For a long giddy moment Blondel’s mental machinery revved like drag slicks on an oil patch,
attempting to classify conflicting sensory impressions; then reason reasserted itself. The warm smooth shape resembling the nubile body of a naked female pressing against him under the
covers was obviously a dream; therefore he was actually awake and flying, or …
“Well, say something,” the breathy voice urged, while what seemed to be soft lips nibbled at
his ear lobe. “But keep it quiet; old Blockwits is on patrol in his commando suit.”
“Wha … who … ” Blondel managed.
“I’m Nelda Monroe. I used to be a dedicated member of the SCRAG team. That was before I
became aware of the true nature of the struggle between statusquoism and self-realization.”
“Oh,” Blondel said. “I heard you standing up to him. I knew instantly that you were one of us.”
“I mean — who’s us?”
“Who are we?”
“My God, I can tell already you’re going to be right for me.” A large, slightly damp leg was
thrown over Blondel’s stomach. “You see right to the heart of the essential paradox, without
flinching from the answers.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know exactly what it is we’re talking about, Miss Monroe,” he told her.
“When you came in you said something — ”
“Shhh!” A warm hand groped for his, placed it firmly over a large bare breast. The mouth slid
around the side of his neck and clamped itself over his as solidly as a toilet plunger. Blondel
managed a deep breath through his nose, and felt her weight come onto him like a Sumi wrestler.
“We’ll talk later,” she said into his tonsils. “First I want to get to feel I really know you … ”
Blondel gave up the struggle then and went ahead with the introductions.
Half an hour later Blondel was sitting on the edge of the bed checking for broken ribs, while
Nelda curled around his hips like an oversized pink Cupid, mewing contentedly and fingering his
“I’m wild for knees,” she confided. “And eyebrows. And I love a bare man’s torso with a wrist
“That’s no reason to break up the rest,” Blondel pointed out. “I may have a use for it.”
“God, when a fella’s really right for me, I guess I lose my head a little. By the way, what’s your
“Ummm. You’re not Jewish?”
“If I am, mother never told me.”
“Too bad. Minority groups arouse me a lot.”
“What do you do with them, tear their legs off?”
“My God, you’re not one of those hopeless bourgeois moralists, I hope!” She dropped his knee
and sat up hard enough to boost him off onto the rag rug. She leaned o ver the edge and her
bosom swung over him like a pair of impending dooms. “I mean, any meaningful relationship
between male and female has got to encompass the physical actuality of their mutual
attraction/repulsion syndrome — the death and rebirth cycle, as Crmblnsky put it. Not that I
believe in a lot of that mystical crap. I mean, hell, a girl has to be free to act natural, or what
good is it?”
“You’re so right, Nelda,” Blondel agreed. “It’s just that I’m the frail type — ”
“Hah! You resent my usurpation of the superior role, I guess! You have the idea that a portion
of the population is doomed to forever be on the bottom, with you lolling at ease on top! I can see
now that I made hasty judgement of you, Blondel!”
“Not at all,” he tried to soothe her. “I can see that you considered the matter in depth — ”
“I’m not sure you’re the kind of fellow I want to escape with, at all.”
“Shhh!” Shivering, Blonde! rose and edged back under the quilt. Nelda gave ground grudgingly, but her toes were working their way up his shin. “Listen,” Blondel urged, “I’m sorry about any
little misunderstanding, but I’m sure I’m exactly the type of chap you want to escape with. What’s
She tossed her head, and a hank of blonde hair like a palomino’s tail flopped back over a plump
shoulder. “I’ve been saving it for the right man,” she pouted.
“You mean the plan,” Blondel deduced.
“What else? And when you came along, I was so sure … ”
“Look, Nelda, I assume you want to get out of the hands of these vigilantes as bad as I do.
Let’s work on that first, and work out our interpersonal relationships later.”
“You are opposed to the insane invalidity of the traditional intersexual bias as a basis for our
mores-complex? You do recognize that it’s at the bottom of the present chaotic international
“Oh, certainly, ah, Nelda — ”
“And you see the madness of any attempt to cure everything by violence?” She looked Blondel
in the eyes; her own were immense and china blue, in a round face with an upturned nose and
plump pouty lips between cheeks like apple turnovers.
