Authors: John Bellairs
The professor looked uncomfortable. "That's what I thought," he said with a sigh. "Which shows that you should never jump to conclusions. He's alive, and from what you told me, he's still sore at your grandfather because he made the Spiders turn down the baseball-pitching robot. He was going to use you to get even with Henry."
"That's crazy!" Johnny exclaimed. "I mean, how could anybody carry a grudge forâ"
"For fifty years?" said the professor, with a wry smile. "A crazy person could, and Sloane is as batty as they come. If you want any further evidence that he's crazy, consider this: He's trying to make another robot like the original one!"
Johnny thought about this as he drank more cocoa. "Do... do you think he knew that we had found his old robot and put it together?" he asked hesitantly.
The professor shook his head. "No. Oddly enough, I think he wanted it left where he had hidden it fifty years before. He must have gotten to dislike it for some reason. Maybe that's why he dismantled it. He seemed very surprised when the evil creature came stumping into his laboratory, and he wouldn't have reacted that way if he had known we had found the robot." The professor paused and bit his lip. He raised his fist and brought it down on the table with a bang. "Lord!" he exclaimed. "I wish I knew what happened to him! I'd like to think that he wandered off into the woods and died, but that would just be wishful thinking. He won't dare go back to that gas station, but he just might come down here to Duston Heights. If you see any sign of the old devil, let me know immediately. You will do that, won't you, John?"
Johnny agreed, and after they talked for a while longer, he stumbled upstairs to the spare bedroom that the professor had fixed up for him. Johnny, Fergie, and the professor all slept until noon the next day. After a leisurely brunch, they went across the street to tell Gramma and Grampa what had happened. The professor did not want to upset the old people, so he told them the story that he had told the policemen in Stark Corners. The Dixons were very shocked. They thought that they lived in a peaceful corner of New England, and to have this happen right after the Tremblay break-inâwell, it was all pretty hard for them to believe. When the professor took Fergie home and told the Fergusons the story, they were pretty upset too, and they wondered what the world was coming to.
Days passed, and September slid into October. The Stark Corners police called Johnny up to question him, and they said that Emmett Oglesby hadn't been captured yet. The New Hampshire newspapers had a field day with the story of the gas station madman, but they lost interest quickly when the police were unable to find Oglesby. The professor kept checking in the papers for additional information, and one evening, without telling anyone, he made a quick trip up to Stark Corners to see if he could do a little archeology in the ruins of Sloane's old house. But when he arrived, he found that the bulldozers had gotten there ahead of him. There was nothing left but a flat patch of raw earth littered with chunks of broken stone and pieces of window glass. The professor tried to feel relieved: he told himself that the two robots and the Key of Arbaces were buried under a lot of rubble, buried for good. But he really didn't know that for sure, and his doubts tormented him. He kept having the awful feeling that something more was going to happen.
Johnny was still pretty nervous too. The terror of his dreadful experience had not completely worn off, and he often dreamed that he was still a prisoner in Sloane's lamp-lit basement chamber. Once he had a particularly horrible dream in which he imagined that he was following his grandfather down Merrimack Street in the middle of the night. The old man turned into one of the narrow alleys that led down to the river, and Johnny saw a thing take shape at the far end of the alley. It was a monstrous bulging eye, lit by a trembling pale light. As Johnny watched in horror, his grandfather walked straight toward the eye and was swallowed up by it. He melted into the jellyish thing and vanished, while Johnny screamed and screamed.
But as the early days of October slid by, Johnny calmed down a bit. He began to notice signs throughout the city that proudly announced that the New York Yankee slugger, Cliff Bullard, would be at Duston Heights Athletic Stadium on October the fifteenth to offer ten thousand dollars to any local hurler who could strike him out. Fergie and Johnny spent a lot of time discussing the strikeout contest. They decided that none of the pitchers on the Duston Heights High School baseball team could blow three quick ones past Bullard. Maybe some kid from Andover or Merrimac or Newburyport would show up and amaze the world with his blazing fastball, but it didn't seem likely. Cliff Bullard would probably get to keep his ten thousand smackers, at least for a little while longer. As for the professor, he was totally batty on the subject of Cliff Bullard: every time Johnny or Fergie brought Bullard's name up, the professor would start ranting and raving about what a blowhard and emptyhead the man was. Finally it got to the point where the boys simply didn't talk to the professor at all about the big Yankee left fielder.
