(Copyright 1991 for Spicy Armadillo Stories; reprinted by permission of the author.)

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(1)

t was late when Ronald Faldaytonworthington returned to his hotel room and he was tired. Maybe that was why he didn’t notice the half-naked movie star until she discreetly coughed.

There was certainly nothing discreet about the way she was dressed, in that futuristic lady space captain costume with the brass bra, and the short red silk skirt worn low on the hips. In that famous husky voice of hers she said, “I suppose you want me to explain all this.” The voice told him who she was and he hadn’t even looked at her face yet. She was the last woman on earth even he would expect to be in his hotel room of her own choice. Even dressed.

Maybe he was more tired than he thought. Maybe he’d fallen asleep and this was all a dream. Then she came over and pressed her voluptuous body against him. It was just as convincing as pinching himself would be, and a lot more fun.

She put her arms around his neck and said, “I need help, real bad.”

“Ebbita, ebbita, ebitta,” he told her.

She pressed her face against his chest. “They say you know how to reach the Armadillo. Is that true?”

“What Armadillo?”

“The Armadillo. Like I said. I need your help and I need it bad. Do you know who I am, Ronald? I’m Eva Ballantyne, that’s who.

 

And the cops are after me. Do they have police back east where you’re from?”

“Sort of.”

“Then you understand what it’s like for me. They think I killed someone. My ex-husband.”

“I’ll bet they’re wrong, aren’t they?”

“You’re so clever. How did you figure that out?”

“I saw your last nine movies.”

“And I’ve only made eight. Good. Then you know how I got into your hotel room. I do all my own stunts, you know. It’s only six floors.”

“Yeah, but let me get this straight. Dressed like that, you climbed the outside of this hotel to my room. And you didn’t attract attention?”

“This is Hollywood. This sort of thing happens more often than you might think.” She kissed him feverishly. “Now be a good boy and call the Armadillo for me.”

He was thinking of a new question to ask when someone knocked on the door. She untangled herself from him with a flattering display of reluctance and he went to open it.

The hall appeared empty. He leaned out to see if anyone was walking away. Something cracked the back of his head and more stars than there are in the heavens chorus lined across his vision and everything went black. It seemed to take him a hell of a long time just to drop to the floor.

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(2)

When he came too, Eva Ballantyne was gone. He could smell the chloroform they had probably used on her.

Outside Varapox studios, he saw a large sign showing Eva Ballantyne in the same costume she’d worn to his hotel room the night before. The sign said she was the star of the new epic motion picture, “Captain Shivers and the Space Barbarians.”

He went inside, found the soundstage where the murder had occurred and was searching for the scene of the crime when someone who looked suspiciously like an assistant director came over and said, “Hey, they want all the Aardvark People on Soundstage Six.” The Armadillo ignored him and went over to where all the cops were standing.

They weren’t all cops. There were reporters, too. The prettiest one recognized him and ankled over. It was a bit of a surprise, seeing Lisa Long this far from home, but the Armadillo hid his astonishment with a nonchalant stance and a steel mask. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

“This is a bit off your beat, too,” he said.

“This story is big. My editor had me on the red-eye half an hour after the report came in. I guess the cops must be taking it pretty doggone seriously to call you in.”

“Uh, yes. Yes, indeed, they are. So, why don’t you fill me in? You know, general stuff. Like who the victim is and how he was

 

found.”

“He’s Pauley Wibble, the producer. He’s in charge – well, he was in charge - of the one hundred and eighty million-dollar special effects blockbuster about Captain Shivers, the heroine of the greatest space epics of all time. He used to be really important in this burg, but his last three movies flopped like the ears on a cocker spaniel. Do you like that line? I think it’s a little weak but I might use it anyway in my story.”

“Don’t.”

“You’re a critic, now, too, are you? Anyway, getting this movie into production was going to be his last big chance. If it succeeds, he’s on top again. If it goes into the drink, he’s producing syndicated reality TV shows.”

“You’ve really gotten into the spirit of this Hollywood ambience,” he said. “What about the murder?”

