Demonstrating that it pays to be alarming — but not to the wrong people
WITH HIS knee, Mac pressed the carpet at the left end of the frilled dressing table and tripped the catch for the seventh try. This time the groan was deeper~full-throated and blood-curdling.
He nodded satisfaction, running a hand absently through his copper-red hair, and sat back on his heels to wait for the second one, set off by the first.
“If this alarm doesn’t impress Jule’s Aunt Minerva, nothing will,” he thought, and added with the fond pride peculiar to the parent of a newborn idea. “It’ll knock the old girl loose from fifty thousand all by itself!’’ He smiled, imagining that Alarm, Inc., and therefore his own wedding, were as good as in the bag.
But an inventor’s life is subject to reverses. The second alarm was squeaky and indistinct; the third failed entirely.
Mac frowned, rubbing his hair in the other direction abstractedly. He was worried, for he had to get the thing
working before Jule arrived with her Aunt Minerva for this long-sought visit. And Jule had wired, “Arrive Tuesday noon or bust.” Jule never busted, and it was already Tuesday and after eleven.
He dived into suffocation under the pale rose skirts of the dressing table, screw driver in hand. He was still under there, and sweating freely, when he heard the muffled sound of a heavy car in the driveway.
Jule! Jule was down there and he hadn’t seen her in a million years, or, to be exact, since Sunday at two a.m. This was more important than all the gadgets in the world. He backed out hastily, but he did take time to throw the switch by the door, congratulating himself on having remembered ; then he took the stairs on the run.
Mrs. Hammil, Mac’s harried old family retainer, was already showing them in—Jule, with a cute little green hat obliqued over her forehead, and Aunt Minerva.
AT SIGHT of Aunt Minerva, Mac’s eyes had a sudden gleam, not unlike a confidence man’s when spotting a well-heeled yokel.
He made a rapid survey. A beamy old girl, if ever he saw one. With a chin of iron—in triplicate. Nothing soft about her eyes either. Or her nose. Granite. Mac’s spirits sagged, till he caught sight of the massive diamond pin on her generous bosom.
His eyes bulged. That pin was huge. It’d cover patenting all his gadgets and then some. And the pearls and the big sapphire ring—whew! Mac could see a factory sprouting out of Aunt Minerva right here in the front hall of his ancestral mansion.
Jule said, “Mac, we’re here!” exuberantly, and hung on tight to both his hands.
He grinned down at her. “Hi, Foolishness!”
And then Jule said, “Aunt Minerva, this is Mac,” in a
voice that added, “more wonderful than the Taj Mahal.”
But Aunt Minerva seemed little impressed. Her third chin quivered, while her attention concentrated on his hair.
“He’s not scared,” Jule defended quickJy.MTIe just rubs it when he’s thinking.”
Aunt Minerva’s “Oh” seemed, delicately, to query that last word.
Mac gave her his most engaging grin. “I was finishing the—adjustment on my latest idea,” he explained. He added earnestly, “You can’t believe, Miss Fowler, what a pleasure it is to have you here.”
Aunt Minerva, touched by his evident sincerity, said graciously, “Charming old country place.”
Mac bowed, not considering it diplomatic to say, “Charming perhaps but encumbered.” With his eye on the irresistible curve of Jule’s short upper lip, he asked ingenuously, “Miss Fowler, wouldn’t you like to rest—or something?” ; \ ,
But Aunt Minerva was not to be disposed of lightly. “Rest? CertainlyYioL Do-you take me for a nervous old woman? I’ll go up^s^è^^^ff my hat. Come, Julia.”
Mrs. Hammil, #ith*Atmt Minerva’s luggage-laden chauffeur, Dowling, beside her, turned to Mac. “Are the rose and lavender rooms still—all right, sir?” she asked uneasily in a stage whisper.
Mac made a hasty mental survey. The alarm-againstkidnappers (it would be pretty awful if that uproar got touched off accidentally) was in the blue room, he was sure. And the lavender room had only the man-under-bed device which never worked. The rose room was equipped with several alarms in various stages of completion. He’d better put Jule in there and explain to her what not to touch. The trouble though, with some of his gadgets, was that he never knew what did start them.
