“I can’t stay but a minute,” police officer Jane said, stuffing the bib into the collar of Ronald Faldaytonworthington’s pajama top. “It seems like everything’s happening all at once in this town, and the Armadillo’s run off again.” He sniffled and she passed him an almost empty box of tissues. “Did you ever notice that every time you get sick,
the Armadillo disappears? He must be the biggest hypochondriac in the world. Now shut up long enough to eat this chicken soup I made you.”
She held a spoonful of piping hot soup to his lips. “Frankly,” she said, “I don’t know what that Lisa Long sees in him. The Armadillo’s a bit
weird, if you ask me, but then so are reporters, so maybe they’re right for each other.”
He quickly downed the soup so he could ask, “Lisa likes the Armadillo?”
“See? You were smart to be dumped by her. She has lousy taste in men. Now shut up and have some more soup. Frankly, I prefer men I don’t have to see at work all the time. And with all the personnel cutbacks at the department, crime fighting in this berg is pretty much me and Army. Do you know he wears a steel Armadillo mask? How Lisa could fall in love with someone who wears a steel mask is more–"
“Love? Lisa loves -?”
“Will you shut up and finish your soup? And be careful, you’re spilling it on your nice clean bib. Well, I got to get back to the office. People are dying out there.”
That did not seem to dampen the maternal light in her eye, he noticed. She said, “You’re lucky you got a cold. Most of the people dying in this town are dying from vampire bats. That’s what I’m so busy with. It’s the case Army and I’d be working on together if he wasn’t off wherever it is crimefighters go to on vacation. By the way, gesundheit, and here’s a fresh box of tissues.”
She promised to be back for supper and left.
He spent a miserable few hours sneezing and sniffling, but they were not so miserable he failed to notice hunger pangs as the afternoon drew on. At last there was a knock on his door.
He answered it eagerly, expecting to see Jane standing there with a kettle of soup. Instead, ace newspaper reporter Lisa Long pushed past him and said, “God, this place smells like a sick room.”
Dazedly, he looked at her. “Jane?”
She looked back at him pityingly. “Whatever you have is really serious. You’ve forgotten who I am.”
“No, no. No, I mean, Jane, that is, have you seen her? Is she out there somewhere? She was going to fix my supper.”
“No, she’s not out there. That’s what I came to see you about.” Normally, a visit from Lisa Long would have had him excited and ridden thoughts of the policewoman from his brain. But his brain was fevered and his stomach empty. He blew his nose and peered out into the hall to make sure Jane wasn’t hiding. “What about my supper?”
“I’ll make you supper,” Lisa said, dragging him out of the hall and into the kitchen. All brisk efficiency, she found a loaf of bread, a knife and some peanut butter and made a sandwich, which she slapped, into his \
He looked down at it. “Isn’t the peanut butter supposed to be inside?”
“Men!” she said, taking the sandwich back and turning the bread over for him. “You’re all so helpless. Now hurry up and chow down.”
“I was expecting chicken soup,” he said, licking peanut butter from his fingers.
“What an idiot you can be when you’re sick, Ronald. You know you can’t make a sandwich out of chicken soup. Besides, I don’t think there’s any here. Now finish eating and call the Armadillo for me, like a good boy.”
“The Armadillo -? You want a date?”
“This is a head cold, you have, isn’t it?” she said sweetly. “Just call the Armadillo for me. Jane’s disappeared and we need him to find her. Here, have a tissue. But don’t use it all. It looks like the last one.”
“Jane? Jane’s vanished? Is my chicken soup with her?” He glanced at his hand and licked more peanut butter off his palm.
“You can reach the Armadillo, can’t you?” she asked. “I hope the stories aren’t true that he’s taking another vacation somewhere.”
“I don’t understand. When she was here she didn’t say anything about disappearing.”
“It probably came up suddenly.”
“She did say something about vampire bats.”
“We could use the Armadillo to help with that, too. By the way, just how do you contact him?”
“What happened to Jane? I hope she wasn’t carried off by the bats.”
