The Complete Stories (Page 222)

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I didn’t think that was funny. I said, "Let’s go to the lab."

Mary Ann said, "Hey! We won’t make the show."

I said, "Look, Mary Ann, this is very important. It’s just going to take a minute. Come along with us and we’ll go straight to the show from there."

She said, "The show starts-" And then she stopped talking, because I grabbed her wrist and we left.

That just shows how excited I was. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t ever have dreamed of shoving her around. I mean, Mary Ann is quite the lady. It’s just that I had so many things on my mind. I don’t even really remember grabbing her wrist, come to think of it. It’s just that the next thing I knew, I was in the auto and so was Cliff and so was she, and she was rubbing her wrist and muttering under her breath about big gorillas.

I said, "Did I hurt you, Mary Ann?"

She said, "No, of course not. I have my arm yanked out of its socket every day, just for fun." Then she kicked me in the shin.

She only does things like that because she has red hair. Actually, she has a very gentle nature, but she tries very hard to live up to the redhead mythology. I see right through that, of course, but I humor her, poor kid.

We were at the laboratory in twenty minutes.

The Institute is empty at night. It’s emptier than a building would ordinarily be. You see, it’s designed to have crowds of students rushing through the corridors and when they aren’t there, it’s unnaturally lonely. Or maybe it was just that I was afraid to see what might be sitting in our laboratory upstairs. Either way, footsteps were uncomfortably loud and the self-service elevator was downright dingy.

I said to Mary Ann, "This won’t take long." But she just sniffed and looked beautiful.

She can’t help looking beautiful.

Cliff had the key to the laboratory and I looked over his shoulder when he opened the door. There was nothing to see. Junior was there, sure, but he looked just as he had when I saw him last. The dials in front registered nothing and except for that, there was just a large box, with a cable running back into the wall socket.

Cliff and I walked up on either side of Junior. I think we were planning to grab it if it made a sudden move. But then we stopped because Junior just wasn’t doing anything. Mary Ann was looking at it, too. In fact, she ran her middle finger along its top and then looked at the finger tip and twiddled it against her thumb to get rid of the dust.

% I said, "Mary Ann, don’t you go near it. Stay at the other end of the room." if. She said, "It’s just as dirty there."

She’d never been in our lab before, and of course she didn’t realize that a laboratory wasn’t the same thing as a baby’s bedroom, if you know what I mean. The janitor comes in twice a day and all he does is empty the waste-baskets. About once a week, he comes in with a dirty mop, makes mud on the floor, and shoves it around a little.

Cliff said, "The telephone isn’t where I left it." !! I said, "How do you know?"

"Because I left it there." He pointed. "And now it’s here."

If he were right, the telephone had moved closer to Junior. I swallowed and said, "Maybe you don’t remember right." I tried to laugh without sounding very natural and said, "Where’s the screw driver?"

"What are you going to do?"

"Just take a look inside. For laughs."

Mary Ann said, "You’ll get yourself all dirty." So I put on my lab coat. She’s a very thoughtful girl, Mary Ann.

I got to work with a screw driver. Of course, once Junior was really perfected, we were going to have models manufactured in welded, one-piece cases. We were even thinking of molded plastic in colors, for home use. In the lab model, though, we held it together with screws so that we could take it apart and put it together as often as we wanted to.

Only the screws weren’t coming out. I grunted and yanked and said, "Some joker was putting his weight on these when he screwed these things in."

Cliff said, "You’re the only one who ever touches the thing."

He was right, too, but that didn’t make it any easier. I stood up and passed the back of my hand over my forehead. I held out the screw driver to him, "Want to try?"

He did, and didn’t get any further than I did. He said, "That’s funny."

I said, "What’s funny?"

t He said, "I had a screw turning just now. It moved about an eighth of an inch and then the screw driver slipped."

"What’s funny about that?"

Cliff backed away and put down the screw driver with two fingers. "What’s funny is that I saw the screw move back an eighth of an inch and tighten up again."

Mary Ann was fidgeting again. She said, "Why don’t your scientific minds think of a blowtorch, if you’re so anxious." There was a blowtorch on one of the benches and she was pointing to it.

Well, ordinarily, I wouldn’t think any more of using a blowtorch on Junior than on myself. But I was thinking something and Cliff was thinking some-

thing and we were both thinking the same thing. Junior didn ‘t want to be opened up.

Cliff said, "What do you think, Bill?"

And 1 said, "I don’t know, Cliff."

Mary Ann said, "Well, hurry up, lunkhead, we’ll miss the show."

So I picked up the blowtorch and adjusted the gauge on the oxygen cylinder. It was going to be like stabbing a friend.

But Mary Ann stopped the proceedings by saying, "Well, how stupid can men be? These screws are loose. You must have been turning the screw driver the wrong way."

Now there isn’t much chance of turning a screw driver the wrong way. Just the same, I don’t like to contradict Mary Ann, so I just said, "Mary Ann, don’t stay too close to Junior. Why don’t you wait by the door."

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