Toward the end of the first week of October, the weather changed. A warm wind began to blow, and the days got hot and hazy. Temperatures climbed into the eighties, and people dug their summer clothes out of the closet. One day after school, Johnny decided that he would go out and read on the front porch, the way he usually did in the summer. So, with a glass of iced tea on the table near his elbow, he settled himself on the old creaky glider and started reading
a novel about ancient Rome. But Johnny had not gotten a lot of sleep the night before, and he began to feel drowsy. He turned a page, sipped some tea, and felt his eyes beginning to close. With a sigh, he took off his glasses, folded them neatly, and laid them on the table next to the iced tea glass. He took off his shoes, stretched out on the glider, and put a soiled green- and yellow-striped pillow under his head.
Buzz... buzz... buzz...
a fly was bumping against the screen, and its soft drone lulled him to sleep. Nothing disturbed Johnny's contented breathing, and he did not hear someone pad softly up the porch steps, open the screen door, and step in. The person hovered over Johnny, watching him sleep. It was an old man, an old man with white hair and red-rimmed eyes and a wart near the end of his long, pointed nose. The man picked up Johnny's glasses, and from his pocket he took a small, cobalt-blue glass vial. Pulling the tiny cork from the bottle's mouth, the man dabbed a clear fluid on the lenses of the glasses, and his lips began to move as if he were muttering a prayer. Finally he laid the glasses back down on the table, and after a quick scornful glance at the sleeping boy, he turned and walked quietly away.
When Johnny woke up a few minutes later, he had the odd feeling that something was wrong. He sat up, shook his head woozily, and reached for his glasses. Suddenly he stopped. His glasses had been moved! Johnny was very fussy about his personal belongings, and he always remembered exactly where he had put his glasses. In this case, he had laid them on the doily next to the iced tea glass. But now they were on the bare tabletop, several inches away from the doily. With an irritated frown, he put the glasses on, got up, and walked into the house. He went straight to the front parlor, where his grandmother was sitting on the sofa watching television.
"Gramma," he said in an accusing tone, "did you fool around with my glasses?" He thought that maybe she had lifted them when she was dusting the table.
Gramma looked up in a startled way. "Your glasses? No, John, I most certainly did not touch your glasses. Why? What happened?"
moved 'em," he said sullenly.
"Maybe you forgot where you laid 'em," said Gramma, chuckling. "Or maybe they got up on their little skinny legs an' scooted away."
Johnny glowered. He might have known that his grandmother would think the whole thing was a jokeâ she was always kidding him about his fussbudgety ways. He was beginning to feel like an idiot, and he wondered if he had made a mistake. Maybe he really had laid the glasses down in the place where he found them. He shrugged and went out to the kitchen to get a glass of milk.
Days passed, and Johnny began to have trouble with his eyes. When he was reading in the evening, the page would start to blur in front of him, and he would feel dizzy. And sometimes when he was just walking along the street, he would feel that the sidewalk was rushing up to meet him. He got headaches during movies, and a lot of the time he felt nervous and edgy. Since he had poor eyesight, Johnny was afraid of going blind, and he often tormented himself with fears of what it would be like if the world around him was just a wall of blackness. For a while he kept his worries to himself, but finally he decided that he had to tell the professor. The professor had bad eyesight too, and he would be sympathetic if it turned out that Johnny had glaucoma or some other hideous eye disease. He would give Johnny a shoulder to cry on.
When Johnny at last got up the courage to talk to the professor, the old man was very sympathetic.
"Your eyes are just changing, John," the professor explained. "Everybody who's nearsighted has that problem. When I was about fifty my eyes started getting weaker, and I had to have different glasses. Do you know what I would suggest that you do?"