“To tell the truth,” Lisa said, sitting down and crossing her long, attractive legs, “we think that could be a possibility. It turns out the Scarlet Marmoset is behind the bats. She’s demanded a load of money. The mayor refused to pay, of course. It’s against municipal policy to pay extortion. Besides the city’s bankrupt. So they sent Jane to arrest her. She never came back. Commissioner Zoot is furious. With all the personnel cutbacks, he has to personally do detective work. He tried to have Jane charged with dereliction of duty.”
“She knew where to find the Scarlet Marmoset?”
“She must have had an idea. I don’t really know. It’s not like she’s listed in the phone book, you know.” She shook her head disgustedly. “The Scarlet Marmoset can be as hard to turn up as the Armadillo. Which brings us back to why I’m here.”
“I’ll get in touch with him. Hand me another tissue, please. There’s a full box by the window.”
Lisa went to the window but instead of getting him the tissue she stood staring at something outside. After a moment she said, “Oh, wow! There must be a million of them.”
“No,” she said, heading for the door. “Vampire bats. What a story this is going to be. Don’t forget to call the Armadillo.”
The door slammed shut.
Faldaytonworthington rushed to the window. He sneezed as he reached it but fortunately there was a full box of tissues handy. He peered outside.
The late afternoon sky was dark, not with clouds, or even the coming night, but with writhing masses of something he quickly realized were bats. They swooped toward the ground and the waiting crowds below. There was no time to waste.
Faldaytonworthington poured himself a spoonful of cough syrup and dashed for the secret closet where the clothing and gear of the Armadillo were hidden. It took him only seconds to change, and he started for the door.
As an afterthought, he came back and shoved the bottle of cough syrup in his coat pocket.
The bats fell like pigeon droppings on the helpless masses who crowded the evening streets. They cried their high, piping shrieks. They swooped down on helpless victims who screamed and ran in panic. People, bats fastened like leeches to their arms and necks, fell to the sidewalk, only to be trampled by the fleeing crowds.
Into this scene of unmitigated horror the Armadillo sprang. Seeing how many bats there were, he gave a little leap of joy and said, “Hot damn!”
He perceived at once the need for a little precision shooting and drew both of his automatics. Two clips per gun later, he saw the futility of that and shoved them back into their holsters. He yanked the Tommy guns from their pockets in his cloak and filled the sky above that urban canyon with lead.
There were enough of the bats still aloft that the fire from the Tommy guns made a substantial dent in their overall numbers. Now it was the leather-winged rodents’ turn to panic. They wheeled upward, trapped in the Armadillo’s field of fire by the rising sides of the tall buildings. Those that had latched onto unfortunate victims now forgot their bloodlust and tried to escape, only to have their hideous bodies smashed with deadly lead. Twice the Armadillo’s weapons ran out of
ammunition and twice he reached into his cloak for new magazines which he quickly slammed into place so he could resume firing. Few bats could fly faster than the Armadillo could reload.
At last those of the bats that could, arced over the tops of the buildings and swarmed away to safety. The Armadillo shoved his Tommy guns back into their cleverly fashioned cloak pockets.
He felt good; he always did after a successful battle. For one thing, the substantial expenditure of rounds always lightened the weight of his cloak. But it was always equally nice to know he had saved many lives as well.
The moans and cries of the frightened and injured rose around him. Those who could were seeing to those who needed aid. From a distance, sirens wailed, ambulances rushing to the scene. Inside his steel mask, the Armadillo sneezed.
Across the street, furiously scribbling in her notebook, was Lisa, apparently unhurt. The Armadillo blew his nose and started toward her.
Inside his mask he had hastily rigged a small motor driven endless belt arrangement to work tissues to his beleaguered nose. Both endless belt and nose seemed to be working efficiently.
“Army!” Lisa cried, looking up as he reached her. “I knew you’d save us. Where have you been, anyway?”
“I’m more interested in where Jane is. And where these bats come from.”
“I have this theory about hell,” said Lisa. “No one has any better ideas except maybe Jane.” She looked up at the sky. “I don’t suppose it would be possible to follow them.”
“Maybe by radar, but I gather that hasn’t happened.”
“Not that I’m aware of.” She peered closely at him as he stood there. “Does that tell you something?”
“That was a pretty big flock. If they went outside the city, you’d think they could be picked up on radar somewhere.”
