Sandy’s eyes needed only jet propulsion to become flying saucers. Wasn’t Pat wonderful? she beamed, at everyone.
Some joker in the dear, dead days now virtually beyond recall won two-bit immortality by declaring that, “What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.”
Which is, of course, Victorian malarkey. What this country really needs is a good five-cent nickel. Or perhaps a good cigar-shaped spaceship. There’s a fortune waiting somewhere out in space for the man who can go out there and claim it. A fortune! And if you think I’m just talking through my hat, lend an ear...
Joyce started the whole thing. Or maybe I did when for the umpteenth time I suggested she should marry me. She smiled in a way that showed she didn’t disapprove of my persistence, but loosed a salvo of devastating negatives.
“No deal,” she crisped decisively. “Know why? No dough!”
“But, sugar,” I pleaded, “two can live as cheaply as one--”
“This is true,” replied Joyce, “only of guppies. Understand, Don, I don’t mind changing my name from Carter to Mallory. In fact, I’d rather like to. But I have no desire whatever to be known to the neighbors as ‘that poor little Mrs. Mallory in last year’s coat.’
“I’ll marry you,” she continued firmly, “when, as and if you get a promotion.”
Her answer was by no stretch of the imagination a reason for loud cheers, handsprings and cartwheels. Because I’m a Federal employee. The United States Patent Office is my beat. There’s one nice thing to be said about working for the bewhiskered old gentleman in the star-spangled stovepipe and striped britches: it’s permanent. Once you get your name inscribed on the list of Civil Service employees it takes an act of Congress to blast it off again. And of course I don’t have to remind you how long it takes that body of vote-happy windbags to act. Terrapins in treacle are greased lightning by comparison.
But advancement is painfully slow in a department where discharges are unheard of and resignations rare. When I started clerking for this madhouse I was assistant to the assistant Chief Clerk’s assistant. Now, ten years later, by dint of mighty effort and a cultivated facility for avoiding Senatorial investigations, I’ve succeeded in losing only one of those redundant adjectives.
Being my secretary, Joyce certainly realized this. But women have a remarkable ability to separate business and pleasure. So:
“A promotion,” she insisted. “Or at least a good, substantial raise.”
“In case you don’t know it,” I told her gloomily, “you are displaying a lamentably vulgar interest in one of life’s lesser values. Happiness, not money, should be man’s chief goal.”
“What good is happiness,” demanded Joyce, “if you can’t buy money with it?”
“Why hoard lucre?” I sniffed. “You can’t take it with you.”
“In that case,” said Joyce flatly, “I’m not going. There’s no use arguing, Don. I’ve made up my mind--”
At this moment our dreary little impasse was ended by a sudden tumult outside my office. There was a squealing shriek, the shuffle of footsteps, the pounding of fists upon my door. And over all the shrill tones of an old, familiar voice high-pitched in triumph.
“Let me in! I’ve got to see him instantaceously. This time I’ve got it; I’ve absolutely got it!”
Joyce and I gasped, then broke simultaneously for the door as it flew open to reveal a tableau resembling the Laocoon group sans snake and party of the third part. Back to the door and struggling valiantly to defend it stood the receptionist, Miss Thomas. Held briefly but volubly at bay was a red-thatched, buck-toothed individual--and I do mean individual!--with a face like the map of Eire, who stopped wrestling as he saw us, and grinned delightedly.
“Hello, Mr. Mallory,” he said. “Hi, Miss Joyce.”
“Pat!” we both cried at once. “Pat Pending!”
Miss Thomas, a relative newcomer to our bailiwick, seemed baffled by the warmth of our greeting. She entered the office with our visitor, and as Joyce and I pumphandled him enthusiastically she asked, “You--you know this gentleman, Mr. Mallory?”
“I should say we do!” I chortled. “Pat, you old naughty word! Where on earth have you been hiding lately?”
“Surely you’ve heard of the great Patrick Pending, Miss Thomas?” asked Joyce.
“Pending?” faltered Miss Thomas. “I seem to have heard the name. Or seen it somewhere--”
Pat beamed upon her companionably. Stepping to my desk, he up-ended the typewriter and pointed to a legend in tiny letters stamped into the frame: Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.--Pat. Pending.
“Here, perhaps?” he suggested. “I invented this. And the airplane, and the automobile, and--oh, ever so many things. You’ll find my name inscribed on every one.
“I,” he announced modestly, “am Pat Pending--the greatest inventulator of all time.”
Miss Thomas stared at me goggle-eyed.
“Is he?” she demanded. “I mean--did he?”