"I would suggest that you go talk to your grandmother. She has been seeing a new optometrist, and she thinks the woman is wonderful. I forget her name, but she has an office downtown, in the First National Bank building. Go talk to your grandmother about herâI'm sure she'll give you all the information you need."
Johnny went to talk to Gramma later that day, and he found that she was very enthusiastic about the new optometrist, a lady named Dr. Pimlico. Gramma had just gotten a new set of glasses from her, and they were very comfortable and satisfactory in every way.
"An' she's cheap too," Gramma added. "She don't try t'soak you, the way old Dr. Liddy used to do. You'll feel a lot better once you get a new pair o'glasses from her."
So it was decided. Gramma called up Dr. Pimlico and made an appointment for Johnny on Friday, at two p.m. Friday afternoon, the professor offered to give Johnny a ride to the optometrist's office. As soon as Johnny got into the car, the professor noticed that he was very nervous. Johnny always got the heebie-jeebies whenever he went to a doctor of any kind, even one that wasn't going to hurt him. So the professor tried to cheer him up.
"I think you should relax, John," said the professor as they rolled along. "I'm sure that Dr. Pimlico is really quite an excellent eye doctor, and I wouldn't hesitate to go to her myself. By the way, that's an odd name, isn't it? Pimlico, I mean. It's the name of one of the sections of London: a long time ago, Londoners started giving names to the different parts of their city, names like Belgravia and Bayswater and Pimlico. But you know, I really haven't met a
named Pimlico before. And do you want to know something else that's interesting? Dr. Pimlico has a nephew who has entered the Bullard strikeout contest! I hear that he pitches for a high school team in Newington, and he has a real scorcher of a fastball. I hope he can manage to fog it past Bullard! Wouldn't it be funny if a high school pitcher from a burg like Newington struck out that overinflated balloon? I would laugh for
if that happened!"
The professor chattered merrily on, but Johnny really wasn't listening to him. He was getting more jittery by the minute, and he was racking his brain to see if he could find a way to get out of his appointment with the eye doctor. He couldn't remember ever being this edgy about an optometrist before, and he told himself that he was being sillyâthe doctor couldn't give him shots or operate on him. He was just going to get his eyes examined and maybe be fitted with a new set of glasses. That kind of thing was never painful, so why was he in such a bad state? Johnny thought that he was having some leftover fear from the awful experience he had had in Sloane's laboratory.
You're being a total nitwit,
he told himself.
Snap out of it.
The professor's voice cut in on Johnny's thoughts. "Well, here you are, my lad!" he said as he pulled the car over to the curb. "I'm going to run down to a used bookstore at the other end of the street, and I'll be back to pick you up in about an hour. Please try to be less nittyâyou'd think you were Sidney Carton marching off to the guillotine. Relax! It's the secret of having a long and healthy life!"
Johnny opened the car door and got out. He walked into the dark, cool bank building, got into an elevator, and pushed the button for the fifth floor. Up and up rose the car with a gentle humming sound. Finally it stopped, and the metal doors slid back. Johnny got out, mopped his forehead with his handkerchief, and started down the slippery tiled corridor. At last he came to a halt in front of a door with a frosted glass pane set in it. The gold letters on the glass said DR. AMALIA PIMLICO. As he reached for the knob, Johnny's hand was shaking, and for the twentieth time he told himself that there was nothing at all to be afraid of. He grasped the cold brass knob and twisted it. The door opened.
Johnny walked into a cheerful sunlit office decorated with a lovely cool green oriental rug and off-white walls. Near the door stood a tall glass display case showing many pairs of eyeglasses, and an eye chart hung on one wall. A chair, like one found in a dentist's office, was on the right with all sorts of eye-testing equipment hanging over it on jointed metal arms. At the far end of the room, near the windows, stood an oak desk, and behind the desk sat Dr. Amalia Pimlico. She was a heavyset elderly woman in a white hospital uniform, and she looked very cheerful and pleasant. Her gray hair was pulled into a bun, and she wore steel-rimmed spectacles. In one hand she held a pen, and she seemed to be in the middle of writing something.
"Good afternoon, young man," said the doctor, smiling. "You must be John Dixon, and you're here to have your eyes examined. Am I correct?"