“Right. They’re going at it backwards — ”
She grabbed Blondel’s hands and thrust her chest at him. “God, I knew I was right about you,
Blondel! Blowing them up is no good — for God’s sake! We have to go to them empty-handed and
simply explain that our Gestalts don’t mesh! As soon as they understand the basic validity of our
need for rejection of their aid at this point in our ethical development, they’ll leave!”
“Ah … sure,” Blondel confirmed. “My idea exactly. But first, we have to get clear of this place.
Maxwell warned me that it’s well guard ed — ”
“Fooie! Maxwell’s an utter rectangle. I know how to leave here any time I want to.”
Blondel threw back the covers. “Swell. Let’s go.” Nelda pulled them back, hurled herself at him
like an avalanche of foam-rubber bolsters. He fought gamely, but had to settle for another draw.
Half an hour later he was back on the edge of the bed, gathering his resources for another try.
“Look, Nelda, this little idyll is a memory I’ll treasure always,” he assured her, “but dawn
comes early at this latitude, and we really ought to get moving — that is, if you really know a way
out of this backwoods Buchenwald.”
“There you go, with your smug masculine assumption of the unreliability of the female of the
species!” Nelda flounced back under the quilt.
“OK.” Blondel rose, began pulling on his clothes. “I’ll try it alone.”
“How can you? You don’t know the way.”
“I’ll find one.”
“God, you’re so determined!” She threw off the covers; “I love a masculine-type man — ”
“Not until we’re out of this mess,” Blondel said sternly. “Why don’t you be a good girl and get
into some clothes now?”
Nelda glanced down at her plump, undraped form, gave it a casual bump and grind. “The male
paradox of puritanicalism versus sexual voracity — ” she started.
“Look, kid, psychoanalyze me later, OK? For now, it’s cold out there, and cute as you are, bare
feet in the snow are impractical.”
“Ha! Having slaked your lusts at the fountain of my compassion you now assume the jackboots
of authoritarianism — ”
“All right, so I put my dime in your coke machine,” Blondel said tiredly. “I guess we both got
value received. Can we declare a truce in the battle of the genders and do a fast fade before
Blackwish shows up with his German scientists and starts poking splinters under my fingernails?”
“He threatened torture?” Nelda gasped. She jumped up, snatched up a filmy pink and green
creation from the chair, whipped it around her ample form. “My God, why didn’t you say so? I
won’t be a minute!” She slid past the door, a pale blimp in the firelight. Five minutes later, waiting in the darkness at the head of the narrow flight of steps leading
down to the second floor, Blondel heard the creak of boards. Nelda materialized from the
shadows, a spherical composition in a pink wolfskin parka, white snow-pants, and red alligator
mukluks. She came close, breathed mint-flavored breath on his face.
“This way — and watch your head.” Her mittened hand caught his, led him toward the end of
the gallery. Blondel saw a darker rectangle open against the dark paneling. Nelda ducked through,
drew him after her. Cold drafts wormed their way up his pantlegs. There was a dusty, resinous
smell of wood shavings in the air.
“Be careful where you put your feet,” Nelda cautioned. “If you step off the boards you’ll drop
into Blockwits’s bedroom.” She tittered. “You should see it: he’s got a picture of Stonewall Jackson
on the wall under crossed sabers.”
“How’s the bed?”
“Hard,” Nelda said. “Not that I’d know,” she added primly.
Blondel followed as she picked her way daintily through the pitch blackness. After a tortuous
trip of some fifty feet, she made a small sound of approval and pulled Blondel forward.
“Boost me up,” she directed. Blondel groped over the parka, a bulk like a long-haired molasses
drum. He tried a grip just south of the estimated equator, bent his knees and pushed. Nelda
“Fresh,” she said.
“Sorry.” He crouched, set his shoulder under a conveniently placed bulge, heaved again. Nelda
“Well, you don’t have to be rough!”
“How high do I have to lift you?” he whispered hoarsely.
“About a foot.”
Blondel set himself, gripped her around the middle, leaned back and heaved hard; her weight went on him like a soft piano; her arms encircled his neck.
“My God, Blondel,” she sighed in his ear, “you’re so devastatingly strong! It makes me go all
wilty inside — ”
“Let go!” Blondel wheezed, staggering. Nelda struck the boardwalk with a shuddering crash. At
once, a startled voice from the room below barked, “Eh? What’s that?” Feet hit the floor. Other,
more distant voices called questions.
“That did it,” Blondel groaned. “We woke the whole place up.”
