bwana had dones this there simply was no doubt, it was another practical joke conjured by the old lout. The Grodd Grind, crunch, grind, grind. "Have you ever driven a semi before?" asked Freeman. "Of course I have," I replied. Then I thought better of it. "No. Never. Not once. Nope. I lied." I tried shifting again, but I was rewarded with another grind of the gears. "You DO know how to work air brakes, don't you?" "Um... no." "Marvellous. Bloody marvellous. Just where are we going anyway?" "The library." "What the hell for?" "We need to start somewhere." "This is going to be one of those lives." The Unbeliever I could only imagine what Bear was doing now. He must have deduced that Miller and I had stol...umm, appropriated his Peterbilt. I fervently hoped that Bear didn't know what kind of damage Miller was doing to the transmission. This point was exemplified by another screeching, grinding gear change. We rounded a corner and the library hove into view. If you've ever seen a library hover or float, then you must tell me about it, because this is just a figure of speech used to infer a sense of boding fatefulness. I shook my head, trying to forget my past as a professor at a major university teachingthematic approaches to modern literature and studies in literary genres. I reminisced about my former lives and my many occupations. I had to profess that my present identity and occupation were most satisfying. The truck lurched as Miller shifted again, and I was jolted from my reverie. I loathed using words like 'reverie' because I knew that someone would use it in a future episode. I sighed deeply. Barney Beer Gun in hand, I ran down to street-level. I could feel another berserker fury rising up. I tried to force it down, knowing full well that anything that moved would likely have a number of .44 magnum sized holes in it. I looked around and surveyed the area. I'd need a car to catch those thieves with and my eyes fell upon a bright red Maserati Merak parked across the street. I stalked over and noticed a yuppie-ish looking guy sitting in the driver's seat. He lowered the passenger side window and gave me one of those who-the-hell-are-you-what-do-you-want-touch-my-car-and-die-those-shoes-don't- go-with-that-shirt-I-loathe-truck-drivers-wearing-mackinaws-and-Daytons looks. After looking at me for what seemed an eternity, ot at least the time it took to say that last sentence, he closed the window and turned back to reading his financial journals. I went berserk. I ran to his side of the car, beat the living shit out of him, stole his keys and took his car. I laughed maniacally for awhile. Dippy Bird "So, it's you. I thought you were going to stop the PI's for me, I thought you were supposed to be really tough. You were supposed to take care of the PI's for me, and now, after the whole thing blows over, you saunter in here expecting me to do something about it, hmm?" "Look here, you stupid twit, I've had it about up to here with your nonsense. I have a good mind to turn you in to the SPCA. I've seen what you do to sheep." Masters went white. "No! Don't do that. Look, I've gone straight, I've just hired all the PI's, we're all on the same side now, see? Just read the previous messages." The guy paused, sorting through the other entries. "Hmm, well, ok, that's all fine and dandy, but just what am I supposed to do? "Well, I really don't know, but you can start out by indenting at the the beginning of your paragraphs." Dippy Bird "Then after you do that, you can join in with the rest of the PI's and hunt down the guy who's trying to take over the world. And this time I don't want any trouble from you." The guy pondered this proposition for a few moments. "What would I get out of this?" "I'll give you an American Express platinum card." Masters offered. "I don't need any earthly commodoties. There is only one thing I want in the world." "Yes, well, what is it?" "A really big stuffed giraffe with a tag that says 'You're #1 for me' on it" "Sorry, that can't be done." "Ok, well then I'll take the credit card." "Fine." Masters handed him the card. The guy put it in his pocket and walked back to the emergency escape hatch. "What're you doing?" Masters screamed "You can just leave! We're 20,000 feet in the air!" "So? Why should The Death Bird care?" he replied, before wrenching the door open and jumping from the steel craft. The Grodd I discovered how to operate air brakes when I pressed the brake pedal to the floor and nothing happened. I was about to pump the brakes again, but when I released the pedal the truck crunched to a squealing, grinding, adjective- filled halt right in front of the library. Freeman and I stumbled out of the massive vehicle, and I hoped fervently that no one would notice that we were parked in a taxi zone. I opened the front door of the library and rushed inside, Freeman close on my heels. "Okay," he said, wheezing slightly. "Now what?" I gave him an evil eye. "I'm thinking. I'm thinking." "You mean you dragged me all the way down here and you don't even know what you're doing?" "You obviously haven't been a private eye for long. Just let me do the work. Remember, you're only a few messages old." The Unbeliever "Who said I was...", I let that trail off. I didn't want Miller to know that I wasn't really a PI, but an assassin hired to exterminate El Loco. Then I thought about that for a little while. Why the hell was I trying to kill El Loco? Then it dawned on me. Ba-ding! Lightbulbs and the works. I'd been subjected to some kind of memory-blanking procedure. That had to be the answer. It had damn well better be the fucking answez 'cuz I was running out of ideas! But, anyways, I thought I'd start awalking again, seeing as Miller was slowly but surely widening the distance between us. I hate it when I (and everyone else) have these totally phenomenal, mind-bending conversations with ourselves and don't know how much real-time we've actually wasted. If you understood that explanation, I've got a mushroom farm for sale (cheap!). Miller looked back at me quizzically. Possibly because everytime I stopped to think, I lurched, staggered and sometimes crawled along due to loss of motor control. Ho hum. Barney Beer The tires squealed and smoked as the Maserati dived into the corner. I'd catch those rotten truck-thieves in no time, I thought, grinning like a fiend as I stomped the accelerator, causing the rear end to break loose. Yes, I'd get those bums for stealing my truck. And for stealing my sniper rifles, my submachine gun and my combat shotguns, too. If there was anything more dear to me than my Peterbilt Conventional, it was my gun collection. That thought made me even angrier. And another thing that really bugged me was the fact that this story was moving really slow. This made me very, very angry. When and if I ever caught that Masters idiot, I'd teach him not to invent a boring plot!! With that off my chest, I could resume my chase of Miller and Freeman. And maybe give Jake a swift kick for biting me on the arm, the scum. Then I realized that I was out to get just about everybody. I resolved to mellow out , but only after killing those on my hitlist. (more maniacal laughter) System Masterer Masters reclined comfortably in a lawn chair with his wife, Mrs. Masters. The afternoon sun of Rio De Janerio shone hotly on the couple as Masters studied his reports intensly, his loved one peeking over her Vaurnets at her husband, contemplating various suggestive comments. Death Bird, Masters thought. Now there is an interesting twist. I wonder what he'll do. I wonder what's left of his mind. I wonder who's side he's actually on. Then again, no one knows who's side I'm actually on. Unless they think a little. I'm always on my side. He glanced at the report again. His men had failed to contact Freeman at the arranged place. Losing an inside man was a real problem. If Freeman had managed to break through his conditioning, he was going to be real mad. If he hadn't, perhaps the hypnotic suggestions that would cause him to become El Loco were too strong, and he had, in effect, truly become El Loco. Of course, all this hinged on killing Loco in the first place. System Masterer If Loco was still alive, then there was a real problem. Freeman may have thought that Loco was dead, and is now becoming like him anyway, or worse, his primary hypnotic programming is satisfied that Loco is dead, but his lower suggestion to become Loco is not, in which case... a trained assassin is floating around out there, trying to figure out what's happening to his head. If that has happened, then Freeman can't make the meeting points, because his memory is erased upon the death of Loco... or the belief of the primary that Loco is dead. Mrs Masters rose, whispered something in Masters' ear, and wandered inside. Masters closed his eyes, allowed his head and neck to relax, and dropped the report on the ground. "To hell with it... I think too much." Masters muttered. Leaving the report beside the lawn chair, he entered his suite. The Grodd I garnered several strange looks as I swept up to the microfiche catalogue with a dramatic, sweeping motion of my trenchcoat. I had been practicing it and thought that this was a good time to use it. I was wrong. "That looked stupid," said Freeman bluntly. "Really stupid." I glared at him as I selected the SUBJECT/TITLE fiche from the folder and stuffed it into the reader. Whimper, Whonnock, Whitmore. That was it. "What's it?" asked Freeman. Only then did I realize that I had said it out loud. "Eugene Whitmore III," I replied devillishly. "Our first clue." "How do you know?" I wondered if I should tell him that it was in fact a wild guess and that I in fact had no idea what I was looking for. Only later would I realize what an incredible blunder I had made when I passed up Whitmore's name as too unrealistic for a maniacal bad guy. The Grodd I removed the fiche and stared at it solemnly for a few seconds before giving Freeman an answer. "All right then. I'll try something else if you're going to be such a smartass." I picked up the M fiche and read it. "Here. Masters. Richard Masters." "But he hired us." "Indeed. But what better place to start?" I wrote down the information the microfiche gave me and looked around for the section to which it referred me. I was halfway across the floor when a Maserati came crashing through the plate glass windows at the front of the library. At the wheel was a crazed Barnard Q. Bear, and he looked like he was out for blood. "That's my car!" shouted Freeman, drawing his gun. Barn spun the wheel and gunned the engine, chewing up some of the expensive but tacky carpet with which the library lobby was decorated. He aimed the exotic Italian sportscar directly at Freeman. "Wait!" I shouted. "What the hell do you think you are doing?!" Thomas Covenant I was in the library obtaining some necessary information after receiving an anonymous tip that one of the local PI's was in fact a semi-human vampire. Well, you know, that's my job. People see vampires, they call Dale Dougall, Vampire Hunter. "Let see, 'Gelatin,' 'Generics,' Aha.. Here it is.. 'Gerbil.' That's got it." I stuffed the fiche into my coat and looked up just in time to see some wally trying to be dramatic with a trench-coat. I spent some time wondering if I'd get any lucky leads as to where I could find this Jake Gerbil character. There was a loud crash, and I was startled to see a Maserati come crashing through the window, with a huge, extremely threatening-looking man behind the wheel. He seemed to be rather peeved at the goofy-looking guy in the trenchcoat, and another man who was looking over his shoulder. I ran over to them, wondering if I could be of any service. "Can I be of any service?" I enquired of the goofy guy in the trenchcoat. He looked as though he was... Thomas Covenant ...fearing for his life, or at least his bodily functions. "I'm Dale Dougall." The man seemed not to care. With good reason, of course. The big pyschotic in the Maserati had gotten out from behind the wheel and was stomping towards us. He appeared to be armed. Heavily armed. El Loco "Laser Surgery?" I said, baffled. "Yeup, " Skillprof said, directing my focus to a large apparatus, "Fred worked wonders on you." There were no scars. No marks. Nothing. He had done a first rate job. "I haven't seen you in ages Skill." I said after a moment. "It's good to see you lived, Loco." "Thanks." "Why, Skill?", I asked finally. "Did he shoot you?" came the reply, "I can't say why...I don't know." "Who?" "Don't have that answer either." The last statement preceded a long pause, and then, "I want to kill him." I announced quietly. "Well, that'll be hard to do. How do you find him?" "I'll know the moment I see him." Footfalls. Open and close of Lab door. More footfall. Another door sequence, and then the motorcycle roared to life and carried Loco home. Home to wait. Dippy Bird I stared at the three individuals who stood just a few centimeters away from the hood of my brand new shiny maserati. At least those platinum cards will buy nice cars. I opened the door and got out to approach the three PI's. They all seemed quite worried about the large hole in the side of the library. Obviously they'd never tried driving while being dead. It really isn't as easy as the media makes it look. "Hey, wait a minute, you're that Death Bird guy!" one of them said. I recognized him as being Dik Miller, one of the PI's. The other two I didn't know, but one looked very strange. The strange one spoke up. "I'm Dale Dougall, I'm Dale Dougall! Ahahahaha, I'm Dale Dougall!" He was obviouslly having some sort of meta-physical plasma-seizure. I quickly bopped him on the head with a copy of the Encyclopedia of Nicely Colored Fish. He quickly snapped out of it. Dippy Bird I didn't know it at the time, but Dougalls's seizure was a result of his being extremely close to a dead person. That kind of thing happens to those vampire hunters when they're around dead people. Especially live ones. "I haven't seen the likes of you for at least 50 or 60 messages! Where have you been?" Miller asked. "I co-starred in another one of those Living Dead movies, then I went and visited Masters. He told me the whole story. Then I oriented myself on your astro-cerebral brain impulse waves. Then I bought a Maserati, and smashed through a library wall. Then this Dale Dougall guy had a fit, then you asked me-" "Yes, yes, I know all that. I was there, you know." He inturrupted. "Oh yes, you do don't you?" I replied, when suddenly a red Ferrari screeched into the library, knocking down several display stands. And I thought I was the only one in the city driving italian cars through libraries. Apparently not. Barney Beer I was having trouble remembering who I was. For some reason I had announced myself as Death Bird. Possibly because of the large piece of glass embedded in my forehead? Who knows. I was just about to walk towards Freeman, Dik and some dumpy little guy carrying a mallet and a shoulder bag full of spikes, when all of a sudden a bright red Ferrari came in through the hole the Maserati had made. I spun around, leveling my gun at the driverside of the windshield. I began emptying the Super Redhawk into the passenger compartment as soon as I saw the partly decomposed hand reach through the side window. Quickly, I attached the Glaser Safety Slug Autoloader onto the Redhawk and face Freeman, Dik and the other guy, who was cowering behind a fold in Dik's trenchcoat. Freeman looked at me with what looked like barely restrained amusement. I was just about to put a few teflon filled dumdums into him when I felt the rotting and all-around slimy hand touch my shoulder. This was decidedly unfunny. The Unbeliever I noticed what looked like a Ferrari 412 swerve around a sharp corner and accelrate towards the library. I loosened the Walther auto with silencer in its holster and casually stood behind a concrete pillar. Miller looked in my direction, a question on his lips, when there was a loud crash, followed by the tinkling of glass and the roar of a high-powered car's exhaust. I drew the Walther and stepped out into a clearing. It was Bear as I had expected. Only he would do anything this unpredictable. He caught sight of me and turned the car towards me, only to have the tires thresh and scrabble for purchase on a floor littered with books, broken furniture and untold square feet of folded up expensive carpeting. Bear, not able to get the car moving again, exited it and stalked towards me. At about that time I noticed that the car was a red Maserati Merak. I looked back to see Miller and another man conversing casually. At least Miller kept his cool in tight situations. The Unbeliever I turned back in time to see another red Italian sports car come through the hole Bear had made. A Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer this time, I noted. Bear immediately spun around, emptied his gun into the driver and spun to face me again, while attaching a speedloading device on his gun. I had to admit that he was every inch a professional, if not a complete loonie. Milelr was now showing some concern for his safety, as Bear gestured threaten- ingly towards him and the guy with the vampire-killing tools. Or maybe it was because of the zombie coming up behind Bear, that made Miller anxious. In any case, I felt a sorry for Bear. He'd have a good fright at the very least. When the zombie placed a hand on Bear's shoulder, I could have laughed out loud, except that they seemed to know each other. I thought I heard the zombie speaking to Bear, something about 'wasting bullets on a dead person' and something about his choice of cars. Even though Bear was in good spirits, I kept my gun ready, anyways. System Masterer Two expensive European sports cars sat in the reference section of the Public Library. Two PIs, a vampire killer, a dead man and an as-yet- unidentified assassin stood chatting casually while everyone else in the building ran for their lives. Freeman spoke up. "So you know this guy?" motioning with his gun to Death Bird. "Yes." said Barney and Dik simultaneously. Douglas Dugall caught a look at Barnard's arm. "You've been bitten by a VAMPIRE!" he bellowed. "Shut up! I know that! Where's my truck!" bellowed Barnard. "I dunno." said Doug. "It's outside." muttered Dik. Sirens wailed in the distance. "I think we should leave." said Death Bird. "The cops will be here in a minute, and they never did like PIs, much less sporty cars." The men disbursed, to meet at a local bar some ten blocks away. Barnard took Doug in his Kenworth, Freeman drove Dik in the Ferrari, and Death Bird drove the Maserati. A semi tractor and two sports cars sped down the road, leaving the library. Thomas Covenant I nervously watched the road that was unfolding in front of us, (which is a remarkable thing for several tons of pavement to do,) and considered all that had taken place. It was a good thing I was watching the road, it was clear that Mr. Bear wasn't. Several cyclists made dull thudding noises as they vanished beneath the wheels of the Peterbilt. This didn't appear to phase the guy, which made me slightly tense. Such callousness one of the first symptoms of someone that has been bitten by a vampire. I wondered if he would lead me to this Jake Gerbil character before circumstances forced me to kill him. I continued watching the road, and anxiously tapped my stakes together. I'd been assigned to a singular vampire, and now I had a vampire, a vampire- in-waiting, and some sort of zombie to deal with. This was the most fun I'd had since biology 12. The Imposter As I walked down the street, causing immesurable pain to my already sore feet, I realized my plight, which had hit me last night. Not only was a vampire, but a candidate for the Shakesprear choir. I spoke in verse, and my vampirism was becoming worse, verily things were becoming dire. I reached into my belt pouch and pulled out a vial, as I hadn't drank any blood for quite a while. Ahhhhh... As the delectable hemoglobin sated my thirst, my thoughts returned to the normal unconstructed random sequence of mush that were shared by all good P.I's. It seemed I was a special kind of vampire, one who spent most of the time as a normal person, but when lack of fresh blood set in, turned into a blood-sucker that spoke in rhyme. In short, a double-mixed metaphor lycanthrope vampire. I noticed a rather large truck up ahead, next to two sports cars and a small library. I knew the rest of the group would be there. No one else would be so stup...unique. As I approached the white building... The Imposter I felt a motled hand reach for my arm. Death Bird! After all this time, it must be...but no, it was just an old, filthy drunk. Close though. "What do you want?" I asked violently, and to my eternal regret, he responded, in D minor. "The luuuuv of two wimin s'like a bawl and chain, a bawl and chain, a bawl and chain..." "Will you shut up!" I yelled. No good, he just went on, and on. "The luuuvvv of two wimin s'like a bawl and...ack...gargle.. ..barf" I relaxed my grip on his neck. "Now who are you and what do you want?" He stared somewhat blankly at me and then grinned toothlessly. "M'names Farley. Farley O'Fartson, meanest, toughest, drunkest damn demon this side of the seven hundred and seventy-seven Hells!" "Don't you mean the six hundred and sixty-six Hells?" "Them too." He answered, somewhat confused. "Well, what do you want?" I queried once again. "Jest wanted ta tell you a little story 'bout me and mah life" he answered sheepishly. I sat down on the sidewalk and listened. My mistake Skillman I shouted after El as he roared out on his bike, "Give me a ring if you meet up with PIs...." hope he heard me... I was bored. I had nothing to do - probably the cause of my boredom.. with nothing better to do, I decided to do a bit of hacking and find out what my "old friend" masters had been up to lately.. I found it a little odd that one man could want 3 different Italian cars in the space of 2 days.. very odd. .^ El Loco I shut down the Beamer in it's appropriate spot near to the far left wall of the parkade. Turned around, walked thru the door and to the elevator. The 4th floor light button came on after my voice command, and upward motion commenced. The apartment had been opened, and searched. What a mess. I was to pre- occupied to clean it up, but found the phone and dialed up Skill. It was busy. Call again. Still in use. Reclining into the couch, my mind went on cross-reference detail. Who/why sequences, over and over. Nothing came up except blank guessing. Try Skill again and succeed. "Yeup." was the greeting. "Hi Skill, I sat and thought, and couldn't come up with much. I think that the other PI's can definately help on this one. We have to find them. Soon." There was an agreement, and so we set a meeting. It might take ages to find my would-be assassin, but I was prepared to do what it took. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one footfall. The Grodd As I ordered my customary rum and coke, without the rum, I pondered the impro- bability of three very expensive Italian sportscars, two of them Ferraris, crashing through the one wall of that particular library at that particular time of day. I also wondered at the ineptness of the entire crew of PI's in being unable to distinguish between a Maserati and a Ferrari, much less a 412 and a 512 Berlinetta Boxer, especially since the latter was no longer in pro- duction. Then entire event, in fact, had gone by in a blur, and no one seemed sure of who had crashed through the wall first or who had done what. I filed the incident in the back reaches of my mind for later reference. Death Bird returned. But how? Not only had he been killed more times than is usually necessary to get the job done properly, but he had been entirely vapourized at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. How he could come back to his present semi-decomposing state was beyond me. Then again, I had never been dead. Barney Beer Dale, Death Bird and Freeman sat in a large booth, all talking about different things. Dale spoke fondly of his stakes, Death Bird talked about how to rip people's limbs off with only 2 precise movements and Freeman discussed ways to set up an assassination. I tried to ignore them, but had no luck. It's pretty hard to ignore a vampire hunter, an undead guy and a professional assassin. One good thing about them though; they sure could clear out a bar fast. One look at Death Bird and people were fighting to be the first to leave. I glanced over to Dik. He was looking pretty solemn. Possibly because he had already consumed 7 straight Cokes. Or maybe because he'd made that foolish mistake of confusing a Ferrari 412 with a Maserati Merak and a Ferrari 512BB. Well, I decided to leave him alone. We all needed to unwind. Maybe not as much as Dik was, but still we needed a break from all this stupid non-stop action. A drink in a quiet bar was just the ticket. I hoped it stayed quiet. The Unbeliever "Look, Dougall, I don't give two shits about your 'rapid-fire stakedriver'. All anyone ever needs is a good small calibre, high muzzle velocity automatic with a silencer. Softnose, teflon-filled bullets help, too." I slammed my drink down on the table for emphasis. Dougall looked a little incensed, but shrugged it off. I looked from Dougall to Death Bird to see him/ it/whatever scraping partly decomposed skin from a waxy-looking arm. Very interesting. I paused to inspect his shirtfront which had 6 very large calibre bullet holes in it. I concluded that already being dead was a good way to avoid disabling injuries. Beats my ballistic cloth bodysuit by a mile. Dougall had already begun on his 4th Bloody Mary and was looking a bit soused. Another good thing about being dead was the fact that you didn't get drunk, as evidenced by Death Bird having his 18th Nightmare. Yes, very interesting company I had here. Too bad the mood was spoiled by the warm Dom Perignon '67. I wrinkled my nose in disgust. Scratch Meanwhile Cat Scratch sat in his studio type bachelor pad in the Bronx. The room is littered with chinese take out boxes and empty bottles of Old Crow. Red eyed and distraught while waiting for the phone call pertaining to his instructions, he stares at proliferate spiders as they redecorate his pad. "Guess they're jus' waitin' fer when they really get in a jam....now where is dat Dial a Whore number?" Myrddin Brown had fallen asleep at his desk. In his dreams he was musing over the possibilities of stealing one of those expensive-but-slightly-trashed-sportscars that had just shown up in the Police lock up next door. "Shit!" he dreamed to himself, all I have to drive is that blue Mini with the hair balls under the front bumper. And its stolen too. Bobby slept on, not noticing the shadow that appeared on the otherside of his special door/window. Nope, he didn't even know he was there. Shit what should he care if a glow in the dark stranger was just outside his door. The Grodd "All right guys," I said after I had calculated that I had been musing for long enough. "There must be some way that we can figure out who is trying to take over the world and why he - or she, I suppose - is doing it. We have unlimited expenses, unlimited ammo, unlimited time, and, unfortunately, very limited clues." That evinced nothing but a blank look from everyone else. I looked down at the bottom of my glass. How had I ever been matched up with this sorry bunch? Then again, I thought, this was the same - or nearly the same - sorry bunch that had saved the world from domination by Richard Masters in the first place. I looked at my watch. There was still a green jellybean on it. Memories flood- ed back, but I beat them away with a large and unfriendly stick - metaphor- ically, of course. While I was still musing and the rest of the group was still looking blankly, the phone rang. Ring, ring, it went. Ring, ring. "Yeah what?" asked the bartender as he picked it up. "It's for you," he said. The Grodd I looked up to see him pointing the receiver indelicately at me. I stood up, a bit shakily because of the Coke, and moseyed on over to the bar. Before I spoke, I took out a sanitized tissue and wiped the speaker in order to remove any parasites the bartender had deposited on it. "Miller here," I said. "It's Masters. What's happening?" "At the moment, not a hell of a lot," I muttered sarcastically, peering around at the other PI's. "Right now, most of us are getting pissed out of our skulls on your Amex card." "I didn't know Amex cards could get you drunk." "Shut up, will you? Is there any other reason you called?" "Yes, in fact." "Well?" "Oh, right. I've found out that there is some sort of plan going on to find Atlantis." "Well, that's amazingly helpful. So?" "I have reason to believe that it may have something to do with the plan to take over the world." "You expect me to trust you?" "I'm paying for it." "Good point," I replied. "I'll check it out." I hung up. "Let's go." The Imposter I swung the door of the bar open and looked at the sorry bunch that awaited us. Needless to say, Farley wasn't impressed. It's pretty hard not to impress a drunken bum too. "These are the world-saving evil-doer-punching plot-destroying idols-of-millions that you told me about?" "Something like that" I replied. "Geez, the world's in trouble, isn't it?" He asked unquestioningly, which is pretty hard in itself. Suddenly one of them threw himself at me, charging like a bull in a china shop . I was going to stop him but Farley interposed himself between us and breathed on him. The would-be vampire-killer gradually slowed to a stop and fell to the floor. "My God man," declared Dik "you've...you've...inhebriated him!" It was true. Dale Dougall, slayer of undead, was drunk. Dead drunk. If you'll pardon the expression. Fifteen minutes later we carried him out and began loading into the various cars and sped off to...to...somewhere. Barney Beer We filed out of the bar and piled into the cars and the truck. It looked like I'd be carrying Farley MacFartson or whatever-his-name-was and Jake, seeing as nobody in their right mind would ride with Death Bird in the Maserati. Dale slumbered peacefully in the sleeper occasionally waking just to receive another blast of raw wood alcohol breath in the face. This would effectively keep him from perforating Jake with his stakes. If there's anything more useless than a vampire, it's a vampire that's been ventilated with wooden spikes I always say. The Ferrari 512BB and the Maserati pulled away from the curb and began accelerating away at a pretty fair clip. Obviously they had not stopped to think that a 26,000 lbs. tractor does not accelerate all that quickly. I did my best to catch up to them, but at every straightaway they'd widen the distance between us. I thought some more evil thoughts about how to disembowel people with BIC lighters and yank their brains out through their noses. Barney Beer I looked over at Jake, who was drinking from a vial thinking I didn't see him. "Why'd you bite me, Jake?" Startled, he gagged, coughed, cleared his throat noisily and said something unintelligible. "What was that?" I asked, perplexed. "I SAID I WAS HUNGRY, OK?!?", Jake said loudly in a hail of spittle. I cringed away slightly. Who knows what vampire spit will do to clothing. After a pause, I nodded in agreement and ended the conversation. Then, I decided that I should give Cat Scratch a call. I reached down to the console and picked up the radio-phone receiver. I spoke into it rapidly. "Operator, get me Cat Scratch, pronto. He's in the book." After a few moments, a raspy voice answered, "Yah, who da fugs dis?" "It's Barnard. We're on a case again. Stay by the phone and wait for further instructions, OK?" "What da fuck do ya tink I been do-". I cut him off and hung up. Now that I'd finished that, all I had to do now was to catch up to those goobers up ahead. Myrddin Brown awoke with a start. "Damn!" he said, "thats the last time I have snails for lunch. This PI business is going no-where, if I don't get a call soon I might as well take that trip to Florida that I have been saving up for. Maybe even do some Scuba diving. Thomas Covenant In my rather embarrassing condition, I felt vaguely uneasy. Wether or not this was because I was in a truck with a vampire in the passenger seat, a soon-to-be vampire driving, and a drunk who kept blasting me with vapourized ethanol, I don't know. All I knew was I was going to be sick. Farly McFartson was had lost interest in trying to establish communication with me. I sat up in the sleeper. I had the feeling I'd made a very bad mistake. We went over a bump. Fred the Yak I was walking along the darkened street when I bumped into an old friend of mine. "Well, if it isn't Elmer the Safety Elephant. What a surprise!" "Oh hello, Fred, old bean! Yes, a surprise! C'mon, I'll buy you a drink." I had an urge to ask about his tricycle, but decided that it might be in bad taste. Elmer always lapsed into a spontaneous psychosis whenever somebody mentioned it. Though today, it seemed a little worse for wear. A few of the spokes from the front wheel were broken and the back wheels were warped. Then it caught my eye. Zounds! The right rear wheel was missing its solid tire! Astounding. I tried to keep my composure and not to notice the wheel. It was too much! I galloped from the little pub as fast as my hooves would carry me! Elmer called after me, but I did not heed him. I ran and ran and ran...into the night. El Loco Picking up the receiver, I heard the dial tone. Adding my own selection of tones, a ring is produced. "Yeup." came the voice. "Skill, you read the paper today?" I inquired. "Nope." "Page 2 tells me that a Peterbilt truck and a coupla fancy Italiano racers made alterations to the local Library." "Dik and Bernard..." He said aloud to himself. "You bet, " I said, then added, "We've got to find them. Find out what the heck is going on." We exchanged adieus and I put the phone to rest. Turn on the answering machine, and recording this: "Hi. This is El Loco. I am dead right now, but if you leave your name, phone number and astral plane, I will attempt to contact you through whatever means possible." Turn off recording. Set machine. Out the door, to the parking lot. Arousing the machine, it roared to life and sped me off to SkilLab. El Loco "Yeah?" came the static-lined voice. "It's me Skill. Loco." I replied. The door buzzed, and I caught it in mid-noise. I appeared at Skill's door and announced my arrival with my knuckles. The door yielded and I entered. There was the distinct smell/feel/sound of flux being generated, but I disregarded it. "Now how do we find them?" He asked. "First things first. Call Cat and get him over here, then we'll talk." Cat Scratch buzzed from outside and was admitted. "So what da fuds all dis?" he said, rather stupidly. "Sit down, shut up." I commanded, continuing with, "We have to find the other PIs, and you are the only one with street punk informers. Find some." "Yea, gimme a minit." and he found the phone. A moment later, he announced that they were at some bar. "Fine. Let's go." I said as I approached the door. Others followed. Shortly afterwards I was breezing through town with two others chasing my lead. The Grodd I mused some more as we sped down the street. Where could I verify Masters' story? How did I know that he wasn't leading us on a wild goose chase? Or a domesticated goose chase, anyway. Where would there be some kind of ref- erence with which I could crosscheck his clues? "Marine Building," I said aloud. "What?" came the reply from the others. "We have to get to the Marine Building." "Why?" "To check out Masters' story, that's why." "Oh." The stereo sound was beginning to irritate me. I picked up the phone and relayed the news to the other vehicles. Within seconds, a Ferrari, Maserati, and Peterbilt Conventional tractor were roaring along the strange- ly deserted roads towards the Marine Building. The Torch I hung like a bat. The entire room was pitch black. Except for a small section that was pitch dark brown. or was it molasses black. Who knows. The room was dark anyways. Somewhere in this 40 by 50 room, there was another person, trying to kill me. I heard a soft to my right. A dart! With kokanee labels at that! This was dangerous stuff. I moved towards where the dart had landed, for the attacker would change his aim. Suddenly, another and another dart hit almost in exactly the same spot. Oh no! He had figured on what I figured he was figuring I would figure on doing. I figured wrong. I heard a moan to my right. something soft, it sounded like sheep. Sort of a Baa, baa, BAA, bAA type sound. I was reminded of a pub I had occasioned in my youth, it was called the Rail. A noise directly in front of me! I did a quick Mawashi-geri followed by a shuto and a Shomen tsuki. My opponent hit the ground. Dead. I had passed another test of the eight fingers ryu. The Grodd A Ferrari, Maserati, and Peterbilt Conventional Tractor came to a squealing halt outside the Marine Building and our motley crew jumped out, running to the front door. There was a rank of buttons with keyed names beside them. One read "Marine Laws and Records." I pressed the requisite button. After a pause, a voice spoke: "Yeah whaddya want? It's one in the bloody morning, you know?" "This is an emergency," I said in my best this-in-an-emergency-there-is-no- cause-for-alarm voice. "I'm Dik Miller, private eye, and we - that is, me and my PI friends - well, not all of them are PI's, but - oh never mind - - - we're all here to find records about Altantis." "Say what?" "I said, 'This is an emergency. I'm..." I stopped. "Forget it. We're coming in." I signalled to Barn, Freeman, and Jake to help me knock the door down. We backed up, took a good run at it, and ran, only to hear the "open door" buzz just as we were about to impact - too late, unfortunately. El Loco Streetlights and streetlines, I followed them to our destination pub and walked in. "You seen any of these guys?" I inquired at the counter. There came a nod, and I ventured further. "Where are they now?" He said that they had mentioned something about a Marine Laws building. "Marine Law building? Why there?" asked Skill to no one in particular. "Who knows, lets just go." I replied, and went out to ride again. A few minutes later, we pulled up beside the familiar truck, and not so familiar Italian Hot Wheels. At the moment our engines shut down, a loud shattering sound filled the air. This was followed by some moans and cursing. Cat, Skill, and I ran toward the sound and saw a mound of bodies piled up on each other, scattering glass around. "We found you." I announced to them. They seemed unaware of our arrival, for this startled them. They rose to thier feet, and as they did this, I saw someone I didn't recognise. Or did I. El Loco Yes. I did recognize him. It was the asshole who put the holes in me. We met eyes at the same moment, and in that split second, we knew. I had my Weilheiler out before he could react, and had the sights marking the bridge of his nose. To my suprise, he did not follow the ritual, but stood there, stunned. He looked at me as though he were staring in a mirror for the first time. "Why did you do it?" I asked, straight-armed. "Do what?" he puzzled. "Son-ofabitch." and at that, I was tackled by Dik. "Don't shoot him, idiot! He's one of us!", he yelled. "He almost killed me. And I was just about to return the favour." I said. "He is WITH us, Loco." "He is going to pay for what he did to me." Freeman looked more dazed than ever at me as I wrenched free of Dik, and hurled myself toward him. The Unbeliever "Could this be El Loco?!", I thought dazedly. Yes. It must be. There would be no other with such distinctive features. The hooked nose, the twisted mouth, the gnarled hands. Yes, this was El Loco. There was a flurry of action and I snapped out of my dreamy state. El Loco and Miller were wrestling on the ground, Miller tryingto wrest the gun from Loco's grip and Loco trying to sight the gun. I knew that I had a split second left but I couldn't bring myself to act. Miller succeeded in tearing the gun away from El Loco, but this did not deter him from trying to harm me. Loco leapt up, a grimace in his face and his hands reaching for my throat. Instinct and reflexes took over then. I'd had a fight earlier with Bear under the same circumstances. Loco's state of mind was not conducive to the logic and strategy required to effectively carry out, or to defend against, an attack. I met him head-on. The Unbeliever I was taken aback, momentarily, by thu force of the attack. Obviously, he meant to kill or severely injure me. I decided to neutralize him without unduly harming him. Maybe a ruptured spleen, I chuckled mirthlessly. Then there was no more time for idle thought. I resolved to fight back. He grappled with me, grasping my collar and coatsleeve, and tried to throw to the ground. I nullified his attempt by shifting my weight to one side, causing him to lose his balance and strength advantage. Though he held tightly to my right coatsleeve, I was able to deliver what I thought to be a crushing blow to the side of his neck, below the ear. He should have gone down, dead at worst, unconscious at best. I had not counted on his great stamina and obvious rush of adrenalin. While he was momentarily staggered, I caught him under the chin with my right knee and pummeled him unmercifully to the back of the head. This seemed to enrage, rather than incapacitate, him. The Unbeliever I felt that I had no choice. I could not hope to subdue El Loco in this wild state of mind. There WAS no other choice....I would have to kill him. This, I decided, would make up for my previous failure in killing him. I stepped back, while El Loco knelt and gathered his strength for another charge. I did not wait for this. I reached into my coat and drew my Walther. I waited for him to draw himself up to his full height. I would enjoy this, though I knew that it was dangerous to have emotions surface during a hit. They could throw off your aim by pangs of regret or by incipient and immature feelings of excitement. ........I never had a chance to feel elated, regretful or anything else. I'd seen the boot coming from my right side in my peripheral vision, but too late. I determined to kill Bear, then. Revenge, I would allow myself. But for now, I fell sideways to the left from the force of the kick. The gun clattered to the floor. And I followed it shortly after. The Imposter "More popcorn Jake" said Dik. "Hmm?" I mumbled, engrossed in the escapades of the barbaric brain-dead geeks in front of us. "More popcorn I said!" "Allright, allright, here." I passed him the extra-large double-butter yum-yum barf-gulp popcorn we'd purchased at the beginning of the fight. Fleaman and El Dumbo were slugging it out and Bernard was working his way behind them. Dik passed the popcorn to Farly who passed it back to me. I grabbed a handfull of kernels and sat back to pop them into my mouth, taste their delicious flavor, and barf all over the floor. "Farly you damned little shit!" I bellowed. The popcorn had been sauced in five week old gin. "Sorry boss" he said unapoligetically. Bear slammed Freeman to the ground and everything came to a halt. Suddenly a sound came from our hip pockets; colectively. "Oh no!" cried Dik. Yes, it was true; Master's was talking to us through our American Express Platinum cards. "Allright Bean-brains, enough of this, back to work" came his efoul voice. The Grodd I looked down. Indeed, the AmEx cards were implanted with transmitter/receiv- ers. and Masters had heard the whole escapade. I had been hoping to keep our disorganization to myself. Too late for that now. "In we go," said Jake, stepping into the lobby and searching the directory for some sort of records department. I was wondering why Farly had followed us on this trip. The last thing we needed was an incessantly drunk non-PI who smelled bad. Then again, we had Dippy, and next to him Farly looked like the Duke of Edinburgh. I resolved that we wasn't so bad after all. "Here it is. 