“Baby Doll,” George called from the bathroom.
There was no answer.
George wrapped a towel around his rump and came into the living room. Rosy sat curled up reading a magazine.
“Do me a favor, Rosy,” George said. “Put caps on bottles so your perfume won’t evaporate. I paid twelve bucks for that Chanel.”
Rosy looked up at him, stretching her neck a little.
“And next time close the damn Bendix so I won’t have to swim through the basement to shut it off.”
“I told you, the catch wouldn’t catch.”
“The catch would catch all right if you didn’t leave Timmy’s diaper hanging out.”
“That’s not fair,” Rosy said. “Blaming little Timmy.”
His hands tried to crush an invisible bowling ball. “Just a little ... presence of mind, Rosy. Okay?”
“You dropped your towel,” Rosy said, looking away.
George ran into the bedroom and came back in his pajamas. “For God’s sake, honey, try to remember what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Like with the power mower.”
“I suppose that was my fault?”
“Don’t you know enough to cut the engine when you’re done?”
“I wasn’t done. I had to answer the phone, didn’t I?”
George threw up his hands. “So all right. So you left it running and it went right through Charlie’s fence.”
“Sometimes,” Rosy said, putting down the magazine, “you exasperate me, George. I told you, I put it in neutral or whatever it is.”
“You put it in high and let it run through Charlie’s fence.”
Rosy looked at him as at a bad tomato. “Why,” she said, “do I get blamed every time something mechanical goes wrong?”
But they kissed and made up because it was the night before their third wedding anniversary.
At the breakfast table next morning George gave her the diamond cocktail ring she’d drooled over. Rosy gave him the self-winding time piece he’d slobbered over in Cellini’s window. Dear girl, had the courage to get it for nothing down and thirty-six months to pay.
“Don’t gulp your food,” Rosy said. “It’s Charlie’s turn to drive you.”
In his high chair, Timmy scooped up handfuls of oatmeal and heaved them over the port side.
When Charlie came to the door he had a gift-wrapped box for them. It looked heavy. He gave it to Rosy and slipped on one of Timmy’s oatmeal bombs and flew headlong into the couch.
“Happy wedding anniversary, you two,” Charlie said, picking himself up. “When are you going to fix my fence?”
Rosy weighed the box in her arms. “Charlie, that’s real sweet of you and Beth. Let’s open it now, George.”
“We’re late,” Charlie said. He wiped his shoe on the rug. “Come on, pal.”
They took the freeway out of Sunnydale. Downtown the clock on the Trojan Life & Casualty building gave them four minutes to get there.
“What was in that box you brought?” George asked.
“A pressure cooker.”
“Supposed to build up terrific pressure,” Charlie said. “Five thousand pounds per square inch.”
George stared before him as they drove into the Park-O-Port.
He had not a moment free till his coffee break at ten. Mr. Perkins wanted the Lawndale policies cleared right away and Mr. Zungenspiel had all the juniors in for a briefing on exorbitant rates. When he got back to his desk Maude Doody waited to interview him about his wedding anniversary for her “Sweetness and Light” column in Keep Smiling, the company weekly.
“I hope you’re always polite to Rosy,” Meddlin’ Maude said. “I can’t stand rude men. How old is Timmy now?”
“He’ll be three in September.”
Maude made a quick mental calculation. She looked doubtful. “And could you tell us what you gave Rosy for her wedding anniversary?”
“A pressure cooker,” George said, forgetting everything else.
“Is that all? What kind of pressure cooker, George?”
“Five thousand pounds per square inch.”
“I mean the brand,” Maude said, stabbing the air with her sharp pencil. “Don’t you think the folks would like to know the brand?”
“Uh, I guess the best.”
“They’re all best,” Maude said. “Can’t you remember the brand?”
“No,” he said.
Meddlin’ Maude rose to her feet. She looked down at him severely. “George, you’re slipping,” she said and marched off to the Keep Smiling office.
George grabbed the telephone. Five thousand pounds per square inch, he thought. Whammo!
The phone rang seven times. Then he dialed Charlie’s house, but Beth did not answer either. Rosy and Beth spent hours at the supermart. It was the social center of Sunnydale where the gals could gossip a little and compare brands.
George took the elevator up to the company cafeteria. On the fifth floor Mr. Perkins stepped in.
“Just got your Lawndale policies,” Mr. Perkins said. “Fast work, son. Keep it up.”
“Thank you, sir. I had an inquiry this morning, sir. About domestic accidents.”
“Shoot the problem, son.”
“Does it cover injury by pressure cooker?”
“Was it Full Coverage or Complete Coverage?”
“Covers everything from electrocution in the bath tub to getting hit by a stray rocket from Cape Canaveral.”
The elevator let them out at the cafeteria. “Mr. Perkins, I’d like to double my wife’s policy.”
“Mighty sensible of you, George. Can you afford it?”
“That’s the spirit! How about your own policy, George? Isn’t it about time you went up a notch?”
“You mean it, sir?”
“I’ve been keeping my eye on you,” Mr. Perkins said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
George thanked him profusely.
