TREASURE OF THE SIERRA ARMADILLO

By Gerald W. Page

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

Illustrations by Mark Fults
Policewoman Jane

At the sight of the Kumquat of Death, policewoman Jane grabbed the bars of her cage and snarled, "You got the right to remain silent, scum ball."

"Will you knock it off?" replied the harried super-criminal. "Sheesh! I'm trying to run a dungeon around here." He glanced at his other prisoner. "Comfy, Armadillo?"

Strapped as he was to a heavy stone table, the Armadillo thought the question was probably meant to be rhetorical.

"Right about now," said the Kumquat, "you're probably wondering what I have in store for you. Well, you've no doubt noticed the big ax-blade attached to this pendulum and fastened to the ceiling right over you."

"Don't forget you got the right to an attorney," Jane added. "Though any attorney who'd work for you ought to be disbarred on sanitary principles."
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"Will you just shut up?" snarled the Kumquat. "You're interfering with my presentation. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. The pendulum. Sheesh, you just won't believe the ideas you can find at the public library. I think every master criminal ought to have a library card. I know I do. The Scarlet Marmoset, however, that illiterate fool --"

"The pendulum?" urged the Armadillo. "Weren't you about to tell me something about the pendulum?"

"Oh, that. Well, you see this lever here? All I have to do is just pull this lever and that pendulum will start swinging back and forth, right above you, Armadillo. Each time it swings past, it will drop a bit lower. And I'd like to note my favorite touch, that it's coming at you lengthwise. You'll be opened up like a hotdog bun."

"Boy," said Jane. "We'll sure use that against you in a court of law."

"Why do you put up with her?" snarled the Kumquat of Death.

"She's never read me my rights," said the Armadillo.         

"Well, I'll be rid of her soon enough," said the Kumquat of Death. "As soon as I make you into Julienne fries, I intend to mail a ransom note to the city demanding ten million bucks for her."

"No offense, especially to my charming colleague," said the Armadillo. "But don't you think ten million is just a tad steep for a police officer?"

"Maybe for any ordinary police officer. But in this town that lovely, sweet-natured young --"

"Your mama wears jock straps," Jane said.

"- Creature happens to be the only detective left on the force since the most recent budget cuts. She's also the city's entire major crimes unit, as well as its last remaining SWAT person. All because since you showed up, all but the, ahem, most clever master criminals have been put away." He leaned closer to the Armadillo. "If they don't fork over my ten mil, Police Commissioner Zoot just might have to interview a felon or two himself. He won't like that prospect."

He straightened and laughed again. "Only he won't realize I will have dealt with the famous Armadillo, also. The city will have its understaffed police force back, but no metal headed interloper to help out. Heh, heh, heh." He reached for the lever that operated the pendulum.

"You don't scare him one minute, Skumquat," said Jane.

"How did you say you put up with her?" asked the Kumquat. "I'd
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be tempted to cut her tongue out before I return her except for the fact it would probably be something Commissioner Zoot would be grateful for. Never mind, though. I can always wait in the next room." He pulled the lever. "You kids have fun now. I'll check back on you in about an hour or so."
(2)

As the Armadillo watched, the pendulum swung downward toward him, then pulled up just above his gullet to pass out of his vision on its upward swing.

"I told you that creep-o was a total skuzz," Jane said, vehemently. "Do you realize he ripped this whole death trap from Edgar Allan Poe, a perfectly good American writer who just happens to be too dead to defend himself from that sort of thing by suing?"

"He would have to hire a lawyer to sue anybody," Army said. "I thought you said he was a perfectly good American."

"Well, it's a special case. Suing master criminals is every good American's constitutional duty, even if it does take a lawyer. Oops! Here it comes again."

The pendulum swung back into his field of vision. Yes, he decided, it was almost an inch lower.

He looked around the room. His cloak, with all his gear, was out of reach in a corner. He lay back and looked at Jane, who was         

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tightly grasping the bars of her cage and gazing up at the ceiling. "You know," she said. "I never have understood just how these pendulum things work."

"It has something to do with a high ceiling, I think."

"Is this ceiling high enough?"

"No way."

The pendulum passed over him again and was even lower this time.

"Well," Jane noted. "It keeps pretty good time. I gotta say though, I just can't wait to see what kind of last minute escape you got planned for this one."