“Ah, I thought you’d never ask. It’s the most fascinating part of the whole crime.”

“So fill me in, why don’t you?”

“This will just kill you – uh, I mean, you know how I love a good murder. This is one of the all-time greats.” Her eyes glittered as she consulted her notebook. “He was killed with a ball peen hammer.”

“A ball peen hammer, eh? You mean his skull was crushed.”

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“Oh, it’s a lot better than that.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.” Her eyes grew wide with glee. “The hammer was shoved up his nose. All the way, handle last. You know, I don’t recall ever even hearing of anyone being killed like that before.”

“I guess the Filbert Millingham murder was before your time. They figure out where the hammer came from, yet?”

She nodded. “Boy, did they ever. It was part of the star’s costume.”

“What?”

“The star. The person who plays the lead –”

 

I know what a star is. The star of this thing’s a woman, isn’t it? What’s she doing with a ball peen hammer?”

“I just told you, Army. Honestly, you can be so exasperating at times. But let me explain it again and listen carefully this time.” She paused to breathe, but only for a nanosecond. “On the belt of her Earle K. Bergey designed lady space captain’s uniform, Captain Shivers wears a regulation Swiss Army ball peen hammer, in addition to her twin donut guns.”

“Donut guns?”

“Don’t you know anything? You know those guns you used to see on the lurid covers of the more sensational scientifiction magazines? They fire rings of protonic energy in all different colors, purple, orange, red, green, blue –”

“I get the picture.”

“Well, anyway, the murder weapon matches the ball peen hammer on the star’s costume.”

He didn’t remember it from last night and he was pretty sure it was in an area where he noted details. He said, “The star is this Eva Ballantyne woman, isn’t it?”

“It sure is. They were all here last night, filming late. Her being in the film was a major surprise because she and Wibble were divorced. There’s been a lot of animosity there. But I don’t suppose any actress in her right mind could pass up the chance to play a role as rounded as Captain Shivers.”

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The Armadillo was remembering how rounded Eva Ballantyne had been. He said, “Tell me about her.”

“She is the hottest property in Hollywood, right now. She has looks, talent, brains and, as you can tell from her picture on the sign out front, she’s in tiptop physical condition. A woman in her shape wouldn’t have the slightest problem shoving a ball peen hammer headfirst up anybody’s nostril. More to the point, she ran off after the murder and hasn’t been seen since.”

“I take it the cops think this is open and shut, then?”

She looked at him and her left eyebrow rose. “Don’t you?”

“You can never tell,” he said, mysteriously.

Before she could ask, the assistant director came by and said, “You’d better get into your costume, Miss Long.”

Now it was the Armadillo’s turn to raise an eyebrow, although the effect was lost behind his steel mask. “Costume? They gave you a part in this thing?”

“Isn’t it great?” she said excitedly. “The director, Eric von Clapboard, has replaced Wibble as executive producer. When he realized he would need a new star, he took one look at me and hired me on the spot. Isn’t that just wonderful, Army? It’s my big break.”

 

She started off to change into her costume. The assistant director gazed sadly at the Armadillo. “You know,” he said after a moment. “I can’t make up my mind. Should I send you to stage six with the rest of the Aardvark people, or back to make up?”

“Relax. I’m not an Aardvark.”

“Oh, that’s just grand. The Axolotl people won’t be needed before week after next.”

(3)

He went over to look at the corpse and, this being Los Angeles, the cops didn’t pay much attention to him in his cloak and steel mask. In fact, they paid no attention to him at all. It was a lot like being a civilian except he wasn’t being mugged.

After viewing the centerpiece of the crime he ambled off around the soundstage, people-watching. One of the most watchable, he decided, was the brunette in the slave girl outfit. How he knew it was a slave-girl outfit and not a lady space captain’s uniform was that the skirt was longer and split up the side. She looked vaguely familiar in that way movie actors have, which was the only vague thing about her looks. She also looked upset. He sidled over and said, “Is anything wrong, miss?”

