Copyright 1956 by Carl L. Biemiller
Illustrated by Kathleen Voute
|Chapter One||Chapter Two||Chapter Three||Chapter Four||Chapter Six|
|Chapter Seven||Chapter Eight||Chapter Nine||Chapter Ten||Chapter Eleven|
|Starboy's Home||C.L. Biemiller's Home|
Johnny’s mother shook them awake the next morning. “up, you sleepy heads, it’s late,” she said.
Johnny smiled at her through his sleep-squinty eyes. “Hello, Mother,” he said.
Remo sat straight up in bed, immediately alert. The pajamas he had borrowed from Johnny were all bunched at the back of his neck and they made him look as if he were wearing a harness. "Good morning, Mrs. Jenks."
Johnny's mother dropped an armful of clothing on a chair.
"Remo, you wear these today and I'll take your own suit and wash it. Here's an old pair of Johnny's sneakers, underwear, shorts, and a T-shirt. If you're going to stay with us you'll have to look like a Jenks boy." Mrs. Jenks was brusque. "Both of you take a shower. And Remo, there are some men downstairs who want to meet you. Johnny can tell you about them. They are friends of Mr. Jenks and they want to ask you some questions."
Remo nodded. "Yes, Mrs. Jenks," he said without surprise. "My father told me I might meet a few of Mr. Jenks' friends." He smiled. "I'm hungry," he said and jumped out of bed.
"Pancakes," said Mrs. Jenks and left the room. "What's pancakes?" asked Johnny, making fun of Remo. He jumped on Remo's back and they wriggled on the bed, wrestling and laughing for all they were worth. Remo ended the romp by merely holding Johnny's arms flat. Remo was very strong, remembered Johnny.
They showered and scrubbed their teeth. Remo made faces from the taste of the toothpaste. They dressed and went downstairs.
Pancakes it was, and orange juice and bacon and milk too. They ate until their belts were tight. When they were just about finished Mr. Murphy came into the kitchen. He had on a green sports shirt this morning. He wore sandals and his toes stuck through them. Even in Washington, Mr. Murphy was known to sacrifice dignity for comfort at all times. He stuck a rude finger in Johnny's plate and licked off a taste of honey from the pancakes.
"How goes it, men?" he asked.
There are some adults who are fun without trying to be. Mr. Murphy was one of them. He was a serious scientist but he still had a good time. He looked at Remo sharply.
"Was it a long trip?" he asked.
"Fairly," answered Remo. He stared at Mr. Murphy a long moment, not rudely but intensely. He grinned. "Good weather all the way," he said.
"Ah ha!" yelled Mr. Murphy. "I had a hunch yesterday when I talked to George Jenks on the telephone that we'd know no more when you left than we did when you came, young Remo. I'm beginning to believe it." Mr. Murphy paused. "Listen, boy," he said, "you're as welcome as Santa Claus any day in the year, but there are a lot of fine fellows who have some queer ideas about you. You'll meet some of them soon. One of them wants to give you a complete physical examination to see if you've got nine lungs, I guess. Another wants to give you a drug that would make you tell secrets you'd never mention otherwise. Still another thinks you'd do well in a cage until you told us how to make and operate a flying saucer. They've talked about getting your father down to lecture before science groups, about getting you to write a report of your galaxy, about having men follow you around…."
Mr. Murphy's face was wrinkled as if he'd bitten into a lemon. "Isn't that a welcome for you?" he asked. "What do you think of it, Remo?"
"Not much," interrupted Johnny.
"I was told to expect it, sir," said Remo, "But I think you ought to know before we meet your friends that there isn't anything much I can do for you." The boy was oddly dignified. "you see," he continued, "the part of my mind that holds memories has been treated at home, and certain of those memories have been erased temporarily. I couldn't tell you anything I didn't know no matter what anybody did to me."
"We'd call that artificial amnesia and give it to the doctors," said Mr. Murphy. "The important thing is to give you some new memories. Do you like ice cream?"
"I will," said Remo.
Something occurred to Mr. Murphy. He turned to Johnny. That magic marble came back I noticed, young man. It would be just as well if too many people didn't see it in action. But come on in and say hello."