'Records department.' Fifth floor." Jake looked around for an elevator. "Let's take the stairs," I said. "Why?" "You never know what Masters might be planning. The elevator could be booby trapped." "So could the stairs," said Barn as he polished the toe of his boot with a Kleenex. "Be quiet." We took the stairs. Skillman I was a little confused. actually, I was incredibly confused. 1 minute earlier, we were at a bar asking about a sorry batch of PIs, and now, we were standing outside a marine building, of all places, watching El battle it out with someone I had never seen before.. and these talking AmEx cards really blew me away. Woz knows how Masters designed a transmitter so small that would transmit so far.......... Unless he wasn't so far... Dik proceeded to fill me in while jogging up the stairs, popcorn still in hand El Loco FFreeman. That, I learned, was his name. He had shot me for no obvious reason, and now, I was hiking up some stairs along side him. I wanted to kill him for what he had done, but the others were intent on not allowing this. Why I wasn't attempting to kill him now was puzzling, but I let it slide. "Where are we go-" I was stopped in mid sentance. "Here it is." said Dik, staring at a door, heralding the words "MARINE INFO". We stood there for some moments, and finally, someone said, "Why aren't we going in?". This was followed by a few raised shoulders and Dik said, "Becaiuse it's the wrong door." After finding the right door, we entered to find an old, rasped man sitting at a desk. His features were familiar, but not quite. He had on a sailors cap, a pipe in the left side of his mouth, and strangely large forearms. He had a tattoo of an anchor on his left arm, and he squinted one eye. "Ar ar ar ar ar ar..." He laughed through a sandpapery voice... The Grodd "Bloody marvellous," I muttered under my breath. Then I remembered something, and turned to El and the rest of the new arrivals. "Hi guys." "Hi yourself," said El. "Nice to see you." "How's it going?" "Okay, considering I've recently been shot. And you?" "Oh fine." "If you guys are finished," said Jake, "we can get on to talking to Popeye here." "How'd ya know me name?" said the man, squinting even more visibly. "Er... I guessed," stuttered Jake, staring hungrily at the man's arm. Freeman shouldered past Jake and placed his hands dramatically on the desk. "We want to find out if anyone is searching for Atlantis." The Imposter We all stood around for a few seconds waiting for the enigmatic mister Popeye to answer our question. "Why of course someone's looking for Atlantis, what a foolish question. Ugh ugh ugh ugh You're the ones looking for it! Ugh ugh ugh! But you'll never find it! Ugh ugh ..." well, you get the point. He then drew a large can of spinach out from one of his forearms (I knew they were fake, no one has forearms that size) and prepared to launch its contents at us in a projectile fashion. "Oh no!" screamed Dik, "It's a.. It's a...Spinach Grenade! Duck!" IWe all hit the deck except Farly who just stood there and pointed one gnarled finger at Popeye. "Eat hot hellfire you one-humped camel from Begonia" Suddenly fire popped from his fingertips and hit the sailor squarely in the chest, rupturing several rather vital pieces of human tissue. "Wow." said Skillprofessor. Farly looked pleased with himself. "That was just a homonoluci, we had plenty of 'em back home." The Imposter "Umm, where's home?" asked Skillprof "The four hundred and thirty second Hell" answered the drunk, looking smug about something that none of us knew enough about to feel he should be smug about it. Skill looked a little sick. "And uh, I don't suppose that little fire trick was done using micro-minature incindiary components?" "Nope, hellfire coming from my demon soul" Skillprof essor fainted. Moments later I was rifling through the homonoluci's desk. "Hey, look at this here boys." Dik was busy reviving Skill, but looked over and I showed him my findings - a map of projected sites for the search of Atlantis. "But who's heading the search?" I asked. Dik took the map and gread the list of names at the back. "Oh no..." he said, dread apparent in his voice. I was beginning to wonder why he kept saying 'Oh no' when he explained himself. "This is the one man we can never hope to defeat. In all the world none can possibly match him. If he's looking for Atlantis he'll find it. Its... Jacque Coustau!" Skillman well. Here I was. lying face down on the rather dirty, slimy floor. the last thing I remembered before falling was a rather sharp pain in my stomach - not that I knew the difference between sharp and blunt pain, but you get the point. "I'll get the dink that shot that damn dart, if it's the last thing I do", I thought to myself.. System Masterer "No! Wait! Look!" Dik bellowed. All the PIs and others turned, waited, and looked. Dik stood there, holding a file. "These are the people we're looking for. The company is called 'Sandar Inc' and they are currently carrying on a salvage operation of the coast of Gibralter. That Cousteau bit must be a ruse, trying to throw us off the trail. Any good PI can see when papers are falsified. Besides, I have it on good knowledge that my good buddy Jacque is in the Amazon at the moment." Everyone stood, digesting this information. "Well, now what?" queryed Barn. "Logically, we should either attempt to stop these people from collecting the byzantium, or, avoiding a frontal attack, we stop them from getting it anyplace useful." stated Skillprof. Dik thumbed through the papers. "Here you go... Sandar Incorporated is based out of New York, with an office in Monaco." "New York stinks. Let's go to Monaco! They have topless beaches there!" Loco yelled enigmatically. Dippy Bird Meanwhile, I peeled away a few exess toes, which Farley immediately grabbed and stuffed in his mouth. This Farley fellow had me worried. I knew just about every weird supernatural, dead, extra terrestrial or really weird thing. But I didn't know Farley, and he probably fit into all of those catagories. There was something fishy about him, and it wasn't just the rotten sardines in his coat pocket. The Grodd "New York," said Barn. "I always wanted to go to New York." "As did we all, I'm sure," I added. "The problem is, how do we get there?" "We've got two AmEx platinum cards. We can get there any way we like," said El, rubbing his eyebrow in a way that for some reason irritated the hell out of me. "Ah yes, but remember," consoled Jake, "American Express is not a credit card; you have to pay your bill at the end of each month." "It's not our bill," reminded Dippy. "Oh all right," I conceded. "So how do we get there?" "Let's rent a plane." "Rent? A plane? You have to be kidding. Besides, remember what happened last time we got in a plane together." "What do you suggest? A boat?" Skill asked me incredulously. Barney Beer I digested this flood of information and was getting mighty confused. I'd thought that maybe we were in New York (the state) or thereabouts to start with. But then, I hear that we should rent a plane to get there. Then I hear someone mention that a boat would be our best bet. I had a mind to club this person on the head repeatedly with a filing cabinet. Possibly I'd only been thinking that we were in New York, giving credence to Scratch's statement that our offices were in 'the Bronx'. But if in fact, we were in New York, why couldn't we just drive over to the building we were seeking. Or have a bicycle excursion to this place. Hey, that might be worth considering. I continued on this train of thought for quite awhile. While I stared into space, swaying slightly back and forth, Dik and the rest of the crew silently slid out of the Marine Building and headed for the air- port....once again stealing my truck. And I stood, staring, obliviously for a great span of time. Fred the Yak I ran. And ran and ran and ran. I looked back once and saw Elmer the Safety Elephant a block or so behind, following me on his tricycle. Even from this extreme distance, I could see how badly warped the wheels were. That horrid vision caused me even more grief and I knew that I couldn't face Elmer again! I ducked into an alleyway, hoping to evade him. The only sounds were of my deep breathing and the squeaks and 'ba-dumps' of Elmer's trike. It was getting closer. Closer. CLOSER. I shut my eyes tightly, in the vain hope that he would pass me by. Sweat sprang out on my forehead and breath wheezed and shuddered from between my clenched teeth. The squeaks and 'ba-dumps' stopped and I felt a trunk on my left shoulder. I opened my eyes and looked into Elmer's wrinkled face. It was TOO MUCH! I sank to the ground and the last thing I saw was Elmer silohetted against the starry night sky... The Torch "You must be nothing in a sea of nothingness" Sensei Demura said. I had just finished one of my warm up exercises. It consisted of doing 400 3 finger pushups. To make it more interesting, knives had been placed underneath my hands to prevent me from letting my fingers relax. I had a small cut on my right hand from settling onto one of the knives. "Consider the universe as a void, with spiritual discontinuity apparent at every turn in the wheel of fate. If you are nothing and your opponent is nothing, then you together are nothing and you have nothing to gain or lose." I pondered this. That meant that he was nothing, and my training was nothing. The world was nothing. "If you are nothing, then you are no greater or worse than the smallest ant or the proudest daimyo. Pride has no place in nothing, sjust as humility is nothing." My training in the seven fingers ryu was progressing. Scratch Cat Scratch stood pondering the place and time situation, he unwittingly pulled a slice of two day old pizza out of his pocket and began ruefully chewi ng. "If we wuz dere den, and we're here know, how did we get here and where the hell is here? Dat's it, I'm sworn off'a Old Crowe now, 'n goin' back ta tequil a. When ya figgered where we are, let me know, meanswhile I'm jus' sittin' er out." El Loco I didn't care anymore. I was going to go to Gibraltar, and that was that. I had seen the Nav papers for this Sandar company, and had located thier proposed location. Gibraltar, the Rock of Ages. Okay. You got it. "Hi there, you renting this plane out?" I asked the guy playing electric guitar in the plane room. "Yeah? Why? You wanna truck some load? Hyuk hyuk hyuk." he said in a southern drawl. "Shut up you stupid fuck. Read this." I handed him a paper that had some pictures attached. "Recognize them? I think your memory is good enough." He looked over the pictures, and read the paper. A good bit of detective work, that. Too bad. "Whur'd you git this shit, asshule?" "I got it from some friends. There is a large envelope that is sitting in my office over town. It contains the same thing as what you see there. If I don't call back in 1 hour, it will be taken to the cops." "They cain't prove thet I killd 'em. Them's just pictures when they wuz alive." El Loco "All I want to know is why you had to kill them. Three innocent girls, dead." "I killd 'em cuz I thawt they'd talk." "Talk about how you raped them? Talk about how you tortured them? Talk about how you mutilated each of them in front of the others eyes?" "Yeah, cuz I thought they'd fink. So whut air ye gonna do." I unholstered the weilheiler from beneath my sports coat, and simoultaneously pushed a button on a small remote control unit in my hand. I pointed the gun at him, and said grimly, "Listen to your confession." I pressed another button on the unit to stop the tape from rewinding. I then hit the play button. "I killd 'em cuz I thawt they'd talk." I turned it off. "You bastard.", I said, sighting the bridge of his nose, "I'll let murder slide, but not rape." "Hey, I gawt lohts o' money, really, If'n yull jest..." "Too late. You have been justified." A loud report, and a crimson stain in the middle of his forehead occured almost instantly. El Loco I retrieved my AmEx card, and said, "Okay guys, I got the plane. Head on in." Soon, all the PIs arrived. "Can anyone fly it?" I asked. The Grodd "Don't ask that again," I pleaded. "Well, sorree," sneered El. "Last time you guys flew anywhere I was in a coma on the tarmac being kicked by some old ladies. I don't know who flew last time." I turned to look at Pedro. He stared back at me with bloodshot eyes, unknow- ingly chewing on a bit of dead skin he had removed from a hangnail. Then I remembered he wasn't Pedro anymore. He was Jake Gerbil, vampire. (Hey, that\ might look good on a business card.) "Wh-what are you guys looking at me for?" he asked nervously. "I don't suppose you can still fly a plane," I intoned. "Er...during the day?" "Probably," said El. "No. Not in the daytime. No. Never. Too bright. I can't stand brightness." He shivered slightly. "Uh," said Freeman. "Who else could there possibly be?" El scratched his eyebrow again. "Um, guys," said Freeman. "I don't know. I really don't," I sighed. "Hello?" asked Freeman quietly. "Looks like we're stuck," said El. "Yo, I'm a registered pilot." "You're a WHAT?" The Unbeliever While the others gaped at me in utter surprise and astonishment, I sauntered past then and into the cockpit. I checked the instruments and found them in passable condition. A little dirty, but none the worse for wear. Miller walked in, plopped down in the co-pilot's chair and lookedd in my direction. Then, El Loco walked in and took the navigator's chair. The faint smile on my face faded as I smelled the distinctive odor of cordite or some other smokeless explosive. El Loco had fired his weapon recently. I would need to keep my eye on him. I sat down in the pilot's chair and went through the pre-flight checklist aided by Miller. He looked nervous. Possibly he'd had some traumatic experience involving planes, I concluded. Or maybe he doubted my ability to pilot this plane. "Ever flown a Lockheed L-1011 before, Freeman?", he asked predictably. "Yes. I flew multi-engined aircraft in the air for-", I caught myself. Air force records could be checked! I cursed Miller while he smiled devilishly. The Grodd "I thought so," I sneered. "You know, the L-1011 is quite a nice plane. Too bad they don't make them anymore. They're a lot nicer looking than DC-10's, and they have a longer range. Don't you agree?" "Yeah, yeah, sure," replied Freeman as he went over some last-minute checks and started up the engines. There was a faint whine from behind us. "Okay, El, get us set up for a Great Circle to New York. I'll try to convince tower control to let us take off." I stared at the console before me. Images flashed before my mind. Missiles. Ramjets. Bill the Cat tote bags. Crash-landing in the French countryside. I started to sweat and my teeth chattered. Freeman was oblivious to my predicament. "Airport control, this is unregis- tered flight zero eight six, repeat, unregistered flight zero eight six, requesting flight clearance for runway two zero." There was a few seconds of static before the reply came. It was preceded by several loud bumps and a soft proclamation of "Who me?" The Grodd "Um... hello? I mean, this is airport control to flight zero eight six." "Hello control. I said I'm requesting take-off permission for runway two zero, effective immediately." "Er... sorry, but the regular controller is off getting doughnuts right now, and I'm the... uh... janitor." Freeman rolled his eyes heavenward. "I don't care if you're Sheik Yamani. Give me permission to take off." "I don't think I can do that." "Look, you can either give me permission to take off now or I'll take off any- way and crash into some oncoming plane and get somebody really pissed off at you. Give me the damn permission, will you?" "All I do is mop floors. I don't even know how to give you permission to take off." "Reapeat after me: 'Airport control to flight zero eight six.'" "Um, airport control to flight zero eight six." "'You are cleared for take off on runway two zero.'" "You are cleared for take off on runway two zero." "Thank you." "Thank you." "You're done now." "You're done now." The Grodd Freeman glared at the tower, dimly visible in the distance. "Shut up." "Shut up." "I said shut up!" "I said shut up!" Freeman turned off the radio and concentrated on taxiing the plane towards runway 20. Scanning msgs since April 5th The Grodd We took off with a great rumbling and roaring and gnashing of teeth, but we did manage to make it into the air. We were on our way, and nothing except a loss of fuel or an air traffic controller's strike could stop us now. I thought back to that last sentence. I sensed some sort of dark forboding in it. Or maybe it was foreshadowing. Fore something, anyway. "So, El," said Freeman, "have you got us plotted on a Great Circle to New York?" "A Great what?" asked El. "Marvellous. I don't suppose you've ever navigated a plane before." "I don't like planes." "This is getting worse by the minute." El looked at Freeman threateningly. "You know what?" "What?" "I think I'll kill you now." I sensed that things were getting a bit out of hand, especially considering that Freeman was the only one capable of flying this aircraft, and without him we would almost surely be dead. Then again, that had never stopped us before. El was screaming as he undid his seat belt and leapt at Freeman. Luckily, The Grodd the former assassin managed to engage the autopilot before he was grabbed by the throat. I attempted to intervene but El's adrenaline-charged rage caused him to send me flying across the cabin. I landed on a control panel and only just barely managed to brush myself off when Freeman followed my path and landed on top of me. El made another maddened lunge, but was intercepted by Barnard, who came rushing into the crew cabin to investigate why the Reggae channel had suddenly been cut off on his headset; I had fallen on the recorded program- ming control. "Hey! Hey!" cried Barn, with unusual intelligence. "What do you think you're doing?!" He struggled to hold back El, who was foaming at the mouth. "He tried to kill me and now I'm going to kill him!" yelled the Loco one, spitting unglamorously with each consonant. Somehow, he pushed Barn away and ran at Freeman again. Why couldn't he at least wait until we were on the ground? El Loco "Bastard!" I screamed, midair towards Freeman. I caught him right in the mid section, and thrashed to the side. He brought both hands down on my backbone, and I faultered. He brought up his knee, and connected with my chest, and that was it. We were both on the ground, racing for an upright position. Bernard stopped this effectively with a shove to both of us. "El! Stay!" he screamed, and, "Freeman, fly the fucking plane!" "He tried to ki-" I attempted some justification. "Shut up! I don't want to hear it!" He yelled. Bernard walked over to the music box, switched it back on, and stormed out. After replacing the seats, we reclined and Freeman took the controls again. "You guys are real assh-" started Dik. Too late though, the radio blasted. "What the hell are you doing?!" came the static/screaching voice. It was the Air Traffic Control man. And he was mad. Real Mad. El Loco "Oh shit." moaned Dik. "We are in it this time." "Air traffic control, this is flyer pluto indigo zero eight sixer. Pluto indigo zero eight sixer. Reading you." "How'd you get off the ground? Who authourized this" he asked, baffled and angry as all heck. "We have an emergency. We have an emergency shipment of radioactive Plutonium that has to be shipped to a storing site FAST." I conned. "Plutonium! Shit! Get the hell out of our airspace!", he was panicking now. "We have to have clearance for all locations on request, be ready Air Control." "Okay, just fly SAFELY!" "Okay, we're set." A short time later, after Skillprof found out about the story, he busily started assembling fake control rods from 7-11 GloStraws (tm). "Thjhis'll get em." He chuckled. We were on our way. Barney Beer Stupid goofs. That's what Freeman and Loco were. Stupid goofs. What did they think they were doing fighting in the crew cabin? Gumbies, just about broke the stereo. I stomped back to the passenger compartment and looked down the aisle. I had my choice of over 350 seats. This made me feel particularly powerful. I could choose any seat I wanted. First class, second class, economy, tourist, baggage or the unpressurized landing gear wells. Yeah, almost like being in a 7-11 store...I can hear the song now, "Freedom of choice, 7-11!". I 'harumped' about then. "Harumph.", I said, "No fucking stewardesses. Or for that matter, there're no stewardesses to fuck. Harumph." I started walking down the aisle, trailing the headset cord behind me. I stopped at a seat in first class. I looked down to see Jake snoozing, partially covered with a blanket. I looked around. There seemed to be lots of seats available. But still, I grabbed Jake by the collar and shook him. Barney Beer "Hey! Hey! You're in my seat!!!", I screamed directly into Jake's face. He woke with a start. His eyelids fluttered open and I noticed for the first time how bloodshot they were. No pupils either. If I wasn't slowly becoming hypnotized, I would have noticed Jake glancing periodically at my thumb on his collar, gnashing his teeth and licking his lips. My grip loosened as I slowly fell under his control. I tottered back and forth from heel to toe and the sly smile on my face was replaced by a rictus of fear (that one's for The Torch). Then I felt the searing pain in my thumb and the eye contact was broken. I immediately looked down to see Jake gnawing on my thumb and forefinger. I stood watching this, dumbfounded for many seconds before realizing that this hurt immensely. Jake grasped my wrist and continued to chew while I pulled away frantically. I placed a boot against his chest and tried to push off with little effect. Short of blowing his head off with the Redhawk, what could I do ?!?! Fred the Yak I woke up to find myself in a small, cramped room filled with what looked like luggage. "So, you're finally awake, eh?" I spun around and saw Elmer (sans tricycle), sitting by a campfire, heating some coffee. (?!?) I relaxed then and asked him where we were. "Oh, we're in the baggage compartment of a Lockheed L-1011, about 30,000+ feet up. Somewhere near New York, I'd say." "What are we doing here?", I asked perplexed. "Well, I thought that you might like to go to New York with me." "Oh.", I said unenthusiastically. I wondered why this compartment was pressurized and then realized that there were animals (other than Elmer and myself) in here. A few dogs, cats and an exotic animal or two. Snakes, birds and the like. "Coffee?", Elmer asked, startling me. I crawled over towards him, took the cup he proferred and settled in for what would probably a very long flight. El Loco So fine, I can't calculate a Grand Circle or whatever, I'll do some vector stuff and figure it out. I figured we'd head due north, and hit it soon enough. Landing should be fun, as we had no clearance. Being as this craft was previously used for illegal operation, I decided to see if it had any "extra's". I walked back thru the body and to the mid- section where the food was prepared. I opened a few cabinets, found not much. I looked under the counter, and found a large crate marked 'desserts'. I was curious, and opened it. I found a bunch of clear plastic bags containing large amounts of white powder. I ripped one open, and tested with my tongue. Cold as ice. Yep, this was the real stuff. I decided to give it a whirl, seeing as I didn't have anything else to do. I did a line or two and decided that was enough. "Hey guys! Look what I found." Popular stuff. System Masterer The aircraft cruised along, headed across the Atlantic, towards the southern coast of Spain. Inside, Barnard was sleeping restlessly, a wound on his wrist and thumb recently healed over. Two rows back, Jake was sleeping like a dead man, flat on his back across three seats, arms crossed over his chest. El Loco was spacing out, trying to walk the ceiling, and otherwise running up and down the aisle, talking to the sleeping men. "Hello, I'm your TWA inflight stewardess... can I interest you in some of our TWA coffee, or TWA tea?" In the rear of the cabin, Scratch had discovered the bar, filled only with Tequila, and was now sleeping peacefully and unconsciously under it. In the flight cabin, Freeman was snoozing while the autopilot controlled the plane. Dik and Skillprof were busy working together on some unusual gadgets. The Torch "When Zenchin kata is performed, all concentration is upon oneness and breathing." My instructor went through the motions, his body perfectly controlled. "And now, for some useful katas". "This is the door opening of crowded closet kata" he said. He went through elaborate motions of grabbing invisible objects out of the air and placing them on the ground. "But Effervescent Poon, how does that help?" asked the stupid son of a batch of cookies. "Well Log and Lock trees, one never wants to be left without critical katas for your everyday basic bachelor pad." I wondered why I was in this ridiculous class. A bunch of common fools. I decided that I was being taught humility. I was sure that the five fingers ryu could do better than that. Someday, I would have the pleasure of killing Masters. The Grodd "Whoa, neato," I said uncharacteristically. "How do you get it to do that?" Skillprof withdrew a very small screwdriver from one of his pockets and twid- dled it inside the device he had shown me. Then he switched it on. It shook, vibrated, and went "oop, oop" for a bit. "Like that," he said. "Oh." I turned towards the pilot's chair. "Yo, Freeman, where are we?" "Mphl," he replied noncommittally. I stood up from the mess of circuits on the floor and walked over to the con- sole. Freeman was fast asleep. "Shit," I said, back in character again. "We're over the Atlantic." "I thought we were going to New York," motioned the Prof. "We were. Looks like we're heading for Spain now." "Well, that's pretty close to Atlantis, anyway. Why don't you wake Freeman up and tell him the news?" "If you insist." I cracked my knuckles and slapped Freeman across the face. El Loco After a few hours of feeling akin to Hercules, and other higher beings, I started coming down from my fix. I realized that I had to 'Stay Real'. So I walked over to the door of the airplane and dragged the crate of coke with me. I commenced opening the door with a few quick turns of the little wheel in the door. The last turn did it, it must of been spring-loaded, cause that burst, no -FLEW- open. The cocaine preceded my exit from the plane and rained down on the Atlantic. I had a fear-inspired grip on the door latch that prevented a diving lesson. I watched the open doorway as a bunch of loose things were sucked out into the atmosphere. "Um, help." I said calmly, remembering not to panic in a life-threatening situation. Things weren't all that bad. Yet. Wait, now they were. The aircraft started to descend rapidly. "Oh yeah, we depressurized." I said to myself quietly. Suddenly, I saw Bernard get sucked out of the plane holding onto his head- phones for dear life. El Loco He just sort of hung there, clinging to his headphones, and squinting in the high wind. I said to him, "Hey Bernard! What now?" He looked at me like he was mad. Why, I don't know, he just looked a little tiffed. "You ", insert any obscenity you want. He used them all. "Okay, so I made a mistake." Meanwhile, in the cockpit, Dik cracked his knuckles and slapped Freeman. At that precise moment, the door to the flight room whipped open, papers whirled everywhere, and the plane started to dive. "WHAT! WHAT DID I DO?!" screamed Dik, terrified that he had struck some higher being. "Forgive me! Oh, please have mercy!" said Dik, falling to his knees near Freeman. Freeman woke up to this clamour, and was pretty confused. About as confused as you would be when you wake up to a slap, a vaccum-like wind, and the plane in a dive. "Shit!" was his only expression. Barney Beer It looked to be about 40,000 feet down to the water, which happened to be remarkably blue. But, I didn't have much of a chance to marvel at the scenery as my ears were slowly being ripped off by the headphones. I grabbed the cable and started dragging myself back into the plane. Good thing this particular headphone cable was made of spun SAE 1041 steel alloy or I'd be doing my imitation of 'man hitting water at 200 miles per hour). I inched my way up the cable and was finally able to grip the edge of the door opening. Once there, I pulled myself inside, stopping only to give El a good swift kick to the butt. He seemed to want to retort, but was in no position to do so. He mostly buffeted around in the wind and made faces. The plane continued to dive and I knew we only had a matter of seconds. I turned around and braced against the door jamb, legs braced. Reaching outside, I managed to snare El by the collar. And he decided to do another dumb thing at this time... Barney Beer El Loco, a rictus of fear (ho ho, good expression!) etched on his face, released the door handle and clung tightly to my arm. At first, I tried to shake him off, then I tried to scrape him off against the door. None of these tactics seemed to work, so I decided that the next option was to bring him inside. Miraculously, or maybe we just fluked out, his pants leg snagged on the door handle and when I pulled El inside, the door followed and closed. Immediately, the wind died out and the plane seemed to stabilize. I turned around and noticed that most of the PIs were hanging onto their seats, lavatory doors and bar sinks as if their lives depended on it. And they probably did. I also noticed that about 3 tons of paper, tools, electronic circuits, logbooks, headphones, seat cushions, one (1) PI by the name of Dik, pillows, blankets, carry-on luggage, assorted bits of clothing, food trays, bar supplies and a beverage cart had piled up against my back. Barney Beer After maneuvering my way through the logjam of stuff, I headed up to the crew cabin with surprising difficulty. It was only then that I noticed that Dik and El were still clinging to my arms and legs. I shook my limbs vigorously and they flew off, to land in a heap against the navigator's chair, where they lay in a semi-comatose state. I leaned over the back of the captain's chair and found Freeman soundly sleeping again and for the first time noticed Dale Dougall snuggled up against Freeman's legs with Farley MacFartson, sleeping soundly also. I checked to see that the autopilot was still on and then walked back into the passenger compartment, still trailing the headphone cable that had saved my life. Skillman "El! You idiot! Get the fuck in here!" "Err...umm...Hi" "Don't 'Hi' Me, you bumbling wet buffalo fart" "Now sit down, shut up, and tell me what damn course you plotted us on!", I continued. "How can I tell you if I'm supposed to shut up", El muttered. "AIIGHH!" The Grodd Dark. It was dark. Real dark. Whoa was it dark. Utterly, completely, totally dark. Black. Pitch black. Coal black. Numbingly black. Definitely quite black. And dark. I awoke from my darkened, black stupor to see things returning to some sort of normalcy, at least as far as atmosphere was concerned. The flight cabin, and the passenger deck in general, were chaotic, and as I peered around I wondered who would be stuck with putting all of those cheap oxygen masks that automatically drop from the overhead compartments back into said compartments. It sure wasn't going to be me. As my hearing recovered from the sudden loss of pressure, I heard Skillman (oh, sorry, Skillprofessor) shouting various rather obscence...um...obscen- ities at El Loco. Something about setting us on the wrong course. "Well, how was I supposed to know?" barked El. "I've never navigated a plane before." Skillprof just glowered at him. Dale and Farley slept. I stared at them and decided to follow their example. Thomas Covenant After a time, I awoke from one of my favorite recurring nightmares. The one with Elvira and all that tepid bean-dip. I got the feeling that something was not-quite-right. I removed by glasses from my pocket and placed them gingerly on my face. I surveyed my surroundings, trying to determine exactly why I was feeling ill-at-ease. I was hung-over, (not quite sure why,) and my senses were a little dim. I was in an aircraft. Several of my newly-found companion s were in various places around the plane, doing various things. Most of them were slumbering. I wondered if perhaps the cause of my tension stemmed from my realization that the plane was in chaos. There were debris of almost every nature littering the floor. It looked like armageddon. I decided that my dim fear was based on something more subtle. Presently I began to investigate. Thomas Covenant Decked out on the floor, was Jake Gerbil, the undead that I had been sent to cleanse. I knelt beside him to get a close look. His condition had worsened: He slept like the dead, his eyes staring into space. This would not be terribly disturbing, if they weren't glowing such an eerie shade of green. his fingernails had grown almost an inch since I'd last seen him. I began to search for my prized practice-stakes, and after several minutes of poking among the devastation, was dismayed to find that they were not aboard the plane. I realized that in all likely-hood, they were still in Mr. Bear's truck. "Damn the luck! Now I'm going to have to improvise," I said, and stamped my feet. Some of the conscious members of the group looked up with what looked like some sort of amusement in their eyes. Farly the drunk rolled over, and shouted "No gnu's is good news." He then vomited noisily into a cardboard box full of salted peanuts in those little cellophane bags that no- body can open. I sat down. The Unbeliever SSSSSSLLLLLAAAAAAAAPPPPPP!!!!! I woke suddenly and got an immense headache for my efforts. I looked around groggily and noticed Miller standing over me, getting ready for another swing. Wearily, I drew my silenced Walther automatic and pointed it in his general direction. "Siddown, Miller! Or yer gonna have more holes than a cheese grater!!" I was not surprised to see him sit in the co-pilot's chair, very quickly. The Unbeliever In fact so quickly that he seemed to rebound off of the seat and fly back towards the passenger compartment. This brought me fully awake. Puzzled, I turned in my chair and looked back in the direction Miller had flown. There seemed to be some kind of commotion back there. It looked like one of the access doors had mysteriously opened and was sucking various things and people outside. Suddenly, the plane seemed to lose power and went into a steep dive. I fought the controls and managed to bring the plane out of the dive, but we were still losing altitude at a steady rate. I tried to depress the control surface pedals but there was some kind of obstruction. I looked down and saw Dale and Farley, snoring complacently. This was not my day. But it seemed like a good idea. I released the controls, relaxed my body and slumped over the control panel in a deep slumber. Barney Beer I sat in my seat in the first class section, sipping dry white wine from a piece of debris I'd found. It looked like part of a broken Peterbilt air dryer. I would have been suspicious, if I didn't know that my Longnose Pete was back at the airport, probably being stripped down to it's frame by airport security. Deep sigh. "Oh stewardess.", I called as El Loco wandered by. "Would you happen to have those little cheeses in cplastic packages, would you?" I expected him to ignore me, but I didn't expect him to leap on me and attempt to strangle the life out of me. At that moment, I remembered an old Kung Fu movie I'd seen once, where the hero had spat wine into his opponent's eyes and blinded him momentarily. Smiling inwardly, I decided to give this a try. Meanwhile, El Loco continued to tighten his chokehold. I smiled inwardly again because he could not hope to strangle me through the thick cords of my neck muscles. Anyways, I breathed deeply and spat the wine in a fine mist directly into Barney Beer ...El Loco's face. When I'd emptied my mouth of wine and opened my eyes to survey the results of my effort, I was dismayed to see El Loco, clothes, hair and face sodden with wine, continue to apply a stranglehold on me. Not only had I NOT blinded him, it appeared that the wine thing had only served to further anger him. While I pondered this dilemma, I barely noticed the absence of any pressure on my throat. In fact, looking up, El Loco was apparently in some pain himself. He seemed to be clutching his posterior and uttering little mewling sounds. I would have felt sympathy for him, if he hadn't been sitting on my chest and if he hadn't been trying to kill me. Straining a bit, I managed to sit up a smidgen and look around to where El Loco's troubles seemed to stem. My first impression was that a sudden attack of hemmorhoids had interrupted him, but further investigation showed a crazed vampire named Jake had latched onto El's left bun with very LONG AND SHARP teeth. I barely suppressed a chuckle. El Loco "Arrrrrgggghhhh!" I cried, releasing my stranglehold from Bernie, and spinning around with fists clenched. There was a problem however. As I spun around, Jake seemed to spin with me, sort of like a dog chasing its tail. I decided to leap into the air, and come down hard on my butt, hopefully this would do Jake some damage. No luck. He released his um, grip, and I hit my tailbone on the floor and commeced rolling in the aisles in pain. "Ah! I've been wanting to do that for a long time." said Jake. Stupid dick. Not dick as in Dik Miller, but dick as in penis. Thomas Covenant My years of studying had been leading up to this moment; as Jake looked around with a feral grin on his face, (possibly looking for new game,) I rummaged through a pile of wreckage that had stacked up against the door to the W.C. I found exactly what I'd needed: a tray of cutlery. I dug through it and aquired a silver-plated table-knife. I grasped it between two sweaty hands and hurled myself across the body of the plane and plunged the knife deep into the chest of the Satanic Entity. What was SUPPOSED to happen was this: Jake was suppose to fall to the floor, gasping for air and begging for mercy. Then he was supposed to manage one last blood-curdling scream, trailing off as he returned to dust and blew away. At least that's what the books said. What actually happened wasn't quite so satisfying. Jake merely looked down at his chest and snarled. Barney Beer This was all very interesting. El Loco was rolling around in the aisle clutching his bum, Dale had literally flown the length of the plane and stabbed Jake in the chest with sundry pieces of flatware and Jake snarled, spat, wheezed, gnashed his teeth, flexed his fingers suggestively and drooled on the floor. This was very spooky. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I might have discounted it. But I HAD seen Dale flying! Amazing. Anyways, I shrank back in my seat, hoping Jake didn't look my way. I had gained new respect for him. I'd had first hand (and thumb and arm) experience with ol' 'buzzsaw tooth' (that's what I liked to call him when he wasn't looking). But seeing him gnaw on someone's bum is something altogether new. After chuckling about it for a bit, I was becoming increasingly afraid of Jake. A chewed butt was on the very bottom of my 'things to do' list. I had decided to keep my distance from Jake, when I noticed him looking in my direction. The outlook seemed very grim. Big Dave Diode The L-1011 raced - no, never mind - on towards Spain. At just over 250 feet ASL, which was not its cruising altitude by any stretch of the imagination. Freeman dozed at the controls, and was awakened momentarily by the loud, piercing sound of the altitude warning alarm. Pausing only to reprogram the autopilot for flight level 350, he slipped back into his deep slumber. Dale and Farley, each wrapped around one of Freeman's legs, were having a conversation. "Just what we need." ventured Farley. "Yeah?" inquired Dale. "A pilot with narcolepsy." "Yeah." agreed Dale. Thats when they started playing with the rudder pedals. The Grodd The chaos in the passenger cabin contrasted violently with the peaceful slumber of the crew compartment. That is, it did until a bright red light started flashing, as bright red lights are prone to do, on the control pan- el. I awoke with a start and looked around, startled to see that I was not in fact encased in Jello, as I had been dreaming. I might as well have been, for all the good waking up would do me. I looked at the flashing red light. My mind, still somewhat stupefied, said "oh, hello, there's a red light" and continued on with what it was doing - ie. nothing. I focused and unfocused my eyes and watched the flashing red light go in and out of focus, as red lights are prone to do when one focuses and un- focuses one's eyes while looking at them. My mind said "wow, what a neat flashing red light" and went back into a pleasantly neutral equilibrium. After several minutes of similarly nondescript behaviour, my mind took a new train. "What does that red light mean?" it asked. The Grodd I somehow struggled to my feet and trundled over to the control panel. I looked down at the light, which was, as expected, still flashing quite well, thank you, and made out the lettering stencilled into it. A few seconds later I was running, screaming, along the aisle of the passenger compartment. "WE'VE BLOODY WELL RUN OUT OF GAS!" And so we had. Everyone who had been doing verious sundry violent things to one another stopped and stared. Then they all started screaming. All, that is, except for Jake, who just sat and cackled evilly. I realized that screaming wasn't going to help any, so I ran back to the crew cabin to find Freeman struggling with the controls and Farley being sick in the crew washroom. "We're gonna ditch," said Freeman matter-of-factly. "Oh," I said. "Better tell the rest of the gang." "Yeah," I said, reaching for the intercom. The Torch I was almost complete. I mean, my training was. Complete that is. Anyways, my extended stay in the four fingers ryu was nearing it's completion. Over halfway finished, and I felt much better, aware, and good looking. Verily, much knowledge I had gained. With my new found senses, I could detect that the PIs were in trouble. They were probably running out of gas over the Atlantic I thought. It was incredible how easily knowledge such as this translated itself into my brain. But it was time to stop contemplation, for Super Duper Extra Bonus Choice Radical Tubular Weapons training was beginning. The Unbeliever Struggle, struggle, struggle. "Goddamn, controls." The Imposter Well, things were getting back to normal; We'd almost killed each other, we were in a falling plain, and there was no evidence suggestive of a plot anywhere in sight. I licked my lips. It was time for more blood. Lots of it. That stuff I took from El wasn't doing me much good; in fact, I was starting to feel worse...much worse...dying even...dead in fact...Shit. As I opened my eyes I noticed that I was floating above my body in the plane, my corpse had taken on a pale yellow hue, and somewhere in the Great Savanah Harry the Gnu was vommiting on a large boa constrictor in the hopes of convinciong it that he really wasn't very good to eat. I reflected on my current situation, which wasn't hard, since I WAS being reflected as my soul left my cadavre towards the icy shores of La-la land. Damn. Dead again. This was becoming a rather anoying habit. Jake Gerbil: Compulsive Dead Person. Necro-numbhead. Suddenly, I heard a voice. El Loco The pain in my posterior had deminished enough that I could, again, stand. "You're an asshole." I said to Jake, who looked a bit pallid. "You bit my butt." I informed him. There was no reply, and it looked as though it was going to stay t^at way for a while at least. In all this clamour, my mind raced to catch up to all the prev^ous events that were buffered in my mind. I remembered Dik screaming something like "I've got gas..." or similar. The plane was lurching for some reason, but I took no note, as it obviously was not my fault. Unless of course, it was because I planned us going in the wrong direction in the first place. "We're out of gas!" I heard someone holler. Oh peachy. We are out of gas off the coast of Spain. This was vaguely remniscient of the time we went to France. "All we need now is a missile on our tail, and some afterburners hidden in the tail section" I joked aloud. Instantly, the PIs had thier weapons drawn at me. "Shut up." they said. The Grodd "Okay, peebles," I said into the intercom. "It looks like we're going to have to make an unpowered landing in the Atlantic. Please extingush all smoking materials and fasten your seat belts. I hope we all read those cards stashed in the elasticized pockets of the seats in front of us. Did we?" A resounding "no" filtered through the crew cabin door. "I knew we didn't. Well, we'd better do it now. And get on our life jackets too. Hold on tight. This looks to be fun." I switched off the intercom. "Have you ever had to ditch a plane before, Freeman?" "Er...no." "Have you ever had any training in it?" "Um...no." "I thought you were a registered pilot." "In Bolivia." "Great. Just great." "Siddown and shaddup. We're going down in a few seconds." I took a seat in the copilot's chair, strapped in, and prayed to Woz that we would make it safely to land. Then I would kill Masters. His American Express cards got us into this mess in the first place. The Grodd The water rushed up, and rather than looking liquid and soft and nice, it managed to look hard and vicious and grey. This, I thought, was not encour- aging. It got closer and closer, as it should have, since we were descending somewhat quickly. As we hit the water, I noticed a ship off in the distance. Before I could look at it much longer, there was an extremely violent crash as the undercarriage of the L-1011 buckled and collapsed. So much for the luggage, I thought. So much for Elmer the Safety Elephant. As one wingtip touched the ocean, the plane swung around, nearly throwing me out of my seat. Finally, we came to rest. I clicked the intercom on again. "Okay, guys. Abandon ship." Farley emerged from the washroom. "Whoa," he said. "I knew I was sick, but I didn't know I was THAT sick. The whole room was moving for a minute there." I was going to explain, but decided to leave it to a time when we weren't inside a quickly-sinking plane. "Move it, McFartson!" I barked. He did. System Masterer The L-1011, fundementally intact, floated in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Doors flew open, and the emergency ramps extended, bobbing in the water. The plane seemed to shift slightly, as if getting good and ready to plung underwater. Two rubber life rafts flew out the doorway, followed by one Bernard Bear. Freeman, Skillprof, Dik, Loco, Farley, and Dale, one by one, dived out the door, across the ramp and into the cold cold water of the Atlantic. The life rafts, opening automatically, rapidly filled with PIs. Dik took a head count. "Where's Jake?" "I dunno." muttered Bear. "Damn! Get back and get him Bernard!" "Why do I always have to do this?!?" "Cause you're the biggest!" Bernard dived back into the water, climbed the ramp and entered the craft. The L-1011 took this opportunity to sink abruptly. Swirling water threatened to capsize the life rafts as the air rushed from the plane, tearing its fragile hull apart with pressure. System Masterer Then suddenly... silence. A sea bird squawked high overhead. The men glanced disconsolately at each other. "Uh oh." Dik muttered softly. A body surfaced in the water. Jake. Lying stiffly on his back, bobbing in the water, the silver-plated butter knife portruding from his chest. A large hand reached from the water, grasping the knife. The body sunk down, and Bernard appeared in the water. "I dunno what's wrong with him, but he sure floats good. Gimme a hand." The others in the life rafts helped their comrades aboard. Skillprof checked Jake closely. "I don't think he's dead... he's just real comotose. Stable, but stiff." "Well, so much for that. Freeman, which way from here?" said Dik. Freeman glanced about. "How about towards that ship?" Freeman said sarcasticly. They all turned, looking in the direction of Freeman's pointing finger. A ship steamed slowly towards them. Dik pulled out a tiny pair of binoculars. "Ummm... guys. That's a Lybian ship." "Uh oh." Barney Beer Dragging Jake by his butter knife, I managed to haul him over to a raft and heave him up into not-so-eager hands. It's not everyday you have to rescue a drowning deadman. Then I realized that Death Bird was nowhere in sight. I looked around a bit and finally shrugged it off. I doggie-paddled between the two rafts, picked up the floating painter lines and tied the rafts so they wouldn't float apart. Then something peculiar struck me. With an echoing, metallic 'Boing!'