“Wrong!” she said, glaring. “Is anything wrong, you ask? Didn’t you see them just now take a complete unknown off the street

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and hand her the greatest role in the entire history of motion pictures? And you have the audacity to ask me, Darla Dare, the most talented up-and-comer in this whole zoo of an industry if anything’s the matter? Why aren’t you on soundstage six?”

“I’m not an aardvark.”

“Oh, that’s just wonderful. You shouldn’t even be here until week after next.”

Deciding she was in no mood for friendly chitchat, he wandered off, studying the layout of the studio and picking up stray bits of gossip here and there. He was on Stage Four about an hour later, when Lisa Long came in for her first scene.

Her transformation was both startling and impressive. She wore the duplicate of the costume Eva Ballantyne had worn when she visited Faldaytonworthington’s hotel room. Her hair was darker than Eva’s was, of course, and they hadn’t bothered to lighten it to Captain Shiver’s color. Lisa wasn’t quite as voluptuous as the woman she’d replaced, either, but she was certainly well designed. She had long, nicely shaped legs, strong and athletic but more sleek than muscular. If she was small and tended toward delicacy of appearance, she camouflaged it well with presence and an ingrained tough as nails attitude. The Armadillo was suddenly thinking she just might be what the part called for.

She was playing a scene with two other actors, a tall, scraggly bird-looking thing with a cigar sticking out of its beak, and a kid with thick glasses and an irritatingly gosh-wow manner. They were confronted by a large, ugly robot that the prop department had built, but which was capable of quite a range of movements.

 

The Armadillo had never watched a movie being made before, unless you counted three or four instances back home that had actually been covers for bank robberies or kidnappings. He moved closer to watch. In the scene the robot barred the way of the three adventurers. There wasn’t much dialogue but what there was he found confusing. The bird thing (he gathered it was some sort of mutant rather than an alien) said, “Snably crudwrappers,” and the annoying kid said, “Golly gee, Unca First Officer,” something, and Lisa, looking like the amazon she was at heart, said, “You two stand aside.” She pushed past them to confront the robot.

The machine grabbed her then, wrapping powerful metal arms around her waist in a crushing grip.

The director, Erich von Clapboard called, “Cut!” and a sprinkling of noise began making the rounds as people started off to wherever it was they had to be between takes.

The robot neglected to let go of Lisa. It tightened its hold on her. She left out a sharp gasp that was as much of surprise as pain.

Somewhere a technician yelled, “Oh, my Gawd, this thing won’t turn off!”

(4)

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As he leaped toward the robot and the struggling woman, the Armadillo whipped out his emergency crowbar from the auto repair kit in his cloak. Lisa was fighting valiantly but to no avail. Her face was red and her breath was coming in rasping gasps.

From behind, the Armadillo shoved the crowbar under the robot’s left armpit and pushed with all his might.

The arm broke loose and flew across the set, smashing a piece of pseudo-alien sculpture near the back. With only one arm to hold the struggling woman, the robot was less effective. Lisa gave a valiant – to say nothing, in that costume, of seductive – wriggle, kicked herself free, and rolled across the floor.

She was coughing but did not seem seriously injured. People were rushing to her side. Something made the

Armadillo look upward. A shadowy figure hurried away across the catwalk above the set.

The Armadillo grabbed the closest person – it was the actor playing the kid with the annoying attitude – and said, “How do I get up there?”

“Golly gee, Tin Puss, who gives a rat’s behind?”

The Armadillo said, “You know, I have a spare crowbar for just such occasions as this,” and the actor pointed to a ladder.

The Armadillo shoved him away and rushed to the ladder. He climbed quickly to the catwalk, energized by the possibility of action. It was dark at the top of the soundstage. The walk was

 

narrow and the railing came barely to his waist. The hubbub from the set below seemed far enough away to be from another planet. A figure moved about fifty feet to his left. Taking a crossing catwalk, the Armadillo set out after the figure. Thick shadows quickly hid his prey, but the Armadillo knew he was still there, somewhere. Why, he asked himself angrily, with all the gear and weapons he carried in his cloak, had it never occurred to him to include a flashlight?