I nodded solemnly.
“Not only those, but a host of other marvels. The bacular clock, the transmatter, the predictograph--”
Miss Thomas turned on Pat a gaze of fawning admiration. “How wonderful!” she breathed.
“Oh, nothing, really,” said Pat, wriggling.
“But it is! Most of the things brought here are so absurd. Automatic hat-tippers, self-defrosting galoshes, punching bags that defend themselves--” Disdainfully she indicated the display collection of screwball items we call our Chamber of Horrors. “It’s simply marvelous to meet a man who has invented things really worth while.”
Honestly, the look in her eyes was sickening. But was Pat nauseated? Not he! The big goon was lapping it up like a famished feline. His simpering smirk stretched from ear to there as he murmured, “Now, Miss Thomas--”
“Sandra, Mr. Pending,” she sighed softly. “To you just plain ... Sandy. Please?”
“Well, Sandy--” Pat gulped.
I said disgustedly, “Look, you two--break it up! Love at first sight is wonderful in books, but in a Federal office I’m pretty sure it’s unconstitutional, and it may be subversive. Would you mind coming down to earth? Pat, you barged in here squalling about some new invention. Is that correct?”
With an effort Pat wrenched his gaze from his new-found admirer and nodded soberly.
“That’s right, Mr. Mallory. And a great one, too. One that will revolutionate the world. Will you give me an applicaceous form, please? I want to file it immediately.”
“Not so fast, Pat. You know the routine. What’s the nature of this remarkable discovery?”
“You may write it down,” said Pat grandiloquently, “as Pat Pending’s lightening rod.”
I glanced at Joyce, and she at me, then both of us at Pending.
“But, Pat,” I exclaimed, “that’s ridiculous! Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod two hundred years ago.”
“I said lightening,” retorted my redheaded friend, “not lightning. My invention doesn’t conduct electricity to the ground, but from it.” He brandished a slim baton which until then I had assumed to be an ordinary walking-stick. “With this,” he claimed, “I can make things weigh as much or as little as I please!”
The eyes of Sandy Thomas needed only jet propulsion to become flying saucers.
“Isn’t he wonderful, Mr. Mallory?” she gasped.
But her enthusiasm wasn’t contagious. I glowered at Pending coldly.
“Oh, come now, Pat!” I scoffed. “You can’t really believe that yourself. After all, there are such things as basic principles. Weight is not a variable factor. And so far as I know, Congress hasn’t repealed the Law of Gravity.”
Pat sighed regretfully.
“You’re always so hard to convince, Mr. Mallory,” he complained. “But--oh, well! Take this.”
He handed me the baton. I stared at it curiously. It looked rather like a British swagger stick: slim, dainty, well balanced. But the ornamental gadget at its top was not commonplace. It seemed to be a knob or a dial of some kind, divided into segments scored with vernier markings. I gazed at Pending askance.
“Well, Pat? What now?”
“How much do you weigh, Mr. Mallory?”
“One sixty-five,” I answered.
“You’re sure of that?”
“I’m not. But my bathroom scales appeared to be. This morning. Why?”
“Do you think Miss Joyce could lift you?”
I said thoughtfully, “Well, that’s an idea. But I doubt it. She won’t even let me try to support her.”
“I’m serious, Mr. Mallory. Do you think she could lift you with one hand?”
“Don’t be silly! Of course not. Nor could you.”
“There’s where you’re wrong,” said Pending firmly. “She can--and will.”
He reached forward suddenly and twisted the metal cap on the stick in my hands. As he did so, I loosed a cry of alarm and almost dropped the baton. For instantaneously I experienced a startling, flighty giddiness, a sudden loss of weight that made me feel as if my soles were treading on sponge rubber, my shoulders sprouting wings.
“Hold on to it!” cried Pat. Then to Joyce, “Lift him, Miss Joyce.”
Joyce faltered, “How? Like th-this?” and touched a finger to my midriff. Immediately my feet left the floor. I started flailing futilely to trample six inches of ozone back to the solid floorboards. To no avail. With no effort whatever Joyce raised me high above her head until my dazed dome was shedding dandruff on the ceiling!
“Well, Mr. Mallory,” said Pat, “do you believe me now?”
“Get me down out of here!” I howled. “You know I can’t stand high places!”
“You now weigh less than ten pounds--”
“Never mind the statistics. I feel like a circus balloon. How do I get down again?”
“Turn the knob on the cane,” advised Pat, “to your normal weight. Careful, now! Not so fast!“
His warning came too late. I hit the deck with a resounding thud, and the cane came clattering after. Pat retrieved it hurriedly, inspected it to make sure it was not damaged. I glared at him as I picked myself off the floor.