. Rubbing my head,I turned to see El Loco paddling frantically in a circle with one oar, dragging the other raft with him. Something else that struck me (Ping!) was the fact that everyone had piled into one raft and left the other one empty. I quickly pulled myself into it and tried to relax. Of course, everyone noticed this and tried to pile into MY raft, dragging Jake along behind. Just then, the painter lines snapped and left all of us stranded in the one raft. All this time, the Libyan ship got closer. The Imposter "Allright, let's get this over with. You're in Nu-Body aquisitions department and your body is toast. We're going to convert your essence into a video signal, so that you can go back to earth to fight crime and host rock videos. Now your new name is..." "Ah, excuse me..." I interrupted. "Yeah?" came the rather obnoxious and bored voice. "Umm, I think you have the wrong gumshoe kemosabe" I said quickly. "What? Didn't you die in a car crash where you hit a sign that said max. headroom 6ft?" The voice sounded angry. "Nope, I got turned into a vampire and got stabbed with a silver-plated dinner knife after sucking blood out of someone's rear end." "Rear end of a caddilac?" came the voice hopefully. "Nope, rear end of a manic drug-smoking P.I." "Shit. Lemme guess, Jake Gerbil, Quadropheniac P.I.? "You got it amigo." I responded, pleased that things were getting back to normal. "Okay, we've got a file on you. Here." He handed me a package and a case of spare bodies. "Go into that room over there and change The Imposter I walked into the antisceptic white room and opened up the envelope and the case of spare bodies. As I'd figured, the letter was from the Bwana. As I read it, his voice began saying the words over my head, kind of like in real P.I. stories. "Dear Jake, Well, I knew you'd do it again, so I prepared. Inside the box you'll find a whole collection of potential bodies to use so that I won't have to take time from my new book 'Out On a BLimbo' to help you. Try not to go through all the hosts before I get through the first draft. Your Eternal Guide, the Maharishi Gerbil P.S. If you see Shirley McClain on the Astral Plane, shoot the wag." In sooth, it seemed the Bwana was getting too involved in material things. I sat down on the antisceptic white chair and put my feet up on the antiscepti c white footstool. Time to select a new body. The Imposter The files contained ten different profiles. I decided to start at the beginning, which seemed appropriate at the time. 1. Olaf Linguini, Polish-Italian Private Eye. Nope. nopenopenopenope. 2. Cornelious Van Shrimp, Half-pint Dwarf P.I. No, Bernard would have too much fun. 3. Bill Zebopp, 32nd Century Hellriding Weirdo P.I. No, I never liked those weird haircuts. 4. Pedro McTavish, Irish-Mexican Psychic P.I., a.k.a. The Posessor. Well, stick with what you know how to smoke old mama Petita used to say. I took my switchblade sombrero, 4 grams of Mari...Tobabco, 74 cents in change, and George the Gun out of the box and used the Nu Body Essence Transfer Device to move into the 5'10" blond Mexican form. (N.B. the Nu Body Essence Transfer Device is NOT, repeat NOT, copyright Dk Miller) Slowly I awoke aboard the liferaft, which for some reason contained all the P.I's. Dik looked down on my new...er...old body and started bellowing. The Imposter "Oh no, not again!" yelled Dik. He was livid. "Why is it you always get the new bodies, never me. Dont you think maybe I'd like to become something new once in a while? Huh? huh?! Don't you think maybe just once I'd like to become Benito Bandana, spanish breakdancing P.I. once in a while? You're scum Jake..er..Pedro. Oh Hell, welcome back." It seemed he was finished, so I got up and Skillprof filled me in on the scoop. That was when the Lybians fired a small missile at us. The Grodd I was trying to figure out why Libya had changed the spelling of its country's name when the shell the ship had fired exploded, rocking the liferaft violent- ly and nearly capsizing it. I struggled for a handhold and looked up at the approaching ship. For some reason, it looked oddly familiar. Then I realized that the LYBIA lettering was not in fact painted on the ship, but was in fact a banner hanging over the bow, painted rather sloppily with a wide paintbrush. I didn't think even Libya was poor enough not to be able to afford to paint its own ships. Things were looking suspicious. Then a voice called out from the ship, amplified by a megaphone. "Allo, monsieurs! Are yoo in need of assistonce?" A French accent. Something was definitely amiss. Before I could figure out what was going on, El had yelled: "Yes! Get us the hell out of here!" "As yoo weesh." We were hauled aboard. The Grodd It turned out that the ship was Calypso, and the voice had been that of Jacques Cousteau. LYBIA was, in the ancient tongue of Atlantis (once thought lost, but recently rediscovered by an obscure Italian pasta maker and ama- teur archaeologist - but that's another story). As I was saying, in old Atlantian, LYBIA meant peace. Something of an irony, I thought. We had been brought aboard, fed, clothed, and given autographed photos of Jacques himself. At the moment, he and Philippe were in, as he said "ze soobmerseebool" investigating what they thought was a possible find below. I contemplated the fact the byzantium, the fateful material, was found in large quantities in this area, and came to one conclusion: Jacques Cousteau was trying to take over the world. That explained all sorts of things. WHat they were, I couldn't think of at the moment, but I was sure they would come to me. El Loco "Yo! Pey-dro!" I said ecstactically. "How you been bro?" "Dead." He said. "I been dead, cuz. I gave up rock videos to be here on this ship." We all were walking around and admiring the workmanship of the vessel, when Dik said in a loud whisper, "Hey, guys. HEY! Come here." We all looked at him, and ambled over to were he was standing. "I figured that Cousteau is trying to take over the world by controlling the byzantium supply of the world." "Cousteau is tryi-mmmfmfmf" I didn't finish my sentance, as there was a hand shoved down my throat. "Shut up!" He whispered angrily. "He probably has some kind of security force with him." He removed his hand, loed at it, and said, "Give it back Loco." "What?" Said I innocently. "You know. The ring. Give it back now." "Finders keepers." "Oh no." chorused the PIs. The Unbeliever I stood on the deck and suddenly felt a great longing for the open seas. I'd heard that one of my distant relatives was a pirate captain, but discounted it as a rumour. Now, I couldn't be absolutely sure. I felt a strange kinship with him. Bill was his name. Captain Bill Zebop the First. Yes, yes, this was what I was meant to do!! Yes, my life's goal has been accomplished! I would revitalize a common practice amongst expatriate sailors....Piracy!!! Hahahaha! I schemed furtively, while the others formulated plans to vanquish the evil Jacques Cousteau. Heh heh, I would have to dispose of the PI's first, though. I was going through the individual assassinations in my mind, when Miller walked up to me and tugged on my arm. "Freeman, I-" "Aye, mate! What...", I blurted without thinking. I thought quickly and said "I'm eight. What do you want?" Miller looked at me with a strange look on his face. "Uh, nothing. Forget it.", he said and left. I scowled and decided Miller would die first. The Imposter I carefully examined this Jock Custard character as he went by. He seemed, well, I don't know...real...French. Yes, that was it; French. That dilema solved I followed the other P.I.'s as we began our pointless 'walking around the ship' procrastination sub-plot and marveled that the true name of Libya (which WAS Lybia; they used the other because copyright laws prevented the states from attacking 'Lybia' because it wasn't in fact 'Libya' and thus there was no one for the U.S. to attack without getting nailed by the international T.I.M.A.W association (Truth In Marketing And Warfare)) was also the word 'peace' in Atlantean. Neat. "Allright," said Dik "we've got to sneak around and find where Coustau keeps his world domination plans. Be careful." That said we began our slow, cautious tread accross the Calypso, which strongly resembled our 'walk around the ship' procrastination subplot. We came across a door that had a big sign on it saying "No World Domination Plans Here. Go Away" on it. The Imposter "Well, nothing in there" I surmised. "Yeah, you're probably right" echoed Dik. We continued our search and after two hours of creeping forward trying to be silent we decided Coustau couldn't possibly be trying to take over the world. "Coustau is trying to take over the world." came a low buzzing voice from our American Express cards. "Masters again." said Bernard. "What does he know?" said El Loco. I know everything." said Masters. "No you don't" said Skillprof. "Get on with it." said God. The Grodd Trying to keep an American Express card quiet when there is no way to shush it is a difficult task, and we were getting strange looks from the crew of the Calypso. A thought, in running through my mind, had tripped a few neurons and caused me to wonder why the Calypso had fired a shell at us in the first place. Things were getting weirder and weirder all the time. All of the evidence pointed to one thing: there was no evidence. Evidence that Jacques Cousteau was trying to take over the world, anyway. There were all sorts of photos of humpback whales and undersea charts and the usual ship-type stuff, but no plans. But Masters said that there had to be plans, because he knew Cousteau was trying to take over the world. But how did he know? For that matter, how did we know he knew? And how could he know that we didn't know how we could know that he knew? I didn't know. "Now what?" asked Jake. Oh, sorry. Pedro. Dammit, I hate this quick name changes. "I don't know." Barney Beer I felt a sudden weight on my shoulders and back, but dismissed it as the actions of the last few days catching up to me as fatigue. Except, of course, for the strange rhythmic thumping sensation at the base of my neck. Now that was unexplainable. Or maybe it wasn't. Dik strolled over to me, leaned on a railing and looked absently out to sea. "Have you seen Freeman?", he said absently. "No. Why?" "Well, I think he's gone over the brink and is going to kill us." "Oh, really. I'll keep that in mind." "Alright. See you later, then." "Yeah, right." Dik paused a moment, turned away and then as if in afterthought, he turned back and gestured towards my left shoulder. "Uh, I know it's not really any of my business, Bernard, but why do you have a sailor on your back, beating you about the head and neck with a belaying pin?" I thought about it for a second, chin cradled in my hand. Then spread my arms in concession. "I don't know. Why?" Dik threw his hands in the air and stomped off. The Grodd Bernard could be so...so...stupid sometimes. I assumed that he would rid him- self of the offending sailor when the incessant pummeling began to irritate him. That is, if it ever did. I found an empty section of the upper deck and peered out at the setting sun, thinking how wonderfully a steel processing plant would ruin the view. Then again, putting a steel processing plant in the open ocean would be rather difficult, not to mention economically unsound. I went on to other things. I seemed to be doing a lot of intellectual musing on this voyage, probably because no one was bothering to advance the plot much, and on a ship as small as the Calypso there wasn't much to do besides walk around and muse intellec- tually, and create extremely long, convoluted, run-on, paragraph-length sentences with lots of adjectives in them - which was, of course, what I was doing at that very moment. Period. Whew. I decided to go below decks and look around for a bit, and then maybe watch Jacques and Philippe as... The Grodd ...they surfaced in the submersible and did their customary waving and talking and cameraderie stuff for the ever-present National Geographic camera crew. As I clanked down the stairs, I was attacked by a man wearing a red and white striped bandana and an eyepatch. It took me a few seconds to realize that he was Freeman. He was wielding a kitchen knife. "What kind of weapon is that?" I asked sullenly. "Arr, ye landlubber, it be all I could get on short notice," he replied in a strained voice. "Oh. Are you going to kill me with it?" "Harr, indeed I be." "Oh," I said, removing my Dik Miller (tm) Pirate Repellant from its pocket in my trenchcoat and spraying it in his face. He fell instantly on the floor with a weak "avast ye." He would be out for at least an hour - long enough for me to do some exploring. I knew that repellant would come in handy sometime. :=> TG <=: Fred the Yak "Toto? I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." "Arf! Arf arf arf! Arf, arf!" .................... I woke with a start. Beads of sweat rolled off my brow and dripped to the floor of the strangely tilted cargo bay. I looked around and noticed that part of the bay was partially submerged. This reminded me of my home back in Tibet. I remembered the swamp that I had inhabited, which was half submerged all the time and fully submerged half the time. Sometimes it was hell just to get a few decent water lilies to eat. I was jolted from my fond rememberance by the sensation of sitting in a puddle of very cold water. Sighing, I decided that this would be a very good time to vacate the premises and find out what in blue blazes was happening. I rose to my feet and was about to probe around, when I heard a muffled but distinct trumpeting from under a pile of luggage. I pulled it away expecting to find Elmer and instead found a large hairy walrus. I leapt back with a bleat. Yucky, vile creature!! The Torch The sun was setting. Truly, it was a beautiful sight. The golden clouds, the light of heaven glowing in the sky. Mountains far away gleamed like pearl white alabaster. Water lapped slowly at the base of the steep cliff, gouged for an eternity of wind and water. The endless cycle of creation and destruction was made apparent in the every moves of the universe. God, this was shit. I hate taking Art appreciation courses. I wanted to hit somebody with a sword. Many times. On the knuckles too. Masters. I'd get him real soon. He'd pay for what he'd done to me. Him and his wench. They'd all pay. But I didn't care. The barbarians weren't worth the thought. The Grodd Meanwhile, far, far away from anything that anyone else involved with this story - including Elmer the Safety Elephant - was doing, Richard Masters and his wife were scheming - as bad guy types have to in order to make a living. They were laughing as they schemed because they both knew thet Jacques Cousteau was not trying to take over the world at all. In actuality, no one at all was, except Richard Masters. Or so they thought. In an obscure island in the Mediterranean (whoa, sudden scene switch), a dark, evil mind worked its evil workings. It knew of the plans of Masters, of the diversions he had set for the PI's, and, in fact, of nearly everything that was going on in the world at the time. That was why he was going to take it over. He had had too much war, pestilence, class struggle, starvation, and stupid articles in the National Enquirer. He was going to change that, and no on could stop him. Or so HE thought. (Dah dah-dum.) The Grodd During the scene-setting diversion, I had worked my way into the lower decks of Calypso, and was rooting around, looking for the sorts of plans one might have if one were to try taking over the world using byzantium. I was immersed in a rather large pile of wetsuits, searching through the pockets, when the AmEx card in my pocket beeped. "Yeah what?" I asked, somewhat miffed to be interrupted while I was doing some real PI-type stuff. "Miller, I have something to tell you." "What is it, Masters?" I was getting more and more annoyed with him by the minute. Especially because Calypso didn't take American Express. "You know that shell that landed in the water beside you before you were rescued?" "Yeah. What about it?" "That was a byzantium probe." "So Jacques IS trying to take over the world!" I exclaimed gleefully, relish- ing the thought of confronting the great oceanographer with the news that I knew his plans. "No. I am." The Grodd "Beg pardon?" I was getting confused. "I launched that probe, and I'm going to take over the world. And you and the other PI's are all going to die. I've set explosive charges throughout the Calypso, and you're all going to drown. Have a nice death." "Marvellous. Thanks for the warning." Somehow, I could tell that Masters was grinning evilly at the other end of the connection. "You're welcome." Just then, the ship was rocked by the first in a series of deafening explo- sions. I was thrown across the room, and when I got my bearings, I could see seawater pouring through a rather large hole in the hull. Great. And I hadn't even used the AmEx card yet. "I'll get you for this!" I shouted into the card, as water started swirling around my knees. "You're going to regret betraying me. And one of these days I'll stop yelling in cliches." "Probably pretty soon," he said, cackling expertly. "Bwahahahahahahahaha." Twit, I thought. Fred the Yak "YAAAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH....(pause for breath)....RRRRAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHH!!!" The large, hairy walrus continued to sit on his haunches and watch me with his big glassy eyes. I screamed in his face again, not even causing him to flinch. This was not going the way I had expected, so I put my hooves on my hips, tapped my foot and scowled at him/it/the walrus. "That was very good. You've really advanced since our last session. Excellent expression on that last shriek.", the walrus commented, surprising me to a great extent. Everyone knows that animals do not talk. "I'm afraid though that that first statement of yours contained information of minimal content or importance. Could you reiterate it a bit slower or possibly be a little more explicit in your meaning?", the walrus continued. I was stunned to say the least. Not only could this walrus speak, but it appeared that he had had a university education. English major, I surmised. Fred the Yak He repeated his last question and I noticed this time that he had a slight English accent. Possibly a Cambridge man. "Well, I inquired as to whether you'd seen a large, purple, talking elephant about yea high, so long and this wide.", I said, gesturing when I described Elmer's dimensions. He pondered this a moment, polishing his silver-rimmed monocle with an embroidered kerchief trimmed with a silk border. He replaced the monocle, looked up and said, "No." He was very succinct and to-the-point, anyways. He continued to look at me and I became increasingly nervous.I shuffled my feet a bit, before speaking again. "Well, umm.....I have to leave now. You see, I have an appointment to keep. I hope you don't mind?" "By all means." he said, "Please don't let me hold you up." I smiled, gave him a mock salute and bow, then walked to the other side of the cargo bay where I was sure there'd been a door. Thomas Covenant I woke up as a second bomb went off in the cabin I was situated in. I was a bit dismayed by the sudden explosions and apparent devastation that was working it's way through the Calypso, as I'd been having a rather pleasant dream concerning myself, a bucket of iced "mazola," and a popular vampiress from a couple decades back. Someone was shouting at me. "Dougal, get up! Get up!" I realized I was blushing. "I'm sorry, Elvira, it just happens sometimes. Try the thing with the ice-tongs again.." "No no, it's El Loco! And this ship is going to sink. Let's get going, you ridiculous-looking pile of tweed." As I got up and ran to catch up with El Loco, who was already running toward the deck, I stooped ang picked up a canvas bag full of silver ice-picks that were sitting by the fridge. "My goodness, those French guys keep the oddest things lying around..." Suddenly, I was very, very, wet. The Grodd I surmised that the only way out of my predicament was to swim for it, and swim hard. The first hole in the ship was still gushing water, and I slogged my way through the swiftly-rising mass of floating junk towards it. Taking a very deep breath and dived in. A second or so later the water had blown me back into the hold and against the back wall. So much for that plan, I thought as I began scaling the stairs. Just as I was reaching the top, I heard a distinct thunk in the hold. Stupidly enough, I went back down to investigate. There, on the floor, looking quite drenched (which wasn't surprising, since he would have had to be underwater for some time to get sucked into the Calypso when he was), was the Death Bird, looking, again not surprisingly, quite dead. I left him to his own devices, since being dead hadn't seemed to stop him before. I ran to the upper deck, took another deep breath, and leapt off the side. There was a hard impact and lots of swirling water and bubbles, and I felt The Grodd ...myself being pulled sideways by some sort of current. Soon, I was at the surface, and I broke it to take some air. I discovered that I had been pulled back into the hold that I had left, and that Death Bird was still floating disconcertingly to my left. This was getting irritating. I negotiated the stairs again and took a flying leap off the OTHER side of the ship, noticing the PI's and most of the French crew afloat in liferafts as I fell. At least I wouldn't have to swim to Spain. Splat. Belly flop. It hurt. The Atlantic is quite cold, and I took swift actions to divest myself of it. Lying, panting, in the bottom of one of the rafts, I looked up into Skill- prof's face. "I saw Death Bird in there." I pointed, nearly taking out Pedro's eye in the process. Before Skillprof could reply, a French sailor piped up loudly. "Fock aye haet zees," he said. I had to agree. The Unbeliever I awoke to find myself lying face down in a liferaft which was half full of cold sea water. Suddenly, I had a terrible urge to kill someone and was gratified to see that I was still clutching the kitchen knife in my fist. I rolled my eyes about and caught sight of Miller's shoe. A smile crept onto my face, or maybe it was just seaweed. Anyways, I leapt up, causing the raft to rock precariously and flung myself, knife first, at Miller's foot. Miller, a stunned look on his face, pulled his foot back milliseconds before I would havee plunged the knife into it. Unfortunately, I was moving at such a blinding rate of speed that I couldn't stop or even divert my attack. Instead I drove the knife into the bottom of the raft. There was a loud 'POP'ing sound and I noticed water pouring in. The original impetus of my blow, carried me down and out the hole and into the water, under the raft. I scrambled to get to the surface and once there I met Miller on the way up. The Unbeliever I broke surface and came face to face with Miller, who didn't look very happy. "Freeman....you are a nutcase.", he said calmly, though I could tell that he wished that he had dispatched me while I lay helpless, AFTER he sprayed me in the face with that awful Pirate Repellant. I also knew that he was regretting the fact that he hadn't taken the knife from me. I handed the knife to Dougal who proclaimed that it was silver-plated and might come in handy. I turned back to Miller and caught him just about to put a stranglehold on me. Very uncharacteristic for him. I casually grabbed his wrist, forced it behind his back and pushed him underwater. I held him there for a few minutes till I figured that he was either dead or brain damaged, then released my hold. He floated back to the surface, rolled over onto his back like a beached whale and drew deep gasping breaths. I found this hysterically funny, which probably showed the state of mind I was in. Barney Beer I was getting irritable. I still wasn't able to shed any light on this strange rhythmic thumping I felt in my head and neck. I reached back and felt somethin g that usually wasn't there. A bandana? A sailor! There was a sailor on my back hitting me on the head with a stick! I paddled over to where Dik floated and screamed in his face. "You idiot! Why didn't you tell me there was a sailor on my back!?!" He just floated around, looking serene. This was very odd. Then I noticed Freeman swimming around nearby, cackling and giggling. He smelled strongly of Pirate Repellant. Hmmm....very suspicious. Getting back to the problem at hand, I reached behind my back, grabbed the sailor by his shirt and flung him about 60 metres out and away from me, where he landed with a loud splash. I noticed him thrashing around a bit and finally sink out of sight. "There, that's the end of that problem.", I said confidently. Then I saw the reason for the sailor's disappearance. A shark. A BIG shark. The Grood I oozed my way upward through the haze of unconsciousness, glad that Freeman had neglected to remove my Dik Miller (tm) Emergency Air Supply from its receptacle under my left arm. Unfortunately, it had run out of air about thirty seconds before he hauled me to the surface again, so I had still blacked out. I knew that I should have gotten it checked regularly with my fire extinguisher. Then again, the last time I did that the fire extin- guisher had been filled with air and the air supply with fire retardant foam - not a pleasant experience, I assure you. I decided to feign unconsciousness for some time longer, to ensure that Freeman would not kill me again. Or try to, I should say. I heard some sloshing and yelling, but could only dimly make out what was being said through the water. Something about "ark." Or maybe I was hallucinating. Bringing Noah into this would not be a good idea. Suddenly, I was grabbed and dragged to the nearest still-floating life raft, while Bernard, The Grood who was the dragger to my draggee, shouted very loudly, into my ear "Shark!" I was awake and swimming before you could say "electroencephalography" - that is, if you could say it at all. The PI's were soon overloading one of the French liferafts, and, as a consequence, it began to sink. The French sailors pitched us back overboard to fend for ourselves. "Ze shark ees yor problem. Wee are not going to die," said one as he threw me into the seething ocean. (Hey, that's a neat phrase.) So much for French hospitality. I wondered what happened to the National Geographic film crew. Then I noticed them setting up to film us getting dev- oured by the shark. Nice guys. We clustered together in a group, treading water in the hopes that the shark would attack the liferafts and teach those snotty sailors a lesson. Worse luck. It turned directly towards us, its dorsal fin cutting the water omin- ously. All that was missing was "dum dum dum dum dum dum..." The Grood I searched frantically in my pockets for a bottle of Dik Miller (tm) Shark Repellent, but it had obviously fallen out in the kaffufle. Damn. Just when I needed it too. The shark got closer. "Well," I said matter-of-factly, "it's been nice knowing you guys." "Ditto," said Pedro. "Wait a minute! What am I talking about. I have eleven extra bodies ready. Ha. I just don't relish the thought of being eaten." "Do you think I do?" asked El sarcastically. "Just what we don't need," said the Prof. "We're all going to be eaten by shark and you guys are arguing." "Oh yeah. Sorry," replied El sheepishly. The shark was almost upon us, teeth gleaming. Suddenly, we were all hoisted up about five feet in the air, and the shark stopped with a metallic clank. Clank? We were sitting atop Cousteau's submersible, and just by luck had managed to avoid the shark as it surfaced. How's that for an unbelievable plot twist? The Imposter "Aeloo, aeloo dere, on top of my soupmersable, pleez gate off!" Came a trumpeting voice from the unsubmerged submercible. "Hey, there's someone in this thing!" exclaimed Freeman. The rest of us sat awed by his deduction. "Deep stuff Fleaman." said Barney. "Aexcoos me, yew must go aeway!" repeated the voice. Dik seemed to dissagree. "We've got to get in there. Hold on one second while I pull out my Dik Miller(tm) Super-Duper Submercible roof cutter device with optional toothpick attachment which comes with a free set of ginsu knives and a pack of...Hey no fair Pedro!" I'd already started cutting into it with my switchblade sombrero. "No good boys, this stuff as strong as steel." "Eeet eez steel!" boomed the voice from the submercible. El Loco started fidling with a handle on the roof and opened the hatch. "Amazing," said Dik, "doing something without a single piece of highly expensive technology. Wonder if the techniques been copyrighted..." "Turning a handle?" I asked incredulously "Yes." said h The Grood "How are we all going to fit in there?" I inquired. "It's only meant for two people." "Squish," said El. "What a repulsive word," commented Freeman. "What's it to you?" El snapped. "Hold it, guys. This isn't helping any," forwarded Barn. "I think the shark's gone away." "Yes, it has. I don't think it's hungry anymore," ventured Skillprof. A head popped up out of the hatch - Jacques Cousteau's head, attached, con- veniently enough, to Jacques Cousteau's body, via Jacques Cousteau's neck. He wore his usual red toque and glasses, and peered around at us menacingly. "Were eez mah sheep?" he asked, obviously not realizing the connotations of his question. "It sank," volunteered Pedro. "Eet sank? Waee ze ell wood eet sink?" Jacques was looking a bit flustered. "Because someone set off a bomb in it. That's why," I blurted bluntly. Or bluntly blurted, whatever you prefer. "Hoo wood do such a zing?" Cousteau barked. "Reechard Masterz, zat's hoo," I replied, trying to stop copying him. El Loco Jacques looked at each of us solemnly and slowly before lowering his head and weeping. "My beout" he weeped, "My beout" "What's a 'beout'" I asked innocently. "Beout!" he cried, "Beout! It's a thing that Fleouts!" "Fleouts?" I said questionably Jackie looked at me with fire in his eyes, which is scary considering he is french. "You eembicile" "So, mMasters hired us to run on a wild goose chase, eh? Well, he's got something coming" Barn said in a matter of fact way. "Yeah, sure Barn. We are just going to paddle our way out to the coast, find out where he is, and TRY to get to him?" Said I. "Yeah, we are." "I don't plan on paddling for days and days to get to shore, especially in thing." I said like any mother would. "Fine then. How do you propose we get back? Wait for a low tide and walk?" "Nope." I said incredulously. "This is how we get back." At this moment, I chose to eminate a sound so high that it almost was out of range to normal human ears. A squeal. El Loco The noise was so high, the PIs had covered thier ears in sheer pain. I ceased the incessant ear-buster and sat there smiling wisely. "What the hell was that?" yelled Dik "A dolphin call?" Two dolphins broke the surface and started swimming toward us. "Yup." I said. The Torch A large darkened room. That's what I was sitting in. It was final exam time for a ninja-master wanna-bes. I was seated in a large room about the size of a barn. At the front, it said "Armouries". I looked at the test paper. It had 40 true/false questions, 20 short answers, and 2 paragraph answers. After this grueling 2 hour exam was a provincial scholarship exam. I wasn't looking forward to it. But if I did well on the scholarship, I could get a gift certificate worth$200 at Mikado enterprises. The first T/F question was "You are nothing". Obviously true The second was "The universe was nothing". Again, true. The third was "Down Luk Poonie played back-up short stop for the Tokyo darters in the Ninja World series". I remember him, he batted .400 for the series. true. The Grood Flop. That's the sound a dolphin makes when it hits a beach at high speed. I noticed that just as the force of the sudden stop flung me onto the wet rocks of southern Spain. The rest of the PI's followed, as the dolphins they had been riding pitched them on shore as well. El looked back at the group of cetaceans, squealing on the shore. Somehow, he produced a bucket of herring, throwing one to each dolphin. This was getting decidedly strange. Somehow, Jacques had gotten over the loss of Calypso, especially when I had given him Masters' platinum card to pay for the rebuilding costs. That would show that slime. Masters, I mean. I relished the look on his face when he got the bill. Then I wondered how AmEx would know where to send the bill. Ping. "Hey. Why is there a light bulb above your head?" asked Bernard. "Because I have an idea." "What is it?" "If American Express can find Masters to send him his bill, we can use them to find him now." "Ah. I see." Barney Beer I was just about to congratulate Dik on his deduction, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I spun around and found myself looking into Scratch's face. The smell of Old Crow curled my nose hairs and made my eyes water. "Hi, Bernard, how da fug are ya, eh?!", Scratch said a little more breathily than I liked, then slapped me on the back to emphasize his query. "Uh...", I began and couldn't continue, because I had to cover my nose and mouth to prevent the fumes from knocking me unconscious. I groped backwards and reached into Dik's pocket. I withdrew what felt like a gas mask and immediately put it on. A small tag attached with a wire hread 'Dik Miller (tm) Cat Scratch's Old Crow Breath Filtration Mask'. I looked back at Dik and saw him in a new light. This guy really was on the ball. I turned to Scratch who was visibly teetering back and forth and asked,"So, how the hell did you get here?" "Oh, I came by AirCal" Grumble grumble....the rotten scum. The Gourd Scratch was beginning to make me uneasy; his constant swaying was making me wonder if the ground was stable, and I found myself swaying in tandem with him. As soon as I noticed, I stopped, but it looked stupid anyway. "Er, Scratch, where's the nearest town?" Asked the Skillprof, scanning the horizon either in search of civilization or just because he wanted to look studious. "Dat way." Scratch pointed vaguely behind him with a swinging arm. "Do they have an American Express office?" I asked. "How the fug would I know, man? I use Visa." "Let's hope so," I sighed. "Okay, guys, follow me." "Why?" asked Pedro. "Why not?" I replied. "Good point," he said. As we trudged up the beach I noticed that Farley was nowhere to be seen. Either he'd drowned or Jacques had let him stow away on the submersible. I supposed that it was no big loss, regardless. The Unbeliever I plodded up the beach after the rest of the PI's, waiting for my chance to terminate them. They were getting much too close to solving this case and thwarting Masters', my master's, plans of world domination. I would have to stop them. We continued up the beach till we reached a long, winding road. A number of cars trundled along it. "I guess we'd better try to hitch a ride.", Miller said, sticking out his thumb in hitchhiker fashion. I spat in disgust. I wouldn't deign to lower myself to the level where I'd find myself begging for a ride! You must take the initiative and take what you want. So thinking, I leapt out into the road, drew my .74 Centrefire Auto and aimed it down the oncoming lane. Presently, a car appeared around the corner at a leisurely pace and came towards me. It looked like an older gentleman of about 80 was driving. This would be very easy. The Unbeliever I felt a smile tug at my lips, but suppressed it. I would not allow emotions to cloud my judgement as they had with my botched assassination of El Loco. Just the thought of that costly mistake, the only hit I'd ever missed, caused me to seethe inside. I should have turned the gun on him now, but I controlled myself and continued to sight down the road. The old codger caught sight of me and his eyes opened wide. I depressed the hammer of the gun, leveled it and emptied the 5-round clip into the driver's side. Obviously, the PI's had thought that I had been only bluffing and would allow the oldster to escape. They did not know me very well. I turned towards the PI's and noticed that most of them were either grimacing or gaping in disbelief at what they thought I'd done. I grinned widely at them, then turned to watch the oldster's car slowly roll onto the unpaved shoulder and bump up against a guardrail. The Unbeliever I dropped the empty clip out of the butt of the .74 and replaced it with a new one....just in case the PI's decided to seek retribution. I smiled smugly as I walked to the car which was missing it's windshield and part of the A-pillar. I looked back at the PI'{ to see what their expressions would be as I hauled the man's body out of the car and hurled it to the ground. Shock, surprise, anger, hate. I'd expected those. I also expected the PI's to run to the aid of the fallen man....which they did. I sat in the driver's seat with the .74 in my lap. "Hey, come on! We don't have much time!", I yelled at them, as they knelt to inspect the old man. Of course, I got the usual 'You horrible beast!' and 'Cold-hearted killer!' routine, but I was used to it. What else could I expect from this soft and emotional group of PI's. I noticed a bit of a ruckus over by where the PI's were crowded around the old man. "He's still alive!!", cried Miller in disbelief, "He hasn't even been shot!" The Unbeliever "The fools finally wised up", I chuckled to myself. Then out loud, "Hurry up!" They laid the old man carefully on the grass on the edge of the road, then rushed over to the car. "What the hell is going on!?", El Loco demanded, pressing through the driver's window. I dismissed him with a wave of my hand and stated matter-of-factly, "The old man slumped down unconscious when he saw me holding the gun. I emptied the gun just to see what you'd do. Maybe I could have goaded you into attacking me. I'd have enjoyed killing you." His eyes widened. He sputtered, "I'll kill you for that." and reached for his Weilheiler. I snatched the .74 up from where it lay on my thigh and jammed it into his chest. He turned about 5 different colours, then paled. "I should pull the trigger for the trouble you've caused me. But I still need your services." I lowered the gun and he relaxed. "Get in the car." The PI's glanced at each other, then began to climb inside. System Masterer The car drove slowly along a dirt road near in the southwestern coasal area of Spain. The PIs, Skillprof and Dougal rode quietly, Freeman drove. Dik noticed an odd warmth in his pocket. He reached in, and pulled out the Amex Platinum card. It burnt his fingers. He dropped it. It flashed briefly, and dissolved into embers. "Ummm.... guys? I think Jacque is going to be upset..." Dik murmured. As they rounded a corner, they noticed a man standing at the side of the road. He was non-descript, average height, sandy hair, fair skin. He was wearing a light colored, loose fitting shirt and pants, and a pair of running shoes. A pair of sunglasses dangled in one hand, the other with his thumb sticking out, pointed the direction the PIs were travelling. Dik managed to convince Freeman to stop. "Where you headed?" queried Loco. "Thataway." pointed the man, showing the road they were headed down. He clambered in. Proffering his hand to Loco, he smiled. "You can call me Zeb. Everyone does." El Loco I took his hand and shook it. After shaking it, I returned it, and he affixed it to his wrist again. "Hey Zeb, where ya from?" I asked. "Here and there." he