Then he saw movement not ten feet in front of him. He still couldn’t tell much about the figure – certainly not enough to identify it – but he always favored unmasking the villain after a good fight. He darted forward, not realizing it was a trap until it was too late.

His foot caught on a piece of wire that was stretched across his path. Before he could catch himself, he was toppling over the rail of the catwalk. The concrete floor of the soundstage was fifty feet below.

The Armadillo’s training and reflexes came into play almost simultaneously with his fall. From one of the pockets of his cloak he pulled a grappling hook attached to thirty feet

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of strong, thin rope. With a bell-like ring, the hook caught one of the metal rafters overhead. He saw the mysterious, still unidentifiable figure of his assailant swinging off on another rope for another catwalk. His own rope was too short to swing that far and give immediate pursuit. All he could do was climb up to the catwalk and retrace his steps to the set.

He found Lisa in her dressing room, resting on a cot. She sat up as he came in and said, “Did you catch whoever it was you were chasing?”

“No. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Well … nothing’s broken and any bruises can be hidden with makeup. Who was it you were after, anyway?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t get a good look at him.” He looked around the dressing room and was impressed. It looked like the library of a large, old house, with bookcases and mahogany paneling.

“It’s something, isn’t it?” said Lisa. “They had to improvise. The cops still have Eva Ballantyne’s dressing room closed off while they check for clues, so they converted the library set from a slasher movie into a dressing room for me.”

“Looks sturdy.”

“It was a big budget slasher film.”

“Yeah. Well, I’ve got some investigating to do. You keep the door locked and don’t let anyone in until I get back.”

 

As he left Lisa’s dressing room, someone came out of the one next door. He recognized the sultry good looks of Darla Dare. She spotted the Armadillo and, to his surprise, smiled sweetly and veered toward him.

“Oh, there you are,” she said. “I’ve been hoping I’d see you again, so I can apologize for my silly outburst.”

She no longer wore the slave-girl costume but one similar to the Captain Shivers costume Lisa wore. The difference was that Darla’s was black, even to the brass bra. She said, “I was a little upset by the murder and all. We actresses tend to be so high strung, as I’m so sure you know. Oh yes, did you notice my costume? It’s an original Earle K. Bergey design lady space pirate costume. They just gave me the part of Captain Shivers’ archrival, Captain Cruiser, the slut. It’s a really important role.”

“I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

“Don’t I look so happy?” She stepped back so he could appreciate how happy she looked. He appreciated and she gave a small, wicked laugh and walked away.

He found Erich von Clapboard on the set, talking to the kid with the thick glasses. The kid scowled as he walked up and said, “Just who the hell are you, anyway?”

“The Armadillo.”

“Oh, big deal.”

“Armadillo. I’ve heard of you,” said von Clapboard. “If you’re

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here to sell film rights, forget it. Audiences want special effects epics like this Captain Shivers show we’re doing. They aren’t interested in mundane stuff.”

“Don’t be so quick, there,” said the kid. “You know, I could play him. It could be academy award stuff. We’d have to lose the mask, though. It would spoil all my close-ups.”

Through the mentioned mask, the Armadillo glared at the kid and snapped, “Are you a suspect?”

“Uh, no.” “Would you like to be?”

“Uh, no.”

“Then get the hell out of here.”

The actor’s leaving should have improved the Armadillo’s mood but it didn’t. He turned toward von Clapboard and snarled, “What caused the robot to go berserk like that?”

“Who said it went berserk?”

“Don’t get funny, von Clapboard. Otherwise I might demonstrate why I think it went berserk – on you.”

“Oh, that berserk. Somebody bent the control bar so that it jammed into position when it was turned on. The technician couldn’t turn it off.”

 

“Was the lever that small?”

“It was very thick, in fact. It would take a near superman to bend it. Or superwoman.”

“Superwoman?”

“Yeah.” Von Clapboard nodded. “Ballantyne could do it.”

“She’s that strong?”

“Of course she is. These days all the big time actresses are into conditioning. Most are on steroids. Films like this are strenuous. Fact is, I just had to replace the actress playing the villainess because she couldn’t handle her stunts. No problem like that with Eva, though. Her hobbies are rock climbing and caber tossing. That plus the way she felt about her ex-husband is why I think she most have croaked him.”