“That’s crazy, Army. Where would you hide that many bats inside a city?”
Inside his mask, the Armadillo smiled knowingly. And sniffled.
“I can think of one possibility,” he said.
Somewhere, a lion roared.
The Armadillo peered from the bushes at the tall fence that was all that stood between him and the zoo. Crouching beside him, Lisa asked, “How do we get inside with the gates locked?”
“Over the wall,” he said, handing her a pole.
“A vaulting pole?” she said, astonished. “Oh, come on, Army. Even you can’t carry a ten foot pole in that cloak of yours.”
“Two poles,” he corrected her, holding up the one he intended to use. “They’re collapsible, but cunningly constructed. And quite flexible. Flexibility’s important, you know.”
“This is ridiculous. I can’t pole vault into the zoo. I’m wearing a skirt.”
“Something you should have thought about before inviting yourself along,” he said. And stepping from the bushes, he hefted his pole and galloped toward the wall.
“Damn you, Army,” he heard her call after him as he planted the end of the pole and catapulted himself aloft.
He had not wanted to bring her in the first place and he was certain as he sailed over the wall that his ploy had successfully discouraged her. This was one night when he did not need the added responsibility of protecting even so spunky and capable a young lady as Lisa Long.
He landed on the ground, rolled three times and came up on his feet to find himself snout to snout with some predatory, nocturnal beast.
Of course, the Armadillo had no intention of using bullets against dumb animals, excepting only bats, so he had come prepared. From his cloak he pulled a trusty, low-powered cattle prod, which should be more than sufficient to discourage any beast, no matter how ferocious.
And had Lisa not landed on him before he could apply the prod, he might have proven his point.
Instead, he suddenly found the snout of his mask plowing into the ground. Where the cattle prod went, he could not say. Lisa made a few mildly unladylike but not unaccustomed remarks as she tried to adjust her skirt. Then he heard her say, “Uh-oh,” which he took to mean she had noticed the animal.
“Army,” she said with hushed urgency, confirming his suspicions. “We’re not alone.”
“Then could you get up and save us, please.”
“I’d love to,” he said. “But something’s standing on my cloak.”
As he had fallen, the cloak flew forward, which meant his head was now covered. He asked, “Can you tell what it is?”
“Just sort of. It’s pretty dark. But I think this thing is some sort of demon.”
“Zoos don’t have demons, Lisa.”
“But it has horns. Horrible horns! They look just like – Army! They look just like Bullwinkle!”
“Bullwinkle! You mean we landed in the moose exhibit?”
“Oh, my God, that’s it! A moose. How horrible. We’ll be eaten by a – hey, wait a minute. It’s not like this is a Komodo dragon. It’s a moose–“
“Meese aren’t dangerous.”
“Mooses. And they are if they’re standing on your cloak.”
“Thank God I’m not wearing one.”
“Lisa – ”
“Well, you can’t blame the poor moose, Army. As I fell on top of you I saw what you were threatening this poor creature with. Under the circumstances, I’d stand on your cloak, too.”
“I could move you,” he said. “Look, I only had the cattle prod in case the thing turned out to be something deadly, like a shark or an anteater. I’d never use it on a moose. Now help me get this cloak off, so I can get up.”
“Mmmph!” she told him.
“Speak up, I can’t hear you.” Oh great. The cold was stuffing up his ears.
“Yeah, sure,” he said. With some effort, he managed to reach the clasp of his cloak and unfasten it. “What was it you were saying, anyway?” he asked, standing up.
“Mmph,” she repeated.
There was a hand over Lisa’s mouth. The hand belonged to a rather tall, muscular woman whose other arm pinioned Lisa’s arms to her sides. Two other women stood close by, pointing pistols at the Armadillo.
The Scarlet Marmoset, who was also there, looked very smug indeed.
The moose just looked bored. It stepped off the Armadillo’s cast-off cloak and wandered away toward the flying squirrel habitat.
“If you’d just tell us the combination of that lock on your mask, we could get it off so much more easily,” said the Scarlet Marmoset. When the Armadillo made no reply, she shrugged. “Oh, well. Florabella, while I’m pouring this honey over the mask, why don’t you open the bear cage?”