There was a meeting going on in Jenks' living room. Mr. Jenks was sitting on the corner of a davenport with one leg hung over the arm rest. "Morning, boys," he said. "Remo, meet Mr. Kimber, Colonel Wingate, Dr. Thompson, and Mr. Murphy you know. I work with these people. Johnny you know everybody but Dr. Thompson…"
The boys nodded shyly.
Mr. Kimber was a young-looking man but his hair was almost gray. His eyebrows looked like jagged black streaks and his forehead was grooved with tiny lines. He wore a plain blue suit and looked quite trim in it. He also looked like a man used to giving other people orders.
"Any luck, Murph?" he asked pleasantly.
"Artificially induced psychic block," said Mr. Murphy cheerfully. "While he'd like to be helpful, he doesn't know much about anything we'd be interested in."
"What?" blurted Colonel Wingate. He was a stiff man in a straight chair. His blue uniform was sharply pressed, his necktie tightly knotted, and two tiny silver wings dappled his shoulders.
"Means the boy can't remember anything you'd want to know about," explained Dr. Thompson, a round man with a broad, bland face and a big smile.
"I tried to tell you what I thought about it yesterday," said Mr. Jenks seriously. "All we can do is stand by, see that nothing bothers the boys, and let' em alone."
Mr. Kimber listened thoughtfully, his head cocked to one side. He stared at Remo. He smiled. Then he banged a closed fist on the chair arm. "Welcome to earth, son," he said gently. "Why don't you and Johnny beat it out to play. We'll see you later…"
Remo and Johnny stood on the back porch and debated things to do. Johnny was full of ideas. They could go down to the barn and see if Petunia the cat's babies were old enough to open their eyes. They could go fishing in the pool below Applegate's fence and see if the sunfish and the perch felt like biting. They could go down to the wood's edge and visit in Johnny's underground cave beneath the fallen oak. They could put a can of flea powder on Minstrel and watch the fleas hop off him. They could get the ball gloves and have a catch. It was time that Remo knew something more about baseball than just a picture card. They could eat an apple, a piece of pie, cookies, or a special piece of maple-sugar candy if they asked Johnny's mother properly.
There was a whole day before them and a choice of many things to do with it. They were thinking about them when old Mr. Applegate's Model-T chugged up the driveway all shining and black like an old-fashioned coal stove on wheels.
Mr. Applegate was all dressed up. He had on a white shirt with a high collar and a green string tie with an off-center knot that made Johnny think he had his neck turned. He wore a rusty black coat and his shirt cuffs hung below its sleeves. His face was bright and pink beneath a flat straw hat, and he was as cheerful as a wren in a wheat bin. He got out of his car just as spryly.
"Hi boys," he called to them. "There's a county fair at Smithtown and I thought I'd ask Mrs. Jenks if she'd let you come with me."
"Yea," yelled Johnny. Then he stopped, a frown upon his face. That's what he meant about Mr. Applegate, he thought. He was either nice-unnice or unnice-nice. If he thought enough about boys to ask them to a county fair, why couldn't he think enough about boys to make a school a better place? He'd have to ask Remo if adults on his world were puzzling too and if the schools had science rooms where a simple rocket problem could be studied better. He remembered his manners suddenly. "Gee," he said, "thanks, Mr. Applegate."
Mr. Applegate wrinkled his already-wrinkled forehead. That was the trouble with boys, he thought. They yell with pleasure one second and take it back the next. Nobody ever knew about children anyhow, what was good for them, what they wanted, needed… Ah! He walked up to the house.
Mrs. Jenks answered his knock. There was a brief chat then Mrs. Jenks vanished into the house. "I'll ask George," she said. She was gone a long time and the boys fidgeted. Not old Mr. Applegate. He leaned against the doorjamb.
Finally, Johnny's mother came back to the door. "The boys can go, Mr. Applegate. We think it's real nice of you. Would you mind if a friend of George's and Johnny's went with you? His name's Mr. Murphy and he's never seen one of our fairs…" Mrs. Jenks seemed to take Mr. Applegate's acceptance for granted. "Boys," she called. "Come here a moment. You'll need some money." She turned to Mr. Applegate. "Do they look all right? Should they get dressed?"
"Just figured on taking the kids," grunted Mr. Applegate, but Mrs. Jenks didn't seem to pay any attention to his mutter. He walked off the porch and climbed into the Model T where he sat like a king. The boys climbed into the front of the car with him, leaving Mr. Murphy the whole back seat, and when Mr. Murphy arrived, shook hands with old Mr. Applegate and climbed in, he needed it. Mr. Murphy was a sprawler, all gangly legs and arms.