Then he realized that they were all staring at him, wondering at the delay, and Aunt Minerva’s eyes were growing suspicious. Rattled, he said quickly, “Miss Jule in the lavender room; Miss Fowler, in the rose . . . ” *
HAPPILY UNAWARE of his error, he waited till the two ladies reappeared and then led them out to the terrace where lunch would shortly be served. He sat in a deck chair on Aunt Minerva’s right, and Jule walked to the
edge of the terrace to study possessively the thickly planted lawn.
Mac recognized with approval the “I’ll-have-thisthinned-out” iook in her eye, but he had his mind on the business at hand. He wasn’t given to finesse and small talk anyway, and he was eager to start convincing Aunt Minerva of the bright business prospects involved in the formation of Alarm. Inc. Bright, that is, with Aunt Minerva’s cash guaranteed. .So. summoning all his courage — it look a lot, for her profile had a peculiarly unassailable look to it—-he plunged. “I know Jule has told you all about Alarm, Inc.”
Jule turned quickly. While Aunt Minerva’s chins were revolving in Mac’s direction, Jule’s right hand waved frantically, palm out, in front of her forehead. “Cease firing,” Mac read. Then Jule held up a hand with a peremptory traffic-cop gesture, following it with a rapid repeated motion to her mouth. “Wait till she eats,” Mac interpreted quickly.
Aunt Minerva demanded, “What’s alarming?”
“A-alarming?” Mac stuttered. Then he realized that she was probably deaf in one ear and had only partially understood his remark about Alarm, Inc. He had to think fast. “Grasshoppers,” he shouted. “All over the West. Very, very alarming.”
Aunt Minerva, her other ear in action now, said shortly, “Don’t yell. I’m not deaf. They’ll poison them anyway.”
“No, it’ll take an invention,” Mac said, glancing at Jule who nodded approval of the attack oblique. “Some simple device—like my self-setting mouse trap.”
“Ugh!” said Aunt Minerva. “I hate mice. One ran up my leg once.”
“Mistook it for a piano’s,” Mac thought, and forebore to glance at her massive underpinnings. Hastily he changed the subject, trying to strike a cheerful note. “The unemployment’s much better,” he offered.
“Just statistically,” Aunt Minerva said darkly.
Mac felt somehow called upon to defend his statement. He only said, an apparently innocuous statement, “Well, I absolutely never see a tramp around any more.”
But it was his first mistake.
His eyes, dodging Jule’s frown (warning him not to cross Aunt Minerva) fell on the very object he’d denied. There, coming through the shrubbery, was as dirty and unshaven a gentleman of the road as had ever begged at a kitchen door.
Mac’s eyes froze into place. It was an omen ; a jinx. With that to give him the lie, before he even broached Alarm, Inc. to Aunt Minerva, would she ever believe him about anything? But he’d reckoned without Jule. She had followed his glance, and taken in the situation. She not only understood the delicacy of the moment, but she was, Mac knew, a master of sign language.
She must have conveyed the idea that Aunt Minerva had rabies, for the man took one long startled look at her, and disappeared around the corner of the house.
At that moment, Mrs. Hammil made a fortuitous appearance with a tray, and Aunt Minerva’s attention couldn’t have been pried loose with a trapeze act.
Mac had been a little worried about meals, for Mrs. Hammil's food was good in inverse ratio to the number of alarm buttons she’d pressed—unexpectedly during its preparation. This, though, seemed to have been one of her lucky days, for the luncheon was delicious, and Aunt Minerva’s spirits expanded with it like the gentle fillingtout of a balloon. Mac had an uncomfortable premonition that they might deflate as readily.
It wasn’t till after coffee that Jule’s nod gave him the go signal.
This time he had placed himself by Aunt Minerva’s good ear, and he began ingratiatingly, “Jule tells me you are modem-minded and see the future possible for Alarm, Inc.”