The Armadillo, who was now buried up to his neck in the ground, laughed. “You fool. Sure, the bear will get my mask off. But my head will still be inside it. You’ll never see my face.”
“And the disappointment will crush me, I’m sure,” she said. “But I’ll
just have to take that chance, I guess. Girls,” she said to her hirelings. “Put the reporter in with the police creature and let’s get on with the fun and games.”
One of the henchpersons prodded Lisa with a gun to get her to move toward a green door that led from the bear habitat.
“I’ll be waiting for you to rescue me,” said Lisa, as they shoved her through the door.
“I just hope she’s patient,” said the Scarlet Marmoset.
The Armadillo was buried so that he faced the front of the area, where a broad, deep moat stood between the yard and the spectator’s path. The hole had already been dug when they’d brought him and Lisa here, as if they’d been expecting him. They had put him in and filled it up. Only his mask was above ground.
The zoo was closed temporarily for renovations. How the Scarlet Marmoset managed to get all the caretaker positions filled with her gang members, the Armadillo didn’t know. But from the run-ins he’d had with her in the past he knew that if it could be done, she was the one to do it.
About ten feet away from the snout of his mask was a jar. The Scarlet Marmoset picked it up and brought it over to him. She stood there in that sexy red law-breaker’s costume of hers and he could see the evil smile on what showed of her face behind her domino mask. Then she bent down, plucked his beloved black slouch hat from his head and poured honey over him.
“I’d love to stay and watch this,” she said. “But under the circumstances, it might be a bit on the messy side.” She stood up. “But don’t worry. I will be back.”
She turned and walked with a cheerful, hip-swinging grace to the door and through it. He heard it lock behind her. After a moment he heard another door open behind him.
Inside his mask, the Armadillo sneezed.
“Boy, you clowns are in real trouble,” Lisa said. “That’s no ordinary Armadillo you’re toying with.”
“Does she always go on like this?” Florabella asked. “She’s almost as bad as the other one.”
“What other one? Jane? Where is she? I demand to see her right now. And you’d better go right back and dig the Armadillo out of the ground, too, do you hear me? That’s an official request. I’m a reporter.”
“Let me hit her on the head or something, huh, boss?”
“Florabella, you’re so spoiled,” said the Scarlet Marmoset, smiling at Lisa. “I was lucky enough when they closed the zoo for renovation to get all
my girls administrative jobs here. It fit so nicely with my plans. Florabella just hasn’t had to put up with the usual distractions this time. It’s spoiling her and Sepulvida both.”
“Your plan, huh?” said Lisa. “Just what is your plan?”
“Always the reporter, aren’t you? See Florabella? She’s just asking questions, the way she’s trained to.”
“And that blonde is trained to read your rights to you. I got real sick of that,” said Florabella.
“Are you doing to answer me or not?” demanded Lisa.
“Oh, I almost forgot, didn’t I? Well, are you aware that most life insurance policies don’t have to pay off if you’re killed by a vampire bat? I think it comes under the heading of Act of God. Well, I have an agreement with six or seven companies that sell insurance around here. I get twenty per cent of the money they don’t have to pay out in claims.”
“What a fiendish plan.”
“Thank you, my dear. But you don’t know the best. All the vampire bat attacks so far have been late in the evening. People expect them then and they’re staying inside. But I’ll bet even you’ve noticed that a lot of people are leaving their homes at the crack of dawn so they can get back from work before dark. Tomorrow, our carefully trained flocks of bats will strike the morning crowds and there won’t be any Armadillo to protect people. Or any Lisa Long to report the story. Put
her with the other one, girls.”
“Can I please cut out her tongue or anything?” asked Sepulvida.
The Scarlet Marmoset thought that over for a moment before shrugging. “No. Let her enjoy it for the few minutes she has left.”
As steel masks go, there was none better than the Armadillo’s. But it didn’t protect him one bit from that damned bear’s breath.
After a time the bear stopped licking the honey covered mask. The Armadillo figured he was in for it now. But the bear just belched – bear breath was really awful – and went to a corner to take a nap.
By now the Armadillo realized there was no possibility of digging himself out. If he still had his cloak, of course, it would have been a cinch to reach his emergency shovel. But the cloak was over in the moose area. He had only what he carried in his pockets to help himself with. Two bus tokens, some lint, and that bottle of cough syrup.