“Humph,” Nelda sniffed. “Since you choose to make a production of it, I’ll just climb through by
myself.” There were scrapings and scufflings, a small feminine exclamation or two; Blondel
reached, felt the alligator boots waving before him. Then they were drawn up and Nelda called
softly: “I’m through. Hurry up!”
He found the opening, pulled himself up and was in a cold, drafty passage, faintly lit by dusty
windows under the eaves, and obstructed by stacked cartons.
“This is Blockwits’s Top-Secret storage room,” Nelda said. “There’s a stair along here … ”
It was a precarious ten-minute descent down almost vertical ladders nailed in position in a
narrow shaft. Blondel climbed with set teeth, wincing at the haloos ringing back and forth through
the house, waiting for the inevitable outcry announcing the discovery of his absence.
“We’re down,” Nelda hissed. Blondel dropped the last foot, looked around at the dim bulks of a
wood-burning range, a massive ice chest, a wide table, stacked shelves.
“I think there’s some lovely fudge in the fridge,” Nelda said, “if those gluttons haven’t eaten it
“Maybe we’d better skip the goodies for now,” Blon del suggested.
“Silly, we need supplies for the trip. I won’t be a minute.” She tiptoed away, and Blondel went
across and tried the plank door. It opened a crack to let in a frigid gust of air. He shivered, looking
out at the moonlit snowfield. “How far is the nearest town?” he whispered.
“Oh, about twenty-six miles. But there’s nothing there. It’s just a sort of trading post.”
“Where did you plan to head for, once we’re clear of the house?”
“How about Chicago?”
“Fine. How far is it?”
“Umm … about two hundred miles.”
“That’s quite a walk.”
“Oh, we won’t be walking. We’re going to take old Blockwits’s private tank.”
“Ummm. Do you prefer Cheddar or Gorgonzola?”
“Either one’s fine. Where does he keep it stored?”
“In the woodshed. White or rye?”
“Rye, no caraway seeds. Do you know how to drive it?”
“No, silly. Don’t you?”
“I don’t know. I can try.”
“Of course. Mustard?”
“Plain, no horse-radish.”
“My God, I abhor horse-radish myself! Isn’t that amazing?”
“We were meant to meet,” Blondel admitted. “See if you can find some salami.”
“Hebrew National all right?”
“Yeah — and some kosher dills.”
“You’re sure you’re not Jewish?”
“Not actively. And some potato chips — if they’re nice and crisp.”
“Oh, goody, pig’s knuckles.”
“Not the horrible gristly kind,” Blondel protested.
“My God, no, Blockwits is too much of a gourmet for anything like that. You do like onions?”
“Spanish are all right, but not those big white fellows.”
“Bermudas? They give me gas, too.”
“Speaking of which, I hope there’s plenty of fuel in the car.”
“And spring onions are just as bad.”
“It sounded like a turbine. They’re real gas-eaters. Where do they keep the spare number two
“There’s some kind of big tank back of the barn.”
“There go the lights on in the yard.” Blondel ducked back. “You and your onions! Now we’ll
never get to the car!”
“Certainly we will.” Nelda’s voice was unperturbed. Her shadow, cast by the floodlights outside,
flitted across the wall as she tucked the last of the picnic lunch into a wicker hamper. “Well, shall
“Good God, not again!”
“I mean leave,” Nelda said indignantly. “This way.” She went to a low door set in the rear wall
behind the stove, pulled it wide. “A covered passage to the woodshed for bringing in logs during a
Blondel poked his head in. “Hmmm. Maybe this is going to work after all.” He stepped in,
followed the low earth-floored passage along to a right angle turn, stumbling over frozen clods in
the dark. Wind whistled through the gaps in the rough board walls. Through a knothole he caught
a glimpse of parka-clad men stumping across the snow, tugged by immense white dogs straining
at stout chain leads.
“If they see us, it’s good-by pig’s knuckles,” he muttered.
The passage dipped, and Blondel’s feet slipped on smooth ice. Nelda squeaked and grabbed his
“Don’t drop the lunch,” he cautioned. The ground rose again. Fifty feet further, the path ended
in a heavy plank door secured by a thick black iron hasp supporting a massive padlock.
“Swell,” Blondel commented. “Any other ideas?”
“I’ve got the key.” Nelda pressed past him, unlocked the door, pushed it back.