replied. "I've been there, " said Dik, "nice place. Born there?" "Twit." we all said in unison. Freeman drove us around the Spanish countryside, and I thought of my ancestors who came from here originally. Ah, yes. I remember one in particular who was a lord and was rumoured to be the greatest ever. Huevos y Bacon was his name. Ah yes, the stories father used to tell. "Where are we going by the way?" asked Freeman. "We are going to the AmEx office in Madrid to see if we can track down Masters." Dik told us. Zeb was sitting quietly until, "Hey, you guys some kinda government types?" We all looked back and forth at each other, then, "Yeah, we are." we chorused together. "Oh, well, if you let me out here..." This guy was suspicious. The Imposter Once again we were rolling along in our typical lacadaisical(sp) fashion. The road was fairly empty and it was a nice day out, so we proceeded to sing travelling songs like 'Age of Aquarius', 'Fire', and 'The Brady Bunch Theme'. Eventually a car came along and very nearly ran us down. The angered driver jumped out of his car, followed by Dik, freeman, Loco and I. "You maniac! you were driving on the wrong side!" bellowed Freeman. "Aie Caramba, el locos!" screamed the little spanish man. "Hey, smile when you say my name podner" said El. The man ran into a string of foreign words that no one could understand. "We need to find the AmEx office boys." said Dik, ignoring the little spanish man who was now sputtering. "No sweat," said Loco, "I speak spanish". He looked thoughtful for a moment and then spoke to the little man. "Hey amigo, youzza know where ze AmEx Officio Beo?" he asked confiden- tly. "Oh, itsa datawayos amigos" answered the spanyard. And we were off again. The Gourd "Masters isn't going to get away that easily," I muttered, rubbing my hands together in an oh-so-vengeful way. My hands had burn marks on them from the AmEx card. Did he think it would be that easy to get rid of us? He would have to think again. We were well on our way to the American Express Office, somehow managing to jam the whole crew into a small, four-cylinder French vehicle and still get the thing to move, albeit at a speed more indicative of a frozen slug than of an automobile. This new Zeb guy bothered me, especially in the way that he looked at us, like he knew something that we didn't know, or knew something that we knew but didn't know that he knew. Or something like that. I looked around. Pedro, El, Skillprof, Barnard, Freeman, Scratch, Zeb, and me, in Spain. Why the hell did I ever become a private investigator? Scratch Cat Scratch stood swaying and bobbing while trying to shake his head giving the appearance of an epileptic. An indication of pure bewilderment crossed his brow. "Hey, I ain't been a fuggin' lush all my life, I thinks someone has been slippin' me sublimal suggestions ta take to da bottle. Whadda ya guys figger?" Thomas Covenant "I think that there may be a possibility you've been possessed by an alco- holic demon, Mr. Scratch," I said, searching for the knife that Freeman had given to me. "Perhaps, I could remove it from your body." Cat Scratch backed up with his hands upraised, twitching his head. "No, I'm not about to let some fuggin' nut perform explorat'ry surjrey on 'dis here body of mine.. Not me.." How come these people are never willing? El Loco After the knife man, and Cat had finished thier brief engagement with reality, we continued on our journey. "There we go, Madrid city limits." announced Dik triumphantly. We had arrived within the boundaries of Madrid and all was well. All we had to do now was to find the AmEx office. Shouldn't be too hard. "How do we find the American Express office?" asked Freeman. "Ask that guy." I said noticing a rather rotund man walking along the sidewalk. "Excuse me," inquired Pedro, "could you direct me to the AmEx office?" At once, 6 Japanese men entered existence, all pulled out AmEx cards, bowed, and said "Ahhhh...". The guy was Peter Ustinov." "Of course," he said, "It is right down the Concourse el Expresso." "Thanks." said Pedro. "I wonder if he has rights to that?" queried Dik. We drove on. The Gourd "Madrid," I said, "is an awfully long way from the coast. There must be an American Express office somewhere closer to shore." "Sure there is, but Madrid has more potential for violence, excitement, and general PI-type adventure stuff, so we came here," said Dale, who had some- how escaped my cursory glance at the group earlier, probably because he had been in the trunk at the time, it being his turn to do so. "I see. I certainly hope we can find Masters this way. If not, this whole trip will have been pointless." "What else is new?" asked Pedro, grinning. "Shaddup," I snapped. We pulled up to the front of the AmEx office, whose blue and white colours contrasted sharply with the European dinginess of the rest of the buildings in the area. The whole group of us strode up to the desk simultaneously. "We're looking for Richard Masters," said El, planting his fist firmly on the arborite of the counter. The Imposter "Pss...Get outta the way!" whispered the secretary at the counter. "No! We want Richard Masters and we want him NOW!" bellowed Dik. "Get outta the way!" whispered the secretary furiously. "Oh no, it's too late!" she said. Suddenly a guy in a trenchcoat and P.I. hat who looked suspiciously like someone from "The Streets of San Fransisco" came towards us backed by seven cameramen and a director. "You ninnies! You just wrecked my latest commercial!" said the man. Freeman pulled out his gun and shot the man in the arm. For no particular reason, just to make sure he still had bullets in his gun. "Neat, I still have bullets in my gun." said he. The actor fell to the floor and began bleeding on the carpet with gusto. "Goddam it will someone tell me where the Hell Richard Masters is?!" screamed Dik, now frothing at the mouth. "First door on the left" said the bleeding man. We walked over to the door and knocked. Twice. El Loco The door said "Personal Inquiries". Well, it didn't actually SAY it verbally but it did express it in alpha form. "Come in." said the voice behind the door. We entered into an office with a computer on the desk, a few filing cabinets, and some chairs. "What can I do ya for?" the small balding man at the desk asked. "We want to find out where you send the bills for a Richard Masters." I s stated. "Well, I'm sorry, that is confidential information. We don't just let any-" I pulled out my Weilheiler and lined the laser on the bridge of his nose. "I'm his brother. I need to know. Get it?" I growled. He looked white. Real white. "I...I..." he stammered. "Type it up." said Dik menacingly, "Richard Masters." He commenced typing and produced some words, "O...Okay, he lives..." "No time." I yelled, "Give us a hard copy." He activated the printer, it spewed for a minute or two and stopped. Pedro grabbed the paper and headed for the door. "Try to forget what happened." I sneered. He fainted. El Loco As we walked back from the appointment with the nice man with the info, we noticed the scene had not changed much. Karl was still bleeding from the tiny nick he recieved. There was basic panic, and people were taking cover. "Where to Pedro?" asked Freeman. "It says his mailing address is somewhere in Morocco." replied Pedro. "Morocco? It must be a dummy address." said Dik. "Where else do we go then?" I asked. "True" said Dik. We walked to the car and found Zeb gone. Where he was? Who knows. Freeman took theheel again and proceeded to drive. Dik gave directions to get to the south coast, near Gibraltar. A little while later. "Is anyone hungry?" Asked Dale. We all thought a moment and said, "Yes." "Does Madrid have Jack in the Box?" Asked Barn. The Gourd I stared at Barn for a few seconds. "How immature. We're in Europe. When in Rome, do as the Romans do." "We're not in Rome," pointed out Barnard. "It's a figure of speech," explained El, muttering "dolt" under his breath. "Anyway, I was saying, we're in Spain. Let's find some Spanish food before we go to Morocco, where we can try some Moroccan food. Let's experiment." "You're soooo continental," said Pedro. I glared at him. "There's something!" exclaimed Dougal, pointing at an oncoming Neon sign. As we approached, he read it aloud. "Senor McTaco's Geniouno Spanisho Foodo." "Doesn't sound too authentic to me," I said. "What would you know?" "Let's stop. I'm hungry." Barnard's stomach growled. When Barn gets hungry, you'd better feed him or else. Or else what? you may ask. Don't ask. We stopped. The Gourd Somehow, El managed to convey to the establishment's proprietor that we wanted to eat. Why he didn't get this fact immediately was strange, since we were in a restaurant. I immediately became suspicious; why would a restau- ranteur NOT assume that his patrons were there to eat? And why was the name of the restaurant so strange? Something was definitely amiss here, but we were hungry, so we sat down to eat anyway. "What did you order?" Pedro asked El. "I hope it's not too spicy. I hate spices, especially garlic." He paused for a moment. "Oh yeah. I'm not a vampire anymore. I'm Mexican." He pondered this statement for a few seconds more, then looked up. "I love spices." The rest of us were too confused to notice El's reply. He said: "I asked him to surprise us." After a few minutes that statement had sunk into my brain. "You asked him to WHAT?" By this time, El was in the middle of a conversation with Dale about the ef- fects of hallucinogens on one's appreciation of Kraftwerk, and had no idea The Gourd no idea what I was talking about. He looked up and said: "What?" By then it was too late; the food had arrived. It looked tasty enough, and smelled tasty enough, but whether it actually was tasty, edible, or, most importantly, non-poisonous, was something only detailed chemical analysis could determine. Therefore, I picked up my Dik Miller (tm) Custom Food Analyzer Apparatus and took a small sample of one particularly appetizing piece of something or other, placing it carefully in the analyzing tray. Barnard looked at the beeping device for a few seconds, but soon became bored and took a shovelful from his plate, moving it towards his mouth. "Wait!" I snapped, holding my hand up and causing Barn to spill the contents of his spoon on his chest. "Now look what you've done," he said. "Never mind that. There's enough warfarin in this stuff to kill the rat pop- ulation of China." "How many is that?" inquired Freeman. "How should I know?" "Then it's not a very good analogy, is it?" The Torch It was time to leave the stump ryu. I had learned all that was possible about the martial arts. Maybe I could make movies and start up my own style of martial arts, sort of like Bruce Lee. Bruce was a close personal friend of mine, but the money really warped him. TThe stories we could tell, about the whorehouse in Singapore, about.. etc. etc. The master of the ryu slipped me a thousand yen note and said "For a woman in a disreputable house". I chuckled, he reminded me of Jake Gerbil's mentor, the Bwana Gerbil. I wondered if all old successful businessmen became like that. I boarded a NAL (Ninja Air lines) flight to Morocco. I had been told that this was where Masters hung out and partied. The Gourd "Whatever kind of analogy it is, this food is poisoned," I said. "Let's find the owner." Nearly everyone got up and stormed into the kitched. Everyone, that is, except Barnard, who stared at his plate and pleaded, "I'm still hungry." The kitchen was empty. The pantry was empty. The storage room was empty. In fact, no one except the PI's was visible anywhere in the restaurant. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone, except not as well written. We found the back door swinging open. Obviously, this had been the escape route for the perpetrators of this heinous near-crime. "Okay," said Pedro. "We'll have to split into search parties." "Why?" asked Freeman. "Because you always have to split into search parties to make the plot more exciting, that's why." "I get it. So who goes where?" Pedro thought for a moment. "Dik, Dale, El, and I will go that way." He pointed south. "That means we'll go north." "You're very perceptive," Pedro said sarcastically. "Let's move out," I said. Big Dave Diode And with a hearty "Wagons - ho!" they moved on out. System Masterer The red phone rang. Masters picked it up. "Yes?" A few moments later, he hung up. Ever since he had activated the autoself-destruct on the cards, he had no way of tracking the PIs. He had to rely on informants. Fortunately, his source of informants was very good. Unfortunately, most of them were wimps that worked in American Express offices. But, fortunately, he knew where the PIs were, and where they were headed. He called the Morocco estate. "Charles? Some guests are headed in your direction. Prepare for them." The red phone rang again. Masters picked it up again. "Yes?" "You did WHAT!?!?!" Masters slapped the phone down. The only thing worse than a wimpy informant was an overzealous one. Masters turned to a computer console. He attempted to connect a data relay link via satellite to Spain in order to destroy the restaurant. Strangely, he couldn't get an effective orientation on the satellite... it seemed to be missing, somehow out of its proper location. System Masterer Masters picked up a blue phone. He dialed. "Charles? Belay those last orders. I'm coming to Morocco." Replacing the handset in its cradle, he called to his beloved. "My dear, I must depart to Morocco. Please stay here... I may need to contact you." Masters walked to the north side of his penthouse, and up some stairs. On top of the roof sat a turbojet helicopter, one of the fastest in existance. Seeing Masters, the pilot started the engines. Masters climbed in. "Morocco estate. Now." Moments later, the chopper lifted off from the Rio penthouse. The Gourd Spain is a big place. We discovered that after trying to find the former oc- cupants of the restaurant. Unlike Andorra, or Vatican City, or Leichtenstien, you can't really walk for a few minutes and be out of the country. This situ- ation caused problems, with fewer than ten private eyes and sundry hangers-on trying to cover an area the size of...well...Spain. Eventually realizing our folly, we gave up and returned to the restaurant. We were standing around, not doing much, waiting for the rest of the crew to return from the wilds to the north, when El waved at us from the front of the building. I waved back. He snarled and shouted "Come here, you imbeciles!" I resented being called an imbecile, but followed the others to where El was standing. He pointed to the front of the structure. "This whole building front is a facade," he said. "It's a quick construction job, and it looks like it was only finished this morning. The paint is still fresh and the nails haven't even started to rust." The Gourd "Now that's interesting," I said noncommitally. "And look at this," began Pedro, pointing at a metal plate bolted to the plaster. "It's a nameplate." I looked. It read: QUICKIE DRYWALL, A MEMBER OF THE RICHARD MASTERS GROUP. A-ha. El Loco "Richard Masters Group?" I said, "That's cute." "Well, what do we do now?" asked Pedro. We stood there and wondered for a while as time passed us. We pondered, and finally came up with, "Let's go to Morrocco." We decided to leave the other car we found and look for another roomier one. "Here's one cousin", indicated Pedro, "Think you can get it going?" I looked at the BMW 733 and wondered. It had a turn-catch lock down the far side of the passenger window, and a push/catch/release lock on the driver side. "Fond a coat hanger or a thin piece of metal somewhere. Relatively long." I instructed the rest. Dik stated "Hey, what about this?", and he produced a long, thin piece of metal with a catch in the end. It said "Thin Piece of Metal Dik Miller". Sad. Real sad. El Loco Anyways, we broke into the car no trouble, and all found a seat. There was a but of trouble with the hotwiring, but Dik helped us out and we were off.. "Okay, so how do we get to Morocco?" Asked Pedro who was driving at this point. "Find Gibraltar, and we catch a ferry from there. It shouldn't take us too long." Dale told us. We drove onto a highway type experience and were having a great time when we saw rollers. "Great." said Pedro, "Cops. What now." "Let me handle this." said Dale. The policeman approached the car and leaned into the passenger side of the car. He asked us where we got the car. "Officer, I'm with InterPol, and we have been sent to investigate your highway procedures in this sector." Announced Dale confidently, showing a badge and picture certifying that he was an InterPol agent. "Why did you steal this car?" asked the Spanish flatfoot. "We wanted to see how fast your response is on cases such as this one." "Oh." He said. "Okay. But when do I get my car back?" The Grodd "As soon as we find the person who stole my Mercedes," replied Dale without even flinching. Thus, we had a police escort to Gibraltar, not so much because we were on such a hot-damn mission, but mostly because the cop wanted his Bimmer back. This was almost too easy. Almost, but not quite. If it had been too easy, there would be ample reason to throw in another stupid subplot, and we simply didn't have time for that. In no time, we were ferrying our way across the gap between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Somehow, we were spending much too much time at sea in this story, so I will dispense with any details of the voyage. Siffice to say we arrived - totally abnormally - without incident on the Moroccan coast. We stood on the sand and stared at the desert. "Didn't they film Star Wars or something here?" asked Barnard. "That was Tunisia," said Freeman. "So who has Masters address?" I inquired. "I do! I do!" shouted El. System Masterer A small man relax in a cafe in Madrid. He was nondescript, but his eyes told of some sort of boredom with the universe. His name was Eugene Whitmore III, but most people called him Zeb. Zeb was sipping horrible coffee, and glancing at a small, flat, squarish box with buttons and a little display panel. He scribbled on the cafe counter with a pencil, and muttered to himself. "Morocco? Hmmm..." He looked around the restaurant. He noticed a couple of teenagers, obviously American, who seemed to be discussing some problem. He wandered over. "Good afternoon boys... I wonder if you could help me with a little problem.^ "G'away, we got problems of our own." "I need to get to Morocco, money isn't the problem." "Money is our problem." "Have you a car?" "Yeah, have you got the money?" "Yes. And so do you if you feel like driving to Morocco." One boy looked at the other, then at a pile of American \$100 dollar bills on the table. "I have a sudden urge to drive to Morocco." "I thought s System Masterer Masters was two hours away from the Morocco estate when the pilot called into his headset. "Call for you sir. Charles at the Morocco estate." "Thank you. What is it Charles?" After a few moments, Masters cut the connection and called to the pilot. "Speed this thing up, the guests have arrived early." "Yes sir." The helicopter accelerated to just short of Mach 1. "Our ETA is 90 minutes sir." "Very good." The Unbeliever I became increasingly uncomfortable as we proceeded towards Masters' stronghold. I knew that I couldn't allow the PIs to get to their destination, but I somehow souldn't bring myself to kill them when it came right down to it. Suddenly a flood of suppressed memories and imagery seared into my mind and I clutched my forehead with my hand. The PIs stopped and looked at me with expressions of surprise and concern. The weaklings shouldn't worry about me. The pain dissipated and I stood erect. The PIs looked at me peculiarly and Dale came towards me and asked, 'Freeman, are you alright? You turned pale and almost fell o-" "Mind your own business, you little fool, unless you have a pressing need to fulfill your deathwish!!", I snapped, cutting Dale off. He gasped, looked askance at me, then rejoined the other PIs. I sneered at them and the rest of them turned away, to continue their trek towards the stronghold. The Unbeliever I followed. My course of action was now clear. The moment of pain and bewilderment had served to clear my mind of all of the PIs sentimental gibberish and to return me to my original programme outlined by Masters. I slowly fell behind the rest of the group and soon was close behind the last person. I felt no emotion as I drew the .74 and the Walther and aligned them on Miller's back. I slowly pulled back on the triggers and felt the slight click of the double-actions of both guns. Obviously Cat Scratch had felt or heard them, too. He'd spun around quickly belying any notion that he was nothing but a drunk. I thought quickly and pulled the triggers. I heard a hoarse shout and saw Scratch shove Miller to the ground and interpose himself between me and the rest of the group. He obviously knew what his action would mean because he made no move to escape. At any rate, the bullets impacted Scratch's chest and knocked him backwards a good 5 metres, dead before he hit the ground. The Unbeliever I admired Scratch for his action, but also knew that his gesture would be futile. While the others recovered from what they'd just seen, I shifted my priorities and targeted the ones who would be in the best positions to seek cover and/or return fire. I was gratified to see that Loco and Bear were on my 'list'. I adjusted my aim and fired the .74 twice more and watched as Bear and Loco slumped to the ground, dead or seriously hurt. I couldn't take the time to make certain because Miller and Pedro were already drawing their guns, having gotten over their initial surprise. I brought up the Walther and fired twice more. Pedro fell but Miller continued to stand, showing that he was hardy and tough as well as resourceful. He brought his gun up, fired in my general direction, then fell to his knees. He brought his gun up once more. I emptied the .74 Centrefire Auto into him. He jerked twice as the slugs hit, then slumped face forward to the ground. The Unbeliever I relaxed my grip on the guns and let out a sigh. All I had to do now was to make my way back to the stronghold and join Masters there. I holstered the weapons and stepped casually over the bodies of my former comrades. I would have laughed if not for the sudden, searing pain in my side. Stupidly, I'd forgotten about Dougal. I felt lightheaded and fell backwards, clumsily fumbling for the Walther autopistol. I hit the ground with a grunt and lay still. Through slitted eyes I surveyed the area and saw Dougal by a small hillock debating on whether I was dead or just hurt. My eyes rested on the hilt of the knife protruding from my ribs and I smiled inwardly as I realized that the knife was the one I'd given Dougal a short time ago. A foolish lack of foresight on my part. Anyways, I lay still and tried to look dead. I hoped that Dougal made up his mind quickly, because I soon would be dead if I lay here with an unstaunched and bleeding wound. I then pondered on whether to shoot him from here. The Unbeliever While I pondered on my chances of hitting Dougal from my position with him partially concealed behind a hillock and me with an undrawn gun, Dougal struggled with a decision, too. I'd made up my mind to make the attempt when I noticed that he'd come forward and was holding an ice-pick in his hand. Again I changed my tactics, gripped the butt of the Walther tightly and closed my eyes. I knew that this could be risky, but I had little choice. I waited and not without some apprehension as Dougal drew closer. I envisioned him plunging the ice-pick into me and barely suppressed a shudder. The foot- steps stopped. I estimated his distance from me and his approximate position, then whipped the gun out and fired blindly in the spot that I thought he might be. I felt another sharp pain in my chest but not as painful or startling as the first. I continued to fire blindly until the gun was empty and clicked repeatedly. The Unbeliever Suddenly very tired, I dropped the gun, dreading what would come next. I lay for an indeterminate time and finally decided to open my eyes and accept my fate like a man. I saw nothing. Except blue sky, white sand, a grassy hillock or two. Surprised, I sat up, forgetting my wounds, and howled loudly. I looked around, then down at my chest. A small pinprick, trickling blood, stood out against my chest. I looked to the side and noticed Dougal, looking very corpse-like, lying on his back, at my feet. He was about to stab me and when I'd shot him, had dropped the knife onto me. I couldn't believe my luck. Then a searing pain shot through my side and I felt faint. Maybe I wasn't so lucky. I'd lost much blood. I plucked the knife out and quickly stanched the wound with a handkerchief. I crawled to where Miller and the others had been standing and fished in their clothes for tape, cloth or bandages and found all of these on Miller's person. I also found that they all lived. Even Dougal. The Unbeliever I hastily bandaged the wound and was about to reach for the Speed-Six revolver strapped to my ankle when another dizzy spell hit. I lay back and put my hand on my forehead. I realized then that I had to get away. I had to seek shelter or better yet, make my way to the stronghold. Masters' would know what to do. So thinking, I began to crawl away. I never found out how long I'd crawled but thought it might have been a few hours. I'd only come a few miles and it might as well have been a few feet. I was not much closer to my goal than when I started. I suddenly realized that I'd left my prized Walther laying atop of Miller's body when I'd been searching him. I laughed uproariously for a few moments, then slumped forward in unconsciousness. The Grodd "Dammit," I thought. "Now my shirt's ruined." The Dik Miller (tm) high-density carbon-reinforced, titanium-lined bulletproof vest that I wore at all times had stopped all of Freeman's bullets, but I had to appear dead in order to keep him from shooting me in the head or elsewhere. I tried valiantly to stifle a sneeze which was being provoked by the sand that was trickling into my nose, but failed. There was a mild explosion, then I caught my breath, grabbed my Smith & Wesson 9mm automatic, and rolled, figuring that the sneeze would give me away as not being dead, and that I had at least a reasonably good chance of hitting Freema before he shot me one last time. He was nowhere to be seen, but a trail of congealing blood was visible stretching away for some distance. I stood up and surveyed the scenario. Not a pretty sight, I must admit. Grief is not something a private eye feels very often, but I felt a twinge of it now. Masters would definitely pay for this. I examined my shirt and the marks the bull The Grodd ets had made in the vest. I was surprised to find that there were none. Closer inspection revealed that the bullets were, in fact, wax and filled with red dye. I had not even been in danger of getting killed. Some joke. I peered around at the other PI's. "Yo! Guys!" I shouted. "These bullets were fakes!" There was a shuffling and groaning as the PI's got to their feet. Apparently, they had all been so shocked at being shot that they had fainted, and Free- man had just assumed that they were dead. Scratch had not stood up, so I walked over to him and kicked him lightly. "Hey! Scratch! Get up!" No response. "Breaky time." Still nothing. I checked his pulse. Nothing. I checked the bullet marks, and they were wax like all the others. "Let me look," said Pedro, leaning down beside Scratch. After a few moments, he looked up solemnly. "Dead." "From what?" asked El, still a bit shaken. There was an ominous pause that verged on pregnancy. "Alcohol poisoning." Thomas Covenant Struggling to regain consciousness for the third time in a matter of weeks, I masticated briefly and ejected a lump of sand. The other's were returning to the land of the living. Dik Miller appeared to have come to before I did, and was examining a trail of blood leading off into the distance. From the knife wound I had inflicted in Freeman, I guess. I looked around for the knife, momentarily afraid that the sand had shifted and covered it up. I found it half exposed, a flash of silver stained with half-congealed crimson. So it was Christened. Dik stood up from and turned towards me and the others, who were staring at each other in a daze. "If only we had some form of transportation." At that, an '87 Buick floated down out of the sky, attached to a parachute. I fell to my knees. "It's a gift from Ishtar," I proclaimed. Dik, who was cutting the parachute away from it, disagreed. "Actually, it's a commercial campaign gone askew. And the keys are in it." The Grodd We piled in. The Buick had originally been destined to land in Libya as a de- moralizing influence on the Libyan people - look at what they were missing by not being friends with America, it was supposed to say. So what if they drove Mercedes? This was a BUICK. Needless to say, the campaign failed. This particular vehicle had been caught by a cross-Sahara wind and had landed, just coincidentally, right when and where we needed it. How I know this is a story in itself and I won't go on for a change. We drove, following the trail of blood until it stopped. There was nothing there. It just ended, and there were no footprints nearby or anything. Then I noticed a helicopter whupping away in the distance. El glanced quickly through some binoculars he had brought along. "It doesn't belong to Masters," he said. "How do you know?" asked Pedro, trying to remove the stains from his shirt with a Kleenex. "Masters doesn't use helicopters with 'Just call be Zeb' painted on the side." Curiouser and curiouser. The Unbeliever I found myself in what appeared to be a helicopter, looking into the face of a sandy-haired and smallish gentleman. With a quick motion, I drew the .74 and had it against his chest. All he did was chuckle. "Put the gun down. It's full of dye bullets, didn't you know?" Shocked, I ejected the clip and flipped the remaining cartridges out. Wax. They were all wax and dye. Then I'd been stabbed for my efforts which were for naught. I groaned aloud and slumped back down to the floor of the helicopter. My wounds were sore and still oozed blood. I cursed the PIs. They must have exchanged my ammunition sometime between the time I shot at the old man and the ferry trip to Morocco. Feverishly, I dug in my pockets and dropped all of my loose ammunition, empty clips and full clips to the floor in a pile. Every last bit of it was wax and dye. The Unbeliever I buried my face in my hands, unable to handle the fact that I'd bungled another assignment. Sobs racked my frame and I cried freely. A comforting hand rested on my shoulder and I looked up to see the sandy-haired man kneeling on one knee, holding my .74 in his hand. He held it out to me. "No need to worry, my friend. I've got ammunition for this." He dug in a pouch nearby and withdrew 4 full .74 Centrefire clips. I took my gun and the ammo and placed it all on the floor. Skeptical, I emptied the clips onto the floor and examined the bullets. I scored one with my knife and saw that it was real, to my great satisfaction. I looked up at my new friend and smiled, as I hastily filled the clips and reloaded the gun. He handed me a small pouch of loose .38 ammo for my Speed-Six, which I emptied of fake ammo. "I can't thank you enough", I said sincerely,"for what you're doing. Who are you, anyways?" A thin smile crossed his lips. "People just call me Zeb." The Grodd "Who the hell is that Zeb guy, anyway?" inquired an impatient Barnard Q. Bear. "I think that's something that deserves further investigabshun," I said. "What did you say?" "I said I think that's shumbthin dat desherfs futher..." I paused. The view out the windshield was becoming blurry. I looked down, and a sudden insight came to mind. Freeman's bullets had not been filled with red dye; it was con- tact poison, and even I had been affected by the splattered ink that spread to my arms and legs when the bullets hit my vest. Freeman had been cagier that I had thought. Or Masters had. I fumbled for the brake pedal, but missed it by several inches. My last view was of the quickly approaching face of a sand dune. Things got really dark really fast. Thomas Covenant Much to my chagrin, I realized that Dik was quite unconscious. As well as everyone else. As always was our luck, he'd slumped over with his foot on the accelerator, and we were headed for a sand dune approximately the size and shape of a brick wall. I wondered momentarily why I was not affected by the poison that Dik spoke of, and came to the conclusion that it was another long- term effect of the experimentation that I had done with psilobyn and lysergic acid that I'd done in the sixties. I was always finding side effects. Like that odd aversion to head cheese that I'd discovered. My reflections were abruptly cut off as the Buick crashed into the vaugely brick-wall shaped sand dune and jarred to a stop. When my senses returned, I decided that it would probably be a good idea to try to help the others. Besides, there wasn't much else to do, the sand was too dry for castles. Thomas Covenant One-by-one I pulled Dik, El Loco and Pedro out of the now useless sedan, and gently placed them on the sand. Not that the sand was a good place to put them, it's just that their wasn't anything else convenient. I took Pedro out last, and was puzzled as I was electricly shocked several times in the process. When I finally got him out on the ground, I noticed that his features were becoming blurred, diffused. I didn't find this particularly odd, but what surprised me was that the distinct scent of fried kidney beans and Kraft barbecue sauce seemed to be fading. Forgetting about Dik and El Loco, I watched as sparks leapt from Pedro's limp body. There was the unmistakable smell of ozone in the air. That was when the wind started. System Masterer Dale stood over the prone bodies of his comrades, staring into the wind. Moments later, he heard an odd sound... a swishing sound. Abruptly, a helicopter appeared over the sand dune, almost directly over Dale. Sand whipped around him and the others, and Dale covered his eyes and mouth in an effort to protect himself. Then, the group was surrounded by vehicles. All sandy brown, almost invisible in the desert. There were many men on the vehicles, most dressed in some sort of military uniform. Most pointed guns at the group. The few that didn't had injection needles in their hands. The ran to the near dead PIs, and injected them while Dale stood, confused at all the action. A large truck pulled up and the rear doors were opened. More men poured out, carrying stretchers. They loaded the PIs, and pushed Dale into the back of the truck. Moments before Dale entered the truck, he finally caught a glimpse of the name written on the side of the helicopter. "Richard Masters Industries." System Masterer Pedro groaned, and rolled over. He opened one eye. Light. Bright light. A silloetted form blocked the light, then flashed a small light into his open eye. Pedro closed it. "Feeling better?" "Blech." "That's good. Hungry?" "Blech." "I'll get a nurse to bring you a menu." Several hours later, the PIs were all conscious, fed, and confused. Finally, in an instant answer to all their questions, Masters walked into the room. Moments after that, more questions appeared again. Dik finally spoke up. "What the hell is going on here?" "That, my good sir, is a very good question. I have the answer to your version of it, but not mine." "Huh?" Dik queried. "I know all of you don't trust me, I don't blame you. Heck, sometimes I don't trust me either. But you must believe me now. We're all in very big trouble. You see, someone is trying to take over the world. For real this time." System Masterer Freeman had slipped into unconsciousness after speaking with Zeb for awhile. When he had woken once again, he was no longer in the helicopter, he was lying in a bed, his injuries bandaged, his pain gone. Zeb walked in. "Feeling better eh? Good. I have a long and complicated tale to tell you Freeman Long. You may find it difficult to believe, but I want you to bear with me. You have been the victim of careful and devilish manipulation by Richard Masters." Freeman felt very nervous and ill at ease. His mind seemed to be snapping into pieces. It was as if hearing his full name had flipped a switch in his brain. He felt like a jigsaw puzzle, the last pieces only now falling into place. "I've managed to put together a fairly complete history on you, Freeman. It wasn't easy, but I've done it. Pretty accurate too. I don't suppose you remember working for the US government in Vietnam, do you?" Suddenly, Freeman remembered. System Masterer "So, as you can see, the man behind this is a genius. A genius of amazing proportion, and that's quite a compliment, coming from me." Masters brought the lights back up to their full brightness. "Whoever this guy is, he's obviously able to bring the world to its knees in an instant. Very impressive, but very dangerous. His control of the satellite network is complete as far as I have determined. If he so wishes, he can render every nation on the planet blind, deaf and dumb. He could take over everything without even trying." The PIs were dumbfounded. Someone, other than Masters, really was trying to take over the world. And it looked as if they would succeed. "Somehow, we've got to stop him." intoned Masters, "I mean, sure I want to take over the world, but this guy... he's not kidding around." "So what do you want us to do about it?" asked Bernard. "Why, stop him of course." said Masters, "Somehow." System Masterer Freeman walked down the corridor. Suddenly, a target in the shape of a man with a machine gun swung out, twenty feet ahead. Freeman rolled left, righted himself on one knee, and put two shots through the head of the wooden target. Four more targets appeared. Freeman blasted each one in an instant. The lights went up. "You seem to be feeling much better." came a voice of a man Freeman had grown to trust; Eugene Whitmore III, better known as Zeb. "Yes." said Freeman simply. "Are you ready then?" queired Zeb. "Yes." "You leave in an hour by helicopter. You know your mission?" "Seek out Masters. Kill him. With extreme prejudice." "Very good. Gather your equipment together and meet me at the pad." "Yes." Fred the Yak "Damn!", I swore, "it's almost Mother's Day and here I am trapped in a sunken L-1011 plane in the middle of nowhere!" Suddenly, a large trunk (inanimate) fell over with a crash and a big purplish trunk (animate) probed from within. I trotted over and flipped the lid back to reveal Elmer crammed inside, looking very uncomfortable. "Hi, Fred. How are you?", he said tritely. "Oh, just fine. How are you, Elmer?", I queried, almost as tritely. I tried not to sound too banal or bored, but it was apparent that this conversation was going nowhere. "I'm alright, Fred. How are you?", Elmer said. I dismissed him with a wave of my hand, and sat town on the tilted bay wall. "Fred!", Elmer called, attracting my attention. "Are you hungry? Look at what I caught!", he cried with boyish (boy elephantish?) enthusiasm. I saw that in his trunk he held a dog and a cat, both of which were baying, meowing, howling and spitting simultaneously. "Uh, no thanks, Elmer. I'm not hungry.", I said with weak smile. El Loco The helicopter sat with its blades turning. Zeb was at the controls writing some things down on a clipboard which he secured to the side of his seat. Freeman approached the pad with his military garb on and a suit-bag filled with his chosen weapons and ammo. He opened the door to the chopper and put his case in the back. He climbed in and strapped himself to the seat. "Let's go." he said to Zeb without looking over. They both donned sunglasses and the chopper took off. About half an hour later, Zeb released the clipboard from beside him and handed it over to Freeman. "Read it, and remember." he said. It read: Freeman Long. Termination Mission. Target: Richard Masters. Directive: Full assult on Masters' villa. No friendlies in this mission. Kill anyone on sight with extreme predjudice. If Masters is terminated, mission accomplished. Return to base. Little did they know that the PI's would be waiting. El Loco "Okay, so where do we find this Zeb guy?" asked Dik. "Well, I don't know where he is Originating from, bu-" Masters was cut off by a pager he was wearing. "Hold on." He said and actuated the pager. "Commandant, there is an unidentified craft approaching. Request that you attend the tracking room." came the crackled voice. "Shit, that'll be him." exasperated Masters. "He's th} guy that got in the car in Madrid and took off, didn't he?" said Dik. "Hey, yeah." I replied. "He was funny looking." Masters left thru the back wall door, and we followed. We walked for about 5 minutes and came to a room that looked vaguely remniscent of the WarGames military Norad place, only smaller. "Shit, he's coming on fast." said Masters uneasily. "Can you find if he is armed." he directed to one of his officers. "Yes sir, we scanned and found no Air to Base missiles or any other armaments aboard." Masters turnedpa little whiter, and then went red. "Termination Mission" he growled under his breath. El Loco Meanwhile in the copter. "We are approaching the villa Freeman." monotoned Zeb. "Right." countered Freeman. "Kill with Extreme Predjudice. Got it." Freeman reached back and started to extract his weapons from his gun case. "Rapid Fire recoiless Baretta. Konnemann special 9mm Assult rifle. M-1A small detonation shell handgun, eight missiles. Smith & Wesson .45 auto with sideline laser mount. Walther PPK backup pistol. 2 clips for each weapon. 