And every moment he wasted before he freed himself, Lisa and Jane were in the clutches of the Scarlet Marmoset. One of these days she was going to let Florabella or Sepulvida cut out Lisa’s tongue, too. Yet without his cloak and all the equipment in its secret pockets –
The bear, no doubt dreaming of beehives, rolled over on its back and
scratched its belly.
It was not easy moving his arms in the close-packed confines of the hole the Armadillo was buried in. But slowly he managed to put his hand into the pocket of his coat. He felt the hard, smooth glass of the cough syrup bottle.
The time it required for him to get it out of the pocket and position his other hand to remove the bottle cap was something he didn’t like to think about. What must Lisa and Jane be going through? But at last he succeeded.
If only the ground wasn’t packed too tightly around his neck. His plan would fail if the syrupy fumes couldn’t reach the bear’s nose.
Then, over in the corner, the bear looked up.
Because they shoved her through the back door, Lisa had no idea which building she was locked in. She found the light and turned it on. Almost at once she heard someone talking, as from a great distance.
It was, however, not that great a distance at all, but the center of the room. She saw a box, about three feet square, covered with holes, like a giant block of Swiss cheese. But no, the holes were too regularly spaced for Swiss cheese. Lisa decided they must be air holes. Could the box contain a parrot? Lisa put her ear close to it and listened while the box’s contents advised her she had the right to hire a lawyer. She began to suspect she had discovered the whereabouts of Policewoman
The box was locked with a simple spring latch. She unfastened it, lifted off the top and Jane stood up, saying, “And if you can’t afford one, a lawyer will be appointed, to his eternal disgrace, to see that you get a fair execution – oh, hi Lisa. Am I glad to see you. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever get rescued.”
“Well, there is this little problem.”
“Oh, shoot, I shoulda known. They got you too, huh? Heck, we probably won’t get rescued until the Armadillo gets back from vacation.”
“Well, actually, maybe we’ve got two teeny little problems,” Lisa said. Thinking it a good time to change the subject, she looked around the bare room they were in and noticed a second door. “I suppose you tested that to make sure it was locked.”
“Me?” said Jane. “They shut me in a box, remember? That was one of the first things they did. I’d probably not read them their rights more than a couple of dozen times when they slammed that lid down on top of me.”
Lisa said, “Let’s check it out then.”
She tried the inner door and to her surprise it opened. She peered into the next room. Under a promising exit sign she saw yet another door and started toward it. Jane grabbed her arm.
“Is something wrong?” Lisa asked.
What do you call those things?” Jane said, pointing.
“You know. Those whatchacallits. Wiggly things.”
“What wiggly things,” Lisa asked with a sudden sense of dread.
“Oh, yeah,” Jane said. “I remember now. Never mind. They’re called cobras.”
And indeed that’s what they were called. And one was wriggling toward them now.
As the bear growled, grumbled and dug like an excavator, the Armadillo began to have his first suspicions that this method of getting himself out of the fix the Scarlet Marmoset had left him in was not entirely safe. When the bear grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and threw him across the yard, he knew it wasn’t. He
lay there for a moment, unable to move, and watched as the bear stuck its nose into the hole and sniffed. Perplexed, it looked up and saw the human lying on the ground some distance away and regarded him with a certain suspicion. Then it got up on its hind legs and ambled over.
The Armadillo handed the bear the bottle of cough syrup, which it took without so much as a word of thanks. It went back to its favorite corner, lay down and swigged cough syrup happily. Presently, the Armadillo could move again.
The door was locked.
He was beginning to appreciate how much he over-relied on the equipment in his cloak. It would have been a simple thing to get past that door with his grappling hooks or lock-picks – not to mention the plastic explosives – but they were in the moose compound. So he had to get out of the bear compound the old-fashioned way. He climbed the wall. It wasn’t easy – after all, it was something a bear couldn’t do – and it was time consuming.
He dropped to the path and moved silently, keeping to the shadows. How much time he had, he didn’t know.
He heard a noise and pressed himself into a convenient shadow at the corner of the wall and the spectator path. Someone was coming. He waited until she walked past and then he stepped out and grabbed her.