Her eyes were disconcertingly bleak. “I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
He gülped twice. “The idea is,” he began, "a company that ggts dut all sorts of alarms. Not just fire, burglar, and clock. ' But unique ones. Like for instance”—he was warming to his subject now—“our Baby Special, goes off whenever the baby cries.”
He went on, putting even a tremor of emotion into his voice. “Think of all the mothers, tired, weary, exhausted, lying awake night after night listening for the baby’s faint cry, starting up at bird calls, cat calls, every sound —yet one of these alarms would ensure hundreds, nay, millions, of hours of needed sleep !”
A LOOK of mild interest, or perhaps astonishment, showed in Aunt Minerva’s eyes.
Mac added in simple pride, “It says, ‘mamma!’ I try to carry out the motif whenever possible. Am I boring you?” “Not yet,” said Aunt Minerva. “Go on.”
“Then there’s the mouse-trap alarm. It goes with my self-setting mouse trap. I’ll show it to you after a while.” “Don’t bother. What’s the alarm for?”
“Why, people forget they’ve set traps all the time. Then they go around for days cursing the garbage man for not coming.” ' ,
“Or fire the cook for keeping Limburger,” Jule put in helpfully.
He smiled at her. and went on. “There’s the one when the postman puts a letter in the box; saves running to look.”
“What does it say?”
“It just buzzes. If it weren’t so hard to get good voice effects. I’d have it say. ‘Yoo-hoo!’ ”
“Mine would say, 'Payable by the tenth,’ " murmured Aunt Minerva.
Mac was afraid to trust too far the encouragement in her voice. But he went on more eagerly, “And there’s one to scare the neighbors’ chickens out of your flowerbeds. Two pieces of sandpaper rubbed together say ‘Shoo! Shoo!’ ” Aunt Minerva’s face grew wistful. “Could it,” she asked Mac, “include a shotgun?”
He rumpled his red hair thoughtfully. “It could,” he said finally, “but you might shoot somebody besides the chickens. The gardener or the neighbors, for instance.” “Splendid,” said Aunt Minerva. “The gardener could be warned.” She chuckled to herself. "Go on.”
Definitely she was gaining in enthusiasm. Jule beamed, and Mac was afraid he’d blow a safety valve from pressure of relief.
He went on, “There’s one that’s to be attached to calendar clocks. Specifically designed for absent-minded husbands, it goes off every hour the day before a birthday or anniversary or what-have-you, with a sort of tolling noise.”
“Appropriate,” Aunt Minerva approved. She added, “It could be set for income tax report dates—and dentist appointments.”
There was no mistaking her spirit of participation now. Jule and Mac’s glance locked in a moment of delirious happiness.
“Oh, yes. Lots. Some aren’t perfected yet.” He added neatly. “I’m handicapped not having a real laboratory.” Aunt Minerva nodded. “Jule explained that. Also about owning your own factory—to prevent manufacturers stealing your ideas.” She grew pensive. “My uncle always claimed he invented the first trailer. It had been a chicken coop. He put it on wheels behind his flivver and drove it to the car manufacturers. But they did him out of all the profits. If they hadn’t, think where he’d be now !”
“Dead,” Jule, irrepressible with joy, murmured in Aunt Minerva’s right ear.
Mac started nervously, but Aunt Minerva, undisturbed, went on slowly summing things up. “With ingenious ideas —and all the fools there are in the world— there’s no reason why a lot of money can’t be made.”
She paused there, gazing for a long time through the walls at, Mac hoped, her negotiable securities. Watching her, he made an unofficial record for breath-holding. Jule squirmed in her chair, and tried to reassure him with eyes as strained as his own. Their whole future hung there on Aunt Minerva’s unfocused gaze.
Finally she broke the silence to ask, “You and Jule think you can’t get married till this company’s started?" They both nodded, afraid to speak.
“And fifty thousand’ll get you started?”
Mac nodded again.
“Hm-m-m ...” she went into another séance.
The waiting was terrific. Jule cracked under the strain. She broke out impetuously, “Darling Aunt Minerva, you’ve got to help us!”