He won old Mr. Applegate's heart with his first remark.
"What a wonderful car," he said. "They never made a better one, and all of Detroit has been trying ever since. What do you call her, Mr. Applegate?
The old man jerked his head in surprise and his straw hat bounced. "How'd you know I call her anything?" he asked.
Mr. Murphy just grinned. "There was never a man with a love for a Lizzie that didn't have a name for her. I used to call mine Ermentrude."
They rattled down the road for about a mile before Mr. Applegate spoke. "This one's Trixie," he said.
"Go Trixie! Go," shouted Johnny.
Mr. Applegate tried not to grin, but his tight smile spread all over his face. " She'll do fifty," he said, "if I need that kind of speed."
Remo had a puzzled look on his face. "That's speed?" he wondered. He relaxed. There was nothing like a Model-T Ford at home, a person could see country when he rode high enough above the road, and the wind never whistled through the greatest space ship like it did through the hinged windshield of a T. Remo was happy.
He wasn't the only one. They rode into Smithtown singing and Mr. Murphy was leading the choruses.
"Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Johnny's so long at the Fair!"
The fair ground was on the outside of Smithtown. There wasn't too much of Smithtown to be outside of. It was mostly all outside. In fact, Smithtown was four corners, a general store, a feed store, a barber shop that always had a white cat asleep in a window, two gasoline stations, a Grange Hall, and a handful of houses that had been leaning against the west winds since the Continental Army marched through on its way to Valley Forge. But Smithtown on Fair Day drew people from miles around.
The fair was crowded. It was busy, and people jammed against each other through all the aisles where farm displays were stacked in small booths. There were jams and jellies, cakes and pies, vegetables by the score even though it was not yet the regular harvest season. There were stalls that held farm machinery and others which held horses, cows, pigs, shoats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and little girls selling chances on television sets for the Grange.
"This is the fruit of our soil," said Mr. Murphy to Remo quietly.
There were men selling balloons, pinwheels on sticks, funny badges, chameleons which could be pinned to jackets in case anybody wanted a lizard on his coat.
Old Mr. Applegate was surefooted. He seemed to know exactly where he was going. He led them to a broad midway. "Getting near lunchtime," he said. "I want a hot dog."
"Me too," said Johnny eagerly.
"With mustard, relish, pickles, and chow-chow," said Mr. Murphy.
The hot dogs were hot and the rolls were crisp.
"Oh boy," murmured Remo, excitement in his eyes.
They drank root beer that was all fizz and cream and they buried their noses deep in the stone mugs. Mr. Applegate complained. He said there wasn't enough real root beer. "We're drinking flavored air," he said. They moved to another booth and ate cotton candy, all pink, fluffy and chewy if a person could bite through enough of the cobwebby sugar to chew it. Mr. Applegate got some in his eyebrows. It turned black as the day wore on and he had to chase the flies off his forehead.
They thought about eating a hamburger too, but Mr. Applegate said he knew the woman who was running that booth. "She makes 'em all chopped onion and no meat," he said. "Anyhow, maybe we've had enough. I think we could stand some exercise, and I want to win a cigar."
Mr. Applegate looked as peaceful as a contented baby, and just as innocent, but there was a twinkle in his eye that did not escape Mr. Murphy. Mr. Murphy, however, could not know that Mr. Applegate had once seen a boy throw, trip, or otherwise handle a bull.
They walked down to an area surrounded by men watching other men wield a big hammer against a big pegged board. When they struck the peg a rubber ball about the size of a baseball skidded up a planked tower. The tower was marked with numbers, which said 5 Feet, 10 Feet, 15 Feet, 20 Feet. The harder the men struck the pegged board with the big hammer, the higher the rubber ball rose. At the very top of the tower was a bell. It rang when the ball hit it. The strongest men who hit the hardest with the hammer rang the bell. Not many of them were doing it.
The man who operated the hammer game was encouraging everybody. "Test your muscles," he cried. "Three tries for ten cents. Win a cigar. Win a dolly for your daughter. Win a prize for your wife. Ring the bell."
They wiggled their way into the crowd. Mr. Applegate gave the operator a dime. "Try it, Johnny," he said. "Lets see how fine those Jenks muscles are."