“Hello, Florabella,” he said.
“Boy, I really wish the Armadillo was here now,” Jane said. “He’d have a flute or something in his cloak and he could use it to charm these things.”
“Charm isn’t a word I find it easy to use in the same sentence with ‘cobra,’” Lisa said. “Besides, aren’t they supposed to be deaf? I always thought the flute was just for show.”
“Well, then, he’d have a shotgun in his cloak,” said Jane, firmly. “That’s even better than a flute. Let’s get back to the other room.”
She tried to close the door.
“Hey, you want to hear something funny?” asked Jane. “They gimmicked this door in some way. I can’t get it to swing back and close.”
“Maybe so but look at the floor. They got some kind of spring gizmo that seems to be preventing us from shutting the thing again. That Scarlet Marmoset thinks of everything.”
Lisa didn’t care how thorough the Scarlet Marmoset was. She said, “The cobras are coming right for this door. I think they heard us talking.”
“You said they were deaf, remember?”
“Tell them, not me. Though if it’s true, I haven’t any idea how you’d do it. Do you think they understand sign language?”
Lisa and Jane backed away from the door. Already the biggest of the cobras was slithering through. It paused and raised its hooded head and stared straight at Lisa. Lisa stared back although she didn’t think she was going to be successful in any staring down contest. She continued backing until the wall behind her told her she could back no further. Jane was right with her. No less than five cobras snaked into the room.
Suddenly Lisa heard the door slam open in the next room. Something ran into the room, stopping just inside the doorway. Lisa gasped. Was that a mongoose, of all things? It was. Small, lean and furry, when it
saw the snakes it seemed to Lisa it did a little hop of excitement and uttered the mongoose equivalent of “Hot damn!”
It ran straight for the big one, which was all right with Lisa because that one was already reared up in front of her and about to strike. The mongoose grabbed its middle and began to shake it.
Lisa saw the Armadillo in the door, then. So did one of the cobras, which whipped around and struck at him.
Army deftly stepped back. The snake struck the concrete floor. The Armadillo reached down and grabbed the thing right behind the hood and tossed it across the room. Lisa heard the famous maniacal laughter then, as the Armadillo ran across the room toward her and Jane, neatly sidestepping the now furious snakes.
“How fiendish! Leaving you two tied up in a room full of deadly snakes,” the Armadillo said to Lisa.
“We’re not tied up,” she told him.
“You aren’t? Boy, the Scarlet Marmoset must be in a real hurry. But that’s even better, let’s go.”
The mongoose was finished with the first cobra and going after another. The others were obviously not as enthusiastic about attacking as they had been, but Lisa still wasn’t crazy about going past them.
“Just remember,” said the Armadillo. “They strike downward. If you have to grab one and throw it out of your way, just lean out over it and reach straight down. And be sure to grab it right behind its head. And whatever you do, don’t let it bite. I checked the cobra bite serum in my cloak and the expiration date is past.” He took Lisa’s hand and dragged her behind him as he headed off.
“How can I grab a snake if you’re holding my hand,” she asked him.
“If you want to grab one that badly,” he answered. “Just say so.”
As they reached the exit Lisa asked, “How did you find us?”
“I caught Florabella. She told me they had you in the reptile house. Fortunately, I was near the mongoose exhibit and thought to bring one along. He seems to be having a great time.”
“What did you do with Florabella?”
“I left her in the parrot cage. They’ll never hear her while she’s in there. Come on. We have to hurry. It’s almost dawn.”
That the zoo possessed one of the largest bat exhibits in the country was not widely known. In fact, it was known only to the Scarlet Marmoset and her gang who, for months, had carefully stocked the zoo with bats smuggled up from South America. Even after yesterday’s firefight there were still thousands of the creatures. They
were located in a large building that was intended one day to house the world’s finest exhibit of mice. Today it housed a very different sort of rodent.
The Scarlet Marmoset walked regally past the glass fronted exhibit areas where the bats waited their next flight. How proud of them she was! They had proven very useful and, thanks to their bloodthirsty habits, held down their overhead while earning her millions of dollars. The biggest of the creatures had become her pet and rode like a peregrine on a heavy glove she wore on her right hand. It awaited only her command to kill.
