Mad scientists club, p.1

Mad Scientists' Club, page 1


Mad Scientists' Club

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Mad Scientists' Club

  The Mad Scientists' Club

  (c) 1961 by Bertrand R. Brinley

  Illustrations by Charles Geer

  The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake

  The Big Egg

  The Secret of the Old Cannon

  The Unidentified Flying Man of Mammoth Falls

  The Great Gas Bag Race

  The Voice in the Attic

  Night Rescue

  The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake

  (c) 1961 by Bertrand R. Brinley

  Illustrations by Charles Geer

  DINKY POORE didn't really mean to start the story about the huge sea monster in Strawberry Lake. He was only telling a fib because he had to have an excuse for getting home late for supper. So he told his folks he'd been running around the lake trying to get a close look at a huge, snakelike thing he'd seen in the water, and the first thing he knew he was too far from home to get back in time.

  His mother and father greeted this tale with some skepticism. But Dinky's two sisters were more impressionable, and that's how the story really got out. They kept pestering him for so many details about the monster that he had to invent a fantastic tale to satisfy them. That's one of the troubles with a lie. You've got to keep adding to it to make it believable to people.

  It didn't take long for the story to get around town, and pretty soon Dinky Poore was a celebrity in Mammoth Falls. He even had his picture in the paper, together with an "artist's conception" of the thing he had seen. It was gruesome-looking: something like a dinosaur, but with a scaly, saw-toothed back like a dragon. Dinky was never short on imagination, and he was able to give the artist plenty of details.

  It was the artist's sketch in the newspaper that got Henry Mulligan all excited. Henry is first vice-president and also chief of research for the Mad Scientists' Club and is noted for his brainstorms. Neither Henry nor anyone else in the club actually believed Dinky had seen a real monster, but we were all willing to play along with a gag -- especially when Henry suggested that we could build a monster just like the one shown in the newspaper.

  "Build a monster?" Freddy Muldoon's round face was all goggle-eyed. He liked the idea, but he just didn't know how Henry proposed going about it. He rubbed his button nose, which was always itching, and asked, "You mean a real monster that can swim?"

  "Don't be a dope," said Dinky.

  "I'm not a dope. But who ever heard of a monster that can't swim?"

  "The one we build will float," said Henry, rubbing his chin and looking up at the rafters of the club laboratory the way he always did when he was speculating on a new project. "All we need is some canvas and chicken wire, and Jeff Crocker's canoe."

  Jeff Crocker is president of our club -- mainly because his father owns the barn that we have our lab in, but also because he's just as smart as Henry and maybe a little more scientific. Henry dreams up most of the schemes that we get messed up in; but it is usually Jeff who figures out how to do everything, or how to get us out of what we got into.

  Since Henry's plan to build a lake monster seemed like a good one, we held a formal meeting of the club that night to take a vote on it. Naturally, we all voted in favor of it, and three days later we had most of it finished. We built it on a small piece of dry land hidden 'way back in the swampy end of the lake. Henry and Jeff had designed a frame of light lumber and laths that had the shape of a big land lizard, and we suspended this across the gunwales of the canoe. Then we hung chicken wire on the frame and stretched canvas over it. With a little paint and a few shiny tin can lids spotted here and there, we soon had a loathsome-looking creature guaranteed to scare the life out of anyone a hundred yards away from it.

  Jeff had to keep putting the brakes on Henry's fancy ideas, but he did let him outfit the head with a pair of red eyes -- which were just flashlights with red lenses stuck out through the canvas. Henry installed a switch and circuit breaker in the canoe, so that the "eyes" could be made to blink. After two days of practice back in the swamps we figured we could handle the beast well enough to make a test run out on the lake. The monster's profile stuck up about four feet out of the water, and it was a cinch for four of us to sit upright in the canoe to do the paddling and steering.