Inside the woodshed, Blondel squinted through the gloom at the squatting, streamlined bulk of
the Z-car, parked close under an immense stack of split cordwood. He worked his way around to
the driver’s side, cautiously opened the door, slid into the bucket seat, looked over the maze of
controls. A large red button labelled START caught his eye.
“Come on,” he hissed. “We may as well try it before they find us — ”
“Oh, dear,” Nelda whispered. “Look — quick!”
Blondel jumped from the car, stumbled across to her side, peered through the indicated gap
A bulky figure in a shiny black leather jacket was approaching from the h ouse. A big nose
under black eyebrows was visible between the fleece lined wings of the turned-up collar.
“It’s Blackwish,” he whispered. “If he ever thinks to look in here … ”
“Not him,” Nelda said. “He’s probably got his minions out climbing trees. He never does
anything the easy way.”
“I guess he just needs firewood then,” Blondel said. “Here he comes … ”
“My God!” Nelda grabbed Blondel’s arm and pulled. “We’ll have to go back!”
“Not on your life.” Blondel picked up a stout two-foot billet, took a position beside the door.
Nelda made a sound like a trout deprived of air. “Blondel! You know how I contemn physical
violence … !”
“Me too, kid,” Blondel agreed. “Let’s hope he doesn’t commit any.”
The door rattled and swung in. There was a sound of hoarse breathing. Then: “Mr. Blondel?” a
shrill whisper came.
“Huh?” Blondel grunted, and Nelda yipped.
“Ah, very good.” General Blackwish stepped boldly inside. “I’m glad to see my confidence in
you was not misplaced, my boy.”
“Yes, it’s one of the great tragedies of our time that a soldier like myself faces not only the
threat of a shrewd and merciless enemy, but treachery within his own organization as well.”
Blackwish nodded sadly.
“What makes you think you can trust me?” Blondel demanded.
“Maxwell was a good man once,” Blackwish said nostalgically. “But the rot has touched him:
ambition.” He sighed. “Fancies he’s the man to replace me.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, General. Maxwell always speaks very highly of you.”
“He does?” Blackwish’s eyes caught the light. “Tell me just what he said, word for word.”
“Well, he said that just because you talked like an idiot — ”
“No, you’re getting the wrong idea. He says you’re a great man. He told me so when he locked
me in the attic.”
“Attic? Don’t you mean the base ment?”
“No, he said it was too damp down there. He fixed me up with a nice little room on the top
“Insubordination!” Blackwish boomed. “But — how did you get my note?”
“If you didn’t get it, how did you know to await me here?”
“We didn’t. Frankly, we were escaping.”
“Security leaks!” Blackwish paused to gnaw the end of his mustache. “A purge is obviously
called for — but never mind that. The point is, you’re here.” He clapped a hand on Blondel’s shoulder. “The future of the cause of 140 proof Americanism is riding on your shoulders tonight,
sir! There’s no one else I can trust! I’m a virtual prisoner in my own headquarters! But when
you’ve carried the word to my loyal lieutenants, the backsliders in my organization will wish they’d
scuttled to the protection of their borsht-and-vodka-swilling comrades before they set out to
subvert the cause of patriotism!”
“Why don’t you carry the word yourself? Frankly, I had other plans — ”
“Unfortunately, I don’t, er, drive,” the general admitted.
“You don’t … drive?”
“I never learned.” Blackwish straightened to a position of attention as he made the confession.
“Oh, I ride, mind you,” he added.
“So you can’t operate the Z-car?”
“I leave all that to subordinates.”
“I was hoping you could show me how,” Blondel said disappointedly. “Oh, well, I suppose I can
figure it out.”
“I wouldn’t try it,” the general advised. “It’s boobytrapped. There’s a dummy starting button
wired to six kilos of TNT. Better take the copter.”
Blondel’s mouth opened and closed silently three or four times.
“But … ” Blackwish looked mysterious, “I have an alternate proposal.”
“Carry my message to my loyal lieutenants — and I’ll tell you how to get clear.”
“Well … ”
“Tell him to drop dead,” Nelda suggested.
“Without my help you’ll never make it,” Blackwish pointed out.
“All right. I guess I haven’t got much choice.”
“Your word of honor?”
“Given. Now — ”
“Cross your heart?”
“Yeah, yeah — ”
“You are a pilot?” Blackwish queried.