“Why did she try to kill Lisa Long?”

“That was because she’s upset about me giving her role away. She probably still thinks she can prove her innocence. Why do you think she called you in? She figures to frame somebody else and return to the show. But she’s afraid if Lisa does well, we won’t give her the role back?”

“You benefited from Wibble’s death too, didn’t you?”

“Who didn’t on this show? Wibble had used up all this talent years ago. It’ll be a much better movie with me in charge. But that doesn’t make me the

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killer.”

An hour or two later, as he made his way back to Lisa’s dressing room, the Armadillo wondered if he was really getting anywhere. He had questioned maybe a dozen people after von Clapboard and couldn’t think of anything useful any of them had told him.

He knocked on Lisa’s door but there was no answer. He knocked again, louder. Still no response. He tried the doorknob. The door was locked. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he broke it down.

He saw an overturned table and lamp. Signs of a fight. No sign of Lisa. Her key was still in the lock on the inside of the door.

The air was thick with the smell of chloroform.

He heard a groan. It seemed to come from behind one of the bookcases. He lost about ten seconds trying to figure out how it opened. As it swung clear of the wall, he heard the moan again.

A secret passage led back from the room. He climbed into it. Lying on the floor off to one side he saw the obnoxious kid actor. He checked quickly to make sure he was all right. He seemed stunned but his breathing was regular. The Armadillo leaped to his feet and darted into the secret passage.

The passage was obviously part of the set. It ran back about twelve feet to a wall. There was a ladder leading down to an areaway behind the main sets. The Armadillo saw a figure in a black coat turning a corner some distance away.

 

He couldn’t make out who it was but he thought he recognized the burden thrown over the figure’s shoulder:

Lisa.

He leaped down the ladder and ran toward the corner where the kidnaper had vanished. He didn’t see the tripwire until he was on top of it. That was twice in one day.

A small packet of explosives tacked to the wall went off about a foot from his head. He took the full impact of it on his mask but it still knocked him down. It took him precious seconds to regain his senses and get to his feet. By that time there was no sign of his prey. Only a maze of possible routes and no indication of which one had been taken.

(5)

The kid – his name was Lester Bovie – was considerably more subdued than he had been before. The Armadillo handed him a glass of water and he even said, “Thanks.” Moreover, he wasn’t really much of a kid with his makeup off. Just a short actor somewhere in his twenties. The Armadillo asked him what he was doing in the passage.

“I went back to my dressing room, which is two doors down. I heard a noise behind the wall. I remembered this had been part of a set and, sure enough, when I checked I found a secret passage.”

“Did you see who it was who took Lisa?”

“It took me a while to work my way here. I heard what sounded like a fight. It was over by the time I got here. I saw Lisa, unconscious on the floor.

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Before I could do anything else, I was knocked out myself. Next thing I know, you’re here.”

“Did you see or hear anything else that might help me?”

“Yeah, I sure did.”

“Speak up,” said the Armadillo excitedly. “What was it?”

“Somebody set up a bobby trap with explosives back in that passage. Be careful that you don't set it off.”

The Armadillo went back to the set where Lisa had been attacked by the robot. It was late in the day and most of the people were gone. The gigantic building was filling up with shadows.

He used one of them as cover so he could watch Erich von Clapboard kiss Darla Dare, long and passionately.

After the kiss, she left.

The director sat down at a table and began to go over the script, scribbling things in the margins. The Armadillo waited a few minutes before stepping into view. Von Clapboard seemed startled by his sudden appearance.

“Oh, it’s you,” the director said, standing up. “You learned anything yet?”

On the front of his dark jacket the Armadillo saw a patch of what might have been dust, though the Armadillo thought it might be

 

makeup. “Somebody’s kidnapped your new star.”

“Lisa? You mean Eva snatched her? That’s terrible news.”

“The kidnaper used the secret panels and access way in the back of the slasher movie sets.”