  Meanwhile the town was still all excited about the possibility that there was a real, live sea monster in Strawberry Lake. A reporter from one of the big city papers had been in town to interview Dinky Poore, and when folks heard this, a lot of them began to recall seeing strange things on the water. Everybody wanted to get into the act, and pretty soon all sorts of people were volunteering information. Daphne Muldoon got her picture on the front page, not because she had seen the monster, but because she lived in Mammoth Falls and had a good-looking face and pretty legs. Daphne is one of Freddy Muldoon's cousins. Her younger brother, Harmon, used to be a member of our club. But he got kicked out for conduct unbecoming a scientist and for giving away secret information.

  The first night we took the beast out was a Saturday, when the lake cabins and beachfront were crowded with weekend visitors. We figured it was best to wait until just before dark, then people couldn't see too well and there were fewer boats on the lake. There are plenty of small islands near the swampy end of Strawberry Lake, and this gave us a good chance to get the monster out into open water for a short run and then scoot it back into the cover of the swamp before anyone could discover where it had gone.

  Homer Snodgrass, who is one of the brighter members of our club, had agreed to sit on the front porch of his folks' cabin so that we could get a firsthand report on what the monster looked like from the shore. Jeff and I were sitting in the middle of the canoe and doing the paddling. Mortimer Dalrymple, our electronics wizard, was steering; Henry sat up in the prow, where he could look out through two peepholes.

  "Are there many people on the beach?" Jeff asked.

  "Scads of them," said Henry. "It's still light enough to see pretty well, but I don't think anybody had sighted us yet."

  It was dark as black velvet inside the monster, though, and there was a damp, musty odor of canvas and paint. It was a little like being in the Tunnel of Love at an amusement park. I started to giggle, and Jeff told me to shut up or I might spoil everything. But I think he wanted to giggle too and was afraid I might start him off.

  "Don't get all shook up," came Mortimer's quiet voice from somewhere in the darkness back toward the monster's tail. Mortimer is always quiet like that. He never gets excited about anything. "It's half a mile over to the beach. They can't hear us unless we make a real big noise," he pointed out.

  Suddenly Henry jumped violently, bumping his head on the framework of the beast's spine and rocking the canoe. "They've seen us," he cried. "They've seen us!"

  "What? How do you know?" asked Jeff in a whisper.

  "There's a whole bunch of them running out to the end of the boat dock. They're jumping up and down and pointing out here and waving and screaming."

  Henry was right. We could hear some shouting now, and a few shrill screams of women.

  "Let's rock the boat some!" Mortimer shouted from the back. "Give 'em a good show!" He was excited too, for once.

  "I can't see anything now," Henry cried. "My glasses are all wet."

  We could hear Henry moving around up front, as Mortimer started rocking the canoe from the rear and swishing the beast's huge tail back and forth through the water. Suddenly there was a splash and a gurgle, and my paddle hit something heavy and soft. Then there was a slurping noise, and something grabbed my paddle and tried to pull it out of my hands. There was a lot of thrashing going on, and I got scared and started hollering at Jeff to help me. The canoe and the whole framework of the monster were rocking violently.
r />   "Maybe we've run into a real monster!" Mortimer snickered.

  "Shut up and stop rocking," Jeff shouted. "Where's Henry?"

  Just then Henry's head appeared right beside me, and one of his hands grasped the gunwale of the canoe. "Glurp," he said, "my glasses, I -- lost 'em."

  By this time Mortimer had stopped rocking and we managed to pull Henry back into the canoe.

  "Get up front and see where we are," Jeff commanded, shoving me by the shoulder. "We've got to get this monster out of here before somebody starts chasing us in a motorboat. Henry, what were you doing in the water, anyway?"

  Henry was choking on lake water, and didn't bother to answer.

  When we got back into town that night we stopped in for a Coke and ice cream at Martin's Ice Cream Parlor, where Homer had agreed to meet us. The whole town was buzzing. Everybody in Martin's was talking about the sea monster, and about how Dinky Poore had been right, after all. We took a booth in a corner, where nobody could overhear us, and listened to Homer's report. There was no doubt the beast had been a sensational success. Homer said it had almost rolled over once and all the women on the beach had screamed. When Homer left the beach, state police cars had arrived and were sweeping the lake with their spotlights. But they didn't see anything, of course.