“Not at all, not at all,” Mr. Perkins boomed. “That’s what old dad Perkins is here for.”
George got his coffee and joined Charlie at their corner table.
“Getting chummy with old dad Perkins?” Charlie asked.
“I just got told,” George said, leaning forward, “I could increase my insurance.”
“Said it was time I moved up a notch.”
Charlie clenched his fist. “We can make the Country Club, I tell you. I’m almost twelve thousand in the red, not counting the house and the boat. Let’s celebrate, Georgie. All four of us. We can go to the Emperor Room for sixty bucks. That is, if you’re still talking to your humble friends.”
“Come off it.”
“I’ve seen it happen,” Charlie said bitterly. “People getting so deep in debt they start snubbing their more solvent friends.”
When Arlene dropped the noon mail on George’s desk he sat dreaming. More insurance, more credit; more credit, more debt; more debts, more prestige. He sat up with a start and dialed Rosy.
This time she answered and all was fine. She’d spent the morning in the supermart filling out contest entry blanks and buying a big roast for the pressure cooker.
“Oh, George, it’s a wonderful pressure cooker. It looks like a space ship, with bolts and portholes and all.”
“I don’t want you to--”
“And it’s got a remote control panel or something, with all kinds of buttons and blinkers. Timmy just loves it!”
“Is Timmy anywhere near it?”
“He’s in it. It’s a big one.”
Arlene came by his desk. “Where’s Charlie?” she asked. “I got a telegram for him.”
George waved her away and brought the receiver close to his mouth.
“Rosy, listen,” George hissed. “Put that damn thing away till I get home. We’re going to the Emperor Room with Beth and Charlie.”
There was a short silence. “You said you wanted a home-cooked meal,” Rosy said. “To remind you how married you are.”
George looked up at Maude Doody standing at his desk. “That sounds like a personal call,” Meddlin’ Maude said.
“It’s my wife.”
“You’ve been on that phone three minutes,” Meddlin’ Maude said, glancing at her watch. “You know company policy on personal calls, George.”
“I’m a homemaker,” Rosy was saying. “I want to make dinner for you and Timmy.”
“Oh, go to hell!” George said.
Meddlin’ Maude clutched at her heart.
Five minutes later:
“Of course I love you, baby doll,” George said weakly. In a semi-circle around him stood Meddlin’ Maude, Mr. Zungenspiel, Mr. Perkins, Arlene, and an assortment of lesser office authorities. “Just don’t touch that pressure cooker till I get home, dammit. It’s dangerous.”
“I can only do my best, George,” Rosy said with hard finality. “If that’s not good enough for you, darling”--she choked on a sob--”well, I’m sorry.”
The phone clicked and the wire went dead.
A dozen faces bent over him. “George,” Meddlin’ Maude said, raising her sharp pencil.
“Just a minute, Miss Doody,” said Mr. Zungenspiel. “Young man, would you step into my office when you have a free moment?”
“If you see Charlie before they fire you,” Arlene said, “tell him I left a telegram on his desk.”
“George,” Miss Doody shrilled, her sharp pencil raised, “did you or did you not tell me to go to hell?”
Charlie crashed through the crowd, waving a telegram. “Look at this, George!”
George read the telegram:
OWING TO ILLITERATE SHIPPING CLERK IN WESTERN ELECTRONICS SHIPPING
DEPT YOUR MAIL ORDER FOR PRESSURE COOKER MODEL G-19-78256D WAS
FILLED BY TOP SECRET GOVT CONTRACTED PRESSURE SNOOKER MODEL X-13
WITH TOUCH COMMAND CONTROL PANEL REGRET SHIPPED TO YOU FULLY
ASSEMBLED HIGHLY DANGEROUS TO LIFE LIMB PROPERTY & PASSING AIRCRAFT
NOT SUITABLE FOR COOKING HEREWITH ADVISE WESTERN ELECTRONICS CORP
NOT LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGE TO LIFE LIMB PROPERTY & PASSING AIRCRAFT
AFTER REGISTERED RECEIPT OF THIS TELEGRAM WESTERN SNOOKER X-13
DISMANTLING EXPERT ON WAY BY JET SUGGEST KEEP SNOOKER IN NICE COOL
PLACE SORRY INCONVENIENCE CORRECTED ORDER FOR YOUR PRESSURE COOKER
BEING FILLED BY NEW SHIPPING CLERK WITH COLLEGE DEGREE HOPE SERVE
YOU AGAIN T C FRUMP V-P IN CHARGE OF SNAFU
George dropped the telegram.
“What are you waiting for, man?” Charlie said. “Call Rosy, will ya?”
“She won’t answer,” George said. “She thinks I don’t love her.”
“Come on! We better get home before she starts making dinner.”
They ran down to the Park-O-Port.
“Ahm sorry, Mistuh Charlie,” the snappy attendant said. “Caint git yuh cah now. It’s on de top floh behind seven lines of cahs an dey aint comin out till five like every weekday sept Satterdays, Sunneys an holidays.”