“Eva would know al about those sets, too. She was in that movie. Damn.” Von Clapboard sat back down, heavily. “What am I going to do?”

“I know what I’m going to do,” the Armadillo said, pointedly. “I’m going to find Lisa. And the people who took her.”

“People? It was just Eva, wasn’t it? You don’t think there’s anyone helping Eva, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You know she and Lisa are probably miles from here by now. And you have no clues.”

“Don’t be so sure of that,” said the Armadillo.

“You found something? You found a clue?” Said von Clapboard.

But the Armadillo had pulled back into the shadows and was gone.

(6)

The pirate ship sat in Cap’n Kidd’s Cove at the very back of the studio, riding at the end of its anchor-chain, the gentle swell of the artificial lake. It was night. A gibbous moon was rising.

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Darla Dare was on the deck as Erich von Clapboard came up the gangplank. Powerful lamps on tall poles near the cove lighted the scene and her raven hair glistened with highlights. As he climbed over the rail, she ran up to him and threw her arms around his neck. “We’ve won, you know,” she said. “You’re the producer now and no one will get suspicious if you make me the star.”

But instead of kissing her he said, “I’m not so sure about that.”

She glared at him. “What’s the matter with you? Our plan’s fool proof.”

“Maybe,” he said. “But it’s not Armadillo proof. I think he found something back behind the sets.”

“That’s ridiculous. There’s nothing for him to find.”

“He says he found something and I don’t think we should take any chances. Where are they, anyway?”

“Locked up below, where they’re good and safe.”

“It’s not their safety that concerns me, Darla. We can’t let them be found now.”

“Is that all that’s worrying you?” she said. She gave a sudden smile and it was evil, very evil. “Tell me, Erich. How many stunt people did they lose to the mechanical sharks when they filmed ‘Fins’ here?”

“Six, I think. They never did figure out how to make those shark things work right. I -” His jaw dropped. “Darla, when I said we can’t let them be found, I didn’t mean –”

 

“Of course not, Erich. But be a good boy anyway and go turn the machines on.”

He was shaking but he made no effort to argue with her. She laughed at him as he turned and climbed back over the rail, went down the gangplank to the pier and over to a small control box on the pier. He opened it and flipped a switch inside it.

Out in the artificial lake, something began to move in the water.

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When he came back, Darla had both the prisoners up on deck. Their hands were tied behind their backs. Darla had pushed a plank out over the side of the ship. She had found a pirate sword and was ushering the captives toward the plank.

“Don’t get too eager there,” said the Armadillo.

Darla and von Clapboard whirled around. The Armadillo was standing on the railing, his gun drawn. From nerveless hands, von Clapboard dropped the keys with which he had opened the control box on the pier. He said, “I told you he found something.”

“You idiot,” Darla snarled at him. “There wasn’t anything to find. The only clue he had was your behavior. You made him suspicious and he fed you a line and you bit. He followed you here.”

“That’s not possible,” von Clapboard said. “There was nothing to give me away.”

“Sure there was,” said the Armadillo. “Earlier you said Eva had called me in to clear her. No one knew about that but her and me – unless she told her kidnaper. There was also a spot of body makeup on your jacket after you kissed Darla. Since she wasn’t on camera this afternoon, the only reason she might have to wear makeup would be to cover a bruise. Like those she must have picked up trying to subdue Lisa with chloroform. Lisa, I notice by the way, has no new bruises, suggesting she gave as much as she took. It seems like these days all women are into physical conditioning.”

He jumped down from the rail. “Let me see if I have this straight. You, Erich, wanted to be the producer. Darla here, wanted

 

the starring role. So together you concocted the plot of killing Wibble and framing Eva by using her ball peen hammer as the murder weapon. You figured the cops would grab her and that would be it. But Eva managed to get away and went to see Faldaytonworthington, who called me. You snatched her out of his hotel room and came up with the idea of replacing her in the movie with an unknown, so you could frame Eva with yet another murder, just to tighten the nose a bit. But that didn’t work out, so you panicked and grabbed Lisa. What did I leave out?”

“Just me,” said Lester Bovie, swinging the baseball bat from behind the Armadillo.