  We took the monster out a couple more times that week, and got to be pretty expert at handling her. The town just about went wild. The newspaper offered a hundred dollars as a prize to anyone who could get a picture of the beast, and people started flocking into Mammoth Falls from all over the state, hoping to get a look at it. Lake cabins were renting for as high as two hundred dollars apiece, when they used to bring fifty a week; and a lot of local families just moved back into town and rented their cabins out to sightseers. All the concessions at the beach were doing a booming business, and the restaurants and the one hotel in town couldn't handle the crowds. Homer's father, who runs a hardware store, said he'd never seen such business.

  Pretty soon we realized we had a tiger by the tail. Business was so good, and people in town were so happy, that we didn't dare stop taking the monster out, even though it was wearing us down.

  We soon had something worse to worry about, however. Homer Snodgrass came running over to my house right after lunch one day, all breathless.

  "Guess what?" said Homer.

  "Guess what?" I asked.

  "Give the club code word!" he said.

  "Skinamaroo!" I said.

  "The information you are about to receive classified confidential ," Homer panted. "You swear not to tell it to anyone not a member of the Mad Scientists' Club?"

  "I swear!"

  Then Homer told me that Harmon Muldoon had been in his father's store with two men. They wanted ammunition for an elephant gun. Mr. Snodgrass doesn't carry that kind of ammunition, of course, but he did tell them where they could order it in Chicago. The two men were from out of town, and they said Harmon had promised to show them an island in the lake where they could set up a campsite and try to get a good shot at the monster when it came out in the evening. They decided to drive to Chicago to pick up the ammunition.

  This news called for an emergency meeting of the club in executive session, and we held it that night in Jeff's barn. Everyone agreed that we couldn't take the beast out again and risk being shot through the head with an elephant gun. But Homer argued that we couldn't disappoint all the merchants and other people in town who were making money on the tourists. Dinky Poore as usual was in favor of writing a letter to the President and asking for his help.

  While we were arguing Henry Mulligan suddenly turned his eyes up toward the rafters and started stroking his chin. Whenever this happens everybody stops talking and waits for Henry to speak. After a decent interval of respectful silence Henry brought his eyes down and fixed them on Jeff.

  "Your father has a small outboard motor that can be mounted on the canoe hasn't he?"

  "Sure," said Jeff. "We use it for fishing at the shallow end of the lake."

  "And it's a pretty quiet one as I remember?"

  "It doesn't even scare the fish."

  "O.K." said Henry. "Now if Homer can bamboozle his father out of a few essential pieces of hardware I think we have enough equipment here in the lab to rig that motor up so that it can be controlled by radio. Then all we have to do is pick a good spot on the shore for our transmitters -- on one of those steep hills on the north side and we can make the beast do anything we want it to."

  "And those hunters can shoot at it all they want and they won't do anything more than put a few holes in the canvas," observed Mortimer.

  "Jeepers," said Dinky. "I bet that'll make Harmon mad!"

  In about a week we had most of the club's radio gear rigged up in the canoe so that we could make Jeff's outboard motor speed up, slow down, idle, turn right or left, and reverse itself. We made a few short test runs with it 'way back in the swamp end of the lake, and everything worked fine. This time Jeff agreed to letting Henry add a pump that would squirt water out of the beast's nostrils. And he even gave in to another of Henry's brainstorms. Freddy could make a bellow that sounded like a bull moose on a rampage, because his voice was beginning to change. So Henry figured it would be a good idea to install a loudspeaker in the belly of the monster and let Freddy bellow into a microphone once in a while from the place where we hid the transmitting equipment.

  The first trip of the motorized monster was a sensation. Homer and Dinky and I couldn't see much of it, because it was our job to go back in the swamp, get the beast from its hiding place, and start the motor. Then we called Jeff on our walkie-talkie and he directed the operation from the wooded hill where we had our transmitting apparatus. Henry and Mortimer operated the radio controls to steer the beast and make the eyes blink and the nostrils spout water. Freddy stood by to bellow whenever Jeff tapped him on the shoulder. Jeff watched the monster all the time through binoculars.