10 plastic explosive charges, timed primers. Check." Said Freeman as he went over his inventory. "We are going to set down in the camp, then..." Zeb was cut short by a flash on a small screen by the altimiter. "Did you put a bug on Masters?" asked Zeb desperately. "No, why?" asked Freeman. "Because that little blip on the screen means that the PIs are in there." "Great." "No matter, you have a job to do. Remember, no friendlies." Zeb glared at Freeman. Freeman looked straight ahead and his expression didn't change. "No friendlies." he repeated. El Loco Masters took of through a concealed door off to the left which seemed to seal itself as soon as he passed through it. At once, all the people in the Tracking room went silent. All that was heard was the sound of the radars, and other devices. "He sealed the hatch." said one, soon they were all saying it and scrambling for an exit. They all went out into the courtyard to find a Bell 222 helicopter begin it's descent. The PIs sensed danger and drew thier weapons. As the Helicopter descended, the officers were trying to get vehicles to escape in, others were plain running through the now open gate with the words "Termination Mission" and "Extreme Predjudice" on thier lips. As the helicopter came into visual tracking range, the PIs noticed it was Freeman. I raisud my Weilheiler and aligned it just short of the rotor mechanism and commenced firing. Stupid Idea. It did the job of bringing the copter down, but it also did something I didn't foresee. El Loco As the bullets ripped the rotor assembly apart, the rotor blades thierselves were released and flew off at an amazing speed, decapitating an officer and coming to rest after ripping into ^he side of the building. Dik and Barney started to run for an open doorway, ducked down. The rest of the PIs, including myself dropped down behind a jeep. The Gunfire Commenced. Freeman jumped out of the copter shortly before it struck the ground and partly collapsed, pinning Zeb in his seat. "Good shooting, cuz" said Pedro with sarcasm in his face. "I brought it down." I said. "It was already coming down." said Pedro. Just then, an explosion right in front of us rocked the Jeep, and we ducked more. Looking over the jeep, I saw Freeman handling a M-1A and aiming for the doorway with Dik and Barn. "DIK! BARN! Get out!" I screamed. They dove farther into the room just as the explosion blast the doorway from the building. The Grodd "I knew it," I grumbled to Barn as we watched the dust from the explosion clear. "Knew what?" "I knew that sometime or another we'd have to have some sort of entirely pointless, needlessly gratuitous gunfight so lots of people could get killed and lots of very expensive equipment - like that helicopter - could be de- stroyed. I just knew it." Barn looked askance at me. "Then why didn't you do something about it?" "I didn't say there was anything WRONG with an entirely pointless, needless- ly gratuitous gunfight, did I?" "I guess not," he replied. I peered up over a large chunk of ceiling which had fallen just behind us. Freeman was still standing behind the semi-collapsed wreckage of the chopper, blazing away at anyone in sight. Bodies littered the ground, as they tend to do when a lot of rather stupid, expendable characters cross the line of fire of a rampaging assassin in this kind of story. From our position, I could see the rest of the PI's valiantly trying to block Freeman's The Grodd psychotic attack, but without much success. Suddenly, there was a blood-curdling war shout and a figure dressed entirely in black fell from the sky, landing directly on Freeman and knocking him flat to the ground. "I don't believe it," I gaped. "Dave the Ninja Master," Barnard identified. Surprisingly, Freeman countered Dave's unexpected blow, rolled to a standing position, and proceeded to attack him in the extremely distinctive manner of the ancient Patagonian martial art of ekrenda bo, which, roughly trans- lated, means "total, reckless abandon designed to kick the shit out of your opponent before he realizes what is going on." The ancient Patagonians were very good at summarizing complex ideas in short phrases. But enough of that. There was a rather major fight going on between Ninja Mas- ter Torch and Freeman Long, assassin and general neat guy. All gunfire had stopped, and there was deathly silence, save for the grunts and crunching sounds emanating from the courtyard. The Grodd Torch wasn't winning, and he wasn't losing. His Ninja skills and Freeman's reckless abandon were pretty evenly matched, and nothing much seemed to be happening until Dave managed to grab the pin on one of Freeman's grenades and pull it out. Rather than being macho and staying around to finish the fight, Dave - and, in fact, every living person left except Freeman and Zeb (who was still trapped in the helicopter) - was smart, and ran like he was being chased by a rampaging pack of Imelda Marcos' creditors. Barnard and I ducked down lightly, being rather used to explosions by now. BOOM. Crash, crash, bash, tinkle, tinkle, smuck. Smuck? I looked up to see the helicopter essentially gone. Freeman and Zeb, howe- ver, were not dead. Freeman was lying prone on the ground, still crawling towards the edge of the courtyard; he had managed to dispose of the gre- nade before it went off. Zeb's pilot's chair had been catapulted onto the roof of Masters' villa, and he looked a little charred and confused. The Grodd Freeman stood up shakily and looked around. Blood was streaming from one arm, but it was not his main firing arm, so he lifted up his gun and aimed it in my direction. I ducked. A few holes that were not there before appeared in my hat, but I managed to escape any major damage. I poked my Ingram above the ledge we hid behind and let off a short burst. Freeman answered with a longer one. In the meantime, Zeb had unbuckled himself (for, as the saying goes, seatbelts save lives, and he was still alive) and run for Masters' hiding place, hoping to finish him off by himself, and THEN take over the world. "Pedro! El!" I yelled. "Find Zeb! He's gone to kill Masters!" Pedro's reply was: "So? Why should we want him alive?" "Good point." I reconsidered. "Becaause Zeb doesn't make as good a recurring bad guy as Richard Masters does." "Alright. We're off." Just as they left, Dave crawled up beside me and scared the hell out of Barnard. "Hi, Torch," I said. "Long time no see." El Loco Pedro and I were running for the door, when my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of Freeman fumbling to reload a clib into his Konnemann and I took the opportunity. I lined the laser on the Weilheiler .45 on his forhead and said "Don't move Freeman, it's all over." He looked up suddenly and froze. He knew he couldn't load his gun fast enough. I could see his mind working up to something desperate. "This is it Freeman, " I said "You tried to kill me, and we forgave you. Now you land here, kill innocent people, and try to kill the other PIs." I continued to walk through the dusty haze toward him. "Loco! Get over here!" said Pedro hoarsely. "He's mine." said Dave. "No!" I yelled. "I will settle this." At that moment, Freeman lunged. I fired. He was jarred backward by the force. Blood appeared on his chest. I fired again, his shoulder disintegrat- ed. I fired again. He fell to the ground, more blood on his chest. I walked right up to him. El Loco He looked up at me as I stood over him. His breathing was staggered, and he was choking a little. He started to smile, and his hand shot up. I fired point blank into his face, and it erupted in a show of blood, bone and brain. There was total silence. I dropped the gun, and turned away. All of the PIs were standing now, looking at me. "Let's get Zeb." I said. The PIs looked at me, at Freeman, and stood silently for a moment, and then Dave said, "Lets go." We all went thru the closest doorway to the Tracking room, and looked for the dorr Masters had escaped through. "I think this is it." Said Dik triumphantly. "How do we open it?" asked Barn. "Wait." I said. I went out and found some of the Plastic charges that Freeman had. "Here are some timed primer actuated Plastic explosives." I said. Pedro attached one to the door and set the timer for 40 seconds. We all ran for cover. The Grodd There was yet another highly exothermic chemical reaction, and the door van- ished in a puff of flame-tinged smoke. We drew our weapons and burst through the opening. Masters and Zeb were sitting, drinking tea, in an extremely stylish living room - which at the moment was not quite as stylish as it had been because of the broken pieces of metal and giprock littering the floor. The two bad guys didn't seem to mind. "Well, hello," said Masters. Somehow, in a rather inexplicable way, the entire group of private eyes managed a slow, collective seething motion. "Just what do you think you're doing?" asked El through gritted teeth. "Having tea," replied Eugene Whitmore III calmly. "Earl Grey, I believe." "Why," inquired Dale, still clutching his anti-vampire dagger, "aren't you trying to kill each other?" Masters raised an eyebrow and smiled condescendingly. "You obviously have no idea what being a heavy-duty bad guy takes," he said. The Grodd "Yes," added Zeb. "You see, it would be uncouth, not to mention messy, if we were to try to kill one another. So we just commissioned two of our subordinates to kill one another. Simple." The collective seethe became a collective skyward rolling of the eyes. There was a blood-curdling scream from a nearby doorway. (Whether a scream can actually curdle blood, or whether blood can curdle at all, or what curdling is in the first place, I don't know.) "I think I've won," said Masters. "Indeed," said Zeb. "I believe you have." They shook hands. "Hold on a minute," I intoned. "This is just too neat. I can see through you guys. You're just putting up this ruse so you can take over the world and get rid of us in the process." "You have no faith," chastised Masters. I considered blowing them both away right then and there, but decided against it for some extremely stupid and useless reason. The Torch "Bullshit", I said. Utterances of "What?" "Who the fugs he?" "Pardon me?" and other queries were heard. "Pure, unadulterated Bullshit", I repeated. "For somebody who just got off the boat, you seem to think you know a lot", said Zeb. "How'd you like to be strangled on your own intestines?", I politely asked. He didn't seem to be inclined to take me up on the offer. It was my special of the day. "It isn't supposed to happen this way. We were going to have to go in space to defuse the command control center of the satellites, all the while filming episodes of 'PIss in Space'. Now we've lost the networks and all that funding. Nope, sorry, no way jose. That flimsy excuse for a story ending doesn't hold water anymore than Gary Hart saying he didn't sleep with that wench." Shock, surprise, anger, frustration, lust, hate were a miniscule amount of the passions that flickered on Masters' face. "So you think you're good now eh? Well, let's see what you can do about this!" as he leaped from his fee The Grodd Masters hit Torch hard. Really hard. Zeb took the opportunity to slip out yet another back door, presumably to put his plan into action. Just what that plan was, I didn't know as yet, but I was determined to find out. Barnard, Dale, El, Pedro, and I followed, leaving Torch and Masters to do their worst to each other. At least that would keep Masters out of the game for awhile, I thought. Somehow, I had known that things couldn't end so simply as they might have back in the stylish living room. I glanced back and decided that I would leave the blow-by-blow description of the fight in progress to Torch himself, while we, the rest of the PI's, described yet another bone-chilling chase scene. In only wished I had become a corporate accountant like my mother had wanted me to. Barney Beer While running after Zeb, I contemplated Freeman's death. Not only was it a total waste of a near-perfect specimen of an ideal assassin, but it left me with only one character to use in this story. I must have been deep in thought because I bumped into Pedro as he stopped suddenly, in front of me. I muttered an apology and tried to figure out why the hell we'd stopped. Then I saw what the other PIs were looking at. A door. A big door. A big steel door . Why that conjured up images of nattily dressed young men, I'll never know. Anyways, it was a big, steel door. With an electronic lock. El was busy trying to pick the thing, assisted by Dik who was frantically searching through his pockets for more little trademarked gadgets that he'd managed to concoct. All the while, Dale peered over their shoulders, eyed Pedro suspiciously and incessantly asked El and Dik whether they would need his silver-plated kitchen knife. Barney Beer The walls echoed with the faint-clicking of my toe-tapping, while I waited for El and Dik to open the door. Unable to control myself, I peeret over their shoulders, too. "I've almost got it. Nearly......nearly......aw, shit!!! Almost had the damn thing!", El sputtered. For some reason, Dale thought it was hilariously funny. I, myself, was getting fed up. I pulled Dik and El back, who promptly fell on their butts, shoved Dale out of the way and drew my Super Redhawk. I extended my arm, drew a bead on the lock and pumped 5 Magnum loads into it. Stepping forward, I kicked the door open with a heavy Dayton and strode through. While the others surveyed the room, I stood aside and attached the Glaser SafetySlug Speedloader to my Redhawk, spun the cylinder and drew the hammer back. I checked my gun thoroughly, then placed it back into its holster. I looked up and noticed for the first time that the room was cylindrical and that there were no visible doors anywhere. Barney Beer We commenced tapping on the walls, looking for a hollow spot or a hidden door. Presently Dale called and directed us to check a certain part of the wall. "It looks like any other part of wall.", I said skeptically. I turned to Dik a, who appeared to be sniffing the wall, "What do you think, Dik?" "Well, there's definitely something here." he said confidently, while plucking the Dik Miller (tm) Intra-Nostril Secret Door Detectors from his nose and placing them in a small pouch. A small shiver ran up and down my spine but I concealed it. Intra-Nostril. Gives me the creeps. I stepped forward again and planted a boot against the supposed secret door and was surprised to find myself lying on the floor in a dark corridor, covered with dust and pieces of plaster. "Maybe I kicked just a bit too hard.", I said with a smile, while the other PIs bobbed their heads in agreement. I quickly hopped up, drew my gun, as did the others (not my gun! THEIR guns!!) and headed down into the darkness. The Unbeliever Hello? Bwana Gerbil, is that you? I just wanted to say that you could send me back to Earth, if you wanted to. No skin off of my nose, you understand. Just let me kill El Loco, okay? Your good buddy, Freeman Long, Assassin (Freeman Long? What a name!) The Grodd The Imposter I followed Barney into the secret corridor and pulled out a match for illumination. Dik removed his Dik Miller High Intensity Flashlight Toe-Nail and held it up above his head. We came to a T-intersection and turned left. Not for any reason in particular, but simply because I didn't want to go into a four-page discussion of an assumed argument over which direction to go. Moments later we came upon a door. "It's locked" said Barney with a grin on his face. "Barney No! Wait, I can sense lifeforms..." it was too late, he smashed open the door revealing 3 men in black garb. "...inside" I finished. The three men were obviously ninja types, as they wore small square signs around their necks that said "Larry Ninja", "Curly Ninja", and "Moe Ninja". Bernard pulled out his super-redhawk auto-ultra-super-bammo gun type thing that no doubt does a lot of weird and wonderful and exceptionally useless things which must be gratifying to millions of Iron Maiden fans everywhere. The Imposter Barney fired off several rounds at Moe, placing several large holes into his anatomy, all except one of which were unneccessary and gratuitously violent. Dik took out Larry and as the dust settled there was only one exceptionally fat ninja standing in some goshi-moshi lotus magoomba stance. I could tell he was the most deadly, it was in his eyes. Barney smiled and aimed...pulled the trigger...and nothing happened. "Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah!" squealed Curly. "You fools, you can't harm me, not while I carry this!" he held up a small electronic device with several impressive flashing lights and the words '(tm) Richard Masters Really Cool Gun Inhibitor'. Barney sweared, Dik looked awed and started rifling through his list of patents. Me, I pulled out George. George the Gun. Lemme tell you about George; He don't have no laser sight, he don't fire a thousand rounds per minute, he don't shoot bullets through steel walls. He just puts small cylindrical pieces of metal into peoples brains. The Imposter The whale-like ninja didn't flinch. "Ha! Don't even think about it bunky, if your gun can even shoot straight it'll be jammed." I pulled the trigger and a small hole appeared in Curly's head. He fell to the floor and gurgle 'Nyah Nyah' for a few moments and was silent. "But how?" asked El. "Some sort of Dik Miller Gun Inhibitor Inhibitor perhaps?" queried Dik. "Nope. Here." I handed him George. He examined it carefully until he came to the nameplate. "Realistic? You bought a gun from Radio Shack? That's disgusting." The others echoed his words and started saying nasty things about my parentage. Evidently winning isn't as important as maintaining good consumer standards. After searching the bodies we came up empty. "But who the hell were these bums and what were they here for?" asked El. "Well, there's no way to find out now." Bernard stated with finality. "No, there is one way..." I began "Noooooo!" bellowed Dik. "Yes, we have no choice, I must attempt.... The Mexican Mind-Meld!" System Masterer Dave stood, facing Masters, in the partially destroyed sitting room. The Ninja Master was confident. He had completed his training. He was the best. The best of the best. He drew the katana from his back, the fine carbon steel that took months of labour in the making gleamed in the light. Masters smiled. "So this will be a pure test Dave. Very good." Richard Masters did a standing back flip, and dropped into an unarmed combat stance. Dave leapt upward, his katana screamed through the air. Masters slapped his hands together, stopping the blade a scant inch from his forehead. Dropping down and snapping backward, Masters forced Dave to overshoot his landing, but Dave managed to recover, landing feet first against a bookcase, springing back into a fighting stance. In that instant, Masters had lept up, and pulled his prized weapon from its hanging place on the wall. He slid the scabbard off the fine steel katana. "This time, Ninja, I shall kill you. And I will with my steel." System Masterer The giggling persisted for a few moments, then ended. Dik peered around. "What the hell was that?" "Giggling, silly." said Loco. "I know that, Loco. Where'd it come from?" queired Dik. "That speaker. Over there." Loco pointed. Sure enough, mounted on the wall, a speaker. It spoke. "You are all very bright, aren't you?" came the voice of Eugene Whitmore III. Barney pointed his gun, and shot the speaker into fragments. "That won't help you any." Zeb spoke again, from another speaker on the opposite wall. Bernard turned, fired, and destroyed the other speaker. "Enough!" bellowed Dik. "We're not getting anywhere!" "Ah. A voice of reason." Zeb's voice was silky smooth. "Let's play a game." "You have to figure out where I am, before this entire structure self-destructs." "You have five minutes." Zeb said with finality. The PIs stared at eachother. System Masterer The battle was fast and furious. Neither opponent was making ground. Masters, dressed in a smooth fitting pair of tweed slacks, a ruffled shirt and smoking jacket, was tiring. But Dave the Ninja Master, dressed entirely in black, was also becoming exausted. Suddenly, first blood. Daves. Masters saw a slight slackening in his right wrist, his sword out of place in the parry by an inch. He slid his weapon, and clipped the Ninja Master in his right hand, between his first and second knuckle. Dave blazed with fury. Pressing with his adrenaline, he struck at Masters katana, and put two shallow slashes across Master's chest. Richard Masters stepped backward, gasping. "Hurts, don't it?" Dave grinned. "Die Ninja." Masters growled. Executing a very difficult split-cross parry, pushing Dave's katana high and right, Masters did a low sweep, to disembowel the ninja. But he was a fraction slow. Dave spun right, and received a shallow cut across his right thigh. System Masterer The PIs had been running down the corridor for some time now. It was barren. Nothing but concrete. Dik forced a stop. "We're wasting our time! We must turn back, Zeb has to escape from here somehow, we'll meet him outside." "He's right. There's no way we can find that maniac in here, he could be anywhere." "You're right you know. I could be anywhere." Zeb. Another speaker. "You have three minutes." "Back the way we came!" bellowed Dik. The PIs sprinted back down the corridor. "You fellows are poor amusement at best." came the voice of Zeb. Down the corridor, around a corner, through the room where the dead ninja lay, and through the hallway to the sitting room. The PIs stood in the doorway, staring at a death struggle. Masters had cuts across his chest and his legs. Blood streamed freely. Dave had injures on his hands, arms, legs and a small cut near the centre of his forehead. The blood was interfering with his sight, but he was holding his own. System Masterer Bernard raised his gun, trying to sight Masters. Dik struck his arm down. "No! Don't! You'll disrupt them!" The shout managed to knock Dave's timing out a fraction. With a cross cut parry, Masters forced the ninja's katana outside his guard. Using all his force, the evil swordsmaster struck double-handed, downward. The katana, virtually indestructible, resisted the blow, and remained intact. It flew from Dave's grasp and buried itself in the hard wood floor. Bernard raised his gun again, and fired. Masters felt the 45 calibre shell whizz by his ear. In a desperate lunge, Dave grappled Masters sword arm and throat, attempting to disarm him. Masters tossed Dave over his hip, losing his grip on the katana in the process. Dave recovered instantly, with a high kick to the centre of Masters chest, striking him full force. Masters flew backward, impacting on the wood panelled wall, which cracked under the force of the impact. System Masterer Dave dived at Masters. Masters hit the floor, rolling. Dave collided with the wall. At a dead sprint, Masters ran for the door. Bernard fired two shots. Masters disappeared through the shattered doorframe. Dave ran after Masters, the rest of the PIs in close pursuit. Entering into the blinding daylight, they found no sign of him. The whine of a jet engine hit their ears. They scrambled up the bunker like structure, and peered into the distance. About a hundred yards away, a Mirage III fighter started to roll, taxing toward the runway. Suddenly, out of a small hut, Zeb appeared. He ran for another fighter. The PIs sped to intercept him. Masters, inside the first fighter, spun the aircraft around, and began to hail the PIs with 50 calibre machine gun fire from the wings of his aircraft. The PIs dove for cover. Zeb climbed into another Mirage, and started it. The engine roared to life, and the aircraft began to roll away. Zeb turned the plane, and fired a missile into the other planes. System Masterer The PIs, pinned down from the heavy calibre aircraft fire, were unable to do anything. Zeb screamed down the runway, and took off, leaving the other three fighters consumed in fire and explosions. Masters continued to fire, then winding his engine up to a screaming howl, turned suddenly away, and shot across the asphalt, before shooting straight upward, into the air. The two aircraft pulled closed together, rolled, and flew past the PIs. Dik, Bernard and Loco fired hopelessly upward, their shots not even coming close. The two fighter planes blasted out of sight. Deep underground, there came an ominous rumbling. "Start running!" yelled Dave. They ran. The bunker erupted in a massive fireball, knocking the PIs from their feet. Minutes later, the PIs gathered themselves, and took account of the situation. Dale turned to them. "Hey! I remember something Masters said. Something about some special bomb he made. It's in the house. Let's see if we can find it!" They walked back. The Grodd Trudge, trudge, trudge. We arrived back at the remains of Richard Masters' villa. THey consisted most- ly of charred pieces of metal and plastic, lying on the ground, smoking slightly. I had to hand it to him: he sure knew how to throw an explosion. We came across a few dozen horribly burned bodies, none of which smelled par- ticularly good, and all sorts of pieces of half-destroyed electronic equip- ment. "Hey," I said. "Why don't we give this to Skillprof so he can find out -" Ominous pause. "Hey," I said, this time more loudly. "Where IS the Skillprof?" This question caused the PI's to turn around, look over their shoulders, on the ground, and in the air, and then shrug. "When did we last see him?" asked El. Another shrug. "Be damned if I can remember," said Barnard. There was a collective "hmmmmm." "I don't suppose the Mexican Mind Meld works at a distance..." I began. "Why," cut in Pedro, "as a matter of fact, it does." El Loco "Hey," I directed at Pedro, "Who taught you how to do that?" "Dad did." he replied. "Uncle Huevos? Why didn't my dad teach me?" "Cause my daddy is better than- " "Shut up." said Dik. Pedro looked around and said, "I need something of Skillprof's." We all looked around for something, checked our pockets, and finally Barn said, "I'm wearing one of his socks." Pedro looked a bit disgusted, which is hard to do to a Mexican. Nevertheless, he was disgusted. "A sock?" he said wincing. "Yup, will it work?" "Yeah, here, give it over." Barn peeled off the sock, and handed it to Pedro. He took the sock, and put his fingers in a floral-type arrangement around the sock. "Ohmmmmmm" moaned Pedro, "Ohmmmm, Ohm's Law." There was a noise, a faint one, but still, a noise. It sounded something like a blue mini screaching around a corner driven by a Fred. "Yeah? Who called?" It was the voice of Skillprof. Barney Beer "In a blue Mini.", I thought furiously, which if I'm right, is the way I would have had to think to come up with such a simple statement as "In a blue Mini." Did you get that? I thought not. "In a blue Mini.", I said out loud, surprising the other PIs, who gaped in astonishment, possibly because they thought I was not capable of speech. "Didn't we drive a limo through that same Mini and turn it into a million assorted Mini parts?" Dale turned to me, a baffled expression on his face. I'd forgotten that Dale hadn't been with us on that adventure, so I turned away and ignored him. Dik then turned to me and produced a small gadget with numerous little protrusions sticking out from all over it. A Dik Miller (tm) Same-Mini-That-We-Blew-Up- With-A-Limo-In-The-Previous-C&T Detector. Amazing. Dik aimed the doohickey at Skillprof and his car, both of which were getting closer to our little group with each passing second. The thingy beeped, buzzed, rattled, coughed and fizzed. Wow. Barney Beer Then we were rewarded with a single burning heli-arc lamp dead smack in the middle of the gadget. "What does it mean?", asked El Loco anxiously, Pedro and Dale pressed up behind El's shoulder. Dik pressed a few more buttons, brought out a small pad and pencil and began scribbling notes. He adjusted the detector again and finally looked up at us, who were wringing our hands in expectation of this great bit of news. In other words, we just ahd to know if this was Skillprof's original car and the waiting was killing us. Finally Dik spoke. "Gentlemen, I've come to the conclusion that....(dramatic pause)....that this detector I've invented is a piece of junk and we are no closer than we were bearlier to finding out whether Skillprof's car is the same Mini that we blew the shit out of before. I can only say that if this is the same Mini, then the Skilprof has successfully implemented my patented Destroyed-Mini-Reconstructor to restore his Mini to it's original condition." Barney Beer While Dik was panting and wheezing from his oral presentation, for which he would have received a very good mark if he were in school, the other PIs and I jogged over to where Skillprof appeared to be parking. I say appeared to be parking because he had us completely fooled. Skillprof wheeled the car around twice, hit the gas and came straight for our party. Needless to say, a number of us scattered and barely missed getting run over while some others (Pedro, Eand Dale) stood around for a second too long and weren't barely missed. In fact they got smucked full-on. Then they were scattered. With a screech of brakes and the smell of burnt alternator, the blue Mini came to a halt. Skillprof fairly leapt from the car and was shaking hands, hugging his friends, kissing babies, assuring that we'd vote for him in the upcoming election, etc. etc. etc. Barney Beer When the all the handshaking and whatnot were finally over and Pedro and Dale were scraped off of Squish's grill, we headed for Master's villa where we were to find the Energy Neutralization Bomb. We happened to pass by Dik, who was still standing in the same spot, fiddling with his Mini detector and writing in his notebook. We paused for a moment, wondering if we should bother him, but said 'Ah, forget him.' collectively and continued on our way. Once inside the villa, we were greeted by the charred remains of what was at one time a pretty snazzy place. El, being the loveable cute kid he is, immeditately leapt upon a large, slightly charred, heartshaped bed, onto the soft pink and white sheets and continued through to bash his head on the hardwood flooring underneath. Pedro, tsk-tsking all the while, waded through the remains of the bed and dragged his cousin out by the ankles. Dale thought it was really funny and I was beginning to wonder about him. Barney Beer While Pedro revived El Loco, Dik wrote notes and Dale laughed at them all, [killprof and I ventured down into what appeared to be a lab. After a few seconds of searching, Skill came upon a number of large cylindrical objects. Three of them in fact. I trotted over to see what he'd found. "I think these are what we're looking for, Bernard!", Skillprof said with a quavering, excited voice. I expected him to cackle evilly, but he never did. With some trepidation, I reached over and pressed a big red button labeled conveniently enough 'BOOM'. Skillprof gaped, made funny noises, clawed the air with his hands and gesticulated wildly. I backed away from him, not knowing what he was up to. Suddenly there was a an ominous click from the bomb I'd inadvertently armed. There was a decently large explosion and I noticed one of the other bombs flying towards me, just before it hit me in the head. Barney Beer I came to and saw that most of the villa had collapsed around me. I tried to sit up but was unable. In fact, even though I wasn't pinned by debris, I found that my body wouldn't respond. Only my eyes could move. This was getting scary. I tried to call for Skillprof but was only able to gurgle. Then I heard voices and the sounds of digging above. Frantically, I tried to call out,"Arugga mmphla hampa yummblurple". It didn't seem to come out as I'd expected, but it did bring about heightened activity in my general area. I rolled my eyes around and noticed the bomb that had hit me in the head, sitting on my lap. Then I realized, with some anxiety, that the explosion not only paralyzed machinery and electronic equipment, but also caused neurons in the brain to misfire, thereby causing temporary paralysis. that's why I was stuck here. Then I thought about the PIs. They been caught in the blast radius ,too!! If they're paralyzed, as I am, then who the hell is digging us out! I broke out in a cold sweat. El Loco Well, we were all standing around, when this missile that Barn had armed flew toward him and struck him in the head. This forced Barn to fly backward and impact the wall heavily. This caused the part of the wall still standing to collapse atop Barn. We were all standing in the same place looking at Barn with apparent disgust. He wasn't moving, and the missle was beeping alot. "He neutralized the detonation device." said Skillprof, "We're relatively safe now." "What about Barn?" I said. We all worked together to extract him from the rubble. He looked a little confused, as his eyes were frantically going from side to side. "I'll bring him around." Dik told us. He pulled out his Neuron-misfiring- induced paralysis-reversal kit Dik Miller. The kit consisted of a long rod type apparatus, and a brick shaped piece of metal. He fitted th} block onto the stick, and it resembled a hammer. Dik raised it and belted Barn across the forehead. The Torch "Wow", uttered Barn. "You Ok?", asked Pedro. "That was juan beetchin' trick, mang." Barn looked at him. "Neat accent dude. Yeah, I'm Hokay. I've taken worse shots than that from a five year old kid. Why, I remember" "No no no, it's ok!", said Pedro. "We don't want any Higgins clones running around." Dick looked at his belt. "Ah yes" he muttered. He pulled out a mechanical arm with a pencil attached. He promptly connected this to another device that extremely closely resembled a writing pad. "The Write-lots-of-plot- that's-really-funny-and-will-be-on-the-next-Mike-Hammer device, (tm) Dick Miller. The PIs looked awed. They wondered who he'd managed to wej for the patent. Meanwhile, back at the outhouse, things were beginning... But anyways, Masters had escaped. He and Zeb reached cruising altitude and set course for their ultra-secret island of naked dancing swimwear illustrated models. The lucky guys being just that, they were intercepted by the US 7th fleet which sent 5 F-15s Big Dave Diode Suddenly, ta madman dove through the ruins of the shattered wall. His classical arab features were contorted with rage, his hair was matted with blood and dirt. He had a nasty stain on his djelba, and a very large gun in his hands. "Long live the glorious neo-muslim revolution against the great imperialist capitalist oppressor of the free peoples of Morocco!!" he shouted wildly, and started pulling the trigger. Luckily, he was out of ammunition. And before he could introduce himself, Dik shot him in the leg with an Anti-Arab-Revolutionary Device (tm) Dik Miller. "My name is Ahmed." the man whispered. "The People's Moroccan Revolutionary underground network can help you find the imperialist tyrant-pig Ricky Masters and deal him the people's justice." Then he collapsed in a heap at Pedro's feet. System Masterer Masters switched off his radio once again, after managing to contact the Spiderwoman, Mrs. Masters, through the ground based telephone network. He looked across the scant metres at the other Mirage III, piloted by Eugene Whitmore III, better known as Zeb. He realized that this man could never be a partner in world-domination. This man was his ultimate rival. It was at that moment that Richard Masters decided that Zeb would die. He didn't know how, where, or what, but he would kill him. Zeb looked across at Masters, and pointed to his ear. Masters turned the radio in his aircraft back on. "Shall we travel to my Mediterraean estate?" Zeb spoke calmly. "Sounds pleasant. Do you have ample stock?" "But of course... I never let myself run short of Earl Grey." "Wonderful." A strange voice entered their heads. "Approaching aircraft, this is the US 7th fleet, identify yourselves immediately, you are entering restricted airspace." "Isn't that nice." Zeb muttered. System Masterer "No! Listen to me Ensign... my name is Richard Masters. As in Richard Masters Industries. My corporation developed your bloody weapon systems!" "I don't give a damn who you are. You are in restricted airspace. You will turn around now." Suddenly, the two French built aircraft were surrounded by American built aircraft. Four F-16s pressed close to the pair of Mirages. "Masters. We're here." Zeb spoke softly. The two Mirage IIIs abruptly ejected their pilots. The flight seats arced upward, parachutes opened, and they began their long descent towards a small island. The two aircraft started to skew, without any control. The F-16s broke formation and moved a safe distance off. The Mirages abruptly exploded. The two men floated towards the ground. The Torch The PIs looked at the crumpled heap of struggling third world oil rich muslim fundamental revivalism dude. He looked crumpled. Dick pulled out another device. He held the cannister, which contained a pale white substance, to the Arabs face. He woke up sputtering and gagging. El Loco looked on with awe. "What was that?" Dick looked smug. "Smelling salts", he said. "Ok Ayrab, where are these dudes you is talking 'bout?", grunted Barn. The Arab looked at him stupidly. "Oh come on, tell us", said El. Ahmed jumped up and started singing away. "Talking 'bout my, G-g-g-g- generation". The PIs looked at each other and then started dancing and singing away. It looked a lot like one of those Fame episodes where everybody is dancing and singing away. Of course, El Loco was the only singer who was on key. But that didn't stop the others.. Barney Beer I continued to dance for who-knows-how-long-? and was getting into the rhythm of things when I noticed that the music had stopped. This was very surprising because there had been no music to begin with. Curiouser and curiouser. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Arab freedom fighter scrambling to safety over a small ridge. With a cry of 'Oy!', the PIs and I gave chase. The Arab was alot faster than we'd previously thought, especially since he had an injured leg, not to mention the faceful of smelling salts. Coming over another ridge, I spotted the Arab on top of the following ridge. Giggling gleefully, I drew my Super Redhawk and fired rapidly. I was rewarded with a loud dinging sound and a flashing red light. I'd one a prize!! The other PIs gathered around me and made with the 'oohs' and 'aahs'. It's not everyday a guy wins a lifesize stuffed Pink Panther. We walked back to the villa, all the while admiring the pink fur of the toy, leaving the Arab in a heap on the ground. The Grodd We were walking happily along the sand, skipping and twirling and generally making it look like we were filming the beginning to The Sound of Music, except that there were too many of us and the nearest grassy hillock was probably five hundred kilometres away, when I stopped in my tracks. "What's wrong?" asked El, still humming "The hills are alive..." under his breath. "Just what in the name of Mike Hammer are we doing?!" I blurted, looking at him solidly and spreading my arms inquiringly. "We're private eyes, not some sort of demented and very bad troupe of goddamned minstrels!" This elicited a blank stare. I pointed to the horizon - which is not very easy to do when the horizon is a continuous line rather than a point. "Somewhere out there are two extreme- ly evil and demented men who are trying to take over the world. What they want to do with it once they have taken it over is not our business. As good, decent, stereotypically macho PI's, we have to stop them." The Grodd "But why?" asked Barnard, practicing pirouettes on the sand. "Why?" I blared. "WHY?! Because the plot of this stupid, inane, overly long and useless story would die right here and now if we didn't!" "What's wrong with that?" inquired Pedro simply. There was a very, very long pause, which, if put to film, would probably have left half of the audience to go get some popcorn or attend to washroom duties. As it was, it allowed the whole crew of private eyes to produce a few more millilitres of sweat. "You have a point," I said, finally. "Oh hell," said Dale. "Why don't we just hit the nearest town and discuss this over some margaritas?" And so we did. Thomas Covenant As it turned out, the nearest town, which was located less than a mile from where we were standing, was detailed mock-up of a tiny Canadian town. We wandered around for a few minutes, looking for a place to find a few drinks. The sign said "Empress Hotel: Fully Licensed," so we went in. We were faced by an entire camera crew from the Knowledge Network, who were apparently on a break. Why a camera crew would break for a drink in a mock-up of a town that shouldn't exist anywhere near here, I'm not altogether sure. Not that it mattered. "I don't suppose that we could find a drink here," I asked, "I'm sorry to intrude, if not." Silently the crew assembled, cameras began to whir, and the sound men crept down low. A squirrelish man in his mid-forties jumped between us and the cameras. Thomas Covenant "The North-American PI," he began, "is one of the few creatures to visit this complex ecosystem that does not permanantly reside here. In this group, or 'gaggle,' as a tradesman would say, we find a parasite among them." He took another breath, and continued. "Notice the short one in the middle. If you look closely, you can see that he's not a PI at all, but only.." "Stop that this minute," I said, looking around the room. "We're looking for a drink, what's going on?" The speaker rambled on, ignoring my protests. Dik was fumbling around with a device which looked like a cross between a pocket calculator and a pad of paper. I found this tremendously funny, and began laughing hystericly. I stopped laughing when Dik announced that he knew what was going on. "They're doing a special on Rednecks. I don't think they're conscious." Barney looked over Dik's shoulder and asked quizzicly, "What the hell is that, anyway?" And believe me, it's hard to ask that in a quizzicle tone. Thomas Covenant Dik obligingly help it up so that we could all examine the tiny plate on the bottom: "Ultra-Sensitive Nature Program Analysis/Urine Purifier." Just then the door swung open and a sunburned man with a baseball-cap looked in. His car was parked in view beyond him. It said "Bob's Cabs" I don't know why it said such a silly thing, but it was much more profound than the old auto on "My Mother the Car" ever came up with. "Somebody call a cab?" His voice was remarkably akin to John Laroquette. "The Taxi Driver," said the Marlin Perken's clone, "although usually a night creature, often inhabits..." The Torch Skip de drinks boys, we got us an oscar to win", grunted Barn. We a;all piled into Bop's cap. "Where ya wanna go?", he snarled. "Why, to Richard Master's new hide-out", said Disk. "Oh. I can't take you there. I'm only a taxi-cab ride salesman. I'm not ethically allowed to do consulting on destination of passengers who know nothing about destinations. So sorry" he said. "Aw, shit" said Pedro. "I knew somebody would have to get that into a message sometime." Meanwhile, the Ninja Master was rowing away. He'd left the group of PIss in the bar, and found a boat. "Yup, just like the rowing machine I used to practice on at home." The Grodd "What is Torch doing rowing through the sand in a rotting old rowboat?" asked the Skillprof, still adjusting to the time lag the Mind Meld had created. "Rather well, I would think," said Pedro, "considering that the boat wasn't really designed for it." "On to more pressing matters," I interjected. "Somehow we have to find out where Masters and Zeb have gone." Pedro began rooting through his pockets furiously. "I don't think they're in there," consoled El. "Fool," barked Pedro, sounding much too much like one of those mad scientists who calls people "fool" a lot, "I'm looking for the remains of the AmEx card." "What for?" "Now is the time. Now is the place. Our only alternative." "No!" we all cried simultaneously. "Not the...the..." Pedro finished the sentence. "...Mexican Mind Meld. Again." System Masterer Skillprof turned his attention to the single remaining energy neutralization bomb. "I think I've got this thing figured out!" he announced proudly. "Shhh..." muttered Pedro, "I'm trying to concentrate." Pedro stood, his fingers in the ashes and bits of metal that were the remains of the Amex card. Dik cupped the dust carefully, watching Pedro. Pedro started to describe what he saw. "I see a... a suite. A penthouse suite. There's a woman there, talking with a man... wait. That's no woman! That's the SPIDER WOMAN! She's pointing to a map... a circle on a map. It's a map of the Mediterraean! There's a small island in the circle!" "Do you know what this means?" said Dik as Pedro removed his fingers, the Mind Meld finished. "The Spiderwoman is going on vacation?" asked Bernard. "No you silly." said Loco. "That island is where Masters and Zeb are." "Not only that," commented Dik, "but the Spiderwoman is going there too." Dave the Ninjamaster paled. Big Dave Diode Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ahmed struggled to blow the sand out of his nostrils. He was the revolutionary ex-groundskeeper of Richard Masters' Morrocan estate, recently shot. A herd of buzzards flew high above him in the parched Saharan sky, awaiting the moment when Ahmed would become an ex-revolutionary ex-groundskeeper. For now, he struggled to hold on to what was left of his life. The bullets had missed most of him, but the two that had penetrated his left lung and liver hurt terribly. Blood stained the dry North-African sand. A scorpion crawled across the back of Ahmed's thigh. A barely audible sigh whistled passed through his cracked, parched lips. "Damn those bourgeois proletariat PIs...." Dippy Bird "Ah, there they are, Jimmy." I said to the helicopter pilot that sat next to me. It was quite fitting to see a helicopter pilot sitting next to me, since he was flying the helicopter that I was currently riding in. "I see them, sir." Jimmy began to lower the coptor, or chopper, as we in the business, or those that watch alot of Mash re-runs like to call them. The PI's looked up as they saw the descending helicopter. We landed on a poor unfortunate Arab, who made a small scream of protest before dying. I hopped out, and approached the PI's. "Death Bird!" One of them said. I couldn't tell who, though, my eyes were rotting excessivly that day. "Finally!" I said after the copter's roter had stopped spinning, and I could be easily heard. "You guys took off on me at the library!" "What library?" Dale asked. "The library we smashed into with the italian sports cars." He nodded, remembering. "I just stopped to check out a book, and the next thing I knew, you took of in a tractor!" Dippy Bird "I tried to run after you, but my legs fell apart. Anyway, I rented this helicopter, and Jimmy, here." Jimmy waved, and the PI's waved back. "We flew around the world fourteen and a half times. I was just about to give up, when I spotted you down here. Well, anyway, I've still got the heliccopter for two and a half hours, so do you need a lift anywhere in particular?" Big Dave Diode (Ahmed gurgled unhappily. The helicopter skid resting on his neck caused him no end of anxiety, not to mention difficulty breathing. His gunshot wounds had become infected with some strange North African bacteria, and were festering and raw. The burning sand had been blown all over him during the helicopter's descent, and it seemed like he had half a dune trapped under both of his contact lenses. "Cursed imperialist bourgeois slime-pig!" he tried to shout at Jimmy, but all that came out was a weak, choked "cssiblarrgggggg..." His eyes shone with hatred and rage. He would not be killed this easily.) The Sherpa The Arab flailed around under the helicopter skid for a bit longer, then stop- ped. I looked up at the Death Bird. "Um..." I began precisely, "as a matter of fact, there is this island we have to get to, and fast." "Masters again?" asked Death Bird. "Yup," said Barnard. Dale walked past me and examined the Death Bird carefully. "I've seen zombies before," he proclaimed, "but this is ridiculous." I spoke up again. "Dippy...I mean, Death, do you remember anything about the Calypso?" "Cousteau's Calypso?" he asked. "Yeah. That one." "No." "Oh." I wondered how he could not remember floating in the hold of the swiftly sinking craft. "Have you been looking for us the whole time?" asked Skillprof. "Well, no. I took a little break first and went for swim." "Where?" "The Atlantic. I just sort of floated around for a few weeks until I thought I'd had enough. I'm quite rested now." That explained it. El Wildberry "Well, hop right in, and I'll take you there." said Dippy. "Actually, " said Dik, "We don't know what Island it is, but we will soon find out. Pedro is going to do a Mexican Mind Meld on someing of Masters'." "Okay, " said the decaying hunk of peat moss, "Meld away." The Tanked "Ok, we've got it" said Skillprof. "The island is here." He drew a map of the area, and then drew the locations of the islands. "It's this one" he said as he pointed to one of the islands. "Hey Ninja Master! Stop that damned work out!", screamed El. The Ninja Master kept rowing. Fevered thoughts of leaving the island and rowing till heaven boils away ran through his mind. He was pale, even though his shoulders were very sunburned and painful. Skillprof was thinking heavily. "Can we dismantle part of your Helicopter?" he asked Jimmy. "Well, uh..." "Sure, no problem" said the friendly Death Grease. Skillprof started taking apart the chopper. In minutes, he had a strange device fashioned. "No more of this stupid running out of fuel in the middle of an ocean. We're going to teleport there!", he said with an evil scientist type laugh. Dirk rapidly started scribbing out a patent application.. The Sherpa As I was scribbling on the pad of patent applications I kept in one of the huge pockets of my trenchcoat next to my Dik Miller (tm) Moat Digger/High Wind Kite, I realized that the Mexican Mind Meld had not even been performed properly, and that Skillprof was probably going to transport us directly into the middle of the Mediterranean Sea - for after all, he was not perfect any more than the rest of us, especially those of us who write paragraph- length sentences. "Wait!" I cried. "What is it?" asked the Ninja Master. "The Mexican Mind Meld hasn't been performed properly, and Skillprof is probably going to transport us directly into the middle of the Mediterra- nean Sea - for after all, he's not perfect any more than th rest of us, es- pecially those of us who write paragraph-length sentences more than once," I spewed, catching my breath at the end. "Didn't you just think that?" asked the Ninja, scratching his chin. "Yes, but I liked the wording, so I thought I'd repeat it." "I see." The Sherpa During this exchange, Pedro had retrieved from the nearby wreckage a piece of cloth - very expensive cloth. Yves Saint Laurent cloth, in fact. It had be- longed to Masters. As Torch and I argued, Pedro began his Mind Meld, properly at last. He squat- ted, closing his eyes and folding his hands Spock-like over the piece of cloth. He mumbled something. "What's he saying?" asked Dale, furiously writing what he saw in his pocket notebook, while simultaneously flipping through his Magnificant Manual of Mysticism, Magic, Myth, Monsters, Mumbo-jumbo, and Meatballs for a reference to this kind of activity. El listened closely. "All I get is something about burritos." "That can't be right," ventured Dale. "Write it down anyway." "If you insist." He entered the info into his book. Pedro began chanting in an obscure dialect, sounding something like a cross between Ricardo Montalban and the Dalai Lama. "I see..." he began, in a far-away voice. "I see...an island." The Sherpa "We know that already," said the Bear, brushing sand from his hair. "I see..." continued Pedro. "I see...a man. A man in a red shirt." "A red shirt," muttered Dale, scribbling all the while. "I see...I see...a man in a red shirt, wearing a white hat." "A white hat..." Scribble, scribble, scribble. "Next to him, I see...I see...a man...a fat man, in a blue shirt." "In a blue shirt..." "The fat man...is...he is saying something." Dale readied himself, and the rest of us leaned forward expectantly. "The fat man is saying...saying... 