The attack direct simply didn’t work on Aunt Minerva. Her face set in suddenly mulish lines. “I never make a decision in a hurry,” she snapped.
“Of course,” Mac soothed, while his eyes tried to tell Jule she’d done no permanent harm. “Very wise of you.” He added judicially, “You ought to sec some of the alarms first anyway. Would you like to go out to my workshop?” Aunt Minerva, mollified by his tone, nodded and heaved her bulk ponderously to her feet.
“It’s just a makeshift workshop in the bam,” Mac explained, and led the way. “I have to use the house for a lot of installations," he went on. “But we’d better see the barn first while it's still daylight.” He added, prophetically, “I'll demonstrate the house tonight.”
ARRIVED at the barn, he started auspiciously enough showing Aunt Minerva some minor devices. She was favorably impressed by a small alarm in the windowsill behind the workbench. When Mac sprinkled water on the sill, the alarm went off with a gurgling noise.
“To warn you it’s raining in,” Mac explained. “It could be connected to a window-closer, but that window’s got another kind of installation.”
Then he showed her a clock that alarmed with a faint meouw-meouw. “You set it for your regular bedtime so as not to forget to put the cat out,” he explained.
By this time Aunt Minerva was smiling again and enthusiastic. She poked around the shop asking questions, and she showered words such as “clever,” “ingenious,” “most intelligent” on Mac.
Jule found a chance to whisper proudly to him, “Darling, you’ve got her eating right out of your hand.”
He muttered uneasily. “If she doesn’t turn around and bile it.” He distrusted Aunt Minerva’s extreme volatility —and with reason.
Continued on page 29
Continued from page 11—Starts on page 10
But it was Aunt Minerva herself who picked up the mouse trap which was to start all the trouble. Mac had been planning to show it to her last, a sort of pièce de résistance, but when she took up the three wire cylinders and asked, puzzled, “What on earth’s this?” he said eagerly, “That’s the self-setting mousetrap I was telling you about.”
Aunt Minerva glanced down with only faint revulsion.
“I’ll show you,” Mac said, and took it from her to put it on the floor in front of a bucket. There were crumbs in the bucket, but he didn’t explain that* Kneeling beside it, he began glibly quoting from the typed description that was to be sold with the trap. “The Alarm, Inc., Self-Setting Mouse Trap is composed of three wire cylinders or tunnels which, for convenience, we will designate A, B and C. The mouse enters here at the opening of A,” pointing, “advances toward a piece of cheese D at the other end, till he reaches a movable plate E here. His weight on this
closes the door F behind him and causes the cheese to disappear through this aperture G, which, as you see, is too small for him.”
Obediently Aunt Minerva bent as far as she could and examined the aperture.
“That leaves open to our rodent only the vertical tunnel B, with rungs on it, up which he races to this small platform H at the top—at the beginning of tunnel C, the next lateral cylinder. Do you see?”
“Y-y-yes,” said Aunt Minerva.
“His weight on this platform H closes a trapdoor I behind, preventing retreat, and at the same time opens tunnel A and brings the cheese D back in position, thus resetting the trap automatically! He then runs along tunnel C to a mid-point J, at which his weight tips it sharply downward, precipitating him into tub K, halffilled with water, where he drowns. See how simple it is!”
Aunt Minerva, looking a little punchdrunk, was still staring at the trap. Taking advantage of her preoccupation, he
quickly dumped a box open in front of it.
A small grey mouse sat up, surprised. He sniffed with his tiny nose and then, twisting, made a dive for tunnel A.
Aunt Minerva’s hand had shot down to raise her dress. “Eek !” she cried in comicstripese.
“Albert won’t bother you,” Mac hastened to assure her. “He knows there’s lunch in the bucket. It’s a sort of game to him.”
AUNT MINERVA’S tight mouth imA plied that games with mice were out of her line, but she released her clutch on her skirt and watched Albert’s headlong flight toward what—for any other mouse —would be his doom. Each lever worked with precision, and the demonstration gave every indication of success.
But Mac had made his second mistake. He failed to remind Aunt Minerva of the alarm.