“Give him a tip and let’s get a taxi,” George said. He ran into the street just in time to flag a cab.
George tossed the cabbie ten dollars. “Step on it. It may be a matter of life and death.”
“I could have called Beth,” Charlie said.
“We’ll get there almost as fast.”
They zoomed through the underpass and turned onto the freeway. A cycle cop emerged from behind a Schlitz billboard and took after them, his siren wailing.
“Never mind the cop,” George said.
The cabbie hunched forward and gripped the wheel. “Mister,” he said, “I’ve been waiting for a chance like this.”
The cop gained on them and as he came abreast George grew confused. He saw the cop’s big sun glasses shining like the eyes of a wasp and his hat snapping in the wind. George had never broken the law in his life. He had a deep respect for the police, preservers of law and order.
The cop motioned the cabbie to pull over. The cab zoomed over a crest on the freeway and ripped down the slope with marked increase in speed.
George rolled down the window and flapped his arms. “My wife!” he yelled.
The cop cut the siren. His hand went down to his holster.
“My wife!” George yelled. “Pressure cooker.”
The cop grinned and nodded to say he understood, and roaring ahead waved them to follow. The siren started up again.
They lost him when they turned off the freeway and raced past the supermarket to their street. Sunnydale looked peaceful in the afternoon. George’s house came in view. He heaved a sigh of relief as the cabbie pulled to a stop.
“Rosy!” he yelled, dashing up the walk.
He flung open the door and stopped. The house was silent except for Rosy’s voice in the kitchen. She was counting backwards:
“Five ... four ... three...”
“One ... zero.”
A steaming hiss sounded in the kitchen. In a moment it rose to a howling pitch. There was a tremendous crash and a tremor shook the plaster from the walls.
In the settling dust Timmy crawled out of the kitchen with a pot on his head.
In the kitchen Rosy sat on the floor, clutching the instruction booklet.
“Now see what you did, George!”
“What I did?”
“Barging in like that,” Rosy said, tears of frustration streaking her dusty cheeks. “I must have pressed the wrong button.”
Beside her on the floor lay the Touch Command Control Panel. Its colored lights blinked on and off like a pinball machine.
Charlie came into the kitchen with Timmy in his arms.
“Oh my gosh!” Rosy cried, looking up at the ceiling. A hole was ripped out in the roof and through it they could see God’s blue sky.
George grabbed the control panel and they ran outside. They saw the snooker describing a lovely ellipse over Sunnydale.
“My roast!” Rosy wailed.
“It seems to be waiting for orders,” Charlie said.
“Have to get it down,” George said, setting the control panel on the lawn. “Before it slams into some airplane.”
He pressed a large red button. The snooker wobbled for a moment, then broke its orbit and dove for Charlie’s house. It smashed in at the back and came out the front. Beth ran out in a bathrobe, screaming.
“Stop it!” Charlie yelled, flinging himself at the control panel and pressing a yellow button.
The snooker resumed its orbit, then wobbled and dove into every second or third house in the street, working the houses from side to side.
Women ran out and stood dazed, clutching their children and watching the snooker.
Desperately George pressed the blue button. The snooker resumed its orbit, wobbled, flew once over the street as if to check what all needed to be hit, then slammed through the whole length of houses from end to end.
Two houses caught fire. Charlie pressed the largest button of all, the green one. The snooker righted itself and flew out over the town. Wherever it struck a small cloud of dust rose in the air.
Four fire-engines turned into the street. Three of them turned around and raced back to downtown.
They lost sight of the snooker for a while. All they saw was the clouds of dust mushrooming all over town, and here and there a fire. When the snooker came in view again, it was rising toward a jet plane circling overhead.
“It’ll get hit!” Charlie said.
George pressed all four buttons.
The snooker wobbled for a moment. Then it seemed to shake off the confused commands and rose into the plane’s path. The plane veered. The snooker turned after it and rose steeply. Then it dove and slammed down through the fuselage.
They all stared as the plane crashed into the supermarket. Above them the pilot floated down in a parachute. He seemed to see the blinking lights of the control panel and worked the chute calmly. He landed through the hole in Rosy’s kitchen. He came out of the house eating a piece of cold chicken.
He wore an air-research uniform with a belt slanted across his chest and high shiny boots, and in his hand he carried a Rommel whip.
He strode up to George and looked down at the blinking control panel. With the toe of his boot he pushed a black button in the lower left corner and squinted up at the sky, chewing the chicken. The snooker obeyed instantly and resumed its original elliptical orbit.
“Ja,” he said. “Very goot.” He gazed out over the town, the clouds of dust and the fires burning. “Excellent,” he said, tossing the chicken bone over his back. It hit Charlie in the face.
“You must be the dismantling expert,” George said hopefully.
“I am more. I am the infentor of pressure snooker.” He noticed Rosy and Beth. “Ladies,” he said, clicking his heels and bowing. “I haf the honor to present myself. Vernher von Wissenschaft, at your serfice.”
“Likewise,” Rosy said. “Could you get my pressure cooker down before it does any more damage?”