'Guh.'" "Guh..." "'Guh...guh...gill...gilluh..." "What? What?" rumbled El. "'Gilligan!'" "What?!" asked Torch and I at the same time, stopping our argument. Pedro shook his head. "Oh sorry," he said. "Wrong frequency." "Let's try again," I said. "No!" shouted the Ninja. "There's no point! This Mexican Mind Meld crapola is bunk, trash, garbage." "Sure makes good psychic writing, though," I commented. The Sherpa Pedro tried again. He closed his eyes. He folded his hands. He went "om" for a bit. "Okay," he said, about ten seconds later. "Got it." "That's it?" asked the Death Bird. "Yup. Masters, Zeb, Mrs. Masters, and the whole evil crew are hidden at Zeb's secret island retreat in the Mediterranean. The name of the island is Isla de Alboran. It belongs to spain and is about fifty kilometres from the Moroccan coast." "Well, that makes it simple. Let's go," said Torch, suddenly enthusiastic. So we did. Some six hours later we were approaching Zeb's hideout by reassembled helicopter. The clinching moment was arriving. El Wildberry As we were en route to Zeb's hideout, there were a few mystifying questions running, -no, flying- through my head. It was all the irony in the situation. We were in a helicopter with the Death Bird, who previously tried to kill us with a breath weapon among other things. This wasn't so wierd aside from the fact that when the air inside the helicopter got real fast, parts of his decomposed carcass would fly around the cockpit. Rather annoying to say the least. Another problem was that we were had left some Arab in the middle of the desert with crease marks in his neck. Also, there was this giant stuffed Pink Panther. Wait. A giant stuffed Pink Panther. I had one of those once... it was a... "Hey, Barn. Lemme see that Pink Panther." I asked uneasily. "Okay, here." He said, handing it over the other PIs I ewxamined it and sure enough, it said on a tag on his lower left leg: "Stuffed Kingdom Toys. A division of Richard Masters Industries." "Oh shit." I thought to myself. El Wildberry "Open the door!" I yelled to Death bird. As he did this, I was assailed by bits of rotted flesh and a finger or two. I hurled the stuffed Pink Panther out the door and it descended toward the sea. The PIs all watched in bewilderment as Barn's prized prize hurtled toward the water below. As it approached the water, we saw a boat come into view, and upon closer inspection saw that it was in fact Jaques Custeau in a new boat called 'La Resolution'. The stuffed toy landed on the deck, and we hovered overhead, watching. Jaques picked up the toy, and examined it, he looked up, and took the gift as a token of gratitude. Just as he lifted his hand to wave in reply, the toy exploded and dessimated the spanking new boat. Jaques was not pleased. The Tanked Jack was pissed as a matter of fact. Real pissed. He'd been drinking heavily that morning and he was not in an uninebriated state. He wasngt in the the state of washington either. But anways, he was pissed. The PP had been his cartoon hero from the laugh and half, hour and a half, pink pather show. "How'd ya know that my pink pather prize possessed phosphorous tendencies?", asked the puzzled but eloquent bear. "Sorry, that's a trade secret.", said Dink, who suddenly had a beard and a black cap on. "I looked at the label", said El. Ninja Master was heard to mumble something. It sounded like, "I shoulda sliced him upwards at a greater angle and then pushed off with my left foot instead of...", but nobody cared after that. And suddenly, the helicopter ran out of gas. The PIs plunged to a watery death. "Whoops, sorry, I fell asleep for a sec there", said the groggy Jimmy. "How'd you like some dry-rot?", asked Grease Bird. Jimmy paled. But he still wasn't as pale as Ninja Master Barnacle Beer "Why is it that we run out of gas right in the middle of the ocean, everytime never fail?", I asked myself, as the helicopter continued to plunge downwards, out of control. The interior of the helicopter was a madhouse. Bits of Death Bird flew around, PIs cried and wailed plaintively (except for me, of course) and Jimmy the pilot was having a great old time trying to get the helicopter to straighten out. After only a few moments of this, the helicopter decided to smack into the water and sink, causing some frenzied action from everybody who was inside at the time. So here we were again, 100 miles away in all directions from any land and floating around, looking stupid. I was getting a little pissed off at the writers of this story for managing to make us wreck almost every car, plane or boat we lay eyes on. It was about then that I decided to retire and become the president and owner of a large trucking firm. Thomas Covenant I realized that the future looked very, very dim for the crew of the ill- fated helicopter. Almost, in fact, as dim as that Vanna White person. I began flipping threw my copy of the Magnificent Manual of Mysticism, Magic, Myth, Monsters, Mumbo-Jumbo, and Meatballs, looking for something that might save us from certain death, or at least prolong the agony. I knew that the only things I could use were seawater, and the passengers of the helicopter. Mumbling out loud, I scanned the Manual. "Seance.. Sea Nymph... Sea Serpent.. Ah! Sea Water. 'To cure incontinency, mix sea water with break- fast cereal.'" That wouldn't be any help. Well, maybe later. Eventually I found something of use near the back of the manual, under "ZOMBIE." "Hey, everybody," I shouted, "It says here that if you eat Zombie Flesh you won't sink for four hours!" "Ewwwwwwwww!" chorused the PI's. The Shaffer "I don't think we have four hours," said the Skillprof. "Why not?" I asked. "Because of that whirlpool." He pointed. "What whirlpool?" I questioned. He had no time to answer. We had been sucked in. While I was whirling around and watching water slosh in all directions, I got angry - not so much at the whirlpool, but at Dippy and Pedro. Why Dippy and Pedro? Because they didn't care if they got killed. Death Bird was already dead, so another death would affect him less than not at all, and Pedro had his grab bag of spare bodies to play with. I would just snuff it like any normal PI. There was a loud FOOP, and I was thrown back into some dark, air-filled void. I was examining the experience when I hit what felt very much like the ground. It felt like the ground because it was hard and made me hurt when I hit it. I lay still for a few moments. When nothing happened, I lay still for a few more moments. Suddenly, nothing happened. It was still dark, and there was still no sound. The Shaffer I was getting rather bored of lying still for a few more moments, so I stood up and stood still for a few moments. Again, nothing much happened, other than me discovering that my back hurt more than I thought it had, and yelling "ow!" As soon as I had done that, I was blinded by a searchlight. "Welcome," said an all-too-familiar voice, "to the estate of Eugene Whitmore the Third." "You...you..." I gasped, barely containing my rage. That whirlpool had done nasty things to my trenchcoat. "Just call me Zeb," said the voice. "And do it now. You don't have much time." Quickly, I brought my Ingram Mac-10 out of its waterproof pocket and blasted away at the offending searchlight. It shattered and went out, but the half- million candlepower lamp I had retrieved from another pocket revealed that it hung in front of a door labelled EMERGENCY EXIT. It also revealed that I was alone in the room. The other PI's were nowhere to be found. I left the room in search of Zeb and Masters, revenge on my mind. Dippy Bird The helicopter spun downwards into a watery grave. My mind raced back to my childhood memories. I remembered baking a cake once, when I was nine years old. It was watery too. My mind decided to concentrate on the current situation, instead of childhood memories, but I did make a point of remembering to go through that old box of snap-shots my mother keeps in the closet. Shelf, that is. Everything was dark, and all I could hear was the pounding water swirling around Jimmy's helicopter. I thought about Jimmy. "Jimmy?" I said, as I thought about him. "Yes." Jimmy replied, he was right next to me the whole time. "I don't suppose this helicopter can turn into a super-duper submarine with pong sound effects at the press of a button, can it?" "Well, of course it can." Jimmy replied, flicking a switch near the dash board. The helicopter lurched as the sound of metal scraping metal filled the cockpit... Dippy Bird Suddenly, we all seemed to be sitting in a rather comfortable looking submarine. All the PI's were there. And Jimmy was his usual smiling self. "Where's Dik?" Dik asked. "Why, you're right there, Dik." Pedro replied. "No, I'm not." Dik insisted. He looked at himself, an astonished look creeping over his face. "Yes, I am." he looked extremely bewildered. "No, I'm not." he said again. Jimmy spat in his face. "I needed that." Dik said at last, snapping out of his strange trance. I thought I was with Zeb for a minute there! It was so real, so life-like!" The PI's all laughed, but Dale looked serious. "Wait a minute." Dale said. "This sounds like an astral-life-force- diversion-projection." "What's that?" Dik asked. "It sounds like Zebn might've entered your body, and made the whole encounter between the two of you in your own mind." "Actually, I think I fell asleep just after we took off." "Hmm, well that makes more sense." Dale agreed. Everyone was releived. Dippy Bird "We should be ariving at the destination in less than 20 minutes." Jimmy announced over the PA. He was sitting right@ in front of us, but he always liked to show off. Jimmy was starting to bother me. "Jimmy?" I asked. "Yes?" He turned around. I bit his nose off. He screamed alot. Dale seemed quite pleased about the nose, and he quickly put it in his pocket, claiming that there's a recipie for scaring away gung-ho soldier of fortune types, that called for helicopter pilot nose. He figured it might come in handy some day. The PI's settled back in the lush easy-cvhairs of the submarine's lounge while they each planned out strategies for defeating Masters, Zeb and the Spiderwoman. Sea Ditchdigger Masters and Zeb sat calmly in one of the many libraries of the massive Whitmore estate. "So. This is it." said Masters. "Yes. It is, isn't it?" Zeb smiled softly. They had spent the past few hours studying eachothers methods of taking over the world. Zeb was confident that his method was the superior one. Masters was confident that he was superior to Zeb, and would kill him and use his superior world domination system to Masters own end. "Well. Let's get to it." Masters spoke decisively. The room exploded with a bright blue flash. The two men, exercising their most unique abilities, weilded the forces of magic against eachother. In an instant, the peaceful room was torn in maelstrom. Crackling energy lit from their fingers, from their bodies as they whirled waves of force between them, striking and counter striking. The roof of the structure collapsed, and the setting sun shone on two master wizards, exercising their craft in an effort to destroy the other. Sea Ditchdigger The submarine was anchored in a small cleft in the rock surrounding the estate of Eugene Whitmore III. The PIs, Skillprof, Dale, and Death Bird stood at the top of the rocky cliff, staring at the massive collection of buildings. Far off to the north, bright flashes of blue rent the dimming sky. Dik's eyes glazed over. "Zeb." he mumbled softly. Suddenly, Dik was running towards the gigantic home. The rest followed. Masters and Zeb were locked in a death struggle of cosmic proportions. Even the Bwana Gerbil would shy from such force. The two men were levitated from the ground, the power of their magical might pushing away from the forces of Nature. Neither man had the upperhand, their powers near equal. The grass below them was burnt, blackened. Small fires burned in the remains of the library nearby, the remains of rare and precious books scattered. Zeb smiled slightly. His contact had worked, Dik Miller was his. Masters would lose. Sea Ditchdigger Dik had outdistance the others by a distance of a thousand feet, his body free of fatigue, his heart racing. Miller's thoughts were of Zeb. He would obey. He must hurry. His feet were blurs in the fine landscaping of the estate. He must hurry. He ran down the long, grassy slope towards the two men locked in a magical struggle. He drew his Mac-10, checked the clip and cocked it without breaking stride. A moment later, and he arrived at the scene. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, static jumping between his hands and his weapon. The air was charged. Zeb fixed Dik with a hypnotic stare. "Kill him. Kill Masters. Now." Masters turned to see to whom Zeb spoke too. His break in concentration was rewarded with an incredible blast of magical force. Masters fell to the ground, momentarily stunned. "KILL HIM!" Zeb bellowed. Dik's gun snapped up, aimed at Masters, a mere ten feet away. Suddenly, Dik's concentration broke. His attention turned elsewhere. "KILL HIM!" Sea Ditchdigger "NO!" came a voice from behind Zeb. Zeb turned suddenly. The Spiderwoman. She fired a small dart from a petite pistol into the chest of Eugene Whitmore the third. Dik collapsed in a heap, his exaustion suddenly felt in full force. Zeb stared at the tiny dart, protruding from his chest. He fell to the ground. He glared at Masters, then back to the Spiderwoman. For the first time in years, Zeb's eyes filled with fury. He screamed, and a blast of magical energy scorched the earth. Smoke filled the area. The air cleared. Zeb was gone, the shape of his prone body burnt into the ground. Masters stood up, shaking his head. He looked at the unconscious Dik, then to his beloved wife. "Well done my love. Now quickly, we must initiated this estates defenses and start the plan in motion." The lovers embraced, kissing for a moment, the re-entered the building. Moments later, the PIs arrived, finding destruction, fire, and an unconscious Dik. El Wildberry "Hocus Pick" I said as I arrived with the other PIs. All around us were small fires, glowing rocks, smoke, a smell of magic, and a comatose Dik. A comatose....nah. "Dik. Wake up." said Barney, "This is no time to sleep." Someone turned him over, and slapped him. On the cheek. On the face. He made a sort of moaning sound and opened his eyes. He looked bewildered for a moment and then snapped to. "What just happened?" he asked. "I don't know, but it sure was big, we just saw light, and heard some pretty wierd noises." said Pedro. Dale and I had been walking around when we found the charred remains of a person, but could not distinguish who it was. "Hey, you guys, come and look at this." I said, pointing to the barbequed form before me. The PIs gathered round and looked. Death bird bent down and licked at the remains. "Who is it Dik?" I asked. "I- I can't remember." he said, strained. "It's Zeb." said the Death Bird. We all looked at him in amazement, and he said, El Wildberry "It tastes like Zeb, well done." "How can you do that?" Pedro asked. "Personal secret." Dik was wincing to himself, and then said, "That's right. I remember now, the Spiderwoman killed Zeb. Masters got away." "Shit." we all said, "Not again." The Shaffer "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a rather bad hangover and would like to go and puke in the nearest available bush." While I crawled off to find a potted plant, Dale and El stood over the remains of Eugene Whitmore III. "Kind of anticlimactic, wasn't it?" asked Dale. "Sure was," said El. "I mean, we didn't even get to kill him." "Yeah, I know. What a drag." "I don't suppose," ventured El, "That he's one of those guys who can, well, reincarnate himself, or maintain his presence even though his body's gone." Dale looked like he doubted it. "I doubt it," he said. "Face it: the guy was an expendable character." "Since when has death ever meant the end of someone in this story?" Dale looked up at El, the flames of wreckage reflected in his studious eyes. "It meant the end of Freeman, didn't it?" "Well, yes." Dale went on. "Thus, it is logical to assume that Zeb is dead. Permanently." "You know what?" asked El. "What?" "You sound like Mr. Spock." The Shaffer Unbeknownst to the PI's, just over the nearest grassy hill, a blue light crackled. The form - but not the actual physical presence - of Eugene Whit- more III stared down at the debris below. His pseudo-face made a pseudo-smile as he brushed his pseudo-hair out of his pseudo-eyes. "Those stupid idiots," he sneered, sounding an awful lot like James Earl Jones with a sinus condition. "After all they have been through, they think me dead." He pseudo-smiled again. "As do Masters and that wife of his. They will soon know that I have only become more powerful." "No," said a voice. Zeb turned. His pseudo-eyes widened. It was the Bwana Gerbil. "You just had to do this, didn't you?" The Bwana 'tsk'ed him for a bit. "I thought I could trust you with this power, but nooooooooo..." Zeb flashed his pseudo-teeth. "I am more powerful than you, Gerbil." From his pseudo-hand he produced a very real, ominous looking martial-arts-type weapon. The Shaffer "Really, now, Zeb. I interrupted my vacation for this." The Bwana waved his hand and a stone came swooping toward the glowing evil form of Whitmore. Zeb ducked and rolled, allowing the stone to pass. He gave the Bwana the finger and shouted "nyah nyah!" Thus started another one of those big fire-and-brimstone fights that we like to have so often to liven things up around here. Fire crackled. Insults were traded. Tempers flared. Audiences yawned. Richard Masters and the Spiderwoman, his wife, were stealing quietly along the stony shore of the island, when Masters looked up to see the flashes of light. His super-intelligent, but rather warped, brain clicked in, and he pulled his wife to a vantage point where they could watch the battle. The PI's arrived about the same time on the other side of the ongoing fight. Masters watched Pedro shout "Bwana!" and start kneeling and bowing. The Bwana Gerbil glanced over and blurted: "Stop that, you twit! This is no time for reverence!" The Shaffer He turned back to the fight. "Your mother," he began, "was so ugly that after you were born your relatives buried her in three feet of peat moss for two years, and when she was exhumed, they looked at her and called it 'beauty treatment!'" This insult was followed by a huge arc of pure psychic power. Zeb cringed. "Whoa," whispered Dale. "He's not pulling any punches, I tell you." "Look!" I shouted, swill wiping my trenchcoat with a Kleenex. "Masters! The Spiderwoman! On the hill over there!" In the midst of the fight, the Bwana Gerbil looked up at Masters. He snarled and sent a bolt of rodent-powered electricity directly at our arch-rival. Masters and the Spiderwoman fell backwards, coincidentally, right into the arms of the crew of a just-arriving police boat. They were swiftly taken into custody and placed in the brig. Zeb was getting weaker. "You..." he gasped. "You're ugly, and...and...your... m-mother dresses you funny." A feeble crackled flared from his eyes. The Shaffer The Bwana wasn't even fazed. "You're not worth the bug spit you sleep in," he finished. Zeb collapsed in a heap on the ground, and his pseudo-form evaporated, carried by the wind. The Bwana turned to the PI's, and especially to Pedro. "You," he pointed, "have botched up enough for now. Remember: I can't always take the time out to do this sort of thing. I just felt the need to waste that arrogant sonofabitch. Now, there's a police boat over that hill, waiting to take Masters and his wife away. You have some explaining to do." With that, he vanished. Pedro clenched his hands. "Oh, thank you, great Bwana!" A voice came from the sky. "Go suck-start a Harley." Pedro shut up. "Looks like Masters will be in prison for a long, long time," said the Ninja Master, grinning. "Yes," I said. "If he doesn't get out." (Da-da-dum...) Fred the Yak "Fred?" "Yes, Elmer?" "I think we're in deep shit, Fred." "What makes you think that, Elmer?" "Oh, I don't know." I lay back and relaxed against the tilted bulkhead. The meal consisting of barbequed cat and dog parts was quite tasty, but seemed to lack something. Ketchup, perhaps. Elmer turned to me and fixed me with his big purple eyes and said, "Fred, what would you say to getting the hell out of here?" I leapt up and exclaimed, "Elmer! I've been waiting to hear that from you for the past 2 weeks! Let's get a move on!" .....A frantic 2 hours later, we were prepared. Using tools and materials we found in the cargo bay, we managed to whip some passable pressure suits. Mine was relatively easy, being a modified human's suit. Elmer's was a different matter. "Fred, I don't know about this.", Elmer said worriedly. "Don't worry about it, Elmer. It's all psychological.". I said soothingly. With that, Elmer and I forced the cargo door and when the pressure equalized, we strove upwards. Sea Ditchdigger Masters looked deeply into the eyes of his beloved. "Don't worry love... everything is better than fine." He smiled. Reaching into a coat pocket, he pulled out a large nasty looking electronic device and pressed several buttons. The unit beeped softly. "There. It's done. The satellite movement sequence is activated, and minutes from now, the world will be rendered blind, deaf and dumb. They can't hold us... I'm the only one who knows where the satellites will be repositioned to." He pressed a few more buttons. Another series of quiet beeps came from the device. "Zeb was a genius. This device can control the entire defensive network of the estate. Which, I might add, is fully active. They'll never get through it in time, and even if they do, there's no way to de-activate the computer, it's preset and locked out." A man shouted into the brig. "You lot keep quiet in there!" "Silence you grud!" Masters bellowed back, "I'm speaking to my wife!" Sea Ditchdigger The PIs were getting themselves organized for meeting the police. Three officers marched up the beach, two armed men protecting an obvious superior. Abruptly, the three men were cut down by machine gun fire. From out of a small hollow, a 50 calibre dual barrel automated weapon appeared, slaying the men instantly. The gun continued to fire as the PIs dived for cover behind a garden wall. Two other guns picked up the duck hunt, shooting with alarming accuracy as the PIs cringed down, trying to remain hidden. The ship, unprepared for the sudden attack, drew away from shore, back to the safety of deeper water. Skillprof was the first to speak. "Look! The satellite dishes! They're moving!" True to his word, the PIs saw the multitude of communications dishes moving into various positions, aiming for the vast satellite network that surrounds the world. Death Bird stood. His action was rewarded with a hail of bullets, sending bit of flesh everywhere. He grinned at the PIs. Sea Ditchdigger Deep inside the estate, the complex computer system of Zeb's began the arduous task of reprogramming each satellite in turn, instructing it on its new position in the heavens. Inside the now safe police cutter, Masters chuckled to himself as he watched the tiny LCD display of the control device, which showed him how the defensive network was working and how the satellite reprogramming was already under way. He embraced his wife, kissing her firmly. "In another couple of hours, we'll own the world, my love." Barnacle Beer I stood upon the deck of the police boat. I'd only, seconds ago, managed to get aboard and was now striding towards the prisoner lock-up. This was my moment of truth. I reached the cell and peered in. Satisfied, I drew my Super Redhawk, stepped back and planted a boot against the heavy cell door. It took 3 such kicks to finally knock the door down, but finally I came face-to-face with Masters' and his wife. I could almost feel some sympathy for them as they cowered in a far corner, fearfully watching me with eyes opened wide. I lowered the gun to bear on them and with a wry smile on my lips, spoke. "Say your prayers, Masters. You too, Ma'am. Close your eyes. This won't hurt a bit.", I grated. "Bear, wait. Let-", Masters' began, but was cut off by 6 deafening reports of my gun. The Masters' bodies convulsed with the impacts of the hollowpoint slugs and finally came to rest, Richard sprawled over the body of his wife. I smiled mirthlessly, holstered the revolver and walked slowly outside. Sea Ditchdigger "I have an idea." announced Loco. "Don't be silly," said Pedro, "you never have ideas." "I do this time." stated Loco. "Dippy, start waltzing." Death Bird stood, and, grabbing a peice of two-by-four, did a swirling turn, sending a few bits of non-descript putrid flesh flying, and danced out into the courtyard. Bullets impacted into the already dead body. The PIs crawled quickly along the ground, making themselves a much less significant target for the guns. Moments later, they were standing in the remains of the library, out of range of the gun fire. Death Bird wandered in, riddled with bullet holes. Peering cautiously down the corridor, nothing could be seen but dim flashing red lights. "Well," said Bernard, "who goes first?" El Wildberry "Okay, let's draw lots." Dik said and produced a Lot-Drawing-Dispenser Dik Miller. We all grabbed a little lot, and looked at it, two of them were black. Mine and Pedro's. "I guess we win." said Pedro. "No, you lose. You get to go down there." SkilProf told us. I looked at the lot, at Pedro, at the end of the hall. "Shit." I said calmly to myself. "Oh well, let's be off then." As I headed down the hall, Pedro was back at the entrance saying, "Is this a Mexican thing?" I grabbed him, and we approached the door. I quickly looked in, and got my head out of the way, and shut my eyes so as to process the picture that I had visulaized. There were 4 terminals. Two were working on something, and one was just flashing coordinates. There were two radarscope type displays overhead. A panel with at least 30 buttons on it, and two operators, one of them apparently sleeping. I told Pedro all I saw, and we decided to jump full view into the room. El Wildberry I held my Weilheiler .45 auto in a straightarm and burst into the room. "Freeze! Don't move!" I yelled. The one operator turned around and fired a round that splintered the doorframe beside me. I squeezed the trigger and hit him square in the chest. His chair rolled backward, he hit the terminal, and slumped over dead. The other operator still lay there apparently sleeping. "Watch it. He might be awake." I said. Pedro stood upright and said, "Nah, he's dead." "How the heck do you know?" I asked. "The Bwana Gerbil told me. Let's shut this puppy off." We each took a terminal and started tapping. The other PIs, hearing no loud noises came into the room, and joined us. I found that the terminal had sent all of its information to the computer on the sattelite. There was no way to shut it down unless someone could get up there. "Don't these systems always have a back door?" said Dale. We all looked at each other. El Wildberry We looked around. There it was. The back door. All the PIs ran, -no FLEW-, to the door and almost opened it. "STOP!" said SkilProf. "The door is titty-trapped." "Uh, its 'Booby-trapped' Skill." informed Dik. "Oh whatever. Here, let me work on it." SkilProf commenced working on the entry sequencer, and it started to beep. Then, Masters' voice came on, "Welcome." Ominous little bugger when he wanted to be. The door opened, and there was a single terminal in the process of a countdown sequence. It was at 10:26.88. Oh great. Ten and a half minutes till deaf, dumb, blind. A planet of Hellen Kellers. Wouldn't that just be special. Sloshedman I stood at the doorway, pondering life itself, to myself. The others all rushed in and stood around the terminal, wondering what the I was doing, standing at the door. "I'm thinking", I answered, before they even asked. "How'd he do that?", Bear mumbled.. Indeed I was thinking. We had a bigger problem than the PIs thought. The terminal in this room was just that - a terminal. It could do nothing, it simply displayed - what it displayed was a clock - for that was all the massive mainframe was doing - counting. It had finishged its task of relaying information to the satellites. This could be a problem. It meant that to stop the population of the world from suddenly becoming the butt of a lot of nasty inter-galactic Helen Keller jokes, we had to destroy the source - the satellites. P Luckily, there was only one satellite capable of transmitting the frequency necessary to cause this mess - Anik D. (poor CBC) ... Sloshedman "I've got it!", I screamed, "All we have to do is destroy the power source of the Anik D satellite!" "It's solar powered, you twit!", retorted Dippy, which was really surprizing. - not that it was solar powered, but that Death Bird knew this - even though he WAS wrong... @ "Not Anik D", I retorted, "it runs on a matter/Anti-matter reactor" They all looked at me with a don't-give-us-any-of-this-matter-anti-matter- reactor-dung look in their eyes. "Look..All we have to do is blast it with this nifty laser I have, and it will disrupt the matter-anti-matter flow, and destroy the transceiver" Dik spoke up.."And where IS this laser?" "it's...umm...well..u{m>.back at my lab" they all groaned. El Wildberry "You mean to say that we have TEN MINUTES to get back to your Lab, set up the laser, aim it, and fire it at some dumb sattelite." "Yup." He said in a rather SkilProf manner of speaking. "But, " he said, building the suspense, "We can try to get Fred to do it for us." "How. Tell us Skill, tell us, we all want to know." we all chorused musicall "By getting one of those Satellite dishes to perform in the same manner as a modem does." "But Skill, " we all chimed, "Oh, Skill, we have but 10 minutes." "Actually, nine minutes, thirty seconds." He replied off key. Barney Beer "Hey guys, why not use the spaceshuttle ready to lift on the launch platform, outside?", I said. "What was that, Bernard?", Dale asked. "Oh, nothing.", I said sulkily. Sea Ditchdigger Suddenly, the building was shaken by a series of explosions. Peering out a window, Dik saw several buildings a distance away burning. "Ummm... guys... I think that counter means time-til-total-destruction. Its already begun." "So when does this building go up?" questioned Loco. "How am I supposed to know?" said Dik. Dippy Bird Jimmy suddenly entered the room carrying a giant sledge hammer. Skilprof sat at the terminal trying to set up a com-link with Fred. "Sorry, fella's, this call's been canceled." Jimmy screamed, as he swung the hammer at Skilprof's terminal. The plastic casing shattered, and all that was left was a big pile of wires and things. The PI's stood silent. We all looked at Jimmy. He just stood there, expressionless. "You fag." Pedro said at last. Jimmy screamed again, and charged Pedro swing his hammer. Before he got two inches, he was cut down by Bernard's pistol. Dik searched Jimmy's pocket, and discovered a wallet. "One of Master's men." He announced, looking inside. "Oh swell, just swell. I come here to kill a vampire, maybe take out a zombie or two on the way. And what happens? I waste my time running around with you assholes, and all I have to show for it is this dick's nose." He gestured at Jimmy. "Dick nose?" A passing alien asked. Dippy Bird Pedro turned to the alien. All the PI's seemed to be astonished. Dale lightened up considerably, he always looked forward to killing aliens. "Who are you?" Pedro asked the greenish humanoid. "Max." he replied "Max Meyer. Sorry, I was looking for a watch I dropped somewhere around here. Have you seen it?" "No." Pedro looked at the other PI's. "No." They said. "Oh, ok. Well thanks anyway. Better be on my way." The alien walked out the door. "Wait!" Dik yelled, and we all ran after him. "We've got four minutes to blow the shit out of an Anik D satellite. I don't suppose you've got some photon torpedo's on you that we could pay you for in easy monthly installments?" The alien checked his coat pockets. "Nope, sorry." He replied, and turned away, apparently heading for what was presumably his space ship. All the while, Dale was keeping relatively quiet. Upon noticing that his alien was escaping, he quickly shot it. It fell down and died. Dippy Bird Everyone looked at the dead alien for a few moments. "C'mon!" Bernard screamed, and running for the space ship "It's our only chance!" We followed him to the escape hatch, which was conveniently open. "There's only room for two people in here. The two who go will have the fate of the world in their hands. We must choose the two wisely. And those two had bloody well not fuck up." Dik announced. "So, any volunteers?" Charlotte Masters and the Mrs. stood together, watching a digital time piece counting out the minutes that remained before their plan was in total opporation. They could see explosions and small fires in the distance and they knew that all was going as planned. "What do you think the PI are doing now?" asked Mrs. Masters of her husband. "Oh, knowing them, they have broken into the computer ternimal room and are trying to reason with the machines. Not that it would do any good. The code for deactivation is so obscure that none of them would figure it out. I have the code in my possession but@I have not read it, in order that it will be safe from a Mexican Mind Melt." "Oh love, you are so clever" breathed his wife as she kissed him in admiration . Charlotte Meanwhile, the PI's were pacing back and forth in great agitation. The seconds were passing quickly.... "I know!" said Barn "We could..." "No, shut up" said Pedro as he went into a trance, only to find that his Mexican Mind Melt was unsuccessful on masters, as he did not have the deactivation code stored in his brain. "Shit" he said. Death Bird was being no help at all. He had gone over, sniffed the dead alian expertly, and then began to prepare a special zombie recipe: Dead Alien A La Carte. he invited the other PI's to join him, but they graciously declined, some less graciously than other. (On watching Death Bird, Skillprof vomited discretly on a decrative potted plant.) As the PI's watched the clock count out the seconds, beads of sweat stood out on their foreheads.... They searched thier brains for a plan of action, which was being quite elusive. The Shafer "Death, what was that you were saying about a space ship? An alien? What?" I asked, somewhat puzzled by Death Bird's odd behaviour. "Well, I was talking about that alien," he said, pointing, "right...over... there." He was pointing at a patch of bare rock. I knew he'd been hallucinating. "Eight minutes," said Skillprof, frantically typing away on the keyboard. "Wait a minute," intoned El. "There must be some sort of access code to deactivate this thing." "I'm sure there is," I replied, "but, knowing Masters, it's so complicated that it is impossible to figure out." "Either that or it's so simple we'd never think of trying it." We looked at him in unison. I scrambled to the keyboard and started typing numbers. "Try primes," suggested Pedro. "I like prime numbers." I tried 12357,1235711, 1357, and a whole bunch of other things. No luck. Barnard looked at the screen. "How about this?" He typed 8549176320. Nope. "Okay," I said. "One last try." I typed 1234567890. The screen cleared. The Shafer A slow wave of amazement passed across the faces of the PI's. Something appeared on the screen. We stared, smiling. HA HA! THOUGHT YOU'D BROKEN THE CODE, DIDN'T YOU? GOOD LUCK! RM. We stopped smiling. The screen cleared again. JUST FOR THAT, I'M SHAVING FIVE MINUTES OFF THE DESTRUCT TIME. The clock read 2:25.44 "I say we clear out before this whole place goes up in flames," Dale noted. "Good idea," said Pedro. We left, thinking of how we could disable the satellite network without being in Masters' control centre. Sea Ditchdigger "I'VE GOT IT!" screamed Skillprof. "You've got what?" queried Dik. "The answer, you fool. All we have to do is stop the Anik D from transmitting the movement activation sequence, and nothing will happen. Right?" There was a general murmur of "yeah" from the crowd. "Well, why don't we use this?" he pulled a small missile-like object from his pocket. "What's that?" asked Loco. "It's the energy neutralization device that Masters built." said Skillprof. "Is that anything like the house that Jack built?" asked Death Bird. "Oh shut up." muttered Skillprof. "So... all we have to do is get that up to the Anik D satellite." stated Dik. "In two minutes flat." said Pedro. "Argh." said the PIs in unison. They all looked dejected. Miserable. Skillprof looked at them. He grinned. He reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small block of mineral. He grinned some more. "Moronium X. The key requirement of energy broadcasting." He grinned again. El Wildberry We were all standing in some computer controller room trying to think of how to nuke some silly Anik D sattelite, and wasting our precious time at it too. "Okay. How are you going to aim it?" said Dik. "Well, it's simple. I'll aim it for the normal ellipsoidal orbit that most satellites travel in, and it can follow the path of the sattelite dish outside this place. As a matter of fact, we could use it as a launching system." "A satellite dish?!" "Yep. It wouldn't be hard, but we have to go NOW!" We all looked around at each other, and suddenly, the command broke into our sub-concious, and we all made a break for the satellite dish. "Okay", said SkilProf, "Here goes." He lit a large fuse and jumped down. We all ducked behind various parts of building, and superstructure, all except Death Bird, who wanted to get a closer look. The rocket type mechanism took off in a violent explosion, and the Death Bird spewed all over the place. Remarkably, he reassembled in no time at all. The Shafer "How are we going to know if it hit or not?" Barnard quizzed. "Either we'll see a bright flash or we won't," stated Skillprof. "Just a second," I broke in. "Isn't Anik D in geosynchronous orbit?" "Well, yeah," answered the Prof. "Isn't that something like thirty-six thousand kilometres away?" "Yeah. Something like that." "That missile has two minutes to travel thirty-six thousand kilometres." Obviously it didn't klick. "So?" "So...that