As Albert shunted feet first into the bucket the alarm went off, filling the barn with the noise of many mice, squeak! squeak! squeak! a bedlam of mice voices.
Evidently as far as Aunt Minerva was concerned, the sound effect was pure realism. She stood not on ceremony, or anything else, except in transit.
With a single faint yip! she lunged for the workbench, scrambling, aided by terror and an empty crate, up on it. She was making a frantic effort to include the rafters in her itinerary when Mac’s repeated cry, “It’s the alarm ! the alarm !” penetrated.
She turned slowly and drew herself to the full height of her injured dignity, which, with the addition of a two-foot-eight workbench, was considerable. “I will have nothing to do with your insane devices!” she announced furiously, and steadied herself by a cord dangling beside her.
It was ironic that this connected with perhaps the simplest of all Mac’s devices. Instead of being fastened to the rafters, as Aunt Minerva evidently thought, it went through a pulley, hence to the workbench window, swinging it in and up.
Mac’s shout came too late.
Aunt Minerva exerted 200 pounds of pressure. The window jerked open, and Aunt Minerva bent with the lengthening cord, presenting a perfect target, on which the window scored a perfect bull’s-eye.
After the wham! there was only horrorstruck silence.
Then Aunt Minerva righted herself with slow, purple-faced fury. “Shut up!” she thundered at Mac. “Julia! Help me down!”
When this had been laboriously accomplished, she stalked to the house. Mac and Jule followed at a safe distance. They went out on the terrace, figures of woe.
JULE said, “It’s such bad luck, darling;
you’re so clever, and hard-working, and wonderful.”
Mac gave her a hollow smile. Finally he said, “There’s just one answer, Jule—I’ll laddie my things to manufacturers. I’ll get gypped out of most of them and we won’t have enough to live on, but I’ll at least try.”
Jule said hotly, “You’ll do no such thing! Let somebody else in on your valuable ideas for me? Not much ! There’s bound to be some other way.”
They drifted into another moody silence. All the scene lacked was crepe on the door.
And it didn't improve with time. Aunt Minerva refused to come down to dinner, and the two young people spent a melancholy evening trying to cheer each other up.
“1 don’t care how little money we have, Jule would insist.
But Mac was firm. “I won’t marry a woman I can’t support.”
They had just come back to this impasse for the fifteenth time, when the air was shivered by a single piercing cry.
There was no mistaking either Aunt Minerva’s voice or her terror.
Mac shouted, “But that’s in the rose room !” and charged up the stairs, Jule at his heels.
Aunt Minerva met them in the hall. Her eyes had temporarily left their sockets, and her breath came in gulps.
“Rattlesnake! My bathroom!” she panted.
Mac stared at her, tom between a host’s duty and an inventor’s delight. The inventor won. “It worked!” he exclaimed ecstatically. “I’m sorry, but it worked. I mean I’m sorry it scared you. But that’s the first time it’s gone off. Maybe I had too light bottles. What weight were you using?”
As Aunt Minerva slowly gleaned the truth from Mac’s incoherence, anger followed in the wake of fear. She said in cold fury, “I merely reached in the top shelf of the medicine cabinet for my cold cream—and then that thing rattled at me— out of the dark ! I hadn’t turned the bathroom light on.”
“That’s it,” Mac exulted. “It’s meant to keep people from taking poison in the dark. See?”
“No, I don’t see,” said Aunt Minerva firmly. “I never take poison in the dark. And anyway,” she asked menacingly, “what do you mean putting me in a room with that?”
Mac said placatingly, “I didn’t mean to.
I got mixed up. Jule was to be in there. I was going to explain them to her.”
Confronted by that shrill question, Mac’s memory froze. He tried tabulating the numerous installations around the house, but chronic absent-mindedness, combined with his present condition of nerves, left his mind a blank.
“Nothing else will bother you,” he said finally, trying to put into his voice a confidence he didn’t feel.
She went back to her room then, mumbling unpleasantries, and Jule— worried, a little tearful—decided she’d follow suit.
“Sudden noises antagonize her,” she explained to Mac helpfully as he kissed her good night.
