Sunday, January 24, 2010

"A Leak in the Fountain of Youth" by Amelia Reynolds Long, part 3

This is the third and final installment of "A Leak in the Fountain of Youth", a science fiction story from the Gernsback Era by Amelia Reynolds Long. The story first appeared in the August 1936 issue of Astounding Stories and was reprinted in the 2003 anthology Sci-Fi Womanthology edited by Forrest J. Ackerman and Pam Keesey.

The story so far:
Professor Aloysius O'Flannigan, a brilliant young biochemist, has invented a serum that will reverse the aging process. An opportunity to test it on a human subject unexpectedly presents itself when his old college chum, the poet Gustavus Adolphus Lindstrom, shows up on the lam from the police, suspected of bank robbery in a case of mistaken identity. Lindstrom needs some way to elude the police, so O'Flannigan offers to make him look sixteen years old.

However, due to a miscalculated dosage, Lindstrom is regressed to a baby, and O'Flannigan must hire a nurse, Miss McGillicuddy, to look after him. When the police find the real bank robber, O'Flannigan fires McGillicuddy as a prelude to restoring Lindstrom, but she is suspicious of his motives and takes the baby with her . . .

* * *

Two months passed, not entirely uneventful. The police, for some reason that we never entirely fathomed, were positive that Gustavus had come to Aloysius the day after the bank robbery, but they could prove nothing. Repeated questioning of Aloysius and even a search of the premises during his absence, got them nowhere. And, meanwhile, he for whom they searched rode out in his own perambulator under their very noses.

Of course, we knew that this state of things could not go on indefinitely; but when the next move came, it found us unprepared. It was, in fact, nothing more nor less than the arrest of the real bank robber, taken in the attempted holdup of a bank in the neighboring city. Upon being identified by the teller of the Suburban, he admitted the first robbery. So the good name of Gustavus Adolphus Lindstrom had been cleared.

It would now seem that all that remained for us to do was to administer the serum that would restore Gustavus to his normal phisiological age. That was what we thought, too, but we soon learned that it was not so simple. The realization came when we approached the nursery door with a hypodermic of the serum and discovered that Gustavus was not alone. We had forgotten Miss McGillicuddy.

"What," I inquired, "are you going to tell the nurse?"

Aloysius looked blank. "I hadn't thought of that," he confessed. "You -- you don't suppose she'd believe the truth?"

"I know she wouldn't," I answered with conviction. "You'll have to do better than that."

He sighed. "The only thing I can think of is to tell her that her services are no longer needed," he said, "and I'll have an awful slim chance of getting away with it."

"There's only one other way," I pointed out. "The woman must sleep some time out of the twenty-four hours. You'll have to watch for your chance and give Gussie the serum then."

But it was easier said than accomplished. All our visits to the nursery found Miss McGillicuddy wide awake and on the job. Finally, we divided the day into six-hour shifts during which we alternately kept watch in an effort to catch her napping, but this met with no success either.

Worse yet, Miss McGillicuddy now seemed to know that she was under secret surveillence, for she began to regard Aloysius and me with a suspicious eye, and kept the nursery door locked most of the time so that we had to knock to gain admittance.

It was about this time that Aloysius discovered that we ourselves were being spied on. He mentioned it to me when I dropped around one morning.

"Eric," he began uneasily, "I don't know what can be the matter, now that the bank robber has been arrested and Gussie is no longer under suspicion, but a policeman's been watching this house for the past three days. He's taken a room across the street and he keeps looking over here with a pair of field glasses."

"Miss McGillicuddy --" I suggested.

He nodded. "I'm afraid so," he said. "That female never did like me from the beginning. And now our watching her has made her suspect Heaven alone knows what, and she's gone to the police about it."

"I'm afraid we'll have to do what we should have done in the beginning," I told him gloomily. "Definitely discharge the woman."

We each took a neat drink of Irish whiskey to help our courage. Then we tackled the job. To our amazement, it was easier than we had anticipated. Miss McGillicuddy said nothing, but she gave us one long, unreadable look. Then she executed a military about-face and marched off to her room to pack her belongings. A half-hour later we heard the front door close firmly behind her.

* * *

With a combined sigh of relief that sounded like the open steam valve of a locomotive, Aloysius and I bounded upstairs to the nursery. He was ahead of me as we reached the nursery door, and so it was he who first bent over the bassinet. The next instant I saw him clap his hands to his head and stagger back.

"Good Lord!" he groaned. "She's taken Gussie along with her!"

For a minute or so we could only stare at each other in dumb stupefaction. Then my brain cleared a little.

"It's kidnapping!" I cried indignantly. "She can't do this! We'll go to the police ourselves, and enter a complaint."

But we were saved the trouble. At that very minute the doorbell rang.

On the step stood the policeman who had called on us two months before!

"Professor O'Flannigan," he pronounced severely when he had shouldered his way into the hall. "I want to know what it is you've done with Gustavus Lindstrom."