missile has to travel over a million kilometres an hour just to get there in time. Escape velocity from Earth is only about forty thousand." I looked at the Skillprof. It dawned on him. "It's not going to make it." "Exactly. How much time do we have?" Pedro looked at his watch. "One minute and ten seconds." "Anyone want to pray to the Bwana Gerbil?" I inquired sarcastically. Silence was the answer. "Fifty seconds." I looked around, seeing the distant lights of Spain and Morocco illuminating the sky. All this work, and we'd failed. The Shafer "Forty seconds." The buildings were still exploding, and we had to scramble to avoid the self- destruction of the satellite dish, which had transmitted its last instructions to the satellite long ago. "Twenty-five seconds." Pedro's voice was beginning to grate on my nerves. "Ten seconds." Wow. Amazing how time flies when you can't think of anything else to write. "Five seconds." All of the PI's were sweating. Except for Death Bird, of course. He was just decomposing. "Three...two...one...time's up, guys." Pedro looked crestfallen - whatever that means. I watched for the lights to go out on the horizon. I waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. The lights kept shining. "What the hell...?" wondered El. "Look!" cried Skillprof, running towards the satellite dish, which, for some reason, had not self-destructed when it was supposed to. He pointed at its base. "What about it?" I asked. "See those wires?" he asked. The Shafer I looked at the wires which ran from the antenna into the ground. Something looked funny. Then I realized what the problem was, but Barnard, whose mind didn't need to sort through all of the intellectual junk mine did, said it first. "They're disconnected." "How long have they been that way?" asked Pedro. "Judging from the corrosion," stated Skillprof, "about six months." "You mean that Masters' whole plan was foiled by some cut wires?" El shook his head. "You bet." Dale looked around. "Boy, is he going to be pissed off." El Wildberry Masters beamed with excitement and held the Spiderwoman close to him. (Which was no easy task.) "We only have one minute left my little spidey." "Oh you are so powerful, " she lamented, which was also not very easy to do, "and together we will rule the earth. I love you." Masters got more and more excited and thought about all the fun he could have re-arranging the planet for all the world to stumble over. "5...4...3...2...1...Now!" he said, almost exploding with happiness. A pause. Followed by another pause. A pregnant pause gave birth to: "Oh my god. It didn't work." Cursed Masters, barely able to control his rage. "Oh my dear, we are shamed. Woe are we." said the spiderwoman thespiaticlly. "Oh cut the theatrics. We're doomed." he said. Meahwhile... "So, nothing is going to happen?" Said Dale. "Nope, nothing. Except...Hocus Pick!" I said. "What? What?" sai^ SkilProf. "What about that missile?" "Yeah, what about it?" he sneered. El Wildberry "Isn't it going to hit Anik D?" "No, the satellite wasn't working, therefore it wasn't tracking the Anik D, and the missile is heading in...a...random... Oh oh." SkilProf said. We all looked at SkilProf as his eyes got wider and he pulled out a portable 'Trajectory-calculator' tm Dik Miller, and computed the results. "Um, I have sort of bad news." He said hesitantly. "What kind of news?" said Dik. "Well, it seems that the angle of the satellite dish wasn't quite launching angle, and well, it won't penetrate earth's atmosphere." "Where is it going to Skill?" Pedro asked ominously. "Well, according to this trajectory calculator, " at this pint, Dik cleared h his throat, "The missile is going\to hit 55 degrees 25 minutes North, and 37 degrees 50 minutes East." Everyone shuddered, and simoultaneously said, "Moscow." Sloshedman This utterly blew me away...seeing as how Anik D was out west, and Moscow was due east, it was completely beyond my reasoning how a 'slight aiming problem' would cause this. oh well. It was written, so be it. "Come on!", I hollored, "The lab is still in one piece, and masters ALWAYS builds a self destruct mechanism into his stuff. All we have to do is find the transmitter - it must be in the lab somewhere" Barney Beer While the others busied themselves by digging through the smouldering ruins of Masters' former satellite communications centre, I was struck by the thought that the satellite that we had failed to immobilize, would still be carrying the energy neutralization device and that Richard Masters would realize this and set up another transmitter dish to send the order to activate it, thereby winning control of the world in spite of some minor setbacks, namely the PIs. And to further complicate things a missile carrying an energy neutralization bomb enhanced with Moronium X, which would effectively boost the devices output to blanket the entire continent, was heading towards Moscow, which if nothing else would cause a big mess, in regards to global politics. Hastily, I entered the still-smouldering building and emerged moments later with still another energy neutralization device. It was a good thing that Masters believed in system redundancy to avoid costly downtime. Quickly, I sought out Skilprof. Barney Beer I found him searching through some rubble, salvaging the parts necessary to make the satellite dish operational. "Skill, I have a plan and I need your help to put it into operation." He stopped digging and looked up at me with a surprised look on his face. Possibly, he'd been shocked to learn that I could, in fact, come up with a plan of such magnitude to save the Earth. "I'm sorry, Bernard, but I'm afraid you won't be able to shoot the missile down with your Super Redhawk.", he said with a faint smile on his lips. Frustrated now, I grabbed him by the shoulders, spun him around and stared into his face. "Listen to me, Skillprof, and listen good. I was thinking that if you could change the satellite dish sufficiently, utilize this energy neutralization device, boost it's power with the remaining Moronium X and somehow project the effects of the neutralization device in a concentrated narrow beam onto the missile, we could stop it, or at least make it harmless. What do you say?" Barney Beer "We have to work quickly, Skill. There isn't much time left. And possibly with a little luck, we could neutralize the neutralization devices themselves aboard the satellite with the same apparatus we will use to stop the missile. But we must hurry, or Masters may still be able to activate the satellite from another location!", I said with urgency in my voice. He looked thoughtful for a moment, then resolutely stated, "A good plan, Bernard. Let's see about it." The other PIs came at Skill's beckon. Curiously they crowded around to hear what brainless idea he'd come up with, but were mildly surprised by the soundness of it, instead. Mainly because, no one else had thought of anything up until that time. "And I give credit where credit is due. Bernard thought of it.", Skillprof said matter-of-factly, eliciting shocked expressions and numerous gasps of astonishment. I should have expected. The Shafer I looked at Skillprof. I looked at Bernard. I looked at the sky. I looked at the ground. I stopped looking when I ran out of ways to look. Then I collapsed on the ground, sobbing. Dale ran to my side, whipping out his notebook, thinking that I might have been possessed or something similar. Worse luck. "What is it?" he asked desperately. "What's wrong?" "I..." I choked. "I just can't...can't handle this anymore. The st-stress. The strain. The ridiculously overblown and implausible plotlines. Just wh-what do we think we are? S-so far we've come up with half a dozen totally unbeliev- able ways of foiling Masters' plan." I gasped a breath. "Yet, the only one tha t makes any sense at all is...is...Bernard's!" I spat it out. "This is in- sane." I wiped some tears from my eyes and took a deep breath. "But we have to do it. We can't let Masters get away with this." I was resolute. "Besides, if we spend any more time fooling around with stupid plot complications I'll kill you all." We set to work. Dippy Bird I really didn't understand a word Bernard said. "Would you like to play tic-tac-toe, Jimmy?" I asked Jimmy, who wasn't dead at all. Pooh, I'd rather play with a dead person. Jimmy shook his head no. "I think I have a nose bleed." He said. Dippy Bird As the missile sped toward Moscow at an alarming rate, it thought to itself. "Hmm," it said "I really don't want to explode. Exploding might really be painful." Missiles don't generally have any thoughts at all. This particular missle did though, and that was really quite extrodinary. People usually don't expect missiles to talk either, so nobody ever asked this missle a question. Had they, the missile would've happily replied. A living missle usually doesn't live a very happy life, and this one was no exeption. "I don't want to hit the ground." It said to itself, tears streaming out of it's warhead. Quickly, it veared upwards, and headed out to space. Space was really qnice. Especially for living missiles. There were lots of neat things out there that would gladly make small talk with a missile. Unfortunately, the poor missile didn't see the Anik D satellite that rudely came in front of it, and the missile blew the shit right out of the satellite. There. Sea Ditchdigger Masters was far less than amused. "Enough of this nonsense! I must act." he spoke firmly. He stood by the small window in the brig door. "Guard. You will open this door. Now." Masters eyes shone with the light of power. The ensign's eyes glazed over, and he unlocked the door. Sea Ditchdigger After throwing the crew of the police ship overboard, Masters set the craft on a course towards Spain. Using the communications system of the ship, he contacted the mainland and set up a primary link to his base in England. Hooking the small device he had taken from Zeb into the communications system, he transmitted all the necessary data to complete the satellite movement sequence to his laboratories in London. With that finished, he re-aimed the antenna at the island. Entering an emergency bypass sequence, he overloaded the power systems within the small land mass, guaranteeing that the entire island would blow itself off the map when the overload ignited the entire store of ammunition held deep within the vaults of the estate. "An hour my love, and we'll be on a plane to England." Masters smiled. His plan would be salvaged after all. The Tanked A little star suddenly lit the afternoon sky. "Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight..", barn was mumbling. "Shut-up", said Dink. "Just shut Up". "So what's happened?", asked El. He looked at Skillprof. Skillprof pondered that for a while. "I have deduced that we were delusioned about the explosion. We had thought that it meant that the missile had attained sentient life and decided that hitting the ground would be unpleasant so it decided to leave but it ran into the Anik D sattelite. But we were wrong. We are not amused." "Who's we, you got worms?", asked the flippant Ninja Master. Everybody turned to him, surprised looks on their faces. "We'd forgotten about you", said El. "Yeah, I was sorta scouting out the island for bad guys to toast, but I didn't find any. Bummer." The Stargazer "Um, guys..." I peeped, wiping the last of the tears from my face. "Yeah what?" blurted the Ninja Master. "The ground is getting kind of warm." Indeed it was. In fact, some of the smaller tidepools down by the seashore were beginning to steam ominously. El Loco looked at the tidepools, looked at the ground, then looked at the rest of us. He paused for a moment and took in a breath. "RETREAT!" he shouted, scaring the wits out of the rest of us. We ran towards shore, trying to find where the helicopter/submarine was parked. We found it swiftly enough, clambered in, and pushed off, engaging the engines and making a swift move for the open ocean. Two minutes out to sea, Zeb's island fortress was obliterated in a huge, orange, needlessly violent and flashy explosion. Sure looked neat, though. "This is really getting my goat," I growled. "Every time we even get close to Masters, he does something dumb like getting captured by police. Shit." "Hey, the life of a PI is rough," said El. Sloshedman I leaned over to ask the pilot a question - I was looking at the back of his head, so I didn't know who it was anyways, "Is this chopper equipped with a powerful, long-range transmitter?" "Of course", came the reply. "where?" "behind you" "manuals?" "beside you" I loved these short conversations. They took so little time to type. "Ah, here it is!", I said to myself, putting my finger on the page with the schematic. A few minutes with a pair of pliers and I had converted the transmitter into a device that would resonate at ALL major frequencies (don't ask me how) the others were all looking at me with quit-playin^-around-with-your-dumb-toys look in their eyes. I hated it when they looked at me with a quit-playing- around-with-your-dumb-toys look. "Ok guys, ", I started, "here's what we can do. Using this device, we can transmit a statement saying that we are American scientists who lost control of our missle. Would anyone near it please destroy it. Simple!" they all glared at me> Dippy Bird Yuri and Ivan were walking down main street, Moscow one cold summer day. "Yuri?" "Yes, Ivan?" "Do you hear somesing?" Yuri listened. He hearned a faint whirr. "Yes, I do. It sounds like a meesile, about fifteen miles from here." "Yuri, lets get the fuck out of here." "Good idea, Ivan. Grab a case of vodka and lets blow this taco stand."" The two comrades quickly made their way to Siberia. * * * I sat next to Dik, who was currently clipping his toe-nails. "Are you going to eat those?" I gestured to the discarded clippings. "Uh, no." He replied. "Can I have them?" "I suppose so." I ate them. * * * "Woah!" Max said to himself when he awoke. "What is it, Max?" His green wife asked. "Oh, dear, I just had an awful dream. I was on a strange planet, with strange alien PI's. And I lost my watch their too." "Roll over, and lets copulate." "Alright." Charlotte ! The 747 circled Heathrow airport and begun its decent. Aboard, Mr. and Mrs. Masters were rolling up thier headsets from the inflight movie and handing them to the stewardesses. They gathered thier belongings and readied themselves for landing. Mrs. M took the airsickness bag out of the seat pocket in front of her and said " I'm sorry Love, but you know I don't travel well." Masters patted her hand reassuringly and turned the air jets on her. Minutes later, they landed without incident. Mrs. M sighed a special sigh of relief. On disembarking from the aircraft and arriving at the baggage clam, the couple found to their dismay that thier luggage had accidently been sent to Figi via Istanbul. Needless to say, they were not at all pleased and cursed British Airways. Charlotte ! "Call me a cab" Masters said to a porter. "Ok, You're a Cab" He answered. Masters groaned and held up his hands. Immediatly 6 cabs approached quickly, driving up on the curb in their haste. Mrs. Masters smiled enchantingly as she and her husband got into one, and sped off toward their secret underground laboritory in the heart and kidneys of London. While Masters went below to see that his transmission had been received properly, the Mrs. dashed out to see an Andrew Lloyed Webber show. Afterwards she returned, slipped into something more comfortable, and then went down to the Lab to join her husband. Sea Ditchdigger The MiG-23 did a split-s coming out of a cloud, and studied the small missile intently as it screamed by. It was unmarked, tiny, and very strange looking. "Target sighted." he spoke into his headset. "Identification?" came a voice. "None." was the reply. "Destroy target." "Proximity missile armed. Locked. Confirm firing." "Firing confirmed." "Missile away. Target destroyed." Suddenly, silence. The aircraft lost all power. The Soviet missile base directly below the destroyed missile lost power. Minutes later, the MiG impacted on the ground, it's pilot ejected and descending via parachute. The report was received in Moscow. The reacted by putting all systems on alert. The US did likewise. Tensions were hostile. No one knew what was really going on. The White House denied any knowledge of a missile in Soviet airspace. Trouble was brewing of the worst kind. Big Dave Diode The helicopter/submarine arrived at Skillprof's lab, and the weary PIs clambered out. It had been a long ride, and there was no in-flight movie. A man was waiting for them at the landing pad. He greeted them. "Capitalist slime!" he shouted. "Die, sons of oppresive pig dogs!!" he shouted again. "Ahmed is really ticked off at you!" he explained, brandishing a very large gun. The PIs were shocked. Skillprof looked studious and took out a calculator, Pedro's jaw flapped in the wind, Dik wondered where he had lost his Anti-Arab Revolutionary Device tm etc etc.., and Bernard was the only one with enough prescence of mind to ask Ahmed just what the hell he was doing. "Err. Excuse me, aren't you supposed to be dead?" he asked politely. "A mere flesh wound, you bourgeois slime-puppy!!!" Ahmed exclaimed, using more than his usual number of exclaimation points. Then he began pulling the trigger. >click< "Damn!" The PIs chuckled a bit, and went on their way. Ahmed sat on the ground, trying to Big Dave Diode Ahmed sat down where he was, trying to figure out why he could never remember his ammunition. "Hey! You PIs! Come back here, you enemies of the people!!" "Hey!" "I mean it!!" "geez..." he muttered. "I only wanted to kill them a bit. The oppressed masses back home are going to be pretty peeved." Thats when things started to go seriously wrong in Moscow. Skillprof "Hey, umm, guys? I just had a thought. What if, when that energy neutralizing missile is destroyed, the neutralizing effect takes over and blankets Russia? Could it happen?" the others all looked at me. "Naaaah...now let's set about destroying that satellite" Dippy Bird Max the alien walked up to Amhed. "Have you seen my watch anywhere around here, purchance?" Amhed shot him, Max collapsed, and died. Sea Ditchdigger The PIs clustered around Skillprof has he started to type on his nasty powerful Fred terminal in his small lab in Monaco. He had set this lab up with the money he'd made on the Moronium X sale back in the earlier days when he first broke away from Masters. He had chosen Monaco for its strategic location in relation to the heavens, but most people knew he chose it for the topless beaches. "Here we go... Anik D. Location programmed into Fred. Lessee what kind of info its got." Skillprof muttered while typing. Skillprof typed a bit more. "Hmmm... it seems to be refusing any data. Very strange." he typed a bit more. After a few minutes of typing, he cursed loudly. "I CAN'T GET ACCESS!" "What's all this mean?" spoke Dik softly. "IT MEANS I... sorry. It means either the satellite is refusing data because Masters told it not to, or..." "Or what?" Dik said impatiently. "Or the satellite is out of position. The data isn't reaching it." "That does it. Where's Masters?" Sea Ditchdigger Skillprof turned to a different computer, turned it on, and started typing. "I'm tapping into the Med Marine databanks... hmmm... nothing much here. Gimme a sec, I'll check the airlines." A few minutes passed. "AH HA!" Skillprof beamed triumphantly. "Look here, Masters and Mrs. one-way to London, England. Today. They must be there by now." "Ok." said Dik decisively. "Either we've already lost, or Masters has the same problem we do... we've got to get to England as fast as possible, find Masters, and try and stop him. Is everyone with me?" Meanwhile, Masters was in a fury. Something was dreadfully wrong. He couldn't contact the Anik D satellite for anything. He set a program to scan the vicinity around the correct location of the stray satellite while starting the designs on a program to re-orient the other satellites for a secondary reprogramming. Needless to say, things were getting complicated. The Grodd "Wait a sec," I said, leaning over the Prof's shoulder to type on the keyboard and looking really silly in the process. Ticka tacka ticka ticka, went the keys. I paused, then frowned at the screen. "Take a look at that." I had patched into the Canadian government satellite communications control computer. The screen read, in part: AFTER SEVERAL MONTHS OF INTENSE DEBATE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS OVER THE VER- DICT REACHED IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA IN THE CASE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA VS. THE MEMBERS OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON SATELLITE POSITIONING, IT WAS DECIDED THAT THE ANIK D SATELLITE WAS TO BE REPOSITIONED SO AS NOT TO FAVOUR CENTRAL CANADA AND MORE EVENLY TO REPRESENT THE NATION AS A WHOLE. THUS, ANIK D WILL BE SPENDING ONE QUARTER OF ITS TIME OVER THE MARITIMES, ANOTHER QUARTER OVER CENTRAL CANADA, A THIRD QUARTER OVER THE WEST, AND THE FINAL QUARTER OVER THE NORTH. THE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SPECIAL STATUS FOR QUEBEC WERE REJECTED. WE APOLOGIZE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE. The Grodd "That is SO Canadian," said Dale. "Let's just hope Masters doesn't figure this out before we get to England. He may be able to track for the satellite and give it orders before we can stop him." I tried to look concerned but succeeded only in making it look like I had just been force fed a golf ball. "I guess that means we'd better leave," said the Skillprof, still awkwardly positioned with his shoulder beneath my outstretched arms. "Can you get us plane reservations?" asked El. "Sure," replied the Prof, tapping away on his keyboard. "But it looks like all we can get are some widely separated seats in the economy smoking sec- tion." "Ecch," we chorused. "I guess we'll have to sacrifice ourselves," grumbled Pedro. "Yeah," said Barn. "Hai," said the Ninja Master. "And it's a redeye standby flight," continued Skillprof. "Whatever," we groaned. "On Kuwaiti National Airlines." "Fine, fine." "Okay," he grinned. "We're set." Skillprof I"I've got an idea", I said. "I'll set Fred up to start calculating the current exact co-ordinates of the satellite, and by the time we reach London, everything should be set on this end. Then, rather than flying all the way back here, I'll tell Fred to wait for a fone call for further instructions. Simple" "Ok, fine. ", mumbled Dik, "now let's get going." Off we went. El Loony This was really neat. We had screwed up not once, but a multitute of times, and things were starting to get really crazy. We were en route to the airport in SkilProf's Mini-Limo. It seemed that he had bought Leyland and had a whole entourage of minis at his disposal. We reached the airfield, and got out of the Limo, and waited. Soon, a buzzing noise came and we saw in the haze of horizon a plane descending towards the airfield. "There it is, Kuwaiti Air." said Skill. "I don't know why we are taking this airline. Why not Mexicana?" said Pedro. The plane flew nearer, and lower, and presently we could make out its features. It was an old B-52 bomber, no, it was a Lockheed, No, it was a Marsielle DVR-10, no, it was a DC-3. Yes, it WAS a DC-3. An OLD DC-3. It approached the runway, and nosed up. The wheels hit, and it came to rest perhaps 200 yards from us. We boarded the plane, and found seats. There were no real seats, so we lashed ourselves to the steel ribs of the plane. Barney Beer We shuffled around on the floor of the plane trying to get comfortable, managing only to get even more uncomfortable. It didn't help matters what with all of the equipment we'd brought aboard, either. Skillprof just had to bring his Zenith PC-portable, didn't he?! Soon after boarding and strapping ourselves down, the plane taxied to the end of the runway, turned and made it's way along the long stretch of tarmac. Haltingly, it made its way into the air, while we thought about such cheerful things as the TWA hijacking and the Air Poland disaster. When the plane seemed to level out, we untied ourselves and began exploring the vast cargo hold that was also the passenger compartment. It was all very depressing. No carpeting, no in-flight movie, no free drinks or even the small packages of peanuts that defy any attempts to open them. And if you did manage to open one, it invariably spilled onto your lap or onto the floor. Barney Beer Soon, we got bored of pacing around and sat in a circle on the floor, looking at everyone else, while trying not to look like you were looking at the person you were looking at. We were 'basked in silence' as Skillprof once told me while shuttling me home. Now I know why he never took up creative writing and devoted his time to science. So, anyways, we sat around looking dumb, waiting for the rickety old plane to make it to wherever-the-hell we were going. London? Whatever. The silence continued and most of us were noticeably anxious and nervous about something or another. Except for Skillprof, of course, who tried to make us laugh at his impression of Benny Hill impersonating Fred Scuttle. Fred Scuttle? Whatever. It was Dik who broke the wind...er..umm...silence first. "Hey", he said breathily for some reason, "You know what a scronkey is?". With that he brought out his 'Meaning of Liff' dictionary and began to read select definitions. The flight might be more interesting than I first thought. The Grodd I know you won't believe this, but nothing happened during the flight in the rickety old DC-3 to London. Nothing at all, other than some giggling and the occasional shift of buttocks. No bombings. No hijackings. No ominous messages from Masters. Kuwaiti National Airlines delivered us to Heathrow without in- cident. Customs was another story. "Oy, mate, what's this?" questioned the British customs officer after opening my bag. "That," I replied, "is an Ingram Mac-10 submachine gun - one of the best- built, most compact of any fully automatic weapon." "No, no," he said, wagging his finger. "THAT." "Oh," I said, rather deflated. "That's a bag of Moroccan macadamia nuts." "Sorry," he said. "Can't have that. Might bring some sort of exotic plant in- fection into Britain, and we wouldn't want that, now would we?" I shook my head as if I agreed - which is an interesting way to look like you agree. But never mind that. The customs officer rooted through the rest of my bag, shifting aside my The Grodd Ingram to search for more contraband. He found a small plastic bag filled with white powder. "What, may I ask, is this?" "I have no idea," I said. I really didn't. Have an idea, that is. "Sure, sure," the officer chided sarcastically. He opened the bag, took a bit of the powder on the tip of a finger, and tasted it. "Aha!" he barked. I expected the worst. He eyed me devilishly. "I knew it. Icing sugar. Do you think you could seriously waltz right into Great Britain without declaring this icing sugar?" "Well, I..." "I bet you did!" He gave me another look. "Alright. Since you're a nice guy, all I'm going to do is confiscate this, and if you never bring any icing sugar into this country again, I'll be happy to have taught you a lesson. Now be on your way." He placed the Ingram, my Smith & Wesson 9mm automatic, and Dik Miller (tm) pocket grenade launcher back in the bag and zipped it up, waving me along. System Mobster A phone rang. Masters picked it up. After a moment, he put it down. Masters looked crazier than he usually looked. He had been working for hours... non-stop, and frantically. Now the phone call he'd been expecting had come. The PIs were in England. He picked up another phone. He dialed. He spoke. "O'Donnell? Masters. Yes. You pay now. There is a group of men, mostly American. They are PIs. I want them dead. I don't care how, just get rid of them. Now." Masters hung up the phone and returned to his frantic typing. His complete failure to locate Anik D had severly hampered his efforts to take over the world via satellite. He was now in the process of locking a small, insignificant weather satellite into a position capable of transmitting the final instructions to the other satellites to make his plan a success. Big Dave Diode Ahmed sat in the arrivals lounge at Heathrow, breathing heavily and noisily through his partially congested nostrils. Anyone looking at him might have noticed that his swarthy complexion was more swarthy than what was generally expected of a fanatical Arab revolutionary. The smell was pretty bad too. In any case, there he sat, waiting for the PIs, his really big submachine gun hidden under his flowing robes. This time he had remembered his ammunition. Ahmed's eyes darted nervously to the customs office just as Dik Miller stepped out. In one fluid motion, everyone's favourite Arab rose and pointed his big gun directly at the hated PI. "Die, bourgeois capitalist imperialist!!" he shouted feverishly, and jammed a clip into the gleaming 9mm assault rifle. The clip promptly fell out onto the floor, its load of two dozen 7.62mm rounds spilling uselessly onto the floor. Big Dave Diode The Arab's really big gun clattered to the floor, and he sank to his knees, heaving sobs wracking his body. A certain Super Redhawk put Ahmed out of his misery - three hefty chunks of lead buried themselves in his chest. The Morrocan terrorist's blood spattered face turned up to his murderer. His lips were contorted in a snarl of rage and hatred, and he managed to gasp a barely audible "Curse you PI oppressor... may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your fruit of the looms...gak." The customs official appeared in the arrivals lounge. "'wots all the ruckus out 'ere then, 'wot?" Dik chuckled lightly and pointed at the comatose Ahmed. "'ow. Just leave 'im for the cleaning staff to cleam up." Skillprof "Great", I said, trying to battle the incredibly obnoxious CF line noise, "Now all we have to is find Masters' hideout - again!" Dik pulled out a little box with a meter on it. He waved it around for a few seconds, and then pointed it East, proclaiming "it's that way" w"What's that?" I questioned. "My finger" "No, the box, you silly neeh" He frowned "Oh..THIS..This is my Dik Miller (tm) tracker" "what the hell is it tracking?" "A Dik Miller (tm) bug that I planted on Masters when I last saw him" "Why'd ya have to go and make this so easy?", El mumbled.. El Loony We walked through Heathrow and admired the absolute magnitude of the place. We walked around and around and finally found some doors that led out. We hailed a cab, and got in. "That way." said Dik. "'Scuse me mate, but that's an airfield." said the cabdriver, somewhat bewildered. "Well, go in that general direction then." Dik retorted. "Righto mate." said the cabdriver, and turned the meter on. He drove off and inconspicuously pressed a button beside him. It actuated the locks on all the doors, and a window seperated the driver from the rest of the PIs. Then came the voice. "Hello again boys, meet Sculley. Wave to the PIs Sculley." Sculley waved. Dale waved back, and someone thwaped him. Masters voice droned on, "Well, this time I seem to have you. You can't escape the car, because the lock buttons don't exist on those doors. You can't get through to Sculley because it is bulletproof glass. But you can sit back and enjoy the ride." "Shit" I said. El Loony Pedro started calling on the Bwana Gerbil. "So, for now, " said Masters, "I will treat your ears to some of your favorite music. JMJarre done my MUZAK. Mwa ha ha ha ha!" The music started, and we all held our ears, screamed and writhed in pain. Barney Beer During the breaks in the music, when I wasn't convulsing and/or avoiding the frantic movements of the other PIs, I could see Sculley, laughing at us. During one of the breaks, black rage overcame me and all I wanted to do was plant a size 12 Dayton into his leering face. Instead, I drew my Super Redhawk and emptied the cylinder into one area of the sheet of bulletproof glass. Sculley, seeing me futilely try to shoot through the glass, smiled widely and cackled evilly. A moment passed and Sculley's leering smile vanished as he saw the long hairline fractures radiating out from the bullet impact points. Now, it was my turn to leer. Uncertain now, Sculley turned back to driving. This was my chance. I reloaded my gun with shaking hands and concentrated to clear my head. One good thing about having a substandard brain was that I could withstand sonic attacks which crippled the higher brain functions. I paused to adjust my hat, then I bunched up my legs and leapt headfirst through the glass. Barney Beer There was a tremendous crash and I may have gashed my head severely, but I'd made it through. I'd broken through the section of glass that I'd weakened with gunfire. Sculley spun around only to be nearly squashed as I landed on him. He struggled, albeit feebly, and I was able to overpower him, helped considerably by the fact that when I'd broken the glass the front seat was now exposed to the music. I rolled over onto the passenger seat and caught my breath. It was then that I noticed that we were in the rightside lane and oncoming traffic. Quickly I grabbed the steering wheel and got the car back onto the leftside of the road with much difficulty, what with Sculley pressing all of the pedals in his convulsions and having to fight him off while he flailed helplessly. I glanced back into the back seat and noticed the other PIs making odd noises and gesticulating wildly. I noticed a few rictuses of fear on some of their faces, too. Then it struck me like a ton of bricks. I Barney Beer I kicked the radio iand I was rewarded with a garble of noises and then silence. Almost immediately, the PIs and Sculley stopped convulsing. Sculley, though, was on the ball right away. He leapt onto me, but I quickly over- whelmed him. I shoved him back into his seat and barked a sharp reminder not to try anythign stupid or I'd have to blow his head off. I patted the evident bulge under my left arm, for emphasis. Sculley became subdued very quickly. The back seat was a jumble of confused and angry voices. "SHUT UP!!", I shouted and the PIs became subdued, too. I turned back to Sculley, who was obviously scheming away. I fathomed this and pulled out my Super Redhawk. "Try anything and yer dead.", I said simply. He gave me a nervous smile and tried to cower in the footwell. Of course, I knew we were careening out of control and presenting a major hazard to other motorists. "Drive.", I said to Sculley, brandishing my gun. "To Masters." He looked doubly nervous, but complied. We drove on. Dippy Bird Sculley kept driving, sweat pouring from his face. "Do you need that?" Dale asked "Need w-what?" Sculley said, terrified. "That sweat. I have a recipie for eliminating earwigs that calls for english cab driver sweat." "Um, I suppose not." Sculley replied, as Dale scooped up the persperation with a little bottle. Sculley was scared. Not of Barnard, but of Masters. He knew that if Masters found out that Sculley was the one that brought the PI's to him, Masters would kill his family. Had Sculley stopped to think for a moment, he would've realized that he had no family. But he didn't, so he was scared. He couldn't bring the PI's to Masters. "Aheeeei!" He screamed, and lunged for the door. It didn't move. "What are you doing?" Dik asked him. "Oh, nothing, sorry. Car sick." The PI's looked at each other in terror, as Sculley barfed all over Bernard. "Eeeew!" Dale screamed. Barnard@ just wimpered. Dippy Bird "Look out!" Pedro yelled, pointing at the windshield. Everyone looked at the windshield. "So it's a windshield." Dik said. "Oh, sorry, I thought we were driving off of a cliff." There was a brief moment of silence. "Look out!" Pedro yelled again, pointing at the windshield. Everyone looked at the windshield. We were driving off a cliff. "Aaaaaaaaaaaaayh." It seemed like everyone yelled "Aaaaaaaaaaaayh." at the same time. I thought for a moment how neat that sounded. Like we were at a an amusement park. I like amusement parks. The car plunged off of a cliff as Dik tried desperately to glook for something in his pocket. "Damn!" He said "I forgot to bring my Dik Miller English Taxicab Pontoons (tm) with me." The car fell to the ocean. There was a significant pause. "You fag." I couldn't tell who said it. I thought for a moment, about Jimmy. He wasn't with us. I didn't remember seeing him since we left the submarine. Dippy Bird I saw my whole deadness flash before my eyes, as the car struck. It didn't break though. It didn't explode. It didn't lift into the sky and soar like a magical Wuffleminter. It just sort of bounced around on a spongy surface. When the car finally settled, I realized that we were on the top of Jimmy's submarine! He opened a hatch, and walked toward us. "Hello. I saaw you guys up there ad I thought I'd put out da ladding cushion." "That's great Jimmy," Bernard said "But why are you talking funny?" "My node is gone." "Oh yes." Sculley hopped out of the car and began to run. Dik grabbed him before he got more that two feet, and we all went into the submarine. After torturing Sculley by force feeding him one of my arms, he told us the location of Masters. Jimmy put the submarine into overdrive and slammed his foot on the accelerator. Charlotte Masters was no fool. That was why he had installed a tiny remote servalence camera in the glove compartment of the cab. Tiny lenses were hooked in stratigic positons around the cab. He saw Barney plunge through the glass. He saw his henchman barf. (He wished he hadn't seen that.) He was watching the comotion in the cab with his " oh no not again" look on his face which somehow made him look like a bowl of petunias, when his wife entered his lab. " What's going on with the PIs dear?" She asked. "They just drove off a cliff". "Oh, that figures. What now?" "Well, knowing them, they'll be back" "How unkind of them" She said and started to leave. Charlotte Mrs. Masters said" by the way, I found this when I was changing" She held in her hand a small black object. It was a tiny beeper. "The PI's must have planted it on me. How did it get into your clothes? Oh, never mind..." Mrs. Masters went outside and tossed the beeper into a passing fish processing plant truck. "Have them track that". She thought. She returned to masters, who was still frustrated on his inability to track the satilite. "Do you think the PIs know where it is? Maybe you can plug into their main computer and find out." She offered. "Um" said Masters as he picked up the phone. He dialed the area code for Monaco, and then closed his eyes and thought. Then he diledaled : SKILPRO and looked at his computer terminal. There was a click on the phone, and then a shrill whistle. Words appeared on the computer screen: ACCESSING FRED SATILITE SCAN CoMPLETE STAND bY FoR DATA Charlotte Masters grinned and pulled his wife onto his lap and hugged her. "It seems that the ANIK-D satilite is over Canada. The information from Fred says that the House of commons agreed to share the communications satilite over various points in Canada, and Quebec got mad and is trying to use this one for thier own communication purposes. Nuts! " "What are you going to do now that you have found it?" "I'm going to get this computer to inform the PI's that the satilite is in someother location. Any choices?" He asked. "Um, how about over Bankok?" She offered. "Sounds good. Here goes." "But since this FRED is Skillproff's creation, won't he be able to tell that the files have been tampered with?" She asked. "That's a chance I'll have to take>" Masters replied. System Mobster After a few tenacious minutes, Jimmy beached the submarine on the shores of the Thames. Several fishermen were startled by the sight of a strange craft running itself a shore, but they were plain freaked out when the sub turned into mini-van. Jimmy stuck his head out the window. "Ethcuseth me. Do you know whey a gath thathon ith?" "What?" came a chorus of fishmongers. Dik opened a side door. "Gas station. Petrol." "Oh," said one of the men, "you'll be wanting to go down that street there about two blocks for some petrol." "Thanks." came a chorus of PIs and ancillaries. They drove to the gas station, filled up, and, after haggling on how to pay, agreed to surrender the Dik Miller Combination Air Gauge/Timing Light/ Plug Gapping/Nose Picker (tm) device for the fuel. Screeching their tires out of the station, they headed towards Masters lab. Skillprof studied a small device. Then called out. "Wait! Masters is on the move. North!" System Mobster "Ok." said Dik. "Let's split up. We need another car." "Leave that to me." said Bernard, a small grin appearing on his face. "Alright then, Bernard, myself, Loco and.... Death Bird. Let's hop out, appropriate a vehicle, and follow Masters." "Ok." said the three others. Stopping momentarily, the four leaped out of the van. Bernard ran into the middle of the street, pulling his Ruger Super Redhawk from its shoulder holster and doing a quick check of it, aimed it at the first car that came along. The driver stopped, raising his hands. Bernard through the door open and yanked the man out of the car. The four piled in, and barrelled down the road. Bernard drove, Dik watched the scope he had taken from Skillprof, Loco and Death Bird sat in back. The car, a Citroen 2CV, hurled down the road at an alarming rate. The remaining intrepid world savers screamed off to Masters lab. System Mobster A group of IRA terrorists sat in a small flat. They checked their weapons over expertly, having done it many, many times. One man played with some strange looking spheres that had Richard Masters Enterprises stamped in the side. A phone rang. One of the men picked it up, listened, then put it down. "Ok mates, that's it. They're in a 2CV, headed this way. We're to kill them all." "Roight." sounded in the room. The men rose simultaneously, and exited out various doors. Some headed for the ground level, others for the roof. The Grodd Somehow, we managed to avoid the usual tie-ups and general messiness associa ted with a PI car trip. We followed the beeping of the tracking device. "He's behind that fish truck," I proclaimed. The fish truck was parked, not surprisingly, outside a fish plant. Bernard stopped the Deux Chevaux and we leaped out, running around to the other side of the lorry. Nothing. I looked at the tracker. "He's IN the fish truck." We looked in. "Oh no he's not," said Death Bird. "We've been hornswoggled," said Bernard, surprising me with his polysyllabic vocabulary. "We might as well head ba-" He had no time to finish his sentence. The Citroen exploded, sending cheap French car parts flying in all directions. From behind the flaming wreck came a squad of IRA gunmen - although I didn't know that that's who they were until I saw the IRA letters sewn into their jackets. I pulled out my Ingram, hid behind the truck, and started blazing away. "God I love this," said Bernard, firing his Redhawk. Barney Beer The IRA gunmen were no fools. They immediately took cover, not like Masters' henchmen who invariably stood out in the open and managed to get shot up. Anyways, Dik blasted away with his Mac-10, El blasted away with his Weilheiler .45, Death Bird blasted away with his breath weapon and I blasted away with my Super Redhawk. Unfortunately, we didn't seem to be hitting anything. I cursed the others for having automatic weapons then, because I had to reload after 6 shots and they just changed clips. While I was busily putting new Magnum loads into the cylinder, I suddenly had a funny feeling about our predicament. It went away after awhile and I attributed it to the Chili Dog that I'd eaten for lunch. Suddenly it hit me! The tailgate of the fish truck swung down and bonked me on the head. I had a revelation! But before I could write it down, I noticed that nobody was firing. I cautiously peeked out and to my surprise, wasn't met with a hail of bullets. Barney Beer In fact, I wasn't met with a hail of any kind. I stood erect and walked out into the open, making sure that there was a place to seek cover at any given moment. There was no movement. "Dik! El! Death