He wandered around downstairs for a while, planning how he could mollify Aunt Minerva on the morrow. When she’d gone back to her room, the set of her third chin had boded dire things.
He had just reached the top step, en route to bed, when he heard a low, wailing siren.
HE STOOD a moment, magnetized to the spot by astonishment, while it rose in plaintive crescendo. Then he turned .and raced for the lavender room.
“Darling,” he shouted above the uproar, “are you all right?”
Jule’s voice was weak, but valiant. “Y-yes; what’s doing it?”
“Is there a man in there?”
“May I come in?”
“Yes, it’s not locked.”
Mac jerked at the knob, leaped in. The room echoed with the mounting scream. He didn’t see Jule till she called, “I’m under the bed.”
His knees buckled. He said fervently, “Thank heaven!”
Jule peered up at him uneasily. “For what?”
“For you not being a man.” he explained inadequately. Then he pulled himself together. “You're doing it.” he said. “It’s the man-under-bed detector.”
She rolled out hastily, and sat up smoothing her padded silk robe. The siren died to a whispering moan.
Mac leaned to look under the bed. “It had a short circuit and wouldn’t work.” “It worked all right,” Jule said. She leaned beside him. “I guess I d better abandon my powder puff.”
“I can disconnect the alarm.” He went to the door and threw a switch. “Now it’s all right—I think.”
Jule said, “Never mind,” hastily. Then she looked at the switch. “I thought that had something to do with lights.”
From the hall there was a sudden sound as of an armored tank going into action over hardwood. Aunt Minerva wasn’t
getting much traction, it seemed, for she was practically running in place when she came abreast Jule’s door.
She stopped there, stared at them. Then she shrieked, “Where is the fire?” and clutched closer a rose-and-grey cardboard box labelled “Manicure Set—Travel Size.”
Jule went to her quickly. “It wasn’t a fire, Aunt Minerva. Mac was just showing me his man-under-bed detector. Didn’t it go off beautifully? The idea’s very ingenious. You see—”
But Aunt Minerva was not in a scientific mood. “Where are the servants?” she demanded. “Can we be practically murdered in our beds and they don’t even show up?”
Jule said, “Dowling sleeps like the dead, you know. Remember the time we had to wake him for an earthquake?”
“I remember,” Aunt Minerva acceded more calmly. “But,” to Mac, “what about your housekeeper?”
“It’s the old story—Wolf! Wolf!” he explained. “I’m afraid,” he added sadly, “Mrs. Hammil’s going to ignore Gabriel’s last call.”
“Humph!” said Aunt Minerva, untouched. “This is a madhouse. Getting me up at all hours—rattlesnakes, fires, scrambling around with my jewels . . . ” She glanced down, and her eyes on the manicure set glazed. “My pin!” she shrieked. “Father gave it to mother the day I was born. My pearls! My rings!”
SHE TURNED to dash back to her room; then evidently she remembered there was no emergency after all. She stopped to say over her shoulder, “Not a nickel ! Not a nickel from me !” And added in a last icy thrust, “It’s not a preacher you need. It’s an alienist !”
Mac and Jule looked at each other for a long sad moment. “It doesn’t look propitious,” Jule said, sniffling faintly.
He nodded gloomy agreement; then he brightened. “The detector worked,” he said with modest pride..
Mac went to his room then. But not to sleep. He tossed, twisting and turning, thinking of endless, but improbable, things he could do to savè the situation.
He had just, for the tenth time, concluded that he was going to do something when a faint sound reached his ears. He shuddered, resisting a desire to ignore it and pull the covers quietly over his head.
Then as it rose relentlessly to a deep, full-throated groan, he recognized it.
He was out of bed. running, before it finished. As he sped by his desk, he stopped long enough to snatch up his .38 automatic.
The second alarm, still off-key but a real, hair-raising moan nevertheless, came as he crossed the hall. Several things worried him as he ran. Why was there no outcry from Aunt Minerva? Did she lock her door? And what had set the thing of?
Down the hall Jule fumbled frantically at her door.