And then the awful facts came out. Gustavus had been known to come to Aloysius' house that day aftr the bank robbery, but had not been known to leave. It had been assumed by the police that Aloysius was protecting his friend from arrest for the bank robbery, but when the real criminal had been apprehended and Gustavus still failed to appear, it was felt that something serious must be the matter.

When a check-up with Gustavus' relatives revealed no clue to his whereabouts, the police had formulated a theory. It was that Gussie had been foully murdered by his mad scientist friend, professor Aloysius O'Flannigan!

"But that's proposterous!" Aloysius protested indignantly. "I haven't harmed Gussie!"

"Then what have you done with him?" the policeman asked, not unreasonably.

Aloysius opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again without uttering a word. If he told the truth now, he'd be locked up as a raving lunatic.

"Professor O'Flannigan is not quite himself this morning," I put in helpfully. "His little nephew has just been kidnapped by the nurse who was employed to look after him."

The policeman smiled sourly. "We know all about that," he told me. "That nurse told us how the professor here was actin', and it was what decided us in thinkin' that something was wrong up here." He turned back to Aloysius, "I guess you'd better come along with me to the station, professor," he said. "The sergeant'll be wantin' to talk to you."

Aloysius paled. "Very well, officer," he said weakly. "Excuse me while I get my hat and coat."

He started slowly down the hall toward the laboratory. At the door, however, he turned.

"Eric, remember Socrates," he called, and disappeared into the room.

We waited in stony silence. What the policeman's thoughts were, I have no idea, but I know that mine were in a turmoil. If Aloysius was locked up on suspicion of having murdered Gussie, how would he be able to bring Gussie back to normal? And unless Gussie was brought back to normal, how was Aloysius going to prove his innocence? It would do no good to tell the truth. There are some things that even the police refuse to believe.

* * *

Suddenly I began to realize that Aloysius had been gone a very long time. The policeman, too, realized it, for his face became ominous and he made for the laboratory door. I, beset by a hundred whirling fears, followed and was immediately behind him when he entered the room. It was empty, but an open window told the story. Aloysius had realized his predicament and had chosen liberty by way of the laboratory window and the back fence.

For the next five minutes that policeman's language was awful. But he finally calmed down and, after grilling me on Aloysius' habits and possible hide-out, left for police headquarters. I, much to my surprise, was permitted to go home.

I spent the next few hours listening to police descriptions of Aloysius over the radio and wondering what he was doing. I had not the faintest idea where he could have gone, but I knew that I would have to get in touch with him some way to arrange for the restoration of Gussie.

And then, like enlightenment from Heaven, came the memory of his parting words to me, "Eric, remember Socrates."

I jammed on my hat and made a dash for the university museum.

The Greek wing was empty when I entered it. Nevertheless, I approached the stone sarcophagus with caution. I was in the act of lighting a cigarette with elaborate nonchalance when a voice spoke from the sarcophagus' interior.

"Eric, if you drop ashes in here I'll come out and murder you."

"Aloysius!" I gasped in relief. "Thank Heaven you're here!"

"According to Gussie's experience, it seemed the one sure place where nobody would look," he replied. He squirmed to a sitting posture, so that his head protruded just above the opening in the sarcophagus. "You've got to help me get Gussie back in shape," he said. "Do you think you can carry out a few simple instructions?"

"I'll try," I promised. "What are they?"

"First," he went on, go to my laboratory and get the hypodermic with the corrective serum. You know which one it is. Next, take another hypodermic and make it one quarter full from the bottle on the end of the second shelf in my closet. It's a sleeping formula of my own, and is pretty powerful, so don't take too much of it. Then drive back here after dark and pick me up."

"What are you going to do?" I asked apprehensively.

"Never mind," he answered. "You know enough for the present. Now get going."

I had less trouble than I anticipated getting into the laboratory. The policeman on guard accepted my story that I had come for medicine for a sick dog, and let me take what I wanted from the drug cupboard, as long as I made no effort to disturb anything else. I had a moment's uncertainty over preparing the second hypodermic, for Aloysius had not told me which end of the second shelf he meant. I finally decided upon the right end, and took down a bottle that stood there. Then I returned to the museum.

Aloysius was waiting for me behind a tree across the street. "I nearly got caught getting out," he said, climbing into the car. "The damned burglar alarm went off."

"Where to now?" I asked, releasing the brake.

He gave me an address. "It's Miss McGillicuddy's," he added.

* * *

While I drove, he explained his plan. I was to get in to talk to Miss McGillicuddy on some pretext, while he remained hidden in the car. Then, when I had talked her off her guard, I was to plunge the second hypodermic into her arm. As soon as she had gone under, I was to snatch up Gussie and dash back to the car. Aloysius would do the rest.

It sounded easy enough until I found myself standing on the doorstep facing Miss McGillicuddy.

"Well, what do you want?" she demanded uncompromisingly. Her iron jaw, when it moved, was overpoweringly suggestive of a cement mixer.

"Miss McGillicuddy," I began weakly, "I've got to speak to you about -- about little Gussie. It's very important. May I come in?"

She moved aside reluctantly for me to enter. But the entrance was narrow and she was a large woman. In that minute I saw my chance and with a swiftness that surprised me myself, I plunged the hypodermic home. Miss McGillicuddy gave one startled snort and wilted before my eyes.