“You might show some interest in me,” I grumbled. “I doubt if that stick will need a liniment rubdown tonight. Okay, Pat. You’re right and I’m wrong, as you usually are. That modern variation of a witch’s broomstick does operate. Only--how?”
“That dial at the top governs weight,” explained Pat. “When you turn it--”
“Skip that. I know how it is operated. I want to know what makes it work?”
“Well,” explained Pat, “I’m not certain I can make it clear, but it’s all tied in with the elemental scientific problems of mass, weight, gravity and electric energy. What is electricity, for example--”
“I used to know,” I frowned. “But I forget.”
Joyce shook her head sorrowfully.
“Friends,” she intoned, “let us all bow our heads. This is a moment of great tragedy. The only man in the world who ever knew what electricity is--and he has forgotten!”
“That’s the whole point,” agreed Pending. “No one knows what electricity really is. All we know is how to use it. Einstein has demonstrated that the force of gravity and electrical energy are kindred; perhaps different aspects of a common phenomenon. That was my starting point.”
“So this rod, which enables you to defy the law of gravity, is electrical?”
“Electricaceous,” corrected Pat. “You see, I have transmogrified the polarifity of certain ingredular cellulations. A series of disentrigulated helicosities, activated by hypermagnetation, set up a disruptular wave motion which results in--counter-gravity!”
And there you are! Ninety-nine percent of the time Pat Pending talks like a normal human being. But ask him to explain the mechanism of one of his inventions and linguistic hell breaks loose. He begins jabbering like a schizophrenic parrot reading a Sanskrit dictionary backward! I sighed and surrendered all hope of ever actually learning how his great new discovery worked. I turned my thoughts to more important matters.
“Okay, Pat. We’ll dismiss the details as trivial and get down to brass tacks. What is your invention used for?”
“Eh?” said the redhead.
“It’s not enough that an idea is practicable,” I pointed out. “It must also be practical to be of any value in this frenzied modern era. What good is your invention?”
“What good,” demanded Joyce, “is a newborn baby?”
“Don’t change the subject,” I suggested. “Or come to think of it, maybe you should. At the diaper level, life is just one damp thing after another. But how to turn Pat’s brainchild into cold, hard cash--that’s the question before the board now.
“Individual flight a la Superman? No dice. I can testify from personal experience that once you get up there you’re completely out of control. And I can’t see any sense in humans trying to fly with jet flames scorching their base of operations.
“Elevators? Derricks? Building cranes? Possible. But lifting a couple hundred pounds is one thing. Lifting a few tons is a horse of a different color.
“No, Pat,” I continued, “I don’t see just how--”
Sandy Thomas squeaked suddenly and grasped my arm.
“That’s it, Mr. Mallory!” she cried. “That’s it!”
“Huh? What’s what?”
“You wanted to know how Pat could make money from his invention. You’ve just answered your own question.”
“Horses! Horse racing, to be exact. You’ve heard of handicaps, haven’t you?”
“I’m overwhelmed with them,” I nodded wearily. “A secretary who repulses my honorable advances, a receptionist who squeals in my ear--”
“Listen, Mr. Mallory, what’s the last thing horses do before they go to the post?”
“Check the tote board,” I said promptly, “to find out if I’ve got any money on them. Horses hate me. They’ve formed an equine conspiracy to prove to me the ancient adage that a fool and his money are soon parted.”
“Wait a minute!” chimed in Joyce thoughtfully. “I know what Sandy means. They weigh in. Is that right?”
“Exactly! The more weight a horse is bearing, the slower it runs. That’s the purpose of handicapping. But if a horse that was supposed to be carrying more than a hundred pounds was actually only carrying ten--Well, you see?”
Sandy paused, breathless. I stared at her with a gathering respect.
“Never underestimate the power of a woman,” I said, “when it comes to devising new and ingenious methods of perpetrating petty larceny. There’s only one small fly in the ointment, so far as I can see. How do we convince some racehorse owner he should become a party to this gentle felony?”
“Oh, you don’t have to,” smiled Sandy cheerfully. “I’m already convinced.”
“You? You own a horse?”
“Yes. Haven’t you ever heard of Tapwater?”
“Oh, sure! That drip’s running all the time!”
Joyce tossed me a reproving glance.
“This is a matter of gravity, Donald,” she stated, “and you keep treating it with levity. Sandy, do you really own Tapwater? He’s the colt who won the Monmouth Futurity, isn’t he?”