  She moved through the water much faster now, and every time Freddy let out with the bull-moose call it echoed back and forth among the hills and caused a regular panic on the beach. We got her back into the protection of the swamp just before dark, all right; but we had some anxious moments when she passed the last island out in open water. Four or five shots were fired at her, and Jeff said he could see the bullets splashing in the water. But the beast kept on going as though nothing had happened, and this must have caused Harmon's hunter friends some consternation.

  The next day every newspaper in the country must have carried the story. They quoted eye-witnesses who swore that the monster was mad about something, because it was swimming a lot faster and making a frightening noise. A scientist in New York speculated that it might be the mating season for the beast, and suggested the possibility that there might actually be two of them. Within three days there must have been a hundred and fifty reporters in Mammoth Falls from newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations. Newsreel camera crews were lined up along the beach, and several of them had large searchlights ready to sweep across the surface of the lake at dusk, when the monster usually appeared.

  We kept the beast under wraps for a few days, and spent the time visiting with the camera crews and reporters. Most of them were camped on the beach, sleeping in cars and station wagons, because there weren't any rooms available in town. Besides getting a good line on what the reporters were planning to do, we were able to make a little money for the club treasury by running errands for them and operating a lemonade stand. Hot dogs were selling for thirty cents apiece at the beach, and for fifteen cents in town. We did a pretty good business buying them at Martin's Ice Cream Parlor and running them out to the beach in thermos jugs on our bicycles. Freddy Muldoon was able to get five dollars for an old telescope he bought for a dollar ninety-five through a magazine ad, and Henry traded some of his father's shaving cream for flash bulbs and camera film. We kept Dinky Poore's mother pretty busy making cakes and pies; but we didn't make much money on this venture, because Dinky and Fred
dy would eat up most of the profit. They also drank too much lemonade, and after the first day Jeff wouldn't let them run the stand any more.

  By this time several of the reporters had made camp on the same island the hunters had been on, and rented some high-powered motorboats. They were determined to get close enough to the monster to get some good pictures. There were also a lot of people tramping around the shore every day, trying to get back into the swampy end of the lake. So we decided to move the beast to a new hiding place.

  We picked out a deep cove studded with rocks and small islands, about two miles east of the swamp. Late at night, long after the searchlights had been turned off and people had gone to sleep, we towed the monster over there with a rowboat. Early the next morning, before the sun had come up, we took her out for a brief appearance on the lake and caught everybody by surprise. Some early-morning watchers on the beach started shouting, and this woke up a few of the reporters on the island. But the monster was not where they expected her to be, and by the time some of them had scrambled into their boats we had her back into the cove and covered up among a jumble of rocks.

  This created quite a lot of confusion, and people began to believe the professor who had claimed there might be two monsters. But we could see that the string was running out for us. There were so many people exploring the lake now, and so many "scientific expeditions" on their way to investigate the "phenomenon," as they called it, that we were pretty sure somebody would discover our hiding place sooner or later. Even though most people were too scared to take boats out any more, there were several boats making regular patrols of the lake, and every once in a while a helicopter would fly over it.

  We held a meeting to discuss the situation. Dinky Poore argued that Abraham Lincoln said you couldn't fool all of the people all of the time, and we might as well quit while we were ahead and claim the hundreddollar reward the newspaper was offering. But Henry claimed that P. T. Barnum had proved Lincoln was wrong, and so had a lot of politicians. Homer Snodgrass was in favor of continuing as long as we could, because all the extra tourist business was good for the town, and Mammoth Falls had always been a pretty poor place. But Mortimer and Jeff and I were beginning to feel that we should confess the whole business to Mayor Scragg, because he was getting worried about the monster making the lake unsafe for boating and swimming. We also felt that Harmon Muldoon would get wise to us pretty soon and spill the beans. We had seen him sneaking around the lab a lot lately, and trying to follow us sometimes. We knew Harmon was a pretty bright boy. He had been our radio expert when he was in the club, and he had enough brains to figure out the whole deal eventually.

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