Bird!! Hey, anybody there?!", I yelled, while surveying the area. There was no answer and I was beginning to worry. Suddenly, it struck me. Or, more correctly, I struck it. A gunman hiding behind a light post. Why I didn't notice him before bothered me a bit. Quickly, I clubbed him over the head, took his gun and shoved him against a wall. "My friends! Where are they!?", I screamed. He managed to mumble incoherently. perhaps I'd hit him a little too hard. I threw him down to the ground and instead examined his weapon. An Israeli Galil SMG. I checked the breech and the clip to find it was fully loaded. Then I surveyed the side of the truck that the others had been hiding behind. It was apparent to me that they'd been taken forcibly. A sizeable bunch of guys, I surmised or else... Barney Beer ..or else they wouldn't have been able to nab Death Bird. Dik and El were pushovers, but Death Bird was another matter. Then my eyes fell upon the gunman that I'd dispatched. The main force had left him behind to finish me off. Ha, the poor fools, they would have a surprise in store. I stripped off the gunman's clothing and pulled it over my own. Luckily, he was bigger than I and his clothes fit relatively well. You may be saying that it was very convenient that he was bigger. Well, it was. I topped off my disguise with his black beret and camouflage jacket. I was ready. I walked calmly towards the fish plant, where I knew their headquarters to be. Once inside, I was subjected to a perfunctory examination. It was there that my name was to be Thug McShit. "Ay, Thug!", I was greeted by a similarily garbed man. "Yuh, royt!", I replied, coming face to face with him, whereupon his eyes opened wide. Obviously, my cover was blown. Barney Beer I brought my Galil up in a swift motion and it curiously intersected with his chin. Needless to say, he dropped like a bag of rocks. I hauled him behind a bin of pickled herring and continued on my way. Only a few metres along, I was accosted by 3 of my supposed 'comrades'. "Ay, Thug!", they said in unison. "Yuh, royt!", I said again. They stopped dead. They looked me up and down. I reminded myself that the next time I was greeted, I wouldn't say "Yuh, royt" "He's wearing Daytons!", one of them exclaimed, pointing at my feet. Seeing no other option, I brought it up until it connected with his nose. He fell over like a bag of rocks, too. The others, though, went for their weapons. I had no choice but to release a burst from my Galil. There would be no pretense for trying to be inconspicuous now. Barney Beer "Take that, you little shitfaces!!", I yelled, spraying the aisle with Galil softnose ammunition. I cut the two guys who had reached for theur weapons down but the others who were circulating around, dove for cover. Meanwhile in another part of the factory, in a small cramped room, El, Dik and Death calmly waited for rescue. "What was that?", queried Death Bird. "I don't know.", replied Dik. "Sounds like Bernard.", stated El, matter-of-factly. "Oh.", said Death Bird. Meanwhile: I fought my way through the gunmen and found myself in a narrow corridor. "Dik! El!! Death Bird!! Are you here?!", I called. I heard a faint "yup" and an "uh huh" or two behind a solid looking steel door "Stand away from the door!", I yelled as I emptied the clip into the lock. A kick and it swung open. "Come on, let's go!", I commanded, as they filed out. "Weapons. We need our weapons!", said Dik, while I inserted a full clip into the Galil. I could hear the IRA gunmen closing on us. We were in deep shit. The Grodd "Why does this always happen?" I whimpered. "Why couldn't we just find Masters and shoot him and have it over with?" "I did that a little while back," mentioned Bernard. "That didn't count," I replied. "If THAT didn't, nothing would." "That would explain why we can't just shoot him and have it over with." "It certainly would." We nodded in unison, looking an awful lot like Laurel and Hardy, except in full colour. Meanwhile, the guards were approaching. "Okay," said El. "I have a plan." There was a fit of frenzied whispering, and then we stood up and stared at the oncoming guards. "Well," said one. "Are ye gonna fight or not?" "Nope," said El. "Why not?" asked the guard. "Why?" "Don't get tricky with me, laddie." "I'm not. We just realized that we have nothing personal against you. Why were you shooting at us in the first place?" "Er..." The IRA man looked puzzled. "To tell ye the truth, I don't know. Mas- ters just told us to...oh shit. I wasn't supposed to mention him." The Grodd "Somehow I knew he'd be involved in this," I said. El continued. "You don't actually LIKE him, do you?" "Well, no." The guard was looking more and more puzzled by the minute. "He's a bloody asshole, to tell ye the truth." "Would you like to get a chance to get him?" The guard looked around, and his cohorts nodded vigorously. "Yeah." He smiled slightly. "I guess we would." "Then bring you company with us, and he's toast." El smiled widely. "There's just one thing." "What?" "Your friend here," he said, pointing at Bernard, "killed most of my contin- gent on his way in." "C'est la guerre," quoth I. "Aye." The guard shook El's hand. "Deal." Bernard growled. "Masters is terminated now." "Don't be so sure," said Death. The Tanked "ARgh. ," I said. My head hurt. A lot. A used car lot. No, that wasn't it. I had to figure some way to catch up with the PIs. They'd obviously forgotten me in the heat of things. But I knew where Masters was. It had come to me in a ninja trance. I'd thought and thought and thought, and now I knew where he was. I went to the nearest airport and caught a plane. I thought to myself and tried to remember what had happened lately. Unfortunately, my short term memory had auto-nuked about half of the recent events, so I wasn't sure what was going on. But I was on my way. To foil Masters again, when all seemed lost. Even when proper sentence structure and grammar was lost. When the ideals of youth and viriginity were lost. All of them, lost. I'd save the day. Or so I hoped... El Loony So there we were, smelling like fish, and marching around^with a bunch of irishmen carrying machine guns. Things were starting to get twisted. I made sure that my gun was full, and we proceeded to dump the cans of fish from the van we had chased. We then climbed in the back, and one of the IRA members drove to where he thought Masters was. We drove through the streets of London to the outskirts of a hilly suburb. We approached a large hill, and came up to a gate. A speaker spoke. "What?" came a familiar voice. "Oi, matie. We be havin a bit o' difficulty. We be wantin a place to store some dead PIs." said the IRA man in almost perfect english. "What? You brought them here? Are you SURE they are dead?" said the Masters type voice. "Ye be correct." "Okay, come up." The gates opened, and we went up. This puppy was toast. System Mobster Skillprof managed to fool the alarm system into believing that no one had just snuck across the courtyard, headed for the backdoor of Masters laboratory in the centre of London. Dale, Pedro, Jimmy and Skillprof entered the building through the basement. Meanwhile, Dik, Loco, Bernard and Death Bird along with a small company of IRA entered the front courtyard in a fish truck. Finally, Dave the Ninja Master was approaching, hanging from the under- carriage of a small plane doing a fly-by of London, preparing for a sudden descent into the trees in the inner-most courtyard that was surrounded by the building. Masters, on the other hand, thought things were going rather well for him. The PIs were dead, and he'd located the Anik D satellite. In ten minutes, the satellite communication network of the world would be his. Charlotte Mrs Masters lay in the sun beside the swimming pool on the roof of the building. She had put down her book and was lost in thought when she saw a figure fall out of the sky and land in a tree in the courtyard below her. She jumped up, wraped herself in a towl, and ran to look over the railing. Below her, Dave the Ninja was easing himself out of the tree and picking the leaves out of his ears. Mrs Masters ran to the other side in time to see Dik, Loco, Bernard, and Death Bird jump out of the fish truck. Recognising it as the one she had thrown the beeper into, she new that trouble had landed. She picked up the phone on the deck table and called the basement lab. "Bad news love. The fish truck, IRA gunmen and 4 PIs are in the front yard, and another guy landed in the courtyard. Be carful. There may be more of them" Masters cursed and began to make plans. Charlotte Mrs Masters quickly dressed herself and ran downstairs to join her husband. When she reached the basement, she heard a noise and stopped. She hid behind a pile of boxes and looked out. In front of her were Dale, Pedro, Jimmy, and Skillprof. She didn't recognize 2 of them b}t she knew Pedro by his somewhat squashed sombrero and Skill by a little button that said "I LOVE MINIS". She quickly surveyed her hiding place. In one box she saw 4 automobile tires. In another box she found some bunji cords, and in another box she found the UZI submachine gun that she and her husband used for controlling the gopher problem in their lawn. She quickly thought of a plan. She quietly picked up the Uzi and amo, and then grabbed a handful of empty cartriges. She threw the cartridges quickly one by one into various corners around the PIs. Startled, they jumped and Dale emptied his small hand gun into a startled looking bookcase and an even more startled looking mouse. Charlotte Mrs Masters smiled when she saw this because she knew that if they all were armed, they would all have drawn their weapons, and now they had no more amunition. She jumped out of her hiding place and quickly grabbed the tires. Before the PIs knew what was happening to them, she had pinned their arms to their sides with the tires and was rappidly tieing their legs with the bunji cords. Dale and Jimmy were stunned with amazement. Pedro prayed the the Bwana Gerbil. Skillprof was trying unsucessfully to conceil his Super Tire and Bunji Cord Cutter Lazer (tm Skillprof) in his mouth. Mrs Masters removed and pocketed it. So this was Skillprof. She had forgotten what he looked like. Quite nice, if you like mini drivers. She quickly ran for Masters. "Update!" she cried bursting into the lab. "I've tied up four of them who were already inside but the others are still coming. " Charlotte "We'd better lock them up before the others can rescue them" Masters said. They ran into the hallway and soon had dragged the 4 be-tired be-bunjied men into the lab. They were making horrible noise about the whole procedure except for Skillprof who had his geneus dignity to maintain so he remained calm and relaxed. "I think we had better gag the other 3" said Mrs Masters and her husband did so. He then shut them in a closet. Skillprof he bunjied to a chair. "He will be of use to me" Said Masters. "Whatever you say, dear. Kiss?" Masters kissed her and then turned to his computer terminal to watch the time until transmission to the Anik-D satilite. He knew his trouble were not over yet. There were still the other 4 PIs and the IRa gunman to take care of. El Loony As we approached the house, I looked up on a deck to see a female looking at us, and run off. "Mrs. Masters." I told the group after the whistling had died down. We all approached what seemed to be a greenhouse, and entered. We found that it was in fact a greenhouse, and it connected us with the inside without being alarmed. We entered the house and found that it was the gardeners quarters. "This is a type of fungi - " Dik was explaining to everyone. "Come on." I said, "We got a mouse to catch." We walked through the door from the gardeners quarters and found a flight of stairs. We all walked up the stairs and attempted silence. The IRA men were so stunned at seeing any house higher than two stories, and were awed by the fact that there was wallpaper on the wall. We walked up the stairs, and saw a big man at the top of the stairs. He looked a bit like a grizzly bear, and had the same disposition. He had a button on his shirt, and we read it. It said, "Hello. My name is LIONEL." Oh shit. Barney Beer I brought up my Galil and said "Okay, Lionel, get outta the way and you won't get hurt." He managed to grunt, growl and snort. "Alright, Lionel. Yer asking for it. Get offa there!", I yelled and emphasized my demand by pulling the breech lock and chambering a cartridge. Lionel made some horrible gobbling noises and started down the stairs. There was some nervous movement in our group and I noticed the IRA gunmen slowly backing away. I also noticed Dik and El retreating, too. Only Death Bird remained, mainly because he had no brain to speak of. It was then that I made up my mind. With a blood-curdling scream of "Aaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaagh!!!", which could have easily come out as "Eeee-raggy-haggy-yaaa aaaaaaaagh-gaaaahaaaa!!!!", I proceeded to fire steel-jacketed death at Lionel Lionel jerked around a bit, made groaning noises like a dying moose, which he closely resembled, twriled around on his heels and flopped onto the ground. Dead as a doornail. Barney Beer This all looked suspiciously like a Sylvester Stallone movie and I had an urge to throw down my SMG, brandish a metre-long knife and yell loudly, making the cords of my neck pop out in the process. I also had an urge to write really, really long run-on sentences, for some reason. Anyways, Lionel's slightly ventilated body tumbled down the stairs and landed at the feet of Death Bird, who promptly toasted it with a blast of his deadly breath weapon. The smell of burnt Lionel permeated the air. Dik, El and the IRA gunmen crept back at this point and surveyed the carnage. A few of the IRA-types retched at the sight of Lionel's corpse but not Dik or El Loco, who were made of slightly (I say slightly) sterner stuff. "Okay", said Dik taking command, "let's move out!" No one moved. Who knew what surprises lurked around the corner at the top of the stairs? After a few muttered 'Take it away, chief's and a 'Go ahead boss man' or two, Dik reluctantly made his way up the stairs, followed by El and my self. System Mobster "Well, enough is enough." muttered Masters, "Let's make this difficult." He slapped a red button on the main computer console and picked up the microphone. "Attention! Attention! Intruders in the outer building. All security on full alert. This is a code red - kill on sight. That is all." A loud whooping sound filled the building top to bottom. Black garbed men literally appeared from every corner, door and wall. Dik, Loco, Bernard, Death Bird and the IRA gunmen were suddenly beseiged with attackers. War had broken out in the Masters Estate. Dave the Ninja moved quietly along a corridor, studying his position. He somehow could feel Masters below him... his training had given him the ability to detect an enemy. His intuition made him realize that Masters would probably attempt to escape, and he would escape from the roof of the innermost building. To further his deducti, he climbed to the roof to find a small helicopter, shrouded and camoflaged. He climbed in, and waited. System Mobster Masters checked the computer one last time. The programming was set to intercept the Anik D the moment it was within range of his communication system. That was in four minutes. Two minutes after that, the transmission would be complete, and Masters wins. He turned to Skillprof. "Well, my fine feathered friend. Seem to be in a bit of a jam, eh? Well, I've never forgiven you for taking my Moronium X crystals. I spent a great deal of time, energy and money collecting that stuff. Oh, I know you've sold most of it, but I'm going to get the rest from you, and then I'm going to use it to distribute every molecule in your body evenly across the planet. Won't that be fun?" Skillprof looked thoughtful... his somewhat macabre mind was designing the very system that Masters had thought of. Then he paled. It would work. He looked at Masters. "Suck wind." Masters smiled. "I think 'blowing in the wind' is a more appropriate term." Dippy Bird I followed Bernard, who seemed to know where he was going. We ran across a courtyard, and into a small tool shed. I don't really know why, we were right at the main building before, but Bernard decided this tool shed plan would be best. El knocked the lock off, and we went inside. Bernard picked up a rake. "I always wanted one of these." He said, admiring it. "My mother wouldn't buy me one, you know. We were too poor." Bernard was obviously breaking under the stress. "Come on," Dik said "We've got to get to Masters. In four minutes he'll start sending the coordinates to the Anik-D satellites." "How do you know that?" El asked. "I don't, I'm just guessing." Bernard put down the rake, reluctantly. We looked out the window. The estate guards were all over the building. @ "We can't make it through all those guards." I said, as-a-matter-of-factly. "No, we can't." Bernard replied. We just stood there for awhile. I Dippy Bird I suppose we were supposed to be thinking of a plan, but it was obvious that nobody was making an attempt at strategic thinking. "Wait a minute," Dik said. He pulled out a small electronic device. After pressing a switch, the machine began to beep. "Just as I suspected, there's some sort of trap-door right there." He pointed to the floor. "That's a VCR remote control." El said. Dik looked at the device. "Oh, yes. It is, isn't it." Dik slumped to the ground, mumbling to himself about being hungry. I thought about that for a moment. That was the first time since that little restraunt 70+ messages ago that anyone mentioned food. It certainly was interesting how we could live for so long without anything to eat. Meanwhile, Bernard looked for the trap-door. Bernard was always a little slow. "Here it is!" Bernard said, as he opened a small hatch. El was astonished. I could tell he was astonished, because he looked astonished. We quickly made our way down a small staircase Dippy Bird The stairway led to a dimly lit corridor, about two feet wide, with a good coating of slime on the walls. Apparently, it was an aescape route incase Masters needed to make a quick getaway. We walked for a few minutes, in the direction of the main building. "Did you hear something?" El asked. "Hear what?" said Dik. "I don't know, it sounded like wailing." "Like a few PI's and a helicoptor pilot locked in some underground dungeon screaming for help?" "Exactly!" "No, I didn't hear that." "Oh, it must be my imagination then." "No, wait!" Bernard inturrupted. "I hear it too. Listen." We listened I could faintly hear: "Help! Help! Oh Bwana-My node hurts-Hey, look at this cool bug, I wonder if we could smoke it." It was obviously Pedro, Jimmy, and Dale. We quickly made our way down the corridor till we came to a wooden door. "Stand back!" Bernard yelled, as he emptied a clip from his Galil into the door. The door wobbled a little, before falling down. Dippy Bird Dale, Jimmy, and Pedro sat in the room. I "Masters took Skilprof somewhere upstairs." Dale said. Apparently we were under the building. "Come on, lets hurry! We've only got three minutes and fifty-nine seconds!" Dik yelled. As everyone ran out of the room, and up a ladder which stood before the door, I considered how interesting it was that only one second had passed since we'd been in the tool shed. After reaching the top of the ladder, I saw that we were in the estate's basement. Several old bicycles stood in one corner of the room, while a washing machine and clothes dryer doned on in another corner. The other corner was filled with little red men with blue spears. Another corner contained a few thousand back-issues of The Enquirer. In another corner, four dogs played poker. What an interesting painting that would make. Hmm, I thought about how this corner business seemed vaguely familliar. Barney quickly ran up a set of stairs. We followed. LISA never make love to an alligator... even if it does have a carrot tied to its nose. ^Siberian proverb. Lisa Dippy Bird Said the PI's. Barney Beer Skillprof didn't even look fazed. He typed. The computer was now set not only to calculate pi but also to calculate e, root 2, pi to the e'th power, e to the pi'th power and various other things. The percentage of processing capacity taken up rose swiftly. "This system sure has a shoddy multitasking logarithm," the Prof muttered to himself. The screen demonstrated that it was going to be close - real close. Within seconds. "Masters. Defeated by the weak nuclear force," Skillprof continued. "I kind of like the sound of that. Ha Ha Ha." Meanwhile, a crew of PI's was looking desperately in the tool shed for a set of industrial-strength wire cutters. They looked up from their task to see Master's helicopter weaving uncertainly in the air. "I have an idea," I said. "All we need to do is block the transmission, or reroute it somehow. Anyone have some tinfoil? Or why don't we just knock the antenna out of alignment so that it sends the signal into empty space?" "Too easy," came the reply. System Masterer Dave the Ninja had a solid grip on the strut of the helicopter. Masters whirled the chopper around, trying to knock him off. With one hand, Dave pulled a small grapple and cable out of a hidden pouch in his black clothing, and tossed the hook up, where it caught on the top side of the 'copter. He released his grip on the strut, swinging free on the cable while scrambling up. Dave slammed against the body of the craft as it swung around dangerously. Masters knew this would be difficult. He brought the helicopter down over the Thames, and told his beloved wife to jump. She kissed him hard, and leaped from the craft into the waters of the river, swimming to safety. Throttling the helicopter up to full power, he set the pitch to full climb and leveled the rotors. The chopper shot straight upwards. Dave was about to tear open the door to the pilot's seat when the helicopter accelerated sharply, causing him to slip downward slightly. The rear door of the copter opened. System Masterer Masters balanced himself on the doorframe of the helicopter, and attempted to draw a bead on the ninja master with a M-16 assault rifle. He fired two shots. Dave dropped down the cable, swinging under the craft and safety. He sudden swing caused the helicopter to swing outwards, overbalancing Masters. He fell from the interior of the craft. His safety line caught, and the sudden stop forced him to lose grip of his firearm. The two men dangled from cables, facing eachother as the helicopter continued to climb, slewing off away from London, towards the Atlantic. They drew swords and prepared for battle. The Grodd "Here!" I cried, lifting a pair of wire cutters into the air. "Just wh}t we were looking for." We scrambled out of the tool shed and clambered onto the roof of the lab. Some distance away sat the satellite dish, calmly slewing its way into po- sition with the satellite. Without a word, we rushed towards it. I kneeled and began work on the thick, industrial-strength cable that was concealed behind a panel in the base of the antenna while the others grabbed the lip of the dish and tried to knock it out of alignment. El looked at his watch. "Forty seconds." "This wire is too thickly shielded. There's a metal jacket around it and I can't cut through." "You mean you don't have a Dik Miller (tm) metal jacket wire shield cutter handy?" Dale asked disbelievingly. I looked down shamefully. "I left it at home. I didn't think we'd need it." "Twit." I had an idea. I rummaged around in my pockets, trying to find something that I could use. Finally, I found it. The Grodd I held it up, letting it glint dramatically in the drab light of the London afternoon. "The Dik Miller (tm) electromagnetic pulse-generating super- neato telecommunications equipment destruction grenade." "Fifteen seconds," proclaimed El. "Better do something fast." "It has a five-second fuse," I said. I pulled on the pin. It didn't work. It was stuck. "What's wrong?" queried Bernard. "It's damn well stuck," I answered, heaving at it with all my might. "Give it to me," he said. "Eight seconds," said El. Bernard gripped the pin in his teeth and grunted. It pulled out. "Four seconds," moped El. "Too late." Bernard threw it anyway, determining wisely that it would explode whether it was too late or not. "RUN!" he cried. We did. The antenna blew up, but only after the few milliseconds necessary to send the transmission to the satellite had passed. "Damn," I said. "Now we're doomed." "No we're not," said Skillprof, appearing out of an access hatch in the roof. The Grodd We looked at him blankly. "The processor was totally dedicated to calculating six seconds before the transmission was to be sent - so it never was." He grinned. We all went "yay" for a bit and did a little dance. "Wait a second," said Death Bird. "Where's Dave?" At that moment, a helicopter screamed by about five metres above our heads. Big Dave Diode As everyone marvelled at the exeptional skill of the non-existant helicopter pilot (for to have maneuvered that low through the narrow streets of London is quite a feat), another small access hatch opened up in the roof. A familiar Arab face popped up. "Hey PIs! The Morrocan Popular People's Revolutionary Liberation Front Terrorist Action Committee hasn't finished with you yet!" Ahmed shrieked above the howl of the helicopter. No one heard him. Ahmed leaped up onto the roof. THIS time he had remembered his ammunition. He took his precious bullets out of his bandolier, and prepared to load his weapon. Brother Ghaadaffy had been good to the MPPRLFTAC, supplying them with only the best left-wing ordnance that money could buy. At this point, Ahmed realized that he had forgotten something important. The PIs had noticed him by now, and were laughing and pointing as he examined his empty holster. Turning a furious shade of scarlet, Ahmed Big Dave Diode began throwing round after round of ammunition at the group of cackling PIs. One almost hit Bernard, who realized that Ahmed might actually succeed in bruising someone, and drew his gun. In the next instant, Ahmed's head was taken off by the left skid of a certain errant helicopter. A shower of gore spattered all over the satellite dish. Barney Beer I wrote one about how the helicopter crashed and we all watched Dave run out of the flames and roll on the ground trying to smother his burning clothes. All the PIs except for me, Dippy and I think Jimmy, ran to help Dave. I spotted Masters' Lotus and aimed my Redhawk at it. Dippy wrote one about me actually shooting the car up. I made a mess of the windshield but didn't hit anybody, except for Blofeld's cat. ("Fluffy-poo-poos is a goner!! "). I leapt out of the way of the out of control car. Dippy wasn't so fortunate as to get out of Masters' way. He just stodd there and got splattered on the pavement. Dippy's latest message follows. Barney Beer A human body can put a large dent in a car, as I had noticed as my head plowed through the windshield. Masters' car skidded to a halt. Apparently, my legs were sliced off in the collision. Really all that remained was my decapitated head, and a whole lot of rotting internal organs strewn all over the dashboard . "Well hello there, Masters." My head said, as it rolled to a halt in the passenger's seat. Blofeld leapt out, swinging the cat above him, it looked as though he regarded it as a weapon. He charged the PI's. Bernard quickly cut him down with his Redhawk. Masters quickly ran into a nearby bunch of trees. That is to say, he ran to the general vicinity where the trees were. He didn't actually run into any of them. The PI's just stood there for a minute. "Hey, wait, come back here." Pedro yelled. The PIs quickly chased after Masters. Jimmy appeared above me in the window. "Jimmy!" I said. "Quick, grab my head, and follow the PI's!!" He did. ******* BOARD RESET - TEXT MAY BE MISSING HERE ************ Barney Beer I ran on ahead, following Masters closely. I glanced over my shoulder and saw that all of the PIs were chasing Masters. All, except for El Loco and Dik. I cursed them under my breath. Masters was a fleet-footed little bagger and I was slowly being outdistanced. I decided then that it would be to my benefit if he were slowed down. I cocked my Super Redhawk, came to a halt and fired 4 times at Masters' receding back. He jerked as the slugs hit him. The force spun him around and he landed heavily near a clearing in a stand of trees. I broke into a run and headed to Masters lay. When I got there, he was lying on his back with one arm across his chest, looking serene. I pointed the Redhawk at his head and bent over to have a closer look. The gun was out of my hand and flying into a bush before I knew it. I leapt back and saw Masters get to his feet. He smiled evilly and opened his coat to reveal a ballistic cloth shirt. Barney Beer I stared in disbelief. This guy was too lucky to be true. I knew then that I'd have to physically dispatch Masters. I rushed him. He wasn't quite prepared as he was still fiddling with his coat. Unfortunately he was a little too fast for me and managed to sidestep. I lunged past him, spun around and met a heavy booted foot head on. I staggered back, trying to recover, but he kept right on me. I reeled from his repeated blows from which any normal man would have been floored. But I wasn't just any normal man. I was a descendant of Bill Zebop the First! That made me special. It also gave me a rock-hard head. And luckily, Masters hadn't caught on that my head was virtually impervious to any but killing blows and even then it just hurt mildly. I fell backwards from the assault and landed square on my doofus. I looked up to see Masters panting and muttering about how I should have been dead after a bombardment like that. I just smiled and rose to my feet. Barney Beer I caught him by surprise as I lunged and hit him full on the chest. He was lifted from his feet and landed on his back. He struggled to his feet and I strode towards him. A rustling in the bushes distracted me and I looked to my left to see the other PIs emerging. I turned back to see Masters launch another attack and I was barely able to fend it off. Masters was then distracted by the PIs and I saw my chance to finish him. I grabbed him around the waist, hoisted him in the air and ran full into a tree. I determined that his@ back was the weak point, probably still aggravated by the impacts of the slugs through his bullet-proof shirt, and worked on weakening him further. I felt his struggles lessening and I let up a bit. A very serious mistake on my part. The crafty devil had been faking it. I received a box on the ears and a knuckle sandwich between the eyes. I dropped him and grabbed for my face and ears. At that time, the other PIs had run up and Masters felt it prudent to make his escape. Barney Beer Masters ran headlong through the dense brush and managed to evade the PIs, who came walking back, dejected. I rooted through the underbrush and located my gun. I cleaned it off, reloaded it and slid it back into its holster. We stood around a little while longer trying to think of something, but instead found ourselves walking slowly back to Masters' former home and El and Dik. Upon our arrival, we saw El and Dik sitting on the hood of the demolished Lotus, looking smug. "He got away, didn't he?", Dik asked. "Yeah.", I said, dejectedly. "I figured he would.", he added. I felt like plugging Dik in the head with my Redhawk. El Loco, too. Instead, I walked over and pushed them off of the car and onto the ground, right on their keesters. I suppressed a smile and resigned myself to write an epilogue. Fred the Yak I quickly rounded up Elmer and swam strongly for shore. Nothing untoward happened to us and so we were lucky. Once on shore, we divested ourselves of the cumbersome pressure suits and made our way along the beach. We could see smoke just up ahead and comcluded that we had arrived just in time to see the Monaco Grand Prix. We quickened our pace and finally came upon a scene of great carnage and destruction. My breath caught in my throat, as I realized that there were quite a few dead^ people lying helter-skelter on the sand. Elmer, simpleminded Elmer, thought that it was part of the car race and promptly began clapping and cheering. I knew better, of course. Our comrades, the PIs, had been through here. At least, I thought so. That is, I thought they were our comrades. They never told us we weren't. Not in so many words. Or so I think. The Grodd Yawn. That's what I said. Yawn. Jet lag, you see. I was in my office, staring at the dust which was ever-so-slightly thicker on the phone than it had been before I left. Nothing had really changed. It was the same old office in the same old building in the same old city in the same old country as before. It wasn't very exciting. I sighed and walked down to street level. The street, although several months older, looke much the same. Nothing had really changed. It was the same old street in the same old city in the same old country as before. It really wasn't all that exciting. I sighed and walked down the street. The local park was green, which it hadn't really been when I left. That was logical, considering that it had been winter. Other than that, nothing had really changed. It was the name old park in the same old city in the same old country as before. It was bloody well boring. I didn't sigh, just for dramatic effect. The Grodd I found myself sitting on a park bench, feeding pigeons. I realized that I was horribly bored. I needed adventure. I needed excitement. During our quest, nothing had really changed. I was still stuck with no cases in the same old city in the same olf country as before. I sighed. Another case closed for Dik Miller, Private Eye. Sigh. Barney Beer The rain beat down on me, staining my hat and trenchcoat. Surveillance was the worst part of being a private investigator. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, I had to watch and wait. The only consolation was the money, and it wasn't all that much. It was better in the olden days. I saw it all in my mind's eye... I never liked my father. Up close he was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen. He had craters in his face bigger than those on the moon, he smelled like Scotch or cigar smoke and had cracked yellow teeth. He'd always grab his behind and say "Yes, yes!" to emphasize a point. He'd always talk about how there was a mutiny on a cargo ship loaded with wicker and rattan furniture out of Hong Kong. The mutineers, who didn't know how to run the ship, smashed her up on the rocks and everybody drowned. The rats and the furniture were the only things to make it to shore. I'd always say, "Dad, did you get that story out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel?" and he'd think about it for a moment, grab his butt. ... Barney Beer ...with both hands and exclaim, "Yes, yes!". Mom and I would have to hose him down, read him a nappy-time story and send him to bed, then. That was my Dad. I snapped out of my reverie. My mark was just coming out of the hotel and I followed him down the street, till he reached his car. I smiled mirthlessly and loosened the Super Redhawk in its holster. I stopped about 5 metres from him. "It's been a long time coming.", I grated. "You ain't getting away this time." He stopped fumbling with his keys and stood up, not caring whether his suit got wet, now. "I see you've caught up to me. What now?", he said with a barely visible smile. on his lips. I drew the Super Redhawk and advanced on him. Surprisingly, he stood his ground. As I came near, I was astonished to see that he was as tall as I and almost as heavily built. There was no mistake. He reached out his left hand and grasped the barrel of my gun and drew it out of my suddenly nerveless fingers. Barney Beer "What did you think you were going to do with this?", he said hefting the gun. "I was going to kill you for running out on us.", I said, my voice trembling more than my hands were. I nearly convinced myself that it was the cold, but I was fooling myself. "I see. I didn't mean to run out on you or your Mother, son. It was just that I was slowly going crazy, having to stay rooted down in one place. It wasn't her fault and I don't blame her. It wasn't your fault and I don't blame you. It was fate, son, and I blame it." He handed back the gun, grip first. I grasped it and pointed it fleetingly at him, then switched the safety back on and slipped it into the holster. I managed a weak smile , turned away and began walking back the way I'd come. I looked back over my shoulder and saw his car pull away from the curb and speed away in the opposite direction. II'd sworn to find and kill him. I stopped and reflected. He was different. Changed. Barney Beer When the time, the moment I'd waited for, for so long, I couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger. What was surprising was that I actually felt like grabbing him and giving him a big hug. Now, he'd run again, gain his anonymity again and I'd missed my chance. I stopped in front of a bar, paused. I shook my head and continued on my way. It was a long drive home and I'd better catch a few winks in my truck's sleeper. So, this bit of my past was lost and I had nothing to show for it except for a rainstained hat and coat. Barney Beer I drove most of the night and finally reached my office on the ground floor at about 2 in the morning. The rain had stopped and now the night was clear and cold. I threw my duffle bag down onto the sidewalk, closed the neck of my coat and hopped down to the ground. I locked up the tractor, hefted my bag and stomped into the ground floor entrance. It all looked like the way I'd left it. Except for the layer of dust on all of the furniture, of course. I sat down into my desk chair heavily and dragged a hand over my face. I thought back over the last few days. We'd thwarted Masters and had returned home victorious. But, while everyone else had gone on vacation or sat around relaxing, I'd undertaken to find my long lost father. What a waste of time that turned out to be. Ah well. I leaned back and tried to go to sleep. My bones creaked and cracked. I was getting to old for this kind of work. I resolved to retire from private investigation about then. Barney Beer I lay on the beach in New South Wales, soaking up the sun and a marguerita or two as well. I peaked out from under my hokey touristy straw hat and noticed a couple of buxom young girls, sans bikini tops, looking in my direction and giggling. I tried not to give myself away and smile and listened in on their conversation. "Zat one zere, wiz the straw 'at. I whan-der eef 'e is beeg all over! Giggle giggle giggle tee hee hee.", one said with a discernible French accent. "Not so loud!", the other said in perfect English, admonishing her companion, "Do you want him to hear us?!" "I would not mind.", the French girl said coquettishly. The English girl poo-poo'd her and made as if to ignore me, turning her back and occupying herself with something. The French girl continued to gaze in my direction. I made wake-up noises, rolled over onto my side and looked over at the two girls. The English girl pretended not to notice, while the French one made cow-eyes and waved daintily. Barney Beer I waved back and started to crawl towards her, all the while grinning broadly. Once there, I asked her the standard questions about herself and what she was up to. Well, I knew what she was up to, but I meant 'why was she here?'. It turned out that she wasn't French, but hailed from Belgium and she was a student, billeting with the girl who was giving me the cold shoulder. "Ummm, yeah, so what's yer name?" "Veronique. Veronique Braet. And yours?" "Uh, Bernard Bear. Bernard Q. Bear. Musn't forget the 'Q'." "What does it stand for?" "Frankly, I don't know.", I said awkwardly, which killed the conversation up to that point. A few tense seconds passed by before I blurted, "So, umm, Veronique...ya wanna make bee-yoo-teeful music together, you and I?", sounding a bit hopeful. "I'd love to!", she said without hesitating. "Oh! Great, yeah.", I said surprised. I leapt up, took her up in my arms and strolled leisurely down the beach, much to the chagrin and vexation of her friend. Barney Beer I looked back at sour-puss and stuck out my tongue. She gave me a vehement display of her left-hand middle finger and mouthed a few dirty words. I just smiled and hefted Veronique and headed down the beach, her arms around my neck. Of course, it all looked very sappy, but I was happy and she was happy and that's all that mattered at the time. I just love French women. Can't get enough of 'em. Big Dave Diode A half-crazed Arab stumbled out of the surf and crawled up the beach. "Awright PI oppressors!! The game is up! The Morrocan People's Revolutionary Committee wants you dead!!" With that he collapsed face down and began inhaling sand until he died. Dippy Bird "Deeaaath Buuuuuurd." the voice echoed. I recognized it immediately. It was energy, pure power, devoted to evil. It was this power that enabled my dead body to continue functioning as if it were alive. "Jeeeeeeemy." It said. I could feel Jimmy cowering in terror beside me. "Hoooold oooon aaaa seeccc......" there was a slight pause. "There, that's better. This voice echonizer is really a pain sometimes. Anyway, what brings you two here, to the plains of hell?" "War is hell." Jimmy said, mesmorized. He'd been a chopper pilot in Nam. The voice grunted in approval. "Time is money." I commented, not wanting to be left out. "I thought money was the root of all evil." Jimmy saidf. "No, hell is the root of all evil." The voice corrected. "But war is hell." "Then what's time?" "It's a magazine. Time." "So is Life!" "What about Teen Beat?" Jimmy whined. "Wait a minute," the voice interrupted. "We can sort that out later, tell me what you want, Death Bird." "None of the other PI's respect me. They just think of me as another decaying bag of peat moss. I'm not even a PI anymore. I can't even write PI'ish epilogues." "But you are just another decaying bag of peat moss." Jimmy said meanly. "No I'm not. And besides, I don't even have a body anymore, thanks to Masters. All I have is a head. And it's dead." "I see." the voice was sympathetic. "I want to be Dippy Bird, PI again, oh Voice of Evil." "And I want a new nose." Jimmy added. "Well I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'll give you a new body, and you can be a PI, but not Dippy Bird, PI. Another PI." I thought the proposition over for a few minutes. "That's too Bwana Gerbilish, you can come up with something better than that." "Hmmm," the voice pondered cybernetic organisims. "How about if I set you up with a nice cyborg identical to Arnold Swarzenegger, then I give you a .44 auto-mag with intra-red aiming and a nifty pair of gargoyles?" "Sure!" I said. "Ok, let me get that ready. Hold on... I'll be back." the voice disappeared. Jimmy noted how unusual it was for a voice to disappear since it never really appears in the first place. I punched ihim. "Here we go." The voice said upon returning. I felt a surge of energy flow from my rotting head to the muscular cyborg standing a few feet away. I lifted my arm. Little motors whirred through my wrist as my hand gripped my . 44 auto-mag. "Hey this is nice." I commented. "Thanks, Oh Evil Voice One." "No problem." The voice said, happy to have pleased me. "Here, I'll put you back in your old office." With a tingling zap, I found myself sitting behind my familiar detectives desk. Jimmy was doomed to roam the plains of hell without a nose. Dippy Bird I glanced around the room, everything was just how I had left it almost a year ago. Dippy Bird, PI was stenciled across the window. I'd have to I'd have to change that to "Super Dippy Bird, PI.". But for at least a little while, I was going on vacation. Maybe one of those two way package deals to Moose Jaw. I needed a rest. The world was safe for the time being, Masters was in a Maximum Security pennitentery, and his wife was currently wrestling for Glow. Everything was just the way it should have been. Dippy Bird And then I exploded.