The Knights of Arthur
Chapter VI

Public Domain

In Consolidated Edison’s big power plant, the guard was friendly. “I hear the Major’s over on your boat, pal. Big doings. Got a lot of the girls there, hey?”

He bent, sniggering, to look at my pass.

“That’s right, pal,” I said, and slugged him.

Arthur screamed at me with a shrill blast of steam as I came in. But only once. I wasn’t there for conversation. I began ripping apart his comfy little home of steel braces and copper wires, and it didn’t take much more than a minute before I had him free. And that was very fortunate because, although I had tied up the guard, I hadn’t done it very well, and it was just about the time I had Arthur’s steel case tucked under my arm that I heard a yelling and bellowing from down the stairs.

The guard had got free.

“Keep calm, Arthur!” I ordered sharply. “We’ll get out of this, don’t you worry!”

But he wasn’t worried, or anyway didn’t show it, since he couldn’t. I was the one who was worried. I was up on the second floor of the plant, in the control center, with only one stairway going down that I knew about, and that one thoroughly guarded by a man with a grudge against me. Me, I had Arthur, and no weapon, and I hadn’t a doubt in the world that there were other guards around and that my friend would have them after me before long.

Problem. I took a deep breath and swallowed and considered jumping out the window. But it wasn’t far enough to the ground.

Feet pounded up the stairs, more than two of them. With Arthur dragging me down on one side, I hurried, fast as I could, along the steel galleries that surrounded the biggest boiler. It was a nice choice of alternatives--if I stayed quiet, they would find me; if I ran, they would hear me, and then find me.

But ahead there was--what? Something. A flight of stairs, it looked like, going out and, yes, up. Up? But I was already on the second floor.

“Hey, you!” somebody bellowed from behind me.

I didn’t stop to consider. I ran. It wasn’t steps, not exactly; it was a chain of coal scoops on a long derrick arm, a moving bucket arrangement for unloading fuel from barges. It did go up, though, and more important it went out. The bucket arm was stretched across the clogged roadway below to a loading tower that hung over the water.

If I could get there, I might be able to get down. If I could get down--yes, I could see it; there were three or four mahogany motor launches tied to the foot of the tower.

And nobody around.

I looked over my shoulder, and didn’t like what I saw, and scuttled up that chain of enormous buckets like a roach on a washboard, one hand for me and one hand for Arthur.


Thank heaven, I had a good lead on my pursuers--I needed it. I was on the bucket chain while they were still almost a city block behind me, along the galleries. I was halfway across the roadway, afraid to look down, before they reached the butt end of the chain.

Clash-clatter. Clank! The bucket under me jerked and clattered and nearly threw me into the street. One of those jokers had turned on the conveyor! It was a good trick, all right, but not quite in time. I made a flying jump and I was on the tower.

I didn’t stop to thumb my nose at them, but I thought of it.

I was down those steel steps, breathing like a spouting whale, in a minute flat, and jumping out across the concrete, coal-smeared yard toward the moored launches. Quickly enough, I guess, but with nothing at all to spare, because although I hadn’t seen anyone there, there was a guard.

He popped out of a doorway, blinking foolishly; and overhead the guards at the conveyor belt were screaming at him. It took him a second to figure out what was going on, and by that time I was in a launch, cast off the rope, kicked it free, and fumbled for the starting button.

It took me several seconds to realize that a rope was required, that in fact there was no button; and by then I was floating yards away, but the pudgy pop-eyed guard was also in a launch, and he didn’t have to fumble. He knew. He got his motor started a fraction of a second before me, and there he was, coming at me, set to ram. Or so it looked.

I wrenched at the wheel and brought the boat hard over; but he swerved too, at the last moment, and brought up something that looked a little like a spear and a little like a sickle and turned out to be a boathook. I ducked, just in time. It sizzled over my head as he swung and crashed against the windshield. Hunks of safety glass splashed out over the forward deck, but better that than my head.

Boathooks, hey? I had a boathook too! If he didn’t have another weapon, I was perfectly willing to play; I’d been sitting and taking it long enough and I was very much attracted by the idea of fighting back. The guard recovered his balance, swore at me, fought the wheel around and came back.

We both curved out toward the center of the East River in intersecting arcs. We closed. He swung first. I ducked--

And from a crouch, while he was off balance, I caught him in the shoulder with the hook.

He made a mighty splash.

I throttled down the motor long enough to see that he was still conscious.

Touché, buster,” I said, and set course for the return trip down around the foot of Manhattan, back toward the Queen.


It took a while, but that was all right; it gave everybody a nice long time to get plastered. I sneaked aboard, carrying Arthur, and turned him over to Vern. Then I rejoined the Major. He was making an inspection tour of the ship--what he called an inspection, after his fashion.

He peered into the engine rooms and said: “Ah, fine.”

He stared at the generators that were turning over and nodded when I explained we needed them for power for lights and everything and said: “Ah, of course.”

He opened a couple of stateroom doors at random and said: “Ah, nice.”

And he went up on the flying bridge with me and such of his officers as still could walk and said: “Ah.”

Then he said in a totally different tone: “What the devil’s the matter over there?”

He was staring east through the muggy haze. I saw right away what it was that was bothering him--easy, because I knew where to look. The power plant way over on the East Side was billowing smoke.

“Where’s Vern Engdahl? That gadget of his isn’t working right!”

“You mean Arthur?”

“I mean that brain in a bottle. It’s Engdahl’s responsibility, you know!”

Vern came up out of the wheelhouse and cleared his throat. “Major,” he said earnestly, “I think there’s some trouble over there. Maybe you ought to go look for yourself.”

“Trouble?”

“I, uh, hear there’ve been power failures,” Vern said lamely. “Don’t you think you ought to inspect it? I mean just in case there’s something serious?”

The Major stared at him frostily, and then his mood changed. He took a drink from the glass in his hand, quickly finishing it off.

“Ah,” he said, “hell with it. Why spoil a good party? If there are going to be power failures, why, let them be. That’s my motto!”

Vern and I looked at each other. He shrugged slightly, meaning, well, we tried. And I shrugged slightly, meaning, what did you expect? And then he glanced upward, meaning, take a look at what’s there.

But I didn’t really have to look because I heard what it was. In fact, I’d been hearing it for some time. It was the Major’s entire air force--two helicopters, swirling around us at an average altitude of a hundred feet or so. They showed up bright against the gathering clouds overhead, and I looked at them with considerable interest--partly because I considered it an even-money bet that one of them would be playing crumple-fender with our stacks, partly because I had an idea that they were not there solely for show.

 
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