Fighting down a feeling of panic, I darted on into the house in search of Gussie. I found him without difficulty and was back to the car and had handed him to Aloysius in the back seat in less than two minutes.

"Now," Aloysius cried triumphantly, "drive somewhere -- anywhere -- until this stuff takes effect! It acts quickly."

We dashed off at top speed, with Gussie yelling like an Indian on the back seat. We took the corner on two wheels and almost collided with another car that was coming toward us. I heard the driver bawl a command at me to stop but I paid no attention. There was no time to stand by ceremony just then.

But a moment later I heard an exclamation from Aloysius. "Divil an' all!" he gasped. "That was a police car, Eric, and they're following us!"

My only answer was to step on the gas.

I shall never forget that wild ride, although its details were, even at the time, a series of blurs to me. I remember vaguely crashing through two or three red lights, while the shrilling of police whistles all but deafened me. Gussie's yells made our progress as conspicuous as that of the fire chief, and to add to our confusion, shouts of "Kidnappers!" began to arise from all sides.

At Aloysius' suggestion, I made for the open country but when I passed the city limits there were already three police cars and a whole squad of motorcycle police on our tail.

"If we can only hold out for an hour or two," Aloysius said, "we'll be all -- Ow! Devil fly away with you!"

"What's wrong?" I demanded, wondering fearfully whether one of the police cars had opened fire and Aloysius had been hit.

But his reply reassured me. "Gussie's cutting teeth," he answered. "The little fiend just bit me."

During the next hour Gussie's growth and phenomenal. By the time we crossed the State line, he had reached the obstreperous stage, and was trying to climb over the back of the seat to assist me at the wheel.

It had been a little past eight o'clock in the evening when Aloysius had injected the corrective serum. By six o'clock the next morning, it had completely taken effect and, to our unbounded relief, Gussie was quite himself again, and with only a hazy memory of what had transpired in the interval. But now two problems had arisen. The car was almost out of gas and Gussie -- except for the car's best blanket -- was embarrassingly out of raiment.

"We'll have to stop at the next gas station," I told Aloysius. "We can do it in safety, for the police haven't followed us across the State line."

* * *

But I had reckoned without my radio. The keeper of the gasoline station glanced at our license plate, deliberately raised the hood of our car and did something to our spark plugs. Then he walked calmly into his house and closed the door. Before we realized what was happening, two State troopers had appeared from nowhere and taken possession of us!

"It's all right," Aloysius reassured us as we were herded into a police car to be taken back whence we had come. "We can produce Gussie now, so that will squash the murder charge. As for the remarks about kidnapping, Gussie can prove that he was the baby by the mole on his left thigh. Miss McGillicuddy, the nurse, can identify it."

"Ye Gods," exclaimed Gussie, aghast. "Did I have a nurse and does she know about that?"

Returned to our home city, we told our story, individually and collectively, to a skeptical desk sergeant.

"A likely soundin' tale you be tellin' me," he said. "I'm after thinkin' it's not Mr. Lindstrom alone that's had a second childhood, but all three of you. And I've a mind to put you all in the jug until you grow up."

Aloysius drew himself up. He can be impressive as well as persuasive when he tries. "Sergeant," he said, "I am a man of science and what I tell you about the gland control serum is the truth. You must, at least, give us an opportunity to prove it by calling in the nurse, Miss McGillicuddy."

The sergeant was not unreasonable. He dispatched a man to summon our witness.

Fifteen minutes passed. Then the telephone rang frantically. The sergeant took the call.

"My man O'Reilly's at the nurse's house," he announced tersely, as he hung up. "He says something's happened to her and he needs help. I'm going over there, and I'm takin' you birds along."

My heart sank. Aloysius had said that the sleeping formula was pretty powerful. Suppose I had given her too much and --

Aloysius must have been thinking something of the same sort, for he whispered to me as we entered Miss McGillicuddy's residence, "Eric, tell me quick. From which bottle did you fill that hypodermic? Right or left end of the shelf?"

"Right," I answered and then, from his horrified expression, I knew the worst. The bottle I had used had contained poison and now Miss McGillicuddy was a stiffened corpse! What, I wondered, was the penalty in our State for manslaughter?

And then a voice from the next room on our left spoke protestingly. "Nix, lady, lay off!" it was saying. "I'm a married man with a family!"

We rushed after the sergeant into the room beyond. And there a startling spectacle confronted us. Seated stiffly on the edge of a chair was Officer O'Reilly, while perched coyly upon his knee -- and very much alive -- was Miss McGillicuddy! But not the Miss McGillicuddy we had known. Instead of an equine forty-odd, she was now a coltish twenty-one!

"O'Reilly, what's the meaning of this?" the sergeant roared, but I think he must have guessed even before he got the explanation.

Aloysius turned to me and there was a look of mingled reproach and relief in his eyes.

"Eric, you're a blundering idiot!" he exclaimed. "But you've proven our story. You gave a shot of the gland serum to Miss McGillicuddy!"


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