(7)

Darla leaned over the rail and peered into the black water where the Armadillo had fallen. Beside her, Lester Bovie peered also, laughing. “I guess we showed that guy, right? Showed him good.” He laughed some more.

Suddenly he stopped laughing and pointed excitedly. “Look,” he said. “Look there!”

The metal fin of a mechanical shark cut the surface of the

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water like a knife slicing cheese. Darla thought she could hear chomping sounds from twenty feet below.

She turned and looked at Eva and Lisa. Her smile became a sinister laugh. “You two girls realize, I suppose, that they never did get those shark machines to work right. But they never lost a star to any of them, either. Until tonight.”

She flourished her sword over her head and, still laughing, danced across the deck toward her intended victims.

“Up on the plank girls! It’s show time!”

Darla flicked her sword in the air just inches from Eva. “Stardom has its privileges, darling. You go first.” Eva had no choice but to back toward the plank.

Behind Darla, von Clapboard gave a yelp. She whirled just in time to see his feet fly in the air as he went over the rail, into the lake. The Armadillo, water draining from the slanted eyeholes of his mask, climbed over the rail; “Sorry it took me so long to get back up here,” he said. “But this cloak is a lot heavier than people think.”

Darla swore and said, “Kill him again, Lester!” To illustrate the command, she lunged with the sword. Eva, whose hobby was kick boxing, let her have it.

 

The perfectly aimed toe of Eva’s space captain’s boot caught the underside of Darla’s arm, sending the sword flying like a glittering pinwheel in the air, over the rail and into the water. Darla stared in surprise after it a moment, then snarled and turned on the movie star.

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Eva danced around, trying to position herself for another kick. With her hands tied behind her back, her balance wasn’t all it should be. Besides, Darla was pretty good at martial arts herself.

Lisa’s hobby was not kick boxing. It was football. She lowered one of her shapely shoulders and plowed at top speed into Darla’s solar plexus.

Bovie, meantime, was swinging his bat at the Armadillo. The crimefighter leaped from the rail and let the bat swing harmlessly under his feet. He landed on the deck and the back of his hand caught the side of Lester’s head. Bovie dropped. The Armadillo turned to take care of Darla.

Darla, he found, was already taken care of. She lay stretched out face down on the deck. Eva and Lisa, posing like goddesses, were sitting on her back.

“Damn,” said the Armadillo. “I always hate it when they’re this easy.”

A mackerel squirmed out of one of the secret pockets in his cloak and flopped about disconsolately on the deck until Army scooped him up and tossed him back into the lake.

(8)

“The only thing left,” said Lisa, as the fished the half-drowned Erich von Clapboard out of the water, “is the question of how Lester Bovie was mixed up in all of this.”

 

overheard enough of it while I was their prisoner to figure it out,” Eva said. “Bovie was blackmailing them. He probably saw Darla kill Pauley. Since it seemed likely Erich would be the producer and Darla the star, Lester decided his best plan was to cut himself in. I guess he figured they’d go pretty far in this business and he could use the work. When you arrived, Armadillo, just as they were making off with the chloroformed Lisa, he pretended to be hurt to slow you down and give Darla time to set the booby trap they had discussed.”

“Well, then,” said Lisa, “I guess that takes care of just about everything.”

The Armadillo hauled the sputtering director to his feet and propelled him toward the hold where Darla and Lester were already awaiting the arrival of the police. When he came back he said, “You know, Lisa, the only regret I have is that you’ve lost your shot at movie stardom.”

“Yes,” Eva said. “Me too. Even Darla said you were good.”

“You can’t have everything,” Lisa said.

“Even so,” Eva said thoughtfully, “there are other parts.”

“That’s right. I could play Captain Cruiser, couldn’t I?”

“Cruiser! That slut?” Eva said. “The role’s beneath you. Besides, she barely has any camera time. No, I was thinking of a real role. A character part. Do you think you could play a short kid with thick glasses who says, ‘Golly gee,’ a lot?”

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Planetary Stories
Hollywood Armadillo
Page 15