Johnny was eager. It looked like fun. He picked up the hammer. It was a huge wooden mallet and not easy to handle. He could just about get it over his shoulder for the downswing at the peg. He struggled it up and banged it down. Squooof! The ball rose to the 5-Feet marker.
"More muscle," said Mr. Murphy. "Put those vitamins in it."
Johnny swung again. Squooof! The ball slipped up to the 10-Feet marker.
"Once more," laughed old Mr. Applegate. "I'll have to feed you more hot dogs."
Johnny's face grew red. He strained. He swung the hammer up and then down with all his might. It slipped off the peg with a dismal thud. The ball stayed right where it was without moving. He was embarrassed and shamefaced as he turned away. Remo patted him on the arm.
There was a nasty laugh behind them, full of scorn and noise, and a burly, thick-set man with a sweating, red face shouted, "Keep the children out of here and let the men play. That boy couldn't even lift the hammer. G'wan home, sonny…."
Mr. Murphy's face tightened. Remo looked startled. But not old Mr. Applegate. He reached up and tilted his straw hat back on his head and he walked right up to the shouting man until his nose was inches from the man's face.
"I'll tell you what I'll do, Mr. Noisy," he said. "I'll bet you a five-dollar note or nothing at all that you can't ring that bell as many times in a row as one of these boys here. What do you think of that?"
"You're a fool, old man," answered the blustery onlooker…"
"He is that," muttered Mr. Murphy to himself.
"I'll take your bet," said the man, and he pushed himself up to the pegged board and grabbed the mallet.
"Three shots for a dime," reminded the operator.
The muscles in the man's shoulders bunched.
Bang, went the hammer! And bang went the bell at the top of the tower! He swung again. Bang went the bell! Again, and bang went the bell! Three times in a row. The man was confident, laughing and nodding. "See that?" he cried to the crowd. And the crowd's faces nodded like a clump of daisies in a breeze. The man handed the operator two dimes. I'll do it again," he said. Bang went the bell, and bang, bang!
"That's pretty good hammering," said Mr. Murphy.
Mr Applegate said nothing at all, but there was still a twinkle in his eyes. He reached past the man and picked up the big mallet. He handed it to Remo. "You know the game," he said. "Ring the bell."
The hammer was almost as long as the boy, but curiously enough Remo didn't seem bothered by the weight. He glanced at Johnny. Remo was puzzled. He sensed that he might be making a mistake, but, after all, he was a guest, a boy, and Johnny' adult friends were asking him to play a game. He glanced at Johnny's still-crestfallen face, then he looked at the man standing puffed and proudly off to the side of the peg. It was that man who was responsible for Johnny's downcast expression. He looked at Mr. Murphy who was oddly quiet.
"Sock it, boy," said old Mr. Applegate.
Remo put both hands a third of the way up the hammer. He twirled it suddenly over his head and crashed in down squarely upon the peg. It was a lightning stroke.
Zip went the ball! It flew up the tower like a shot! Bang went the bell! Crash went the top of the tower! There was a sudden splintering noise. The rubber ball squirted from the tower top in a cloud of wooden splinters. The bell fell to the ground with a dull, clanging thud.
"Oy!" shouted the amazed operator.
"Jeepers!" whispered Johnny.
The red-faced man who had made all the noise, the man who was so nasty in the beginning, said nothing at all.
Only Mr. Applegate looked pleased.
Remo seemed sheepish. He moved closer to Johnny and Mr. Murphy.
"Who'll pay for my damage?" wailed the operator.
"The man who rang the bell so many times that he weakened the structure," said Mr. Murphy firmly. "you don't think a boy could do it, do you?"
Mr. Applegate walked over to the stricken operator and picked up a cigar from a box behind him. "There's more to a fair than bell-ringing," he said. "let's be off…"
"Wherever we go," said Mr. Murphy significantly, "from here on it will be quietly. Does everybody understand?"
"I've a friend who races trotting horses," remarked old Mr. Applegate. "Can't get in any trouble watching a horse race, can we?"
Johnny and Remo said nothing at all.
|Chapter One||Chapter Two||Chapter Three||Chapter Four||Chapter Six|
|Chapter Seven||Chapter Eight||Chapter Nine||Chapter Ten||Chapter Eleven|
|Starboy's Home||C.L. Biemiller's Home|