Blondel nodded. “I can fly anything that’s not bolted to a concrete foundation,” he stated.
“What have you got?”
“A Lotzafun Poopsie, two-passenger job, armored, radar-negative, turbo-boosters, heat and
music, a clean one-owner job.”
“I don’t want to buy it; just borrow it.”
“Sorry. I used to be in the used car game, back in quieter times. Guess I just got carried away.
It’s in the barn.”
“Can we get to it without being seen?”
“I’ll take care of everything.”
“I thought you said they’d taken you prisoner.”
“Nothing so direct. I a subtler type of treason. They still pretend to follow orders, but I’ve
seen the sly exchange of glances, heard the whispers behind hands.”
“Why didn’t you just turn me loose openly, then?”
“Hah! And play into their hands?”
“Where will I find these lieutenants of yours?”
“Classified,” Blackwish snapped. He reached to an inner pocket, drew out a folded paper
secured by a thick deposit of sealing wax. “Sealed orders. Don’t open them until you’re in
Chicago. In case of imminent capture, eat them.”
Blondel crinkled the heavy documents in his fingers. “That might take a while.”
“Eat page four first,” the general directed. “Skip page six. It’s a list of a few bottled goods I’d like to have smuggled in, but don’t bother with that — unless you’ve got gobs of time. The war
effort comes first.”
“Let’s go,” Nelda suggested. “My feet are cold.”
“I’ll go back to the house and give the all clear,” Blackwish said. “Wait until you see the front
porch light blink off and on six times in a row, then head for the barn. It will be unlocked.”
“Don’t take all night,” Nelda pouted. “We’d have been gone by now, if you hadn’t been helping
“Quite possibly, my dear.” Blackwish smiled grimly. “Though not perhaps as quietly as you
might have wished, eh, Blondel?”
“My feet are a little cold, too,” he muttered.
“Firm up your nerve, man.” Blackwish opened the door. “I, and you, and a few other dedicated
individuals are all that stand between our traditional freedoms and the tramp of foreign feet in the
shrines of Democracy and the jabber of alien voices in our peaceful American streets!”
“And the thunder Of enemy guns, mowing down Democrats and Republicans,” Blondel added.
“You have a surprising flair for eloquence,” Blackwish approved. “Carry on.” He stepped out
and closed the door. At once a voice sounded nearby.
“General! We’ve been looking for you!”
“What was he doing in the woodshed?” another voice inquired.
“Merely checking on the Z-car,” Blackwish replied in a bland tone. “You’ve seen nothing of the
quarry, I assume?”
“Sure; we’ve got ’em cornered in the top of a sugar pine six hundred yards north-northeast.”
“The hell you say,” voice number two challenged. “They’re holed up in a draw three hundred
and fifteen yards east by south. I’m sending a team over with smudges to smoke ’em out right
“Fine work, men.” Blackwish’s voice faded as the men moved off.
“My God,” Nelda said softly. “He is a masculine personality isn’t he? There’s something about
him that arouses the elemental female in me.”
“Have you ever tried compiling a list of things that have that effect?” Blondel inquired.
“Jealous?” Nelda’s bulk bellied up to Blondel. Her mittened hand slid over his chest. “You men
are such essentially reactionary creatures. You view females as no more than property, available
at your whim, but otherwise relegated to a distinctly secondary role in affairs. … ” Her lips nibbled
at his chin. “My God, you lusty brute, why don’t you say what you’re thinking … ?”
“I wish I had a big Cuban sandwich with plenty of onions,” Blondel parried, edging sideways. “I
missed my dinner.”
“You’re sublimating,” Nelda accused. “But there’s no need for this ritualistic Judeo-Christian
self-denial. We’ve got time for a quickie — ”
“Swell. I’ll have mine on whole-wheat — ”
” — before Blockwits gives the signal — ”
” — and easy on the bologna — ”
” — and we have to go out in the cold snow — ”
” — because I can’t stand those little round peppers, can you?”
” — and risk our lives.”
“Nonsense. It’s perfectly safe!”
“That’s my lover-boy!” Nelda lunged, and boards creaked against Blondel’s back.
“I mean out in the snow … ”
“Naughty boy! I’d catch my death.”
“I didn’t mean — ”
“This damned zipper’s stuck.”
“There goes the signal!”
Blondel reached the door three feet in advance, bounded through it and out across the yard with the pink Teddy-bear form of Nelda at his heels.