She opened the door of the largest cage and stepped out on a balcony. The bats, all hanging upside down from perches, eyed her eagerly. Her hand poised near a lever that would open roof panels she’d had installed, and give them access to the sky – and to an unsuspecting city full of victims. By the look in their beady eyes, one might guess they could taste the blood now.
The door at the far end of the building flew open and the Armadillo shouted, “Unhand that lever, Marmo.”
“Damn,” she said. “My horoscope was right. I should never have relied on anything named Yogi.”
She yanked the lever.
Slowly the great chains that opened the ceiling traps began to wind. The Armadillo, Jane and Lisa right behind him, ran toward her.
“Stop him please,” shouted the Scarlet Marmoset to her henchpersons. “Don’t let him screw things up for us.”
The Marmoset’s gang leaped toward the intruders. Though he had recovered his cloak and was, therefore, fully armed, the Armadillo did not pull his guns. He shoved aside a couple of the Marmoset’s underlings while Jane cheerfully punched another one out. Army recognized it as Sepulvida. Lisa seemed undecided as to whether to join in the fight or scribble notes in her book. As one of the gang members leaped for her, she made up her mind and flattened the woman with an uppercut.
There were too many. Even the Armadillo was slowed down. Slowly the roof traps were opening to release the vampire bats to their evil mission, but not slowly enough.
Suddenly a furious lean brown streak zipped into the building and, weaving its way past and between human legs, made straight for the platform on which the Scarlet Marmoset stood. She barely had time to realize it was there before it sped past her and leaped into the cage.
Whether mongooses and vampire bats are natural enemies or this one was just drunk with the success of its most recent battle, none could say; but he tore into the cage and began attacking the bats right and left. The vampire bats panicked. They rose from their perches with no regard for anything except getting away from the sudden streaking death that had entered their domain. They crashed into one another, smashed against the walls.
The Armadillo reached the cage and leaped through the open door.
The Scarlet Marmoset shrieked a command to the bat perched on her wrist. Obediently, it sprang at the Armadillo.
It moved too fast for the Armadillo to avoid. It screeched and spread its wings and he glimpsed the long, deadly, blood drinking fangs as it dove for his neck and bit.
He heard the snap of the fangs against the steel of the mask, the clatter of broken teeth on the concrete floor. He brushed the abruptly disappointed bat aside and moved toward the Scarlet Marmoset.
She was not standing there waiting for him, however. She had left the platform through a door into another cage.
The Armadillo paused to yank the lever back in the other direction, closing the ceiling traps. None of the bats had escaped yet. Many of them were still dangling upside down on their perches, safely out of reach of the mongoose wreaking havoc on the floor of the cage, and they seemed content to stay there.
That accomplished, the Armadillo sprang to the door the Scarlet Marmoset had gone through.
She was already at the far end of the building and going through another door.
He glanced back. Jane, using the spare handcuffs from the Armadillo’s cloak, was busily arresting the whole gang and seemed to have no need of his help at this time. He took out after the Marmoset and Lisa ran after him.
They ran outside just in time to see the Scarlet Marmoset ducking into another exhibit. They followed her inside. It was dark, almost too dark to see.
Before the Armadillo could warn Lisa to be careful, he heard a blood-curdling scream. “Oh, my God,” Lisa said. “It sounds like the Scarlet Marmoset’s being torn limb from limb by some hideous animal.”
“Come on,” he said. “It came from over here.” He led the way to where he thought the scream had come from. The Scarlet Marmoset was nowhere to be seen, but the Armadillo saw something on the ground. He bent over and picked it up. A piece of torn, bloodied material from her skirt.
Lisa ran up and stood behind him, pressing the back of her hand against her lips. “How horrible! Eaten alive by animals. That’s a horrible fate even for someone like the Scarlet Marmoset."
“Maybe it is,” said the Armadillo, staring at the beady eyes of the nearest beast. “But I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of her. This whole thing looks phony to me.”
“What makes you say that?” Lisa asked.
“It’s just a hunch,” the Armadillo said, firmly. “But when was the last time you heard about anyone in this town being eaten alive by prairie dogs?”