"Me neither."

"You should hurry up, though."

"Yeah."

Again the pendulum passed over him. In his mind he was checking escape plan number 14 for design flaws. Oops! He found one. He went on to plan 15 as the pendulum started back toward him yet again.

"Do you remember how the guy in the story got free?" Jane asked.  

"I think rats ate his ropes," Army told her.

"Damn that Kumquat for keeping such a sanitary dungeon," she snarled.

It was not until somewhere after plan one hundred that he thought he had come up with one without any serious -- or at least obvious -- flaws. He went over it twice more, as the pendulum swung above and closer to him twice more, before saying, "Uh, Jane?"

"What you need, Army?"

"The cavalry would be welcome. But barring that, how heavy do you think this table is?"

"Boy, it looks really heavy to me."

"That isn't what I wanted to hear. Look, if I can move this table a bit, I think I can position it so the first thing the pendulum cuts when it gets down low enough is the strap across my chest."

"Now, that's really a great idea," Jane said, as the pendulum swung about a half foot above his breadbasket. "Gee, I sure hope you have enough time."

"Oh, shut up," he said.

He began bouncing up and down, or trying to. It wasn't easy. The straps had little or no give. The table must have weighed 300 pounds. He kept trying.
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At last the table moved.

It scooted across the floor maybe a sixteenth or an inch. No more. But it was progress and it buoyed the spirits of the Armadillo. He tried again.

And again.

And again.

Slowly, bit by excruciating bit, the table moved. So did the pendulum. It was a race in fractions of inches. As it swung, the pendulum creaked like the rigging of a ship. The sound was joined by the heavy scraping of the stone table against the dungeon floor. The Armadillo's muscles began to ache.

Inside the steel of his mask, the veins on his temples stood out like the brass rails on bars. Sweat poured from his brow into his ears. He strained and shifted his weight again and again, and each time the table moved just a little, just a very little. But it moved toward where he wanted it to move.

The pendulum moved to.

As it came lower, the distance it dropped increased. With each pass it no longer dropped a quarter of an inch or a half an inch lower, but a full inch. There was less time than he had counted on. He worked harder and harder, His muscles were wracked with pain, and still the pendulum swung and the pain increased.  

It became harder to breathe. Sweat blinded him. At last he could move no further. His strength was gone. He could only lie there and wait. He blinked the sweat from his eyes and watched the pendulum swing toward him.

He felt the sudden parting of the strap across his chest. The pendulum, the upward portion of its arc begun, zipped past his face. Success flooded him with adrenalin-energized strength. He sat up and reached for the strap across his legs.

"Army," shouted Jane. "Don't sit up!"

Oh, yes, he realized. He had forgotten about that.

Pendulums swing back.

(3)

The Kumquat of Death leaned back in his favorite easy chair, sipping wine happily. "You know, Rodney," he said to his chief henchman. "We got to plan a celebration. Before I even write that ransom note, why don't we hold up the mint or something?"

The door fell in and Rodney, who was standing in front of it at the time, never got to answer. The Kumquat of Death leaped to his feet, dropping his wineglass to the floor.

"Armadillo!"

The steel masked crimefighter stood in the doorway, an
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automatic pistol in each hand.

"What are you? A ghost? You couldn't possibly escape that pendulum."

Jane pushed past the Armadillo and said, "You never saw anything like it. I thought Army had really screwed up, but that just goes to show you he's a lot smarter than real people. He sat up and that pendulum came right back at him and I thought it would make shish ke-dillo out of him but no. He leaned back and the thing smashed right into that steel mask of his and shattered into what must have been a billion or two pieces."

"Don't tell me that," said the Kumquat of Death, with a groan of true pain. "Do you realize what a pendulum of that size costs?"

But Jane, whose purse had been in the same corner with the Armadillo's cloak, took out her handcuffs and was snapping them on the criminal mastermind's wrists. "You're in deep dumplings now, Kumquat. Let's get out of here. You're going to fry." Roughly, she shoved him toward the door.

"You think you're hot stuff," snarled the Kumquat. "But I'll be back on the streets before you know what hit you."

"I don't think so," said the policewoman, with another shove.

The Armadillo rubbed his metal chin. "He just might have a point there, Jane," he said. "Seems to me you forgot to read him his rights just now."  

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