Inside Aunt Minerva’s room he heard the faint unmistakable pouf! when the third catch tripped. But still no sound from Aunt Minerva ! Not even after that.
His fingers trembled as they turned the knob. To his relief, the door swung away from him—soundlessly. In the crack he saw over by the left end of the dressing table an indistinct shadow, motionless, probably rooted to the spot by terror.
As Mac waited, a hard-boiled metallic voice croaked, “Stick ’em up!”
Mac made a hasty mental note, “Voice, wrong; words, wrong,” but the shadow’s hands, he saw in silhouette, shot obediently skyward.
Mac went boldly in, his .38 cocked and ready. With his left hand he snapped on the light.
The intruder whirled toward him. Though the man’s face was pasty white with fear, Mac recognized the tramp of the afternoon.
But he was worried about Aunt Minerva. He was afraid to take his eye off the tramp to look. She'd have to be dead to sleep
through this! Dead—and then he had a happy thought—dead, or on her good ear !
Behind him Jule asked, “Darling, w-what happened this time?”
Then from the bed, there was a squawk, and Aunt Minerva’s outraged voice demanded, “ Now what?”
The tramp babbled, “Geez, lady, I’d never come near if I’d knowed the place was h’anted !” His eyes darted to the rose drapery at the window.
Following his gaze, Aunt Minerva said, “Eek!” and then, as Mac failed to get excited, she motioned with her head, asking, “An alarm?” A faint gleam of admiration warmed her eyes.
Mac nodded absently. “I’m on the wrong track,” he said reflectively. “It’s designed primarily for women living alone, to scare off intruders. It certainly should not say, ‘Stick ’em up!’ ”
AUNT MINERVA looked at the rose drapery again. A black indistinct figure swayed there lightly, an automatic in its palely defined hand. “It wasn’t there at bedtime,” she said firmly.
“Yes,” Mac said. “But not inflated. A capsule of CO„ discharges into it when the alarm’s sprung, and swings the whole thing out into the room. There’s a little bulb to ensure light.”
“You-think of everything,” said Aunt Minerva dryly. “What turns it on?”
Mac’s glance went to the switch by the door. “That. Who turned it on?”
Aunt Minerva stared at the switch. “That?” she asked, pointing. “I thought it was the lights. I turned it off and on and off and on and off—nothing happened so I just left it.”
Mac shuddered. Women!
Aunt Minerva sat up suddenly with a thought. “What was he after?” she demanded.
Mac gestured at the dressing table where
her jewels had fallen from nerveless fingers.
“My pin!” screamed Aunt Minerva. “You—you thief!” The tramp quailed.
Mac pointed out quickly. “You haven’t lost it though—thanks to Alarm, Inc.”
She looked at him a moment, considering. Then she thrust a peremptory finger in the direction of the tramp. “Give him to Dowling to take care of!”
The man lost all the color he’d gained. “Take care of,” had just one meaning in his vocabulary. “I didn’t do nothing!” he pleaded, shaking.
Mac said firmly, “Come with me,” and prodded him into action down the stairs, where he turned him over to an astonished Dowling.
“En garde,” said Mac, handing him the automatic. “Shoot to kill !” and went back up the steps, three at a time.
Jule was sitting on the edge of the bed, smiling, her hand in Aunt Minerva’s.
Aunt Minerva said briefly, “That jewellery was insured for over fifty thousand. But anyway this thing tonight convinces me your ideas are practical. I’ve decided to finance Alarm, Inc. I’m a woman of quick decisions.”
Mac thought. “You’re telling me?” and wondered if it would be politic to demand it in writing. He grinned at Aunt Minerva. Then his mind swung back to the alarm. “It isn’t right yet,” he insisted, running a hand through his red hair. “It should say something else ...”
Jule came over to hang happily on his arm. “Could it say, ‘Leave the premises at once?’ ”
“Too long.” He frowned; then his face lighted. “I’ve got it. It ought to say, ‘Scram !’ ”
“The very thing,” Aunt Minerva approved. “Why don’t you?”
“Scram,” said Aunt Minerva, smiling.