Report & and Ask No Questions!

The stranger held up the pistol. "This thing was your idea?"

"Yes, sir."

"Your father tells me you're a handy man in a laboratory."

Rick didn't know what to say to that. He looked at his father. The scientist smiled and nodded.

"Can you keep your mouth shut?" the stranger demanded.

Rick stiffened. "I always have, sir."

"Good. Now, tell me all you know about Scotty."

The interview wasn't going at all as he had expected. Instead of getting information, he was giving it. "What do you want to know about him?"

"Everything. The way you met him, where he came from, why he is living with you when he isn't a member of the family."

"He is a member of the family," Rick said. "Anyway, we think of him as one."

"Start at the beginning," Hartson Brant said.

"Yes, sir. It was during the moon-rocket experiment. I got caught by the gang that was trying to wreck our rocket, and they were just about to beat me up when Scotty sailed in. He was in uniform then. He was a sergeant in the Marines. After he rescued me, I brought him home and Dad hired him as a guard to keep people away from the rocket launcher."

"Did you examine his papers?" the stranger asked.

"Yes, sir. He had an honorable discharge that said he had served at Tarawa, Saipan, and Okinawa. He told us he had talked a recruiting sergeant into enlisting him, even if he was away underage. He's only a year older than I am. Anyway, he served as a guard for a while, and he went with us to Tibet. But by that time he wasn't a guard any more. He was just sort of one of the family. I mean, he's like a brother to Barby and me, and Dad and Mom treat him just the way they do us."

"Does he know anything about lab work?" The question was addressed to Hartson Brant.

"Yes. Since we took him into the family he has become an unofficial lab assistant, just as Rick is. He's very handy with tools, especially machine tools. We pay both of them salary for helping around the lab, and they earn it."

"You wouldn't question his loyalty?"

"We've trusted him with our lives," Hartson Brant said simply. "We wouldn't hesitate to do it again."

Rick couldn't see where the conversation was leading, but he didn't dare ask questions. His father wand the stranger would come to the point in due time. He sat quietly and waited. Presently the stranger laid the air pistol on the desk.

"You're so curious you're ready to pop like a balloon," he said, and grinned suddenly. It was a warm, friendly grin. Rick couldn't help returning it.

"I wish I could answer all of your questions," he said, "but that is not possible. In the interests of security, I had to ask your father not to tell you anything, or even explain why he couldn't tell you what as going on. For the same reason, I asked him to restrict the laboratory to only the scientists who were actually at work on this particular project."

Rick stopped grinning. So he wasn't actually to learn anything after all.

Hartson Brant laughed. "Don't look so unhappy, Rick. You look as though the world was coming to an end. As it happened, the air pistol you developed, and its effect on Dismal, interested Mr. Ames enough so that he has asked me to lend you to him."

"Lend me? Scotty too?" Rick looked at the stranger anxiously. "What for?"

"The first thing you must learn is not to ask questions," the stranger said. "Incidentally, my name is Steve Ames. If you just call me Steve, it will make things a little more informal. Are you and Scotty willing to take a trip?"

Rick jumped out of his chair. "Are we! Where to?"

Steve chuckled. "Remember what I said about not asking questions? I'll supply all the answers you'll need. Your father is lending us Zircon and Weiss, too. You and Scotty will act as their assistants. Now listen carefully. At no time must you tell anyone what you are doing, or give them the slightest hint of what is going on. And that means absolutely no one, not even the pup that got you into this. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." Rick was listening attentively now.

"By helping Weiss and Zircon you will be serving the government in a very important project. If you talk, it will be comparable to treason. That's how serious this thing is. Now, you and Scotty are to go to Washington as soon as possible. I don't care how you get there�you can fly your plane, take a train, or drive. That's up to you. But I want you there on Friday. This is Tuesday, so you have two full days. Can you do it?"

"You bet we can!"

Steve Ames smiled. "An eager beaver, I see. Well, don't be too eager. At no time will you try to do more than you are specifically ordered to do. Got that?"

"Got it," Rick said happily.

"Okay. When you get to Washington, go to the Elliston Hotel. Take a double room. Then just wait there until such time as you get further instructions."

"Elliston," Rick repeated. "I won't forget. But how about Weiss and Zircon? Will they be there too?"

Steve sighed deeply.

"I take it back," Rick said quickly. "I didn't ask anything."

Steve laughed, then rose and held out his hand. "Okay, Rick. You'll see me again before long." He turned to Hartson Brant. "I must be getting back. It's lucky your phone call caught me. I was on my way out the hotel door when the bellhop shouted." He shook hands with the scientist. "I won't be seeing you again until we've made sure we're on the right track. Meanwhile, you and Gordon can keep working on that other angle."

"Good luck," Hartson Brant said. "You can be sure we're doing our best."

He and Rick escorted Steve to the door and out on the porch. Scotty, curiosity written in every line, looked up at them from where he had been sitting.

"This is Scotty," Rick said.

Scotty got up so fast that the chair almost fell over.

"My name is Steve Ames," the stranger said, shaking hands. "Rick will tell you what's happening." His eyes twinkled. "As much as he knows."

The two boys fell in step as Hartson Brant walked with Steve to the pier. He got aboard and Rick cast off the lines for them. The cruiser backed out of the cove, then swung in the direction of Whiteside. Steve Ames, waved, then went into the cabin.

Scotty grabbed Rick's arm. "Come on, give! What's up?"

"I don't know anything," Rick told him. "Except you and I are going to Washington on a special job as assistants to Weiss and Zircon."

Washington!" Scotty let out a whoop. District of Columbia or State of Washington?"

"Golly," Rick exclaimed, "I forgot to ask!"

"Washington, D. C.," Hartson Brant supplied, smiling. "You're to report there�and you are to ask no questions!"